So, this is the new story, and it'll be a little different from what you're used to. I might not even write these notes at the top in the future, though we'll see. For now, it might be best as a way for me to explain. This is not my story, or at least it's not my idea or plan. College Fool will not be the beta for this one, but the director. The story is College Fool's, but as a gift for all the hard work done on my fics, I offered to write this one – mostly because my ridiculous pacing actually allows me to write and knock things out, and partly because CF is better at planning than writing. As such, while most of this will be written by me, CF has the final say on many things, and will doubtless decide on things I don't always agree on. This is just a fair warning for you all. At most, I am the beta and writer. CF makes all decisions.
Either way, in all of these chapters, the writing will be mine, but CF handles just about everything, from pairing to decisions made. On one last note, this is NOT-CANON to the Coeur-universe (if you want to call it that). As such, you won't see any of the names of people or places as being similar. This is standalone AU in College Fool's world.
It also means CF will no doubt drag me into things I'm known full-well to despise. Arc words, anyone? *Screams*
Director: College Fool
Writer: Coeur al'Aran
"Please, Jaune. I'm begging you…"
The message ended with a dull click, the rickety and dented machine he'd borrow from the store whirring a little before it went silent. He'd listened to it ten or more times now and could recount the contents from memory.
But that didn't make it any easier.
Jaune turned away and toward the door, passing by the wooden table with chairs aligned around it. It was a large thing that dominated the middle of the cabin, and although many of the chairs were covered in dust from lack of use, he couldn't bring himself to push it up against the wall. It was probably the most valuable piece of furniture he had, and not just for sentimental reasons. Simple, inelegant, but well-made, it had been crafted by his father, though he could remember there being several mistakes in the making.
It had meaning though. He'd miss it for however long this took, though he'd always have the memories. With a soft sigh and a mixed smile, Jaune brushed his fingers against the familiar wood before taking the four or five paces it took to reach the door where his bow hung. Picking it up and shouldering it with practiced ease, Jaune turned for one last look inside.
"I'm going out," he called to whoever might hear.
There was no answer, because there was no one here. He'd known that, but...
Old habits, he supposed.
Grass gave way to mud and well-worn tracks as Jaune made his way into Edge. The morning mists had just given way to the early sun, but there was still a touch of moisture on the air that hinted at coming rain. He sniffed at it lightly and closed his eyes. It smelled like a shower, perhaps even a squall, or the long-awaited start of the rainy season.
Weather awaited by some, anyway. Others would not look quite so forward to it. The miners and SDC especially would have their problems, but they'd adapt as always. The sandbags would be brought out, people would be paid to place them same as last year, and no matter the deluge it wouldn't flood the mine that the frontier settlement was built around.
Edge was a mining town before anything else, after all. Situated on the frontier, the very point where Kingdom territory gave way to unclaimed Wildlands, and what most considered doomed territory. Only the lost or the desperate made such places their home, and Edge had its fair share of that. Most frontier towns – if they could be called such – were little more than buffer settlements. Little niches of human life that might exist one moment and be gone the next, a candle flickered out of existence at the slightest breeze. They protected the prominent towns and cities, however, acting as a wall of human bodies to keep the Grimm away from the `important places`. Places like Vale, or Patch, hidden behind their high walls and mighty protectors.
Most frontier towns lasted anywhere between five and twenty-five years, though some never made it close to that number. But Edge…? Edge was different.
Edge was a Company Town.
Existing for the sole purpose of the dust mine it was built around, it served as a base of operations for the Schnee Dust Corporation, and that brought with it several important factors. First of all, stable employment. Not good employment, not even close, but stable enough to support livelihoods and ensure people came to settle. More than that, however, was the dust and wealth associated with it. Edge was profitable for the SDC, which meant it was important enough to invest in, important enough to protect…
The SDC were reliable on when they paid, and not overly picky on exactly who worked for them. More than that, they protected their assets. So long as the Dust could be mined, Edge would be protected- which was why it was almost two decades old already.
Jaune's family cabin was on the outskirts of the town, which meant a pleasant walk each morning, and a chance to be closer to nature – both of which were bonuses in his mind. His was among five or six others, surrounded by a tiny picket wall, and more a miniature hunting community than anything else. It was perilously close to the frontier, but that was fine.
That was where the good hunting was.
The walls of Edge were a fair bit taller, and a good deal more substantial. The base was stone packed up upon itself, and about five feet tall, the remaining ten to fifteen being wood topped with leather and oils to protect it from the heavy rains. It would have remained at just that for any other frontier town, but being of interest to the SDC, it was also topped with razor wire, and had metal spikes facing outwards secured into the base. The other side was reinforced, too, and there were spotlights – currently turned off – that dotted the parapet. The SDC-uniformed guards at the gate spared him a glance as he entered, but nothing more. They recognised him by face, and even if they didn't, the only thing they were to protect the town from was Grimm, raiders and the occasional White Fang appearance. There was a large dog on a lead by one of them, and he could hear more barking inside the walls.
From the inside, Edge bustled with more life than he'd ever seen it have before. Upwards of ten people filled the courtyard before the gate, and there must have been thirty more hurrying to the mines for morning work. Many of them he recognised, and some waved and exchanged greetings as they passed. He smiled back sincerely, but didn't stop. That was until one of his usual customers pulled him aside.
"Ey Jaune, good to see ya," the faunus greeted with a smile. His dog-shaped ears fell loose beside his head, one with a nasty cut in it. His voice was rough, more from his growling lisp than anything else, but the smile was friendly, even if his teeth were stained. "You got any grub you be sellin'?"
"Not today, Dogpatch," Jaune apologised, smiling at the miner. "Didn't come to sell. Maybe another time."
The faunus' face fell, and he shot Jaune a hard look. "You ain't just sayin' that so you be sellin' it to others for more, are you?" He tossed his head to the side. "You knows I don't make more but what dem Schnee folks pay me!"
"Dogpatch… when have I ever done that to anyone?" Jaune smiled and rolled his eyes, even as the man opposite him muttered an apology. "You know Mom would tan my hide if she ever caught me double-charging, and that's before if Uncle got wind of it. Fair's fair for everyone, not just some."
It was an old adage his Uncle had drilled into him, and one he'd clung to despite the way the world refused to agree with it. Fair was fair. Didn't matter whether you liked them or not.
"I didn't come here to sell, but I do have some extra food that might go bad while I'm away. You can have it if you're interested." Jaune reached into his pack and pulled out a bag of dried meat. "The usual rate?"
Dogpatch dropped his scowl and stepped forward, drawing him into a tight embrace. His protests went ignored as usual. He scrunched his nose against the man's healthy scent. "That's wha' I like 'bout you Arcs," he said. "That and the other thing you lot always say. Speakin' of…"
Jaune laughed and patted his pockets down. Eventually, he found what he was looking for, a small bag with a variety of brightly coloured flowers and plants. He tossed it to the miner. "Here you go… just as I promised."
"Yeah, yeah," Dogpatch cut him off, but there was no cruelty to it. His hazy eyes shone, looking down at the bag in his hands, treating the tiny petals within as if they were made from glass. He looked up with fragile hope. "Will this really be enough?"
"It will," Jaune said, nodding. "That's Fever Flower – only grows in sandy areas, and these roots can be made into a poultice. I had to go pretty deep into the Wildlands to find that, so make it last. If you take it to Aggie's Apothecary, she'll be able to mix up something to make your wife's leg better."
"Thank ye, me boy." Dogpatch sniffed. "My Maria's been in such pain, but the Schnee Doc couldn't do anything, and the next medical shipment is a month or more away. Thank ye! City med'cine is just too expensive. I can pay Aggie back with some help fixin' up 'er place, but I need to work and can't leave mah Maria."
"Don't worry about it, Dogpatch. If anything you should thank Uncle Jaque the next time you see him. He's the one who taught me about it. Besides, it doesn't cost me anything to help you out. It's what a hunter does, help people in need."
"What dey could," Dogpatch said. "Maybe even what dey should, but you know as well as I, life ain't always tha' kind. Some of dem new ones arrives yesterday. Saw 'em in the company store. Gave me a look that said they'd as soon shove me as 'elp me."
"Huntsmen…" Jaune growled, and he looked the faunus up and down with narrowed eyes. "Did they do anything to you?"
"To me? Nah, nuthin', boy." He coughed awkwardly and changed the subject. "So, Jaune, my lad… I was thinkin' of inviting you to dinner with the family after you found them flowers. Still want to thank you, even if I ain't got the coin to pay you." He smiled pleasantly. "I bet Debbie would be pleased to see ya…"
"Sorry, Dogpatch," he politely declined. "I'm going out with those Hunters on a mission, so I won't be around much longer."
"And Debby?" Dogpatch tried.
"Dogpatch," Jaune tried to address this topic once again. "Debby's a nice girl," and she was, even if she had a dog face without needing to be a faunus, "but she doesn't like blood. I'm a hunter- I kill animals all the time, and then bring back their corpses. If she doesn't have the heart to see blood and still smile, it wouldn't work out."
"At least she wouldn't go hungry," Dogpatch muttered. It wasn't the first time he'd tried to (re)introduce Jaune and his daughter.
"She could always go to Vale and find a job," Jaune suggested. "Make more money than you do in the mine." He wasn't sure how, or what she could do- but everyone knew that the Kingdoms were the places to go for jobs. That's what his sisters had said, anyway.
Dogpatch barked a laugh. "Over my dead body," he vowed. "Dem city folk- they like faunus even less den the Schnees do, and poor desperate girls even worse than faunus. I came out here to get away from all dat garbage, of resentment and rebel Fangs and all dat. Well, dat and to get out o' a cell. Out here, at least, people care more about if you do da job than what you look like doin' it. Country's better."
Jaune nodded to the voice speaking from experience. "True enough," he agreed. He looked for a polite way to break the conversation and move on. "Need to get to the company store before I go. Maybe dinner the next time I'm back?" he asked.
Dogpatch nodded. "Stay livin', Jaune. Mah missus would cry if ya died."
"I'd be a poor hunter if I did, Dogpatch. I'll see you around."
Jaune knew his day wouldn't remain so peaceful and calm, even before his old friend's warning about disturbances in town. He barely made it ten minutes before he ran into one such example, and his hand fell instinctively to his collapsible bow when he heard a scream. No arrow was nocked, and he didn't draw back the spring, mostly because the sound wasn't terrified enough to suggest Grimm, but also because the victim flew out of the nearby tavern and landed at his feet. The saloon-style doors flapped behind him, and there was a sound like breaking glass from inside.
The man was someone he recognised but didn't know, a familiar face he'd sold meat to before, but little more. He groaned in pain, but it didn't look like anything was broken, even if the bruises were pretty deep. He wouldn't be working in the morning - that much was clear. Wouldn't be earning the money he'd need for painkillers, either.
Let it go, his mind said. Ignore it and move on.
His feet carried him past, but something made him pause. It wasn't the man, groaning as he was, or anything else he could put his finger on – only a dull sense of disappointment, maybe at himself. He tugged at the red bandanna wrapped about his arm and bit his lip. Damn it all…
With a sigh, he turned back and pushed his way into the tavern.
The evidence of a fight was everywhere. As it should be, he supposed, since the guy outside hadn't knocked himself out on the door. Tables and chairs were smashed and glass littered the floor, crunching underfoot. Servers and waiters huddled against the walls, some of the younger, braver, ones moving to try and drag groaning victims away.
There were plenty of those. Men, women, faunus… all were equal in something like this. The only one that remained, but for the staff, was a blonde girl. More of a young woman on second glance, especially with the dimensions she boasted. The curves spoke of a woman, but while they might have been mature, well…
"Now that this is all settled, how about that drink I asked for?" the girl asked. If her tone didn't make it clear it wasn't a question, the aftermath did. "Don't worry about the ID. Besides, I think these guys wanted to buy me a drink anyway, right boys?"
Several of the injured groaned.
Blondie grinned. "See? I'd like a strawberry sunrise."
"I don't got the drinks for that, Miss," the bartender, Phil, said. He was shaking slightly, but composed himself as best he could. A stranger might have thought it nothing more than fear, or nerves from being so near a pretty girl. Jaune knew better. He'd spent time and shared drinks with the man, enough to know Phil had seen things. Things he didn't like to talk about, things that brought on shakes when dust and force were involved.
"What do you mean you don't?" Blonde demanded. "Don't be holding out on me just because we're in the sticks."
Breathe. Hold. Let it go…
Jaune slid into the seat beside the girl.
"Everything okay, Phil?"
Phil dropped the mug he'd been filling, and struggled to catch it as it fell. But the girl… she leapt out of her seat at the sound of his voice so close. It was obvious she hadn't noticed him approach, and that shocked her.
Less so, Phil, who'd been on the receiving end before.
"Damn it, Jaune!" he exclaimed. "When will you stop doing that?"
"Probably when it stops working," he said with a smile, before that fell to a look of concern. "I mean it, though. Is anyone-?"
Phil looked at Blonde from the corner of his eye, though luckily she didn't see it because she was too busy trying to figure him out. Phil's lips were thin, and as he looked back to Jaune, his eyes were resigned. "It was a fair fight," he said. "At least in terms of who started it…"
"You mean it was an awesome fight," the girl bragged, slipping back into her stool beside Jaune. Her eyes were on the drink Phil put before her, but he could sense her attention was on him. "There I was peacefully minding my own business when some gentleman offers to buy me drinks. Turns out they were punks who tried to fight over me." She sighed and shook her head. "Such a shame…"
Jaune glanced to Phil, and the man gave a subtle half-shake of his head. There was a frown there, however. So, it wasn't the truth, but not entirely false, either.
She'd egged them on.
"That's a shame," Jaune said, eyes on the counter. "I hate to see people hurt over something like this."
"No one was who didn't join in first," she said, and Phil nodded reluctantly. "Shame you weren't there to stop it," she said. "You could have saved me."
His eyes rose to hers for the first time, and then a little higher. The girl was beautiful, with not a hair out of place. These men, on the other hand, continued to groan and drag themselves across the floor.
"Saved, huh?" he whispered. Saved her the trouble, perhaps? Or maybe saved them from her? "A shame I wasn't here."
Blonde's eyes narrowed, and she looked him up and down. He bore it without tension, knowing what she was seeing. The old black hoodie, patched and sewn back together so many times, was gone and in his pack if he needed a spare. Now he wore something better suited to the wilds- a hooded leather hunting jacket, only superficially similar to his childhood wear if all the orange and most of the black had given way to darker greens. The oils used to treat the leather had given it a generally dark green shade, better for blending into the wilderness, and much better for bearing the elements. The oiled leather, and especially the hood, insured rain slid right off without soaking- and gave it a tough-looking look as well. This wasn't the sort of jacket to rip and tear in the brambles, though there were scratches here or there showing where particularly sharp thorns- and in one case, a near-miss from a Grimm- had scratched by. It'd been expensive- he'd invested an entire commission into it as much for the rain-proofing as anything else- but it wasn't a bad jacket by any means. It was rough, and worn, but still new enough that it she shouldn't have much complaint. If he could be vain, it looked tough, tough enough to survive in the wilds.
The rest of his wardrobe, on the other hand, or the man who wore the jacket...
His pants were old, old enough to that they had needed a patch or two on the cargo pockets. Old jeans might have looked better old, but pants with real pockets- the sort of pockets you might actually carry stuff in- weren't so classy. These were old, clearly worn, and only dark because they'd been dyed after getting so dirty that even his mother had given up reclaiming the original color. They might blend in to the woods, but they wouldn't win any beauty contests.
Then again, neither would he. He was... himself, he guessed? Still growing, though more out than up these days. Only tanning on the parts that he left uncovered, which wasn't much most of the time. He was tall. He wasn't lanky. But he wasn't exactly limber either- or at least not fit like an athelete or warrior. He had the muscles for pulling a bow and carrying game, but no more. The top of his head hadn't seen a barber's blade in over a month, and believe or not but neither had the lower half either. But while the top of his mop was long, with only a self-inflicted knife to cut the worst away from his eyes, the bottom still hadn't grown in. At best there was a bit of chin fuzz, six o'clock shadow too blonde to be a shadow. Clearly the face of someone awkwardly in the middle of trying to grow a beard.
Key word, trying. He'd given up hoping anyone besides his mother would notice.
So he wasn't special, but he wasn't an adonis either. Too rough around the edges, too rustic to compete with city fashions or the sort of body builders who could work on their bodies more than actually work. Still, with his bow collapsed and strapped over his back, and a quiver of arrows on his left hip, but most of all the easy posture as he coolly waited for her conclusion without the least bit of fluster...
He wasn't bad. Rugged, perhaps. Outdoorsy. Not fashionable, not by the standards of someone like her, anyway. Her outfit was as impractical as it was attractive, and drew attention to just how clean, healthy and beautiful she was. It made her stand out. His let him blend in.
"I like the jacket," she eventually said. "It's… adventurous." Her eyes dipped a little lower. "Not sure the red works with all that green and black, though."
It was kinder than he'd expected, though no less critical for it. His clothing was functional and little else. He resisted the urge to pull his hood up over his head and pushed away from the bar, one hand coming up to tug the shock of crimson a little higher. He turned to Phil. "I'm headed to the store. Do you want me to pass an order along while I'm there?"
Phil nodded and started to scribble something down on a piece of paper.
"Leaving so soon?" Blonde asked, turning with a sultry smile. She angled one elbow on the bar to better draw attention to her impressive cleavage. "You just got here, and didn't even order a drink. You should stay and kill some time with me."
"I'm not eighteen."
"This isn't the city. They don't even care about that there."
"My Mom would," Jaune said. "Wouldn't yours?"
Her brow creased, and there was a quick flash of frustration that she quickly smoothed over. "Don't be a stick in the mud. I've still got time to kill this morning and you could be the lucky guy to help me pass it. You should feel honoured; it's not every day you get to buy a beautiful huntress a drink."
His breath caught.
Breathe. Hold. Let it go…
"Not interested." He snatched the note from Phil and stashed it away without even looking. He had his own supplies to buy, preparations to make, and people to see. He pushed away from the bar, but the girl caught his arm. His eyes closed. "Let go."
"What's the deal with you?" she asked, somewhere between irritated and incredulous. "Even if you had a girlfriend," which he didn't, "there's no way you should be blowing me off..." She trailed off, eyes widening as a thought clearly only belatedly occurred to her.
"Wait, are you gay? If so, I am really sorry-"
She sounded more apologetic for the minor faux pas than anything else she might have done.
"No!" Jaune snapped, before taking a steadying breath. The irritation was strong with this one, and wouldn't be any less if she were a man. "I like women." he affirmed.
"Then what's wrong with you?" the girl asked, honestly perplexed. "You might be nothing special, but I've got to be the hottest girl in this village right now. Normal guys don't turn their nose up at that." She paused. "Well, at least not unless they're trying to get a better angle," she laughed, as if trying to salvage the moment.
Jaune felt his annoyance bubble, but swallowed it down with practised ease. "The hottest girl, huh?"
"Yeah." She let go of him and planted her hands on her hips, adopting a pose that showed off her admittedly tempting figure. "Honestly, who'd you rather spend time with? One to ten, all the girls you've ever seen, how do I rate?"
Ever seen, huh? He considered. She was certainly far prettier than Dogpatch's daughter. And she wanted honesty. Well, fair's fair…
"Twelve, maybe eleven" Jaune admitted.
Blonde nodded, expecting it. "That's right," she not even humble-bragged. "I break the scale. And I'm a Huntress- and yet I'm offering you the chance to spend time-"
"I'm sorry," Jaune insincerely apologized. "I meant twelfth place… as in, I can think of eleven girls I'd rather spend time with than you. Most of them aren't Huntresses either."
Even dog-faced Debbie, who might be ugly, had never put a dozen decent men in need of medical attention just to pass the time. There was Kalie, too, his amicable ex, and even beyond her-
Her arm caught his wrist again, and this time squeezed hard, showing how pissed she was. If it wasn't for the leather bracer on his right arm, he might have had bruises.
"What did you just say?"
"I said you don't even make it into my top ten. You're not the first huntress I've met, and you certainly aren't the most beautiful. I have no interest in spending any time with you."
Blonde didn't let him go- actually cocked her first back to no doubt put him down in one punch- but a man with more sense than he intervened. Phil, veteran and bartender and veteran bartender that he was, reached over the bar to catch the Huntress's arm.
"I'm cutting you off," Phil warned the girl. "Any more, and I'll be contacting Beacon about more than property damage."
Blonde looked at Phil, but reined red eyes back to a violent violet. She gave a contemptuous noise, but released her grip on Jaune in favour of sending him a rude gesture. She left, with a deliberate sway of the hips as she passed through the saloon doors, and was gone.
Breathe. Hold. Let it go...
"That was stupid, Jaune," Phil scolded, not unkindly, as everyone in the room let loose a breath.
"Probably," Jaune admitted. "Got her out of your hair so you could clean up, though," he added. The day's sales were ruined, but new chairs and tables could be brought in in time for the evening rush once the mine closed for the day.
"That wouldn't have been worth you or anyone else getting hurt, Jaune," Phil chided. "I can get reimbursed and replace broken furniture. You can't replace your arm so easily."
Jaune shrugged, but didn't try to deny it. "Sorry," he apologized to Phil without regret.
"I'm not the one who would have been sorry," Phil claimed. "You're here for the expedition she's on, right? If she'd knocked you out, she'd have been the one to regret it. No one smart wants to go into the Wildlands without a guide."
"Wouldn't have mattered," Jaune claimed. "She's just a typical Huntress. Probably wouldn't listen to a backwoods hunter like me in the first place."
Phil sighed. "They're not all like that, Jaune," the war veteran said. "Just…"
Just too many, just each and every one Jaune had met in the last five years? Whatever Phil was going to say, he changed his mind.
"Just go to the store and drop off that order," Phil said instead. "And pick up whatever you need, just in case. It's never a good idea to be on the bad side of Huntresses. Remember, they might need you, and maybe she should have kept her silence – but it's a two way street."
Jaune nodded and stepped away without responding. Being on their bad side, huh?
It might be a little too late for that.
Edge's general store was actually a company store, which meant that much like everything else here, the SDC owned and operated it. There was one to be found on every corporate enclave across Vale, or so he'd been told. There'd been another store once, but the SDC had the better selection and better quality. Had they run the old store out of business… maybe, but at the same time, the people here needed supplies, and for all that the SDC store wasn't the cheapest, they were reliable.
No one else had the resources to ship food, medicine and clothing across Grimm-infested land, and though it was a running joke that the SDC claimed nine out of every ten lien they paid, Jaune knew most of it probably want to ensuring the goods made it to Edge in the first place.
Not everyone agreed, of course.
"Your prices are outrageous," an impassioned voice cried. "This is exploitation!"
Jaune sighed and stepped into the store.
"Ma'am," the aggrieved cahshier replied, "we aren't forcing you to buy anything from of. If you don't like our prices, you're free to go wherever else you like."
"And what about them?" the girl opposite of him demanded, indicating some of the villagers in the story. "What's the alternative for these people out here?"
Oh great… one of those people.
Breathe. Hold. Let it go…
"Somewhere that isn't here, obviously," the cashier said. Jaune recognized him as Conway, the store manager's son.
"They have nowhere else to go! That's why you think you can get away with this, isn't it? You're just another oppressive racist looking to make everything you can out of the faunus who work here. How can you charge them such high prices? Would you charge a human this much?"
"Ma'am, SDC company policy mandates uniform prices for all customers. I don't choose them – and the only discounts I can even give are employee ones for those who qualify."
Conway was clearly trying to take the high ground, or at least diffuse what could quickly become a dangerous situation. The girl, however, was having none of it.
"And faunus don't qualify, of course," the girl sneered.
