Edited by: Priapus, Mike God of Lore, Marethyu, Old man of the mountain


– Blake –

"So, um…" She started as the tense silence between her and Weiss got to her. "You haven't told us where we're going."

"You'll see," Reid said, seemingly unaffected by the suffocating atmosphere. "It's a big surprise."

"You keep saying that," Blake muttered quietly in response. "But a real answer would be nice."

They'd been walking for about thirty minutes or so, and nothing was out of the ordinary for a while. Besides the uneasiness between her and Weiss, she was under the impression that they were returning to the mines.

And while Blake didn't understand why he'd need her there specifically, she was happy to help however she could. It had been odd when he'd declined Sienna's offer to give him some troops or guards to help out, and slowly, Blake was beginning to understand where he was going with this.

This was probably some kind of attempt to help mend their relationship, wasn't it? It explained why he needed her and Weiss only. When Blake realized that, her anxiety rose significantly, as did her gratitude toward Reid for trying to help them. However, she wasn't sure if Weiss knew that either.

She had been quiet most of the journey, and not knowing what she was thinking made Blake nervous. For whatever relatively reasonable response she'd given that morning, Weiss clearly hadn't forgiven her yet, and the Faunus wasn't sure if she was still ready to give an answer. Trying to force her wouldn't be pretty, but Blake was sure that Reid knew that.

So, after some time that felt unbelievably unbearable for the Faunus, Reid suddenly took a sharp turn, breaking off the path and walking directly into the thickets of the jungle. This was something Blake didn't and couldn't predict, thus her continuously growing confusion and curiosity.

Where was he taking them? Blake was sure no one was near the mines if he wanted a private place. Sienna couldn't have organized a mining group to dig into the devastated site on such short notice, especially not after the massive party last night.

Hell, a private room in her mother's villa or his temporary residence would've done the trick. They didn't need to leave the city for something like this… did they? This made her think that Reid was trying to do something else with them, but Blake couldn't tell what it was.

Was it maybe some kind of special training? Right now? Well, Reid would be the kind of person to do that. As odd as it was. Blake still didn't know how to improve her Haki, and he probably knew some neat tricks he could teach her. But if that was the case, then what about Weiss? What was she supposed to do?

Blake felt a little intimidated to use it in front of her. Weiss was as competitive as they came, and showing that off to her when tensions were this high would come off as Blake trying to one-up her. That could be disastrous.

She should probably keep it hidden unless she had to use it or if they'd reconcile.

"Trust me, you won't believe what I'm about to show you." He said. "Only Ruby and I know about this so far."

"Is it related to magic?" Weiss asked.

"Kinda." He answered vaguely, then suddenly stopped. "Alright, it's just over there, behind that tree."

Blake blinked and leaned to the side, raising a brow as she saw a strange blue glow. However, the thick trees and bushes were obscuring the view, and she couldn't make out exactly what it was.

"Before we go, I want you to promise me one thing," Reid said, turning around to address them directly. "You will not tell anyone about this, no matter who it is. Everything I'm about to tell you will strictly stay between us. Is that clear?"

The seriousness in Reid's voice surprised her. This was odd— whatever it was he was going to show them had to be big if he was asking for them to keep it a secret. But besides her surprise, Blake felt her heart flutter at the trust he was willing to put in them.

This also made her massively more curious.

"Why?" Weiss questioned in confusion. "What's over there?"

"Promise first."

Weiss paused for a moment before answering.

"I promise I won't tell anyone."

Reid glanced at Blake.

"I promise."

"Good." He nodded in satisfaction. "Now, obviously, I trust you girls, but this is something that might just destroy your worldview. Come on, let me show you."

How casually he said it made both girls look at each other in genuine concern. What? What was that supposed to mean, and how was it different to all of the other times he'd destroyed their worldview? What the hell was behind that tree? With slight hesitation trying in vain to hold her immense curiosity back, Blake, alongside Weiss, followed their teacher/boyfriend.

Walking through the bushes and thick leaves blocking that strange glow, they stopped in awe and shock as they saw the blue wormhole-like… thing that just floated a few centimeters above the ground.

She had never seen anything like it, and from how Weiss similarly reacted, she hadn't either. Blake didn't know what it was, nor where it had even come from, but whatever it was, it had this subtle presence that made her hair stand on edge, similar to how Reid would feel when he'd activate his 'Conquerer's Haki'.

It told her that it was dangerous.

"What the hell is that?" Blake said out loud.

"I can feel some magic from it…" Weiss added. "Where did it come from? Is this related to the Grimm?"

"Nope," Reid said as casually as possible, pulling out a strange blue sphere the size of a musket ball from his pocket. "Heh, check this out."

He proceeded to throw the ball into the wormhole, which swallowed it up. In seconds, the otherworldly phenomenon began to change and reconstruct itself into a door—glimmering and as blue as the ball, like it was entirely made out of sapphire.

Blake had no idea what the hell was going on at this point. She had thought she was used to Reid's random bullshit, but this was too bullshit for her liking. What even was that? Why did it turn a door, and where did it lead to?

Was this a fever dream?

Wait, could she be knocked out and still at the mines? Was she dead?!

"Alright, let's go."

"What? We're going through that?" Weiss looked at him in concern.

"Well, yeah, it's a door." He blinked. "What else are we gonna do?"

"No, I mean, is it safe?"

"Yes. Well, no. Maybe." Reid responded, giving several conflicting answers. "I'll explain everything in there. Now, let's go before someone sees us."

With the lack of context, their trust in Reid, and his insistence on going inside, the two girls reluctantly followed him closely. He opened the blue door, the blinding light coming from whatever was in there, blinding them temporarily as they entered.

Once their visions adjusted to their surroundings, Blake saw that, rather than the lush green jungle of Menagerie they had just been in, they were in a frigid forest where snow rose to their ankles. The thermal shock hit them like a truck moving at max speed.

Blake shivered, her cloak doing nothing to protect her from the violent blizzard. Thankfully, her aura quickly adapted to do the job instead. She took a moment to observe their surroundings, not knowing where that sketchy door had put them. What the hell? Did it teleport them to Solitas or something?

But what was more foreboding was the fact that the door wasn't there anymore. Where had it put them? Why was Reid super casual about this?

"Damn, it's freezing out here. Alright, long story short—" Reid started, casting a dome of light around them before putting each hand on her and Weiss' shoulders. "We're not on Remnant anymore."

Blake suddenly felt comfortable as warmth went through her body, coming directly from Reid's hand. She didn't pay that any mind as she slowly processed his words, eyes widening in shock.

"What?!" Weiss shrieked, beating her to it. "What do you mean?!"

"Where did you take us?!"

"Okay, chill. I know it's insane, but there's no need to panic. I promise it'll be fine." Reid tried to soothe them. "Basically, this is a different world called 'Teralos'. It's the place I came from. Technically speaking."

The nonchalant reveal froze them harder than this terrible weather ever could, yet Blake found it believable as she connected the dots. It made sense that someone so absurdly strong and capable of casting literal magic wouldn't actually be from remnant.

"A-a different world?" Weiss repeated slowly, still in shock. "This whole time…"

"I know it's hard to believe–"

"No, I believe you, but—" Weiss chuckled at the situation's absurdity. "I… guess it makes sense. No one could gather solid information about you from before you defeated Fenrir. It almost seemed like you just popped out of thin air"

"So the story about you being a wandering traveler was fake," Blake added.

She wasn't particularly bothered, obviously. That would make her a massive hypocrite. But she thought it was interesting to point out since she had always had her suspicions about his story, especially after meeting him personally.

It just didn't make much sense. It never explained how he could do magic, how he's got so powerful, nor anything about his Haki. It was an easy lie to spot for anyone with that kind of information.

