I have a business speech/awards ceremony I have to host and speak at on the 30th September, so that whole week will be no fanfiction as I have to prep, plan and perform, then deal with clients after, break down the show and transport all the equipment back afterwards.

That'll mean no updates on 27th Sept – 3rd OCTOBER (type on last chapter) inclusive, just to forewarn you all. That's going to mean no chapter of this in 2 weeks. The next chapter will be in three instead.


Cover Art: Tetrakali

Chapter 40


Adam tracked Cinder's path as she was blown away from Yang. The blow carried her a fair distance and the blonde surged after her without patience. He swore, wished she had the sense to stay and then decided his wishes wouldn't be as useful as his help. First, however, was Ozpin. The man was pinned to a stone pillar by Adam's own sword, and every instinct in Adam's body told him the wound would be fatal.

"I'm sorry." It wasn't his fault, but he felt the need to apologise anyway. Maybe if he'd kept hold of Wilt or been better.

"M-Mr Taurus." Ozpin's eyes locked onto his, hazy from pain and fading consciousness. "Y-You must… protect her… protect M-Miss Xiao-Long. Do not let her-"

Adam set his hand on Wilt's hilt and wrapped his fingers around it. The other, he set on Ozpin's shoulder to keep him against the pillar. "I won't let her fall here, Ozpin. You have my word."

The man smiled. "I-I trust you. I have faith."

"This will hurt."

Ozpin almost chuckled. It came as a dry rasp. The man's hands, wrapped tightly around the blade to prevent Cinder drawing it free, loosened. Adam closed his eyes, pushed with one hand and pulled with the other. The sound of his blade leaving a human body was an unpleasant one. It hadn't always been. He'd relished the bloodshed before, the death, the rush of victory. No longer.

With the blade free, Ozpin slumped to his knees, clutching his stomach wound and holding his eyes shut. "I have made…" Ozpin's voice wavered. "I have made many mistakes… but… I do not believe accepting you was one of them."

Adam's good eye, the one not pierced by Cinder's fingernail, closed. Dried blood ran down his face like tear tracks, and yet there were no tears to shed. This man had trusted him – had been good to him – and he deserved more to die here and even more than to be ignored. Even so, Adam didn't have the time. "I have to go. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I entrust the rest to you."

Another good man gone. Adam clenched Wilt tight and let out a sharp breath. Mourning could come later. Now, he had to make sure no more good men or women died to a tragedy he helped create.

No more. I won't allow even one more death in my name!

None except for Cinder.

Yang had her on the defensive when he joined the fight. She boxed in close to Cinder, up under her guard where her glass-work semblance was so very useless. Blow after blow, even with her wrist pierced through, Yang worked Cinder down like a piece of clay.

Adam did not announce himself with a witticism or snappy comment. His introduction was a low sweep and a cry from Cinder as he almost hamstrung her. Yang replied in kind, smashing her fist into Cinder's jaw as she stumbled. The woman let herself be thrown away to create distance, crashing into one of the many pillars outside the main school building. Yang made to follow but Adam gripped her good wrist and drew her back.

"She likes counter attacks. Luring you in where she can use your momentum against you." Yang tugged once to free herself but didn't rush recklessly off. Not with a hole through her right wrist. He touched her arm gently. "Will you be alright?"

"Hurts like a bitch but I'll be good." Yang's eyes were burning red again. No, gold. They were strange and unusual. "Your eye!" she hissed. "How are you still fighting?"

"I've spent years covering this eye. This is barely an issue."

Yang shook her head. "That's not what I meant. The pain-"

"Hurts like a bitch." He echoed her statement with a coy smile. "But I'll be good."

"Ha! I knew you'd be corrupted by me eventually."

"Yang. Your eyes…"

"I'll explain after. Cliff notes are that I've got some funky new semblance. Run with it."

You couldn't unlock a new semblance. Your own could adapt, and he could have believed that, but he was sure this was something more. As she said, it wasn't the time. He nodded and stepped away from her, moving to flank Cinder, who had finally realised they wouldn't be running in like idiots and was summoning her bow again. Her lips were peeled back, her teeth stained with blood. She screamed and loosed an arrow that twisted straight for Yang's heart.

