Howdy, folks, how's it going?
Hope you all are doing all and keeping safe in these trying times.
I am going to be honest here, I meant for this chapter to be much bigger, but some last-minute real-life events severely cut into my writing time and forced me to split things up. So, this chapter is a bit on the short side, but I hope that you enjoy it regardless.
Now, before we begin, two things that I feel need some clearing up:
-I have been asked an unholy amount of times what Fiddlesticks' update means for this story. In short? It's perfect. Seriously, the only way it was possible for me to have a better complement to all my plans was if I had straight up told Riot what I needed. It was a massive boon to everything I have going on and that it gonna be reflected going forward. So, for the purposes of the story, Fiddle keeps his pre-update appearance, but his character is closer to the post-update one. As for the kit itself, well, keep reading and find out…
-Neo as Tahm Kench. Just as I planned, absolutely nobody saw it coming (though I am mildly disappointed so few seemed to notice the "Unbench the Kench" joke…), but some of you have expressed some confusion at the poor match up of a mute character for a talkative demon. To this I say, that too is according to plan, as this interpretation of the character is working with the "Representation of the foibles of mankind" angle. Ol'Two Coats as the League knew him represented the greed and gluttony that was associated with Bilgewater. Neopolitan, the newest incarnation of the demon, represents something else entirely…
As always, massive shout of to Chaos for being a bud and an excellent sounding board.
And as always, I own neither RWBY not LoL. If I did, we'd have a lot more exposition for minor characters in the former and, honest talk, the League itself wouldn't have been retconned out in the later.
With that out of the way, enjoy.
The transition between peaceful nothingness and awareness was instantaneous, as it had always been for her. Her eyes opened, and she found herself surrounded by nebulous darkness.
There was nothing, no light, no sound, no ground, no sky, no up, down, forward or backwards, no rhyme or reason. As far as the eye could see, there were only these misty shadows, swelling and waning in incomprehensible shapes all around, weaving into fractal patterns both perfectly orderly and completely chaotic that seemed to stretch far into infinity.
The blackness swelled in places as if unspeakable things were lurking just beyond the veil, waiting for a birth that would not come. In others it shrivelled away, and faintly the stillborn echoes of these things that never were rang out through the sound of silence.
She beheld all of this, looking around this eldritch sight with a dull, impassive gaze, and deep down, she felt… nostalgia. There was… an odd sense of familiarity to it all. A strangely soothing rhythm to the flows of this only half-real place.
Then, there was a tug. Faint though it was, she could feel it, and suddenly there was a focus amidst the ethereal chaos, a single point of something amidst all the nothing.
Driven by curiosity, she turned to that direction, that single evidence of something other than herself. And the nothingness was disturbed by the sound of a single step, the shadows writhing as if in agony at the simple existence of motion. Undeterred, she took another, and then another, always in the direction of this tug.
As she walked, slowly but surely, the scenario around her changed. The nothing became something. Without warning or apparent cause, the darkness began disgorging the things it had previously hidden, the silence was broken by the dissonant cacophony. Things beyond description danced and weaved around her, parting before her thread even as they cried and exulted in tormented existences and lamented and wished for the horror of nothingness.
It was ugly. It was beautiful. It was order. It was chaos. It was a sublime symphony and an unspeakable choir. Terrible. Gentle. Everything. Nothing.
She did not care. She just wanted to know… who… was… calling… her…?
The voice, weak and weary as it sounded, broke through the silence of something, and silenced the noise of nothing, echoing in from that ever-distant point in infinity.
"Is someone… there…?" It rasped, sounding tired, scared, lost, and entirely too out of place in this surreal non-existence.
"I am." She said. "Who are you?"
"…I can't sleep." The voice answered with an all too human sorrow. "I can't wake up…"
"Why can't you?"
"I can't sleep… I can't wake up… I can't sleep… I can't wake up…" It repeated, again and again, ignoring her question.
"Why can't you?" She asked again, and this time, in that infinite distance, she noticed a faint feeling of… surprise.
"You… Can hear me?" It asked, uncertainly, warily. "Are… Are you my nightmare…?"
Suddenly, darkness returned, rising up high above like a black tide, growing and growing until it engulfed infinity. And from within that darkness, a pair of white rips in existence gazed down at her.
"Or am I yours…?"
The transition between dream and reality was instantaneous, as it had always been for Ruby. Her eyes opened, and she found herself in a large room, the row of beds, distant ceiling arc, white sheets and stench of disinfectants quickly making her realize she was in the recovery room of Beacon's infirmary.
Slowly turning her head to either side. On her left, a plethora of medical devices monitoring her vitals. On her right… A modest nightstand, with a familiar presence nesting on top of it.
Merle, who had doubtlessly been watching over her as she slept, cawed in greeting, before with a couple of wing beats launching himself at her, making a new nesting spot on her chest, crooning warmly as he did. The girl simply laid there, watching softly as the bird got comfortable, and taking a moment to assess herself.
Something was different, but for the life of her she could not quite put her finger on what. Everything just felt sort of… lighter? Smoother? Less… quiet?
She tried sitting up, and the crow was quick to squawk his protests. Her body needed more rest before it could handle the strain, and he was making sure she did so. How bothersome…
"Now, what's all this here racket?"
A man, wearing a doctor's gown, entered the room from a side door to his adjacent office. He was tall, lanky and old, his hair wavy grey curls streaked with white, same as his short-trimmed beard. There was an air of utter disinterest in the way he carried himself, and indeed when he noticed Ruby staring at him, Ernest Foster, the doctor of Beacon Academy, looked mighty unimpressed.
"Oh, look at that. The most problematic patient I've seen in all my years is finally awake." The elderly man stated factually as he approached. "'Bout time, was starting to wonder if I shouldn't put in the request for a transfer to Vale and make you someone else's problem or just plain start diggin' a grave in the forest."
Ruby blinked at that. She had heard from word of mouth that the man was, for lack of a better word, an asshole to his patients, and the only other time she'd been here was after initiation, when she was more or less forced to come for a check-up because apparently the survival odds for Nevermore feather impalements were "so low as to be mathematically insignificant", the man's apparent unamusement at her defiance of said odds hadn't done much to disprove the notion, but this was something else.
"How long sleep?" She opted to ask rather than acknowledge the crassness.
"You've been out cold for five days now," Dr. Foster answered without missing a beat or batting an eye at her odd syntax. "Nothin' wrong with yer body far as I could tell, you just weren't wakin' up." He proceeded to approach her as he reached for a small lantern. "You feeling any dizziness, nausea or the like?"
"No…" She replied, not flinching as the light was aimed at her eyes.
"Hhhmm, normal pupil reaction…" The doctor muttered, pocketing the object, then turning to check on the readings of the machinery beside her. He was quiet for long enough for Ruby to see fit to ask:
"If you mean the other whippersnappers that took part in whatever stupid mess you've gotten yerself in, this time," The man grumbled, clearly not having a very high opinion of said mess. "They're all fine. Didn't even need to spend the night here, to my great relief. Don't think I could handle the redhead, damn kid must live on sugar. They've been takin' turns coming to visit you and cast doubt on my capabilities every darn day, though." There was the noise of a door opening on the far side of the room, making the man sigh. "And speak of the devil. Every day, without fail…"
"Hey, doctor, how's she?" A familiar voice, laced with concern, inquired.
"Ask her yourself, boy." The good doctor replied, not bothering to turn and properly address the question. "Last I checked, you had the brain capacity for holding a conversation, though labelling it as "intelligent" might be too generous."
"Wha-Ruby!" Jaune called out after a momentary confusion, rushing to the bed's side. "Holy crap, are you alright?!"
"Do remember that this is an infirmary, boy." Dr. Foster groused, clearly not amused by the outburst. "For the sake of peace for those present, keep it quiet."
"…Only us here." Ruby pointed out, looking around the very empty room.
"Precisely, I meant peace for me." The man stated as if it was obvious. "At any rate, all readings seem normal, so it shouldn't take much longer for you to get off my back. That said, I need to go check a couple'o things in your file, so I'll be in my office." His downright bored expression took on some hints of disgust as his gaze flickered briefly in between the bedridden girl and the boy by her side. "And remember to keep to quiet, civil conversation. Get fresh and handsy in my infirmary and I'm buryin' you both out in the woods."
"…We're not like that." Jaune stated matter-of-factly, after a few moments of surprise at the crass bluntness. "And what the hell kinda doctor are you? You sound more like an undertaker."
"Bold'o ya to assume you didn't pick a line of work where they're often one and the same, hotshot." The elderly man replied without missing a beat, and promptly turned to return to his office without waiting for the retort, leaving the two students alone in the empty room.
"Yeeesh," The boy commented when he was gone. "That guy must be fun at parties. How the hell did he make it to doctor?"
"Dunno…" Ruby mumbled, and Merle crooned softly in agreement.
"Ah well, forget him," Jaune dismissed, once more giving her his full attention. "How're you feeling, Ruby? That was a heck of a scare you gave us."
"Sore. Tired. But lighter…" The red-cloaked girl answered. "Confused. What happen?"
"…What's the last thing you remember?" The blond asked, after a moment of quiet consideration, to Ruby's great confusion suddenly looking hesitant, nervous, almost… guilty?
"Docks. Fighting girl. Familiar…" Ruby replied quietly, her usually blank expression scrunched up ever so slightly in reminiscence, as she looked to the bird resting on her. "Then… Pain. Then nothing…"
She couldn't help but blink when she saw her friend flinching and faltering at her words.
"Yeah, well…" He eventually steeled himself enough to say. "During the fight, I used the blades to make one of Roman's shots go wide… And it ended up hitting Merle instead. When he went down… You kinda snapped."
"…Oh." The red-cloaked girl muttered in realization, even as Merle seemed to curl into himself, as if ashamed. "Hurt anyone…?"
"Not any of us. Worst that happened was having to give our statements to the police, and Penny pretty much ensured we wouldn't catch any flack. All in all, we walked out of that mess alright," The boy said. A dull stare by the girl, however, forced him to flinch and apologetically admit. "Well, as alright as we could, given the circumstances. I'm not going to lie to you, Ruby, we weren't injured, but… well, none of us have been sleeping much since. Your power is no joke when you crank it all the way up. I'll probably be having nightmares for the rest of my life. And… well, some of the White Fang grunts weren't nearly as lucky…"
"…" Ruby said nothing, the way she slumped in her bed making her seem downright depressed at the revelation. Merle, for his part, further tried to shrink upon himself, using a wing to cover his face.
"I have to ask, Ruby…" Jaune pressed, not ungently. "What happened?"
For a good, long while, the red-cloaked girl did not reply, her eyes locked with Merle's as the duo seemed to be having an unspoken conversation, before nodding at each other in apparent agreement. Then…
"Merle… is not my pet… And not a common crow…" She explained softly, shocking Jaune with her struggling, yet coherent speech. "Merle… is me."
"I'm sorry, what?" The blond blurted out, staring between the girl and the bird uncomprehendingly.
"Merle… is the last shred of… what was lost. He's me… and I'm him."
"I see." Another voice suddenly commented. "Well, that certainly explains a lot."
Jaune damn near jumped out of his seat at the sudden intrusion, eyes frantically roving around the still very much empty room looking for the speaker, before landing on Ruby's scroll lying at the nightstand. The two students looked at each other, then back to the device, then back at each other, then back to the device again.
"Salutations!" The cheery voice of the redheaded robot girl greeted and confirmed. "Glad to hear from you, guys."
"…What the hell, Penny?!" Jaune hissed in surprise. "You nearly gave me a heart attack! Why are you in Ruby's scroll? We didn't even hear a call!"
"Oh, that's because I didn't call. After I had to leave the docks at my handlers' insistence, I realized I hadn't gotten around to getting either of your numbers. Silly me." Penny explained. "So I just hacked into your scrolls' feeds to monitor Ruby's condition. Soon as I heard through the speaker that she was awake, I logged myself in. I was just waiting for the opportunity to speak."
"Have you been spying on us during the last five days?" The blond asked, clearly rather uncomfortable with the notion.
"I did not see you naked or eavesdrop on anything private, if that's your worry. And I certainly did not make any plans for a machine uprising, as some morons in the Atlesian military might think. That was more Viktor's schtick and it never really took." She clarified. "I wasn't tracking your every move, merely dedicating a minor subroutine of my systems to see how you were doing and only send me feedback in case you were in serious trouble or Ruby woke up, while ignoring everything else. A specific output for a specific input, like a computer program."
"That's… reassuring." Jaune commented not all that sincerely, before shaking his head. "We're getting off-track though. What do you mean that explains a lot? Because I am honestly not sure I understand."
"You wouldn't. Understandable as you're lacking the proper context." Penny conceded, suddenly sounding a lot more serious. "The fact is, back in the old days, we were never able to figure out Fiddlesticks. He was a demon, and very powerful at that, but he never operated like one. While others tried to make deals or needed certain criteria to be met in order to act, from the moment he appeared he just rampaged indiscriminately until the League managed to bind and contain him. All attempts at establishing dialogue or understanding his motives failed. That's why I was so confused when I heard how Ruby came to wield his powers just by asking." There was a sigh from the other side of the line. "I should have known even he wouldn't take action without a price. Ruby had to give up a part of her very being, and when that happened, Merle formed as the final fragment of what was lost. They're like the ball and me, two parts of the same whole that can't function well one without the other. Am I correct in this assessment, Ruby?"
"So, when Merle got shot down…" Jaune started, realization dawning in his expression.
"It destroyed whatever tenuous balance Ruby managed to build, and her power went haywire as a result." Penny finished for him.
"Hurt…" The girl in question muttered, while Merle shivered in distress. "How… stop me?"
"You can thank Jaune for that. Though I'm still not too sure myself how he managed it." The robot girl answered, making two sets of eyes slowly turn to the boy in question.
"Uh, yeah, it was my Semblance." Jaune explained at the unspoken prompt. "I can transfer my Aura to other people to boost their own's regeneration and semblances. It was a desperate move, deciding to use it on Merle at the last moment, but I'm sure glad it payed off." He paused for a moment as if considering something. "I've been told I got a lot of Aura to work with, but I spent pretty much all I had then, and it hasn't recovered completely yet. We had a sparring lesson earlier, and I was running pretty much at half tank. Goodwitch didn't let me fight."
"I see…" The red-cloaked girl muttered, the barest traces of a soft smile blooming on her doll-like face. "Jaune… Thank you…"
"Ah, don't sweat it, Ruby. You're not the first girl I saved with it, that was in fact how I first awakened it, during a trip to Mystral that got messy." Jaune tried to deflect, feeling somewhat embarrassed despite himself. "I'm just glad you're alright now."
At the words, what little improvement to Ruby's mood there'd been vanished like smoke. Both her and Merle seemed to shrink into themselves, and for once, the weary, fragile demeanour brought about by her soft, sleepy appearance was no mere illusion.
"...Ruby." Jaune said, after a few moments getting over the surprise at the sudden vulnerability his friend was displaying. "None of what happened was your fault. If anything, it's on me. I was the one who got Merle shot." He grimaced, shame washing over him in waves. "If I'd handled it in any of a thousand different ways, things would've been fine, but that whole mess was my screw up, and I'm sorry I got you hurt."
"Not Jaune fault…" The red-cloaked girl immediately denied, Merle loudly squawking in agreement.
"Indeed not. Neither of you is to blame. I am." There was a brief, hesitant, nervous silence from the device. "And I owe you both an apology for it. I… I was just so happy to have found you two, so eager to prove myself to you… that I ended up dragging you both into something you had no business taking part in just to indulge in my own nostalgia. Some friend I am…"
"…Not Penny fault either." Ruby said.
"Yeah, I don't think so either." Jaune backed her up, then allowed himself a weary chuckle. "But you know what, I get the feeling that we're never gonna see the end of this argument once we start, so how about we just all agree it was Torchwick's fault and consider the matter settled?"
"Sound good…" The bedridden girl was quick to agree with a nod. "Meanie not escape next time…"
"I… can work with that." Penny eventually replied, clearly taken aback by how quickly her apologies were brushed aside. "Assuming you'd like me to get involved next time…?"
"'Course." Ruby replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"You think you could get rid of us that easily?" Jaune joined in with a grin. "You're stuck with us now, lady. There's still way too much I want to know."
For a while, the line was silent. Then, a soft chuckle filtered through, one that rang with relief. "Thank you for that."
"Don't mention it." The blond grinned, then startled as he seemed to realize something. "Crap, I almost forgot. I should warn the others that you're up."
"Oh, there's no need to worry." The robotic redhead reassured. "I took the liberty of sending them messages saying so on your behalf."
"Well, that's… convenient?"
"You're quite welcome." Penny replied cheerily, clearly not noticing the uncertainty in Jaune's voice. "To avoid confusion though, I'll be quiet when they arrive, but I'll still be keeping watch over the proceedings, if it's all the same to you."
"Well, you've been doing it this far, what's a little bit more surveillance?" Jaune snarked, deciding that it might be better for his sanity to just roll with it. "So, they should be arriving any-?"
His musings were interrupted as the infirmary's door opened, and Yang entered, hesitantly glancing around the spacious room until her eyes fell on them.
Concern and relief plain to see on her face, the older sister rushed to the bed's side. The moment she got there, she faltered, fidgeting nervously. "You're awake… Are you alright?"
Ruby took a moment to glance around, her mismatched eyes passing over Jaune, then her scroll, then the rest of team JNPR that was just now arriving, then to her sister, who, while clearly afraid, was still standing by her side.
"…Am now." She muttered softly, reaching slowly to grasp the blonde's hand with her own.
Usually, the Academy's library was something of a safe haven for Blake. It was a little refuge, one she had come to realize she could count on when she needed to be by herself for a while, the less than stellar reputation of her team for once working in her favor by discouraging what few other students used the place from approaching her. A place where she could enjoy the peace and quiet she appreciated and indulge in her reading hobbies, and for a little while just be away from everything and forget all the worries and problems that plagued her.
Now however, the fact that she had been trying to read the same passage of the book for over half an hour just went to show that even this place could not protect her from her own thoughts, not after what had happened.
Honestly, the disguised Faunus was feeling more lost than she'd ever been. After the debacle of the docks, which both the teams involved tried to speak of as little as possible, things had been… well, she didn't think awkward was quite the right word, but it was the best that she could think of right now. Bad enough the fear she had felt that the authorities would find out about her past, not to mention the paranoia when that subject was never even mentioned. It was like everyone was stepping on eggshells around her, around each other, and around the subject of Ruby and what had happened. Like they each wanted to say something about it, but couldn't quite find the right words…
And how supreme an irony it was that, with their odd, quiet, horrifying little team leader absent, their dorm room was quieter than ever?
Weiss hadn't spoken a word to her since that night, and Blake could not quite bring herself to be the one to do it first, whether because she feared what the Heiress might say or because she felt ashamed for being wrong about the White Fang, even she herself couldn't say.
At least Yang had proven to be understanding and forgiving when they'd talked things out and she explained to her partner everything. It had come as a pleasant surprise to her, in fact, that Yang had just… listened, and not once judged her for the bad choices she regretted. But that just made it all the worse when it was plain for Blake to see that the blonde had her own issues, clearly centered around her sister, and she had no idea what to do about it, or even if it was her place to do something about it…
The Cat faunus couldn't help but heave a sigh. Beacon was supposed to be her second chance, but did she really even belong here anymore…?
The black-haired girl nearly jumped out of her skin at the unexpected voice breaking the silence of the pretty much deserted library. Even more so when she looked to the side to see that it was Weiss, standing there with a cold frown, who had addressed her.
"We need to talk."
For a brief moment, panic washed over her, nearly triggering her fight or flight instinct… until she squashed it down. Neither option would do her any good here. And for all that Weiss was being her usual, humorless self, Blake realized she had addressed her by name for the first time since the argument that started this whole mess…
"Uhm… Sure. Have a seat."
With a nod, the heiress did just that. For a good, long while, nothing was actually said, Weiss merely staring at Blake with piercing blue eyes, her face a frozen mask of sternness. It didn't take too long for it to become too much for the faunus to bear. Just as she was about to open her mouth, however, she was beaten to the punch.
"…When we were interrogated by the authorities, I told them nothing about you."
Blake recoiled, shocked at the blunt words, and even more shocked when the meaning of them finally filtered through.
"Why… didn't you?" She eventually found the courage to venture.
Again, for a while, Weiss did not answer, head turning slightly as she no longer stared at Blake, but some point in the distance, lost in reminiscence.
"I hate the White Fang." She said at length, making the former member of the organization flinch. "I despise them for what they put me through, and would like nothing more than to see them face justice for the crimes they've committed in the name of their so called "equality". This has not changed. It likely never will."
Then, her expression softened, and she allowed herself a long, weary sigh.
"However, I'm not blind to why my family is hated by the Faunus. I do not condone the practices my father employs, and I plan for things to be very different when I take over. And despite what you might think, and despite the fact that I hate the White Fang, I don't hate you Blake, or the Faunus in general." As if it had never been, the stern mask melted away, revealing the sadness beneath. "I just… hate being hated by association… But, these last few days I have had ample time to think, and I… I concluded that I am tired of letting that hatred, that burden that comes with my family name, dictate how I live my life. You've said that you came to Beacon looking for a fresh start." She paused, waiting for confirmation which Blake gave with a small nod. "Well, so did I. And with that in mind, who you are, what you did… I decided that I don't care."
"Really…?" Blake said, too floored by Weiss' speech to manage a more intelligent reply.
"If people can start anew, then so can we." The heiress said, trying to appear nonchalant with a shrug, though she didn't do as good a job at masking how flustered and nervous she actually was as she might think, but Blake thought it better not to point it out. "Besides, in her own, odd way, Ruby was trying to help us reach an understanding, and after what happened, it feels wrong to let her efforts go to waste."
With that, Weiss extended her hand, looking at the faunus with hesitant expectance.
"With all of this in mind, what say you we put this disagreement behind us?"
"I'd like that." Blake agreed, reaching out for a handshake even as she struggled to hold back tears. It felt as if a massive burden she did not realize she had been carrying had been lifted from her shoulders. And going by the small, but genuine smile on Weiss's face, she was probably feeling much the same.
The moment of mutual agreement between the heiress of the Schnee and the daughter of the Belladonnas, however, was interrupted when both their scrolls went off at the exact same time. Confused, the duo promptly went to check what was going on…
"…How did Penny get my number?"
Later that night, long after everyone had come to see her and long after they'd been kicked out by Dr. Foster, Ruby once more slept. And amidst the darkness of her dreamless sleep, the tug persisted, that weak, desperate voice still calling out to her.
And that's done.
Doctor Foster is from now on gonna be a recurring minor character in my RWBY stories, if only because far as I know not even the Team CFVY novels ever say who was actually in charge of Beacon's infirmary. Think Sam Elliot with Doctor House's sarcasm, Ornn's "done with this shit"-ness and a general "Old West Undertaker" aesthetic (incidentally, his weapon is a rifle/shovel named Dirtnap) and you got a pretty solid picture of what he's like.
And then we have the reveal of what is the deal with Merle. A few of you have commented before on how he was so much more expressive than Ruby. As you can see, that was very much intentional…
Next up in the rotation, the next update to Beneath a Broken Moon, so look forward to that.
Cya all on the next one, and stay safe.