Disclaimer: I only own the story. If i owned RWBY, things would be different around here. Let this disclaimer stand for the rest of the story, because i'm sure as hell gonna forget to put it up for every single chapter.
Well, this came about during the scene where Jaune admitted to cheating. I started asking myself who was it that Jaune nudged out, and then i figured it might as well just be someone else from his village, maybe even someone he knew. Then the whole thing just felt wrong to me and i tried to twist it into something nobler.
And this happened. Pairing is Jaune/Weiss cause they're interesting and i ship the crap out of them. I don't reckon chapters will be nearly this long in the future, but there you have it.
Edit: Added line breaks where scenes change. Forgot to mention the references. There's a Grandia 2 reference, a Deus Ex reference, and even one Preacher reference. Find them all and you can have a walk on cameo.
The young swordsman stumbled to the furthest end of the Dustplane. It was hot and crowded, and all he wanted right now was some peace and quiet. Or else, the excellent lunch his villagers had given him would all go to waste. He shouldered past small clusters of excited hunters and huntresses; no doubt friends from the same schools, or close comrades from rival institutes. His fevered eyes spied two seats near a window that were still vacant. An open window. His vision swam. He wiped several beads of sweat from his brow as he collapsed into the second padded seat, the one furthest from the window. He buckled himself in. Leaning over, he slammed the blind shut, and heaved his rucksack onto the first seat.
With a shuddering breath, the blonde youth attempted to slow his heart rate, and steady his body, which was still wobbling from the initial takeoff. He reached into his pocket and produced an amber pill bottle. Slade had said this would help. He could make out the label in the pale inverted lighting that ran throughout the Dustplane.
FOR WHEN YOU ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY MUST TRAVEL BY ANY MEANS OTHER THAN YOUR OWN TWO FEET.
He popped the bottle open, shook out two pills, and gulped them down dry. He felt them slide down his throat into his churning stomach. For one horrifying moment, he wondered if Slade hadn't just given him sugar pills as a good luck prank. It'd be the best time for one anyhow; they wouldn't be seeing each other for about a year. He pushed the thought away, closed his eyes, and sunk his head back into the headrest. The drone of the engines lulled him to sleep.
Jaune pulled back the curtain and peeked out into the entire population of his little village. The people were dressed in colorful clothes. Boys and girls carried little streamers and sparklers that Crazy Pete had been more than happy to supply. He could hear the faint sounds of several bands playing at the same time, each trying to out play the other in good sport.
Jaune turned from the window and looked at his friend as he strapped on his graphite colored armor. And why not? It wasn't every day that the local celebrity was christened as a defender of the village.
Slade was the hope and pride of the village. His family had been helping keep the little farming town of Carbo safe for generations. It was his tenth birthday, the age where all young able bodied boys and girls were given the option to fight the Grimm that sought to destroy their fair little hamlet.
Slade finished tightening the straps on the two scabbards that carried his twin cutlasses. Hanging over the fireplace, paintings of his ancestors slowly transitioned into pictures as they were chronicled throughout time.
"What's on your mind, Slade?" Jaune sat heavily on one of the cushioned chairs that Slade's familial home had to offer.
Slade sighed and ran a hand through his unruly silver hair. "I dunno if I'm ready for this, Jaune." He chuckled and looked up at the pictures of his ancestors. "Then again, I suppose I don't really have a choice. All my life they've been grooming me to be the next big thing. Now I've just gotta deliver, is all."
Jaune's dark blue eyes flashed. "Hey, you're going to be just fine. You come from a whole line of warriors. Plus, I saw you train. This stuff comes naturally to you."
Slade chuckled and cast a slanted smirk his way. "Thanks, pal. I needed that. No use psyching myself out this early in the game, right?"
They emerged after Jaune stuffed as many medicinal herbs and gauze as he could into his little hands. He would give them to one of the wellwishers to deliver on his behalf. Slade's graphite black armor gleamed in the sunlight.
The village watched him go with fanfare and promises of a hearty celebration in his honor; the modest farming village would spare no expence for their up and coming hero. Jaune had slunk off into the throng of well-wishers, cheering his best friend on.
"Bring me back a Beowolf head!" At this Slade paused and found his younger friend in the crowd.
"Jaune? What are you doing over there? Get in here!" The silver haired hunter marched over and yanked the younger boy into the main procession. Jaune's face glowed with pride and admiration. Slade cuffed his brightly glowing friend behind the neck. "Did you really think I'd leave you in the sidelines for my big day?" His short cropped hair glittered in the bright sunlight. "Never."
There was a small podium erected at the town limits. The mayor, a small, plump man who needed a stool to peer over the tiny podium teetered slightly, as a gust of wind threatened to take him down. He adjusted some cue cards in his stubby hands, and cleared his throat.
The procession of villagers had stopped. Slade slung an arm around Jaune, and focused his sharp gray eyes at the mayor.
"Slade comes from a long line of very good and noble warriors. Warriors, that have dedicated themselves to defending this little village, for many of them, until their dying days." Jaune glanced up at his friend. His steel gray eyes were hard, his jaw, set. "Today we enter the most recent of this noble line into the annals of our fair town." The mayor's thick brown brows came together in confusion. He shuffled around some cue cards and cleared his throat. "Ah, er, but first some history. You see, it was our lad's great great great, er yes, great grandfather Vaan who bravely slew the Ursa that was promptly made into the rug that adorns city hall to this day. You see, back then…."
The audience had begun to tune out the good mayor by the time he began recounting the deeds of Slade's twice great grandmother.
"For, it was only through the power of true love that they were ever able to make it back alive. And that leads me into the tale of—"
"Oi, Hank! We've not got all day, and the lad needs all the daylight he can get." Rogan the baker boomed over the diminutive mayor's aural biography.
Surprised, his cue cards had gone flying into the crowd. The mayor sputtered indignantly, his parted and gelled brown hair twinkling in the midday sun.
"W-well! Of course, then. Off you go, son."
The crowd cheered. Jaune, who had since fought down his embarrassed flush, found himself being crushed into a one armed hug by his first friend.
"This is it, Jaunny." He smiled into the forests just past the peaceful planes. "When I come back I'll finally be able to defend the village with the other grown up's."
"You're gonna be great! I mean, you can't lose with those swords of yours." The blades strapped to Slade's back were the envy of the village.
Slade ruffled Jaune's hair. "Hey, now, it isn't about the sword, but how you wield it. It's what's in here that counts the most." He jabbed a gloved hand to his temple. Before Slade jogged off, Jaune pressed the medicine he'd picked up into his hands and bid him a cheery farewell.
After a few paces, Slade turned back and drew his swords. They were long, curved single edged cutlasses. Slade closed his eyes and concentrated. His hands glowed pale silver, like pure moonlight. The light crept along the length of the blades. The ghostly white glow asserted its majesty even in the middle of a bright summer's day. While infused with his aura, the blades were lighter than air, fast as lightning, and so sharp that they could split a hair in half.
The silver haired youth raised one sword in salute. "For Carbo!"
Jaune's voice squeaked along with the villagers' brightest cheer.
And with the strength of the village at his back, the young hunter dashed off through the plains and into the dense forests. Jaune watched until the tails of Slade's navy blue scarf disappeared into the lush tall grass. He turned his gaze upward into the great beaming sky, and imagined the day that he would get to go on his own, far more modest, rite of passage.
He brought himself out of his musings as the villagers began to make their way back into the town proper. There was a feast to prepare after all, and the cakes wouldn't bake themselves. Jaune scampered off into the bakery with Rogan and his friend Kia, who hopped along excitedly.
Slade's favorite dish was apple pie, and Jaune being the good friend that he was, knew that he had to make at least ten of them to sate his friend's appetite after today's hunt. He dashed between kneading dough with his tiny hands and tending to three ovens, as well as managing the little catgirl at his command. He sent her off to get more apples for one pie and dough for another. Her tail swished excitedly as she skipped about.
He worked hard into the afternoon, fueled by the talk of passersby who sung Slade's praises.
"The boy is a miracle of Dust itself. I tell you he'll be mayor someday."
Jaune smirked as he rolled out a new pie crust. Just mayor, that's it?
"He'll become a legendary hero and wipe the Grimm off the face of Vytal!"
And I'm gonna help. A mad gleam formed in Jaune's vivid blue eye as he gazed into the fires of the stone oven, baking a cheesecake to golden perfection.
The sun dipped into dusk, and dusk sank into night. The village was aglow with lamps and fireworks to light the way for their fledgling hero. Some of the older men patrolled the perimeter of the village with torches to help the young boy find his way back home. It was usually no cause for alarm if an initiate didn't come back that very day, but some of the older men were getting antsy and needed something to keep their minds busy.
Jaune had washed the dough and filling from his work cloths, showered, and brushed his hair. He wore a simple gray tunic and pants. They were about the only cloths he had. Some of the wives around town had commented as such, and Jaune would only laugh and raise his hands in surrender.
"Hey, they're comfortable and they fit. What more do I need?"
Jaune allowed the enthusiasm of the village wash over him. The smell of his fresh baked goods along with grilled meats tickled his nose and roused his stomach. His eyes shimmered with the amount of colored lamps that hung from clotheslines and Dust wires. He'd lost count at thirty seven. There had to be hundreds. No, thousands! The night sky was ablaze with thousands of fireworks of every color that Crazy Pete had spent all year making.
He walked leisurely though the balmy night air. He tossed away a stick that he'd relieved of its freshly cooked meat. The dirt streets gave a satisfying crunch under his leather boots. Little girls in colorful dresses, and little boys with plastic swords ran about giggling and laughing without a care in the world. Jaune paused at the town well, the center of his little home.
He cast his gaze at fathers and mothers guiding their children from one Kill-The-Grimm game to the next. Men and women young and old nurtured their inner child, as they competed in good spirits for some stuffed bauble or another. Others, still, would put on plays of legendary heroes that everyone already knew by heart, but kept coming back to hear again and again.
A content smile blossomed across his face. Yes, this is why he wanted to help out as well. He wanted to keep those children smiling and their parents alive and well enough to continue seeing those children smiling.
Jaune sat on the well, kicking his feet back and forth. The sounds of happy families echoed through his head. Minutes passed. His smile slowly fell. A slow pain ate through his heart. He looked down at his empty, shaking hands, he found that his vision had blurred. He grit his teeth and willed the moisture to recede into his eyes.
Stop it! Not now….
Something soft and furry snaked around his waist and squeezed him gently. A silken purr slid into his ear.
His head shot up. Kia sat with her feet and hands clasped on the cobblestone edge of the well. Her head was cocked to the side, and she had a small frown on her face. Jaune viciously blinked away his tears.
"Er, h-hi, Kia." He sorely hoped she didn't notice his lack of composure.
Her luminescent teal eyes bore into him. "Your eyes are red. Are you alright?"
"Hm? Oh! Yeah, I'm fine. I was just staring at Pete's display a bit too long, that's all. Must have got some ash in my eyes"
That should do it.
Her ears twitched and she scooted closer. Her short honey blonde hair blazed under the lamplight. Her tail's grip around his waist tightened significantly. He absently stroked it, enjoying the feel of the warm velvety appendage. She started purring again.
Slade insisted that she was more cat than girl. Once, he had joked that he would flag down one of the traveling gypsy wagons and sell her off as a performing cat. Jaune had always known that Kia was quick on two feet, but she was doubly fast on all fours. She'd scratched Slade up something fierce that day. He'd also tried to get Jaune to give her catnip for her birthday, but he'd conveniently lost it before he could give it to her.
"What are you doing here all by yourself? Did you eat anything yet?" Her gentle voice was filled with friendly concern.
Jaune shrugged. "Yeah. Just taking in the sights and all." He gestured to the games and the dancers who were getting ready for the next tune.
Kia hopped off the well, her tail was still firmly wrapped about his waist. She wore a plain cornflower blue dress that ended just past her knees. She looked around for a bit, looking for something to do with her friend.
Her ears perked up. "Come on." She started dragging him with her tail toward the large open area where a contra dance was underway. "You can be my partner."
Jaune loved their dances. It was a good time for the whole village, a time for everyone to come together and mingle and spend some positive energy.
Jaune and Kia merged themselves into a spare pair to complete the quartet in the line and prepared for the caller to call the moves. He missed the comforting presence of her tail, as it slipped from his waist.
The rest of the night was a blur of music, lights, and merriment. Jaune had completely forgotten his momentary collapse into melancholy. He simply concentrated on the moves that were being called, timing his movements to the charming music.
It was late into the night. The celebration was still in full swing, and Jaune and Kia had taken a break from the dance. She'd fallen asleep on the bench with her head on his lap, and he absently stroked her hair. He kept an eye out for her mother. That was when the perimeter guards came rushing into town with Carbo's shattered hope bundled in their arms.
Jaune woke slowly. The first thing he felt was his stomach, which had stopped churning so violently. A ragged sigh slipped through his mouth. He could hear the distant prattling of a news reporter covering some sort of protest. The shrill white noise that had been the prospective students of Beacon Academy had died down to a low rumble.
The overhead speakers came to life. "Now approaching Beacon Academy." An artificially sweet voice floated through the air. "Touchdown in five minutes. Please return to your seats until the Dustplane has come to a complete halt on the landing pad. Thank you for choosing Beacon."
Jaune's eyes snapped open.
His rucksack was still where he'd left it, slumped in the seat next to the window, which was still blissfully shut. During his nap, he had also slouched down in his seat. He readjusted himself so he was sitting back in the proper position outlined in the sticker on the seat in front of him. He retightened his seatbelt, and put his hands on the armrests.
His stomach had sensed that he was awake, and resumed its protest. He took calming breaths to encourage it to endure just a little longer. The lack of rumbling meant that they were both on the same page. For now. He idly thanked the medicine he had taken. Sugar pill or not, it was doing its job. He looked around at the other students that had taken their seats. None of them seemed terribly distinct.
Jaune felt the Dustplane dip forward. His eyes lost focus. Metallic groans emitting from the belly of the plane signaled the hydraulic landing gears had been engaged. Not long now. The sound of the rushing wind increased to a violent wail. They were nearing the ground. That was good. Ground was good. Solid, sweet, ground.
Then, a violent lurch. Touchdown.
His stomach lost its grip.
A thin snake of bile rose onto the back of his tongue. It burned.
Jaune screwed his eyes shut and swallowed hard, willing the vile substance back into his stomach.
We're on the ground. We're on the ground. We're on the ground.
His head hurt.
His lungs expanded and contracted in quick succession. His nails dug into the plastic armrests.
After an agonizingly long two minutes, the Dustplane finally came to a halt. The pressure in his head deflated, his stomach became as placid as a frozen lake, and stillness took over his entire body. He'd survived the flight.
The young swordsman saw other students unbuckle themselves and move toward the opening doors. He chose to stay behind and wait for the herd to pass. He saw a girl in a red dress shamble along with a blonde haired girl. After some minutes the plane became empty enough for him to move about comfortably. He hoisted his rucksack over his shoulder and rose from his seat. His legs felt wobbly as he shuffled his way to the exit.
He emerged from the flying metal coffin and shielded his eyes. It was midday, and the sun was strong. White puffy clouds wound their way through the baby blue expanse of the sky. Jaune's eyes fell to a large spire atop an overlarge mansion. He squinted. Something was glowing inside. He imagined that during the night, it would be something akin to a brilliant white spotlight. Beacon Academy. The campus itself was a mixture of contemporary and baroque aesthetics; regale white columns, a fountain here and there, ornate curls and flares, lots of greenery. A cobblestone path led the faceless students to the large central building.
The blonde swordsman sighed. He took slow deliberate steps, like a man who was buying time before his execution. His sapphire eyes took in the various tools the students had brought with them. There was a firesword, a pair of revolvers, throwing knives that cracked with electricity, and even a rapier that seemed to have some sort of cylinder attached to it. He couldn't examine it closer as the wearer had turned away from his line of sight.
He felt his heart drop at every new discovery. This wasn't the sort of place for someone like him. He glanced down at his own sword and shield. Trusty and true, but they didn't have the bells and whistles that these weapons did.
This has to be some kind of mistake.
He saw the girl in red and the blonde again. As he passed, he caught some of their conversation.
"Go make some friends, Ruby."
"Why would I need friends when I have you?"
Kia and Slade's smiling faces became smaller and smaller as the taxi took him to the Dustport. He bit his lip hard. He slouched sullenly past the two girls.
His feet carried him to a statue near the center of the school grounds. He raised his head to read the plaque.
ELIAS ARC: HERO OF THE GREAT WAR
The mayor had mentioned this name once. Judging by the picture in his history book, this guy was supposed to be one of his ancestors. He'd said that Elias had likely used the sword he now owned. He'd been hailed as an important leader during the first Great War, and had been rumored to have killed hundreds of Grimm all on his own.
Jaune wasn't terribly impressed. If his family was supposed to be so strong, then where were they? The story went that he had been left in the outskirts of Carbo village by a nomadic gypsy band with nothing but the thin clothes on his back and a sword at his feet.
He shook his head. As far as he was concerned, his sword was just a simple weapon with no other great meaning behind it. He didn't care if the greatest hero of all time had used it. There was certainly nothing of that legacy left now. He gazed at the broad shouldered and finely chiseled frame of his ancestor. It was made of solid gray granite. His stance was confident, with one leg atop a stone, and a hand on his hip. The sword in question was hanging faithfully at his side. He had a smartly trimmed beard, and close cropped hair. Jaune imagined Elias to have the same fair hair and piercing blue eyes as he had. It was a nice statue, but Jaune wasn't in any hurry to get his own any time soon.
Before long he'd found himself inside the overlarge mansion, and found that it was the central building for the campus. Made sense. He was ushered into a large ballroom where a stage had been set up in the far end. The room was done up in stately gray tones with glowing green lines to help accentuate the grays. Jaune applauded the interior decorator.
Prospective students milled about, murmuring excitedly about what the next step might be. Jaune elected to hang around the back of the crowd.
Just as he was about to lapse back into memories of his home, something orange and pink bounced excitedly in front of him.
"Ren, Ren, look it's someone new!" The blur stopped moving long enough for Jaune to identify it as a girl. "Hi! Hi, there. Hello! I'm Nora, and that's Ren." She pointed at a boy standing off to the side in a green eastern styled outfit with cream colored pants. "Ren come here, meet this new person! Oh, you have a sword. I like your sword. Shiny-shiny!"
The girl seemed to continually fidget as she spoke; gesturing wildly with her hands and bouncing about like an excited little bunny. A small smile crept on Jaune's face. She reminded him of Crazy Pete. It was a thin salve on his aching heart.
"Hi there, I'm Jaune. Jaune Arc. It's nice to meet you." He gently took her hand, and she shook it vigorously. He winced at her grip, it was like someone had put his hand in a vice and done their best to flatten it.
"Ren! Ren! Come here, visit our new friend Jaune!"
The boy in green glided steadily over to his hyperactive friend.
"Hello, there. Lie Ren. Good to meet you." He offered Jaune a welcoming nod. Ren's voice was glacial; completely unfazed by his friend's hyperactive antics. Jaune decided that he liked this Ren character.
"Jaune Arc. And, likewise."
They shook hands at a far more even pace than Nora. Their grip was equal, firm enough to be sincere, but soft enough so as not to smother.
Ren's fuchsia eyes examined Jaune's sword. "That's a fine sword."
"Oh, oh oh, does it have any special powers? Like, does it have a gun attached to it? Oh, or maybe it shoots lasers? Does it shoot lasers? Does it go zap zap, or pew pew? Does it set people on fire? I bet it sets people on fire, Ren. That'd be fun!"
"Nora." Ren gently rapped his orange haired friend on the head. "Calm down."
Nora immediately deflated and pouted sweetly at Ren. "Aw, but Ren…."
Jaune didn't want the girl to feel bad, so he drew his sword. It was a respectably sized longsword, single handed, and sharp. Simply designed, it didn't have any ornamental baubles or insignias. The hilt was brass, with blue leather for the grip, and the blade was razor sharp steel. The only unique markings on the weapon were the two golden crescents that arced across his shield.
"Actually, it doesn't really do any of those things. It's just a regular sword." He took his sheath, and gave it a good flick. The sheath unfolded and snapped into position as a heater shield. "Shield's pretty normal too."
Nora bobbed her head forward and backward in front of his shield, transfixed by her own image in the mirror finish. Jaune smiled as her cerulean eyes glittered with innocent mirth. He offered his shield to her, which she giddily snapped up. She carried it off a ways and began to angle the mirror this way and that, creating oblong reflections of herself and others.
Jaune felt something lift from his shoulders.
Ren smiled a bit at her antics. "Sorry about her, she gets carried away sometimes."
Jaune smiled sheepishly. "Oh, not at all. My neighbor was just like her. I hope you don't mind if I indulge her every now and again."
Ren's eyes followed Nora closely. "Not many people can really handle Nora, so it's always just been the two of us." Ren looked to him gave him a wry smile. "It'll be good to have someone else who can stand her for more than a few minutes."
Jaune's heart went out to his new orange haired friend. He didn't like when people felt lonely. He resolved to make some time for her when he could.
After some minutes the commotion in the hall was starting to die down. Nora bounced over to them, clutching Jaune's shield to her chest. Everyone's attention was drawn to the stage, on which a tall man with tousled gray hair and thin round spectacles prepared to address the school.
"That's Ozpin, the headmaster of the school." Ren whispered in his ear.
Jaune nodded, fixing his gaze on the older man.
"I'll… keep this brief." He pushed his darkened frames up the bridge of his narrow nose. "You have come here today in search of knowledge; to hone your craft, and acquire now skills. And when you are finished, you plan to dedicate your life to the protection of the people." A tingle slowly swelled in the pit of Jaune's stomach. "But I look amongst you and all I see is wasted energy in need of purpose." Jaune caught his hands shaking, he willed them to stop. "You assume knowledge will grant you this, but I assure you that knowledge will only carry you so far."
Ozpin turned and left the stage. A woman with pale blonde hair, wireframe glasses, and a ragged purple cape took the microphone.
"You will convene in the ballroom for tonight. Your initiation begins tomorrow. Be rested and be ready. You are dismissed."
Jaune let the professors' words sink into him as he picked a spot next to a window. He tossed down his rucksack that held nearly all of his possessions. With his sleeping arrangements made, he elected to split the remaining time he had between quietly talking to Ren and playing games with Nora. As the day drew into evening, he thought he saw snatches of someone dressed in white. They seemed to disappear into one crowd or another before he could investigate further.
Jaune lay awake that night. Horrible thoughts rattled about in his head, showing him in complete detail every way he could possibly fail the exam and get himself killed all in one go. A shower of soft silver moonlight pooled around his body. His dark blue eyes stared into the twinkling moon for guidance, but it remained silent.
He wore a light blue full-body pajama suit. Kia's mother had insisted on having them tailored for him as a going away present. Jaune appreciated their tight fit. He felt like he was getting thousands of little massages every time he moved.
He groaned and turned to his right. The vacant plastic eyes of his powder blue bunny slippers greeted him. Slade's contribution to his sleepwear.
His imagination continued to buzz loudly. He finally heaved himself up, and slipped on his fuzzy slippers. If he wasn't going to get any rest, he might as well get a drink. He gingerly stepped over, Ren, Nora, and other sleeping hunters. Here and there he could see flashlights and lanterns where some students were scratching away in journals.
Jaune sat heavily in one of the vinyl coated stools. The minibar had long since closed down for the night, but there were still a few silver jugs of ice water for the students' convenience. He pulled over a jug and a plastic cup. He poured a liberal amount, and sipped at the water. He felt the cool liquid slip to the back of his tongue, and slide down his throat.
Each successive sip dulled his restless mind. The water pooled in his silent stomach. The slow even mouthfuls caused his mind to drift to the night of Slade's return. He didn't remember much. All he could register was that the celebration had been brought to a sudden halt. The older folk had begun to run about shouting rapidly at one another. In the end, all he was told was that Slade had been hurt, and he'd needed help right away. Jaune stayed out of everyone's way for the rest of the night.
It had been three or four in the morning when the adults emerged from Slade's ancestral home. He snuck in. A thick metallic scent hung in the air. He remembered seeing his friend's swords leaning dutifully against the wall next to his bed. Jaune could hear ragged, wet, breaths coming from Slade's bed. He put a hand on the bandaged form of his friend. He felt something horribly jagged. He drew his hand back, and found it was covered in coppery blood.
Jaune refilled his water.
The events afterwards were unclear. He knew he'd cried for some time. He extended his blood covered hand over his friend's body and something broke within him. He felt something wonderful rush through him. He was acting on instinct. All he knew was that he wanted his friend healed no matter the cost. He wanted him to smile again, to run around and play jokes on him and Kia again. His hand erupted into a brilliant sunlit gold. He channeled the wonderful warmth through his hand and into his friend. He willed the wetness away, he willed the ragged breaths away, he willed the hard jagged thing protruding from where it shouldn't away.
The next time he woke up, Slade was spooning water into his dry and hollow body. His gray eyes were awash with newly falling tears.
The water in Jaune's hand began to shake. He downed the whole glass and shakily refilled it. All at once, his calming therapy wasn't working anymore. Every insecurity and doubt about coming to this place crashed against his shaky defenses. This was ridiculous. Suicide, even.
But I'm not alone anymore, I've got Nora and Ren.
After they figure out what I'm about, they'll distance themselves. Even Nora.
All of Slade's training, it wasn't for nothing you know.
It won't be enough. These are the big leagues for serious players, not fakers.
I can at least try!
You're going to die.
His eyes grew hot and his vision blurred. He bowed his head into the blissful darkness that the bar provided. His shoulders shook violently at first, but soon steadied out into an even rhythm.
His inner turmoil prevented him from hearing the light footsteps that approached him from behind.
"How dare they? Can you believe them? Causing such a ruckus at this hour. Honestly, people are trying to sleep." The footsteps stopped. "They have the biggest test of their lives coming up. Imbiciles"
The girl's cool gaze observed the hunched figure at the bar. She recognized the crumbled posture, the tightly clutched cup, and the effort to stay hidden and motionless in the shadows. She silently walked up to the darkened counter a respectable distance away.
"Hey, you've got the water over there, right?" Her tone was noticeably calmer. "Could I have some, please?"
"Ah, er, y-yes." Jaune stiffly poured another cup and slid it over to his thirsty companion. Their fingertips touched as the cup changed hands. Jaune's hand shot back to its original place, the girl's drew the cup at a more graceful pace.
After a few moments, the girl tossed the cup away and seemed to rise from her perch.
"Thanks. Listen, you should get some sleep too. Tomorrow's initiation, and you want to be at your best for whatever they throw at us." She took a step and turned back. Her cool eyes regarded the hunched young man. "You know, I'm sure you'll do fine. You worked hard to get here. You shouldn't doubt yourself now." She turned and left.
Time stretched on as the girl's smooth voice filtered through Jaune's fevered mind. It seemed to undo the knots of tension and anxiety that had been plaguing him all the night. He finally filled his lungs deep with refreshing cool air.
"525… 525…. Where is it?"
An upperclassman had given him his locker assignment and he was getting tired of lugging his rucksack all over the place. What they didn't tell him was that the lockers were a thrice damned maze. He turned a corner to check another hall of lockers when the sight before him stopped him in his tracks.
He'd never seen someone like her before in his life. Light seemed to pool around her, casting her in a perpetual phosphorescent glow. Her jacket and dress, done up in soft blue, near white, tones cut a frosty landscape across her lithe dancer's figure. She was chatting amicably with a tall red haired girl.
What? What is that? Who is that? Is this real? Jaune's mouth hung open as his mind struggled to process the girl's hair, as white as clouds, that cascaded softly down her slender back. Her pale skin was clear and without blemish, like freshly fallen snow.
Is she… human?
Well, why don't you go find out? Slade's arresting tenor had taken over the voice of his conscience.
Are you crazy!? I can't just waltz over and ask her how her day's going. I mean, look at her she's—she's got to be some sort of ang—
Don't you finish that sentence; you'll psych yourself out.
No! She's just a girl. A very, very pretty girl. Now get out there!
Jaune took a sharp breath and squared his shoulders. Alright, here goes….
With every step Jaune took, his heart beat faster and faster. By the time he'd reached the two girls, he could feel it thundering against his ribcage.
"Er, hi." The two girls turned to him. He thought he'd had a minor heart attack.
The red haired girl had lush green eyes, like the plains outside of home after a good spring shower.
"Oh, hello there. I'm Pyrrha, and this here is Weiss." The redhead, Pyrrha, gestured to her smaller friend. Her voice was breathy and smooth, like an afternoon breeze, perfectly pleasant.
"Hi." She greeted him simply. When his eyes found hers for the first time they seemed like two clear lenses of ice with only the slightest kiss of winter blue.
Open your mouth, Jaune. Make words.
"Oh, er. Yeah. I-I'm. Arc. Jaune! Er, Arc. That is, Jaune Arc. It's nice to meet you both." He gave them both a quick bow at the neck, not at all confident enough to offer them his hand.
Pyrrha smiled brightly, whereas Weiss sported a guarded frown.
"We were just discussing teams. Have you given any thought as who you'll partner with?" Pyrrha valiantly tried to keep the conversation going.
"Er, partner? I was under the impression we were going solo." No one had told him he'd need a partner. He thought of Ren and Nora and wondered if either of them needed a partner. But after some consideration he decided that the two would probably be better off with each other. After all, they basically grew up together.
"Oh, yes. An upperclassman told me that the initiation is particularly challenging and that we'd need to choose partners if we wanted to survive. The partners we choose stay with us for the next four years"
Oh boy. Well, it can't be helped.
"Well, that's certainly something to think about. I suppose I'll just let the dice fall where they will. I don't really know anyone here anyway. So, I don't have much of a preference in partners. Thanks for the info, though." He thought of Slade, and lamented how much better suited he was for this sort of thing.
"Not at all. You know." She nudged Weiss, who'd gone quiet. "Weiss is new here too. So, you needn't feel left out."
Weiss sputtered for a moment before coming back to herself.
"Y-yeah. That's part of the challenge anyway. Like Professor Port says, a true hunter should be able to adapt to any situation. So, don't worry about it too much." She looked him in the eye. He forgot the world around him for a moment. "Just remember your training and you should be fine, er, Jaune, was it?"
Her voice had a sharp snap to it, like walking out into a refreshing winter's day. He thought he'd heard it somewhere before. Jaune felt a swell of confidence. He wasn't the only one without a clear direction.
"Hey, thanks." He held Weiss's gaze for a moment longer than he thought he could. "Hey, listen, would either of you know where locker 525 is? I've been looking for it all day, and this thing's getting heavy." He shrugged his rucksack.
Weiss turned and looked about. "It's over there." Weiss pointed a thin finger several rows down. "It's just on the edge of that far row."
Jaune bowed his head again in thanks. "Appreciate it. Again, it was good meeting both of you."
The girls bid him farewell, and watched him stumble off in the direction of his wayward locker.
Pyrrha observed Weiss as her eyes followed the young blonde walk down the corridor. She let the white haired girl bask in her thoughts before nudging her again. Weiss, startled, scowled at Pyrrha.
"You know, you'd gone a bit quiet just then." Pyrrha had a small smile on her pale face. "I saw the way you looked at him. Have you two met before?"
"Wha? O-of course not." Her eyes darted about like a cornered animal. "It was just that I didn't have anything to say to him. A-and I don't like meeting new people all at once." Weiss nodded to herself. Pyrrha noticed her cheeks had gone ever so slightly pink. "Plus, he was so hopeless, I wouldn't even know where to start explaining half the things he's missed. Most of it was in the pamphlet! It was in every seat on the plane." She pouted and folded her arms, satisfied at her defense.
Pyrrha hadn't missed the way the young swordsman had taken to her smaller comrade either. This would be interesting. She peered at the young girl, who seemed to be grumbling to herself. Besides, she didn't often get opportunities like this, and while she was of the opinion that one should let chance decide what it may, there was nothing wrong with blowing on the dice a bit.
"Hm. Come. It's almost time for initiation."
Her verdant eyes sparkled as she and Weiss made their way to the cliff side.
White puffy clouds rolled across the vast blue expanse of the sky. Sweeping strokes of silken clouds swashed across the sunlit canvas. In the distance, dark storm clouds wounds around ladyfingers of sunbeam. Birds flittered about, chirping their greetings, and singing their songs for anyone who would listen. The midday sun beamed down on the thick forest below.
So, this is how they plan to kill me. Jaune peered over the edge of the cliff face. No, no, let's not walk into the Emerald Forest like sensible people. Let's orbital drop into the Emerald Forest, and shatter every bone in our bodies. That'll be really impressive. We'll be dead, but at least we'll look cool as we die.
Jaune stepped back onto the small metal square that served as a launch pad. The platform hummed and came to life as the pressure plate sensed his presence. I mean, sure, it'll get you out there, but how do they expect us to get back? This place is on a cliff. Is there a staircase somewhere? Can I opt to take the stairs?
He looked down at his 'armor'. It merely consisted of a torn and patched pair of jeans, a comfortable hoodie, and a bare chest plate with shoulder guards, all held together by leather straps. He didn't exactly have a parachute. He looked around at his fellow students who were also lining up on their own platforms. He saw Ren and Nora at one end, readying for the launch. He saw Pyrrha and Weiss stare determinedly into the horizon, knees bent, and weapons drawn.
Maybe they used their aura to help soften the blow? Jaune frowned and rifled his brain for anything anyone had told him about surviving a fall from great heights. Alright, try to get caught up in a cluster of branches or something. Maybe twist yourself around so you can grab a branch and swing down to ground level. Don't crash on your head or spine. Protect the spine. Maybe take a blow to the chest or use your arms? I'd crack or break a few ribs, but those can be healed. I might pop out a finger or two, maybe the whole hand, or even a shoulder, but I can reset those. Shit.
Jaune's heart began to race. His face flushed with anxiety. He rolled his shoulders to keep his body loose.
"We're going to make this interesting. The first person you make eye contact with will be your partner for the next four years. Choose well."
Huh? Jaune hadn't even noticed Ozpin and Goodwich's presence. He'd missed Ozpin's entire speech.
"Any questions?" Aw crap. "Good. Begin."
Nora and Ren were sent flying. The blonde girl and her red hooded friend from the plane were next. Then Jaune felt the ground drop out from under him. He flailed in the air for a time before snapping his arms to his sides and his legs together. He arched his back to get himself as close to a forty five degree angle as possible.
Crazy Pete's frantic voice screamed in his mind.
"Remember boy, if you want something to go far and up, forty five degree angle. Now, me? I just shoot everything all over the place. More exciting that way. Oh, don't give me that. To hell with the fire hazards."
The wind whipped through his hair and blurred his vision. He dared not look down. Instead he focused on an unmoving point on the horizon. He could make out a glint of blonde and trails of fire following in its wake. The girl from earlier was propelling herself. A streak of red passed him, he assumed it was pyrrha. He could feel his ascent slowing; he was about to the crest. He would fall soon enough.
He could clearly make out Weiss as she passed him. She was awash with natural sunlight. She seemed to be hopping from one translucent platform to another, using some sort of hand gesture. Her thigh length skirt rippled in the wind. She gracefully leapt from one to the next as if she were skating on plates of ice.
That was about when his stomach flew up into his throat. He had no choice but to look at the rapidly approaching canopy of trees. His hoodie flapped violently in the air. He shot out his arms and legs.
Don't panic. Don't panic! Dear Dust this is going to hurt.
He did his best to make his body go lax, and let the current carry him as it would. He focused his vision on a cluster of fast approaching branches and hoped he still had the use of enough limbs by the end of this to hold onto one of them.
He finally slammed into a thick bough of a tree. He caught it in the gut. He felt his chest plate compress his insides. The air in his lungs heaved from his mouth in an exclamation of pain. He tried to ignore the cracking and the further burst of pain it caused. He keeled over the branch and fell several feet. He lashed his arms out and caught another branch, cutting into his gloves. His arms were almost pulled out of their sockets. He grit his teeth and used the momentum to swing himself around several times, bringing him to a halt. He could feel his palms burning.
He heaved painfully as his lungs protested the ordeal they'd just been though. It felt like he was breathing fire. He looked down and saw that he was still a good twenty feet from the ground. He angled himself toward the trunk, swung himself off the branch, and snapped his limbs around the trunk.
He gradually crawled half way down the trunk, he heard his heartbeat hammering in his ears, his head spun, and he lost his grip. He crumpled to the ground in a heap.
The swordsman undid the clasps on his chest plate and took deep breaths. The sharp pain that greeted him wasn't as bad as he'd thought. Good, only a few cracked ribs then. He rested his head on the warm forest floor for several minutes, willing his head to stop spinning, constantly reassuring himself that he was no longer falling.
He turned to his side and shakily got to his feet. Jaune opened a pack on his belt and took out a small paper packet of crushed herbs. He emptied the contents into his mouth and cringed at the bitter taste. The medicine would dull the pain and encourage healing.
He slumped against the rough trunk he'd just fell down. He took in the sounds of the Emerald Forest. Various birds and creatures twittered about. Behind all that, he heard the tang and clang of metal. Someone was in a fight.
That spurred him to action. He took off at a jog with a rough estimate of where the sounds of battle were coming from. As he ran, the sounds became louder, more distinct. He heard growls and snaps. He heard the whistle of something sharp flying through the air, and the satisfying thwak of the same projectile hitting something solid. He heard a soft crystalline sigh hang in the air. He couldn't fathom what that might be.
The break in the foliage meant he was nearing a clearing. The dark shape of a doglike creature with low stance and jagged teeth meant he was running headlong into a pack of Beowolves.
He put on a burst of speed, drew his sword, and ignored the pain that burst through his chest. As he entered the clearing, the Beowolf snapped its head about, only to receive Jaune's shield in its jaw. It yelped and stumbled back, stunned. That was all the time Jaune needed to drive his sword through its neck. The body slumped to the ground. The head sagged to the side, hanging on half severed muscle and flesh.
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He rolled to the left just as a set of powerful jaws closed in on where his neck had been. The beast lunged at him. He angled his shield so the wolf would slam into the sturdy metal. He timed his movements, and lashed out his arm, bashing the beast's head. He leapt into the air and brought his sword arm down. He plunged the blade into the soft neck flesh of the beast, and watched as its burning eyes dimmed and extinguished.
Something cold whizzed past him. His head shot up just as a second shard of ice flew past him. He whirled around to see two more wolves frozen to the ground. He didn't waste time, and ran for his helpless foes. He leapt in the air, his sword raised high, and brought his arm down, dissecting the head of the first. He dashed forward, dragging the blade up. He caught the second in the side, tearing through its stomach and spine in one clean cut. The green grass was awash with dark steaming blood.
Jaune wheeled around looking for more danger, but all he found was a girl bathed in white light. She was standing about halfway across the field, her rapier held in a relaxed position in her left hand. Her luminous sky blue eyes regarded him steadily. He relaxed his stance, panting hard, and made his way over to her.
As he approached, she seemed to become smaller and smaller, until he came to a stop in front of her, and she was a good half a head shorter than him. Funny, I thought she was taller.
They held each other's gaze. Weiss cocked her head to the side and Jaune gave her a friendly smile. A delicate tiara perched on the side of her head, like icicles. Her thin rectangular earrings glinted in the sunlight. And the stone in her necklace shimmered as the thin silver chain embraced her neck jealously.
Before either of them could speak, a commotion at the far end of the clearing drew their attention, and their weapons. After some rustling, a girl in a red hood stumbled out of the thick foliage. Jaune didn't remember her name.
"Wha!" She took a few shaky steps and lost her balance entirely. She collapsed to her knees, sighing heavily.
The girl finally looked up, seeming to recognize Weiss. Her expression brightened immediately.
"Oh! Uh, Weiss, hi there." The girl snapped to her feet.
Weiss gave her a steady look and frowned deeply. "Yes?"
"W-well I guess we're partners then. This'll be great!" She pumped her fist in the air.
Jaune glanced at Weiss. She had lost interest in the girl and had begun inspecting her nails. Well, I guess it's still her call. Everything happened so quickly. Something seemed to twist within Jaune when he considered that she might not want to partner up with him after all.
I suppose it's just as well. You're stuck together for four years. It's not a decision to make lightly. There's so much to consider; form, technique, synergy. What if no one partners with me, do I just go at it alone? That wouldn't be so bad. I won't drag anyone down at least.
Just as Jaune was about to step away and continue on his own, Weiss scowled at the other girl.
"You dolt. Are you blind? We are not partners. This is my partner!" She thrust a well-manicured hand in his direction. "Seriously, how could you not notice Jaune was here the whole time? That's rude, you know."
Well I'll be. She remembered my name. Don't screw it up, Jaunny.
The girl's silver eyes widened in surprise and dimmed when they fell on Jaune.
"O-oh, I see. I-I'm sorry. I just thought that—" She bit her lip.
"Do you ever think?"
"Don't sweat it, it happens." Jaune didn't want the girl to feel bad; she'd just made a mistake that was all. "Chin up. Keep moving, we've still got a lot of ground to cover."
She seemed to brighten at the encouragement and flipped out a collapsible scythe.
A farming tool? Well, I guess some people just have to do things the hard way. I can certainly relate.
"Yeah, thanks. I'm Ruby by the way."
"Jaune Arc. Pleasure."
They shook hands and Ruby dashed off into the forest.
Jaune gestured in the direction Ruby had run off. "Shall we?"
Weiss simply nodded and ambled along beside him.
They reentered the thick forest in silence. Their boots crunching leaves and fallen branches was the only sound that passed between the two. Above them, birds twittered, flittered, and chittered about, greeting the humans that walked across their home. The smell of fresh dirt and rain soaked into their noses.
Weiss ejected an empty cartridge from the adjustable cylinder on her rapier. She produced a blue dust cartridge from her pocket and slid it into place. The chamber spun with a rattle.
"That's a pretty neat weapon you've got there." He thought of Nora, and how she'd questioned him about his sword. Maybe it was customary to ask about people's weapons. "How does it work?"
Weiss cast him a sidelong glance. "This is Myrtenaster, a Multi Action Dust Rapier." Beams of light that fought through the thick canopy gleamed off the immaculate blade. "I had it custom built by the finest smiths at my family's disposal." She sounded proud of the workmanship. "It works as a focus to help me manipulate dust." She gestured to the chamber.
She glanced down at his sword and shield. "That's a nice sword. From what I saw it's pretty sharp too. People won't expect that. These days no one has any appreciation for the classics." She started gesturing with her hands. "Did you see that Ruby girl's scythe? First of all, it's a farming tool. Seriously? And second, do you know how many moving parts it has to have so it can fold up like that? Any of those parts could fail at a critical time during battle. Not to mention it has needlessly overengin—"
Her foot caught on a root and she began to tumble. Jaune shot out and caught her by the shoulders.
"Hey now." He pushed her back on her feet. "Easy does it, Weiss. Don't want you to fall." His blue eyes were soft and his tone, gentle.
She stood there for a moment, staring blankly into his chestplate. Jaune became self-conscious as the seconds became a full minute. He cleared his throat. She snapped out of her daze and brushed his hands off her shoulders.
"I-I'll be fine." A light pink flush bloomed on her pale cheeks. "T-thanks." She stepped around the root and stomped onward. If her thin legs were anything to go by, Jaune thought her boots were a bit too big for her.
He shook his head and jogged after her. The sudden movement upset his aching chest, and he hissed in pain.
"What's wrong? Did you get hurt?" Weiss' cool gaze flew over his body, taking him apart and putting him back together. She noticed his chestplate hanging at his side, and guessed he'd hurt his torso.
"I took a bit of a tumble when I was coming down from the, er, sky." Jaune tried to give her a reassuring smile, but she merely frowned and started rummaging in one of her pockets. She took out glowing vials of dust, collecting them into her right hand while she rummaged with her left.
"Blast! I haven't got any medicine. How could I be so careless?" She carefully replaced the dust. "It has to be a pretty serious injury if your aura couldn't heal it." She looked back up at Jaune with what he thought was her attempt at an apologetic expression, but all it did was make him feel like he'd done something wrong and was about to be scolded.
He held his hands up. "Hey, don't worry. I took some herbs with me this morning, and ate them just as soon as I landed." He patted her shoulder. "I won't slow you down."
She looked as if she was about to say something, but shifted her gaze away. She finally looked back at Jaune and nodded.
"Fine then. Let's be quick about this and get out of here."
They walked in as companionable silence as two complete strangers could. Jaune kept an eye on her footing and she kept her eyes open for danger. She tripped three more times as they walked. He caught her each time.
"You know, I'll guide you through if you want. I spent a lot of time in the forests around my village."
"A-absolutely not! Thank you very much, but I'll manage just fine." She turned her nose up and stumbled onward.
Jaune shrugged, sighing. "As you wish." He easily outpaced her and, breaking through to another clearing, waited for his little partner.
He unclasped a canteen from his belt and poured some water down his throat. He gulped some cool water. It seemed to ease his aching torso. This clearing was much like the previous one only more expansive. Poppies and dandelions grew happily amongst the thick tall grass. Bright midday sun streamed down on the green forest floor. Each warm finger of light caressed a grateful blade of grass or basking flower. The soft chittering of squirrels and other rodents tickled his ears.
Faint grumblings overtook the sweet sounds of nature. Jaune looked back with a bemused expression. When Weiss finally poked through the foliage, he struggled to stifle a snicker. Her neat skirt looked rumpled, there were twigs in her white hair, and some of the same tresses had come away from her ponytail.
She stomped up to him and crossed her arms in a huff.
He smiled and wordlessly offered her his canteen. She gave it a look as if it were going to explode into an army of spiders. Jaune swished the contents in front of her. She snatched it out of his hand and unscrewed the top. She softly pressed her lips against the mouth of the bottle and drew the water into her mouth like a doe drinking from a lake. Her slender neck worked steadily, ferrying refreshing water into her stomach.
"Thank you." She gave him back his empty canteen. She brushed the twigs off her clothes. She undid her ponytail and her white hair cascaded down to her waist. Jaune was momentarily stunned. The bright sunlight caught against every strand, showering her with pure white light. She rapidly ran her long fingers though her soft hair, combing out the leaves and twigs.
She's… an angel. She has to be.
Jaune turned and scanned the horizon. In the distance he could make out the soft pink silhouette of the castle ruin where they had to find their relics.
"Hey, I can see the ruin, it's just up ahead." He pointed to the faint structure in the distance.
Weiss had rearranged her ponytail, and looked, for all intents and purposes, exactly as she had before she'd entered the forest.
They'd made it about half way through the clearing before Jaune felt something was off. He motioned for them to stop.
"Hey Weiss, do you hear that?"
"Hm, what? I don't hear anything." Her eyes darted about cautiously.
"See, that's just it. I heard birds and critters all over the place." Jaune paused to listen. There was no such noise anymore. "Where'd they all go?"
The two hunters wheeled about. Jaune kept his hand on the hilt of his sword, ready to draw. Weiss had already unsheathed her rapier. The quiet grew to a palpable stillness.
"Jaune?" Weiss' whisper sounded like a shout.
"Yeah?" Their backs touched and their shoulders relaxed ever so slightly.
"Something's wrong here. W-we should get out of here now." They started circling in place, keeping each other covered.
They made one full rotation, when Weiss grabbed Jaune's hoodie and spun him around. She pointed at something in the sky. He squinted at it. It was large, black, with powerful wings beating at the air, and it was coming for them. Fast.
A violent screech rattled their eardrums as it shot after them. There was no time to react. Weiss was rooted to the ground, her body shaking as the jagged talons of the Nevermore bore down on her.
Jaune's eyes fixed on the swooping monstrosity above him. It blotted out the sunlight. Each crest of its wings was five heartbeats for Jaune. Each fall, another five beats. He looked down at the back of Weiss' head. She was trembling. Her sword hand was trembling; she was on the verge of dropping Myrtenaster. He cast his gaze back up to the bird. It was closer now. He squinted up at the razor sharp talons. Weiss was in the way. If she stood where she was any longer, she'd be caught up in its clutches.
He stepped forward, circling his arms around her thin waist. Her body felt soft in his arms. The bird was closer still; its horrible shriek shook the hunters' minds. Jaune swept her to the left and tossed her as far as he could. Weiss twisted though the air, her icy eyes wide with shock. Jaune didn't have time to move. He simply seared his partner's face into his memory as it would likely be the last thing he'd ever see.
A slow pain oozed though his right side, as he felt his body lift from the ground. He looked down at Weiss who was faster and faster becoming a smaller and smaller girl, and then a white blur, and then a speck.
As the Nevermore pumped its powerful wings, climbing higher and higher, Jaune's stomach dropped down into his feet. His center of gravity flipped, and he felt as if he'd lose his innards let alone his meager breakfast. He tried to fight it down. He concentrated on the slow pain that was now a full starburst of torture. His insides were being squeezed into configurations they weren't meant to have.
He reached down and grabbed the talons that were crushing him to death. He tried to force them apart, but the muscles of this overgrown turkey were too strong for him. When the bird beat its wings down, the talons squeezed, when it lifted them, Jaune felt some slack. Kia's glowing smile filtered through his head.
When you're in a jam, make like a cat.
Make like a cat….
Jaune's arms and legs were poking out either end of the bird's talons. He straightened his body, stretching his limbs to their limits. He'd limbered up this morning to make sure he didn't lock up and take more damage than he needed to. Now, he would have to see if his exercises did him any good.
He timed the wing beats to when the claws gave him the barest slack. He squirmed his lower half down, rolling his shoulders to help push himself down with his upper body as well. After much twisting, he'd made it about half way. His legs were dangling and his back was pressing up against the pads of the Nevermore's foot.
Jaune made the mistake of looking down and his throat gave a dry gag. The great canopy of the Emerald Forest looked like little pieces of broccoli. Thinking of broccoli got Jaune thinking of food in general, more specifically, the food he was about to lose.
Don't look down you idiot! Jaune concentrated on the boney talons of the Nevermore. Relatively speaking, they were still. He braced his arms against a smooth talon and heaved himself downward. He nearly lost his grip, but caught himself before he plummeted to the ground. Again.
The blonde swordsman was dangling off a vicious black claw. The wind buffeted his whole body, threatening to take him into the high current. He squinted against the whipping gusts at the head of the tainted beast. The clouds seemed like thick, white, weightless boulders. When the bird seemed to crash into one, the light vapor that tickled his cheek revealed their true nature. After they'd passed though, Jaune was covered with light dew. He looked to the far distance, trying to gauge where the monstrosity was heading. He could make out some definition in the now lavender silhouette of the gutted castle.
We're going in the right direction. He remembered that he was alone. Well, I am.
He hoisted himself onto the talon and gripped the leg appendage. He could feel the powerful bone crushing muscles flex and relax as the bird beat against gravity to stay afloat. It's just like climbing a tree, Jaune. Just like climbing a huge flying maneating tree. He wrapped his arms and legs around the thin leg of the beast and shimmied himself up to the thigh.
At that juncture, it very much wasn't like climbing a tree, rather it had become like climbing a mountain with one's bare hands. There wasn't anything for him to securely crawl around. The flank of the beast was all that would allow him passage to the back.
Well…. If he made it, he'd be able to progress; if he failed he'd die. Jaune, in a moment of pure insanity, unsheathed his sword with his left hand, and swung himself down so he was dangling about the leg on one arm. Be one with the cat. He swayed his hips to build momentum, swinging to and fro, toward the thigh and away. He swung his sword in time. Finally, he cast forward once more, and pushed off.
He was suspended in the air for mere clicks of time, but he could feel every finger of wind fondle his hair, every wisp of cloud vapor caress his skin. He pulled his sword arm back and the metal gleamed in the upper strata of Vytal. He willed his arm forward, aiming for the taught thigh of the avian abomination. A jolt of victory lanced though him as half the blade slid through the thick hide. He plunged forward and held fast to his weapon with both hands, bracing his legs against the bloodied haunch. He didn't look down.
Three large glowing shards of light flew across the horizon. Jaune's world turned sideways as the bird banked to avoid the projectiles. Only for an instant he had better footing. Without thinking he wrenched his blade up from the thigh and took three lunging steps forward, and leapt up to the body. He'd just plunged down to the hilt when the bird righted itself again. Jaune braced himself just between the wing and tail.
He glanced back, his hair whipped across his face. He saw a little white spot bopping along the trees, becoming larger and larger. Weiss. It had to be. She shot three more ice shards in his direction. This time, one of them lodged itself above Jaune, squarely on the bird's back. The Nevermore gave a loud roar of pain. Jaune's ears shook.
He looked to the dust made ice shard. It seemed like as good a foothold as any, and under the circumstances he had no other choice. He kicked up the side of the bird, around his pitched sword, twisted around, and wrenching his improvised stake free, swung it into the ice.
He didn't know how long the artificial ice would last. The bird was still more or less straight, but it was starting to slow down. All the wounds were finally starting to take their toll. Jaune tried the same maneuver again. He swung himself around and over the ice shard, and jammed his blade into the back of the vile beast. It gave an anguished screech.
Now that Jaune was along the spine of the creature, the wind beat mercilessly against his body, threatening to take him off his unwilling mount and have him plummet to the ground. He looked back to check on Weiss' progress. He could make her out clearly. She'd angled herself behind and above the large raven. She projected a glowing platform behind her and kicked off, holding her sword in front of her like a spear. She shot forward and pitched herself next to Jaune. The bird faltered and fell several tens of feet before catching air once again. It was hobbling now, swerving this way and that; the blood loss was getting to it.
"You lunkhead!" Weiss' powder white ponytail streamed from her head in waves. "Are you trying to get yourself killed? We're supposed to be partners here. How are we supposed to work together when you start taking fool risks like this!?" A light sheen of dew caused her to shimmer. Her bangs whipped across her defiantly blazing eyes. Her cheeks were flushed with frustration and adrenaline. Her mouth was set in a stubborn pout.
"You know, you're cute when you're angry!" Jaune would later feel mortified for saying such a thing to such a person, but when you're confronting certain doom, you tend to say what's on your mind.
Jaune smiled at her irritated expression. She had said something, but he'd missed her response over the raven's screech.
Jaune looked about, seeing the bird flying sluggishly, straining to get to the ruined tower.
"I only really thought this far. Any ideas, Weiss?"
"We should take the head!" She flopped about, as the bird flailed this way and that.
Jaune noeded. "Great! Can you use your launch pad to shoot us up there?"
Weiss shook her head. "My glyphs draw from my aura. I used too much chasing after you! If I use it again I won't have enough to shield myself from attack!"
"Say no more." Jaune thought for a moment. He looked to his sword, which was firmly lodged in the beast. He looked at Myrtenaster, which gleamed primly. He reached out and wrapped an arm around Weiss' narrow waist, drawing her closer. "Weiss!"
"What!?" Her bangs were tickling his nose.
"Hold onto me and give me your sword. We've got a bit of climbing to do!"
She nodded and snaked an arm around his waist. She reluctantly let go of her trusty weapon and clung to her partner tightly. Jaune reached out and grabbed the rapier. He pulled it free, heaved up and pitched it back into the swooping bird. It cried out in pain. He did the same action with his longsword. Another anguished screech. Another few feet closer to the neck.
The overgrown raven flipped over, turning Jaune's world literally upside down. Weiss' grip around his waist tightened, his ribs cried out.
"Guh! Weiss! Can't breathe!"
"Jaune, don't you dare let go!"
The bird righted itself. It swerved this way and that, shaking violently to undo its tormentors. Jaune and Weiss flopped here and there, turning over and slamming against the thick hide of the bird. Jaune's hands hurt as he increased his grip on the two blades. He pitched forward whenever the world seemed to be straight, but that was harder and harder to judge as the whole thing just seemed like one big wobbly mess to his overwhelmed mind.
Weiss noticed Jaune slowing down. She didn't know what to do to encourage him, so she gave him a squeeze. All that served to do was drain Jaune even more.
"Jaune keep going! We're almost there!"
Jaune grunted something mangled and incomprehensible.
Finally, they'd made it to the head of the beast; bone fragments protected it from a premature death. Jaune's vision was starting to go out. Dark fingers crept into the side of his vision. The thin oxygen coupled with Weiss' vice grip was taking its toll on him. His body ached, and his mind begged for rest.
With one final lurch, he slammed both blades into the neck of the Nevermore. Viscous black blood spurted out into the clear sky. The stakes slid out of the neck as the bird began to lose its life force and fall to the ground.
Jaune and Weiss fell for the second time that day.
The world slowed for Jaune as he made eye contact with his partner. She looked scared. She didn't want to die, but it looked like there was no alternative. Jaune threw the two swords into the sky and took Weiss into his arms. He pulled her arms from about his waist and repositioned them on his chest. He curled his body around her and burrowed her head into his chest. He angled himself so his back was to the ground. She didn't have enough in her for another boost glyph. If nothing else, he could shelter her fall.
They fell through soft, cool masses of clouds. They plunged through fresh autumn winds. Their bodies weren't quite high enough to reach freefall, so Jaune knew he would most certainly feel the ground coming. He saw the blue expanse pull away from him. He looked down at his little partner. Her impossible white hair whipped about in the wind. It would be alright, Jaune decided. This was a good way to go. His mind drifted back to the previous night where his fears and anxieties had turned his imagination sour. He hadn't considered he'd go protecting someone. It would all be worthwhile. That's all he wanted.
Weiss clutched the front of his black hoodie. His chestplate had drifted behind him during the drop. Her eyes were screwed shut, protecting her winter blue pools from seeing any of the unpleasantness.
"Don't' be afraid. You're going to be okay." Jaune's voice cracked slightly. He thought of Slade's charismatic smile. He thought of the days after he'd woken up. Slade had stuck to him like his own Dust given shadow. Jaune had always thought of him as the big brother he never had, but couldn't bring himself to tell him. One simply didn't blurt those things to local heroes. He wished he had now.
He thought of sweet Kia. He thought of how she'd purr contentedly as he'd comb his fingers through her honey blonde hair. He loved the feeling of her soft velvety hair under his hand. He unconsciously ran his hand though Weiss' hair. It felt the same. She always seemed to know where he was, no matter how hard he tried to hide. Especially when he was feeling lonely. She seemed to put all of herself into making him feel better and he would never be able to repay her for her unending kindness. His faithful little kitten.
His vision blurred as his life washed over him. He thought of Crazy Pete's fireworks, and Rogan's warm bakery. He thought of Kia's mother who had taught him about medicine and whose house always smelled of fresh spices. He thought of the diminutive mayor and his love for history. He'd taken it upon himself to continue chronicling the happenings and times of little Carbo.
His tears fell into the sky.
"Jaune, no!" Weiss' strangled voice reverberated through his chest.
"Shhh! Quiet now. It won't be long." Jaune applauded himself for being so bold. He closed his burning eyes. He was ready.
Something lurched against his back. The ground? He felt his shoulder pads, his chestplate, and the armor along his back seemed to halt. He felt his descent slow drastically. Did his body go into shock? Did he strike the ground so hard that his mind couldn't comprehend any of it, and simply started registering sensations any way it pleased?
Finally, he felt the ground behind his back, his armor, his body, and Weiss all seemed to weigh twice as much. He instinctively curled himself around Weiss in an effort to protect her from any further surprises.
Minutes passed. The gentle swaying of the trees in the newly autumn wind washed over their ringing ears. The soft twittering of birds danced through the fresh afternoon air. One or two crickets had decided to accompany their avian neighbors with their own song. The ground felt warm and inviting. The hard surface soothed the aches in Jaune's exhausted body.
"Jaune?" Weiss' voice was small and unsure.
"Yes?" he breathed.
"Are we dead?"
"I think so." She clutched him tighter. He redoubled his grip on her as well.
"I'm sorry. This is all my fault."
They lay there for some more minutes. They strained to listen to each other's heartbeat. They couldn't quite make them out over the myriad sounds of nature around them. Jaune thought he heard the crunching of leaves underfoot.
"W-what do we do now?"
Jaune bowed his head over hers. Stray strands of hair tickled his lips.
"Well, if we're dead and we're talking to each other, then we're most likely in the same place right?"
He felt her nod against his chest.
"Then wherever we are we're together, yes?" Jaune couldn't fathom that an angel like Weiss could go anywhere but the heavens, but he kept that to himself.
"Then, we can continue to look after each other and explore this new world. What say you, friend?"
Weiss trembled for a moment. "I-I think I'd like that."
"Excellent." Jaune wasn't brave enough to open his eyes. "We'll just rest here for a bit. It's not like we're in a hurry or anything, right? I mean, we've got all of eternity."
Jaune felt cool air nip against his skin; though the sun was still strong and served to stave off much of the cold. He remembered the injuries he'd taken to his chest, and as a consequence, they all erupted at once. He hissed in pain. I didn't know there was still pain in heaven. Sure, why not, I guess. The sound of crushing leaves met his ears once again.
"It's good to see the two of you drop in."
Their eyes shot open.
Jaune and Weiss looked up to see the powerfully built silhouette of Pyrrha Nikos cast against the afternoon sun. She had a bright smile on her pale face and her thick red hair swayed slightly in a lazy breeze.
"P-Pyrrha?" Weiss squeaked.
A smaller girl with a red hood walked up beside Pyrrha. "I'm here too! Hi, guys!"
Jaune looked from one to the other in mild shock. "Are you both dead too?"
The redheaded amazon chuckled lightly. "Oh, none of us are dead." She smiled down at them and offered her hand.
"We're not?" Jaune and Weiss lay there together in a daze.
Pyrrha shook her head. Her smile widened. Ruby beamed down at them and offered them her hand as well.
Their brains considered the idea for a time. After concluding that it was a favorable outcome, they jerked themselves awake, flailing in a tangle of limbs and red faces. They finally shot to their feet.
"Ha! We're alive!" Jaune pumped his fist into the air.
"But how? We were falling pretty fast. And I couldn't cast a glyph to slow us down." Weiss folded her arms across her chest, analyzing her most recent near death experience.
Pyrrha shrugged, her eyes twinkling. "Who knows? Maybe you just caught a break." She gestured to the blasted castle ruins. "Come, our objective awaits."
The quartet walked in silence toward the ruins. Jaune and Weiss found their weapons lodged into the ground some distance away side by side. An incredible coincidence all things considered, but they didn't question it and silently rearmed.
They found themselves at a crumbling bridge that led to the forest tower. Jaune peered over the side and saw a river tumbling along a very long way down. He could make out the jagged black feathers of the Nevermore lodged into the structure's brickwork. He whistled. It was a long way down.
They crossed the bridge without incident and entered a circular room with no roof. Crumbling columns stood evenly along the perimeter of the room, and cracked brick slabs made up the floor. It might have once been a modest hall. It was no such thing now. On the remaining few standing pedestals, golden statues glittered and black statues stared mutely. The yellow haired girl that had been friends with Ruby stood to the side with a black haired girl with pensive yellow eyes. She nodded to Jaune and gave him a thumbs up. He responded in kind.
"Yang!" Ruby called happily to the blonde girl.
"Ruby!" responded the girl with equal excitement.
They met midway and high fived.
Jaune walked over to a golden horse head. Weiss walked up beside him eyeing a golden rook figure.
"They're chess pieces," she mused. She lightly touched the golden horse. It was cool to the touch. "What do you suppose they mean?"
Jaune shrugged. "Beats me. They all look like glorified doorstops."
Weiss made a sharp noise which might have become a giggle had she not suppressed it in time. Even so, the ends of her lips remained quirked.
The pair selected the golden knight piece and Jaune gave it to his partner to carry.
"Hey, nice work out there, killer." The impressively endowed blonde, Yang, sauntered up to him. "We saw you take down that Nevermore."
"Yeah, well." Jaune glanced at Weiss. "It was a team effort."
The girl's lavender eyes swept over Weiss. "The princess, eh?"
"Hey!" Weiss snapped.
She gave him a nudge and a wink. "Well, good luck killer. I'm Yang by the way. Ruby's sister."
He'd seen her with Ruby several times now, so it made sense that they could be related. They certainly didn't look anything alike, but it was what it was.
"Jaune Arc. Pleasure." He offered his hand, and she a good hard pump.
"I'm Blake. We should start heading back." The yellow eyed girl silently stalked up to them with Pyrrha and Ruby in tow. She had the other golden knight statue, while Pyrrha had a golden rook tucked under her arm.
The gaggle of hunters made their way through the shattered hall and across the crumbling bridge. When they reached the forest floor, a rustle in the trees drew their attention. A loud sonorous rumbling shook the ground. Everyone drew their weapons, confident that they had the challenge matched in numbers if not in sheer firepower.
Trees toppled as something big cut a swath through the forest.
Jaune glanced at Weiss, her sword pointed at the trees; her stance was open and light. "How's your aura doing?"
She shook her head. "Still no good. I need to rest."
He nodded. "Alright, hang back here and cover me. Can you still shoot those ice bolts?"
Weiss hesitated for a moment before responding. "Yeah. Alright." She ran her right hand along the rapier, the chamber spun to a blue cartridge, casting the blade in a faint blue glow.
Jaune gauged his injuries. His chest was on fire, his legs felt shattered, his back was probably broken, his neck felt like it'd been hanged, and his head was pounding. All told, he was alright. He figured it'd be some great bear type Grimm. He'd be able to take it if Weiss kept it busy with her ice shards and he kept moving and struck hard and fast. He readied his shield.
Just as he was about to charge forward, a large black beast blundered though the aged trees. It looked like an overlarge perversion of a bear with vicious spines and bone shards for armor. And riding atop its head like a pony was Nora. It collapsed with a strangled groan. The ground shook.
"Aw, it's broken," pouted Nora.
A young man in a green jacket and cream colored pants stumbled out of the recently trampled path.
"Nora." He panted heavily, his hands on his knees. "Please never do that again."
Nora's sparkling eyes found Jaune. "Good Sir. Jaune!"
She bounced off the dead Ursa and bounded over to the young swordsman. She gave him a mock salute before enveloping him in a bone mashing hug. His insides screamed in pain.
"Guh! Nora, I'm hurt, please let go."
She immediately released him, looking slightly sheepish. "Haha, sorry."
He patted her shoulder. "That's alright."
Nora looked over to Weiss, then back at Jaune. She did it again five more times, before gasping, putting her hand to her mouth, and squeaking something incomprehensible. She hopped on the balls of her feet.
"Oh! Good Sir. Jaune and his Lady!"
"W-what!?" Weiss sputtered, an angry flush spreading across her cheeks. "What is she talking about?" She pointed an accusatory finger at Nora. "W-who is she anyway?"
Jaune chuckled lightly. "Calm down, Weiss. It's just Nora. She's a friend."
By now Lie Ren had refilled his lungs and walked up beside his partner. He nodded to Jaune. Jaune gave him a thumbs up.
"Come on Nora, we're the last ones here. We should finish the mission."
Nora ran across the shattered bridge, skipping across the broken bricks, while Ren walked at a measured pace.
"What a strange girl." Weiss murmured as she watched them go.
Ren and Nora emerged with their own idol, a golden rook, and the small group collectively made their way back into the forest. The peak that signified Beacon Academy was far off in the distance, and it would take some time for them to reach it on foot. They resolved to introduce themselves and recount their individual adventures in the forest.
"Well, after I met you guys I just sort of wandered off into the forest. I had no idea where I was going and then wham!" Ruby punched her small fist into her hand. "A spear goes through my hood and nails me to a tree. So, I'm freaking out thinking that I'm a total goner. I dunno, maybe there's some kinda Grimm that shoots spears at people before it liquefies them, y'know?"
Ruby grinned up at him. "And that's when I met Pyrrha."
Jaune ruffled her hair. "See? It all worked out in the end, right?"
"Y-yeah, I guess it did," replied Ruby, her cheeks having gone slightly pink.
Jaune looked around at the group of hunters he'd found himself a part of. Nora was regaling Yang about a dream she'd had the previous night. Ren was talking quietly with Blake about a book they'd both read. Their hands were animated and gesturing; Jaune figured that they were quite deep in their conversation. He looked about for Pyrrha and Weiss and found that they'd fallen behind. Weiss was stumbling stubbornly through the thick wood, and Pyrrha was walked alongside her with a small smile on her face. She kept a respectful distance away. She'd probably offered to help as he had, and been stoutly refused.
A small smile bloomed across his face.
"So, Weiss." Pyrrha cast as sidelong glance at her longtime acquaintance.
"Yes, Pyrrha?" Weiss responded though gritted teeth. She stumbled over a small stone, but caught herself just in time.
"Jaune Arc, eh? What do you think of him?"
"He's fine." Weiss' eyes were trained ahead of her. Jaune was talking amicably with the little Ruby girl. He's having a good time….
Pyrrha smiled. Her emerald eyes gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. "Do you think you'll work well together?"
"Of course," she responded without hesitation. "It was my choice who my partner would be, and he'll do just fine." Her foot caught in a root. She stopped herself, dislodged her foot, and continued walking.
Pyrrha nodded primly. "Though, he is quite handsome, if I may be so bold. Don't you agree?"
"Wha-!" Weiss stumbled and lost her balance. She expected to meet with the hard forest floor, but only felt the soft cushion of someone's cloths and a masculine grunt. Pyrrha smiled to herself.
Weiss gingerly looked up to see the smiling face of her partner. His blonde hair blazed in the orange sunbeams. His expression was light and friendly.
"Easy there, partner." He gently lifted her by the waist and set her back down on her feet. She hadn't quite noticed how strong he was until then.
"T-thank you, Jaune." She looked down, doing her best to hide her face with her bangs.
"Any time, pardner," he responded with a mock western accent. He turned and took her left hand in his. "Come on."
"W-wait! I can walk on my own. You don't need to do that!" Weiss tried to wrench her hand free, but Jaune's larger hand was too strong. It felt warm against the autumnal breeze.
He turned back to her with a smile. She thought he'd finally seen reason and would release her, but he merely readjusted his hand so he had a better grip on hers.
"Nope." He turned back and continued to gently guide her around roots and pebbles.
Weiss sputtered as they overtook their companions. "Y-you brute! You rogue, let go of me right this instant!"
She could hear the stifled giggles of their companions follow in their wake.
"Can't do that pardner. I've gotta look after you." Jaune replied boldly. He didn't look back at her mildly stunned expression. She tugged halfheartedly at his hand.
And as they crossed fallen trees, brooks and streams, her protests became fewer and fewer. Her hand, comfortably clasped in Jaune's, began to relax. Her long fingers, perfectly pampered and smooth, gently curled around his own. The ends of her lips turned up and her clear blue eyes brightened as they looked upon Jaune Arc. Her partner.
And there it is. Let me know what you think, folks. It can be a oneshot, i can keep going. It's all up to you.