This time, Yang dodged away. No more trying to block what Cinder could apparently control. Yang shot right, leaving him to run left. They closed in on her from opposite sides – a safe attack given their respective reliance on melee. Adam lunged low while Yang went high, and Cinder struggled to deflect both attacks. In fact, she hardly even tried. Her swords were both turned on Yang and she left her aura alone to withstand his stab. The sheer force behind it caused her left leg to buckle, and that weak posture meant her attack on Yang was similarly compromised.

Even so, Yang took no more chances. Rather than blast Cinder away, she swayed aside one blade and punched sharply into the wrist holding the other. Then, she snapped a quick one-two into the sword itself, shattering it like the glass it was. The other came back, no longer diverted, and Yang met it with Ember Celica, firing buckshot into it at point-blank range and reducing it to powder.

She's focusing solely on Yang, Adam thought as he withdrew Wilt and chambered it, then brought it slashing down on the small of Cinder's back. It crashed against aura like a baseball bat. He would have preferred to stab, but one clever twist away from Cinder might have him stabbing at Yang instead. What does she hope to achieve? She's clearly outmatched against the two of us at once. Is she this eager to die?

That didn't feel right. One didn't put all this effort into a plan only to throw your life away at the end. Cinder had been looking for Yang in the first place too – had been confident she could take her. Maybe she could in a one-on-one. That first attack could have been right through her throat. If she still had Emerald to trap Yang in an illusion, the battle would have similarly been over. As it was now, they were tearing her down bit by bit, and yet there was still no sign of retreat.

Cinder still believed she could win.

Reality? Or Arrogance?

When Cinder snarled and tried to open up Yang's throat with a shard of glass, Adam decided there could be no more chances. "Yang, back up!" he ordered. It was a sign of the trust she had in him that she didn't once argue, kicking off to create distance.

As expected, Cinder lunged after her, ignoring him entirely.

Ozpin had known something like this might happen when he'd asked Adam to protect Yang. Not the school, not the students, but Yang. He knew Cinder was after her, or whatever this power she mentioned is. That's her entire objective.

"Her only goal is killing you!" Adam shouted, chasing Cinder down and engaging with a full-bodied tackle. It was such a stupid move normally, especially for a swordsman like he, but it forced Cinder to react or be carried to the floor.

React she did, impatiently spinning and lashing out with two new glass swords. He parried one and bore the brunt of the second across his aura, carrying through and smashing his body into hers. Cinder was driven away from Yang, a fact she noted with a furious howl.

"What's the matter?" he taunted. Cinder had enjoyed mocking him before, and while he couldn't say he was the same, he felt she deserved a little misery for Ozpin's fate. For her, he would make this exception. "You were so confident before, Cinder. Where has it all gone? You want Yang's power, hm?" He stepped between the two of them, Wilt at the ready. "All you need to do is get through me."

"It's not her power!" Cinder shrieked. "It's mine! My power! I won it!"

Yang muttered under her breath. Adam heard it. "So you're the one who attacked Amber."

He didn't know the name and didn't care to.

"I did all the work!" Cinder ranted. "I did everything right! I tracked her down; I set the ambush; I hit the killing blow! It's supposed to be mine! That power is supposed to be mine!"

There were tears in her eyes – actual tears! It was so ridiculous to think a person like this could cry at all, but he knew they weren't tears of sorrow. This was the crying of a spoiled baby denied its choice of toy.

All people were reduced at the end. Adam could count the number of people who died gracefully on one hand, and most of them had been Atlas officers. He had respected them even back then, back when he hated them. They would calmly entreat with the White Fang to spare their men in exchange for their own life. Adam had accepted only once, and immediately after had felt such disgust at himself for not doing so the previous times.

Blake had been right all along. He had been a monster; he had been no better than the person in front of him. The person who, like so many others, could not face their end well.

Some begged, others wept and there were those who screamed and raged at the world, demanding it treat them better, that the White Fang recognise who they were, that it wasn't fair, that if they could have just one more chance, they could make things right.

It was always the arrogant ones who had the most ignoble ends.

"He cheated!" Cinder screamed. "If that bastard Qrow hadn't been there, if Ozpin hadn't interfered, if they had played by the damn rules then that power would be mine!" Her eyes snapped open, wild and feral like a cornered rat. "It is mine!" she shrieked, lunging forward suddenly. "Give it to me!"