"Yup, though, I kinda had to lie there." Reid shrugged. "I mean, people wouldn't have taken me seriously if I told them everything."

"How did you even find your way to Remnant?" The SDC Heiress asked. "And what are you doing there?"

"How I got there is a bit…private." Reid said sheepishly. "I'd rather not say because it would take me a while to explain it in detail, and I don't want to give you a contextless answer. I'm staying in Remnant because I like Remnant more, and I decided it's my home now. Better than this place; way safer in comparison."

"Then why come here?" Blake asked. "Why bring us here?"

"Simple. Sometimes, I find these rifts lying around Remnant, so I just go in and fix them, and most of the time, they end up having a lot of great loot and materials that help me in my mystical and magical stuff." He explained. "And I brought you here for three reasons."

"And they are?" Weiss crossed her arms, getting more comfortable with the fact that they were on an alien planet. That, or she was still in shock.

It was like one of those 'in a different world' fictional books that were growing in popularity in Mistral. Blake didn't understand the appeal since they all felt the same, and seldom featured erotic ninja, but Ruby seemed to really enjoy them for some reason. Besides that 'Dragonball' nonsense she watched with Yang.

She was starting to understand why Ruby liked them if she had already gone through this before them.

"First, this world is really dangerous, even for me. The casual monster here can be as strong as Titan-class Grimm, so I need someone to back me up." He answered. "Second, it's your new test in my training. I want to see how well you handle yourselves here compared to your own world."

He was putting them out of their comfort zones (relatively speaking) as a test. That sounded legit. However, saying that this world was so dangerous that even Reid would have trouble in it made Blake increasingly nervous. What the hell were they going to find here? What could make Reid fucking Astera anxious?

And did he really trust them this much? Because as strong as they'd gotten, Blake was sure they weren't close to Reid's level. What would it be for them if it was dangerous for him? It… didn't make much sense to her, admittedly.

"Third, I just wanted you to see it." He said simply. "Pretty cool, isn't it?"

Could he be lying? Now she still believed that parallel universe bullshit because he'd have no reason to lie about that, but perhaps this was still an attempt to get her and Weiss to make up, hidden behind this grand adventure in a different world.

If that was the case, then honestly, how typical of him. Reaching for the flashy option would always be Reid's first choice. Blake almost couldn't believe she'd fallen in love with him. It was just so stupid.

"...I'm going to need some time to process this," Weiss replied. "It's going a little too fast for my liking."

…This comment made Blake realize that she'd accepted the fact that other worlds existed relatively well. Maybe she was just used to the insanity of it all. Weiss, in comparison, would always try to rationalize everything, even if it didn't make sense.

Wait, did this mean Reid was an alien?

"That's fine." He waved it off. "Anyway, we're not here to play. We have a mission to do."

"We do?" Blake blinked.

"Yes." Reid put a thoughtful hand on his chin. "As you can see, a blizzard is wrecking this forest pretty badly, but this isn't natural. I can feel that three power sources going haywire are causing this blizzard, and I think we need to either stabilize or destroy them, preferably the former. Here, take these."

Reid took out a small bag of potions and two classical weapons, handing them to Weiss and Blake. The former was given a golden rapier adorned with gemstones and blue, glowing runic letters on the handle and guard. It looked more like a decorative piece than an actual weapon.

Blake, however, got a cleaver with a gray grip and a pitch-black blade, a strange sort of… mirage surrounding it. It made it look like it was vibrating, which she thought was somewhat intimidating and cool. It looked really powerful.

Still, even after the Faunus moved it around, getting used to the weapon's weight, she admittedly did not feel it. She missed Gambol Shroud. This one didn't transform into anything, as unique as it looked.

Classical weapons were so out of date. She wanted to shoot things, damn it.

"I got those ages ago after clearing one of the dungeons."

"A dungeon?" Weiss raised a brow.

"Er, it's what I call the portals and whatever they lead to." He explained. "I know it's not the weapons you're used to, but if it's worth anything, they're enchanted. They can hold their own pretty well."

"What can they do?" Blake asked.

"It's a surprise." He winked. "Anyway, we're splitting up. You two stick together, though, alright?"

So this was his plan, precisely what she expected. Sly dog.

"What? That doesn't make sense." Weiss narrowed her eyes. "Wouldn't it be more efficient if we took care of one power source each?"

"Obviously, but the problem is that Blake can't sense magic while you can." Reid countered. "She wouldn't know where to go. Also, while I'm used to this place and its monsters, you two aren't."

Those were good points. She didn't think there were any Grimm here because he had just called them 'monsters', and while Grimm could be diverse, fighting actual beasts sounded different. According to Reid, Grimm were 'malevolent magical constructs'. They were not 'alive' so to speak.

Also, sensing magic apparently came naturally to those with it— it would be straightforward to do for Weiss, Ruby, and Yang, though Blake didn't have that luxury. Sure, she could learn how to do it, but Reid thought it wasn't time-efficient. She could be learning how to access Haki instead. Or master it.

…Was he planning to sleep with her eventually? If yes, then Blake didn't know what to feel about that. Obviously, she was happy due to her feelings for him, but…

"I… guess." Weiss relented, giving Blake a quick, conflicted glance. "How can we 'stabilize' these sources, then?"

"I'm not very sure." Reid hummed, dispelling the dome. "But don't worry, I'll figure it out soon and have Gwyn or something inform you with everything I know. For now, focus on finding those sources. Concentrate on your senses; they'll tell you where to go. Be careful."

"Alright." Weiss nodded. "...Good luck."

Reid gave them a confident smile before leaving the two on their own. As soon as he left the picture, the awkward, tense silence from before came back, making Blake shuffle around nervously. How would she be able to communicate like this? This felt worse than when they were in the mines.

Weiss sighed and closed her eyes in concentration, taking a few seconds before finding the path to one of the sources.

"There." She pointed in the opposite direction of where Reid went. "It's the closest one to us."

"Okay." Blake nodded. "I'm right behind you."

Weiss said nothing and led the way, with Blake following close by. They weren't on Remnant, so they should probably be extra careful. Who knew what could be lurking in this unfamiliar world?

…At the same time, Blake almost wanted something to attack them because then she wouldn't have to suffer from this unbearable and suffocating air.


– Reid –

There's a risk with this move I've taken here, but I feel lucky today. I mean, my luck stat didn't really increase, so not really, but it never really fucking did anything anyway. I think it's just there to look nice or something. To show precisely 7 stats and whatnot.

I don't know; I'm making guesses here.

Taking these two to a dungeon wasn't what I thought I'd do when I first got to Menagerie. Hell, I had this idea just last night before I got drunk. I left some of them around, mostly because I didn't have time to complete them all.

Seriously, I found like a few dozen in Menagerie. Granted, most were common and uncommon tiers, but there were a few rares here and there, with the Legendary tier still down in the mines.

Besides leveling up, dungeons are mainly crucial due to the magical materials I can get from them because it's tough to produce them on my own in Remnant. Like Manasteel, the metal I use in my crafts the most? Getting only fifty kilograms of that takes five times my entire pool of MP.

Fifty kilograms can only make half a regular golem.

You could argue I could mass produce it by downing potions like a madman, and yeah, I probably could, but it would take a long fucking time to make a substantial amount, and I haven't really found a way to automate that.

Because I'm not staying in one place drinking potion after potion for several hours just to end up with a quarter of the amount I get from uncommon dungeons anyway. Fuck that noise. I'm doing something more productive.

Anyway, that's not the point of this dungeon. I'm only here because I'm hoping this could mend Blake and Weiss' friendship, and I'm pretty confident the former figured out my intentions. Weiss, though, not so much. She was kind of suspicious at first, but after the 'different world' reveal, it almost felt like she got distracted from that entirely.

It's kind of funny and adorable. She hid her excitement really well.

The key point on why I bothered to make a move this risky is that when I made it to Kali's villa earlier today, I felt zero animosity from either Weiss or Blake. They were tense, nervous, conflicted, etcetera, but there wasn't any hostility.

This makes it feel like fixing their relationship might not be as complicated as I thought at first. And with Weiss and Blake making up, that's already the biggest obstacle out of the way. The second biggest would be… Yang.

Because Blake fucked up way more than she thought she did when she decided to come here. I don't know how I'm going to tell her that her partner has abandonment issues, but I'll worry about that later.

I chose this rare-tier dungeon because I'm confident the girls can easily take it on. Ruby did on her own for the most part, so why couldn't they? Of course, I've taken some safety measures, like having Gwyn follow them around from a distance.

Also, anything below the rare tier is just monster waves, so I don't think it would've allowed them to open up to each other.

So, about this dungeon…

[Endless Snowstorm]

Objective: Three Orbs of Magic protecting this land are becoming unstable. Stop them from destroying the forest using any means necessary

Bonus Objective: Stabilize the orbs

Rewards: Moderate EXP, 2 Gacha Tokens, 1 Orb of Magic

Bonus Rewards: Moderate EXP, 1 Gacha Token, [Favored by the Spirits] Perk

I've read about these orbs, and getting one would be huge. They're like external mana pools, where you can store pure magic in them to use in other projects. Granted, they have limits, and giving too much would make them unstable, like what's happening here, but that's only if I'm being reckless and stupid.

The orb is like stardust if the stardust didn't shatter into a million pieces upon using their magic. I don't know how much mana they can hold in them, but getting one should mean I'd be able to learn how to make them. Hopefully. Assuming they're not insanely complicated to create.

The book I read about them said nothing about that, only that they're expensive artifacts used by powerful wizards and prosperous kingdoms. I'm still not sure how I'm supposed to stabilize them, but I'm going to assume by draining some of the magic. I'll try that out before telling Weiss and Blake in case that turns out to be a terrible idea.

I quickly make my way to the first orb, seeing it spasming violently on a pedestal as it releases magic in every direction. Glowing light blue, the artifact is surrounded by snow and ice-covered ruins, and it's so cold that it starts to overwhelm my fire cloak spell.

The closer I get, the colder it becomes. Freezing temperatures that, if not for my Aura, would've probably done a considerable amount of damage. I observe it for a bit and back off, deciding to investigate the surroundings to look for another solution that isn't destroying it.

The ruins themselves are pretty big, with several empty buildings surrounding the orb. Was this some kind of village? Don't know. I can't sense or see anything close: no people, corpses, or any sort of creature.

…No, I can see something. From the corner of my eyes, some kind of beast lurks deeper into the forest, observing me cautiously. It looks like a deer, only standing on two legs. Now that I have a good look at it, it looks like a Wendigo.

There are several of them surrounding me.

I can feel their hostility and hunger, but they're keeping their distance, and I make sure they fuck off by using Conquerors', scaring the hell out of them. They let out fearful groans before running away, making me snort. They will probably attack Weiss and Blake, but too bad for them; they will be slaughtered one by one. They're not much of a threat, not while Gwyn is around.

And it won't be much of a test if they get through this whole thing without a challenge.

I continue looking around, concluding that this is a settlement, or was one. I have no idea what happened, but some of the buildings clearly used to be houses. I can see beds and dinner tables— even a church on the opposite side of the orb. I don't think the Wendigo things did it. They shouldn't have been powerful enough to do all of this.

Still, being this close to the heart of the blizzard is making it hard to move or see anything, so I put a hand on the ground and release some of my fire magic, melting all the snow and ice in the vicinity.

My expression twists into a mixture of sadness and frustration as I see the corpses hidden beneath the now-melted snow. What the hell happened here? Who did this? I mean, you can't accidentally overcharge and destabilize an orb unless you're a complete moron. This had to have been deliberate…

I shake my head and enter the church building, closing the door behind me. The blizzard seems unable to penetrate this place, but it's still fucking freezing here. Seriously, Aura is a lifesaver.

I walk up to the dais, mentally noting the trap door in the corner before glancing at the book of worship on the podium and reading a line. Most of the sentences and the entire pages of the book are faded out, but I can make out this:

'—for the harshness of winter is but a gateway to Praechta's warm embrace.'

So, this Praechta is one of the gods of this world? Did they cause this? I mean, that eclipse or whatever god Sheekh talked about was kind of a dick, so maybe this one was too. I don't want to assume, though. Maybe some gods are chill.

It's not important right now. I should find a way to stop the orb from destroying the forest.

I flip through the pages, looking for a clue, pausing once I see a key tucked in one of them. Is this for the trap door? I don't think I needed a key since I could just break it, but I won't say no.

As I complete my search here, I walk up to the trapdoor, then pause as I catch sight of a fluffy creature peeking at me from behind one of the pews. It's small, barely the size of a corgi, with only two legs attached to its head. It has thick white fur and two big glowing yellow eyes.

That was it. No arms, mouth, or ears. It's just a walking furball.

And it's fucking adorable.

"Oh, hello there." I greet it gently, unsure if it even understands what I'm saying. "What are you doing in here?"

The little thing approaches me with no caution, which surprises me. I look pretty scary to most, especially to magical things here sensing what I am. It's either very brave or has zero survival instincts.

Checking it with Observe tells me what it is.

"A snow spirit?" I mutter as it lets me pat it on its head. "You don't look very spiritual to me. Still, you're cute. I like you."

It has abysmal stats, all ones or twos, no name, and is as old as an infant. One year old. I almost want to take it home with me, but that probably counts as kidnapping. I don't know enough about spirits to think I can care for one.

The spirit keeps nuzzling my leg affectionately for whatever reason. I can sense its strange fondness for me. I don't know what I did to have it react this way, but apparently, it likes me. That's cool.

…I hope this isn't a baby bear situation where the mother is right around the corner, waiting to rip me to shreds. I think I'll just settle with a picture. Ruby is going to like this a lot. Would also get mad at me for not taking her here, but I'll survive.

I take a quick picture of it with my scroll, then head back to the trapdoor, with the little thing still following me around. Eh, okay, it can stick around. So far, there is nothing around that's actively trying to kill me, and I can get it to safety if things do get dangerous.

"Now to check what's down there," I say to myself, unlocking the trapdoor and revealing a staircase that leads deep below. "I don't know if you can understand what I say, but stay close to me, okay?"

The snow spirit doesn't react, so I pick it off the ground and put it on my head—better this way.

Once I make it down, I'm greeted with a simple storage cellar. Admittedly, I expected some kind of cultist-type basement with creepy magic circles, candles, etc. Everything looks normal, though, until I find the two corpses near a few crates of rotten fruits.

One is wearing grayish blue robes— a priest, from the looks of it, seemingly killed by the dagger in his chest. The other is also wearing robes, though a purple one with sinister red marks around it, showing some kind of an eye. This one died far more gruesomely, with half his body sliced off diagonally by what looks to me like an ice spell. The wounds were frozen solid.

Jesus…

I approach the two bodies to inspect them up close. I don't know what happened here, but whatever this purple robe guy was, I will assume he was the aggressor. Something about this eye mark on him is just… unsettling, almost like something is actually watching me.

Both guys are holding something in their hands. Purple robes has a book in his hand while the priest has some kind of tube device I've never seen before; almost looks like one of those twig wands from Harry Potter.

I pick both items up and use Observe on the tube and book respectively.

[Mana Drainer] - Item

Drains the magic of the objects it's pointing at and releases it into the atmosphere. Cannot be used on living entities.

[Vow of Fire] - Item

An elegy written by the Cult of the Deserved, promising a new, prosperous world free of suffering after the current one burns to ashes.

