Chapter Seven

The important calculations had taken place.

Now the gears spin faster.

Seven dresses later, they'd found one that fit.

"This looks so good on you," Weiss said. She was more than a little bit jealous.

"Really though?" Ruby asked with uncertainty. "Blue? That's not really my speed."

"Isn't blue the fast speed, though?" Jaune said.

Ruby was feeling intensely awkward standing in the changing stall with Weiss and Jaune peering in.

"I mean, blue isn't really my colour. What's this about speed?"

"Well we weren't you telling me about it when we were studying combat physics this morning?" Jaune asked. "Fast objects look blue."

"Well," Ruby said, "Only if they're moving toward you. Otherwise they look red."

"Is that your way of saying you're trying to run away from this dance?" Weiss asked skeptically.

"N-no, I'll go. But not this dress. Can't we find a red one?"

"Ruby, we've been here for an hour and you haven't liked any of them so far."

"That's only because none of them have fit!" Ruby said.

"Some of them have fit," Weiss countered. "You just didn't like those ones either."

Weiss looked at Jaune pleafully. Jaune blushed.

"O-okay," he said. "I guess I'll try this one."

"Okay," Ruby admitted, seeing Jaune in it. "He definitely owns that look."

Weiss took a few seconds to catch her breath. "That's just too funny," she wheezed.

Jaune, for his part, looked like his confidence was totally shattered. "Are you sure about this, Ruby?"

Ruby nodded. "Yes."

The next dress she tried, she liked it. She looked at herself in the stall's mirror. It wasn't entirely her, but she could deal with this. It bothered her, the way it clung to her body, the way it accented her shape, the way it revealed her shoulders. Her skin. The human wearing that dress wasn't her. Her heart was made of flesh and blood and her thoughts were uncritical and simple. The person in the mirror was the huntress. She smiled at her, and for a moment she thought she smiled back with a half-moon smile.

She hadn't noticed it before, but it occurred to her that her eyes were open.

"It's decent," Ruby said. "Let's take the version that doesn't have the red frills."

As Weiss lined up to buy the dresses, Ruby touched Jaune's arm. "Thanks," she said.

The knight winked at her. Ruby could see the huntress was in him, too.

"Are you sure?" She was surprised by the nature of the punishment.

Glynda nodded. "He thought it would be the best use of your abilities. You do seem to be very knowledgeable in this area," she said.

"But I don't even know what it is," Ruby said. "How can I be expected to perform maintenance on it?"

"Bring it up with Ozpin," Glynda said. "It was his idea."

Ruby wanted to object, but it occurred to her that this was actually a very good opportunity to learn about, well, whatever it was.

"What about me?" Jaune asked nervously.

"You can help," Glynda said.

Ruby gave Jaune a sidelong glance. He didn't look like he really had any experience with mechanics, but she supposed he would be useful.

"Every week, mind you," Glynda said. "And don't half-ass it. He'll know."

Jaune gasped. Ruby noticed it, too. Did Glynda really just say that?

"I'm not a real girl," it admitted, showing how its hands had been scraped and the bare metal showed through. The subject responded by responding with an element of the balanced arbitrary-ary eusociality tree that had been assigned a very high weight. An inference with a very low prior but an unexpectedly high posterior probability: neither is Ruby Rose. Logged, to be reported to Father.

"So, you're not going to tell me anything about what this does?" Ruby asked.

Ozpin laughed. "I'm afraid I mustn't. You'll find out in time, regardless. It is inevitable, isn't it?"

Not for the first time, Ruby wondered at Ozpin's cryptic phrasing.

"Well - are there any special considerations I need to take into account? Is there a design document I can refer to? Any sort of technical specifications? I don't want to break something."

"You won't," Ozpin said. Then he frowned. "Although… what is the name of your weapon?"

"Crescent Rose?"

"Yes, I supposed it did. Right up above us, isn't it?"

"Sir?" Jaune asked, confused.

Ozpin smiled. "Just a joke, pay me no mind. I must ask that you not bring that scythe of yours with you when working up there" he said. "Other than that, I trust you'll know what to do. Are there any supplies you'll need?"

Ruby was at a complete loss as to how to respond. "I suppose I can bring up my grease kit from the machine shop. If I need anything else, I will…"

Ozpin smiled. "Just let me know. Well, children, I will be seeing you."

He left. Later, Ruby and Jaune would both realize they hadn't noticed if he'd taken the elevator or some other route.

Jaune rubbed his eyes, staring at the exam sheet. What is the kinetic energy, in calories, transferred in the impact as the locker collides... He'd been studying too long last night. These questions were actually very straightforward, he just needed to do what Ruby had told him to.

He glanced over at her. His friend. She was studying her own exam, but he could see there was something distracting her. Perhaps she'd had that talk with her sister that she'd mentioned.

Yang held Blake tight. "I thought you wouldn't show," she said.

"You said you'd save me a dance, didn't you?"

Yang felt a tear roll down her face. "I'm glad you came." She breathed her in, and laughed. "Well, that's a strange choice. Did you get new shampoo or something?"

"What do you mean?" asked Blake. She sounded very tired. She had been through a lot, Yang realized.

"Smells like coffee."

"Squeeze in, now," Jaune said. It was too late at night - perhaps too early in the morning. The camera flashed. Just two in the shot - Jaune was the photographer.

Yang looked over the picture in her hand. She thought maybe she'd make it special. She wrote a note on the back of it and then handed it to her sibling. "I'm real proud of you, you know."

Jaune interrupted the moment by tripping over his dress.

"I swear," Yang said. "We're going to make you do this every year, Jaune."

The three of them laughed.

The Grimm were everywhere. Jaune paused and thought. Everyone needed their weapons. Without those, they were all in trouble. But even that wouldn't be enough. He wasn't skilled. In this situation, Ruby would have urged him to find an advantage using some totally out-there tactic.

He thought back to their sparring. He needed an unconventional use of his assets. What exactly would Ruby have advised?

Combat physics.

Jaune punched the launch code for his weapon locker onto his scroll. "Let's see how much the Grimm like calories," he said.

Gears faster.

Weiss' grave was at the Schnee estate.

"I think I have a plan," Jaune said, as they placed the flowers. "I think I understand now, why Ozpin let me into Beacon."

Only silence from his long-time friend. Too much hurt.

"I've been putting the pieces together. It makes too much sense," he said. "I know, maybe you've given up, but -"

Head shake. "Haven't given up."

Jaune reached out his hand and the stopped. Maybe physical contact wasn't what he needed right now. "We can stop her. We just need a little more time to prepare."

"Not sure what you mean."

"Well," he paused, trying to make sense of it all. "Okay, so, this plan - maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think so. I think that's why Ozpin taught me strategy. I think it was to develop this plan." He nodded to himself. "It's a good plan. It will work. And maybe we can even find Blake, too."

"Okay, let's hear it." Didn't sound very enthusiastic. He could understand why. Weiss, Pyrrha, Ren... There had been too many losses.

"I think I'm going to have to draw it out. It's a bit complicated. And... well, you'll need a machine shop."

She returned to her nest for the first time in a week.

"Hey kitten, I brought you something," she called out. A warm cup in her hand. There she was, in the usual spot. It was to be expected, since she couldn't move. Pinned to this spot by an unbreakable semblance. She suppose she couldn't hear either. Too much damage to the ears. It had been fun while it lasted.

When she entered the room, she dropped the cup. It smashed. It was Coco, here of all places. Had she tracked her down? There was blood. She took it all in immediately. The object of her affection was gone. Permanently.

"Oh," she said. "Oh, you're going to pay for this," she said. She was going to kill her, she knew that. Coco, and that mangy bitch she kept as a pet, and her other two lackeys, too. Whatever their names were. She was going to kill her, and when she was done, somehow she was going to make them suffer even more. Thinking back on it, back to that phone call she'd received from Coco once, she realized she absolutely had to.

In his head, it had taken less time.

He stepped back and looked at what he'd made. It was huge, it was almost beyond comprehension. It was what he remembered, from his youth. He had spent many hours working on in back then, in a tower just like his own. Perhaps it had been his own. He was about to find out.

His own words echoed back to him. Keep searching, he had said. I'm sure in time you will find the answer to all those questions. How sly he was, that his real meaning only made itself known all these years later. Perhaps that was narcissism.

As he leaned on his cane, he thought about the meaning behind the device he'd built. He supposed it was a natural evolution, in a sense. He had fashioned his cane from Crocea Mors, after all. He shook his head. Jaune needed a better memorial. All of them did.

Just the finishing touches now. He kept at his work late into the night, and in the morning he stood in front of it. It was a worthy trade, the scythe for another chance at victory. A body for a soul. All he needed was more time, and this was just that.

His sister showed up later, despite his guarding against it, but he knew she would. It was inevitable. She appeared out of a ripple of darkness and red.

"I see you've figured out that signature trick of yours, just in time" he said. "You never cease to surprise me."

"Not just in time," she corrected. "And of course I impress you. We're flesh and blood, aren't we? Still have that photo, don't you?" She laughed. Her hair was jet black now. Her eyes were a shade of forever fall.

He did have the photo. He was holding it, clutched to his chest over the scars.

He frowned, looking at his creation. "I could destroy it, you know. Crescent Rose. Right now. The explosion would be astronomical. It would kill us both if I did."

"I'm sure you know there's no stopping it now. We both know who you were back then. And who I was. If we die now then wouldn't that be a paradox?"

He wasn't sure what to say. She was correct, though.

"Come on," she said. "Don't you want to spend some time with your dear ol' mom while you can be sure she won't cut your throat?"

He shook his head. Step-mother, half-sister, it made no difference. Not after what she'd done to them all. Jaune. Blake. Ren. Nora. Weiss. He let the machine enter into its acceleration phase. The tower began to shake.

"Why do you even want to do this?" He asked.

"Hey, somebody broke my favourite toy. I'd love another chance to play with it." She licked her lips. "And I can't wait to see Dad again, too. Can you just picture us together, as a family? This is so exciting!"

He shuddered. What a horrible thing he was doing. It wasn't his fault she'd turned out this way, and it wouldn't be his fault when she tortured some poor innocent soul, but at the end of the day, he alone was the enabler.

"And what are you going to do?" she asked sweetly, just like she was his sister again.

"I can't change the past," he admitted, "but maybe somehow I can still set things up for the future. Maybe I can make things right."

The acceleration plateaued. They were going back now.

"And I wouldn't mind a chance to be someone new," he added. "Although I feel I've already accomplished that."

Raven smiled a wolfish smile. "I know what you mean."

The light engulfed them as the gears turned retrograde at top speed. His heart race increased, thinking about all the faces he'd see again.

He wasn't sure what he'd do for the others he'd lost, but at the very least, for Ren, he decided to plant a tree in his memory.

Then the gears were in a state they had been before. Perfect. Adiabatic. Everything else that happened, happened.