There was a lingering sense of nothingness floating around the girls, but at the very least they could still feel the other. The rumbling had passed, the sound of the muffled explosion having faded away, and the pair were left with only the feeling of the other girl as the seconds ticked on.
“Did… we explode?” Ilia mumbled her words against Weiss’s lips, arms still tightly wrapped around the girl with her entire body tense. She’d been preparing for the worst, waiting for the sudden wave of fire to wash over the pair from the force of the rocket, but instead found that the only thing she could feel was Weiss’s body pressed into hers. Not daring to open an eye, some part of her thinking this was one of those traumatic moments where time slows down, Ilia kept her tight hold around Weiss.
“I don’t… think so.” Weiss matched Ilia’s mumbles, speaking into the girl’s lips and not daring to pull away. Then again, given Ilia’s grip around her weakened body, she doubted she’d be able to wiggle free even if she tried. “At least, that didn’t feel like any explosion I’ve ever experienced.”
Even in the state they were in Ilia couldn’t hold back a surprised chuckle at such a response. Her lips formed a grin against Weiss’ as she at last pulled her head away and dared a glimpse into their surroundings. Another surprise ticked through her mind as she squinted, surprised that even with her enhanced faunus vision she couldn’t see a thing. Her grip released on Weiss, a slight relief provided by the darkness signaling they weren’t in danger of exploding any time soon.
Feeling Ilia’s grip loosens, the other girl’s head pulling away, Weiss dared to open her own eyes, and was equally surprised by her inability to see a thing. The area that had once been a battlefield surrounded by gunfire, spotlights, and camera drones had seemingly gone dark. Weiss found herself holding on to Myrtenaster to keep herself standing as Ilia seemed to release her and take a step into the void that had taken them.
“You don’t think we died already do you? Like this is some weird afterlife or something?” Ilia was mostly joking, but as she took a few steps with her arms outstretched in the dark, she struggled to find anything but air as she waved blindly around.
“Well that’d certainly be inconvenient. I’ve far to many other more important things to be doing rather than die.” Weiss pouted in the darkness, imagining for the briefest of moments that maybe this really was the afterlife. Ruby would be devastated she knew that much, as would everyone else. Part of her wondered how much her family would miss her, and she could only imagine that deep down her father would use her as some sort of Martyr to further his own causes. She let out an audibly displeased huff before her ear twitched at a sudden slapping sound.
“That’s really your biggest concern about being dead?” Ilia smiled at Weiss’s response, thankful that the pair were remaining somewhat positive all things considered. However, her thoughts were side tracked as her outstretched arms came in contact with a solid surface. Her fingers skimmed across it, a smooth and somewhat cold sensation, before she smacked it with her palm to test the strength of whatever she’d found. “Ouch…”
The surface Ilia had discovered proved quite solid, and with steady steps she began to walk beside it with her fingers gently tracing along as she went.
“Find something?” Weiss wondered if Ilia could see any better than she could. The girl’s fuanus traits had proven time and time again to be useful in situations like this, and Weiss couldn’t help but imagine the comfort she’d feel being able to see Ilia in whatever this darkness was.
“It’s kind of like a wall? I don’t know, but whatever it is it’s smooth.” Ilia continued to track along the surface until the force of her hand seemed to find a weakened part of whatever she’d bumped into. There were cracks in the otherwise smooth surface, and balling up her hand into a fist she gave a few solid strikes to the cracked area until a sudden shard of light broke through.
Taking a step back, Ilia’s eyes quickly adjusted to the miniscule amount of light, and she glanced back to Weiss still leaning blindly against her weapon. Ilia then let her eyes travel around the area they’d ended up in. It certainly didn’t look like the afterlife, but instead some sort of stone dome.Though, it wasn’t as if she had any reference for what death would look like, but her attention was quickly pulled back to the hole she’d made as sound flowed in just as quickly as the light had.
There was shouting, and lots of it, but a distinct lack of gunfire coming from the tiny slit in the stone. Ilia took a step back, and putting most of her weight into the blow, forced her foot through the stone surface. The kick had more force behind it than she probably needed, and Ilia found herself falling forward and almost threatening to drop down into splits as she planted the foot firmly down on the other side of the stone encasing.
Weiss winced slightly as she heard Ilia kick through the shell around them, light and sound suddenly flooding her senses as she looked away just long enough to adjust to the sudden change in light levels. Looking back up towards the hole, Weiss couldn’t help but imagine the cliche moments in films where an angel descends upon a hero with light basking them from behind. Ilia was stepping towards her with the light of the outside world making her silhouette almost glow, and the girl helped Weiss stand. Ilia’s arm wrapped around Weiss’s waist, while she draped one of Weiss’s arms over her shoulders, and the pair hobbled out as Weiss plucked her weapon from the stone and held it weakly at her side.
“Stand down, all soldiers stand down now!” The blaring of the speakers spewing Ironwood’s voice came seemingly from nowhere as the two stepped onto a blackened scorch mark across the ground. Their eyes wandered in separate directions, trying to gauge what exactly had happened.
All around them were stone pillars, walls, and other smaller domes like their own, that had seemingly sprung up out of nowhere. Even with as rocky and uneven as the terrain outside of the mines had been, it was nothing compared to how conditions were now. Bullet marks had peppered the stone walls, terrified soldiers and rebels on the opposite sides of each, while their weapons seemed to be awkwardly contained within the rocky protrusions. Weiss watched as a handful of soldiers struggled to try and free their weapons from their confines, and Ilia spotted a small group of rebels attempting the same in vain.
“Miss Schnee, is that you?” As her eyes scanned the barrier fence, spotting a few toppled Paladins, Weiss eventually made eye contact with the general, and she gave an awkward nod in his direction as relief washed over his face. “Soldiers, secure the Heiress at once, and make sure no harm comes to her, to Miss Amitola, or any of the miners.”
“NO. REBELS, DO NOT LET THEM-” The pillar directly in front of the girls, the pillar that the leader of the rebels had been perched upon when he had declared his intentions, suddenly had a booming voice silenced instantly above them. It may have been the shock of the situation, but Weiss and Ilia each felt their hearts sink as they heard Kobichi’s voice, having completely forgotten about the man that had just attempted to kill them a minute ago. Their eyes shot up, half expecting to see a second rocket with all the time they’d given Kobichi to reload just by standing around, but were surprised to see that the entirety of his bulky frame had been encased in stone.
Unlike the others, where soldiers and workers seemed to have been protected but not disabled by the stone that had risen up, Kobichi was instead completely covered and by the looks of it struggling to try and break himself free. His face was red, and likely on the verge of popping a vessel, as stone slowly inched up over the remainder of him that had not been covered. His voice was silenced, as was the battlefield, as everyone stared up at the statue figure of the man that had just attempted to declare war on Atlas.
“I’d’ve hoped to have gotten his entire body at once. Not as young as I used ta be I suppose.” A gruff and somewhat familiar voice came from their right, and there was a figure approaching them that they couldn’t quite make out with all the dust that had been kicked up.
Even in her weakened state, Weiss struggled to move forward, planting her feet firmly on the ground as she put herself between Ilia and whoever was moving towards them. Raising Myrtenaster against whoever was approaching, she readied herself to defend the pair. To her surprise however, Ilia extended a hand and lowered her weapon with a smile.
“Carna…” Ilia’s eyes were welling with tears as she ran forward and jumped into the open arms of the portly and pink pig faunus.
“Hello dear, I’m so glad to see you’re safe. You as well Miss Schnee. You’ve both surprised me a great deal.” Letting Ilia free from his hug, Carna’s yellow eyes fixated on Weiss as he gave her a polite nod.
Ilia took a few steps back from Carna, wiping tears from her eyes as she returned to helping Weiss stand. Carna opened his mouth to say more, but the sound of boots stomping against the ground behind the girls cut his speech short.
A pair of soldiers came from their flank and stood on either side, weapons raised against Carna, who merely put his hands up in his best attempt to show he wasn’t a threat.
“Unidentified faunus here, orders?” One of the soldiers raised a hand to the comms on his helmet as he stared down Carna.
“Hey, stop it!” Ilia reached out to try and lower the weapon of the guard, but they merely shrugged her off and moved further to the side out of her reach.
“Faunus, identi- who?” Ironwood’s voice could be heard through the speakers but he seemed to be cut off by someone else talking to him. A moment later a different voice came through, and Weiss couldn’t help but turn her head to look back at the stage as she watched her father take to the podium.
“Carna? Is that you? I thought you were dead.” The shocked voice of Jacques Schnee came over as Carna smiled and waved in his direction. Going to speak again, Carna paused as he realized how loud he’d have to shout for his voice to carry across the battlefield. Frowning, his eyes caught a camera drone still buzzing in the air above them to record and display the situation, and he wiggled a meaty finger to call it down to him.
Carna’s face was suddenly taking up the entire broadcasting screen. His eyes constantly flicked from the lens of the drone to his massive face on the screens, and for a brief moment he internally mused about the idea that the camera adds ten pounds.
“Can’t get rid of me that easy. Let’s just say I was taking an extended and paid vacation shall we?” Jacques’ just stared, his jaw slacked as Carna chuckled on the screen. “In which case, I’d like to return to my position as head foreman of the Schnee Dust Company’s mines. Though, there are certain things I would like to negotiate in regards to our working conditions.”
“Well I…” Jacques struggled with his words as everyone stared up at him. He looked from Carna, to the rest of the miners, to even the soldiers that surrounded him, all watching to see what he did next. “Of course. We were here to try and negotiate terms from the start after all.”
Carna smirked as Jacques did his best to maintain his composure. The soldiers on either side of Weiss and Ilia lowered their weapons, though they also did their best to try and herd the pair back towards the stage and military presence. Ilia looked back at Carna, a hint of worry and desire not to leave his side so soon, but with a smile and an encouraging gesture for them to move on, Ilia turned her head away and helped Weiss as they made their way from the mines and back into the military camps on the edge.
While the two guards that had come to retrieve them stayed by their side, there was a flurry of movements as other soldiers swarmed outward into the mining fields to collect any stray weaponry. Looking back over their shoulder, Ilia could see Carna having a discussion with a particularly heavily armed squad as the pillar that the solidified Kobichi had been standing on slowly sank down into the ground. The stone that had been encasing his body peeled away as the soldiers prepared to take him into custody, and as soon as his head was free he began shouting almost immediately. There was a flash of bright light as several soldiers hit him with stun batons at once, and his body crumpled. Ilia couldn’t help but smile to herself before facing forward once more.
“Miss Schnee, are you alright?” General Ironwood came to greet the girls as soon as they crossed the perimeter fencing. The hard light defenses around them were somewhat damaged and soldiers were still struggling to set the Paladins upright once more, but the girls were pleased to see there hadn’t been any notable injuries on this side of the fence.
“I’m fine, it’s just been a bit of a long week.” Weiss gave a bit of a cold stare to Ironwood, and while she was thankful that he’d been generous enough to give them the opportunity they’d had that night, it was mostly his fault she was in her current state. Her aura was still drained and walking with her exhausted body was difficult, but she let out a sigh before nodding and smiling politely. “Thank you, for everything. Giving us this chance, and not losing control of things at the first sign of danger.”
Ilia and Weiss both imagined what could’ve happened if Ironwood took Kobichi’s declaration to heart. Even with the actions Carna had taken, there were more than enough still armed troops that could’ve flooded the area and put an end to the matter for good.
“Until I was certain that blood had been spilled, I saw no reason to be the one to make the first blow. Though admittedly most of the thanks goes to that Carna friend of yours.” Ironwood turned to face Ilia, his eyes flickering past her briefly to glance at the pig faunus, before focusing his attention back to her. “The moment the rocket was fired I was prepared to send my forces in, but he has a very powerful semblance. In no time at all he protected forces on both sides as well as the both of you. Frankly, I’m glad to know he was on your side.”
Ilia nodded with a smile before her attention was pulled from Ironwood to a bit of commotion in the distance. In another part of the military camp there was suddenly a lot of shouting, and her brow furrowed in concern, wondering if there was a rogue faunus still trying to carry out Kobichi’s plan to attack Atlas. Instead, her worries were wiped away as Ironwood too glanced in that direction with a bit of a chuckle.
“I think all that noise is for the two of you.” The girls looked up at the man with equal parts confusion before the voice causing the disturbance grew loud enough to be recognizable.
“WEISS! WHERE IS SHE!?” The shrill tone brought a weak smile to Weiss’s face as she shook her head.
“That dolt. I was wondering when she’d get around to finding me.” There was a constant blur of crimson petals floating over the camp as a figure dashed from soldier to soldier, and seconds later Weiss was making eye contact with her silver eyed leader. She watched as her team leader’s eyes began to well with tears, her red cape flowing behind her as she entered a full sprint in Weiss’s direction.
“AHHHHHHHHHHH!” It was hard to tell if Ruby was crying, screaming, or some combination of both as she leapt at Weiss to give her a powerful hug. Weiss found herself completely pulled from Ilia’s side and struggling not to lose her balance as the two stumbled backwards before falling back onto the ground.
“Ruby please, I’m okay you can get off of me!” Groaning a bit as she lifted her head up, Weiss looked down at the pouting face of her leader who was clutching tightly onto her snowy dress.
“Ruby, where did you-!” Another familiar voice called out from the crowd past Ruby, and the fiery blonde hair of Yang Xiao-Long set her apart from the crowd of near identically uniformed soldiers as she came into view. Her eyes met with Ruby and Weiss as she waved with a grin and hurried over. Behind her the rest of the group they’d been travelling with quickly made their way to them, and Weiss was relieved to see that everyone seemed to be in good health.
Yang slowly lifted Ruby off of Weiss as Jaune, another of her travelling companions, lowered a gloved hand to help Weiss up onto her feet.
“Where on earth have you been? You disappeared almost immediately after we landed! We looked for days but it wasn’t we saw the broadcast that we had any idea where to look!” Jaune’s concerned expression was shared by the rest of the group, and Weiss could only let out an exhausted sigh.
“It’s a bit of a long story, and I’d rather not get much into it…” Weiss would gladly recount her time since returning to Atlas with everyone another day, but frankly what she wanted more than anything was a nice comfy bed to just collapse in.
A bit from the group, where Ilia had been standing awkwardly by herself, she was smiling brightly at Weiss being reunited with all of her friends. She’d forgotten quite how large a group Weiss had been travelling with, and it looked like they’d even gained a few members as well. Furthermore, their last encounter with one another hadn’t exactly been the most pleasant, and she wondered if any of them harbored any negative feelings towards her.
“Hey, you okay?” Ilia snapped to attention as she looked to the person addressing her. Blake had approached her in her usual silent fashion, and was giving her a bit of a nervous smile.
“Oh, yeah. I’m alright. I’m a bit shaky all things considered, it’s been a bit of a crazy few weeks.” Ilia awkwardly rubbed the back of her head, fingers combing through her ponytail as she looked over to Weiss with a bit of a blush.
“So, you and Weiss eh? That was an impressive speech you two delivered. Was there truth to all that?” Blake pursed her lips, hoping that she wasn’t prying into anything she shouldn’t, and glanced back at Weiss still being swarmed by the rest of their group.
“Believe me, I’m almost as shocked as you are. If you’d told me back when we were training together, that I’d one day end up romantically entangled with the very people we were trying to take down, I might’ve tried to turn you in as some sort of traitor.” The pair giggled to themselves. “Turns out we had a lot in common, in particular a certain distaste for her father.”
“I can definitely see that as a way to break the ice.” Blake smiled, looking back to the group, before feeling a nudge at her side. She turned to see Ilia giving her a teasing expression as she pointed subtly over towards everyone.
“So, you and Ya-” Before she could even finish her sentence Blake had clamped a hand over Ilia’s mouth. Both their eyes were wide in surprise as Blake raised a finger to her own lips.
“How do you even…” Ilia frowned and pulled the hand from her mouth.
“Weiss mentioned it. Is it really that big a secret?” Letting out a laugh, Ilia watched as Blake’s ears drooped and she buried her face in her palms.
“Well we thought it was. We haven’t exactly mentioned it to anyone outright but if Weiss can figure it out then I guess-”
“The cats out of the bag?” Ilia’s cheeks puffed up as she did her best to contain her laughter at her own joke. Blake could only give her a dirty look, cheeks flushed as she grabbed Ilia by the arm and dragged her towards the group. “Oh hey wait what-”
“Everyone, let’s not forget Weiss isn’t the only one we should be worried about. Isn’t that right?” Ilia froze as she felt all eyes on her with Blake’s little introduction. She’d been perfectly content with watching from the background as Weiss reunited with her friends. It wasn’t as if she herself knew anyone else all that well after all.
“Oh right!” Yang’s eyes turned sharp as she squinted at Ilia, eyes deviously looking between her and Weiss. “Weiss has herself a-”
“GIRLFRIEND!” Ruby’s voice boomed out with enough volume that even a few guards stopped to stare for a second. Yang instantly had her arm around her younger sister’s head, her metallic hand squeezing tightly against her mouth.
“Yeah, that.” Yang, as well as the rest of the group, couldn’t help but laugh as both Weiss and Ilia blushed a deep red, looking towards one another and then letting their gazes linger on the ground.
“Oh, does that mean we have a new member!” Nora Valkyrie, with her bright red hair, burst out from between Jaune and Ren as she stared at Ilia with stars in her eyes.
“Nora, please calm down.” Ren tugged at the collar of Nora’s outfit, pulling her back to his side and away from Ilia, before glancing in her direction with a curious expression.
“I mean if her work here is done and all…” Weiss gave a hopeful look to Ilia, who seemed more than eager to accept the invitation to join them. Still, before she could voice her acceptance, another member of the group cut her off with a cough before stepping forward.
“As excited as I’m sure everyone is, and as much as I’m sure you two want to spend time together, do you think it wise to bring her along on this particular mission?” Qrow Branwen, the technical leader of their small group, narrowed his eyes as he looked to Weiss. All around her Ilia could suddenly feel the mood shift and the air grow heavy.
“I can handle myself you know. I spent time in the White Fang, just helped stop a rebellion… I mean what’s the worst this mission could be, stopping the apocalypse or something?” Ilia went to laugh, though her cheerful burst of energy was immediately cut short as she found herself the only one cracking a smile. All around her everyone seemed to be avoiding her eyes, sullen and downcast expression shared by each of them. “You can’t be serious.”
“So you see, here’s the thing…” Weiss finally mustered the courage to look to Ilia, her heart weighing heavy at the idea of bringing Ilia along with them. She’d been so caught up in the issues facing Atlas that she’d almost entirely forgotten about the bigger picture. As much as she wanted to let Ilia come with them, deep down she knew that it would only endanger the girl she’d fallen for.
“Ah ah, stop right there.” Maria’s voice came through as she lifted her cane in front of Weiss’s face to cut her off. “While I’m certain your friend here can keep a secret, let’s not go rambling off all the details in a public place like this. For now I think the best thing is to get everyone somewhere a little more comfortable and private before we start worrying about what happens next.”
“Like Weiss’s house!” Ruby’s voice cut through the tension as she began to imagine the sort of enormous home Weiss lived in. Her mind was filled with fantasies of castles, mansions, and even some strange blends between the two.
“Hey wait a second, you can’t just decide that!” Weiss shot a look to Ruby, imagining what sort of havoc she would wreak if she entered the Schnee Family Manor. The number of priceless antiques, works of art, and ceremonial pieces that she could destroy just merely being around them was enough to want Weiss to keep her as far away from that place as possible.
“As Team Leader, I can make it a mission! Or an order! Or something! TO WEISS’S HOUSE!” Ruby punched her fist into the air and immediately started to charge back in the direction of the airship.
“TO WEISS’S HOUSE!” In unison, Nora, Jaune, and Yang each punched their own hands into the air to charge after Ruby, as Qrow and Maria muttered to themselves about keeping up with the boundless energy of the youngsters they were keeping track of. Ren cracked a smile as he followed after Nora, and Blake gave a comforting smile back to Ilia before she too hurried after the group.
“So. Saving the world?” Ilia stood close to Weiss, glad to see that she’d recovered at least enough of her stamina that she could walk without trouble.
“Yeah we have a lot to talk about, and honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t believe half of it.” Weiss herself had only been able to come to grips with the reality thanks to Jinn. She imagined trying to recount the vision without the aid of the relic was going to be quite the feat. “Suffice it to say, this fairy tale of ours is about to get more complicated than you could ever imagine.”
“Well then.” Ilia stopped Weiss for a moment, turning the pair so that they faced one another, and gave a confident smile. “I guess the only thing we can do is hope this fairy tale still ends with happily ever after.”
Leaning forward, Ilia gave Weiss a peck on the lips as she wove their fingers together. The sense of dread that had been building up in Weiss seemed to melt away with the gesture, and for the first time since the vision she began to feel the tiniest spark of hope that everything might just turn out alright after all. That maybe they’d all get through this and live happily ever after.