1. The Rules of Spacebattles are now in a convenient location. Read them. Do it now.
  2. Welcome Guest to the new SB! Come on in, we're running the newest XF version now on new servers. Talk about it here: http://forums.spacebattles.com/threads/all-in-together.311779/
  3. We are having a contest for a new Spacebattles Logo. Come check out the thread for more info. Prizes may be involved.

Jaune Arc: Hero of Vytal (RWBY; Ciaphas Cain-inspired)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Kartofel von Kouch, Feb 2, 2014.

Thread Status:
This thread lies dormant for more than 14 days. Restarting it causes mods to gaze in your direction.
  1. Author's note: Hi, you all. Just another noob here with delusions of literature. Someone on FFN PM’d me a few days ago and told me about this site; said some of you guys would be interested. Since I just posted a new chapter I figure it’s a good time to take the guy’s suggestion. Like the label says, it’s a Ciaphas Cain-inspired RWBY fanfic.

    That said, I'm going for a different track here, although the basic "fraudulent hero" premise will be similar. The Ciaphas Cain series is written in a first person point of view, but I feel that that's too limiting for this story since I also want to focus on the other characters as well, so this story will be written with switching third-person POVs. There also won't be any Amberley Vail-style footnotes since this story is, consequently, not in a memoir-like form. Lastly, I won't try to shoehorn RWBY characters into exact counterparts of Ciaphas Cain characters since the dynamic is too different.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    Prologue

    "To thy own self be always in one piece." —Jaune Arc

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    He could remember a little blond boy who dreamed about being a hero, like many his age. From the glory of a soldier leading armies to victory in the battlefield, to the heroic self-satisfaction of a knight rescuing the resident damsel in distress, to the more down-to-earth but still appealing idea of being a Huntsman cutting a swath through hordes of vicious Grimm terrorizing a village.

    The simple, unremarkable dreams of a simple, unremarkable boy.

    However, unlike many his age, said unremarkable boy had been born into a family where having a remarkable hero or two every generation or so was treated as a matter of course. So his childhood dreams had been stoked by the grand and sometimes (well, often) embellished tales of derring-do about his ancestors, starting with his dad and working all the way back to first member of the Arc family that history bothered to remember. Exciting, stirring stuff for an extremely excitable, often stir-crazy little boy they'd hoped would grow up to do something they could add to the family's collective bragging rights.

    He'd wanted that too; wanted to make them proud.

    The seventeen-year-old Jaune Arc smiled wistfully at the memories of simpler times, absently running a hand over his scraggly blond hair. His smile faded as the massive, whale-like airship in the distance loomed ever closer.

    What a stupid little kid he'd been.

    To his credit, it hadn't taken long for that stupid little kid to wise up. After all, one of the best ways that children learned was through stories, and with the tales his family eagerly poured into his tiny towhead, it hadn't taken him long to notice that many of his ancestors had a tendency to all too ... permanently enter the history books far earlier than many of their contemporaries.

    He'd also noted that impressive words like brave, valiant, and long-remembered were all too often accompanied by lost, martyred, and dismembered. A particular memory that still stood out to this day was of the one about an interesting female ancestor that had taught him the equally interesting word immolated.

    He'd even learned to use it in a sentence: "B-but, I don't wanna be imma-maladed."

    Having learned so much, the boy had decided to learn even more, expand his horizons. Soon enough the simpler childhood dreams had given way to the loftier ambitions of prepubesence—being a baker.

    Fascinating stuff, baking. You made all sorts of beautiful, tasty things from variations of water, milk, and what was essentially the powdered essence of plant life; wrought into form by one's own bare hands and transcending the humble origins of the raw materials in an infernal maw of captured flame. Then you ripped it out of the jaws of hell yourself, maybe prettied it up a bit, and used it to nurture life. It was the very power of God himself in a deceptively humble form.

    And as far as he could tell, rarely did you ever hear of people dismembered or immolated for being bakers. Well, provided they didn't do it to themselves by being careless around the utensils and ovens.

    Unfortunately, he hadn't been smart enough to figure out that a family that prided itself for belting out heroes wouldn't be as keen about producing a lowly baker. It was unfair, really. Men like bakers had been producing food for the masses since the dawn of civilization, accounting for the lives of peasants, warriors, and nobles alike. Heroic enough by his reckoning.

    His family hadn't seen it that way. He also hadn't known back then that the louder he was about not wanting to be a hero, the more determined they became about changing his mind.

    Jaune shot a look the sword hanging at his side, safely in its currently scabbard-shaped shield. Crocea Mors, his legendary great-great-grandfather's equally legendary weapons—they had a name and everything! His family's brilliant attempt at being subtle. Because sticking him with an antique that forced him into maiming range because nobody wanted to "desecrate" a "classic" heirloom by sensibly sticking a gun in it somewhere was a reasonable argument for the virtues of heroism, apparently.

    All the dubious honor of being bestowed the heirloom had instilled in him was a massive callus on his left thigh from the combined weight of the sword and dense shield-scabbard repeatedly brushing against it.

    At the onset of puberty he'd come to realize that the perfectly sane position of keeping himself safe from harm by not going into harm's way to give others the same privilege you just denied yourself was an easy way to get labeled a coward, even by—especially by—people not willing to go into risk their own skins but expected you to do it for their sake all the same. He'd been given a hard time for it by neighbors and schoolmates and called all sorts of names. A particularly common one was the old-fashioned "yellow" (or "yeller," as they inevitably mispronunced it), mostly because they thought themselves so clever for punning his name.

    His family had made no attempt to discourage it. Indeed, they had been the most vociferous in egging it on in the hope that the near-constant mockery would make him "wise up." It had made all the torturous training they'd put him through to toughen him up even more miserable.

    And it had wised him up—just not in the way they'd hoped.

    He realized that he needed to be more subtle about it. See, while being considered a coward earned him nothing but grief and contempt, he noticed that being considered an earnest incompetent was given more slack. Indeed, they were often encouraged to try something else before they hurt themselves and others. Still disdained, true, but the sentiment was somehow tempered by the fact that they'd been willing to try.

    Which didn't make any sense when one really thought about it since the results were ultimately the same, but another lesson Jaune had learned was that people loved not making—or having—a lick of sense. Making sense of that and convincing them that what he wanted was also what they wanted was the key.

    First, he had to work around his established reputation for cowardice. An incompetent coward, after all, was someone people would hate even more. Luckily, the same collective insanity that made people fawn over willful self-endangerment in the name of "heroism" also made them inclined to the notion that some people can "get their shit together" and find redemption by "proving" themselves.

    Of course, wallowing in lack of good sense also made people absurdly self-contradictory. So while they might say that they believed people can change and deserved second chances, they usually preferred to stick to their initial preconceptions unless the change fit into another set of said preconceptions—much less thinking to do that way.

    He had to be gradual about it—a little muttering about being tired of being called a coward there, a touch more effort every training session there, and then just let people draw their own conclusions. Eventually, they'd think that they finally got through to him, that they finally convinced him to start living up to the family legacy. Alas, they'd also see that he was utter crap at it and start considering that it might be in their best interest to quietly shuffle him away to where his bumbling won't sully the Arc name, somewhere safe.

    Simple.

    Jaune winced. I really should've known better.

    An annoying issue he hadn't considered was that the people he had grown up around would be damnably good at sniffing out his bull. They'd looked at his seeming change of heart with a heaping helping of suspicious scrutiny and a whole lot of letting him prove himself—and in the Arc family, that meant being tossed at Grimm of steadily increasingly lethality to see if he was really taking it seriously now. He'd quickly found that it was damned hard to convincingly simulate utter incompetence in the face of actual danger, not if he didn't want to get an unsimulated mangling.

    He'd had to draw on his training to keep himself in one piece. Fortunately, he'd also found out that he was excellent at staying alive. Unfortunately, in the course of all that what bumbling he'd managed to inject just convinced them that he was a natural whose skills just needed more refinement. Which meant increased brutal training, even more terrifyingly dangerous "practice" against Grimm, and fighting much harder to stay alive—which just reinforced their thinking. A vicious cycle in the worst, most literal sense.

    In the course of their consistent failure to turn him into Grimm-fodder, they'd convinced themselves that they'd honed him into a prospective Hunstman good enough for the prestigious Beacon Academy. Naturally, they'd been happy to send a recommendation with the Arc name attached to it, and the academy had been happy to accept. Supposedly, Beacon only accepted the best. Well, so much for prestige.

    One thing Jaune was all too certain of, however, was that Beacon was very likely going to be far worse for him in the "not being maimed or killed" department. He sighed glumly, wondering if his plan to be dismissed as a hopelessly useless goof could still be salvaged or if he needed to consider taking a different approach. He grimaced at the thought of having all those years of effort going to waste.

    Of course, effort going to waste was still vastly more preferrable to his own life being wasted. He'll just have to keep doing what he did best—saving his own skin. Besides, at least his family wouldn't be personally overseeing his training this time around. Beacon was also an academy, so there'd be more options when it came to flunking. Worse came to worst, he'd be in a team, so that would hopefully distribute the chances of injury between three other people. You know, optimism.

    Shit.

    His grimace deepened. Yeah, just like his original plan was supposed to have been simple. He had the sinking feeling that Beacon was going to be anything but.

    Jaune looked up apprehensively, eyeing the airship as it swooped over them serenely before descending slowly toward the dock. The other students around him were similarly staring at it, with varied expressions. He struggled to avoid shooting the ones who actually looked enthusiastic a look of disgust. He still couldn't comprehend how some people could actually look forward to the prospect of facing potential injury and death, much less willingly seek it out in the first place. Maybe people were just inclined to stupidity by nature.

    Then again, it was his "clever" planning that had somehow gotten him here in the first place, so what did that say about him? As if in agreement, his belly rumbled, already anticipating the severe motion sickness he as sure to feel in the air.

    Jaune let out a long breath of resignation as the ship finally docked and began to extend its loading ramp. To him it seemed as if the vehicle itself was sticking its tongue out at him mockingly.

    The students around him began moving forward. Reluctantly, Jaune did the same, dragging his feet the whole way. Other students jostled him as they hurried past him, and he felt a spike of annoyance bubble up from his gloominess.

    It seemed as if his experience in Beacon was going to be unpleasant from start to finish. He just hoped that that finish wasn't going to be a resoundingly final one.
     
    Blackmane, Zam, shiki11 and 34 others like this.
  2. Chapter 1 - First Impressions

    "Enter as you should exit: with a bang, not a whimper" —quote unattributed

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    When the airship finally took off for Beacon, Jaune had to admit that it wasn't quite as bad as he'd thought it would be. The flight was actually quite smooth; the sheer bulk of the enormous aircraft didn't shake anywhere near as much in level flight as smaller vehicles since there was more mass to dampen the vibrations. It was also much, much smoother than being on a boat bobbing up and down at the mercy of the waves. The flight actually seemed like it could be tolerable, if not exactly pleasant.

    That should have been his first clue.

    Sadly, in a serious lapse of his better judgment he listened to the part of him that had almost been—and wanted to be—convinced that maybe it was going to be that smooth the whole way.

    As usual, that glimmer of optimism had cheerfully lied to him; pessimism, at least, had the good grace to settle for a knowing smirk.

    The airship turned, causing it to bank. When it leveled out again, it swayed a bit in the other direction. On a ship its size, "a bit" meant it was more than enough to feel significantly. It wouldn't have been so bad if the banking and turning only happened once or twice, but for some reason the chosen flight path seemed to meander every which-way. Even that was mostly tolerable … until they hit "a bit" of turbulence.

    On the abstract level, Jaune liked it when things lived down to his expectations. It was nice to be right. On the more concrete level …

    He hated feeling nauseous. It made him unable to move steadily, which would get in the way of the all-important task of keeping himself alive and well in the event things went horribly wrong. Being preoccupied with the unholy rumbling in his stomach and the building disorientation also made it increasingly impossible to think straight. His thoughts dissolved into a miserable haze of way too many vibrant colors and far too loud noises, demoting him further from sitting duck to plucked, headless chicken, first class. He was only vaguely aware of settling into an extremely uncomfortable and often painful struggle to keep the contents of his stomach firmly in the right direction even as he fought to maintain his footing.

    And a mighty struggle it was, probably the closest thing to a truly valiant battle he'd ever been in. If only his family could see him now. They'd be so proud.

    Unfortunately, as with the vast majority of brave, heroic stands—the ones historians and storytellers tended to gloss over—this ended in ignominious defeat. He began vomit. Not in one neat, theatrical disgorgement, no, but instead in a series of bad hics and heaves, each one accompanied by bursts of foul, awful-smelling chunky wetness. Then, as abruptly as it started, the heaving stopped. He spat, trying hard not to think about the taste too much.

    Breakfast, circa early morning—a good vintage.

    He braced himself against the window sill as he tried mightily not to barf again. Part of him dully noted the reactions of the students that he could see reflected in the window's glass. Most seemed to be pointedly ignoring him, some were trying (or not bothering) to hide amusement at his ordeal, and a few looked vaguely sympathetic in the ultimately self-centered "poor guy, glad he's not me" sort of way.

    He was vaguely aware of wobbling over to a pair of girls, a tall, long-haired blonde and a short, shorter-haired brunette. He heard one of them say "Vomit Boy" or something to that effect as he teetered by. He supposed that this was all pretty undignified, but that didn't really bother Jaune. Having been put down as a coward for years had mostly inured him to mockery.

    He'd learned long ago that dignity was just pride trying to be self-important, and pride was just the way people convinced themselves that their own flaws and shortcomings weren't really that bad (or were actually good things in the first place), making them feel better about their own inadequacies by treating them as their own oh so special set of virtues. Of course, that all just made them bone-headed, grudging, and combative whenever they felt that challenged.

    Whenever he had let such people goad him in the past and he fought back, they just ganged up on him, beat him up, and mocked him even further. Considering that he was being mocked for the perfectly sane idea of not getting hurt in the first place, getting into a fight to defend that decision ... well, a point or two may have been missed. Jaune later realized it was much smarter to turn their own attitudes and expectations to his advantage, however poorly they thought of him be damned.

    Besides, being known as the loser who got airsick and vomited all over the place would only help reinforce the image of hapless incompetence he was trying to nurture. He could work with this.

    The two girls were edging way from a pool of vomit he'd inadvertently smeared on the floor near them when an inopportune tilt of the airship had sent it flowing slowly toward them. They started shrieking their disgust and moved further, one of them yelling something about shoes.

    He supposed he might've found that vindictively funny—nothing wrong with holding a bit of a grudge as long as you didn't let it make you act stupid—had he felt better. As it was, he felt like a bad hangover without the preceding fun part aside. Or so he assumed was what a hangover felt, anyway. He only really knew about hangovers from hearsay. The creative, and sometimes amusing, ways drunk people managed to hurt themselves and others had been more than enough incentive to make sure he had never gotten drunk himself, and where his safety was concerned self-control came easy.

    At any rate, he spent the rest of the flight keeping whatever remained of his breakfast down. And toward the end, he'd lost that fight too.

    When the airship finally settled to a stop and began unloading passengers, Jaune all but barreled out of the exit, looking for the nearest receptacle. Conveniently, it—a barrel, appropriately enough—was right outside the exit, probably placed there precisely for what he was about to use it for. He wasted no time fulfilling its quietly noble purpose in life.

    A few life-affirming heaves later, and it was finally over. He would've breathed a sigh of relief, but he'd retasted breakfast enough already, and his breath was still pretty vile. He leaned on one arm against the barrel, using the other to wipe his mouth, and regarded the other students leaving the airship.

    Jaune's eyes were drawn to the pair of girls he'd probably indirectly barfed on earlier. Now that he was less disorientated and thinking much more clearly, he could focus on more than vague impressions. With a quick scan, he took in their details.

    The short brunette had short hair with red highlights, a long hooded red cloak, red-frilled black combat boots, and black clothing that flared out in a wide and also red-frilled skirt. Clipped onto the back of her belt was a large collapsible weapon of some sort, unsurprisingly also colored mostly red. The tall blonde girl was more muscular and wore mostly shades of tan, had long and messy hair, an orange scarf, a gold-piped vest with short puffed sleeves, and what looked like mechanized combat gauntlets worn over gloves. She also wore some sort of open asymmetrical skirt belted over her short shorts, and knee-high platform boots.

    At the sight of the boots, he grimaced.

    Being publically known as Vomit Boy was one thing, actually vomiting on someone else was quite another. That was the kind of thing that could build some real resentment from the barfed-upon, and the last thing he wanted was to encourage hostility among people who were likely 1) better at fighting than he was, 2) more actually willing to fight than he was in the first place, and 3) armed with who knew what sort of Dust-powered killing machine.

    Better safe than sorry—or in this case, safe through a "Sorry." Provided that they weren't in an unreceptive mood or just inherently had a hostile personality, a sufficiently sincere-sounding apology could build some goodwill. And it couldn't hurt to build it among the armed and potentially dangerous.

    It was also useful to start making connections. They could be potential allies, maybe even teammates, after all, and the more people were well-disposed toward him, the more there'd be between him and the Grimm. Well, theoretically anyway. People were damnably unpredictable, after all.

    Unbidden, he suddenly recalled something his mother had taught him as a child, "Remember, Jaune, strangers are friends you haven't met yet." Despite himself, he smirked, wondering what his poor mother would think if she knew what he'd been thinking. Ah, well, it wasn't his fault. He loved his parents dearly, but he'd learned to take what they said with a grain of salt. Besides, just what kind of thing was that to teach an overly trusting child anyway? After all, strangers could also be awful people you haven't been victimized by yet.

    He shook his head, dismissing his musings.

    After a quick check to make sure he hadn't gotten any vomit on himself as well, he moved after them. With practiced ease, his face took on a slightly hesitant and somewhat sheepish cast. He'd found that a pretty safe expression to default to over the years.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    Ruby Rose was nervous. The fifteen-year-old had been since it had really sunk in that she was not only going to Beacon Academy, one of the best Hunting academies in Vytal—in the world!—she was going a full two years earlier than she dreamed she could. And to think that it was only because she'd managed to meet one of the school's renowned Huntresses and professors (who later introduced her to the famous Professor Ozpin himself!) after a bunch of goons had tried to rob the Dust store she'd been in. Even better, she'd only been there because she'd been a bit bummed about being separated from her older sister, Yang, when her enrollment had been accepted; she had just wanted to be alone for a while to mope. If only all robberies could end so well!

    But after the glow from the fact that, instead of being left alone, she was now going with Yang to the place of her dreams had faded, it had slowly dawned on her that she'd be two years younger than everyone else in her year, with most of those people being complete strangers. She had always had difficultly being around people without coming off like a goober, and it had been bad enough in Signal where the strangers were at least familiar to some extent. Yang's friends had been nice enough, but distant from the fact that, to them, she was just Yang's kid sister.

    Beacon would be the first day of school all over again. Worse now because she was only here due to some unusual circumstances, and if there was one thing she'd learned it was that "unusual" usually got a lot of attention. Between the two of them, her sister was the one who had gotten the attention-handling skills. Ruby preferred handling weapons.

    Yang's attempts to reassure her hadn't been all that helpful either since she'd just emphasized the attention she was going to get. And what exactly did "bee's knees" mean anyway? Did bees even have knees?

    That one guy who vomited had managed to make her forget about her anxiety for a bit, but only because she'd been grossed out and didn't want his puke to end up on her shoes like they had on Yang's. A part of her had almost hoped that maybe that would mean that guy would have most of the attention on him for a while, but she had immediately felt guilty and disgusted with herself at the thought. The thought that he probably heard Yang casually call him Vomit Boy while he was feeling sick made her feel worse since she knew that while her sister had meant no real malice, she'd only done it in an attempt to distract her from her nervousness.

    If she bumped into him again, she'd apologize. Or try to, anyway. Being bad with people meant she was bad at approaching them in the first place.

    She tried to still the butterflies in her stomach as she and her sister walked in companionable silence out the airship.
    Silver eyes widened as they took in the sight before them. She felt the apprehension she'd been feeling melt away as she gazed at the truly massive academy, taking in the graceful, swooping lines that seemed designed to draw the eyes to the impressive-looking central tower bearing the beacon the school itself was named for. Everyone always said it had been designed like that to inspire hope. At night it was the light people could turn to in the dark, and in the day its beauty, amid other buildings of equal craftsmanship, was a statement that even in the harsh world of Remnant people not only survived but thrived.

    She'd heard that sentiment since childhood, but she never really understood the feeling until right now, when she was here herself.

    "Wow …" was all she could whisper.

    Beside her Yang folded her arms and nodded. "The view from Vale's got nothing on this!"

    Ruby opened her mouth to agree when she saw something that tore her attention from the majesty of the palatial Beacon: weaponry. She loved weapons, an appreciation that had been developed and nurtured in Signal, where you were expected to design and build your own weapon. Consequently, it had an excellently detailed weapons design class, which had been the one class that had always held her undivided attention. Being trained by Uncle Qrow in the use of a scythe—something that required intense concentration and mastery—had only stoked the flames further.

    She hadn't really noticed the weapons earlier since she had been too distracted and antsy. But now that she could take them all in with their sheer variety …

    "Ohmygosh, Sis! That kid's got a collapsible staff!" she suddenly blurted out, waving her arms excitedly. She whipped around to another person. "And she's got a fire sword!"

    In her excitement, she began unwittingly moving toward the girl in question to get a closer look at her sword. She had even begun to reach out and touch it when she suddenly felt a painful tug at her neck.

    "Ow! Ooww!" She staggered backward as Yang dragged her by the hood of her cloak. She turned to see the older girl's lavender eyes shooting her a look.

    "Easy there, Little Sister. They're just weapons!" her sister admonished gently.

    The younger girl looked at her incredulously. She gestured in front of her with both arms. "'Just weapons'? They're an extension of ourselves! They're a part of us!"—her voice rose and quickened into almost a squeal—"Oh, they're so cool!"

    "Well, why can't you swoon over your own weapon? Aren't you happy with it?" The blonde wore a lightly indulgent smile.

    In one smooth motion Ruby unclipped her collapsible scythe from behind, unfolded it, and began cradling it over her shoulder like a child. And as far as Ruby was concerned, the weapon was her little baby. Her beautiful, lethal little baby. She had lovingly given life to it and nurtured it, after all. She'd even given it her surname!

