Edited by: 5th dimension
The story will be going on break for about two months due to final exams. Wanted to release the end of the arc before that so here it is.
I've also been working on some original stories, just the concepts and the first chapters. They might become available on sites like Fictionpress, Royalroad, Space Battles and Sufficient Velocity soon enough.
Prerequisites for Greatness will be continued normally, maybe on a once a month schedule instead of a once every three weeks one.
I've always wondered about the gender spectrum of my audience actually. Fanfiction is predominantly female (in my opinion), but I get the feeling that many of my readers are male. Maybe I will gain more of a female audience once Jaune starts taking it up the ass by various people.
Drop your gender combined with a few words stroking my intellectual girth in the review section. I get feedback, you guys get to feel like you're a part of something, satisfying your intrinsic social nature and more people read my story because it has a higher rating. Everyone wins.
Jaune hadn't been able to find anything else even slightly relevant despite numerous tries, May had prepared quite an amount of arrows, Sun had levelled up, and Jaune had gotten some more practice using his sensing skill.
A worthy contribution to the team effort, he thought sarcastically. The self-deprecation was the reason he was in the kitchen making himself a fancy meal. Food in general improved mood, the body taking the fact that it was eating as a sign that since the person controlling it was relaxed enough to do so, there was no danger. The quality of the meal only improved the calming sensation.
Jaune idly noted a soldier, one not garbed in kitchen wear, enter and beckon the cook to him. Today was the day that the patrol was scheduled to come back. Franzshua was probably being informed he would have to start making the standard meal portions again so that there was enough for everyone.
Something many will lament over, Jaune thought. The quantity had decreased, but meanwhile the quality had soared. People would be disappointed to see the opposite happen again.
An arcane bolt flew from over his right shoulder to hit one of the kitchen soldiers in the gut. She bent over and before anyone could react, Jaune was suddenly clutching the woman's hair and propelling her head into the direction of his knee.
A wet crack resounded, and the woman collapsed to the ground, clutching her red-splattered face. Jaune idly noted that it was Franzi, the woman who'd tricked him, before his boot smashed into her head again, cracking the back of it against the hard stone floor and knocking her unconscious.
He bent down, sensing how everyone in the room had drawn a weapon and were pointing them at him. Jaune picked up a small leather pouch. He stood and turned to face the room, holding it up.
It was definitely a different feeling, seeing several people armed and ready to come at you. He spied the overweight man he'd noted on his first day in the kitchen, the one who'd sweated and blanched when seeing Jaune looking at him, ah, stealthily exit the room.
He let him, preferring his next words to be about the poison he was now holding instead of the probable accomplice.
"She tried to poison the soup," he said simply into the quiet room, showcasing the leather pouch even more by holding it further up.
Franzshua clapped once to get everyone's attention. "Okay, show's over, leave the kitchen!" The cook pointed at a random man, "You, get Targson over here!"
Jaune continued to stand there, having a bit of a clash of stares with the soldiers. Which soon devolved into the two parties pulling faces at each other, a move Jaune had started to lighten the mood.
Not to have fun.
"Report," Targson said briskly as he entered the room.
One of the men (Jaune wondered how they knew who was to give the report) stepped forward. "While everybody was distracted by the news of the patrol's return, Adventurer Jaune Arc attacked Soldier Franzi who was walking towards the cooking pot, when on all accounts she should have been huddled next to the messenger like the rest due to her propensity for gossip. She was knocked unconscious and Arc procured a pouch of what he claims to be poison powder that fell from her hand during the scuffle." The soldier rattled it all off fairly quickly. Jaune wondered if he had already been mentally preparing the report.
"Arc has since then not taken any movements that could be interpreted as hostile," the soldier helpfully added.
In the end, the female soldier was transferred to the holding cells while Jaune joined the commander in going to his office.
"There was another soldier acting suspicious," Jaune said idly as he hurried to keep up with Targson's frantic pace. Man, being a commander must be taxing. Jaune would never accept such a responsibility if he had a choice.
"Out with it," the man growled out.
"He snuck out when everybody else was drawing weapons and preparing to try and subdue me. He was also frightened when I first came to the kitchen."
Jaune shrugged. "Don't remember," he said dismissively, earning another growl. "But he was the only fat soldier I've ever seen at this base."
"Winston then," Jaune heard the commander mutter.
"It would make sense, they were both ne-" Targson stopped once he noticed that Jaune was still there.
"Why are you following me?" the man asked, almost exasperated. He went and whispered something to a nearby soldier who then ran off while Jaune formulated an answer. Probably sending people after Winston.
Targson groaned. "I appreciate what you did. If it's true she was trying to poison us it was imperative that you stopped her, but leave the rest to me. I'll handle it."
Just like he'd handled two new soldiers having access to their entire food supply, Jaune snarked in his mind. But rather than staying where he was unwanted, he left. Zedong would have to be informed after all.
Jaune found his team leader camping out on the palisades, telescope at hand. "Someone was trying to poison the food," Jaune said, walking up to Zedong and receiving a brief look. The man quickly went back to looking though his telescope.
"I know, I heard everything."
That was stupid. Nobody had hearing that good. Being able to listen in on a conversation or occurrence on the other side of what was basically a small compound was ridiculous. Nobody had senses that good. And even if they did, they wouldn't be able to make out anything in particular due to all the noise.
Which meant it must have been a skill. Now that he thought about it, only the three youngest of the group had shared their skills with each other. Could have been helpful to know earlier, but ok, maybe the old man had trust issues.
"Range?" Jaune asked.
Zedong removed the telescope from his eye and wordlessly handed it to Jaune. "We have bigger problems, take a look at the towers." A deflection of his question.
"What towers…?" Jaune muttered, and set the device to his eye, taking a minute to adjust it, to find the furthest tower that was still close enough for him to make out if there was a fire lit on top.
He needn't have bothered. A fire was lit on a tower that he could see without the telescope. The soldiers stationed there had access to the devices as well, and it was their job to keep watch and set the flames. Would have been odd if Jaune had found out before them. Though Zedong apparently had.
Then it hit him what the fires actually meant.
"Ah fuck," Jaune cursed, something he'd almost managed to train himself out of.
Well, it appeared that he was about to suffer a rebound. A Grimm horde was coming. There would be plenty of opportunities to curse.
Suffice to say, the patrol that was supposed to come back that day, didn't. While everyone was frantically running around, preparing, Jaune found himself oddly unaffected, calm even despite the fact that he had felt the escape tunnel in the commander's chamber collapse under its own weight after the fatso, Winston, had escaped through it. It cut off another avenue of retreat, but there was nothing to be done about that now.
Jaune found himself looking at the garrison. How would the potential battle with the Grimm turn out? Would there be one? The back was free from the monsters after all. Zedong could issue a retreat anytime.
He had the feeling it was going to come to a fight though. He didn't really know why.
Jaune tapped the wooden spikes that jutted out from the wall that surrounded the outpost. Not stone sadly. The buildings themselves, sparse as the four of them were, were made of limestone.
It suddenly hit him how fragile the entire place was. It would survive Beowolves and Creeps. But what about Ursas? Hell, what about the Nevermore? Jaune didn't see any ballistae, nor were there any reliable long-range attackers expect for Zedong.
Could the attempted poisoning be connected to the forming of the horde? If so, then how? Grimm weren't controllable. The only possible way that Jaune could think of to attract the Grimm was to torture thousands to death in a set location. That would certainly draw the things like flies to a turd.
...Maybe have a high level hero with sufficient agility run circles around Grimm for several days until he eventually had a following that could be described as a horde? Did Grimm have enough of a mind for mind mages to affect them? Ok, scratch being the only possible way, there were most likely dozens. Hundreds even, when you brought into play classes and magic Jaune himself didn't know of.
Jaune sighed. He should have just ran after the fatso. His dimensional comprehension would have come in handy in stopping the guy from sneaking to the escape tunnel and somehow collapsing it. He had been more afraid of the soldiers that had their weapons pointed at him at the time, and had prioritized informing Zedong who apparently already knew of the issue.
What a salad this entire situation was.
The only thing Jaune did over the next hour was idly watch the riders that left their watchtowers, fires still lit, to come to the garrison. He wondered how the incoming soldiers were going to feel about the fact that there was no retreat planned.
An odd decision in itself. Garrisons like these were meant to be stationed on the outside to provide a camp from which people could go out into the Grimmlands, to limit the amount of monsters entering civilized living space. They weren't meant, or built, to survive against a Grimm horde. Though... what was a horde even?
Maybe it was manageable? The patrol soldiers also hadn't come back yet, which made it unlikelier by the minute that they ever would. After all, a sea of black didn't allow for easy passage. Maybe they'd been betrayed, their rations poisoned by another central Vacuo shill.
It wasn't long before Zedong returned, having gone off sometime during Jaune's thought marathon. He brought Sun and May with him. The man started describing the plan while noticeably tense. "I spoke with Targson; we'll stand our ground," Zedong declared, just as Jaune had feared. Probably seeing the fear in their eyes, Zedong reassured them, "You don't have to worry about it, if things get Grimm I have a way out for all four of us." He didn't sound particularly reassuring; Jaune wasn't the only one who heard the implied probably in those words, and he wasn't distracted by the bad joke.
"What are we gonna be doing? Sun's rather unfortunate case of wanting to turn into a melee class aside, we're all fairly ranged." That earned Jaune a glower. "Also, the thing that might get us out if things turn to shit would be better to know now than get surprised with later."
Jaune kept eye contact with the man as he was mustered.
"I am in possession of a summoning scroll for a wind eagle," Zedong grudgingly said, very quietly. Jaune almost hadn't heard him. "It's supposed to be able to carry two adults," he continued. Then shrugged.
That clarified things. They would probably all fit on it. Zedong was old, and the three of them were young. Jaune was almost confident that if they didn't all fit, Sun would be the one left behind, but he cut off that thought before it was really able to form. Technically speaking, if they wouldn't all be able to fit, Zedong should stay beh-
Jaune violently smacked his head against a wooden pillar jutting out of the wall, earning concerned looks. "Don't worry, just conditioning myself," he reassured his team.
"What's the size?" Sun suddenly asked, earning a return question from Zedong.
"The size of what?"
"The classification of horde is only given to masses of more than nine-hundred seventeen Grimm, an arbitrary number. The Grimm approaching are at least double that number. They mostly seem to be compromised of Creeps and a few Beowolves. Nevermore haven't been spotted yet. The chances of us making it through with minimal casualties is fairly high."
The chances would have sunk by a lot if the poisoning had been successful. A thought suddenly popped into Jaune's head. "We had soldiers trying to poison the force. Who's to say nobody will just open the gates?"
A silence descended on the group of four.
"Wouldn't the person who did that die as well?" May broke it.
Zedong shook his head. "No, he's right. There are burrow and flight skills. The chance of the betrayer just being a golem or a mind-controlled puppet isn't zero either."
Sun groaned, "Ah man, miss me with that gay shit. Just tell us what to do. I feel like an idiot considering all the things that could happen." Sun's words gained a few chuckles, which had probably been his plan all along.
"Unless we have a way to detect those things, we just proceed as planned. May and I will be on the command centre, from where we will shoot when necessary. Jaune will be stationed in the kitchen, right next to the chimney actually, where he will look over the entrance to the garrison." Zedong halted, as if unsure. "And Sun will be with him for protection."
"That sounds almost like a plan," Jaune muttered.
A plan for Zedong to knock his granddaughter unconscious and flee on the bird, leaving him and Sun behind. Jaune hadn't missed how Zedong had tried to keep his distance from them. Easier to leave people behind if you didn't really know them. He would have to stick to Zedong and hope his continuous presence would ensure that he would be taken with on the bird if things got spicy.
Sun too of course.
"You know, I was excited for this. Also scared," Sun said as he looked at the black mass as it roiled across the arid landscape and approaching their comparatively small fort. "But after these hours of waiting, I just feel bored out of my mind." Sun turned to look at Jaune for his opinion.
Only to find the mage sleeping on the floor, doing his best imitation of a starfish.
"Aren't you a bit too relaxed?" Sun muttered to himself.
Jaune, meanwhile, was frantically inspecting the building they were stationed on while pretending to sleep. The kitchen was situated a few feet away from the barracks, which in turn was connected to the top of the command centre where May and Zedong were by a gap several feet wide.
There were planks bridging all these buildings, but the planks didn't look particularly sturdy and several soldiers also wielding bows had already slipped and fell down. Somehow. The planks were likely to fall down if any type of enemy shook the building even slightly, so if Jaune wanted to be part of the escape he'd have to ditch the kitchen as quickly as possible. In the best case scenario, it'd be for a good reason. Spending all of his mana early would be a good excuse, but simply wasting a resource that could be used to save the soldiers he was actually semi-responsible for didn't fit well with him. If he acted like he had wasted too much mana and moved to the centre he would also be ditching them, since he was probably unable to aim efficiently from there.
Someone was approaching him. Jaune stood up. Sun's hand hovered for a second where his shoulder had previously been.
Looking at the approaching Grimm, he took note of the Nevermore first. Jaune wondered why such mindless beasts were approaching in a group. Nevermore were faster than land Grimm, so they should have theoretically flown ahead.
Jaune didn't feel much fear when looking at the horde; he was too busy thinking for fear. The Grimm moving in what was basically a formation was already warning enough that something was going on.
A horn resounded throughout the garrison. It was the signal for everyone to go to their assigned positions and prepare for enemy contact. Some soldiers capable of archery shot all of their arrows, while soldiers with pikes set up at an entrance made strong enough to withstand some blows, but shoddy enough that it would break down after several minutes of continuous assault.
They didn't want to be attacked from all sides, after all. One point of entry was much easier to contain.
Cries of "For Vacuo, for grilled cheese, for glory!" resounded throughout the courtyard below where most of the soldiers were. Jaune felt himself grow stronger as the buff washed over him, increasing his stats by a small amount. The skill raise morale, a soldier-exclusive, was quite useful. Sadly it didn't stack.
The Grimm were about to be on them any moment now. Some were praying, raising necklaces to their mouths, and kissing them, and some were joking around with their friends.
Jaune meanwhile, was still stuck on the possibility of the Grimm being controlled by someone. They were more dangerous if controlled, that was sure. If someone was doing so, what were the chances that the controller could do so without being able to see the Grimm?
"Hey Sun," Jaune said to the wide-eyed monkey faunus who was clutching his staff a bit too tightly but seemed otherwise calm.
"What," Sun snapped.
Ok, maybe not so calm.
"Can you look around a bit on places overlooking the garrison? See if you can spot the glint of sunlight that a telescope produces," Jaune said calmly.
"The Grimm will be here anytime now."
Jaune shrugged. "Even if they come, you won't be immediately needed."
"Alright then," Sun muttered and started jerking his head in all directions, as if to catch a thief sneaking up to take his sweetroll.
Jaune pulled out the telescope that he hadn't given back to Zedong yet and started looking around as well. Just as he set the thing up to his right eye he heard Sun say, "Found it."
Sun pointed at the closest light tower, the fires on top still blazing, warning everyone about approaching Grimm.
Peering quickly through the telescope, Jaune quickly found the outline of a person on the roof of the thing. Arrogant. He would have been harder to spot had he simply stood at the base of the tower, back to the wall.
Jaune wasn't able to discern much, except that the person standing there had long hair. Probably a woman, dressed completely in black. They were also waving their arms around for what might have been a ritual, or was it a shamanistic dance? Jaune wasn't sure. What he was sure of was that Zedong should probably know.
"Good job Sun, you might have just saved our lives," Jaune said, patting Sun on the back and making his way across the wooden planks carefully. It would be fairly ironic were he to fall down now and break his neck.
"I did?" Jaune heard Sun mutter behind him.
Soon enough Jaune managed to make his way by the soldiers occupying the rooftops to Zedong, who immediately snapped at him. "What are you doing here? The Grimm will crash soon!"
Jaune hurried with his words to stop the man from getting a heart attack. It wasn't healthy for a face to be that shade of red. "The Grimm are acting weirdly, maybe controlled. We found someone overlooking the entire battlefield working some type of ritual..." Jaune pointed at the tower where he could almost spot a small speck on the top. "...on that tower there."
He quickly pulled out the telescope and handed it to the Zedong just as the old man's hands went looking for it at his belt. The thing was ripped from Jaune's hand, and he marvelled at the old man's agility as he confirmed Jaune's information.
"Well," he said, his solemn tone a contrast to his odd getup of an outdated rangers uniform. The sleeveless look generally didn't fit people above the age of forty.
"Can you do anything grandpa, maybe summon the bird and have us fly over there?" May suddenly asked from where she was crouching down next to them.
Zedong chuckled. "Well, do I have to?" Gaining some odd looks, Zedong explained, smiling. "I was able to see the class of the person on the tower. It was light bender, which suggests the Grimm aren't being controlled, but are an illusion." He shook his head. "I don't understand the point of the attack. The illusions will simply disperse once they crash into the walls."
Suddenly shouts of "The enemy is upon us," and "Hold the line!" resounded. Some screams echoed out shortly after.
Interpreting Jaune's look correctly, the man drew his bow, muttering a, "I can blow up the tower, should disrupt whatever is being done."
"Yes," Jaune said before he made his way back to Sun. There was nothing more to do after all. He had delivered the information.
A shadow swooped over his location, startling him, and he looked up to see the Nevermore circling over the garrison. Weird, it hadn't made any sounds. Usually Nevermore cawed, especially when going for prey.
Not that he focused on it closer, the Grimm looked very slightly blurry at the edges, and was also producing no sound at all. He should have been able to hear its ridiculously big wings flapping even over the din of combat. Some stray arrows flew past it, and some flew through it.
Jaune snorted. "Stop wasting arrows on the flier! I'll take care of it!" he shouted, voice breaking in the middle. Damn. He got some odd looks but otherwise no reaction.
Until the person apparently in charge of this rooftop bellowed, "You heard the mage, get going to the Grimm throwing themselves at our walls!" Franzschua commanded loudly, making the soldiers drop their bows and start huddling away.
They didn't seem to trust him that much from what he saw of their glances. But that didn't matter. An arcane bolt made of most of his mana flew like a homing arrow and struck the Nevermore right in the chest as it swooped down to aggressively flaunt its size to the people below.
The arcane bolt unfurled. Jaune didn't know how the illusion was created, but whatever it was, the arcane energy disrupted the magic holding everything together. The Nevermore broke apart like a statue made of brittle stone. The stone in this case was replaced by rays of light. The rays broke apart in the sky in a beautiful firework of sparkles, and the looks Jaune was receiving turned from distrustful to unbelieving, then to worship.
Jaune hurried over to Sun, where he could get a good shot at the Grimm trying to break in. It was mayhem at the gates. They had been broken through already, and apparently not all the Grimm were illusions. There were already corpses lying on the ground and the thick black smoke of decomposing Grimm polluted the air.
A tremendous boom resounded from somewhere far away.
What the fuck had Zedong done?! Jaune sent an arcane bolt at a soldier distracted by the sound, the weak spell pushing him over just far enough to evade the claws of a Beowulf. The Grimm missed, overextended, and promptly got its head bashed in by Targson's warhammer.
"MOST OF THEM WERE ILLUSIONS!" The man heaved with his weapon, face scrunching up and divested another Grimm of its head before continuing his shout, "KILL THE OUTNUMBERED BITCHES!" A strong buff washed over every human present.
The fight quickly turned in their favour after that. Targson's morale skill was apparently fairly high.
The soldiers' morale was already high due to the sudden disappearance of almost two-thirds of the enemy. Targson's buff, Jaune would later found out, worked as a multiplier with the morale, making it directly increase someone's stats to a reasonable level.
Jaune had spent every single drop of his mana soon enough, always used in an attempt to save a soldier, never offensively. Some shots only remained attempts... Not willing to enter the confusing and brutal melee, Jaune hung back, picking up the bow of a dead soldier and shooting some arrows at the backline of the Grimm for the rest of the fight.
He was able to hit the things due to the training he had done with May, and he managed to wound two Grimm and save one soldier. The man still lost an arm. But at least his life was spared.
Sun had at some point left his side to help a bit with smacking down monsters. He was quite the sight for his age, staff whirling around him, though not powerfully enough to really hurt the Grimm. The monstrosities were a higher level variety than what they usually fought. But he was certainly creating a zone around himself where any and all attacks were simply smacked away, sometimes causing injury in the process. Soldiers rallied around Sun, protecting him and using the opportunities he created to kill Grimm.
Jaune ran out of arrows. The Grimm were almost all dead, but he could still do something. He turned around to pick up another quiver but froze at the sight of the watchtower that the illusionist had occupied.
Or at least, what remained of it. It was rubble on the ground, a small fire still burning somewhere in between the fallen rocks.
If Zedong had such power why hadn't he simply eliminated the Grimm horde? Jaune asked himself before his rational mind quickly overtook the thought. It didn't require much power to collapse a building as long as one hit the right spot.
Even if there was no mind-boggling power to worship, being able to collapse a tall stone tower with an arrow hundreds, if not thousands of feet away was still quite impressive.
"I guess I still have a long way to go."
Bye Bye, Bye, Bye Bye Bye.