Gods and Plans
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Ozpin weaved a minute amount of magic around his body as he walked down Atlas's streets. Not enough for true invisibility (otherwise people might find themselves bumping into nothing) but enough to obscure his identity.
He ducked into the alley behind the Sapphire, sending Gehrman a quick text. The man appeared a minute later, and before Ozpin could think about dispelling his illusion, Gehrman strode over to him, brow cocked. "Why do you look like you're wearing a suit made of crisscrossing wires?"
Ozpin hummed, "Is that what it looks like?" He shrugged, "It's a bit of magic to hide myself—I didn't want to be accosted by anyone." He made to remove the illusion, only for Gehrman to grab his arm.
"Don't," he said, "keep it on until we leave the city." He eyed Ozpin, "I believe I told you to pack for a trip."
Ozpin hummed, tapping cane against the ground. The air bubbled to his left, and a suitcase appeared from nowhere, floating in the air, "You aren't the only one with tricks up his sleeve," he dismissed the luggage with a smirk.
Gehrman returned the gesture, before sobering, "I don't suppose you can teleport us to the surface?"
Ozpin shook his head. "Not across such a great distance. Or even a small distance, if I'm taking someone with me." He tilted his head, "What about those little Helpers of yours?"
"No," Gehrman huffed. "I guess we have to do this the hard way. But first," he narrowed his eyes, "What do you know about the cave system James and I discovered?"
"Just that it was never discovered by the people that mined into the mountain," Ozpin said. He furrowed his brow, "Which is odd, because the chamber and tunnels you two described seem rather large and extensive."
"Yes, I've my own theories on why that is, but those can wait until we reach the cave system itself." He crossed his arms, "Has anyone been sent to guard the entrance?"
"Not yet," Ozpin replied. "But archeologists and excavators will be sent in two days."
Gehrman nodded, "Then we've not a moment to lose. The sooner we get there and leave, the better." He clicked his tongue, "I'd prefer to do this carefully, without anyone discovering our movements, but that doesn't appear to be an option—especially on this floating rock you call a city." Ozpin smirked, prompting Gehrman to ask, "What is it?"
"Oh, it's just…most people from outside of Atlas tend to react to this 'floating rock' with awe."
His friend rolled his eyes, "There are more pressing matters at hand. To say nothing of the fact that isn't my first time aboard an island among the clouds—though it is much larger than the others, I will admit." That second statement wasn't as surprising as Ozpin thought it should have been.
His smirk softened, "In any case, I believe I can help with keeping people from discovering what we're doing."
Gehrman said nothing, merely arching a brow in response.
Ozpin hummed, patting the rusted Bullhead's side, "This one should do."
"That's what you said about the last three," Gehrman huffed, adjusting his hat.
Ozpin chuckled, "Yes, well…this one actually has both its engines intact." They were in a junkyard, but really, what the hell did Atlesians do to their Bullheads?
"So, you can restore this thing, then?"
"Long enough to get us to that mountain and back to Atlas—rather, Mantle."
"Very well," Gehrman gestured to the defunct airship, "Work your magic."
Ozpin grunted at the jape, but nonetheless stepped back, holding his cane under his right arm as he reached out. Magic…it had only gotten trickier the longer he lived. After the gods wiped out the first humans, the later generations lacked the wonderous ability. Due to the nature of his soul, he could transplant it into his vessels, but it would take some time before he could perform anything substantial. Of course, by that time, his vessels would be getting on in years, and magic was as much physical as mental, so he was rarely able to perform even the least feats he was capable of in his first life.
But shaking the cobwebs off a still held-together machine? Child's play.
Green energy pooled in his palms, tendrils of energy lancing out towards the Bullhead. The magical beams waved around the Bullhead, tightening over it like a net. He clenched his fists, and the beams passed through and into the airship, vanishing the rust and fixing (temporarily, at least) its inner workings.
His work done; Ozpin dropped his arms with a shudder. It always felt good, performing magic. Too good. He missed it, but he couldn't use it. Ever since the advent of Scrolls, and the ability for anyone to discretely record events around them, he had to force himself to use even less magic than he could muster. He didn't need anyone asking too many questions.
From behind, Gehrman whistled, "My oh my," Ozpin could hear the grin on his lips, "that was impressive. I've never seen such an application of Cosmic energy."
"Oh?" Ozpin cocked a brow, "And how did the people of Yharnam weave magic?"
Gehrman looked down, rubbing his chin, "Mostly to kill things. That and…" he trailed off, a heavy frown overtaking his features, "Well, that can wait." He gestured to the airship, "How are we going to keep people from tracking this?
"Ah, a simple matter," Ozpin leading him inside. "There's a certain code that I can input into the Bullhead's main computer that will scramble its RFID."
"Is that all?" Gehrman said, sinking into the copilot's seat.
Ozpin shrugged, starting up the Bullhead, "It is rather late, and Altas tends to pay more attention to who enters the city than exits it. But if someone does happen contact us, I've got a plan to fend them off." He almost wished someone would notice them—he'd made great strides in his southern Atlesian accent.
"And what of yourself?" At Ozpin's hum, Gehrman elaborated, "Won't someone notice that you've disappeared?"
"Perhaps," Ozpin hummed, finishing up the pre-flight check. "I could say the same of you."
"True," Gehrman leaned his head against his seat, "…I suppose the most logical conclusion would be that we're off doing something together."
"Which we are," Ozpin said, eliciting a brief chuckle from his friend. "But I'd imagine the media would make it out to be more salacious than it truly is." Gehrman's frown returned, to which Ozpin tilted his head, "Oh, is that a problem?"
"People can believe whatever they wish," his friend replied. The lines on his face creased deeper, hinting towards a familiar sense of exhaustion, "So long as no one ever discovers the truth of what I am about to show you." The temperature in the Bullhead dropped, a harsh shiver running down Ozpin's spine. Gods, did he know that feeling.
Ozpin took a deep breath, turning away from Gehrman to pilot the Bullhead to whatever it was that had the man so rattled.
James stared at his arm, suspended in the air and stuck in a cast. He had surprisingly few cuts and scrapes for a man that fell gods knew how deep into the earth—something that had all his doctors and nurses baffled (given the fact that the woman Gehrman saved reported the same thing, James suspected that Gehrman, in the greatest show of irony, excelled at healing others with his Aura). Unfortunately, his arm had been practically destroyed from his shoulder to the tips of his fingers—something no amount of Aura, or even a powerful healing Semblance, could easily fix. He lost count of how many pins and screws the surgeons put into his body.
But the worst of it was that none of his doctors were optimistic as to his chances of regaining even a fraction of his strength in his broken limb. James was positive he wouldn't be able to even bend his pinky when he got the cast off. He'd have to learn how to write with his left hand, completely change his fighting style…It would have been better if the damn thing had just torn off in the fall…Well, maybe not.
He was torn from further musings when the door to his room opened, Celia stepping in seconds later. It lasted only for a second, but when her eyes locked onto his broken arm, she grimaced. He managed a smirk in reply, "It's as bad as it looks."
His superior sighed, sitting down at his good side, "So long as you're safe and sound." A more genuine smile appeared on James's face, something Celia reciprocated. She then schooled her features, arching a brow, "I hope you don't plan on pulling any more similar stunts in the future; I'm not putting off my retirement for you." She laughed, but James's lips dipped into a frown. "Oh, I'm sorry! You're probably not in the mood for jokes."
"It's not that Celia." He stared at his broken arm, "…I'm going to have to ask for some time off."
"Well of course," she said. "For at least as long as you're stuck to that bed. And however long your physical therapy lasts, well, obviously you won't go out on missions."
"I mean after all that," James gently cut her off. "I need to…reevaluate some things."
She stared at him. "…What did you and Gehrman get up to in that mountain?"
James grimaced, "Aside from him saving my life?" He let out a breath, massaging his temples with his uninjured hand, "I was confronted by some…baseless assumptions, and need to clear my head." He ran his hand over his cast, "After I can stop worrying about this."
"I suppose I can grant such a leave," Celia nodded. "But what of the Ace-Ops and their…missions?" She leaned back into her seat, face set into a deep frown, "Will they continue hunting down Huntsmen and hounding Gehrman?"
"Definitely no on the latter." James held back a smirk at Celia's shocked expression. "As to the former…if any of them wish to continue doing so, I won't stop them. But I'm officially calling a break from capturing rogue Huntsmen." He huffed, "It just might be my last official order."
"What?" Celia suddenly leaned forward, eyed wide.
James squirmed in his bed, "I…I've made a lot of mistakes in the last few weeks, Celia. Allowed an obsession to blind me to the well-being of my subordinates." He stared at his broken arm, "…I'm not worthy of their trust. May never be worthy again."
Celia hummed from his side, "Perhaps not. But," she laid a hand on his shoulder, and James looked up to see a brilliant, proud smile, "I believe your walking down a good path, nonetheless."
Warmth spread through James's chest, rising up and heating his cheeks. He could only hope he could prove worthy of such praise.
Ozpin stared up at the faded archway, tracing its vague symbols. He gulped, "I've…I've never seen such architecture."
He turned to face Gehrman, eyes wide, "Gehrman, I've been alive for millennia. I've travelled the breadth of Remnant twice over, have seen the rise and fall of countless nations." He took a deep breath, clenching his fists to keep from shaking, "And I have never seen, much less heard, of anything being built beneath Soltias."
"Yes," Gehrman stared up at the archway, rubbing his chin, "I'd imagine so."
Ozpin stepped forward, glaring up at the man. "What do you know?" He had to fight to keep his heart from rising to his throat—this whole thing was…horrifying. Had some humans of his first life managed to escape the gods' cataclysm, hiding out beneath the earth? Or were they some sort of…secret society Salem had concocted and abandoned ages ago? No…No, Salem would never have done that. She hated such enclosed spaces.
"Ozpin!" The immortal man jolted at, both at the voice and the hand on his shoulder. He looked up, Gehrman holding his free hand up, "Calm down. Whatever you're thinking, stop. Do not lose yourself to madness. Not now." Something about the way Gehrman said 'now' made Ozpin's blood run cold.
He followed Gehrman further into the mountain, mind racing. The people of Solitas, past or present, never dug into mountains to build settlements (perhaps use preexisting caves for shelter during the worst storms, but never going beyond a certain depth). No, the only time they dug into mountains was to mine Dust. So, it had to be the humans from the first world. But surely…he would have sensed them in his past lives. Or Salem would have mentioned them, when they styled themselves as gods.
Unless…these ruins were made before even his first life's civilizations. But how could there still be intact, if eroded, arches and pillars?
"We're here," Gehrman said from ahead.
Ozpin sighed; finally, he'd get some answers. He walked under one final, maddening archway—and immediately stepped back, clutching his eyes and crying out in pain.
Gehrman grabbed onto his shoulders, keeping him steady, "What is it?"
Ozpin just groaned, rubbing his palms into his eyes. "There's…something wrong with the room, can't you see it? Like I'm looking through a swirling mirror." He stepped away from his friend, turning around, and removing his hands. He blinked, looking down at his feet—no swirls, no warping space. He didn't dare look back, though he did ask, "What the hell was that?"
"That…was something I should have foreseen." Ozpin resisted the urge to groan—was this how people felt around him? "One moment." Gehrman grew silent, but Ozpin heard the distinct sound of a picture being taken. Seconds later, Gehrman's scroll appeared at his side. Ozpin turned to look at it, only to quickly avert his eyes. "More warped space?" Ozpin nodded.
"Gehrman," Ozpin ground out, "what is that?"
"I cannot say," his friend replied.
"Why the hell not?!"
"This is not something that I can simply ease you into."
"What then?" Ozpin scoffed, "I just stare at it until I don't feel the need to throw up?"
"If we had the time…ah!" Gehrman snapped his fingers. Ozpin looked over his shoulder (careful to not look past the archway) to find Gehrman bent down over a much smaller warped space, one of his little Helpers, Ozpin knew. He grabbed…some sort of old scroll—an actual, bound, paper scroll. "This should help."
"How? What is written on that scroll?"
Gehrman stood, arching a brow, "What scroll?"
"The…The one in your hand."
Gehrman frowned, looking down at the object, "You see this as a scroll..." he trailed off, lips curling into a cold smile, "How curious."
"What do you see, then?"
"A skull," his friend readily replied, "with bright, Cosmic energy flowing over from its broken top."
Ozpin grunted, "You're a very morbid man, Gehrman."
"Or perhaps you're all too soft." The two shared a laugh, before sobering. Gehrman hesitated, before holding out the scroll/skull. "This…is what we in Yharnam called Madman's Knowledge. It contains a fraction of the secrets of the Cosmos. Partake in it and gain the Insight to looked beyond the veil of the Waking World."
Ozpin gulped, staring down at the scroll. "And if I don't?"
Gehrman closed his eyes and shook his head, "…We don't have that choice."
They really didn't, did they? Then again, he was used to not having any true say in his life. He grabbed the scroll, a chill spreading from his palms and up into his brain. Were those…whispers? Yes, whispers, coming from the scroll. Gehrman called it Madman's Knowledge. Did this madman leave behind more than just knowledge? Beating down his anxiety, Ozpin took the scroll in both hands, unfurling it.
It happened in an instant. There was a flash of light, and the whispers grew to shouts, sibilant voices speaking incomprehensible languages. His brain froze and heated up at the same time, wriggling around in his skull as stars bloomed to life before his eyes. Beneath his eyes. Between his eyes.
Then, just as quickly, the feeling disappeared, and the scroll crumbled to dust. The stars vanished, and Ozpin found himself back underground with Gehrman.
He stumbled a bit, leaning heavily on his cane to keep from falling over. Gehrman stepped over, grabbing his chin and lifting his head. Gehrman hummed as he stared into his eyes, "Are you well?"
Ozpin opened his mouth, only for a harsh rasp to tumble out of his throat. He took a deep breath, clearing his throat a couple times. "I-I'm fine."
"…So be it," Gehrman released his grip, stepping back. Ozpin rubbed his chin, staring down at his feet. Now, all he had to do was look up, and see what Gehrman wanted him to see. But he couldn't stop trembling. It was foolish—he'd already taken the step over the ledge; he had no reason to hesitate. But he couldn't help it. He forced himself to raise his head.
He regretted it instantly.
It was huge—only a handful of Grimm could hope to match its size—and rail thin, two legs and six spindly arms stretching out from a sunken-in chest. Its pockmarked skull was split open, crumbling into itself, but bits of greyish flesh bulged out from the holes in its skull, almost looking like eyes.
Ozpin couldn't tear himself away from this…monstrosity. "Wh-Wh-Wha-What is that thing?"
"That," Gehrman swept him arm out, cape fluttering with the grand gesture, "is an Amygdala—a Great One."
Ozpin's knees buckled, and he was just barely able to steady himself on his cane. A dead god, buried in a mountain in Solitas…How many others were there? How had he never found any of them before?
"They have ways to keep themselves hidden, and their surroundings largely intact, as you've just recently seen." Ozpin blinked—he hadn't realized he said that last one aloud. "The recent earthquakes may have weakened their more widespread protections, however, allowing James and I to discover this place." His friend shrugged, "At least, that's my theory."
Ozpin gulped, "And…you found it like this, then? In this…tomb?"
"Oh no," Gehrman replied. Ozpin stared at his friend, whose face was a bizarre mix of amused and terrified. "It was alive when I—and James, but he didn't see it—found it. It died after our battle."
Ozpin's jaw dropped, disbelieving of what he'd just heard. "You killed a god?!"
Gehrman crossed his arms with a hum, "Well, I believe I merely assisted it in its suicide."
"Suicide?" Ozpin whirled around, "Why would a god…commit…" he trailed off as Gehrman's hat shifted all on its own, a miniature version of the dead god crawling down Gehrman's head and settling upon his right shoulder.
Ozpin stared at the…thing as it chirped and cooed at him. This was wrong, it was all wrong. There weren't supposed to be any gods on Remnant! He and Salem were the only traces of that bygone era! Did the brother gods lie to him? Did they leave behind wardens? Had he finally, truly failed? Had he damned not only himself and Salem, but all of Remnant? Had he—
Ozpin looked away from the creature, lifting his cane and slamming it against his foot with all his might. The pain was excruciating, but grounding. He could think, now. He was getting too far ahead of himself. The brother gods were many, many things, but they were not liars—even by omission. If they'd known about Gehrman's gods, they'd have told him. Warned him.
Ozpin looked up, focusing solely on Gehrman, the impressed smile on his face. "I was wondering if I'd have to do that myself."
"Do—kah!" Ozpin coughed—his throat having run dry in his close encounter with madness, "Ugh…Do what?"
"Pull you from the edge of the abyss." Gehrman held his arm out, Ozpin allowing himself a few seconds to see the tiny god crawl atop it before focusing back on Gehrman. The man frowned down at the creature. "…When my comrades and I first peeked past the veil into the true horrifying depths of the Cosmos, it was only sheer luck that we survived. Ludwig—my second-in-command at the time—had found a weapon called the Moonlight Greatsword." Gehrman chuckled, "He said it spoke to him, guided him through the dark. We thought him mad, but the things he could do with that blade…in any case, it provided him a measure of security from the encroaching madness, which he used to pull me to safety, and then we dragged everyone else—some of them kicking and screaming—away."
Ozpin gestured, vaguely, to the dead god. "Did you see that, then?"
"I…I don't know what we saw, that day. It could have been an Amygdala," he chuckled, "those things get everywhere." Ozpin did not share his good mood. "But it could have been Ebrietas—she's a strange fondness for mankind." Gehrman gasped, face paling, "Or could it have been Kos? Was that why we were drawn to that little hamlet? Had we witnessed her glory and coveted them for her favor, even subconsciously?" Ozpin didn't think it was possible, but he had even more questions. Unfortunately, Gehrman didn't appear to be capable of answering any of those questions. In fact, he was devolving into a string of concerned murmurs.
But before Ozpin could grow worried for his friend, Gehrman groaned, bending forward and pinching the bridge of his nose. He looked up after a moment, lips twisted into a pained smile, "As you can see, the struggle against madness is a constant and unpredictable one."
A fire lit in his soul at that. Ozpin stood straighter, furrowing his brow, "I'm no stranger to beating back despair." He'd lost the battle in the beginning—many, many times—but he'd grown since then. He had fallen, yes, but he clawed his way back up, and nothing would drag him back down again. He would not let it. Repeating those words like a mantra, he turned away from Gehrman, towards the dead god.
…It was uglier than he thought a god should be. Now that he thought about it, hadn't Gehrman also described his jailer—Flora, as he called it—in rather unflattering terms as well? Was it common among Gehrman's gods? The Gods of Light and Dark made an effort to look physically appealing, at least. Did these gods sacrifice form for function? His nose wrinkled; he couldn't imagine how such a gangly body could prove conducive for magic. Or Cosmic energy, as Gehrman called it. What an odd distinction. He supposed that the gods would have come from the stars—Salem had told him the brother gods fled to the sky after her failed rebellion. Did they…pal around with these beings? Were there other worlds out there with humans, or the closest equivalent? Did they compare notes, laugh at their creations? Did they—
Ozpin cut off his crashing train of thought with another sharp stab of his cane to his foot. He grimaced, turning away from the dead god to Gehrman, whose smile gleamed in the dark, "Constant and unpredictable."
Ozpin took a deep breath, "…Now what?"
"Now, we rest." Gehrman snapped his fingers. There was his 'helpers'' tell-tale warping of space, and multiple pale, wrinkly, emaciated limbs deposited…camping gear.
Ozpin arched a brow, "You want to camp beside a dead god whose very existence can drive us mad?"
His friend shrugged, "Would you rather find a live one?" Ozpin sighed, shoulders slumping; Gehrman, damn him, just laughed.
Gehrman took it upon himself to pitch their tents, leaving Ozpin to make a fire. Which suited him just fine. It gave him time to get used to idea that at least one god had been living right under his nose. And to finally get a good look at Gehrman's Helpers.
"Ugly little things," Ozpin muttered, staring down at the two pasty, shriveled golems—neither of which cast a shadow in the firelight. One of them lacked eyes, but had a toothless, gaping mouth, the other had two eyes—milky and lidless—and half of its mouth was sewn shut. The pair moaned softly, bobbing up-and-down like buoys in the earth, never showing their bodies below their ribs. He wondered if they even had legs.
He also wondered why the hell he ever wanted to see what these things looked like.
"They really aren't much to look at," Gehrman said, stepping away from the two small tents he set-up. He walked over, crouching down beside Ozpin, "I don't know where they come from—none of us did—but they're loyal." Gehrman moved his arm, hand hovering just above the golems. The two chittered excitedly, reverently, reaching up and running their hands along his fingers. He snapped his fingers, and they disappeared, returning with two packs of MREs—jerky, if he read the label right. "Eat," Gehrman said, handing him a pack, "delving into the unknowable drives one hungry." Ozpin did feel a bit peckish.
He waited until they'd finished the main meal, the two of them nibbling on a couple granola bars, before asking. "What are they loyal to?"
"Hunters—my particular brand of them, at least." His friend huffed, pointing at them with his half-eaten bar, "It took me awhile to realize that they would still assist the turncoats of my organization."
Ozpin stared at him, "…Loyal, huh?"
Gehrman shrugged, "Never said they were smart. But," he smirked, "to their credit, when I explicitly disavowed or otherwise dismissed a Hunter, they'd immediately rescind their services."
"And they do all this for free?"
"No," his friend chuckled, finishing his bar in one great bite, "of course not." His good mood died, "They require one particular payment." He stared down at the golems, "…Blood." Ozpin just hummed, to which Gehrman turned to him, cocking a brow, "You suspected as such?"
"It makes sense," Ozpin nodded. "Considering the state you left Tyrian Callows in, and the fact that you only deliver people's heads, well," he shrugged, "you had to be using the…leftovers…for something."
"Indeed," Gehrman's lips split into a smile, but there was something in his eyes that told him there was still more to it. Perhaps it was how the Helpers reproduced, molding the dead bodies into more versions of themselves? If so, did they strictly need Gehrman to do so? Could they not just steal bodies from graveyards? Unless they couldn't dig through dirt and wood. Yet, they could appear from the ground from some sort of bubbling portal. Although—
Ozpin cut himself off with a groan, looking towards the ceiling and pinching his brow, "Them too?"
Gehrman laughed, clapping him on his shoulder, "Well, they do come from beyond the veil!" Ozpin sent him a baleful glare, "But it's good. You're recognizing the signs of madness without my needing to interfere." He grinned wolfishly, "Perhaps I shall have some of the little ones follow you around, get you used to their existence."
"Please don't. I don't want to have to constantly watch where I step."
"They're actually fairly good about that sort thing."
"The answer's no, Gehrman."
"Oh, very well," Gehrman shifted back, leaning back on his hands. "But expect them to pop up whenever you and I talk."
Ozpin finished his granola bar, taking a long drink of water as he formulated a response. "…I need to know more about them before I agree to that."
"Alright," Gehrman arched a brow, "what do you want to know?"
"What, exactly, do they do with the blood you give them?"
Gehrman shrugged, "Honestly, I'm not entirely sure. But they give me things in exchange for it. Bullets, bandages, alcohol, items to repair or improve my weapons. Clothing, if I'm desperate."
"On top of carrying around all your stuff?"
"Yes." He hummed, "Though I will admit, I was surprised that they were capable of collecting vehicles as large as trucks."
"Really?" Ozpin tilted his head, "You never tried with…you never saw cars before a few months ago, so I'm going to go with carriages?"
"What reason would there be to own a carriage without a horse?"
Ozpin made to reply, only to stop himself. "…I guess keeping the things alive would be bit of a hassle."
"No living creatures can be held within the little ones' space," Gehrman replied, "We tested that thoroughly."
"Are there any limits aside from that?"
Gehrman rubbed his chin, "No, I don't—ah!" he snapped his fingers, "There is one. They will not steal anything for you."
"They draw the line at theft?"
"For a given measure of the word. If I were to steal something, and give it to them, they would keep it. But I could not point to someone's possession and tell them to take it for me. In fact," he narrowed his eyes, "unless I've already laid hands upon something, they cannot receive it."
"So," Ozpin hummed, "you are the intermediary through which they can interact with the world."
"Almost exactly." They fell into silence, only broken up by the soft crackles of the fire, and the sibilant moans of the Helpers as they reached towards Gehrman.
Until the miniature god, holding Gehrman's hat above it with it's two middle arms, crawled over to them, settling on Gehrman's lap.
Ozpin immediately averted his gaze, which led his eyes to the larger, dead god. He groaned, burying his head in his hands. "…I really don't want to ask how those two things are linked."
A chuckle sounded beside him, followed by a short, soft coo. "You do not have to."
"No," Ozpin lifted his head, focusing on Gehrman, but keeping the tiny god in his periphery, "but I fear I must. So…how?" Gehrman grew pensive, clasping his hands together and resting his chin on them. The god, in direct defiance with Ozpin's wishes, climbed atop Gehrman, settling on his head. He could feel its eyes—however many it had poking out of its skull—upon him.
"There is this object we sometimes found. An oblong, blue rock with multiple circular indents. We called them Tonsil Stones, and they looked remarkably like an Amygdala's head."
Ozpin dared to look up at the small god's own head. "…Some sort of egg, then?"
Gehrman smiled widely, "Well, well…You're certainly smarter than any of us ever were." He reached a hand up, letting the Amygdala climb onto it as he brought it to eye-level—forcing Ozpin to look at it. "…The stones never broke open, for us. Perhaps they were duds, perhaps the Amygdala within knew we would kill them without a second thought."
"Your people regularly killed gods?!" That might have been the most fantastical thing he'd heard…ever.
"We dabbled," Gehrman grinned. "But it was more like stabbing at them until they went away. A freshly born one, though? I, certainly, wouldn't have given it a chance to grow."
"Then," Ozpin furrowed his brow, "what stopped you this time?"
Gehrman hummed, gaze falling upon his Helpers. "They stopped me. Were rather insistent on it."
"…Does that worry you?" It certainly worried him.
"Not so much now." He lifted his free hand to the god—it clasped onto his thumb with four hands, and, if it had lips, no doubt would have started suckling. "The little ones would not lead my astray. Whatever reasons they wish for me and this Amygdala to be together, at the very least, it won't harm me."
"But what of the rest of us?" Ozpin thought, but didn't say. It was a silly fear, in truth. Gehrman was a protector—a far more direct one than Ozpin himself, for better or worse. He wouldn't let his…charge do anything untoward.
Ozpin tore his mind away from thoughts of a grim future. Instead, he focused on his bloody past. He smiled wanly at his friend, "I suppose it's my turn to open up to you."
"No," Ozpin blinked at the sharp retort. Gehrman lowered the god to his lap, leaning forward. "Your history is an unpleasant one, no?"
"That's putting it mildly."
"Mine is as well," Gehrman turned towards the dead god, shadows dancing along his face. "…Your mind is already squirming with the unknowable existence of the Cosmos. To sink into your memories—the despair and turmoil of those times—would fracture it further. Let the focus of tonight be on acclimating to the existence of Great Ones. We can delve into our pasts at Beacon, within the comfort of your office."
Ozpin sighed in relief, "Yes, of course. Thank you." It would be for the best. Gehrman deserved to know the whole truth of his deal with the God of Light. But thinking of his wife and their children always held the risk of sending him spiraling into grief. Doing so next to a dead god and its offspring whose very existences were already fraying his mind.…it would not be pleasant.
Beacon was the closest thing he had to a home this life, so it would make the best place to pour his heart out. He let out a sigh, running a hand through his hair, "…There is one thing I must tell, you, though." Gehrman arched a brow. "About Anima, and why I was reluctant to let you travel there." Gehrman stood straighter, fixing Ozpin with a steady stare.
Ozpin crossed his arms, "Half of Anima, as you've no doubt heard, is home to a number of bandit clans."
"A stupid concept," Gehrman cut in with a huff.
"Oh, I agree. I've spent more than one life trying to solve that particular issue." Unfortunately, the people of Anima were proud, and reluctant to change. Even when he was born into one of the tribes, and tried to reform them from within, he was met with great resistance—and death.
Once the trauma eventually passed, he couldn't help but admire the creative executions the tribes could come up with.
He cleared his throat, "Anyway, the problem boils down to one specific person whose death—at your hands—would affect more than a few people."
"Summer and her family?" Ozpin nodded. "Who are they bonded to in Anima that my killing them would affect them so?"
Ozpin rolled his shoulders, reigning in his temper at the mere thought of the woman in question. "Her name is Raven Branwen," Gehrman's eyes widened, "she was once a member of team STRQ—along with Summer, Tai, and Qrow—and is currently the head of the Branwen tribe." Ozpin almost went on to say that she was also Yang's birth mother but held his tongue. That, at least, was something he would leave for Tai to reveal.
Gehrman's lips twisted into a thoughtful frown, "…She named her group after herself?"
Ozpin laughed, "That's what caught your attention?"
His friend rolled his eyes, "You know my feelings on the subject of traitors." As did everyone on Remnant. "And given the," Gehrman's face colored as he looked up and scratched his neck, "…familiarity, between myself and Summer's family, I can understand why, if I were to kill their ex-teammate and deliver her rotting skull to the authorities, they'd feel conflicted." He pulled a face, "But is the woman so vain as to name a group of wastrels after herself?"
Ozpin chuckled, "She is certainly haughty, but she didn't name the tribe after herself. In truth, she named herself after her tribe."
Gehrman leaned back, eyes widening, "She is from Anima." A nod. "As is Qrow, then?" Another nod. "Then…how—"
"Please," Ozpin held up a hand, "we can discuss the particulars after you've spoken with Summer, Tai, and Qrow."
Gehrman nodded. He seemed to age in the next moment, and he said, "They'll probably want nothing to do with me after we speak, won't they?"
"…I couldn't say," Ozpin honestly replied. Tai, at least, had written off his ex-lover when it became clear she wouldn't come back. Qrow and Summer, from what he could tell, wavered on whether they wouldn't care if Raven dropped dead, to waiting for the chance to welcome her back.
But in truth, it all came down to Yang. Whether or not they'd risk the chance of the young girl associating with her birth mother's killer (and there was little doubt in his mind that Gehrman could—and would—kill Raven). He hoped they'd still associate with him, though. Gehrman allowed himself very few bright spots in his life, and few were brighter than the Xiao-Long-Rose household.
"…Very well," Gehrman nodded, eyes like steel. "Come the morning, inform them that I shall arrive to discuss Raven with them within…a week's time."
Gehrman turned to face the dead god, "I wish to see if there are any more living Amygdala—or their spawn—living beneath Solitas."
Ozpin gulped, "…Only a week?"
"In truth," Gehrman turned back to face him, "I suspect that they are truly dead—or as dead a Great One can be. I don't think the little ones would have been so insistent with this one," he pat the small god's head, eliciting a short chirp, "were others waiting beneath rubble."
Ozpin nodded; good. He didn't even want to think about what he would do if Gehrman found more of those things. And then, a terrifying though wormed its way into his mind. He gulped, "Should I scour the rest of Remnant for these Amygdala?"
Gehrman rubbed his chin, "…If the earthquakes spread to the other Kingdoms, we may have a problem. Otherwise…in the future, compile a list of known cave systems within the Kingdoms. I can seek them out at my leisure."
"Oh please," Ozpin scoffed, "don't go out of your way." He had to fight keep the smile off his face. Gehrman had no such reservations, tilting his head back and letting out a barking laughter. Ozpin quickly followed suit (as did the small god, with its quick, erratic chirps), their absurd merriment echoing around them.
Gehrman came to a gentle stop, heaving a great sigh, "…We should get some rest. Leave this place as early as possible."
"I couldn't agree more," Ozpin rose to his feet, clapping Gehrman on the shoulder as he walked to his tent.
Before he started settling in, however, he turned around, looking at the dead god. He stared at it, long and hard, even as his thoughts whirled, heart thumping wildly in his chest. For one brief moment, in between the terror and despair clouding his mind, he marveled. Marveled that even at his age, with all he'd seen, all he'd done, the world could still so thoroughly pull the rug out from under him.
With one final glare, he turned away from the god, eventually falling into a deep, chaotic sleep.
A/N: Bloodborne's timeline is so messy. And RWBY's timeline is so vague. It's the best of both worlds! Be sure to leave a review. Later.