So here we are, surprise. Merry Christmas and all that. I said there would be something for Christmas but not what it would be. This is going to come out early as a Christmas surprise, with all the joy I hope it brings. So... how this is going to work. Updates will be every 14 days - making it similar to Professor Arc and other fics in terms of schedule. It will update on a Sunday, the date of which will be included at the bottom of each chapter as usual.
Thanks to Kegi, we already have some cover art for this, which has been included here. :)
And also thank you to College Fool who, as always, has been a massive help and a great friend.
Beta: College Fool
Cover Art: Kegi Springfield
Chapter 1 – A Sheep's Dream
The Beowolf's body drove him down to the ground, its teeth gnashing at his head. He pushed it back frantically, one arm held across his face as it snapped and snarled above him. Crimson eyes bore into his, the dark promise of a creature born to destroy all human life. Jaune grunted as it bit down, taking his arm in its powerful jaws and jerking him wildly from left to right. With a cry he was let loose, sliding across the dark ground to come to a defeated heap, face-down as the monstrous Grimm approached with a growl. Through one sapphire eye he watched it pad towards him. Watched it rear up, great gouts of steamy breath coming from its fang-filled maw as it brought its weight down atop him.
"Jaune!" a voice called, "Dinner time!"
"Coming mom!" Jaune shouted as he rolled over onto his back. The Beowolf's snout flashed down and instantly smothered him. Its huge head licked and nuzzled his face. "Get off," he laughed as he tried to push it away, "Come on. Quit it… mom's going to be angry if I'm late." That did the trick, as he'd known it would. The Beowolf whined and leaned back, sitting on its haunches as it waited for him. It wasn't the only one.
Other Grimm watched, their red eyes glowing in the darkness as the young man carefully picked his way past jagged rocks and steaming terrain. The Grimmlands was neither a kind nor beautiful place, unless you liked the colours purple and red, in which case it was fantastic. Jaune was more into greens and oranges himself, however. They were colours he'd only really seen on his scroll or in the books he read. No trees grew in this desolate place. The soil was as dead as everything else… a creeping miasma that threatened to kill any who entered.
Except for him, of course.
"There you are," his mother said as he entered the dark tower. Her pale face was etched with some unrecognisable expression, as it often was. Her red eyes softened when she saw him, the angry veins about her face receding just a little. "Look at you," she sighed, "You're covered in soot and grime. What have you been doing?" To his horror she drew forth a small scrap of cloth, spitting onto it and using the disgusting fabric to wipe his face.
"Mom…" he complained, though he knew better than to argue, "I was playing outside with Mannie."
"Playing?" the dread Queen of the Grimm asked, one brow raised high. Jaune swallowed but nodded, knowing that a lie would just land him in more trouble. "You should have been studying," she sighed. Jaune winced, but relaxed a moment later when a hand settled atop his blond hair. "But I will let it go this time. Come… we're going to have dinner together."
"Is dad back?" Jaune's head perked up, eyes shining, only to sigh as the woman shook her head.
"Your father's out hunting as usual… you know how he is."
"I know." He wasn't angry… not when he looked up to his father for just that, but at the same time there was a hint of disappointment. Nicholas was his only avenue to the outside world. The only person who would sit down and tell him grand stories of distant cities and incredible landscapes – of waterfalls and forests, filled with small Nevermore-like creatures that would actually sing beautiful melodies. It sounded incredible. It sounded unbelievable.
"Your sisters are all busy too," Salem Juniper Arc sighed, rubbing his head. "It's going to be me, you, your uncles and Cinder."
His mother cringed. "I really wish you wouldn't call her that. She's only a few years older than you, and not at all related. You know, the two of you might get on with one another really well. You used to say you'd grow up and marry her when you were younger. It was all I ever heard from you."
"Mooommmm…" Did she have to say things like that? She always embarrassed him, whether it was tales of his actions as a little child or with her random suggestions that he hook up with her minion. "You know Cinder's like a big sister to me."
"You already have seven," Salem pointed out insistently, "Cinder is absolutely on the market should your hormones start kicking in." Jaune tuned her out, including the grumbles about him being seventeen and as horny as a dead fish. It was an age old thing. She wanted grand babies and he wanted… something more.
Jaune picked at the thread of his hoodie as he followed her through the serpentine hallways of the tower, past Grimm and strange people he rarely interacted with. Few met his eyes, nor the eyes of the Beowolf that loped easily behind him. They never did interact with him… too afraid of his mother. Or maybe it was him they were afraid of? Jaune slumped slightly as he walked, feeling Mannie's ferocious snout bump comfortingly against his hand.
"Keep your head up," Salem said as they came close to a set of tall doors, "Remember, a woman likes a man who walks with stature. You shouldn't be looking at the floor all the time."
"Yes mom," he said, lifting his head. She sighed and knelt down opposite him, reaching over to adjust his clothing slightly.
"Come now, sweetie," she cooed, "Remember what your father says, `all you need is a little confidence`."
"Kay." He smiled for her, not only because of the kind words but also so she didn't fret over him. His mother had enough to worry about without his doldrums dragging her down. Dad always was going on about confidence and why Jaune needed it. He supposed the man had the right to as well, since he'd gone and married the personification of all evil – or so mom liked to refer to herself as. Nicholas Arc liked to boast about that, like all the time.
"Greetings," Salem intoned as she walked into the room, nodding to each of the four people who had risen to stand upon her entrance. Jaune followed in her shadow, trying his best to avoid attention. As his mother took her place at the head of the table, Jaune sat down to her left, coincidentally next to Cinder Fall.
She nodded once to him, her golden eyes drifting to his mother soon after.
"Thank you all for coming," Salem began, motioning for the hooded servers to come and place a series of plates before them. Meats, vegetables and more; Jaune reached for a knife and fork – even as Uncle Tyrian drew forth a dagger and stabbed it into his food. "Though I realise such occasions are rare, it's pleasing to see everyone in one place. We have interesting times ahead. How are things going on your end, Cinder?"
"Very well, mistress," the beautiful woman replied, "I've managed to recruit two agents who I believe will serve us well. Our attack on the Fall Maiden was thwarted, but we've managed to track down where she is being held and are preparing for our next move."
"Good, good," Salem nodded, "And I trust things are going well for you Watts?"
"Naturally," the moustached man nodded, "There have been no complications and I've even stationed a few… trusted individuals to ensure the situation doesn't change."
Jaune sighed and slumped in his seat as they continued to discuss their evil plans. He knew it was important. He knew he was supposed to listen and learn… he wasn't going to be the prince of the Grimm forever. One day he would be King, or so his mother often reminded him. It was just that... this wasn't what he wanted. Not from here and not from life. His sisters could get into it, they always could. In a sense, they took to such matters like a Nevermore to the sky. He struggled... always falling behind, always less useful.
"Jaune!" Salem snapped, making him jump. He retracted his hand from beneath the table quickly, though the slavering Beowolf on the other end came with it, head poking into his lap. "What have I told you about feeding the Beowolves at the table?"
"Not to," he mumbled, withdrawing his hand from the Grimm's mouth. Mannie looked guilty as well, though he did lick his lips after tasting the soft meat. His mother pointed to the wall, the six-foot tall monster slinking off sadly to lay there.
"Exactly," she sighed, "Grimm do not need to eat. You do."
"Grimm only eat humans," Tyrian giggled happily, his legs crossed beneath him as he knelt on the stone seat. "Eat and tear and rip and rend."
Jaune's face twisted unhappily.
"Tyrian!" Salem glared at him until he sat down properly, "Not at the table and not in front of my son. You know how sensitive he is."
The man surrendered quickly, looking afraid as he sat back down, eyes not meeting the terrifying orbs of his mother. She could have killed the man in an instant. There was not a person at the table that posed a threat, so powerful was she.
"Now Jaune," Salem crooned softly, "You're officially seventeen now. That's an age where many reach adulthood in the Kingdoms. Have you decided what you want to do with your life?"
Jaune sighed and kept his eyes fixed on the plate before him. He loved his family… from his mother to his father, right down to his seven sisters – eight including Cinder. He even loved his uncles, though that often changed depending on what mood Tyrian was in. He also respected their drive, their desires and goals – especially how far they were willing to go for them.
But that wasn't him.
Every family had its black sheep. There was nothing unusual in that; it was never anything personal. His sisters likes to play with the minds and hearts of others, his mother wanted to bring the world to heel beneath her. But Jaune…? He'd taken after his father more than anyone might have expected. Well, apart from the confidence part.
He looked up to them with a deep breath, knowing that each and every set of eyes was fixed on him, waiting for his answer.
"I want to be a Huntsman."
Tyrian burst into hysterical laughter.
"Sweetie," Salem sighed as Jaune sunk further into his seat under the incredulous stares of those around him, "I thought we talked about this. You are the Prince of the Grimm, my heir and only son. I know your father's an odd case but to become a Huntsman?"