Wilt flashed twice in the air, shattering her glass swords. There was no time for him to bring the arching blade back for another attack before she would hit him. Instead, he let go, allowed the hilt to slide from his grip and the sword to fly away. Adam ducked, kneeling on one knee.

Yang's foot pressed down on Adam's back. Using him as a springboard, Yang flung herself forward and caught Cinder in the chin with her knee. Aura crackled and shattered; the final barrier gone. Landing before the stunned woman, Yang punched her once in the throat, a second time in the stomach and then a third time to send her staggering back.

With a mechanical whir and a terrible, finalistic sound, Ember Celica's barrels closed down over Yang's knuckles, locking into place. The charge ignited at the press of a thumb and the sharp crack of dust sounded deafening in the silence.

Cinder lurched back, caught herself on one foot and struggled to stand. She looked down at herself, at her red dress shining even more so with blood. Her chest was all but shredded. Yang's buckshot was designed for use against Grimm, and a human with their aura drained presented a much softer target. Cinder looked back up, one hand rising to grasp at Yang's golden hair.

"B-But it was to be mine…"

With a final, desperate grasp, Cinder toppled backwards.

/-/

Beacon had become a hospital of sorts.

There were far too many injured, huntsmen, soldiers and White Fang alike. While the latter were carted off once the worst of their injuries were tended to, Tsune – and the doctors that had been donated for aid by the city – worked tirelessly on everyone. Tsune personally took care of him. He wondered if she didn't trust the city doctors to do so thanks to his reputation, or if she just enjoyed inspecting his ruined eye.

He was permanently blind in it now thanks to Cinder. Ironically, an injury that would hardly inconvenience him. He kept that half of his face bandaged most of the time anyway. He now had an even better excuse than his scar.

"-and then I fought him and was super awesome, but a Gryphon showed up and ate him. I was kinda upset because I wanted him to be arrested, not killed. He was a bad man, but he didn't deserve to die. And what if he wanted to turn away from it at some point?"

Ruby and Weiss had experienced their own adventures, it seemed. Weiss had aided in the evacuation of civilians on Amity, while Ruby had singlehandedly taken the fight to the Atlas airship controlling the robots, deactivating them and saving potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. That she still had the gall to act like it wasn't a big thing was Ruby in a nutshell.

"How you're not even injured, I have no idea." Adam said. "You fought Roman and Neo both and came out fine."

"More than can be said for you and Yang. I leave you two alone for one hour and you both manage to nearly die! Adaaaam!" She slapped his shoulder a lot more gently than she normally would have. "You're meant to be the reliable one. What happened?"

Despite the humour, Adam couldn't answer. "I let my guard down. Cinder was…"

Good? Skilled? Dangerous?

"-she was mad. Insane. Someone who believed they could take on the world. Those people are dangerous Ruby. People like me-"

"She was nothing like you!"

"How I used to be," he said. "A young boy with no leadership skills, no experience and no ability swearing himself to vengeance against an entire species. And I made it work, just like she did. I've fought better people than I and come out alive where they fell. Belief… Belief is a powerful drug. It lets you fight well beyond exhaustion. It takes away all doubt."

"I've heard it said narcissists do well at business for the same reason." Weiss said. "They do not believe they can fail, and as such they go into every venture with the utmost confidence."

He nodded. "It's the same thing for me and her. We were both blinded by anger and self-assurance. I, at least, managed to see the light. Or rather, someone ripped the blindfold off and forced me to."

In a way, it could be said that Blake had saved him. Before, just the thought that she'd helped by causing so much pain would have had him red with anger, but now…? He was tired. Peaceful. The painkillers might have had something to do with that.

The White Fang were done in Vale. The attack had failed, many had surrendered and according to Weiss, Sienna Khan had even claimed that the attack was not with her blessing and that it had been perpetrated by a splinter cell. It wasn't doing much for her reputation, but it at least let the people of Vale know a second wouldn't be coming.

With Ozpin dead, Glynda was now in charge of Beacon. He'd not had a visit from her yet and wasn't sure if he ever would. Yang hadn't even found the time, or more likely the privacy, to tell him what it was Ozpin had done to her, and what Cinder so badly wanted.

"I'll tell you later." Yang said. "Uncle Qrow needs to talk to us all as well, something about helping me use it and stuff."