    "Of course I'm happy with Crescent Rose! I just really like seeing new ones. It's like meeting new people, but better ..."

    Especially since weapons are much easier to understand than people, she thought as she placed Crescent Rose back on her belt.

    Once you put some thought into the design, knew where everything fit, used it right, and kept it well maintained, a weapon will work for you every time. Simple and reliable. People were frustrating to figure out and sometimes did things she couldn't anticipate, or understand even when she could. And she couldn't really break them apart to see what was wrong.

    Yang responded by playfully pulling her hood over her eyes. "Ruby, come on, why don't you go try and make some friends of your own?"

    "But why would I need friends if I have you?" The younger girl smiled up at her as she drew back her hood.

    A slightly exasperated look came to the blonde's face, but whatever she'd been about to say was interrupted when a voice suddenly called out behind them.

    "E-excuse me! Wait up!"

    The duo turned and saw a blond boy running to catch up to them, panting lightly. He wore some white armor, mostly just a chest plate and pauldrons, over a back hoodie and had a sword on his belt. The patch on his faded jeans and the messiness of his hair lent him an overall scraggly appearance. He smiled hesitantly as he stopped before them. The girls stared at him for a moment before it clicked.

    "Oh, hey! Aren't you Vomit Boy?" Yang asked pleasantly.

    The sheepish expression on the boy's face turned a bit pained, and he began to rub the back of his head.

    "Yeah, I'm not living that down for a while, am I?"

    Ruby had to stifle a grin. Truth be told, she'd thought the same thing and probably would've blurted out something similar had Yang not beat her to the punch. Remembering that she had basically hoped that the guy's embarrassment would distract people from scrutinizing her, however, turned the amusement into a pang of guilt. Plus, she had wanted to apologize if given the chance, and it was clear she'd been given one.

    She mildly elbowed her older sister in the ribs. "Yang!"

    "No, it's okay. I get it," the boy said, waving a hand dismissively. "Motion sickness, you know? It's a much more common problem than people let on."

    "So how can we help you—" Yang, seeing Ruby's warning glare and readied elbow, paused before she could bestow on him the nickname again.

    "Oh! Uh, it's Jaune, Jaune Arc!" the boy supplied. Then, flashing them an awkward smile, he added, "Short, sweet, rolls off the tongue—ladies love it!"

    Yang replied with a mildly amused smirk and a roll of the eyes. Ruby raised an eyebrow. "Do they?"

    As abruptly as the false bravado had come, the boy, Jaune, deflated. "They will! Well, I-I hope they will. My mom always says that … Er, never mind, that's not the point."

    "Eh … heh." Ruby smiled in awkward politeness herself, watching Jaune flail before them. Wow, and I thought I was bad at talking to people.

    "Get to the point, ladies' man," her sister said, giving the boy a friendly smile to take the sting out of the impatient comment.

    "Ah, right. Anyway, ah"—he faced Yang squarely, if a bit stiffly— "I just wanted to apologize."

    Both girls blinked. Yang raised an eyebrow. "Apologize? For what?"

    "For earlier. You know," His eyes flicked downward. "Me, Vomit Boy … your shoes."

    Ruby gawked at him for a second. Then she suddenly broke out giggling. She couldn't help it. Now that she really thought about it, the whole thing was insane. She'd wanted to apologize for her selfishness in being thankful for some other guy's misfortune, and he turns around and apologizes to her first because his misfortune just happened to involve getting puke on her sister's boots. The twisted logic of it all almost seemed like something out of a cheap comedy.

    For her part, her sister just beamed at Jaune and waved away his apology. "No harm done, Jaune. Heck, pretty much forgot about it 'til you brought it up."

    Jaune's shoulders slumped as he gave out a sigh of relief. "Oh, good. That's good. I was afraid you'd be mad or hate me for it or something."

    "'Cause I'm a girl, and girls are obsessed with their shoes?" Yang asked playfully, cocking an eyebrow at him.

    "A-wha?" Jaune looked at her blankly before his eyes suddenly widened, and he began shaking his head frantically. "N-no, that's not what I … I didn't mean to imply … I, uh …"

    Shaking her head, Yang gave him a friendly clap on the shoulder. Thanks to her natural strength, the clap clanged loudly against Jaune's shoulder armor and put him off balance.

    "Relax, Jaune-Jaune. Geez, no wonder you were barfing up a storm. You're way too high-strung."

    Ruby, who'd been quietly observing the exchange, finally decided to speak up. Jaune might be about as bad with people as she was, and he'd so far had a much worse day than she'd had. Yet he'd still approached them, two complete strangers who had kinda made fun of him earlier, because he felt that need to make things right. She'd have been way too nervous in that situation, and would probably have messed it up even more somehow. Suddenly, her worries about just wanting to have "normal knees" didn't seem so big in comparison.

    "Well … while we're all apologizing," she ventured, "I guess I owe you one too."

    "Huh?" Jaune cocked his head to the side, and Ruby felt like giggling again at the overly expressive confusion on his face. It seemed that state came naturally to Jaune.

    "I mean, I never called you Vomit Boy—that was all Yang." She pointed at the other girl with her thumb, which the blonde replied to by sticking her tongue out at her. Ruby gave Jaune a lopsided, sheepish smile. "But I kinda thought earlier that, well, 'I'm glad I'm not that guy. I hope he gets the unwanted attention, not me.' So, eh heh, sorry 'bout that."

    "Oh, no. No need for that." Jaune shook his head. With a self-effacing smile, he added, "That's perfectly understandable. Who wants to be Jaune the Amazing Vomit Boy when they can be the Astounding—"

    Jaune suddenly stopped, apparently realizing that he hadn't gotten around to asking for her name.

    Talking to someone as awkward as she was had made her feel more comfortable than she otherwise would've been, so she playfully decided to imitate his earlier introduction.

    "Ruby, Ruby Rose. Short, petite, sticks out her tongue—" She turned to Yang and did just that. Then she turned back to Jaune, took on a theatrically overconfident posture, and added, "Ladies love it."

    Jaune stared at her for a moment, and the smile froze on Ruby's face. She wondered if maybe her attempt at a joke might've insulted him instead. It wouldn't have been her first social faux pas. It didn't help that she could hear Yang muttering beside her, "Oh god, it's dork at first sight …"

    But then Jaune smiled at her and said, "Okay, I change my mind, you make a better Jaune than I do. Tell you what, on the next flight you bring the barf, I bring the bucket."

    Ruby laughed and gave him a shove. "Oh, shut up."

    Then she caught sight of Yang smiling at the two of them, saying nothing. Ruby looked at her quizzically when she suddenly recognized that the smile her sister now wore was familiar. All too terrifyingly familiar. It was the one she got every time she got it into her head to encourage her to be more sociable, which never ended well. Her eyes widened, and she opened to her mouth to say something.

    She never got the chance. Out of nowhere a gaggle of people suddenly ran past her and gathered around Yang, who waved at her cheerily and said, "Well, looks like you two are having fun. And my friends are here. Gotta go catch up. 'Kay, c'ya, bye."
    As quickly as her friends had arrived, Yang and the group left, sending her spinning and nearly bowling her over. Jaune had been more alert and had managed to step out of the way.

    "Wait, where are you going?!" she demanded as she tried to maintain her balance. "Are we supposed to go to our dorms? Where are our dorms? Do we have dorms?"

    She wobbled to a stop. "Ugh … I can't believe her," she muttered.

    She toppled over backward, more disorientated from the spinning than she had thought. However, she felt someone catch her from behind before she hit the ground. She looked up and saw Jaune looking down at her with a concerned look on his face.

    "You okay?" he asked.

    Despite feeling put off by her sister's sudden but inevitable betrayal, she smiled she gently pushed away from to stand on her own. "Yeah. Older sisters, what're you gonna do?"

    Jaune stared at her like she'd grown a second head. He looked in the direction Yang had run off too, then looked back at her. Having seen that reaction many times before, Ruby just rolled her eyes slightly and waited for the question, smiling patiently.

    "Wait … older sister?"

    Ruby's smile widened. Maybe she was just happy that at least she hadn't been left completely alone, but the question didn't seem as annoying as it usually was.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    Jaune looked sidelong at Ruby as they headed down the cobblestone path toward entrance of the academy. After his question had prompted a surprisingly detailed elaboration of her exact familial relation with Yang, their conversion had petered to a halt, like it tended to do between socially maladjusted strangers like they both were (or, at least, like he pretended to be). Now they'd settled into an awkward silence, and he took the opportunity to consider what to do next.

    He had been a bit disappointed when Yang—who was apparently Ruby's actual older sister—had left. Part of that was because the girl had been very easy on the eyes and had even been friendly enough once he'd broken the ice. Her lavender eyes also made her look quite striking up close. Mostly, though, it was because he'd been left alone with Ruby. Given the blonde's earlier "dork at first sight" comment, he'd been worried that Yang leaving in a hurry had been some sort of misguided attempt to set the younger (by a full two years, apparently) girl up with him.

    It wasn't that he was more interested in Yang over Ruby; nor was he nervous about being alone with the latter (in the more hormonal sense of "nervous"). True, Yang was very developed and beautiful, and Ruby was quite cute and had silver eyes as distracting as her sister's lavender ones were striking. Personality-wise, however, neither were his type. Yang struck him as someone who charged headlong at an enemy, grinning all the way; if he had his way, he'd have preferred to charge in the opposite direction, screaming all the way. Ruby, meanwhile, seemed nervously eager about being Beacon while he was more along the lines of nervously terrified.

    Still, like many healthy boys his age, he quite found the company of pretty female peers quite enjoyable. However, he also liked to think that he was a bit more pragmatic about such things.

    Growing up as a shunned "loser" meant that girls had tended to avoid him. He hadn't really minded that when he was younger. When he was old enough to mind, he'd also become old enough to be a bit more calculating. He'd come to the conclusion that while at that point his cowardly reputation had begun to fade, the reputation for being a well-meaning but useless idiot that he'd been trying to cultivate was incompatible with the experimental attempts at relationships that had begun to preoccupy his peers.

    His father liked to say that all women looked for was confidence, and from what Jaune had observed among teenage girls and older women, that was true to an extent. Confidence was also the last thing someone expected from a harmlessly inept nitwit, so he'd contrived to avoid being seen as such, instead preferring a transparently false veneer of it. So while he might've gotten some attention for his looks, few girls considered him a "serious" (as laughably as that adjective could apply to most fickle teenage flings) prospect in the romance department. He'd liked how that added to his overall air of unreliability, so he'd done nothing to dissuade the view.

    Sure, he'd disappointed his venal hormone-driven side in the process, but he figured that he'd have plenty of time to indulge it once people wised up, took his ineptitude at face value, and stopped trying to force him into the role of a subpar Hunter or warrior. Then he could find some other much safer lot in life, grow into it, and let his public confidence level "develop" naturally from there. After all, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, and all sorts of people with quietly overlooked mundane roles in society still got girlfriends and, if so inclined, wives. A number even found happiness in their decisions. He could see no reason that shouldn't apply to him.

    The few girls who didn't dismiss him as ultimately harmless friendzone-able material often had some confidence issues themselves. Well, that, or they were the type who figured that he'd be easily led on, wrapped around their fingers, and duly dumped at their convenience. He already had enough on plate trying to build his ideal, safely comfortable life without dealing with the inherent minefields of either possibility.

    Since Ruby seemed to fit the first type, he really hoped he was a wrong about Yang trying to play matchmaker. He really didn't want to have to deal with that so soon after arriving at Beacon; not when he was still trying to figure out exactly how to play it to come out of the academy with life and limb not too seriously damaged.

    Then again, another possibility was that she'd just been trying to get her younger sister to make new friends. He knew all too well how unsubtle and meddlesome people could be when they thought they making another person do something they thought was good for them. At the thought of all the hard training and "live exercises" against Grimm that his family had put him through over the years, his face involuntarily twisted in discomfort.

    Not wanting to give the girl beside him the idea that it was directed at her—it wouldn't do to alienate one of his first potential allies so soon—he immediately squelched it.

    He clearly hadn't been quick enough since Ruby, in an almost desperate attempt to find something to talk about, suddenly said, "So … I got this thing," before whipping out her collapsible weapon and unfolding it into the largest, most wicked-looking scythe he had ever seen, which she then slammed point-first into the cobblestones.

    "Whoa!" he cried out, not expecting that. He wanted to berate the girl not only for her carelessness with a ginormous live blade, but also for said carelessness being done while he was within accidental maiming distance.

    He said instead, "Is that a scythe?"

    She cradled the weapon proudly, placing one hand on what looked like a bolt handle on one side. Jaune saw that the body of the weapon apparently had what looked like a magazine, ejection port, and scope, leading him to realize that …

    "It's also a customizable high-impact sniper rifle!" she finished the thought for him cheerfully.

    He gaped at the incongruity of the design. "A-wha?"

    "It's also a gun." She cocked the weapon, her expression eagerly fishing for his opinion.

    Jaune had several. He always failed to understand how weapon-makers always seemed to one-up each other in attempting to come up with the most convoluted designs imaginable. This one particularly annoyed him. Who in their right mind would take a weapon sensibly designed to engage at a very safe distance and mate it to a close-range weapon? Especially a close-range weapon that negated the advantage the welcome extra reach its long handle would have lent it by curving the blade inward (toward the user!), making it harder to handle while pulling the enemy toward the wielder instead of pushing said enemy out. It boggled the mind! If he was blessed with a sniper rifle, the only thing he'd put on it would be an even better scope so that he could shoot from even farther out.

    Of course, he said none of this. He settled for a lame, "Oh, that's cool."

    "So what've you got?" She leaned in expectantly.

    "Oh! I, uh ..." He fumbled, a bit nonplussed. He'd never really been asked to show off in such a manner before. Mostly because his reputation had meant that he never had that many friends, and none of them were really that close. That hadn't changed when his reputation had started to "improve." He wouldn't have been inclined to had he been asked anyway. Like most things that were potentially lethal to him, Jaune preferred to be careful around weapons.

    But as he looked at Ruby's eager face, he knew there was no excuse he could make not to show her Crocea Mors. Not without ruining the continued atmosphere of goodwill toward him that he was trying to maintain.

    "I got this sword." Carefully, he drew out his weapon and showed it to her.

    Her silver eyes ran up its blade appreciatively. He mouth formed an O as she went, "Ooooohh!"

    Jaune's mind started to take that exchange down an entirely different road, but he ruthlessly quashed it. He flicked the activation switch on his scabbard, and it snapped open into a white heater shield with gold trim. On it was proudly displayed the Arc family crest.

    "Yeah, and I've got a shield, too!"

    "So, what do they do?" Ruby asked, apparently expecting him to show off some integrated function of the pair.

    He was about to make a wry comment regarding Crocea Mors's mundane simplicity, when the girl suddenly reached out to touch the shield. Jaune wasn't quick enough to warn her, and she inadvertently touched off the retraction system. The sudden retraction into scabbard form caused him to lose hold of it, only for the impact on the ground to snap it back open again and send it flying. Jaune suppressed the urge to cuss as he fumbled with the shield. It was exactly things like this that made him avoid showing off with his weapons.

    "Jaune, watch out!" Ruby suddenly cried out.

    The warning had come too late. In his fumbling, Jaune had failed to see he was stumbling into a pushcart full of luggage until it was too late. He toppled, and somehow the shield met his right foot at the apex of its upswing, sending it flying again. The impact opened several of the large cases, spilling their contents. Jaune heard tinkling sounds all around him as he slammed into the ground. The cases had actually slowed down his fall enough that it didn't actually hurt that much, and the sword had clattered safely away from him when he'd inadvertently lost his grip on it.

    Still, the force had been sufficient enough to wind him a bit, and for a moment he gaped, dazed, at colorful glass bottles all around him. The moment quickly passed, however, and he realized to his horror that he was lying in a pile of bottles full Dust—several of them he recognized as dangerously volatile.

    In a burst of panic, he jumped upright, cursing himself upon belatedly realizing that such a sudden movement could have accidentally set off one of the jars. The suddenness also caused him to trip forward as he stood, and he fell face-first in a heap atop a pale white-haired girl in a white dress.

    "What are you doing?!" the girl shrieked in outrage. "Get off me, you—"

    Whatever the girl had been about to say, Jaune never heard it. At that moment, his shield came crashing down onto several of the spilled Dust bottles. Hard.

    The world ended.
     
  3. Chapter 2 - Of Prickly Princesses, Preposterous Pajamas, and Prospective Partners

    "Friendships are built on self-interest." —Kautilya the Sagacious, historical Valian political thinker

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    Keeping to one side, Blake Belladonna quietly allowed the people to move past her. Most of the students were taking in the sight of the academy grounds, gawking openly at the sheer scale and grandeur of the institution. Brushing back a stray lock of black hair, she did so as well, her golden eyes—as did those of many there—gravitating toward the massive central light tower. Idly, she wondered what thoughts the imposing sight of the edifice was inspiring in her fellow teens. Perhaps it was dawning on them that today was the start of the chance for them to prove themselves as Huntsmen and Huntresses.

    For her it was a second chance; a chance at redemption.

    Huntsmen and Huntresses helped people. All she ever wanted to do was help people—all people. For years, she thought she'd been doing that with the White Fang.

    Yet again, the memories came flooding back. She tried to keep her ears from twitching at all the guilt; even after all these years she still slipped from time to time. Not her humanlike ears, but the feline second set hidden beneath her bow—the set marking her as a Faunus.

    Faunus had always been treated poorly by humans, subjugated and brutalized because their various animal traits made them little better than actual animals in the minds of many humans. It had taken one bloody uprising after another, then finally a brutal, protracted war before things had started to get better. And even then, not much better. Faunus had merely "risen" from "man-shaped animal" to the exalted status of "not quite good enough to be treated like real people."

    The White Fang had tried to change that. With protests and civil disobedience at first, to show everyone that while they were willing to struggle long and hard for the right to be treated equally, they were just as willing to do so peacefully. After all, wasn't that what equality meant? If Faunus and human alike were just as much people as each other, fighting about it just made little sense. It was ultimately better for both if they weren't at each other's throats most of the time.

    As a child, Blake had joined firmly believing that. She still did—but over time the White Fang had started to believe that less and less. While they had tried to keep their protests as peaceful as possible, those responding to them often held no such compunction. And people can only turn the other cheek so much before the injuries and deaths started piling up.

    At first, it had started out as self-defense and "active deterrence." And the White Fang had stuck to purely defensive actions. They just decided along the way that the best defense was a good offense. For a time she'd convinced herself they were right, too. That he was right.

    And things had started to change; humans had become less openly hostile to Faunus ...

    "What about the crew members?"

    "What about them?"

    ... because humans had become openly fearful of them. Faunus were dangerous, deadly. So they hated them all the more, resented them all the more. Just like violent, mindless beasts.

    Just like Grimm.

    Her lips tightened, and she looked to the side, as if averting her eyes in the face of furious condemnation. As she did, she realized that the other students had left her behind. She'd been lost in her thoughts longer than she'd realized.

    With a rueful shake of her head, she began walking again. She also took out one of her books and started to read. As a child she had often found solace in those pages, when the oppression she'd experience in real life had become too much to bear. All too often it seemed that these days she sought their refuge from what she had let herself become.

    Blake had barely enough time to lose herself in the story, however, when an incredibly loud explosion startled her. She snapped the book shut as her other hand reached for Gambol Shroud, the weapon strapped to her back. Tensing, she looked around alertly, wondering if she hadn't left her past behind her as much as she'd thought.

    A flash in the air caught her eye, and she looked up just in time to see something falling toward her. She jumped aside quickly, and the object slammed into the place she'd been standing. It was a ... shield? The shield caromed off the cobblestones, rapidly collapsing into what looked like a scabbard as it did so, before clattering to a stop in front of her.

    She regarded it for a moment, blinking once, before turning to the direction of the blast. Warily, she also continued to scan the surroundings—it had sounded quite large, after all.

    As the clouds of dust the explosion had thrown up cleared, she saw a small crater in the middle of the main path to the academy entrance. She saw people sprawled around the crater. One was a girl in a black dress and a red hood, looking a bit dazed but unhurt. The second was a lightly armored blond boy sprawled facedown atop another girl—she couldn't see much of her beneath the boy's body. Those two didn't seem to be moving. Around them were several men in servants' uniforms.

    Blake started forward to help, but then stopped herself, wondering if the apparent attack on those people was part of some scheme to draw her out and distract her at the same time. She couldn't see any signs of anyone else, but that would be the point in a half-competent ambush.

    At that point, some of the dust clouds had been blown in her direction by the wind, and she caught a whiff. As expected, there was the distinctive tang of Dust. However, there seemed to be a variety of Dust scents. Many were the volatile types that could be used for explosives, but about as many smelled like the types of Dust no one would use in even the crudest improvised bombs because they'd dampen or even stop any potential explosion in sufficient quantities.

    That thought made her relax slightly. An accident, then, not some sort of attack; some student's personal Dust supply now gone in a moment of carelessness. It happened often enough to be a common school joke pretty much everywhere, after all. Debris that looked like the remains of carrying cases seemed to support that idea.

    She supposed someone could have placed a bomb among someone's luggage to make it look like such an accident, but she would have smelled the difference. Not knowing the exact proportions of Dust types in someone else's luggage, any potential bomber would have to err on the side of pragmatism and load an amount of explosive Dust easily detectable to an experienced nose (and she had more than enough familiarity with explosives, improvised or otherwise). The nature of the heterogeneity that she smelled didn't support that.

    Quickly, she moved to help, stowing her weapon and picking up and clipping on the errant shield/scabbard along the way. She saw the boy get rolled off the girl by the servants and get plopped unceremoniously to the ground as they turned to help up the white-dressed girl he'd been lying on. The red-hooded girl let out a cry of outrage, moving quickly to the boy's side. He remained unmoving as the girl in the white dress stood up and began dusting herself off and yelling angrily, her even whiter and now-disheveled side ponytail bobbing with every gesture.

    For the second time Blake stopped. She recognized that girl all too well. It was Weiss Schnee, heiress to the Schnee Dust Company, whose shady dealings ended up victimizing Faunus more often than not while the law did nothing to stop them. If not due to indifference to Faunus, then it was because the company was simply too big to touch because of the sheer influence being the largest Dust supplier on Vytal lent it. The same cruel company that she'd grown to well and truly hate over the years.

    She found herself swept away in the sudden wave of animosity, glaring at the white-haired girl as she argued with the red-hooded girl. But as quickly as the feeling came, it fizzled out.

    This was also the same Schnee Dust Company whose workers fell victim to retaliatory attacks by the White Fang. Often enough workers whose only crime was having no one else to work for because the company had bought everything else. The same company whose founding family were often targeted for assassination or kidnapping, even members far too young or distantly related to have been actively involved in any of the company's questionable business at the time.

    "You tried to kill me!"

    Startled, Blake flinched at the accusation before realizing that it was directed at the red-hooded girl, who was cradling the head of the still-unconscious blond.

    "Look, we're sorry! It was an accident!" Red Hood protested.

    "Sorry?! Look at the damage your brain-dead boyfriend caused!" The Schnee scion wagged a furious finger at the pair.

    "He's not my—" the other girl began before stopping abruptly, apparently realizing how silly getting into that argument would be given the situation. "Look, I think he's really hurt. You can blame either of us as much as you want later—heck, blame me for setting off his shield—but please help. I think we need to call someone."

    "And just whose fault is that?" the Schnee girl demanded. Despite her tone, she knelt down beside the boy.

    "Hey, he got hurt shielding you from the blast!"

    "That he caused!"

    "Are you gonna help or not, Princess?"

    "It's heiress, actually," Blake cut in, figuring it was a good time to forestall further argument and offer help at the same time. "Weiss Schnee, heiress to the Schnee Dust Company. One of the largest producers of energy propellant in the world."
    Both girls turned at the sound of her voice. The Schnee heiress smiled, choosing to take her description as a compliment.

    "Finally! Some recognition!"

    Blake bit back the urge to say exactly what else she recognized the Schnee family business for; there were more important things at hand. Instead, she gestured at the boy. "Need help?"

    Still smiling, Weiss waved her off. "Thank you, but there'll be no need for that."

    She faced one of her servants and said, "Find one of the staff and tell them what happened." Turning to another one, she continued, "See if the first-aid kit is in one of the cases that survived and try to help if you can find it." To a third, she commanded, "See what got destroyed and call for replacements at home." She glanced back to the hooded girl. "Let's not tell Father about the carelessness of others. This time."

    The other girl glared at her but said nothing, probably because the Schnee girl, petulant imperiousness aside, was helping out. The servants just said, "Yes, milady," in unison and quickly went about then assigned tasks.

    The hooded girl let out a slow breath before, a bit grudgingly, saying, "Thanks."

    She got a glare in return. "You really want to thank me?" The heiress pulled a pamphlet titled DUST for dummies and other Inadequate Individuals from her clothes. "Hand this over to Tall, Dark, and Scraggly over there when he wakes up."

    The hooded girl blinked. "What's this?"

    She soon regretted asking. Weiss began to recite a memorized speech at her, which got faster and faster with every word, "The Schnee Dust Company is not responsible for any injuries or damages sustained while operating a Schnee Dust Company product. Althoughnotmandatory,theSchneeFamilyhighlyencouragescustomerstoreadandfamiliarizethemselveswiththiseasytofollowguidetoDustapplicationsandpracticesinthefield."

    "A-wah?" the speech's victim blurted as she found the pamphlet pressed onto her hand.

    For her part, Blake felt about as confused. She'd only come here to offer her help. Now that Weiss had detailed her servants to the task, there was really nothing meaningful she could do. But she couldn't just walk away so soon after extending her offer either; it just didn't seem right.

    She sighed quietly. This was why she usually didn't seek out people; being practically a revolutionary for the better part of her child- and teenhood hadn't left her much in the way of social protocol. And that was without the added awkwardness of having one of the people she was talking to being an heiress to the company she'd attacked with the White Fang.
    At any rate, Weiss made her own decision before she could.

    "Also, don't ever approach me again, both of you," she said to the pair on the ground. "Now, since you've delayed me enough ..."

    Without waiting for a reply, she turned around, gave Blake a polite smile and nod, and walked off in a huff. Blake stared at her back as she swaggered away, wondering what to make of all this.

    "Um ..." came a voice from her side, and she looked down at the hooded girl. She smiled at Blake uncertainly. "Uh, hi. Ruby, I'm thanks! Er, I mean, thanks, I'm Ruby."

    Blake blinked at her. "For what?"

    "Huh?" Ruby's silver eyes blinked back. "What do you ... oh, uh, Ruby. Guess it sands for—"

    "No," Blake interrupted her nervous stammering. "What did you thank me for?"

    Ruby looked at her quizzically. "Well, you came over to help Jaune—ah, that's him by the way." She pointed at the still knocked out boy, whose head was on her lap. "So thanks."

    She shook her own head in response. "I didn't really do anything."

    "Yeah, but you were going to." Ruby gave her a reassuring smile. "It's the thought that counts! Ah, right?"

    She glanced away, considering the words. Finally, she said, "No, not always."

    Ruby opened her mouth to reply to that, but then closed it again. She said nothing for a while, and Blake let the silence stretch, having nothing more to say herself.

    She knew most people would find such a silence uncomfortable and try to fill it with any sort of chatter—and Ruby probably wanted to do just that. Blake wondered why they bothered. To her meaningless chitchat just to avoid silence always seemed way more awkward and discomfiting than staying quiet. If you had nothing to say, then that was that.

    She began to reach for her book, when a white glow suddenly distracted her. It was coming from the boy, Jaune. The glow started dimly at first but then suddenly flashed bright, startling a yelp out of Ruby and drawing looks from the Schnee servants. Blake found her eyes widening as the scruffs and scratches from the explosion began to fade from Jaune's skin. As suddenly as it had come, the glow disappeared, and everyone found themselves staring at the now completely healed boy. The only sign he'd had several cases of Dust explode near him was the soot on his well-worn armor and clothing.

    Blake saw Jaune's eyelids flutter before his eyes suddenly opened, by happenstance looking right into hers. They were blue. She blinked. He blinked.

    She was starting to get a bit annoyed at all the blinking happening today.

    He continued to look at her, a confused expression on his face. Getting a bit uncomfortable at the scrutiny, she reached for shield-scabbard that she suddenly remembered she'd picked up and handed it out to him.

    "Here."

    Jaune just gazed at that for a moment too before reaching out and taking it.

    "T-thanks," he began shakily. "Um ...?"

    "Blake," Ruby supplied. "She's Blake."

    The familiarity of the girl's voice and face apparently shook Jaune out of his post-unconsciousness disorientation since Blake saw a look of recognition and alertness slolwly make its way across his face. Then he seemingly recognized exactly where his head was laid on, and he became very alert.

    "Gah!" he cried out as he suddenly sat upright, so fast that he almost bowled Ruby over. His face was glowing again—this time, a bright red.

    Despite herself, Blake found a small smirk crawling onto her face as she watched him sputtering apologies even as Ruby tried to reassure him that he'd been a perfect gentleman when he was unconscious.

    "W-well, still ..." he stammered, "I was ... ah, er ... why was I on your la—lying like that anyway?"

    He looked questioningly at Ruby, then at her. She just raised a single eyebrow and tilted her head, gesturing around her. Jaune glanced at the crater and the gawking servants milling about the debris. Blue eyes widened.

    "Oh ... oh no. Don't tell me ..."

    Sheepishly, Ruby handed him the pamphlet.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    Ruby shot Jaune another worried look as they trudged toward the conference hall for the orientation. Shortly after she had explained exactly what had happened while he'd been out cold, the servant that irate heiress had sent to look for help had come back with one of the faculty. After another round of explanations for the teacher and assurances from Jaune that he needed no medical attention after all, the teacher had sighed and sent them on their way, muttering something about careless kids and annoyed groundskeepers. On the way Jaune had clammed up, a stricken look on his face and the pamphlet she'd handed to him clenched in a death grip.

    She could only imagine the kind of day he was having. Puking on the airship must have been mortifying enough, but stumbling into some rich girl's luggage and having it blow up in his face? All her worries about being seen as weird for being younger than everyone else just seemed so silly and selfish in comparison.

    Her mouth opened as she struggled to come up with something reassuring, but then it closed again. Just what could she say to someone whose day had been as bad as Jaune's? Also, part of her was pretty sure that the whole thing might have been her fault for carelessly touching his shield, so she was also concerned that Jaune was angry with her at the moment.

    Helplessly, she turned to Blake, who was walking behind her. But the quiet girl had her nose buried in a book. Ruby sighed. It seemed there was only one thing to say.

    "Jaune?" she ventured, tentatively.

    To her relief, he didn't seem mad at her when he turned to her. The grip on the now crumpled pamphlet even relaxed.

    "Sorry. About the shield, I mean." She winced. This was the second time she was apologizing to Jaune today. She really hoped this wasn't going to be a running thing between them.

    She continued, "If I hadn't set it off, maybe the whole thing wouldn't have happened."

    Jaune said nothing for a moment, but then he gave her a small smile and shook his head. "Nah, don't worry about it. Wouldn't have happened if I caught it too. Not like we meant to blow me up. It just happens ... uh, accidents, I mean. Not me blowing up. At least I hope not."

    Despite herself, Ruby smiled. It amazed her how Jaune could just joke about it like that. If that had happened to her she'd probably never be able to show her face in public again.

    "Besides," Jaune continued, "at least I'm not Vomit Boy anymore. Crater Face, at your service! Clearly, I'm moving up in the world."

    Ruby burst out laughing. If Yang had to force her to socialize, she was glad she'd managed to befriend someone like Jaune.

    Behind them Blake peered up at them over the top of her book for a moment before going back to reading.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    As they entered the conference hall, Jaune thought he had handled that pretty well. Extremely well, actually, considering that he had had a not insignificant amount of Dust detonate in close proximity. He was just lucky that his Aura was just as dedicated to keeping himself healthy and (reasonably) happy as he was. Although it did not bode well that he'd already used on his very first day at Beacon. He usually preferred to leave as much of its precious life-preserving, injury-healing energy in reserve as possible.

    Nor did it bode well that he was now on the personal shit list of one of Vytal's rich and powerful. Another thing he had learned from the long and sordidly colorful legacy of the Arc Family was that powerful people were too often inclined to bring every bit of their resources and influence down upon you if they felt like it. He would never forget the story of that ancestor who had learned a very personal understanding of the art of barbecue by pissing off some clergyman. And he wanted to be seen as a screw-up just enough to wash out, not as a danger to others and thus hated with a passion.

    From what Ruby had told him, though, the Schnee heiress had seen fit to send him some help, so maybe she wasn't nursing that big of a grudge. Maybe. You really couldn't be sure around rich people (or people in general, really). At any rate, it was another thing he needed to do damage control for. Of course, he'd probably need to steer clear of her for a while, to give her time to cool off and be in a more receptive mood.

    From Ruby's description of her appearance, that shouldn't be too hard. White hair, pale white skin, and mostly white clothing? He could spot that a mile away. Well, except maybe in winter.

    He surreptitiously glanced at Ruby, who was a lot more chipper how that he had "forgiven" her. Not really, of course. Without her carelessness with Crocea Mors, he wouldn't have been fumbling with his shield and dangerously distracted. But holding a grudge himself would have been counterproductive, especially since the girl was already guilting herself over it. Building on that while letting her keep the positive impression she had of him was a better strategy.

    His eyes slid over to the other girl, Blake, who was still reading quietly and pointedly ignoring them. For now he knew little about her other than the fact that she was quiet, standoffish, and liked to read. She'd also apparently been willing to help him out when he was unconscious. If that willingness could be extended for later, whether he was conscious or otherwise, then so much the better.

    "Ruby! Jaune! Over here! I saved you guys a spot!" a familiar voice broke into his thoughts. He looked around and quickly spotted Yang waving them over.

    Ruby shot a half-wave in response before turning to Blake. "Oh! Hey, we gotta go! See you after the ..."

    Her voice trailed off once she saw that Blake was already walking away. Ruby exchanged a brief look with him.

    "Thanks again!" he called out, just to reinforce the barely established connection.

    He received only the slightest of pauses and what might have been a head tilt in response. From an obviously aloof, introverted type, though, that was a promising response. He exchanged another look with Ruby, shrugging and smiling wordlessly, as they walked to where her older sibling was waiting.

    "How's your first day going, guys?" the blonde said by way of greeting.

    "You mean since you ditched us and Jaune exploded?" the younger girl huffed irritatedly.

    "Yikes; meltdown already?" Then Yang frowned and turned to Jaune. "Wait ... exploded? At Ruby?"

    Recognizing danger when he saw it, he immediately started waving his arms. "N-no! I literally exploded! There's a hole in front of the school and everything!"

    The frown faded into a slow smile. "Are you two being sarcastic?"

    "I wish!" her sister scoffed before he could explain. "I accidentally set off Jaune's shield, and he trips over some crabby girl's luggage, and then the shield comes down, and the Dust exploded, and Jaune fainted, and the girl was yelling, and I was yelling, and ... and—"

    "And that's how Vomit Boy grew up—er, blew up—into Crater Face. The end," he joked to give Ruby a chance to catch her breath.

    Yang turned a raised eyebrow at them, trying to decide if they were having her on, when Jaune saw her attention drawn to something behind him. He followed the direction of her gaze and saw a girl with a very distinctive white motif in the distance, glaring daggers at them—at him. Jaune cringed and waved at the girl nervously, apologetically.

    That only made the glare darken, and for a second Jaune was afraid the girl was going to march over and give him a piece of her mind. His mind raced, trying to come up with some way to glib into the best—or at least a salvageable—solution. Mercifully, it didn't come to that; with a final snort of petulant contempt, the girl turned away.

    Sometimes the universe was generous like that. Mostly to get your guard down for the next time it showed its cruel streak. Jaune knew it too well to be thankful for that small favor. Besides, given everything that had happened, the moment of respite just seemed like spiteful mockery.

    With a dawning understanding on her face, Yang studied his clothing closely, finally noticing the soot and slight singing. She even sniffed at the air a bit, and her eyes widened at the burnt-Dust smell that had stubbornly clung to him since the ... incident.

    "Oh my God, you really exploded ..."

    He just rubbed the back of his head with one hand and gave an embarrassed half-shrug with the other.

    "See, this is what happens when you try to make people make friends," Ruby crowed with almost perverse relish, and an entirely too perversely positive perspective on his nearly being blown off the side of the cliff.

    "Well ..." Yang tried to rally. "How about that girl you were talking to when you came in. You guys made one friend, so at least it wasn't a total disaster."

    Now Jaune was starting to get annoyed. Yes, clearly, the art of making inane school friendships was the thing to take away from his ordeal.

    Still, he showed none of the ill feeling on his face and said, "Yeah, pretty sure Snow Angel over there—and don't ever tell her I called her that—counts as some sort of ..."

    "... negative friend?" Ruby supplied helpfully.

    "Yes, exactly."

    Ruby nodded self-indulgently at her own wisdom. Then she brightened at him. "Well, hey, at least we got us. Dork Solidarity! Hail Foot-in-Mouth!"

    "Sounds like a disease," Yang observed. Still, she was smiling, clearly happy at her younger sibling being social.

    Good for you! he groused mentally. Hey, remember the guy who exploded?

    Out loud he said, "You can be our first honorary member."

    He relished the look of horror on Yang's face. Ruby snickered.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    To his tremendous relief, his apparently worsening luck hadn't continued deteriorating, and the rest of the day had passed uneventfully (one of his favorite words in the imaginatively cruel universe).

    About the only thing worth worrying about was the announcement that there'd be some kind of initiation tomorrow, and Jaune had a sneaking suspicion on exactly what that entailed. Having failed to accidentally do him in the first day, Beacon was now going to actively try in the second. Oh, joy. It didn't bode well that the headmaster's speech had been bluntly dismissive about their chances. (Although, after all the years of self-assured platitudes and boasting from his family, the candor was a bit refreshing.)

    Well, there was also the worry that even now his luck could still take yet another sour turn. But that was always there anyway, and he'd learned to live with it.

    One thing that had improved his mood was the electronic Scrolls they had been handed after the welcoming ceremony. Each one was filled with a lot of useful functions and information, and Jaune had spent most of the afternoon and evening looking them up and thinking of ways they could help him stay alive.

    The most promising so far was the delivery function of the academy's equipment lockers. You could key in coordinates, which could also be done via Scroll, and it would literally rocket out to those coordinates. It was designed to give students their weapons quickly in the event that they were in the lockers when they urgently needed them. In itself that was already a helpful enough function. However, to Jaune's mind it also screamed escape pod.

    There was the issue of possible injury, but he figured that a reliable, tried-and-true system designed to deliver equipment fast and undamaged would be survivable enough. It would just be a last resort measure, anyway, and was attractive enough for that purpose. Of course, he'd have to check if he could fit in one should the need arise. He hadn't thought to check when he'd stowed Crocea Mors earlier since he hadn't read up on the function then. He'd go do just that tomorrow morning.

    Jaune looked up from the Scroll, rubbing his now bloodshot eyes, and was surprised to see how dark it had gotten. He'd been more engrossed with the information on the device than he'd thought. Looking around at the ballroom they'd all been assigned as temporary sleeping quarters, he saw that many of his fellow first years were already in nightwear. To let his eyes rest, he indulged in the view of peers of the opposite gender in an astounding variety of night attire. He was hardly the only one, male or female, doing so.

    He finally left for a quick shower after while. And speaking of nightwear, he smiled with a different sort of satisfaction in anticipation of what he'd unleash when he returned.

    Now, Jaune cared about his self-image only as far as it influenced people in a way favorable to him. As long as it didn't spur them to actively antagonize him or force him into unwanted confrontation, how negatively others thought of him didn't really matter. Still, he was human, and such attitudes could get annoying sometimes. So whenever the opportunity to flip a bird at what they thought he should be without real consequences presented itself, he'd take it and have a lot of fun with it. Especially if it actually helped with the impression he was trying to build.

    He spent so much time trying to ensure his continued well-being that he rarely had time to have any real fun. It was nice to have the chance every once in a while.

    With that in mind, he strutted out of showers, chest out and steps confident, in a pair of light blue footie pajamas. Despite being footed, he also threw on a pair of matching blue bunny slippers. If there was such a thing as a fashion police, he'd still get away clean because they'd be too apoplectic when they beheld him in all his glory.

    The reactions of the people he ran into along the way were exactly as expected. True, some laughed or shot him looks of pity or disgust; most, though, were slack-jawed at the sight of a seventeen-year-old boy sauntering proudly in PJs that a seven-year-old would have started to see as too embarrassing. The absolute incredulity was just too entertaining, and the more he enjoyed himself the jauntier his steps became. He even indulged himself further when he started imagining a suitably grandiose soundtrack in his head.

    He realized that maybe he'd gone a bit too far when he came across the stern face of the beautiful, bespectacled blonde that was Professor Goodwitch and gave her an exaggerated finger point, wink, and tongue click. It had been meant to look cluelessly ridiculous. The look she gave him in response caused the smile on his face to freeze, and his steps became very hurried. He should have known that that woman not only looked like she took herself a little too seriously, she was singularly humorless as well. Lesson learned.

    Still, he didn't allow the encounter to dampen his spirits that much, and he resumed playing the oblivious fool as he reentered the ballroom. There he saw that he wasn't he the only one putting on a show. A bunch of boys were strutting about wearing only pajama bottoms, play fighting and flexing in front of a few appreciative girls.

    Jaune noted that one of the girls was Yang. She was lying on a mattress beside her sister's own while Ruby was herself scrawling something on a notebook. He appreciated their sleeping clothes for a bit, especially Yang's short shorts.

    He also smirked as an idea came to him. "Obliviously," he walked into her field of vision. He gave her a friendly smile and wave as he moved past, and he had to struggle not to laugh as her beefcake-eating leer turned into a cringe. Wiping her smiles off her face was starting to get too fun for his own good.

    After what had been a really lousy day, just messing around while quietly reinforcing his budding reputation as a goofball was cathartic. Naturally, that was when things went wrong.

    He'd been so distracted by the blonde's stricken expression that he walked into somebody.

    "Whoa! Sorry 'bout ..." he trailed off. It was the worse somebody to literally bump into.

    Shitshitshit! He'd made the mistake of getting carried away by his need to de-stress, and he mentally kicked himself for a fool. He should have taken the encounter with the professor as the warning it was.

    "You!" the Schnee heiress shrieked in her blue nightdress. "Are you singularly incapable of watching where you are going?!"

    "I'm really, really sorry!" He cursed himself in his mind for having nothing better to say; he'd been hoping to avoid the girl until her anger had faded. "It won't happen again!"

    "This is 'again,' you dunce!" She shook a finger in his face. "Maybe you don't remember because you were unconscious, but last time you bumbled into me you almost blew us to the moons!"

    "Hey, come on, Weiss," Ruby said, coming to his aid. Her sister was close behind her. "He said he was sorry. He's been sorry the whole day."

    Boy, am I ever, he thought. At least, the intervention would give him time to gather his wits. And further solidify the sentiment that he was someone they would willing help out in Yang and Ruby's minds.

    Weiss gave Ruby an equally withering look. "'Sorry' isn't good enough if you're so stupid you keep making the same mistakes!"

    "That was uncalled for, Princess!" Ruby actually looked like she wanted to shove Weiss to the ground.

    "It's entirely called for! And I thought I told you to tell him that both of you should stay away from me."

    An increasingly angry Yang joined the fray. "Yeah? You know what else is entirely called for, you ..."

    Jaune edged away quietly as the three escalated into an increasingly loud and incoherent shouting match. He was going to keep on going until he could slip away, but then he realized that other people in the room were observing them. A resigned look came over his face, knowing that he couldn't escape now. He wanted to be seen as a nice enough but incompetent screw-up, not someone who'd just abandon his friends when the going got tough. He would, of course, but only if he could get away with it.

    He thought idly of pulling out Scroll and testing his locker-as-escape pod idea right now. Just imagining the looks on everyone's faces when a rocket punched into the ballroom just so he could climb into it, bid everyone a cheerful goodbye, and blast off to safety was appealing at this moment. Of course, it would probably just return to the locker room, but he'd still be out of here.

    Oh well, it was nice to dream, but he'd save it for a real emergency.

    Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone else approach. It was Blake in a fetching black yutaka—his did a quick, appreciative sweep—and she was carrying a candleholder in one hand and a book in another. He nodded and flashed her a somewhat embarrassed smile in greeting. He got a faint tilt of the head for his trouble, as well as a slightly accusatory look. He chose to ignore the latter.

    To the arguing girls, she said, "You know, some of us are trying to read"—her gaze momentarily moved to the other mattresses and sleeping bags—"or sleep."

    The din died down abruptly as they turned to look at her. Jaune was content to keep quiet and let the girls do all the work sorting it out amongst themselves. It wasn't like he had asked for them to argue on his behalf.

    "Guys, she's right! People are trying to sleep!" Ruby agreed.

    "You're the one who came over to argue," Weiss retorted. "You always fight your useless boyfriend's own battles for him?"

    That's the idea, Jaune thought irreverently. Well, the not fighting my own battles part, at least.

    "He's not my—" the fifteen-year-old shouted.

    "Don't talk to my sister like tha—" Yang added.

    And the argument flared up yet again. Blake rolled her eyes and, without warning, blew out the candles. Grateful for the cover of sudden darkness, Jaune quietly slipped away even as the heated exchange continued in the dark.

    Not quite quietly enough, it seemed, since he suddenly heard Blake call out in his direction, "You're welcome."

    Jaune paused and turned toward her, or at least to where he thought she was in the darkness, wondering how she'd heard him. He was good at slipping away quietly.

    Dismissing the thought as unimportant for now, he turned away. Tomorrow's initiation was liable to be taxing, so he needed to get some decent rest. And the earlier he slept, the earlier he could be up, giving him more time to investigate the useful details on his Scroll.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    As the first rays of sunlight began to shine brighter and brighter through the tall windows of Beacon Academy's ballroom, a pair of green eyes fluttered open. With little hesitation, Pyrrha Nikos pulled herself out of her sleeping bag, stowed it neatly, and began her morning exercises. She was one of the first students up, and most of the others were still soundly asleep even as her usual morning regime concluded.

    Heading out to the women's showers, she politely greeted the few awake first years that she came across. Most managed a groggy, perfunctory mumble in response; the only one who had greeted her cheerfully was a bubbly orange-haired, turquoise-eyed girl who bounded out the showers energetically. Pyrrha was actually a bit astonished at her energy. Her morning exercises were quite refreshing and useful in shaking away the last vestiges of sleep, but she doubted she could be that active so early herself.

    After a nice, quick bath, she pulled her long red hair into a ponytail, put on her standard set of gold-trimmed, bronze-colored combat wear, and made her way to the locker rooms to retrieve her weapons. Years of experience under Sanctum's almost obsessive weapons proficiency training made her feel incomplete in combat gear without her trusty Milo and Akouo.

    She came across more students on the way, and since a number had been awake for a while now, half of the greetings she received actually had coherent words. And from those Pyrrha received more than a few looks of recognition and enthusiastic fawning. Having won the Mistral Region Tournaments four years in a row, she'd seen more than her share of such responses. It had been awkward at first—and still—but she'd learned to cope with it. She still wore the fame a bit uncomfortably even to this day, but dwelling on the inconveniences it sometimes caused her wouldn't have done anything productive.

    As always, she preferred focusing on the positives and moving forward. It was nice to have her hard work recognized, and part of her actually found the product endorsements pretty cool, even if the products she'd sometimes found her face on were of questionable quality. And while her fame had made many approach her with ulterior motives, and quite a few could be obnoxious or untoward, most people were harmless enough and just wanted to express their enthusiasm. No reason she couldn't spare a few moments of polite interaction.

    Still, she found it a bit of a respite when she saw that, this early in the morning, the locker room was mostly deserted. In fact, the only other person there seemed to be halfway inside a locker, with only one arm and leg fully visible. Pyrrha could hear him mumbling to himself.

    "Hrm ... a bit of a tight fit, but enough room to work with. If only I knew the exact thrust-to-weight ratio ..."

    The oddity of the sight caused her to stare for a moment. Reminding herself that staring was impolite, however, she looked away to leave the schoolmate to his own devices. Or she would have, if the boy in the locker hadn't decided to poke his head out at that moment. Suddenly, he had her full attention.

    Pyrrha couldn't believe her luck. It was him. The blond boy who had caught her eye at the ceremony yesterday. He looked nice, and she hadn't been shy about looking. From what she had seen, also nice enough ... to a few girls. But he hadn't seemed like the flighty, womanizing type, and the interactions she'd observed had been jocular and friendly, not flirtatious. She'd been quite happy at that thought, and liked what she'd seen.

    She'd actually planned to approach him and introduce herself after the ceremony, but had lost sight of him and his friends in the press of the exiting crowd of students. When she spotted him again in the ballroom, he'd been so focused on studying the Scroll that she hadn't wanted to bother him. He'd continued reading late into the night, and she'd turned in early. A studious type, it seemed. Nothing wrong with that in her reckoning.

    Like many teenagers she had started becoming attracted to others, and had attracted quite a bit of attention herself. Her status, however, had made the usual difficulties of learning what to do with those feelings a lot more complicated. Many seemed intimidated by her status and often hesitated approaching her, or they shied away from her interest for fear of not being "worthy" of her. It was frustrating since no amount of reassurance could convince them otherwise. On the other end of the spectrum, many who confidently approached her had the tendency to be a bit too confident, more than enough to fit her "exalted" reputation in their minds. Or they tried to act the part, convinced that was how to "match" her. She couldn't convince them otherwise either, provided that they were willing to be convinced in the first place.

    As such, her attempts at relationships rarely ended well, or died before they could even start. Looking at the boy before her, she decided that she wasn't going to miss this chance to change that.

    "Good morning," she greeted pleasantly.

    He jerked suddenly and turned to her. The he glanced at the locker before nervously looking at her again, clearly embarrassed to have been seen studying the technical details of it so closely. Pyrrha felt a bit guilty about startling him, but his surprised expression had been quite charming. She struggled not to let her smile widen at the thought; she didn't want to end up scaring him away.

    "Oh, hey. Uh, morning," he finally answered, trying to sound casual. "Didn't notice you there, uh ..."

    "Pyrrha," she answered the prompt. "Pyrnha Nikos."

    She waited for the familiar recognition to dawn on his face ... and hoped it wouldn't lead to similarly familiar and disappointing results. He studied her briefly, and to her pleasant surprise the recognition never came. It was rare to meet someone who didn't know of her by reputation—the price of franchise deals and media coverage—and cherished the times it happened.

    "Jaune, Jaune Arc," was the reply. "Professional Amateur Locker Inspector, at your service. How can I help you?

    Pyrrha grinned at small joke. A sense of humor was a plus, provided it wasn't used to belittle others. This had been used to help facilitate continued friendly interaction, which was a good sign.

    "I was just going to my locker," she explained. "I saw you in the neighborhood and wanted to say hello."

    "Oh," was all he said at first. Then he smiled, a bit hesitantly, and stuck out his hand. "Well, hello then."

    This was going better than expected, and she eagerly took his hand in her own.

    "Hello again," she said happily as they shook hands. Jaune did it a bit gingerly, so to put him at ease she decided to talk about something of interest to him. "I noticed that you mentioned something about the thrust of the rockets of your locker. A hobby, I take it?"

    Pyrrha tried to sound both neutral and interested about the topic. She knew that people with esoteric interests often had to put up with judgmental attitudes and even bullying, and the absolute last thing she wanted to be perceived as was as someone mocking and condescending. She despised bullying on principle and would be horrified to be thought of as a bully herself. It was bad enough with the Grimm preying on everyone. The last thing people needed was to prey on each other, in any kind of sense of the term.

    Despite her efforts, Jaune still seemed a bit hesitant and evasive about answering the question. She wondered if maybe she should have tried another track after all.

    "Eh heh, not really," he finally said, a sheepish grin on his face. "Just, you know, familiarizing myself with the school and its ... uh, school stuff. Yeah."

    Definitely the wrong track bringing it up, she decided. Well, she was trying to get know a stranger, so there'd be some uncertainty involved. And as defensive as Jaune seemed about his hobby, he didn't look like he wanted to stop talking.

    Before she could continue, though, he seemed to spot something behind her, and he froze. She was about to see what that was about when he, looking mildly panicked, suddenly said, "Uh, hold that thought. Left, er, wallet. Locker. Gonna check. Now! Bye!"

    He all but jumped into the locker and slammed it shut. Pyrrha gaped, at once stunned and disappointed. What on Remnant could have spooked him so much?

    A quick glance over her shoulder revealed nothing but a white-haired girl in a white dress. Why was Jaune so desperate to avoid her?

    At that moment, the girl locked eyes with hers, smiled, and started walking toward her. Still not entirely sure what was going on, she just smiled back. Maybe she could find out. Although she did feel a little pique at having been interrupted by whatever this was about.

    "Hello, good morning," she greeted when the girl was close enough.

    "Good morning," was the agreeable response. "I'm sorry if I'm being a bother but, I have to ask—you're Pyrrha Nikos, aren't you?"

    Patiently, Pyrrha smiled. The same old song and dance routine, it seemed. "Yes, I am. And you would be Weiss Schnee, heiress of the Schnee Dust Company, if I'm not mistaken."

    "Indeed I am," Weiss acknowledged, a pleased smile on her face. Unlike her, the heiress didn't mind the recognition at all. "I am an ardent admirer of your work, and I just couldn't pass on the privilege of actually meeting you myself."

    "Well, thank you. That's kind of you to say."

    Pyrrha didn't bother to say that all she'd done had just been the result of hard work and luck; that there really was nothing inherently special about her. She knew from experience that it would have just been brushed off and met by more praise and flattery.

    Besides, she recognized the look on the heiress's face. There was an ulterior motive here, and she had a good idea what that was. It didn't really bother her that much. What was niggling in the back of her mind was why Jaune was hiding from her and how to bring it up delicately.

    "I'm not just saying that," Weiss continued. "You've been a pretty big inspiration to me, and many others here, I'm sure. In fact ... have you given any thought to whose team you'd like to be on? I'm sure everyone must be eager to unite with such a strong, well-known individual such as yourself!"

    "Hmm ... I'm not quite sure. I was planning on letting the chips fall where they may," she demurred, expecting the the question that she knew would be next. And it was an honest answer, in addition to being polite.

    Weiss was visibly struggling not to beam. "Well, I was thinking maybe we could be on a team together."

    "Well, that sounds grand!"

    This time she was being more polite than honest. Besides, Pyrrha suspected that they wouldn't be the ones picking teammates anyway. That had been how Sanctum operated, at any rate. She just wanted to keep the girl happy as she tried to figure out a way to ask her own question without it coming off as completely incongruous. Or exposing the fact that Jaune was currently hiding in the locker. Whatever were his reasons for hiding, she didn't want to unnecessarily aggravate things when she still had no real clue what was going on.

    Weiss didn't give her time to think on a way to do it, however.

    "Great!" the white-haired girl chirped. Satisfied that she'd gotten what she came for, she took her leave by saying, "Well, I've taken enough of your time. If you'll excuse me, I'll be off now. It was a pleasure meeting you."

    "Likewise," she responded, resigned to the fact that there was no way she could just naturally slip in the question. She'd just have to ask Jaune. It'd be more reasonable to ask him anyway since he'd literally jumped out of their conversation.

    "See you on the field then."

    "One can hope."

    Pyrrha watched her walk out the locker room, then went to Jaune's locker and gave it a knock.

    "You can come out now."

    Jaune opened the locker door slowly and peeked through the crack. Seeing the the Schnee girl gone, he opened the door wider and stepped out, sighing in relief. Then he saw how she was looking at him.

    "Eh heh, I probably owe you an explanation, don't I?"

    She raised an eyebrow.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    Jaune fought the urge to cuss. That was two girls that had seen him beat a retreat already. And it had started out so well too.

    Pyrrha Nikos, Mistral tournament star and pride of Sanctum, had actually approached him first, to flirt of all things! He recognized her immediately from her picture on the Pumpkin Pete's Marshmallow Flakes box. She was the best possible ally to make, and she'd literally walked right up to him. He'd feigned not knowing her, since being too eager to ally with her because of who she was might mar what positive impression she had of him. Whatever they were, they'd been enough to make him somehow flirt-worthy to one of the best of their year, and probably the whole student body.

    Sure, he knew she'd lose any romantic intentions on him soon enough, once she found out what a goofball he "really" was. The trick would be to remain in her good graces and keep being considered a friend. Enough to be consistently helped out when in trouble, at least. He could almost imagine the incredulity and outrage from his male peers if they knew that he was willfully trying to get into the dreaded "friendzone."

    Of course, that was if his undignified retreat earlier hadn't ruined the positive regard already. He'd already had two unfortunate encounters with the Schnee heiress and had wanted to avoid a third so soon if there was ever going to be the chance to avoid her everlasting enmity. He'd reacted on instinct, and he hated himself for it. His self-control was supposed to be much, much better.

    Luckily—as much as that word could ever apply to him—Ruby and Yang had arrived shortly after he began explaining, and they'd been quick to support him after they'd introduced themselves to Pyrrha. At least his foresight in approaching them was continuing to pay off, barring the regrettable shield incident. Pyrrha seemed to take their combined explanation well enough, and she'd willingly kept company with them all the way to the venue of the initiation. Good enough.

    Still, he hated how tumultuous his luck had been in such a short time. He really needed to step up his game. Especially now when he saw exactly where Professors Ozpin and Goodwitch were waiting for them: in front of a cliff, and there were a row of platforms he knew were spring-loaded, thanks to the info he'd read up on yesterday. He'd always been convinced that Hunter training was just clever way adults could get away with murdering teenagers, and this was simply more proof.

    At least he wouldn't be airsick when they launched him into the air. Being catapulted was fundamentally different from being on a lengthy trip on some bobbing and swaying platform. He knew firsthand, in fact; his family training had involved a launching or twelve. The forces acting on the body were quite different. As was the sheer terror. Gut-wrenching and bladder-emptying, yes, but he'd never vomited in those situations.

    He glumly stepped up onto a platform as the professors watched them quietly. Professor Goodwitch looked as stern and humorless as ever, while the green-clothed Professor Ozpin was sipping contentedly on a steaming cup of coffee. The other professor was holding on to a Scroll of her own, which meant the test was going to be monitored. He grimaced since that meant he couldn't just bug out at the first sign of trouble without his actions being recorded and noted.

    Jaune resented the hot blonde and the silver-haired bastard already. He turned away so that they wouldn't see that resentment on his face and exchanged brief glances and nervous smiles with Ruby, Yang, and Pyrrha.

    When all the students had each settled on a platform, Professor Ozpin stepped up and said, "For years, you have trained to become warriors, and today, your abilities will be evaluated in the Emerald Forest."

    Because the ridiculously high scores needed to get accepted into the academy aren't enough, apparently, Jaune quipped in his head.

    "Now, I'm sure many of you have heard rumors about the assignment of 'teams,'" Professor Goodwitch added. "Well, allow us to put an end to your confusion. Each of you will be given teammates ... today."

    "What? Ohhh ..." he heard Ruby say under her breath.

    "These teammates will be with you for the rest of your time here at Beacon. So it is in your best interest to be paired with someone with whom you can work well." The headmaster took another sip from his cup.

    Ruby groaned.

    Jaune looked around, knowing who his choices would be if he had any. Pyrrha first, obviously, because of her proven skills. Her interest in him also meant an added incentive to keep him nice and well. Might be troublesome later if he couldn't dissuade her infatuation, but that was hardly relevant today.

    Ruby next because there had to be something to a girl accepted two years early by the headmaster himself, especially with the skill she would have needed to master for her inherently difficult weapon. She also felt like she owed him and seemed iclined to jump into the aid of friends regardless, which was an excellent attitude for her to take.

    Yang was his third choice because he didn't know much about her abilities, and her weapons and attitude screamed "close-range fighter." He preferred having longer-ranged teammates so he could have the excuse to "watch their back" since his weapons were useless range-wise. They'd do some damage to Grimm before they got close enough for him to matter, making his job marginally easier and safer.

    Blake was his last choice because, well, other than her helping him out twice yesterday he knew next to nothing about her. He hadn't managed to forge close initial ties with her either. He looked for her among the other students and thought he saw her in the distance.

    "That being said, the first person you make eye contact with after landing will be your partner for the next four years," Ozpin's voice broke through his planning.

    "Whaaaat?!" Ruby cried out.

    Jaune was inclined to agree. Of course there was an added twist. He should have seen it coming. Trying to kill them all wasn't enough, they had to play character and mind games too. Next they were going to say that they'd found a way to crossbreed Deathstalkers and Nevermores, just so they'd be air assaulted by a veritable squadron of ginormous dive-bombing scorpions.

    "After you've partnered up, make your way to the northern end of the forest. You will meet opposition along the way. Do not hesitate to destroy everything in your path ... or you will die."

    He had to give it to the man, he was honest. He wished he could be so he could say a few choice words of his own. Instead, he kept quiet and tried to shift to a launch-ready stance, which was easier said than done because he was also trying his hardest not shake himself to pieces.

    "You will be monitored and graded through the duration of your initiation, but our instructors will not intervene. You will find an abandoned temple at the end of the path containing several relics. Each pair must choose one and return to the top of the cliff. You will guard that item, as well as your standing, and you will be graded appropriately. Are there any questions?"

    Yes, do you all secretly enjoy this and keep the records for you to laugh at during Faculty Movie Night? he thought as he tried not to glare at the professor, who nonchalantly took another sip of his coffee.

    When no one spoke up, Ozpin said, "Good! Now, take your positions."

    Jaune drew his weapons and held them at the ready. He breathed in and out as steadily as he could, trying to calm himself as much as possible. Usually, that meant amping from 100% terrified down to 95%; statistically significant as far as he was concerned. The statisticians would be proud. He fervently hoped that he could keep from becoming a statistic himself.

    As the students began launching one by one, he kept an eye on his prospective partners, hoping he could figure out where they might land from their general trajectories. The first of the four was Blake, down the line. He noted her flight path and tried to remember the general area where he'd lost sight of her. Some more unfamiliar students launched before he saw another familiar face, Weiss. He committed the area he's lost sight of her to memory too, so he knew where to stay away.

    He fought the increasing temptation to step off the platform as more and more students launched before they finally came to Pyrrha, Yang, and Ruby. The first had been as graceful as expected, the second had put on some aviator sunglasses and whooped enthusiastically as she took to the air, and the last gave him a reassuring smile just before she launched.

    It actually did help. By the tiniest bit.

    His turn now. His breathing was shallow. His grip on Crocea Mors tightened …

    … just before the ground fell away.
     
  4. Really, I find Jaune being both Vomit Boy and Crater Face more amusing than I probably should.
     
    megrisvernin likes this.
  5. Mithril-blade

    Mithril-blade I like me some Greek helms

    Dude, this is awesome.
     
  6. Alexander89

    Alexander89 The heart moves where the heart wills

    This is great. A way better attempt of creating a Chiapas Cain character in RWBY than my own story.
     
  7. Mook91

    Mook91 Expendable

    I've already read the first two chapters on FFN but its great to see that the third chapter is up. :)
     
  8. Thanks for the positive reception, guys. :)

    I'm planning to have the next chapter out by the weekend. Part of it is already done since this chapter originally included part of the forest test (and end on a minor cliffhanger), but I decided the whole thing might work better as a single chapter.
     
    Enohthree, Happerry and Mook91 like this.
  9. ILurkNoMoar

    ILurkNoMoar Patron Saint of Collateral Damage

    This story literally gets exponentially better with each post, I look forward to more!
     
  10. Dakkan Sall

    Dakkan Sall Random Encounter

    [​IMG]

    :)

    And since you mentioned that you have this on ff.net, I've also gone and followed it there. Good stuff, looking forward to the next.
     
  11. MobiusOneDT

    MobiusOneDT Like an old time Turkey Shoot

    Already a follower of this on FF.Net.

    This is gonna be a fun ride.
     
  12. Abhoth

    Abhoth Giant Robot Fish

    Oh wow. This is fantastic. Though this begs the question: if Jaune is Cain, who is Jurgen?
     
  13. Ren?


    ... Nora? :p
     
  14. Mithril-blade

    Mithril-blade I like me some Greek helms

    Well, Cain doesn't, strictly speakig, need a Jurgen.
     
  15. Any Cain-like character would, IMO, be looking for someone to watch his back whenever possible.
     
  16. Arcman

    Arcman My Lord!


    Jurgen's the real hero of the story, don't ya know. :p

    Besides that Cain would die so, so many times without him.
     
  17. Mithril-blade

    Mithril-blade I like me some Greek helms

    Well, yes, but in that case all of the MC's of RBWY would count as Cain's Jurgen.


    There is a train of though that the Emperor would have provided some other way for him to live past those experiences any how. His luck certainly doesn't consist of Jurgen showing up all the time:D
     
  18. Mook91

    Mook91 Expendable

    I haven't read any of the Cain books but my impression is that Jurgen doesn't talk much so I'd say Ren.
     
    Enohthree and drake_azathoth like this.
  19. Edmantgoog

    Edmantgoog The Lonely Sage

  20. All of my yes.
     
  21. Arcman

    Arcman My Lord!

    Only 99% of it. :p
     
  22. I wonder, are we going to see the original teams? On one hand I think it would be interesting to see Jaune's reaction to being made a team leader, on the other you appear to be setting up a stronger friendship between Juane and Ruby. It would make sense for Ruby and Juane to team up in this case.
     
  23. Abhoth

    Abhoth Giant Robot Fish

    Hmm, I don't know that Ren would work as the Jurgen to Jaune's Cain. For one thing, he doesn't seem to have the hygiene problems that Jurgen did.
     
  24. On the Jurgen speculation, as I wrote in the first post I'm not gonna try and shoehorn characters into direct equivalents. I'm going to see what I can do with the preexisting character dynamics.

    Team compositions will be revealed next chapter. One thing I can say though is that I'm planning to let both teams work a lot more closely. I always wanted too see a lot more collaboration and interaction between them and want to explore that.

    Also, it makes sense from an in-character perspective too: two teams that get along great is seven more people between Jaune and the Grimm. ;)
     
    Enohthree and Mook91 like this.
  25. Regardless of HOW the teams are composed, I expect it to be amusing. I really hope that Nora rides the Ursa again. Juane's reaction would be golden.
     
    Stormseed likes this.
Thread Status:
This thread lies dormant for more than 14 days. Restarting it causes mods to gaze in your direction.

Share This Page