Disclaimer: I own nothing of RWBY.
It all started with a broken pencil.
Jaune Arc glanced up from his History assignment out of reflex. Ruby Rose just snapped her pencil right in the middle of her paper, leaving half a paragraph blank. Bits of lead tattered the semi-clean sheet. He thought nothing of it, sitting one row above her, and settled into finishing his work while she loudly fumbled around her desk and backpack for another. A minute floated on by, then another, and Ruby still failed to find another pencil in her Dust bag, growing more vocal and impatient with no one bothered by the spectacle at all. Everyone ignored her. Not even Weiss acknowledged her defeated groan. Concentrating became a mind gnawing nightmare when she started banging her head on her desk. Thud! Thud! Thud! He almost snapped his pencil out of frustration and figuratively pulled at his hair.
During one point, she stopped and just sat there with her head down, shoulders drooping so low that he might have thought someone kicked Zwei or declared chocolate and milk illegal. Heartstrings tugged so harshly. They belonged to him. Yes. She acted overdramatic to the entire ordeal. No. He wasn't so heartless to allow it to continue. Pencils were pencils. He bought plenty with more than enough to share.
Jaune pulled out a spare from his bag and sharpened it. "Ruby! Psst! Ruby!"
A broken and defeated Rose mumbled with her head pressed against hardwood. "Yeah?"
He held the extra pencil for her. "Here. I have an extra pencil."
A wilted and malnourished Rose wildly bloomed in the obscurest pit of despair. Curvy shoulders straightened, along with her entire body. Gone went the hopelessness. Away went the kicked puppy expression. In its place sat his Crater Face friend with a look of complete gratification that made devils praise, angels weep, and Grimm scamper. She lifted her hand deliberately at a snail's pet rock's pace, half expecting him to change his mind in the most inhumane of ways. He remained at a loss for words, too stunned to even blink.
The Arc just casually dropped the pencil in her shaking palm and left it that. If only Fate ended it there. Ruby hugged it so tightly to her chest that he worried about her breathing or breaking another. Silvery eyes glistened like countless stars, brighter than diamonds. Okay! Going back to his paper now, only for her to finally appreciate the ordinary, in-the-box, everyday gesture to the heart-clenching fullest.
"Oh, thank you, Jaune! Thank you, thank you!"
Hitting an eight-point five on the weirdness scale now. "Uh, sure. No problem, Rubes. It's all yours."
Wrong thing to say.
She raced out of her chair, perched her palms against his desk one row above her, and pushed her body up with their noses brazenly brushing. "I can keep it?!"
"I insist. Please." Jaune leaned back, holding a container full of them. "I have plenty more."
Her dimple, cookie-fed smile stretched so impossibly wide that Jaune pinched himself to make sure none of this was some bizarre dream. Nope. Fully awake. She cooed at his reaction, waving her feet back and forth from her two feet off the floor status before hunkering down to finish her assignment with a vigor he rarely saw in Nora. Jaune opened his mouth, said nothing, and then closed when he noticed the stares from all around the classroom. People looked at him like he just grew a second head on his second head.
Ruby remained blissfully unaware of the attention, writing, drawing, dotting, and sketching with her newest pencil. She hearted her I's and crossed all her T's.
How he wished to be so ignorantly biased, all he managed to do was slink away and work on his assignment with his head lowered. At the very least, no one whispered or openly stared once he returned to his work. People just retreated to their tasks. Nothing extraordinaire happened right after. No one mocked him or Ruby or the way she refused to stop grinning.
Class went on anew.
Everything settled back into a routine with him forgetting about the whole incident by his fourth class of the day. Dealing with Grimm, Team JNPR, missions, and adolescents itself pushed whatever happened in History as a one-off. Nothing more than Ruby acting over excited over nothing. So by Professor Port's Grimm Studies Class, he completely forgot about the incident and trudged through his newest assignment with posthaste. Finishing his task faster meant more time to sleep through his oh-so snoozefest of a lecture.
Three-quarters of the way through the final question—snap—someone gently tapped his shoulder. Imagine his utter shock when Blake Belladonna was the perpetrator, holding half of what remained of her trusty pencil. The other half rolled off the desk, acting as the only discernable sound in the room until it hit the floor in that click-clacky noise. Never once had they moved. Not a muscle or a stretch. Not a flinch or inch. They sat there with the already silent room growing deathly mute, except for the sound of other graphites writing on paper.
"May I borrow..." Blake breathed and exhaled to control her nerves. "May I borrow a pencil?"
Jaune choked. Of all people to act apprehensive? Blake? Blake Belladonna? Ex-White Fang activist who fought with a ribbon gun? Team RWBY's Blake? That Blake? For a pencil? Someone had to be playing the world's most elaborate and painfully unfunny prank on him. Yang? Nope. She worked furiously on her paper, not even sparing her partner's pleas a passing glance. Same went for the rest of Team RWBY, working diligently. Everyone else ignored them, too. So he offered her one, keeping his wits on high alert for whatever cosmic horror awaited him.
"Sure, Blake." Jaune pulled out another, recently sharpened to the most elegant of exceptional points. Sharp and very pointy. "Here you go."
"I promise to give it back."
She said that with such conviction that it turned his lopsided world upside down. When she grabbed it, Blake acted as if she found the Holy Grail and held it so firmly, so rigidly, he doubted she carried Gambol Shroud with such steadfast hands. A person or Faunus holding something with such intricate care deserved it more than anyone else, or so he believed. Besides, he had a whole box full of them.
"No. That's okay. You can keep it."
Everyone stopped writing all at once.
Not one person wrote on their paper. No one coughed. Even the air conditioners surprisingly switched to eco-friendly mode. Silence, unnerving, thick silence filled the classroom. Everyone looked down at their papers, but he knew better with the hairs on his neck standing. Just give her the pencil. Now, if only Blake got with the program and not opened her mouth, but she did. Her tongue was moving, and was that a five syllable word coming out?
"Your generosity shall not be forgotten."
Generosity? Kind of a stretch. Kindness, maybe? Even that sounded too on the nose. She enunciated it with undertones with oppression as if his entire world wasn't already topsyturvy enough.
After giving Blake the ordinary pencil—she thanked him too many times in his opinion—he paid extra close attention. Why? For any reason to break down this madness. A secret? Some underground society deprived of the salvation of pointers? Anything! Jaune watched the class unfold the second he finished his assignment, forgoing sleep for once during Professor Port's riveting tale of Grimm, beasts, and a man who snapped boulders with his bare hands.
He only needed to pay attention for about five minutes.
The funny thing about reality, once it snapped back into place, it snapped hard. Everyone broke their pencils or lacked the necessary academy supplies. Pencils shattered periodically. Meticulously. It happened so frequently that he slapped himself silly for not noticing sooner. Such an unexpected turn of events, now Jaune couldn't not discern it. Thoughtless Huntsmen meant shattered graphites. A parallel he never saw himself making until this fateful day. They applied too much pressure, an unreasonable amount of force in everyday writing.
The more he pondered over this, the worse his headache became.
Snapped pencils? Of all things to plague the student body, and it was that? Some favorably carried spares. Others? He started to think not everyone slept in Professor Port's class. Some wayward souls ended up just like Ruby, distraught, a shell of their former shell with nothing to live for and everything to lose. Please don't get him started on the sad saps who ran out of spares. Those were excruciating to watch. Jaune saw less emotion when Grimm lurked nearby.
So he wondered, thoroughly, rigorously reflected with all his available thinking power as to why this was such a problem. Everything he guessed was purely speculation, not backed up by any credible research or tangible evidence. Only his recent time in Beacon versus outside experience stood as the basis for his hypothesis. What he came up with, after searching Beacon one boring afternoon, was so borderlined insane that he heavily considered going to Beacon's infirmary and demanding a brain scan.
Huntsmen-in-Training focused a hundred percent of their time and effort in studying, training, fighting, or sleeping. Beacon Academy provided virtually everything from housing to three warm meals a day, but school supplies? Well, so far, after checking the academy from the ground up to the deep, dark, dirty boiler room in the spider-infested basement—whatever happened to the janitor—he confidently said the place housed no such materials. Anything the professors used, they kept locked away in their remarkably fortified desks. Whatever tree fell to make those clearly withstood the test of time as it endured a sword's slashing without a scratch shown anywhere.
So? Yeah, no matter how he looked at it, pencils were a rare commodity. Jaune almost laughed for how insane it sounded, a not-so-funny joke far past its prime, but couldn't because there was no punchline. Spare any of them was a luxury in a prestigious academy. Things filled with graphite and not lead as commonly mistaken. With that realization finally sinking in, everything, more or less, came together.
A shortage of pencils ran amok.
No one shared.
Giving away any material basically meant suicide, except for Mr. Fake Transcripts. His act of heavenly benevolence, unselfishness in the darkest of dark times, where all hope was lost, sparked an interest. He learned. He discovered that students used woodshop class to manufacture more pencils, which contributed to the poor quality and air of dread when they ran out.
He also learned to stop pinching himself hours ago.
The way he saw it, there was only reason that this catastrophe existed. Jaune Arc went to public school while his friends went to combat school, and there rested the problem. He carried books, worked on countless assignments, had insufferable homework. Them? They spilled blood, exercised until their bones cracked, and occasionally helped the old lady across the busy highway. Never once had they worried about school supplies or where, when, or which store to purchase them. Jaune had an inkling feeling that they never heard of a back to school sale. Woefully underprepared? The understatement of this century.
Totaling in from how Ruby Rose acted, bee's knees prodigy of Beacon Academy, the cream of the crop, Ruby-Ruby-Ruby Rose, and he feared for the future of Humanity.
No wonder the Grimm seemed unstoppable.
Their self-preservation skills, not survival skills, were ridiculously underdeveloped. Top-notch killing with subpar planning, and not a person capable of solving the situation, until now apparently. Somehow giving both Ruby and Blake a pencil sparked a massive interest.
Word spread fast. Real, real fast. Ruby Rose Semblance fast. One second he was a nobody's nobody, someone to bump into the hallway and not apologize for the shoulder brushing, and now people actively sought him out and moved out of the way with opened arms. Never for friendship. Nor training. Forget about anything in-between. Just for pencils. Everyone, from his friends to his acquaintances, asked to borrow or have one. When he just gave them away, the flood gates broke. Soon random people he never met asked to borrow a pencil. Sophomores, juniors, and even seniors stopped to say hello, how's it going, and did you lose weight.
He became more popular than sliced bread overnight.
Didn't help that his stash consisted of the premium stuff. Not handmade or a handy down, but store-bought. Number two pencils made people drool. Not a euphemism, some unfortunate souls hugged them tightly and promised to never let go.
His once yearly supply diminished within a week.
Then came the day when he only had one left with someone stopping him in the hall. The story of how it transpired got left to endless interpretations between the student masses, bathroom gossip, and campfire tales for younglings to imagine, but if anyone grew bold enough and asked how it happened, Jaune Arc said by accident.
"But this is my last pencil."
Team JNPR's Fearless Leader never saw a man's world crumble so fast. He grabbed his shoulders with a mixture of panic, desperation, and unrivaled sadness. When the shaking began, Jaune thought this guy might lose it.
"I'm sorry. I can't!" Jaune said between the endless shaking. "It's my last one."
He stopped shaking Jaune with his voice cracking. "But everyone says you always give yours away!"
"Yeah, and now I have only one left, and it's mine."
The guy literally clapped his hands together, begging. "Come on, dude! I'm desperate! There's this exam coming up! You want money? I have money!"
"What? No, I don't need—?!
Random student number eight held up two lien, pleading for him to take his money. Jaune wordlessly blinked. Uh? What? Pencils cost half a buck at the most, but this guy offered him four times the going rate?
For a pencil?
Self-preservation instincts kicked in, and he accepted the trade. Cold hard cash slapped into his hand with that guy this close to hugging him. "Thanks, man! You're a lifesaver!"
Off he went, leaving a dust trail in his wake with Jaune absently waving to the shrinking speck.
"... A pleasure doing business with you." Jaune stood there in the hallway with money in his hand. "What just happened?"
No. Seriously. What the frick just happened? He just sold a pencil for profit. With the amount of money from this one sale, he could and would purchase more. A few more notes and buying a new box wouldn't be an issue at all. More pencils meant more supplies and more people. Then he could at least sell them for like a quarter each so he wouldn't have to buy new ones out of his own pocket. Huh? Selling pencils to worrisome Huntsmen-in-Training?
If that wasn't an untapped resource at Beacon Academy just waiting for monopolization then he would wear a dress.
He rubbed his hair in that awkward way, expecting himself to laugh but found that strangely impossible. A dry throat wasn't the problem, neither sickness or pain. His jaw just set with his lips thinning into an unforeseeable line.
Jaune almost laughed. No. No, no! Who in their right mind bought pencils? Ha. Ha-ha. Uh? He looked down at the paper he just crumpled up in his hand. Oh, right. That guy paid top dollar for sticks of wood and loved every heart-pounding second of it. Him! A regular student at Beacon Academy with a body built for slaying beasts and challenging Mother Nature itself had purchased it right out of his hand and somehow made it as if Jaune offered him the favor. Maybe, just possibly, that selling pencils shtick carried more hoopla than he first initially thought?
Lien never lied.
Jaune Arc saw a lifetime opportunity coming his way, and when those came a-knocking, Arcs answered the call, regardless of the consequences, hence his fake transcripts.
Pencils! Four for a lien!
A popular spot to stop him happened to be his weapons locker, so he hung out there with his newest box of freshly purchased pencils in his arms.
Jaune long ago ripped off the brand new name decoration and applied a notecard stating one lien per pencil, taped to the front. Next came the waiting game. Vultures quickly swooped in. A teenager, looking like a junior year, swiftly approached with that same inviting smile everyone wore around him. For namesake, he called him Jeff. Everybody he did not know personally was Jeff, male or female. Arcs did not discriminate, except for actual Jeffs.
He dubbed those Slagathor.
"Yo!" Jeff gave him the finger gun. "Arc, my boy! What's the four-one-one on those pencils? Word in the hallway is you got some? Spread the love!"
First, he planned to search up this four-one-one lingo or risked looking like a fool. Second, he made sure to steer clear of that noisy hallway. Third, Jaune held up the box with the explicitly labeled price tag on it. Jeff himself looked at the value for each pencil, rubbed his chin in deep, deep thought, and bobbled his head to the side as if contemplating the secrets of life. Any second now, he fully expected the stranger to scoff, roll his eyes, and walk away. That guy buying his lousy pencil was just a fluke—a one-off—nothing more than a desperate man pushed against a graphite-free corner.
The man slapped a twenty lien bill into his hand so hard that it stung and threw off his center of balance.
No change needed because he purchased as much as twenty could acquire. In other words, the entire box that he obtained for five lien, gone in less than a minute. The trip to the Bullhead took longer. The trip to the bathroom took longer. Taping the ridiculous flashcard took longer! In less than a minute, he sold out. One person footed the bill for his supply without batting an eyelash, acting reasonably in the most unreasonable of situations.
"Yeah! Radical! Now, that's what I'm talking about, Jaunester!" Jeff rubbed his hands together before he swiped the box and dumped the contents into his bag. "I knew you would come through! The hallways never lie."
Jaune had questions, oh so many inquiries, more so when the inevitable fist bump happened, but Jeff sped away with the answers. Eyebrows rose to new heights. His jaw almost hung open if it wasn't for his mother's sagely advice—opened mouths attracts flies, sweetie—choosing instead to rigid it firmly tight. Things, in a twist of unbelievable Fate, worked out precisely as he planned, but it still mind-boggled him to no end. Now, the million lien question remained, should he attempt a second go? Give this entity called Destiny another a try and see if whatever star he was born under contained any luck?
He uncrumpled the twenty lien. "Dare I try again?"
Checking the time, still much too early, Jaune risked it and headed off to Vale again to buy more pencils. A weekend meant no classes. Along the way there on the Bullhead, he fidgetted on his seat and threw his head back, sighing.
"Someone just bought pencils from me... again."
He stretched that again word to its limits. Not a question. Just a statement. It happened again. Part of him still failed to believe it. One time he understood, but twice? As in more than once and not by accident or desperation? Rusty gears turned. His thoughts cleared into blissful clarity. Potential profit stood before him. Lien. With a consumer base stuck in one spot, flawlessly ripe for the picking. From the moment he stepped off the Bullhead to the trek to the general store, he kept repeating his thoughts. Jaune didn't even think of how he looked snatching four boxes of pencils from the school section, muttering not loud enough for anyone to figure out what he said, but just enough to steer clear.
The shopkeeper raised a brow at him when he made it to his cash register. Less than an hour passed before he returned to buy more pencils. Not books or papers just sticks with graphite. Wordlessly, he rung up the item, Jaune handed him his recently not-so-hard earned money, and he left with his thoughts still jumbled up with pencil-filled bag fumbling in the wind.
If he thought word of mouth spread fast before, when he returned from Vale, a myriad of people waited at his locker with hot feet, restless fingers, and twitchy eyes. Everything came to a predictable standstill once someone pointed him out. Prey. That was how they looked at him, tasty, mouthwatering, drool-inducing prey. Confidence allowed his most suave personality to take root, a dead fish in the sea of vicious piranhas. Without warning, he lazily lifted his bag of pencils and gifted them with his best, awkward smile.
No one moved a muscle.
"Uh? Pencils for a lien?"
Twenty-five minutes later!
Old man shopkeeper paused when Jaune Arc returned and disposed of all of his pencil merchandise onto his countertop without losing face. Wasn't the items he purchased that caught his attention, but the tears and scratches littering the leader's body from a recently mauling. Eighty lien slapped onto his countertop with the Arc challenging him to make a wisecrack comment. None needed. The humble owner took the cash, nodded as a form of thanks for the patronage, and watched a limping teenager make his first step into the shark-infested waters of business.
Buy one, get one free!
People didn't hand Jaune money. They threw it at him in hungry, disorderly droves. Worse yet, they fought each other when supplies inevitably ran dry. Keeping a loaded stock required constant maintenance. He considered it a miraculous miracle lasting longer than an hour. Oum either blessed him or enjoyed watching the madness spread. More than once, he pushed people away with his feet. They clawed like that had claws with any Faunus with paws pushing that analogy to a whole different level. Once someone got bit for snagging the last of the numbers twos, he forcefully put his scathed foot down.
He wrote rules. Limited purchases, lines, no cutting, respect thy neighbor, etc. No one followed them. He refused to sell anyone anything unless respecting the rules. Suddenly, he gave Glynda Goodwitch a run for her lien with how nice the neat, single-file line looked across the once disorderly hallway. Over time Jaune became the hushed whispers of the school. Pencil Man! Mr. Woody! Number Two Arc! All names he hated with a growing passion, but lien zippered his mouth shut.
It grew so out-of-control that he made round trips to non-school supply stores since he always cleaned house. No one questioned why he bought their entire stock, not when his friend cold-hard lien told them to shut up and mind their own beeswax. Carrying more pencils became a workout, too. Not an aftereffect he saw coming. Not something to complain about either, just noticeable. Then it happened when handing some random Jeff swiped four pencils, guaranteed to last him a day as long as he didn't apply too much pressure.
Some brave soul further back in line asked if he sold paper, people perked up to the question, kindling like lights, and his inventory expanded into new heights.
Jaune loaded up on the essential school supplies.
Papers. Pencils. Paperclips. Protractors. Pens. Other various items that did not start with a P. If he saw it, he purchased it in bulk.
Sparing no expense, he loaded up everything his beefing arms could carry and headed toward the Bullhead with a renewed sense of anticipation and dread. Once that guy had asked if he sold paper, he dug deeper into the academic problems of the student masses. Call it an educated guess, more of a hunch. What he discovered truly baffled the faker.
Another walk around had revealed more of Beacon's depressing student body. Huntsmen not only snapped pencils, but they also ruined everything they touched. As if they had never heard of the concept of holding back? Papers ripped from frustration. Paperclips bent. Pens' ink ran out from squeezing too hard. Some of those problems pertained from their handmade quality, but the predicament remained the same regardless. Unless given paper by their professors, they hoarded what little they found. Scratch paper, passed down notebooks, extra assignments the professor handed out by accident, if space existed for writing, then they kept it.
Surprising? Not even in the least. It hurt his soul from thinking such a thing, his pockets, on the other hand, eagerly awaiting filling. Opportunity ordinarily knocked once before leaving, but this one kept ringing the doorbell like some pushy salesmen who purposely erased the definition of no from his vocabulary. Escalation rose when that salesman managed to get his foot through the door. He wouldn't leave without a fight, so Jaune fixed him a cup of ginger ale and listened to his sale's pitch.
What a perplexing enigma.
He strolled out of the supply store with each bag loaded to the brim with various supplies. Muscles received a mild workout from the hefty load, feet straining the most. Many people stared. Most children pointed. Old folks wholeheartedly moved out of the way. Jaune thought nothing of it, wordlessly wondering if every cent he spent would make a difference. Not for himself, but for the frightful situation occurring in an academy supposedly devoted to strengthening defenders of humanity.
Jaune pulled against the straps of his bag and marched onward.
His salvations appeared before him, the Bullhead landing pad and its majestic glory! Wobbling feet moved faster. A ticket voucher ushered him inside, and Team JNPR's leader dropped his freshest batch onto a row of four seats and sagged into the airships' chair. Exhausted arms and legs thanked him profusely for the break. Between hectic classroom, endless lines of students, homework, he came to enjoy the quiet time of riding the Bullhead between travels. He rode this flying death machine so much from all the pencil back-and-forth that his motion sickness finally said why bother and vanished. Without looking, he knew how many seats were in the airship, knew the safety instructions printed behind each seat front-and-back, and could accurately recite the take-off speech in his sleep.
By now, Jaune learned the captain's name.
Quaint, the best word to describe this captain of the flying ship. Young, youthful, full of energy with a sick sense of humor. He wore his cap backward, wearing an eyepatch too, except he didn't need one. Slagathor just enjoyed switching eyes as to keep up appearances and to scare the children or weaker stomached Huntsmen. One time he wore two eyepatches and nearly gave a passenger a heart attack. No. Not him. The terrifying experience washed away the day Slagathor told him that captains were nothing but for show since the Bullheads moved on autopilot. Jaune, during the time, had no choice but to believe since he perched himself next to him while enjoying his lunch on a stupendously cloudy day.
Never once did the energetic captain asked why he bought so much stuff, waving with a toothy smile before flying off to get lost in the clouds. Again, more of his words. Jaune just groaned when metal touched cobblestone in what felt like a blasted record, signaling him to grab his ever-increasing load and skedaddle. The captain also never offered to help, but today he didn't mind that since he fashioned a crooked claw as his prop of the day. Slagathor simply waved with the hook as he unboarded the airship.
"See ya, Arc!"
He waved with his back turned toward the Bullhead. "Thanks for the ride, Slagathor."
"It's Jeff!" Slagathor yelled out from the cockpit.
"That's what I said."
Walking around Beacon proved uneventful this warm afternoon. Thank Oum that the journey to his locker and the Bullhead landing pad compared to nothing from the stores located in the middle of Vale. Passing students moved out of the way for him, no longer with girthed arms or small talk, just keeping a safe distance as not to anger their walking convenience store. Some definitely wanted to stop him and ask the four-one-one on his merchandise—thank you, municipal encyclopedia—however, natural paranoia and people with said paranoia stopped them. Was it weird he missed all the weight loss comments?
Moving all this junk pushed his exercise regiment another notch.
He pushed the merchandise inside. Not a single person stood by his locker, quick thinking at its finest. Thankfully, through rare twenty-twenty hindsight, one of his rules stipulated no selling of anything on Sunday. Some idiot asked once, he replied about having to catch up on assignments. Not a total lie. Everyone procrastinated.
Only loose lien made Jaune move. He stuffed his newest supplies into his weapons locker, finally filling all that extra space since Crocea Mors saved room. The bottom contained the writing tools; pencils, pens, highlighters, and brushes for the artistic ones. Added with some erasers, sticky notes, and rulers, it filled the lower half. The top held papers and everything else in-between, from paperclips to sharpeners. Hardly any room was left to Crocea Mors, jam-packed between all the supplies.
A problem for another time.
Impossibly cautious eyes peeked around the empty hallway before he shut his locker shut. Selling merchandise was an expellable offense in Beacon Academy, after all. So having his merchandise on open display just mocked Glynda Goodwitch to send him home. Just a bit of advice someone told him after a student yelled scatter one day with Goodwitch appearing in the hallways. That was the first time a student at Beacon Academy ever read the student handbook. Jaune found it comical that it took a student with fake transcripts to give it the workaround, quite ironic too.
All of Nora's excuses for missing class—I thought I saw a Grimm, and I just had to chase it, professor—totally worked.
Even if she just made it up for oversleeping.
Jaune mindlessly swiped a freshly purchased packet of flashcards and headed for the library, writing what sounded like suitable prices for his items. Essentials remained the same, ergo pencils. All stroking tools fitted the same bill, a lien each with him humming at his paperback products. Then he said screw it and marked everything for double the price for what he paid at the stores, except individual papers required a minimum purchase of five sheets which tallied up to a lien. Considering he only spent thirty lien on a five-hundred pack, he nodded and marked the price as such.
Jaune pocketed the envelope, unwinding in the library's stiff chairs. He smiled easily for the first time since creating this business adventure, wondering what scheme tomorrow brought. If nothing else, he soothed some of the restless souls wandering the halls with some spending cash to justify the means. Nothing ventured nothing gained, something his grandfather once told him when polishing Crocea Mors on his lap as a bright-eyed, imaginative child.
"Fun times." Sighing, he threw his head back with his feet kicked out. "Guess I better get started on homework."
Mr. Tall, Blond, and Scraggly worked late in the night, falling asleep on his desk with his head in the books. Hours later, when his Scroll chimed its curseworthy alarm, he shot up with papers sticking to his forehead, squinting at the morning light blazing through the taller than life windows. Morning already? Groan! Deciding not to panic, more than prepared to scream out imaginary Grimm, Jaune-Jaune grumbled and rose to his feet with his finished assignments thrown carelessly into his bookbag. He moved with all the grace of a slug and exited the library with a yawn.
He turned a corner and acted only half-surprised from what he saw first thing on a Monday morning. Starving people waited outside the hallways, making small talk while he opened up for the morning rush. He knew things were awful at Beacon when a few students camped outside his weapons locker with tents and one person playing the harmonica. Weirdness aside, that student knew how to play that instrument, adding whimsical tunes and joyful notes with folklore lyrics. Tone needed some work, but he overall enjoyed it.
Who started the fire?
Better yet, what happened to the fire alarm? He held his Scroll, raised a brow, and finally shrugged while opening his locker with his stack of newly made note cards that were all labeled accordingly for price. How expected. Students tried to peek over his shoulder, eyes glazed over the newest merchandise awaiting their greedy hands and thinning wallets. Jaune thought nothing of the angsty fingers, calculating the difference between piracy, smuggling, and narcotics. As he mentioned, this faker read the student handbook. With the added items to his selection to improve his locker's quality, he felt deserving of opening with something hip and joyous.
Calling it a store was both morally and factually wrong. Nope, nope, nope! Something classy that rolled off the tongue and whispered in the hallways. Immoral, too! Maybe even a little corrupt, just like that criminal who sold him the fake transcripts. Where did he say he got them? Oh? Oh! Yes! Perfect! That worked quite nicely.
Jaune Arc turned around and moved to reveal his newest content.
"Welcome to Jaune Arc's Black Market!"
Red Light Sale on aisle eight on latex gloves!
Morale quickly picked up around Beacon.
Not noticeable at first, but just like when he first regarded the pencil phenomenon, he saw it everywhere, and it affected the academy like a disease. Smiles all around! Students walked with more confidence. Someone held a door open. Things overall changed for the better with improvements in the social hierarchy. During Mess Hall hours, it was the most notable, indubitably so when another lunch fight happened. Mountains of food flew in the air as everyone joined in during the catastrophic gaiety. Everyone received four consecutive detentions that day, but nobody bloody cared.
Jaune still found bits of corn stuck to his hair.
Supposedly, still throwing him in a loop, people enjoyed Professor Port's jaw-dropping tales, they just never had any eagerness to listen after running dry their supply. Glistening eyes, enraptured sighing, and drooling mouths became the new norm in that classroom. Guess that made him the outlier since he still found them mind-numbingly tedious. All probably related to combat school versus his public knowledge.
Oh, well. Team JNPR's Black Market Connoisseur used that ample time to reflect and coordinate what needed purchasing, what could wait for later, checking, rechecking, and triple-checking on any potential items he failed to buy, and price changes that reflected on sales numbers. Loads of headache-inducing math, but his pocket threatening to burst with all the lien stuffed inside told him to carry the one and not divide by zero.
Twas the most writing or brain thumping work he had ever done in any class, public or not.
Humph! Jaune dabbed his pencil on his tongue, crossing out bobby pins. Not good enough. Staplers sufficed with their metallic design and less pinching mechanism. Meanwhile, woodshop saw a sharp decline in applicants with the students who actually took that class for the subject matter rejoicing. Everyone still broke their pencils and other items from applying too much pressure, over-eagerness with an overabundance of supplies at their disposal attributed to the problem too. Jaune accepted some fault. However, if those students refused to change their ways and had no problem throwing their lien without any sense of control, he played Salem's Advocate.
"Hmmm? Should I add personal planners?"
"Mr. Arc!" Port bellowed and chuckled at the way his head whipped up from his notebook. "What's the appropriate way to dispose of a Boarbatusk?"
Jaune paused, sweating underneath Port's jolly good sir stare. Boarbatusks? Boarbatusks? Pig Grimm, right? Why couldn't he remember how to defeat that Grimm? Snow Angel killed one once. How did she manage that? A sword—a rapier! Something pointy and sharp for sure! How? How, how? Arg!
Huh? He peeked down at the row below him. A random female Jeff used her seating mate as an example and playfully nudged her stomach with a highlighter. For added effect, she threw a neon target spot on her abdomen with the fake Grimm gagging to mimic death. All eyes were on him when he straightened his back with his head tilting to the left.
"... Strike the stomach?"
Port snapped his fingers with riveting enthusiasm. "One the dot, Mr. Arc! Good nose! All Boarbatusks have thick hides but soft underbellies! As you can see with this diagram..."
A lively lecture resumed with the Arc breathing a sigh of relief. He shot a look of gratitude toward the girls. One giggled. The other offered a thumbs up. A pencil snapped in the background with no one groaning. So far, opening up his Black Market in the stronghold of a Huntsmen academy, against strict regulations and the ever haunting image of Glynda Goodwitch capturing his underground business revenue, things worked out.
Jaune returned their positivity with an awkward neck rubbing and a few free pencils the next time they shopped in his domain.
Price check on canned beets!
Jaune Arc learned one thing when selling contraband in Beacon. Some things never changed. People were lazy. Huntsmen, civilians, didn't matter who, the sin of sloth affected everyone. One trip down to Vale and anyone could buy, set up shop, and rival him for better sales, but students were lethargic. Paying a few extra lien versus riding the Bullhead and shopping for their own stuff beat that idea any day. Not that he complained about the surplus of money and a monopoly over the hallways. Just something worth noting as he sold this guy a box of pens for twice their going rate in Vale and some girl a stack of paper for quintuple their worth.
After all, with dreaded woodshop as an alternative and Vale a trip away, paying more lien for transported goods sounded sane-in-the-membrane.
Not everything sold. Not until Jaune added a bargain bin. Then everything sold. Students cared not of a surplus. No one resisted the hypnotic temptations of the bargain buy what was needed when there was a sale going on? Countless times he raised a brow when someone neglected to look inside the container and opted to purchase all the contents without even looking, box not included, just because everything inside was half the initial asking value.
Clean up on aisle seven!
There were unexpected perks to being that guy.
One he learned right before a student delivered the finishing blow during combat class. Glynda moved to check off his name as another loss, prepared to lower his overall grade, but Jaune threw one last slash that Jeff blocked with the blunt edge of his spear. What happened after surprised everyone in the auditorium sized room. Jeff number two eighty-two fell on his side as if Yang delivered the nastiest of haymakers, twitching on the floor in spurts with his mouth almost foaming,
"My spleen!" Jeff wailed, hugging the spot where his kidney resided. "My back! My spleen and my back! It hurts so much! Can't. Fight. Anymore."
Not a soul reacted.
Two eighty-two kept on twitching, dropping his spear before accidentally rolling over the out-of-bounds line from spasming too much. He cried out in pain, clutching his shin with his convulsions growing that much worse with exemplary performance. Then he stopped cold turkey with his body spread out in unconditional surrender.
Jaune turned to Goodwitch after he stayed motionless like that for a whole minute. Flabbergasted. He used that exact word to describe her opened-mouth reaction with her specs dipping downward. The very edges of her mouth had a difficult time deciding whether to curve up or down. Eventually, someone, a fellow Jeff, yelled from the stands who's the winner, forcing their combatant professor to call the match.
Glynda pushed her glasses up with the corners fogging. "Winner, Jaune Arc?"
Ruby and Nora cheered in victory, creating an explosive whiplash that made everyone else clap in appreciation of his unparalleled swordsmanship skills. Sincerely, a sight to behold. Jaune just threw his sword up, amplifying the applause. He refused to look at his professor, knowing she just stared blankly at Jeff, who, by all accounts of a miraculous miracle, recovered without any foreseeable injuries. Amazing! He dusted himself off, appearing like he had faked those injuries. She asked straight up how he managed to stand on his feet with his reply worded with a shrug and something-something Aura.
Ha! Aura for the win! It was suffice to say that Jaune offered that guy everything on the house during his next transaction. The only downside was Glynda acknowledged him more wearily now, keeping duly noted tabs on his every move.
No cutting in line!
Friends were the worst.
Keeping his illegitimate business from his friends asked a Grimm not to feast on Huntsmen. They learned about his side hustle right at the same time, just like everyone else, only they never bought stuff from him, at least not without either making it a hassle or trying to hustle. Friends deserved deals, in their biased opinion. Come on, Vomit Boy, some pleaded. Who wants a hug, Ruby offered. Not only that, they held up the line, well, besides Yang. She just pushed anyone away and cut to the front. No one foolishy challenged her. Jaune figured it was best to serve her than get her eyes to shift into that lovely shade of blood murdering red, and she made it a point to buy things. Still, the bleeding point remained.
Team RWBY was his notoriously worst customer.
Exhibit one proved his point amidst cutting with her adorably awkward sister. Some poor bastard groaned and ended up with a backhanded fist to the face.
"Hey there, Vomit Boy. Nice weather we're having, am I right?"
Everyone in the crowded hallway looked out the nearest full-body window, seeing the harsh rains bellowing harder than cats-and-dogs. Turbulence pushed trees with the occasional Beowolf flying in the air as lightning flashed in the background repeatedly, frequently, and without a shred of mercy. One of the Grimm got struck by Mother Nature's hellish design, turning to ash mid-flight with an airborne tree hitting the other.
Summer rains, so unpredictable.
Yang laughed awkwardly, out-of-character for one so bashfully brazen, and rolled her eyes halfway with her grin threatening to split her face. Miss Nice Weather boldly tried a different approach. She punched him in the arm. Not once did he flinch. Incalculable Jeffs and their bro-fists have made his arms immune to punches. Loaded bags have strengthened his legs to withstand forces that caused others to tremble.
"Anyways!" Yang trailed. "I have an essay due tomorrow, and I haven't worked on it yet."
"Then you better get started."
She finger gunned him. "If only I had the bestest, wisest, and most awesomest friend in the whole wide world to give me some paper, and a few pencils, and some paperclips, and tape, and pens."
"Yeah, if only." Jaune blinked. "Have you tried asking Blake?"
This game of ring around the rosie lasted for a few minutes until Yang so cleverly ran her fingers up his numbed arms in an old-fashioned finger-walking with her index and middle finger. She precautiously edged toward his supplies, swiping a few while slipping away like a lioness after stalking and capturing her prey. Ruby, who hugged her cape, said not a word with sparkling, silver eyes, puppy dog pout on full blast, and he sighed before handing her a few supplies. Happiness radiated like nuclear waste. She hugged him tightly, squeezing him lemony fresh, and Semblanced away with the crowd of onlookers barely fazed by the display of debauchery.
Somehow the richest among the entire staff and student body of Beacon Academy, Weiss Schnee, was the worst. Weiss showed adversary between the faceless mass and threw a fit when she couldn't pay in credit. What? No, seriously? How was he supposed to accept platinum? Cash only, Snow Angel. Jaune Arc purposely made that sign just for her. Why have a paper trail? Already he panicked whenever the line stretched around the hallways. That just gave Glynda a reason to check on all the hullabaloo.
His team acted none the better.
They at least had some tact and asked him whenever he entered their shared bedroom.
Pyrrha played the modest saint. Nora guilt-tripped to no end without an ounce of shame. She played the orphan card mercilessly. Underhanded. Effective. Played well to his bleeding heart of generosity, he gave her props. Untapped sympathy at its finest, uh-huh.
Ren said nothing.
Somehow his affected him the most with his hawkish, piercing stare. None of it mattered. The pancake lover brushed up to him with a gigawatt grin. As a result, neither Pyrrha nor Ren ever had to directly ask for stuff since Nora Valkyrie was on the task!
"Give up the goods, Fearless Leader!"
Goods translated into goods.
He removed the handbag from over his shoulder and tossed the supplies over to them, wincing when Nora attacked it as a frenzied wolf. Denying them prayed for insanity, so Fearless Leader put his team on an allowance. They received one of each of the items, excluding the non-essentials, each day. No negotiations were possible. Somehow Nora proved the most responsible, hardly ever shattering her stuff with Pyrrha growling from accidentally snapping her pencils. All that stopped when he ordered her specialized designed pens and led pencils outfitted with metal. If they needed more, then they had to wait in line like everybody else.
No cutting allowed.
Surplus! Surplus! Surplus!
Inventory quickly became an issue with only one locker.
Once the metal from his reinforced locker bent underneath the weight of pens, papers, and other necessities fragile and non-threatening, he knew it was time to expand. Drastic measures were in order if he wished to keep his Black Market up and running efficiently, dutifully, and without error. All under the books, of course. Measures, honorless or not, he already had experience with and a moral compass spinning in circles.
So he announcement a previous day about closing down for the next, needing to revamp inventory and space and yadda-yadda. No one complained. No argued. Everyone, however, panicked and twice as fast purchased what he had left. Jaune wished that had been the hard part, but wishful thinking never solved anything. Thus he closed shop, straightened his uniform's tie, and retrieved his student ID. He knew of only one way to expand space in this limited property line.
A fake identity.
Call if suspicious, label it fortuitous, whatever. Luck had it that the adjacent lockers next to his were empty and not used by any current students. So the plan was simple and straightforward. All he needed to accomplish his task was to persuade the person working the student affairs for additional space. It sounded easy enough. After all, he snuck into Beacon Academy with forged transcripts. Posing as some new student? Ha! A cinch in the making.
He learned the hard way that that wasn't true.
The receptionist at the student's affair desk wasn't so lenient as everybody else.
She worked for one of the few minimum wage jobs at Beacon with her sun-denied hair in a messy bun, eyes hazel-gray, and frown stretching the longer he stayed in her tiny cubicle of an office. Everything about her posture screamed I hate my life with a persona that yelled equally loud if I'm going down, I'm taking you with me. Her picture of a cat falling from a tree, captioned Just Let Go, knotted his stomach. The only thing missing to complete the depressing picture was a stick of flavorless gum. Oh? Wait. No. He saw some in the trash. Hehe. In other words, a no-nonsense stickler with her teeth clicking out of habit. Just, for example, she glared over the ID pushed onto her untidy desk, demeanor so cold it sent multiple shivers up his spine.
Female Jeff made it a point to point accusingly at his nose. "Look, Arc. I can't just give you a locker because you crossed out your name on your student ID and wrote Felipe in what looks like magic marker."
Felipe Arcand—a foreign-exchanged student who struck an extraordinary resemblance to one Mr. Arc, adorning loose glasses marked around his face with the same magic marker—sniffed with his hands reaching into his pockets.
"Madam, you seem to have me confused with this rather dashing and handsome, Mr. Arc. I'm Felipe." Jaune-Felipe waved his hand. "Fe-li-pe. It's not hard. Sound it out with me."
She raised her hand and pinched her brows. "Arc."
Now, she rolled her eyes. "Right. Okay, Felipe, tell me some of your hobbies."
"I enjoy, how do you say, the horses."
Somehow her frown grew impossibly thick, adding wrinkles. "I'm through playing games, Arc. Leave my office. Now."
Felipe raised a brow. "What about my locker? I need one for my weapons, miss."
Jeff prepared a verbal lashing but held her tongue. Other than the Arc, she had no other visitors. A few minutes of playtime before she kicked him, that she couldn't resist. Therefore Jeff crossed her arms, squinted at the ID, and quirked her lips.
"Your weapon? You mean the one attached to your hip? Gee golly, it looks exactly like the one Jaune Arc wields because it says so on this ID, including a picture. Crocea Mors, if I'm not mistaken."
Felipe held the Yellow Death proudly. "But mademoiselle, my blade, Angau Coch, was a war trophy my great-great-grandmother acquired. This sword, Crocea Mors, while quite possibly a majestic blade, is not mine."
It amazed her that he drew magic marker stars on his family heirloom. Above and beyond, Jaune went, selling his Felipe persona to the best of his Broadway-level abilities. She looked unimpressed, so rightfully so that she tossed him his ID and laid her palms flat on her wobbly table.
"Tough noodles. Get out of my office right now, before I call Goodwitch."
Felipe grimaced. He rubbed his chin, trying to think of a reliable solution. Plan B? Did he have one of those? During the meantime, his audience huffed, grabbed her Scroll, and dialed Glynda Goodwitch's number while rubbing her temples. She made it halfway through her contact list when the real magic started happening.
A one-hundred lien note fell onto her desk.
Followed by another.
She swiftly looked away from her Scroll with paper bills in his hands, fingers hovering over the contact bar. Felipe laughed himself silly all the same. "Oh, I see, I see! Silly me. I haven't paid my tuition fees yet. You should have started with that, mademoiselle."
More lien dropped onto her table, ranging from another hundred to two more of those before five-hundred lien laid smacked dabbed before her. Felipe brazenly grinned, looking at her look at the ticking clock on the wall, the money, and then her Scroll, randomly and many times in that order. Minimum wage job, those were the words he saw etched in her hollowed soul in those even hollower eyes. A sparked fluttered in there. Opportunity. Lien. All of those things with the bleakness of her five-foot square office suddenly expanding by a few inches.
"... Does Felipe Arcand come with a team?"
Team? Oh, right! Yes, team. He straightened his tie and tried to fix his colored on glasses. "Certainly. If things work out swimmingly in the upcoming days, my team should be here."
She tilted her head.
Ever so slowly, Jeff's hand slapped over the money and pulled it away. They never broke eye-contact, not even when she pulled out some documents and stamped his transfer papers extraordinary hard. She pushed those forward with a locker combination written on the top, and with her most bogus, sweetest, criminally talented smile, she graciously handed him his newest papers.
"Enjoy your new locker, Mr. Arcand."
He sped away, shutting her door joyfully before she even considered changing her mind. Quick feet raced through the hallways, dancing really. Another successful enrollment into Beacon Academy underneath a fake persona demanded celebration. Beating the system not once but twice put lefty and righty on the highest tower. So he skipped the rest of the way, lighter without five-hundred lien holding him down. Extra space, extra space, extra space, he chanted while sliding up to his newest locker, turning the dial with more charismatic charm than he ever possessed.
Huh? Not the best combination, but whatever. Jaune threw the metal locker open, basking in the sheer, cold, lifeless emptiness of it all. Ah! He breathed in the sweet aroma of a new cabinet. All that excess space belonged to him. He grinned. He stuck his head inside for fun. Then he pulled away. Jaune prepared to open up his original locker and divide the overabundance of merchandise, only to slam his newest locker shut and come face-to-face with his ex-bully.
Of all the people in Beacon Academy, the tallest brute was one of the few not to buy stuff from his handy-dandy Black Market. Not out of spite. None of that. Cardin simply took what supplies he needed from others, either by six-foot-five intimidation, brute force, or general sneakiness. What Jaune loathed most about the situation, and it was neither Cardin's actions or lack thereof, but his looking the other compliance with the bully's tactics. People could say what they want, but Cardin proved very good for business.
Sadly, this wasn't a business meet-and-greet, but one of pleasure. Cardin had his brows furrowed at his forehead. He neither smirked or grinned, holding back no laughter either. He sighed, thinning his lips, teeth almost clicking in frustration.
"You ask me to leave you alone. I do. Then you go and do this!" Cardin pointed at the magic marker specs. Then he backed away, shaking his head in grave disapproval. "No. You're making it too easy. Where's the challenge? It's not even funny."
He grunted, pulling out a marker he just kept on his person. "At least get it right! You forgot the line between the circles, Jauney."
To make his point undoubtedly clear, Cardin added such a line, along with a backward bolt, completing the package with his ridiculous looking magic maker specs appearing somewhat less ridiculous. Not really. No. Jaune blinked, using his Scroll as a reflective to see the new-and-improved glasses with awe. For their needless function, his shades at least looked presentable. Huh?
Jaune glanced away from his Scroll, humming with Cardin's arms crossed. He waved his hand toward his original locker. "Would you like some pencils and paper on the house?"
"... What's the occasion?" Cardin suddenly snarled. "I'm not a charity case, Arc!"
"No charity!" Jaune held his arms up. "Call it the right time, right place. As you can see, I got myself a new locker, so I'm celebrating. And you're here. So, well, you know. Losers weepers, am I right?"
He paused before huffing. "Pens, too?"
He grinned. "On the house."
Careful. Wet floor sign.
"Hey? Can I borrow a pencil?"
Jaune looked up to see someone besides him sharing a pencil without a second thought. The two students exchanged so fluidly, so effortlessly, so without a care that he breathed a sigh of relief.
Humanity's future no longer looked so bleak.
No shirts. No shoes. No service.
Leif Erikson Day!
Jaune enjoyed one of the few rare days off he received during his Black Market operations.
Funny how he spent the holiday exploring Vale with spending cash that made a Schnee jealous. Hoarding a wad of lien in his pocket wasn't the wisest move, but the pesky banks kept asking too many questions. Humph! Money leechers. Jaune enjoyed his newfound wealth as a form of retaliation, treating himself for once instead of running himself ragged through this everlasting Kingdom.
Not his fault money just flowed in like a rapid river.
His Pumpkin Pete wallet, a rabbit's head that opened with floppy ears to hold loose change, threatened to burst any second. So throwing away some cash on impulse buys was more of a business expense than a corporate fat cat sharpening its paws. No. He meant every word. Leave him alone.
Grinning, he turned a corner, heading for the shopping district of Vale, deciding to cut through the park for a shortcut. Many people bustled around, thinking the same as him. Birds chirped in the background with his feet dragging him faster through the park's only blight.
A decaying building with Father Time working its powers over the three-story structure.
Nothing but crimson bricks held the structure together. Vegetation overtook the abandoned building, wrapping tightly around the rusted gate and shattered windows. Clouds hovered over it, blocking out the sunlight in a relatively beautiful day. If bleakness ever needed a physical representation, he knew where to look for it. Jaune regarded the building another passing glance, halting once he saw past the rusted gate.
Wait? Children played in the back of that abandoned building? That wasn't safe. An overpowering nature to protect, built by having seven sisters, made his legs beyond the gate to shoo them away before something broke and hurt their fragile bodies.
Jaune never made it that far.
Innocent, weary eyes grew from the sound of him scraping the gate open, stumbling away into the building he so desperately tried to stop them from entering. Voices rumbled inside. All of them were young except for a more feminine, softer tone, gentler than Pyrrha's with a delightful accent he never heard from anywhere else. He barely made it to where the children had played, noticing the faded out chalk on the floor with rusted metal covering the area before a woman walked out with the children hiding inside.
She wore a tarnished dress, bluish in color with a rumpled streak of a hat adorning her frowzy hair. Gloves and a bowtie matched her reddish hat with her eyes bluer than Jaune's. Her very atmosphere spoke of exuberant as her worn smile managed to improve the abandoned blacktop. Every step she made crinkled on the dandelion mixed grass with her tattered umbrella hanging off her arm, and he felt intruding in her little world.
She, however, welcome him with open arms and cheery disposition.
"How do you do, sir? My name is Marry Poppins with two R's."
"Hi? Jaune Arc's the name." Jaune just had to ask. "Two R's? Is there really that much confusion with your name?"
She raised her brow, building her tone. "I assure you it is, or else I wouldn't need to tell you."
Poppin Poppins waved her hand. "Now, what can I do for you, Arc? Excuse me for being so blunt, but you look much too young to be adopting."
"Well, yes. Isn't that why you're here?" Marry extended her arm out to the building. "Most folks who visit orphanages aren't in it to sightsee."
"This is an orphanage?"
This decrepit building? Paint peeled off the walls with the lighting only working in some of the rooms. Nooks, crannies, nails, and the floorboards all needed major revisions or maintenance from the small corner he noticed. Even the air tasted stale. Jaune would have never pegged this play as an orphanage, which proved as the wrong thing to ask or think as Marry's sunny disposition dried up.
"Yes, this is an orphanage. Does it not look like one?"
"Honest answer?" Jaune rubbed his neck when she nodded stiffly. "Well, no. Not really. I thought it was an abandoned building, and only rushed inside because I thought the kids playing inside might hurt themselves."
She refrained from sighing, but he knew she craved it. "Apologies. General upkeep is a nuisance with other tasks to fret over. I know my lack of repair has left the manor in disarray."
He threw his hands out. "No! No! I'm not blaming you."
"Yet, it's entirely my fault." Marry squeezed her umbrella's handle tenderly. "I try to do more, but keeping the magic in the air is rather difficult with the imagination around here running dry. Without the children believing in it, I can barely keep myself anchored."
She froze ever so briefly. "Oh, I do apologize for muttering. It is unbecoming of a nanny." Nanny? Caretaker sounded like a much more proper term than a nanny. "Would you like a tour around the estate? Even if you aren't planning on adopting, then at the very least, allow me to show you around the facilities."
Jaune briefly considered saying no. Only briefly. Denying her tour with all those children peeking through the shattered windows tugged at his heartstrings. People always walked right past this place without batting an eyelash, he included. Answering no felt like slapping those unfortunate orphans in the face, nanny Poppins too. So he accepted. She graciously twirled her umbrella with a new kick in her step that wasn't echoed by some of the broken glass dug into the dirt.
Marry Poppins showed him the dining hall, the bedrooms, the loo, playground, and hallways. Paint had nearly peeled off the walls entirely. Wood creaked. Not a toy in sight, not a usable one anyway. Everything he saw churned his stomach. Everything appeared in shambles.
"How can you live like this?" Jaune demanded when she led him to the front door. "I'm no expert, but aren't orphanages supposed to be taken care of by the Kingdom?"
"If only it were that simple." Marry sighed this time because no child was in the vicinity. "Our pension isn't nearly enough to cover basic living expenses. Sometimes we just have enough for food."
"And asking for more lien doesn't help?"
"Deaf ears, I'm afraid."
Team JNPR's leader fumbled. Was this how Nora and Ren grew up? In some rundown building falling apart on itself? Maybe Ren's hundred-yard stare wasn't some mysterious, philosophical moment he thought his silent friend took between missions? Then came Nora's patent ability to horde as much as they found, scarfing down leftovers. That also explained why Ren never stopped or berated her.
Jaune frowned as Marry opened the door.
Not everyone had chances like him. People used to ignore him, too. Opportunity never knocked on their broken doors. Chances were a fickle thing, appearing once in a lifetime if at all. Luck already rang its lucky horseshoe for him multiple times. Maybe it was his turn to return the favor? Lien. He had a flurry of cash with revenue saved up to restock up in case of emergencies. Whatever remained in his pocket was all change to toss away. Not like he took a loss considering this all started with a folded twenty lien bill.
"I'll be right back." Jaune said as he left the orphanage.
Marry Poppins didn't know what he meant by that, not until he returned with various sacks all hanging on his body. He dropped to the floor right as she opened the door to his knocking, gasping from how overly large the bags appeared to his impressive frame.
"Good lord, how were you able to carry all those yourself?"
He laughed on the floor. "I've had practice."
Poppins found it troublesome to ask he meant by practice, too startled when a can of food rolled out one of them. She reached for it to check the contents before inspecting the bag itself. Canned food filled the insides. Preservatives meant to last a long time. Maybe enough for two weeks? Cleaning supplies slipped out another. Pencils and paper poked out different packs, filled with children's coloring books, arts and crafts materials, and other essentials to preoccupy a child's inner imagination.
He stood and wiped his hands clean of dust. "I know it's not much right now, but I'll see what I can do later."
Jaune cracked his neck, moving three bags of food to the kitchen while leaving the papers and pens behind. Her mind restarted before grabbing the cleaning supplies and blindly following him. He had filled one cupboard with canned food by the time she reached the kitchen. Moving onto another with a skill she suspected of a mother's flaunting, Jaune moved containers with ease. Not once did he stop, not even when she closed her mouth to not act like a codfish.
"If I may ask, what are you doing? Why have you brought all this food and materials?"
He looked over his shoulder with his innocent face. "Isn't it obvious? I'm donating. There's food, supplies for the kids, and some of the strong stuff for cleaning. I even stopped by the local thrift store and grabbed a lot of clothes. I wasn't sure of the sizes, so bear with me on that."
Yup. Jaune Arc smiled wholesomely while filling yet another cupboard with nonexpired food. A fair chunk of his spending lien went to purchasing food and everything else. He failed to mention that most stores offered him a ten percent discount for always buying out their inventory with the thrift store's bargains practically a steal. It wasn't too much yet, but he hoped it made a difference.
Marry cleared her throat once the enormity of the situation sunk in. "Mr. Arc, would you like some tea?"
"Sure!" Jaune paused. "And, uh, Jaune's just fine. Mr. Arc makes me sound old."
"I will do no such thing." Marry countered. "A gentlemen should be addressed as such."
He grumbled. "Fine, but let me finish this first."
Marry made no fuss, inclined to hide the cleaning products from the children so they wouldn't frugality waste them, and took her time ordering the younglings to pick up the arts and crafts materials Mr. Arc brought with him. She couldn't recall the last time they smiled so vigorously brightly. Such a simple gesture with a compelling outcome, she chuckled and simpered with her dimples showing.
Tea time came with ginseng, her favorite with the cups steaming hot when he arrived. Jaune eyed the display, sat down, and gingerly sipped the hot brew with pose drilled by miserable tea parties from his youth. He looked for some sugar, only to realize what a luxury item that might be here, and amply enjoyed what she served. For a few minutes, only the sounds of scurrying feet resonated between the tea-sippers with the children cooing from the gifts.
"Thank you, Mr. Arc." Marry told him simply, using her empty cup to start a conversation. "Your act of kindness will not be forgotten. That I can assure you, as I've always told the children, a simple act of kindness always sparks another."
He offered an awkward smile. "Now, we just need to work on the floorboards and—!"
"Excuse me?" Marry huffed in annoyance for interrupting. "I do apologize for the rude interruption, but the floorboards? Do you attend to do more?"
"Well, yeah..." Jaune basked in her almost shocked expression. "Someone's got to help around here. And my mother always taught me to lend a helping hand."
"She is quite the maternal figure. And she raised an exceptional lad." Poppins sipped more tea. "But please, don't strain yourself. You've already done more than enough. And, well, repairs aren't the same as buying clothing and meals. Unless you know a highly-skilled group of individuals willing to donate their time, then it is no trouble. One mustn't be too selfish when fortuitous smiles."
Jaune pondered over the idea, knowing many people who showed extreme aptitude with their hands. Huntsmen at Beacon Academy had forged their weapons at combat school, that was what Ruby told him. All amusing got cut short when a little girl, maybe no more than four, ran inside the tea room with a paper in her hands. Glasses hung loosely, much too big for her frame with a worn shirt moving past her knees and a dirty mop of yellow to match.
Marry thinned her lips. "Joan! What have I said about running in the hallways?"
She flinched but smiled with a toothy grin. "Sorry, Nanny Poppins."
"Quite alright, child. Now, what do you have there?"
Joan turned to Jaune and handed him a sheet of paper with sloppy signatures all signed thank you in a mix match of colors. Smiley faces covered the glittered sheet with Joan tugging at the ends of her shirt, turning her foot on the floor.
"I hope you like it, mister." Joan peeked over the edge of the table. "We all signed it. See!"
His heart throbbed. "I do like it. Thank you."
Marry sipped more tea, hiding her smile behind the rim of the cup. "Deary, go see if any of the new clothes he brought fit you."
Joan scampered out of the room, but not before waving goodbye to Jaune. He only laughed and checked his Scroll when a messaged beeped, apologizing that he had to leave for a meeting with his team. Nanny Marry Poppins thought nothing of it, thanking him profusely for his kind-hearted gesture. What neither of them expected was each kid to wait outside the room and then tackle Jaune in a group hug, grabbing legs, arms, and everything tiny arms could grab. He grinned. She scolded. Children ignored and hugged tighter.
It wasn't until the next day that the real miracle happened.
Marry Poppins awoke rejuvenated.
Blue birds chirped outside her window. There was magic in the air. Imagination ran amok. She floated on her feet, singing for the first time in years with her mood instantly hitting eleven when her reflection in the bathroom mirror smiled back! Marry hugged her chest, opening her window to find not a dark cloud hovering over their home, and a mass of Huntsmen waiting outside, too.
Every one of them came prepared with materials and knowledge on how to use their hands.
Not a single Huntsmen-in-Training told Marry Poppins that Jaune Arc offered them seventy-percent off their next transaction with him now visiting the orphanage at least once a week to donate during his weekly inventory stock up.
Somehow she smiled at him as if she knew.
Besides, woodshop owed him a favor for clearing out everyone else.
Sorry, this is expired.
Inevitably, it took much longer than he thought.
People were idle. Others attempted to haggle, short-change, or scam him daily. None of those ploys worked when the crowd was on his side. No, Jaune wouldn't lower the price if so-and-so bought ten. He did not accept coupons or price matched. A Black Market set the prices and finalized them in stone. Unless if he aced an exam or won a brawl in combat class without anyone's help, he saw no reason to give discounts.
He quickly put a stop to all of that by bolding it on his rule sheet.
Normalcy worked in the oddest of ways.
If exposed to enough chaos, or for this example, a Black Market in school supplies, the novelty of the thrill of selling contraband would slowly and ultimately shatter, crumble, and reforge into normalcy. Faceless students still flocked in droves to his shop, forming two lines with his added locker selling different supplies. Just no one rushed anymore, patiently waiting in line in what felt like normal. So he should have expected something life-changing to happen when he least expected it. Valiant souls existed between his flock, the black sheep of his customer base, and just like all magnificent stories, it began with an afterthought question.
"Hey, bro? You have any Dust cartridges? Or just Dust period?"
"Uh, no." Jaune scrunched his brows together. Dust never crossed his mind. Dust products, huh? A potential expansion, one he was willing to try with the extra storage space. "But... I can get some. It's going to cost you extra since it's out of the way and delivery fee."
His eyes brightened with him waving his hand. "Dude, say no more. You're speaking my language."
Jaune removed a smaller notebook from his stock, pencil too, and flicked the graphite onto the paper. "What do you want?"
Before his loyal customer made his order, someone else jumped from their position in the line. "Wait!" Jeff number two seventy-nine yelled! "Is this just for Dust or anything?"
Everyone asked the exact question in their imploring eyes. Excitement grew in deadly anticipation with Jaune's answer. Restless arms moved with somehow everyone leaning impossibly close and a heated spotlight shining bright on his position. Knock! Knock! Knock! Only Jaune heard the knocking of Opportunity outside his door.
He hesitated. "... What do you mean by anything?"
Jeff mumbled. "Personal requests?"
People moved closer. Personal requests? As in going to a specific place to buy a specific item for a specific person? Specifically? Uh? Begging eyes were begging. He literally saw the lien signs in their pupils. So? Uh? Yeah! He saw himself adding that to his menu. Of course, having personal requests meant a new set of rules, but he could fret over that later. Opportunity already made itself comfortable with its feet kicked up on the untidy coffee table.
"Sure! Lay them on me."
Little did Jaune Arc know, he opened the equivalent of Pandora's Box on Friday the Thirteenth during a leap year.
Supply and demand.
Progressively speaking, everything grew that much harder when people learned he took requests.
That only made sense.
So many things flourished before him during his first few days of taking and fulfilling requests. People paid top quality for Dust. Not for the brand name or amount, but because it saved them a journey to Vale and back, one of the few things, outside of leisure activities, that get students to venture to Vale. Until today! Even if Jaune only charged a lousy lien higher than retail, he sold out within minutes.
Then came the personal requests.
If he thought greed was a sin before, then gluttony had strict competition. The things people ordered astonished him. From food to clothing to specialized Dust to books! Not to mention, some of the stuff he picked up, product purchased in the underbelly of Vale, raised moral questions. Like right this moment. Ruby stood before him with an ear-splitting grin. She hugged her cloak to hide her body, not realizing that Ruby Rose was the only person to wear a cape over her uniform. Jaune wasn't planning to burst her adorable bubble, more concerned about why she was here.
"You got the stuff?" Ruby fiercely whispered.
Jaune frowned. Stuff correlated to triple chocolate chip cookies compacted with extra-thick fudge that he had to buy at an underground candy shop with the shop owner's teeth too shiny for someone surrounded in a candy cane forest. In good conscious, the leader of Team JNPR had trouble selling her these goods. If nothing else, the name of the brand irked him.
Not Real Cookie Dough.
Yup. Not Real Cookie Dough. Not a warning. That was the name. Ruby, bee's knees, milk lover Rose asked him to grab her these. Oh, wait! It got better. He glanced down at their eyepopping slogan written in crumbs. Some said that was a marketing stunt to look delectable, Jaune saw it as a way for the health board to not notice the writing unless they looked exceptionally stubborn on the crumbly print.
Cavity inducing goodness in every bite!
No. Seriously. That was the slogan on the front with the flipside not any better.
Guaranteed Tooth Decay or your money back!
That slogan hid the nutrient bar. Not a manufacturing error, not when each package had the same flaw. Jaune only noticed it because he actively searched for that table of contents. Once he found it, however, ugh! Paying for this hurt his soul and sweet tooth. Just for clarity's sake, he double-checked the facts, hoping his eyes had been playing tricks on him.
He checked the nutrition content labeled on the back, building upon that frown. Now Jaune saw why the council banned these cookies in other Kingdoms. The serving size was one cookie for one every three days. Knowing Ruby, she planned to eat all these in a lazy afternoon with the four percent milk she made him buy from a farmer or something who had a shop next to the candyman's business. He preferred not to think about it since the female farmer turned out to be a lovely cow Faunus with, ahem, huge assets. Ha-ha!
Back to the matter at hand.
Jaune fished out Ruby's prize from his handbag, hoping for some divine Yang intervention. Not. A. Chance. Her sister made herself a spooky ghost in what he concluded Ruby's most significant time of need. She took advantage of the moment, swiping the cookies from his hands and hugging it passionately with her milk beside her feet. Uh? Huff! He sighed, admitting defeat while claiming his lien. Watching her skip away, about to receive Oum knew how many cavities, made him lose his appetite.
Whelp! Too late now. Jaune pocketed his money and handled his next customer with his frown turning into a line. Weiss approached him while wearing a trench coat and a pair of shades. She quietly pushed those tints down, adopting the same tone of Ruby, including her sense of espionage. No one ever told Snow Angel that she had the only head of white at Beacon. Such not a good influence for her adorable leader.
"I believe you have something of mine."
That line stretched.
Her request took two days to complete.
She paid a king's ransom for it.
This leader remembered it all too well. First, she had handed him a set of instructions that required precise split-second timing. Included with those on the dot preparations was a list of code names, locations, and an overly complicated handshake she expected him to memorize before eating the biodegradable paper she purchased from him. Jaune recounted not eating the note, tossing it away in the trash, and meeting her family's butler in the park with her package wrapped delicately in a box. Supposedly, the man couldn't travel far from her family's manor, the head butler of the Schnee Family, hence why he met him a village between kingdoms.
Nice guy. Terrific storyteller! Jaune learned much of Weiss' past, like her rough upbringing while including all the embarrassing stories any proper butler knew. They both had shared a laugh before departing, but not before Klein mentioned the password just in case anyone asked about the mysterious package.
The cake was a lie.
"Made with love, Snow Angel." Jaune said while holding her not-cake in its expensive box. "Oh, and Klein said to write to him."
She shushed him. "Be quiet, dunce! And there is no Klein, capiche?!"
"Mum's the word."
She humphed, seized her box with the utmost care, and waltzed away with her head held high and sweet tooth mightier than her partner's. Shaking his head, he sighed and motioned for the next person.
Jaune only needed to juggle one week of requests to update his rules.
A week of running all around Vale—while still buying school supplies—and picking up requests left his body ragged. For Monty's sake, he spent more time running through the Kingdom, in classes, and at his weapons locker than his team's room. No. Not an exaggeration. Other than for sleeping, which sometimes happened in the library, Jaune couldn't remember the last time he laid down on his bed and took a nap or listened to one of Nora's dream rants about unicorns, Grimm, and sloth monarchies.
"Who knew expanding was so hard?"
Jaune grumbled and hunched over his desk. He closed down shop for a whole day, skipping dinner to finalize his newest set of regulations. For every word he wrote, he made sure to bold, underline the key points, and darkened with an additional border of black. No more requested Dust—unless offered a premium price—he instead sold Dust and accessories only one day during the week. He based it on a first-come, first-served business model. Wednesday was the day he chose.
Monday and Tuesday were when he restocked and sold school supplies. Exclusively with no wiggle room to complain. During Thursday, he sold leftover material while taking requests. On Friday, he accomplished the tasks as fast as humanly possible, trying to scratch many off the list before it became too dark. He delivered the goods on Saturday, stuffing his lockers with the items the previous days. Sunday itself remained unchanged.
Just for his customer's sake and short attention spans, he added a calendar to his list of rules with each box filled with the appropriate items up for sale. Felipe even color-coded each square, adding holidays as days off he sequentially deserved. When he rightfully placed the new set of laws, just to calm the pandemonium, he sold everything for half price that day.
Jaune still made a killing that day.
Momma Arc raised no fool. He opened his shop on only one holiday, stocked to the brim with bouquets of roses and rich chocolate for all the idiots who forget about Valentine's Day. Of course, he sold them for four times the going rate. Of course, distraught boyfriends paid. Of course, he hummed as he counted his mad cash. Soon his last two sets of roses and chocolates turned into a bidding war with some Jeff paying eight times the amount for one.
The other he kept for himself because only one person got free chocolates and flowers from him that day. Not by choice. Never by choice when it came to his luck. Nope. She greedily accepted his gift with a smirk that included elbow jabbing.
How was he supposed to know Yang Xiao Long's birthday was on Valentine's Day?!
Warning: Shoplifters equaled prosecution.
One day someone hacked his locker and stole everything inside. Not everyone in line managed to snag all the supplies they wanted or needed. It astonished him that it took so long for such a scandal to occur. Whoever committed the crime thought they got one over on him. Little did they know, Jaune went on strike and closed down the shop as a form of retaliation. Why bother, right? After three days of not selling goods, he came to his locker and discovered a crowd with one person singled out.
Black and blue but not red all over, angry faces mixed with fisted fists formed a pitchfork circle around the thieving schmuck. All the stolen goods laid motionless on the floor. Some looked tattered with others broken. It appeared his strike was over. He snorted once Jeff seventy-seven point seven told him how they found him. Maybe the idiot shouldn't have been using his stolen goods willy-nilly. Nabbing request items proved to be his Achille's heel. Then came the troublesome part.
In the olden days, executioners cut off thieves' hands.
He opted for a more humane approach.
Jaune Arc didn't charge him a cent. Team leader allowed him to keep his horde of ill-gotten booty without resorting to physical violence. Psychological was more his game. Nonconfrontational aggression at its finest. He just banned him from shopping there and no one else bravely, or foolishly, robbed him again.
Expand. Expand. Expand.
Royal Arcement, someone who resembled Team JNPR's devilishly handsome leader, sat in the student's affair office with a not-markered mustache and monocle, while sporting a top hat and asking for a weapons locker. Angau Glas, the Grey Death, hung on his hip with a striking resemblance toward Angau Coch and Crocea Mors.
He waved his hand under his chin to show his gentleman mannerism. "Bonjour!"
"That is hello in my Kingdom." Royal pretended to twist his markered mustache. "I've arrived in this most wondrous Kingdom to join my brethren. You may know him as Felipe Arcand."
Female Jeff twisted her mouth into a snarl. Royal then acted as his monocle was real, holding it tight before dropping eight-hundred lien onto her desk with mischief twinkling delightful so in those cerulean blues. She looked over her back, behind his, and cautiously slapped her hand on the money and pulled it toward her purse.
"... Right. Well, your paperwork checks out." Jeff pointedly ignored the words give me a weapons locker on the construction paper he gave her. "So, here's your combination. Uh, wait? Is there more of your team?"
"Only time can tell, Lady."
She rolled her eyes. "Get out."
Royal offered her a bow, tipping his top hat all fancy-like. He exited the office to only bump into Cardin Winchester, both blinking from the unexpected bump. Mr. Whimsy shifted his eyes, rubbing his neck in sly embarrassment from Cardin's thousand-yard stare.
"Why are you doing this to me? Is this payback?" Cardin paused, stepping back. "Are you a sadist?"
Royal grinned. "Would you like some free Dust?"
"That doesn't answer my question. Stop trying to change the subject."
I heard they shaved a gorilla.
Another fight, another ruptured spleen.
Glynda furrowed her brows from yet another win that Jaune Arc managed to add to his belt. That was the twelfth challenger in a row he succeeded in defeating due to unforeseen circumstances. Once she accepted. Twice? Okay. A lucky streak? Twelve times? No. Unacceptable. No more excuses. No more with this Aura magically repairing the damage once he pushed them outside the ring with the tip of his blade.
She never believed in conspiracy theories, but this smelled just like one.
So? How? How did her worst student manage to either crumble his opponents with predictably unpredictable illness or bribe them to throw the match? Her first move relied on asking a few trusted students. The best of the best! Regrettably, all of them played dumb. No one offered her a straight answers if they gave one at all. Word soon spread through the corridors swiftly enough, reaching Jaune's ears that Glynda had her eyes on him.
He closed shop early that day and skillfully avoided all interaction with the professors by spending time at Beacon's fountain, but it was much too late to tell everyone not to take a fall for him.
Glynda Goodwitch already whiffed his scent with a mind sharper than steel.
The customer was always right.
Picking up Nora's order required more oomph to his mad running away skills, but she paid decently for Red Sap straight from the tree lodging source—dodge! One claw swipe out of the way and another—slide! Pesky, Ursa Major! Leave him alone! Devour honey! Honey good, Jaune bad!
Undoubtedly, this Ursa Major was smarter than the average Ursai.
Verifying his uncanny intelligence, it gave up with their infinite tango or swiper and swiping, choosing instead to crash full force into his side, throwing him off his balance and losing the jar of Red Sap. His body slammed into a tree, instinct-driven eyes remained open and countered the body slam incoming by lifting his shield, absorbing the impact with the tree bending to their combined momentum. He struggled to manage his feet under him, avoiding gnawing teeth and sharper claws in the process.
He had no choice.
Jaune dropped his shield to roll underneath the beast, angling a pivoted streak underneath its stomach and tore open a new hole between blackened fur. Before the Black Market, he wouldn't have managed such a compelling swipe from such a close-quarter diameter, but his movement had more humph behind his swing from his defined muscles. Ineffective inventory transportation for the win! Jaune smirked when the Ursa howled in pain, spasming from steel meeting questionable innards.
It roared with reserved energy kicking.
Adrenaline pushed him to his feet, following his first attack with a defining slash to its neck. Flying its head went, dust to the wind in the most poetically gruesome display of savagery a humble Black Market entrepreneur could manage. Jaune sweated from the achievement, not watching where the severed head landed as he questioned where the prized Red Sap rolled away to.
He found it in the middle of the battlefield, scratch-free.
A lucky break considering the smashing hit that Ursa Major delivered to his side. He grabbed it with his soul at ease—roar—only for his mood to instantly sour with a sigh breezing past his teeth. Jaune didn't even humor the Grimm a sideways glance, knowing a Beowolf noise when he heard one. Only this one was an alpha, towering over his frame by a generous three feet.
The Yellow Death gripped his guillotine fiercely, hating how Forever Fall Forest had the only accessible secretion by Nora Valkyrie's picky standards.
"Note to self, limit Nora's request when I get back."
The Alpha Beowolf growled.
Jaune Arc grunted.
Red Sap remained deliciously nutritious.
Nora stood before her leader, bouncing on the soles of her feet with her hands bunched together in riveting, electrifying excitement.
He handed her a bill.
"Don't I get a discount?" Nora sweetly asked her charred, bruised, dirtied leader.
Beacon Academy served a wide variety of foods and beverages.
Some of the finest chefs in Remnant worked in that marble kitchen.
That did not stop people from requesting snacks and other questionable edibles from Vale. Turned out, five-star service or not, some students preferred sugary treats and unhealthy substitutes. Lobster with a hint of butter? Not for the girl seriously addicted to sour gummies. Creme brulee? How about extra-cheesy chips with a side of mozzarella? Teenagers weren't picky, just stubborn to their favorites, especially a particular red reaper who just came back from the dentist.
Jaune pleaded for Yang to make an appearance so she would stop Ruby from buying yet another package of those cookies. Nope! She slapped his money into his hand, ran away with the goods, Semblance style, and left him with a moral dilemma of whether or not to contact Yang. For Oum's sake, the back of the box said five out of five dentists agreed that the cookies were not healthy whatsoever. Five! Not four! Five!
"Hey! No cutting!"
Jaune lamented and rubbed his temples. Disorder in the hallway always crushed his gears.
Ruby Rose would just have to suffer the consequences by lonesome.
Smile! You're on camera!
Glynda Goodwitch now knew a conspiracy shrouded Beacon when Jaune Arc defeated Blake Belladonna in a sparring match.
Random students she begrudgingly accepted were more meat fodder than defenders. In fact, through the passing months, Jaune appeared to be winning at a higher rate than previous records with losses to balance it out. Now. None of that would have been such an issue if his outstanding track record wasn't holding her skepticism at a high point. Numbers never lied. He won way more now against opponents that should, for all pretense and purposes, should have wiped the floor with him. Whatever rigorous training regime he set upon himself would not have improved his swordplay, footwork, and endurance enough to combat against seasoned Huntsmen-in-Training in such a short amount of time, and he hadn't developed.
Everyone else worsened.
Wisdom and experience pointed out how students made fatal mistakes, blunders that the average combatant rarely made, and it always happened when fighting her worst student. Like right now, Miss Belladonna tripped on her ribbon. Who did that? No. Just no. Something of that nature never happened in mid-battle, especially for a student strictly trained on battle reflexes. Once? She forgave. Everyone faulted. Twice? Glynda suddenly became aware, and her interests in her student's affairs became a top priority. More so when no batted an eyelash to Miss Belladonna losing to Jaune Arc.
"Winner, Jaune Arc."
Glynda Goodwitch would get to the bottom of this.
It was inevitable from the start.
Business was booming. Demand was extraordinary. Sales hit an all-time high. Keeping up with everything was running him ragged. There were no two ways about it. Jaune needed another set of hands to help him run his shop. Someone perky, who attracted attention like a moth to a dazzling flame, lacked any wicked bones in their body, overly friendly, and blindly trustworthy. If only that magical, qwerty person existed. Everyone that was anyone shopped at his store, so he knew their personality traits to an extent, and none of them fit the bill.
Jeffs operated amazing as shoppers, but their work ethic scared him.
"Guess I'll have to make a help wanted sign."
Laughing to himself, he uncapped a marker with his teeth, used one of his project boards, wrote down Help Wanted, and plastered the sign to the locker next to him with safety tape. Job well done! He threw his marker back in his cabinet and shut it closed, screaming like a helpless child when an orange-haired girl stood at the other side of the metallic door with the Help Wanted sign in her hand.
"Sal-u-ta-tions! My name's Penny Polendina! It's a pleasure to meet you."
Processing... processing... connection failed.
A living embodiment of salutations stood before him. Freckled cheeks matched with pumpkin hair dazzled, showing a smile so majestically wide that it washed away any negative thoughts. Quirky wished that it could mimic Penny's quirkiness. Everything about her spelled socially awkward dork. Jaune knew she was new around here since her persona was anything but faceless, staring blankly at the qwerty girl holding up his Help Wanted sign with an eagerness that looked artificially created.
"Uh, hey." Jaune would have offered his hand if she wasn't holding the sign so tightly to her chest. "My name's Jaune Arc. It's short, sweet, rolls off the tongue, the ladies love it."
"Nice to meet, Jaune Arc." Penny giggled with half-lidded eyes before holding the sign forward. "Pardon me, Jaune, I saw your Help Wanted sign. How may I be of assistance?"
Oh? Oh! Right, right. "You're looking for a job?"
She short-circuited before her eyes lit up. "Oh, I see. This Help Wanted sign is a calling card for employment."
He took a moment to digest that. "Ehhh, yes. Exactly my point. So, if you're looking for one, then you've come to the right place."
She took a moment to consider her options, processing whether she desired a job or not. "What specific requirements does the job require? Furthermore, what responsibilities does the position demand?"
Before he continued, Jaune narrowed his eyes. "Do you know... who I am? Or what I do?"
"You're Jaune Arc! Somebody with a name that rolls off the tongue." Penny shrugged her shoulders. "As for your corporation, I'm afraid I do not know."
He sighed. "At least you're honest. Look! Penny! What I do is sell students things like Dust, school supplies, food, and anything else people want for a markup. That's my business."
She processed that, frowning while lowering the sign. "But selling supplies on school grounds is considered contraband and against the official student handbook."
"Oh! I see." Penny nodded. "This is an employment opportunity for a criminal organization."
Jaune wanted nothing more than to slap his face. Unquestionably new. What were the odds the first person to pick up his sign, while matching up to his desired description, was someone who had no clue to his underworld services? The dreaded infinite cosmos hated him, no doubt.
"Organization is kind of a stretch. After all, it's just me." Jaune opened his lockers. "Welcome to Jaune Arc's Black Market! I sell everything at a reasonable price."
She deeply frowned, pushing the sign into his chest. "Apologies, Jaune Arc, but as a rule-abiding student, I must report this illegal Black Market to official Beacon Academy staff."
Time froze with bluish eyes growing. A few beats of Jaune's heart skipped with his skin turning wasteland dry. Penny's grimace showed bits of an apologetic nature, but she refused to acknowledge his sudden pleas as she marched onward out the hallway. Random Jeffs showed up to purchase a few supplies as she turned a corner, stopping him from chasing after her, only for her to halt when a familiar voice reached her audio sensors.
"Hey, Jaune!" Ruby greeted between two other people in line.
He lacked her enthusiasm. "Ruby."
Perky Penny paused, returning to glance over the hallway's entrance as Jaune interacted in a friendly manner with everyone stopping at his Black Market, including seniors and other students. Not one meat bag pushed him away. Everyone enjoyed each other's company while he sold them Dust for an upcoming field trip.
Protocol conflicted against preference within Penny's programming. Since frequenting this institution, only Friend Ruby showed her any juncture of empathy with everyone else keeping her at arm's length. An overzealous nature made her stand out in the worst of ways. Friend Ruby shared the same troubling social anxiety, except evidence contradicted that statement with her having fun with both Criminal Jaune and faceless individuals in an open environment.
How she craved that same companionship.
As if to mock her that Help Wanted sign leaned motionlessly on the side of his locker.
She tugged at her skin, twisting her face into emotions she rarely experienced. Anger! Fury! Denial! Envy! Help wanted! Penny hiccuped. She banged her head on the nearest locker, denting it from the overpowering force, and simulated the coughing sound humans made to attract attention. Ruby's friend and criminal associate blinked when she approached him.
"You came back?"
She ignored him, demanding him flat out with a tone that suggested he refrained from arguing back. "People are forced to interact with you and act nice?"
He tilted his head. "Yup. But that's not going to last for long." Jaune bitterly laughed. "Guess it's time to close up shop."
When he grabbed the sign from the floor, Penny ripped it from his hands and tore it in two. Saluting, she rewarded her newest boss with her freckled cheeks stretching to accommodate her grin.
"Penny Polendina! Reporting for duty!"
"Huh? I mean, wait? Huh?"
She dropped her grin and pointed to the ripped up sign. "Is it not obvious? I have accepted your call for an employee."
No. Jaune got that. "What happened to Beacon officials and law-abiding student?"
"I have changed my mind."
What? People never changed their minds so quickly. Jaune tried his hardest to process what just happened in the span of a few minutes. First, she walked away to expose his Black Market, and now she awaited instructions?
He crossed his arms, glaring. "Why? Why the change of heart?"
"Genuinely?" Penny twiddled her fingers when he raised a brow. "My people skills aren't fully developed. I see employment here as a chance to improve upon those."
"And you're okay with this?" Jaune emphasized this by expanding his arms out to his three weapons lockers filled with contraband.
Penny Polendina was a certified genius by Jaune Arc's bias standards.
Sure! She almost destroyed his empire with a few choice words. Fair point. A change of heart, nonetheless, won her over. For that, and only that, he hired her for her brutal honesty, perkiness, and her desperation of wanting companions, and things were never the same again. Her presence positively affected his Black Market, overhauling everything with upgrades and improvement in all aspects of the job. Once she laminated the rule cards and added chibi versions of their faces next to the rules, he allowed her leeway.
When it came to accounting, she counted lien like a machine. Inventory? Penny knew what he kept in stock and needed more of like the back of her hand. Ideas? Penny had an affinity for those with an immeasurable amount crammed into her cranium. One time he sent her out to purchase a few boxes of pencils, and she returned with two special-ordered aprons with the Arc Insigma logo sewn onto the front as a surprise. Hers came with numerous bows, one tailored specifically for each day of the week except Sunday.
Whatever she worked on, be it selling or inventory, she gave it one-hundred percent.
What? Proof? Sure! For example, using his numerous weapons lockers for convenient transportation was her idea. Express delivery for double the rate! Genius! Why move from his spot in the hallway when he could send his weapons locker with student's requested items? Jaune appreciated the convenience. Slothful individuals praised technology while Penny interacted with the customers in unorthodox ways that slowly affected the mindset of his clients.
Customers eventually stayed longer and spent more lien to talk to the quirky girl taking their money and selling them novelty bobbleheads for twice the price. Didn't help that she always smiled, acted courteously with her smile forever plastered. By working there, she met new people, exchanged pleasantries with all the Jeffs, and everyone played nicely around his ship in a bottle employee. That wasn't to say everything sailed smoothly.
Not all of Penny's ideas fit the bill. Some were more questionable than questionable inquiries. One of his hot-ticket items, a product Penny created during her free time, sold like hotcakes. That reminded him to sell his hotcakes for half price, but regardless! Some of the stuff she made felt more illegal than his illegitimate Black Market.
Jaune held one such item with his lips thinning over the handmade bottle's safety label.
Penny Polendina's Anti-King Taijitu Venom. Made from real snakes! So it's got to work. Warning! Do not drink unless poisoned or risk potential poisoning. Sponsored and sold exclusively at Jaune Arc's Black Market!
His other hand held her experimental carrots. Those safety labels frightened more than the Grimm lurking in Emerald Forest.
Penny's Polendina's Old Fashioned Carrots! Made with experimental fertilizer not secret-borrowed from an underground Atlas Laboratory. Warning! Side effects from overconsumption have led individuals to experience the following sensations in this order. Grow. Expand. Explode. Sponsored and sold exclusively at Jaune Arc's Black Market.
It just went to show that customers bought anything without reading the warning labels. He dropped his gifted carrots and disposed of his anti-poison poisonous elixir down the nearest drain. Huh. Next. Except for her homemade concoctions, she proved a valuable asset in his business while cutting down his market hours in half. Jaune unexpectedly had free time for the first time in months, inviting Penny out for lunch to show his appreciation and get to know his only employee better. So he took her to a nearby pretzel cart in Vale's park for food, fun, and to get away from Beacon for a bit with a bag of pretzels in his hand.
Jaune laughed when she experimentally bit into her pretzel, oohing from the salty, bitter taste that flourished her mouth. Gut instinct told him she never ate a pretzel before with him witnessing her first reaction to the briny treat. A rarity, one that he enjoyed to the utmost fullest as she licked the crumbs from her fingers with the same perplexed movements from when she first bit down.
They sat at the nearest bench with her halfway through her first one. Small talk it was. "So... I haven't seen you around before? Why's that? Are you new here?"
She perked up from her finger-licking. "Apologies. I'm an exchange student. That might have been prudent to mention during my interview."
"Oh? Exchange student?"
An entire semester passed already? Golly! Time flew when running a one-person black market. He scratched his face in embarrassment while she snatched another pretzel from the bag. Making a Bullhead load of lien sure distracted easily, he barely remembered taking his finals.
"Yes!" Penny chewed and talked with her mouth half full. "I'm from Atlas!"
That explained her lack of knowledge of his Black Market.
He grinned nonetheless and talked with his mouth full, too. "Well, exchange student or not, I'm glad you grabbed my sign first, Penny. I couldn't have asked for a better employee."
Something clicked with Penny. He saw it with the way she mindlessly played with her half-eaten pretzel, shoving her feet back into the bench in a defensive stance. "Since we work together, does this make us friends? Or is that inappropriate for the workplace?"
Swallowing, he laughed without care. "No, we can be friends. After all, friends are just strangers you haven't met yet. And we're not strangers. We're friends, Penny. Never doubt that for a second."
She used her pretzel to hide her approaching hiccup, flushing behind salty goodness. Lesser men poked and teased. Jaune only seized another bite and coughed from how parched his throat got from a lack of beverages. An oversight on his part. Luckily for them, he knew of one place in the region that had the best-tasting tea within walking distance.
He pulled out a wad of lien for the occasion. Straightaway Penny noticed it, straightening her shoulders. "Is it safe to carry around that much lien? Even if, statistically speaking, getting mugged during daytime in a heavily populated park is practically zero."
"I'm donating it."
This time Jaune hid his amusement behind his pretzel.
He led her to a recovering building. What once appeared as the plight of Vale's park district, acted as a watchtower for hope. Who knew? One day humanity's future warrior might end up as an orphan, and aiding this place in its time of need could strengthen that irreplaceable presence. It still never ceased to surprise him what some elbow grease, a few coins of lien, and some Huntsmen skilled with their hands could accomplish. Many repairs awaited this dimly lit home, but bluebirds sang with craftsmanship building support.
Introducing the orphans to Penny brightened every one of those gapped tooth smiles. Hugs were all around. Social unawareness evaporated as children plus one Penny lacked inhibitors. Then she repaired the electrical circuitry without breaking a sweat. Grins turned into cheers while they both drank Marry Poppins' tea with a thirst to wash down the saltiness of the pretzels.
Jaune knew Penny hiccuped out of joy and cheerful embarrassment when Joan, his favorite of the orphan bunch, gave her a handmade picture of Penny with glitter used to color her hair and macaroni as her smile.
Penny Polendina no longer hiccuped at the thought of working for Jaune Arc and his illegal profession from that day onward after he used a generous portion of lien to help them any way possible.
We don't accept coupons, sir.
Double the arms meant double the restock. Dodging their need for more inventory space asked for the unavoidable, hence Jaune's obligation to sweet his talk way into more. Penny rightfully agreed so, putting the finishing touches into her boss' face with howdy-do grin. Five minutes later, she cheered him on as he went to face the depressing music.
Ceasar Arcangel, a Huntsmen-in-Training in his prime, nodded with markered on sideburns and darkness around his eyes. Some people said he bore a similarity to one Jaune Arc, Huntsmen extraordinaire. They even said his fabled blade resembled their weapons. Folly! Caledfwlch looked nothing like Crocea Mors, Angau Goch, or Angau Glas! True King made the Red, Grey, and Yellow Death pale in comparison to its unjust might.
"... Do you have your student fees ready to pay?"
"Aye!" Ceasar handed her one-thousand lien.
"Here's your locker combination. Now, leave."
Cardin Winchester said nothing to him when they Fatedly bumped into one another in the deserted hallway.
Not. A. Peep.
No receipt. No refunds.
Unlike spineless Jaune Arc, Penny Polendina, worker extraordinaire and wearer of silly hats and bows, had no trouble denying her Friend Ruby another package of those Oumawful cookies. She miraculously stood her ground with the pack childishly concealed behind her back. When she used one of her legs to hold Ruby back, Jaune just knew it was better to stand back and watch the fireworks unfold.
"As your friend, Ruby, I cannot advise you to be consuming these byproducts."
"Don't you mean cookies."
"I know what I said."
"But, Penny! You don't understand! I need them. Can't we talk about this?" Ruby dropped to her knees and hugged Penny's legs when she stubbornly said not a word and glared. "I-I'll let you hug Zwei. You love Zwei! Bark! Bark!"
Penny frowned from the way Ruby woofed like a corgi with her arms thrown up while on her knees. Addiction destroyed the bravest of Huntresses. Strains worked on her friend's features, making her look older. Doing her duty both as a companion and concerned individual overpowered her matrix to sell, sell, sell.
Right now, sales mattered not. Penny's friend was extremely weak-minded from the chocolatey abuse. Tough love was needed to help Ruby, anything less accomplished nothing. Penny skillfully towered over Ruby, gazing deep into her twitchy eyes.
"Ruby Rose... I am your friend."
She gasped. "That's not possible. Oh, wait, no, you are right."
"So join me. Come to the nutritious side. Do not resist. It is your Destiny."
Penny hovered, nose-to-freckled nose with Ruby, turning her pupils into hypnotic spirals with static electricity fizzing off her body. "You will stop eating cookies."
"I will stop eating cookies." Ruby said without any spark of free will. Spirals overtook her eyes with Penny's influence wiping her thoughts squeaky clean. "Stop eating cookies. Stop eating cookies."
Penny hiccuped in a satisfactory job. Brainwashing complete. Without someone to slap her back to reality, Ruby stood dumbfounded with sweet, delectable, mouth-watering cookies to distract her easily influenced mind. She did her an immense favor if anything. Saving her from tooth decay was a thankless task, but she showed an unwavering spirit in Ruby's time of need, so Penny grabbed her Scroll and dialed the only person authorized to pulverize some common sense inside her skull.
"I have taken the liberty of contacting Yang." Penny offhandedly mentioned after a small moment of reprieve. That snapped Ruby out of her hypnotic daze. "She did not sound too pleased on the Scroll. Expect her rival in an estimated three, two, one."
Yang bulldozed her way into Ruby's space, grabbing her by the threads of her cape. Murder reflected harshly in her eyes, venomously promising pain and retribution. Penny nor Jaune spoke in Ruby's behalf, keeping sanely quiet.
"You just came back from the dentist twice!" Yang huffed through her nostrils. "And you're asking for a third time?!"
Jaune, Penny, and all the Jeffs in the hallway blinked from the way Ruby clawed on the pristine floor, pleading for help as Yang dragged her away with her cape. Just a typical Saturday afternoon for Jaune Arc.
Store pick up only.
Penny found herself traveling to Vale alone with her friendly boss stuck in class due to exam prep. The message she received made it clear that he trusted her with this momentum task.
I hate to ask, but can you go pick up the supplies by yourself? Class is taking longer than usual, and I overslept.
So, she seized a fair chunk of change from their Huntsmen proof safe, a shoebox with a note that said Do Not Touch, and jumped headfirst into Vale's shopping district with an internal list of everything they needed. Work time! An hour later, with the help of Jaune's extensive connection network he had with all the business owners and her installed ability to haggle, she walked away with a week's worth of supplies with some of the requests crossed off the list.
"Restocking successful!" Penny carried a bag four-times her body weight with ease back to the Bullhead captained by a man with the most peculiar of names. "Slagathor."
The first time she heard Jaune call him that, she giggled with blemished dimples. Such a comical name to say out loud. Slagathor. Slag-a-thor. She said once. She said it twice. Penny enunciated each part of it with each syllable more fun than the last. The only reason she stopped repeating it was due to her targeting perimeters locating a killer intent focused primarily on her.
Halting, she scanned the immediate area for hostile threats, finding nothing but a lone tumbleweed crossing her path. She tentatively seized the dried out plant, perching up a lip and eyebrow from how utterly bizarre this looked.
"Strange. These aren't indigenous to the area."
She disposed of the dried vegetation, finding her source of malicious-intent from an old man shopkeeper running a noodle stand. He swept the side of the pristine street, glaring with his eyes closed. The air around her oxidized to such an extreme she could potentially cut some with her Strings. An old-style stare off happened with the old man shopkeeper waving a heated fist in the air before giving her the I'm Watching You gesture with his fingers.
Atlas's most sophisticated android fired back by presenting her tongue.
We have the right to refuse service to anyone.
Mercury Black was a man who knew when to hold them and when to fold them.
"You have a cute little business here. What if I said I was thinking of taking over your little operation?" Mercury, to his credit, did not flinch when dozens of barrels pointed at him from every conceivable direction in the hallway. "It's a good thing I didn't say that. Two hotcakes, please."
Emerald Sustrai was a woman who knew when to press her luck and when to back out.
Stealing some Dust from the poor saps would teach them a lesson to either beef up security or keep a better eye on their supplies, or so she whimsically thought. Penny had loudly proclaimed that some Dust was missing, somehow able to keep a perfect track record of sales, inventory, and present stock during the mad rush with everyone in the hallway turning to her since she was the last customer. Emerald never even had the chance to run, blocked by people from every direction of the corridor with Huntsmen-in-Training level security breathing down her neck.
"Oops! How'd that get there?" Emerald offered everyone her most angelic smile, carefully putting the Dust back from where it had accidentally landed in her pocket. "Here you go. No hard feelings, right?"
Now she saw why Mercury chose to steer clear of this hallway.
Cinder Fall was a monster who knew the difference between predator and prey.
Once she heard of a Black Market in Beacon Academy with the ingenuity of exotic goods, she stopped by to purchase a request of her own. Waiting in lines didn't suit her needs, but stories from both Mercury and Emerald put her in a cautious mood. Waiting, waiting, waiting, Cinder impatiently patted her fingers against her elegant forearms as the line dwindled at a sloth's pace. Call her skeptical when she discovered the ring leader nothing but a teenager with a plucky sidekick who sold questionable merchandise.
Finally, her turn came.
"Hello! What can I get for you?"
She set her jaw firm from how happy-go-lucky he sounded, appearing as clueless as a sheep surrounded by wolves. A wave of the hand was all she needed to disintegrate the seller. Nothing more. Sparing him, she created a smirk with her eyes blazing in majestic Aura.
"I hear you're a man who knows how to get things."
"For the right price." Jaune answered innocently enough. "Are you looking for a personal request? Those costs extra."
"A map of Beacon Academy. Preferably the underground sewer systems."
"... As by company policy of me, myself, and I, why? Most people ask for food. Dust. Some even ask for toys. You? You ask for a map."
"Scavenger hunt." Cinder said plainly enough, lying through her teeth.
She broadened her smirk. "Precisely. As a team leader, I feel a scavenger hunt is a perfect way of practicing reconnaissance. And I must know all of Beacon's most secluded areas to make it adequately effective, or the training purpose is moot."
She must have hit the precise notes because Dr. Clueless nodded along, pretending her fib was sage-like advice suited for all teams. "Sure. Give me a week."
"A pleasure doing business."
A week on the dot, Cinder returned, paid sufficiently, and vacated the location before anyone grew half a brain. Jaune thought nothing of it. Penny, on the other hand, clocked her head when she found the map they had created for Cinder, meaning she received one of the duds from extensive online research, as in a sketch with places hiding things would be considered a grave no-no.
"Jaune, that was a map to Headmaster Ozpin's private office." Penny held up the CCT blueprints. "This is the map for Beacon Academy."
So it was.
"Oh? Oops." Jaune laughed in that not funny way. "Well, I'm sure she'll figure it out, and then we'll give her a refund and the right map."
Jaune expected Cinder to return by the end of the day, maybe cut in line with a tone demanding a refund. Strangely, he never saw her again. In some part of Beacon, Cinder sat impatiently on her guest bed, wondering what happened to Emerald and Mercury, whom she lent the map. Little did she know, not until she went searching for them, her cohorts ran into a dusty, old scarecrow, a wicked witch, and one all-powerful wizard. Maybe they would have sweet-talked their way out of trouble if the misfortunate charm caster hadn't recognized their faces when his Semblance caused the air ducts they were hiding in to fall dead center in the Headmaster's office.
A Goodwitch's intuition worked overtime when she discovered a printed out map.
Jaune ended up throwing away the other map after a few days of her not showing up.
Attention! Shoppers! Two for one special on notebooks!
Jaune knew his morning tanked when he found Penny blocking his four lockers with yellow tape, a picket fence, and a sign perched on her shoulders demanding equal opportunity.
"What is this?"
"I'm glad you asked!" Penny smiled so brightly wide, he almost forgot about the blocked access to his lockers. "In layman's terms, I'm on strike! It's a given right under the Fair Labor Guidelines."
He just stared. "Penny? We're a Black Market. We don't operate under the Fair Labor Guidelines. We use that book as a paperweight."
Wrong, wrong thing to say as she frowned and began marching in tiny circles while pushing her voice up a few decibels. "Black Market is unfair! Jaune Arc is right here! Standing at the concession! Plotting his oppression!"
None of that was true. Jaune plotted no such oppression. Heck! Penny made way above minimum wage with employee benefits and wacky-arm-flailing-tube-man level of discounts. Still, she kept the pace of her striking as customers began to stir from their beds. Boundless feet never ceased. Jaune gave up after two minutes.
"Fine, fine! What do you want?" Jaune leaned on his lockers. "People are going to show up for the morning rush any second."
Pesky Penny terminated all striking with her freckles curving. "I desire a locker to sell my handcrafted merchandise, properly labeled Penny's Product. Sales records show my items sell quite periodically. Therefore, they deserve a separate shelf or locker, considering the circumstances."
A locker to sell her stuff?
Of all things he expected her to say or demand, she chose a weapons locker to sell her controversial items? Like Penny's All Synthetic Tonic, made from various components she found at her local and back-alley vendor. Artificial down to the plastic bottle, the slogan read One glassful a day keeps the paramedics away, yet she used a skull and crossbones to advertise the front. Idiots still bought it. They paid a premium for it. Plants withered and died the last time he tested it out on something living.
His favorite still were the chains that could be attached to weapons to act as a charm.
Whatever! Fine! "Deal. You can have your locker, just give me some time to get a new one. So can we focus on the line of people showing up?"
Heretic Arcturus believed in Providence.
Many said he looked just like Jaune Arc, a dignified devil among peers. Durandal, a sword forged from heathens of the cross, reflected the same quality of craftsmanship as one Crocea Mors, or at least that what the rumors said. Neither one of those were remotely true. His sword protected, not slew, or headed the call of royalty. He sported a markered five o'clock shadow, tailored by his compatriot, Cardin Winchester. Now, to overcome his greatest trial, paying his students fees to attend such a prestigious and noteworthy academy.
"Regards, my name is—!"
"I don't even care anymore. Here are your papers." Female Jeff huffed. "Just pay up, Arc."
Her pointed glare told him to close his piehole. So he did. Heretic offered her the two-thousand lien, signed whatever papers, and promptly stood from his chair and exited the office with Cardin finally smirking in approval just outside the room, right before he vanished into the sea of faceless Jeffs.
All-time sales are at a record low!
"Business is slow."
Jaune made that point clear with how few people shopped at his Black Market during his busiest of hours. When it came to finances, he worried not. The Arc just couldn't recall the last time this hallway looked so empty. The whole week the numbers dwindled. For once, neither he nor Penny needed to head to Vale to restock up on supplies. Good, because she had some beef with the old man shopkeeper. Why? Not a clue. She refused to tell him.
"The end of the semester is fast approaching." Penny calculated. "People have adequately stocked up on supplies to focus on their studies."
"Maybe we should close down early for the week?"
He liked the idea of closing down early. Between classes, training, three meals a day, and the Black Market, free time rarely dropped on his lap. When was the last time he picked up a comic or used his Scroll for anything not work-related? Rest and relaxation, just what the doctor ordered. He automatically moved to shut down for the day, but preemptive Penny jumped at the chance.
"Better yet! I have a most ingenious merchandise proposition to increase revenue."
Suggestion? Jaune folded his arms. Penny's ingenious propositions created some innovative ways of selling, he could not deny that, but not everything she said made sense. Like her mechanical markers. Those just stained. He still humored her and listened with an open ear. Funny enough, she leaned forward and whispered in the same ear, stretching her lips when she finished. She just stood there, proud of herself, while he contemplated the freckled oddity before him.
"Penny... people aren't that dumb."
Twenty precious minutes later.
"I stand corrected. People really are that dumb."
He stared. He gazed. Jaune gaped and gawked. Thick-witted customers lined up to purchase pet rocks with googly eyes glued on. It was the hip sensation sweeping the duration. Once one person had purchased a pet rock, word spread like uncontrollable wildfire, and soon everybody just had to have one. Jeffs rejoiced. Friends embarrassed him.
Penny boldly named her newest creation Penny's Pebbles.
They sold them based on the weight of the rocks. Judging by the volume of their inventory, none of them related to the size of pebbles. Stones of various sizes littered his weapons lockers with some rarer than others. Faceless Jeffs still lacked features, but now they carried googly slabs with them. Yang snagged dolomite because it rhymed with yolo. No. He did not ask for the definition when he took her hard-earned lien. Pyrrha hugged her lodestone with care. Something-something polarity. Nora? She perched hers on her shoulders, dubbing it Uru. None of those embarrassed him more than Snow Angel's choice of rock.
First of all, the fact that she bought one suddenly made him question many, many things, but besides the point, Weiss Schnee owned an enormous slab of quartz—the most common mineral of them all—and treated the angry, white-colored, googly eye stone as royalty.
Jaune only folded his hands into his face when she paid extra.
Sell. Expand. Grow. Profit.
No. No! Seriously! How the heck was five weapons lockers not enough space for all his merchandise? Jaune pulled at his sun-kissed locks, groaning with Penny watching her boss have a mental breakdown on their Sunday inventory restock. He only blamed himself. Adding a second pair of hands doubled productively, and their request lineup only increased in both lavish items, but quantity as well. Popularity had its drawbacks. Enduring demand literally gave him a migraine. Just look at all the stuff not able to fit in his weapons lockers? Throwing any of it away lost revenue. Anything else was a waste of time.
He banged his head on Felipe's locker, sighing. "We're running out of space. I can't keep making fake personas! I'm already a whole team!"
She touched her lip. "Yes, Team FRCH is quite the mystery around Beacon Academy. Rumors pertain to ectoplasmic sightings."
"Isn't that what I just stated?"
Jaune wanted to roll his eyes, choosing to close them instead because Peculiar Penny meant well. Not her fault that she misread the situation, he still chuckled at the memory of her walking away to turn him into the authorities. The surprises life liked to throw in his direction. He blamed Opportunity for not leaving.
"What are we going to do now?"
She hummed, folding her arms before a lightbulb appeared over her noggin. "I have a most satisfactory idea!"
He opened one eye and glared. "Does it involve kidnapping Ruby's dog to be our mascot again?"
"... I have a suitable backup!"
Jaune turned his head and blinked.
Knock! Knock! Knock!
Jeff number three sixty-two stood nervously outside the hallway, checking his ten and two while waiting for the sliding compartment on the door to slip open. Slide! Two sets of emerald green peeked out from the other side, smiles and lollipops.
He straightened his back. "Password."
Penny threw the door open and greeted their newest patron into Jaune Arc's new and improved Black Market. "Greetings! And welcome! Today's special is two for one on Dust. Please take your time and explore!"
Jaune openly laughed at the way the random Jeff hung his jaw from the sheer awesomeness of his newest shop. That happened periodically today. Gone went his unneeded weapons lockers, traded in for a full-fledged team bedroom converted into a hidden shop in Beacon's hallways. In retrospect, it made sense, and he called himself an idiot for not seeing the potential. Right in front of him, in plain sight, his masterpiece laid! Team FRCH, a squad of Jaune look-alikes, as in four people, meant that Team FRCH deserved a room!
The stuff of legends!
It cost him a beautiful coin from the student affairs lady, but she soon enough handed him the passcode to Team FRCH's room. Penny had torn down the bunkbeds to craft makeshift shelves while he purchased the other necessities like a table and cash register than went ding! One side of the room held Dust with Penny's Products perched on the bottom shelf. Another held a variety of foods. The front of the store carried the school supplies. Behind his counter and back contained the requested items, with the vicinity itself decorated with noir style memorabilia that he bought for a steal from a rundown movie theater. Penny covered the ceiling with stars and worked the Dust station with him handling everything else.
The added benefit of not selling outside his locker dropped a tremendous weight off his back. Hiding from Goodwitch eased tension all around. Everyone won! No longer did Jeffs struggle to pick out what they wanted by the time their turn came up. They had options. Space! All for a low, low price! He even haggled with the next Jeff, dropping the value of his request down by a few lien.
Everyone came for the phenomenal bargains, ventured for the infamous team, but stayed for the freckled beauty selling contraband while wearing a Salutations apron.
Jaune offered her a raise that evening.
I need to see some ID.
"No." Jaune argued.
"Yes." Penny fired back.
Back-and-forth owner and employee bickered, stuck on the same argument for the past hour with no foreseeable future of them stopping. Jaune folded his arms while Penny balanced on her toes, both much too headstrong to surrender. He blamed himself for giving her so much leeway. She called him a nincompoop in favor of her Word of the Day Calendar. Supposedly, she used it to dial back her colorful vocabulary. Jaune-Jaune just called her a halfwit, and the punches just kept on rolling. To think, it all started because of loose lips.
Jeffs needed to learn to keep their mouths shut sometimes.
One of the clowns had whined about needing to drown their sorrows with something sugary and downright unhealthy after a brutal day in classes. Jaune felt his pain. Beacon's sodas lacked sugar and caffeine buzz of traditional beverages. The other wanted alcohol. Nothing usual for the Jeffs of Beacon since Huntsment-in-Training had a less strict age limit on alcohol compared to their civilian counterparts. It mostly stretched on the notion that if they were old enough to fight, kill, and die young, then they should be able to party whenever, however, and whoever they wanted.
History told of the council agreeing to such terms on the strict condition that alcohol remained in bars, a prohibition in its purest terms. That was where Penny's bright idea flourished. Jeffs were a lazy bunch. They already had the extra space, Penny so appreciatively reminded him, so why not sell them some drinks on the side? Not like he cared about following regulations, she had offered uselessly.
Jaune hated every bit of it because it was such an easy way to make lien. So, so easy. With his popularity, loyal customer base, and newest room away from prying eyes, things more or less worked themselves out.
Penny calculated a new business opportunity while he only envisioned growing headaches, migraines that she somehow avoided as if magically immune to fundamental human functions. Acting as both the leader for Team JNPR and Team FRCH backstabbed him sometimes, this was just one of those times. He didn't even know why continued arguing, Penny kept going on like she had a looping function installed in that odd brain of hers.
Sometimes, whenever he watched her work with such precision, he briefly considered that she might not be human.
Childish thoughts, nothing more, so he sighed when their argument lasted another half hour with her internal battery still at one-hundred percent. She knew she won when he rolled his eyes, smirking with her eyes playfully curved upward and teeth half showing. For a solid moment, to make sure his last nerve didn't rupture, Jaune counted backward from ten, stopping at four to look her dead in the eyes.
"We can't do everything by ourselves. That's way too much work."
Her point exactly. "Affirmative! From my viewpoint, hiring a third hand can only benefit us. And then we need to spend a day outfitting the store to equip oversaturated drinks."
"Getting the stuff is the easy part." Jaune argued. "It's choosing who to hire as our third is the hard part."
"Why not create another Help Wanted sign?"
That migraine of his thumped hard.
A Black Market and now a Speakeasy?
Somewhere in the blurry sand, he crossed the proverbial line. Jaune adored tempting Johnny Law. They practically tangoed every day he opened his weapons lockers! Now, this? Tch! Why was making lien so simple in an academy filled with ambitious teenagers? It changed him. Sweet lien promised the world. Drunk with power, Jaune counted down from four and closed his eyes.
Creating a Help Wanted sign wouldn't work this time around. Hiring a glorified treasurer wasn't the same as hiring a prohibition bartender. People did everything and anything to fall to his good graces, scratching ninety-nine percent of Beacon's population off the list. Nope, nope, nope! Qualifications differed for this position.
An under the table bartender required a few distinct features. Penny's optimistic attitude worked against her there. No. She lacked the ruthfulness and tact needed to serve customers drinks or cut them off. When he thought hard about it, really put all his thinking power on overtime, only one person fitted the bill and managed to evade the ninety-nine percent purge. Convincing them to take the job was a whole other story.
"We'll worry about hiring later. Let's just go get the stuff."
She saluted and mentally prepared the structure layout of their newest addition.
The following Tuesday!
Obnoxious singing filled the room.
Jeffs buzzed in the random shuffle of Jaune Arc's Black Market, enjoying a drink after nine, which was the only time the newest addition to the Black Market was open. Camaraderie was in the drunken air. Buying the stuff came easy when sweet tender slapped against the table. Everything else just fell into place. Flunked a test, missed a project deadline, or homework blues, the woes mattered not, people enjoyed a tall glass of root beer, whiskey, or a combination of the two to drown their sorrows. Somehow it was related to the atmosphere of a bar. Jaune hadn't a clue why, grinning bashfully from how out-of-place his newest employee looked serving his customers.
Stocked with old fashioned barrels against the wall, compliments of Penny's craftsmanship, his area consisted of a counter, bar stools newly bought with tabs of various kinds of drinks, glasses befitting for a bartender, and all the food to feed hungry patrons.
In the spirit of prohibition and bartending, Cardin wore an old style set of bartending upper wear—vest and all—while plucking one lock of hair from his hairline to curve downwards on his forehead. He kept his trademark black suit underneath, using the bottom half as dress pants to complete the look. His never-ending frown and sharp eyes only added to the authentic aspect. Jaune forced none of that on him, Cardin chose the design himself.
Cardin fancied the ridge Cardin's Corner.
The namesake came as an incentive since Penny operated Penny's Products from the other side of the room with his name before Black Market. Many Jeffs, his team included, might call him insane in the membrane for hiring Cardin, but this guy knew all of his secrets and did nothing with them. Not anymore, at least. Fake transcripts? He shrugged. Black Market? He huffed. The identities of the notorious Team FRCH? Cardin himself mocked him for his poor choice of disguise. Whatever hidden secret lurked in his shadow, Cardin pointedly ignored it with a roll of the eyes.
His ex-bully showed trustworthiness when it mattered most during his unexpected time of need, hence why he offered him a job with astonishing pay, phenomenal benefits, discounts, and with the bonus of raking in all tips. Plus, as a gratuity for him, Cardin played judge, jury, and executioner quite well when needed.
Rowdy Jeffs acted rowdy when drinking, causing mayhem in the tiny room, but one word from Cardin shut them up. Jeffs paid their tabs on time like smart eggheads, knowing Jaune Arc could and would send Nora Valkyrie to break their legs, Cardin's warning, not Jaune's. With that in mind, Jaune watched as Ruby Rose stumbled inside his Black Market and fumbled over to the bar with both their eyebrows raising. The leader of two teams wished he could watch the interaction, but a line formed.
Across the room, Cardin frowned when his newest problem sat down and folded her arms tightly with a deep, depressing frown. She sighed, sagging her shoulders with her feet dangling one inch off the newly installed hardwood. When she dropped her forehead onto the bar, using her chin as support, Cardin knew things hit rough for the Rose.
"Milk. Two percent. Warm. And make it a tall glass." Ruby grumbled when he wordlessly handed her the milk beverage. "Make it a double."
Cardin refrained from commenting, performing the stereotypical glass cleaning gesture as the Rose sulked with her two glasses of warm milk.
A good bartender just listened.
Ruby consumed three tall glasses of warm, bedtime milk before the hiccups hit her. She humphed in a very Weiss-like manner, resting her face on the bar with her milk mustache exposed to the world. A tint of rosy red colored her nose from drinking her milk too fast, but she ordered a fourth and wailed when the glass touched her palm. Wobbling lips turned into a whimpering wave with her cheeks bulged against the hardwood.
"Man, I'm so bummed." Ruby sulked. "I think I crashed and burned on that test today."
Cardin visibly winced. That quack's test sucked. Crashed and burned was the understatement of the week. Plenty of heads slammed down on desks when Doctor Quack handed them out, his almost included. Yadda-yadda, he still felt bad for the annoying Rose, lamenting when she finished her fourth glass and looked thirsty for a fifth. His next move was obvious. Cutting her off was the appropriate course of action, which he would after some bartender witchcraft, meaning Cardin slammed a new glass on the bar to attract her attention.
Grabbing a fresh glass, he reached for the pricey part of his inventory and did his one act of goodwill for the year.
Cardin slowly poured steaming chocolate milk into the glass, made from real cocoa beans goodness, none of that bargain bin, powdered knock off. Her eyes grew slightly. He set his jaw and slammed the counter, popping the whipped cream into the air for him to catch. Creamy virtue glazed over the top, swirling around heated milk. Those eyes widened. Smirking, he reached back to grab a single waffler from the back to dip it inside, allowing half of it to poke out the top. Silver eyes dilated when he seized a made from real sugar chocolate bar and shredded it over the foam. Then he smacked more whipped cream on the waffler before placing in a marshmallow on top, all the while roasting that to perfection with a charcoal of Fire Dust. Just for giggles, and he because he wanted to see if her eyes popped out of their sockets, he finalized the whole piece with a straw made from one-hundred percent dark chocolate.
"I-I didn't order that." Ruby drooled before patting her wallet. "And I can't afford it."
Cardin snorted and pushed the drink over to her with a proud smirk. "This one's on the house."
"Really?" Ruby whimpered with cartoonish tears streaming down her face. "You're so nice! Why are you so nice?!"
"Don't get too mushy on me, squirt. I'm cutting you off." Cardin breathed through his nostrils before grabbing a few cookies from the top shelf. "Take these to wash it all down."
Winchester clicked his teeth when she curved her lips at him.
When did he become such a sap?
Distractions, thank Oum for the distractions! He whizzed over there, pretending her grateful smile didn't forever sear into his memories. When he returned minutes later to check up on her, after threatening a random idiot to keep his area clean and to use a coaster or so help him, he blinked at the sight waiting for him.
Dum-dum finished her entire drink in that short time he vanished, out cold from the classic warm milk and cookies before bed concoction. Huddled up in her arms with her head crooked to the side, she sawed logs with her breathing even and deep. The empty glass had nothing left inside, licked clean. As a bartender, he appreciated the gesture. Also, as a bartender, he sighed from the responsibility of making sure she didn't sleep like that or else face potential back problems in the morning.
Cardin rolled his eyes from the sickening display of adorableness and snatched Ruby's Scroll to contact her older sister. "Xiao Long—it's the Easter Bunny, who else—just come pick up your sister! She's drooling all over my clean counter."
He clicked just in time for another Jeff to yell out for the bartender.
Not so long after, Yang strolled inside and found Ruby mumbling in her sleep coma. Seconds passed with the older of the two hiding her face in her palm. So Ruby copied her uncle after a heavy night of drinking, out like a light. Oh well. Yang grabbed Rubes, put her on her back to piggyback her out of there, and thanked Cardin for calling.
He grunted out a whatever, much too embarrassed from the way Jaune approved with a drink in his hand.
I'm calling security.
Glynda sat behind her desk with her fingers laced together, not a hair out of place with her elbows perched upon her clean desk. Drastic times called for out of the ordinary measures. Subjects one and two sat on the opposite of her table, one sweating with the other giving her his best toothpaste grin. How sad that she had to resort to exchange students, but the regular student body zippered their mouths shut anytime she asked any questions about one Jaune Arc, and she could not suitably interrogate or punish the Arc without evidence or proof.
Smart birds sang like canaries to kill interest, evading both her questions and knowledge only piqued her desires. Headstrong fools. Asking even her beloved student, Pyrrha Nikos, led her to a dead end. She was more tight-lipped than Ozpin and his Maiden fiasco, which brought her to her current dilemma. Sun Wukong and Neptune Vasilias, one of the few numbskulls who knew next to nothing. Insaturable libido worked to her favor today, with the two troublemakers sitting before her clueless to Beacon's gossip ring due to consistently hitting on both the Heiress and Faunus hiding in plain sight. She would not reprimand them. No. Glynda offered a reward to the two students who didn't own pet rocks.
Make no mistakes, Glynda preferred not asking Tweedledee and Tweedledum for assistance. Brass tacks forced her hand.
"Do you know why I called you here today?"
Sun leaned on his chair, sitting with the back pressed to his chest. "Uh? No."
"It's quite simple." Glynda made a show by turning her fingers into a steeple. "I want both of you to keep an eye on this student and report to me anything deemed suspicious. Something amiss is going on, and I'm trusting you two to get to the bottom of it. Call it acting as, well, not a hall monitor, but a trustworthy informant."
"What? A rat?" Sun stood from his backward seat. "I'm no snitch!"
Neptune, sweet, gullible Neptune, pushed Sun back into his chair. "Ignore my friend, professor. What he means is that we'll be happy to do it."
"Speak for yourself!" Sun slammed his palm against her desk. He faltered underneath her imposing glare. "Give me one reason why I should?"
Reasons, reasons. She knew his price and slowly pushed an emblem toward the Faunus. "It comes with a badge and no homework for the rest of your stay at Beacon."
"A badge?" Sun drooled.
"No homework?" Neptune drooled.
She hid her smirk behind a hawkish stare. "I believe my terms are suitable. Well?"
Palpitating hands craved to run twitchy fingers over the smooth badge, followed by dried lips. Temptation was such a cruel mistress, much too influential around potent testosterone. She unlaced her fingers, laying them flat on her desk when the Faunus finally mustered up the coverage to grab the badge.
"So if we're not hall monitors, what are we?" Sun abruptly banged his palms against her table again. Why? "Wait! Does this mean we're like detectives? Maybe junior detectives?"
Glynda carefully held back her blink. "... Precisely."
"With fake mustaches and really awesome hats?"
"I do not see why not."
He threw his arms up before grabbing Neptune's arms. "Dude! We've always wanted to be junior detectives!"
"No we haven't."
"Well, I have, and since you're my friend, you have to do this with me."
Watching Neptune deny his companion's pleadings made for an engaging show that Glynda could not dismiss as he underwent the five stages of denial in rapid succession. Once that past, ending on a mixture of unrivaled fury with hair tugging acceptance, Neptune solemnly turned to her, grabbing a badge of his own with Sun grinning a banana's stretch.
"Who's this student?"
Exact change only. No bills over fifty.
Sun held a student to the wall, clutching the threads of his shirt so tightly that he focused on that more than the fangs bearing down at his passive form. Aura fueled bodies prevented any of them from sustaining any injuries, so Sun and his partner made it a point to talk as if everyone in the academy suffered a sudden case of deafness.
"Freeze, dirtbag! Where were you on the eleventh?"
Jeff paused. "Of which month?"
He shook the culprit. "Don't play dumb! I'm onto you—that's it! Neptune! Get the hose!"
"You know how I feel about water!"
"You can't treat us students like this, you hall monitor jerks!" Jeff attempted to fight back. "You're out of order!"
He pressed a banana picking digit to Jeff's squishy nose. "No, you're out of order! You're out of order! This candy machine is out of order!" Sun elbowed the machine with it dinging. "Oh, candy!"
Their suspect used Sun's temporary candy distract as a means of escape, slinking into the shadows before Neptune blasted him with his paralyzing shot, but not for his lack of trying, three scorch marks on the wall showed proof. Things had more or less spiraled out of control once Glynda deputized them into law-abiding detectives. Their shoot first and ask questions put the fear in the criminal's eyes with their guilty until proven guilty attitude working to their advantage.
"Dude? What happened to our suspect?" Sun asked while chewing between mouthfuls of candy.
Shoulders slumped. "He got away."
"Again? That's the fifth one today." Sun swallowed his food as he punched his gut to burp. "Whatever. There's plenty around this academy. Someone's bound to talk."
Twas that attitude that kept them inching hot on Jaune Arc's sinister trail. Brash! Clueless! Sun and Neptune interrogated anyone and everyone about Jaune Arc, hitting more dead ends than a funhouse maze. The hustling and bustling of the hallways knew something, but no one was yapping. Soon their techniques and trials and flaunting reached the ears of the public. Criminals avoided them like a nasty rash. Scum scattered like rats. Lowlifes said nothing. Even the gossip loving nerds of the second floor snapped their mouths shut, but junior detective Sun and Nepture were on the case. Leads were sketchy, but they hit their first breakthrough when someone cleared their throat.
Neptune aimed his trident at the Jeff lurking in the shadow's shadow. "Hands where I can see them!"
He stepped into the light with his hands up. "Whoa, whoa. I come in peace, officer."
Sun migrated forward and jabbed a finger in the guy's chest. "We'll be the judge of that, and that's detective."
"Sorry, detective. I just thought you might want to know the scoop on this Jaune Arc fellow? Excuse me for my discretion. The walls around here have eyes and ears, you know."
More chest jabbing. "I don't buy it. Everyone's turned tail and ran from us, so what makes you want to sing? Spill it!"
Jeff smirked. "Simple, detective. You see, Jaune Arc banned me from his Black Market. Unlike everyone else in this school, I have no loyalty to him. I'm much more interested in watching his empire burn."
Sun paled. "Geez... you're one sadistic dude."
"Beacon has a Black Market for supplies?" Neptune grumbled-grumbled. "I really wish I knew that. I'm down to my last pencil."
"Focus!" Sun slapped him on the face. "Besides, you don't have to worry about homework anymore, remember?"
His eyes lit up. "Hey? Yeah. You're right!" Neptune pointed his charge rifle right for the banned Jeff's torso. "Who's in charge of this Black Market? Talk!"
Jeff rolled his eyes. "Who else? Jaune Arc, you dunces! Duh! I just said that."
"Arc, eh? I should've known." Neptune combed his fake beard with dignity. "So, he's the ring leader? The big jalapeño? I'm going to give him a piece of mind. First, I'll send him an angry message with all caps."
Sun slapped Neptune's Scroll. "Idiot! We don't notify students when we're trying to bust them. Let's handle this secret agent style."
"You mean espionage?"
Four minutes later!
The Black Market exceeded fire safety limit capacity.
Jazz music played in the background in recognition of their recently purchased junk box. Dancing bodies grooved, shaking their tailfeathers while drunk with pleasure, discounts, and five percent alcohol intake. Cardin cleaned his lucky shot glass with Yang enjoying a proper Strawberry Sunrise, easy on the ice. A jolly good time all around!
Knock! Knock! Knock!
Penny gave her trademark oh expression while holding her newest line of Penny's Products for her loyal fanbase, Penny's Five O'clock Pocket Watch, where it was five o'clock all the time, patent-pending. She hummed before she waltzed over to greet the impatient patron. Safety first! Emerald eyes curved from one side of the sliding flap.
Vicious, sky-blue eyes glared from the other side. "Open up, freckles, this is a raid!"
All of the music and cheerful atmosphere stopped.
"A raid? Freckles?" Penny went to her go-to stalling function, knowing from the gossip in the hallways that two detectives were trying to bust their entire operation. She ever so slowly undid the complicated locks. "Uh, very well, but, err, I'm not sure what you expect to discover in our simplistic, academy ran chess club."
Chess boards got quickly dispersed between everyone inside with Jaune flipping the cabinets over to reflect tables, all of them painted as a typical chess stage. Cardin stripped out of his vest, pulled out a whistle, and replaced the drink selection monikers with icky-sounding names like fruit punch, ginger ale, tea. He removed his clip-on tie to snap on a bowtie, appearing as an official referee with all the Jeffs hiding their purchased goods, foods, or drinks behind the folds of their backs.
Sun and Neptune barged in not a second later with the combined authority of Glynda Goodwitch's approval. That went far in Beacon.
"Chess club, eh? Well, I just have one question." Sun turned to Penny and used his tail to point. "What kind of chess club has the popularity to be this overfilled with rambunctious yahoos, and catchy jazz music during dinner time?"
"Um? Er?" Penny blinked with her Word of the Day Calendar coming to the rescue. She swung her arm between each enunciation, broadening a hiccup fueled curve of the lips. "The rootinest, tootinest chess club in Beacon!"
Glasses of incriminating evidence rose in the air, coming down just in time before either detectives noticed. Sun grunted as he turned to the crowd of onlookers. He pressed his bare knuckles against his sides, standing as if he was ten feet tall.
"Hmm? Alright! But you people remember! Moving all your pawns may seem like a good strategy, but the Knights are tricky." Sun warned. "Let's bounce, Neptune."
Junior detectives tipped their hats to Penny with her gradually closing the door. Outside the room, Jeff with a bone to pick leaned on the wall with his arms crossed. He crossed his brows when Sun and Neptune returned empty-handed, and not all appeared phased by it.
Sun shook his head. "Dead end, a bust. Looks like Jaune's just the president of the chess club, huh? Who would've thought? Who knew the chess club was so popular? Everyone there looked super stoked to be there."
Jeff gawked, holding his arms in the air. "No, you incompetent boob! Jaune Arc's the ringleader behind the Black Market! How is that not obvious?"
"You know, the more you say it, the harder it is for me to believe." Neptune snickered, curling his mustache. "I mean, seriously, that guy? He's not cool enough."
"Maybe Professor Goodwitch was wrong?" Sun rubbed his chin with his tail, stroking his fake facial hair.
"N-No!" Traitor Jeff waved his arms frantically. "Operating a Black Market has nothing to do with being cool! He's your guy! Jaune Arc! Just listen!"
Humoring the foaming lead, they pressed their ears to the door. Jaune's voice rang loud and true. "Free round on the house!"
"Man!" Neptune huffed, slumping against the door. "It sure sounds like fun in there."
Sun agreed wholeheartedly. "Right? Weird, huh?"
Jeff only frantically pulled at his hair, clenching his teeth tight as others of his kind danced, laughed, and clinked glasses together with bargain bin deals surrounding them.
Going out of business!
All good things eventually came to an end.
Fame, fortune, fitness, it all eventually faded away. With experience taught wisdom. Father Time and Mother Nature controlled the balance of the world with Lady Luck spinning the roulette wheel to see how royally screwed up she could make it. Opportunity had finally packed up its bag, tipped its hat, and strolled on out of his life without muttering a goodbye.
The leader of Team JNPR knew this during a fateful Monday morning.
In the downpouring end, Jaune Arc wasn't caught red-handed with his hand deep in the cookie jar by ace detectives, a nosy Goodwitch, or a vendetta fueled Jeff, but by the big cheese, Headmaster Ozpin himself. Oversight sold him out because he failed to realize that the Headmaster of a prestigious academy probably stopped by to check up on his newest exchange team from whatever Kingdom that woman had registered them as. Imagine his bemused shock when he discovered no such crew sleeping in these corridors, but a mini-workshop housed under his roof.
Jaune only managed to figure this out and piece it together when he entered his Black Market to prepare for the morning rush, coming face-to-face with Ozpin, a man who sat comfortably at his workstation. All of his inventory, Dust, food, beverages, and everything under one roof, turned on him as incriminating pieces of evidence in full display, mocking him. Spiraling out of control wouldn't come close to describing the situation.
Then his dependable employees made it a billion times worse.
"Sal-u-ta-tions, Jaune!" Penny walked right in, carrying inventory, noticed the Headmaster, and waved herself out. "Sa-yo-na-ra, Jaune!"
Cardin acted none the better, whistling a musical jingle that had him enter the room with his mace hanging over his shoulder, spotting Ozpin, and then turning around without missing a note of his song. Jaune gulped when his Headmaster dinged the register with his cane, finding countless lien stuffed inside.
Ozpin betrayed no facial emotion. "Care to explain, Mr. Arc?"
"Or perhaps I should call you Felipe?" Ozpin sat at his desk. "Royal? Ceasar? Heretic? Do tell me which one is your real name. Keeping tabs on five fake transcripts is rather difficult when they all come from the same recipient."
He ignored those rhetorical questions. "How'd you find out?"
"By accident, if you believe that. I make it a habit to introduce myself once to every new student that enters my school. And when I discovered I had missed an entire team, I rushed the following morning." Ozpin stood and walked toward Jaune, imposing with taller stature and squarer shoulders. "Imagine my surprise when I found this instead."
He thinned his lips. "Quite. And here I thought Glynda's paranoia was her needing a vacation. In all my years, I would never have imagined a Black Market in my academy, especially from you of all people. Quite frankly, I'm impressed."
That wasn't a compliment.
Jaune lowered his head with fists forming.
One wrong move and it all came crashing down! They were going to throw the book at him, maybe even two books. Stealth mode was no longer an option. He had no idea how to react, a flaw in his strategy. Some small, unreasonable part of him thought he would manage to keep this under wraps until graduation. Now, his luck ran out with the Headmaster waiting expectedly for a response.
"So? What happens now?"
Jaune figured as such and exited the room with Ozpin in tow. He walked the long journey there without the Headmaster speaking a word as both Penny and Cardin informed everyone of what just transpired. People understandably had gathered around the academy to watch him make the walk of shame to Ozpin's clock tower, stretching from the communal room, Mess Hall, and toward his elevator. No one grinned or acted like children when one of their peers got in trouble. They stood there, silent, unresponsive as the ringleader of the fabled Black Market got led away. It made him smile. Knowing he created such an effect on people, vastly different compared to his first couple of months, showed outward progress. What a shame that none of it mattered anymore.
He enjoyed being that guy.
Operating a Black Market allowed him to experience a rush of adrenaline like no other. Requests helped in many ways too. From creating networks to exercising and eliminating Grimm, he underwent that all. To see it all crumble into dust from the worrywarts of the student body? Well, a once falsely confident Jaune Arc held his head up high as they entered the elevator. Many eyes blinked at him, too many countless Jeffs to count, but he recognized each number he had assigned them.
By the time the metallic doors shut, he barely saw his team rushing from the back.
He thanked Monty Oum for the lack of elevator music, appreciating the loss of humor in a situation graver than grave. An elevator dinged. Doors went whoosh. Glynda Goodwitch stood at the other side with a single chair placed in the middle of the gear-turning tower. Unforgiving eyes showed no bite but refused any other emotions as well. Jaune presumed as much and sat down in the chair with the Headmaster and Headmistress standing at the desk.
Ozpin, for all his infinite wisdom, created a makeshift pointer with his fingers and pressed it against his lips and nose. "We're civilized, if nothing else. So, I'll ask only once. How did this all happen? I'm certain there's a story behind it."
A story worth telling.
"With a pencil."
"A pencil?" Glynda repeated.
"Yup. A pencil."
Ozpin pointed the pointer at him. "Do explain yourself. How does one go from a pencil to what I saw in that room?"
"What else can I say?" Jaune shrugged uselessly. " Have you ever seen your students? I'm sorry, but the students at your school are criminally underprepared for school work. You know my transcripts are fake, so I can safely say, without a reasonable doubt, that they're pathetic compared to public schools."
Glynda frowned. "And how did you come to that conclusion?"
"Like I said, with a pencil. Don't take it the wrong way. When it comes to killing Grimm or fighting the big fight, they're number one. But, when it comes to testing prep and stocking up on supplies? Well..." Jaune shrugged yet again. "To make a long story short, I constantly sold out each week. Not even at the end of the week, usually on the first day. I could never keep up with demand."
"And the drinks, food, and Dust?" Glynda demanded.
A shrug for the third time. "Way, way underprepared with a mix of lazy thrown in."
Glynda rubbed her temples with her spectacles pushed up. They barely scratched the tip of the iceberg, and already Jaune noticed he ruined her day. "That at least explains why everyone was covering for you, or throwing their fights."
"Hm? Results don't lie, I'm afraid. Test scores have improved immensely due to Mr. Arc's questionable business practice. And the student body has acted more accordingly as a unit with mission success rates higher than any other year accounted for." Ozpin remarked, unlacing his hands. "Who knew students struggled and failed due to faulty equipment or lack thereof?"
"More like general laziness if you ask me."
"Regardless, even if I did want to overlook this transgression, I cannot ignore the falsehood of your transcripts." Ozpin breathed. "Do you have anything to say for yourself, Mr. Arc?" Jaune shook his head. "Very well. Jaune Arc. Effective immediately, you are hereby expelled from Beacon Acade—!"
Elevator doors whooshed with Professor Port and Doctor Oobleck on the other side. Glynda stepped forward. "Port? Bartholomew?"
Doctor Quack pointed toward the window. "Look outside."
Oobleck said that with such urgency that they all did with Jaune pressing his body on the glass. No one, including him, comprehended what they saw happening in the courtyard. A mass of students stood outside at the bottom of the tower, appearing as one gigantic blob with signs held up in protest and muted chanting from Ozpin's soundproof windows. Blake Belladonna, of all people, stood at the helm of such a riot with a microphone and Faunus ears contemptuously displayed. Protesting, marching, rallying with all the hand waving, Blake managed it all with everyone banding together for a mutual cause.
The vast majority of those signs said Free Jaune Arc! One poster said nope! Their combined voices rumbled the glass. Thump-thump-thump! The sides of his lips ever so slightly curved with the others around him thinning there's, save for Professor Port.
Port wrinkled his mustache. "Oh-ho, Oz! You have quite the riot on your hands."
"Indeed, you do." Doctor Oobleck fixed his glasses. "I say you have the entire student body protesting outside your office. Quite a monumental feat."
Jaune said nothing. When pushed into a corner, animals and humans flipped their switches from flight to fight mode. It was natural to fight when everything was on the line. He just never pictured him being that corner. That guy. Jaune Arc was just that.
"So?" Jaune asked with bits of hope. "Am I still expelled?"
Glynda frowned. "This isn't one of those fairytale ideologies of democracy. We're a Kingdom. Rules are structured to keep order. We can't just let a riot of people decide your Fate."
"Eh." Jaune-Jaune introduced the almighty fourth shrug. "Rules. If I've learned anything from this experience, it's that the ones you have are a bit outdated and help no one."
While breaking laws meant consequences, Jaune knew he struck a nerve. Headmaster Ozpin said it himself. Morale was up. Test scores reached a record-breaking high. He knew from multiple occurrences that students engaged more in class. Plus, now that he looked a little closer, he noticed Blake standing on Cardin's shoulders to make herself stand out with the former holding her feet so she wouldn't fall. Things changed in a positive way, whether they accepted it or not. His professors knew this.
Everybody down below wouldn't stop telling them so.
Ozpin visibly sighed, breaking character. "Mr. Arc. Please leave my office. The professors and I have some things to discuss?"
"... Am I still expelled?"
"You'll find out soon enough."
He hid his grin and entered the elevator.
Now, Jaune appreciated the silence of the elevator tenfold. The more it descended, the louder the people's voice echoed. Loyal customers. He never welcomed them more than right now. Was it odd that Blake stood at the other side of the elevator doors with him expecting nothing less since she was the person who gave him the idea to open his Black Market? Yes, Rubes helped the cogs turned, but he accredited the Leo's share to her.
Always so direct. "Thanks to you guys, they're talking it over instead of expelling me on the spot."
She smirked. "They're sweating. With all of us here, we've essentially shut down the academy until they meet our demands."
He gestured to the crowd surrounding them. "How'd you even..."
She copied his shrug. "It wasn't difficult. Half of the people were already outside by the time I found this microphone in Yang's things. Penny and Cardin provided the signs with everyone else using their supplies to make more. Things escalated from there."
Countless eyes were upon him when he moved past Blake, with everyone holding at least one item they bought from his store. Not a frowning face in the bunch. He choked, holding back a sob from the overwhelming support he never received before. Jaune skillfully turned around so that no saw him hiccup and rub his eyes of imaginary dust. Blake pretended her microphone blocked her sight, the only one close enough to notice the subtle twitch of his jaw.
"Well, it doesn't really matter anyway. Thanks."
She softly smiled behind the microphone, voice booming into his ears. "Don't get too attached. I'm just returning the favor."
"What favor... oh."
"Your generosity shall not be forgotten."
"Yup." Blake popped the P. She turned serious and spoke in the microphone to the awaiting crowd. "Everyone's here to support you, isn't that right?"
Cheering, between the indistinguishable answers, Jaune knew they supported him. So he returned the favor and threw a single fist up into the air to rally everyone's blood. It worked a bit too well, turning the volume of the booming voices up to eleven. Oh well, ruptured eardrums aside, too little, too late. Jaune still jumped into the protesting crowd headfirst, detected the ding of the elevator, and heard quite clearly the Headmaster's request to follow him back to his office after what felt like a few hours.
He lost his business but not his enrollment.
In-academy suspension was what they punished him with, as with summer break detention—which he currently served in his dorm—and a whole melting pot of penalties on top of those. From this point onward, Jaune was on very fragile ice. Any screw up would terminate his enrollment with no leeway except for specific circumstances, ergo Grimm attack. They had only bent the rules for him because the situation demanded a second, third, and fourth opinion.
All of the professors had a vote while the riot took place.
Professor Port cherished the attention his class gave him and thought throwing that away for the old ways was asking for madness. Doctor Oobleck respected his ability to fix a broken system and shatter the cycle of history repeating itself. In his humbled and biased opinion, someone like that didn't deserve the executioner's ax. Professor Goodwitch was the only one who voted against him since Ozpin openly acknowledged his contribution to a failing structure. Expelling him worked more against their favor than naught.
Then there was the entire student body rioting in a collective effort.
Glynda ultimately softened like a fabric coated teddy bear once all the thank you notes from the orphans flooded her mailbox. Glittered bomb drawings and messy macaroni art had that immediate effect on people. She denied it, but then Marry Poppins dropped by for a field trip, and those little rascals hugged legs like no one's business. Jaune couldn't hate his combat professor for it. She only did what was right and acted faithfully to the rules, and since she couldn't technically prove that people threw those fights, Jaune ended up passing that class.
A three fourth's vote saved his behind, but his restriction demoted him back to a nobody. Beacon opened its own student store. From messy paperwork to request forms to taxes, they turned his Black Market into a legitimate storefront with Team FRCH's room no longer a dorm room for a future Huntsmen team. Those con artists even used his old rule sheets as the staple to their own. He would be a liar to say he wouldn't miss the thrill of operating in the shadows and challenging authority, but when one avoided tax season and still kept their profits after declaring bankruptcy, they called that a win. Speaking of assets, by taking all the blame, Penny and Cardin avoided trouble.
Just in time, too.
The semester came to a glorious end with Penny returning to Atlas as Cardin took his newfound respect to work part-time at someplace called Junior's Club. He paid them a handsome paycheck before they departed. Last he heard, Cardin's boss enjoyed a bartender with a backbone, backoff attitude, and mace to back it up. Penny made a flurry of friends with who she messaged along with Ruby. Good. Everything worked out in its own, screwed up way with things never returning to normal ever again.
Bargain bin fairytale endings for the win!
He lay on his bed with a pencil and paper in his hand. Without anyone to bother him, and his detention over hours ago, he felt the jitter bug's bite. For the last half hour, he failed to find the right words to put down on his paper. Exploits. Achievements. Escapades. All that jazz! Jaune wanted to tell his seven sisters what tomfoolery their dum-dum of a brother got himself into now.
"I'll just wing it."
Jaune flipped on his side and pressed the paper to his desk, applying pressure between graphite and wood.
His pencil broke.
Author Notes: In my opinion, this is the only way an underage nobody could start a business without any credit or source of income, but I might be wrong. I had way too much fun writing this one.