"Does he think there will be more attempts on your life?"

"Nah. He says things will probably be easier now it's over, that I'll be safe in Beacon and people will think twice." Yang pulled a face. "Still, the fact people would think at all is a bit worrying."

"And you can't tell us what it is?" Weiss asked.

"No. Ozpin's orders. Before he…"

The three of them grimaced. Ozpin's loss was felt all across Beacon. There wasn't a student who didn't in some way like the man. He'd been patient and understanding, calm and steady. Adam couldn't help but think that if he'd grown up around such a man, he would never have joined the White Fang. Then again, he'd grown up without parents at all so that wasn't much to say.

"Ren and Nora came by earlier to see how you were doing." Ruby told Adam. "Jaune also wanted to thank you for saving his life, but you were asleep. I think he's going to try again later."

"It was no big deal."

"I'm sure it was to him."

Heavy footfalls approached his bed. He knew it was a group of people because of how loud it was, and he wasn't too surprised to find himself face to face with General Ironwood, flanked by Winter Schnee and another, unknown soldier. Team RYST clung around his bed, Weiss pointedly placing herself between him and the Atlas contingent.

"Taurus."

"Ironwood. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

The giant of a man held his gaze, two eyes staring into one. "I have petitioned the Council of Vale for your arrest and extradition to Atlas to face punishment for your crimes."

Predictable. As was his teammate's reactions.

"Are you insane!?" Weiss hissed. "Adam saved Beacon!"

"He's a good guy! You can't arrest him when he helped everyone!"

"So, this is it, huh?" Yang growled. "Ozpin's body hasn't even cooled and you're going against his wishes. I guess that shows how much of a friend to him you were."

That sparked a reaction. The man glared at Yang. "Ozpin died by Taurus' weapon."

"Wielded by Cinder!"

"That is unconfirmed-"

"Bullshit is it unconfirmed!" she yelled. "People saw it! I saw it!"

"You're hardly an apt witness, biased as you are."

"Ironic of you to say that." Weiss said. "Your hatred of Adam is worn on your sleeve."

"Taurus-" Ironwood gritted the name. "Has killed my men. He has slaughtered good men and women whose only crimes were serving their kingdom. I have buried friends slain by his hands. I have visited their families to tell them the bad news. I have consoled widows as they wept and watched helplessly as children break down and accuse me of lies. To ask me to ignore all that just because he now wishes to atone is an insult to their memories. He can atone in prison. If he redeems himself after serving his time, then I shall be the first to shake his hand. But no one – no one – gets to ignore the consequences of their own actions."

Yang snarled. "That's not-"

"No." Adam interrupted her. He interrupted them all. "That is… Ironwood is right." He saw their betrayed expressions. "I've done bad things. I regret them now, I regret all of them, but regret won't bring those people back." He sighed. "I've spent my whole life fighting for equality, for justice for oppressed faunus. What does it say if I then think I'm above that same justice? That I'm not equal myself, and above the law…"

General Ironwood hummed and nodded his head. No words, neither good nor bad, but a slow and quiet show of respect. Somehow, that meant more to Adam than he thought it would.

"I surrender to Atlas." Adam said. Yang and Ruby cried out in horror. "I will offer myself up for extradition."

"Adam, why…?"

Because it was the right thing to do. That was why.

"It's good to hear that. Sadly…" Ironwood trailed off. "The Council of Vale have firmly rejected my request."

Shock hit him like a bullet. "What?"

"They have!?" Yang asked, far too excited.

Ruby gave her a high-five.

Ironwood ignored it all with more patience than Adam thought the man had. "Our relationship with Vale is strained thanks to our equipment being used against the city. You have my gratitude for dealing with that, Miss Rose. Even so, resources I brought to Vale have harmed innocent people. I am offering myself up for a military tribunal on my return to Atlas and am suspended indefinitely from my role as of yesterday."

"Who could suspend a General?" Weiss asked.

"I can." Ironwood responded. "I have suspended myself. As such, the Council of Vale does not see fit to grant my request. Or any of them. I believe their refusal here is more to show resistance to Atlas than it is out of any good will toward yourself, Taurus."

Adam hadn't for a second thought otherwise. The politicians just didn't want to be seen caving to Atlas pressure like frightened puppies, especially not after Atlas had bloodied their noses.