"That's what I want," Jaune repeated, face set.
"Letting him read all day in the library was a mistake," Hazel grunted, eyeing Cinder across the table.
"He was a curious child," the younger woman crossed her arms defensively. "Leaving him with books was a good way to occupy his time."
"A fine excuse," Watts joined, "But correct me if I'm wrong, my dear. Didn't you leave him there because it was easier for you? Despite that our lady trusted her son to you? How very unbecoming."
Jaune could hear his big sister's teeth grinding together.
"Cinder did a fine job with my son," Salem stepped in before violence could erupt, "I'm sure she did not expect to find her spare time occupied by babysitting. I believe my little Grimmling came out just fine."
"Thank you my lady," Cinder nodded, while Jaune could only squirm at the unfortunate pet name his mother used. He wasn't even technically a Grimm… why did she always have to embarrass him so?
"You've still read too many fairy tales," Hazel growled. "The world's not like what you've read, Jaune. I thought I'd taught you better." Jaune flinched at that, not meeting the stern man's eyes. Disappointment from Hazel always hurt. He was used to it... all he did was disappoint people. Not evil enough, not strong enough, too different from his family.
"Now, now," Watts laughed, coming to his aid as the man leaned across the table. "There's nothing wrong with being well-read. An intelligent mind has its own strength. Still, my boy, why not forget about becoming a huntsman and come work with me?" The moustached man smiled widely, spreading his arms. "Politics and science, my boy, that's where true power lays."
Jaune shuffled in his seat, trying not to meet Watts' proud gaze. How was he supposed to say this in a way that wouldn't sound insulting?
"He finds those things boring," his big sister said for him, her smug smile visible to all, "And who would blame him?"
"Well maybe he wouldn't," Watts growled, "If a certain someone hadn't poisoned his mind against the idea. Don't listen to her my boy," Watts turned back to look at him, all traces of irritation gone. "Politics isn't boring. I can teach you how to change the world!"
"Forget that noise," Tyrian laughed, slamming a hand down on the table and then doing it again probably because he just liked the noise it made. "Your Uncle Tyrian will teach you everything you need to know. I… uh… I can teach you politics, how to change the world and stuff."
Watts' expression was deadpan, but not nearly as much as Jaune's. "Uncle Tyrian," he said slowly, "You kill people…"
"I kill important people," the wiry man defended, looking hurt for a moment, "That's politics. It still counts!"
Salem held a hand out to silence the man, her eyes still locking onto Jaune's. "Sweetie… becoming a Huntsman, really? You know that your father's an anomaly and only because he was already a huntsman before meeting me, but you want to spend your time killing Grimm?"
Mannie whined from behind him, a fact which made him wince.
"Not killing Grimm," he said, despite knowing how hypocritical that was, "At least, not the intelligent ones. But I want to be a hero – to be a Knigh-"
"Fairy tales," Watts echoed Hazel's statement, "The world has no need for heroes, my boy."
"Why not something else?" Salem suggested with a smile, "I mean, you're seventeen now – Cinder is only three or four years older and has a fantastic figure. Have you considered being a house husband or something?"
"M-Mistress…" the woman in question groaned, even as Jaune's face went red. His mother really had no shame. And worse – judging from big sis' expression, this wasn't a new conversation for her either. How embarrassing!
"Mom!" he whimpered, "Please stop saying things like that."
"She is very beautiful though, my son, not to mention a strong pair of hips. Not only could she bear many children, but they would look adorable." Jaune tried to imagine other things, even as he heard Cinder grind her teeth together. "Where did I go wrong," Salem sighed, "I thought all boys lusted after their babysitters?"
"Wait," Cinder's eyes widened, "Was that why you took me in!?"
"But of course." His mother's easy proclamation left the woman speechless, "Why? Did you think I'd leave my son's safety to Tyrian?" There was a pause as everyone looked to the man. He stabbed his knife into the armrest of his chair, giggling slightly. "Besides, my dear, aren't you always saying you want more power? I can't think of a better route than marrying into it."
Cinder mumbled something beneath her breath. From the fierce look she was sending him it wasn't a list of his best features. She looked like she wanted to strangle him. It wasn't his fault his mom was like this! It was just that… after so long without family or love, she had apparently become a little… well, let's just say his dad had shown her new things and all of a sudden she was very interested in having a large family. That was probably a good thing considering what he'd heard she had been like before, but that didn't make it any less humiliating for him!
"I'm not going to marry Cinder," Jaune slammed a hand down on the table. It didn't shake like he wanted it to and his hand hurt, which probably detracted from the image. "Mom, I want to be a Huntsman, a hero! I want-"
"Enough!" Salem snapped. Jaune's eyes widened, body going stiff as a miasma of shadows appeared behind her. He'd seen his mother angry… of course he had. But never at him and never like this. Her eyes seemed to glow. "You are my son, the Prince of the Grimm and not a huntsman. You are not a hero and you are not going to be a student at one of those foolish schools. You are going to stay here and that, young man, is final. Am I understood?"
It wasn't fair…
"I said; am I understood?"
"Good. Now if all you're going to do is sulk and stare at your plate, then I suppose you might as well go to your room." Jaune didn't argue. No one else spoke either as he climbed to his feet, nodding to her and walking to the door. Mannie appeared at his side, a warm presence that lifted the burden upon him just a little. Jaune let his fingers linger on that bone mask, seeking what little comfort he could.
All families had their little problems. His were just more complicated, more troubling... for he was a white sheep among a family of black.
"It's just not fair," Jaune groaned into the Beowolf's flank. The muscled and thick hide rose and fell beneath him with each breath the beast took, providing a warm comfort he had clung to since he'd been a small child. A long, wet tongue came out to lick his arm, his faithful companion whimpering slightly. "Not you," Jaune rushed to say, "I mean mom… I mean my dreams."
"I told you it was a bad idea." A voice inside his head whispered. Jaune sighed and looked away from Mannie and down to his arm. The flesh there bulged, a black shape wriggling beneath. With a miniature roar his skin broke – a black, carapaced creature bursting forth with sharp mandibles extended. It hissed lightly, swaying back and forth like some kind of terrible monster erupting from within his body.
Jaune sighed. "Do you have to be so dramatic?"
"Well excuse me," the Grimm parasite within him mumbled, pausing to stare at him. Contrary to how it might have looked there was no pain from its appearance, for his skin had not truly split. Living within him, like the ones in his big sis and uncles, they had become one with their hosts. "I'm not the one who shouted that he was going to become a huntsman at a table filled with most evil people in Remnant."
"Remy," Jaune sighed, flicking the creature in the face. "I had to say it… it's my dream, it's been my dream for so long. You know that!"
Remy burrowed back into his arm, wriggling up the limb and onto Jaune's shoulder where he came out once more, head peeking from the collar of Jaune's hoodie. "It's a bad idea, Jaune. You know that. Your dad's a special case."
"I can be special too," Jaune said, ignoring Remy's not so kind response about just how `special` he was. "I don't care what you say. I have to do this."
"Are you aware of just how dangerous this is?"
Was he aware? Panic gripped his heart and there was nausea in his stomach, so yes - he was more than aware of what he was doing. Or rather, the consequences of it. No one had ever betrayed his mother, at least not that he knew about. Would she hate him for doing this - for turning his back on her and his family? Would she ever forgive him? And what of his uncles and Cinder? Would they hate him?
Would he have to fight against them?
The mere thought of it almost left him paralysed. Just because he disagreed with everything they did and stood for, that didn't mean he hated them... that he didn't love them dearly. Even if they were fine with it, even if he had their permission... it wasn't like the people outside would welcome him either. Jaune Salem Arc, Prince of the Grimm and son of Salem Arc herself. They would hunt him to the ends of Remnant if they knew... they would imprison him, or maybe just kill him outright. It was a terrible risk and frightening prospect... but if he didn't leave then nothing would ever change.
"I can't stay here." he sighed, "I can't spend the rest of my life pretending to be something I'm not."
He wasn't his mother... he wasn't like his sisters and his uncles.
"I feel the need to repeat. This is a bad idea."
"Your counsel is valuable and will be considered," Jaune said, repeating a favourite phrase of his mother's whenever someone said something she didn't care to deign with an answer. "I've read enough stories to know how this has to go. Nothing's going to change if I just sit here, Remy, I need to go out there and experience the world. Save people, become a Huntsman – fight the bad guys!"
"Fight your mother?"
"Not mom," Jaune deflated, "Other bad guys; criminals, terrible mobsters and evil Kings."
"You'll still be fighting for the people opposed to your own family," Remy warned, clicking his mandibles at Jaune's face, "You do realise that, right?"
But it didn't matter. That was a bridge he could burn when he got to it. There was too much out there to not see, too much to do, that he'd never have the opportunity to experience if he remained in the Grimmlands. I know my mom just wants the best for me, but she's too protective. I can look out for myself. I can fight for myself!
"I'm going to do this anyway," he said. The Beowolf nudged its snout against Jaune's hand, begging for attention. "You'll have to stay here Mannie," Jaune whispered sadly, "I can't take you into the Kingdoms. They'd try and kill you."
The Beowolf whined but nodded, intelligent enough to know Jaune spoke the truth. It still reared up to lick his face, however, covering him in a thin sheen of drool.
"Hey now," Jaune laughed, patting him down, "It's not like I'll be gone forever. Once mom's calmed down I'll even come back to visit when I can – and you're immortal so don't sulk." The Grimm slumped and after a second Jaune hugged its spiked carapace, "I'll miss you too boy," he whispered. "Be strong… for both of us."
"I'm going to get in so much trouble for this…" Remy groaned, slumping against Jaune's skin. Jaune reached up to push him down, the worm-like creature disappearing into his body once more. He could still feel him, however. Hear him too. "This is going to backfire," Remy spoke directly into his mind, "Mark my words, Jaune Salem Arc."
"It'll be fine," Jaune said, packing his backpack. How could it even go wrong? Sure, he'd spent most of his life – okay, all of his life – cooped up in a black tower in the middle of the Grimmlands, but how hard could living with normal folk be? Normal people did it all the time. His dad went and worked as a Huntsman among them. If he could do it, so could Jaune.
He also had all those stories to draw inspiration from, the ones he'd spent so much of his childhood reading in the library while big sis Cinder had been babysitting him. He could just emulate the people from those, who were all meant to be normal guys from the four Kingdoms anyway. He didn't even look like his mother, with the whole veiny, albino thing. His skin was pale, but not overly so, his hair a rich golden blond. Sure, when he got angry the whites of his eyes turned black and his eyes glowed, but that wasn't so unusual, right? The people in the story books, their eyes were always glowing. Sometimes with anger, sometimes with love or justice… apparently glowing eyes was just a thing.
Reaching beneath his bed, Jaune drew forth the tattered and old magazine he'd found scrunched up amongst the books in the library. A newspaper from Vale, one of the four main Kingdoms, it was old and half-destroyed, from a time before Jaune had even been born, but the words were still clear. "Beacon Academy," Jaune read, eyes sparkling.
Families had their problems… his was no different. But it was time to put that aside, to prove to his mother once and for all that he could be his own man. That he could make her proud in his own way. It hurt, to turn his back on everything he knew and loved, but at the same time it was exciting. I can always come back if I want to. Mom would never turn me away. She just wasn't that kind of person, angry as she could sometimes get.
"I've left a note for mom," Jaune whispered to Mannie, giving the Beowolf one final hug, "Make sure she gets it but try and stall for me, okay? I'll try and bring you back some treats, boy, so wait for me!"
The backpack tightened, his sword and sheathe strapped to his hip, Jaune stood at the window of his room. He only had a short amount of time to act… if his mother found out then she'd make sure he couldn't do this. Bringing his fingers to his mouth he let off a sharp whistle, a great, winged monstrosity launching itself from a nearby crag. The Nevermore's claws gripped the window's edge, long and deadly. Jaune stroked one lightly, feeling the sharp beak nip at his chest.
"Take me to the outskirts of Vale," he whispered to the monster, climbing onto its back. "Fly quickly and be safe. Return here afterwards and don't stick around. Someone might think you're evil or something."
"Or something," Remy griped.
Jaune Salem Arc ignored him. He was an advisor, nothing more. This was his destiny, his chance… his dream. Sometimes a sheep had to leave the flock for a while, just to forge their own. It didn't mean they were no longer family, nor did it mean they were leaving their own behind. "Beacon, here I come," the Prince of the Grimm whispered, holding on as the Nevermore launched. The grin on his face soon fell when his stomach gurgled. Huh... I've never travelled like this before. I wonder if this feeling is a good thing.
It could have been. It could have been a rush of excitement or the butterflies before a great change. It could have been an omen of the times to come.
The waterfall of vomit that spewed from his lips said otherwise, however.
Merry Christmas to all and a happy new year! So yes, there will be questions, I know. Much will be answered in coming chapters and as we move forwards. Consider this early reveal a Christmas present from me to you all. As for the appearance of Remy... well, technically he's canon xD - It's the thing that comes out of Cinder's hand, except that Jaune has one too. He is important as a way to pass information about Jaune's past to the reader without it seeming out of place for Jaune to mention it.
Next Chapter: 8th January
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