Ah, so I was right. The purple robe guy was the aggressor. Still, I want to make sure because making assumptions like this isn't okay when I have zero context, so I open the book, see a language I don't recognize, and then close it. Alright, never mind. I don't know what the 'Deserved' is, but it sounds kinda evil.

Anyway, this mana drainer is probably what I need to stabilize the orb. My clue is the priest having it in his hand even though it doesn't work on people. This village probably used it periodically to keep the orb stable.

The big question here is how it got unstable in the first place.

Once I send the items into my inventory, I examine the two corpses before I bring them up and out of the cellar. I still don't know what happened here, but I might as well give them a proper burial. Them and the dead bodies were outside.

It's not like I'm in a rush here. So far, Weiss and Blake haven't encountered anything from what Gwyn is communicating. Speaking of, I'll need to send them a letter soon. Once I'm done with this place, I'll make a golem and send it their way. I have enough Lightning Dust in my inventory to construct a quick one.

They already have everything they need. Weiss' rapier can drain magic the same way the device I found can. However, hers can also absorb mana from live targets, too. Wouldn't be effective in a fight if it couldn't do that.

Once I make it outside, I find several more snow spirits looking at me curiously before approaching, making me snort. At least this place isn't completely abandoned.

I put the corpses down for now and head toward the unstable orb, aiming the drainer at it. The device instantly activates, absorbing the magic from the pointy end and releasing it into the air as tiny particles from its back end.

It takes a while, though. Five minutes of just standing there draining the magic until things start to calm down, from a raging blizzard to serene silence. There you go. Now, to bury everyone here…

With a dozen spirits accompanying me, I gather all the corpses in this place to a suitable space, using my earth magic to dig up many holes deep enough for each body. As I start burying the corpses, the system gives me a new notification, making me pause once I see what it's about.

25 Reputation with Praechta [25/100]

When I finish reading it, I feel a gentle breeze of surprisingly warm wind hit me, hearing a very faint 'Thank you' alongside it. I blink and feel a smile creeping up to my face as I continue working on their graves.

"You're welcome," I respond quietly.

I guess not all of them are bad.


– Blake –

It seemed that nothing had listened to her messed up prayers to be attacked so neither of them would have to suffer through this agonizing silence any longer, but that was probably for the better. This forest was starting to creep her out.

Obviously, whatever spell Reid hadcast on them made them feel warm even in an environment as harsh as this, but Blake had never gotten used to cold temperatures. Even outside Menagerie's warmer climate, back in her White Fang days, she was primarily positioned in Vale anyway.

Which wasn't that cold either. Cold in winter, sure, but that was to be expected. She'd had some missions in Solitas, but she could count those on one hand. At the time, it had left her frustrated, and now she realized that it had probably been Sienna's attempt to keep her away from real danger.

Blake needed to show her gratitude before she left Menagerie. That woman was responsible for her being alive.

Speaking of, she felt like there was this awkward air between them, and why wouldn't there be? For better or worse, Blake had defected. Had the White Fang been an official military, it would've been grounds for execution.

Oh, look, more consequences. Blake thought, feeling worse about herself. I'm such an idiot.

Yet, this made her even more proud that sh'd stood her ground this time. Confronting things head-on always felt terrifying. Though, that was the biggest hurdle—Having the courage to face her problems. Then, everything became so much easier.

Blake glanced at her team leader and grimaced. Relatively speaking, at least.

Gods, this was extremely awkward. It was unlike Weiss to be this quiet. Usually, she'd try to socialize and talk about silly subjects, rant about silly things, or scold her about one thing or another, mostly related to her schoolwork, which was silly.

This unease was so unpleasant.

"S-so…" She started. "Do you think Reid was being serious?"

"About what?" Weiss responded curtly.

"About this being a different world?" Blake answered. "A part of me thinks he's just messing with us, honestly."

"Why would he?" Weiss looked at her in confusion.

"I don't know, maybe he finds it funny?" She shrugged. "It's not like he's never pulled these kinds of pranks before."

"Something like this is too elaborate to be part of a prank." Her team leader reasoned, then paused slightly. "And it feels… different here."

This piqued Blake's interest.

"Different? Different how?"

"I don't know. It's like the air itself feels heavier here. Like being in a submarine." She tried to describe. "But it's not as uncomfortable. It's hard to explain properly. Can you not feel it?"

Well, she didn't know what being in a submarine feels like.

"Not really." Blake blinked. "Besides it being freezing here, I feel nothing different. Maybe it's because of your magic sensing? I can't sense magic like you, so maybe that's why I don't feel this 'heavy air'."

"That may be it." Weiss hummed. "It certainly feels more noticeable the closer we are to this power source Reid was talking about."

"Is that so…"

…What the hell? Blake thought in genuine surprise.

She didn't think opening a conversation like that would be so easy. Blake was sure she would be getting either snarky responses or total silence, and for a bit, it was almost like it would be the former. Then the subject slowly drifted toward magic, and Weiss looked practically… excited?

Was it that easy? Or was Blake simply lucky? She didn't know. It did make things far more bearable now, so she wouldn't complain. Seriously, it almost felt like a massive weight was lifted. She didn't want a hole to swallow her up anymore.

With the tension between them lowering, the journey didn't feel like an eternity anymore, and the two girls finally arrived at the supposed location. Next to what seemed to be a barn and a farmhouse was a small, open shack, with an open doorway showing a glowing orb on a pedestal.

Was this what they were looking for? It must have been very powerful from how violently it shook and how intense this blizzard was. But how were they supposed to 'stabilize' it, as Reid put it? He said he'd figure it out, but should they really just wait until that happened?

Weiss looked around, eyeing the farmhouse before turning to look at Blake.

"Let's split up and look for clues." She said. "You investigate the barn. I'll be looking through the house."

"What should we be looking for?"

"Anything that could tell us what happened here," Weiss responded. "And a way we could fix it."

"Okay." Blake nodded, walking to the barn as Weiss went to the farmhouse.

Cautiously, Blake opened the door, the inside clear as day courtesy of her faunus heritage, and stepped in. She could see dead animals like horses, sheep, and cows, all preserved by the snow covering most of their carcasses.

What made her really uneasy was the fact that most of them had been torn apart, with their frozen guts and blood pouring out of their bodies. Blake's stomach twisted into knots as she saw the ribs and bones ripped out, prompting a grimace to make its way into her face.

This is horrible. She thought, staring at the brutalized corpses. These animals must've died painfully

And clearly by some sort of predator. These kills were too haphazard and gruesome to be the work of a human or any sentient being, for that matter. What was confusing her was the fact that they were just… there.

If this was the work of, say, a wolf or a bear, then wouldn't they eat the entire thing? Instead, they left it like this…

As she continued her investigation, Blake froze as she saw a human corpse just as brutalized, making her feel the bile rise to her throat. The ribcage had been ripped out of the man's chest cavity, and the internal organs were either gone or half-eaten. Half of his head was torn— his entire upper jaw nowhere to be seen as the lower part was left hanging, bloody and frozen teeth and tongue left in a horrifying display of mutilation that left Blake shaken to her core.

Blake closed her eyes and calmed herself, swallowing the built-up vomit in disgust. She had never witnessed something like this. Even the White Fang's worst couldn't have done anything like this. Hell, not even the Grimm would do this as far as she'd seen.

She was thankful that Weiss wasn't here to see this. If it got a reaction so visceral from someone who was used to violence, then she doubted a relatively sheltered girl would be able to sleep for the next few weeks.

Blake took a deep breath and slowly approached the ladder next to the corpse, wanting to take her investigation to the attic, but then her cat ears twitched as she heard something, making her turn around, gripping her cleaver.

Her eyes darted around the barn, but she found nothing. She slowly walked up to the door she came through, feeling a horrible chill go down her spawn.

