Seventeen gears of polished perfection.
Some engineers will be surprised at that, some even disdainful, but the true artisan knows it is not complexity but simplicity that marks a masterpiece. Seventeen gears held by thirty-four links of chain – twenty six-gauge links, eight five-gauge, five four-gauge, and one three-gauge – powered by an alternating solenoid Dust amplifier one-and-a-half inches in diameter, all concealed beneath a triple-reinforced titanium skeleton hardened by a two-percent carbon solution of steel.
Ruby is twelve years old when she makes it.
"Not bad," Qrow said. "But mine only has eight."
So she goes back to the blueprints. She takes apart her weapon with the glee of a child unwrapping a Christmas present. The bevel gears will have to go, and of course the helical gears as well – that still leaves thirteen. But the three hypoids and two crowns can be replaced by two double helical gears, and once those are gone the epycyclics are no longer needed, and once the epycyclics are gone the two worm drives can be coupled together to bring the final number down to eight. The gauges, of course, will need complete reconfiguration, but the benefit is that she can fit a slightly larger Dust amplifier – a nitrogen dielectric capacitor capable of one-point-four times amplification – which in turn requires a zero-point-two percent increase in the percent weight by carbon of the steel formula.
It is poetry.
"Well, Ruby, you've done a marvelous job," Qrow says when she shows him the improved weapon. "In making one weapon."
He holds up his own scythe. He presses something near the handle, and there is a soft click followed by a series of whirrs, and Ruby watches in amazement as the scythe-blade retracts into the sheath. The haft segments and folds onto itself to create a long, slender barrel as long as her arm, its surface a deep crimson that undulates under the light. The single grip has expanded into two smaller grips on the underside of the barrel. The broad head tapers into an ornate red handle, which Qrow is holding casually with one hand, pointing the weapon straight at Ruby.
She realizes she is staring down the barrel of a gun.
"Maybe in a few years, kid," Qrow says, hefting the gun over his shoulder. "Nothing wrong with just a scythe. At your age."
She spends the entire night disassembling her weapon again. This time, she tears into it like a scavenging animal, paying no heed to which parts go where. She will need to start again from the beginning. A scythe that is not a scythe. How can the rigid components of a melee weapon retract into the intricate components of a gun? No doubt a series of spiral bevel gears was responsible for the transformation, driven by a rotating transaxle shaft connected to a Dust engine, but what could possibly provide the stability…
Qrow watches her with a smile on his face.
"Try starting from the other end."
She smacks her head against the table. Of course it is easier to turn a car into a heap of scrap metal than to turn a heap of scrap metal into a car. The gun cannot be fully automatic – the heat generated by constant compression of the cylinders is too much for the delicate transformative framework to handle. A semi-auto then, but the slow fire rate can be made up for by using fifty-caliber bullets at the cost of severe recoil. The rest is merely filling in the pieces. A fifty-cal would require a forty-five inch barrel, which itself must be balanced by an eight-pound handle and zero-point-nine pound grip. Groove rifling should occur at one turn per ten inches, but so much empty space will decrease the scythe handle's rigidity, so one turn per nine inches will be the most she can get away with. There is just enough room to fit the alternating solenoid Dust amplifier and connect it with the rest of the machine via approximately three hundred feet of circuitry – braided wire, made from three strands of copper and two strands of magnesium and one half-strand of earthen processed Dust, designed for ninety-nine-point-eight percent conductivity.
Now all she has to do is make it transform.
For weeks she stews over the problem. The fundamental paradox is that there are too many sliding parts – the intricate, delicate parts required for a transformation would render the weapon too fragile to be used as scythe or a gun. The thing will destroy itself. She could simply combine both weapons into one, like putting an apple and an orange into a bag and picking out whichever one you liked at the moment, but the result would be unwieldy and, above all else, inelegant. No, the gun and the scythe cannot be separated; one is the other, the other is the one. She pesters her uncle to show her his scythe again. He says she has already seen enough, even though a single demonstration is nowhere near enough to grasp the fundamental transformative machinery –
She remembers the color.
She remembers the color of her uncle's weapon, and she remembers the color of her mother's hair. A deep crimson that ripples like water. Of the weapon or her mother, she is not sure which is more dangerous. A pair of hands that held her close. A pair of hands rough with calluses from years of handling weapons, lined with scars like trenches on a battlefield, neither smooth nor beautiful. But a mother is perfect to her daughter. Ruby has gone to the grave once before, shortly after her mother's death, when all her tears have been cried out and there is only hollowness left in her chest. She had looked for anything to fill it, and had found it in her uncle's workshop.
She remembers the scent of flowers and a voice as beautiful as the moon.
She remembers the lullaby:
Now it's time to say goodbye
To the things we loved
And the innocence of youth
How the time seemed to fly
From our carefree lives
And the solitude and peace we always knew
The solution pierces her skull with the force of a fifty-caliber bullet.
She assembles all the components. The trigger and the handle will serve as the grip. The mount rail will serve as the blade. The barrel will serve as the shaft. The battery is an eighty-millimeter direct current Dust amplifier, amplification lens of only zero-point-zero-eight, connected to each component via two thousand feet of circuitry – wires only microns in diameter, so thin as to be invisible, which without the protection of her instruments even the stray winds generated by her breath can shatter like a hammer through a glass rod – painstakingly assembled over two months and designed for ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-three percent conductivity. The transformation will be driven by a free-rotating dead axle, not a transaxle as she had first assumed, connected to a spiral bevel gear that is connected to a double helical gear that is connected to the handle. The same spiral bevel gear is connected to another series of gears ultimately with the mount rail at its midway and the barrel at its end. Once the transformation is initiated, the spiral bevel gear will couple the handle's cleavage process, which in turn will ignite the mount rail's compression process, which in turn will trigger the barrel's folding process, like a line of dominos toppling down until the destination is many miles from the starting point.
For the masterstroke: She pricks her thumb with a nail.
She holds her thumb over the Dust amplifier. Her blood trickles down into the thimble-sized storage device. When it meets the ashen Dust there is an ignition, a single split second of flame so brief and bright her eyes still see the splotchy afterimages. The Dust dissolves, triggered by the fraction of her Aura present in her blood, and all there is left in the container is liquid. Trembling, Ruby presses the button near the handle. The weapon hums to life. The gated channels open and her Dust-soaked blood floods the circuitry, all two thousand feet of them, a river diverting into thousands of streams, lighting up the surface until the skin is deep crimson.
And on the periphery of feeling, Ruby feels the weapon as part of her. It is her blood that travels through its wires; it is her Aura infusing its organs. She wills. She feels the gears straining, threatening to pop from their sockets as the world of the machine begins to twist apart. She wills it to hold. The sensation is like having a third arm. The sensation is like having a second heart, like learning to walk, like flipping a switch and watching lightning comes alive. The first gear trembles under her pressure, resists, gives away, slowly begins to spin; the handles split apart. The second gear clicks against the first. She pushes it along, grinding each gear-tooth against one another, through two revolutions, four, eight, sixteen – the mount rail sharpens. The final series of gears is the most difficult, a heavy double helical connected to a single tiny epicyclic, and it is like digging her nail into a balloon, to use as much force as possible without popping it. She manages it at last, an unnoticed stream of blood flowing from her nose as she hears the last gear hum with a music more beautiful than any instrument. The barrel folds in itself, resting against one end of a sharpened blade.
She stares at the scythe.
(Years later, when Weiss mockingly declares that Ruby loves her weapon as if it is her own flesh and blood, Weiss – whose Myrtenaster has been bought with a king's ransom – will never understand just how close she is to the truth.)
The next morning, when Ruby shows Qrow the completed weapon along with the transformation, he does not mock her. He does not give her another goal. Instead, he pats her head, smiles sadly, and walks away.
Because he knows that a twelve-year old girl has no business making a weapon that can be the pride of weathered weaponsmiths.
He knows that a few drops of blood is not the first sacrifice Ruby has made – nor will it be the last.
He knows he has nothing left to teach her.
A/N: This story started off as an exercise in style and grew from there. All the technical stuff is speculation and technobabble, although I did make sure that at least the terms were correct. Lyrics for the lullaby were taken from "Time to Say Goodbye," the Vol. 2 OP.