Winter Schnee frowned.
She paced on the sandstone floors of the ruined palace in Eastern Vacuo, her duststeel heels echoing on forgotten floors. Desert sands had begun to flood what was once an architectural wonder of a civilization long past.
Something was here, she just knew it.
Smaller feet shuffled hurriedly on the stone, and Winter turned to regard her erstwhile assistant.
"Soleil," Winter greeted, hands behind her back as she surveyed the structure. "Did you find anything?"
"No, ma'am," Ciel reported. Though her posture was straight, her crooked beret and rumpled uniform spoke of the exhausting pace of Winter's investigation. "We've combed through the palace and collected information in the neighboring towns. So far, we've noticed nothing unusual – no bullheads or trucks."
"Hmm," Winter pondered.
They were here on General Ironwood's orders, and despite her recent failures, the General wouldn't send them all the way here for nothing. If Ironwood said the Arcs were diverting and skimming off Atlesian military supplies and property, then as far as she was concerned, it was the truth.
Winter stared out into the sunny desert, waves and dunes blowing and rolling in the wind as if it were a golden ocean.
Wheels and threads left no tracks on such sands. Nearby villages and settlements were too spread apart to notice a formation of travelling bullheads. The roads branched and spread out to a countless number of paths.
If there was anyone here, Winter and her forces possessed not the means to pursue them. Whoever was here was long gone.
Winter, however, looked up.
Something, or perhaps more accurately, a whole lot of someones were here, at the very least. That fact, she didn't doubt for a second.
"Make one final patrol," Winter said at last. "Check for any signs of life; burnt-out campfires, chopped-down trees, latrines, bullet casings, the like."
"Yes Ma'am." Ciel nodded, before turning on her heel and briskly walking out the room.
Winter closed her eyes.
No, she had no solid evidence of these alleged Arc bullheads and trucks, but…
Her eyes opened, sharp as daggers, cold as her namesake.
There was this lingering sense of purpose charging the air.
It was something… intangible, akin to seeing the frenzied madness of a mob, or the almost uncanny synergy and teamwork of a trained squad. Winter closed her eyes once more, and she could almost smell pungent sweat off the backs of Huntsmen and Huntresses as they lugged crates and barrels around. She could smell the subdued, mysterious smells of refined dust, and she could feel the tension in each body as they carefully carried them around.
For an almost ephemeral moment, she wasn't standing in the hot Vacuoan sands on a sunny morning, but instead, she was ankle-deep in the Atlesian snows of Camp Omega; watching spellbound as a young man, blonde of hair, raised his blade against an unending tide of darkness.
She was, at least with heels, taller than him. This she knew, but in that very moment, he was…
"Big," Winter murmured. "Too big. Larger than life."
She opened her eyes, and just like that, the vision, the smells, they were all gone. Everything but that one, pounding feeling.
Winter clicked her tongue, and began walking to her ship, thoughts filled with nothing, no one else but a certain white-cloaked Arc.
She clenched her fists, nails digging into her palms.
"Jaune Arc," Winter Schnee murmured, glaring into the light. "What are you up to?"
" –And then the Twins and Penny like, bent over, and I gave them all a creampie!" Jaune Arc beamed, his toothy grin almost as bright as the sun.
Where Jaune Arc's teeth glinted brightly, Pyrrha Nikos' cheeks flushed scarlet. "A-all three of them?!" the Mistralian exclaimed. "A-at the same time?!"
"All three of them," Jaune whispered, his voice husky, his breath tickling her ear. "At the same time."
"A-and" Pyrrha couldn't meet his eyes. "Th-they were okay with it?"
"Okay with it?" Jaune chuckled, a low, wonderful sound that made Pyrrha curl her toes. "I'm pretty sure they loved it, Pyr."
"I mean –" Pyrrha had to avert her gaze. "Th-they were okay with sharing…"
"Oh, Pyr," Jaune smiled, hooking her arm around her shoulder. "I have more than enough to go around."
Pyrrha opened her mouth to speak, but no sound would come out.
"Why, Pyr," Jaune purred. "You sound almost… curious."
"I… err, ahh," Pyrrha stammered. My, was it just her, or was it hot in Vale?
Jaune looked around, lazy smile still adorning his face. It was early in the morning, the two sat on the tastefully cushioned chairs of Coco's Corner, the coffee shop presumably owned and operated by Coco. Said Coco was huddled over behind the counter, obsessively smelling a sack of coffee beans, and sobbing miserably. Judging from the drool dripping down her mouth, she appeared to be torn between making a profit and drinking her inventory.
"How convenient," Jaune's voice sent shivers up Pyrrha's spine. "There's no one around, maybe you and I could –"
For the first time in her life, Pyrrha beat a hasty, undignified retreat, squeaking all the while.
No! She had called him out here for a purpose! She- she couldn't keep this covered up from him. She had chosen Vale over her native Mistral for a reason! She had to tell her f-friend the truth before she left for Beacon!
"Jaune!" Pyrrha cried out, her voice several octaves higher. Now that she thought about it, she was extremely happy that there was almost no one around for this. "I- I have to tell you something!"
Jaune blinked and sipped his drink, a light, sweet coffee that had to be the weakest, most-dressed up thing on the menu. Pyr was paying again somehow.
"I –" Pyr shut her eyes.
Would he reject her?
No, it would honestly hurt less if he did. She'd done this before, and the people she'd thought friends had changed. Where a friend would once speak freely, they would instead remain silent, looking to her for tacit approval. Where a teammate would once ask for a friendly spar and advice, they would instead bow their heads meekly so as to not 'waste her time'.
She opened her eyes and met Jaune's gaze. His bright blue eyes were wide and worried, his posture radiating sympathy and compassion.
Could she bear to lose her only true friend?
Pyrrha Nikos took a deep breath.
Of all the people in Vale, she met him.
She had to have met him for a reason.
She met him, and he led her to where she could defend the innocent against the schemes of the White Fang. She met him, and together, almost like partners, they fought against the overwhelming power of the White Swordsman and succeeded.
This had to be fate.
This had to be destiny.
Putting her stock in destiny, she opened her eyes.
From over the counter, she could hear moaning and crunching. It would appear that Miss Coco Adel had decided to forego the cumbersome process of preparing a drink, opting instead to eat her precious beans.
She held Jaune's gaze, and slowly removed her thick sunglasses, cerulean blues of ocean and sky meeting emerald greens of forest and meadow. With quivering hands, she removed her hood from her head, unfurling fine, smooth hair as scarlet as passion itself. With cold fingers, she stripped off her thick coat.
Jaune's eyes slowly widened in what Pyrrha believed was recognition.
"My name," she bit her lip. "Is Pyrrha Nikos."
Jaune dropped his cup, mouth agape even as the expensive porcelain (that she was totally paying for) shattered into a thousand pieces, never to serve its purpose again, never again to be made whole.
"Pyrrha…" Jaune murmured, realization flooding into his blue orbs. "Nikos?!"
"Oh my God!" Jaune rose to his feet, eyes widening, mouth twitching into –
Pyrrha's heart fell.
"You're –" Jaune exclaimed. Already Pyrrha could see the light in his beautiful eyes dim, already she could hear the empty praises and platitudes that would no doubt echo from his lips. Already she could feel the identity of her friend give way to someone else.
Bitterly, Pyrrha wondered what Jaune would do next? Would he ask her to sign an autograph and never speak to her again? Would he perhaps attempt to use her in an attempt to win easy popularity or as a foot-in-the-door for show business? Would he turn her into an idol, considering himself unworthy of her friendship?
She grit her teeth. At least he might not attempt to view her as an easy conquest, given how many girls he appeared to 'know'.
For some reason, her eyes had begun to sting.
Jaune rose from his seat.
Pyrrha bit her lip. She was stupid. STUPID! When had she become so naïve as to think the Kingdom next door would be any different? People were people, and people were the same no matter where she went.
Jaune took three steps forward.
Was this to be her destiny? Was she fated to be nothing more than a warrior, nay, a weapon? Was she fated to face the darkness and fight alone?
Jaune hugged her.
All her thoughts came crashing down, her train of thought screeching into a halt.
Startled, she looked into his eyes, and found something she never expected to see.
Jaune's arms were around her shoulders, and they were warm. He hugged her tighter, and the cold tension in Pyrrha's shoulders began to ebb away.
"It's alright, Pyrrha," Jaune said her name. "It's fine, don't worry."
"Heh," Jaune chuckled, a far-off look on his face. "I felt the same nearly all my life, even back in school. I… I guess I can relate."
Pyrrha bit back a sob, and leaned into the embrace.
"It'll be alright, Pyr," one of his hands went up and gently caressed her hair. "It'll be alright, I promise."
Relief poured into her heart, and Pyrrha buried her face into his strong chest.
He smelled… good.
"I know it's hard, but, take it from me, it can get better!" Jaune held her tighter. "Because…"
Because? Pyrrha's arms slowly came up and held him too. Of course. She wasn't alone, she was never alone. There were more people like her out there, who knew the despair of solitude, who knew the pain of…
"Because I have a stupid name too!" Jaune cried out, tears in his eyes.
From outside the red brick walls of the Coco Corner, Albus the Horse snorted disdainfully before lowering his head into a trough of coffee.
Arc of the Revolution
"Now with Actual Arc Rebellions!"
Regulation 76: No, we do not need to know how 'hot and bothered' the commanders of pursuing enemies are. Cease commenting on this. We do not need to know, really.
76a. Especially so if said enemy commander is Winter Schnee.
76b. No, we do not care if Winter Schnee has drool dripping down her lip, and if her skin is flushed and slick with sweat. Do not comment on this.
76c. Doubly so if Pyrrha Nikos is among enemy forces. All members of the New Fang, whether they are Old New Fang, or New New Fang, are also expressly forbidden from commenting on her team name. Yes, we know she is 'Mistralian', shut up.
76d. By direct order of Subcommander Adam Taurus, Lie Ren is to be shot on sight, regardless of whether or not he appears 'hot and bothered'. Stupid sexy bastard.
76e. Seriously, people, if you're close enough to notice such details, you should probably run.
New New New Fang Rules and Regulations aka "Things New New Fangs of the New Fang are not allowed to do"
Almost Ten Years Ago…
Sienna Arc gently laid Emily's mud-encrusted form in her father's arms.
Her father nodded stoically. Some things happened to be done for the greater good. His wife, however, did not appear to share his sentiments.
"What the hell?!" Emily's mother shrieked, pointing a finger at Sienna Arc. "You drowned a little girl in mud –"
Sienna raised a finger. "Actually, she passed out when she was neck deep..."
"Not the point!" Emily's mother stomped her foot. "And you…" she turned to her stonefaced husband. "You gave them your consent?!"
"I have," Emily's father spoke dispassionately. "It was necessary. It was for our daughter's protection. It was for our daughter'sown good."
"HOW?!" she nearly slapped him. "How can this be in any way good for our daughter?!"
"Because that boy…" the father narrowed his eyes dangerously. "Is the favored son of that drunken womanizer, Alexander Arc."
As if on reflex, Emily's mother began giggling after hearing Alexander's name. Her cheeks flushed, and her hands unconsciously rubbed her neck, revealing very well-concealed bite marks.
The father paused, slowly setting his daughter over the couch, before turning to face his wife.
"Umm," Sienna fidgeted nervously. "In Jaune's defense, he… takes more after our mom, Athena?"
As if on reflex, Emily's mother began giggling after hearing Athena's name. Her cheeks flushed, and her hands flew to the other side of her neck, revealing even more, albeit smaller bite marks.
The father's jaw dropped to the floor. "But it was Athena… what…?"
"Errm," the mom flinched. "You remember that one time I went for the Parents-Teachers Confere…"
"I'll show myself the door!" Sienna immediately turned on her heel.
"So, that, huh, wow," Emily's father breathed out. "Athena, huh."
"Yeah, they, well, umm, often…"
"… And Athena," Emily's father looked as if he had to exert manual effort over speaking. "She was… good?"
"And this Jaune takes after them?"
"Both…" the father's fists tightened. "Of them?"
Sienna Arc gave no response.
Both father and mother turned to look at her, only to see empty space where the Arc Huntress once stood. Sienna Arc had fled.
The father turned to the mother. "So…"
His wife looked up. "Yeeees?"
Emily's father blinked. "You think they're looking for one more?"
His wife smiled at him sweetly. "I'm sure we could talk things over with them."
Resting comfortably on the couch, the muddied form of Emily rolled to her side, snoring peacefully.
Alexander Arc awoke with a scream.
"Nightmare, Alex?" Athena Arc spoke, her head rested on his shoulder.
"Yeah," Alexander breathed, shifting as much as the tight bullhead seat could allow. "I dreamt that the kids found out about our… uhh, Parents Teachers Association meetings."
Athena grinned, her cheeks flushing a slight pink. "Those were fun."
"Yeah," Alexander grinned, before his expression grew downtrodden. "A real shame the school burned down for some reason."
"Yeah," Athena echoed, before smiling encouragingly. "But on the bright side, I suppose we should be thankful that the girls volunteered to home-school Jaune."
"Yeah," Alex sighed contentedly. "I have to admit, I had my reservations since that one time Bianca killed Jaune's puppy, but I'm just glad everyone turned out right."
"Yeah," Athena nodded, sparing a glance at the window. Beyond the sturdy bullhead window was almost nothing but pure, unadulterated green. Lush, jade forests and mighty trees veiled the verdant grass as if it was a bride, and there, peeking over the horizon, Athena could see the mighty walls of Vale.
Alexander brushed his hand over hers.
They were home.
With but a few words, Alex had convinced their pilot to open up the hatch doors, and in but a few seconds, the stuffy bullhead air was replaced with the sweet smell of dewed grass and wet wood.
Alex wished the bullhead could go faster. He could almost see the shadows cast by the Old Arc Manor. He could almost hear the creaking of the Manor's aged floorboards, and smell the veritable perfume of Viridian's field of roided-up flowers. He could already feel the longing invitation of his soft, wondrous recliner and the touch of his soft, cool pillow holding his weary head.
Athena Arc nuzzled his neck.
Speaking of which, he could already hear the impossibly loud bass of his state-of-the-art Atlesian-made sound system, as well as the fuckawesome Jacuzzi he'd had installed in the Master's bedroom.
Alexander Arc grinned.
He also couldn't wait to... test the new soundproofing he'd padded all over the Master's.
He could not fucking wait to get home.
The bullhead turned, flying towards an airfield, and peering below, Alexander squinted.
He'd been in this Hunting business for quite some time now, and one of the biggest things that separated Veteran Huntsmen from Dead Huntsmen, aside from the rigor mortis (not the smell though), was the ability to tell when something was off.
Athena followed his gaze, and Alex could sense her tense up as well.
Among the milling crowds of people and passengers was someone powerful. Alex blinked, and re-evaluated his observation, make that two people who were powerful.
Athena poked his shoulder, and when he looked, she pointed at two blonde heads, one male, one female, quickly approaching where their bullhead was supposed to land, and they weren't alone. With those two blondes were the dark uniforms of Airport security. Token, but a decent enough welcome, he guessed.
Alex met Athena's inquisitive gaze and shrugged.
There weren't many people who had the balls to challenge them in an airport well within the Valean Walls. Aside from being one of the most well-defended parts of Vale, there were always at least several teams of Huntsmen in it, either arriving or departing, or on standby for emergencies.
Alexander slowly moved his hand to the hilt of his sword.
Someone wanted to start a fight here? Their funeral.
Their bullhead landed. Alexander and Athena disembarked, and while to a casual observer they would seem relaxed, their eyes were darting all around their surroundings, taking immediate stock of anything and any terrain that they could use to their advantage.
A man and a woman, both of them blonde stepped forth as well, flanked on both sides by the threatening forms of the airport security.
Alex blinked, he knew these two.
"Glynda Goodwitch?" Alex asked, tension slipping out of his form. "Tai? What are you guys doing here? What's going on?"
"Alexander, we need you to come with us," Glynda cut in. "Several events have arisen that require your presence."
"Our presence?" Athena Arc asked, hands still on her weapons. "This is highly unusual, Glynda. Would not a secure message have sufficed?"
"Indeed," Glynda sighed. "But this is a rather… delicate situation, to say at the least."
"Delicate," Alexander frowned, looking at all the armed guards just itching to train their guns at him. "When you say delicate, how delicate?"
"Delicate as in even Ozpin is finally paying attention to it," Glynda remarked dryly.
"Wait, what?" Athena's jaw dropped, and her grip on her weapon grew slack. "Are you sure he wasn't just sipping his coffee and nodding off as usual?"
Glynda's expression was grave. "I had him paraphrase my report. He was actually listening this time."
"Holy shit," Alex whispered. "What happened? The Maidens are all dead? The Queen's already taken over the Councils? The Vacuoans embargoed Ozpin's coffee supply? Qrow really turned out to be a pedophile? What?!"
"My wife," Taiyang Xiao Long snarled. "Rose from the dead wielding weapons with the Arc Family Crest on them."
"Raven died?" Athena blinked.
"My other wife," Taiyang grit out. "Appeared last night, wielding weapons we believe came from you."
Glynda covered her face with her palm, muttering, "Yes, shout it out to the world, why don't you..?"
"…Wielding Arc Weapons?" Alexander rubbed his chin. "He's got better taste than I thought."
"Yeah, he – wait," Taiyang sputtered. "He?!"
"Hmm, yeah," Alexander cupped his chin. "Would've expected you to be the wife, though. Qrow always did seem to secretly crave control and stability…"
"Summer Rose." Taiyang hissed. "My new wife is Summer Rose."
"Was Summer Rose," Alexander pointed out helpfully.
"You son of a bitch!" Taiyang tackled him to the ground.
Glynda simply stood there, watching in silent mortification, as two of her most respected and powerful colleagues began wrestling on the floor like the children they were. Around her, the security guards serving as her escort began milling about awkwardly and listlessly.
She glared at the guards, eyes radiating malice so intense it scared them more than the terms of the NDA's she'd forced them to sign.
"…It'll be good for Tai," Athena's voice roused her from her reverie.
"Beg your pardon?" Glynda remarked.
"He's stressed," Athena explained. "And by the looks of it, Tai hasn't slept in a while."
"He's out of his depth," Glynda continued, latching onto her train of thought. "This is a complex situation, and being able to punch someone out would be cathartic?"
"Yes," Athena yawned. "A couple of bruises would be preferable to his temper eating him up from the inside later."
"RAAAAGGGH!" Taiyang screamed as he slugged Alexander in the face.
"…So I see," Glynda sighed, pushing up her glasses. "How do you cope?"
"Well ~" In one smooth move, Athena had wrapped her arm around Glynda's shoulders. When Glynda turned to face her, she was rewarded with a particularly saucy wink.
"Would you like to find out ~?" Athena whispered.
"EEEEEERRRGGGKK!" Taiyang shrieked as Alexander kneed him in the groin.
Adam Taurus snarled.
He stretched out his hand to its limits, fingers attempting to claw out that one, stupidly itchy spot on his back.
His face twisted into a bloodthirsty sneer under his mask.
"Damn you, Jaune Arc!" Adam slammed an angry fist into his office desk, shattering the cheap wood. That was the third desk he'd need to replace, and the fifty-seventh grievance he'd need to add to the Jaune Arc list.
Adam sunk into his worn, grimy, thronelike armchair. A little, often ignored voice at the back of his mind whispered that maybe he shouldn't have wrecked that table, what with all the costs they were trying to cut, but come the hell on!
A soft, clearly-nervous fist rapped on his door.
Adam gave his grunt of 'approval, enter, and affirmative' which totally was never misunderstood with his grunt of 'disapproval, negative, and get the fuck out of my office'.
The door opened, and inside entered the faunus he wanted to see.
Laurel Carnelian flinched when she saw him. Good, Adam nodded, despite Jaune Arc's subversions, he still commanded fear and respect among his subordinates. With a wave of his hand, Adam gestured for her to sit.
Laurel Carnelian took a tentative step forward, and then winced. Adam frowned. While he appreciated being feared, this was just getting annoying, what was her problem?
"Umm, i-if I may have permission to speak, sir?" Laurel squeaked.
"S-sir?" Laurel's voice was small. "You –uhh, you stink, sir."
Adam's glare turned positively murderous. His weapons, which were stowed away by the corner, somehow flew to his hands.
"Not that way!" Laurel fidgeted. "Umm, w-when was the last time you took a shower?"
The intensity of Adam's glare did not abate, though he had begun using his vaunted weapons to scratch his back.
"Two. Fucking. Weeks." Adam hissed through clenched teeth.
"What?!" Laurel was taken aback. "But why?!"
"Jaune Arc grievance number six," Adam recited, the Jaune Arc list of grievances burned into his mind. "In order to cut down costs because of all the refugees HE dumped on us, we had to skimp on unnecessary costs."
"Unnecessary costs?" Laurel echoed.
"Soap, shampoo," Adam's voice spoke of a sharp, fresh pain. "Toiletries, bath water, unless you're willing to bathe in the nearby Grimm-infested lake."
"Is that why all the toilet paper's gone?" Laurel blinked, having just been transferred from their hideouts in downtown Vale. "But what have you been using this entire time?!"
Adam pointed towards his bathroom, and Laurel could see a basketful of really prickly-looking leaves.
Adam raised an eyebrow and leaned in closer to his subordinate. Said subordinate unconsciously held her breath so deep her cheeks puffed up.
"You don't smell horrible," Adam remarked, stepping a few steps back. "Weren't the budgets from the Valean hideouts also cut?"
"We, err…" Laurel stiffened, turning red. "Just started bathing together. It - it was kind of cheaper."
"… Didn't your unit have the largest female to male ratio in the Fang?" Adam blinked.
Goddamn it, and here he was, trapped in a cave with hundreds of stinking faunus, most of them men, and most of them, Adam included, possessing heightened senses of smell. Yes, Adam Taurus was totally content never finding out that, just like the special snowflakes they believed they were, every faunus stunk in their own different ways.
God, the molten scales and the shed fur were everywhere, and he didn't even want to think about the smell of the really communal latrines.
He didn't have proof, but he pulled out a pen and added another grievance to the list. This was HIS fault somehow.
"Enough pleasantries, Laurel Carnelian," Adam spoke, ignoring the itches tickling his greasy scalp. "I've called you here for a reason. With the brave Lieutenant defeated, by virtue of your seniority, and by being the least incompetent Fang somehow not dead; you shall be entrusted with his duties."
Instead of a resounding 'yes', Laurie merely bobbed her head up and down in a nod, fingers pinched over her nostrils, and holding her breath.
"…I'll take that as a yes."
Laurel's head nodded vigorously.
"Alright, first things first, you've been around the base. How…" Adam sighed. "How's the morale?"
Laurel began madly gesturing anything that could've meant 'the sky is falling', to 'the Arcs are totally plotting a coup'.
Adam sighed, and stepped to the corner of his office, allowing her to breathe normally. Stupid faunus sense of smell…
"Morale is bad, sir," Laurel frowned. "The entire base seems despondent, especially with our failure in the Alchemilla. It was our first big operation in a while, and we've lost a lot of men and resources in the course of the mission. The budget cuts to basic amenities should also be a factor, and I think someone mentioned something about the food…"
"Yes," Adam shuddered. "The less said about food, the better."
"And, if I may be blunt, sir," Laurel winced. "The base smells like an unholy mix of feet, despair, and moldy cheese."
"Tell me something I don't already know," Adam grumbled.
"Finally, sir," Laurel straightened up, her face becoming unreadable. "Morale is continuing to plummet due to a significant number of desertions that happened in the past month, but there's this detail that doesn't quite make sense…"
Adam narrowed his eyes. "Go on."
"These deserting Fangs, they're taking with them their weapons, armor and ammunition." Laurel frowned. "I was in Vale during the dates they deserted, and we would've known if a Fang faunus would turn himself in to the Kingdom, which leads me to believe that they've gone someplace else."
"Someplace else they'd need their weapons…" Adam suddenly stood straight. "Tell me, did they mention the names 'Kaz Miller' or 'Jaune Arc'?!"
"I-I didn't hear anything about names," Laurel stammered. "But I did hear something about figures in white cloaks approaching certain cliques and groups…"
Adam's blood went cold.
He'd been so focused on simply getting the refugees out as quickly and as completely as possible. He'd been so focused on ensuring that the Fang cells under his command were able to successfully elude heightened Atlesian security. He'd been so focused on investigating Cinder and the Fang groups from outside Vale. He'd been so focused that he'd missed Jaune Arc usurping his organization from him.
Suddenly, it all made sense.
Why would a privileged human such as Jaune Arc risk his life for oppressed faunus?
Jaune Arc needed a distraction.
Adam stood up, pacing around the room.
Jaune Arc had been able to subvert hundreds of his men under his command. In broad daylight, they'd taken Atlesians and shown them around supposedly secured areas. By striking at Omega with his men, he'd drawn the fury of Atlas on his cell. By dumping the rescued miners of Omega under his care, he'd spread their precious funds too thin. And with what happened in Alchemilla…
"Carnelian," Adam interjected. "What do the men think of me?"
"Not well," Laurel shook her head. "I-I've recently heard of what happened in Camp Omega, and, well, with the further embellishment from the refugees…"
"Carnelian," Adam snarled. "Get to the point."
"They're comparing you unfavourably with Jaune Arc." Laurel gulped.
Adam's grip on his Wilt and Blush tightened. So this was Jaune Arc's game…
"Word from Alchemilla is also spreading. Almost everyone now's heard of how Jaune Arc saved the task force from Qrow Branwen and the Conciliar Guard –"
Jaune Arc was discrediting him.
With a stunning victory in Omega, Jaune Arc had carved out his own loyalists from his men. With Adam's failure, and Jaune Arc's personal intervention in Alchemilla; the Arc had clearly presented himself as a 'successful' alternative.
What would the Arc have to gain? Everything.
Jaune could dismantle the Fang from within, and their revolution would end not with a whimper, but resounding applause. They could manipulate the Faunus for their own ends, and betray them when their usefulness had run its course. They could throw the faunus once again to subjugation, only this time through trickery instead of force.
Adam grit his teeth. He'd been outmanuevered. Every day that passed in these conditions eroded Adam's position and strengthened the Arc's and with outside Fang groups entering Vale –
That was it.
Jaune Arc wasn't the only human usurping his command. No, gathering specific cells from the four corners of the map was…
"S-sir?" Laurel stood at attention.
"Laurel," Adam gri–no, he bared his teeth. "I need you to do an errand for me…"
" –And that's what I meant," Pyrene –no, Pyrrha Nikos spoke to her friend. "I guess that's why I overreacted earlier."
The two of them, Jaune Arc and Pyrrha Nikos stood by a small, lovely hill overlooking a nearby airfield. The morning sun had risen, and already, several airships emblazoned with the crest of Beacon had begun to dock.
Not very long now.
Jaune Arc stared at the airships wistfully. Perhaps, in another life, in another time, another world, he would be riding one of them.
Jaune Arc shook his head. Someday, he'd be a passenger on one of those ships, a legitimate passenger. He'd be admitted to Beacon with proper papers, with a worthy reputation, and with a referral from one of the highest authorities in Vale itself.
"Jaune?" Pyrrha's clear voice spoke.
"Hmm, oh sorry, Pyr," Jaune smiled sheepishly. "I was just thinking about stuff. Nothing important, don't you worry."
Pyrrha's brows furrowed worriedly.
"Hey, it's really no big deal," Jaune smiled, much wider this time. "Also, well, I guess I was thinking about what you said."
"What you said," Jaune leaned on the rails overlooking the majestic view. "About how people didn't think they were worth your time, and viewed you as some sort of superior or worse, nothing more than a competitor or bar to pass."
"What about it?" Pyrrha leaned on the rails beside him, the gentle winds caressing her hair.
"I, sorry, but… well," Jaune frowned. "I – I can't help but feel jealous."
"Huh?" Pyrrha frowned as well.
"I understand it must've sucked, but…" Jaune raised his hands in a placating gesture. "But, well… It also means that they have super-high expectations of you, right? No matter what you do, people have hope and faith in you. They believe in you."
"I guess so…" Pyrrha took a step closer to him. "Jaune, is everything..?"
"Well," Jaune ran a hand through his hair, chuckling. "I've never really been on any sort of pedestal, like you have. No one really expected much from me, I guess. Like, if my parents and sisters knew I was trying for Beacon, they'd probably tell me not to worry if I had to move back home. How depressing is that?"
"Jaune…" Pyrrha laid a hand on his shoulder.
"I guess…" Jaune's eyes were downcast. "What I'm trying to say is…" Jaune met her gaze, sapphires meeting emeralds. "I wish people believed in me."
"I wish people believed in me."
"Brothers and Sisters in arms!" Keppel Azure "Kaz" Miller exclaimed, outfit spotless, sunglasses worn, and chainsword raised. "This is the day!"
Row upon row of white-cloaked warriors, both faunus and human, erupted as one into thunderous applause. Fists pumped into the air. Naked swords were drawn and raised, gleaming up in the air. Chainswords were held over heads and activated, filling the empty halls with fierce buzzing. Men and women, young and old, furry and boring screamed themselves hoarse.
"I have been contacted by our Commander himself!" Kaz swept a hand through the air. "Jaune Arc is coming here today!"
Like pouring dust into a flame, the assembled Fangs somehow cheered harder.
"Sharpen your swords!" Kaz commanded. "Polish your armor!"
"Jaune!" people in the crowd began tearing their clothes.
"Load the dust!" Kaz's hand cut through the air. "Prepare the ships!"
"JAUNE!" hundreds of angry fists punched into the air.
"RAISE THE BANNERS!" Kaz swung his chainsword.
From all around the hall, white and gold banners of the moon-crowned beast unfurled. The Arc Weapon Pennydin: Ferrum Mors stood proudly in the background, its metal gleaming, its mighty frame almost repaired. In the very midst of the crowd, eager hands raised up a rare picture of Jaune Arc onto a high pedestal.
En route to Atlas, Winter Schnee felt the inexplicable urge to draw her sword. Producing a scroll from her pocket, she beheld a rare picture of Jaune Arc and shook her fist angrily.
North of Vale, Adam Taurus's arm snapped to the side, letting loose a dart. The dart flew, straight and true, missing the picture of Blake Belladonna, but piercing the eye of Jaune Arc.
At the heart of Vale, the Councilman Riesling would pause in his work, and smirk.
"I guess…" Jaune's eyes were downcast. "What I'm trying to say is…" Jaune met her gaze, sapphires meeting emeralds. "I wish people believed in me a little more, alright?"
Pyrrha leaned on the railing beside him, her hand still squeezing his shoulder comfortably.
Jaune smiled, and pointed at the far-off shape of Beacon. "I'll get there eventually, eh?"
Pyrrha responded with a small smile of her own. "I'll be waiting, no, expecting you next semester then?"
"Well, if all goes well, yeah," Jaune smiled sheepishly, hand rubbing his head, before his face turned determined.
Jaune reached out and grasped her hand.
Pyrrha looked into his eyes, and she saw none of the hazy doubt that had once clouded it.
"Make no mistake, Pyrrha," Jaune declared. "Next semester, next schoolyear, it doesn't matter. I'm getting into Beacon even if I have to tear its walls down!"
Pyrrha couldn't help but grin. "Is that a promise?"
Jaune mirrored her grin. "I promise."
A figure passed over them, blocking out the sun and casting them into an eclipse. Jaune and Pyrrha didn't need to look up to know what it was; the hulking frame of a Beacon Airship cutting through the clouds.
"That's my ride," Pyrrha spoke, her eyes not leaving his.
Jaune scoffed, his eyes twinkling. "That'll be mine too, soon enough!"
Pyrrha chuckled, and so did he.
Jaune raised his right hand out, clenching it into a fist.
Pyrrha mirrored the movement, unused to such actions.
His fist bumped hers.
"See you later then," Jaune smirked. "Invincible Girl."
Pyrrha mirrored the smirk. "Don't keep me waiting too long, Jaune."
She pulled her fist back first, and with a few tentative steps, Pyrrha turned around and started walking away, towards Beacon, toward her dreams.
Jaune watched the scarlet-haired form move towards the Beacon Airships until he could discern her form no longer. For a few moments, Jaune continued looking around, and save for what looked like four strangely familiar blonde people fistfighting, and wrestling in the mud, surrounded by security guards, there was nothing else of note.
Jaune looked up to the majestic silhouette of a Beacon Airship, and reached out his hand as if to grasp it.
This would be his ride someday, but not today.
He let the outstretched hand fall.
Today, he had a different ride.
In the horizon, a glint of gold and silver caught his eye.
Jaune's eyes sharpened, narrowing against the light. The hazy silhouette coalesced into the ever-familiar form of a bullhead; its strange insignia, a horse crowned by the moons glimmering gold.
"Call me an optimist, Councilman," Jaune mouthed the words silently. "But I got a good feeling the Fang'll be willing to talk soon enough."
He had a couple of months. One final summer vacation it was then.
With nary a look back, he left the hill and began walking forward.
"The number you have dialed is either unattended, or out of our coverage area, please…"
Emerald Sustrai swore as her scroll failed to connect yet again. To avoid being tracked, Cinder disposed of and found new scrolls every month. Taking a short breath, again, she input the month's number.
"The number you have dialed is either unattended, or out of –"
"Damn," Emerald snarled. She had tried all the scroll numbers Cinder had made use of for the year, and still, her scroll failed to connect.
When Cinder wanted to disappear, she didn't only disappear; she seemed to have wiped out every possible trace of her existence from the face of the earth. She couldn't even contact Mercury, and the safe houses they'd used in Vale were instantly repurposed into commercial or storage areas, their new tenants none the wiser.
In the corner of his eye, her quarry bid goodbye to… (was that Pyrrha Nikos?!), put his hands in his pockets, and walked off to the side.
With a single flicker of hesitation, Emerald looked back to her scroll, then to the increasingly disappearing form of Jaune Arc.
She took a deep breath.
She pocketed the device and followed him.
Jaune Arc eventually left the airfield, or… perhaps it was more accurate to say that he left the "proper" airfield.
The airships and bullheads at where he was now were older, beaten, and bearing the scars of time and battle. Away from the fancier bullheads used by the Councilmen, Huntsmen, and big businessmen, these aircraft were used by the smaller, the weaker, and the less wealthy. Within these ships were bulk shipments of food and produce from far-away villages. Other aircraft would be carrying crates upon crates of electronics and work-in-process.
Some aircraft ferried people, particularly into places that not many would dare to trod.
Back in the airfield, with Huntsmen and security breathing down everyone's necks, her hands were tied. Here, though? In the crowds where everyone walked shoulder to shoulder? Emerald cracked her fingers.
Subtly increasing her pace, and weaving an illusion around the Arc's eyes, she stumbled forward and 'bumped' him.
To the eyes of the Arc, it would look as if a mousy haired girl, no older than twelve, had bumped him while chasing a ball.
The Arc continued walking, unperturbed. Emerald, on the other hand, walked away with the contents of his right pocket – a wallet.
Emerald resisted the urge to smirk. There had to be something useful in here.
She opened the wallet, and almost immediately, she had been struck by two details. One, the wallet tore and stretched as soon as she had opened it, and given that it was practically flawless when she'd taken it, indicated that it was brand new and of horrible, cheap, make.
The second detail? It had nothing.
Deft fingers fumbled through the wallet for any hidden pockets. Nothing. No pictures, no cards, no identification, hell, there was no money in here except for a handwritten 'you owe us' note from an M.M. & M.M.
Emerald grit her teeth. What the fuck was this?
Jaune continued walking, and the people he passed changed from aspiring Huntsmen and Huntresses, well-to-do families and well-dressed people of status into farmers, workers, faunus, and various other frontiersmen.
Disguising herself as a sweaty faunus labourer, she 'bumped' the Arc once more. Skilled fingers barely caressing Jaune's thighs, sliding into his pockets.
Her lips almost twitched into a triumphant grin. There, held firmly in her fingers was the Arc's very own scroll.
Her hands trembled. What terrible secrets must this machine hold? What machinations and schemes lie hidden and obscured within its depths?
She looked at the scroll.
Her jaw dropped.
It was very clearly second-hand. The engraved name 'Rouge' was crossed out and sloppily replaced with a scrawled 'Jaune'. The machine was cracked, held together only by prodigious abuse of duct tape and glue.
She pressed the activation button on the scroll and it still somehow opened.
There was no password. She didn't even need to have it hacked.
The thief grinned. Mission complete. With the scroll in her hand, no doubt she would be able to discern the Arc's mysterious agenda and schemes. With shaking fingers and sweaty palms, she opened his messages and –
Like everything she knew about the Arc, like everything she'd been able to achieve, like the contents of his wallet, the inbox was fucking empty.
Did he purge the contents of his inbox? Emerald panicked. Does he know someone's after him?!
She looked ahead to the Arc, and he seemed to be standing at a crossroads, scratching his head, looking left and right as if he were a lost puppy.
"Huh," she muttered, looking once more into his inbox. Now that she looked at it, it wasn't empty, it was just… well… kind of sad. There was a disproportional amount of 'messages sent' as compared to 'messages received', and the only people that bothered to respond seemed to be a 'Pyr N', a 'Best Twin', a 'Do Not Listen To Twin', a 'Sunglasses Miller', and some random 'Old Man Winchester'.
Truly, no one of note. She leafed through their conversations and they seemed to be nothing more than inane, useless drivel like, "Don't forget to buy dust for Penny.", "Sup dude, can I get a ride to your place?", "Remember, you have a semester."
This… this couldn't be it. He had less shit on this thing than one of Cinder's weekly disposed scrolls. Desperate, she continued scanning through his files until she noticed one very suspicious detail.
Of all of the scroll's memory, 70% of it was dedicated to a certain, singular folder.
This is it! Giddy, Emerald opened the folder without a second thought.
The folder opened, the screen steadily faded into deepest black, and somehow, the machine itself began to rumble and vibrate.
Emerald tensed; green tendrils of auric light enveloping her form protectively. Though her red eyes narrowed, she stared ahead at the black screen spellbound, heart pounding with both fear and anticipation.
A face appeared on the screen.
Emerald's heart leaped in her chest. The face of a beautiful faunus woman appeared on screen. Her skin was a luscious caramel, her cat ears black and smooth like a cougar, her eyes were lined with purple and glinted burnished gold.
Emerald brought the scroll closer to her face. Aura sharpened her senses, and she prepared to memorize everything –
"Oh my," the faunus woman onscreen giggled. "Ghira, may I have some of your milk, nyaaa ~" she stuck out her tongue and –
What what what, what what whaaat?! Emerald immediately skipped the video, only to be beset by images and videos of bunny faunus performing increasingly questionable acts towards 'carrots'. Every swipe merely taught Emerald more and more about the faunus anatomy in ways she had never wanted to see!
She wasn't Mercury Black, but then and there did she swear to murder every Anglerfish Faunus she met.
"Muu," the bunny faunus looked up, big eyes teary and passionate. "What a big carrot this is. I don't think I can finish it alone. Can I call my frie –"
Slowly, she looked up from the scroll, and into the eyes of the uncomfortable mob that had begun to step away from her. Blissfully, Jaune Arc had still not taken notice, and before his white-cloaked back could disappear further into the distance, Emerald had already caught up to him.
There had to be something… anything!
She had already tried the pockets to the front, now, her hands moved towards the back pockets and –
And then Jaune Arc stopped walking.
Unprepared for the sudden halt, Emerald's hands cupped Jaune's back pockets.
"Wha –" Emerald blurted out, as she finally took stock of her surroundings.
So focused was Emerald on her task that she failed to notice the mundane going-ons in her surroundings.
When Emerald looked up, she came face to face with her own reflection, staring into a polished helm, lovechild between those used by Atlesians and the masks used by the White Fang. To her left, similarly-helmeted figures in white cloaks began to draw their weapons, and to her right, more white-cloaks began cutting off her avenue of escape.
Even the laborers and civilian faunus in the area shot her nasty looks.
She had been surrounded.
In her surprise, her fingers squeezed, and they squeezed something soft.
These… New Fangs did not look amused.
Scattered all throughout the planet, a certain Six Sisters felt the inexplicable urge to wail in purest anguish.
Splayed on cushions outside The Club, Albus the Horse snorted.
==To be continued. |\|/
Whatever Happened to Jaune's Puppy?
"So, Jaune," Rouge smiled. "Do you love your puppy?"
"I do, Rouge!" little Jaune Arc smiled, rubbing the belly of the adorable Subwoofer Mors. "Woofer Mors is the best!"
Rouge grinned at the sight of her beloved little brother playing on the rug.
Then she pressed a sword to his hands.
"Now kill it," she whispered to Jaune gleefully, pointing at the puppy.
Jaune gaped. "But– but, why?!"
Rouge laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "To make you stronger, Jaune. Pain is an intrinsic part of human existence, and if you want to be a Huntsman, you need to understand pain."
Jaune only hugged Woofer Mors closer, the dog's tongue lolling out floppily.
"Besides," Rouge pointed a thumb at herself. "Dad made everyone kill their pets in cold blood, and we turned out great!"
"R-rouge," Sienna whispered. "It was supposed to be a test! Dad made us stop after–"
"It'll also get rid of your squeamishness!" Rouge continued on cheerfully. "As a Huntsman, sometimes, we will be called to put down our inevitably traitorous peers. As a Huntsman, sometimes, you must also be able to amputate limbs if it means survival, regardless of whether or not your comrades scream 'It was just a splinter, you crazy bitch,' and 'It's my right arm trapped underneath the rubble, not my left, you asshole!"
Sienna pulled at Rouge's sleeve. "I – I don't think now's a good time to teach Jaune all of these…"
"Nonsense," Rouge laughed. "It'll be a learning experience. Besides, we got that guy a rocket arm anyway, so it all evened out."
Bare feet padded down from the wooden staircase above. Bianca Arc yawned, dressed in loose white pyjamas that never seemed to stain no matter how much coffee she spilled on herself.
"What's all this, guys?" Bianca mixed herself a pot of jasmine tea.
"Bianca!" Sienna grinned, tension leaving her shoulders. "Thank God. Rouge wants to make Jaune kill his dog!"
Bianca blinked. "Kill the dog as in the test of character we all hilariously failed at, or kill the dog as in kill the dog?"
"Kill the dog as in kill the dog!" Sienna shrieked.
"Rouge, don't make Jaune kill his dog," Bianca poured herself a cup.
"But Biancs, look at it!" Rouge reasoned, holding her hands out as if they were free of blood. "Just like how hitting a piece of meat tenderizes it, making Jaune kill his dog would toughen him up!"
Sienna raised a weak finger. "That analogy doesn't make se –"
Bianca sighed, and turned to look, a refusal on her lips –
In Jaune's arms was a small canine black and white of fur. As was natural for its breed, it was small, and fat, and fluffy, and its ears were big. It's snout was relatively long, and it's butt was the very definition of squish.
Bianca's face twisted into a rictus of horror.
There, held in Jaune's tiny arms, was the squirming, fluffing, smiling, leering form of The Corgi.
"No guys," Jaune frowned. "I'm not hurting Woofer Mors, and that's final." Jaune turned around and began walking, moving away.
Over his shoulder, the corgi turned its head around, the popping of its spine audible as its head rotated a full 180 degrees.
"What the fu–" Rouge mumbled, taking the toy sword she had handed Jaune and brandishing it menacingly.
Slowly, the edges of the dog's mouth twitched upwards, revealing fangs framed by a gimlet smile –
Bianca's sword was in her hands and midstroke before anyone could blink.
AN: Yes, damn it, just like the one in the past chapter, this is an omake of Schrodinger-levels of canonicity. However, given that saying the previous section was an omake would feel like backpedalling, the only choice is to go deeper!
AN2: Yes the Corgi is Zwei.