Chapter 1: nth Time's The Charm
6 November 2014, Thursday
"I'm sorry, but you aren't exactly what we're looking for."
Ruby sighed, shuffling out of a pristine skyscraper back into the throng of people. A strong, cool breeze blew past the female, forcing an uncontrollable shudder from Ruby as early winter's biting chill permeated through her thin jacket and clung to her like a second skin. She hunched over slightly in an attempt to huddle up and maintain warmth, making her small, lone figure in front of the giant, imposing edifice seem even more insignificant in the sea of nameless faces.
She buried her face deeper in her red scarf and dug pink mitten-covered hands into her jacket pockets. Ruby pulled out and unfolded an innocuous piece of paper. Her face fell even more on looking down at the crumpled, worn flyer she cradled in hands.
Another failed audition.
Her forty-eighth one this year.
The nineteen-year-old sighed again, trudging away from the building. She wadded the now-useless paper into a ball and threw it into the trash receptacle next to the intersection. Then, she burrowed her hands into her pockets and crossed the road.
As irrational as it was, Ruby thought the glass monolith she left behind towered over her, watching and mocking her every step; her chest began to tighten as she slowly walked away. She slouched even more, curling into herself as she hastened her pace until the building was out of sight, hidden away by more of the city's infamously tall structures.
No longer feeling eyes bore into her back, Ruby sucked in a deep breath and relaxed, the weight on her shoulders dissipating. She glanced around, finding herself on a street she had never walked before – since it was so far from her house and workplace – and completely clueless as to what to do next. Should she return home, so she could comfort herself with her sister's favourite soap opera recording and a tub of cookies and cream ice-cream? Or perhaps–
Ruby inelegantly sniffed the air, detecting faint traces of warm, spicy cinnamon and freshly grounded coffee beans between blasts of stale, frigid wind. It had been awhile since someone else made coffee for her. Perhaps this would be a good change of pace. She nodded to herself. Her mind made up, the female allowed her nose to lead the way. She followed the enticing smelling trail, inhaling deeply as the air grew more fragrant with every step.
Shortly thereafter, Ruby found herself standing in front of a quaint, local coffee store. The heady aromatic scents wafting into her nose seduced her into the small space, where she unconsciously went through the practiced motions of ordering a hot brew to go from the barista.
She sighed, the third time since leaving the audition office, as she handed the barista exact change for the transaction. She knew how annoying it was when people in this city used small purchases to break huge bills, since she worked part-time at an established coffee chain to make due, and wanted to spare her fellow barista the trouble.
Glancing around the small store, Ruby noticed that no seats were available, all taken up by those seeking shelter from the biting cold. She pursed her lips, thinking that it was for the best. Wallowing in the comfort of her own abode was infinitely better than sitting in the store listlessly sipping at her drink, watching as the world passed her by. Her gaze affixed itself to the single windowpane leading out to the streets while waiting for her brew.
Her eyes widened imperceptibly on sighting a giant crowd had gathered in front of a makeshift stage in the park across the road, with a handful of security guards surveying the area and overseeing the crowd.
"There's some sort of musical performance that's happening in a few minutes," Ruby heard a voice from behind her say. She jumped a little, twisting around to stare at the smiling barista.
Pink dusted the aspiring idol's cheeks as she reached out to grab the latte placed on the countertop. "Thank you," she murmured, glancing down at the worker's name tag, "Velvet."
The barista's smile stretched wider. "You're welcome. Have a nice day!" she said with a small polite wave.
"You too," Ruby replied, before she left the charming coffeehouse. Standing just outside the door, Ruby took a quick sip of her drink as she watched the park's ongoings. With how energised the crowd seemed to be getting, there was no doubt that Velvet's words rang true; the concert would begin at any moment.
She made a split second decision. Her feet moved quickly, carrying her towards the excited throng of people.
They had already begun chanting.
Without much thought, Ruby started to sprint towards the group. However, just as she was within arms reach of the last person's back, she veered to the left, ignoring the strange looks security shot her in favour of running straight for the tree she had spotted upon a small hill mere metres away. As soon as she was under the tree's patchy yet still colourful cover, Ruby spun around and gazed down at the spectacle, having the perfect – albeit far – view of the stage.
And just in time too, for the moment she did so, a catchy bubblegum pop tune she had heard looped over the radio for the past few days began to blast from the massive speakers positioned up front.
Out of the corner of her eye, Ruby noticed the crowd had been whipped into a frenzy as they jumped and screamed, all surging forward towards the stage while throwing their hands in the air.
But she paid them no heed. For what caught her eye and captured her attention were the five young, gorgeous females that swooped in and took the stage by storm. Confidence radiated from their pores as they sang their hearts out, hitting each note with seeming ease. And despite their white knee-high heeled boots and constrictive-looking rainbow coloured plaid skirts and vests, the girls simultaneously danced with flawless synchrony. Never once did the smiles on their face slip, even as their routine grew incredibly complex and fast-paced, prompting them to jump and twirl on stage to compliment the music's climbing beat.
Ruby felt her breath hitch, enraptured by the utter joy on their expressions as they performed for their fans – who were equally as energised by the pulsating music.
As soon as the first song ended, the crowd went wild, cheering and hollering for their favourite member. In spite of that, the quintet shifted gears and without missing a beat, used the energy from the previous song's finish as a pivot, immediately shifting into a hip-hop inspired dance intro for their second number precisely as the next intense song started playing.
The enthusiasm that electrified the air in the form of their fans' relentless yet harmonic cries, coupled with the song's simple yet memorable tune and the exuberant idols, sent a thrill of exhilaration through Ruby's body. Her heart began to palpitate erratically as she was whisked away by the zeal, and she subconsciously pumped her free arm lightly along to the beat of the current song.
She didn't even realise how she was no longer staring at five young, peppy girls buzz about. Instead, she found herself in a trance, watching a beautiful middle-aged woman at the mic belt out a song to her ardent fans as her long black locks covered her eyes. Not once did Ruby take her eyes off the woman, even when they began to water and sting from the biting chill; she was awestricken by the gorgeous lady who made a home on the platform, emitting comfort, poise and pure joy from her aura as she paced around the stage, gently swaying and moving to the melody. Ruby's mouth opened slightly – unconsciously – as she continued to gape at the singer, so spellbound by her performance that Ruby didn't even realise that she was holding in her breath.
As the woman crooned her last line, and the music began to fade out, her eyes slowly opened to reveal loving greys that stared straight at the nineteen-year-old. She flashed Ruby a warm smile.
Ruby exhaled in a rush as she finally blinked, snapping out her daze.
Something pricked at her eyes, though this time, it wasn't because of the cold November gust. The aspiring performer screwed her eyes shut.
Her mother. Her mother had brought her to one of her final performances when Ruby was just five. She watched as her mother – her guardian, her best friend, her role model, her everything – shine on stage; how she had looked and felt so happy, and how her audience had shared those feelings too.
How she had been touched by them too.
Ruby could never forget the torrid of emotions that had been invoked by her mother's breathtaking performance and welled up in her even until now.
She wanted to be capable of that as well.
"Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for attending our concert today!" she faintly heard from the stage. "We hope you've enjoyed our live, and we want to wrap it up with one final song! Is that okay with everyone?"
The rabid cheers were drowned out by her loud, ceaseless thoughts.
Her mother, much like her dreams, had always felt so close, yet so far. But when her mother had left her, it appeared as if they had only drifted further away, until Ruby could no longer reach either of them.
And so her memory slowly started to fade, just as her hopes began to dim, with each rejection she had been slapped with, with every attempt that had come to naught.
However, she remembered now.
It all came rushing back. This was why she wanted to be an idol. Not for the fame, nor the glory. She didn't need the recognition, and thought little of the money.
Those things were inconsequential; mere by-products of her dream. She wanted to be an idol like her mother. So she could spread joy and cheer. So she could be closer to her mother, to reach the stars.
To be amidst them and their warm, soothing comfort.
And she wouldn't let anything, or anyone, get in her way of that goal.
She refused to be disheartened by her failures; rejected the notion of giving up on her dreams. She was Ruby Rose!
She was her mother's daughter.
Nodding to herself, she felt once again filled to the brim with the confidence and vigour she thought had been crushed into fine dust and lost to the wind. Mentally thanking the idol group for their help, and wishing them all the best, Ruby walked away just as they began their next song. The aspiring idol lifted her coffee – which she had all but forgotten about until that moment of clarity – to her lips and took a sip. A beat passed before she pulled the cup away from her mouth and blanched.
It had gone cold.
Ruby trudged back to her apartment with a pout, staring down at the stale latte she had wasted.
Even the rediscovery of her drive wasn't enough to perk the girl up; not when she had technically lost seven and a half dollars in the process.
Coffee was too expensive, Ruby mulled sadly to herself, aimlessly swirling the cup in her hands. She knew that her sister would laugh at her worrying and offer to cover the costs in her stead, but it didn't make Ruby feel any better. 'Basic commodities shouldn't be so pricey!' she thought indignantly, her cheeks puffing out. And yet they jacked up the prices because of monopoly… or something.
Her colleague had tried to explain it to her, but she was never good at board games.
Busy with her musing, the crestfallen girl failed to notice a sharply dressed man stopped in the middle of the sidewalk in front of her apartment building, fiddling with his phone. Thus, it was only natural that Ruby would bump into the man and accidentally spill her coffee on the male's pressed suit. She stumbled back and stuttered an apology, dropping her now mostly-empty cup onto the ground to fumble for some sort of drying agent on her person. Realising she had nothing to wipe the spill clean with, the young female panicked and grabbed one end of her scarf, futilely scrubbing it against the bespoke jacket regardless of the fact that most of the liquid had already been absorbed into the wool.
Ruby continued to ramble apology after apology, until one of the man's hands came up and loosely gripped her wrist, pulling her arm away and making her drop her scarf in the process. That was when she became aware of the way his shoulders shook, and heard his light chuckles.
Glancing up resulted in a high-pitched yelp from the girl as she jerked away. She recognised the bespectacled man, although the crooked smile was new; he was completely stoic during the interview hours ago.
The man tilted his head. "Are you alright, child? Did I hurt you?"
"N-no!" Ruby stammered, frantically waving her hands to dispel the notion. "W-w-what are you doing here, sir? A-and I'm so sorry, I-I didn't mean to spill– how much do I have to pay to compensate–"
He chortled and shook his head. "You owe me nothing, Ruby Rose, other than an answer."
Gears whirred and alarms blared in Ruby's head as she stared bug-eyed in terror. "A-answer?" she squeaked. She gulped, feeling sweat bead on her armpits in spite of the cool weather. Her mind raced a mile a minute, burning through a long list of mistakes that she could have potentially done at the meeting. What err did she make that could have been devastating enough to cause one of the board members to personally travel to her residence? Had she offended their family? Or perhaps she went to the wrong bathroom? Or what if she had stepped on a step that shouldn't have been stepped on?
"Ruby?" the male gently prompted.
Said girl squealed, lifting her arms up to cover her head as she shrunk away, countenance akin to that of a cornered mouse.
He laughed uncomfortably, scratching his chin with remorse. "Please calm down," he said, tone apologetic after having read the various expressions – shock, fear, hysteria – Ruby's face contorted to. "Perhaps I should have phrased that a little better. I simply wanted to offer a place in my company as an idol trainee."
One of Ruby's eyes cracked open slightly as her body relaxed, enough so that she could peep out of the hole between her forearms. "H-huh?"
"Are you sure you want to be an idol, Ruby Rose?" the man asked, stepping closer to the nervous girl who was slowly dropping her arms back to her sides. "It's not all fun and games," he warned, staring into disbelieving and befuddled grey eyes. "Hours will be gruelling, and the industry is chocked full of bloodthirsty hounds. Not to mention the persistent media."
The man bent down low enough to be at eye-level with the stupefied nineteen-year-old. "You will never be the same person that you were before going into the business," he gravely cautioned. "Can you say, without a doubt in your mind, that you are willing to toss aside any semblance of normality for a shot at stardom you may not even receive?"
He leaned in closer – close enough for their noses to almost touch. "Are you certain you wish to risk it all for a chance at nothing?" he whispered, stressing the gravity of the situation.
Ruby gulped. She was sweating under her jacket, her nerves were frayed, and her body trembled a touch, but her gaze never wavered as she replied in a voice just as hushed, "Yes."
He narrowed his piercing brown eyes. "Why?"
As if she were in a trance, Ruby confidently replied without pause, "Because it's always been my dream to make others smile."
The man remained unreadable. "And what makes you think you'll succeed?"
Her head shook subtly, though her eyes remained locked onto the grey-haired man's. "I don't think," she mumbled, not at all thrown or scared off by the remark, "I know."
The man pulled away slowly and straightened his form, all the while eyeing the abruptly serious female with an equally sober expression. He took his time brushing down his coat – avoiding the blotch of coffee in the process – before he adjusted his cufflinks and asked, "Do you know who I am?"
Ruby nodded once. "Of course. You're Ozpin, owner and founder of Vale Records." Her lips twitched. "It was on your name card back at the interview," she quipped.
A ghost of a smile played across Ozpin's face. "Correct," he affirmed.
"And we could use someone like yourself under our label."
AN: New project, start!
This has been in the works for months, and I'm glad I can finally release the first chapter to the public.
I realise that the 'idol' concept is foreign in most parts of the world. However, I'll be stripping away a lot of its intricacy and blending it with more Westernised ideas, in hopes that there'll be a mix of familiarity and discovery as we go along.
For anyone who couldn't stand the slow-burn romance of WFLT (assuming you've read my other RWBY stories), fair warning now: this story is likely not for you. It has, without a doubt, a slow buildup.
However, if you enjoyed the burn, or are willing to stick around regardless, thank you so much. I hope FFTB lives up to any expectations there may be, and that it pleases those who read it.