I think i've got this proofed pretty good, but i'm also tired as hell, so who knows. I'll go over it again when i'm awake, but until then, i just wanted to put something up for you guys.
Jaune sighed as he tapped his pencil against his notebook. He had long since learned to tune out every other sentence uttered by Professor Port if he had any hope of getting the point of his stories. This, coupled with his already engrained work ethic to be at least a few chapters ahead in all his classes, left him with quite a bit of time during Port's class in particular. He found his thoughts would wander, as he waited for the period to end. Sometimes they would dwell on whatever aches his body had collected during general wear and tear of training. But a lot of the time, his thoughts would focus on a much lighter subject.
He glanced over at the white haired beauty to his right. She was the picture of a good, diligent student. Her baby blue eyes flicked back and forth between the whiteboard and her notebook. Her long fingers guided her pencil across the page as she sketched the anatomical diagram on the board. She jotted down the most efficient methods of attack in the margin of her paper in neat, flowing cursive.
A ball of happy warmth settled in the pit of his stomach and gently pulsated with his heartbeat as he silently observed his precious friend. He thought back to her little surprise for the dance, and frowned. Pyrrha had tipped their hand. Weiss tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. He wondered if some part of her had wanted him to ask her, if only for the sake of firsts. First kiss, first date, first dance.
With everything that had happened to them, they weren't allowed the luxury of the nervous, tentative days that came with being a new couple. His jaw set with determination. Well, there were some things you just had to do the old fashioned way. And that included asking your lady love out for a night of romantic dancing.
He frowned. But how? Simply asking her after class wouldn't do, it was too cut and dry. He was staunchly against sending her a text. It was sterile and unfeeling; a whole dimension of communication was lost.
He cast his eyes about the large semicircular lecture hall for inspiration. Ruby was doodling a few rows down. Nora was playing tic-tac-toe with herself one seat down from Weiss. And Velvet sat in the front row, shooting nervous glances at—Jaune followed her eyes—at Russell up near the middle back of the room.
Hmm... Curious. A slow smile spread across his face. This gave him an idea.
He was going to ask her to the dance properly. And any good student knows that when you ask your sweetheart out to your first dance you're nothing short of a blithering mass of nerves and hope.
He glanced at the young heiress and felt nothing but confidence. He knew she loved him just as surely as he knew he loved her. Their bond had been tested, and had come out far stronger than either of them could have imagined.
No, no no no no, this was all wrong. He was supposed to be a nervous wreck around his insanely beautiful girlfriend.
Jaune took a deep breath and stared at the map of the world that hung over the long whiteboard. He lost himself in the map. Professor Port's prattling and pacing melted away. He became dumb to the fact that the continents looked quite a bit like a ketchup stain he'd seen on a napkin once. That particular epiphany having been blasted from his mind, he tried especially hard to forget the angel that sat at his side.
He started with his latest memory. When he finally made it back to the dorms after cleaning the entire cafeteria, she was waiting for him in his bed with a light blush, a smile, and a book. She said she didn't like sleeping all by herself anymore, and that it was all his fault, and he'd have to take responsibility if he ever considered himself a man.
Damn it! He bit his lip in frustration. It wasn't working.
He tried a new tactic. Instead of trying to forget about her, he tried to lock up his memories of her in the furthest part of his mind. He let his memories sink deeper and deeper in the recesses of his mind. Then, he gently coaxed his mind into a nervous delusion. He told himself lie after lie. Someone like her would never be caught dead with him.
He was a nobody from some nowhere town. She was high society,
He didn't deserve to breathe the same air as her.
She was beautiful and he was just some ugly schlub.
What, just cause he could swing a sword around, he thought he had a chance? Pitiful.
Who did he think he was, Spruce Willis?
Satisfied that he'd given his self-esteem a sufficient beating, he refocused his eyes and glanced over at the young heiress. As he'd hoped, a spark of giddy nervousness fizzled in the pit of his stomach. This was great! Now, he'd be able to put phase two of his plan into action.
He waited for a break in the lecture and screwed up his courage. He tapped the little fencer on the shoulder. She blinked and turned to face him with a questioning look in her eyes. Jaune resisted getting lost in them.
His hands began to shake. "Listen, I know it's a bit sudden, b-but I was wondering if you wouldn't mind—well, that is, if you're free. Oh darn..." His right hand knocked his pencil right off the table.
Weiss placed a hand on his wrist as he fumbled to retrieve it. "Hey, what's the matter?"
Jaune looked down at his notebook. He could feel the heat rise in his cheeks. "I-I just wanted to know if I-I could t-take you to the dance, er, with me, t-this Friday night?" His voice folded in on itself and trailed off as he closed his confession.
"What?" Weiss' perplexed expression only grew. "Jaune, of course we're—ah!" A spark of understanding flashed across her eye. She snatched her hand away from his wrist and turned her nose up in a huff. "W-What makes you think you're good enough to go with me?" She examined her perfectly shaped nails
A cold ball of nerves buzzed in the pit of his stomach. It was now or never. "Well, I think you're really pretty, and smart, a-and I just think we'd have a really good time." That was incredibly stupid. He could feel his chances slipping away like vapor.
"Peasant! You're nothing to me. You're lower than dirt. I am a Schnee." She punctuated her status with a flourish of her slender hand. "I'm not just some common tavern girl you can merely 'take' to such a social function."
"W-Well, no one else seems to have asked you yet." She glowered at him. He cringed. That was definitely the wrong thing to say. But he pressed on. "A-And I just wanted to show you a good time. And—"
"Enough! You forget your place, commoner." He flinched and squeezed his eyes shut. The sting of impending rejection lanced through his heart. "My answer is... yes. Yes, yes yes, a million times, yes."
He opened his eyes to see her dissolve into a fit of giggles. Jaune relaxed and allowed all his sweet memories of her to reassert themselves in his mind. He broke into a rumble of chuckles. They bowed their heads together as their collective laughter bubbled away.
"Aha! Young love. Truly, the only real weapon against these vile Grimm." Professor Port sprung up in front of them. The pair jolted apart. The closing bell sounded and students droned about, getting ready to leave. Jaune and Weiss stared up at the professor and an awkward silence fell on them as the portly Port beamed down at his students.
"Er, can we help you, Professor?" Jaune tried, slowly.
"No, no! Don't mind me. I'm not here. Carry on!"
Jaune nodded and took Weiss' hands in his own. "Right, now where were we?"
"I think right about here." She leaned in, and just before their lips met, they were interrupted by a wistful sigh.
The pair looked up to see Port right where he was, a contented expression hidden beneath his bushy, walrus mustache. The young teens shared a nervous look.
"Right, stealth!" Slade's navy blue scarf flapped dramatically in the clear blue sky. "I want you to pretend that the fur ball over there—"
"Is a bloodthirsty Grimm. Not that great a stretch of the imagination, I know." He shot the catgirl a smug smirk. He turned to Jaune, who was standing with a blindfold wrapped around his eyes, and a burlap sack in his hands. "Now, we're going to give her a ten minute head start. You're going to track her down, sneak up on her, bag her, and bring her back home."
"I never agreed to that! Jaune, I didn't agree to that! Please don't put me in the sack!" Kia screeched from down the street.
"Silence! Okay, three. Two. One. Go!"
The young Faunus let out a frustrated mewl and scampered off into the woods that kissed the far end of Carbo village.
After the requisite time had elapsed, Slade slipped off the handkerchief from his charge's eyes. Jaune blinked a few times to reorient himself with the world. Once the stars subsided, he jogged over to the mouth of the forest and knelt down. He examined his kitten's footprints; light, small, and shallow. She was a fast runner.
Jaune straightened and slung the sack over his shoulder. The bright, breezy, springtime air waved through his golden hair. Jaune marched into the lush forest, keeping his eye on the ground, seeking tracks. She was harder to spot on the forest floor, and if she took to the trees, it'd be harder still.
Jaune adopted a leisurely pace, taking care not to step on loose twigs and rocks. It really was a good day for a stroll. Birds chirped, and critters frolicked in the little patches of sunlight. It would have been easy to get sidetracked into a nice nature hike, if he didn't have the man sized sack slung over his shoulder to remind him of his goal.
As he entered the deeper parts of the forest the patches of light grew dimmer and less frequent. He dropped into a cat creep, slinking between trees and around boulders. He pretended he was a hungry snake, and that Kia was the poor defenseless prey. The trail of broken twigs and depressed earth ended abruptly near a small cluster of trees. Jaune looked up into the canopy for a mop of honey blonde hair, or a swishing tail.
He was in luck. Up about thirty feet, and over a half dozen trees, sat his favorite cat. Her soft black tail swished to and fro, as she perched on the thick branch. The sunlight cast a mini sunset in her hair which was unmistakable amongst the green and brown palette of the forest. He could see her ears twitching; she was listening for him.
Jaune cast his cobalt eyes about for some kind of distraction. He picked up a small rock and threw it against a far tree, just past her own. Her ears flicked in that direction, and she stood on the branch. Her arms hung at her sides, and her tail swished this way and that as she casually walked to the other side of the tree for a better look.
Jaune smiled. He always admired her feline sense of balance.
He dropped low and advanced up to the tree. He tossed another rock, this one further down the way.
"Ah! I hear you, Jaune! You might as well come out."
He mounted the tree, squeezing it with his arms and legs. He waited at the base for a minute. Then two. Satisfied that his prey hadn't heard him he slowly shimmied up the rough trunk.
"Jaune? You out there?"
Half way up the tree now. Kia balled the ends of her peach sweater into her tiny fists. Her tail stood straight up.
"Come on now, Jaune. I-I'm not going to stay up in this tree forever." She let out a troubled whimper.
Jaune smirked. He knew that while she was an accomplished climber, she couldn't climb down to save her life. Sure, she could just jump down, but she didn't need to know that. He crept up the trunk inch by careful inch, making as little noise as possible.
He was almost to the branch. A group of cicadas rattled lazily.
Her ears twitched and her tail curled suspiciously. She moved to the middle of the branch and knelt down, clasping her hands on the branch.
Jaune hoisted himself up and over the branch and braced himself against the tree. He swiveled his body around the trunk to the other side as soon as he was still enough to move. He clenched his core and slowed his breathing to encourage his sense of balance.
He concentrated on his feet, and the branch that supported his weight. He waited for the barest creak of displaced weight. That would tell him that Kia had crossed back over to the trunk. That was when he'd make his move.
"Dumb Slade and his stupid exercises. Put her in the sack." He could hear her grumbling. He tried to place where she was based on her voice alone. "I'm not going in the sack again."
Jaune smirked. He readied the burlap sack. He wasn't really going to put her in the sack.
He swiveled around the trunk and came up behind her. He threw the sack over her shoulder. Confused, she followed it as it crumpled to the forest floor. That was all the time he needed to wrap his arm around her waist and pull her close, as he clung to the tree with his other hand.
"Gotcha now, my little fuzzy kitten."
She squirmed valiantly, but gave it up when his grip on her only tightened. "Oh, you got me, you got me. Now, get me down from this tree."
She could feel his rumbling laugh through her back. A light flush blossomed on her cheeks.
Jaune squeezed her around the middle. "Here, get on my back, I'll carry you down."
It took a little maneuvering, but she readjusted herself onto his back. She could feel his muscles roll and flex as he mounted the tree again and shimmied down.
When they reached solid earth, she slipped from his back, and he retrieved Slade's sack. They took the path back to their village at a slow, companionable pace, taking in the bright continence of the creatures around them.
Kia shuffled closer to her longtime friend, and wrapped her tail around his waist. She smiled slightly when he absently ran his hand along the velvety appendage. She didn't want to go back to the village just yet. She knew that when they did, Slade would just send her away so he could take Jaune on some new harebrained training exercise.
Her teal eyes shimmered in the sunlight. "Uh, Jaune, since we're here, mama wanted me to look for some herbs."
He smiled down at her and nodded. "Lead the way, Kia cat."
They took a detour that lead them through a patch of thick shrubbery. Jaune held his companion's hand as their bodies rustled past the waist high foliage. Their boots crunched the brown earth below, and the smell of pine and sweet maple wood gently caressed their noses.
They walked in a companionable silence. Every now and again the young girl would bend down, snip some leaves, and add them to her pouch. Jaune would contribute by trying to identify the herbs and what their uses could be.
Kia's ears folded back in contentment as they walked. These moments were the ones she lived for. She glanced up at her longtime friend. At sixteen he cut quite a handsome figure. A strong jaw, healthy blonde hair, vivid blue eyes. A tinge of pink touched her cheeks as she indulged herself. Honestly, that was one thing she could thank Slade for. If it weren't for him squirreling Jaune away from the rest of the village, more of the girls in town would have taken notice.
Her tail tightened around his waist. That would cause problems.
"What's up?" Jaune took the increase in pressure as a signal.
"Hm? Oh, nothing. So, how's training going? Any end in sight?" She played it of with s smile but she was completely serious. She couldn't wait until Slade deemed him ready, and he could go back to living a normal life.
Jaune smiled and rubbed the top of her head. "Actually, almost. I'm about done with Slade's family training regimen. He's gonna put me through the ringer in hand to hand after we get back. His idea of a final exam."
Kia did her best to hide her excitement. She couldn't stop the affectionate purr that tumbled through her lips. "W-What do you think you'll do after you're done?"
He shrugged as he settled his arm around her shoulder. "Ah, I figure I'll join the guard. Can't put all this training to waste. Maybe help the Mayor chronicle some of the town's history."
Her ears fell slightly. She needed to tread carefully here. "You know, Rogan's still looking for a god pair of hands."
Jaune's lips thinned. Rogan hadn't taken on a new apprentice since he left. He'd looked in every now and again when he was on his way to this errand or coming back from that. He was all alone in his shop. He was just glad the man hadn't turned in on himself again. But that didn't mean he had a right to go back there. If he went back to that life, what was the point of leaving in the first place? "Na, I'm sure he'll find someone. I'm all out of practice. I'd have to relearn everything."
It was an excuse. Slade had made sure to nurture his baking talent, citing that they'd have something to burn off during their training sessions. Jaune would laugh and agree, secretly appreciating the familiar ground in the early stages of his training.
Kia looked at him from the corner of her glinting teal eye. He had that far away expression on his face again. It was a good sign, really. That meant he was thinking. She sighed slightly. She knew he belonged at that bakery. He never looked happier than when he was working with those ovens.
Sure, he was happy now too. But his smile was different. She didn't quite know how to put it—heavier, maybe. Weighed down by generations of knowledge about combat and the Grimm. She didn't like it.
She fell into a daydream as they slowly made their way back to civilization; one that she'd often entertained as of late. Jaune would come home from a long day of work smelling of bread and sweets, and she would greet him with a home cooked meal after closing the apothecary. His hands would be warm from the ovens, and he would stroke her hair as they settled in for the light. She would wrap her tail around his waist, and they would drift away together.
It was just a harmless little fantasy. She nestled herself under his arm. A soft purr bubbled from her lips. But it was one worth considering.
Jaune flipped through the history book and came to an image of a black, shriveled, humanoid creature with a long face, and a sagging, jagged open maw. The Slackjaw. It skulked about in the vast cave systems within Remnant's crust. It's body resembled inky black leather stretched over an agonized skeleton. They had been discovered by early man and their first foray into mining Dust. Their ghoulish appearance gave way to legends of cursed land and fallen hunters inevitably rising again as these twisted Grimm.
Jaune flipped the page. Over the years, as man harnessed Dust and took the fight to the Grimm head on, expeditions were led into the vast caves under Remnant's crust. Man wanted to know where they were coming from. Early theories included fallen hunters rising from their graves, arcane Grimm nests, and even gates to the underworld itself.
Jaune turned the page and continued reading. Of course, studying them meant fighting them. And that was were man ran into problems. The systems where these Grimm dwelled were narrow, twisting passages of rock miles across and buried under tons and tons of solid rock. And Slackjaws were fast, crawling, multijoined things that would slither out of every passage way, overwhelming their enemies. They weren't very hearty, but they were many in number (supporting the nest theory). The only way man could identify them was by the horrible tortured wail they emitted when they smelled human. The sound would carry for miles underground (supporting the underworld theory [pure superstition]).
To this day no one really knows where they come from. The deeper man explored into the systems of Remnant, the more Slackjaws they encountered, eventually becoming overrun and killed. One recent theory, though not at all very popular, suggested that the Slackjaw came from the planet itself. The theory went on to say that all Grimm were generated from the planet, apart from any other natural process; egg laying, birthing, etc, and that Grimm as a whole were the planet's answer to the parasite of man.
Jaune closed the book and rubbed his eyes. He wasn't quite so sure about that, but it certainly beat the 'gates of the underworld' argument.
The young hunter looked out the library window and found the vigorous afternoon sun moving into its orange phase, preparing for the oncoming night. He put the finishing touches on Port's latest essay, and checked his Scroll. Weiss hadn't messaged him, so he assumed he had to stay put.
He got up, stretched, and collected his reference books. He could have just put them in the bins next to the bookshelves, but he'd never quite gotten used to the library's organization scheme and tried to tackle it as much as possible. If he was going to work with it for the next three years, he might as well get comfortable with it.
He ran his hand along the thick spines of the academy's collected knowledge. There was everything from hunters' journals, chronicling their adventures and observations, to texts on theory, most notably, the hows and whys of the Grimm.
Jaune stopped midway down a dim aisle. He knit his brows as the Dewy Decimal system mocked him from the high shelves. As he began his mental calculations, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. He ceased his train of thought and concentrated on his senses. He felt the soft gray carpeting underfoot. He made a note of the slightly chilly central air that hummed throughout the building.
The feeling cropped up far too often to be a coincidence. This time he was going to get the drop on whoever has been following him around. He shifted his books under his arm and strained his ears. He could hear the faint tapping of fingers typing away on keyboards. He could hear feet padding across the carpeting between the aisles beyond.
And breathing. Faint, anxious, breathing. He shifted his eyes left and right, willing his senses to work together with such limited information. It felt like the sound was coming from... the left!
Jaune quickly pivoted to his left and just barely caught a shadow flash behind the next row. He tossed his books to the ground and ran around the other side to cut his stalker off. He caught another slip of flowing black something just before it disappeared behind another row of books.
He ducked into the next row and sprinted to the other side. He turned right and caught a black bow as it flew to the right and disappeared behind another row of books.
Jaune grit his teeth and broke into a mad sprint. He was tired of all this.
He careened around the corner and saw a pair of legs pumping furiously through an anger induced haze. He bolted forward and wrapped his arms around the fleeing figure, bringing both of them to the ground.
Jaune worked quickly to scramble on top of his slippery query.
"I've got you now!" He roughly flipped the spy over and met a pair of luminescent amber eyes. He reeled back. "Blake?"
"Er, hello." An awkward flush dashed across her pale cheeks as she took note of their position.
Jaune noticed as well, and quickly shot to his feet, offering a hand to his downed friend. Blake took it and picked herself up. She dusted off her uniform and leaned against the bookcase. She kept her eyes downcast, and folded her arms, tucking her hands under her arms to stop them from fidgeting.
"What's going on, Blake? Are you the one who's been following me around?"
She looked up, suddenly, having tapped into a hidden well of courage. But just as quickly, she deflated and averted her gaze, settling for a ghostly whisper. "Yes."
Jaune folded his arms and tried to calm his rattled nerves. He was expecting another ambush from some shadowy cultist, not a friend of his. Who could blame him, really, given his track record for these sudden encounters.
"Is it true?" He barely heard her.
"Is it true? What Yang said?" She finally looked up at him. Her eyes shimmered with confusion and disbelief.
Jaune pursed his lips and sighed through his nose. "Yeah. I know it sounds pretty insane, but it's the truth, Blake, I swear it."
Blake looked crushed for a moment. She shook her head slowly. "I wish it wasn't."
"How do you mean?"
She took a deep breath and stood straight, seemingly having found her feet. "The people that attacked you, they're—" She shook her head. "No, I can't."
Jaune stepped forward and gripped her by the shoulders. "Focus, Blake. This is important."
She saw the solid blue wall of determination that had become of his eyes. She stilled her shaken body and planted her feet firmly. She hadn't come here to blubber like an infant.
Blake looked up at him and nodded. She would be alright now. "Can we go somewhere a bit less... exposed? I don't want to be overheard."
Jaune knew what she meant. The gaunt librarians drifted about like the specters of the damned. And voices carried in the quiet, cavernous rooms. He led her back to his and Weiss' table, nestled snugly in the furthest corner of the silent study section. He settled her down on the padded wooden chair and sat across from her.
She stared into the gray marbled tabletop, collecting her thoughts. He waited patiently for her to begin.
"The Faunus pass down their history orally. It's a holdover from when early man would paint on cave walls. These days, they mostly just do it out of a sense of identity." Jaune leaned back in his chair and regarded her evenly. "There's a story that parents tell their children; about a boogeyman that would take them away." He bow twitched oddly. "Be a good little girl or the Black Hand will take you away forever, and put you to work tending their fires." She let out a shuddering breath. "But even children's stories have a grain of truth to them. The Black Hand refers to someone with the Black Sun tattooed onto their hand. The same one you encountered."
She hunched forward, her pale skin looked pasty and unwell. Jaune tried to imitate her posture, to keep her comfortable and remind her she was with a friend. He reached out and took her hand.
"Go on, Blake."
"They've gone by many names throughout time. The People of the Scorched Plains. The Burning Zenith. The Cult of the Black Sun. Their aim is to—to burn Remnant! Burn every living thing on it."
Jaune felt her heart racing through her hand. "Easy, easy now. Back up. Toasting the planet's a bit of a stretch. Walk me through it."
She took a calming breath. "The weather. It isn't a coincidence that it's acting up." Jaune nodded, bidding she continue. "The earliest story we have tells of a Faunus with unusual abilities. It could have been his Aura, or maybe his Semblance, we don't know for sure." Jaune wondered briefly why she said 'we' just then, but didn't have time to dwell on it as her speech tumbled on. "The people were afraid of him. He could make men bend to his will, sap the energy from a whole crowd of people, will the elements—particularly fire, to do his bidding. The people were afraid. He was cast out of his tribe and sent into the wilds.
"But then children began disappearing. People searched, but they came back babbling and driven half mad. Decades went by without any leads. Then, suddenly, one night, these—these people appeared. They were glossy eyed and brainwashed. They could bend fire and daze minds just like the exiled one." Her eyes lost focus in the fractal designs on the stone tabletop. "They burned that village to the ground. Thousands of Faunus."
Blake sagged in her seat, but some of the luster had returned to her eyes. Jaune continued to hold her hand. As he began processing everything she had told him, something in the way she spoke nagged at him. It was as if—
"During the five hundred year war, there were whispers of a wildman leading a band of powerful Faunus. He would scorch the ground at his feet, laying waste to Faunus and man alike.
"During the fifty year peace, adventurers would come home wild eyed, rambling about a man with eyes like the sun, who could see into their souls.
"During the Hundred year war after that, the weather spikes began. Summer temperature during Fall. Months long heat waves. During this time members of their group would appear, preaching a great purge on the horizon. They would use their powers to burn crops and buildings. Afterwords, they would burst into flame, leaving behind a blasted out husk. The Faunus were too scared to do anything but watch.
"Things went silent for two centuries. The memory faded into legend, and then myth. And now, they're back."
Jaune sat back and allowed the torrent of information to wash over him. He first instinct was to rationalize it. The wackos were easy to wave off; there were tones of them out there. The weather, maybe they really were just freak occurrences of nature. But for them to just happen to coincide with the cults' visitations? And the abductions—the burnings? But she spoke of it with such conviction. How did she...?
"You know and awful lot about this, Blake." He began slowly. He didn't need his imagination getting ahead of itself. "You can't have read about it, so..."
She looked surprised for a moment before sighing and beckoning him closer. He leaned closer.
"We were going to tell you, but couldn't find the right time." She reached up and slowly undid her bow. She carefully placed it on the table. And from the top of her head sprouted two soft black cat ears.
A slow smile spread across the young blonde's face. "Oh, well there you are."
He reached up and gently scratched behind her ears. The tension in her body seemed to instantly disappear, leaving behind a quietly purring cat Faunus. He took his hand away, sensing that she was in much better spirits.
"Thank you." Her eyes shined with relief. "I wasn't sure how anyone else would take it."
He shook his head. "No, I've got a kitten back home I miss to ribbons."
They shared a companionable smile before it slowly faded from their lips. The topic reasserted itself in their minds.
"Have you seen them, Blake?"
She put her bow back in place. "Only once. I was a child. I couldn't sleep one night, and there was a commotion outside. I saw three figures dragging several squirming bundles down the street. I hid under the covers until morning." Her eyes turned downward, dim, remorseful. "The next day we were five children short, and our crops were ruined."
"No one thought to go looking for them?" Jaune couldn't entertain the thought that her village might have just given their young up for dead. In Carbo, they would never stop looking.
"We were too afraid. Seeking out the cult meant death. And you won't go looking for them either."
Jaune narrowed his eyes. "They tried to kill Weiss. Dust, they tried to kill me! And if what you say is true, then if someone doesn't stop them, there's going to be a really big barbecue, and everyone on the planet's gonna be invited." Blake looked like she was going to protest. "We told the authorities. Weiss said they'd keep us posted." He reached out and pat her shoulder. "Hey, we're hunters right? This is the sort of thing we're supposed to do. Ferret out evil and all that. If we started picking and choosing our battles dependent on how dangerous it would be or, the chances of our dieing, then nothing would ever get done."
Slade never complained about coming back half dead from his initiation. He knew that these were the occupational hazards of fighting the Grimm and defending the innocent.
Blake turned over what he said in her mind. When she heard from Yang that Jaune was on the hunt for the cultists, she had agonized over the pros and cons of pursuing a people that had no regard for any life, be it human or Faunus. At best, it was a chance to strike back against an organization that had worked in the shadows and haunted the worst nightmares of a peace loving people for hundreds of years. And at worst, it would mean four more dead teenagers.
Of course she had noticed the weather patterns changing. She had begged every entity in every pantheon both real and imagined that it was just a work of nature. But then, Yang had to tell her about Jaune's encounter.
She gazed into his steadfast cobalt blue eyes. There was nothing else she could say to him. He would hunt and dig until he found the people that tried to take his life—the people that plotted, at this very moment, the fiery death of the world. It was either stand now, or perish later.
"Promise me you'll be careful. And that you'll come back from this—all of you."
Jaune opened his mouth to reply but the clearing of a throat drew their attention.
Weiss stood several paces away, at the near end of an aisle, with her hands on her hips and a disappointed frown on her face.
"And just what is going on here?"
"Weiss! This, er—"
"I have to go." Blake stood and glanced between the two partners. She would have stayed to help Jaune defuse the high strung heiress, but judging by the cool glare in the white haired girl's eyes, she probably wouldn't appreciate her company at the moment.
Before either of them could say another word, Blake quietly slipped into the labyrinthine stacks, leaving a suspicious angel to round the full force of her glare on the unfortunate knight.
He offered her a soft smile. She marched over and stopped just short of the table. She seemed to be considering something, then, having decided on a course of action, plopped herself down on his lap.
"Oh, I am not even remotely heavy!" She crossed her legs and turned her nose up in a huff.
"Shush!" She kept her head turned away. "Have you been seeing other girls behind my back?"
"What?" He wanted to laugh. She knew he would never betray her. But he humored her anyway. "Sweetheart, of course not."
She folded her arms, apparently unconvinced. Jaune let a small rumble of laughter bubble up. She was being silly. He wrapped his arms around her midsection. She flinched, but relaxed into his embrace.
He nuzzled her ear, and gave her a gentle squeeze. "I would be a fool to give up an angel like you," He peppered kisses on her cheek, "for a mere girl like her."
She sputtered for a bit, thrown slightly by his cheesy line. "L-Lunkhead! Get it through your thick skull. You are mine. And I do not share." He laughed and gently pulled her down into a more comfortable position. He scooted her back until she was softly pressed up against him. She felt their little scene was over given the increased pressure on her midsection. She turned her body to him and placed her hands on his shoulders, giving them a reassuring squeeze. "Hey, what's up?"
"Blake was telling me about the guys that attacked us." He launched into the story about how Blake had stalked him to the library and in the ensuing chase; how he'd cornered her and demanded answers. He told her about Blake's knowledge of the cult, their plan, the effect it was having on the world. Weiss held his gaze throughout his entire lecture. Her eyes hardened for an instant, and she gripped him a little bit tighter as he revealed Blake's Faunus heritage. "If I don't do anything about it, the whole world's going up in smoke."
She reached up and caressed his cheek, a small smile on her face. "And why is it suddenly your sole responsibility?"
He reached up and cupped her cheek. "Because they tried to hurt you. I can't let them get away with that. I won't."
"Silly lunkhead. You're not doing this alone. I'm going to help too. And Ren, and Nora. All of us. And don''t. You. Forget it." She rapped him on the head lightly.
He smiled sheepishly up at her. "Yeah, sorry."
"We should go to the professors soon. If the weather is an indication of how far along these people are, then we don't have much more time. We already well over record highs. People are writing it off an an early summer, but the time anyone realizes something's wrong, it might be too late."
Jaune sighed. He'd had about enough of this day. "Right. Did that cop ever get back to you? It'd be nice if he had something for us."
Weiss shook her head. "No. We'll just have to go with what we have."
The only solid info they had was what Blake had told him. If they dug at how he got his information, and how she got hers, he'd have to reveal she was a Faunus, there was just no other way. He was proud of Blake for opening up to her friends about her heritage, it certainly wasn't easy. But he wasn't quite sure if it was up to him to reveal such a thing to anyone else.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and breathed hard. "So, on a lighter note, does your being here mean that I can go back to our room?"
Weiss waved a finger at him. "For now. The girls and I are getting ready for the dance. And no boys means no boys."
"A whole day ahead?"
A healthy flush cut across her cheeks. "E-Everything has to be perfect! Now come on, take me back home. We're washing our hair tonight."
"Yes, my queen!"
Jaune watched with a bemused expression as Weiss bustled about, stuffing her hair supplies into a small bag. He glanced over at Nora who sat strangely quiet on Ren's bed. If he was honest with himself she looked a bit green.
"Okay! I think that's everything. We'll be off now. Ruby insisted we turn this into a slumber party, so we'll be back tomorrow morning."
A wry smile cut across Jaune's face. "Weiss, you're going across the hallway, not across the world."
Weiss wagged a finger of warning. "Hush! And don't look in the closet, my dress is in there. I don't want to move it around more than I have to, so I'm just going to have to trust you not to look at it before the dance."
The blonde raised his hands in surrender. "Alright, alright. You win."
She gave him a withering glare which came across as more of a cute little pout. She turned to Nora with a pleasant smile. "Come, Nora. Let us depart."
Nora rose from her perch with a measure of reluctance. She shot nervous glances over at Ren whose only acknowledgment of his uneasy friend was a small, barely perceptible smile. The orange haired girl followed the young heiress out the door at a sluggish pace. Weiss turned and gave jaune one more pout of warning before the door closed with a soft click.
He deflated and slouched on her bed. "Finally." He looked over at Ren, who looked slightly more relaxed as well. He couldn't know how he knew this, being that Ren seemed to always be in a state of rest. He chalked it up to simply having lived with the serene boy for so long. "Is Nora going to be alright? She didn't seem herself."
"She'll be fine. She'd never been to an all girls party before so she's a bit nervous."
Jaune nodded. He was sure Weiss would take care of her.
He got up and crossed the room in a few long strides. He put his ear to the door and listened. Nothing. He glanced back at Ren who had a similar gleam of alertness in his fuchsia eye.
"I think we're in the clear."
Ren nodded and dragged out a small folding table and two chairs from under his bed. Jaune walked over to his and Weiss' closet. There, nestled between the thin wooden cabinet and Weiss' neatly stacked matched luggage was a small fridge he'd picked up from one of the outgoing seniors. He opened the door and swept up four frosty bottle of root beer.
As he turned around, Ren was already busy shuffling the cards.
"Get back, all of you! There won't be enough of you left to fit in a matchbox! Get back!"
Weiss calmly ran the comb through her soft alabaster hair. Her winter blue eyes examined her reflection with the utmost scrutiny.
"Pyrrha, take her from the left, I'll go right."
She ignored the loud crash and the squeals of terror turned anguish as Ruby and Pyrrha attempted to subdue Yang. Her eyes flicked to the corner of the mirror which reflected an orange haired girl sitting stiffly in a chair nestled in a corner of the room. She frowned. This sort of boisterous merrymaking was exactly what Nora excelled at. But instead, she'd been quiet as a mouse. The only time she seemed to move was when someone wanted her to fetch this or give her opinion on that.
Their eyes met in the mirror. She looked forlorn. The young Valkyrie snapped her gaze away, settling on her lap. She absently rubbed her hands for lack of anything else to do. Weiss thought she looked like a child who'd been caught doing something she shouldn't.
She put down her brush and ran her hands through her singular white hair. Her long digits flowed freely through her light locks. She didn't need to do too much with her hair since she always kept it in top form. Honestly, with the amount Jaune played with it, she was surprised it wasn't a tangled, knotted mess. He did this thing where he'd dig his fingers into her ponytail and start twisting and pinching it between his fingers.
She loved every minute of it.
"Blake, help! Please!"
"Don't even think about it, kitty cat. I'll burn Ninjas of Love. Page by page."
"You're on your own, Ruby."
Her eyes found Nora again, in that dark corner all alone, while her friends demolished team Raspberry Jam's dorm. She frowned.
"Nora. Oh, Nora, come here for a second."
The girl sprung up from her seat. She'd plastered a wide smile on her face as he bounced over to her fellow teammate.
"Lady Weiss! How may I be of service." She finished with a mock flourish and bow.
"It's your turn. Here, sit." She rose from her seat in front of the mirror swept up behind the perplexed girl. She gently coaxed her into the seat and busied herself collecting the necessary hair products.
"Nu uh, there's some mistake. I-I don't need anything, really."
Weiss positioned herself behind the stuttering girl and fixed her with a cool eye.
"You are going to the dance, are you not?"
Nora visibly wilted under her gaze. "Y-Yes. With Ren. We're going together. Well, not together together, but you know what I mean."
Weiss nodded. "Well, then, you absolutely must go looking your very best. Now, hold still while I take a look at your hair."
Nora seemed to fold in on herself. "I know, it's not very pretty."
Weiss' eyes flashed dangerously. "How could you say such a thing?"
"W-Well, just look at everyone. Pyrrha was a cereal mascot. She's practically a model. Yang has boys and some girls drooling after her all the time. People are always saying Ruby's cute as a button whenever Yang isn't around. Blake has those amazing yellow eyes that almost glow in the dark. A-And Jaune calls you an angel for a reason." She looked down at her lap, defeated. "And me? No one says any of those things about me. My hands are big. My voice sounds strange. My hair doesn't shine as much as yours does."
A memory floated to the surface of her mind. A sunlit park. A happy Nora bouncing up to her. An oddly serious expression on the chipper girl's face. And her declaration; that the Schnee heiress was, in fact, very pretty. She'd wondered what it meant at the time. Now she knew.
Weiss' baby blue eyes softened. She reached up and ran a hand through Nora's short orange hair.
"That's enough, Nora. Don't say any more of those things, they're not true."
The young girl's downcast eyes glimmered with gratitude. Weiss didn't really know what else to say to console her aching friend. She thought that was more Jaune's expertise. She'd seen the way he interacted with her and Ruby. She suspected his friends back home had elements of both girls, so he knew how to handle them.
But there was one thing she knew how to do. She stared determinedly at the sulking girl in the mirror.
"Alright, Nora. As your second in command, I will not have you bringing yourself down like this. Lives could depend on your mental state."
Weiss snapped up her favorite white comb and tuned out the world around her. She forgot Yang putting Ruby in a headlock. She ignored Pyrrha's pleas for mercy. Blake no longer existed in her mind. All that mattered was her hand, and the unappreciated beauty in front of her.
She gently ran the comb through Nora's thick sherbert hair. She worked out the knots that accumulated from her rough and tumble nature. She brushed her shoulder length hair until it was smooth and yielded to her commands.
Next, she combed her bangs out of her light blue eyes—she'd never noticed that they were nearly the same shade as her own, only a hair darker. She styled them so they cut across her left eye, ending in a gentle swoosh. Bangs were a very important asset. They helped accentuate the overall hairstyle, and gave you something to play with when you were bored.
Nora seemed to have swallowed some of her fears as Weiss worked the comb through her hair. Her eyes seemed to sparkle just a little bit more.
"S-So, Jaune-Jaune really likes your hair."
The lithe fencer picked up a bottle of light styling spray, and evened out the natural swoop at the ends of her hair. "Yeah. If you tell him, I'll kill you, but it's one of the reasons I make sure to take such good care of it."
In the past she'd done it as a both a sign of rebellion as well as pride in her grandfather's legacy. She was bitter, lonely, and high strung. But then Jaune took her heart, and lightened her life. Now, she made sure her hair was smooth as silk so he would never stop running his hands through it.
"I see you guys at night." she began slowly, not quite sure if her groomer would appreciate the intrusion. "Sometimes, when you're asleep, he'll stay awake, hold you really tight, and stroke your hair." Weiss reddened. She'd been waking up as of late, smooshed up against her warm, solid knight. It made her feel safe, cozy, and loved. She wouldn't have it any other way.
She slowed her ministrations. "It isn't a problem, is it?"
Nora tried to shake her head, but stopped herself when she saw it disrupted her groomer's workflow. "Ah, no, not at all. Ren and I think it's really cute. I just wish someone would do that for me." Nora swallowed her words, as if she were scared uttering them would curse her.
An image of Ren popped up in Weiss' mind. With the way they interacted she'd always sort of assumed they were together.
"Give it time." She resumed her work.
She expertly wove her comb through the now tame orange hair. She added a smart part to the right side of her head. It would draw the eye along her hairline and down through the swoosh rather nicely.
She stepped back to admire her work. Honestly, that's all Nora really needed. The swoosh bespoke of her playful nature, yet the part reminded the viewer that she was a modern girl who wouldn't be taken advantage of.
She bent down and rested her chin on the girl's right shoulder. She didn't want anyone overhearing. "See, Nora?" she whispered in her ear, "you're just as pretty as any of us." Nora looked up at her own reflection in mild amazement. Gone was the wild and carefree hammer wielder. In her place sat a perky young woman with the whole world at her fingertips.
Weiss folded her arms and frowned. Something was missing. She rummaged around in her bag and produced a small crystal hair clip. It had been given to her by her fath—the Schnee patriarch, via a servant many years ago as a peace offering for her eye.
She never wore it.
Weiss reached over and deftly slipped the clip into the part in Nora's hair.
"N-No, no! I've got a hair pin. Th-thank you, though." Nora sputtered and tried to remove the clip, but Weiss swattered her hand away.
"Hush. Think of it as an early birthday gift."
The young girl blushed softly and allowed a small, genuine smile to grace her lips. A fullness settled into Weiss' heart at the sight. She placed her hands on the young girl's comparatively broader shoulders and examined their joint portrait.
Nora tilted her head to the side and beamed up at her, while she bowed over her in an almost protective stance. The fullness swelled in her heart as she made the connection. She had never really known her mother. Only little snatches of early childhood memory of a woman with long white hair came to her. Her every need had always been attended to by by servants; her hair, her clothes, if she was hurt or scared. Mechanical, and proper. She had never felt the hand of a parent.
She expected, as she gazed down at Nora now, that this was something like how one would feel; full and proud.
Ruby gurgled wetly as Yang choked the life out of her. "I always knew it would end like this!"
Weiss smiled softly and shook her head. "Come, Nora. We should help before Yang kills her sister. Besides, I have some ideas for her hair."
Nora sprung up from her chair, giddy with compressed energy and swollen with happiness.
Jaune woke to the plastic rustling of hangers and the distant beat of celebratory drums. He glanced at Ren's clock radio; it read twelve thirty seven. The inaugural day of the Vytal festival was well underway. He sighed softly and buried his nose deeper into Weiss' pillow. It was soft and smelled like her, even though she hadn't slept in her own bed in days. Her sweet scent helped wake his senses.
The rattling of hangers nagged at his veil of half sleep. He flipped over and opened his eyes. The harsh midday blaze barreled through their dorm window, bathing the neutral gray carpet in warm, inviting light. Ren and Nora's beds were empty, and judging by the lack of running water, or singing, neither Ren or Nora seemed to be in the room.
He looked down at the foot of the bed and saw a little white haired heiress rummaging around in their joint closet. A devious smile slid onto his face. He slowly crept out of bed and dropped low to the ground. He slithered over to the young girl and waited, poised to strike. She was humming a sweet tune, unawares. Jaune took this opportunity to admire her in her school uniform. Her plaid skirt hugged her hips snugly and ended several inches from her knees, leaving a rather satisfying view of her smooth, milky legs. He didn't let his thoughts wander too far. It wouldn't do to get distracted at such a crucial time.
She pulled out a long white bag, that he assumed covered her dress. She held it out in front of her, scrutinizing it through the protective plastic. Jaune knew this was his time to strike. He crept forward and lashed his arms around her narrow waist like a viper.
"Nya!" She hastily slapped the hanger back onto the rack.
Jaune lifted her up into the air and pulled her back to the middle of the room, kicking and squealing. "Rawr! I'm a big evil Grimm. And I feast on cute little girls just like you!"
He peppered the back of her neck with kisses, trailing around to her jaw. "Wha! J-Jaune! S-Stop it!"
"Silence! I am an evil Grimm!"
He spun her around and around until her peals of distress became ringing bells of laughter.
He threw himself back onto her bed, dragging her down with him. He squeezed her midsection and appreciated her soft body squirming against his, desperate for escape. Soon, she saw that she was no match for the 'Evil Grimm', and gave up. She twisted around and wriggled her way to a more comfortable position, nestling herself in the crook of his neck
He smiled down at her and began stroking her shiny white hair. She nuzzled even closer. It had been hard to sleep the other night. Her eyes dimmed slightly at the memory. Every time her eyes would close, she'd be back in that blasted out theater. That large, looming, rusted knight would melt from the mocking shadows and she would fight and fight and fight, and lose. Again and again.
She thought she was done with it. Ever since she'd found friendship, and soon after, love, she hadn't dreamed that dream. She tilted her head up and kissed her knight's jaw. She'd become spoiled by his strong arms holding her tight.
They lay together in silence. Jaune ran his hand up and down her arm, squeezing every now and again, appreciating the muscles hidden under her slender limbs. When he was done there, he reached across her body and placed his palm on her flat stomach.
"Ah!" She flinched slightly before relaxing into his touch. She moaned softly as he traced light circles on her tummy.
In the beginning she had wondered if he would find her attractive. She was small and dainty; and while that was fine and well on its own, she often found herself... appreciative of those who were more... pronounced. A small smile tugged at her lips as Jaune pressed lightly against her stomach. It gave her a minor thrill every time he took an opportunity to touch her. She turned, pressing herself into him a bit more fully than was absolutely necessary.
Their eyes grew heavy, as they are wont to do when safety, serenity, and comfort all intersect. The pair fell into a light sleep together. Neither the harsh sun nor the festivities on the streets could wrest them from their loving slumber.
When Weiss opened her eyes next, Ren's clock read two thirty seven. She felt refreshed, and a warm fullness had settled into her stomach; right around where Jaune's palm rested. She let out a little squeak of a yawn and consulted her mental itinerary.
She sighed and reluctantly began untangling herself form her knight's secure embrace. Her wriggling around woke him, and he helped her to her feet.
"I've gotta go." She pecked him on the lips. "I promised the girls we'd all get ready together." She walked over to their joint closet and gently retrieved her dress. She turned to him with a small pout; her cheeks puffed up cutely. "Be sure to be ready by seven. I've asked Professor Goodwitch if she could help you with your tie." Jaune reddened and attempted to sputter a response, but Weiss ignored him. "And don't go into Ruby's dorm until I say so. I don't want you to see me until I'm ready."
"Hold on, back up. How'd you get Goodwitch? Where am I supposed to find her?"
She puffed up and shot him a self satisfied smirk. "That's between us women. Just text me when you're ready, and for Dust's sake don't try to do it by yourself again. You'll choke to death."
She collected her things and went across the hall. He could hear the faint trilling of a small group of girls gushing and giggling over their dresses and hair, and whatever else girls seemed to do for hours on end when they were 'getting ready'.
Jaune quickly freshened up and threw on the first clothes he could find. His favorite pair of jeans, ripped and under threat of burning by Weiss, but held at bay with kisses, a light T shirt, and a blue plaid shirt he kept open. He plucked up a sports cap that Yang had given him because she'd fallen out of love with the team, and headed out.
When he opened the door to the residence hall, he was assaulted by a wave of heat and light. He drew down the bill of the cap and squinted into the harsh outside world, allowing his stinging eye to get used to the glare.
Drum and flute bands played on the pathways and in the quads, creating a pulsing chaotic beat that shook through the baked pavement. Jaune looked around at the public in the streets. The school had been opened up to the citizens of Vale. And as the host of the opening ceremonies of the Vytal festival, Beacon had given the students the day off and scheduled various events to entertain its guests.
Children laughed and skipped between stalls of parlor games; bells and whistles jingled and hooted as the people played. Sizzling stalls wafted a tempting myriad of aromas from all over the world. Bands comprised of both civilians and students alike from all across the four kingdoms played at every junction. He even saw BSQT, Beacon's one and only barbershop quartet, set up near the flagship lecture hall of Beacon Academy with a little stand filled with all their CDs. And above all of the festivities, colorful streamers and flags roped from the lampposts, cutting the bright blue sky into festive wedges.
The heat bore down on his back as he wandered aimlessly from stall to stall. He shouldered his way through a cluster of booths that had little trinkets and snacks for sake. He looked around at the people. They seemed largely unaffected by the heat. He didn't have much time to consider it further as his stomach chose that moment to protest loudly for not being fed.
He followed his nose and ducked through the small city of stalls. His stomach demanded he stop at the outlet of an Atlecian place Weiss had mentioned was good. A pale faced young man with well kept sandy blonde hair and a strong jaw took his order. He came away with two large wraps with fried chicken, cabbage, lettuce, tomato, and some kind of white sauce that he suspected was coconut.
Jaune slowly extracted himself from the main congestion, and elected to eat somewhere quiet. His feet carried him to the statue of Elias Arc, hero of the Great War. He sank down on the hot plastic bench and sighed. He loved a good celebration, but he much preferred the ones in his village. They were at a more manageable scale.
His stomach growled angrily and he stowed his thoughts of home for another time. He sank his teeth into the foreign delicacy. The chicken and veggies provided a good crunch, while the sauce came at him with an unexpected tangy zip. He idly thought of ways he could incorporate the finer ideas into his sandwich making as he ate.
The statue of his ancestor stood tall and proud in the bright sky. Someone had put a feathered pirate hat on his head at some point and, adorned his shoulders with colorful tassels.
The statue stared blankly off into the distance of Remnant. Jaune munched thoughtfully on his lunch.
"Enjoying the festivities, Mr. Arc?"
"Gah!" He nearly dropped his wrap. He whipped his head to the left and found Headmaster Ozpin sipping from his ever present mug serenely. "Professor Ozpin!" He struggled to his feet.
Ozpin hid a small smile behind his ceramic mug. "At ease, student."
Jaune deflated and sank back down onto the bench. They sat in silence for a moment, Jaune nervously munching on his lunch, the Headmaster, sipping automatically and staring into the plaque at the base of Elias' statue.
"Er, yeah. It's great, though. The festival, I mean." Jaune struggled to make light conversation. "It reminds me of the celebrations back home. Y-You were there, weren't you? The day of the test."
Ozpin did indeed remember that day. It was a quaint little village, but those were the ones that were most isolated, most untapped for potential hunters. He'd seen Jaune and the other young man complete both the practical and theoretical portions of the test. Both matched with the upper percentile of the equivalent academic brackets. They would have gone undiscovered, untested. They probably would have come to an unlucky demise without the training higher education could provide. And all this because their village was so remote, no one would think to reach out that far for hunters. Why would they, when there was a steady stream coming in from the major metropolitan areas?
Their results that day were... interesting, though the less said of those the better.
Ozpin took a sip of his coffee.
Jaune finished the last of his lunch quietly, doing his utmost to pretend the Headmaster wasn't even there. He tossed his trash and leaned back on the burning bench. The heat soaked through his thin clothes and seeped soothingly into his body. He glanced over at his senior and found him to be just as still and serene as ever. He sipped idly from his mug, his green scarf wrapped tightly around his shoulders.
"Aren't you hot, sir?"
"Hm?" Ozpin spared him a sidelong glance.
"It's blistering out here. And no one seems to mind."
The pair observed a small family pass by. They were dressed in colorful costumes with their heads bowed over a small schedule of events. "Oh, they feel it. But today's events are providing a sufficient distraction. As for me, I'm consciously channeling my Aura into regulating my body temperature." Jaune figured this was something his team could have used when they were in the Raul desert. "They're none the wiser for what's actually happening."
Jaune turned his head sharply. Ozpin looked at him fully this time.
"What do you mean?" He had to be careful here.
Ozpin set down his mug. Jaune saw that it was now empty. "The cultists you've encountered. No doubt, you're looking for information; a way to find them." Jaune suddenly felt cold. "And in that regard we know nothing more than you already do. They live in the shadows, of history, coming out to make their havoc and slip away before anyone can get a reliable trace on them."
"Why?" snapped Jaune. All this cloak and dagger was starting to annoy him. "Why hasn't anyone been able to take these people down? They don't seem that tough. We have students that can bend metal to their whim. Others can defy gravity and behead large avian beasts while being a fraction of their size. How are these people still a threat?"
Ozpin let the young man's youthful bravado pass, he'd had his own share of it in his youth. "Many have tried. Scores of hunter, police, even armies. All in secret, mind you. All of them returned charred to ash." The Faunus assassin's burned out skull flashed in his mind. A piece of ice settled in the small of his back. "The searches you and your team were running in the library would have yielded nothing but bodies throughout time. In the outskirts of conflict. In the alleys of a metropolis at peace. These people are still a threat because at the end of the day, beheading a Nevermore is different than killing another human. This is not one of their concerns. They aim to kill, while we aim to disarm. Certainly, we could kill them, but that would serve nothing. We would become as they are, and learn nothing of their goals. We lose tenfold."
Jaune squinted up at the sun. It looked so much bigger now. Infinitely huge and looming. "What do I do? How do I stop it? They're after me—they're after Weiss. And if we don't act soon," he looked down at the seated professor. "We're all going to fry."
The ends of Ozpin's lips turned up. "Be that as it may," he roe and looked into his coffee mug, as if willing it to magically refill itself. "You are not alone in your search. Professor Oobleck is already working his own contacts for information." He placed his hand on the blonde's shoulder. "The moment we know enough, we'll formulate a plan, and strike back. This has happened before, and though the coast has been high, it has been repelled. This time will be no different." Ozpin turned and headed, presumably, in the direction of more coffee. He paused and looked over shoulder at the silent hunter. "In the meantime, do enjoy yourself. I'd hate to hear that Miss Schnee had a disappointing evening."
The mention of the white haired heiress flushed the young man's heart of worry, and filled it with warm, loving thoughts. He took a long, slow breath, unable to resist the small smile that tugged at his cheeks. His heart pulsed with a pleasant warmth as he disappeared into a crowd of revelers.
Jaune stood with his back straight. He kept his eyes squeezed shut. And he didn't say a single word. He could feel Professor Goodwitch's long fingers graze against his dress shirt as she wordlessly fastened his tie. With a final tug, the silky blue knot gripped his neck like a jealous lover.
"And there you are, Mr. Arc." Professor Goodwtch's smooth, professional tone slipped through his ears. "You can open your eyes now."
He did and found his professor's pale green eyes shining with what he dared to consider as humor. Her face was as expressionless as ever.
"Give my regards to Miss Schnee." She spared him a curt nod, turned on her heel, and marched out of the residence hall. Her riding crop bobbed along at her thigh.
Jaune let out a slow breath that he didn't even know he was holding. His cheeks glowed, and he swore steam was coming out of his ears. He leaned against the wall of the hallway and huffed exhaustively.
Well, that happened.
He allowed himself sufficient time to cool off from the embarrassment. He knocked on the door, signaling Ren could come out. He'd commanded the martial artist wait inside the dorm until he was done. He wanted as few people to witness this as possible. Ren stepped out silently and fixed him with a lightly perplexed expression. Jaune grunted, leaned against the wall, and shifted the little package in his hand.
They had both opted to wear their school uniforms. They were dressy enough for such an occasion, and honestly, the whole thing was really more about the girls getting an excuse to dress up.
Their attention was drawn to the closed door of team Raspberry Jam. The giggling he'd heard earlier hadn't died down in the slightest. Now hushed conversations were being had in excited tones. After what Jaune could only guess was some debate, someone fumbled with the lock. The door opened just wide enough for Yang to stick her head out and smile brightly at the two young men.
"Hiya, guys!" She thrust her head back in. Before she slammed the door closed, she said, "They're right outside!"
Jaune and Ren shared a look and continued to wait. Jaune checked his watch, it was seven twenty three. The door opened again, this time Ruby stuck her head out.
"What?" She called back into the room. A muffled voice responded. She gave Jaune a once over. "Yeah, he's got it!" The muffled voice again. Jaune suspected it was Weiss. "No, he isn't blue in the face."
Ruby shoved her head back into the room, and the door was once again closed to them. And just as suddenly, it was thrust open entirely, revealing Yang posing inside the door frame.
She tossed her head, bouncing her wavy blonde hair. "Hello, boys."
Jaune nodded. "Yang."
She wore a sparkly yellow dress that hugged her figure tightly. Jaune resisted following the dangerously low neckline any more than was proper for a taken man. She moved out of the way, and one by one, the girls filed out.
Ruby stumbled in her red heels. Pyrrha walked gracefully in her flowing red dress. Even Blake wore a modest black number. Their eyes met for a moment before she moved down the hall.
Nora came out next with a shy smile. Ren stood a little straighter when he saw her. She had her hair done up just as Weiss had styled it the other night. The little crystal pin glimmered cutely in her neat orange hair. Her dress was of airy green fabric. Jaune noted that it was the same color as Ren's coat. It started around her neck and flowed down her front, tracing closely down her body, expanding to a thin skirt ending just over her knees. A small diamond was cut just over her chest, and her pale shoulders and arms were bare.
Jaune thought she looked cute.
Ren stepped forward and speechlessly looped his arm through hers. Her smile brightened.
Weiss stepped primly from behind the door with a flush on her face and her neutral little frown firmly in place. Jaune didn't think it was even possible, but she looked even smaller than she normally did. Hers was a sleeveless white dress made of a soft silken material. Her skirt ended just about where her battle skirt did, but didn't fan out nearly as much, instead, opting to ghost along as she moved. She wore soft white gloves that went up to her forearm. And a thin strip of white silk encircled her slender neck with one glinting crystal in the front. Her feet were placed in two delicate slips of frosted ice heels.
He was so stunned he didn't notice she'd stepped up to him with an arm on her hip and an expectant repression.
"W-Well? How do I look?"
"Uh, ah, er, that is..." His tongue was dry. His throat was scratchy. He became acutely aware of his body. Every uncomfortable stitch in his shirt, every tough knot in the sole of his shoe. The little package that poked into his side. Wait—the package!
Jaune smiled softly and took a slow breath, composing himself. He swiftly brought up a fully bloomed white rose and, in one fluid motion, tucked it into the knot of her ponytail. "Now it's perfect."
She pulled herself close, looping both her arms around his larger one. They smiled at each other as they walked out into the balmy night. Overhead, vivid, prismatic fireworks signaled the start of the Vytal festival.
Chapter 18, coming up.