"Miners don't qualify at all, human or faunus," Conway's patience finally snapped. "I don't even pay the faunus, and right now I'd happily refuse to hire any at all if it'd make you shut up about pay gaps, but I don't get a say in that! Please step aside."
"No!" The girl slammed her hands down on the counter.
"Just because you don't care doesn't mean that-"
"Ma'am!" Conway interrupted, voice raised. "There's a line."
His cue to step in, he supposed. He stepped up behind her, and then raised a fist to his mouth and coughed when it was obvious she hadn't noticed his approach. "Ahem."
The girl with the black bow jumped like a cat whose tail he'd stepped on. She twirled to face him, hand dipping low. There were gasps as steel was drawn – the situation going from tense to potentially lethal in an instant. The villagers behind him whispered and backed away. It was less a line as Conway had said, and more a crowd of bystanders drawn by the noise.
Luckily, Jaune was out of reach of the blade, though he watched it warily. It didn't look like she intended to use it, its appearance more instinctual than anything else. Did he want to bet on that, however?
Maybe… it didn't look like anyone else was going to. He stepped forward, enough so that the tip poked into his chest.
"Excuse me. May I pass?"
The crowd behind him began to whisper. They always did that, constant gossips and idle hands looking for the latest bit of news. No doubt, they'd tell stories about him for months. The man who almost got stabbed by a huntress, though maybe by then it would have been exaggerated into an army of huntresses, or a story of how he'd crossed all the Wildland and into the Grimmlands to rescue a princess and find true love.
Well… at least it would be good for his reputation.
"Who are you?" the girl asked, eyes narrowed.
"Just a customer," he replied. His eyes trailed above her and to the man behind the counter. "Hey Conway. Phil needs some help with a bulk order – very rushed."
The city girl looked like she wasn't used to being talked over, and looked ready to intervene. Conway, bless him, beat her to it.
"Something happen? What does he need?"
"I'm just the delivery man but I've got a list." He drew forth Phil's note from earlier and waved it in the air. He let his eyes slip to the girl's amber ones again. "Tables and chairs were damaged, so maybe it's that. Then again, it could be medical supplies. Some miners were hurt."
That did the trick. The girl's eyes widened, and with a fraction of a nod, she stepped out of the way, sheathing her weapon. He nodded back and moved towards the counter, laying the list down. Conway took it and read through it.
"Sheesh, what happened? Was there an accident at the mine?"
That set the crowd off again, and all of a sudden there might have been a side story of him rescuing beleaguered miners. He shook his head, cutting it off before it could start.
Maybe it was vindictive, but he looked to the girl once more.
"It was no accident, Conway. Just a huntress at the bar."
The way the black-haired girl paled would have been proof enough, even if he hadn't already guessed it.
"I'll send a few extra first aid bags over right away," Conway said. "I'll mark it down as community relief or something. They let us get away with that every now and then. Let me grab them from storage," he said, moving away. "I'll be back in a moment!"
The crowd dissipated when Conway vanished behind a door. With the huntresses' weapon put away, and the argument over, they had no reason to keep watching. That was nice, but it left him alone with the girl in an enclosed space. The tension felt thick enough to stop an arrow.
Breathe. Hold. Let it go…
"This huntress," she eventually said, not quite meeting his eyes. Her voice stuttered. "Did she-?"
"No one died," he said. "Can't say much for broken bones, though…"
She let out a quick breath. "That's a relief."
Jaune's lips pulled down. "Not really. If they have broken bones, they won't be able to work in the mines. If they can't work, they'll be out of pocket until they can." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, thinking of Dogpatch. "Someone's family probably has some hard times ahead… especially if they can't pay for medicine."
Most of them couldn't. Most would grit their teeth and ride through the agony, food for their families more important than personal comfort.
"That's just… that's wrong," city-girl said. "The SDC should support them until they recover."
"Huh?" Jaune looked at her like she'd grown a second head. "What does the SDC have to do with this? It's not like it was a mine accident or anything. Why should they pay medical bills for something a huntress does?"
She winced at the blow, and that at least made her better in his eyes than the other. Despite that, she didn't back down. "Those miners need the money to support their families," she said. "Don't you feel the SDC owes its employee's families that much? How are they supposed to get by without it?"
"They could work in the mines themselves." Jaune suggested.
It wasn't like the SDC were picky about who they employed. If you wanted to work, they'd pay you for it. What you earned and not a lien more, but on time and without argument. It was what you earned for an honest day's work. No more, no less. Even if you could argue they owed you more, and sure, they definitely could have afforded to owe the faunus a little more – but who didn't feel that way nowadays?
He felt the Wildlands would have been better with less Grimm and more game, but life wasn't that easy – not for him, the miners, or the SDC themselves.
"How could you-?" City-girl glared at him, but refrained from throwing words like `barbaric` or `monstrous` around. Probably because she knew he'd just point out it was a huntresses' fault again. "What if the family is too young to work," she asked instead, "Or if they can't because they're injured or sick?"
"Then they find something else to do that they like better," he said. "Or they don't eat."
He hadn't liked the thought of a lifetime in the mines either, so he'd gone off to the Wildlands instead and hunted his own food. Found herbs, and when times were hard and that wasn't enough, he found ways to make himself useful by finding things or scouting land. Sure, it hadn't paid much at first, but it kept food on the table, and it let him choose how he wanted to live his life.
City-girl gave him a look filled with contempt, as though he was something stuck to the bottom of her shoe. "And I thought the SDC were bad." she muttered. "Back home, we actually care for our people. It's not perfect and racism divides us, but at least we don't pretend poverty is a choice. When people need help, we help them. We protect them from what we can, and we don't forget about them when they're inconvenient." Her eyes flashed to his. "Not like you people. Not like out here."
That ignorant little bitch...
Jaune's hand jumped to his bandana, gripping it as tightly as he fought for control. Jaune closed his eyes, feeling the familiar fabric as he gripped tight, before he took a breath and took refuge in the memories.
In the space of a heartbeat he thought of the things she didn't know, things she'd never care about. He remembered selling his game at a fair rate to hungry miners, and occasionally letting people believe he couldn't tell his weights apart – giving them a little more than they'd paid for when he knew times were rough.
He remembered keeping an eye out for fever flower for weeks because Dogpatch's wife was sick, all with nothing more in it for him than a dinner and Debbie's ugly smile. He remembered young waiters in the saloon trying to drag the injured away – and even Conway, nothing more than a minor clerk, using a loophole to help some wounded miners, never once asking if they were faunus or human.
He remembered those times and hundreds more. Edge was a community, and you didn't make it long without being willing to look after one another. He remembered those times, and reminded himself that it was proof he wasn't anything like this person.
When he opened his eyes again, they were tranquil- but anything but warm.
"Is that Kingdom compassion the reason your friend put a dozen people on the floor out of boredom? Is that why she's here, to share a little of her compassion with us? Maybe we weren't ready for it." He sneered. "Maybe we should have begged her not to."
City-girl flushed, but it was equal parts embarrassment and anger. "At least she doesn't rob them while she was at it, and then expect them to thank her for the privilege of being exploited!"
"No, she'll just leave their families to go hungry and forget them when – what was it you said – oh yes, forget about them when they're no longer convenient." His words struck her across the cheek, and he took a step forward. "And maybe the SDC wouldn't charge so much if they didn't have to pay for all the security it costs to get their goods here. Imagine how much they'd save if huntsmen fought White Fang bandits instead of faunus miners."
"The White Fang wouldn't have as much support as they do if the SDC didn't monopolise desperately needed goods! Huntresses and huntsmen shouldn't be used to fight their race war!"
He agreed with that, actually. Luckily, he didn't need to respond.
"No," Conway called from behind her. "But maybe if they won't defend us against bandits and terrorists, they could come and help defend us from the Grimm. Maybe then the trade routes would be safe enough for other merchants to come out this far and compete with the SDC."
"A Huntress, out in the wild fighting Grimm on the frontier for heartless hicks like us?" Jaune asked in a tone of mocking amazement. "And miss the latest city fashions? Never!" He'd certainly never seen one out here for long- or one who was ever plainly dressed. Whoever invented combat skirts or garters clearly didn't have the wilderness in mind.
"Huntresses are heroes for everyone!" she exclaimed, passion apparent. "Human, faunus, we protect people no matter their race or status or-"
Jaune and Conway exchanged looks. They didn't say anything- they didn't need to- as the sound of Conway dropping the medical bags on the counter one by one filled the sudden silence.
"This is all I have on hand, Jaune," Conway said, utterly ignoring the reddening Huntress. "Dad might know where more is, but he's in an important meeting in the back and I daren't interrupt. Will this be enough?"
"Hope so," Jaune said. "I'll be coming back- think you could help me with some maps when I return?"
"If I can," Conway promised. "If I'm not being yelled out for how much it costs to bring paper and medical supplies out here, that is," he lamented.
That passive-aggressive salvo seemed to be the final straw. Or maybe the girl was angry or shamed or simply guilty enough to want to leave. Either way, she pushed forward and began gathering the bags with a single ribbon.
"I'll take them," city-girl snapped, taking all the bags at once. Despite her small frame, she handled them with an easy grace that made Conway look like a bumbler. In a moment, with a hostile final look exchanged with Jaune, she was out of the store like a cat burglar.
"Fucking faunus-rights activists," Conway muttered once she'd left, more thankful for her departure than her willingness to help. "Glad she's gone. They think they can come from their city, yell at us all they want, but and leave all moral and superior. They're so high and mighty, but they never stick around to actually change things." Conway spat to the side. "Not sure if that's better or worse," he admitted. "Who'd want them to stick around?"
People who'd enjoy lower prices from Huntresses protecting towns, for one, but who cared about them? "I came in when she was talking about store costs," Jaune said. "How much do you think she spends on her clothes alone?" Boots, garter, frills, bow…
Conway gave him an apprising look. "That outfit alone probably cost more than you used to bring in in in a month, maybe two, back before you freelanced for us," he admitted. "And that's not even touching her weapon as a Huntress."
"Please, don't," Jaune begged. "If I did, she might cut me with something worse than words." The two shared a look, and then a laugh. The fact that it wasn't unimaginable was what made it funny.
"Thanks for backing me up, Jaune," Conway thanked. "Even if Phil didn't ask for emergency supplies."
Jaune shrugged. He hadn't known. "People needed help," he explained. "But you know Phil." The man would rather limp home than ask for help he could live without, and expected the same of others.
"Sure do- and you," Conway claimed. "Now, speaking of freelancing… what can I help you with, Jaune?" he asked, getting down to business. "You don't normally come to town without a reason. You got more dust samples to turn in? I can give you a little extra if you do," he offered.
"Not this time, Con," Jaune began, ignoring the other youth's groan at the pet name, "I actually need some maps, a compass…" He sighed and slumped placed his elbows on the counter, one hand against his forehead. "And if you've got it, a whole load of patience."
"Patience, you…? Isn't this coming from the guy who once told me he had to sit in a tree for nine hours straight to scout out a dust lode and wait for Grimm to pass?"
"It was only nine hours," Jaune sighed. "I won't last nine minutes with this."
Breathe. Hold. Let it go…
"Why?" Conway asked. "I thought it was odd you were here in Edge so soon. What's happened? You'd normally be out hunting right now."
"I'll be going out hunting later."
"So late!? You'll be stuck out there at night."
"I've got a feeling that won't matter."
Conway watched him carefully, and laid out some maps on the counter. "You wouldn't normally need these, either. What are you hunting for, anyway? The next big dust mine?"
"No. Something far more elusive…"
Jaune collected the various bits and pieces and stuffed them into his bags. When he looked back up, his eyes were deadly serious.
"A Bullhead was downed in the Wildlands and a huntsman's gone missing."
"In the Wildlands…?" Conway swallowed. "He's dead, then. No doubts about it. Gods protect his soul."
"I'm like as not to agree with you. Still, I need to go and try to find him, or at least what's left of him."
"Why? Why go to so much effort?"
Jaune paused by the door. His eyes slipped shut, even as his chest began to rise and fall a little faster. He took a deep breath, held it… and then let it go. When his eyes opened, they were calm and tranquil once more.
"Because she asked me to."
Howdy. College Fool here, with a few (hopefully brief) points to start out the first chapter of a new story.
First off, thanks to Coeur for (re)writing this, and agreeing to write this story in full. This chapter, and the first arc, is the only part of this story I actually did write out before abandoning the effort ye long time ago. Coeur's made it much better, and will do great things with the rest of the plan I'm sure. Thanks Coeur, and it's been a pleasure being your beta-reader. Now you get some of the fun, ha.
Second, this story. It's going to focus on Ren and Jaune. That should be obvious by the character tags and summary alone. This is going to be a bit different from Coeur's usual works- an honest-to-god adventure story. This isn't a story built around romance, or comedy, or comedy-romance. These might have their places here and there, but expect more focus on the journey, and the characters, and the character journeys.
There is a plan, but I'm not going to lie- this story will probably seem slow to people. It's not- or rather, the speed is deliberate, but there are meta-factors in play that will make it seem slower. While chapter length is varied, we're probably looking at sub-10k chapters- similar to White Sheep. But unlike WS, this will be every two weeks real-time, to allow more attention/refinement/thorough betaing. The plot won't be rushed to compensate. So, if it feels this story is half as fast as others... just remember it's being updated at half the rate. In this story we're valuing quality control over speed. I just ask for your patience, and understanding.
Finally, this chapter, and the characters. Not your standard start, right? Familiar characters aren't quite getting off on the right foot. Rest assured, though, this isn't a bashing fic. It's a fic with flawed characters- who's viewpoints shade their perspectives- but there are reasons for these, and just about everything in this story. What those reasons are...
Well, that's the fun part, right? Trying to figure out what you can before you're outright told. There's a lot of unknowns here yet to be filled in, and that's deliberate. So, you try to figure out what you can, and we'll dabble out small hints over time, and if we're doing our job right we'll STILL surprise you and upend what you thought you knew.
Looking forward to you all joining us for this walkabout, hikers and campers and wilderness lovers especially.
Last note from Coeur: Just to answer the doubtless asked question, I am afraid I will not do this for anyone else or any other story. CF and I have a special relationship built on a lot of time working together. Please don't PM me to ask if I will write your story for you, and trust me when I say it won't make a difference how wonderful you think your story is. I mean no offence, but this is a special case. You may be sure you have a great story idea, but PM-ing and sharing it with me will not make me want to write it for you.
Next Chapter: 23rd September
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur