The light gleamed off the old man's balding head as he looked up from the magazine he'd been reading, the sound of the door chime going off drawing his attention to the entrance of his shop. His body tensed reflexively. It was true that, by virtue of being the only Dust-shop in this district of Vale that was open at such a late hour, he shouldn't have been surprised by any customers coming in. However, it was rare for legitimate customers to enter this late at night.
Besides, word had been spreading about a rash of Dust thefts. Stores across Vale were being hit, and their stock stolen. The merchant didn't want his establishment to join the list of those that had already been pilfered. From Dust 'Til Dawn was a specialty Dust-shop that catered to clients who needed to obtain Dust at unusual hours, often Huntsmen and Huntresses needing to quickly arm up before heading out on a mission, after responding to a late-night emergency call. Rather than being open during the day, his store ran during the night and closed in the morning. It was a niche market, one that had worked well for the shopkeeper, but not one that gave him a lot of financial leeway, when it came to replenishing stolen stock.
Fortunately, he relaxed at the sight of the girl who entered. He judged her to be fourteen or fifteen by her appearance. She wasn't very tall, and certainly didn't cut an imposing figure. Her black hair washed to red towards the tips, framing a youthful face, with rounded cheeks, giving the girl a cute, endearing appearance that, at the same time, walked the edge of maturity enough to make her cute without coming off as babyish. Her maturity was further enhanced by the captivating pair of silver eyes she possessed, gazing out with an awareness that spoke of a level of experience that belied her age.
She was clad in a rather simple-looking ensemble, a black top that was closed like a robe, with a vivid, rose-red sash tied around her waist, a flowing, slightly ruffled black skirt extending down to end just above her knees. The girl's legs were covered by black tights, which ended in tabi-socks, with a pair of simple sandals adorning her feet. The most interesting aspects of her garb were the segmented plates of lacquered armor, a pair at her waist extending down almost as far as her skirt, while a similar, albeit smaller, pair adorned her shoulders. Both sets of armor were the same red color as her sash. That same red was also found in the hooded cloak that the girl wore over it all.
"E-excuse me," stammered the girl, "are you still open?"
"Mmm-hmm." The shopkeeper nodded. Being a man of few words, he rarely needed to speak all that much.
"O-okay," said the girl, giving the man a nod and a shy smile before making her way to the back of the store, where the magazine stands were. There, she picked one of the magazines, a weapons catalogue, and began to page through it, browsing quietly.
The shopkeeper was content to let her. Some store owners were sensitive about allowing people to browse their books without paying for them, but the books were a small supplementary for the man, whose business was Dust. In all likelihood, the girl wouldn't be buying any of that either, but it felt nice to have another soul in the shop on a lonely night.
After a few more minutes of quiet, the shopkeeper found himself regretting that sentiment as the door opened again, with several more people coming into a shop. The man immediately tensed, realizing that he was in trouble.
It was hard not to recognize the finely-dressed man with reddish-orange hair underneath a black bowler hat. He was clad in an immaculate white suit that made him seem more like a high-society dandy than Vale's most-wanted criminal. Roman Torchwick strode up to the counter with a smug smirk decorating his face as he surveyed the nearly-empty shop with his green eyes. His black-gloved hands tightened their hold around the crook of his cane, which he rested calmly in front of him as his gaze returned to the shopkeeper, who was already beginning to tremble.
The men who filed in behind Torchwick looked no less intimidating; dressed in black suits and red ties, with black bowler hats. Their eyes were hidden behind opaque sunglasses, which would have seemed rather odd, given that it was late at night and the sun had long set. However, they gave the men a certain intimidating quality.
Roman took a few quick puffs of the cigar hovering between his lips, before pulling it out and tapping it, not seeing any issue with letting the ashes scatter across the shop floor. At the same time, he blew out puffs of smoke into the face of the shopkeeper, who squinted against the acrid fumes.
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a Dust shop open this late?" asked Torchwick rhetorically.
One of his henchmen raised a gun, pointing it at the shopkeeper's face. Immediately, the shopkeeper's hands went up. "Please take my Lien! Just don't hurt me."
"Hey, hey," said Roman in a mockingly placating tone. "Don't worry. We don't want your money." He glanced at the men flanking him. "Grab the Dust."
The shopkeeper's heart sank. Taking his money would have been less of a blow. The amount of cash in his register or, indeed, the safe in the back was a pittance compared to the value of the Dust he currently had in stock. The walls were lined with canisters of ground Dust, while the display case right in front of him held a small fortune in the finest of Dust crystals. The poor man knew that his business was unlikely to survive the blow of losing so much stock all at once.
As Roman's henchmen went about the process of collecting the Dust, one of them spotted the young girl in the back, her red hood up over her head, perusing a magazine, completely oblivious to what was going on behind her. The shopkeeper heard one of the men go to accost her, shouting for her to put her hands up. He expected to hear the girl shriek in fear or pain any second now.
Instead, the henchman that had gone to secure her went flying past the front desk to slam into a row of shelves...hard, making the entire thing rattle as the man slumped to the ground, stunned by the impact, if not knocked completely unconscious.
The unexpected resistance got Torchwick's attention, and he quickly grunted and signaled another man to go check the situation out. As he passed, the shopkeeper heard the click of a gun being drawn. A second later, he heard a shrill battlecry as the unfortunate goon, propelled by the girl, went flying through the shop's window with a crash, both of them landing in the street. The girl bounced off the man's chest and executed a cartwheeling flip through the air to land daintily on her feet.
Torchwick and his remaining men quickly moved to take in the situation as the girl reached behind her back, her left hand closing around the dark-red, rectangular handle of her weapon. Drawing it forth revealed a slender sword with a straight, double-edged blade. The steel of the blade was the same vivid-red as her sash and cloak, leaving crimson streaks behind it as she whirled it through a few circular passes, before settling into an unusual combat stance, having raised the blade over her hooded head, so that it was pointed ahead of her, the edges angled vertically, the middle and ring fingers of her right hand gently pinching the blade out near its angled tip.
"Oookaaaay..." drawled Torchwick, before flashing an irritated glance at the men with him. "Get her."
I wasn't expecting this, thought Ruby as she faced down the criminals that had suddenly intruded on her peaceful evening. She'd entered the shop with the intention of catching up on some of the things she'd missed while she was away. Her sword was wonderful and beautiful, and she had absolutely no intention of trading her for anything, but that didn't change the fact that Ruby had wanted to learn what the latest in Huntsman-tech was working up to these days.
Granted, she supposed she shouldn't have been surprised that the shop she'd been in was suddenly being robbed. Criminals, by their very nature, wouldn't accomplish much if they were expected. Still, Ruby had been trained to deal with the unexpected.
A single glance, supplemented by the rest of her senses, had given her a good idea of what she was dealing with. The black-suited henchmen were hardly anything to write home about, handling guns and blades as though they only had the barest idea where the business ends of their weapons were. The white-suited leader...was a different matter. Ruby could sense it in his balance, his understated reaction to the unexpected resistance, and the way his eyes watched and measured her, even as he maintained his condescending facade.
Still, he was a concern for later, as his henchmen closed in. The first man charged at her, wielding a sword with a broad, single-edged blade, looking almost like a falchion, save for the fact that it ended with a squared-off tip that gave the whole thing a rather cheap-looking appearance. Ruby ducked under his wide, telegraphed swing, angling her sword so that the flat was braced against the palm of her hand, allowing her to slide the force of his blow off to the side.
The man overextended, stumbling past her. Whirling in a swift motion, Ruby immediately spun about, bringing her sword down and around and slashing it across the man's stomach, the force of her attack blowing him across the street to slam into a nearby lamppost and slump to the ground, motionless.
There was no time to spare a thought for him, as a second man leveled a bulky-looking assault rifle at her and unloaded its clip in her direction. Ruby rushed forward, her footsteps leaving scattering petals of red drifting in her wake as she leaned forward to lower herself out of the line of fire, and close the distance before the goon could adjust his aim. Up came her sword, slicing his weapon in two, before Ruby brought it back around and stepped forward, throwing her weight into the blow as she slammed the pommel of her weapon into the man's stomach, doubling him over and sending him flying back, before he landed on the road, skidding to a stop.
The last remaining henchman attempted to attack her from behind. He wielded the same kind of blade that the first one that had come at her had. Ruby immediately went into a spin, bringing her own sword up to meet his. There was a ring, then the sound of metal shearing as Ruby's sword cleaved cleanly through the his weapon. Before the man could even consciously realize what had just happened, Ruby continued her spin, accelerating and producing a cloud of petals around her like a miniature cyclone as she went through another complete circle, jumping up to bring her left foot to slam into the side of the henchman's head in a spinning back-kick that carried all the force her acceleration had produced. The man's head snapped to the side, and he was sent spinning to the ground.
Landing daintily, Ruby turned to face the leader, who glanced contemptuously at the fallen goons. "Well, you were worth every cent, truly you were," he muttered. Stepping forward, he adopted a teasing smile as he raised his cane. "Well, Red, it's been a lovely evening. But I'm afraid that it's past your bedtime."
Ruby's eyes widened as she saw the end of his cane, flip open, revealing a barrel as the end rose up above it to act as a sight. She didn't need to see the man's finger tighten around the trigger. The sharpening of his intent was warning enough as he fired. The fact that he'd taken the time to banter at her had allowed her to realize what was coming.
So when, with a shrill shriek, a fiery bolt left the barrel of the gun concealed in his cane, Ruby was already moving. Just as she had with the machine gun-wielding goon before, Ruby immediately dashed forward, leaning down and ducking beneath the line of fire, feeling the heat and breeze of the shot sail over her head, rustling her hood. Now it was the man's eyes that widened as Ruby closed the distance between them, closing in before he had a hope of lining up a second shot. By the time his finger had relaxed under the trigger in preparation to squeeze it again, Ruby was already below the shaft of his cane, her sword whipping up towards the side of his chest.
With a surprised yelp, the criminal backpedaled, quickly whipping his cane around to counter Ruby's slash. The shaft met the blade of Ruby's sword with a loud clang. The moment their weapons made contact, Ruby realized that this man's weapon had nothing in common with the cheap, mass-produced ones wielded by his henchmen. It was solid, and withstood her sword easily, despite the structural weakness a barrel running down its length should have imparted. Whoever had made this weapon knew what they were doing.
So did the criminal, Ruby realized, as the man responded with impressive speed, following up his block with a swift counterattack, whipping the cane back around with a deft movement of his wrist to swing it at the side of her head. Ruby quickly raised her own blade to counter in turn, their weapons bouncing off one another again. Taking advantage of the sudden disengagement, Ruby went into motion, flickering in rapid steps that left flurries of red petals where her feet had been, as she sidestepped around the man with such speed that she was little more than a red blur to his eyes.
To her surprise, while the man was clearly shocked by the speed of her maneuver, he responded swiftly and competently, spinning counter to the direction of her own movement, meeting sword with cane again. For a few seconds, the two fenced furiously as they exchanged a series of rapid blows, while guarding against one another's counters. Ruby kept the fight close, not wanting to give the man the distance he needed to use the gun built into his cane. If he fired that off wildly in their fight, there was no telling where those, obviously explosive, bolts might go, or what they might end up hitting.
They danced rapidly back and forth, jockeying for position, moving to try and flank one another, even as they continued to exchange blows at a furious pace. Ruby frowned, and her eyes narrowed. It was time to start pushing herself harder.
Before she could do so, however, the man abruptly danced back two steps. At first, Ruby thought he was planning to try and open up the distance between them to use his gun. However, as she quickly closed in again, he instead flipped his grip on the cane, angling the curved crook upwards, even as he used the shaft to catch another slash from her sword. There was a clicking sound as the man's thumb pressed some kind of button, and the cane's crook, tethered to the shaft by a gray cable, abruptly shot upwards. It hooked over the rung of the ladder of a fire-escape running up the side of the nearest building. The man pressed another button and the cable retracted, hauling him upwards and out of the way as Ruby's sword passed through the space where he'd been standing, hauling him up the side of the building to reach the ladder near the top, just a few rungs down from the roof.
Ruby paused, turning to take stock of the situation at ground-level. Going after the crook was important, but not if she left his henchmen to threaten the shopkeeper again. Fortunately, a quick survey was all she needed to know that the henchmen were down for the count. A glance at the shopkeeper allowed her to lock eyes with him, and confirm that he was all right with her continuing the pursuit.
Turning, Ruby went into full speed, rushing straight for the wall. Not breaking stride, she stepped against the wall and channeled her Aura through her feet in swift bursts, rushing straight up the side of the building in a blur of red, leaving small flurries of petals in her wake, bypassing the crook, even as he climbed over the edge of the roof. By the time he'd managed to stand, Ruby was waiting for him, standing in the center of the roof and cutting him off from wherever it was he was hoping to get to.
The man came up short, his eyes widening at her sudden appearance. Then those eyes narrowed and he bared his teeth in an angry growl. "Persistent," he muttered under his breath, even as his fingers tightened around the shaft of his cane.
But that became marginally less important when Ruby suddenly found herself buffeted by a powerful downdraft from behind and above her, accompanied by the roaring whine of a pair of hoverjets. She didn't need to look behind her to realize what was happening. An aircraft, most likely one of the new-model bullheads she'd been reading about, was now hovering behind her. Given its position, this had been what the man had been aiming to reach, when he'd climbed the building.
Ruby felt the flow of air buffeting her from behind shift, indicating that the aircraft was pivoting in place. It had descended sidelong towards the side of the building, most likely with the intent of allowing the crook to make a quick jump into its passenger bay before it got clear. But now it was pivoting around to bring its nose to bear on her, the shifting angles of the airflow and the slight change in the engines' pitch telling Ruby its new orientation clearly.
She felt the downdraft lessen slightly, the engines angling away from her as the bullhead's nose pitched down slightly. Behind its canopy, Ruby could feel the pilot's intent, that same sensation that came right before the crook in front of her had pulled the trigger on his cane and fired that first shot at her.
Not hesitating, Ruby dodged, the sound of bullets biting into the concrete of the roof behind her indicating that her instincts had been right. She dodged in the only direction that would give her the advantage under these circumstances, straight towards the crook as he shouted in surprise and brought his cane up to parry another slash of her sword, glancing it off the shaft, before the two of them began clashing furiously once again.
Even as she whipped her blade through rapid crescents in an effort to break through her opponent's defenses, Ruby could sense the shifting of the bullhead behind her as it began to move, in its hovering configuration, circling around the rooftop, looking for an angle. Her boldness had paid off. This close to the criminal the airship had been trying to extract, there was no way the pilot could shoot her without shooting the thief as well.
The man was fully aware of this, clearly trying to find a way to break away from the exchange so that his air support could pick her off effectively, alternately trying to retreat out of range or force her back with a sudden application of brute strength...or even both at once. Unfortunately for him, Ruby wasn't planning to allow him to gain any distance anytime soon, always quickly closing with him again, often flanking around to put him directly between her and the guns of the circling airship.
The man blocked another slash at the side of his chest, then took her by surprise. He abruptly flipped his grip on his weapon again, bringing the crook of his cane around to hook over Ruby's left wrist after bouncing her blade away with his block. Pulling it down and back, he trapped her, then stepped in, thrusting his left elbow towards her midsection. Ruby interposed her right hand, catching the criminal's elbow with her palm, stopping his elbow-strike from landing. They stepped away from each other, but the man's crook around Ruby's wrist kept her from retreating out of his reach, when he followed up his elbow-strike by unfolding his arm so that he brought his fist whipping across at the side of her head.
Folding her knees, Ruby dropped beneath the arc of the criminal's swing. Leaning forward, she dashed in, the sudden closing allowing her to move her wrist so that it wasn't caught by the torque applied by the man's cane, allowing her to pull her wrist and hand clear. Then she turned the man's trick against him by pressing her blade against the inside of the crook of the cane, rather than pulling it all the way clear, allowing her to pull on it and draw the man closer as she returned the favor by driving her armored shoulder right into the criminal's sternum.
The man's breath deserted him in a rush as he was bounced back by the force of her attack. Now Ruby disengaged her sword, dropping down into a crouch and spinning around to sweep her leg through the man's ankles, taking his feet out from under him and dropping him with a pained yelp. He landed on his shoulder, then rolled onto his back, his hat bouncing away in the wind kicked up by the hovering bullhead's jets.
Seizing the moment, Ruby rushed forward, rising up so that she could put her weight onto her foot as she brought it down on the criminal's right wrist, causing him to yell in pain as his hand relinquished its grip on his cane. A sweep of her sword sent the other weapon skittering across the roof and out of the man's reach as she practically fell forward onto him, straddling his chest in order to bring her knees down onto his forearms, trapping them beneath her weight, which was more considerable than it appeared. In the same movement, she drove her sword down into the roof, before pulling it down, the blade slicing cleanly through the concrete, allowing her to angle it so that the edge rested just against the man's throat. The tiniest shift in her weight, and his head would roll.
The man gasped and coughed, his eyes wide as the twitches of his throat pressed the skin of his neck up against the blade's edge, that tiny bit of pressure being enough to break it and send a trickle of blood running down the side of his neck. The man froze, realizing that Ruby was capable of cutting right through his Aura, with her current position. Her blade was far more dangerous than it initially appeared to be.
The man chuckled feebly and gave Ruby a nervous grin, a sweat that had nothing to do with his previous exertions adding a slight shine to his brow. "You're a lot tougher than you look, Red," he conceded. "But I hope you realize you just signed both our death warrants."
Ruby's eyes narrowed as she once again felt that sharpening intent behind her. The bullhead was shifting its position again, and she realized it was about to start firing. Apparently, with their intended passenger now subdued and restrained, the pilot had decided to eliminate both him and Ruby, if the criminal couldn't be safely extracted.
Ruby tensed, readying to deal with the threat. She wasn't a Huntress, nor was she one of the police, but she felt an obligation not to let this man die, just because she'd stopped him from getting away, for a number of reasons. She didn't want anybody to die tonight. There was also the fact that, if the pilot had settled on eliminating the criminal, rather than let him be captured, it likely meant that the criminal had information that the pilot didn't want him divulging.
But then Ruby relaxed, realizing she didn't need to worry as she sensed a new, non-hostile, figure drop down on to the roof behind her. She felt the sensation of Aura mingling with the energy propellant known as Dust, binding it together and activating its energy to form a glowing array between the newly-arrived woman and the hostile bullhead. The aircraft's barrage impacted harmlessly against the shining shield the woman had erected, producing a sound like hailstones clicking against a metal roof.
The bullhead stopped firing, and the woman took advantage of the opening, condensing a charge of ice-Dust, she whipped her weapon, which Ruby sensed was something akin to a flexible baton of some sort, sending the bolt flying upwards past the bullhead. It burst in the sky overhead, producing a sudden swirling mass of dark clouds. The woman then decisively flicked her weapon downwards, and the clouds unleashed a storm of sharp, icy shards that bombarded the bullhead with such force that Ruby could hear the ice tearing through the metal chassis of the airship.
That was apparently enough for the pilot, who had decided that there was no helping the situation. The bullhead rocked backwards, the buffeting of its engines intensifying as it hovered back away from the rooftop. The woman was clearly loathe to let the ship go as she leveled her weapon at it again, her Aura condensing at the tip as she infused it with another charge of Dust. However, the bullhead quickly drifted into a turn as its wings rotated, the jets moving into the forward flight-configuration, allowing the aircraft to swiftly escape.
The woman kept her eyes on it until the airship was lost in the distance, just in case this withdrawal was a prelude to it executing a fast attack-run on the roof when she lowered her guard. Ruby could sense the woman's frustration, even as she returned to regard Ruby and the restrained criminal. The woman took the situation in at a glance, then moved over to retrieve the man's weapon, picking it up before returning to stand over Ruby and her prisoner.
"You can get up off him now," she said curtly.
Ruby frowned, but did as she was bid, able to hear the clear authority in the woman's voice. This was not a woman to disobey lightly. She stood up and stepped clear of the captured criminal, careful not to obstruct the woman's view of him as she moved to the side.
Now that she no longer had to keep her eyes solely on the criminal, Ruby was able to lay eyes on her rescuer for the first time. She was a severe-looking woman with a head of blonde hair that ran down to her neck. Her white, button-down shirt and tight, black skirt, combined with the black leggings hugging her legs and the spectacles in front of her eyes, gave the image of an office-worker, rather than a skilled Huntress, which she clearly was, if her brilliant handling of Dust before was any indication. The only visual indicators of her profession were the black cape with purple lining she wore over her shoulders, and the weapon she held in her hand.
What Ruby had assumed to be a flexible baton of some kind instead appeared to be a leather riding crop. As weapons went, it was an unusual choice, but the woman seemed to wield it more like the magic wand of a wizard, like the kind in fairy tales that had been read to her as a child...before the incident.
Ruby swallowed as the woman's eyes came to rest on her, and Ruby got the distinct impression that she was in trouble.
Now Ruby had an idea of why the Huntress, Glynda Goodwitch apparently, favored a riding crop, despite, presumably, being miles away from the nearest horse. It certainly produced an authoritative "Crack!" when slapped against the metal surface of the interrogation room's table, the sound making Ruby twitch slightly, despite the absence of any sense of actual threat from the woman. Glynda was apparently an experienced disciplinarian.
"Do you have any idea just how dangerous your situation was?" she snapped harshly.
"Yes," answered Ruby, a slight quaver in her tone, thanks to Glynda's intimidating presence.
From the way Glynda stiffened, that was not the answer she'd been expecting to hear...or, at least, not how she'd expected Ruby to give it. "Explain," she said.
"I'd caught the crook...uh..." began Ruby. "From what he said and what I felt, the ship was about to fire on both of us."
"Yet you made no effort to evade," noted Glynda.
"Well...if I'd dodged...then the thief-"
"Roman Torchwick," Glynda supplied helpfully.
"Uh...Torchwick-s...right...then he would have been shot, and I couldn't just let him die." Ruby fidgeted, pressing the tips of her index fingers together as she stared at the surface of the table. The weeks of solitary travel through the wilderness, between the isolated pools of civilization that dotted Remnant, always left her with an adjustment period when it came to dealing with people again. Glynda's intense personality was not helping matters.
However, Glynda's frown was now smoothing out, her expression of stern disapproval being replaced with one of (admittedly still stern) bemusement. "You do realize who it was you took down, don't you?" she asked.
"N-not really," said Ruby. "I only just got to Vale this morning. I...I'm not caught up on recent events yet."
That statement appeared to confuse Glynda even more, her frown returning, albeit taking on a contemplative quality. "You came from outside the Kingdom?" she asked.
Ruby nodded nervously.
"So you had no idea that the man you brought down was Roman Torchwick, the most infamous criminal in the Kingdom of Vale, wanted for several-dozen counts of theft, assault, battery, and even murder?" the stern woman prodded.
Ruby shook her head. "I didn't," she said. "He and his goons came into the Dust sho,p and one of them threatened me. I-I reacted reflexively and took him down, and things sort of...uh...snowballed from there."
"And you were prepared to allow yourself to be shot for this man?" asked Glynda.
"W-well, I sensed you coming, so I decided I would be safe not dodging," said Ruby. "While you were fighting the bullhead...I thought I'd just get in the way if I moved, s-so I made sure he couldn't get away."
Glynda's eyes narrowed, and she was silent for a moment, tilting her head slightly as she studied Ruby intently. Ruby got the distinct impression that Glynda didn't really know what to make of the red-cloaked girl sitting in front of her, still shifting nervously, her eyes continuing to glide over the surface of the table, rather than meet Glynda's gaze directly. Ruby's demeanor was more akin to a guilty toddler, caught with her hand in the cookie jar, than a girl who'd just brought down one of the most dangerous men in the Kingdom.
"And what would you have done if you hadn't known I was coming?" asked Glynda.
"I-I would have used my cloak," said Ruby, now fiddling with the edge of the garment in question. "I can run my Aura through it, and use it to block attacks."
Glynda's eyes widened in surprise. From a young age, Huntsmen and Huntresses were trained to use their weapons as conduits for their Aura. What was implicit in that lesson, if they were willing to open their minds, was that that concept could be applied to virtually anything they came in contact with, including parts of their surroundings...or even the very clothes on their backs. It was an advanced application of Aura, and one that very few, even among veteran Huntsmen, were proficient in.
"Even so, you were prepared to put yourself at risk to protect a man who threatened you and innocent people?" Glynda prodded again.
"W-well...I'm not a Huntress...yet..." said Ruby, the last word exiting her mouth in a barely audible whisper. "I didn't feel right, deciding to let someone die, just to save myself." She finally brought herself to look up at Glynda, the gleam in Ruby's silver eyes surprising the woman. "Also...I thought that...uh...if the pilot was prepared to kill T-Torchwick-san-Ah!" The girl's mouth abruptly shut and she apparently had to regather her thoughts. "Er...Torchwick, then...it was probably because he knew things they...they didn't want him to talk about...I think."
Glynda was taken aback for multiple reasons. She was amazed at the blend of idealism and pragmatism Ruby's behavior and statements indicated. Despite the nervous edge to her voice, Glynda could also sense the firm conviction in Ruby's tone, indicating that, even if she hadn't thought Torchwick might be important in some manner, she still wouldn't have abandoned him to his death.
But Glynda was also slightly troubled by Ruby's slip of the tongue, the use of an archaic honorific, belonging to a language all but forgotten to the world of Remnant, save for one secluded corner of it, suggesting a potentially troublesome association.
But it wasn't Glynda's right to be suspicious of her for that. For all that Ruby's actions, what she had done and what she was clearly capable of, had roused considerable curiosity, Glynda currently didn't have the legal authority to satisfy said curiosity. Instead, she sighed.
"If it were up to me, I would send you home-" For some reason, the mention of the word, "home," caused Ruby to flinch. "-with a pat on the back..." Glynda paused, then brought her crop smacking down against the table again, making Ruby yelp in surprise and reel back. "...and a slap on the wrist. However, it is not up to me. There is someone else who would like to talk to you."
A new person entered the room and Ruby immediately felt her throat tighten with nerves at the sight of him. He was light-skinned, with silvery hair, a pair of brown eyes that peaked over a set of spectacles resting on the bridge of his nose, which seemed to be more for decoration than actual use. He was tall, dressed in a black suit, its front unbuttoned slightly at the top and bottom so that she could see the dark-green turtleneck he wore beneath the jacket, its collar rising up to encompass his neck.
In his right hand, he carried a cane. Ruby noted that, with his balance and poise, the man clearly didn't require it for assistance walking. In his other hand, he held a plate of-
Cookies! Ruby's mind nearly went blank at the sight of the lovely, brown treats, studded with chocolate chips, her favorite kind no less. Just the sight of them was enough to almost make her start drooling. She'd rarely had cookies since she'd left home on her training excursion, a few months ago. At best, she could occasionally exchange services for them in the small bakeries that she sometimes found in the settlements she visited, either that or work to earn lien to buy some for herself, but most of that lien went to other things more important than the, admittedly delicious and addicting, sugary treats.
But then she had the presence of mind to recall where she was, and who she was with. Ruby pried her eyes away from the cookies and up to the man carrying them, her throat tightening uncomfortably. He wasn't particularly intimidating. Indeed, there was something about the way he carried himself and the slight smile on his face that gave him a gentle, almost grandfatherly, demeanor. Ruby didn't suddenly find herself at a loss for words because she was intimidated…but because she recognized this man. When she was younger, she'd daydreamed of someday meeting with him, of getting to talk to him…but she'd never imagined that it would happen like this.
The man's own eyes fixed with hers and Ruby felt…strange. She wasn't sure what she felt. It wasn't normal, but it wasn't exactly uncomfortable either. There was something that suggested that the man's eyes had looked right through her, like some kind of X-Ray machine.
"You…have silver eyes," said the man after a prolonged moment of silence.
"Uh…" said Ruby, not sure how to react to an opening line like that.
The man appeared to catch himself doing something unusual and amended his behavior. "My apologies. It's nice to meet you, Miss…?"
"Ruby…Ruby Rose," said Ruby nervously.
The man smiled, lowering the plate of cookies onto the table, and sliding it into her reach. Ruby's heart quivered at the thought that these were for her. Looking up, she saw the man watching expectantly and saw that he was perfectly happy to wait while she indulged herself. Ruby tentatively picked up a cookie and bit down on it.
The sweet flavors of sugar and chocolate mingled on her tongue and, before Ruby knew it, the cookie had disappeared, followed by another…and another…and another…and so on…until the entire plate had been cleared, in what she realized, now that she was done, a somewhat indecently short time, given the kindness of the man's gesture.
The man didn't seem offended in the slightest. If anything, his smile had widened, reminding Ruby of her adoptive mother in how understated his expressions were. He had that same look of quiet approval that Sora had whenever she saw Ruby enjoying herself or just generally being happy.
"Th-thank you," Ruby managed to squeak out, her mouth feeling a little dry after all the sugar and starch she'd just shoveled into it. A glass of milk would have gone over nicely, but she figured that the man in front of her had indulged her enough for one meeting.
"My pleasure," said the man with a slight quaver that suggested a suppressed chuckle in his voice…again, very much like Ruby's mother. "Now then, I'm very curious to know where you learned to do…this…" He withdrew a scroll from his jacket and opened it up into its tablet-mode, allowing Ruby to view a replay of her fight against Torchwick and his henchmen…the part of it that had taken place at street-level anyway.
"Uh..." Ruby wasn't sure it was wise to answer that question.
"As far as I know, that style of swordsmanship is not taught in any currently existing Combat School that I am aware of," pressed the man, his tone remaining gentle, yet with the slightest hint of firmness to it that indicated he would get to the bottom of this, and find the answers he sought...and Ruby didn't think she had the wherewithal to dissuade him.
"I...I didn't go to Combat School," said Ruby hesitantly.
Behind the man, she saw Glynda stiffen slightly, an unreadable look passing over her face. Ruby wasn't quite sure if the stern woman approved of that fact.
The man, on the other hand, seemed unfazed by that particular gem of information. If anything it seemed that that had been, at least in part, the kind of answer he'd been expecting. He nodded slowly. "I am also not aware of anyone who teaches such a unique style of swordsmanship."
"W-well...I didn't have just one teacher," Ruby demurred. "I had a few. I sorta took a little of this and some of that, and just sorta...put it all together."
"I see…" said the man cryptically. "Interesting."
Ruby swallowed, wondering what the man was getting at.
"And, from what I gathered, you have been traveling outside the Kingdom," noted the man.
"Um…Y-yeah," said Ruby.
"In other words, you have been plying the wilds between settlements and Kingdoms…on foot…by yourself…to what end?" asked the man.
"F-for training," said Ruby.
"Training?" The man's eyebrow went up.
"Yeah," said Ruby. "My teachers said that I needed to spend time getting real experience-and I agree-so I was going across Sanus on my own to get some experience in fighting, traveling, wilderness survival...all that stuff."
"Again…to what end?" asked the man.
"W-well…in two years, I was gonna apply to Beacon Academy," said Ruby. "I want to become a Huntress."
Behind the man, Glynda's eyes narrowed fractionally.
"You wish to slay monsters?" asked the man.
Ruby nodded eagerly. "W-well…I've always wanted to be one, b-because I've always wanted to help people, to fight for others and…well…I uh…I kinda figured I might as well make a career out of it."
"You want to be a hero?"
"I-I guess," said Ruby. "I…I don't want to become famous or anything, but…I've always known how scary the Grimm are…how bad they can be. I want to stand up to them, to protect the people they'd hurt otherwise."
"Hmmm…" The man was silent for a moment. "Do you know who I am?"
"You're Professor Ozpin…Headmaster of Beacon," said Ruby.
Ozpin's smile widened. "Still…I must say, you are one of the more…unique…aspirants to become a Huntress that I have seen in many years."
"I-is that so?" asked Ruby nervously.
"Yes," said Ozpin. "Your skill with Aura is exceptional."
"W-well…it's nothing compared to my teachers," said Ruby, beginning to fidget again.
"I suppose maybe not," said Ozpin, "not yet, in any case. Of course, I imagine that it will only be a matter of time for you. And then, of course, there is the matter of your weapon."
"Wha-what about it?" asked Ruby.
"Running an Academy, as I have, you can imagine that I have seen a remarkable variety of weapons in my time," explained Ozpin. "But I have seen very few like yours."
Behind him, Glynda frowned. "It's a sword," she pointed out. "I will concede that the basic nature of its design is rare in this day and age, but that hardly qualifies it as unique."
"You think so?" mused Ozpin. His eyes went to Ruby. "May I have your permission to allow Glynda to examine your blade?"
"Sure," said Ruby, fidgeting uncomfortably again. This being the interrogation room of a police station, Ruby had been forced to surrender her weapon before even walking past the front desk. She hadn't exactly been happy to hand over her precious blade, the single most important birthday present she'd ever been given. What was more, considering who made it, and how it was made, it was beyond priceless in her eyes, even if some people didn't realize that.
However, Ozpin clearly understood this to an extent, asking if she was comfortable with having Glynda look at her sword. Retreating to the door, Ozpin opened it and retrieved the sheathed blade, which he'd apparently had leaning against the wall just outside. Coming back in, he carefully handed the blade over to Glynda.
Glynda took it by its sheath and gave it a cursory visual examination. She had to admit, just going by the looks of it, it was a piece of masterful craftsmanship. The handle alone was a beautiful, dark-red color, engraved with the motif of roses and thorny vines spiraling around it. In shape, it was a straight rectangle, slightly blocky in appearance, but with the edges rounded just enough that it would fit comfortably into the hand. The black, lacquered sheath was simple and unadorned by anything. From its shape, Glynda could see the sword's own profile, the blade being straight, with two edges, slender, its width being exactly the same as the handle all the way along its length, until it reached the tip, where the sides abruptly tapered together. Unlike most swords, this one lacked a guard of any kind.
Closing the fingers of her right hand around the handle, Glynda grasped the sheath in the other hand and pulled. But the sword didn't budge. There was no shifting or rattling, nothing to suggest that the blade was caught on something in the sheath. Instead, it felt almost as though it had been glued in place, or that the blade did not exist, and the sheath and handle were a single, solid object. "What…?" she gasped.
"As I thought," said Ozpin, gently taking the weapon back from her, before passing it across the table to Ruby. "Ms. Rose…"
Recognizing the prompt for what it was, Ruby closed her left hand around the handle and pulled. The blade slid free as smoothly as though the inside of the sheath had been coated in oil.
"What…?" Glynda repeated, her mouth opening and closing, the rest of her vocabulary seeming to have deserted to her.
Ozpin's eyes traced the length of the crimson blade, taking note of the flowing ripples running parallel to each of the sword's two edges, forming a pattern that almost looked like flower petals. "Exquisite craftsmanship," he said with a smile. "I'd expect no less. Do you feel it, Glynda?"
Glynda's eyes narrowed. She had felt it. The feeling had been muted at first, when the sword was still sheathed. But now that the blade was in the open, the air within the room had changed. "It…it has its own Aura. It feels…alive!"
"Exactly," agreed Ozpin. "That is not such a singular thing, in and of itself. It is said that craftsmen who are passionate about the work that they do put their heart and soul into something. That can actually be literally true, and many such artisans, sometimes unknowingly, imbed a fragment of their own Aura into what they create.
"However, it is far rarer for someone to do so deliberately, and to such an extent that the creation in question has its own apparent soul, one that will not even permit the blade to be drawn, unless by the one it acknowledges as its wielder. There is only one place in the world…where this kind of craftsmanship is practiced."
Ruby suddenly felt very lightheaded.
But Ozpin's expression remained congenial. "So…you have spent time with the Mibu Clan."
Glynda gasped in shock.
"How is Kyo, by the way?" asked Ozpin.
"D-doing fine," said Ruby. "You kn-know him…?"
"By reputation," said Ozpin. "We've never met. There are only one or two members of the Mibu who regularly travel the world outside Leng for any length of time. Kyo is one of those people."
"So then this girl…" Glynda stared at Ruby as though she were some kind of exotic object.
"Has been trained by the Mibu," said Ozpin. "What is more, she has been granted a blade that, if my eye for quality has not degraded any, was forged for her by none other than the Mibu Blademaster, their master swordsmith."
Ruby's throat tightened further, and suddenly, it was very hard for her to breathe.
Ozpin's fingers closed around the sheath of her weapon, and guided it so that it aligned with the tip of her sword, prompting her to slide it back in. Then he let go of it and pulled back. "Thank you for your demonstration, Ms. Rose."
"Y-you're welcome," said Ruby, still having trouble breathing.
"You needn't worry," said Ozpin. "You are in no trouble. Your association with the Mibu Clan is not a cause for suspicion. I was merely satisfying my curiosity. I know that the state of affairs between Vale, or any of the other Kingdoms for that matter, and the Mibu is…less than satisfactory…but that does not reflect poorly on you, seeing as they were willing to take an outsider in and train her in their techniques."
"It was just a few of them," said Ruby.
Ozpin nodded. "Indeed. But I can see that your training has served you well and…the results speak for themselves." His smile widened. "You said you wished to become a Huntress, Ms. Rose?"
"Yes," said Ruby, nodding. "It's always been my dream."
"And you wish to come to my school?" said Ozpin.
"Well then…all right," said Ozpin.
A stunned silence settled over the room as the two other people there processed what Ozpin had just said.
"Wha-wha-what?" gasped Ruby, not sure she'd understood what he'd been saying by that.
"I am extending to you a personal invitation to attend Beacon…this year," said Ozpin.
"Are you mad!?" Glynda hissed furiously. "She's still too young."
"I believe her age is not too much of an issue," said Ozpin. "She already shows skill potentially surpassing that of most of our entrants in this year's class. I believe she will do well." He turned back to Ruby. "So then, Ms. Rose…What do you say?"
Ruby blinked, unable to find the words. This hadn't been at all what she'd expected this conversation to lead to. She hadn't expected to be interrogated by a Huntress. She hadn't expected to meet the Headmaster of Beacon. She hadn't expected to be here at all. She hadn't expected to need to thwart a robbery. And yet, here she was, feeling as though she'd landed at the bottom of a hill after a rough tumble, where she hadn't been able to tell up from down.
"I…I…I…uh…I" Ruby stared down at the table, fighting to bring her emotions back under her control. "I don't know…This is so sudden. I…" She gasped, grabbing the edge of the table, feeling on the verge of having a panic attack. "I need to think about this."
"You have a week," said Ozpin, giving Ruby an indulgent smile. "If you choose to accept my offer, be at Vale's air-docks no later than one-o-clock PM, Sunday. If not, then you are free to do as you wish, and I will take your formal application, two years from now."
"Okay," said Ruby.
"Do you have any lodgings, Ms. Rose?" asked Ozpin.
"N-not yet," said Ruby. "I have some lien for a room." But not enough for a week, she thought glumly.
"I see," said Ozpin. Reaching into his jacket, he pulled out a small card. It looked like a lien card, but Ruby could see the stamp of Beacon Academy on one side. "Three blocks down this street, you'll find the Emerald Tree. Show them this card, and Beacon shall cover your expenses for the duration of your stay."
"E-even if I don't...?" Ruby posed nervously.
"Even if you don't," said Ozpin.
"A-all right," said Ruby, looking down at the card in her hand. "I need to make a call."
"There is a CCT center next door to the hotel," said Ozpin with a smile. "I wish you luck, Ms. Rose. I hope to see you on Sunday. However, if you choose not to come, I will understand."
"Thank you," said Ruby, clutching the card and her sword to her chest.
And so, welcome to Red Thorn. My apologies for taking so long to finally start posting this story. Once again, I was confronted by the fact that my story continued to swell beyond my original intentions, becoming a sort of bloated monstrosity. As a result, I'm finally starting to post it, even though my writing of it isn't quite in the home stretch yet, because I didn't want to keep everyone waiting until the beginning of next year.
On a side note, this is why I don't use that...um...partonage website. I don't have any perks to promise my patrons, and I suck at deadlines, so it feels disingenuous to ask people for money to essentially support a hobby I indulge in for my personal gratification, first and foremost.
Those of you who read my notes about this story, at the end of Lost Rose, will be aware that this is, like Crimson Eyes, a pseudo-crossover between RWBY and Samurai Deeper Kyo. I say pseudo crossover because, once again, the majority of characters related to SDK are OCs, who are tangentially related to the characters of that series. Because I can be pretty damn lazy, when push comes to shove, I recycled a ton of my OCs in that story, when writing this one. So, if you read Crimson Eyes, you're gonna see quite a few familiar faces, albeit in a different context, as there's no connection between them otherwise. The plots of these stories have no relation to one another.
The other important aspect of this story is that it was inspired, and heavily influenced by, a certain RWBY story called Matters of the Heart, by Vengfulfate. It's a pretty great story, and one that I recommend you check out. It also has the Ladybug ship, if that's your cup of tea.
The basic premise of said story is that Ruby was injured during that little childhood "outing" with Yang, and winds up with a heart condition as a result. Taiyang gets ridiculously overprotective, which prompts Ruby to run away. Years later, she comes back to Vale, gets into Beacon, and has to deal with meeting her family again, and all that jazz. Like I said, it's a good read.
Ultimately, upon getting into that story, the hyperactive five-year-old who occupies a significant chunk of my headspace started jumping up and down, shouting, "I wanna do that! Let's write that kinda story next!" That's how a lot of my stories come into being, honestly. And so, I started writing this story.
Naturally, I made quite a few changes to the premise (which include introducing the the pseudo-crossover aspect of it), part out of working with my personal interests, and also to avoid just plain ripping off Vengfulfate's work. Of course, that's not such a big risk now, considering that, compared to Matters of the Heart, which is a relatively short, more intimate piece, with a greater focus on character drama than anything else, my story wound up turning into another 100+ chapter behemoth, mainly because, unlike Vengfulfate, I chose to incorporate the overall meta-plot of RWBY into my story. As a consequence, it's likely going to wind up being even longer than Lost Rose was.
Part of that is because I don't want to pull the same stunt I did with Lost Rose, where I wrote a monstrously long story, only the realize I was barely part way through my whole plan, and decided to cut my losses, post what I had, and write the rest as a sequel. In this case, I'm planning to wrap up the entire plot of my story in one go, so there won't be any sequels this time.
To whit, I'm going to be talking a fair bit about Matters of the Heart, and how it influenced my creative decisions in the author notes of my chapters, particularly in the early ones, before my story really started to take on a life of its own. Some of my decisions arose as a direct response to the ones Vengfulfate made in their own story, less out of any thought that my choices are better, and more out of an idea of "that's cool, but I'd do it this way..." sort of thought process, while others were meant to sufficiently make the story my own.
Apologies for the lengthy intro. Hope you enjoy.