Author's Note: the thirteen characters who appear in this first chapter (some named, others just seen) are all members of the zodiac (plus one). See if you can guess who is which animal!

Chinese Zodiac
Note: the Cat is not part of the Chinese zodiac.

He's totally pulling the weak and defenseless gimmick here. If anybody does manage to wander their way into this particular hallway of the airship, at least they won't ever suspect him of being an undercover agent when they see him regurgitating his lunch into a garbage unit, right?

Jaune's fingers unconsciously curl tighter around the lip of the disposal container as he scowls at himself. He's got to stop putting himself down. He can do this. His motion-sick stomach just has to get its act together before they land in ten minutes; then he can confidently enter the grounds of Zodiac Academy and establish himself as a competent student.

As a single human being in a battle school attended entirely by faunus.

Sneaking in can't be that hard, right? Though most faunus have physical characteristics that obviously distinguish them as half-monster (like the untalkative bunny-eared girl who'd sat next to him earlier), not all have additional animal appendages. Some of them look just as human as the purebloods; generally, the true differences between human and faunus lie in the way their minds work.

According to his research (i.e. Faunuspedia), faunus establish dominance in the same way that, well, animals do: physical strength. So really, all Jaune has to do is stride into Zodiac Academy with the warrior's confidence of his father, and of his grandfather, and of his great grandfather, and maybe even the half-animals won't catch onto his humanity until he's left.

At least, that's the best case scenario, where nobody would ever suspect him of not being part-monster. Though the war was relatively peacefully brought to an end last year, relations between humans and faunus are still pretty rocky. At least "hate your guts" is better than "kill on sight," right? Still, Jaune's pretty sure he'd have to hightail it back home if anybody ever caught onto him.

Sneaking and living within this dog-eat-dog world is risky, but Jaune's determined to train himself alongside the descendants of monsters. With this unique approach to training, nobody can doubt him as the next heir of the Arc family legacy, right? Yeah, protecting humankind from the creatures of Grimm and all that stuff… but the fame. People looking up to him in adoration instead of facepalming. Love, respect, and ladies.

{All you have to do is show no fear,} he reminds himself as he pushes himself away from the garbage can. {Just imagine you're reporting to dad. Don't pee your pants. Hands by your sides. Stand tall and proud. Like a tiger. Majestic and powerful. Rowr. Chest out, chin up, and}

The floor shudders unsteadily as the airship hits another pocket of air on its descent towards solid earth. Jaune is gracelessly knocked off his stance and, of course, finds himself falling towards the garbage can that's attached to the wall. Which is just fine, by the way, because the rest of his stomach contents have abruptly decided to revisit the back of his throat and he's not sure he can deny them their dramatic exit.

The vomiting is expedited by a solid clap on his back from an unfriendly stranger. As Jaune noisily upchucks the remaining globs of his last meal into the disposal unit, an unfamiliar voice exclaims, "Whoa! You okay there, buddy?"

Jaune knows just by his tone that this guy is not going to be his buddy, but he can't keep the sheepish grin off his face as he turns around. "I-I-I get airsick easily," he gasps, using the back of his hand to wipe vestigial trails of slimy throw-up off his lips… and freezes.

Oh man. This guy is built like a tank, with a thin shirt and plated armor covering the hard muscle that fills out his arms, shoulders, and chest. In a world where might is power, this man is probably somebody who holds a high position in the social spectrum. Worse is the smirk on the guy's face and the gleam in his indigo eyes: he's not just a man of power, but also a predator… and he's about to pounce upon his next meal. Screw keeping his humanity a secret; right now, Jaune's more concerned about keeping his body intact.

He wouldn'tdoubt it if his brother Roman marked his gravestone with "Here lies Jaune Arc: human n00b who pissed off the enemy before he even set foot into their land."

"Y-your chest plate," deflects Jaune desperately. {Remember, no fear. Stand straight, chest out, chin up, look him in the eye… Be the warrior that Dad's always expected you to be.}

The predator pauses. "What about it?"

The metallic-grey chest plate sports an emblem of the same color as the guy's hair: a burnt orange that resembles the warmth of the earth, or the dust of the ground, or the rust of ancient metal. The motif itself is of a boar's head with large tusks that jut out from either side of its jaw and curl to up and to the sides. (They're like the tusks of a big wooly mammoth, except on a huge pig face.)

"You're from the Clan of the Pig!" Jaune exclaims, finally connecting the insignia to his knowledge of the twelve ruling faunus clans. See, he did his research before taking on this mission. Y'know, about the important things, like the names of all twelve clans and other… important… things… that he can't actually recall right now, because the Pig Clan guy is looking at him with pure murderous rage in his eyes.

Um. Maybe he should have said Clan of the Boar instead?

Aw man. He is so dead. Jaune's semi-confident stance crumples instantly as the Boar advances on him, brutish face twisted into an ugly scowl, fists clenched and ready to pound him into ground pork.

{Here lies Jaune Arc, human n00b who failed his mission before he even started—}

"Uh, like, Cardin?"

Jaune opens one of the eyes he'd unknowingly clenched shut. The first thing he notes about his savior (appropriately dressed in all white from her dress to her… bladed?... thigh-high boots) is her startling green eyes, heavily accented by thick cyan makeup, and the narrow, perky ears atop her head. The physical observations stop there though, because her posture and expression convey absolutely no mercy. This girl is just as much of a predator as the Boar is… and look here, it's a wimpy blonde showing off to everybody that he is prey for the pickings.

He clumsily forces himself into a sort-of respectable standing position, but the girl isn't even paying attention to him. Tossing her straight black hair over one shoulder, she demands, "Cardin, you're, like, supposed to be stalking my sister."

It's only then that Jaune notices the almost-identical girl standing behind his savior. Though her crimson outfit pops more than that her twin, the girl dressed in red appears much more timid, with her head slightly lowered and her emerald eyes cast upon the ground.

"Guarding," Cardin growls. "Your brother's paying me to be her bodyguard."

"You're being, like, paid to pay attention to Miltia," the girl in white corrects. "Y'know, since you seem to be havin' tons of trouble focusing on her, I might just have to, uh, confiscate your little boytoy."


The girl in red lifts her head then, her eyes resting on Jaune. She doesn't have the same ears as her sister; instead, where human ears would be, she has two spiraling, circular horns poking through her black hair. She looks like she has a pair of nautilus shells hugging the sides of her head. She's so demure that when she shyly lifts a gloved hand and wiggles her fingers in a wave, Jaune doesn't have a problem smiling back.

Her white-clothed twin reacts before Jaune can wave back, her eyes quickly darting between her quiet sister and the terrified blonde. Without warning, she skates forward—her boots literally glide across the ground like they're sliding on ice—until she's right up in Jaune's personal space, whereupon she shifts her weight—

Jaune blinks. Vibrations from the floor reverberate up through his cheek. His head and hip hurt something fierce. Oh yeah, she kicked him in the head. He rebounded off the garbage can before collapsing in a boneless heap on the floor. His aura protected him from shredded skin and broken bones (yeah, those thigh-high boots really did have sharp-edged swords attached to the heels), but the impact sites still ache nonetheless.

{Welcome to the faunus world of Menagerie,} Jaune sighs miserably as he watches his "welcoming party" walk down the hallway and turn a corner.

He should probably pick himself up now, but the floor currently feels a really cool place to hang out. He's just spending a little time to collect himself before he gets back to being a cool and confident warrior. Yeah.

Seems like he can't catch a break, though, because barely a second has passed before a shadow falls over him. "Uh… are you okay?"

He rolls over and unexpectedly comes within two inches of a pair of large gray eyes. "Um. Hi?"

The girl squatting next to him hops backwards twice before bouncing to her feet. A pair of small mouse ears rests on top of dark hair that has just a tinge of red to it, but what really catches Jaune's attention is the genuine smile on her face as she offers him a hand. "Hi! I'm Ruby," she chirrups.

Jaune hesitantly takes her hand and mentally breathes a sigh of relief when she starts to pull him to his feet instead of, well, kicking him in the head or something. "Jaune."

Wait, should he really be giving out his real name? What's the point of being an undercover agent if he goes around telling everybody his true identity? Ugh. Worst spy ever… But the redhead doesn't seem so intimidating. She's actually so small that she has to grab his hand with both of hers and throw her entire body weight into the effort of hauling him to his feet, but she does so with gusto. After his encounter with the angry Boar guy, it's nice to meet a nice faunus for a change.

"So what are you, Jaune?"

"W-w-what?" Or not. She can't be onto him already, can she?

"No wait, let me guess," she says, walking down the hallway without checking back on him. He follows her as she grabs her elbow with one hand and cups her chin thoughtfully with the other. Interestingly, the little grey ears atop her head twitch as she thinks. "I thought maybe Rabbit at first, especially since you seemed to never stop puking…"

"Hey! …You've been watching me?"

"Nah. You made a pretty big scene earlier, leaving the lobby while looking for a garbage can."


"Melanie Malachite seemed to be okay with you though, and then there was her bodyguard… so then, are you a Sheep?" She turns back to look at him for confirmation and notices the look on his face. "Oh. Or are you not even one of the Twelve in the first place?"

He'll take that excuse and settles for just nodding.

"Eek, I'm sorry! I just didn't think you'd initiate with the Boar if you didn't the power to back it up," she grins ruefully as she steps through the end of the hallway and into the spacious main lobby of the airship. The majority of the ship's passengers are here—beings who, save for a scattering of additional body parts, appear to possess mostly human characteristics. Before he can ask, though, Ruby interjects, "You do have a secret up your sleeve, right? Tell me at least why you don't smell."

Jaune is spared from having to awkwardly answer Ruby's weird question when the entire airship shudders once more—but this time, the sensation is stabilizing, backed by the solidity of the earth. Simultaneously, the public speakers crackle to life, announcing, "We have now landed within the city limits of Zodiac. Feel free to explore the city, but you must return to school grounds by 5:30."

The rest of the speaker's announcement is drowned out by the deafening roar of a hundred excited conversations starting up all at once. In no time, Jaune and Ruby are swamped by crowds of people, all sweeping them towards the exit.

"Ruby!" Jaune calls as the tiny brunette disappears amongst the faunus. Though he's only been talking to her for two minutes, she is pretty much the closest thing he has to a friend right now. He'd especially appreciate having a guide to this unfamiliar city…

"I'll see you later!" yells the girl. "At the Academy!"

The sunlight momentarily blinds him as they move out from the dark interior of the airship and into the brilliance of midafternoon outside. But it's not just the glare of sunlight that forces him to shade his eyes with his hands; it's also the thousands of amber reflections shimmering off the scales of a slender dragon that descends from of the sky and drops into the crowd without a fuss. For a full ten seconds, Jaune is so shocked that he literally cannot breathe. It's a dragon. It's not even one of the winged, calcified, charcoal black monstrosities of Grimm's; this is a twenty foot long serpentine beauty of burning gold.

And that's Ruby, hopping onto the dragon's back and holding herself in place by wrapping her arms around the dragon's neck. A boy with dirty blonde hair on both his head and prehensile tail follows her, his white, unbuttoned shirt billowing away from his tanned torso as he slides right behind Ruby. With that, the dragon leaps into the air, impossibly weaving up into the sky with no apparent form of propulsion.

A collision from behind abruptly reminds Jaune to breathe again. He gasps as he stumbles to his knees—and inhales sharply again as three or four metal cases rain down upon him. Despite the fact that the luggage cart just ran into him, a girl cries, "Ugh! Can't you watch where you're going?"

Jaune glances upward, intending to find the speaker's face, but instead finds himself looking up her skirt. The inside of her dress appears to be made of iridescent feathers. He only has time to wonder if her face is just as beautiful as her long legs are before the tip of her boot speedily finds its way into his crotch. "Pervert!" she screams. "Pervert and a klutz!"

Through the haze of pain clouding his vision, Jaune determines that the girl is indeed very beautiful. More of those iridescent feathers that had lined the inside of her skirt also frame the collar and sleeves of her white jacket, giving her the appearance of an albino peacock. Even the scar that runs down the left side of her head doesn't mar her physical attractiveness; however, what does put to a bloody death any charm she might have held is the bitchface she's currently wearing as she demands, "Guards, get this creep out of my sight."

The arms of a green jacket wrap around his shoulders and pull him up to his feet. "Let's go," the security agent grunts, his grip firm as he guides Jaune away.

"My legs…" Jaune groans. "I can't move my legs…"

"She didn't sever your spine," hisses the guard, ushering him away from the ice princess. "And I'm sure you're still fully functional. Com'on now, off you go."

Jaune catches an over-the-shoulder glimpse of slitted pupils in vivid pink irises as the black-haired man gives him a final push. {Whoa. Maybe it's a faunus thing? What animal of Grimm has pink eyes though?}

Standing slightly behind the haughty bird-girl is a second guard—but where her dress all about refracting light, this guard's outfit just about swallows up all the surrounding light. The horns that protrude out of his red head of hair make him that much more intimidating, and the mask that completely covers his eyes finishes it all off with a big dose of creepy.

Yeah. Definitely time to make a hasty exit.

He hasn't gone much farther than fifty feet though before he remembers that he has no idea where he's going. His fellow airship passengers had all left the plaza quickly, with firm destinations in mind. They'd been confined within the territory of Menagerie before the war, after all; this city, the capital Zodiac, is their second home. Jaune can't believably maintain his disguise as a faunus if it's obvious that he's never been in the faunus city before.

{Just pick a direction and walk until you find the school. Look confident, like you know where the heck you're going! And then… hide out in the dorm room until you meet the roommate. Make friends! Maybe. Unless we don't have roommates. Or they instantly see through your flimsy disguise and scream for your blood.}

{Why did I decide to do this again}

He just barely avoids faceplanting into the ground when a body hops onto his back. "You look lost!" chirps a gleeful female voice. When Jaune unconsciously hooks his arms underneath his attacker's knees to keep her from sliding off, she cheers. "I knew you were friendly! Sure, I can't smell an ounce of sociability or hostility—or anything else, really—but you just look like the friendly, affable type."

"Nora, please get off him." A girl wearing golden armor runs up from behind the two of them and pulls the girl off Jaune's back. Though she appears winded, with her waist-length crimson ponytail fanning out across her shoulders, her breathing is controlled and she holds herself with proper posture at all times. "I am so sorry," she apologizes, turning brilliant green eyes on him. "She's very friendly. I swear she doesn't bite."

The piggyback girl bounces between Jaune and the redhead eagerly. "We're going to be friends, aren't we?"

The redhead puts a calming hand on the energetic girl's shoulder. "We haven't even introduced ourselves yet. Where are my manners? I'm Pyrrha, and this is Nora."

"We just met," Nora adds. "But we're both going to Zodiac, and this is my first year so I don't really know anybody except for Ren; but he's on duty so I can't exactly talk to him without getting on the pretty Rooster's very sensitive nerves. Plus my clan doesn't really approve of hers, so I'm just going to avoid her for the entire school year hopefully. But Pyrrha, she just has that wonderful motherly scent that—"

Pyrrha wraps a hand around Nora's mouth. "What's your name?" she asks, a blushing tinting her cheeks.

"Uh… I'm…"

For what feels like the hundredth time today, another stranger drops out of the blue and into his life—except this newest girl literally jumps down from a rooftop, tucking her body and rolling to her feet the moment she hits the ground. "I've been looking everywhere for you," she complains as she strolls towards them. "Let's go, Jaune."

Jaune's breath hitches as she says his name casually. He's pretty sure he's never met this girl before. Black hair topped with a large bowtie, a bladed firearm magnetized to her back… and golden irises with slitted pupils. Faunus. A faunus with a weapon. A secret faunus agent with a weapon, looking for him and already knowing his name?

{She's coming to off me—or worse, just make me disappear. Here lies Jaune Arc, a human failure for seventeen years.}

His imagination is so busy running through all the possible ways he could die a brutal death that he can barely speak. "Uh, I—"

The ninja of doom places her left hand on his shoulder before he can escape, marking him as her territory. She addresses Nora and Pyrrha when she says, "We'll see you two at the Academy, right?"

Nora nods eagerly. Pyrrha doesn't look too convinced. "Sure… I'm sorry, but I didn't catch your name."

The assassin's grip on his shoulder tightens, but she speaks lightly. "Blake. Blake Belladonna."

As Pyrrha extends her hand, her entire demeanor shifts. She seems to become even more regal and confident as she greets, "Pyrrha Nikos of the Tiger."

For just a second, Pyrrha's green eyes flicker to Jaune—and he gets it. By stating her rank, Pyrrha has ensured that Blake can't refuse her handshake, as well as letting her know just who she's dealing with. And by extending her left hand, Pyrrha is forcing Blake to release Jaune's shoulder, if even for a second.

She's giving him the chance to run.

But the problem is, can he? The enemy had dropped from a rooftop without a care. She could easily shoot him in the back before he got further than a couple feet. Would Pyrrha, a girl he'd met only minutes ago, cover him?

Or is Pyrrha expecting him to fight Blake? Faunus were more prone to physical displays of aggression to establish their dominance—it's half the reason why the war started in the first place. That's why Jaune chose Menagerie as the location to hone his skills as a warrior, though he has to constantly remind his sorry butt of this reason: it's because faunus generally don't talk. They don't think, just act… and fight.

Pyrrha might not be fighting for him because it might dirty her noble standing, or more likely she just doesn't see any benefit for her in helping Jaune more than she already has. But Nora… her gleeful expression hasn't changed a bit. Does she not sense hostility from Blake? She jumped his bones without fear of violent retaliation and saw goodness in Pyrrha. Is there a reason she isn't frowning upon Blake's kidnapping of him?

Is it just his own crazy imagination running away from him, making him see Blake as an angel of death who's about to off him?

{No, shut up. She's just a faunus girl… with a weapon… who knows my name… and was looking for me.}

{Is it too late too run?}

In the time that Jaune has taken to weigh his options, Blake shakes Pyrrha's hand.

Just like that.

And now she's back to gripping his shoulder and steering him in the other direction.

"It was nice meeting you, Jaune!" Pyrrha calls as Blake pushes Jaune away.

"See you later, friend!" adds Nora.

Jaune lifts his hand in a half-hearted wave. "Uhh… see ya…" {If I survive…}

Blake lets her hand drop, though she remains behind him, following. She seems to let him lead the way, so Jaune sticks to populated streets. "So… Blake…" he murmurs, glancing over his shoulder. "You're not going to, uh, make me… disappear, are you?"

Blake rolls her eyes. "You were right to trust the Dog."

"I… what?"

"The Dog, on the other hand, wasn't right to trust you." She's walking rather close behind him, so all she has to do is lean forward slightly to whisper in his ear, "Maybe even the Tigress couldn't sense it, but both you and I know that you don't exactly belong here."

Jaune freezes in place. Blake surprisingly doesn't crash into him, though her lips do graze his ear lobe. He tries to stammer out a response, but Blake cuts him off. "Don't worry, I'm not about to go revealing your identity. We all have secrets to hide, after all."

The second her lips stop tickling his ear, he whirls around. Somehow Blake is already six feet away, walking down the street with her hands held carelessly behind her back. "Blake?"

She doesn't turn around, though she does reply, "If you ever need help, you know where you can find me."

Wait. Is that it? Did she really steal him away from Pyrrha and Nora to tell him that she knew who—what he is? Or is this a veiled threat? Is she manipulating him? What does she want?

Jaune shakes his head. He needs to deal with the more important matters now, like…

"Blake? Uh… I need help. How do I get to the Academy?"