"Weiss?" She said quietly. "Is that you?"

"Quick, I found something!" She heard her team leader respond. "Might be what we're looking for."

Blake felt herself sigh as she heard her voice and resheathed her sword. That was a relief— she honestly didn't want to investigate the attic. If she thought that mangled corpse was terrifying, then who knew what could be up there?

"Coming–!"

Blake froze as she opened the door, seeing a massive creature twice her height with the head of a disfigured deer looking at her. Fortunately, she reacted quickly enough and blocked the incoming attack with her arms.

The hit was so strong it sent her to the other side and through the barn, making her stumble backward as the stinging sensation in her arms flared up. She gasped in pain, eyes widening as the beast was already on the offense.

This time, she leaped to the side, avoiding the monster entirely as she unsheathed her weapon. She couldn't grip her weapon properly as her hand arm was trembling violently, that singular attack having done a whole lot of damage.

"Damn it…" She cursed under her breath. I got careless…

That thing had caught her off guard and shaved off a lot of her aura, and if not for her aura, that would've instantly decapitated her. Was it that that had spoken? Had it seriously lured her out using Weiss' voice? That was messed up. She was aware of some Grimm capable of doing that, but to think she'd find something like this in a different world…

Well, it certainly looked a LOT creepier than Grimm.

The beast hissed and slowly circled her, and Blake calmed her nerves and got into her stance, stopping the spasming of her arms as she prepared for a fight. She didn't know what this thing was or what it was called, but she wouldn't hold back.

It lunged at her with surprising speed, but now that she was ready, Blake managed to dodge the attack by making an earth clone and stepping to the side, letting it dig its teeth into what amounted to a stone statue.

The monster effortlessly destroyed it with its bite, but the maneuver gave Blake a wide enough window to swing her black cleaver at its neck, which shot out a wave of dark energy that dug deeper into it, but not quite enough to cut off its head.

It roared in pain and anger, backing off as blood seeped from its wound. Blake blinked a few times, glanced at her sword, then smirked. Reid was right; this was a pleasant surprise for sure.

From a distance, Blake swung her sword again.

But nothing happened.

"Huh?" She swung again. No wave of darkness. "What? Is it a one-time thing?"

To her shock and embarrassment, the bleeding beast laughed at her as she kept flailing her weapon around, making her growl in annoyance. Whatever. She would figure out how this thing worked if she used it more.

Blake's cat ears twitched as she heard something rapidly approaching her from behind, prompting her to twirl around and successfully deflect the swipe of another monster, cutting off some of its claw-like fingers.

The second monster cried out as the first one lunged again, but Blake was more than agile enough to avoid its lethal bite, creating a fire clone and letting it explode once she made enough distance.

They certainly hit hard, but they weren't that fast. Blake had trained with worse.

Her confidence withered as the two monsters roared together, making more monsters emerge from the woods. A little over a dozen of these tall, horrifying-looking beasts stared at her with contempt and hunger.

Feeling intimidated, Blake stepped backward as cold sweat rolled down her cheek. This could be bad. She could handle one or two, but this was getting a little too dangerous.

"Looks like you need a hand."

Not wanting to be tricked again, Blake tensed and took a glance behind her, feeling a wave of relief as she saw Weiss alongside a summoned Arma Gigas and not some fucked up looking monster. Oh, thank the gods…

"What are these things?" She asked. "Where did they come from?"

"I don't know, but one of them used your voice to draw me out," Blake responded, feeling much better with Weiss around. "It caught me off guard."

Taking a hit from that thing unprepared could've easily killed her, and that fact made Blake's blood run cold. This really was too close for comfort.

"Did it… " Her eyes narrowed.

"Did you find anything?"

"No. The house was empty. Besides a few dead bodies." She shook her head with a grimace, making Blake deflate. "But the good news is, Reid figured it out. He sent a Golem with a letter explaining what we must do."

"Right." Blake exhaled. "That's good. Let's take care of this first, then. You can tell me afterward."

"Of course."

Weiss got into her stance and summoned several sharp icicles using her magic, which made Blake admittedly feel a twinge of jealousy.

Having magic must be so nice…


– Weiss –

Reacting quickly, Weiss created a glyph that shielded her from an attack, using her magic to cut through the monster's legs with an ice sword, forcing it to its knees and giving her a nice opening to stab it in the head with her rapier, killing it instantly and recharging a bit of her mana.

When she had first got it, she thought it was some sort of decorative piece rather than a real weapon, but it didn't take deep inspection to realize that whatever this thing was made of, it wasn't gold. It looked like gold, but it wasn't, and it wasn't painted gold either—some sort of strange alloy she'd never seen before.

Plus, the enchantment on it felt powerful, and it was. It could drain the magic of whomever it touched to restore her own. With this in hand, she could theoretically never run out of mana for her spells. It was no joke— Weiss felt honored that she had been trusted with this artifact.

…She still missed Myrtenaster, though. That one wasn't just a weapon. It was her partner that she'd designed herself in precious hours snatched away from her hectic schedule, and that had served her faithfully for years.

Weiss snorted. Now, she was starting to sound like Ruby. She missed her.

The SDC heiress gracefully danced around the lunge of another beast. Well, as gracefully as she could. The snow here reached a little over her ankles, which was a bit restricting. Thankfully, these monsters were pretty slow, all things considered, so dodging them wasn't an issue.

In response to this deer thing, Weiss cast a few blades over her head, all soaring toward its face. It acted quick enough to block with its arm, but those were merely a distraction as Weiss dashed, stabbing its knee joint with precise movement. This caused it to lose balance and collapse, and she used the opportunity to stab its head, killing it.

"Get down!"

Weiss listened to the faunus, ducking down as her teammate swung her enchanted blade, creating a wave of darkness that cleaved the beast behind her in half. Weiss then charged at the monster past Blake, thrusting several times in the span of a second, then lodging a giant icicle in its chest at the cost of her mana.

from the corner of her eye, she saw her Arma Gigas swing its massive sword, killing the last monster standing. Weiss exhaled, keeping her breathing under control. This wasn't as bad as she'd thought— these things were certainly new, but nothing she couldn't handle.

She glanced down at her now-ruined uniform, now painted red, and grimaced. Could do without all this blood, though.

This must be what Reid dealt with every time he came here. Or, well, on second thought, he probably just incinerated everything in his path. That seemed to be his first option, which was a good, viable strategy. Weiss almost wished she'd got fire magic instead, but she was happy with what she had.

"Hah…" Blake sighed. "Finally."

"Don't get sloppy now," Weiss warned, handing her a potion to restore her aura. "We don't know if there are more of them out there. We should finish up here and rendezvous with Reid immediately."

"Sure…" She responded, looking at her sword after quickly downing the liquid. "I think I've gotten the hang of this, though."

"Have you?" Weiss strapped her weapon on her side as the two – and the Arma Gigas – walked to the orb.

"Yeah. Apparently, it shoots magic after the fifth hit." Blake nodded. "But it can be charged too. The harder the swing, the more powerful it is."

"I see." She hummed. "Mine just drains magic from my targets. It doesn't do anything as flashy."

"Heh, I guess you could call mine that, yeah." The faunus chuckled. "Though, as useful as it is, it's really not my style. I like my old weapon better."

"Right?!" Weiss grinned. "I had that same thought exactly!"

Weiss paused as her brain caught up a second too late, making her remember that she was supposed to be mad at Blake. Her smile dropped, replaced with an awkward expression as she cleared her throat.

"...Let's just get this over with." She said quietly, quickening her pace.

"...Sure."

The hurt response made Weiss' heart twist painfully, but it wasn't like she could help it. It wasn't… easy for her to forgive someone who had broken her trust, even if she had acknowledged the fact that she still viewed Blake as a good friend.

She knew that Blake was genuinely regretful. She was clearly trying her hardest to gain Weiss' forgiveness, even if she didn't think she deserved it, because, as she declared back in that room, she would never run away again.

Weiss found that very admirable. She wasn't exactly familiar with what kind of demons Blake was confronting by doing this, but it couldn't be easy to do so. It never was. Not when she called herself a coward right in front of her team leader.

Taking some time to reflect after their conversation that night had made Weiss realize that she really, really wanted to forgive Blake. Just hug it out and pretend it never happened, but that… wasn't going to happen, was it?

To pretend that everything was okay was to run away, and if Blake swore that she never would, then what right did Weiss have? It'd be like spitting on her friend's promise. Making a mockery out of it.

She couldn't do that. If she truly wanted their relationship to live through this, then Weiss had to fully acknowledge what happened. To forgive, but never forget.

And the biggest issue here is Weiss not knowing what was preventing her from doing such a thing. Was she afraid that Blake was going to hurt her again? Lie and betray her trust? She wanted to say no, but there still was this tiny, poisonous doubt lingering.

As long as that remained, then…

Weiss sighed as she stood before the glowing orb.

"So, what now?"

"We drain it out of its power," Weiss said.

"How?" Blake asked, and then her eyes widened in realization. "Your rapier."

"Precisely." She nodded. "Though, Reid said in the letter to make sure I continuously cast spells while I do that."

"Why?"

"I'm not sure." Weiss shook her head. "If I were to make a guess, I'd say because I would be overloading myself with mana."

"And that's bad?"

"Too much mana can turn you into a magic crystal statue." She answered, then paused. "Or, in our case, a dust cluster."

"Right." Blake swallowed dryly. "Learning that dust is literally just crystallized magic was a bit mindblowing. So how are you gonna do this? I mean, wouldn't stabbing it break the thing?"

"As long as I touch it with the tip of the sword, it should work," Weiss said, gripping her rapier. "Reid warned that it could respond a little violently, so–"

"Keeping my distance." Blake nodded, taking a step back. "You sure you're gonna be fine?"

"I will. I'll be continuously casting a barrier around me." Weiss replied, aiming her golden rapier at the magical artifact. "It should be enough to protect me and drain me so I don't absorb too much or get hurt by the orb."

"Okay." Her friend said. "Good luck."

The SDC heiress took a deep breath and gently touched the orb with the tip of her weapon. Weiss immediately felt a surge of mana go through her, making her gasp in surprise at the incredible power she was feeling. However, she did not get distracted and quickly started her plan.

A dome of ice formed around her that kept thickening with every second. Weiss gritted her teeth as she struggled to keep up with the massive flow of magic she was feeling, but she just about managed to prevent any injuries or crystallization.

"You're doing it!" Blake said encouragingly. "The snowstorm is calming down! Keep at it, Weiss!"

"Nggh…!" Weiss grunted, her grip starting to shake.

To her horror, the hand holding the weapon was beginning to turn into a crystal right before her eyes. This prompted Weiss to let out a roar of desperation as she expelled all the magic in her in continuous bursts, forcing every drop of mana out of her system.

This tactic seemed to work as her hand quickly returned to normal, and the orb began to give less and less until it became significantly more manageable. Eventually, things started to calm down, prompting a huge sigh of relief from Weiss.

The orb had been successfully stabilized, making her dispel the ice dome surrounding her. Weiss fell on her rear, wincing at the loud clang made by her rapier as it dropped on the floor. That was close…

"You did it!" Blake exclaimed with a smile. "For a second there, I thought–"

Weiss flinched and groaned at the pain in her head.

"A-are you okay?" The faunus asked in concern, rushing to her side. "You're not hurt, are you?"

"No, just a little lightheaded." Weiss waved off her concerns before wincing. "It's what happens when you use too much magic too quickly."

"Ah, right." Blake nodded. "But I mean, during that. It didn't hurt you, right?"

"It didn't. If anything, it was the opposite." She replied. "It felt like… when you unlock your aura for the first time, but even more. I felt powerful. Invincible."

"At least it felt nice." Her teammate responded. "C'mon, let's find Re—"

Weiss couldn't even process what happened as she was suddenly pushed away by Blake, who, right before the heiress' eyes, was struck by one of those beasts from earlier. Only this time, it was significantly lankier and larger, and it wore a belt festooned with several bloody human skulls— or rather, their upper halves, eye sockets glowing green.

Weiss stumbled and got to her feet, ignoring the headache as she looked in horrified silence at Blake's limp body in the snow.

"BLAKE!"

She rushed toward her, barely able to react to the monster's attack and casting a glyph between her and it. To her shock, it shattered the glyph, barely missing her by a hair's width as she managed to roll out of the way and next to Blake's body.

"Blake, get up!" She said as she shook her teammate, glaring directly at the massive beast. "Come on!"

You idiot! Weiss screamed in her mind. Why did you do that?!

Was she out? Was she dead? Weiss didn't know, but she knew taking her eyes off this monster for one second would end up with her dying herself. It wasn't just powerful; it was fast. Was it the leader?

"Blake!"

No response.

This couldn't be happening. She couldn't let Blake die here, not when they hadn't reconciled yet. Not when she had just reunited with her mother— how could she face Reid, Kali, or her team if she let her friend die here?!

Her responsibilities as a leader wouldn't allow her! She could NOT let this happen to someone she called a dear friend.

With a heart pounding in terror and shock, Weiss still got a hold of herself, using what little mana she regained to create several icicles that all soared toward the beast. To her horror, it shrugged them off without suffering any damage. If only she had a bit more mana, she could've put more power into them.

Her weapon was next to the pedestal where she'd dropped it. Where the hell was her Arma Gigas? Did it get destroyed?

The beast, looking far more sinister than its lesser variants, loomed above her, glowering at her with hatred and hunger. Weiss wasn't sure what she had to do. The situation she'd been put in was disastrous, but she had to do something.

She couldn't die here. She couldn't let her teammate and friend die. She was a student of the most powerful person on Remnant and the leader of team Wildberry, damn it! Dying like this was BENEATH her!

Think. Weiss analyzed her position calmly as the beast slowly approached, waiting for the moment to pounce. I have some potions, but with how fast it is, I won't be able to drink any of them before this thing tears me apart.

Meaning she needed to slow it down, and all she had now was her aura and semblance. If only she had dust to imbue some of her glyphs with…

No, she didn't need dust.

Because dust was just crystalized magic.

With a risky idea in mind, Weiss took a deep breath and faked a sharp movement, prompting the monster to leap at her with terrifying swiftness. However, she regularly sparred with Ruby and was used to this level of speed. No, Ruby was much faster than this.

Weiss narrowed her eyes and waited for the right moment, then she waved a hand sharply, making a carefully-positioned glyph that smashed into the beast's face, imbuing it with her own mana. A massive pillar of ice burst forth from the glyph, launching the beast several meters into the air and into the barn.

That was a lot harder to pull off than she thought, but it worked!

She popped open the magic restore potion, downed it, and then checked up on her teammate, a wave of relief hitting her as she saw Blake still breathing. Only knocked out and bleeding from her forehead, likely a concussion, but nothing life-threatening.

Weiss heard a guttural roar from behind her— the beast was making its way back to them. She twirled and swung her hand at it, creating a wave of ice that smashed into the beast's maw, damaging it quite a bit as blood sprayed on her face.

But even still, the pain did not intimidate it or hold it back as it broke through, attempting to eat Weiss whole. Thankfully, a familiar white blur flashed from the corner of her eye and into the monster, crashing into it.

The beast tumbled over the snow but landed on its front, hissing in annoyance and pain as Reid's great wolf stood beside her.

"Gwyn!" She called out in relief, seeing the golden rapier in his mouth. "Good boy!"

His tail waved from side to side as he spat out the weapon before growling at the monster threateningly. With him standing next to her, Weiss felt safe enough to help her teammate with a vial of aura potion because even without the blizzard, it was still freezing. It shouldn't have been able to do too much damage past her aura, so her aura's regeneration should be enough to let her heal.

Weiss then picked her blade up and got into a stance, assured that Blake would be okay now with Reid's familiar nearby.

"One of us needs to protect Blake in case more of those monsters come out," Weiss told the wolf. "Could you do that for me?"

Because admittedly, this had gotten personal, and she wanted to fight it on her own. This thing dared to sneak up on them like that, even hurt her teammate to the point of knocking her out. Considering what she found in that house, these monsters were responsible for the deaths of innocent people.

Different world or not, preventing such terrible atrocities was her responsibility. Weiss wouldn't let it get away with this. She was taking it down by any means necessary.

Gwyn barked affirmatively as he stepped back to guard Blake.

"Thank you," She said, her glare on the beast sharpening as she tightened her grip over the rapier. "En Garde!"

With the wolf ensuring Blake's safety, Weiss sprinted at the monster fearlessly, ducking and evading a swipe that would have broken her aura instantly. She slashed at its legs several times, drawing blood but not doing enough damage to break its balance.

The beast screeched and tried to stomp on her. However, with her newfound focus, she avoided its foot as the force of the stomp caused a small crater, launching the thick snow in all directions.

Without wasting another second, Weiss was back on the offensive, forming a few glyphs in front of her that she used as platforms to get closer to its upper body, cutting its chest and face before flipping over its swinging claw, landing behind it, and thrusting her sword into the back of its knee.

With her precise and graceful movement, the beast had trouble keeping up with Weiss now that she could actually fight back. Granted, it wasn't easy. It was still relatively fast, and she knew a single hit could spell the end for her, but as she was now, she could handle this.

The monster had caught them off guard, so she had been panicking at the start. But that wasn't the case now. Every move counted, as she knew she couldn't waste her stamina.

But no matter how many times she hit it, the monster just… refused to fall. Even with wounds that were supposed to cripple it, it kept fighting and moving like nothing bothered it. It slowly started to frustrate the SDC heiress— how were its movement not even impaired? It was suffering damage worse than what she inflicted on its lesser brethren.

Weiss backed off and clicked her tongue in annoyance, restricting its movement with her glyphs and using a significant portion of her mana to create a massive battering ram. The spell landed, and while it wasn't powerful enough to pierce the beast's chest, it sent it crashing through the barn. That should damage its internal organs at least, assuming it had any.

She exhaled through her nose and kept rushing the beast, who finally showed some signs of struggle after a powerful attack like that. It coughed up blood, covering its face with its lanky arm to defend itself from Weiss' thrust. The rapier pierced its arm but stopped before it reached its head, making her growl in frustration.

However, before she could pull the blade away, the monster twisted its arm around and dragged Weiss with it, raising her up before smashing her against the earth. She gasped in pain as it turned the tables on her, eyes widening as it tried to stab her head with its pointy claws.

Weiss made a protective glyph just in time, not stopping the attack, but slowing it down just enough for her to move her head away. As it plunged its claws into the ground instead, she cast several sharp icicles that stabbed the beast in its face, forcing it to back away.

Weiss pulled her rapier off the beast's arm and rolled over to the side, getting back up on her feet before leaping away from a swing of its massive arm, blocking a second swing with her rapier as she had just recovered and couldn't move quick enough to anticipate another attack so soon.

Improvising, she cast a spell through her foot stomp, turning the ground into hard and slippery ice that ruined the balance of the beast, making it slip in the middle of its lunge. Weiss side-stepped and slashed its neck with a precise swing, spilling blood on the frozen earth.

Its little tumble ended up with it crashing through the farmhouse, making Weiss sigh at the tiny moment of respite. She didn't care how tough it was— that must've done a lot of damage if not outright killed it.

For a moment, she thought that was the case. It stopped moving for a while, making her think she had finally killed it, but then, a strange green glow enveloped it, and to her irritation, she saw its silhouette behind the dust cloud rise again.

"Just stay down already." She huffed. "How are you still alive?"

Her irritation turned into absolute horror once she saw it walk out of the rubble with none of the wounds she had already inflicted upon it. Not a single scratch— as if it had just arrived at the scene and the last few minutes of battle hadn't even happened.

What…? Weiss took a step back. How?

Had it regenerated? But why now? Why not in the middle of the battle? Did that prior attack of hers cause so much damage that it regenerated and healed all her wounds? What was going on?

The monster let out a slow, sinister laugh at her shock, making her flinch. Did it know what it just did? Was it always aware that this was going to happen, thus its apparent lack of survival instincts?

No, focus. Weiss thought. The weaker ones didn't heal their wounds, so it can't be some biological element, as this one barely looks any different. Just larger.

She analyzed the beast's mana first and found nothing out of the ordinary. It felt different compared to hers and Reid's, but not so different from its kind. So it wasn't some spell or a biological power. Everything was pointing to an external force doing this.

As the beast continued its slow and intimidating approach, Weiss examined its attire. Unlike its brethren, it wore a large brown cloak made from fur and a belt of glowing skulls, which was what drew her attention.

Because one of the skulls wasn't glowing anymore.

Could that be it? Weiss frowned in thought.

There was magic coming from it— wicked-feeling, but magic nonetheless. The one that wasn't glowing had no magic anymore and had been glowing just a few seconds ago. Were those skulls healing it? All evidence suggested yes, so she might as well assume that was the case.

So destroy those skulls, then kill it.

Her charge made the monster roar before running toward her, only for them to be interrupted by Gwyn once again ramming into its side. Weiss was about to yell at him for leaving Blake alone, but then her supposedly unconscious teammate jumped from his back and slashed the monster's neck, cleanly decapitating it.

The beast finally fell down, landing on its back as its disfigured head rolled next to it. Weiss sighed in relief and exhaustion once it went limp. She had been ready to tweak her approach and target those strange healing skulls, but it looked like that wouldn't be needed.

Weiss strapped the rapier to her hip and approached Blake, who was looking at the monster, slightly unnerved at its appearance.

"Sorry." Blake started. "I wasn't here to help earlier."

This made Weiss' anger flare up for whatever reason.

"You could've died," Weiss responded in annoyance.

"But it's fine now— I'm okay." She said quickly. "I know what I did was reckless—"

"No, that's not my point." Weiss cut her off. "The first thing you do after waking up is apologizing to me? What are you doing?"

"Um…"

"Look after yourself more, you dolt." She continued with a huff, looking away. "I thought you…"

"...Weiss?"

"Nevermind. We're done here." Weiss shook her head. "Let's just—"

"Get down!"

Once again, she was pushed away as the corpse of the beast rose, swinging its arm at Blake. Everything slowed down as Weiss' pupils shrunk to the size of pinpricks, watching Blake put both her hands up in a defensive position. Slowly, she saw her arms turn into a darker color— she saw her teammate access Haki right before her very eyes in an attempt to protect Weiss.

Again.

She had gotten careless again.

She understood now. These skulls weren't just healing it.

They were bringing it back to life.

Weiss wanted to slap herself for her stupidity. Of course that was it— if it was healing, it wouldn't have acted so goddamn mindless, because it could still die by a particularly powerful blow. It couldn't heal back from death!

Unless that was how the skulls worked. They didn't heal, they revived.

And now, her teammate would pay the price for her incompetence. Weiss' own arrogance would lead to Blake's possible death at a headless beast that should've been dead… but it wasn't. It was her fault. Her idiocy and inadequacy were going to kill Blake. Neither Weiss nor Gwyn was fast enough to prevent this from happening.

And Blake… even if she were to survive this attack, she might suffer permnant damage. Reid's potions didn't fully restore aura— they weren't that powerful. If that one hit from before brought Blake's aura from near full to broken, then fledgeling Haki or not, she could die from this.

This wasn't how things were supposed to go…

No.

As the leader of her own team, she couldn't let anything befall her teammates.

I won't let this happen.

Not when her own carelessness got them into this situation. She couldn't let Blake suffer the brunt of her mistakes. Not again.

I WILL NOT!

And with this powerful urge, Weiss did not cast her magic, she did not swing her rapier, and no glyph formed, for she knew that nothing could make it in time.

So, without any other option, Weiss could only shout.

"STOOOOP!"

The force of her mighty roar caused a powerful shockwave that wrecked the entire clearing. The ground shattered, and the snow blew away in every direction. Even the farmhouse suddenly collapsed from the weight of her presence.

Most importantly, it froze the monster in place.

Enough for Gwyn to do the job, slamming it into the ground before brutally tearing it apart into chunks of meat. The headless body tried but failed to defend itself from the wolf's onslaught, as the conqueror's presence was too much of a surprise for it to respond properly.

"Break the skulls!" Weiss said. "It might revive again!"

Gwyn did as he was told, smashing the glowing skulls one by one. Each time one broke, a small green cloud would ascend to the sky before dispersing into the wind. With the last one shattered into tiny bone shards, Blake sighed, dropping her defensive stance.

"That could've been horrible." She said before pausing. "What you did there… was that the Conqueror's Haki Reid talked about?"

"Are you stupid?!" Weiss snapped, catching her teammate off guard.

"W-what—"

"I JUST told you to look after yourself, and this is the stunt you pull?!" She screamed. "Are you brain dead?! Did you lose your brain cells the first time you got hit?!"

"I-I was just trying to protect you!"

"I was in a better shape than you, you dumbass! I could've protected myself just fine!" She drowned out Blake's weak protests with her angry ones. "Do you have a death wish or something?! Idiot! Moron!"

"But–"

"Do you know how we're still alive?! Luck! We were FUCKING lucky I got this stupid Haki thing to work!" Weiss continued shouting, feeling tears of fright and relief roll down her eyes. "What the hell was I supposed to do if you died, huh?! Answer me!"

This time, Blake said nothing, only staring at her in shock. Weiss didn't know why she felt the need to say all of this, but with her emotions running high, she couldn't help but pour her heart out. It was freeing, in a way, similar to how she felt on her first date with Reid.

"You could've died…" She said, not screaming her lungs out anymore. "You could've died!"

The screaming and crying wore her out far more than the fight did, making her say the one thing she was so afraid of blurting out. The verbal acknowledgment could end up with her being hurt and betrayed again.

But she couldn't bottle this up any longer.

"I can't let you die." She added quietly with a trembling voice. "You're my precious friend, Blake. I don't want to lose you."

Blake flinched as she started to tear up as well, and her response was to hug Weiss tightly, letting her sob on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorr—"

"Just stop." Weiss said. "Stop apologizing. I don't want to hear 'sorry' from you anymore."

Blake listened, and instead of her usual and tiring apologies…

"Thank you."

Weiss smiled, returning the embrace with a doubtless heart.


– Reid –

And that's the second orb done.

I send the drainer to my inventory, getting a telepathic report from Gwyn. So everything's fine there, and looks like my plan worked. And Weiss fully unlocked her Conqueror's. Fuck yes, today was great.

"Proud of you, girls," I say out loud, petting the snow spirit on my shoulder. "Man, they're gonna go crazy for you guys. Especially Weiss."

Assuming they didn't find snow spirits wherever they were. God, these things are fucking adorable.

Quest complete

The door that leads to Remnant appears next to me as I get the rewards sent to my inventory directly. This was a successful venture, and I'm very happy with how things turned out. Good amount of materials, tokens, a new perk, and resolving the girls' issues with one another. No levels, but that's fine. I can get levels from the legendary tier dungeon.

[Favored by the Spirits] - Perk

All types of lesser and greater spirits seem to look fondly upon you. It might not directly affect your power, but for what it's worth, they won't be pulling any annoying pranks on you.

Spirits are more likely to listen to you and help if possible.

Small chance of a spirit giving you rare items.

Malicious spirits can and will attack you, but can now be befriended and tamed.

…I feel like this is going to be very helpful at some point. I'm bound to meet a spirit in one of the dungeons, right? Probably. I still have a lot of dungeons to clear.

Yup, today was awesome, for sure. Even though the girls found some trouble over there – or, more accurately, trouble found them – I knew they could handle it. One of them might've had trouble against so many of those Wendigo monsters, but two of my students? Plus Gwyn?

They're more than strong enough to deal with this type of threat.

It must've been real close, though, cuz I felt Gwyn genuinely panicking for a second there. I was ready to head to where they were in case things got a little too bad, but I can't hold their hands all the time. Eventually, Salem would figure out that, yeah, my girls have magic and will probably target them.

And honestly? Salem scares me. Because I know little to nothing about the real Salem in this world, and whatever info I get from Oz might become obsolete at the drop of a hat because even he doesn't know what she's doing in the background.

I must prepare them as much as possible, with training, experience, equipment— whatever. Maybe after their Haki training, I can finally tell them everything about the war in the shadows so they don't get caught off guard.

Not knowing what Salem knows makes me anxious. I don't like it.

Gwyn finally arrives with the two girls on his back, letting them get off before pouncing on me to lick my face.

"You did really good today, buddy." I pet him.

He pants and barks affectionately.

"How'd you girls do?" I look at Weiss. "You look like you've seen better days."

"You could say that," Weiss responds with a wan smile, glancing at Blake, then puffing her chest haughtily. "But nothing stood in the way of our teamwork."

"Really now?" I grin. "A lot must've happened, huh?"

"That would be an understatement." Blake says. "A few hiccups here and there. We had it covered, though."

Yup, no more tension between them. Great!

"Awesome. I knew I could count on you."

…I've been waiting for them to comment on the snow spirits, but nothing so far. Did they find some too?

"So what do you think?" I gesture at the few dozen spirits next to me. "Cute, right?"

Both girls blink, with Weiss voicing her confusion.

"What is?"

"Huh?" I raise a brow. I pick up the one on my head. "This thing."

"Uh…" Blake utters as they glanced at one another. "What thing? The air?"

"Wait, you can't see them?" I look down at the adorable critter-like creatures. "The small creatures surrounding me."

"No?"

…Huh.

"Gwyn?" I look at my dog.

He tilts his head in confusion. Him too? That's weird.

"Well, that's sad that you can't see them."

"Who are 'them' anyway?" Blake asks.

"Snow spirits." I say, putting down the ones on my shoulders. "Small, fluffy, only has legs and eyes. They're adorable as fuck."

This is really weird. It makes me feel like I'm fucking seeing things, but I mean, observe responds when I use it on them, so they gotta be real.

"It's fine, though. I can show you the pictures later." I say, heading toward the door. "Let's go back."

"Ugh, finally." Blake complains, following me alongside Weiss. "The cold was starting to get to me."

"Oh come on, Menagerie's heat is a lot worse." Weiss argues. "Can't go two seconds without sweating buckets."

"And it's still more bearable than this. I can't feel my fingers anymore."

"Your aura protects you from the cold. You're just exaggerating."

I let the two girls go before me as they continue their silly argument. Gwyn dematerializes into his spiritual form, and I give the snow spirits a smile.

"It has been fun," I say. "I don't know if you're related, but send Praechta my regards, yeah?"

The little critters don't react to what I say, but a part of me feels like they understand that at least. And with one last wave, I enter the door and feel the warm and humid air of Menagerie once again.

I'm gonna miss them.


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