"You are, however, being tried here in Vale. With Ozpin gone, your protections have left. Glynda has tried to protect you. I felt you should know that. She lacks the influence Ozpin had, however. Your court date is one week from now. It will be highly televised and broadcast across the Kingdoms."

Which meant it would also be a show trial. A forgone conclusion. Adam smiled bitterly and nodded. Given all he'd done, even a show trial was more than he likely deserved. "And until then?"

"You are on house arrest in Beacon. You will not be locked away or restrained out of trust you will not flee, and as recognition for your efforts against Cinder Fall."

"But not recognition enough for a pardon?"

"The law is the law, Miss Rose. No one is above it."

/-/

"I've heard about the trial."

Adam rolled his head to the side, surprised and a little vacant at seeing Blake there. No anger came, nor love, but then he didn't think she felt either of those things for him anymore, either. "You heard…?"

"It was released on the news today. They're…" Her lips twisted unhappily. "They're advertising the trial. Like it's some pay-per-view sports match. Channels are already setting time slots aside for it. Adam, it's going to be a sham."

"I know."

"And you're still accepting it?"

"It would be even more a sham to pretend I never did the things I did. People died, Blake. At my hands, on my orders and under my leadership. I regret it now, but regret won't bring those people back to life."

"Nor will being locked away for no good reason. You're already reformed. Time locked away will only make you more likely to become a criminal when you're released."

Adam chuckled, touched by her easy trust despite his promise to not be affected. "Reformation is only half of what prison is about. The rest is being seen to punish bad people."

"That's so stupid." Blake shook her head. "I'm going to stand as a witness."

"No."

"What!?" Her eyes flashed angrily. "What do you mean no? They're going to want witnesses. I can tell them how you changed, how you were mistreated by the SDC. It might not absolve you but mitigating circumstances and all that."

"You'd have to admit your own involvement." Adam pointed out.

"If that's what it takes, I will!"

"Blake, no." He forced himself into a seated position. Seeing out of one eye was nothing new, but he still had to tilt his head to face her with his good side. "The people are looking for someone to blame. They can't have Cinder and there's no one else. I'm a convenient target, but they would jump at the chance to have another. Don't sacrifice yourself for my sake."

"What if I want to…?"

"You don't." He stared at her until she was forced to look away. "You want to act against what you see as an injustice but remember – that's what led us both down the path of the White Fang in the first place." His words brought a grimace to her, but she couldn't deny it. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I know that now. We both do. Let me go. Live."

Blake snorted, then laughed. It might have sounded better if she hadn't choked up a little. "That's it, then? I run away, you follow me to Beacon and now your advice is for me to let you go? Isn't that backward? You're making me sound like the obsessive one."

Adam smirked. "You did spy on Yang and I a lot."

"Idiot. What about her, Adam? This is going to break her heart."

"What would you have me do? Run away? Aside from confirming every crime, it would put way too much pressure on Yang. Ruby would have to come as well, and then Weiss would need to make her decision. She would have to choose between her team and her future. All because of me."

"It's not fair." Blake said. "We both left; we both came here; we both fought against Cinder. How is it I'm free and you're not?"

Because Blake didn't have the reputation he did. She'd committed the same crimes, supported the same cause, been involved in the same fights, but no one knew Blake Belladonna as they did Adam Taurus. His name carried, his face haunted Atlas and his mask was known across all four Kingdoms.

It wasn't fair. In an ideal world, both he and Blake would have been rejected Beacon. They would have faced the same scrutiny, the same clauses and the same consequences. Life wasn't like that, though. Blake was free because of her anonymity, and there was no point giving it up just to get herself thrown down with him.

"Will you promise me something, Blake?"

"If I can. What is it?"

"Don't come to the trial. Don't watch the trial."

Blake turned on her heel and stormed away. Adam tried his hardest to ignore the wet spots on the floor. He lay back and closed his eyes, wondering what could have inspired him so long ago to think that murder and hate would make everything better.

He had no answer.


Next chapter is last chapter, which is why it kind of sucks a little that it'll be in 3 weeks' time. Sorry about that; I'd love to cancel my business event if I could. It's proving a real stressful thing to arrange.


Next Chapter: 5th October (three weeks)

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur