So, just a few things before I start. This time around I'm going to skip doing my usual thing of being all, "I'm going to update on Mondays!" and then slowly but surely shifting back a day, and just start out by saying this should be up every Sunday.
There will be one exception to that, which is that I'm just going to go ahead and put up all of initiation and the first chapter at once, right now. My reasoning here is that it's incredibly frustrating to me when someone will start with initiation, get all the way through it... and then stop. Normally I'd solve this by not including it at all, but the whole premise of this is that people ended up partnered differently. So instead, 100% guarantee that this thing will make it past initiation. Because it already has.
Everything was still. Faint birdsong served more to accentuate the silence than to break it, and warm sunlight filtered in through the canopy of brilliant green leaves high above. The air smelled rich and earthy. Ren was having trouble remembering this place was infested with Grimm.
Part of that was probably because he hadn't seen any. For all the headmaster's grave warnings, the most threatening creature he'd encountered so far had been a stray spider crawling on his pant leg. He took a deep breath, closing his eyes and listening intently. Still nothing. If Nora had been anywhere nearby, he'd have heard her—she was many things, but subtle and quiet weren't among them. He trotted off into the woods, his shoes sinking into the carpet of fallen leaves and pine needles. If he kept walking he'd find her eventually, and then they'd be partners just like they always were.
Somewhere behind him and to the left, a high-pitched shriek rent the air. Ren froze, turning his head to look around. Not Nora—his frantic heartbeat slowed. He glanced guiltily back in the direction he'd been heading. Surely, his fellow hunters-in-training could handle themselves? Whoever it was had probably just been startled. But... no. He had made a promise to himself, to never again harm others through his own inaction. Ren turned and trudged off in the direction of the noise.
Not even a minute later, he heard another scream. This one had come from the opposite direction, and Ren once again had to forcibly remind himself that it wasn't Nora. It was a bit of a conundrum, though—who to search for? He hesitated, glancing back and forth, trying to sense any disturbance that might indicate more danger one way or another. Instead, the second voice cried out again. The first had been silent since he'd heard it—they were likely either safe, or beyond his help. Ren turned on his heel and darted into the trees. In his haste, the coil of polished dark scales half-hidden in the brush went entirely unnoticed.
The screamer, it turned out, was a young man with shoulder-length hair that was somewhere between blue and grey in color. He was not, as Ren had expected, besieged by a horde of beowolves, or maybe a larger Grimm like a Deathstalker. No, he was dangling halfway up a tree by both arms and curling his legs up, all to avoid the claws of a single Ursa. It wasn't even a particularly large Ursa.
Whiffing out a breath, the Grimm stood up on its hind legs and slammed both front paws into the trunk of the tree. The branch the boy was hanging from jerked, and he screamed again as his legs swung just inches from the monster's snapping jaws. Ren let out a resigned sigh and wandered into the clearing. The Ursa turned, opened its mouth to snarl, and stumbled back onto its hindquarters when he slashed it across the face with one of his guns. It swiped at him, and he slipped under the reaching paw to bury one of the blades in the softer flesh at its armpit. He followed up with a palm strike to the underside of its neck, and after a sickening crack the beast went still.
Then, very reluctantly, he looked up. The boy in the tree was staring at him wide-eyed, still clinging to his branch. Even as Ren watched, one hand slipped and he came crashing down on his back with a yelp. Nora had been right—it would've been better to wear blindfolds until they found one another.
Dove didn't have much of a preference, when it came to his partner. He wanted someone strong, hopefully someone intelligent as well, but he didn't care who it was. Even so... he had sort of wanted his first interaction with the person he'd spend the next four years with to be positive. Maybe a smile, or even just a handshake.
But, when someone careened out of the trees to his left so quickly she bowled him over, sending the pair of them rolling down the hill, the very first thing that left her mouth when her bright teal eyes locked on his was, "Oh, no!"
He felt a little bit dazed, probably from when his head had hit the ground, but he did his best to smile reassuringly. "It's alright," he said, assuming she'd been apologizing for knocking him over.
"I was supposed to find Ren!" she groaned, bouncing to her feet and looking around. "Or at least someone about to die! I know saving people is supposed to come before having a good partner, but you're fine! Why were you even screaming, if you're fine?!"
"I didn't?" Dove got up much slower than she did, pausing to rub at the back of his head. "That was someone else, in that direction." He pointed off to the southeast.
