The next few seconds were some of the most confusing and disorienting of Greyson’s life.
Greyson parried an incoming attack with Blitz, and shot a blast from Nimbus. As the two hooded figures recoiled, so did Greyson. The floors and walls had become bathed with flame in a split second. Greyson turned, instantly realizing the Garnett family had vanished. Ember soared through the air, anger shifting to confusion and frustration when she realized her target had vanished. She crumpled to the floor gracelessly, and backed up after landing too close to a scorching wall of flame.
“NOOOOOO!” Alexandra screamed from the back of the room. The stone she hid under had been shifted to the sides, to reveal her quivering form, reduced to a shivering mass on her hands and knees. “It’s... it’s gone...” she whimpered. A chunk of smoldering marble and wood ceiling crashed to the ground in front of her, and she fumbled backward.
“Everyone, out!” Greyson commanded. “Leave the Church survivors be. Maybe they’ll have figured out that their ‘leaders’ don’t give a damn about them.”
Greyson made his way outside to look for Azure and Raven. He gave a sidelong glance to the Phantom along the way, who still hunched over his fallen comrade. Once Greyson made it outside, he saw the remaining White Fang grunts retreating into the forest. He paid them no mind. Just next to the bottom of the stairs, Azure faced toward the woods, with Raven sitting on the ground in front of her and Rusty kneeling, hugging his girlfriend from behind.
Greyson’s footsteps down the marble stairs echoed through the night. When his feet hit solid ground, the flames inside the mansion shattered a stained-glass window above him. He ducked, and shielded his eyes. As he brought his head up, his eyes met Azure’s.
A weak smile came to her face, and the season’s first snow began to fall.
Greyson stepped forward, and the two embraced tightly for the first time in over a month. “I’m... I’m so sorry,” Greyson said.
“You’re here... you actually came for me...” Azure reflected. She buried her head into Greyson’s shoulder. “I thought you’d be happy to have me gone.”
Greyson’s embrace tightened. “I didn’t mean any of that. I honestly don’t know what came over me that night. I just... you know what happened to Lazula. Then ever since I heard Pyrrha died, all the pain of losing Lazula came back. I felt like Lazula’s death was my fault,” Greyson explained. “I’m so happy to have met you, and I’m happy to be with you, even though I don’t deserve someone like you.”
“Greyson...” Azure stammered. “None of that is your fault. None.”
“When I said I never wished I met you, I meant I wished that I didn’t have to protect you. But I realize now even thinking that is wrong,” Greyson continued. “I’m done trying to protect you. Once your strength is back, we’re fighting side by side. Until the day we beat Vladimir, and whatever the hell else this world throws at us.”
“You can protect me,” Azure softly argued. “Just let me protect you back.”
The beginning of joyful tears forming in his eyes, Greyson leaned in and kissed Azure.
“Dude... is... is that--” Rusty stuttered, voice filled with bewilderment. Greyson opened his eyes to see him standing up and facing the Garnett mansion, pointing up to the entryway. Greyson separated from Azure, and turned to look.
Walking slowly out from the mansion, holding the limp body of Gamma, was none other than Pierce in full White Fang uniform. His hair rippled in the blistering wind, revealing an eyepatch over his right eye before settling back down. He stopped some distance away from Greyson and the others, then set Gamma gently in the grass.
Greyson walked over to Pierce, eyeing him cautiously. The faunus turned around to meet Greyson’s gaze. Then, he halfheartedly raised both hands into the air.
“I’m not your enemy,” he assured. “I never was.”
“You were the Phantom,” Greyson bluntly asserted.
“I thought you might figure it out after I spared your life one too many times,” Pierce replied dryly. “I’ll explain later.” He looked down to Gamma, and knelt next to her again. He took off her mask, and softly closed her eyes.
“I... I really wish, th-that it didn’t have to end like this f-for her...” Raven commented, unable to look at her body. “Sh-She was nice, t-to me at least. Sh-She made me think. Th-That maybe the White Fang isn't all evil...”
Pierce nodded once. “Her real name was Valencia. She was twisted with vengeance ever since the night a band of humans killed her family. But she was nowhere close to evil. She was a cat faunus, but ironically enough, she liked to build birdhouses. Not a bad cook, either.” he sighed.
“I thought I might be able to convince her to defect with me when I joined you guys, but now I’ll never be sure.”
Dustyn and Ezelia solemnly helped Ember carry her mother’s body out of the burning mansion amid a handful of fleeing cult members. Greyson counted the members of Twilight Crusade. Azure, Raven, and Rusty were out before Greyson. Dustyn, Ezelia, and Ember were all safe. A pang of fear wracked his body as he realized Alexandra and Kita were nowhere to be found.
They were the last two alive inside the burning building. Flames lashed viciously at the walls around them, painting the entire scene a shade of flickering orange. The constant crashing of marble ceiling to the floor warned of the building’s imminent destruction. Alexandra still huddled at the room’s deepest end, tears streaming from her eyes as Kita stood in front of her.
“Alexandra! You must get up!” Kita pleaded, right arm outstretched toward her.
“No! Crown Jewel is gone! I’ve... I’ve failed my father, and I’ve failed my tribe!” Alexandra protested. “Go! Go and leave me here!”
“I am not leaving without you,” Kita insisted. “If she was able to take Crown Jewel from you, you are able to take it back.”
“You saw how strong she was, and that was without the Crown Jewel!” Alexandra argued. She weakly raised an arm, and pointed at a nearby pillar of flame. It flickered slightly, but rippled upward disobediently after a handful of seconds. “I’m useless without it, and she’s already so strong. How can we hope to beat someone like that?”
A chunk of marble crashed to the floor behind Kita, sending a plume of flame and ash into the air.
“Both of our lives have been an eternal struggle for survival,” Kita adamantly reminded. “Do you wish to forfeit yours here, after a single defeat? I do not know if we can defeat her, but we must try.”
“All my life, I’ve been running from her, with nothing but a burning desire for revenge,” Alexandra reflected. She looked up to Kita. “And now we’ve met again... I can’t lose.”
Kita unmasked, revealing her slightly smiling face made red and sweaty from the searing heat. She re-offered her hand to Alexandra, closer this time. She looked her in the eyes. “That is correct. If your legs work, we will pursue her together. If they do not, I will carry you. What is important is that we keep moving forward.”
Alexandra took Kita’s hand, and was helped to her feet. Her hand lingered on Kita’s for several seconds, before the two walked carefully together out of the building. Greyson stood halfway up the stairs, peering cautiously into the burning building. He breathed a sigh of relief as the two appeared unharmed. Every member of Twilight appeared safe, and Raven and Azure had been saved. But the frigid air did not carry the smell of victory.
Kita watched in surprise as a familiar figure, one she had not seen since the Fall of Beacon, walked over to Ember’s hunched-over form. He uttered something inaudible to her, but she viciously smacked away the hand he set on her shoulder in protest.
“GET AWAY FROM ME!” she shouted. “Twice now, you’ve left without a damned word, and you come back like nothing’s wrong!? Leave! And don’t come back this time!”
Pierce sighed, and stood up. Without another word, he walked over to Greyson as Kita neared.
“Kit, who’s that?” Alexandra inquired.
“He was an ally, who disappeared after the Fall of Beacon,” Kita explained. She noticed Pierce’s eyepatch, and deep scar running down the right side of his face. “It looks as if he was the Phantom.”
“Yeah, that was me,” Pierce admitted. “Nothing good can happen here. I’ll explain everything once we get back.”
“So, you’re joining us?” Greyson asked. “Against the Garnetts, I think we’ll need you.”
“If Ember will let me,” Pierce jested. “I’ve got nowhere to go.”
The next morning, all of Twilight Crusade, aside from Ember, who stayed locked away in the guest bedroom, gathered in Greyson’s living room. The Mistral Police had arrived at the Garnett residence shortly after all of Twilight Crusade made it out, and questioned Greyson and the others intensely. By the end of the long night, Greyson managed to mostly convince them he told the truth, and the bodies of Valencia and Mrs. Blackburn were moved. “The Phantom,” a fallen White Fang grunt Pierce abandoned his mask and cloak with, was reported dead.
“So. I think it’s about time I explain a few things,” Pierce addressed. “During the fall of Beacon, I found a high ranking White Fang official, named Adam Taurus. We fought for a bit, before I told him I wanted to join the White Fang. I didn’t know I would end up becoming a high-ranking official myself. I was just in it for the intel.” He took a sip from a glass of water. “This Adam Taurus guy has it out for humanity. He wants faunus supremacy by force. What the delusional bastard doesn’t realize is that he’s just a puppet, being used by some mysterious group of people.”
“There’s someone controlling the White Fang?” Greyson asked.
Pierce nodded. “Never was able to get a name, though. Whoever they are, they’re dangerous. They’re planning an attack on Haven.”
“Another question,” Azure interjected. “The attacks on the Church of Awakening and Schnee Dust company make sense. But why did you want to blow up the Great Canyon Dam? You could have killed hundreds of humans and faunus!”
“I was given the job because the city downriver of the dam has been historically discriminatory toward faunus,” Pierce explained. “But also, I knew you guys were going to be in the dam that day. Do you really think the worker who gave you your weapons managed to sneak past me? I saw him, but I let him deliver your weapons to you.”
“So how did you know we would be there?” Azure continued.
“Rusty did a good job of removing the tracking bug from the airship, but the bug wasn’t deleted. It was transferred to his scroll.”
“For real?” Rusty said, pulling out his scroll. “So any given time, the White Fang can see where I am? That’s creepy!”
“You should probably do something about that,” Pierce replied.
“I am sorry,” Kita said suddenly, looking at Pierce’s eyepatch. “I took your eye the night we fought. I believed you had killed Greyson.”
“No need to apologize. It hurt like hell, but you did what was right, considering all you knew at the time,” Pierce stated. “Of course you were angry, it’s obvious you love him.”
“Not anymore,” Kita stated. She looked from Pierce to Azure, Greyson, then back. “It is true, I had inappropriate feelings at the time. But they are gone now.”
After a couple of hours, the members of Twilight Crusade separated to their usual houses. Greyson’s parents were ecstatic to have Azure back, and Rusty’s mother hugged Raven for what felt like hours. Finally, after everything that had happened, times were peaceful once again.