Author's Notes: So I deleted the original version of my story Auburn, but I have since reposted it as well to stand alongside this version.
The way the original was going, I knew I was never going to finish it. I opened up too many plot-threads and didn't know how to satisfyingly resolve them all. So I went back to the roots, figured out what was wrong for me personally and decided to fix it by starting from the beginning. This new Auburn is going to be shorter and more focused. It also ends much sooner than the original which goes through all the events explored in this one and beyond, but this version resolves things sooner. However, I like to think this version is written a little more cleanly and is more concise.
The changes I'm making don't begin in this chapter, although I did do some touch-ups. Mostly cleaning and grammar. So here we go, a new Auburn for a new year! The Original was posted on 10/15/2014
Coeur Al'Aran was the beta for the original Auburn and helped me immensely during a period when we were both just getting started. Cover Art drawn by confections101 and a link to it is on my profile page. Jefardi is the one who finally kicked my butt into gear to do something about this story I had almost given up on.
Not Dead Yet
Jaune Arc was going to die.
He hated to admit it but he really didn't see any other possible outcome at this point as every second brought him closer and closer to a, hopefully painless and immediate, but nevertheless imminent death by gravity. This wasn't what he signed up for... at least not what he thought he signed up for.
He just wanted to make the world a better place. Was that so bad? Sure, he'd done some bad things along the way; he did fake those transcripts to get into Beacon after all. However, it all evened out, right? So why was this happening to him? Why had that crazy headmaster launched them off the side of the cliff? He had so many questions but he wasn't going to get an answer to any of them if he didn't do something in the next couple seconds. The treeline for the Emerald Forest was nearly upon him.
Yep, he was dead. Jaune closed his eyes and considered just waiting for nothingness to claim him. A brief flash of pain beforehand, maybe. Preferably a very, very brief flash.
He couldn't just give up here. He had so much to live for. He was only Seventeen years old. There were so many first experiences he needed to have. He had yet to kiss a girl. Before that, how about holding hands with one? Yeah...he couldn't afford to die yet. Not like this. He didn't want to be remembered as a splat on the ground that had never even held hands with a girl.
Jaune's eyes shot open and he reached for his sword. He unsheathed it and the sheath expanded into a shield. No sooner did he complete this action and he met with the top of the trees. Leaves and small branches whipped at his face, obscuring his vision and cutting his face. He treated these as minor annoyances and brought his shield in front of himself. It was possibly the best decision of his life. The angle of his descent brought him to the trunk of the tree and his shield struck it hard. If that had been his face he would've died as quickly as he had just been envisioning.
Instead he ricocheted off with nothing more than a sudden numbness in his left arm. His right flailed wildly as he tried to slow his descent by any means necessary. By sheer dumb luck he managed to bury his sword into the trunk that had nearly just killed him. It splintered bark and wood apart as it gouged a horrendous wound into the tree. He continued in a straight path down, but now it was at a constantly decelerating speed. Still going a little more quickly than he would have liked but it was no longer fatal.
Finally, his feet struck the ground. They failed to support him and he crumbled to his knees. He let go of his sword which remained planted firmly in the side of the tree and the shield fell to the ground next to him, arm no longer capable of holding it. Jaune sat there for several minutes in complete silence as he stared wide-eyed at the forest around him. As feeling began returning to his arm and legs he came to the startling realization that he was in fact not going to die.
"I survived." He whispered before breaking out into a huge grin after hearing his own voice. He jumped to his feet and pumped both fists above his head. "I survived!" He shouted to the forest, not caring who he let know. At least, he didn't care until he heard the howling of several Beowulfs respond to him. "Ah, crap!" Jaune bent down and picked up his shield which popped back into its sheath form and then spent several seconds attempting to unwedge his sword from the tree. Once his weapon was secure he took off in the direction he was sure he didn't hear a horrifying creature of Grimm respond.
Now what? He didn't bother to ask this question until he was sure it was safe. Well, as safe as one could be in a Grimm-infested forest. Professor Ozpin had given them no instructions. He told them almost nothing at all, actually. Jaune thought back to the brief couple sentences the headmaster of Beacon Academy had told them.
"In front of you is the Emerald Forest. It is teeming with dangerous Grimm and as such is the ideal location for your initiation into my school. Good luck." Not a moment after he said this and they had all been rather violently catapulted off the side of a cliff and into the aforementioned forest.
What was he supposed to do here? Climb back up? He didn't mind the idea of getting out of here immediately. A beeping from his pocket brought him from his thoughts and he halted his mad dash for survival to give it his attention. He pulled his scroll out and after unlocking it saw a pending message.
It read: 'Congratulations on passing the first task. Now that you've survived your fall you are to begin your second task. Locate a partner. How about... the first student you make eye-contact with. They'll be your partner for your next four years at Beacon... or until one of you dies. Do try to pick someone you'll get along with. Complete this to receive your next task.'
Jaune's eye twitched.
He was going to murder that nutty headmaster. If he made it out of here alive. Maybe faking his transcripts wasn't such a hot idea after all? There were other ways to make the world a better place. Soup kitchen. Home repair. Taking care of the elderly. No, no, no. He was here now. He couldn't turn back. He was going to complete all these stupid tasks and become the best Huntsmen this world had ever seen!
"Let's do this!" Jaune declared to himself as he punched his own chest, mindful enough to not be too loud. He didn't want to attract more Grimm. Now he just had to find a partner. Hopefully someone he knew; preferably Ruby. She was nice. She looked very capable in a fight. She built that scythe of hers after all. It was also a gun! Maybe Weiss? She was gorgeous. That there was a girl he wouldn't mind giving his first hand-holding to. Yang? She seemed kinda difficult to deal with. There was also that girl on the cereal box. She seemed pretty eager to get on Team Jaune. He had some pretty good options. Now it was just locating one of them.
The sounds of a battle drew his attention. He listened more intently and made out the noise of metal clashing with Grimm-hide. A scream of exertion followed by more clashes told Jaune it was a girl. With barely contained excitement, he took off towards the source and paused behind a giant tree. Peeking out from behind it, he gazed upon a sight straight out of a fantasy novel.
There was some girl he didn't recognize. She had long black hair and a very cute black bow. In contrast, the thing she was fighting was a terrifying sight. A giant black snake lunged at her and she barely dodged out of the way. If he remembered right that was a snake Grimm called a King Taijitu. It felt like he was forgetting a detail about it... well, whatever. If it was important he would remember it later.
Now was his chance to slip away if he wanted. The girl hadn't noticed him and seemed to be holding her own just fine. If he left her without making eye-contact they didn't have to be partners and he could find one of his earlier-thought-candidates. He didn't want to admit it but that Grimm scared him a little too. Just as he resolved himself to do this he was reminded of that detail he had been forgetting. King Taijitu had two heads…
A white snake was sneaking up on the girl. She was going to be attacked unsuspectingly from behind while she was occupied with the first head. She could die... he couldn't let that happen. He didn't want to become a Huntsmen to let people die just so he could be safe; the exact opposite. He would rather die for others if it meant they could live on.
"I gotta do this." He took several deep breaths and realized his knees were shaking. Was he gonna buckle under fear? No! He had to be brave. The white snake was rearing its head back. It was preparing to strike. She still hadn't turned to see it yet.
She was going to die.
Before that thought had even fully formed he had broken from his cover and was running to her. The white snake lunged just as he reached her back. His shield was already deployed and raised. Its head ran smack into it and bounced backwards from the unexpected obstacle. Jaune nearly fell on his butt from the recoil. He managed to keep his balance by stepping into the back of the girl he had saved.
"Thanks." Her smooth silk-like voice didn't sound at all like she was currently engaged in a life or death struggle. In fact, she didn't sound winded at all and he was pretty sure he had seen her jumping around like a professional acrobat before he ran out to help. "Think you can hold that one off long enough for me to finish this one?"
"Haha... leave it to me." His voice cracked and he looked at the giant white snake in front of him. It was much bigger up close and he felt his vision blur out of focus.
"This won't take long." He felt the softness of the girl's back disappear and heard a loud yell. She was fighting and giving it her all . There was no reason he shouldn't be expected to do the same.
"Here goes nothing!" Jaune forced his eyes to focus on the snake and charged with a furious battle shout. His abrupt change in demeanor must have shocked the Taijitu because it pulled back slightly instead of lunging.
When he was what he guessed was close enough, he swung his sword in a powerful cutting arc... only to fall magnificently short.
He tripped over his own two feet and the sword met only air. "...Not what I planned." He grinned sheepishly up at the snake. It responded with a jab, mouth open wide. "Crap!" Jaune let out a high-pitched scream and raised his shield.
Its head once again bounced off and Jaune staggered, his arm going numb from the force of the blow. The snake recovered much more quickly and lunged again. Jaune barely blocked this time. He was knocked to his butt and his arm completely lost the strength to hold up the shield. The snake didn't appear phased at all. It charged once more.
He was dead.
At least he went out trying to protect a girl…
Said girl flew across his vision. With quick work, she pincered the King Taijitu's head clean off. Blood sprayed in all directions and both parts of its body hit the ground. Jaune had to scoot rapidly backwards to avoid getting caught by the red splashes that were quickly dying the earth.
Twice now, he had escaped death by the skin of his teeth.
He looked for his savior but caught no sight of her. Had she abandoned him? Jaune's heart fell as he realized the implications of this. He had sucked so horribly she had fled before the two of them could make eye-contact so she could avoid being his partner. Not that he could really blame her. That had been pretty disgraceful on his part. He deserved to be abandoned. His eyes focused on the grass at his feet and misted with tears. Even if he deserved it, that didn't mean it didn't hurt. It was almost like all his worthlessness was being thrown right in his face. He had run out to save her and in the end it was him that needed saving.
As he continued to stare at the grass by his feet a second pair came into view. He started, head jerking up with an audible snap and locked eyes with a pair of beautiful yellow. The girl with the bow gave him a small smile and extended her hand. Without even really thinking about it, Jaune took it and allowed himself to be hoisted to his feet. He couldn't help but stare at her in disbelief.
"My name is Blake Belladonna." She introduced herself with a slight incline of her head. "Thanks again for coming to my aid." Jaune opened and closed his mouth but no words came out. She was still going to thank him? He had been the one who was saved in the end. He had to let her know it was fine. She didn't have to team up with him if she didn't want to. Maybe it wasn't too late to undo this? Before he could voice any of this, the girl he now knew as Blake gave a small chuckle. "Aren't you the guy who was in the Onesie?"
Jaune knew it should have made him embarrassed. He wasn't exactly up-to-date on the latest pj fashion in the city and had made a bit of a fool of himself last night. However, her calling him out on it in such a way made him feel comfortable. It was exactly like when he met Ruby. "The name's Jaune Arc." He pointed to himself dramatically, all his previous floundering forgotten and he assumed his false bravado. "Short, sweet, rolls off the tongue. Ladies love it."
Blake rolled her eyes at his introduction but the small smile never diminished. "Nice to meet you, Jaune Arc."
He gave the hand she had used to hoist him up a single, firm shake. "Nice to meet you, partner."
Their scrolls beeped and their partnership was confirmed.
Jaune fumbled for the device, eager to see his new task now that he had successfully accomplished yet another. He was on a roll. Two tasks down and he hadn't died. Yet. Just nearly. Twice. Who was counting?
His scroll began displaying the newest message from Ozpin. 'Congratulations Jaune Arc and Blake Belladonna on becoming partners. May you fight well together. Your third task begins now. To the west is a cave. Locate it, enter it, and retrieve a relic from inside. Once you have exited the cave you will be given your fourth task. Until then.'
"That sounds easy enough." Jaune looked up from his scroll to see his partner already walking. "Hey, wait up!" She moved through the forest with practiced ease, almost as if she lived in it her entire life. He meanwhile crashed through it like a wild boar.
"So Blake," He ducked under a tree branch that nearly whacked him in the face. "What brings you to Beacon?"
"I want to become a Huntress." He waited several seconds for her to say more but it seemed that was as much as she cared to elaborate.
"Really? What a coincidence. I'm here to become a Hunter myself!" He chuckled at his own lame humor. "I come from a line of warriors and Huntsmen myself. It seemed right to follow in their footsteps, you know? Besides, it feels good to help people. What about you? Why do you want to become a Huntress?" Hopefully by sharing a little about himself would make her open up. For a moment, it didn't seem like it would work.
"There's... so much wrong with this world." Blake finally answered. "I couldn't just stand by and do nothing. I have to fix it."
"Ah." That made his goals of keeping the family name going feel pretty insignificant. He decided to just let the conversation die with that and Blake seemed more than happy to leave it. So for nearly an hour the two of them walked until they found what they could only assume was the cave their scroll mentioned.
If Jaune had to pick one word to describe the cave; it would be ominous. Unreadable warnings were scrawled all around the edges of the gaping entrance that seemed to extend forever into pure darkness. Blake approached the writing and attempted to decipher its meaning. Jaune meanwhile tried to peer deeper into the gaping black hole that was before them. He had no such luck in discerning anything.
While Blake was distracted, he ran back to the forest to remedy that. When he returned she just seemed to be finishing and turned to look for him. Her yellow eyes widened when she noticed what he had done.
"Ta da!" Jaune waved the torch he had just constructed above his head. It didn't look very impressive in the sunlight but he knew it would be more than enough to light up the cave ahead.
"I'm impressed. How did you know how to even make that?" Blake genuinely looked like she meant her first statement. It caused a small sense of pride to build up in Jaune's chest. Maybe she wouldn't think of him as so worthless after this?
"Oh, you know. I'm just multi-talented." He shrugged cooly.
Blake rolled her eyes but didn't press the point. "Shall we go find that relic?" She indicated for him to take the lead now that he had the light.
"Definitely." He strolled purposefully ahead and she fell into line with him. The torch lit up the cave brilliantly and they made their way deeper into it. "Did you manage to figure out what all that writing by the entrance meant?"
Blake shook her head. "Only that this place is dangerous. We should be careful." No sooner did she say this then did the torch begin illuminating numerous skeletons scattered across the cave floor. Most of them were just the remains of rats and rodents but several here and there looked like they might even belong to a human.
Jaune gulped. "I don't think we needed that writing to figure that out." Blake could only nod in silent agreement. They proceeded deeper in but this time without any talking. Two near-death experiences in a day was enough for him, thank you. He just really hoped that this light was enough to scare off anything that they came across. He would hate for something to descend upon them because they were suddenly thrust into darkness.
Maybe it was because he had this last thought? Maybe it was just because he was a klutz? Either way, no sooner did he think that then he tripped and stumbled over a small pebble. He fell forward and dropped the torch to catch himself. By pure dumb luck the flames hit a puddle…
...and thrust them into complete and utter darkness.
Blake Belladonna let out a long, drawn out sigh as their only source of light was extinguished. Her eyes adjusted quickly and she could see almost as if she'd never lost the light at all. She knew that her partner wouldn't be nearly as lucky. He was going to be completely blind the remainder of their duration in the cave.
Jaune hadn't moved from his spot on the ground. He was on his hands and knees and was just staring at the spot where he had last seen the torch. She wanted to call out to him and tell him not to worry about it. Tell him there was no harm done. She could still see after all…
...that was the one thing she didn't want him knowing. She couldn't risk her identity being compromised on only her second day into the academy. She wasn't exactly seeing another alternative either. They were effectively stranded in here unless she revealed her secret. There was no way the torch was going to be lit again and it would take a considerable amount of time for them to stumble "blindly" out to make another. She once again sighed and realized what it was she had to do.
Jaune must have heard this sigh because his head jerked up. When he looked at her it didn't take a genius to figure out what he was thinking. "I'm so sorry, Blake! I'll fix this, I swear! Don't give up on me and abandon me as a partner-"
"Whoa, whoa!" Blake interrupted him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Calm down. No one is abandoning anyone. It was a mistake. No harm done." She took a deep breath and prepared herself to reveal her big secret. "...I can actually see in the dark."
To her complete surprise, Jaune just let out a sigh of relief. "Oh thank goodness." His worry seemed to ebb away as if it had been an illusion. Instead it was replaced by what looked like awe. "You're awesome. I'm glad to have you as a partner."
"Glad?" Blake tilted her head. He wasn't mad at her for hiding her heritage?
"Yeah." Jaune nodded vigorously to emphasize his point. "You kick ass in a fight. Seem super cool, smart, and collected. You're beautiful. And now I find out you have night vision like some super-hunter from a comic book!"
Blake felt her face heat up at all his blunt praise and she was glad he couldn't see it. She was also thrilled to realize Jaune didn't actually understand what her having night-vision really meant. In a small way, she was glad he was her partner now too. She had been really skeptical to approach him after his poor performance against the Taijitu, but slowly she was reconsidering her position on him. She shook off these thoughts and lifted him to his feet by the elbow. "Come on, take my hand. I'll guide us through this." Without waiting for a response, she grabbed him and began pulling him through the darkness.
They continued for several seconds in silence. She had expected him to say something more but apparently something was distracting him now. "...My first hand-holding."
"What?" Blake's bow twitched as she heard Jaune say something nonsensical.
Jaune was staring at where their hands were connected - not that he could actually see it. "It's my first time holding hands with a girl. Well, a girl not my mom or sisters."
Blake shook her head but smiled. "Don't get too used to it."
"I'll savor the moment while I can then." Jaune said just a little too happily.
The scenery of the cave suddenly changed as they reached what looked like a massive chamber. The walls and ceiling extended much farther and the floor dipped down to form what looked like a giant bowl. In the middle of this massive cavern was a pedestal... and on that pedestal was a chess piece; a white knight. "Jaune, I see the relic."
"Are you serious?" Jaune took a couple excited steps forward but nearly tripped because of the unexpected slant. Blake held tight to steady him. "Let's go get it and get out of here. I still can't see anything."
"Yeah, okay." Blake took a step into the cavern when her bow twitched again. They weren't alone. She could feel it. Her tension must have reached her hand because even Jaune suddenly seemed on edge.
"Blake?" He asked in hushed whisper. "What is it? What's out there?"
She shook her head and then remembered he couldn't see. "I don't know. I... don't see anything." Her eyes scanned every inch of the cavern that was visible to her. There was nothing. As far as her eyes could tell it was just them. Her other senses knew better. But until it made itself known, there was nothing she could do. "We need to move. Preferably quickly."
"Grab it and run. I like it." Jaune nodded and they both moved at a much more hastened pace. Blake had one hand on Gambol Shroud, ready for anything. Without so much as a twitch from the danger they made it to the small monolith in the center. Not missing a beat, she snagged the chess piece and forced it into Jaune's free hand. He put it into his pocket and smirked. "Let's get out of here." She nodded and scanned the chamber once more. Sure that it was safe, she turned around only to finally see it.
"Wait!" Blake pulled at his hand and nearly yanked him off of feet.
"What is it?" Jaune looked to her but she didn't respond so instead he squinted off into the dark. "...Is that a lightbulb? Is there electricity in here?" He asked as his eyes caught something.
Blake shook her head. "That's no lightbulb. It's the tip of a Deathstalker." Jaune couldn't make out the enormity of the Grimm that was before him but unfortunately to Blake it was all too clear. The giant, scorpion creature had been resting on a ledge above where they had entered the chamber. Now that it saw them, it had climbed down from its perch and was blocking their only exit.
"Can we get around it?" Jaune asked.
"I don't know." Blake shook her head. "I'm going to have to distract it. Once I give you the go, you have to get through."
"No way!" Jaune began to protest but Blake gave his hand a fierce squeeze that shut him up.
"I'm the only one that can see it. You can't fight it blind. Besides, my abilities specialize in subtlety. If anyone has a chance of sneaking by it, it's me." She pulled out Gambol Shroud and readied it in front of herself.
"Alright, but if you get in trouble you better let me know. I won't let anything happen to you." Jaune turned back to the only source of light he could see and tracked it with his eyes.
"Thanks but I'll be fine. Now let's go. It looks like it knows we have to go through there to get out. It's waiting for us to make the first move." Blake didn't wait for a response and charged forward.
"Dammit." She heard Jaune grumble behind her, clearly unhappy with the situation. Not that she liked it any more than he did. Her big concern was whether or not he could make it past the Deathstalker without her guiding him. She had no doubt about being able to handle her end, but she couldn't fight this thing and protect him.
She closed in on it. The Deathstalker finally started to move. It let out a horrid screech that echoed violently across the cave walls and swung one of its pincers. Blake easily dodged and swung at the face of the giant scorpion. To her great annoyance, the blade bounced pointlessly off. It was quite a bit thicker than she thought if it was able to take a blow from Gambol Shroud and not even crack.
Its deadly tail jabbed at her, the light from the tip descending. She left a shadow clone in her place and dodged the attack. To the Deathstalker, it probably looked like it killed her. She was only too quick to prove it wrong as she pulled the katana blade out from her sheath and attempted to scissor its tail off.
Again she didn't even scratch it and only seemed to make it more angry. It swung at her again. She left another clone to be destroyed and put distance between the two of them. It didn't seem to fall for the same trick twice and found her a little too quick for comfort. Her katana folded into its pistol form and she began firing bursts of dust bullets to anger it further. It worked and the Deathstalker finally began to give chase.
"Jaune! Now!" Blake yelled and ran sideways while still spraying the Grimm with gunfire. It followed after her exactly as she intended. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of Jaune as he made it to the chamber entrance.
"Blake, I think I'm here! Now get outta there!" He shouted and looked desperately into the darkness, unable to see them.
"I'm on my way!" The Deathstalker finally caught up to her. Blake easily dodged its stinger thrust and ended up inside its guard. She jumped at one of its arms and kicked off it. Landing on its back, she kicking off again, flying in the air over the Grimm and behind it. She smirked and she turned her head only to realize too late she had made a mistake.
Its tail was swinging backwards and right at her. It was too close to dodge and she couldn't turn around quickly enough to block. So the end of the stinger struck her cleanly in the back. She cried out in pain and was launched towards the ground.
With a loud thud she crashed and rolled several feet, losing her weapon in the process. Her aura had saved her life but did little to mitigate the pain. It was going to be a solid thirty seconds before she was going to be able to move again. That was assuming her vision quit swimming too. Not that she had thirty seconds. The Deathstalker was scuttling at her again and Jaune couldn't see.
She was going to die like this. Facedown in a cave, done in by a single Grimm. At least Jaune had survived. Maybe this wasn't so bad? It was true she hadn't really helped the world out much. She'd done more to it hurt it, actually. She couldn't help but have pointless thoughts like this as her final moments approached.
"Blake!" Jaune? He was close. Had he come back for her? That idiot! He was going to get himself killed and her death would be for nothing. He couldn't see the damn thing and even if he could, how was he supposed to fight it? His sword and shield were drawn but even Gambol Shroud had been ineffective at so much as scratching it. What did he hope to accomplish?
"Jaune, you idiot." She tried to yell but it came out no more than a raspy whisper. "Run and live." She attempted to turn her head but the sight of the Deathstalker caused her to lock up. It was practically on top of her and its tail was descending. This was it.
She was dead.
"Get away from her you monster!" Jaune yelled at the top of his lungs. With not even a second to spare he got between Blake and the stinger. His shield held high, he managed to deflect the blow. The stinger glanced to the right and slammed into the ground right next to Blake's head.
"H-How?" Blake couldn't believe it. Jaune was practically blind but had managed to intercept the strike.
"Blake?" Jaune began looking around the floor in a panic. In his blundering he kicked her in the ribs and tripped over her body. "Omph!" He hit the ground and lost his shield. Their only defense slid away from them.
"Jaune!" Blake coughed as the wind was knocked from her lungs.
"Sorry!" Jaune groaned and rolled over. His eyes widened and Blake turned to see the same sight. The Deathstalker had raised its stinger again and was prepared to take another jab. But which one of them was it going to aim for? They were both on the ground. Regardless, she still couldn't move properly. If it came for her she was dead. Jaune didn't look much better.
It chose its target as its stinger descended... right towards her. And this time Jaune didn't have his shield to protect her. That didn't stop him from trying. "Hold on!" He rolled up to her and grabbed her. Holding her tight against himself, he rolled them out of the way. The stringer again struck the ground. He was sure to stop with himself on bottom. Her hair flayed onto his face and he had to swat it out of way so he could see the only light he had.
"Jaune! What are you doing?" Blake attempted to pick herself off him but he held her tight.
"I'm saving our lives!" Jaune rolled them over again. The sound of the stringer crashing into the ground told her they just barely dodged it.
"You can't do anything by trying to save me! Stand up and fight!" They rolled and dodged again.
"I've got a plan!" The Deathstalker was getting quicker with its strikes and Jaune had to keep rolling side to side without more than a second pause now. The whole thing was starting to make Blake dizzy. Finally, he stopped when they ended up directly under the Deathstalker. The hail of stinger strikes paused as the Grimm lost sight of them.
"Your plan was hide under it?" She hissed into his ear.
"No! This was my plan!" She felt the hand that still held his sword leave her back and he thrust upwards. A violent scream let Blake know that the attack was successful. Jaune pulled his sword out and stabbed again. Then again. Each stab caused the Deathstalker's hissing to get louder. Its legs buckled and it nearly collapsed on them. Their luck held and it stumbled away where it proceeded to thrash violently.
They sat in silence for a few moments and gasped desperately for breath. Finally, Blake had to know what had just transpired. "How did you know its weakness was its underbelly?"
"Weakness?" Jaune let his head hit the ground and looked up at her. "I just attacked the only thing I could get at while rolling around." Was he being serious? It certainly appeared that way. He looked just as thankful that his strategy worked as she felt.
"Well, it actually saved us." Blake broke eye-contact to watch it continue to struggle to stand.
"So, umm…" Jaune mumbled and Blake turned back to him. He had a very deep blush. "...I don't suppose I could ask for you to get off me." Her face got hot as she felt her own blush spread. She attempted to do just that but only halfway succeeded before her knees buckled and she fell back on top of him. "Blake! You okay?" He sat up and held her gently in a sitting position.
"I'm fine." Even she knew she didn't sound very convincing.
"Guide me to your weapon and my shield. I'll grab them and get us out of here." Jaune started to get up but a tremor knocked him back to his butt. "What was that!?"
Blake turned just as the Deathstalker stumbled into the cavern wall. It swayed away from it before smashing into it once again. To her terror, the wall creaked and cracked. The crack spread like a spiderweb and before long covered half the cavern. One of the cracks broke loose and a boulder fell. It smashed into the back of the Grimm and it let out its most horrendous screech yet. Jaune and Blake covered their ears to keep the horrid noise out but that was now the least of their worries. Several more hunks of rock broke free and one landed a little more than too close for Blake's comfort.
"It's causing a cave in! We need to get out of here! Now!" Blake shook Jaune urgently and he nodded. He jumped to his feet and hefted Blake off hers.
"Your weapons?" He asked, supporting them both
"About a foot behind me." Blake was astonished as he easily carried her over to where she directed but fumbled pointlessly as he tried to grab it. "Let me down. I can walk." She tried to break free from him but this only caused him to drop her. She landed painfully on the ground.
"I'm sorry! You okay?" She barely heard him ask over the sound of a boulder collapsing right next to them.
"I'm fine." Blake hissed, not that he heard. She grabbed Gambol Shroud and stumbled to her feet. "Let's get out of here now." The Deathstalker was no longer a threat but the cave-in it was causing sure was. She attempted to run forward but staggered and fell to the ground.
"Blake!" Jaune called as he too fumbled around trying to find her. He found his shield first. Another boulder landed right next to him and it broke into pieces, the debris barely missing them. "Blake! Where'd you go?"
"I'm here! I can't run! You're gonna have to help me limp out of here!" She thought about just telling him to leave but knew there was no way he'd go for it. So she just saved them both the time and agreed to accept his help.
"I got you!" Jaune bent down and managed to find her shoulders. He once again hefted her up but this time placed her on her own feet. She draped an arm over his shoulder and together the two of them began to hobble out of the chamber at a pace that made Blake very nervous. More and more debris was falling all around them and it was only by sheer coincidence they hadn't been hit yet. She gave one last look behind her to see the Deathstalker get buried beneath a pile of rubble and hopefully died. "Where the heck are we even going?" Jaune was more or less walking for both of them but he was completely blind. The sounds of earth shattering all around him had to be terrifying.
It was terrifying even though she could see it. "Just keep going straight. You're doing fine." Blake coached as he finally got them out of the chamber. They weren't safe yet. Even out here the cave was giving way.
"How can I dodge the debris if I can't see?" Jaune looked around frantically but it was fruitless and Blake knew it.
"There would be no dodging it even if you could see! Just keep your eyes in front of you. All we can do is go forward." Blake ordered harshly. They couldn't afford any distractions. He quickly listened to her and together they limped towards the entrance. After several agonizing seconds the light at the end of the tunnel came into sight.
"Ah! I see it!" Jaune sounded relieved to finally have one of his senses returned. "We're gonna make it!" Just as he shouted this the inevitable happened. A baseball-sized rock clocked him in the back of the head. He collapsed forward and dropped her.
"Jaune! Jaune!" Blake cried in desperation as she got to her knees and shook him. She watched in horror as he waved in and out of consciousness. Blood flowed freely from the back of his head. She had no choice. She wasn't feeling one-hundred percent yet but she had to try to drag him out. He hadn't abandoned her and there was no way she was abandoning him. "Come on, Jaune!" She placed her arms under him and hefted his heavy body up.
He seemed only partially aware of what was going on as he managed to at least stand with her help. He took a couple steps with them leaning on one another for support before he teetered again. His eyes blanked out, refocused, and then blanked out again. It was all she could do just to hold him up. A rock half their size collapsed in front of them. There was no way she could drag him around it like this.
"Jaune! You gotta snap outta it!" She shook him and racked her brain for a way to bring him back. Nothing came to mind so she attempted to pull him again. He didn't even take a step this time and she almost dropped him. "Jaune! If you don't come around right this second we are both going to die! Do you understand me? You are going to die!"
A spark returned to his eyes and he looked ahead of them with all the determination he could possibly muster. "That's it, Jaune! Now let's go!" They got around the boulder and made their way to the entrance once again.
And this time they made it.
Just as they stumbled outside the entire mouth of the cave collapsed, ensuring no one was ever entering or leaving it again.
"We... we made it." Blake almost broke into tears as she and Jaune both fell to their knees on the beautiful green grass. They were still holding one another for dear life and staring out at the trees in front of them. At the beautiful blue sky above them. Jaune began chuckling next to her. It must have been contagious because it caused Blake to let out a giggle of her own. After that it was like the floodgates had been broken. They both broke out into full-out laughter that lasted a solid minute before showing any signs of dying down.
"I can't believe I actually survived." Jaune grinned a big stupid grin as he pulled out the white knight piece they had retrieved. "I'm so glad you're my partner." He repeated what he had said earlier in the cave.
"I'm glad you're my partner too." Blake really meant that. Anyone else might have ran and abandoned her. He stayed and fought a Deathstalker while blind for her. "I'm sorry I tried to handle that Grimm on my own. I thought you would have only got in my way." She turned to him and realized only now just how ragged he looked. Cuts and nicks from when she first met him were still there. The back of his head and down his neck and into his hoodie was coated in blood. That didn't begin to cover all the bruises he seemed to have sustained while in there. "Your Aura... it isn't healing you."
"My what?" Jaune turned to face her and their noses almost touched. Blake didn't have time to care about things like that right now.
"Aura, Jaune." She repeated.
Blake raised her eyebrow at him. "Do you... know what Aura is?"
Jaune's eyes widened and he opened his mouth to respond but Blake put a finger to his lips to shut him up. She already knew the answer and didn't care to hear whatever excuse he was about to sprout. "Let me unlock it for you."
"You can do that?" He received no answer as Blake closed her eyes and repeated the chant she had learned in her head. After a moment she felt her energy drain and Jaune began glowing brightly. It was miraculous. All his wounds closed up and his bruises vanished. Blake was still so close to him she even felt his Aura take her own fatigue away and for just a moment she could've sworn she felt a connection form between their two Aura. "Wow…" Jaune looked at his hand and flexed it in astonishment. "...I feel brand new. What did you do?"
"I just gave you a small push. Everything else was all you." She smiled and broke away from him as she got to her feet. "I'll give you a book about Aura when we get out of this light-forsaken forest. The rest should be a breeze after that."
"Speaking of getting out of here," He followed her lead and stood up. "What do we do with this thing?" He held the chess piece up between them. Just as he asked, their scrolls beeped and they both unlocked their devices to see the next set of instructions. To their confusion, the scrolls displayed a map of the forest they were in. That map was littered with numerous chess pieces and segmented off like a chess board.
After several seconds a message popped up that read as followed: 'On this map is the location of all the other teams of two. Locate the team that has retrieved the piece identical to yours. Be warned, if you come across a team with a chess piece of the opposite color of yours, you will have to battle to move on. The losers of that battle will be eliminated. That is all.'
They both stared at their scrolls for several seconds before turning back to one another.
"Are you kidding me?!"