The girl slumped. Her whole body seemed to go limp with disappointment, and Dove couldn't help but be a little offended. "I'm sure we could still be on the same team as this Ren person," he tried. She perked up immediately, turning toward him with a grin that showed every single one of her teeth. Dove wasn't always great at reading people's expressions, but something about that smile made him nervous.
"You're right! We just gotta find him and his partner." Her expression darkened. "And then, we make 'em switch with me. Or else."
"That's not what I—" Dove started, but she was already sprinting away. "You didn't even tell me your name!" he shouted after her.
Two Ursai, four Beowolves, and a Creep. Nearly half an hour of wandering through the forest. Six separate sticker bushes that had each snagged on her coat. Not a single sign of another human being, let alone her little sister. Yang was not amused.
"Bored!" she shouted, to no one in particular. She'd been doing that on and off since the Ursai. Honestly, they'd all been launched in the same general area. How long could it take to randomly run into someone else?
A Beowolf poked its head out of a bush, and she smashed it into the ground. It yipped once and died. "Bored," she told the smoke. It was at least reassuring that she hadn't encountered any real resistance so far. If she was practically walking through the Grimm in this area, then Ruby would be too. It'd be a lot more reassuring if she could actually find her.
"Ruby!" Yang hollered at the top of her lungs, cupping her hands around her mouth to amplify the sound. She'd given up on trying to push her little sister out of her comfort zone somewhere around the point when the headmaster had shot them off a cliff. It was one thing to say that when they were both safe in the locker room, and another thing entirely to just... look for some other partner when Ruby was probably freaking out trying to find her. She sighed, then waded through another thorn bush. The silence was starting to make her antsy—where was everyone?
"Ruby!" she shouted again.
"Yo!" another voice answered. Yang whipped her head around to the side. That wasn't Ruby—and it wasn't close, either. She worried at her lower lip, backing a step away from the unfamiliar voice. If she sprinted the other way, she could probably avoid making contact. Then she'd just need to find... no.
"Can't smother her," she muttered under her breath. Then, "Over here!"
A few minutes later, a boy emerged from the undergrowth covered with pine needles and with a mess of cobwebs stuck to one cheek. He grinned at her, then held out a hand.
"Russel," he said. She studied the silk on his face, then grinned.
"Yang. Webs be friends!"
Jaune screamed as he fell, pinwheeling through the air with the ground spinning dizzyingly around him. Then he was brought suddenly and painfully to a halt, there was a loud tearing noise, and he opened his eyes to find himself hanging by his hood. He reached up and touched his neck, just to make absolutely sure that his jacket was the only thing that had just been impaled.
"Hello?" he called out. He wiggled his feet, his sneakers knocking against the trunk of the tree. The tree he was pinned to, like a butterfly on a card. It was a very tall tree, and he was now sure that at least part of what made him sick on airships was the height. "Hello?!" he tried again, louder this time.
In the distance, he thought he heard someone else scream. He peered anxiously in that direction, wishing he were on the ground so he could do something. Jaune reached up and tugged on the spear that was stuck through his hoodie. He was pretty sure he recognized it as Pyrrha's. It was hard not to, considering it was the same one that had pinned him to his locker just this morning.
"Pyrrha! Are you there?" Jaune kicked his feet again. Really, the least she could do after nailing him to a tree was to help him get down. He gave her weapon another yank. It started to shift, just a little, and his heart leaped into his throat. The ground suddenly seemed even farther away than it had been just a second ago. He stopped trying to pull out the spear.
He squirmed in place, hoping to shift position without slipping off and making a Jaune pancake on the ground. His hoodie was digging painfully into the undersides of his arms.
Far below him, he heard the sound of muffled laughter. His face burned, and he had to crane his neck to get a good look at whoever was at the foot of the tree. He didn't recognize the guy—all he could see was that he had brown hair and an impressive looking suit of silver armor.
"Uh, hey!" he called out, doing his best to sound casual. What, me? Yeah, I get pinned to trees all the time. "Can you get me down from here?" The laughter redoubled. Jaune squirmed some more, wishing Pyrrha were there instead. She seemed polite enough that she'd at least try to keep a straight face.
Finally, the guy standing underneath him got enough of his breath back to speak. "No way," he managed. "I am not getting stuck with you as my partner. As far as I'm concerned, we never met." And with that, he turned to start walking away.
"You probably shouldn't have made so much noise, then," said a third voice that Jaune didn't recognize. Cardin started spluttering.
It is in your best interest to be paired with someone with whom you can work well.
Blake wondered if that was the headmaster's idea of a joke. The way he'd explained the rules for partners, it seemed like it was at least ostensibly random. Or maybe it was a hint, that they should do exactly as she was now and hide in the treetops, waiting for the right person to walk by? It felt a little bit like cheating, but she wasn't too bothered—playing fair was a good way to die, whether you were fighting Grimm or other people.
She hopped from one branch to another, balancing easily with her hands outstretched. It was nearly as easy as walking on solid ground, partly because she'd always had good balance but mostly through practice. Glancing down, her face twisted in distaste when she noticed a spot of white on the ground below. Weiss. That, she thought, is definitely not someone with whom I can work well.
Taking extra care to move silently, she skipped across another few branches, skirting the edges of the clearing Weiss was in. Then, a low growl behind her made her freeze in place. She looked back at the ground, and immediately wished she hadn't. Weiss was backing up, raising her rapier to point at a group of Beowolves that had emerged from the undergrowth. Blake gritted her teeth and turned to leave. It wasn't like there were that many of them.
Another three trotted up behind Weiss.
"Oh, come on," Blake hissed. She watched as the girl turned, muttered something under her breath that was might have been a curse, then flicked the chamber of her sword. One of the wolves took that as its cue to lunge at her, and she slashed at its face. It managed to clip her shoulder as it fell, and she jerked sideways with a yelp. The others closed in around her.
Blake jumped down from the trees without another moment's hesitation—she couldn't turn over a new leaf in Beacon by sitting back and letting the Grimm kill a fellow student. The Beowolf directly under her died as her blade struck home at the back of its neck, severing its spine. She took another in the throat before they realized what was going on, and then their numbers were back down to four. Much more manageable. She could probably just leave now without making eye contact, and Weiss would be—
A pair of startled blue eyes met hers, and Blake resisted the urge to bury her head in her hands. Someone with whom I can work well, huh? Screw you too, Ozpin.
The two of them made short work of the rest of the Beowolves. After that, there was an uncomfortable silence while they both stared at one another. Weiss' eyes were narrowed, and she hadn't said thank you. It would've been polite.
"You," she said, after a moment. Her tone was cold, clipped.
"You're welcome," Blake snarked back.
"Why are you even here? I had that under control!"
Sure you did. "I was passing by. Are we going to look for the relics or not?" Before Weiss could answer, she'd already turned on her heel and ducked into the treeline. She hadn't gone ten paces when she started hearing voices.
"...down from here?" someone was saying. Another voice was laughing, and the tone made Blake bristle almost immediately. It was the same smug, self-satisfied kind of laugh she'd been hearing all her life, the moment someone saw her ears.
"No way," the boy sneered. She could see him from between the branches now, craning his neck to look at something in the canopy. A vindictive smirk played across her face as he finished, "As far as I'm concerned, we never met."
"You probably shouldn't have made so much noise, then," she interjected smoothly, stepping out of the shadows. He choked, whirling around so quickly that he nearly fell over. She didn't bother hiding her amusement.
"I guess you're going to have to learn to live with—wait, what?" Her eyes had tracked upward to the first speaker, the one in the tree. He wasn't perched in the higher branches like she'd assumed, he was stuck there. Literally. With a spear.
"How did you even..." Weiss trailed off beside her, apparently just as baffled.
"I didn't!" the blond boy whined, wiggling his arms and legs. He was hanging from his hood, his whole body dangling uselessly from—was that Pyrrha's weapon?
The guy on the ground started cracking up again. Blake clenched her jaw—she was not going to put herself on his level by laughing. Instead she sized up the tree, wondering how she might anchor herself so that she could free him. Weiss made the whole exercise a moot point by building a staircase out of glyphs and tugging the spear out of the tree. The boy fell with a high-pitched yelp, right toward his partner—who stepped sideways, letting him land face-first in a bush. He wheezed, struggled his way free, then collapsed.
"There, we helped." Weiss gestured imperiously toward the forest, Pyrrha's javelin still held in her right hand. "Now let's go."
"Wait!" The blond scrambled to his feet, then tried to brush off the dead leaves and mud that covered him head to toe. "We should go together! Safety in numbers, right?" Weiss opened her mouth, probably to refuse as emphatically as she possibly could.
"Good plan," Blake interjected. She felt a little bit bad at the way his face lit up, since she'd really only agreed so she wouldn't have to be alone with Weiss.
"Just... don't get in the way," Weiss snapped, and stalked off without checking to see if the rest were following.
"Hey!" The second boy was folding his arms and glowering at her retreating back. "Maybe I don't want to go with you!"
"Good!" Weiss and Blake snapped, at almost exactly the same time. They very deliberately did not make eye contact.
This was more like it! The wind in her hair, the sun on her back, the—bird! Ruby jerked Crescent Rose out to the side and fired off a shot, sending her spinning in the opposite direction. She missed the little guy by bare inches and went into an uncontrolled tumble. Her feet hit the canopy before she even knew what was happening, and a lot of yelps and tree branches to the face later, she was in a heap on the forest floor.
"Why?" she groaned, picking herself up with pained slowness. Nothing bent the wrong way, which was good. There was already more than enough insult in that landing, no need to add any injury.
She straightened, craning her neck to look around her. No Grimm, no other people. Perfect. Now she just needed to find Yang, and then she could get to the fighting and cut out all the stupid talking stuff. Shouldering her weapon, she marched off into the woods.
Ten minutes later, and she still hadn't found Yang. That was kind of bad, but she hadn't found anyone else either, which was good. She ran through her options, wincing when she realized she really only knew four people here—and only three of those were people she'd want to be partners with for four years. Her fingertips drummed nervously on her belt.
Far off in the distance, someone screamed. She tensed, couched Crescent Rose at her shoulder, and peered through the scope. Nothing but leaves. Relaxing, she decided that was as good a direction as any and walked toward it. Then she hesitated—what if more people were doing the same thing? She'd be that much likelier to run into someone not Yang, or worse, Weiss. But then, someone might be in trouble! What kind of huntress would she be if—
Ruby jumped a foot in the air and let out a tiny, embarrassing squeak. Whirling around, she found herself face to face with a tall girl wearing bronze armor and a vivid red sash that hung from her belt. Her brain ground to a halt as she realized that she recognized that face. She'd seen her in the locker room, and...
"Aren't you that tournament fighter?" she blurted, then went beet red because oh my god that was not what was supposed to come after 'Hello' in a conversation! "Er, Ruby! I mean hi! That's my name. Ruby, that is, not hi."
There was a long, stunned silence. Pyrrha—that was her name, why couldn't she have remembered that before?!—seemed a bit shellshocked. Her green eyes were wide, her mouth slightly open. Then she recovered, and fixed on a polite smile.
"I'm Pyrrha," she said, offering a hand. Ruby shook it, wishing there were a cave nearby so she could crawl inside and hide.
"So, um... you like red too?" Ruby blinked, then clapped a hand over her mouth as if she could physically restrain herself from saying the wrong thing again. Four years—she'd have to live with this first impression for four whole years.
Pyrrha was still smiling, though the expression was starting to look a bit strained. "I suppose I do. It's often associated with courage in Mistral."
"Ooh, you're from Mistral? Have you ever seen a Lancer?"
"I haven't, no. I come from farther north."
Ruby slumped, stuffing her hood down over her head and muffling a whine in one hand. "I'm so sorry," she groaned. "I'm not—okay, maybe I am normally like this but it's not usually my fault I make a terrible first impression, except I guess blowing someone up probably counts but we were both fine anyway so..." she trailed off. Pyrrha had that wide-eyed look again. "...okay, shutting up now."
"Oh." She blinked, rallied. "Oh, no, it's no trouble." Then she smiled, and Ruby couldn't help but think this one looked more genuine than the others. "It's reassuring to know this is normal for you, and not... well..." she winced. "Nevermind."
Ruby opened her mouth to ask, then decided that was what had gotten her into trouble in the first place, so she should probably just shut up and kill things. The problem with that was that there weren't any Grimm around. She cast her mind around for a safe topic, one she could navigate without accidentally bringing up something even more mortifying than blowing up Weiss yesterday.
"Um... can I see your weapons?" Pyrrha shifted from foot to foot, looking almost... embarrassed? Darn it Ruby why can't you just keep your mouth shut?
"Oh. Well, you're welcome to look at my shield but..."
"Right, sorry!" Ruby waved her hands frantically in front of her. "I totally get it if you don't want some random person touching them, I can get kind of protective of my baby too, so..."
"No, no!" Pyrrha shook her head. "It's not that. It's just that I... well, I threw my javelin Miló when we were first launched, and I haven't reclaimed it yet."
"Oh. Do you know where it is?"
"I was heading that way, actually."
"Awesome. Um... lead the way, partner!" Pyrrha smiled again, and Ruby resisted the urge to whoop or pump her fist or something. She did it! Well, sort of—she hadn't found Yang or anyone else she'd been sort of hoping to team up with. But, hey! At least she hadn't run into Weiss!