Well, here is the new fic which will be updated every other Saturday. I wanted to keep this one secret until it came out but here it is at last. As you can see from the summary it's a time travel fic, but rest assured it will be markedly different from Not this Time, Fate, which was more of a looper fic based on a single loop. This won't be much like it, either in Jaune's character (closer to canon and not quite as broken or jaded), or tone. NTF Jaune saw his life as a curse. This Jaune, well, you'll see.
College Fool has helped a little with this in terms of looking at some of my chapter plans and threads and offering thoughts and suggestions at least for the first 20 chapters or so, but won't be beta because CF is finally releasing some stuff of their own. On that note, I won't be taking any beta for this, I'm afraid, my update schedule just makes it too difficult to have content written in advance for someone to read through. As such, this fic has no beta and won't have one.
All in all I hope you enjoy and no, I won't be revealing the pairing. There is one, but I've learned that revealing it early just leads to people either judging a work on that solely or review and PM-ing to ask you to change it or include more people. Even at the best of times it just acts as a spoiler.
Jaune came to slowly, eyes struggling to open to a world of black stone and blacker smoke. The moon's rays pierced through the broken obsidian of the tower's walls, splashing across strewn rubble and hard tiles. Motes of dust floated in the air, dancing between the shafts of illumination; the only movement that existed in a world that seemed lost to time itself. Below the wall, half-stuck through it, an airship lightly smouldered away. With a crackle of fire a large piece of the Bullhead's hull gave way, tumbling down to the ground with a mighty crash. Despite the noise, no one moved or called out.
Confusion tugged at his mind and he searched for an answer. His throat felt dry, his head heavy. One hand reached out to grasp Crocea Mors and draw it to him. He pushed the tip down into the stone floor, using it as a lever to help stand. Even then his legs nearly buckled, threatening to topple him once more. His eyes, blue and filled with fatigue, scanned the world about him.
Was it finally over? Had they won?
If so, where were the cheers?
One foot slid forward, his weight following. The wounded huntsman's gait was slow, punctuated by the scrape and tap of an ancestral sword used as nothing more than a walking stick. The smoke from the fire, and the battle itself, obscured much of his vision. He coughed and pushed through it, pausing as his eyes caught a familiar shock of green, white and orange.
"Ren?" he gasped, and for a moment he didn't recognise his own voice. It was scratchy and broken. He shook his head, pushing on when they didn't answer. "Nora? Are you okay?"
His own breathing was the only response. He staggered toward them, letting Crocea Mors clatter to the ground as he did the same, falling onto his knees and reaching for them. His hands touched Ren's shoulder and he knew what he would find even before he turned him over. His friend's body was cold, too cold. Those pink eyes, so unusual at first sight, now looked dull and empty. There was no light in them, no spark of intelligence or dry humour. Blood stained Ren's mouth and chin, smudged away and faded. There was a blade lodged in his chest, between his ribs. It was one of Tyrian's.
"No… please, no." Jaune's eyes shot to Nora, seeing much the same. The bubbly girl didn't move, didn't breathe, and despite the open eyes she didn't perceive the world around her. Tears filled his vision and he pressed his forehead against Ren's. "No, no, no. Please. Not like this."
A pulse! There had to be a pulse. His Semblance could help them. He just needed them to still be alive. His hands rushed to his teammate's throat, fingers prodding and poking. When that failed he tore Ren's shirt open, ignored the blood and pressed his ear against the man's chest. His own heart beat in his eyes but he struggled to hear another. His eyes scrunched shut as he tried to shut out all else. Anything, he begged. There has to be something. Don't leave me, you two. I can't lose you like I lost Pyrrha.
There was nothing. He moved to Nora, desperate, issuing an apology as he pulled her top open, exposing her pink bra, and pressed his ear above her bosom. She would wake up to see him like that, he was sure. She'd scream and hit him and they'd both laugh about it later...
Except that they wouldn't, because there was no heartbeat. Nora would never wake again. A broken sob escaped him. Just another person he wasn't fast enough to save. Just another teammate he was too weak to protect. He'd thought he'd run dry of tears after Pyrrha. He hadn't. More flowed and he wept over them, drawing both bodies against his. This... was this what they'd fought and bled for? After so long together training and fighting, growing stronger. How could it end like this?
The sound of breathing ahead broke him from his grief.
It didn't come from Nora or Ren, but it was unmistakable – even if it was weak. There was someone still alive. He picked up his weapon again and used it as a crutch, already feeling just a little stronger. "I'll come back for you two," he promised, looking one last time to his friends. "You'll get a proper burial. I promise."
But for now he had to see if someone else could be saved. He'd already lost too much and there couldn't be yet more. It just wouldn't be fair.
More bodies revealed themselves as Jaune Arc dragged himself through the ruins and wreckage. Some of them he realised, others he did not. Some wore Atlas uniforms, although old and ragged, torn beyond repair and lacking the snowflake that had set the Kingdom ablaze. Others were huntsmen from Vale and Vacuo, the survivors who had come with them. More were unknown to him, brave and loyal all and here at the end to try and kill their enemy once and for all.
And worse, some he knew. Some he cared for. Sun stared at the ceiling blankly with his chest carved out. Blake lay atop him, dying in a fruitless attempt to protect the man she might have come to love. Neptune sat crumpled by a wall next to them. He'd likely given his to try and buy them time. Before them, with myriad weapons lodged inside his body, Tyrian Callows lay. They'd killed their enemy, even if they'd succumbed soon after. There was nothing he could do for them.
"I'll bury you, too," he promised them. His voice choked at the last.
There had to be someone he could save.
Yang had not survived. She had been killed by Hazel, whom she – with Weiss' aid – had killed in turn. There had been Grimm too, in numbers never seen before. Weiss had survived and moved on, but now lay broken within a ring of white-armoured soldiers. She was so clearly dead that there was no point looking for a pulse. "I'll…" his voice cracked. "I'll come back for you…"
There were going to be so many graves. Was he going to have to dig them all? No. He could hear someone ahead. There was still someone with him.
It wasn't Oscar that drew breath, if Oscar had even existed toward the end. The body of the boy was pinned to the wall with several strange spikes, but the smile he wore on his face was nothing short of victorious. It was also nothing short of inhumane. No child could accept death with such calm pleasure. Then again, at the end, he'd ceased to be Oscar at all. Only Ozpin remained.
"Was it worth it?" Jaune rasped, anger slipping into his voice. "First Pyrrha, then Qrow and Oscar, and now it's Ren, Nora, Yang, Blake and Weiss. How many more, Ozpin? How many need to die for you to get what you want?"
The bastard didn't answer. He'd already won.
Jaune moved on, hunting the laboured breathing, even as he stepped over Cinder's dead body and moved ever onward. The maidens were gods only knew where now, perhaps gone, perhaps sent to some random girls across Remnant. He didn't care. He never had. That power took Pyrrha away and if he never saw it again it would be too soon.
Victory under Ozpin had never tasted so bitter. He'd promised them a better world. They'd been given ashes. Maybe people in the future would reap the benefits of their actions, but that was decades away. There was a good chance the people would destroy one another before that, and maybe humanity would die out as a result. It was hard to say. It was even harder to imagine living in alone.
His feet carried him on across the stone floor, through a beam of moonlight, and towards a tiny figure crumpled at the steps leading up to a raised dais. The red of the cloak seemed to melt into the blood that pooled around her, soaked and laying lank across her body.
"Not you, too," Jaune cried, dropping his sword and rushing forward. "Ruby, please! Not you!"
She lay on her side, one arm beneath her and the other limp at her side. Her face was tilted to the side, her silver eyes closed, but her lips formed into a tiny smile. To her it wouldn't matter if she died so long as she did so being the hero. She was selfless like that, or perhaps selfish. She never thought of what others might feel. His tears splashed on her pale cheek to run down it, almost like it was she who wept.
His hands flew over her, searching for the rise and fall of her chest or the rhythmic beat of a heart, no matter how weak. Jaune's breath hitched. His mouth opened and he tried to speak but nothing came forth. Words were useless anyway. She couldn't hear them. She was gone. His knees splashed into her blood as he gripped his head between both hands. This wasn't possible. This just wasn't possible.
"You can't leave me here," he begged, pouring his aura into her body. It did nothing but drain him. There was nothing left for his Semblance to bolster. He tried again regardless, forcing aura out of him as tears poured down his face. "Please wake up. Please. Someone... anyone..."
Blue eyes snapped open. "Ruby?"
It wasn't Ruby. She hadn't moved. Jaune's eyes trailed up and over her, toward the dais itself and the seat that stood at the top, against the back wall. There, slumped atop her throne, sat the monster which had caused all of this. She was breathing raggedly. The sight of her was enough to make his blood boil. She was the cause of all of this. It was her fault. He snatched up his sword and stood, eyes lidded. He made his way toward her, desperate to rend her limb from limb.
"Hah…" Salem glared at him. "Hrgh… ha ha. Don't waste your breath. Ugh. She… is gone."
The woman, if she could be called that, fixed her crimson eyes upon him. Her skin had always been the colour of paper but now it was dotted with blood. The veins about her eyes and face were fainter, faded, and though she watched him approach she made no effort to kill him. The scythe lodged in her chest might have had something to do with that. It had pierced between her breasts and pinned her to the seat. Though her chest rose and fell, it was with a dry rattle and a bubble of crimson fluid that spilled about the blade of Crescent Rose.
"Is this… what you wanted…?" she whispered. Her voice was slow, faltering, and she had to pause between the words to take rattling breaths. "This… is what… Ozpin gave you. Is it -hrk- everything… you thought it would be…?"
Jaune gritted his teeth together. Grief gave way to rage, as it often did. "No."
"No?" The dying monster laughed. "Victory rarely is, boy. This… all of this…" She gestured to the tower, and all the bodies. "This is merely the culmination of our eternal game. You were, all of you, just his tools. Ever his chess pieces… just like… all the others… throughout time. Don't be so arrogant as to think you were the first."
Lie Ren, Pyrrha Nikos, Nora Valkyrie, Ruby Rose, Yang Xiao-Long. The list went on and his eyes burned at each name added to it. Penny Polendina, James Ironwood, Winter Schnee, Ghira Belladonna, Oscar Pine. There were many he knew, but doubtless thousands more he did not. Families torn apart, teams scattered, or just men and women used and tossed aside after they had served their purpose.
"You're dead now. Their sacrifices have killed you. We won, not you."
Salem frowned and made to move, but after a second or two trying to push herself up she sagged back down with a tired sigh. Crescent Rose did not move, buried not only into her but through and into the throne behind her. "I suppose that you have. After a thousand tries and ten times as many sent to their deaths, it was perhaps inevitable that the fool would one day succeed." She scowled at Oscar's body. "An eternal huntsman chasing the immortal monster across Remnant. Odd, I always thought the tales involved the huntsman slaying the beast, not sending waves of children to do the job for him."
His sword rattled as he gripped the haft tighter, his knuckles cracking. That would have been the best outcome. Instead, the huntsman had found allies – foolish allies – and had them fight and die for him. And Ruby, his first friend, was among those sent to their doom. She'd followed Ozpin happily, eagerly, and thrown her life away without a second's hesitation. To her, any price was worth the possibility of a world without Grimm.
She'd died for Ozpin's plans.
Just like Pyrrha had…
"Kill me now," Salem hissed. "Finish me. I will allow it. There is no greater pain I could inflict on you than to live the rest of your life knowing you will never have them back. Your loved ones died to buy you this chance so don't squander it now."
Fury bubbled up behind his eyes but he held it back, unwilling to be baited. She was already dead and they both knew it. She just wanted him to end it faster, or maybe to get one last chance in to kill him as well before she died. He stood several feet away instead, watching as her smugness faded and she slumped angrily back onto her throne, bleeding out. She was as good as dead.
Of course, so was everyone else.
"This isn't how it was supposed to end…"
"Then how was it?" Salem asked, surprising him that she even cared to listen in the first place. "You would come here and slay the monster, only to run off with the girl into the sunset. Was that your plan?"
No. It had been to join Beacon, make friends, become a huntsman, and find a lovely girl to settle down with. It could have been Pyrrha, had he not been so blind. It might even have been Ruby had she not been so self-sacrificing.
"You know, boy. It still could be different…"
"Don't toy with me," he snapped. Crocea Mors swung up to rest against her sternum, his weight leaning against the pommel as he prepared to thrust it through with his own body weight. "I'm not an idiot. My friends are dead. Everything I care about is gone. The Walls of Vale have fallen and the people live in terror. Haven's huntsman population has been eradicated and bandits run wild. Ironwood is dead and Atlas is in the hands of Jacques and the SDC, while Vacuo has been wiped off the map, swallowed by the desert and the Grimm! Beacon, Haven, Shade and Atlas Academies - all gone! And all of that is because of you," he roared. "It's your fault!"
"My fault… or Ozpin's? He is the one who chose to hide the relics where he did. He was the one tasked with protecting them, and yet instead of doing so he hunted them down himself to craft them into a weapon to use against me." She gestured to the scythe trapped within her. "Blame me if you will but do not dare to ignore your own actions, child. I would have never found them but for you and Ozpin leading me to each in turn. Ozpin knew that. He considered it worth the risk, and the lives of all those who fell. I may be guilty, but you and yours had a hand in all that happened."
His breathing became ragged. Whether she was right or wrong didn't matter, not anymore. He'd long since lost faith in Ozpin but no one else had listened. Yang, perhaps, but she'd still sided with her Uncle Qrow and Ruby when push came to shove. Those two would do anything the headmaster said. And maybe... maybe Ren and Nora would have sided with him if he'd spoken out. No, he was sure they would have. But he hadn't. He'd been cowed, angry, grieving and desperate to leave the decision making to someone else. Anyone.
So many chances for him to have done something different. It was funny, except not at all, that he could only see those chances now - when it was too late to take any of them.
"Of course," Salem whispered, "there is still a chance for you to save your friends."
Jaune's eyes snapped back to the present. He leaned further on his sword, digging the tip into her. "You lie!"
"What would lies serve me now?"
"You want to live. You want me to spare you."
"Fool." Salem laughed bitterly. "I am already dead. Not even your pretty Semblance can prevent this."
"Then you want to trick and kill me," he countered.
"You are already dead; if not on the outside then on the inside. There would be no pleasure. I expect you'll kill yourself within a year or two anyway, or live a life of misery and pain. If I wanted you to suffer, I'd rather you live in despair and regret than die painlessly here."
What a monster. Even her dying words were filled with malice. He should kill her, though. Ruby had already done enough but she'd want him to finish Salem off once and for all. It was the proper thing for a huntsman to do.
But he didn't.
"What do you mean they can be saved?"
"Interested?" Salem's smile threatened to return but cut off when his sword dug a little deeper. "I'm telling you there is a way to save them. But to do so you must prevent this from happening."
"It is their presence here which led to their deaths. It is Ozpin's little plan which saw them sacrificed to bring about my end. Prevent this from happening in the first place and your friends would still be alive today. All you need is a chance to go back and change it. I can give you that."
"A chance to change what's already happened?" he spat. "You're talking about time-travel. You're saying you can send me to the past?"
When she didn't deny it, his temper roared back to life. She was mocking him! She'd gotten his hopes up and then pissed on them, bringing all his pain back to the fore. He prepared himself to kill her once more, drawing his sword back for the final blow. His eyes flashed with pure rage.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Salem breathed heavily, waiting for death. But he had paused, against his better judgment. When she saw that she quickly explained. "I do mean time-travel in a sense. Did you not think it strange that Ozpin could never die, that he was untouched by time and able to live from one host to another?"
"He told us he was cursed by the Gods."
"The Gods abandoned Remnant long ago. Did he not tell you that?"
Jaune's brow creased. "Qrow did. What of it?"
"The Gods vanished long before I existed and long before Ozpin walked Remnant. In that case, what Gods would there have been to curse him?"
"He didn't lie, not really. His curse came about as a result of my actions, and at the time I was considered akin to a God, so the moniker might have been good enough for him. It was not intentional on my part. I slew him but in my haste did so in a manner that bound his soul to my fate." She chuckled at the irony. "As you see, while he was a powerful Wizard in his time, I was the stronger. In truth, it was I who granted him his immortality, no matter how much an accident that was."
"What does that have to do with time-travel?" he asked.
"With the relic of creation I can form for you a body in the past. With the relic of choice I can send your mind back to make your own. It is that relic which put Ozpin in the situation he is in, and I can replicate that with you. You would die here, but your soul – your memories – would travel back into a new body. You would exist outside the flow of time, and thus be capable of making changes. You could stop this," she gestured to the bodies and the wreckage, "from ever happening."
His hands were shaking. A part of him, a large part, refused to believe the creature before him, if only to save himself the pain of being wrong. If this were some cruel trick then it would break him. Don't get your hopes up, he thought. She's just trying to trick you. She's trying to hurt you.
Nothing hurt as much as hope, especially when it was crushed. He knew that well enough by now.
"You'll just kill me," he said. "Why should I trust you?"
"Look at you, boy. You're a walking corpse already. What are you going to do once you kill me? You'll bury them, perhaps, but then you'll walk out into the wastelands to die. I may kill you, yes. But I could have killed you already had I wished it. This may or may not be a trap. Nothing I say will convince you otherwise. It is up to you to decide if the risk is worth it."
The tip of his sword wavered.
It was fantastical and foolish to consider her offer. He would be signing his life away – and for what – a chance to go back and do the same thing? A chance to change things so that people didn't have to die. What if he could save Ruby, Ren and Nora? What if he could save Yang, Blake and Weiss?
What if… what if he could save Pyrrha…?
His eyes watered as the memories assailed him, the grief and the pain and so much more. Salem was right, damn her. He was a dead man standing right now. He had no reason to live or any plans on what he was supposed to do. Everyone he cared about was dead. Everyone!
Even if it was madness to consider it, Salem had a point. She was dead either way and whether she killed him or he died to exposure trying to drag his injured self to Vale, the result would be the same. In that case why not go out on a limb? He didn't have anything to lose. The world was in turmoil anyway. After they'd arrived at Atlas, drawing Salem and her allies along with them, the city had been through hell. Ironwood had tried to help them, but he'd been betrayed, killed, and Jacques Schnee had seen his chance for more power, stepping into the power vacuum and taking control of the entire kingdom. Jaune would be killed the second he returned to civilisation. Jacques would string him up as a scapegoat, if angry and grieving families didn't do it first. Even his family was dead, hunted down and killed by Tyrian in a sick attempt to draw him into a trap. This wasn't the world Ozpin had promised them. It was hell.
Salem saw his conflict and smiled. "You could change things. You could keep them all alive. You could change the way the world is now and make it better."
"Why?" he had to ask. "Why would you want to send me back? What could you possibly gain?"
"Is that not obvious? If you return and meddle then this may not happen. It is a chance that I will survive."
"I'm not on your side, though. I'll still kill you."
"You will certainly try... but you might fail. Ozpin's gambit here was successful due in no small part to the willingness of you pawns to throw your lives away. Your victory here is pyrrhic, and if you go back and seek a more fulfilling one, there is a chance it will fail. It is that which I seek. That chance is all I have left now, seeing as my life ebbs away before my eyes."
It made a twisted sort of sense from her point of view, and even if the honesty surprised him he supposed she knew it wouldn't change his answer. If he wanted to see his friends alive again he'd need to accept it, and while that meant Salem would live, it also meant he would have another chance to kill her.
A chance to do it properly, with us preparing for a battle and not rushing off after Ozpin like lambs to the slaughter. Salem wasn't wrong; Ozpin had sacrificed them all for this. It wasn't just their teams but all four Kingdoms as well. Humanity would survive but there was no telling how much carnage would occur. Another faunus war, for sure. The White Fang had done too much. It might even be a Great War if the SDC saw the weakness of others as opportunity. No one had the strength to oppose them.
Of course, none of that had mattered to Ozpin. So long as his eternal enemy died, the world could be in any state. He'd died smiling, even as they all fell one by one to Salem and her forces. And he hadn't even been sure it would work. If it hadn't, the man would have simply taken over another body and started the process all over again.
"There isn't much time," Salem warned. "Make your decision."
There was no hesitation. There should have been, he knew that, but there wasn't. Perhaps he was too spent, too emotionally drained, or just tired of everything. If she killed him, fine. He didn't have anything to live for anyway.
"I'll do it. Send me back."
Salem smiled, or tried. Blood bubbled from her lips and she coughed, her body shaking. "There is no time," she rasped. "Come here. I shall return you to another time and what you do there is your choice. You will exist outside of time as my avatar, which means any changes you make will not snap back and remove you from existence. It would do little good for me if by preventing this you stopped me sending you back and caused a paradox. You needn't worry about it."
"I won't," he said, feeling a strange tingling sensation overtake him. She took hold of his left hand and a strange burning sensation ran through it, making him hiss. He tried to pull away but she wouldn't let go.
"It is my mark," she said once she was done, finally releasing him. There, on the back of his hand, a strange symbol was burned into his flesh. It was a vertical eye that seemed to be trapped in a net, with a ring around the outside marking the four points of a compass. He turned his hand over, marvelling at how it was reflected on the palm of his hand as well. "It was necessary to tie your soul here and your new container together. It would not do for either of us for me to miss and send your soul spiralling into oblivion. This mark will connect the two and act as a bridge for your soul. My survival now depends on yours. Do not die before you can fix this."
Salem reached out and touched one of the relics that had been placed into Ruby's weapon. It shimmered and twisted, and light poured from it – down Crescent Rose and into Salem's body. She cringed and tossed her head to the side as the energy destroying her from the inside. Even so, she drew on it.
"What are the relics, anyway?" he asked.
"They are relics," she hissed, as if that explained it all. "They are all that remains of a time long past, as you will soon be a relic of a future that must never happen. They are power." Bright white lines spread out across the dais, underneath and around him. Salem's eyes glowed and blood dribbled from her lips. "Go now. Change the past and seek your foolish friends. Prevent this travesty and restore me to power."
"I will," he promised. "But once I do, I'll come and kill you. I'll come with an army bigger than this one, and this time we'll be prepared. You won't stand a chance, and without the knowledge of my coming you won't even know about it until it's too late."
"We shall see, boy." Salem sneered. It was a chance he knew she'd take. Better a poor chance than a slow death.
The world turned to black a moment later. The ground beneath him seemed to give way and he fell to the side, only to be suspended as a strange sensation – like water rushing across his skin – washed over his body. He felt his body, his bones and his organs, squeezed together and pushed through a narrow tube. And then, with a crash, sunlight washed over him.
His face hit rock a second later.
"Ugh, my head…"
Something pounded through his skull, even as a sharp object seemed to be cracking against the back of it. It felt like his head was trapped in a vice with some terrible surgeon performing live surgery on his brain. The confusion rattled him for a moment, before memory flooded back – memories of that dark tower and the bodies of his friends.
Of the mad deal he'd made with the devil herself.
"Did it work?" he gasped, sitting up. Pain flared through him a second later and he pushed a hand around to the back of his head. "Damn it. What hit me?"
Something sharp bit into his hand. "OW!"
"CAW!" The juvenile Nevermore squawked angrily, shocked or perhaps just mindlessly angry that its prey was now awake. It pecked at the back of his head again, or tried to. Jaune's hand snapped out and caught its neck. He looked briefly for his sword before he decided just to slam the little thing against the ground below him instead, killing it on impact.
He staggered up a moment later, dusting his hands of the hateful thing as it dissolved into nothingness. His head felt clearer, completely fine, even. There had been no headache, just a stupid Nevermore trying to kill him while he was unconscious. He rubbed his sore scalp and winced against the bright sunlight.
Wait, sunlight? It had been night time when they'd orchestrated their attack.
Panic, fear and excitement tore through him and he threw himself from the rock he was sat on, landing unsteadily on two feet and looking around. He was in the Grimmlands, made pretty obvious by the terrain no one could mistake – blistering rock in various shades of purple and black. Still, the sun was in the sky, and more, he'd been attacked by a Grimm.
If Salem was dead then those shouldn't exist anymore. Unless it's just the last vestiges of them, he realised. There was still a chance this was a terrible dream or that she'd tricked him. He scanned the horizon for what he knew would answer it once and for all. Considering the flat and blasted terrain it wasn't hard to spot the tall, conical structure of Salem's dark tower.
It was still standing.
He was in the past.
"It worked… it actually worked. I'm…" He checked himself before he continued. Two arms, two legs, a face that felt like his own, and he even had his scroll on him, which was obviously out of signal. He snapped a picture of his face and checked it – just to make sure he hadn't been turned into some kind of disfigured mutant or Grimm.
He was himself. His skin was a little smudged and worn, his cheeks sallow and eyes filled with fatigue, but he was undeniably in his own body. Or a new construct of it if Salem's words were to be trusted. He held up his left hand, inspecting the mark she'd given him. It just looked like burned skin on both sides of his hand, although the symbol itself was in crystal clear detail. He'd have to hide that if he really had gone back. Ozpin wouldn't like the look of it.
Jaune's body froze in the task of pulling on one of his brown gloves. Ozpin was still alive. And if Ozpin was still alive, then that meant…
Tears filled his vision.
"Don't lose it now," he whispered. He had to fight back both a smile and tears, both threatening to burst forth. If the tower was standing then there'd been no attack. No attack meant no deaths, yet, which meant everyone was still alive and well.
He actually had a chance to fix things. For the first time he allowed himself to actually feel the hope that had been teetering on the edge of his mind. It was a heady thing that exhausted him almost immediately. It threatened to overwhelm him entirely, though whether that would leave him sobbing in relief or screaming out his joy was still to be seen.
"Or not to be," he hissed, fighting for control. "I may be back but that doesn't fix anything yet. Ozpin will already have the plan in mind. I need to stop it, but how? Ruby and Qrow are all for it and everyone defaults to trusting Ruby."
He had too, and he regretted that. Ruby was a great leader, but that was the point – she was a good leader and she hadn't led them. Ozpin had, and he either wasn't as good or had changed over time and no longer cared for the consequences of his decisions. No risk too great for a chance to end Salem once and for all, at least to him.
"I can't let that happen. Even if it means Salem lives a little longer there has to be a way that actually wins a future worth having - one where Vale, Vacuo and Atlas don't end up in ruins." That was assuming he'd been sent back far enough to actually change their minds. What if he'd only gone a week or two back?
Or… what if he'd been sent back further? What if Salem had gone above and beyond and sent him back to before he joined Beacon? What if he had a chance to work from the start up; save not only Ruby and his team, but Pyrrha as well?
The tears came back. This time they couldn't all be stopped and a few trailed down his cheeks. The potential for disappointment if he was wrong was going to crush him but he shook his head regardless. Whatever the case his first step was clear, he had to find out how far back he'd gone. The best way to do that would be to head to Beacon, or Vale if Beacon was already destroyed.
If he was in the Grimmlands now, then that would be a bit of a trek. The continent Salem was hidden on was closest to Vacuo, which, if it was still standing, would have transport he could take to reach Patch, and then Vale. Even if it didn't the act of discovering whether Vacuo stood or not would give him a good idea when he was, and if it stood then so too would its CCT. It was an obvious first location, though naturally there weren't many ferries running between Vacuo and Grimmtopia.
The only choice was to try and make the swim himself – which was stupid – or to reach the shore and try to fashion a raft, which was still pretty optimistic but a damn sight better than trying to swim the whole thing.
Through exhaustion and pain, Jaune stood from the rock he'd been transported to, stooped to pick up Crocea Mors – which had been replicated alongside him – and marched through the Grimmlands towards the south.
There was no time to lose.
If the tower, her words, and the change in daylight hadn't convinced him that he was in the past, then the amount of Grimm roaming about would have. The attack on Salem's tower had been no small thing, combining what remained of Atlas' loyalists and troops who had followed Winter and Weiss into exile, and also huntsmen and huntresses from Vale, Vacuo, and even Menagerie. Many of those had died on the approach fighting Grimm, but no such wreckage dotted the landscape now. In fact, only Grimm did – and he had to cut his way through several on his journey to the shoreline.
Maybe it was his cynicism acting up, or maybe his mind was just trying to protect him from having his hopes shattered once again. Even so, for every hour that passed his gait became stronger. His eyes shone just a little brighter.
The plans he ran through in his head helped to distract him from it, plans on how to approach certain people, what to say – what information he could give. Ozpin was an out, obviously. If he knew Salem could be killed then he would want the same thing to happen again. Ruby and Qrow might not believe him without proof, but there were some he could offer proof to.
Winter was a good example, since depending on how far back he'd gone he could warn her about what her father planned to do against Ironwood. Hell, if he could get Ironwood on board with him and save his life, then even better. The General could reclaim Atlas and bring all of its might to bear against Salem.
So many possibilities – all of them made possible because he was here again, but this time with knowledge of what would and couldn't happen. Of course, those plans always came down to when or how far he'd been sent back, becoming unravelled on the specifics. Things would become easier once he reached Vacuo.
The shoreline of the Grimmlands was devoid of trees or plant life, as was most of the island itself, but it was still a shore and that meant there was plenty of driftwood and wreckage littered about, swept up onto the surf by tides and currents. It was while he was collecting wood that might be good enough for a raft that he caught a flash of grey off to one side, a grey too light to be natural and piled between seaweed swept up onto the beach. He hurried over to sweep that aside, revealing a smooth panel encrusted with barnacles, with some faded writing beneath, now lost to time and wear.
It was a little fishing boat, though. Small and ramshackle, more like one someone might use in a lake than on the open ocean. But it had a motor on the back, and a quick glance revealed that there was actually a small amount of fuel inside. Someone must have been swept overboard or killed by Grimm, and the thing had naturally made its way over here, crashing up onto the beach.
"One man's misfortune is another's luck," he mused, working to tear more of the dried and dead algae off it. It was in decent enough shape, a little rotted but it had a coat of something which had prevented that leading to any holes. It would float and that was all that mattered. He dragged the vessel by its keel down to the surf, struggling against the soft sand and the sharp barnacles that threatened to drain his aura at the slightest touch. There were two oars in side, partially rotted but probably still usable.
The dinky little boat would be worth all the hassle, especially if it got him off the island before all the Grimm started to notice the lone human in their midst. He was lucky this second chance had blown his mind out of the water, otherwise all the misery he'd been feeling before would have drawn them to him like moths to a candle. As it was, he was too excited to feel down. Despite the grim situation, no pun intended, he couldn't help but smile.
His friends weren't dead. Not here. They were still alive - and probably wondering where he was.
He clapped his hands together once he had the boat bobbing on the edge of the shallows."Right, I need to trek to the city, reach the CCT, and find out how far back I've been sent."
And then, whatever the case, it was off to Beacon to try and save his friends and the future of Remnant. With one final shove he pushed the boat out into the shallows, leapt in and cranked the motor. To his delight it rattled weakly, and on the third try actually spluttered. The engine, like his newfound hope, came to life.
"Wait for me, everyone. I'm on my way."
So, there we go. It's a prologue of sorts but I called it chapter one because I know I'll make a mistake somewhere if I always have to label my chapters as one less than what they actually are. As you can hopefully see this is based on a scenario of what could theoretically happen in the rest of the RWBY season. What's hinted at here is that Jacques uses the SDC to take over Atlas, Ironwood is killed, and in the crew's quests to find the relics, Vacuo is even destroyed in a climactic battle for the relic. The loss of the huntsmen in Mistral is just referencing Lionheart's work.
A lot of that is still misty at the moment, but you can rest assured more will be revealed as the story goes on. Suffice to say, Jaune isn't "dooming mankind" quite so much as one might think with his choice to go back. He is giving Salem a second chance as well, but there's more to it than simple selfishness. I tried to have Jaune hint at as much of that as he could, which is some of what is written in the above note. None of that should come as spoilers if you read the chapter. Would Ozpin do any of this? Maybe not intentionally, but there's no denying his action - or lack thereof - has screwed people over in the show. Mistral is already practically doomed the next time some Grimm show up, and Pyrrha was told to "defend the tower" despite that Ozpin later revealed the relic wasn't hidden at Beacon. So, why again was Pyrrha sent off to fight a foe she couldn't face? To unlock Ruby's eyes? To inspire all her friends to hunt down Cinder, and thus Salem, in revenge?
By the way, you may have seen that section at the start where Jaune is using his sword as a walking cane. This fic once started – ages ago before Season 3 – in my head as a "Jaune goes back and actually IS Ozpin", which was based on the fact that Jaune and Ozpin's hair styles are practically identical apart from colour. Alas, Ozpin turned out to be an immortal wizard parasite which is probably more bizarre than being a time travelling Jaune, to be honest.
The plan for this is very different to NTF, and I hope you can see a little of that in Jaune here. Obviously, he's super stressed at the moment since, you know, everyone dying, but unlike NTF Jaune who had become inured to it all and broken inside, this one still has his hope, and quickly latches onto the chance to make a difference.
Next Chapter: 24th March
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