Disclaimer: RWBY and Hollow Knight belong to RoosterTeeth and Team Cherry respectively.
Chapter 19: The Root
True, that you were awaited.
True one like you was awaited...
Weiss's hands shook as the Dream Nail thrummed and thrashed, growing brighter and brighter. The Traitor Lord shuddered wildly, before finally falling forward, eyes empty. His body, dead weight, slid against the blade of the Dream Nail till it reached the hilt, and Weiss couldn't help but wrench the weapon out as she stumbled away. Nearly falling back, if it weren't for Dryya catching her.
"Steady," the knight chided.
Weiss couldn't tear her eyes away from the Traitor Lord. His body hung limply, Isma's vines the only thing keeping it upright. Rapidly cooling blood dripped thickly from his wounds and eyes, the air filled with the smell of rotten fruit and burned metal-
Weiss's stomach curdled, the Dream Nail disappeared with a chime, and she barely managed to stumble to some bushes before throwing up.
"Oh dear," she heard Isma from far away.
Someone was patting her back and holding her hair out of the way, and it wasn't till she coughed up the rest of the bile that she recognized Ruby humming. It was a nonsensical sound without melody, but it was soothing nonetheless. Weiss felt her face colour, and she sat up with as much dignity as she could manage. Without a word Ruby handed her a bottle of water, and she gratefully took it.
"Are you ok?" her partner asked, her voice soft.
Weiss should've been the one asking her that. Ruby looked like absolute hell. Her clothes were stained with the Traitor Lord's blood, burnt orange visible even on the dark red and black. Her hands and face hadn't been spared either, and as Weiss swished water around her mouth and spit it out, she handed Ruby a handkerchief. Ruby gave her an embarrassed smile, and as she took it Weiss caught sight of the red burns over Ruby's hands.
Ruby wiped at her face, frowning at the sherbet colour the handkerchief turned.
"Shoot. Sorry, I'll wash th-!"
Ruby flailed for a moment as Weiss pulled her into a hug, before returning it with gusto. The two sat there for a moment, as if they could squeeze away the memories of the Traitor Lord, before Weiss pushed Ruby an arms length.
"Could really go for another hot spring, huh?" Ruby quipped with a lopsided smile.
"Dolt," she muttered fondly, trying to comb Ruby's wild hair with her hands.
A shadow loomed over them, and Weiss turned to see the Hollow Knight. They managed to kneel onto a knee before Ruby pulled them closer, hugging their side.
"You alright?" she asked.
The Knight, arm hovering over Ruby uncertainly, nodded.
"Are you certain?" Weiss insisted. She learned by now that the Hollow Knight had a curious definition of 'alright'.
The Knight nodded, and before Weiss could ask anything more Fierce Dryya interrupted them.
"Our Hollow Knight," she said. Her voice was impassive as she glared down at them. The Hollow Knight immediately stood up, and Weiss followed.
"Lady Dr-" she began.
"Stop slouching," Dryya scolded.
Weiss was fairly certain that she was talking to the Hollow Knight, but the force of the command prodded muscles who remembered the training of governesses all too well, and Weiss found herself standing up even straighter. The Hollow Knight themselves had stood to ramrod attention, and Weiss hadn't realized till now just how much the Knight stooped.
Dryya had to crane her neck to glare at the Knight's face, and without a word handed the Hollow Knight their nail. The Knight took it without ceremony, giving it a glance before spinning it into a reverse grip.
"Hey there?" Ruby said, stepping out from behind the Knight.
"...Ruby Rose, if I am not mistaken?" Dryya said at last.
"You handled yourself well enough against the Traitor Lord."
"Is there a particular reason you are here, Lady Dryya?" Weiss interjected.
"I am no Lady," Dryya scoffed, "Either call me by Dame, or by my title."
"My apologies. Dame Dryya" Weiss narrowed her eyes, "Why exactly are you here?"
"Hmm. Those eyes…" Dryya chuckled, "I am here for you, Seeker of Hallownest."
"Then you know that we've come here-" Weiss began.
"To seek my Queen?" Dryya interrupted, "I know."
"How?" Weiss planted her hands on her hips, "Because I certainly wasn't aware that I was searching for the Queen of Hallownest."
Dryya stared at her for a moment, and Weiss refused to be cowed - even if the knight had proven herself time and again to be a most formidable fighter.
"Sooner or later, you would've sought her," Dryya said at last.
"Pardon?" Weiss can't help but scoff, "What does that mean?"
"That," Dryya turned around, "Is a question to ask the Queen. Gather your retinue, seeker of Hallownest. It is time you meet the Queen."
True, that you were awaited.
True one like you was awaited...
"Is she alright?"
Yang looked up at her, and Blake was taken aback by the spark of abject panic in her partner's eyes.
"What's wrong?" she urged, immediately kneeling down next to Yang and checking her over for any injuries, "Are you hurt?"
"No, no, it's not me!"
Blake blinked, glancing down at the girl in Yang's arms - and staring.
"Is…" she began.
Penny's eyes were closed, and she wasn't moving. There was a large gash in her side, fluid leaking from the wound. It was plenty enough to panic over, but she and Yang were Hunters. Keeping cool heads even when they or others were grievously injured was just part of the duty.
Still, even with all the injuries she'd seen in her life, nothing could've prepared Blake for the wires spilling from Penny's side. For pale oil to drip from her instead of blood, for insides that were dark and black instead of red.
"Uh-" she began.
"W-What do we do?" Yang asked, her voice nearly a yell. The panic in her partner's voice stoked the panic fluttering in her own heart. Blake knelt, hands hovering over Penny's...wound? Injury? Damage? As if she could heal it closed by fretting.
"Put a bandage on it?" Blake suggested, wincing even before Yang shot her an incredulous look.
"I don't know!"
"Would a bandage even work on her!?"
"You're the mechanic!"
"Yeah, on motorcycles! Motorcycles aren't girls!"
"Is something the matter?"
Blake and Yang both bit back screams and whirled around to find Hegemol looming over them. Though he towered over them, Hegemol didn't seem hostile – though it was hard to tell with his armor obscuring his expression. Hegemol leaned down to get a closer look at Penny.
"Ah," he said softly, "A construct? No, with how Isma talked about her...a vessel?"
"Uh-" Blake began.
Hegemol nodded his head before reaching down and picking Penny up, gentler than Blake thought the massive bug could be capable of.
"Careful-!" Yang began, reaching towards Penny.
"Be not alarmed young one," Hegemol adjusted his hold such that rather than dangling, Penny's head was supported by the crook of his arm. "I shall not harm her. Rather, me and my fellows would take you all to a place where you could recuperate, after your long battle."
"That's..." Blake tried not to frown, "Kind of you."
And it was kind of him, which was precisely what was bugging Blake. Hallownest had not been kind, so far. Even Hegemol had fought Hollow Knight, when they had first met.
"You do not trust my intentions?" Hegemol laughed, "That is fair! I stake it on my honour that we mean you no harm, however."
Blake wanted to believe that. And, more pressingly, they really had no choice but to. Team RWBY was battered after the Mantis Traitors arduous assault, while Hegemol and the other knights were fresh. Fresh and dangerous. She hadn't missed how the new knight had carved the Traitor Lord.
So she nodded, and didn't say anything as Hegemol turned around. Yang stood up to follow, and when Blake did the same she was startled by Yang's hand wrapping around her own. Blake's gaze snapped towards Yang's sheepish one, and for a moment they stood there.
Then Grimm's child chirruped from their spot in Yang's backpack, and the moment was broken. Yang laughed, self conscious, and let go. Blake couldn't help the wry sigh that escaped her, shaking her head and following after Hegemol.
Ruby disappeared into Yang's hug, arms flailing for a moment before returning the embrace just as fiercely. Blake traded a dry glance with Weiss, only for her expression to slip away as she took in how exhausted Weiss looked. Aside from looking like a complete mess, hair a rat's nest and clothes stained orange and green, her eyes were far away. As if Weiss wasn't quite present.
Blake wondered why, till she caught sight of the Traitor Lord's body, still hanging from the vines.
Weiss startled as Blake placed a gentle hand over her shoulder. Lost eyes looked at Blake, and she badly wanted to reassure Weiss that she had done nothing wrong. That it had been either her or the Traitor Lord, that she had no other choice. That...
Blake said nothing, not able to find the words she wanted, but whatever Weiss saw as she searched Blake released the tension from her shoulders.
"I'm glad to see you unharmed," Weiss said.
"Yang and I got lucky..." Blake muttered.
Weiss glanced towards Penny, unconscious in Hegemol's arms, and she tensed up again. Blake squeezed her shoulder again, only for someone to approach them.
It was a strange mantis. Delicate was the word that came to mind, which was strange after the onslaught they'd burdened. But she was, with how slight and slender she was. Her wings were thin, framed around her like a shawl rather than the cowl-esque shape of the other mantises. Even her sickles were practically nonexistent, though Blake was hesitant to say that the strange mantis wasn't a danger.
"Pale one," the strange mantis began. Her voice was soft, like the whisper of leaves brushing against each other, "I thank thee for thy assistance."
"It was no problem," how Weiss managed to speak as though she hadn't come fresh off the heels of a brutal battle was beyond Blake, "In all honesty, you might have saved us, finding us when you did."
The strange mantis shook her head.
"Thank the knights. All of them, Dame Dryya especially, have been hunting down my father for a long time now."
"Your…" Blake began, turning wide eyes at what remained of the Traitor Lord. Weiss tensed once more, and the Traitor Lord's child spoke.
"You must not feel sorrow for my father. He had by now long lost himself to the Infection, willingly taken."
"Why?" Weiss exhaled, and her next words came out calmer, "Why would anyone take in such a thing?"
"For strength," the mantis bowed her head, "My father had long hated outsiders. Dalliances with such beings could only bring destruction to the tribe, he thought. Such bitter hatred only festered when his three sisters decided to enter a treaty with the Kingdom of Hallownest. The light of the Infection promised him and the other traitors power beyond ken, and so they took it in and were thus banished from the tribe."
"But you didn't take the Infection?" Blake asked as Weiss remained silent.
"...I once thought much like my father," the Traitor Lord's child said, "Perhaps, once upon a time, I would've gladly taken the light of the Infection within me."
The Traitor Lord's child looked away, and when Blake followed her gaze she saw the strange gossamer knight with the massive sword.
"I met someone who changed my mind," the mantis said. Before either of them could say anything, the Traitor Lord' child left, moving towards the strange knight. When she reached the knight, the mantis reached up to nuzzle the knight. An act so tender that Blake couldn't help but look away.
"She who seeks Hallownest," Dryya approached them, "It is time."
"Time for what?" Blake asked warily, well aware that Dryya could probably mop the floor with her.
"To finally meet the Queen of Hallownest," Weiss said, before walking towards Ruby. Dryya watched her go, before glancing back at Blake.
"Do not dally," the knight said, before walking away. Blake pulled a face, and the other knights followed, except for the strange knight.
"I wish che did not have to leave le'mer," the knight whispered in a voice so soft that Blake could barely hear her.
"It is unavoidable. We both have our duties," the Traitor Lord's child whispered back, "And I will see you soon again, a chroí."
"Mo mhuirnín dílis," the knight whispered, before falling silent.
Blake, who already was realizing that this wasn't something she was meant to hear, nearly startled out of her skin when the strange knight brushed past her to follow the others. It was impossible to tell, but Blake felt that the knight's eyes fell on her for a moment.
"Come along," the knight said, before continuing along. Blake hurried after her, but couldn't help but glance back at the Traitor Lord's child, watching them leave with a solemn expression.
True, that you were awaited.
True one like you was awaited...
Weiss knew better than to expect anything sensible from Hallownest at this point. Even still, whatever she'd been expecting of the Queen of Hallownest's location, it hadn't been this.
The Knights of Hallownest had led them deeper into the Gardens, leaving behind the Traitor's Daughter and the Traitor Lord. They'd marched till they'd reached an overgrown tunnel that took a sharp turn straight up.
Without a word, Ze'mer leapt up, followed by Dryya and Isma.
"This is starting to feel more and more like a trap," Yang muttered next to her. Even that attempt at levity had barely brought a smile to Weiss's face.
"Come along!" Hegemol said, leaping up with a powerful jump, Penny still in his arms. Ruby followed immediately after, a shower of rose petals and leaves scattering against the dark green and steel that made up the tunnel. The rest of them were hot on her heels.
Above was what appeared to be a viewing platform. Metal wrought into decorative patterns forming what seemed a cross between a gazebo and a balcony, though there was scant little to view, with the surrounding garden's practically flooding through the fencing. The moment Weiss's feet touched the floor, her shoulder twinged something fierce. She couldn't help but clutch it with her other arm. Blake's gaze snapped towards her.
Blake gave a startled cry as the garden's around them shook, as if a massive presence had made its way through the dense undergrowth. Yang took a protective step in front of Ruby, the Hollow Knight doing the same to herself and Blake. Contrasting the air of tension around them, the Knights of Hallownest relaxed.
"Ogrim!" Dryya called out, "We have returned!"
The garden shook once more, and there was a strange smell in the air. Musty, like something filthy that had been scoured as clean as it could be. From the canopy right outside the gazebo fell a large bug. The floor shuddered with their descent, and as the bug stood up Weiss finally got a good look at them.
Rotund. That was the first word that blazed through Weiss's mind, and it was apt for the bug was practically spherical. They appeared to be a beetle of some sort, judging by the beetle mouth horns on their head, though rather fuzzier than beetles tended to be. From the brief gaps in the red armor that encompassed their entire being, tufts of dark fur stuck out. For all the bug's size and shape, being just smaller than Hegemol and just shorter than Ze'mer, their arms were long, nearly reaching the ground and ending in strange blunt sickle claws.
"My comrades!" the newcomer said. His voice was practically a yell, full of good cheer and relief, "You've returned!"
Quicker than one would expect, the mysterious bug closed the distance, wrapping Isma and Ze'mer into a shell crushing hug.
"Le'mer will let go now," Ze'mer managed, trying to wriggle out of the embrace. Isma on the other hand returned the hug with a giggle, and Hegemol outright laughed.
"I'd return the kindness, brother, but I am occupied with another!"
"Ah!" the stranger finally released Ze'mer and Isma, turning towards Penny.
"Are they alright?" he asked, claws reaching out to hover over her body.
"She should be alright Ogrim," Hegemol assured with confidence that Weiss found unfounded, "There's a spark of light in her, too bright for something like the Traitor Lord to extinguish."
"Then you fought him," Ogrim said, voice bereft of its early cheer. "And he is…?"
"Dead," Dryya said.
"Hmm. I am glad to see you unharmed, though I wish that I'd been there to fight alongside you."
"You had a more pressing duty," Dryya said, almost kind.
"And in any case, we weren't the ones who fought him," Isma pointed out.
"Le'mer speaks the truth. Che did not even bring the final blow."
"Hmm?" Ogrim finally turned towards them. He stared for a moment, and Weiss wondered how much of a mess they must've looked like.
"Hey there!" Ruby chirped, breaking the ice.
"Hullo there!" Ogrim responded in kind, walking towards them. The closer he got, the clearer it was that the musty smell was coming from him, "I gather that it was you who fought the Traitorous Mantis Lord?"
"Him and his posse," Yang said with an easy grin that didn't reach her eyes.
"Well done!" Ogrim cheered, "Bravo! To have fought against such forces, you are warriors indeed!"
Ogrim looked at each of them, before his eyes fell on her and the Hollow Knight.
"Ah…" he began, "Our Hollow Knight…"
His voice was softer, and Weiss could swear that there was a hint of sorrow in his tone. The Hollow Knight merely nodded, and then Ogrim's gaze fell on her. She met it with every inch of Schnee that she was, impassive and noble.
After a moment, Ogrim laughed. She bristled, but after a moment it was clear that the laughter had not been directed at her. It seemed Ogrim was filled with cheer so great that it was impossible to contain. He placed a claw on her shoulder, and she was surprised by how gentle he was. How careful he was with his clear strength.
"To have reached this far…I do not know your reasons, but none can doubt your convictions nor your strength."
Weiss was no stranger to honeyed words. She was, in fact, painfully familiar with such cloying praise. With how many people sought to grow close to her, only for her name. Such glory seeking parasites had vied for the Schnee name since long before she was born.
There was none of that in Ogrim's words. Nevermind that an inhabitant of Hallownest would have never even heard of the name Schnee, there was a surety in his praise. A sincerity so certain and solid that it brought a light blush to her face.
"W-Well," she begun, "I cannot take all the credit. I wouldn't have gotten this far," she glanced back to her team, "Without help after all."
Her team matched her soft smile with smiles of their own. And she stumbled as Ogrim patted her on her back, laughing heartily.
"Such camaraderie! And I see strength in each of you! With time, I have no doubt that you all will become great knights!"
"Knights, eh?" Yang grinned, "I kinda like the sound of that. Sir Yang," she said with an exaggerated bow. Ruby giggled and Blake rolled her eyes fondly, leaving Weiss to correct her.
"Actually, it'd be Dame Yang," she said, crossing her arms.
"Dame?" Yang made a face, "Sounds like an old movie about the Valish mob."
As Weiss sighed, Ruby turned towards Ogrim.
"I guess that'd make me Dame Ruby."
"Well met, young Ruby!"
"My name is Blake," Blake offered, "And you probably already know Weiss here."
Before Ogrim could say anything, Ruby spoke up.
"Have any of you seen the rest of our friends?" she asked the knights. Team RWBY paused, watching the knights carefully.
"There are others amongst your party?" Ogrim asked.
"Well, yeah, there's my uncle Qrow, and Weiss's sister, and Mato, and Professor-"
"Doctor," Blake quipped.
"Doctor Oobleck. Oh, and the little guy!"
"Little guy?" Ogrim repeated, confused.
"She refers to a vessel," Dryya said, carefully.
There was that term again. And Weiss could hardly miss the sudden grim air that fell across the knights.
"Yeah," Ruby said, "Are they alright?"
The knights turned towards Isma, who hummed in thought for a moment.
"There are two large disturbances in the garden's currently." she said at last, "Most likely they are your compatriots."
"Are they alright?" Weiss asked quickly.
"I cannot tell," Isma shook her head, "Certainly, they are lost."
"We have to go find them," Ruby said, voice firm. The rest of the team nodded, only for Dryya to shake her head.
"No. You have an audience with the Queen of Hallownest."
"We can't just leave the-" Yang began hotly. Dryya lifted up a claw to silence her.
"Stow your worries. We shall see to it that your comrades are brought here unharmed. You have more pressing matters to attend to, she who seeks Hallownest."
Dryya stared at her, and Weiss resisted the urge to chew on her bottom lip. It was true that they'd come all this way to find the Queen. But could they just leave the others out there, in the wilds of Hallownest?
"Weiss?" Ruby asked. With a start, Weiss realized that everyone's eyes were on her.
"...It's your call," Weiss said at last, ceding the decision to the team leader. Ruby pursed her lips, tilting her head in thought, before nodding.
"We'll meet with the Queen."
"Excellent," Dryya nodded, before turning to Ogrim, "Lead them to Her."
"I shall," Ogrim promised, thumping a claw against his chest with a thud.
"Isma. You and Hegemol search the upper gardens. Ze'mer and I shall comb the lower."
"As le'mer wishes for che."
"Here you go," Hegemol carefully handed Penny to Yang, "The Queen will fix up your friend, no need to worry."
"Right," Dryya commanded, "Knights of Hallownest, move out!"
In a flash the knights disappeared down the tunnel, leaving them with Ogrim.
"Come along," he said kindly, "She'll be expecting you."
As they followed Ogrim through the undergrowth, Weiss felt her shoulder itch further, and her left eye throbbed. And, just at the edge of her hearing, she swore she could hear a sussurant whispering. Keeping her expression calm, she marched through the discomfort and the whispers, even as the pain grew and the whispers became louder. Until, finally, they come across the cocoon.
There was no real other way to describe it. A massive grey cocoon-like structure, sitting in the heart of the gardens. A cocoon, made from what looked like grey roots, all curled and intertwined. And from the brief gaps in the cocoon walls erupted massive white branches. Branches without leaves, branches that glowed with a soft bright light. It was a familiar light, and Weiss wracked her mind trying to remember from where she'd seen it before-
"It's like your glyphs, Weiss," Ruby whispered.
And she was right. It was the same white light as that of her basic glyphs-
Weiss bit back a cry as her shoulder burned.
"Weiss!" her teammates cried out as Weiss clawed at her shoulder, as if she could pull out the searing pain. Ruby grabbed her hand, yanking it away and holding it firm as Blake rolled up her sleeve. The burning sensation faded into an ache just as suddenly as it had flared, and Weiss heard Blake curse under her breath. Weiss turned her head, and she saw the brand.
A four pronged - or, perhaps horned - symbol of stark white light, emblazoned on her skin. As Weiss stared at the lit brand, numb, the Hollow Knight loomed over them. A shift of their cloak revealed that the symbol too was glowing with that stark light on their shoulder.
"So 'tis true," Ogrim whispered, "You bear the King's Brand."
"The what?" Ruby asked. Behind her, Yang and Blake glared at him, as if that alone could force him to speak.
"It is not my place to answer," Ogrim shook his head, "Please."
Ogrim motioned for them to enter a small opening into the cocoon. Not even large enough for Ruby to walk into without crouching.
"The Queen will answer all of your questions," Ogrim insisted, "As for your injured friend, rest them up against the entrance. I shall guard them, and the Queen will see to her."
The rest of Team RWBY stood around her, mulish and wary. Even the Hollow Knight seemed tense. Finally, Weiss couldn't stand it.
"Weiss?" Ruby asked as Weiss stepped towards the cocoon.
"Nothing will be gained if we just stand here," she scoffed. Still, she hesitated for a moment before the entrance into the cocoon. Particles of white light floated from the depths of the cocoon, and once more Weiss could hear someone whisper into her ears, though she could barely make out what they were saying.
Steeling herself, she took a deep breath - and nearly had a coughing fit as a hand wrapped around her own. Whirling around she came face to face with Ruby. She was still disheveled from her battle with the Traitor Lord, but that did nothing to dim the grin she was sending her way.
Yang walked past her, gingerly setting Penny against the cocoon. After a moment, she turned back towards Weiss, grinning.
"Well, can't keep a Queen waiting, can we?"
"It'd be bad manners," Blake agreed, nodding at Weiss.
"Ready?" Ruby asked.
"...Yes," she said, nodding at her partner before turning back towards the Hollow Knight. As soon as her eyes met theirs, they shook their head.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
The Hollow Knight nodded, and Weiss decided not to press them. It'd be hard for them to enter the cocoon in the first place. Once more looking at her teammates, Weiss took a deep breath, squeezing Ruby's hand.
And then, exhaling, she entered the cocoon, Team RWBY right behind her.
True, that you were awaited.
True one like you was awaited...
Either the cocoon was larger than it seemed from the outside, or parts of it were buried under ground. Either way, there was a moment of tense silence as Team RWBY managed their way through the cocoon's claustrophobic and dark tunnels. The air was silent and warm, particles of white light floating lazily around them. The material of the cocoon felt like wood, and there was the occasional curtain of what felt like moss hanging from the low ceiling.
Finally the tunnels of the cocoon lead to a small hole.
"If this were a horror movie we'd be dead in like five minutes," Yang muttered. Ruby quickly shushed her. The four girls gathered around the opening for a moment, hesitating.
"Well…" Ruby began.
Before she could have second thoughts, Weiss jumped down. She didn't fall for long, falling into a small chamber. It was clearly part of a larger chamber, sectioned off by a thick curtain of moss. White light trailed into the smaller chamber from underneath the curtain, and in Weiss's ears she heard-
Without thinking she reached out to brush away the curtain.
Weiss yanked her arm back, narrowly avoiding having one Yang Xiao Long falling on top of it. Blake followed shortly after, with far more grace and silence. And in a cloud of petals and leaves, Ruby was next to her, blinking at the curtain of moss. In the strange scant light of the cocoon, her eyes seemed like silver coins.
Blake tensed. "I wasn't the only one who heard that, right?" she asked.
Yang and Ruby shook their heads, bewildered, leaving Weiss to clear her throat and whisper, "I did."
Steadfastly ignoring the looks of concern shot her way, Weiss brushed aside the curtain, strode into the larger chamber-
In the center of the circular chamber was a massive tree, its trunk protected and wrapped by grey cloth. Crowding the room, its roots dug into the floor of the chamber, occasionally popping free into the air. Its branches pressed against the ceiling and in some places burst through. It was a tree without leaves, its bark smooth as pearl. It was a tree without a single leaf, familiar soft white light shining from every inch.
Weiss was distantly aware of the rest of her team walking into the chamber, looking on in wonder at the great tree. It was Ruby who broke the silence of the chamber.
"Where's the queen?" she asked.
Light laughter, like the sound of bells, followed her innocent question. Motes of white light danced around them, flying up towards the crown of the tree. What Weiss had taken for a tear in the cloth around the trunk moved, revealing a snout, and a face-
Robin's egg blue eyes opened, framed by delicate snowy eyelashes, and the Queen of Hallownest stared down at them.
"Welcome," she said, voice melodic like a harp, "If it is the Queen that you search for, then your quest is at an end, for you have found who you seek."
Team RWBY stared up at the Queen, wide eyed and slack-jawed. Once again, it was Ruby who broke the silence.
"Uh…!" she began loudly, as if she could bluff her way into politeness by substituting volume, "S-Salutations, your majesty?"
'Salutations?' Blake mouthed. Weiss was too busy watching in morbid curiosity.
"I-Its an. Honour? To meet you?" Ruby squeaked.
The Queen didn't say anything and Weiss was certain that Ruby's earnest, if foolish, attempt had spelled their doom when finally the Queen spoke.
"It is likewise an honour to meet you, young one. To bear the blessing of Unn, tis no small feat. Might I know your name?"
"U-Um! Ruby Rose!" Ruby quickly began introducing the rest of the team.
"This is my sister, Yang-"
"Hey there, your…Queenliness?" Yang shrugged at the look Weiss sent her as Ruby moved on to Blake.
"And this here is Blake-"
Blake, mercifully, gave a simple but respectful nod.
"And this is Weiss!"
Weiss nodded too, curtseying appropriately.
"Thank you for granting us this audience, your majesty."
When Weiss looked back up, the Queen was still staring down at Ruby. Or rather, the spot Ruby was. Weiss tamped down on a frown, and waited for the Queen to speak.
"The one who lit the Nightmare Lantern."
Yang tensed, but the Queen continued.
"One who bears the blood of the Hive."
Blake, who had put a hand on Yang's shoulder, glanced up at the Queen, eyes sharp.
"And she who seeks Hallownest."
Weiss let out a soft breath. Before she could speak, Yang beat her to it.
"So, you know Grimm?" she asked, in a tone meant for casual acquaintances and not royalty!
"I know of the Nightmare King and his Troupe," the Queen turned towards Yang, "To think that his scarlet clan would descend once more, in its reduced state."
There was a mewl, and Grimm's child wriggled out of Blake's bag. Narrowly escaping both Blake and Yang's attempts to catch them, the child flew into the air hovering before the Queen. The Queen, moving ponderously, faced them.
"Do you bear me ill will? That my progeny had denied the Heart rebirth? Perhaps you had reason more to tie yourself to your current host than mere chance."
Grimm's child gave a sharp chirrup, staring down the Queen. Blood red glare met a soft blue gaze.
The child wrapped around the air, looking down at Yang.
"Get back down here!" Yang ordered, tone sharp, "Now!"
Grimm's child turned and curled in the air, grumbling, but flew back to Yang. Who immediately plucked them out of the air, scolding them. Now trapped firmly in Yang's grasp the child could only chirp sadly.
"Only time will tell if it will succeed in its role," the Queen finally turned towards Weiss, "Whether you decide to play your own role in the Nightmare's ritual, you must not forget the task ahead of you, she who seeks Hallownest."
"The task ahead?" Weiss frowned, "What do you mean by that?"
The Queen closed her eyes, nodding slowly, before turning to look towards Weiss.
"I imagine you have questions, she who seeks Hallownest."
Weiss resisted the urge to roll her eyes, keeping her expression polite as she nodded.
"I do, ma'am."
"Then you may ask what you wish," the Queen granted.
Weiss opened her mouth, ready to volley question after question. And none were forthcoming. It was not that she had no questions, but that now faced with the tantalizing opportunity to get answers she…She couldn't think of which to ask first. She glanced back at her team, who were mercifully silent. They each gave her patient yet encouraging smiles, Yang even sending her what she might've thought to be a surreptitious thumbs up that Grimm's child promptly tried to snap at.
Feeling buoyed, and taking a deep breath, Weiss asked her first question.
"What is the brand on my shoulder?"
It was perhaps one of the more selfish questions she could've asked. Even now a small part of her was mollified by asking such a vain question. But the brand still ached where it had flared, still glowed with a too familiar light, and-
-And she'd been quietly worrying about it since she'd come back from the Kingdom's Edge. Back when it had just been a dull ache and a light blob of discoloured skin. It had been quietly eating at her, not only her own worry but Winter's worry after she'd shown it to her sister when they'd searched for the Whispering Root outside of the Hive.
She needed to know.
"So you've faced the Gendered Child," the Queen mused.
"The…who?" Weiss managed politely, baffled, "Might her majesty…be talking about Hornet?"
"Twas the name that the Hive Queen had given her," the Queen confirmed, "And though she learned to fight from the Hive, her skill and ferocity were the very image of her mother, the Beast."
Weiss took stock of the names, most familiar, and ignored the sound of Ruby trying to yank her journal out of her bag.
"What does Hornet have to do with the brand?" Weiss asked.
"She had taken to guarding it, and even in this dream she still takes the mantle of protector and sentinel. That you would take the brand that by birthright should've been hers…Were she not her mother's child more than her father's, I imagine she'd have been incensed at the very thought."
"I certainly had no intention of taking it," Weiss muttered, "She said she was protecting something. What is the brand, that it'd be so worth such trouble?"
"It is the mark of the King," the Queen said, "One who bears the Brand is one who can claim the mantle of King of Hallownest."
The Queen's voice settled over the room, heavy. Weiss could barely speak.
"You must be kidding. Y-Your majesty," she hastily added.
"I do not jest," the Queen said simply, "By taking the Brand, you've marked yourself as one who makes claim on the throne of Hallownest."
'Now at least I understand where "She who seeks Hallownest" comes from,' she thought numbly.
"Hang on," Blake said from behind her, "You said that the brand was Hornet's birthright."
"Indeed. The Gendered Child is the progeny of my Wyrm and the Beast of the Deepnest."
"Oh," Yang said, and really what else could have been said? Yang tried, clearing her throat and continuing, "Uh, sorry?"
The Queen laughed, though it was a soft sound.
"I never begrudged my Wyrm's dalliance. Twas a fair bargain, and I feel some affection for the creature birthed. Though…" the Queen seemed to suddenly bow a bit under a sudden weight, "That she and the Alien would be the only of the Wyrm's spawn to yet live…"
There was a moment of silence, Team RWBY glancing at each other. Eventually the others turned towards her, and Weiss cleared her throat.
"Were they…?" she began, faltering for a moment, "Were they lost to the Infection?"
"...In a way. Yes." The Queen shook her head, "The Plague was all-consuming in its fury. Not even the Mantis Tribe nor the Deepnest was spared. All searched for a cure, though without knowing its cause they were destined for failure."
"But the king knew," Weiss said carefully.
"My beloved Wyrm and I knew the truth behind the plague," the Queen confirmed, "And we had a plan of our own. Desperate, and cruel, and our only choice."
"Why didn't you tell anyone else the truth?" Yang asked, the Grimm's child chirping in tandem with the question.
"The Light of the Infection came back from memory," the Queen shook her head, "The more she was remembered, the stronger she would've grown."
"And it already was ravaging your kingdom," Blake muttered.
"Does that mean that it's grown stronger, now that we know about it?" Ruby asked.
The Queen nodded.
"It grows stronger by the moment, and no doubt the plague seeks to escape this dream. Should it do so it will ravage any and all, regressing the minds of its victims to nothing but the basest of states. It is of the utmost importance that you succeed where we have failed."
Team RWBY nodded, grim and determined in equal measures.
"We will," Ruby promised.
The Queen bowed her head.
"You have my thanks, young ones. Weiss Schnee."
"Yes, your majesty?"
"You will require great power to defeat the plague. I can only offer half of a whole. However, should you unite this power I grant to you, none would dare to stand against you. Do you accept this power?"
Weiss hesitated for a moment. Never take a deal whose terms were not in your favour. Though, when her father had told her this "sage" advice, he'd made sure to impress on her that a deal was only in her favour if she was basically swindling the other party. Less than fair play aside, it was not…terrible advice.
But then she remembered that burning light that had chased her across the Resting Grounds, and the light that had burned forth from the Traitor Lord, and she steeled herself and nodded.
"I accept, your majesty."
Ruby was interrupted by light shining forth from the Queen, filling the room with blinding white. Weiss could only see herself and the Queen, whose eyes were closed. The brand twinged and Weiss bit her lip - and gasped as the light that had filled the room swirled and condensed before her. Swirling white light whirled before her heart, and led by a longing she could not describe Weiss reached towards it. The moment her fingers brushed against the light, the flowed down her arm towards her heart, and Weiss felt her aura flare. She was distantly aware of her teammates' shouts, but they were nearly drowned out by the thrum of power she felt in her veins. The fatigue of her earlier fight was all but washed away, and Weiss felt like she could go toe to toe with the Traitor Lord twice more.
The light finally dimmed, revealing a half circle fragment of a mask the size of her palm emblazoned on the breast of her dress. When she touched it, the metal thrummed against fingers, warm. Like the charm that Ren had showed her.
"Seek its other half," the Queen said, "To make the blessing whole."
Weiss nodded, and was suddenly pulled to the side. Ruby's face was inches from her own, the younger girl scrutinizing every inch of her.
"Space, please?" she asked, backing away. Ruby grabbed her hands.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"I'm fine," she said, slightly exasperated.
Ruby stared at her for a moment longer, before nodding hesitantly.
"If you're sure…"
"I am," Weiss said, not unkindly.
Ruby gave her a look, but didn't press the matter.
"So this is some great power huh?" Yang said, leaning in to look at the charm, "Do you feel any different?"
"Not particularly," Weiss admitted, "Revitalized, mostly."
"Hmm. Any idea where this other half is. Your majesty?" Yang tacked on after Weiss gave her a scathing look.
The Queen was silent for a moment.
"The Palace, perhaps," she said at last, "Though I cannot guarantee it."
"It's better than just wandering around," Blake said. Weiss nodded, before turning towards the Queen.
"May I ask you another question, your majesty?"
"You may, though I would advise against dallying."
"How did you fight back against the Infection?"
"...Why do you seek as much?" the Queen asked.
"Why? Isn't it-" Weiss stopped herself, "...Your majesty, we must know what had worked before if we are to have any chance to beat it now."
"The plan had failed," the Queen countered, "Of what use then could it be?"
"Well, even if it didn't work it might give us an idea or a better plan," Blake countered. Ruby nodded.
"The only way to get better is to learn from our mistakes."
The Queen was silent for so long that Weiss began wondering if she'd ever speak again.
"Mistakes," the Queen's voice was a whisper, "So apt a word there ever was. To defeat the plague that spread like wildfire through our dreams, we thought to seal it away."
It made sense, Weiss thought. Even if she had no clue what could seal away something like a plague. It wasn't as if you could put it in a jar and stopper it.
"How did you guys seal it away?" Ruby asked, tilting her head in thought.
"To seal the plague, a vessel was crafted," the Queen closed her eyes, "The vessel, crafted pure, took the plague into itself and was further sealed in the Black Egg Temple, which was further guarded by the slumber of the Dreamers."
"The dreamers?" Blake asked.
A bolt of recollection jolted through Weiss.
"To protect the vessel, the dreamers lay sleeping," Weiss recited the words from the Resting Grounds slowly.
"Through their devotion, Hallownest lasts Eternal," the Queen finished, solemn, "So long as they remained asleep, the Black Egg Temple would be forever sealed. The vessel forever undisturbed, and the plague forever contained."
Weiss quietly boggled at the amount of security and redundancy that the King of Hallownest had put into the plan. There were Elder Grimm out there with less security.
Ruby asked the question that Weiss was sure was burning all of their mouths.
"Then how did the Infection escape?"
"...Perhaps the seals failed?" Weiss suggested as the Queen remained silent.
"Or maybe these dreamers woke up?" Yang shrugged, the Child seemingly asleep in her arms. Blake stared at the Queen, who remained silent.
"...You know" though the words were said with care, the accusation hung in the air all the same.
"Blake!" Weiss began, though she wasn't sure what she would say next.
"You friends approach," the Queen said suddenly, raising her head towards the ceiling, "Along with my knights and others."
Team RWBY glanced at each other. The deflection was painfully obvious, but-
"Let's go," Ruby said, rushing out of the Queen's chambers. Yang followed after her, and Weiss put a hand on Blake's shoulder.
"Come on," she said softly.
Blake gave one last suspicious look towards the Queen, before sighing and turning to follow the others. Weiss was about to follow suit when the Queen spoke once more.
True, that you were awaited.
True one like you was awaited...
When Ruby burst out of the Queen's cocoon, the first thing she saw was the Hollow Knight helping Penny to her feet.
"Ah, young Ruby Rose-!" Ogrim began.
Ruby rushed past him and practically tackled Penny.
"Oh!" Penny managed as she was spun around.
"Ruby?" Penny said once they came to a stop, "Are you unharmed?"
"I should be asking you that!"
Ruby glanced down. Where there had been a long gash tearing Penny open was now pale…well, metal, Ruby assumed. Penny glanced down too, face furrowing when she came across the healed wound. Her fingers brushed across the closed gash, and Penny's frown grew.
"What's wrong?" Ruby asked.
"Unidentified material," Penny stated, "I…What happened?"
"You took a hit meant for me is what happened."
Heavy arms fell over both of them and Yang flicked Penny's forehead.
"I appreciate it, don't get me wrong, but never do that again."
"...You would have gotten hurt?" Penny stated.
"Can't really argue with that. Still, all's well that ends well. Looks like the Queen did heal you up."
"The Queen?" Penny said slowly, before looking around, "Have we reached the Queen?"
Yang and Ruby whirled around as one.
They two rushed towards their uncle, who grabbed them in a fierce hug before pushing them to arms length.
"What the hell happened to you kids?" he asked.
"We could ask you the same thing old man," Yang quipped.
Uncle Qrow perhaps didn't look as bad off as they were, but his uniform was still tattered and stained - more so than usual. Qrow shrugged, picking a stray leaf from his shoulder.
"Ran into some big ol praying mantises."
"You too?" Ruby blurted out.
"The Mantis Tribe pulled off a fierce battle," Nailmaster Mato was the next to climb out of the tunnel that led up into the secluded corner of the gardens. "Though we managed to fight them off. What of yourselves?"
Ruby and Yang exchanged a glance and at once decided not to tell the full story of their own battle. Uncle Qrow would freak out otherwise. He was already giving them a strange look, so the two sisters both gave their best innocent smiles.
They had unfortunately failed to consider Penny.
"We engaged in combat with the lord of the traitor mantises and came out of the battle with minimal injuries!" Penny said, the perfect picture of a soldier reporting.
"Minimal injuries?" Qrow's gaze immediately landed on the large tear in Penny's dress and the luminous "scar" left behind, before snapping back towards Yang and Ruby.
"Alright you two," he began, "Talk."
They were saved by the appearance of Weiss's sister, Dryya and Ze'mer hot on her heels.
"Where's my sister?" she asked sharply, for the first time ruffled.
"She should've been behind me," Blake said, and Ruby and Yang whirled around to find her at the mouth of the Queen's cocoon, looking back worried. The Hollow Knight strode to stand next to her, and just as Winter marched past Qrow Weiss finally crawled out of the cocoon.
"Winter?" Weiss startled. And then startled again as Hollow Knight drew near, and Ruby would never forget the look that Weiss sent them, face pale.
"Are you-?" Blake began as Winter began fussing, in her own way, over Weiss.
All eyes turned towards the thick undergrowth of the Gardens, which shook as someone stumbled through them.
"Ah, Peter makes this look so much easier," Doctor Oobleck muttered as he tried to break free of the various vines snagging him. Quite suddenly the vines pulled back, sending him to the ground. The little knight - the Broken Vessel - walked past him as Isma looked down at him.
"Oh dear, my apologies."
"No need to apologize!" Doctor Oobleck was on his feet in an instant, "My own mistake, should've been better prepared, such flora controlling semblances are not unheard of, though few quite match your own mastery over greenery- Ah, everyone! Fantastic, we've all reconvened!"
Doctor Oobleck zoomed towards them, followed by a bemused Isma and Hegemol. But not only just them.
A bug, looking exactly like Mato, followed after Hegemol. They radiated a sullen aura, their armor scratched and battered. As soon as they stepped into view, Mato tensed.
"Oro?" he began.
The other bug grunted.
"Ah, so we finally meet."
From Mato's shadows stepped another bug, one unfamiliar. A faded blue bandanna was wrapped around their head, and their voice wes genial as they gestured with welcome arms.
"We've been searching for you strangers for a while now," the bug said.
"And who would we be?" Qrow asked carefully, hands reaching towards Harbinger.
"No need for that Qrow, no need at all! These are locals, quite friendly if I must say, and they mean to help us," Doctor Oobleck said absently, attempting to approach the cocoon only to be stopped by Ogrim.
"Doesn't answer the question, doc."
"My own name is Quirrel, and I do promise you we mean you no harm."
"Indeed," a new voice rang out. From the shadows of the garden snaked out what at first appeared to be more vines, but in the dim light of the gardens it soon became clear that the "vines" were translucent, and glowing with a faint green light. From the undergrowth came what the tentacles were connected to - a large jellyfish looking creature, wearing a hooded robe and the everpresent mask that the denizens of Hallownest seemed to wear, though this mask had four eyes.
The stranger was like nothing they'd ever seen before. Stranger still was how the knights, as one, gave shallow bows as they approached. And through the clearing the voice of the Queen of Hallownest rang out.
"Monomon the Teacher," she said, "It has been ages since we last met."
True, that you were awaited.
True one like you was awaited.
The seals shall break before your blade.
I implore you, usurp the Vessel.
I get exactly a week of break between quarters for my graduate studies and by the heavens, hells, and Earth I intend to finish to fic in those margins of time.
Aside from time, the other thing that got this chapter stuck was how to handle the Queen, with how enigmatic she is the base game of Hollow Knight. The plot of this story is different, but there still was a fine line between helpful and too honest. Hopefully I managed to stay on that line.
Thank y'all for reading! Tune in next time for: "The Truth".