Update - 2nd August - Hey all. I'm in hospital today and going in for an operation later - a laperoscomy or something. keyhole surgery. Supposed to be very safe and very high success rate, about as routine as they get. I have it at 3pm today so won't be writing anything today. They've said this is one of the easiest surgeries to recover from however, so I may even be up and fine tomorrow for tuesday's chapter. We'll have to wait and see. Just a notice to let you know here. I'll post this on my profile or whatnot.


Cover Art: Mystery White Flame

Chapter 29


Tyrian hummed and flicked the brush over the ship's hull one last time, finishing his masterpiece. He let out a pleased sound and swung back, trusting his tail to keep him secured to the railing above. The ship's prior name, The Vengeance of Atlas, had been crossed out, and now a new name stood proudly, if unevenly, above it.

HGS Salem's Wisdom and Glory.

Ah, such a perfect name for so wonderful a vessel, both honour for his goddess and a reminder of her perfect nature. A salty tear peeped from his eye and dripped down toward the saltier ocean. A large shark Grimm leapt out the water before it could make it and snatched the teardrop from the air.

"Another one!" Mercury shouted from above. Something round and metallic dropped down past Tyrian's suspended body, a barrel-shaped object that plonked into the ocean and sunk beneath the surface.

The surface bubbled, frothed and burst upward in a vast plume that soaked Tyrian to the bone. Grimm shark bits rained down on him, before decomposing into smoke and drifting away.

"BOOM!" Mercury yelled, then laughed loudly. "These depth charges are awesome!"

On the one hand, Tyrian knew they were running low on ammunition after using most of it, including the cannons, to shoot down the Grimm swarming their vessel, and as such he should chastise Mercury for wasting a depth charge on a singular Grimm. On the other hand, the boy was clearly euphoric at having smote the heathens, and that was something to be encouraged at all times. Being a paragon of balance in all things, Tyrian assumed they cancelled one another out and went for the option of ignoring it entirely.

Balance was important in life. It was! Tyrian took it seriously, too. For every day that went by in peace, he absolutely had to go and murder at least one person. It wasn't psychopathy – it was balance. Honest. Contracting his tail to sweep himself back up, he crawled onto the deck and unwound his stinger from the railing, then cracked his back as Mercury leaned over to admire his handiwork.

"What does HGS stand for?"

"Her Goddess' ship."

"Ah. Right. The HGS SWAG, huh? I like it."

"The better for everyone to understand Her glory. Speaking of her most glorious, perfect and most magnanimous being, where is our Goddess at this time?"

"Below deck looking after Jaune."

Tyrian's head tilted back, and another tear slipped forth. Oh Jaune, to be so simultaneously blessed and cruel at the same time. Years had he toiled under her charge and not once had he the pleasure of their Goddess' personal care and attention. To be fair, Tyrian had a tendency to not get injured in the first place. Call it a passion if you will, but he believed the best injuries were those inflicted on other people. Even so, it was unfair that Jaune had served for so little a time, and that he was granted such rewards. Tyrian was both jealous and in awe of the boy.

Maybe I should get myself hurt next time, he thought. But that would mean lying to her. No, I cannot do that! And it would also mean not meeting her expectations. Ah Jaune, truly you are blessed to be just strong enough to fulfil Her expectations and just weak enough to need Her help.

"You're crying." Mercury pointed out.

"T-They are tears of joy."

"They don't look like joy…"

"My protégé is becoming a man. Soon, he will don the robes of priesthood-"

"You're practically topless under that overcoat."

"The metaphorical robes of priesthood," Tyrian continued unabashed. "And wield the metaphorical rod and the metaphorical hat and teach the heathens who are unfortunate enough to not know Her glory the true way."

"Metaphorically?"

"What?"

"Are you teaching them metaphorically or literally?"

Tyrian thought long and hard on the question. "I mostly just meant stabbing," he eventually admitted, making a little in and out motion with one fist.

"Ah." Mercury nodded his head. "I should have guessed."

"It's still a metaphor, I think. A metaphor for teaching…"

"A very literal metaphor," Mercury conceded. "I'm not sure Jaune would be up for it, though. From what I know of him."

"The metaphors or the murder?"

"Both…?"

Emerald growled and stomped up to them, dragging behind her several emptied ammo crates. With a grunt, she forced them over the edge of the ship, accidentally cracking the head open of a Grimm trying to slither up the side of the hull and killing it. "You're supposed to be helping me with this!" she snarled at Mercury. "Salem said we have to get rid of everything weighing the ship down so we can move faster."

"You know that's not how ships work, right? This baby is powered by a huge engine. The weight won't make any difference."

"I know that!" she snapped. "You know that. Even Tyrian knows it!" The faunus waved happily. "But Salem does not, and Salem is demanding we lose weight, and Salem also wants us to hoist the sails-"

"We don't have any."

"Then I suggest you start sewing a few hundred shirts together in the barracks, Mercury! Because she wants sails up and that means we're putting sails up. Unless you want to be the one to tell her it's a stupid idea."

Tyrian flicked a knife out warningly and picked at his teeth with it. Mercury gave him a look as if to ask what the point of that was when there really was no point to having any sails. Tyrian sent one back that said he didn't give a damn and his goddess' wishes would be followed whatever they were. If she wished to gaze upon the majesty of a set of sails, he would ensure that she did. There could be no other way.

"Ugh. Can we at least force Winter to do it?"

"You just want to perv on her when she isn't looking."

"Well yeah, duh. Can we…?"

Emerald shrugged. "Sure."

Tyrian let the two slip away and instead took the moment to stare out over the ocean back toward Menagerie. The fleet from Atlas would be slow to catch up with them. Their exit had been as quick as the ship could carry them, and they'd had the cover of all those live prisoners (Tyrian shuddered at the idea) thrown overboard. They hadn't dared shoot and hit their allies. Most of the other ships in the Atlas fleet were probably faster than this one, but they also had to regroup from their encirclement of the island, get into formation, pick up their leaders and only then could they come after them.

At the very least they had six or seven hours of a head start. Would that be enough to take them to Vale? To hell if he knew. Tyrian picked at his nose and wondered why he was bothering to think about it in the first place.

"What will be will be," he said, then pondered. "What Salem wills will be," he said instead, nodding in satisfaction. That sounded much better. "And if they should catch us, it will only be because she wishes to smite them for their folly. Yeah, that sounds about right."

"TYRIAN!" his Goddess shrieked.

Sang. She sang. It was a most beauteous sou-

"TYRIAN!"

Oops.

"Coming, most powerful of the deities." He skipped across the deck, down into the underdeck and into the first room on the left, one marked with a big red cross on the door.

Inside was the medical bay, a room several sizes too large – much like most of the cruiser – for their purposes. Fifty or more beds sat in rows, and Jaune lay upon one, eyes closed and shirt removed to reveal a lovely medley of bruises and splotches in wonderful shades of yellow, blue and purple. His skin was like a tapestry. Each was taken holding a foe away from their goddess, and while Tyrian believed the boy should wear them with pride, he accepted they might be a little painful.

And then there was Salem. Glorious Salem. Wonderful Salem. Stood at the side of her second most devoted servant with a deep frown upon her beautiful face. What thoughts such an intellect might have were lost on the world. What secrets did she ponder? What mysteries passed through that most incredible of minds? A human might break at the merest understanding of-

"I'm hungry, Tyrian. I want food."

Or it could just be that. Tyrian giggled. "Of course. What does my goddess desire?"

"Something better than this powdered nonsense Emily found me." Salem shoved a silvery foil packet into Tyrian's hands. He raised it to his nose, sniffed and choked on dust. Dehydrated and reduced to powder form, the military ration had seen better days. It was also half-eaten.

"M-May I…?"

"What? Do whatever you like as long as I get food."

Tyrian shuddered and upended the rest of the ration into his mouth. It tasted horrible. It was dry, crunchy and every flavour was muted, and yet it had been sampled by a goddess. This food, or half of it, had graced Her stomach. Tyrian wept tears of joy alongside tears of sorrow. Truly, the complex contrast of pleasure of sharing a meal with the holy one and having to sample Atlas' frankly horrific ideas of military cuisine was an interesting experience.

"I will cook you the finest steak personally!" Tyrian promised, then hesitated. "If the kitchens have any. Or fish. That I may have to fish out the ocean first. You will receive fish at the very least, my lady!" He paused in the doorway. "Is Jaune well?"

His concern was real. Salem, with her godly perception and omniscience, knew that. Her face softened. "He is broken and bruised. His body is frail, Tyrian." Her fingers clutched the sheet covering his waist tightly. "Pathetically frail. If he is to keep throwing himself in front of my enemies to protect me then he must be stronger!"

"He is strong in spirit, my goddess. To face down General Ironwood and not give way, he has proven that."

"I would rather he be strong in both body and spirit, Tyrian. When he awakes, I want you to get started on that. Break him. Train him. I expect him to be capable of intense feats of mastery and able to face this Irondud person in unarmed combat by the time we reach Vale."

Tyrian did some quick mental calculations. "That's three days away…"

"Three days should be more than enough to force him into shape."

Really? Was it really? Tyrian did not enjoy doubting his goddess – not at all – but three days hardly seemed time enough for Jaune to heal from his injuries, let alone become a competent fighter. "Um. And what is my goddess basing this on, if this unworthy one might ask?"

"That moving picture book we watched in the Belladonna manor." Salem said.

"The movie…?"

"Yes, that's what it was called. The one with the angry man with the inflamed red tumours on his hands." Tyrian's brain struggled. "The one where he kept hitting the other person with the tumours in a square arena while people watched. They both had them." Salem raised her left hand and used her right to make a big circular shape around it, then shadow boxed for a second.

It was that which clicked him into place. "The boxing movie?"

"Yes, that one. In that, when the man lost the fight and his tumours went down, he had to train to become strong and ill enough to regrow his red hands and face his opponent. They trained hard for no more than ten minutes, and that was enough to beat his enemy."

"You mean the training montage…?"

"If that is what it is called." Salem planted her hands upon her hips. "Tyrian Callows, my most faithful and long-serving minion…"

Tyrian's eyes widened. His heart surged and grew several sizes, threatening to burst. He snapped to attention, eyes rimmed red and wet with tears. Some of it was due to the Atlas rations currently poisoning him from the inside out, but not all of it.

"I ask you to grant my knight his training montage! Montage him until he is strong enough to defend himself, then montage him harder. Montage him like you have never montaged anyone ever before."

That you could not montage a person did not cross Tyrian's mind. That training took time did not matter, that no amount of it could actually help Jaune improve was meaningless. His goddess had asked for a montage, and by the heavens themselves, she would get her montage. So she willed, so it would be. Nothing else mattered.

"IT WILL BE DONE!"

/-/

Qrow was not a patient man. Everyone knew that. He could force it if he had to, but it was only when he really had to. His impatience was why he'd never had much luck settling down, why he was always roaming from one place to the next and why he was currently and angrily shaking a small wire birdcage with a furiously squawking black bird inside of it.

"You stupid, braindead, cowardly piece of shit!" He gave the cage another furious rattle, bouncing the bird off the wire walls in a manner that would have had several animal right's groups out for his head.

Luckily, Ruby had already left the office and so couldn't ask why he was being so mean to Mr Birdy, the pet they had allegedly caught in their room and stuffed into a cage, and now wanted to keep as a pet.

He had half a mind to let them.

"And stop pretending to be a bird!" he shouted as it preened at a wing with its beak. "I know that's you, Raven."

"Awk! Awk!"

"You're not fooling me!"

"Fakka you." it croaked in a remarkably human-like voice. "Fakka you."

"Qrow." Ozpin interrupted in his ever-calm voice. "If you will put Miss Branwen down, that would be appreciated. Keep her within her cage for now. It's easier to keep track of her like this."

The bird glared at him for that, ruffling her feathers angrily. Qrow slammed the cage down so hard she fell off the little wooden stick she was holding onto and splatted into the sawdust below.

"I had to face Salem alone!"

"I am aware. You were most brave to do so."

"That was not bravery!" he shouted. "That was pant-wetting, mind-numbing and bowel-loosening terror. Fuelled by desperation and the fact I couldn't run away because I was stuck on a boat surrounded by Grimm facing down the strongest and most dangerous woman on Remnant."

"And yet you live."

"By luck! The only reason Jimmy `no common sense` Irondick is alive is because she – in her own words – is out of practice at turning people into piles of ash. She wanted him dead, Ozpin. What's to say she didn't try the same on me and simply mess up? How can you be out of practice on magic anyway?"

"Quite easily," Ozpin replied. "Imagine learning a guitar when you were a young boy and having to try and play a song now. You would struggle. Now imagine it hasn't been twenty years but twenty-hundred years. I'd be surprised if you could remember a single chord. As for James, he is alive. He's… not taken his new form well."

"The penguin?"

"Oh no, that's fine. He was prepared for the risk of animal transformation after what happened to his forces in Argus. It's… the other thing…"

The nearby door to the infirmary slammed open and a huge man in a pale green medical gown stormed out. General Ironwood was not short, lithe or slim. He was big. Big in a way a lot of women might well like. Big enough that the small open-backed gown covered so little that Qrow's face scrunched up in horror. Ironwood was certainly a big man alright. Big enough to make Qrow feel more than a little insecure.

"Kawwwwwww~" Raven opined, her avian head tilting ninety degrees.

Qrow pulled off his jacket and tossed it over the birdcage, shrouding her in darkness. A) she didn't deserve any rewards for failing to reinforce them and B) he wasn't going to even entertain the concept of Raven and Ironwood being a thing. He would join Salem first.

"HAVE YOU SEEN WHAT SHE'S DONE TO ME!?" Ironwood shouted wildly. "HAVE YOU SEEN IT!?"

"I've seen too much…" Qrow said.

"I have seen it, James," Ozpin said in a kinder voice. "Now, why don't you go back to bed and let Tsune continue running tests on you. Your body has undergone a shock and gained quite a bit of weight."

Had it? He didn't look any different from normal…

Oh.

Qrow's eyes followed Ironwood's arm as it waved agitatedly in the air. Then, without much hurry, his eyes strayed to the other arm also waving about wildly. Two arms. Two human arms. Also, two human shoulders, a completely intact chest and a complete lack of any cybernetic body parts.

"Salem healed him…?"

"SHE HAS CURSED ME!"

"It appears that when she transformed him into an animal, accident as it may have been, she turned him into a complete and whole animal. Blending technology with magic has never been simple, so James' prosthetics were ignored. Thus, when he turned back, he turned back into a complete human as well."

"And that's a problem…?"

"It's a trap!" Ironwood snarled. "It's an abuse of my rights. I'm having it surgically removed the second I can. In fact, hand me that bone saw right now."

Qrow blinked, sighed, uncorked his hipflask and took a long drink.

"James, come now," Ozpin said. "There's no need for that. Consider this a blessing in disguise."

"Bone saw! Now!"

"I'm not letting you hack your body to pieces, James."

"Then I'll rip it off myse-urgh." Ironwood pitched and toppled forward, slamming to the ground. Behind him, stood where he was, a lazily smiling fox faunus wagged her tail while holding a syringe as big as Qrow's arm. The tip dripped a clear fluid.

"Oopsie. Tee hee. I think it's time for someone to go back to bed."

Qrow shuddered.

Ozpin sipped his coffee. "Please keep him from amputating any limbs, Tsune."

"Will dooo!" The fox faunus hoisted the big man up by his shoulders and dragged him across the floor. Ironwood's face was slack, his mouth open and drooling slightly. Qrow watched his feet disappear through a door and wondered if he shouldn't try and save the man.

After nearly killing Nicholas' son and throwing Qrow in front of an angry Salem? Nah. Screw him.

"So, Raven was too much a pussy to open a portal."

"FAKKA YOU!" the bird repeated.

"Miss Branwen insists she was unfairly held back by Team RWBY, that they attacked and sought to restrain her, and that she valiantly tried to fight them off but could not bring herself to hurt her or Summer's child." Ozpin took a long drink. "Naturally, I don't believe a word she's saying."

"FAKKA YOU!"

"Lionheart and I were waiting for our chance," he went on. "We were in my office with Glynda, all three of us ready to come through and support you the second we could. You should have seen him, Qrow. Vibrating with energy, visibly shaking, and then when it was clear Raven was not coming, he went still. Once we had news the battle was over, he collapsed to his knees and began to weep." Ozpin took a deep breath. "I've never seen a man so impacted by his inability to help others."

"Wow. It bothered him that much…?"

"Lionheart is nothing like your sister."

"FAKKA YOU! FAKKA YOU! FAKKA YOU!"

"There's something else as well," Qrow said. "Two things, really. First of all, Salem is coming to Vale. That's going to happen and it's a problem. I wasn't able to get what she wanted in Vale, but she's obviously not happy with you. The other thing, and by far more worrying, is her relationship with the Arc boy. I know what I saw, Oz. They looked… intimate."

He watched the other man's face, wondering if there would be anger, jealousy or anything to relate to the fact his ex-wife might now be seeing another man. There was nothing. The time of their split had likely been too great for them to feel anything for one another anymore.

"I heard your report, Qrow. It is… unusual. Unusual, but not entirely impossible. It has been thousands of years. It's entirely possible she's decided to put herself out there or seek companionship."

"You ever do the same?"

"I've been married once or twice. Either way, we can't rule out the possibility they are involved. It is regrettable on the young man's part for sure, but I'm not certain I see the problem. If he's going to be a threat to Vale, he will be treated as such."

"And you think his father will be alright with that?"

Ozpin hesitated. "Ah. I see the problem."

"Yeah. You see the problem. I'm the one who'll have to deal with said problem." Qrow shoved his scroll into Ozpin's face. On it were several missed calls and a few unanswered texts. "I have Nicholas freaking Arc telling me he needs to meet with me. I have Nicholas over-protective parent Arc wanting to ask me questions about his son. A son I just had a hand in reducing to a smear of paste. What do I do!?"

He would have hoped for wisdom, for a plan, for assistance. What he got was no better than what he was already doing.

"Pretend you didn't see his messages…?"

"Ugh." Qrow slapped a hand to his forehead. "I need a stiff drink…"

/-/

"He isn't answering." Nicholas put his scroll away and turned to Hazel. The two of them were sharing a hotel in downtown Vale. The man had stayed inside for the most part, stating that he did not wish to travel in public. "Unluckily for him, I know where he likes to drink. He can hide from me, but he can't hide from his alcoholism."

"I will stay here." Hazel rumbled. "I am not welcome in Vale."

"That's fine. We'll wait for Jaune and Salem to reach Vale and go from there."

"You have to be suspicious of me," Hazel said before he could leave. "After all you have seen and heard. Why are you not demanding answers?"

Nicholas had long since suspected there was a good reason for Hazel wanting to avoid cities and attention. He was no idiot and had quickly figured out there was something wrong there, but how could he criticise when his own son was a wanted terrorist? Apples shouldn't argue with pears.

"My son has gotten involved with your friend. Or whatever she is. Right now, I don't care who you are or what you've done. My priority is keeping him safe. As such, I have no problems working with you." He paused. "Unless you're going to make a problem?"

Hazel, the giant that he was, chuckled. "By now I believe it's clear your son is somehow connected to her. If the rumours of her pregnancy are true, then it is in a very special way, a family way."

"And that's enough for you?"

"It is." Hazel closed his eyes. "I believe that family is important. If yours is meshing with hers, that leaves me with no reason to wish you or yours ill. Quite the opposite. It's the same for you, isn't it? You have known for a while I am on the wrong side of the law, and yet you've refused to question. It's because I am involved with the mother of your grandchild, isn't it? You and I. We are not so different."

Nicholas laughed. "Really? Have you looked in a mirror lately?"

Hazel's lips curled into a smile. "Aside from height."

"I never said we were different. Frankly, as long as you don't do anything I don't like in front of me, we won't have any problems. Will that be a problem?"

"I do not like violence unless it is absolutely necessary. So, no. It will not be a problem."

"Good." Nicholas pushed the door open. "You try and find some news of them online. I'm going to go haunt bars until I find my reluctant informant. Then, I'm going to squeeze him until he talks."

/-/

Vernal was not a good person. She did not consider herself a good person. There had been someone once who had called her a good person, and that had hurt. It had hurt because she'd broken her finger on his nose seconds later. It had been a clumsy strike and she'd paid the price for it, and she'd promised herself to do better next time, to make sure no one ever mistook her for a good person again.

But even so, despite all of that, she felt sorry for Jaune.

"FIFTY PUSH-UPS!" Tyrian roared.

The boy threw himself down, sweating and panting. He did one push-up, two push-ups, and then he collapsed when Tyrian kicked his hands out from under him.

"TWENTY SIT-UPS!"

He rolled onto his back. One. Two- Tyrian hauled him up.

"RUN TEN LAPS!"

Jaune managed half of one before he was clotheslined by a metal bar with weights on either end.

"LIFT!"

He lifted once. A scorpion tail wrapped around the bar and dragged it up, leaving him suspended in the air.

"CHIN UPS!"

Jaune was not able to. He was thrown down, skidding on the deck.

"FIFTY PUSH-UPS!"

It had started like that almost an hour ago and it was still going on like that. Tyrian never let him finish any of the exercises he said, not a one. There'd been a brief period of cycling two minutes long before the faunus kicked Jaune off his bike, threw it overboard and demanded he do jumping jacks instead, which had in turn only last for three jacks before he was sent down for more push ups.

"I don't understand." Vernal said. "He's not letting him finish any of the exercises."

"We do not have time for him to do so." Salem said.

"But then what's the point?"

"This is a training montage."

Vernal paused. "What…?"

"Tyrian is putting my knight through a training montage," Salem said patiently. "I got the idea from that movie thing in Menagerie. Through this, Jaune shall have weeks of training condensed into days."

Vernal considered explaining how training worked. Or the human body. Or the concept of time itself. Considered, and then gave up. It was a thankless task trying to explain anything to Salem at all, especially when she was convinced of something.

"Sure. Why not. And can I ask why that is a thing?"

She pointed anew, and this time Salem made a pleased sound. On the deck, Mercury, Emerald and Winter were hauling on some rope, dragging a patchwork quilt of uniform shirts hastily sewn together up one of the central control towers. It looked like they'd run out of shirts halfway and had to scavenge the barracks for more material. Boxer shorts of various striped patterns, polka dots and colours made up a good half of the `sail`, flapping wildly in the breeze.

"My own addition," Salem said proudly. "For all of Atlas' so-called claims of technological supremacy, it seems they have completely failed to discover the innovation of sails." She laughed. "How ridiculous is that?"

"Yeah. Ridiculous…"

"It really is. By adding this, we shall harness the power of the wind to speed up our voyage." Salem licked her finger and held it up, then smiled. "It seems the wind is on our side. How about it? Is the boat faster now?"

The speedometer on the dash said it was not. Of course it was not. The shirts had holes in them and the boxers, by design, had even more. They were flapping more like a thousand little flags than a sail, and even if it had, there would have been no extra speed given to a vessel weighing several thousand tonnes and powered by huge dust engines.

And yet. It was Salem.

"We're going faster." Vernal lied, sighing both externally and internally. "Wow. Much speed. Very wow."

Salem missed the sarcasm. "Hmhmhm," she chuckled. "I truly am marvellous. I trust this added speed will see us to Vale, Valenal."

"You're not even trying to remember my name, are you?"

"-but for now I must rest. It is tiring work coming up with ideas like this."

Vernal watched the woman go, then looked back over the deck where Jaune was leaving trails of sweat on the wood, twitching and panting and curling up into the foetal position at Tyrian's feet.

"FIFTY PUSH-UPS! TWENTY SIT-UPS! TEN LAPS! FIFTEEN SQUATS! I SAID DEADLIFTS! NO, I SAID PUSH-UPS! ARE YOU TALKING BACK TO ME, MAGGOT!?"

Better him than me…


Jaune's training montage begins. Uh. Literally. You can't fault Tyrian for not following Salem's orders to the letter. She asked for a montage, and she is going to get a montage. Less sure what Jaune will get from it all. Valuable life experience maybe.


Next Chapter: 2nd August

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur