Episode 9 was pretty darn good, even if Juniper got almost no screentime. Hopefully, we'll see more of them these next few weeks. Beyond that, thanks so much for all of the reviews last week, I really appreciate them!
Jaune laid his head back on the headrest of his seat, allowing his blonde locks to spill over his face as he eased into his chair in the compartment that was being shared by him and his teammates. The train that they were currently riding on was one that ran the entire expanse of the continent on an intricate set of railroad tracks, which meant that they would be traveling for several days before they could reach their destination of Mistral, which was quite a ways from Beacon Academy. Logically, he had decided that it was an excellent time to catch up on some of the sleep that he had been missing.
He glanced across the aisle at the two seated in the seats across from him and Pyrrha, who was sitting on his right, allowing him to take the window seat that he had coveted. Ren and Nora were both already fast asleep, with Nora comfortably resting her head on an unsuspecting Ren's shoulder. Turning his head back towards the window, he allowed his eyes to lazily glean over the sight of Beacon Academy disappearing into the distance, the buildings melting into the foliage of a thick forest that they were now traversing through at a blistering speed.
This was what he had wanted when he had come to Beacon Academy initially, wasn't it? He had wanted to fight the monsters of Grim, and to live up to the name that had carried him so far through life. If it wasn't for his ancestors, he would have likely been lucky to even be in a normal training school, much less the chance he was afforded at Beacon Academy. He still didn't entirely understand how or why he was accepted so easily by Professor Ozpin, and he had no intention of finding out. Knowing that he was here now was enough for him to know. He was blessed with an excellent chance, and he had no intention of blowing it.
Speaking of which, Jaune slipped a hand into his bag, fishing out at a folded sheet of paper. He carefully unfolded and straightened out a map of the Mistral region, with all of the important roadways marked in bright red ink. He had already taken the liberty of starting on a path that could be easily reached from the train station so that they could find their target without having to run through a lot of Grim, which was a constant danger of traveling through the rather inhospitable country. Mistral was the home to many incredibly powerful species that were indigenous to the region alone, and Jaune taken that into account when drawing out a proposed plan.
However, before he could make much headwind, he felt a finger tapping him on the shoulder. Glancing up, he was met with Pyrrha's vivid green eyes, although they were now significantly duller as he could tell that she was on the edge of falling asleep entirely.
"Say, Jaune, do you want to walk around a bit? I'm getting pretty tired." Pyrrha asked, adding a yawn, as if only to emphasize her point.
"Oh, sure." Jaune nodded, noticing his own exhaustion at Pyrrha's words. Deciding that he would have time to deal with it later, he folded up his map and dropped it on his now vacant seat as he followed Pyrrha to the dining car.
Surprisingly not having much trouble keeping his balance aside from the occasional stumble, despite the rickety floor, Jaune strode behind Pyrrha, who was having absolutely no trouble traversing the train car, effortlessly leading Jaune into the empty dining car. It was a larger interior than the normal passenger cars, and was filled with six tables spread out across the length of the car, each one covered in a white tablecloth and pushed up against a window, affording diners a perfect view of the environment outside. Jaune slid into a seat at the nearest table, where Pyrrha had already seated herself and had picked up a menu to peruse.
Jaune watched her for a moment, not feeling hungry enough to pick up a menu himself, "Hey, Pyrrha, do you mind me asking you something?"
"What is it?" She asked, not bothering to look up.
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, seemingly reluctant to speak, "Well, I just want to know something. Why do you help me so much? I mean, I don't deserve it in the slightest."
At this, Pyrrha quickly slapped her menu onto the table, "Don't say that about yourself like that, Jaune. You and I know as well as anyone that you're capable of great things. Just one look at your aura can prove that."
"But is all that I'm good for? My aura?" He mumbled under his breath, but just loud enough so that Jaune heard her.
"Of course. You ancestors were all the same, weren't they? And you wanted to be like them, right?" Pyrrha suggested.
From what she knew, Jaune's family was full of warriors that could be best described as tanks, with their exceptional stores of aura serving to allow them to charge forward without any concern of taking damage, making them virtually invincible as long as their aura was shielding them. That invincibility was part of the reason why they had often been the leaders of several key charges during the Great War, and why Pyrrha knew that Jaune could be a great leader.
"Well, what if I don't want it?" Jaune shouted, unexpectedly raising his voice and sending Pyrrha stumbling out of her seat with the force with which he had suddenly used. The two of them sat across from each other in car, Jaune in his chair with his chest heaving vigorously and Pyrrha sprawled out on the floor, not moving a muscle, with a heavy silence falling between them that was only periodically punctuated by the rattling of wheels.
"Do you?" Pyrrha whispered, almost fearful to speak to the more frightening Jaune.
"I…I'm not sure." He sighed, sitting back in his chair and running a hand through his hair. He was so confused by it all. For his entire life, he had been pushed to become another member of the famous Arc line, a family tree that was defined by greatness that he frankly, wasn't sure that he could achieve. He had been taught that failing was not in the vocabulary of the Arc family, and yet, here he was at Beacon, miserably failing at almost anything he did. He wanted to believe so badly that he was meant to do great things, but it was hard to keep believing that when he hadn't seen any hint of that happening. Why did things have to be so hard? When he was a kid, it was just a foregone conclusion that he would be a Huntsman, and he grew up thinking that he was going to be some sort of hero when in reality, he was struggling to become a sidekick.
"I…I don't know what I want." Jaune admitted, slumping even farther into his seat. He stared harshly into the ground, hearing his thoughts swirl around in his head. He bit his lip, knowing that his earlier outburst had been wrong, and that the right thing to do would be to apologize. Shamefully, he lifted his head and opened his mouth when the words refused to come out of his mouth at the sight that unfolded before him.
In slow motion he watched as half the cabin was torn away, with the horrible screeching of twisted metal filling the air and causing him to clasp his hands tightly over his ears in an effort to stem the cacophony that was making his ears bleed in pain. He knew instantly from the way that half of the car was cut through like butter that they were dealing with a creature of Grim, and more specifically, a Nevermore.
"Jaune!" Pyrrha shouted, instantly springing into action by tipping over their table to act as a crude form of cover, which was admittedly useless against the strength of a full grown Nevermore. The avian creature screamed, forcing both of them to duck down underneath their cover once more in an attempt to protect themselves.
But it was all for naught as Jaune suddenly felt his stomach lurch as they suddenly felt a violent jolt followed by a sensation of weightlessness that made Jaune realize that they were likely just launched off of the tracks. He swiveled his head to peer out of the window, seeing the world rapidly cycle around them, confirming his fear.
"Jaune, use your aura! That's the only way we'll survive!" Pyrrha cried out over the chaos, reaching out a hand, which Jaune grabbed hold of tightly, refusing to let go. With this, he felt a familiar sensation of warmth wash over his body as his aura expanded to each limb, filling his veins with a sense of security and solidarity that was comforting to him, even in this situation. However, far too late, he realized that the feeling was distinctly foreign to him, unlike the familiar sensation that he normally experienced, which could only mean one thing.
His eyes widened in shock as he realized that the aura surrounding him was not his own, "Pyrrha, wait, you didn't…"
Before he had a chance to finish his sentence, Jaune felt an abrupt stop that sent him into a world of darkness.
Jaune stirred slightly at the words, but did not open his eyes.
"Wake up." The voice repeated, more forcefully this time.
Once more, Jaune stirred slightly more, although again, he did not wake, merely shifting in his unconsciousness.
"Wake up!" The voice shouted, and almost instantly, Jaune was ripped out of his sleep by a forceful grip that almost seared his skin with its intense heat. He blinked once, unable to see anything before he remembered his situation. Frantically, he whipped his head in all directions, his eyes adjusting to the blackness to recognize the decimated interior of the dining car he had been sitting in just moments ago. The whole room was on its side, with the tables and chairs splintered off in all directions, with a layer of dust and dirt settling over everything in sight and making him hack in pain, spitting a small amount of blood.
"Glad to see that you're awake." The ethereal voice said calmly, despite the situation, and Jaune's eyes widened as he realized that he was now sitting in front of a tall man dressed in flowing white robes and wielding a magnificent golden sword, emitting a heavenly aura with his mere stature, which seemed otherworldly. He had a stern expression on his face that made Jaune shrink in fear, although the man did not seem to have any malicious intent.
"W-who are you?" Jaune asked fearfully, convinced that the man was going to plunge his sword into him at any moment.
"You can call me many things. You can call me Archangel, or St. Michael. But right now, you should call me your savior, because I am here to help you." The man replied in a booming tone that made Jaune shiver.
"Why me? Why does anything ever happen to me?" Jaune demanded, incredibly confused by his current situation.
St. Michael crossed his arms in impatience, or perhaps annoyance at his questions, "You have been chosen as a key part of the Second Great War, and as with your ancestors, you are meant to lead humanity. Did you honestly think that they achieved victory without any sort of divine intervention?"
"What do you mean?" Jaune asked, starting to put the pieces together in his mind.
"Put it this way. You weren't the only scared and confused teenager that history has ever seen." St Michael replied, no amount of humor in his voice, only serving to heighten his presence.
Jaune knew that something out of the ordinary was going on, and pressed on, "Then what are you going to do to me?"
"I am going to light a path for you to follow, so that you may truly reach your destiny." St. Michael said, turning and, with a mighty swing of his sword, cleaving a large hole in the wreckage of the train, just large enough for someone to fit through. As the light was allowed to illuminate the tattered room, Jaune withheld a gasp at the sight of Pyrrha.
She was lying face down, a large gash running the length of her back and appendages twisted in every which way. If it wasn't for the faint sounds of breathing that she emitted every few seconds, Jaune would have assumed that she was dead. It seemed so crazy to know that the strongest person he knew was so helpless in that moment, and yet, here was the reality of the situation, staring him right in the face.
"Pyrrha!" Jaune screamed, diving forward to check her pulse, which was distant and fading quickly. He had to get her out of there, and fast.
"She's still alive right now, but the same can't be said for her if you go outside without dealing with the Nevermore first." St. Michael chimed in from behind Jaune.
"What are you saying?" Jaune whimpered as his hands felt the stickiness of blood on Pyrrha's neck. The sensation made him almost want to vomit in a combination of disgust and shock, but he managed to keep himself composed by the slimmest of margins.
"You're going to have to kill the Grim out there." St. Michael stated, as if it were obvious.
"But I can't!" Jaune retorted, feeling his hands shake violently with nervous energy. There was absolutely no way that he would even be able to hold a sword, much less go out and kill one of the most powerful species of Grim in existence. There was just no way!
"Yes, you can! Trust me, I will lead the way." St. Michael insisted, throwing his sword onto the ground violently, "Pick up my sword and use it to cut a path to freedom!"
Absolutely frightened, Jaune merely stood in place as his words came to his mind. Didn't he say that he wanted to become a leader that Pyrrha, Nora, and Ren would be proud to follow? This was his chance to prove it to them and to himself that he was capable of such a thing, and now he was going to throw it away? No, he only had one clear choice in front of him, and it did not involve running away. He had already run away too many times in his life before.
Reluctantly, Jaune wrapped his fingers around the handle of the blade, finding that it was much lighter than it had initially seemed, and that he had no trouble picking it up with one hand. The sword felt natural being in his hands, and instantly, he felt supreme confidence in it. With such a weapon, he could not lose, or, at least, that's how holding it in his hands made him feel.
"That is the Sword of the Destroyer. Use it well." St. Michael advised before he stepped out of the way, allowing Jaune to walk past him and out of the wreckage.
"Jaune!" Ren and Nora yelled collectively as he exited the destroyed train, twirling the sword around in his hands once as he surveyed the terrain. They were at a cliff face, with the wreckage of the train boxing them in from behind. Either way, they were trapped, with no environmental features to really take advantage of.
"Are you two okay?" Jaune asked, noticing that they were both relatively unscathed.
"We noticed what was going on and used our auras to shield ourselves from most of the damage that the train took, but we got hit with a few scratches on the way. Overall, we're in pretty good shape." Ren reported, with Nora nodding along in agreement.
"Pyrrha is injured." Jaune informed the two, whose eyes widened in surprise, "So we have to end this fight quickly and get her medical help."
Before anyone had a chance to respond, they were interrupted by the bloodcurdling scream that informed them that the Nevermore was swooping in for another attack.
"Get to cover!" Ren yelled, grabbing Nora by the arm and running out of the way while Jaune merely stood his ground, unwilling to back down.
Once more, the Grim cawed in a mixture of anger and confusion, not understanding why a mere human would have the audacity to stand in front of its attack. Meanwhile, Jaune dug his back foot into the ground, preparing himself for a powerful impact.
"Jaune, what are you doing?" Nora screamed from her position, knowing that she was too far away to realistically provide any assistance to their leader, who seemed to be putting himself in mortal danger.
"Don't worry." Jaune replied under his breath as he pushed off of his foot, actually running towards the Nevermore, instead of away from it.
As the monster extended its claws in an attempt to impale him, Jaune suddenly dropped to the floor, forcing the Grim to miss, and instead, stab its talons deep into the earth, trapping it on the ground for the time being. Not wasting his opportunity, Jaune got to his feet and leapt up into the air, stabbing downwards with his sword, driving the golden blade deep into the Nevermore's back and causing the monster to screech in pain and begin thrashing around wildly in an attempt to rid itself of its attacker.
However, Jaune held firm with his grip, refusing to let go even as the Nevermore freed itself with one powerful shake of its claws and shot up into the air, Jaune in tow. Feeling the wind whip his face, Jaune struggled to keep his grip, but was undeterred from reaching his goal. By sheer willpower, he kept himself hugged tightly to his sword handle as it began to wiggle loose. Realizing that he was close to being thrown off, Jaune took the opportunity to reach for his regular sword as well and cut at the exposed flesh of the Nevermore's back, sending feathers and blood splattering in all directions as the creature stumbled in mid air at the sudden attack, starting to lose altitude.
Continuing with the assault, Jaune held tight to the Sword of the Destroyer with his left hand with his right relentlessly assaulted any weaknesses that the Nevermore may have possessed with his regular sword, which was a sharp blade in its own right. After a short period, he could feel the Nevermore starting to buckle under his weight, only to stop flapping its wings entirely and allowing both of them to hurtle towards the ground. Knowing that he had the Grim basically at his whim with the blade he had stabbed into its back, he violently rotated his sword, essentially steering the helpless creature as it crashed into the ground, taking the brunt force of the impact, although hitting the solid earth did send jolts through Jaune's body, almost causing him to fall off as the Nevermore slid across the ground before slamming into the wreckage of the train, dead.
With and exhausted gasp, Jaune ripped his sword out from the deceased creature, feeling his legs turn to jelly and allowing him to collapse forward, tumbling to the ground, where an amazed Nora and Ren rushed to his aid.
"Jaune, are you okay?" Ren asked, propping up the limp blonde on his shoulder.
Jaune swallowed deeply before he shoved away Ren and fell to his knees, unable to hold in the contents of his stomach as a combination of his airsickness and disgust over the mangled corpse of the Nevermore sent his system into disarray.
"Gross." Nora gagged, turning so that she wouldn't have to see the pitiful sight of Jaune huddled over on the ground.
"Help Pyrrha. She's in the dining car." Jaune managed before another violent convulsion wracked his body.
"Good job." St. Michael chuckled, actually showing a bit of enjoyment on his normally stoic face.
"Was it really?" Jaune asked skeptically, shivering as he held back an urge to empty his stomach once more. He looked around to see that Ren and Nora were rushing off towards the wreckage to find Pyrrha, seemingly oblivious to presence of a fourth figure. Was this St. Michael somehow invisible to everyone else but him?
The heavenly being grinned in a way that seemed to go beyond just normal pleasure, "Oh, believe me, you're on the right path. There's no doubt about it."
Just so you guys know, St. Michael was one of the beings that Joan of Arc claimed to have seen in her visions. Obviously, we won't ever know if that was actually the case, but I certainly found it an interesting part of her story, and I wanted to incorporate the whole Joan of Arc story into Jaune's development, to a certain extent. Now, I won't give anything away, but all I will say is that things are never as they seem, and that is especially true for St. Michael.
Anyways, if you guys have any additional thoughts, please leave them in a review or PM. Thanks for reading!