It had not been difficult to arrive at this location. Barely an inconvenience, really. A pure rose fueled by her vast seedbed was capable of extravagant growth when provided with the appropriate goal, and what goal was more fitting for a Rozen Maiden than a reunion with her beloved Master?
When the very essence of her power enabled a pure rose to influence the world and shape it to her desires, traversing vast distances could be accomplished without difficulty. Coupled with her nature as a Rozen Maiden, forever pure and desiring only her Master's touch, nothing else could get in the way of her journey. She had made it so, after all.
The Relic of Choice had taken her here. To this fateful moment in time. Pieces of the world had been gathered, assembled in rows and columns as vast amounts of energy were sent careening through the landscape. All to serve a purpose. The only purpose that mattered.
Her Master, Ruby Rose, would arrive in this place.
Kirakishou had foreseen it. She had seen it happen with her very self, witnessing the moment of their reunion over and over again. All that a pure rose needed to do was set the pieces appropriately and prepare the field for her Master's arrival.
Atlas was to be the site of their reunification. And it would be here that the world would forever change. Blooming only for them. Pieces of the puzzle matched and paired until the entire board was overturned. She had foreseen it. She had foreseen it all.
They were so desperate, these people. These… humans… these… faunus… all fighting for a cause they did not understand. How could they, really? How could one truly hope to fight for a cause when their superiors told them nothing?
An army lay amassed before her.
Kirakishou was standing on the edge of a great crystalline pillar overlooking the floating city of Atlas. Beneath it lay Mantle. And what a sight it was to behold beyond the visions granted to her by the Relic of Choice. Her N-Field could detect so many hundreds of thousands of lives, of minds, huddled together in a desperate desire for survival. For prosperity.
Fighting for survival and prosperity against a doll that gave exactly that. Truly, the world of Remnant was a strange place.
A staggering wall surrounded the bustling city of Mantle, where once-great buildings remained standing after decades of trials and tribulations had eroded the very foundations upon which they once stood. Yet even still, the buildings all remain stubbornly stable, stubbornly stagnant, stubbornly forlorn despite her garden growing ever so rapidly nearby.
She could see the great city of Atlas floating above, a city of research and development, of science and militaristic might shackled by chains of diplomacy and corruption, forever unable to properly ascend to the clouds. A tethered city living on sordid lies and empty promises. Kirakishou could not imagine an area worse for Ruby Rose to have once lived in, even for the brief amount of time that she had been here.
"...It's almost fascinating," Judica stood on her left, eyeing the city of Mantle.
"It's almost fascinating," Madulin stood to her right, gazing up at the city of Atlas. "If it wasn't so sad~"
Together, all three dolls focused their gaze on those that thought to interfere with the Alice Game. Those gathered fools and commanding toys clad in arms and armaments that would serve little purpose than to needlessly tax her beloved garden. A pointless expenditure of resources that were better left stored and secure.
The walls of Atlas were shielded. Hard-light dust, stronger than any weapon that lay on the battlefield, powered by the combined energy of a nation solely devoted to technological advancement. Stronger than her. Only the best for the worst. A floating city trapped inside itself.
The walls of Mantle deserved no such punishment. They stood only via their own strength of will. Together, all three dolls would display their own strength of will and conquer that with which the likes of Atlas had failed to conquer. They would take the city, and Mantle would join the N-Field. A truly precious bond, to serve as a truly precious connection. A connection in time, a connection in this world.
Foresight was, truly, an interesting ability. She loathed its very concept, yet could not deny its utility when properly shackled. Perhaps that was the true purpose of the Four Relics, to demonstrate that even those who wielded mighty powers were as pointless as those beings that created them in the first place.
If said beings existed, of course. Even with Salem trapped in Judica and Madulin's conjoined N-Field, her memories were somewhat difficult to interpret. The Relic of Choice was somewhat useless in the endeavour, as the only being that knew the truth had been purposefully trapped in a world that worked to steal away and seal away her memories.
She could simply venture to the Relic of Knowledge and learn the truth herself, but it would be too much of a hassle for a pointless question. She would rather focus on the present, on those that would focus on her.
Besides, in the timelines that dealt with Kirakishou taking alternate routes to Atlas, the nation became… difficult to manoeuvre around, even with her vast N-Field.
Legions of soldiers, gathered warriors armed and complimented with aura, lay gathered in vast platoons in response to the sighting of a pure rose. Gathered fleets of bullheads flew in vast swarms overhead, accompanied by the signature Atlesian military vessels controlling a mass of mechanised dolls bred for the sole purpose of war in a would-be peaceful world.
The true adversaries, however, floated above. Confined. Trapped in a failing city. Trapped in a floating city. A confinement of their own design, looking outwards through the captured lenses of the many thousands of surveillance pieces outfitting into each and every one of the gathered forces that stood before her.
And Kirakishou had brought a storm.
Or, more preciously, Kirakishou would be best in saying that the storm had followed her. A side effect of the increasing atmospheric aura mass caused by her N-Field generating far more aura than was strictly capable of being stored by even a being of her purity and scope.
In hindsight, she should have seen such a thing coming. After all, when her designs for her Master were beginning to take shape, a similarly unnatural storm had appeared above Vale during the time of the Vytal Festival. It had been Ruby's storm. A response to her emotions, and outlet for events to come, as her immaterial N-Field briefly materialised, and her aura grew beyond her body. When her Solemn Grove had grown to an appropriate size to accommodate her aura, the storm had waned into a calm blissful moment.
But, it had remained in some form, shaped into the Knight of the White Rose.
She understood, now, that in order to prevent the storm from growing in size and potentially damaging her garden and its many seedlings, Kirakishou needed to grow her garden and match the auric expenditure of her gathered little seedlings. She could have done so in a pinch, with little more than a wave of her hands. However, she had refrained her hand, as a vast force of nature was exactly what the people of Atlas and Mantle needed.
And it was quite vast, stretching on as far as the eye could see. Discharges of aura none too dissimilar from bolts of lightning flashed across the clouds before occasionally discharging in overwhelming displays of luminescent colour shaped from hundreds of thousands of hues. Occasionally she would find herself witness to a bolt of auric discharge that would strike the ground, only to leave a growth of teal crystal in its place as her N-Field lay claim to the land beneath.
For a pure little Rozen Maiden doll, it was indeed something of a sight to behold. And while she had held this sight in her mind's eye for the entirety of her time ever since placing the crown atop her head, actually witnessing the culmination of her actions firsthand left her awestruck.
The N-Field had developed beyond her wildest expectations.
No doubt exactly as Father had planned.
"...Why are they waiting, I wonder?" Judica cocked her head to the side, peering down at the gathered forces on the surface with the casual interest one may express when gazing at a lower lifeform.
"Why aren't they doing anything, I wonder?" Madulin looked to the sky, staring at the fleet of gathered airships with a wry little pout on her face.
Both dolls wanted to play.
She wanted to play, as well.
Kirakishou's gaze moved to the failure city of Atlas, and she smiled.
Now, it was in her best interests to create the perfect playground, was it not?
"...What are they waiting for?" Councilwoman Camilla crossed her arms, gazing at the holographic projection in the centre of the bunker with a steadily rising amount of derision and disdain.
Behind General Schnee and the gathered members of the Atlesian Council, a great many Atlesian Military personnel maintained communications with the rest of the Atlesian Military forces gathered outside Atlas and Mantle, relaying appropriate communications chatter to the fleet and inputting any gathered intelligence into the projected display that served only to further increase Winter's own discomfort.
"Are they waiting for something, I wonder?" Kanaria tilted her head, the little doll clutching Winter's leg in something resembling a childish bid for reassurance. Or was it fear, perhaps? A child afraid? She remembered a time when Weiss had done something similar, during a storm not too dissimilar to the one overtaking Atlas at this very moment. She had been very young and had come to Winter for reassurance. Even if Winter had, at the time, also been very young.
As was protocol, and out of her own withered emotional instincts, Winter absentmindedly rubbed soothing circles on the little doll's back, and if her touch provided just enough force to pull Kanaria closer to her, then nobody saw fit to comment on the movement aloud.
"To think that she has progressed this far," Pietro Pollendina commented from his mechanical mobility device, the shrouded researcher's brow creased in apparent scientific intrigue. A holographic display of his appearance, of course, as the man was busy elsewhere. Winter turned to the man, curious at his somewhat vague phrasing. "The dolls standing beside her do not match any of the descriptions given for any of the seven Rozen Maiden. And, yet, their outfits clearly display their artificial nature."
"...She made them," Kanaria explained simply. The doll was frowning. A thoughtful state. "Many things are possible with the N-Field, and the creation of lives appearing somewhat similar to Rozen Maiden ourselves is well within the scope of Kirakishou's abilities. I'm more surprised that we're not seeing this 'Summer Rose' that was mentioned in the report, though..."
Winter frowned as Kanaria's last sentence was aimed in her direction, feeling somewhat surprised herself at the distinct lack of Summer Rose. Provided that the intelligence received at the Schnee Mansion was correct, and a distinct glare towards Jacques Schnee confirmed that it was indeed correct to the best of the man's knowledge, then a reconstruction of Summer Rose should have been a main priority for Kirakishou.
"...So, that's the girl that has caused so much devastation," Jacques Schnee regarded with a wry frown, a hand on his chin as he gazed at Kirakishou's projected form. His very words alone were enough to cause Kanaria to shrink closer to Winter, the little doll supposedly finding herself somewhat uncomfortable around Jacques Schnee. "I would also like to make it known that her appearance does not fully match that given by any of the Rozen Maiden I have conversed with. The white rose growing out of her right eye socket and the flowing peach blonde hair are correct, however, her outfit and choice of accessories are completely different."
"And you do not believe it to be a simple wardrobe change, do you?" Councilman Sleet crossed his arms. Whether he was mocking Jacques or merely asking a question was irrelevant.
"I do not," Jacques confirmed with a nod. "From the information I have gathered, Kirakishou is not a girl to act without purpose. She is not vain, nor does she care for any reactions outside of those given by Ruby Rose, who is notably not present neither in Atlas, Mantle, or beside Kirakishou herself. And, yet, Kirakishou is here and she is displaying change outside her observed behaviour."
"...If I may, I may be able to explain that," an all-too-familiar voice echoed from the entry door. The sealed bunker door hadn't so much as tripped an alarm let alone given off any sound that it had been opened. Yet, it had clearly been opened all the same.
The bunker sprung into action, as non-essential military communications personnel drew their firearms and rounded on the figure. Sleet and Camilla drew their own smaller pistols, while Jacques Schnee seemed hard-pressed between deep bewilderment and idle confusion at the sight that lay witness before his eyes.
Whitley Schnee was standing by the door, holding a cane.
A familiar cane. One that Winter Schnee recognised all too well.
She knew the implications of such. And, damning as it was, she had no choice but to oblige.
"Ozpin?" Jacques Schnee rounded on her, confused. Winter Schnee, in a brief audacious moment of clarity, felt the most bizarre sense of sympathy for Jacques Schnee, a man so proud of his immense knowledge left in the dark regarding one of the more compromising state secrets.
And, now his lack of knowledge had left him without an heir to the very corporation he had acquired from Winter's Mother all those years ago. The Schnee Dust Company, ruined by a relic from the past and a desire for secrecy.
Councillors Sleet and Camilla regarded the boy with critical, assessing eyes. Unlike Councilman Schnee, they had indeed been briefed on the possibility of Ozpin's pending reincarnation, alongside the immense potential the man held regarding the future of Remnant. Ozpin and Salem, locked in their forever war. The Rozen Maiden and the Alice Game had, no doubt, thrown a wrench into the endless planning and scheming, yet the war between the eternal wizard and witch would forever be stewing in the background.
And, now, Ozpin had been revealed, inside Whitley Schnee of all people. It was somewhat fascinating. She didn't believe the boy even had a spine to support himself, let alone the necessary temperament and force of will to host Ozpin.
"Greetings," Ozpin gave a bow, his tone reverberating with the particular deeper octave of the previous Ozpin reincarnate, a sign that the reincarnation had been something of a recent event. "Councilman Schnee, I presume that you are somewhat surprised by my arrival, although I assure you that no harm has come to your son."
Councilman Schnee's expression was as frosty as Winter had expected it would be, and she was certain that his mind had already pieced together the puzzle to some small degree.
"...Judging by the lack of shock from my associates, and our esteemed General, your… return from the grave… was an expected outcome."
"Indeed," Ozpin gave an incline of his head. The boy wizard stepped into the bunker, a casual wave of his hand causing the bunker vault door to seal shut once again in an idle display of his abilities. "My apologies for the deception, it was somewhat necessary in order to personally evaluate Ruby Rose without arousing suspicion from Team RWBY and the Atlesian Military."
"...And for this reason alone you hid your… what… possession of my own son?!" Jacques Schnee did not raise his voice, but instead, his tone lowered into something charitably associated with a growl.
"More a merger of souls than any mere possession," Ozpin waved off Jacques and his anger with a dismissive gesture, as the Schnee CEO ground his teeth at the gesture. "We can sort out the details of such at a later date if required. However, right now, Atlas and Mantle face a far more threatening problem than my meagre existence."
"Kirakishou," Jacques ground out, crossing his arms as the gathered group all returned to focus on the holographic projection of their shared ire. "Very well, then, I shall overlook this… incident… until the task at hand is resolved. General Winter, if you would continue?"
General Winter gave a long-suffering sigh. While Jacques Schnee had likely dismissed the incident of Ozpin's resurrection and migration into his son as mere semblance shenanigans, she knew the truth. And she also knew that Ozpin would never have revealed himself without a reason.
"And what did you discover?" Winter instead directed her question to Ozpin in spite of Jacques and his desire to return to the issue of Kirakishou appearing at their city border, "Does it have anything to do with your arrival here, at the moment of Kirakishou's appearance in Atlesian territory?"
"It does indeed," Ozpin confirmed with a curt nod. "Specifically, it refers to the conversation you held with the Rozen Maiden at the Schnee Family Mansion."
...So, he learned of their conversation. It was of no major surprise to General Winter, as she was well aware that the use of magical abilities opened up certain avenues for surveillance that not even the likes of Jacques Schnee could reliably defend against with any degree of success.
"Regarding Ruby Rose and the Rozen Maiden, and using the conversation our General had at the Schnee dwelling," Councilman Sleet parroted, humming in thought. "You were studying them all, for this long?"
"Yes. And I have learned that Ruby Rose has gained access to the powers of a Maiden."
The shock must have shown on her face, alongside the faces of Councilman Sleet and Councilwoman Camilla, as once again Jacques Schnee was the only figure to look even remotely confused at the reveal. That was, of course, until his bewilderment softened into a thoughtful annoyance.
"...Another state secret," Jacques frowned, grumbling to himself. He shot a glare at the group of Councilors that was promptly ignored, before the man merely sighed and focused back toward Ozpin. "And I am assuming that you are referring to the Story of the Seasons? Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall?"
General Winter shuddered to herself at the very thought. The power of a Maiden, in the hands of one directly connected to Kirakishou. Or, were the Rozen Maiden to be believed, formerly connected to Kirakishou. Even on her own, the damage that Ruby Rose could cause with the power of a Fall Maiden under her back was inconceivable. Throughout history, there existed many a tale of maidens from myth hunted in order to procure their perceived magical powers. When General Ironwood had taken Winter under his wing and shown her the truth of the world, Winter had learned that the Maidens were very real, and the dangers surrounding them were justified.
In the wrong hands, a Maiden could cause untold damage to the people of Remnant.
There had been a reason why General Ironwood had been called to Vale during the time of the Vytal Festival, and it was certainly not to simply oversee the tournament hosted at Vale. An agent of Salem had attacked one of the Maidens, leading to her power being split. It had only been through the timely intervention of Qrow Branwen that the Queen's agent had not gathered the power entirely. Instead, the power of the Fall Maiden had been split between two hosts, both the victim and her assailant.
From what she could recall, Ozpin and General Ironwood had been in the process of selecting-
"The Fall Maiden," Winter Schnee realised all of a sudden, as it all came together before her. "Ruby Rose is the Fall Maiden. The previous Fall Maiden's power was transferred to Ruby Rose, during Kirakishou's arrival at the Vytal Festival Tournament."
"Indeed you are correct, General Winter," Ozpin nodded approvingly, before turning to address the other Councilors who appeared surprised by the development. "At the time, it was not believed that Ruby Rose and Kirakishou were anything more than what they seemed, a couple experiencing young love. However, it became apparent rather quickly that the two were actively working together, likely from the very beginning."
"No doubt, Kirakishou opting to return Summer Rose to the world was more than enough to secure the girl's heart. A tragic tale of a departed maternal figure," Jacques Schnee deduced with a particular lilt of distaste to his voice. "From there, the two worked hand in hand to grow Kirakishou's N-Field. And this… Maiden power, one can only assume that it is as powerful as the legends say?"
"Unfortunately, we are dealing with no simple Fall Maiden," Ozpin gave a shake of his head. "Ruby Rose possesses Silver Eyes."
"...Really? The Silver-Eyed Warriors were real as well?" Jacques sneered. "Oum, next you're going to tell us that every myth is true. Oum forbid."
"Most are," Ozpin casually admitted, shrugging. "However, myths and stories are exacerbated over time, until only so much as a grain of truth remains amidst a sea of lies."
"And this Fall Maiden and Silver-Eyed Warrior?" Councilwoman Sleet interjected. "How exactly would Ruby Rose be any different? If I recall, the power of the Silver-Eyed Warrior worked only on the grimm. Killing with a glance."
"...When one combines the powers of a Maiden and a Silver-Eyed Warrior, a long-forgotten legend is born anew. You may recall the last such case of such an incident giving birth to the story of The Girl Who Fell Through The World."
The Girl Who Fell Through The World… Winter was passingly familiar with the old tale, having chosen to read into some of Remnant's myths and legends after learning the truth behind the Story of the Seasons and the Four Maidens. According to the annals of time, the story once revolved around a young girl who seemingly fell through the world of Remnant and awoke in her a new world. When she was able to find her way back to Remnant, however, she discovered that the journey had changed her. Unlike many of the other myths passed down through generations, that particular story remained as little more than a few old sentences.
'She brushed off her bumps and bruises… For nothing hurt more than the hole in her heart.'
That was the only verse that Winter could locate that held any degree of connection to the original story, having been uncovered in the remains of a burnt-out library in the catacombs beneath what would eventually become known as Mantle. The text had been one of several documents that had been recovered from what Winter now knew to be the last time Salem had dared assault Atlesian territory.
More texts began to surface across the globe soon after the discovery in Atlesian territory, however, their credibility was often criticised following their suspiciously timed discovery.
Eventually, however, the texts had been woven together, and a myth had been given to the world.
"And what exactly does this particular story have to do with Ruby Rose?" Jacques questioned with a particular frown, eying the boy Wizard critically. "The recovered texts do not reference either the Silver-Eyed Warriors or the Four Maidens. They barely mention anything."
Ozpin stepped forward, moving with a grace that Winter personally knew to be leagues ahead of Whitley's previous stride, until the boy wizard was standing in front of the holographic display of Atlas. Only then, as the sound of Kirakishou's unnatural storm rang in the background, did he speak.
"The story that remains is but a shadow of the original. The Girl Who Fell Through The World did indeed return to Remnant as the texts indicated, and she was indeed a different girl following her experiences, but her actions upon returning to Remnant were purposefully scrubbed from history."
"...The insinuation of another world not only existing but having been connected to our own world for a number of years notwithstanding, one can infer that this individual held less than ideal intentions for the world of Remnant at large based on your reactions so far," Jacques stipulated, glaring at the boy. "Do not force us to listen to your full story. We have a war on our hands, boy, we do not have time to listen to each and every little scrap of information you hold."
"And who was it that purposefully allowed Ruby Rose to leave Atlas in the hopes of Kirakishou following her?" Ozpin retorted dryly, causing Jacques to narrow his eyes.
"Please. If we could return to the conversation at hand?" Winter decided to be the voice of reason, getting in between the two arguing Schnee. "Preferably, before Kirakishou and her allies decide to move."
Ozpin took one look at her, appraising, before nodding. "Very well. I shall be blunt. The Silver-Eyed Maiden, that is, the combination of a Maiden and Silver-Eyed Warrior, returned to the world of Remnant with a desire to quell the beasts of grimm once and for all. However, she soon grew to despise both man and beast. Her powers turned all it touched to stone in her quest, and the world was almost rendered extinct by her actions."
There was a low silence as the gathered figures of the room slowly digested Ozpin's words for what they were. General Winter herself was reeling at the revelation of such a figure having once existed. To go so far as to almost completely annihilate the world's population…
She couldn't imagine how the Queen would have reacted to such a figure existing.
And, also, General Winter found herself privy to another revelation.
"Ruby Rose holds the power of the Silver-Eyed Warrior of legend," she stated aloud, before looking back at the holographic projection of their mutual adversary continuing to stand at the door of Mantle and Atlas. Patiently waiting. "Kirakishou knew. She used the power of the Silver-Eyed Warrior once before, didn't she? At the end of the Vytal Festival Tournament."
A knowing look spread through the gathered group as they all think back to that particular moment. The silver fire…
Winter… She remembered General Ironwood reporting the incident, going to personally investigate the phenomenon during the end of the Vytal Festival Tournament when some of their lower soldiers had been reported trapped nearby.
It had been the last time that Winter Schnee had seen General James Ironwood.
"That is the current assumption, yes," Ozpin confirmed with a curt nod. "Kirakishou may not have been aware of the implications of what may transpire should the powers of a Maiden and the Silver-Eyed Warrior unite, or may not have even known of them at the time, however, she was able to manipulate the silver flames generated by Ruby's ascent in the creation of her Palace of Beginnings."
"So what you're saying is that the two reuniting may prove disastrous for the people of Remnant?" Councilman Sleet requested clarification, before continuing at Ozpin's nod. "Then we are in a difficult situation. Without Ruby Rose, there is no reason for Kirakishou to be here. However, given Kanaria's assessments regarding Kirakishou's personality are correct-"
"They are," Kanaria interjected with a pout, puffing her cheeks at Sleet.
"-Then her appearance in Atlas is questionable. Why appear here, when Ruby Rose is elsewhere?"
General Winter returned to focus on the holographic display, as she thought about Sleet's words. Even throughout the entire time that Winter had been conversing with her gathered allies, Kirakishou had yet to make a move. All that the Rozen Maiden and her gathered dolls continued to do was stand atop their crystal spire overlooking Mantle, quietly chatting to each other as an unnatural storm raged on behind them.
She believed that Kanaria's documentation of Kirakishou's personality was spot on. Not only did it correlate with the information uncovered from her visit to the Schnee Manor and the resultant conversation with the Rozen Maiden gathered there, but it also correlated with Kirakishou's prior actions in the past.
Everything she had done in the past had been out of a twisted affection for the Silver-Eyed Maiden, Ruby Rose. Therefore, reuniting with her lost partner would be the top priority for the Rozen Maiden.
Yet, according to Kanaria's observations, a Rozen Maiden as strong as Kirakishou should have easily been able to determine that Ruby is not in either Atlas or Mantle within moments of first setting foot upon Atlesian territory. After all, her Palace of Beginnings was not the full extent of her reach. Kirakishou's true strength lay in her ability to connect to slumbering individuals and both manipulate and read their innermost thoughts.
She should have known that Ruby Rose was elsewhere.
No. She did know that. She had to.
Then, why was she here? Why was she in Atlas? What else of Vale was there to-
A thought occurred.
Kirakishou wanted to reunite with Ruby Rose. She had known for some time, possibly ever since she first arrived in Vale, about the Silver-Eyed Warriors and the Four Maidens, going as far as to ensure Ruby Rose became a Silver-Eyed Warrior. Throughout all of her time in Vale, Kirakishou had been using her N-Field to connect to the many denizens living in Vale, and had learned a great deal about the people of Remnant as a result, to the point where she was able to passably avoid suspicion about her true origins for some time.
If Kirakishou had learned about the Four Maidens and the Silver-Eyed Warriors, what else could she have learned? What single myth would cause Kirakishou to journey to Atlas?
What else, but a myth that could help her in her quest to return to Ruby Rose?
And Winter… She knew of such a myth. General James Ironwood of the Atlesian Military had known of such a myth during his time in Vale during the Vytal Festival Tournament. And she had known that only a myth of such magnitude would EVER cause a man like Ozpin to reveal himself at such a time, working desperately to stop Kirakishou. The one myth that was both connected to Atlas and able to further Kirakishou's single goal of reuniting with Ruby Rose.
In hindsight, it was obvious.
The Relics. Kirakishou knew of the Four Relics.
She had learned of the Four Relics from General James Ironwood. During the Vytal Festival Tournament, her mentor had fallen and been gathered into Kirakishou's Palace of Beginnings, and his knowledge of the Relics had been given to Kirakishou. All of his knowledge. Destruction, Creation, Knowledge, and Choice. She knew of their locations, their abilities, everything. And she had known about them for all this time. This information had been what had made Kirakishou come to Atlas.
Kirakishou aimed to use the Relic of Creation to forcefully return Ruby Rose to her.
"She's on the move," Ozpin voiced aloud for the group, pointing to the holographic projection of the battlefield.
So. This is the former Master of Kirakishou, Ruby Rose.
To see the girl in action… It was more than Shinku had deemed possible. They had conversed, mere days prior to the assault on the caves by the beasts of dark, and Ruby Rose had acted in a completely different manner compared to what she was seeing at this point in time.
At the time of their conversation, Ruby Rose had seemed eerily similar to one Sakurada Jun- reserved, yet passionate. Socially isolated, yet desperately seeking companionship. However, where Sakurada Jun had flourished under the nurturing care of his gathered Rozen Maiden, Ruby Rose had been irrevocably altered by her continuing association with Kirakishou up until the moment when their group had succeeded in forcefully separating the two.
Removed from her contract with Kirakishou, however impossibly so, Ruby Rose had regressed into a shell of herself. And, yet, there had been an intelligence shining behind her eyes that could not be refuted. A certain cunning that, at the time, Shinku had believed was lacking an outlet. Only now, Shinku had learned that Ruby Rose had indeed been tirelessly working on a hidden goal unbeknown to the greater population of the Branwen Clan- the construction of the signature weapon wielded by the Knight of the White Rose.
They had, of course, known that Ruby Rose was constructing a weapon. According to her elder sister Yang Xiao-Long, Ruby Rose was something of a prodigious blacksmith in this combat-oriented world. However, Ruby Rose had been unusually silent and secretive regarding the nature of her weapon. Which suggested intent of some kind. An intent to deceive, or an intent for secrecy from the world? The young girl was isolationist by nature, despite her blatant energetic temperament. Much like Sakurada Jun, discerning the true intent behind Ruby Rose's actions was shrouded in half-truths and uncertainties.
Even her supposed method of initiating this bout of combat, hastily explained by Blake Belladonna as some supposed dislike of banditry and some half-explained hidden betrayal, proved seemingly more than sufficient in provoking an assault that would see a young girl happily target her own older sister with lethal force, even if the girl did not previously display violently aggressive tendencies beforehand. It was becoming more and more apparent to the Rozen Maiden that Kirakishou's chosen Master was as mentally unhinged as the youngest Rozen Maiden herself, seemingly flying off the handle at the slightest provocation.
However, there existed the uncomfortable possibility of an outside interference hindering her assumptions regarding Ruby Rose, namely due to the sudden reappearance of the weapon once wielded by the Knight of the White Rose during the battle in Ruby's Solemn Grove. The weapon's appearance in the material world following the dissolution of Kirakishou's contract with Ruby Rose indicated that the projection encountered in the N-Field still held some degree of influence over Ruby Rose following the entity's defeat at the hands of Yang Xiao-Long.
Furthermore, the dissolution of Ruby Rose's contract with Kirakishou in the first place was an utter impossibility in Shinku's own opinion. The Rozen Maiden contract was a sacred connection, a bond unlike any other between both Master and Rozen Maiden, one to be eternally treasured by all participating parties. The sheer event of Ruby Rose's contract breaking and rendering her interactions with Kirakishou null and void was highly suspicious, and the reappearance of the Knight's greatsword was yet another suspicious event to add to the list for Kirakishou's chosen Master.
And if the Knight of the White Rose held influence over its patron, then to what degree did the influence flow? How much of Ruby Rose's actions were her own, and how much of her actions were caused by outside influence?
There was one particular facet of the fight that Shinku had noticed, one that held particular significance in her mind.
Ruby Rose was purposefully going after her elder sister, Yang Xiao-Long, with a degree of vengeance not unlike that encountered by the Knight of the White Rose. Unlike her attacks on the other members of Team RWBY and the Rozen Maiden themselves, her bouts against Suigintou's Master were filled with aggression.
A glyph of white was spawned beneath Shinku's feet, and suddenly she was sailing through the air, not of her own volition. Beneath her airborne form stood the still form of Ruby Rose, greatsword cleaved deep into the ground. Silver Eyes followed her as she moved through the air, yet the girl did not move to further assault Shinku's form as she safely landed beside Weiss Schnee. The Schnee Dust Company heiress fussed over her for a brief moment, before giving a self-assuring nod regarding Shinku's apparent lack of damage.
She could feel the relief from Sakurada Jun. She did not have any powers to detect such emotion, yet she could sense it nonetheless. A glance toward the boy, sheltered far away from the fight and seemingly regarded as a non-combatant by their assailant, her Master's eyes were turned on her. His expression was soft. Delighted. Relieved. Her rosa mystica tingled in a unique way, and warmth filled her in that brief instantaneous moment that seemingly stretched on forever.
In that instant, she realised that she cared for her Master to a degree beyond that which Shinku would strictly admit aloud.
Returning back to the battlefield with resolve deep within her core, Shinku surveyed the surroundings. Yang Xiao-Long appeared the most damaged, with several nicks and cuts to her apparel indicating that her aura was flickering to the point of allowing minor damage to occur. However, her lack of petrification indicated a distinct lack of interaction with the silver flames surrounding her sisterly opponent. Weiss Schnee stood beside her in seeming strength, forever shadowed by Blake Belladonna, the faunus that held eyes of warmth that sought only those of her romantic paramour. Both heiress and faunus were combat-ready, yet a distraction to each other.
Nothing had changed between the two since their battle against the Knight. If anything, the two had gotten worse.
Suiseiseki, Souseiseki, and Suigintou were all unharmed. They had fought the Knight of the White Rose in the past and were far more tactically-inclined than their human and faunus allies, having fought on many an occasion during the Alice Game. The appearance of Ruby Rose's silver flames and the sight of the Knight's greatsword was more than enough to deter the Rozen Maiden from any sort of brash action.
The same could not be said for the members of the Branwen Clan, many of which had been frozen solid by the silver flames, to forever remain as petrified statues. And, were her suspicions regarding the growth of Ruby Rose and her Solemn Grove, then any of those felled by silver flames would serve only to increase Ruby's overall strength. As it would appear, Shinku and the others were witnessing the terrible effect of an individual both willing and capable of sacrificing others to fuel the development of their power.
Ruby Rose had become all too similar to Kirakishou, and the young girl didn't even know the appearance of the Rozen Maiden that had shaped her in the first place. The memories had been erased, and, as careful observation noted, her skill set had remained regardless of their efforts.
Unlike the Knight of the White Rose that the group had encountered inside the N-Field, Ruby Rose moved with discernible motive and intent, purposefully targeting the group out of her own volition, twisted as it was. Whether her intent was born from the Knight's influence or through her own inner thoughts was irrelevant. Ruby Rose had become a danger to herself and to others.
"Well? What do we do? How do we stop her?" Yang yelled out, yelping as she was forced to dodge a strike from Ruby Rose. Shinku could commend the girl for her reaction time, weaving her body in a way to avoid coming into contact with the silver flames emanating from her sister's body and blade.
"...There's no way outside of beating her into the ground, Yang," surprisingly it was Suigintou who responded before Shinku could think to answer similarly, the silver-haired winged Rozen Maiden looking surprisingly insightful despite her typical brash nature.
"You're going to do it again, aren't you?" Ruby called out, swinging her sword in their direction as little more than a statement of intent and a casual display of her overwhelming strength in effortlessly wielding the oversized greatsword. "What you all did to me the last time. You're going to try and force me to forget."
"We don't want to have to do it, Ruby," Weiss interjected with a soft look fluttering beneath the stern expression chiseled onto her face. "But, look at everything that's occurred. You have to know that, whatever this is, it isn't you. Our Team Leader would never seek to go this far."
"I wouldn't?!" Ruby glared at her, silver eyes hyper-focused on the young Schnee heiress. "Before this, before everything with… with her… how much time did we spend together? How much of that did you think was necessary to get a fundamental understanding of how I operate? I was with Yang for years and she's still shocked!"
Blake Belladonna was quick to intercept, the faunus moving to protect her lover. "Then, if you are so sure of your thoughts, why didn't you tell anyone? Why didn't you tell us?"
Here, Ruby Rose faltered. She seemed legitimately surprised by the question, and her grip on the greatsword suffered as a result. "...Why didn't I tell anyone?" she murmured to herself, looking up to the sky. Eventually, however, her attention soon found its way to her sister. The blonde brawler appeared to be frowning, but Shinku couldn't hazard a guess as to what was going on in her head at the moment. "Perhaps I was happy, being there with Yang and Dad, and even Uncle Qrow when he wasn't drunk. But… I wasn't complete. I… miss my Mother… I really, really do."
Her expression softened. In the way that Ruby Rose was described, she held something of a similarity to the Rozen Maiden. They, too, missed their Father. It had gone left unsaid, as it had been since the very moment of their creation, yet the Rozen Maiden cared more for reuniting with their Father than they did for the Alice Game. Even Suigintou, for all her desire to succeed and become Alice by force, held all the telltale signs of a lost little girl seeking her Father. A wound that would not heal. How, then, could they ever hope to become Alice, when they held such pain?
It would appear that Ruby Rose was the same, only this girl sought her Mother.
There was no wonder, then, why Kirakishou had attached herself to the girl so thoroughly. The two were kindred spirits. No doubt, Kirakishou had discovered some small part of Ruby Rose upon first meeting her and fallen ever so deeply in love. And, as she learned more, her love had only increased even further.
"If you miss Summer Rose, why do you seek to tarnish her memory by acting in a way unfitting of a huntress?" Souseiseki unexpectedly spoke up, the blue-clad gardener doll tilting her head to the side questioningly. "She is your Mother, is she not? The one who brought you into the world? Would you not want to make her proud?"
Once again, the flame-clad girl faltered as spoken words resonated with her core. Words appeared significantly more powerful than physical blows against this opponent, Shinku realised. Where the Knight of the White Rose had been an overwhelming force, Ruby Rose was nothing more than a confused little girl with a dangerous power fueling her.
"You've always wanted to make her proud, Rubes," Yang spoke softly, openly. "Please, Rubes. For her sake, stop this. Come back to us."
"What? Come back? You want me to come back to you all, after this?" the girl looked up at her sister, confused. Her brow was creased in seeming disbelief. "You would all want me back after this?"
"Of course," Yang gave her a bright smile. "You're my sister. I'll always want you by my side."
There were tears in Ruby Rose's eyes, Shinku noticed, starting off as a little trickle of emotional vulnerability. Of humanity.
She had always wondered, privately, how akin to humans the Rozen Maiden were, considering that they could also cry. That they too could feel the pain of the world.
And, as Kirakishou had demonstrated with her chosen Master in the world of Remnant, the Rozen Maiden were capable of feeling love.
Love. It was a curious feeling, wasn't it? A powerful feeling unlike any other.
There was a sudden look in Ruby's eyes, uncertainty swimming with certainty, as the two feelings fought against each other for dominance. And the rest of the group had noticed it. There was a wind in the air, now, unnatural. A side effect of Ruby Rose's powers, perhaps. It still only emphasised what the rest of the gathered group had come to realise. This was to be a turning point.
Then, she collapsed. Her greatsword fell from limp fingers, and the young girl fell to the ground, sobbing. Silver flames erupted from Ruby Rose, spreading across the petrified earth all around her in a sudden flash that had the girls shielding their eyes, only to blink and find the flames promptly missing. Had Ruby Rose dispelled the flames before they could reach them all?
"...Why… why don't you all want this all to be over? Why do you do this to me?" Ruby Rose wailed out, shaking on the ground and glaring at the group as tears fell from her eyes. "I'm so tired of all of this… all of these creatures… ruining everything… and I can fix it! I can really, really fix it… but… I can't fix you all… not my friends, and not my sister."
Tentatively, Yang Xiao-Long stepped forward. She looked over to Sakurada Jun for a brief moment, drawn to gaze at the boy by some nebulous feeling in her core. A desire to make certain that he was safe from the flames. To assure her of the positive condition of her Master. Sakurada Jun looked at her, smiled, and Shinku quickly tore her gaze away. Why did her cheeks feel warm?
She returned to focus on the scene before her, distantly noting that several stragglers had managed to escape the caves. Perhaps, she mused, they had been there all the time, sheltering from the assault of Ruby Rose. However, without her weapon, without her drive, they had come forth.
Yang Xiao-Long noticed, too, signaling the gathered forces to stay back, and Ruby Rose noticed the gesture.
"...You must be so happy to be here, Yang," Ruby Rose spoke, a low envious rattle to her tone. "With Raven Branwen, working to become a good little bandit right beside her. Are you upset that I attacked your good little bandit friends?"
She couldn't attack physically, so she was trying to attack verbally instead. Shinku could understand that much, having witnessed Suigintou's tirades for many an age. Spitting words like a weapon, but with the ineffectiveness of a girl seemingly unused to such caustic actions. And, as she turned her attention towards Suigintou, she knew that the winged Rozen Maiden had recognised such actions as well.
"I'm certainly not happy that you did what you did," Yang Xiao-Long tried stepping forward once again. A pseudo-wing pattern of silver flames flickered around Ruby Rose's eyes once again, almost threatening, and Yang Xiao-Long continued nonetheless. "And we'll need to find a way to reverse what you've done. If it's anything like how I understand Kirakishou's power works, then there shouldn't be any permanent damage. But it's possible, and I'm willing to try and fix things if you are as well."
Ruby Rose glared at her, cheeks puffed up like a young girl annoyed at not being able to get her way. And, in a sense, Shinku supposed that such an analogy was right on the mark for the girl in front of her. She wanted her sister to despise her because she felt that it would be easier.
"And what of the one that you're all so afraid of, huh? I'm not deaf, ya'know, Yang! I know that everyone is afraid of her. I know that they fear what she and I did together in Vale during the Vytal Festival Tournament, and they're scared that I can do the same. If it's anything even remotely similar to the power that I have flowing within me at the moment, then you know she'll never stop doing… whatever it was she was doing…"
It would appear that her suspicions were indeed correct. Somehow, Kirakishou had guided her Master into developing a method to both grow a personalised N-Field of her own and to gather others into it, using the silver flames and their petrification abilities as a medium.
"Then we'll deal with her together, as sisters," Yang Xiao-Long extended a hand toward Ruby Rose now that she had gotten close to the girl. "Please, Rubes. Just take my hand. We'll fix this, together. You won't have to feel this way, anymore."
From her position on the petrified ground, Ruby Rose looked all the part of a frightened animal, suspiciously glaring at the offered hand as if she were afraid that it would suddenly lash out and attack her. Privately, Shinku wondered, for all of her fragmented memories and the Knight's influence raging within her N-Field, how had Ruby Rose managed to develop such distrust toward her sister in such a short amount of time in her life?
The little girl looked up, silver meeting lilac.
"...When you spoke to me that time, when I first woke up… you told me something similar. You said that you would tell me the full story when we were safe, and yet you didn't. Why didn't you tell me, Yang?"
Yang Xiao-Long paused and glanced over toward her friends. Stony expressions met her. Shinku did not exactly grasp the context, having not been present at the time when Ruby Rose had first awoken following their venture in the N-Field. However, judging by the expressions she could see on Weiss Schnee and Blake Belladonna, the two lovers held some alternate perspectives in regard to the subject.
Seemingly left to fend for herself, the blonde returned to focus on Ruby Rose. Her hand fell down to rest at her side, alone.
"I was scared, okay?" Yang admitted aloud, sounding almost pained at having to voice her emotions aloud. "I'm scared that if I tell you, then you'll remember everything and decide to go back to that damn doll despite everything that I've done for you. I love you, Rubes. You're my baby sister, and I don't want to have to watch you throw your life away for a doll that doesn't even love you back."
The young silver-eyed girl seemed surprised by Yang Xiao-Long's words, furrowing her brow.
"You know, that's the first time that you've admitted that she's a doll. A Rozen Maiden. You created this whole elaborate lie, just to keep me trapped like this. And when I threaten to escape, you try and bring me back. And you say it's because you love me?"
Here, Suigintou's Master rushed forward all of a sudden. Ruby Rose must have been surprised by the actions of her sister because she didn't move to dodge or resist in any way as the blonde put her hands on her sister's shoulders, shaking her.
"Rubes! Please! Just listen to me. I know it was a shitty thing to do, but I do love you. Which is more that can be said for her. She used you, Ruby. She took you from us and turned you into something that you're not. I just want you to be better again, to be free of her influence. Is that so wrong?"
Widened silver eyes stared at the older sister, legitimately shocked by her emotive outburst. The girl seemed almost disbelieving at the very sight of her blonde sister opening up in such a way.
Then, she tore her gaze away, chastised.
"...I… I don't think what you did was wrong, you just want me to be happy," Ruby Rose began murmuring, her voice a mere whisper in the wind. Soon, the girl gained strength and turned to focus upon Yang Xiao-Long, and her tone grew more confident. "However, I also don't think that it is right for me."
"No! Let me finish!" the young girl shook her head, shouting all the while. "You want me to go back to not knowing about this! To shelter me from the world, and I'm sick of it! I'm my own person, Yang, not some person for you to design your own way. My memories are my own, and what I choose to do with them is my own option, not yours."
Then, in an act that Shinku would prefer to have not witnessed, she watched as the elder sister retreated from the younger, as Yang Xiao-Long retracted away.
"So, that's it? You're just going to go? After everything that I've done for you?" Suigintou's Master appeared close to tears, with her face set in an ugly scowl and her arms crossed together, hands tightly gripping as she visibly fought with her own raging emotions. Lilac tinted to red. "You can be whoever you want to be, Rubes, but you don't know what you'll unleash if you go back to how things were before. She'll find you, Ruby. She'll find you and she'll use you again."
Ruby Rose rolled her eyes, shifting herself as the girl slowly stood up. She, much like her sister, crossed her arms, before glaring heatedly.
"Going for that avenue, huh? Even now, after I've torn through all your bandit friends, you try and take the moral high ground with me? Oh, please, enlighten me as to why it's soooo much better to stay with all of you people than to go out and do my own thing. Do it. I dare you."
Rage froze, and Yang Xiao-Long sneered. Rage to bitterness. This was no longer a fight of force or wit. All that Shinku was witnessing now was a couple of girls arguing with each other.
"You really wanna know? Fine. Be that way, don't say I didn't warn you," the blonde took a breath as if to fruitlessly attempt to calm herself, before growling and shaking her head. "The fault at Beacon Academy? The one where Vale disappeared? She did all of it. For you."
"...For me?" Ruby Rose scrunched up her brow in confusion, before glaring. "Don't try to trick me."
"She's not lying," Suigintou spoke up all of a sudden, causing Ruby Rose's silver eyes to snap to her in warning. Heedless of the implied threat, Suigintou flapped her wings and moved beside Yang Xiao-Long in a single bound. "It's how our youngest sister operates. Once you entered into a contract with her and…" her face scrunched up in disgust, "...romanced her, she began digging deeper and deeper into your psyche, aiming to understand you. She saw your potential, and your power, and worked to release it to the world. The silver fire that you use? The power that petrifies all it touches? That is the direct result of your relationship with our sister. And, the price of that power? An entire city was rendered essentially barren, all of its people reduced to dreamers to forever sleep inside her N-Field, further empowering the doll that caused all of this."
It was fascinating. To see how the girl processed it all. How did she feel, Shinku wondered, beneath everything that had happened? Beneath all the pain and all the reveal. Beneath the power and the weakness. Why, she wondered if Ruby Rose even knew that much, herself.
To her, the sight of Ruby Rose was a sad one. A girl that couldn't understand. That had detached herself from reality.
How fitting, indeed, that she had been the one to become Kirakishou's Master.
She could only wonder, now, what Ruby Rose would do, now that she knew the truth.