Weiss sang softly to herself as she swept the steps down to the Summer spirit gate. Once she had sung for audiences of thousands, enjoyed wealth and privilege few would ever enjoy. Now she sang only for herself, for the joy of singing, and she had a broom and temple steps to sweep.
She looked up as a blonde woman came running through the gate, collapsing at her feet. "Sanc-sanctuary," the woman gasped, clutching at Weiss's robes. "I claim sanctuary."
Weiss drew a deep breath. No matter how much she wanted to help the woman, there were the proper forms to be observed. "Do you walk the path of the Maidens?"
The woman nodded, reaching into her shirt and pulling out a pendant that proclaimed her a celebrant of Summer, and Weiss nodded, satisfied. Before she could reach into her pocket, two archons followed the woman through the gate. "There you are! You're coming with us now."
With quick steps Weiss interposed herself between the archons and the blonde woman, holding her broom in front of her as if it were a sword. "She has claimed sanctuary within these temple grounds. Thus your authority over her ended when she crossed that gate."
The taller of the two archons sneered. "You're just a junior priestess. Who's anyone going to believe, you or us? Give her over and nobody gets hurt."
"Except her." Weiss blew a stray hair out of her face in annoyance. "And I think you will find that some junior priestesses are more equal than others."
The shorter of the pair was a little quicker on the uptake than his companion. "Hey, aren't you Weiss Schnee, the prelate's daughter? So this is where you fetched up, traitor!"
"There is no shame in following the calling of one's heart." She reached into the pocket of her robes and pulled out her scroll even as the blonde woman rolled on her back, still gasping for breath. "Ozpin, I have a woman by the Summer gate claiming sanctuary. There are two thugs wearing archon's uniforms trying to drag her off. Yes, they can hear me, and no, I don't care. Fine. I will be polite." Weiss gave a minimal nod of greeting to the pair of archons. "He will be here shortly. I would offer you tea, but I don't want to wander off just now. There might be a misunderstanding, and we wouldn't want that, would we?"
Unfortunately, the prelate arrived before Ozpin did. "Weiss." The contempt in his voice made the single syllable of her name a curse. "So this is where you've been hiding."
"Prelate. How honored we are that you bless our humble temple with your holy presence once again." Weiss knew damn well that the last time the local prelate of the Church of the Sword had visited the temple grounds, he'd threatened to burn it to the ground and turn it into a graveyard, or possibly a golf course. Ozpin's response had been simple: "You can try."
By now, several visitors to the temple were watching, and Wiess had to remind herself to remain calm. The Atlas constitution enshrined religious tolerance, but it was a principle more often honored in theory than in fact. If the Church of the Sword and its more... fervent adherents had their way, every temple to the Maidens would be wiped from the face of Remnant.
Finally, Ozpin arrived, ever-present coffee cup in hand. He slurped as he walked up, making Weiss roll her eyes. She swore he'd never put it down if he didn't need both hands for ceremonies. Ozpin glanced at the prelate but pointedly ignored him, kneeling by the still unnamed blonde woman. "You're safe now, there's nothing to fear. What's your name, and what drives you to you claim sanctuary within these temple grounds?"
"My name is Yang, Yang Xiao Long, and I've been blessed by the Maiden of Summer. These two" Yang jerked her head toward the pair of archons, "were trying to drag me off to the Witchfinders."
"Serious allegations, indeed. Let's hear their side of things, shall we?" Ozpin rose, smoothing out his robes. "Prelate, what do you have to say to these charges?"
"The Witchfinders are a myth, invented by those who need to feel persecuted." The prelate's eyes turned toward Weiss. "Or those with things to hide."
"Regardless, she's claimed sanctuary here, and I'm going to grant it. You will, of course, honor it."
"She's wanted under church law, for heresy."
"And since she's a celebrant of the maidens who has claimed sanctuary within the temple, you have to prove the heresy. To us, not the Church of the Sword."
The prelate scoffed. "Your little temple can't protect you this time. She destroyed church property and ran away, laughing and taunting us."
"Which is it? Destroying church property or heresy? Or are you trying to claim one deed as both?" Ozpin remarked, taking another slurp of his coffee.
"I don't have time for this. Get her!" The prelate jerked his head, gesturing the archons forward, and Ozpin sighed. "Explain his mistake to him, please, Weiss?"
"First, you're violating our temple grounds. In front of witnesses who are no doubt posting this all over the internet. And your authority ends about twenty feet behind you, so I'm sure the Kingdom Council will have something to say about that. I doubt it will do the 'special relationship' the Church has with the council much good, will it?
"Second, if you were half as observant as you think you are, you'd know why I took up the path of the Maidens." Weiss narrowed her eyes in concentration as she reached inside her soul to unleash that gift the Maidens had bestowed on her. Once she had feared that gift, but now, it was as natural a part of her as her arm.
Two whirlwinds of ice and snow appeared on either side of her, coalescing into a pair of twelve-foot armored warriors, naganitas held at the ready. "Now," Weiss said, her voice echoing with a howling north wind, "do we continue this?"
The prelate took a step back in shock. "Keep the witch for now. We'll be back. She has to leave the temple sometime, and when she does, we'll be waiting." He turned and stormed back out the gate, the pair of archons following behind.
"Thanks. That was pretty cool. Can I learn that trick?" Yang asked as Weiss helped her to her feet.
"Not quite. If Summer has indeed blessed you, and you can endure the training, then yes, you will be able to summon creatures. But yours would be made of living fire, not frost. And that was quite the summoning, Weiss. You've been practicing." Ozpin beamed at his prized pupil."
Weiss blushed, the rush of pink in her cheeks starkly visible under her pale complexion. "Thank you. It's a little tiring, and I can't keep it up for long, but I thought it worth it to send that ass on his way."
"Yeah, I'll say! I've been running from those goons for a day and a half. You really saved my hide. Watch this." Yang held her hands out, shoulder width apart, and a ball of fire appeared in each hand. She started to juggle them, and soon a third and a fourth joined them. "That's about all I can do, and I can't keep it up for long." The fireballs vanished like a candle flame in the wind. "Neat party trick, though, right?"
"Indeed. If I may be so bold, if you're already that strong, perhaps you should consider temple vows yourself. If the Witchfinders are indeed actively pursuing you, it would give you a sound reason to remain on the temple grounds. Weiss, please show her to a guest room. I have phone calls to make."
As the pair walked to the priest's quarters, Yang let out a heavy sigh. "I'm glad that's over."
"I think you'll find that you've only traded one set of problems for another. That's the way life usually is."
"That's for sure. But I think I'm in better company now. Cuter, too," Yang added with a wink.
Weiss blushed. "Before you go too far down that train of thought, I will point out that while we are not required to be celibate, it's preferred that we not... well, that we're married first. And you would have to impress me first."
"Princess, I think you'd be worth the wait." Yang sniffed herself. "After I shower, though. Definitely not a thought I want to entertain before a shower."
Yang leaned her head against the shower wall, letting the steaming hot water run over her, soothing her aching body. She was fighting to stay standing now, the adrenaline and fear that had kept her going fading into a distant, throbbing memory. The tears she'd been fighting back came now, racking sobs that shook her body in relief. Maidens, she was so tired, down to her bones, past that into her soul. The archons had pursued her without relief; she'd evaded one group just to find another waiting for her. Yang had managed to find a temporary safe haven in an abandoned building last night, but what sleep she'd gotten had been fitful at best, jerking awake at every little noise, real or imagined, wondering if she'd been found.
The bathroom door opened, and a voice she didn't know said, "I'm putting some clothes in here for you. Dinner's cooking, so get dressed and find me in the kitchen when you're done."
"R-Right," Yang stammered, hoping the woman would hear her, but she was already gone.
She dressed, wincing at how much of their shampoo she'd used. Hair as long as hers took a lot of work, and at home, she'd gotten used to paying for her own shampoo and stuff, but that was going to be a problem now. Maybe she should help out at the temple while things got sorted out, or consider cutting it. Yang suppressed a shudder at the idea of cutting her gorgeous golden mane. Okay, extra helping out was the better path, probably.
A delicious smell led her to a kitchen, where a black-haired woman was busily cooking. The noirette looked up at Yang's approach, smiling. "You must be our new guest," she said, feline ears on top of her head flicking, an earring catching the light as she handed Yang a steaming cup of tea. "I'm Blake, and you're Yang, I hear?"
"Y-Yeah, that's me. Sorry about the bother," the blonde answered, sitting on one of the cushions by the low Mistral-style dining table. "This is nicer than I expected," she added, looking around the living room and kitchen. Everything looked relatively new, not worn-out and broken, and there was an immense flatscreen television hanging on the wall."
Blake shrugged as she tasted the contents of the pot simmering on the stove. "Beacon temple is one of the oldest and most prosperous temples in the city. It's not a life of luxury, but it's a comfortable one, I suppose."
"How-how many people are there living here?" Damn. Yang wasn't usually this tongue-tied, but even sitting here with Blake, she was still more scared than she'd ever been before yesterday."
"Well, there's myself, Ozpin the high priest, who I assume you met, Weiss, who's the newest member of the priesthood here, our groundskeeper Sun, and now you. So that makes five full-time residents. Oh, and there's Glynda, too, but she rarely stays the night, just visits a lot."
"Sounds like a houseful," Yang replied, sipping her tea. She wasn't normally one for tea, but she'd make an exception for this stuff. For once it tasted as good as it smelled, and she could feel the warmth seeping through her body, down to her fingers and toes.
"It is, but with a bit of understanding, everything works." A grinning blonde man who'd obviously been working outside all day came in, and Blake went to hug him, only to be stopped by a raised hand. "No touching till I clean up today, babe. I finished digging up that water line by the Spring gate today, and it's leaking pretty bad. I can't fix it myself. Oh, hey, a new face. I'm Sun, Sun Wukong, groundskeeper, and handyman extraordinaire. Didn't catch your name, you a new priestess or something? We could use one."
Blake elbowed him in the gut. "This is Yang, and she's claimed sanctuary. She collapsed at Weiss's feet this afternoon, the archons literally at her heels. The prelate himself showed up to try and bully us into giving her up, but Weiss summoned up two of her creations to run him off. Now go wash for dinner. Sorry about that," Blake added after Sun had left. "Sun's really passionate about this place and gets a little carried away."
"It's okay. I'm imposing on all of you and I guess I have to put up with some things." Yang hesitated, then asked the question Blake had just put back in her mind. "Weiss... is her dad really the prelate?"
"Of Atlas City, yes. She doesn't talk about him much, but from what she has said, he was aiming to be the prelate of the whole kingdom. But her being blessed by the Maidens and being here is probably not helping that." Blake had a satisfied smirk on her face for a moment, then shook her head and replaced it with a warm smile. "But if you're worried about her, don't. You're safe here and among friends."
"Indeed you are." A severe-looking blonde woman stood in the entryway now, her arms crossed and regarding Yang with a stern expression. "I take it you are our new guest? My apologies, but Ozpin neglected to give me your name. I'm Glynda, Glynda Goodwitch."
Yang gulped. Glynda Goodwitch, of Goodwitch & Associates, one of the top law firms in the city? Eep. "That's me, Yang Xiao Long. My dad, he hired your firm a few years back, a zoning dispute. He says you're freaking awesome."
Goodwitch nodded as she sat down on a cushion near Yang. "I don't specifically remember the case, but I appreciate the compliment. I'm also the legal counsel for this temple, most of the other temples in the city, and the local temple council."
"And Ozpin's girlfriend," Blake tossed in from the kitchen.
"I am not that aimless fool's girlfriend!" Goodwitch snapped, making Blake laugh. Yang couldn't help but laugh too; Blake's laughter was infectious and Goodwitch's obvious discomfort just made it worse.
"The sooner the two of you just admit it and just carry on like a normal couple, the better off we will all be," Weiss said, shaking her head as she sat next to Yang, making her jump; she hadn't even seen the white-haired girl come in. "Doing better now, Yang? It seems like you've met all of our little family now."
Family... "Oh crap! I need to call my sister and my dad, let them know I'm okay." Yang started to get up, only to stop mid-motion as Weiss laid a hand on her arm.
"Relax," Weiss said with a smile. "Call them after dinner, when you've had a chance to rest and don't sound so wrung out. Or ask Ozpin to call them; it might be more reassuring from him."
"Indeed. You're not the first person we've had claim sanctuary in my tenure here, and you won't be the last if the prelate continues like this." Ozpin found his own seat next to Goodwitch. "He's got archons stationed at all four gates, by the way, and I expect they'll try to sneak people in with our regular visitors so I don't think we should leave Miss Xiao Long alone for the time being. Now, enough gloomy business for the time being. Let's eat."
The six of them sat together, talking and laughing as they ate. Yang couldn't help but join in the laughter; the sense of community and joy was contagious. Weiss had used the word 'family' to describe the temple's residents and it fit. Ozpin and Glynda were obviously the 'parents' (Yang had to agree with Blake and Weiss; their feelings for each other couldn't be more obvious if there was a flaming neon sign), Blake and Weiss the near-adult children, Sun Blake's bad-boy boyfriend, and Yang, Yang was... She stopped a moment. Where did Yang fit in this? Where did she fit anywhere? What would happen to her now?
Almost by magic, Weiss leaned over and started telling Yang the story of how Sun came to be their handyman/groundskeeper. It involved a chainsaw and a bouquet of flowers, and soon Yang was too caught up in the story to worry.
She was safe, and among friends.
You'd never know it, but Weiss was nervous every time she conducted a ceremony at the temple. She'd sung in packed arenas holding crowds of tens of thousands, yet somehow this made her nervous. She was afraid she'd drop the ritual implements, mangle a chant, trip over her robes (almost, once).
This morning was different, though. Today Yang was in the front row, right behind the space set aside for children and those who couldn't stand for the ceremony, and somehow her presence lent Weiss a calm she hadn't felt before.
Afterward, Weiss moved among the crowd, murmuring blessings for those that asked for them, kneeling to hug a young girl whose mother was dying of cancer. She watched as Yang chatted with those that approached her, accepting hugs and well wishes, even lifting a little boy up on her shoulder to help him find his mommy. Weiss could still see fatigue and worry in Yang's eyes, but it was less now than it had been. The white-haired girl smiled, not the performance smile she normally wore during ceremonies, but a real smile that came from deep within herself.
"She's something, isn't she?" A soft voice broke her reverie, and Weiss jumped, startled for a moment before she could compose herself.
"Blake!" she hissed. "Don't sneak up on me like that in the middle of a ceremony! And aren't you up a little early for you?" Since Weiss had joined the temple, normally she'd been the one handling the morning ceremonies, with Blake taking the duties at dusk and in the evening.
"Now, now, we shouldn't bicker in public. Our guest was up before dawn, doing pushups and situps in her room. It made getting back to sleep kind of hard. So I got up and decided to watch you from the sidelines. I've been here the whole time, didn't you notice? Or were you too distracted by Yang?" Blake's smile didn't even waver as she teased her friend, not even when she stopped to give a blessing to an elderly man in a wheelchair.
Weiss laid a hand on Blake's shoulder, muttering, "Later, please," before moving on through the crowd. Blake nodded and kept moving through the crowd, stopping to trade funny faces with a boy she knew.
"Getting to know everyone?" Weiss asked as Yang waved farewell to a pack of schoolgirls on their way to classes for the day. "Now that I think about it, I don't think I've seen you here at the Beacon temple before yesterday."
"No, I usually go to the temple in the Patch district. I'm glad I ended up here yesterday instead, though. The high priest there is kinda old, and I'm not sure he could have stood up to your dad like Ozpin did."
"Please do not refer to the prelate as my father." Weiss's voice was flat, but there was a hint of sadness, or maybe anger, to it as well. "He and I have never been close, and he took the news of my... departure very poorly." She shivered; when Weiss had finally made the decision to leave the Church of the Sword and her father's house to become a priestess of the Maidens, she'd damn near gotten taken by the archons herself. Thankfully Ozpin had stood up for her, responding to her father's threats and demands that she be returned to him with a simple "No."
"So what made you...?"
Weiss sighed. The question was not unexpected; most people who learned about the connection between her and the prelate asked. "I don't like to talk about that."
"There's my Sunny Little Dragon!" Yang's face brightened, and she whirled to around to find herself in a group hug with a blonde man and a girl whose black hair had red highlights.
"Dad! I'm so sorry about all this. I didn't mean to worry you, I just..." Yang was crying now, but Weiss could hear the relief and joy in her voice.
Taiyang pulled back a little, shaking his head as he looked his older daughter in the eyes. "Don't worry about it, I'm just glad you're safe. We would have joined you for the ceremony, but we got a late start coming here and then the archons hassled us at the gate."
"Yeah, the meanies," the younger girl frowned. "Even tried to give dad grief for bringing me with him." She fished a Spring medallion out of her shirt and waved it around. "Lost cause, that's me. Dorks."
"I will mention that to Ozpin," Weiss said, frowning. "They shouldn't be harassing anyone entering the temple, much less the family of someone who's sought sanctuary here."
"Oh, um, dad, Ruby, this is Weiss." Yang flushed; why did a simple introduction have her tongue-tied? "She's one of the priestesses here. The other one's Blake, she's around here somewhere. And then there's Ozpin, the high priest, but I don't know where he is right now."
"I think I saw you on the news. You were the one on the steps, that Yang collapsed in front of, right?" Weiss nodded with a smile."Thank you for looking after my daughter." Taiyang returned Weiss's smile and gave her a bow. "If there's ever anything I can do for you, let me know."
"I was only performing my duties as a priestess," answered Weiss, ducking her head in a vain attempt to hide the pink blooming on her cheeks. She weathered mass adoration from crowds gracefully, but heartfelt, personal praise like this left her flustered.
"And you handled the manner very appropriately, I must say." Standing there was a woman in a red dress trimmed in gold thread, her black hair oh-so-carefully styled to cover her left eye. "Miss Xiao Long, on behalf of the Church of the Sword, I'd like to extend the apologies for the actions of the archons that were pursuing you. It was completely inappropriate for them to harass you like that. I'll see that those stationed at the temple gates restrain themselves as well."
"Miss Fall." Weiss' voice was colder than the icy warriors she'd summoned up the day before to run off her father's goons. "To what do we owe this visit?"
Cinder chuckled lightly, though there was no real warmth to it. "The prelate has asked me to handle this matter on behalf of the church since he's obviously too close to the issue given your involvement. I felt that checking on Miss Xiao Long's welfare and apologizing for the actions of our archons was the first thing to do."
"I see." Weiss raised an eyebrow. "The prelate might want to reconsider your assignment. If I remember correctly, there's a restraining order prohibiting you from setting foot on the grounds of this temple, or within, what is it, a hundred yards? And several other temples of the Maidens within the city as well. Mostly for the sort of strongarm tactics those archons you just apologized for tried to use on Miss Xiao Long."
"I'm sure you must be mistaken," Cinder said, smiling. "I am here as the representative of the prelate of Vale and as such-"
"Represent a questionable decision on the part of the prelate," Weiss interrupted smoothly, "sending someone to speak to us who has a restraining order against them. Please leave, before we have to call the police." Weiss' tone was light, even pleasant, but there were glaciers warmer than the smile she was giving Cinder Fall.
Cinder took half a step back, shocked at how hard her charm had bounced. "Very well, but if I can't enter this temple to speak with Miss Xiao Long, that's going to make this all more complicated."
Yang shook her head as she watched Cinder leave. "Dang, she makes me feel slimy just talking to her. And is it just me, or did she seem to really not like you, Weiss?"
Weiss winced. "We've known each other for years, long before I came here. When I told my father I was leaving to become a priestess, he sent the archons after me to drag me back. I managed to avoid capture, obviously. Cinder was one of the archons sent after me, and she took the failure personally." She shook her head. "My apologies, I shouldn't dwell on the past. Let me make some tea, and you and your family can catch up until Mr. Tukson arrives."