As I've been working on these last couple of chapters; I've come to a decision.
My efforts will be focused on "Through the Darkened Vale" until I get it back to the 7 chapters I had originally. After which I will shift to doing the same with my other two larger works.
If you are fans of those works I apologize for the delay in updates and ask you to bear with me as I get things in order.
I know some maybe feeling like the progress is slow. With fair bit of the narration focusing on the day to day of the main characters I have chosen. It is needed. The original iteration of this work moved too fast. To really ply the mystic side it requires slower progression and discovery. There will be more action in coming chapters; I promise.
Did a couple proof reads, but still probably things I didn't catch.
As always see something that needs fixing let me know.
With all that said. Please enjoy.
/ = /
Jaune spent his morning reading through his codex. Again and again he returned to it; it was his textbook, a tool he required for his self imposed studies. Even as he digested the opening discussions on Somatic casting; his mind wandered. His fingers slowly turned the pages. Starting with only a couple pages at a time, it soon progressed until he was staring once again at the Blood Ritual section, more importantly the Ritual of Calling.
"I shouldn't" yet his fingers began to trace the complex glyph structure. His eyes studied the multitude of variables; before drifting to the second page. Here the various activation runes were listed. Several for each of the entities the ritual could reach out for. His gaze focused a single one; "Sigil for Passed Love." As he focused on the first two pages he neglected to notice the indication that there was more information situation on a third page.
His mind debated his heart. He really wasn't ready, but what if he could. He could speak to her one more time; ask if she truly did feel that way; he could say goodbye.
His sense of loss, his curiosity; and his own pride at his progress pushed him to his decision.
"I could do it." He traced the activation rune a couple of times. "I can do it."
Neo spent her waking moments between plotting her revenge, and trying to understand why her body felt so off. Fatigue filled her limbs, a fog obscured part of her mind. It was all out of the normal for her, even during times she had inadequate rest before. She shook her head unaware of the danger she had narrowly escaped the night before. Her lethargy a side effect of that close proximity.
Pushing through it she stretched and moved trying to remove the heaviness as she thought over how she would proceed for the day. Neo knew it was a tall order to track Jaune down, but if she could. Her tired visage cracked with a nasty grin. The pain she would inflict. He would suffer; because the one she truly wanted was out of her reach, at least for now. She imagined Red returning to seek whomever had caused him so much pain before his final end. Then she would get her as well.
Her thoughts drifted to the one that was truly at fault. The one whom conned her and Roman to do her bidding. Cinder; she was the one that would be the hardest to find, but if Neo could hurt Jaune and by extension Red, then she was certain she could locate that bitch as well.
Feeling slightly more awake, she proceeded to pack up her modest camp. Eating some dry food stuffs and swallowing a few mouthfuls of water, she then made her way outside to start her search anew. As she began her search a sense of foreboding flashed through her thoughts. She stopped moving an glanced around herself, and saw nothing. Taking a slow even breath she made note of the church, deciding as if drawn to the conclusion to camp there again tonight.
Jaune found himself wandering the first floor, his codex tucked under his left arm. His mind was completely focused on the ritual he had been studying. He had tried for a hour or so to practice some somatic rune casting. After not having much luck he returned to his examination of the Ritual of Calling. He had set his mind to attempting it. Confident he would be able to recreate it; along with successfully activating it. Currently he was attempting to see if any of the rooms below his little hideaway would be of use for the attempt.
Stepping into a secondary bedroom, one that had obviously; at least to him, belonged to a little girl, due to the scattered dolls and girlish clothing. Setting the Codex down he pushed away the clutter clearing a decent sized space on the wood tiled floor.
After having read and reread the passages surrounding the sigil he decided to make it of a smaller size than the text indicated. He assumed it would allow him more control over what could come through. He was guessing that it would be big enough to at least allow him to converse with her, in lieu full on causing her to materialize.
Taking his time he used chalk to outline each symbol. His plan was simple. Draw it out with chalk to make it perfect, and then retrace each and every line with the proper agent of creation; his own blood. Sweat beaded his brow as he set to work. There could be no mistakes, it had to be flawless.
Slowly the construct took shape. Jaune referring to the pages beside him repeatedly before even drawing a single line or symbol. As day began to wane he had completed his first task. The base was done, he had to trace each and every mark with blood to make it activate.
Pulling out his switch blade, he took several rapid shallow breaths to suppress the passive side of his aura; before taking the blade and slashing his palm. Hissing at the pain, he cupped his hand to pool the crimson fluid. Dropping the knife to the floor beside his knee he proceeded to diligently dip his finger in the warm sticky liquid. gritting his teeth at the ache in his hand he painted each line over with his blood, slowly converting white to dark red.
As Jaune toiled at his task; Neo faltered in her's. She had been unable after several hours to find any trace of her quarry. She knew he hadn't left Vale; especially seeing how much effort he put into not being seen. So he was here, it was just to her a matter of where in the multitude of homes, businesses, and other living spaces he had setup shop.
That however was only one of her problems. Things were getting strange for her. Out of the corner of her eye she would catch movement, or a glint of light, only for there to be nothing when she looked. She would never admit that it was unnerving. Never allow anyone else to suggest it either. Yet that was not all; with the light fading she could swear that every so often she could see figures wandering amid the ruins and rubble.
Even though she refused to admit it. Neo was getting jumpy. She cast wary glances at every shadow, whirled ready to fight at every glint of light, or perceived movement out of the corner of her eyes. Combined with her fruitless search her body was being taxed beyond capacity. With the light waning; and her composure gone, she made a straight line to the church she had camped in before. As she had done the night before she setup her bed near the altar. Its very proximity seeming to quell her agitation.
A single drop of Jaune's blood fell from his finger as he paused in the creation of the Rune of Calling. He didn't notice it splash upon a discarded fashion doll. He was more focused on the time of day. It was getting dark, and his lessons warned him of attempting to finish the sigil. It's activation would alert the prowling predator's of the darkness to his presence. It would draw them.
Quickly referencing his codex; he looked for any indication on if he could pause his work. Near the bottom of the second page he found what he was looking for.
"As long as the final active symbols were drawn in fresh blood, the rune will remain viable for up to three days before all previous work would need to be redrawn." Jaune sat back on his heels. His knees sore and his palm aching. It was a relief to see that passage, and he mentally chastised himself for skimming portions of the recipe.
However he decided there was enough light remaining to finish the rest of the outline leaving the final rune for tomorrow. With a determined look he returned to his project. The blood in his cupped palm having gone thick and sticky. It took another twenty or so minutes to finish the final few symbols, but satisfied with the progress, and aware he could attempt the activation in the morning he rose to his feet.
Gathering up a few of his discarded tools, such as his knife; he then proceeded to rip a piece of cloth from one of the left behind dresses. Using it to wrap his wounded left hand. Wiping his right hand in another discarded piece of clothing he picked up his codex and returned to his protected sanctuary in the attic above.
In his rush to get back to relative safety his right foot connected with the fashion doll his blood had stained. He felt the contact, but in the darkening light, and his haste he could not see where it had gone. Leaving he did not see the slow dim flames that began to creep around the drawn symbols.
If he had bothered to spend more time studying all the text, including the third page of details, and warnings he would have spent more time clearing his chosen location. The Rune of Calling was not only for bringing the souls of the departed into the material world for conversation but could also allow those same entities to possess or inhabit inanimate objects. The doll he had inadvertently marked and kick had tumbled into the centre of his creation. The single smear of blood allowing the plastic doll to activate it.
/ = /
Deep with in the bowels of the ruined tower of Beacon a flicker of a fragmented and fading soul felt something. A pull, a call; a summons to leave it's rotting and forgotten vessel. Too weak to resist it drifted up and away. Traversing the grimm infested grounds of the once acclaimed hunter training academy for the mostly empty city situated on it's borders.
So faded was the fragment, even the predators that stalked the deserted streets seeking the restless and lost souls of the unlucky paid it no mind. There was not enough of it to make a meal of. It would not satiate even a fraction of their almost eternal hunger.
The pull became stronger the further the fragment traveled. The closer it came towards the residential areas of Vale, the more it needed to answer the summons. The connection with the barely viable vessel it had abandoned finally severing as it closed on the distant single story abode.
/ = /
In the attic above Jaune arranged his things. Having discovered a slightly musty olden style quilt he settled down wrapped in the warmth and comfort of the handcrafted item. His eyes closed and his mind drifted; never once paying attention to the tingle that should have warned him of the sigil's completion. The faded closed on it's target, and moved with a more defined path.
As the night progressed Shades and Shadows once again congregated around the old church. Sanctified ground providing a barrier between them and the source drawing their attention. Neo like the night before had inadvertently used a protected place to be her camp for the night; though this time it was a sense of dread that spurred her to make the decision. Though the predators of the night could not approach it did not stop the dark aura their numbers created from filtering through.
Troubled dreams crept into her unconscious mind, causing her brow to crease. Draining energies sapped the strength from her body. Again she would awaken tired and lethargic.
Jaune was spared such a fate. The few denizens of the other realm that prowled the district being too far away or more interested in easier prey passing him by. Sparing him from the effects of the miasma that hung about their fell forms.
/ = /
Neo awoke early. The sun's dim rays just starting to cascade through the stained glass panes decorating the walls. Her body ached and for the second morning felt heavy and lethargic. She tried to reason it away as a result of sleeping on the hard church floor; but she knew better. During her life she had slept on things much harder, and often without the comfort of a blanket. Yet still she reasoned it away.
Pulling out a cup of noodles, she ripped off the top and proceeded to eat them dry, following the tasteless things with several swallows of tepid water. She needed a better way to try and find her quarry. This random wandering was doing nothing to help; and the need Neo felt to camp at the church these last couple nights was further hampering her.
Packing up once again she prepared to leave, and on a whim pulled out her scroll. With the CCT down it was more or less useless, but there was one app that she wanted to try. Pulling up 'Map All' she was happy that the base functions were still active. Trying for a search, she found that was inactive, however the standard map of Vale was still available, including the markers for places of interest.
Using her thumb she reduced the map and then expanded it on one of the markers. It was another church; a good couple hours away deep in the empty residential area. She still had no idea why she was suddenly so interested in camping in churches, but this would provide her with a new hunting area centred around the structure.
Satisfied in her choice she left the building and began her trek to the new area. The back of her mind focused on reaching the church; the fore of her mind plotting how she would exact her revenge. She was undecided on wether to bleed him out, or possible watch him suffocate. She knew how to do both, and was more than skilled to cause either to be the end of the blond annoyance.
/ = /
Waking feeling refreshed, Jaune placed his left hand on the floor to help himself rise as he had done for these last several days only to receive the sharpe bite of pain race up his arm. The dull ache had died, but as soon as he put pressure the pain returned with vengeance.
Carefully unwrapping the makeshift bandage he winced as it pulled against the scabbing top of the injury. Pulling a little harder he hissed as the scab was torn and the wound opened anew. Jaune looked at the seeping blood and the angry puffy redness that surrounded it. He knew from classes that his aura would help heal the wound, but still it would need to be treated. Aura was a great tool, but it had it's limits; infections, viruses and bacteria could enter the body and still cause havoc. The would was getting infected, and with his plans he couldn't afford and complications right now.
Ignoring the room where he had almost finished his ritual he moved to the washroom. Out of all the things that had been randomly smashed in that room, the medicine cabinet had been left relatively unscathed, though the mirror portion was cracked and falling out. Jaune doubted there was much left. Anyone worth their salt in scavenging would have taken all the medical supplies they could get their hands on.
Opening the cabinet carefully, trying not to dump the loose pieces of mirror all over; he was pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of peroxide. It was basically empty, which Jaune assumed was the reason why it had been left behind, but there was enough, just enough to pour into his palm. He gritted his teeth as the liquid fizzed and bubbled. Doing the work it was meant to.
A hand towel still hanging on it's rack became the new bandage. Jaune hoped it would be enough to let his Aura close the wound without complications. Making a trip to the other home for obvious reasons, he also took time to check that medicine cabinet. It was as he expected empty of anything of use.
/ = /
The fragment drifted. The pull that called to it growing faint, but remaining steady. To any casual observer it would have appeared to be but a glinting mote of dust drifting against the breeze. If that person was sensitive to the other realms that is. Yet it passed no one. The streets and buildings long made empty by the incursion of grimm and White Fang. Not that it would have been aware of such an event. Hidden and trapped; far from the actual occurrence.
Steadily it continued on, wavering at times, but always returning to the direct path; towards the faint but steady summoning in the distance.
/ = /
Neo was making good time, on her direct path towards the next church. She still had no reason why she was compelled to find refuge in such places. During her entire life she had never set foot in one. Before she left the orphanage the nuns had tried with them all to instil a sense of faith. For Neo it never took. Yet now it was like she needed the security, almost as if she was afraid of the dark. Neo scoffed at the idea that she was now afraid of the night; that was the time she plied much of her trade when at Roman's side. It made no sense.
/ = /
After Jaune completed his less than basic first aid; he returned to the room holding his ritual. Shock, anger, and disappointment flooded through him. The blackened lines told him instantly that it had activated last night. Flipping open his codex he began a detailed search of the text. Looking for a possible reason. He had not traced the final rune, it should not have. He had noticed the red stained doll sitting near the center, but dismissed it until he flipped the page to the third page he had not bothered to view.
"Runes of Calling are also a viable option for creating, golem and living dolls. Through the limited power, if the construction is of the correct size, it can call a fragmented spirit." Jaune sighed as he continued to read, "Activation requires forgoing of the final calling rune and placing of a marked inanimate object in the center with on portion touching the inside ring."
Jaune looked up from the text and regarded the doll. It was obvious by the dark brownish red stain upon it's torso that his blood had dripped upon it. Furthermore the doll's legs both sat upon the inner ring.
"Shit, shit shit!" Jaune gave into his frustration. Grabbing the doll he regarded it and then threw it against the wall. "Wasted time."
Attempting to calm down he returned to the book, and then looked at the doll again. The pages said the animation should happen with in a few hours of activation. Jaune let out a slow breath. The doll show no signs of movement or 'life'. As much as it bothered him to admit it, he more than likely had transcribed one of the portions of the circle wrong. It activated but failed.
Feeling slightly relieved that he had not created a possible abomination, or trapped a soul fragment with in the plastic figurine, he closed the book. Turning on his heel he climbed the ladder to his camp. Putting the book away Jaune decided to go for a short walk to clear his head and plan the rest of his day.
He had wanted to finish the circle, wanted to speak to Pyhrra; if possible. This failure; the loss of so much time and effort was a stark reminder he was far below where he should be. He had forgotten much of his lessons. A part of him wanted to try again, but the throb of his healing hand was a reminder that the cost for the failure was not only time, and effort, but Jaune's own blood. Risking possible infection was not worth a second attempt at his current skill level.
It was a short walk around the block, coupled with some investigations of other homes. Much like the two he was making use of, there was little to nothing of value inside them. Jaune did find a few more medical supplies. A partial rolls of gauze, and some medical tape. Stuffing those into his back pouch he continued his exploration.
/ = /
Neo was finally calm. The trip to her current base of operations; was filled with instances of strange flicker lights, and rolling shadows. She avoided them all; even going so far as changing her entire route to go around them. She was confused and concerned. Was she, Neo; the premiere enforcer of the underworld, Roman's right hand going crazy. No she couldn't be, but how could she explain the strange feelings of apprehension?
Jaune had done something to her, that had to be the reason. What he had done she couldn't fathom. Some type of mental suggestion or manipulation? Whatever it was; Neo would make him suffer for it; she would make him remove it under the threat of pain; and then she would cause him that pain.
Like in her previous safe house, Neo prepared her sleeping area. The blanket she had brought being placed with her pack near the altar of the small building. The dimming light of late afternoon streamed through the west side windows, as she completed her preparations.
That was when she felt it. It was slight, and almost imperceivable. But she felt it, or more akin to sensed it. It felt familiar; yet Neo could not place it. Over and over it came, like small waves lapping against a sandy shore. She made note of the direction for further investigation in the bright light of day. So as it continued Neo settled down to eat and hopefully gain some much needed rest.
/ = /
Annoyed and disappointed in his lack of ability, and attention in attempting the Rune of Calling; Jaune spent the remainder of the day in the debris filled living room. At first he worked at the channeling of the basic Burst Rune. Channeling it repeatedly until he could create it with nary a pause. Stopping his practice he allowed his mind to wander back to a demonstration his mother had given him and his sister.
/(9 Years Ago)/
"Jaune, Joan." Their mother stood before them in the backyard of the family home. "You are both getting along well with the channeling exercises, but there is another way to harness this power. Do you know what it is referred to as?"
"Somatic casting?" Joan offered tentatively.
"Correct." Jasmine turned to her side and raised her hand, "Arc Strike."
A twisted bolt of pure electrical energy flew from her hand impacting the archery target some four metres away. The twins looked on in awe at the ease the spell was cast and the power it generated.
"Mastering an effect through the practice of channeling will allow you in time to associate the entire process with a phtase; or combination of words." Jasmine had returned her full attention upon her two pupils. "As you saw, with my hand aimed at my target and a two word phrase I was able to enact the combined burst and shock runes."
The twins only nodded as their mother continues with her explanation. "To master Somatic casting you need to master without pause the basic channeling runes, and then you practice forming the rune in your mind as you speak a simple phrase. Do you know why?"
"Association?" Replied Jaune in more of a question than a firm answer.
"Yes." Jasmine nodded and smiled warmly as her two youngest seemed to so easily grasp the theory of magic, and spell-craft. "By repeating the same phrase each and every time you create the runes you condition your mind to associate that phrase with a specific effect. With enough practice and repetition you can instantly unleash it."
The twins nodded again, still in awe of the display of pure skill. Skill they both hoped to reach one day.
"So I want the two of you as you practice your channeling, to also start using a phrase for each exercise I have you do. The phrase can be specific to you, but it must be identical for every casting of a specific rune or combination of runes. Understand?"
The twins nodded.
/ = /
Drawing a long and deep breath Jaune set to the task of emulation his mother's actions. He was still slightly upset with himself by the amount of knowledge he had let slip from his grasp. After a few attempts he was able to recreate the rune he had chosen for his practice, flawlessly. Focused now on the repetition he picked his target. The over turned arm chair was as good as any of the multitude of items strewn about the room.
Holding his hand towards his target he channeled the burst rune, "Air Strike!" He intoned as he completed the channeling. The targeted chunk of cloth and wood turned slightly as if pushed. Breathing out with almost a hiss Jaune did it again, and again. Always the same rune, always the same phrase. He continued until the darkness of night filled the room.
Returning to his small camp; Jaune was less upset with himself over the wasted time the day before. He was close, so very close to making a huge step forward in his skill set. The association was almost there.
"The power of a Somatic cast rune is tied to your strength of will. The more you will the power to be, the higher it becomes. The stronger the effect is."
Jaune focused his thoughts on that tidbit of advice. The phrase was the catalyst for the effect, his will was the power. If he could master his Air Strike he would be able to by just his own thoughts adjust the output to whatever he desired. If he could get to that point; he could progress and build up his repertoire; giving himself the tools he would need to move on and accomplish the task that sat in the back of his mind.
It was the day before his attempted Blood Ritual that he had come to a decision. Though Cinder had murdered Pyhrra, Jaune came to view Ozpin as partly to blame. The pressure to make a choice, a play on her need to succeed; and protect drove Pyhrra to the fateful confrontation. With Ozpin dead Jaune had only one he could bring to task. One who needed to face justice for what she had done. Jaune would make Cinder answer for what she had happened to Pyhrra, for what she had taken from him. A dark glint shone in Jaune's ice blue eyes.
/ = /
Another night passed. The fragment continuing onward; ignored by the beasts that prowled the hereafter. Neo slept soundly for the first night in what seemed ages; and Jaune remembered the words of his mother long ago at the start of his and Joan's training. In his days before Beacon.
"Not all heroes wear armour and wield weapons Jaune." His mother spoke in a soft tone, as she held the six year old on her knee. "Look at you sister Jolene. She has neither your gift, nor had any interest in what your other sisters do. She's a nurse; yet she's a hero to those she helps to heal, and even to those she comforts when nothing can be done." Her lips gently brushed his brow, "The only difference between her, your sisters; you and Joan is the tools you will use to help."
"The tools I use to help." Jaune cast his eyes downward. He wanted to help others, it was something he had never ceased dreaming of; yet right now he couldn't; and wouldn't allow those thoughts into the fore of his mind. He hadn't been able to help the one he should have. There was no help for her now. Squeezing his left hand closed upon his injured palm he hissed at the muted pain it caused. His mind was not on helping anyone. He was training solely to make someone pay. He thought himself a fool to believe he could be like his older sisters. It was that fool who failed the one whom professed her love for him.
"I'm sorry." He spoke as he remembered his mother's kindly offered words; and dwelt on Pyhrra's final fate. Shaking his head he tired to push those thoughts aside, before settling himself down to try and get some rest.
/ = /
Morning came and Neo was finally refreshed, and of a clear mind. Thoughts of her vengeance upon Jaune, and thereby extension the one she knew as Red; first and foremost in her mine. She gazed around her current refuge while choking down another can of cold condensed soup. Once she had gotten past the feeling of unease she would use her semblance to return to much more comfortable surroundings.
The trip had been long for the fragment; but it was finally at it's destination. While Jaune busied himself above in the attic; the mote of a soul touched the blood marked doll. With an nearly imperceptible flare of light it vanished. The dolls always staring black eyes closing as if the entire figure was taking a rest.
Feeling lazy Jaune gaged down another pouch of the sawdust like food from one of his last MREs. It was labeled Maple Brown Sugar; a lie as the thick goop had no semblance of any taste. Taking stock of what he had left; Jaune bit his lip as he considered his options. He assumed many of the homes surrounding his camp would have been looted, and stripped of anything worthwhile in the way of food stuffs. He would have to find a grocer, or corner store in relatively good condition to replenish his supplies.
Still tired from his sleep being broken by his own troubled thoughts he sat back down; leaning against a stack of the boxes. Forgoing his normal routine of opening his codex he instead pulled out the grimoire. In his astral form he had seen the multitude of creatures hunting the ruins. He had experience dealing with shades, it was the shadows and the wisps that would give him trouble if he could not avoid them.
Flipping through the yellow pages he scanned the extensive resource. It always amazed him how much information could be found with in; given the average size of the book. He understood to a degree that it had something to do with the sigils and glyphs etched upon the cover. Underneath him unnoticed the chest of the doll began to rise and fall in the steady rhythm a casual observer would associated with breathing.