The Apostle known as SZZU pored over the file in front of her, silently digesting the latest report that XNFE had compiled by way of her drones as she sat in a table in a comfortable blouse and pants that had been procured for her by the White Fang.
So they are here... They’ve been at Beacon for just about a month. It would be best to remain in hiding for now, until our victory can be assured. Even with the training, we could defeat them if we made an effort, but then there are the Huntsmen and Huntresses to consider...
The woman let her mind run over statistics and predictions, noting them down as they formed. “Hm. Not yet, but soon. Perhaps it would be best to let MEFE test them first. LLWO’s involvement was an unexpected variable, but it could conceivably worked to our advantage. What do you think, CRKY?”
Her hulking brother looked over from the chair he was seated on, occupying his mind by watching specks of dust float in the air and onto his suit - a holdover from the pair’s homeworld. “Send Witch an’ Bowman t’gether. Better chances with the training. Or we could do it.”
SZZU chuckled. “Now now brother, you know this planet looks down on that kind of thing.”
CRKY’s face turned beet red and he growled unintelligibly as his sister waved a hand. “I know what you mean, dear one, and I think it’s a good idea. I haven’t gotten to test myself against a proper swordsman in some time, apart from MZMA. Just imagine the beautiful screams the Saw could give us.” The younger sibling gave a shudder of pleasure at the thought.
The pair were interrupted by a tap on the doorframe and a sultry, Spanish accented voice from their superior, MEFE. “SZZU, CRKY, que tal? Finished that report for lider glorioso?”
“Which one?” Grunted the male, making the women laugh. “ZAHA,” The wizardly woman clarified. “He will make the statement to Fuego Elegante and Cohetecillo.”
SZZU gathered her papers. “I’ve finished the report; does he want it now?”
MEFE nodded. “Si. I’ll come with you, if you want.”
SZZU nodded. “I don’t mind admitting I’d like the backup. He can be quite intimidating.” The three left the room together, With MEFE leading, SZZU on her right and CRKY on her left, they entered the large room SAHA had commandeered for his audiences.
The man himself was just descending from his battlesuit, facing the trio with his usual state of undress.
MEFE bowed from her waist in respect. “SZZU here to see you, ZAHA. How’s the suit working?”
“I had to rebuild the injection system twice before I found a stable mix but I am very pleased with the results, thank you MEFE.” His voice was tired and weary, but still carried steady undertones of strength that were a comfort to his subordinates. “What have you to report, SZZU?”
The woman pushed up her glasses and consulted her papers. “The Paradoxes have entered Beacon and are currently undergoing training. I recommend a pair for their next test. LLWO’s actions were unexpected but it can be turned to our advantage. Once the Kuroi girl is strong enough to defeat MEFE in single combat, we will be able to move forward with our agenda.”
SAHA grunted. “Good. But you should know that I specifically tasked LLWO with seeking them out. I knew you would object, which is why I did not tell you.”
SZZU sighed. “I can’t say I don’t see the wisdom behind it, sir. LLWO is the best we have at provoking responses in his targets.”
SAHA nodded once. “Who do you recommend sending at them next?”
SZZU considered momentarily. “I would suggest myself and CRKY. We will be able to effectively pass as demonstrators of teamwork in a combat environment, which would give us ample opportunity to test them at regular intervals. According to the White Fang agents we have successfully influenced to our side, this will interfere with Cinder’s own plans to infiltrate the school.”
SAHA rolled his neck. “I will notify Fall and Torchwick. Make the necessary preparations.”
The strategist of the Seven Apostles drew herself up and clicked her heels together. “It will be done, sir.”
She turned and made to leave, her brother a step behind her.
The woman stopped at the mention of her true name. “Saha.”
The old man’s eyes were full of sympathy. “This will be the last. One way or another, our servitude will end on this planet.”
She would not cry. That was the vow she had made, and she had no intention of breaking it.
“Dioses nos preserve de todo, y ten piedad de nuestras almas.” MEFE muttered as she brushed past the duo. She took a moment to bump her shoulder with her fellow Apostle.
I’ve got your back. You can depend on me. I won’t forsake you.
SZZU closed her eyes and pushed back gently, allowing herself a moment more of weakness.
I will support you as you have supported me. I will not leave you.
Then the women composed themselves, and left the room. CRKY bowed his head in respect to his leader before following.
SAHA ran a hand down his face, the metal of the gauntlet providing a welcome cool touch, then summoned some parts of his suit to his shoulders and chest and drew himself up, walking like a man many times younger than he looked past White Fang goons. Several gave discreet nods to him as he passed, letting him know they were on his side, rather than hers.
There truly was something to be said about having sympathisers at your back wherever you went, within reason.
The White Fang guarding the door were two such sympathisers, and one opened the door for him as he approached, admitting him to a darkened room with his ‘ally.’
“ZAHA. I understand that you have begun to place two of your Apostles into Beacon.”
Straight to business, just how the old man liked it. “Is there a problem with how I am conducting my Apostles?” He made sure to put just a little emphasis on the fact that they were his to command. “I understand that MEFE has been flirting with some of the Fang, but I assure you she’s only teasing.”
Cinder smoothly masked her irritation. Oh, she’d noticed that, alright. “It was my understanding Roman had gone over our current plan with you.”
ZAHA nodded. “He had. I consulted with SZZU, our strategist, and determined a better course of action. It was also my understanding that new entrants to Beacon were seventeen years of age, with the average age of teaching staff being thirty to forty. SZZU and CRKY are of appropriate age to pass as combat instructors and maintain consistent civilian identities. Standard Apostle procedure is to gauge the power of our targets first, then determine the force to be used against that target.”
Cinder considered. This could actually help her plan more than it hindered it... “Very well. But I want regular updates from them, is that understood?”
The old man gestured in a vaguely affirmative manner. “Of course. I have also taken the liberty of sending our swordsman, MZMA, to scout the forests for anyone that may be of use to our effort. He should be back by this evening.”
Cinder nodded shortly. “Very well. That will be all.”
ZAHA left without another word.
Mato let off another salvo from her cannon before using it to block a blast from her opponent.
White swirled and blurred.
Jet black katana intercepted pure white rapier almost effortlessly.
A blistering exchange of parries and strikes that produced a storm of miniature cracks that spoke of an abused sound barrier before both combatants leapt backwards as their partners blazed past, scythes surrounding them in a constant halo of sparks that would have been a danger to Saya and Blake if they hadn’t been throwing off shockwaves every time King Saw met Gambol Shroud. Some distance away, Yang fired off another blast from Ember Cecelia that crashed against Yuu’s Ogre Arms before the short girl came in swinging. Both of them were grinning like absolute maniacs as they whaled on each other with hardly a care.
Glynda could barely admit it to herself.
She was a seasoned Huntress, who had seen the worst creatures the world had to offer. She could shoot three Nevermores out of the air or command the total respect of a class of rowdy young men and women in training with neither care nor overt effort, both products of long practice and hard-earned skill.
And she was scared.
Scared of the power that these girls, these teenagers who shouldn’t have any business in an environment like this throwing blows that could level a city if aimed wrong.
What was even scarier was that they were trading blows with girls who were so far below their league it was like comparing an army to a ten year old, and they were on equal footing.
Even as she watched, the training began to screech to a halt in dramatic fashion. Mato deflected a blow that sent Weiss into a shoulder roll behind her and up into her fencing stance again before the Schnee heiress dropped first her rapier then her hands and knees to the floor. Yomi slipped Dead Scythe from a lock Ruby had gotten it into, flipped over a shot and landed in a crouch as the younger girl staggered, catching herself heavily on her own scythe and using it to make sure she wouldn’t topple over. Blake triggered her Semblance which surprised Saya for a moment, but she simply swung her blade behind her to swat her opponent away with the flat part. Blake tumbled into a controlled roll which brought her to her knees, and she had to brace a hand against the wall to make sure she didn’t faceplant into the floor as she struggled to catch her breath. Yang punched out a quick pair of shots that Yuu simply punched through, and kept going to smash into her like a freight train. Yang described a series of arcs in the air with her limbs and met the incoming wall with the front half of her body, before flopping bonelessly onto the floor and weakly raising a thumbs-up. “I’m okay!”
Mato ‘sheathed’ the Black Blade, vanishing it into fire as it slid into an imaginary scabbard at her waist, breathing heavily. “Well, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand. Didn’t even know that you could swing that fast, Weiss.” The white-haired girl finally pulled herself up and clumsily dusted down her combat skirt. “I spar with Ruby, what do you expect?”
Yomi twirled her scythe away in a stylish blaze of green flame. “I have to say, it’s different fighting another scythe user.” Ruby’s eyes gleamed through her exhaustion. “Oh, I know! The way you swing that thing around, it’s like Uncle Qrow - no, even better than Uncle Qrow!”
Yuu ambled over, flicking her wrists to banish her Arms in cubical flashes of orange, and pulled Yang upright. “You OK?” The taller blonde was still grinning away. “Oh my god, that was AWESOME! Where the hell did you learn how to punch like that?!”
The shorter girl grinned right back. “How about I teach you after we get your stamina up?”
Saya clapped Blake on the shoulder and pulled her up, dismissing King Saw in a small inferno of red. “Good fight. Wasn’t expecting the Semblance.”
Blake scoffed. “You still smacked me almost into a wall.”
The redhead smirked sardonically. “The next step’s preventing that.”
Mato leaned on her cannon. “I’ve been thinking about that, actually.”
Everyone turned to the girl in blue, who was staring off into space.
“Rock and I talked about this last night. You four have got a lot of potential, but there’s forces out there that will kill you or cripple you before you reach it given half a chance. We’ve come up with... a solution.”
Ruby did not like the way the word was phrased; almost like anything else would have been preferable. “What is it, Mato?”
Mato began to gesture vaguely. “The Otherselves come from a world parallel to ours. A Black Paradox is essentially two souls of equal wavelength in one body. The overall effect is like a Hunstman’s Aura jacked up by a factor of ten, at least. Black Paradoxes are one of the few types of beings who are entirely exempt from the laws of physics, which is why we can do the impossible things we do.”
Mato fixed Ruby with a stare worthy of her Other.
“With a little prep time and a lot of effort, we could merge you with your Others and turn the four of you into Black Paradoxes as well.”
Blake frowned deeply. “There’s no way there isn’t a catch.”
Yomi sighed. “Unfortunately, you’re right. There’s three ways of merging an Other and a Realself. The first one is a forceful merge, which is achieved either by a series of painful magical experiments that drive both selves insane, or strong negative emotions dragging the Realself to the Otherworld, providing an opening for the Otherself to assume direct control. That’s how I got my bond with Dead Master; she dragged me down and I had to be pulled out. It took me years to establish a connection to her that didn’t involve me spending a weekend in a ruined church.”
Weiss looked paler than usual. “I vote we not do that one.”
Yuu grimaced. “The second way is swapping place with your Otherself and taking on their powers and role. That’s what I did. But... it changed me. Irreversibly. I’m not sure how much of the old Yuu is left, to be honest.”
Yang gently laid a hand on the short girl’s head, gaining a tiny but thankful smile.
Saya propped King Saw on her shoulder. “The third way is the least painful in theory, but hardest in practice. Trial by combat, where you prove to your Otherself that you are strong enough to bear the burden of a Paradox.”
Mato flinched heavily, and everyone noticed. “That’s how I cleared things up with Rock,” She said quietly into the thick silence. “I forced myself into the Otherworld, took her cannon, and duelled her corrupted form. I still have nightmares about it.” She looked up into Ruby’s shocked visage. “Don’t make this decision lightly. Going one one one with an enraged Otherself is not something I’d wish on anyone. To face your Other is to look into a dark mirror. You’ll be fighting every nightmare, every moment of rage, every sadness that you’ve felt in your life.”
Ruby looked to her team. Blake was clutching Gambol Shroud’s handle hard enough to turn her knuckles white, Weiss was still worryingly pale, and even Yang looked unsure.
“Give us a night to think on it?”
Mato nodded. “I’ll respect your decision either way.” The girl walked out of the room, quickly followed by Yomi. Yuu gave Yang a rough pat on the arm and a weak smile before hurrying out after them. Saya propped King Saw on her shoulder and gave them all an indecipherable look before slowly walking out, sans her usual panache.
Roman clenched a cigar between his teeth. He knew quite well what he was setting himself up for by smoking them, and he couldn’t quite bring himself to care. Besides, assuming he lived long enough he’d get to have a voice with enough gravel to rival Vito Corleone. Pushing those entertaining thoughts aside with an effort of will, Roman went back to tinkering with one of Melodic Cudgel’s shells. His sharp hearing picked up footsteps and he moved away from the volatile Dust round, sealing the casing shut and turning to his partner. “Cinder, how you doing? Did you do something different with your hair this evening?”
“Save the flirting, Roman. What’s the status on our Dust stocks?”
Roman pulled his cigar out and puffed out smoke as he talked. “Well, considering I’ve been hitting every single Dust shop in a twenty-mile radius for the last four months I believe the technical term is ‘Pretty friggin’ high’, Cindy.”
Cinder tossed her head a little. “Good.”
Roman was what you could call an observant fellow. He’d been hanging around this infuriatingly evasive woman and her two stooges long enough to know that something had gotten her goat.
“Okay, spill. What’s wrong?”
Cinder walked over to a table and sat at it in her usual elegant fashion, studying a red Dust crystal. “Those Apostles are unpredictable. They could jeopardise our plan before it’s execution.”
Roman didn’t voice his first thought, going over what little he knew. “You know... They said they were aliens. One would assume that this means they’d have to hide from the public, otherwise they’d be hunted like Grimm. Hold that over their heads and they’ll be tripping over themselves to please you.”
Cinder smirked. “An excellent idea, Roman.”
The redhead chuckled menacingly. “Well, I’m not just a pretty face, you know.”
Unseen by both was the tiny pink drone squirrelled away in the rafters.
On the other end of the feed, XNFE only smiled, rabbit ears twitching this way and that to catch the signals the drone was sending her. “We’ll play your little game for now, Cinder. But when the Governor arrives, not even the full power of the Fall Maiden will save you from her.”
The man known as MZMA walked steadily through the forest. Normally he would disdain any kind of untheatrical environment, of which he had deemed the previous forests he had encountered to be, but this one he found particularly dramatic, mostly for it’s red colour. It would make a splendid show, assuming he found his target.
Fortunately for his patience, he had spotted a plume of smoke early this morning, and was now headed directly for it.
This Adam character probably isn’t worth half a Big Snipe. Don’t really see why the S&M Twins want this guy nebladed.
Presently, he came to a large clearing, the origin point of the fire. Quickly checking to make sure the camera drones were in position, he summoned his sword with a crackling blast of flame and stepped boldly forward.
“Which one of you animals is Adam?”
A tall man in a black longcoat and an eye-concealing white and red mask stood up, holding a sheathed sword in his left hand. “I am. What do you want?”
MZMA swung his greatsword around into a combat stance. “A fight, that’s what!”
Adam gazed at him dispassionately before the sound of a gunshot ripped through the clearing.
MZMA’s hand came up almost casually and caught the sword six inches from his face. “Oh, you’re one of those people. This will be fun.”
Adam had the rare experience of being on the other end of his usual opening tactic, and it took all his skill to catch MZMA’s sudden throw.
The red-clad man grinned. “Let’s see if you can keep up! Backdraft!” He flicked his wrist, sending a puff of flame shooting from the handle of his sword and up along his arm, before holding it parallel to the ground at hip level.
The two swordsmen surged forward to meet each other, swords clashing violently enough to send a storm of shockwaves throughout the clearing. Adam found his sword-and-gun iajutsu to be not only matched, but surpassed by his opponent’s sawtoothed blade. All his quick draws and redraws were simply batted away by that red and black monstrosity, and it’s wielder simply took the gunshots with barely a flinch, or even a visible mark. He could literally feel his Aura struggling to tank the answering blows, and his strikes became more and more desperate as he searched for an opening. Finally, his blade impacted on MZMA’s clawed gauntlets. While it didn’t damage whatever metal it was made out of in the least, it surprised the Apostle long enough for Adam to use the larger blade as a point to jump off and deliver a kick infused with his absolute last gasp of Aura to blow MZMA backwards. Adam dropped to hands and knees, gasping desperately. “What... what are you..?” He wheezed out.
MZMA was legitimately surprised. That kick had sent him backwards about twenty feet, and he was fairly sure he’d have a bruise on his chest tomorrow. “So... this is the power of the soul... Impressive. I haven’t had a match this entertaining for a century!”
The more able redhead tossed his blade to the side as his arms spread themselves theatrically. “At long last I have found the true ultimate entertainment! Fight scenes with gloriously empowered warriors! Dramatic confrontations with those who believe themselves to be gods, brought low by a lone hero! Packs and packs of wild beasts meeting their end at the hands, swords and guns of the ones crazy enough to design them! I will create the ultimate production, and this planet will be my stage!”
The Apostle called his sword back to his hand and stood in a ready stance. “But to do this, I’ll need something from you.”
Adam struggled back to his feet and put hand to sheathed katana. “What... what do you want?”
MZMA’s grin would have killed a Nevermore through sheer murderous intent. “Nothing much. Just your skills, your battle style, your experiences, your powers. In other words...”
Adam had all the warning of a flash of red before that monster of a blade was thrust straight through his abdomen and out the other side, it’s bearer still grinning away.
MZMA shoved the blade further still as he wrapped a hand around the arrogant Faunus’ neck.
Adam’s legs buckled and his knees hit the ground a second time.
The rest of him did not follow.
MZMA felt the heat build as the thorn running down his face glowed blood red. Ah, how he had missed the feeling. “Join with the flame. Let it consume you. Your mind and body will crumble to ash, and your essence will be as fuel.”
All Adam could process was the burning heat and the chilling voice. Everything was on fire, his body, his mind, his very soul. He felt something indefinable pull away, try and separate, like a piece of dough pulled away from the main mass.
His last sight was MZMA’s maddened grin. His last feeling was the pain. His last thoughts were consumed with terror. And then...
The few White Fang who had not already fled stared in horror as their leader burst, crackling flames tearing open his skin and flesh and consuming everything from his clothes to his weaponry. Only his mask remained, falling lightly to the ground as the face it was affixed to simply ceased to be.
MZMA felt the fire flare and consume this new soul, sorting through the memories with practiced skill before settling on the ones that concerned the former Faunus’ skills and powers.
Oh... now that was interesting.
By this time, the White Fang had rallied, progressing rapidly from shock through denial and settling on rage. Guns were brought out and battle cries split the sky as the furious Fang unloaded everything they had to avenge their leader.
That was the exact moment MZMA thought to try out his new Semblance.
The bullets bounced away. The red and orange of his coat brightened until they were like veins of lava running along his body.
The Apostle grinned. “Oh, this will be fun. Big Snipe!”
That evening, XNFE greeted a tired but very smug MZMA as he swaggered into their shared quarters, followed by the camera drones she had built and rigged herself to satisfy her brother’s craving for theatrics. “So how’d it go?”
MZMA hadn’t stopped grinning since he’d left the campsite in ruins, though it had decreased to mere insane glee at this point. “Oh, XNFE... Words cannot describe it.” He flopped down on his bed. “The camera drones caught everything, in glorious high quality. I have to commend your work.”
“Well, as long as they held up to that volcano of a sword you carry around,” she groused good-naturedly, taking a moment to flick through the footage they had captured. “Okay, let’s see... Ooh, I like the trees, good location choice... that’s the guy the boss sent you after, I’m guessing?... Oh, wow. He kept up with you, barely... You and your ultimate entertainment, feh... Oh. Oh wow. Wow.”
She cast a long look over at the man flopped on the bunk. “What’s it like?”
MZMA rolled his head to look at her. “It’s... I can barely describe it. It’s like a second skin, almost, just humming away in the background. You just know, on some level, that this will cushion the blows for you and keep you safe. It’s an assurance, an oath, almost.”
XNFE’s eyes were drawn to her lap. “Keep you safe...”
The older man rose and crossed the room, settling himself again beside the girl he regarded as a sister and wrapping her in a hug. “If you want, I can take you out tomorrow and we can find someone with a Semblance that would suit you.”
“Thanks, big bro.” The pinkette mumbled into his jacket, burrowing into him a little and just enjoying the moment.
MZMA leaned his head back a little. Strange... I’m not usually this protective of her... I know full well she can take care of herself, after all. But it does feel nice. I could get used to it.
After all, if our plan goes off the way I think it will, she’ll more than likely need the protection.