Children – especially very young children – had a very short memory span. It was made particularly obvious when a young child would grow up and remember almost nothing from their childhood.
Sometimes though, there were moments which would burn themselves into the memory of a child and that memory would stay forever.
Ruby Rose remembered such a particular moment from her childhood when she was around three years old. She remembered a visitor she had let into the house once he showed her his huntsman licence – her mother had drilled that into her very early on. She remembered how that said huntsman wanted to talk with her dad, so she showed him to the kitchen. Her father had ushered her out of the door and closed it after telling her to go up to her room. She didn't.
Sometimes she wished she had.
Hearing that huntsman talk, telling her father that Summer Rose's status had officially been moved to Missing In Action – that particular moment ingrained itself so very deeply inside of her.
She still remembered the feeling of something heavy suddenly sitting in the pit of her stomach, of an invisible hand squeezing her heart painfully as clearly as if it was yesterday.
And then days and months blurred into each other. She would ask her father and sister, she would ask her uncle.
"Where is mommy? When is mommy coming back? Why isn't mommy coming back? Is mommy lost? Are you looking for mommy? Have you found mommy?"
No one would ever answer.
A year passed. They gave up the search.
At first, after the funeral was over and her dad and her sister Yang did their best to move on, Ruby knew they were of the mind that she would quickly forget. She was still young, after all.
But she didn't. She never did. That feeling of her heart being squeezed, of something heavy sitting in the pit of her stomach never went away. She would grow up with it, learn to live with it. It simply became a part of her.
Twelve years had passed since the day she let that huntsman into their house. Now, a top student at Signal Academy, Ruby Rose found herself in a dust shop because the tip of a trusted friend had led her there.
Beneath a red cape her mother had gifted her when she was two – or so her uncle Qrow said since that she couldn't remember – she was clad in a tight-fitting black combat-dress with black stockings and combat boots. Her weapon of choice, which was inspired by what her mother used, was secured below a black leather belt she wore low on her hips.
Pretending to read a magazine in a far corner of the shop, she concentrated on any sounds and voices inside the shop or entering it – she had been trained well by her friend after all. Distractions in a foreign environment and at times, even in a familiar environment, were invitations of the worst kind for any danger.
Soon enough, her patience was rewarded when the shop's door-bell rang, signalling that a customer entered. Ruby's head, covered by her cape's hood, tilted just the slightest bit towards the voices, her eyes widening at the obvious robbery going on. Her friend had been right after all.
"Alright kid, hands up where I can see 'em!"
Her body stiffened slightly at the voice coming from behind her. So, Roman Torchwick – she assumed her friend was right about that one too – had sent a few men to check if there were other customers.
She turned around, her cape wrapped around her to look more like a cloak, covering her body up. "I need to talk to your boss." Her voice was soft, yet clear.
"My boss is Junior, kid," the grunt chuckled, then went back to frowning again. "Also, I said hands up where I can see 'em!"
Ruby sighed. "I need to talk to Roman Torchwick, whatever he is to you. Move out of my way."
"You seriously are sui-"
He was cut off when Ruby activated her semblance. She was dashing forward in a whirlwind of crimson rose petals, her elbow – powered by her speed – hitting the grunt in his stomach and knocking him through the window. Hand-to-hand was an important topic with her friend.
"If you just rely on your weapons and being good at fighting Grimm, you will lose against any opponent who is even the slightest bit proficient at hand-to-hand and fighting other people."
Keeping her semblance up, the colours of the world bled into various shades of red. Her countless petals danced in the whirlwind while she was hovering above the ground at high-speed. She dashed at the next grunt and reappeared again, stray petals slowly floating onto the ground and disintegrating. In the middle of his surprise, he swung at her reflexively, but she ducked and elbowed him into his stomach as well, his weak aura protecting him at first. After activating her ability once more and dragging him into it, she then flew out of the window, reappeared with her opponent in midair and dropped him down two stories. He'd live.
"I don't want to kill people."
"I'm not telling you to walk around and kill people at random, you idiot child! You have this idea set in your head – this 'mission' of yours – so you need to be prepared to do things like this. You will have to travel all over Remnant. It will be dangerous and I'm not talking about Grimm. Remember what I told you about your eyes?"
"People will try to kill me because of them…"
"People will try to kill you because of them. If you want your mission to succeed, you do what I say. If you don't want to die, you do what I say. I'm risking a lot just by bothering with these secret lessons as it is. Now at least do me the courtesy and slit this traitor's throat."
Back in her semblance, she spiralled towards the ground and landed gently after slipping out of it once more. The guy she dropped was stirring feebly, his breathing irregular. His aura didn't survive the fall and he most likely felt the largest force of the impact with the ground. He and the other one should have just let her talk to Torchwick. She didn't want to hurt them.
Rub then looked towards the shop and saw the shocked faces of the other grunts and, indeed, Roman Torchwick. She walked up towards him. "I need to talk to you, Roman Torchwick."
His eyes wandered up and down her body and a snort escaped him. He puffed on his cigar before he spoke. "Now that's an obvious colour scheme if I ever saw one. I would enjoy a chat with a fan, but, unfortunately, I am busy."
Ruby furrowed her brows. "I wasn't asking, but a friend told me to expect you to be annoyingly difficult."
"Your friend seems to know a bit about me. I think it's only fair I know a bit about them. Got a name?"
"I'll quote what they told me when I asked for their name: 'my name is nothing you need to be concerned about'." She cocked her head to the side while he kept looking at her with mild amusement. "All I want is for you to answer –"
She cursed at the sound of approaching police cars, sirens blaring through the night.
"Well, that's my cue, Little Red," Roman Torchwick said while tipping his hat at her. "You seem like a nice kid, so keep off the streets, do well at school and all the jazz, yeah?" Then, without any warning, he shot a whistling, explosive dust round at her, forcing her to slip into her whirlwind of rose petals and split up into three streams. Once back together, she looked around and saw Torchwick already halfway up a ladder on the side of a building, while his...hirelings?...disappeared into the night, the two she took out abandoned as liabilities to their escape. Back in her semblance, as tired as she was for using it so many times already, she raced after him and straight up the side of the building. She quickly got past Torchwick and waited for him on the rooftop, a bit out of breath now. She could just barely make out his angry mutterings over the noise from below, the closer he got.
"Who are you working for?" she asked him once he was on the rooftop as well. "And where is Neopolitan?" His sudden angry scowl caught her off guard. "Technically, the second question is from my friend. They can't be seen around here, so…" She shrugged. "I really only care about the first question. I need that answer, Torchwick. I know you are the kind of criminal who is only loyal to himself." Well, she didn't really, but she was told he was. Her friend was right with everything so far, so they most likely were about this as well.
He almost stomped towards her, only stopping when he was right in her personal space. "Listen well, Red," Roman began, an angry and cutting edge to his voice, his slick humour gone completely when he was prodding at her chest with the end of his deadly cane. "Your friend stays away from Neo and there won't be any problems. I'm a nice and understanding guy, but not so much when it comes to my Neo." He then walked past her to move on to the other end of the rooftop while still talking. "Secondly, ratting out business partners is suicide. Being loyal only to myself comes with not being suicidal."
The sound of an airship drowned out the police cars' sirens from below and a heavy gust of wind forced her to protect her face and eyes from the rooftop's dirt with an arm. She glanced up to see a Bullhead hovering for Roman to step in.
"I admire your persistence, Red, but seriously: this is goodbye."
Her eyes widened at the large fire-dust crystal thrown at her and the perfectly aimed round from Torchwick's cane flying at it. The heat of the following explosion didn't hit her right in the face, though. Instead, she didn't feel anything. Opening her eyes, she saw a large protective glyph in front of her and a blonde, serious-looking, bespectacled woman maintaining it.
In the distance, she could just make out the Bullhead escaping and Torchwick with it.
"Ruby Rose. You...have silver eyes." Ozpin stared, for a few uncomfortable seconds, intently into those eyes of hers. He then sat down, pushing a plate with cookies and a glass of milk towards her.
She couldn't resist and took one.
"Yes, Sir. I've been told they are pretty," Ruby replied softly and nibbled on the cookie in her hand. She had been told. By classmates. Her sister. Her uncle and dad.
But, she also had been told just how unique they were. By her friend. Ruby even had gone as far as to use them. The mindset was hard to get into, with the constantly lingering thought and heartache of her dea-vanished! Of her vanished mother. Still, she was learning and getting better at it. The mindset still was all about her own ideals after all. Protecting lives was what she wanted to do. Cherishing loved ones was not hard.
Protecting herself violently, whenever necessary, was just something she had learned to do. It was what it was. Her life's mission had no room for fairy tales and naivete.
One didn't exclude the other. Her friend had taught her as much; with a scoff, but she taught her all the same.
"They are, indeed," Professor Ozpin, Headmaster of Beacon Academy, said with a small smile. "Now, I would like to know where you have learned to be this proficient with your semblance at such a young age?" He proceeded to show the footage of her brief tussle with those two grunts and her dodging of Torchwick's shot at her. "Apparently you are quite decent at hand to hand as well."
"I trained a lot, Sir." It wasn't a lie.
"I see. And why is that?"
"I want to be a huntress. I want to protect people. Like my mother used to."
Something in the Headmaster's and the blonde huntress's expression visibly softened. It was clear they knew who she was. It came with the name, it came with the cape. It came with her father being a member of Beacon's strongest ever team.
"I do remember Summer Rose quite fondly. I can only imagine you won't disappoint me either."
Her eyes widened at first, then narrowed. She didn't misunderstand, did she?
"You do know who I am, do you?"
"Professor Ozpin, Headmaster of Beacon Academy."
He smiled at her. "Hello."
"Nice to meet you, Sir."
"So," he leaned back in his chair, his hands neatly folded in his lap, "are you interested in joining my Academy a bit early, Miss Rose?"
This is my first attempt at a longfic after two one-shots. I had this idea for a while and the outline is quite thorough, with a clear ending noted. The way to get there is the real challenge. I plan for around 2k to 3k words per chapter. It should be a decent amount for a good read and to fit in enough information and story in each chapter. The few lines from canon I took were for flavour mostly. Anything coming from now on will diverge quite a bit from the show (aside from the established major plot points). Ruby will be a very different person here than in canon. More grey morals, less naivete, less fangirling over other huntsmen and huntresses. Just more mature and everything. Also, she is obsessed with her mother's fate – it's why I changed a bit of her design to look like a mix of her usual look with what Summer looked like in the V6 reveal.
All of that is not to say that I dislike Ruby in canon. She's best girl with Weiss!
Also, Ruby's 'friend' is a Canon character. Just so you know.
Hopefully, I managed to intrigue some of you!
Chapter 2: The Calm
"I am so proud of you, Ruby!"
Said Ruby endured being suffocated by her older half-sister, the buxom blonde apparently overjoyed when she revealed they would be attending Beacon Academy together. She loved her family – she really did! – but she preferred the quiet and delicate ways of showing affection to the Yang-Xiao-Long-ways, which usually consisted of bone-crushing hugs and airways blocked because her face was being pressed into big breasts.
Ruby had often heard how different she was as a young child, before her mother's disappearance, to how she was now. She was told so many times how cuddly and huggy and talkative she used to be before that. All she knew was that she preferred to not talk much and not interact with others if not necessary. She'd rather keep to herself and focus on being the best possible huntress she could be by soaking up any and all knowledge she could. Then, once she'd be as ready and prepared as she could be, she could finally and actively search for her mom. Wherever she was.
"It's nothing," she muttered and tried to free herself from those muscled arms holding her hostage – to no avail. She was trapped and at her sister's mercy. She honestly just wanted to finish packing.
"It's not nothing!" Yang exclaimed with a slight squeeze. "You stood up to Roman Torchwick and his lackeys and almost came out on top and now we get to go to Beacon together!"
Well, it wasn't exactly like that, but sometimes it was better to not correct others. "Can I just get back to my packing already?"
Yang relented, but not before giving her a final fierce squeeze. "Oh, alright."
Ruby sighed in relief and went back to putting clothes into her suitcase. She wasn't the neatest person who ever existed and most of her wardrobe would be wrinkled all over once she got to unpack them again. What she did take care of though, was a framed picture of her mother. She was desperately clinging to it, out of fear of forgetting what she looked like.
"I'm really glad we'll be at Beacon together, though," Yang spoke up after watching her pack in silence for a while.
Ruby glanced over her shoulder at her sister, who was leaning against the doorframe with her arms crossed over her chest, her tall figure a bit obscured by the shadows of the dark hallway. "Why's that?" she asked absentmindedly. While actually knowing the answer, her mind already occupied by the task at hand – namely packing – so she wasn't really paying attention to what she was asking.
Which was a mistake.
Yang raised an eyebrow at her. "Really? I'm pretty sure you know why, sis. But I can still spell it out for you for the nth time if you want."
"Please don't," Ruby muttered and she was already dreading what was about to come. A resigned sigh escaped her while checking her weapon's toolkit.
Yang seriously went for another lecture.
"...like, I get it, you like to be left alone and all that and –"
"Yang, seriously, please stop." Ruby turned away from her toolkit to look at her sister. "I get it, you are happy we'll be at Beacon together so you can keep hovering over me. You don't have to go full lecture-mode on me. Again."
"Just let me have my fun." Yang walked over to Ruby's bed and let herself drop down on it, bouncing a bit in the process. "I just worry about you a lot, Ruby."
"...I'm sorry." What else could she say?
"You never stand up for yourself. You easily could, but you never do."
Ruby rolled her eyes. They'd been over that countless times. "It's not worth the energy. I can make better use of my time than lose it on some – some...I don't know...it's just not worth it."
Yang just slowly shook her head with a disbelieving expression. "If someone called me a 'frigid bitch' I'd make them eat their own teeth. You seriously have the patience of a saint, Ruby."
"You would make them? If I recall correctly, you crushed his aura in less than thirty seconds, broke his nose and he actually did end up choking on one of his teeth. If it wasn't for dad and Uncle Qrow you would have been expelled. Instead, you got a whole school year on probation and six months worth of detention, and, if it wasn't for dad and Uncle Qrow, again, you would have had no hope of ever attending Beacon."
Yang tried – and failed – to hide her pleased grin. "Details. Plus, no one insults my baby sister and gets away with it. Hurting you, no matter in which way, is worse than hurting my hair."
"Glad to know I'm still ranking above your hair," Ruby replied dryly while unlocking the bottom drawer from her night table and taking out her trusty notebook. It helped with organizing her thoughts.
"You'll always be, Ruby. Say, will I ever get to know what's in there?" Yang asked, sitting up a bit and nodding at the notebook she held tightly to her chest.
"I already told you what's in it," Ruby said with a frown.
"And that's all you need to know." She crouched next to her suitcase and pushed the notebook below her clothes. She still needed to shop for Beacon's student uniform. "After all," she continued after straightening back up, "private things are meant to be private."
"Can't blame me for being curious." Yang shrugged. "For all I know, you could be writing your own porn novel."
Ruby openly gaped at her older sister. Of all the things Yang could come up with when imagining the contents of her notebook…"Why would you think that?!" Ruby's voice rose several octaves in indignation – as if it wasn't high enough already – and she felt her face heat up.
Yang snickered at her reaction. "You face is matching your cape's colour. Also, there's nothing wrong with reading porn. Some are actually really hot, like Ninjas Of Love."
Ruby closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose, trying to come up with an idea on what to do with that useless information dump her sister just provided her with. "TMI, Yang. I seriously did not need to know any of that. Like, at all."
Yang just kept on snickering.
Saying goodbye to their father was difficult, for both sides.
Her mother was the figure she idolized and strived to be like the most – despite only knowing her for three years, most of which she could barely even remember anymore.
However, none of that meant that she had any problems with her father. Quite the opposite, in fact. She loved him dearly, admired him even. Her Uncle Qrow was always away on some mission or another. Yang's actual mom was never even talked about.
So, their dad raised the two of them pretty much all by himself and, if Ruby may say so herself, her sister and she turned out quite decent. Credit where it was due; their father was an incredible man. She knew he was bursting with pride at seeing his two babies all grown up and attending Beacon – he repeated that fact like a gazillion times – but she also knew how hard it must have been for him to let them go.
Still, such was life. Children grew up and parents had to let them go.
The same apparently applied to siblings too, considering how Yang 'let her go', or more like dumped her for a group of faceless strangers she had never seen before.
Ruby scoffed. 'Friends', my butt. Probably got to know them just yesterday or the day before, through one of those social apps.
She pulled her cape tighter around herself, covering up her body in a soft shield of red. The Academy certainly looked impressive. The architecture itself looked beautiful and the tower dwarfed everything else around it. Students returning for the new semester walked to and fro, excitedly waving at friends.
There was a lot going on, but it really didn't seem all that different from Signal. Same noise, same kind of weirdly controlled chaos. It just appeared to be more...elite.
A small smile tugged at her lips as she took everything in.
She really was here; at Beacon. The place where her mother became a huntress. She hoped that, wherever she was, Summer Rose would be beaming with pride. Attending this elite academy two years early was no small feat after all, even if the circumstances leading to this situation were a bit sketchy on her part.
The delicate sound of someone clearing their throat to get her attention broke her out of her reverie and Ruby turned around towards that someone. She came face to face with a pale, white-haired and slender girl, her cart loaded to the brim with various suitcases of all sizes, pushed by, what appeared to be, a butler of some kind. The girl couldn't be more obvious about her monetary background if she tried.
Ruby carefully stepped out of their way and pushed her own luggage farther to the side with a muttered "sorry", the girl and her butler walking past her without any further words. She caught sight of various SDC insignia on the suitcases, which made her eyebrows vanish beneath her fringe.
A Schnee at Beacon. Last she remembered, Atlas had its own rather formidable academy. She didn't know much about the Schnee family, aside from the odd interview she saw of Jaques Schnee – one ought to know where one's dust supply was coming from after all – and he seemed like a rather snobbish person. If she would have ever found herself imagining a Schnee attending an academy for huntresses and huntsmen, she'd have thought it would be Atlas. The rather rigid structure and militaristic approach would seem like a more fitting environment than the, in comparison, almost lackadaisical approach of Beacon.
Ruby shrugged. It was not her place to question a Schnee's decision to attend Beacon Academy instead of Atlas.
"Hey, uh, do you know where the amphitheatre is?"
Ruby turned to look at a sheepish looking, tall and blonde boy, who had something familiar about him. "Do I know you?"
"What? Know me? Pfft, no!" He waved her off exaggeratedly, which made her even more suspicious.
Then it dawned on her, her eyes widening. "Of course I know you! You are the one who vomited on my sister's boots!"
"The strong-looking, tall and pretty blonde? I – yeah…"
"The layout of the academy is downloadable for students, you know? But you can follow me, Vomit Boy," Ruby said as she started to march towards their destination – which was right at the end of the Main Avenue – while shouldering one bag and dragging her suitcase behind her.
The boy caught up with her in a few quick strides. He really was tall. "Motion sickness is an actual, serious issue, I'll have you know!"
Ruby nodded sagely. "Oh, I know that. That's why there are sickness bags in every airship."
"Oh...anyway, what's your name? Mine's Jaune Arc. Short, sweet, the ladies love it...or so my mom tol – so, your name?" He rubbed the back of his head awkwardly.
"Ruby Rose…" Did he just really describe his name with 'short, sweet, the ladies love it'?
"So, Ruby, uh, what do you like to do?"
She blinked at him. That was a really broad question. "As in...hobbies?"
"I like to study, train, bake, draw weapon designs, tinker on my and my sister's weapons, play video games with my sister...I never realized I had this many hobbies. Huh." She furrowed her brows at that realization. And there were actually people who had called her a bore! Take that, suckers! "What about you?" It was actually nice to talk with Vomit Boy Jaune Arc. He could be a friend of sorts, maybe. He seemed friendly enough.
"Oh, uh, this and that – hanging out with my sisters I suppose and, I don't know... – "
"Here we are," Ruby said, interrupting Jaune's rambling when stepping into the amphitheatre, where Headmaster Ozpin would hold his introductory speech for the new students. She put her luggage with the other students', making sure that it was all tagged with her name. Then, stretching her neck and standing on her toes, she looked around for her sister and a small sigh of relief escaped her. "And there's Yang. See you around, Jaune."
"Yeah, see ya…"
Ruby weaved past a few other students, ducking under an arm here, dodging a body there, and, before long, she was at Yang's side.
"So, how did my ditching-strategy work? Did you meet anyone nice on your own?"
A long-suffering sigh of annoyance escaped Ruby. "Actually yes. Apparently, there's a Schnee going to attend Beacon with us. I kind of stood in her way."
Yang just looked at her blankly. "A what?"
"Who, my dear sister, not what. Schnee, as in Schnee Dust Company, as in the family which provides you with the dust for Ember Celica's dust slugs."
"Oh. Okay. So what? You want me to go and thank them or something?"
"No...I just...thought it was interesting or...or...I don't know..." Her cheeks felt hot as she finished mumbling her reply, and she felt so lame right now. "Forget it. I also met the boy who puked on your boots. His name's Jaune Arc."
"Really? Where is he?" Yang asked, cracking her knuckles. "I'd like to meet him too."
Ruby had to chuckle. "Leave him alone, he's nice."
"I'll take your word for it. He still owes me, though."
"I won't argue there," she said with a smile. Vomit on one's shoes was disgusting after all.
Professor Ozpin's speech certainly put him in a bit of a new light. When she first met him in Vale's police department's interrogation room, he appeared to be a wise man with a gentle sense of humour. Here, after this speech, he appeared more like a tired man, like someone who had seen too many students come and go and too few reach the potential their lives granted them with. It was an odd change, an odd contrast – as if the two Ozpins she met were two entirely different people.
But there was not a lot of time to really dwell on that any further, as the cadets scattered about to spend the rest of the day somewhere on campus until the Cadet Trial would take place in the morning. Yang left to find her 'friends' again, so Ruby did what made the most sense in her opinion:
She rummaged through her luggage for a pencil, a writing pad and a calculator. There never was a wrong time to think about how to develop one's weapon further. Always striving for improvement, Ruby had worked a lot on her own weapon to get the most out of it, as she did for Yang's. She didn't believe in striving for perfection. Perfection meant that there was no room for improvement left and no room for improvement meant stagnation. So, instead of looking for ways to perfect a weapon, she looked for ways to improve the way it already worked.
Ember Celica, for example, still recoiled too much after Yang's punches. So, she had to come up with a way to lessen the recoil without taking away from the weapon's power.
That would come later, though.
For now, she was trying to think up more ways to incorporate dust in her own weapon. The projectiles she used for the long-range form made use of a large variety of dust already, but she was sure there was still more potential to be found in its melee form. She sighed, tapping the eraser-end of her pencil against the paper while leaning against a wall in a dark-ish corner of the amphitheatre. She had discussed this with her uncle already and he had shared a few of his ideas, but, without wanting to sound super arrogant, he didn't approach the art of weapon-design with the same innovative freedom she did.
"Hey, Ruby. Mind if I join?"
Yes! "No, of course not," she told Jaune and allowed him to sit down next to her. She just wanted to think about weapons in peace.
Also, she would never tell Yang that sometimes she was indeed correct.
"Whatcha doing?" He asked, looking at the still blank paper.
"Wondering if it would be worth it to apply dust chambers into my weapon's melee form."
"Can I ask what your weapon is?"
Ruby smiled. She liked talking about her. "It's a bow which I can split into two sickles or mini-scythes as I like to call them. The bow I designed after my mother's weapon, the mini-scythes after my uncle's. I named her Thorned Rose."
"Sounds cool. So, why don't you just add the chamber thingies?"
Ruby ignored the thingy-part, but she wondered if Jaune ever designed a weapon in his life. "It would add additional weight into its bow form, which would upset my aiming. I'd have to get used to the weight and everything. But maybe I could add...but that would be additional weight too, ugh…"
"Excuse me," a rather haughty voice interrupted Ruby's groaning of despair. "I couldn't help but overhear…"
Ruby looked up to see the girl she assumed to be a Schnee stand in front of her, looking both arrogant and apprehensive at the same time. "Okay…?"
"If you are worried about the weight dust chambers would add to your sickles, I could show you the design of my rapier? The chamber adds minimal weight, it's barely noticeable. It was designed with exactly that in mind, to not upset my balance."
Well, that was random but a very nice offer. "If you don't mind…?"
"I wouldn't have offered if I did. I'll be just a moment."
Maybe she could come up with something after all.
The crisp November air was biting into her skin, this early in the morning, and the fact that she and her fellow first-year cadets were standing on a very high cliff didn't help either.
To her left, the sound of the first launchpad firing the first student into the air rang through the otherwise serene morning. Jaune was still asking pointless questions and she was really starting to worry about him.
Parachutes?! Dropping us off on the forest's grounds?! Landing strategies are huntsman training 101! Did he even attend any primary combat school? He should know these things! Does he even have a semblance yet? Does he even have access to his au-
Her thoughts were rudely interrupted when she got catapulted into the air. She liked Jaune, he appeared to be a genuinely nice person, but she was sure he had no training. Whatever he did to be able to apply to and be accepted at Beacon, it was irresponsible to the highest degree.
Oh well. She had other, more important things to concentrate on now.
Her cape fluttered wildly behind her as the howling wind drowned out any other sounds.
One of her favourite things about aura was, that it had – as small as they were – protective properties against environmental influences on the body. It could protect someone for quite some time from hypothermia, though not from feeling cold. One could feel uncomfortably hot, though aura could protect the skin and flesh from burn wounds. Her eyes were stinging, but they weren't tearing up from the cold air rushing at her. She could still see the forest trees' thick green crowns getting closer.
Slipping into her semblance, the world bled into the familiar shades of red. In her whirlwind of rose petals, she weaved through the twigs and branches, split into three to get around a tree's thick trunk and, once the ground was close enough, she slipped out of her semblance, dropped into a roll, then slowed down sufficiently to straighten back up to her feet.
After dusting of stray leaves and some dirt off her combat dress and cape, she checked her black quiver to make sure the arrows were all there, and her sickles – which made up the bow's stave when combined – to make sure they were still secured by her belt. Ruby then pulled her cape's hood over her head and took on a leisurely pace at a random direction.
She knew about it beforehand, but it still sucked that she would have to get a random partner. Worst-case scenario, she'd get stuck with Jaune.
Best case would obviously be her sister.
But every other candidate would be pure random luck and that was a nightmare.
Her friend told her about the Cadet Trial and how it changed every year. The random partner selection remained constant though.
She pushed away a low-hanging tree branch, still comfortably pressing on through the forest. So far, no sounds of battles with Grimm or anything of that sort were audible through the quiet of nature. Considering the dangers lurking in this forest, it really was oddly serene – almost cliché. The birds were chirping, the leaves rustling in the wind. Fallen twigs crunched and snapped beneath her boots.
She was half of a mind to lean against a tree and start sketching new weapon designs!
But, alas, there was a time and place for that, and she would not fall for the false sense of security the Emerald Forest was prone to lull the unwary into.
However, the serenity couldn't continue forever, of course.
She stopped dead in her tracks, her head cocked to the side. Removing her hood and exposing her ears to the cold air, she concentrated. She could just about make out numerous growling sounds disrupting the peace. Moving again, she picked up the pace, rushing through thickets and jumping over fallen trunks. Moments later, she arrived in a small clearing.
In front of her, she saw Weiss Schnee surrounded by a pack of Beowolves. Weiss appeared to be almost impossibly stiff, drawing a foot back and forth a few inches. Probably correcting her stance.
A correct stance was important, no doubt. Instinct, however, was the decider between life and death. The stance should be muscle memory and not something to be drawn towards as a first instinct.
Ruby's arrow whistled through the air just as Weiss ducked, the large Grimm behind her disintegrating in midair, when the arrow pierced right through it before hitting a tree in the back with a loud thud.
That set the other Grimm in motion. The Schnee gracefully parried their attacks and skillfully made use of her semblance – something with glyphs by the looks of it.
Pressing a small button on the bow stave, Thorned Rose split into her two sickles, the bowstring rolled up into one of them, the additional segments of the stave disappearing into the sickles' handles with mechanical clicks. Activating her semblance, she rushed into the battle, quickly taking out a couple of immobilized Grimm by decapitating them. Weiss then parried another Beowolf charging at her, freezing it in midair in an impressive display of proficiency with ice dust. With an high-arching swing, Ruby decapitated that one too.
Creating a glyph below herself, Weiss propelled herself forward, thrusting her rapier, in rapid succession first in one of the Grimm's neck, then in the other's.
The brief fight over, they each took a deep breath, then both of them looked into the other's eyes.
"I...thank you. I didn't…"
Ruby grinned wryly at Weiss's obvious discomfort at having to admit that she made a potentially fatal mistake. "You are welcome." She walked to one of the trees to retrieve her arrow and put it back into her quiver hanging at her lower back.
"So…" Weiss tried to start a conversation but appeared to be just as terrible at talking with people as she was.
So, she might as well state the obvious. "Well, since the sun rises in the east and there should still be a couple of hours or so until midday, north should be around this way." Ruby pointed at her estimated direction and she could just barely make out a frown on Weiss's face.
"Right. Of course."
The Schnee then took the lead and marched on, her head held high.
Ruby rolled her eyes but quickly jogged up to walk next to the older girl. She didn't feel the need to talk and assumed that Weiss didn't either if her silence was anything to go by. That was alright with her. A silent teammate was definitely better than a chatty one.
She also could definitely be doing worse than Weiss as a partner and teammate though. The girl obviously was talented, but without the outdoors experience a primary combat school would have provided on a regular basis.
Private instructor, most likely.
That would also explain how she missed the Beowolf behind her because she was still so focused on applying her stance perfectly just moments before the fight started.
She obviously was making assumptions about Weiss here, but those assumptions were all based on observations. She doubted she was that far off with any of them.
Yang and she, on the other hand, had had it way easier. Growing up on Patch was all about spending their childhood outdoors. All of their family and family friends were licensed huntsmen and huntresses. They did the whole shebang with primary combat schools before attending Beacon.
Then, to her utmost shock, Weiss broke their silence. "May I ask you something?"
Ruby glanced at the girl from below her hood, then shrugged. "Sure."
"No offence, but you seem a bit young. How old are you exactly?"
Weiss's grace made a brief disappearance when she stumbled in surprise. Her wide-eyed shock at Ruby's age did nothing to hide the embarrassed blush. Her red cheeks actually suited her, Ruby noted idly. "Fifteen? How are you even allowed here?!"
She was slightly taken aback at the vehemence of Weiss's indignation about her age. It really wasn't a big deal. "The Headmaster invited me personally. It happens."
"I suppose it does." Her voice was back to its normal cultured and measured tone, but the frown was still in place. The flush was gone from her cheeks, though. "I suppose I will have to take the lead then."
Ruby could give multiple reasons, right then and there, why she did not need to be – should not be – the one to take the lead. She could almost hear her sister's disapproval, hear her friend's scoffing, accompanied by scathing remarks.
She glanced at the older girl with her most neutral expression. "Be my guest. I don't mind."
They had more important things to focus on than some leadership crisis. Weiss was free to take on the responsibility if she was so eager. Ruby just didn't see the point in arguing. If worse came to worst, she could always bail them out with her semblance.
"Don't get me wrong," the Schnee spoke up again, "I am sure Professor Ozpin has his reasons to allow you to attend Beacon two years early. I'm not trying to disparage your skills. I just believe, as your senior, I should be the one to shoulder any responsibilities."
"I'm actually doing you a favour if you think about it."
"You should be thanking me."
It really wasn't worth the effort to argue.
Aside from their brief encounter with the small pack of Beowolves, their trek through the forest was relatively peaceful. Which was odd, considering the notoriety of the Emerald Forest and its infestation with the creatures of Grimm. The number of people who had stepped into this vast ecosystem – unprepared – and died was countless. The Emerald Forest was as dangerous a place as it could get in Vale.
And yet, all they encountered were five or six Beowolves, with only one of them on the larger spectrum, and it still got down with a single well-aimed arrow.
Her months and years of not only physical but also mental training at the mercy of her friend had taught her to trust her instincts, and her instincts were screaming.
"Something's not right," Ruby finally whispered after stopping. She looked around herself and saw nothing but lush green trees. It was an odd thing, in November, but such was nature. In Forever Fall they had red leaves all year round and in here, the Emerald Forest, the leaves were green instead, throughout the year.
Weiss looked at her with slight worry. "What do you mean?"
"There's supposed to be Grimm in here. Like, lots of Grimm. Beacon was built between Vale's two major forests for a reason."
"Right, Beacon sits between Forever Fall and Emerald Forest. A large number of trained warriors…"
Ruby nodded. "The Academy obviously doesn't cover all of the forests, so that's where the walls come in, but you get the idea. So, it's kind of weird that we haven't met any other Grimm. This place is supposed to be crawling with them."
"Maybe something is drawing them away?" Weiss offered with a frown and Ruby hummed in thought.
"Yeah, but what draws Grimm anywhere? As far as we know, they only exist to destroy. They are drawn to negativity, most of all fear."
"True. None of us cadets should b-"
"Jaune!" Ruby's eyes were wide with shock.
Her partner looked at her with obvious confusion. "Who?"
"You know, blonde guy wearing a onesie to bed?"
Weiss wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Oh, yes. Tall, blonde and scraggly. He kept hitting on me. What about him?"
"He has to be the one drawing the Grimm!" Ruby insisted. "He asked all these questions on the cliff and had no idea about weapon designs and how dust works with weapons and –"
Rubbing her brows as if she was massaging a headache away, Weiss took a deep breath. "Let me guess: you want to find him and make sure he is still alive?"
"Alright then. Might as well. I would be a terrible huntress to leave a civilian to their fate. Also, I think I heard him earlier, a couple or so minutes away from where you found me." Weiss said, starting to walk back the way they came from.
Weiss's shoulders sagged a bit, taking away from her usually immaculate posture. "If it was him...he...sounded as if in pain, but I...ignored it because I didn't want to risk being partnered with him."
Ruby knew of course where this was going. If Jaune was injured and Weiss was right there and could have helped but didn't – Ruby tried not to think about it.
And hadn't she dubbed being paired with Jaune a 'worst-case scenario?' Hadn't she dreaded the possibility of being stuck with him? She had ambitions and a mission. She didn't need people who'd slow her down.
But no matter what stupid reasoning Jaune would have to offer for...for whatever this whole idiotic scheme of his was, she didn't want him to get hurt. Far from it.
"I'm not mad at you, Weiss."
She really wasn't. Weiss probably had her own ambitions too. It was natural to not want to be paired with what was probably the weakest candidate. Most of the cadets would have probably reacted similarly.
They rushed back as quickly as their feet could carry them. Ruby couldn't be sure for how long they had been walking north, but she knew that, if her gut feeling was indeed right, they needed to head back quickly.
Professor Ozpin said they'd be monitored and that the instructors would not intervene. Ruby had to wonder, just how strict was that no-intervention-rule? What if a student was in life-threatening danger? There were deaths in every academy's initiation. In her mother's initiation, almost half the cadets didn't make it past the initiation.
Or so her uncle said.
The life of a huntress and huntsman was dangerous, the training no less so.
It also was unfortunate that there were so little distinguishing features within a forest. It was all about trees and bushes and leaves and twigs and branches. Nothing to clearly distinguish one part of a forest from another. She hoped they were on the right track here.
"Ruby, I just thought of something."
Ruby glanced at her partner. "Yes?"
"Shouldn't we have encountered Grimm when heading north? I mean, if the Grimm are drawn by negative emotions, just this Jaune fellow can't be enough." She paused for a moment before continuing. "If he really were to be scared out of his wits, it'd barely be enough to draw a horde of Grimm from his immediate surroundings."
Ruby mulled the words over in her mind and had to concede; her partner had a point. If she took a step back from Jaune's possible situation, looked at it as a professional huntress – probably – would and analyzed all the information she had, she'd come to the same conclusion. They had to have encountered Grimm. One way or another, there had to be Grimm in their way. Jaune panicking or not, whatever his actual situation was, there had to be other Grimm in their way.
"Maybe…I don't know...I mean, this year's number of cadets is around forty."
"You mean they took them out?" Weiss mused.
Ruby shook her head. "Not necessarily. There still would have been other Grimm we would have had to face. Also, the Emerald Forest is swarming with Grimm. It's literally infested. Every year there's a huge sweep through the forest with at least around sixty or so licensed huntsmen and huntresses. Two years ago it even breached a hundred. My uncle and my dad were part of it too. The Grimm always come back." She sighed. "There are cameras all over the place to monitor their movements. How else do you think they are monitoring us in here?"
"Huh. I wasn't aware Grimm were such a big problem here."
Ruby smirked at her partner. "Well, obviously this can't be public knowledge."
"How do you know all of this then?"
"My sister knows about it too. Our uncle doesn't believe in keeping secrets." Only when it came to her mom. Or her eyes.
If it weren't for her friend she wouldn't have known anything about those things. And a bit more. But she couldn't be bitter about it. She couldn't allow herself to be bitter about it.
"So, you think the other cadets…"
"I'm pretty sure a lot of the other cadets ran into trouble. Probably more than they could take."
Neither of them had anything else to say for a while.
Ruby hoped she hadn't gotten them lost. Fifteen minutes, twenty minutes – she wasn't sure for how long they had been backtracking now, trying to find the clearing of their initial meeting.
"Pyrrha! Behind you!"
As it turned out, going straight back was the right thing to do. With a quick nod of silent confirmation, Weiss and she hurried towards the scream and the closer they got, the clearer the sound of battle became.
Ruby readied her Thorned Rose, combining the sickles with a click, then drawing and tightening the string.
"I'll provide support from the trees," Ruby said, hearing Weiss's acknowledgement just prior to her semblance's activation. She spiralled up to the trees, jumping from branch to branch.
Then, before long, there on the ground and leaning against a tree, she saw Jaune and had to wince. He looked terrible. His blonde hair was streaked with blood and sticking to his pasty skin. His left leg and arm were obviously broken considering the unnatural angles. His clothes were ripped and bloodied.
How he was even still alive was a mystery she'd really like to have solved, but that could and would come later. First, he and the redhead needed help.
Ruby quickly placed an arrow, drew the string and aimed at a charging Ursa. The arrowhead impaled itself in the Ursa's thick arm, an electric charge exploding from it, shocking the Grimm in place. The girl – Pyrrha, if Ruby had heard Jaune's earlier scream correctly – quickly got over her surprise and finished it off, sinking her sword into the beast's neck.
It was then Weiss came in, gliding on a series of her glyphs, freezing a group of Beowolves in place with a wide arch from Myrtenaster. Pyrrha used the chance to throw her shield at the pack, cleanly cutting through their heads and attaching itself back on her arm-guards.
Ruby saw a white, serpentine head appearing from behind the tree Jaune was prepped against. She quickly drew the arrow she had prepared, fired, and hit it in its widely opened maw, the arrowhead reacting to the impact by releasing the fire-dust and cooking the head from the inside.
There was still the black head to deal with though.
"Jaune! To your right!"
He heeded her warnings and raised his shield, blocking the attack. Pyrrha, boosted by one of Weiss's platforms, charged with a yell, leapt into the air and drove her sword through the King Taijitu's black head.
With the fight over –for now – Pyrrha collapsed to her knees and released a heavy sigh of relief. "Thank you!" She looked at Weiss first, then searched the trees for her. Ruby jumped down from the branch and gave a quick wave.
"Don't mention it. How's Jaune doing?"
"...not...too well," Pyrrha admitted after another sigh. "He's not in a good place right now."
Ruby looked past the redhead at Jaune, though he wouldn't meet her eyes. "How did he get injured so badly?" she asked in a low voice.
"He was...like this when I found him. I just thought he didn't have a landing strategy, so I threw my javelin to catch him and he was unconscious when I found him hanging from a tree…"
"You saved his life," Weiss whispered, paler than usual. It probably sank in just what she had ignored.
"Well, let's get out of here," Ruby muttered.
Pyrrha offered a weak smile in return. "That would be lovely."
Don't take my depiction of Jaune as bashing. What he did was irresponsible, dangerous and suicidal. Being catapulted into the forest without aura should have at least injured him severely. Also, Weiss did leave Jaune hanging in canon. Though comedy was the intention, what would have happened if Pyrrha wasn't an utter saint?
Also, this chapter is no hint at changing team compositions. Those will stay as in canon.
Walking back north was a lot more arduous this time around. Earlier, it was just the two of them. Neither of them was injured or hampered in any other way. Their overall mental state was pretty relaxed.
This time, however, their journey towards the actual goal of the initiation was a lot more complicated.
Jaune was not in a mentally good place. It was obvious – the frown, how he would not meet anybody's eyes, how quiet he was. Not to mention the pain from his injuries he must be enduring silently. Grimm, even if they were just weak ones every now and then, were drawn in by his negativity, though between Weiss, Pyrrha and herself they could handle those pretty easily. Jaune's injuries, however, slowed them down considerably. They obviously couldn't point fingers at him, though Ruby had a feeling that there were very few things Weiss would rather be doing right now than pointing fingers at Jaune.
Another unfortunate thing was that neither of them could help Pyrrha, who was helping Jaune by having him lean on her. They couldn't support him from his other side because of the broken leg and arm – which Pyrrha and she had splinted about as well as they could – and since Pyrrha was taller and stronger than either Weiss and her, it really fell only to her to be a crutch for Jaune.
She did so without complaining, though, and did her best to keep a positive attitude throughout. Ruby respected that.
Her first impression of the redhead was positive in general. She appeared to be a genuinely kind and almost overly polite person and Ruby found it hard to stop herself from smiling at how willingly and readily she tried to encourage Jaune and lift his mood.
Ruby herself had tried to engage him in a conversation, but he still would not look at her. It stung a bit, she had to admit, but there was little she could do about it at the moment.
She wondered, of course, what exactly had transpired, how it was possible for Jaune to be this injured. All she would be able to come up with would be assumptions and conjecture, none of which would be helpful here.
"I wonder what this will do to our grades," Weiss muttered and Ruby had to smile. Good to see her partner apparently put importance into academics.
Many a cadet thought that huntress- and huntsman-training came with nothing but cool weapons and semblances and combat training. They tended to forget the theoretical aspect of many lessons in huntsman academies. Dust Theory, Grimm Anatomy, Human Anatomy, Geography, Survival Theory...and there was still more. The theory of being a huntress or huntsman was as important as the practical application of the various skills.
"I'm not really sure," Ruby answered honestly. "They could grade it in all sorts of ways. Combat would obviously be our top grade. Anything less would make me really upset. But beyond that, they could take away from our grades because we didn't focus on the task –" "Which would be your fault." "– or they could add to our grades because we went back and helped a fellow cadet."
"That would certainly be the preferable outcome, no doubt."
Ruby nodded in agreement. "Yup. We'll just have to wait and see." She then turned to look back at Pyrrha and Jaune. "How are you two holding up?"
"We are doing fine, though I wished we could get Jaune some medical care soon," Pyrrha said with a worried glance at her partner.
"We should reach the northern end of the forest soon," she said, hoping that she was right. Estimating cardinal directions without a compass was one thing, but pinpointing where exactly one was in such a vast forest, without a map or anything, was just a bit more difficult.
The good thing was, the forest seemed to become less dense the farther they pressed on. The bad thing was the myriad of foot tracks which started to appear. Some of them were obviously of Grimm origin.
There were deep scorch marks on the ground and on a few trees and there was also a small blackened crater, the impact likely caused by a blunt weapon.
"Keep Myrtenaster ready, Weiss." Her partner nodded and did just so, leaving Ruby to wonder if she realized she was following her orders. "Pyrrha, if we run into trouble, just grab Jaune and get away."
"I can –"
"We know you can help, but Ruby and I can handle a few Grimm. You just need to make sure your partner is safe." Weiss then turned to her with squinted eyes. "And don't think I didn't realize how you are ordering me around."
Ruby shrugged with a small grin. "You didn't say anything yet."
"Well, I am now! I say –" Weiss stopped, looking unsure for just a brief moment.
Glaring at her, Weiss jutted her chin out, just a bit, and straightened her posture. "I say...we keep going."
Ruby decided not to comment any further and just indulge Weiss instead.
So they kept on moving, their weapons readied and ears sharpened.
The tracks became human only after a while and led them further north.
With a glance at her partner, followed by a glance at the pair behind them, Ruby steeled her resolve.
Her mother went through this, prevailed and emerged as one of the greatest huntresses of Vale – maybe even beyond.
She would too.
It didn't take much longer for them to hear the sounds of a full-on battle. Explosions, Grimm roaring, cadets screaming. There definitely was a lot going on.
"Pyrrha, you have to stay with Jaune, alright?" Ruby told the tall girl. It was obvious she wanted to protest, but it was also obvious she cared for her partner and didn't want to abandon him. Ruby then turned to her own partner. "Same as earlier: I'll support from the high ground."
"Fine by me."
Ruby then jumped up to one of the trees with her semblance and leapt from branch to branch, moving ever closer to the ongoing fight. She wondered if Yang would be among them.
When she finally reached the site of the battle, which was also apparently the actual goal of the initiation if the temple ruin was any indicator, the sight which presented itself made her breath hitch.
A total of six – no, seven – eight! A total of eight cadets were fighting a literal horde of Grimm. There was so much black, no matter where she looked. Packs upon packs of Beowolves, another pair of a King Taijitu, a group of Ursa, even Creeps – those were supposed to be subterranean! There were just so many and it didn't make sense.
But she couldn't think about that now. She couldn't lose her head.
A glowing mane of long, blonde hair drew her gaze and she breathed a sigh of relief when she caught sight of her sister.
Yang was okay. That was important.
She quickly combined her sickles, drew and tightened the string, nocked an arrow with a lightning dust arrowhead, and fired. Moments later, the arrow flew past Yang's head and embedded itself in the chest of a Beowolf behind her, releasing the dust into its body and stunning it. Yang turned around in surprise, quickly releasing a flurry of explosive punches onto the beast.
From the corner of her eyes, she saw her partner glide into the battle, using her semblance liberally to provide glyphs for the other cadets, supporting them as best as she could.
Ruby turned her attention to a large boy with a big mace who crushed the head of a Creep, cracking the ground below with a violent release of fire dust. So he was the one who caused the miniature crater she spotted earlier.
Ruby quickly fired another lightning dust arrow – her last – and stunned an Ursa trying to blindside a boy wielding a halberd. The boy turned around at the sound of something flying past his head, only to see the shocked Ursa with its arm raised at him, an arrow sticking out of its chest. With a flourishing spin, he sliced its head cleanly of its neck, causing it to disintegrate.
Ruby quickly ran her fingers over her arrows in her quiver, counting them. Sixteen left, ten without dust, two with fire dust, four with ice dust.
She nocked a basic arrow onto the string and drew, taking out a Beowolf lurking behind a girl wearing a bow.
Weiss, appearing in her field of vision, froze a clustered group of Creeps, the halberd guy taking advantage of it and slicing through all of them with a spin of his weapon.
It still didn't seem to end, there were just so many Grimm.
She could use her eyes and evaporate all of them. It would be easy.
But it would also raise questions, it would expose an ability that was not normal, it could – and most likely would – get out beyond Beacon and get the attention of people who'd want to kill her because of her silver gaze.
She'd have to wait. If they couldn't handle the Grimm any other way, she'd use her eyes as a last resort.
Splitting her bow stave and retracting the string into one of the sickles, she activated her semblance and raced into the fray.
The King Taijitu's white head snapped at her whirlwind, so she split her semblance into three, dodging the bared fangs and recombining with her decoys behind the serpent. She slipped out of her semblance, landing on the Taijitu's back. Rearing its white head up, it made her slide downwards. Reacting quickly, with as much power as she could muster, she sank one sickle into the scaly body of the large serpent, slicing it open as she kept sliding down its body.
"Ruby!" Yang called out her name and she turned in time to see her sister punch a Beowolf, the force of Ember Celica's explosive slugs catapulting it into a group of charging Creeps.
"I'm okay, sis," Ruby reassured her, ducking under an Ursa's heavy swing, sinking her sickles behind its short legs. With a sharp pull, she severed them and ducked into a roll away from its falling body. She finished it off with a swing to remove its head.
"Who allowed this fucking kid here?!" one of the boys snarled, slashing his dual daggers with clinical precision into a heavily plated Ursa's weak spots. The mace guy then shattered the weakened Grimm's facial bone platings with an explosive blow from his weapon. "We can't babysit her and deal with this bullshit!"
Ruby ignored that comment and opted to concentrate on the issue at hand instead, which was a large wave of Grimm rushing out of the forest's edge at the heels of a ginger girl wielding a hammer and a boy clad in green.
A shadow from the corner of her eyes brought her attention back to the battle, so she ducked as a Creep leapt at her face, impaled it with an upward swing of her left sickle and used the momentum to slam it onto the ground before beheading it with her right sickle.
There were so many Grimm and this just a couple of months after the last large sweep?
Ruby looked back at the newcomers to see that the girl turned around and her hammer collapsed into what looked like a launcher and –
An explosion tore through the new wave of Grimm, followed by another and another, pink smoke rising from the ground after the impact of the dust grenades.
That certainly dealt with those Grimm.
And there were still Pyrrha and Jaune. They needed to check on them in case any Grimm decided to come from that direction. She weaved past a boy with a sword-gun, which was kind of cool, and slashed through a frozen Taijitu's necks. She hadn't seen that one arrive.
"Weiss, I'm going to go check on Pyrrha and Jaune. We don't know if any Grimm would have tried to get here from where they are." She wasn't sure why exactly she felt the need to inform her partner, but she did.
Said partner's eyes widened slightly at that thought but she quickly composed herself again. "Yes, we should probably get them here. I'll come with you."
"No discussion. That's an order."
Ruby rolled her eyes, then nodded. There was not much else to say as it would be a waste of precious time. This partnership…
...yes, she was still pretty sure she could have done worse.
"Yang!" She called out to her sister, who looked at her direction after punching away a Creep. "I'll be right back, okay? Don't worry about me and stay safe!"
She then glanced at her partner and grabbed her arm.
"What are you do-"
Weiss's question was cut short when Ruby activated her semblance, pulling the Schnee into her whirlwind of rose petals, into her world of shades of red. She raced them through the battlefield, the cries of her sister demanding explanations making her wince, but she had other things to focus on right now.
She had to make sure Pyrrha and Jaune were okay. At first, she thought they would be safe, away from the battle, but after seeing the huge wave of Grimm chasing the newcomers out of the forest and towards the temple, she wasn't so sure anymore.
They reached the forest's edge in mere moments and quickly got past the first line of trees, rushing at breakneck speed. Ruby stopped and slipped out of her semblance, releasing her grip on Weiss.
A floating petal caught her eye and she held a hand out to catch it.
It wasn't purely red, as her petals usually were when she would use her semblance alone. Instead, the red faded gradually into a white. She watched it dissolve in her hand with a bemused expression when her partner finally caught her breath.
"Y-your semblance is a death trap!"
"Don't be rude now. I haven't insulted your semblance, have I?"
"Because I haven't tried to kill you with it!"
Ruby suppressed the smirk trying to force itself onto her lips. "I honestly didn't expect you to be so delicate that a bit of speed would rattle you like this. We can just walk next time. Sorry."
She bit her bottom lip at how quickly Weiss's cheeks flushed red. "I'm not delicate! Don't say that!"
"Okay, Weiss, but we have to find Pyrrha and Jaune now."
She relented with a huff. "Well, we got to the temple from around here, right?" Her partner asked with furrowed brows.
"Jaune! Pyrrha!" Ruby called into the forest.
"Really?" Weiss looked decidedly unimpressed.
Ruby did not say anything further when they heard Pyrrha's voice from behind a thicket of trees. Weiss's expression of utter annoyance was more satisfying by itself.
They quickly jogged over to where the voice was coming from. Ruby allowed herself a sigh of relief when she saw both of their fellow cadets unharmed. Or, in Jaune's case, not harmed any further than he already was.
"We have to get Jaune out of here," Ruby explained when she offered Pyrrha a hand to pull herself up with. "The temple is close by and there are a few other cadets fighting Grimm. They are coming from everywhere."
Pyrrha nodded in understanding. "So they might run into us too."
"Exactly," Weiss said. "We weren't sure what was going on at first, but at this point now, leaving you two out here by yourselves would be risky and dangerous."
"Alright, lead the way then. Come on Jaune." Reaching under Jaune's good arm, Pyrrha carefully helped him up.
Weiss and she led the other pair towards the sound of battle, which took longer than earlier because of Jaune's injuries. Ruby wanted to rush back to help her sister, to help the other cadets, but her partner was here and Jaune was here and Pyrrha was here. It was a dilemma.
After a while, they reached the edge of the forest once more and stepped out and into the open.
The number of Grimm had thinned considerably, but luckily that wasn't the case for the huntsmen and huntresses in training.
Her sister quickly walked over to her once she spotted them, punching a Creep on the way. "Ruby! What were you thinking, running – damn, what happened to Vomit Boy over there?"
"I'm not sure but we need to get him out of here. Why have you guys stuck around anyways?"
"We've gotten here not that long ago and just took a breather, then Team Douche –" "I heard that, bitch!" "– arrived and next thing we know a whole effing Grimm army arrives. That's pretty much when you guys got here." Yang then turned to the mace guy, cracking her knuckles and ready for a brawl. The girl with the bow stopped her, though, with a tight hold on her collar. "Let me go, Blake!"
"What now?" the newly named Blake asked.
"Our task is to retrieve a relic, nothing more and nothing less. I say, every pair takes one now and we leave."
"Fine by me," mace guy said, grabbing a couple of relics, tossing one to the other boy-pair.
The rest of them went to the temple ruins and the platform with the relics, which turned out to be simple chess pieces.
Ruby saw Yang show off a white knight piece she collected earlier, so she quickly grabbed the other one, hoping it meant they'd be in the same team. Pyrrha grabbed a white rook piece for herself, as did the grenade launcher girl.
She apparently was particularly happy, considering she suddenly started to sing how she was the queen of the castle.
"Come on, Nora," the boy in green said while dragging her to the side.
"Let's leave." Ruby was feeling the wariness of the day set in. She also didn't want to think about all the untouched pieces, about all the other cadets still in the forest and probably dead.
The group of four boys went to leave ahead of them, the other eight going for a more leisurely pace.
They weren't even halfway through to the forest's edge yet when a large shadow passed above them.
Ruby looked upwards just in time to see something dropping down from the sky. "Careful!" She jumped backwards, as did everybody else close to her out of reflex.
What followed was a sickening crunch, the feeling of warm wetness through her stockings and a high-pitched roar from above them.
A moment later, the earth shook under their feet and they tore their gazes away from the crushed body on the ground in front of them, to turn around and stare into the four, glowing red eyes of a giant Nevermore.
I always wondered why so many cadets listened to Ozpin's welcoming speech but there were only twelve left to become a team. Also, I hope you enjoy this more dangerous and deadly initiation. The large number of Grimm? There is a reason.
Grimm, or so it was said, feared the silver stare of her kind. The four glowing red eyes glaring at her balefully, however, were telling a different story. They weren't afraid. They weren't anything. If silver eyes were supposed to be the windows to a pure soul, then the glowing red eyes of Grimm were leading to a soulless abyss.
The Nevermore opened its beak for a deafening roar. A powerful gust of wind almost blew her off her feet as the giant Grimm beat its wings and lifted off the ground again.
"Go!" She turned around to the others, urging them to get moving. They didn't have to fight it. Their task was completed and all they had to do was to return to Beacon Cliff with the chess pieces. If they did that, she wouldn't have to use her eyes.
The group followed suit and started to run towards the forest, some having to step around the broken and bloody mess which once was a cadet like them. They looked appropriately disturbed but they still focused on surviving first.
"This isn't normal!" Yang shouted over another roar from the Nevermore. "What is up with all these Grimm today?!"
They were quickly catching up with Pyrrha and Jaune, who were getting close to the forest's edge again. All they had to do was reach Beacon Cliff.
"But doesn't this happen sometimes?" Ruby asked her sister, her brows scrunched up in confusion. "Uncle Qrow said –"
Yang interrupted her with a loud laugh as they got back into the forest. "You actually believed that?!"
Ruby felt her face heat up something fierce, which was, given the fact that they were running for their lives from a Nevermore, kind of ridiculous. She did research of course, but her Uncle Qrow was, well, Uncle Qrow. "You mean, it's not…?"
"Of course not, Ruby! I asked dad and –"
They all jumped out of the way at Weiss's scream, some using semblances, some their weapons, some just plain, old athleticism. The black feathers, easily the size of a bus, pierced through the trees' crowns, the sound of snapping branches and falling trees filling the air. Ruby was covering her head, her aura flaring against the woodland debris flying around.
Moments later silence followed, only interrupted by harsh breathing and another roar from above.
"Everyone okay?" Yang asked, panting heavily. "Ruby?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, sis." She got slowly up to her feet, glad to see everyone else following suit. They got lucky, even though she had to wince in sympathy at Jaune's pained groans when Pyrrha helped him back up.
"We can't outrun it," the boy wearing green said, his voice surprisingly calm and steady despite their predicament.
Ruby sighed. She looked up to see the Nevermore still circling above them, it's body blocking the midday sun every few turns. She could outrun it but the rest couldn't.
Did it really come down to this? Did she really have to use her eyes this early into her Beacon career? She was afraid of what it could mean for her future. Word would get out, one way or another. She would become a target for having that power, but she wanted to protect her sister, her partner, Jaune and every other of her surviving fellow cadets. The power to do so was right at her fingertips.
...or in her eyeballs, to be more precise.
Keep it secret or use it? That was the Million Lien question right there.
Gritting her teeth, she pushed down the conflict raging inside of her. She had to ignore it for now.
"Just keep moving!"
There was a bit of reluctance among the others, but they followed her lead all the same. The forest gave them a bit of cover from the avian Grimm soaring above them as it got denser again, the deeper they ventured back in. Still, their pace suffered a lot from staying close to Jaune and Pyrrha. No one was blaming them, though. Everyone seemed willing to help.
Even while the thick green crowns of the trees were surrounding them, it was clear the Nevermore was not going to lose them anytime soon.
"Where are the instructors, damn it?" Yang muttered under her breath.
That really was a good question. If Qrow was indeed just messing with her – as Yang insinuated – and his morbid stories of all the dead cadets during his initiation were just stories, then where were the instructors? Where was their help?
Ozpin wouldn't risk a whole year of cadets to be killed by a Grimm armada, would he?
They heard the Nevermore's high-pitched roars once again, some throwing apprehensive looks upwards. Outrunning it would be difficult at best for everyone but her. Fighting it wouldn't be that much easier, and there already was the danger of more Grimm being drawn to them because of that flying beast.
They continued through the forest, Beacon Cliff still out of sight. Ruby wasn't sure just how tired everyone was, how much aura everyone had at their disposal – another risk factor – but aside from Yang, who was a monster in her own right, and that Nora girl, she could see the first signs of fatigue in the others. Even in herself. Her short hair was sticking to her skin from sweat, her breathing was starting to come out in pants.
She knew an academy's initiation was always dangerous. Her uncle even made her believe they were extremely deadly.
...in hindsight, why would their dad even allow them to –
She shook her head. That wasn't important right now.
This initiation, what she and the eleven others had to go through – eight of them still were going through, with Team Douche likely far ahead of them – was borderline bizarre.
Ruby was beyond certain that any cadet she hadn't seen at the ruins was dead. This whole thing was a disaster.
She turned to her partner behind her, the sudden scream startling her, before the ground she was stepping on broke open, something exploding out of it. The impact on her feet and legs was painful, even through her aura's protection. With a surprised yelp, she felt herself get launched into the air, briefly disoriented because of the suddenness of the motion.
She felt herself hitting twigs and branches as she kept flying upwards, the wind howling around her in the fast movement.
Slipping into her semblance, she got back into control in mid-air, directing her movement back towards a low-hanging branch, landing on it to catch her breath after deactivating her Petal Burst.
And just in time too.
Movement above her caught her attention. The Nevermore made a low sweep above the forest canopy, its wings cutting through the crowns and showering her in twigs and foliage. The trees it hit, including the one she was standing on, were bending dangerously.
Before it returned for another swoop, Ruby quickly made it back to the ground in time to see the typical dissolving of a Grimm body.
"What happened?" she asked, her voice muffled by her sister's body, who immediately pulled her into a hug.
"The thing that broke out of the ground and tossed you up? It was a Grimm," the boy, whose name she still didn't know yet, answered.
Her brows furrowed. She was launched into the air and the Nevermore made a low swoop...coincidence? She wanted to believe so. Any implications, which went beyond coincidence,were deeply troubling.
"What kind of Grimm was it?" Ruby asked, motioning for the group to get moving again. "And I've never caught your name."
"Ren," he answered with a kind smile. "I don't know about the Grimm...I've never seen one like it before."
"My name's Ruby," she said, officially introducing herself in return.
So...a Grimm, likely not native to Vale, launched her up and the Nevermore tried to snatch her while she was airborne.
Something was up and this was not normal.
Ruby glanced up; the Nevermore was following them again. Maybe they could hold out until they returned to Beacon Cliff. A group of firsties, one of which was obviously in need of medical attention, would have to prod the staff into action.
She sighed heavily, briefly glancing back at the spot of ground the apparently unknown Grimm tossed her up from.
Grimm didn't work together like that. Granted, elder Grimm could develop the most base form of sentience, the barest of self-awareness, and lower Grimm were witnessed to have followed elder Grimm's leads or orders – they were assumed to be such – when one was around. But still, Grimm didn't work together like this. What happened earlier was, for creatures of Grimm at least, very advanced. It went beyond simple orders.
Ruby looked at her sister, a steady and solid presence by her side for as long as she could remember. She gave her a reassuring smile. "Yeah. I'm fine."
She was. Kinda. Sorta. But she was also worried, conflicted, confused. They had Pyrrha and Jaune to get through. Technically just Jaune, but Pyrrha, his steadfast partner, was helping him tirelessly. Not once did the tall redhead waver. It was admirable, Ruby had to admit.
Glancing up, she –
Yep. Nevermore still there.
It reared up, its four eyes zeroing in on them through the canopy.
Ruby knew what was going to come. "Feathers!"
They spread out and, not a second later, the air was filled once again with the sound of giant projectiles destroying woodland; trees were snapping in half and falling, twigs and branches were breaking off. Once everything calmed down again, she looked around, the stirring of multiple bodies reassuring her that no one was hurt.
Surrounding them were once again downed trees, broken branches and dozens of giant, pitch-black feathers.
The avian Grimm's thunderous cries echoed through the landscape.
Only this time it got answered.
All eight of them – seriously, where did Team Douche disappear to?! – winced at the united sound of what felt like every Grimm inhabiting Emerald Forest.
"What was that?" Nora asked, backing up towards Jaune and Pyrrha, her grenade launcher ready in her hands. "I mean, I know what that was, but what was that?"
Ruby couldn't answer. Her mind came only up with a single explanation, but she didn't want to be right.
Her gaze moved upwards, the Nevermore's massive wings still beating as it hovered above them, its eyes firmly locked on the group. Was it thinking? Did it even have thoughts? Did it have a goal which went beyond 'destroy humanity'?
The sound of rapid steps approaching them became audible. In the middle of their makeshift clearing, courtesy of the Nevermore, the group huddled closer together, back to back. As of yet, all they could see were fallen and broken trees, branches, twigs and leaves covering the ground around them.
The steps, growls and snarls got closer and the closer they got, the clearer it became that they would have to deal with more than one Grimm.
From the corner of her eyes, Ruby saw a bush behind a broken-off tree rustle briefly, a black blur shooting out of it. She heard the, by now familiar, sound of her partner's glyphs, followed by the hissing sound of dissolving Grimm.
Then, all hell broke loose once more. Grimm after Grimm appeared, some she hadn't even learned about during her time at Signal. There wasn't even time to process everything properly.
A wide upward swing had her catch a big, sleek and feline-type by its neck with a sickle. She slammed it onto the ground, quickly beheading it. She saw a wave of ice dust covering a large area out of the corner of her eyes, the telltale sounds of grenade explosions rang from behind her.
It was pure chaos and they had no room. They were already backed against each other, Jaune and Pyrrha protected by them covering him. Pyrrha tried her best to help by calling out orders and pointing out targets.
But still – she had no choice. There were just too many Grimm. So much black everywhere.
She would just have to deal with the aftermath, with whatever the consequences would be.
A deep breath in.
The world slowed down, just for a moment.
"Admittedly, I don't know all that much about those eyes of yours. Everything I do know, I know because of your mother. The mindset, or so she said, is the most difficult thing to get into. Happy thoughts, she said. Happy memories. Hope. Hope for the future, for the present. The desire to protect life. The will to protect life. Determination to keep moving forward, no matter what. In the end, I believe, it boils down to focusing the essence of your pure soul outwards. Why the eyes? Isn't it obvious? Isn't it said the eyes are the mirrors to someone's soul?"
A deep breath out. The world moved again, the blinding light collecting behind her eyes. Then she felt its familiar, harmless heat on her skin as it covered everything. All she saw was white. The screams of Grimm could barely be heard through the white noise.
A moment later, everything was normal again. A thick cloud of Grimm ashes covered the area, slowly floating to the ground and disappearing.
Ruby looked up at the sky, ignoring the question from her sister. She wasn't even sure if it was directed at her.
The Nevermore was still there, uninjured. It was too high up. Higher than it was the last time she looked for it. Did it move away when it saw what she was going to do?
It cawed once. A curious and small sound, so unlike the powerful roars it gave before. Then, it turned and flew away.
"Is it finally over?" she heard Weiss ask. Her partner's voice was tired and wary. She probably looked the part, too – a far cry from the usually immaculate posture, hair and everything.
Welcome to the real world.
No, that was unfair. This experience was as far from everything she expected as it could get. Sure, she thought the initiations were super deadly because she believed her uncle more than the news, but still. No, Weiss wasn't the only one out of her comfort zone.
"What?" She turned around to see a lot of confused and curious looks staring at her.
"What...was that thing you just did?" Yang asked. She didn't look scared or angry. Just confused. Really confused.
Should she lie? Should she tell the truth? Should she just omit a few select facts? She didn't know and didn't want to deal with this.
She didn't want to lie to Yang. Keeping secrets from her was hard enough and made her itch all over. Outright lying to her face was even worse. She had already done it for too long. Maybe...a few select things? She'd deal with it later. Later was good. Future Ruby Rose could deal with it. That way, Present Ruby Rose wouldn't have to. "Can it...can it wait?"
"Alright, but you better have some answers ready then, sis."
Ruby really hoped she'd have some answers ready by then.
And with this, we have reached the conclusion of the Emerald Forest.
The teams had been formed, the leaders chosen. And yet, Ozpin could not bring himself to look forward to a bright future with promising prospects. Forty-two cadets applied and got accepted. Thirty of them lost in the woods. Teenagers still. Such promise, such talent, such young lives – all gone.
It was late in the evening, the sky darkened and the shattered moon had taken the sun's place. His eyes were fixated on the Main Avenue as he was gazing out from his office in Beacon Tower.
"How could this have happened, Ozpin? This initiation was an unmitigated disaster!"
"I know, Glynda." None of their installed cameras showed the number of Grimm the surviving cadets apparently had to deal with. None of their cameras showed the battles they had apparently fought. None of the worrying Grimm behaviours the cadets told them about was captured by their cameras. The school's bullheads? Sabotaged.
They didn't witness anything of what had transpired in the forest. Technicians tried to get the cameras to work again, but didn't manage in time.
And only when the combined roars of hundreds of Grimm echoed through the forest, loud enough for them to hear on Beacon Cliff, did they realize that something was very wrong. But it was too late. They had no chance to reach the students in time. Emergency bullheads from the city had been on their way, but by then the worst-case-scenario had already taken place.
Any information they had now were the words of the twelve survivors, the bodies of the dead which didn't get eaten and the remnants of a battle for survival.
Neither he nor his Deputy Headmistress said anything for a while. The only sound came from the countless gears surrounding his office.
"I...don't want to say it," Glynda began, breaking the quiet, "but...you know someone from outside could not have done this. Unless they were an agent of Salem."
Ozpin sighed and closed his eyes, leaning on his cane. "I know, Glynda. The implications of what transpired are...disturbing."
He could see her pained reflection in the window. She was usually a very calm and collected individual, someone with nerves of steel. These, however, were extraordinary circumstances.
"You know you can trust me, Ozpin."
He knew he could trust her.
He knew he could, as he believed he could trust many others before her, before Qrow, before James. Before many others in this life and the ones before. He had trusted so many. Time and time again.
"Of course I do."
She sighed. "We also have to decide what to do with this Jaune Arc. He applied to Beacon under nothing but lies. He committed a crime. But at least his recollection of the events leading to his injuries sounds plausible. He is more than lucky that his stress before hitting that tree activated his aura. He would be dead otherwise."
"I will talk to him in the morning. For now, he should rest in the infirmary."
"And Miss Rose?"
"Ah, Summer's child." Despite everything that transpired, he saw her from Beacon Cliff. He saw her shine bright in the far depths of Emerald Forest. Despite everything, she brought a smile to his face. She gave him hope. "Let's leave her be, for now."
The atmosphere was tense.
Here she was. Ruby Rose; Signal Academy's prodigy. (Secret) Silver-eyed warrior. (Secret) pupil of her nameless friend. Summer Rose's and Taiyang Xiao Long's daughter. Qrow Branwen's protégé. Fifteen-year-old student of Beacon Academy.
Team RWBY's leader.
She was sitting on a bed in their tiny dorm. Across from her, the rest of her team were all sitting on one of the other beds, looking at her.
There was Weiss Schnee, her partner. The W in RWBY. Their start was okay. She knew it could have been worse. Still, they hit a major snag with Ruby's official leadership position, though. Weiss looked torn between crying because of her hurt pride and exploding because she wasn't chosen as leader. Her glare hadn't gone away yet.
Then, there was the B of RWBY. Blake. Blake Belladonna. She never talked. Ruby didn't know anything about her. That bow she was wearing was cute, though. Almost like cat ears.
Last but not least, her sister. Yang. The Y. Ruby loved her. She was great. However, right now, Ruby wished she was a single child. Not because she didn't want to have a sister, but because a single child wouldn't have older siblings who expected answers when their baby sisters did weird s-h-word.
"So...Team RWBY, huh? That's gotta be confusing, right?" Ruby gave a nervous, half-hearted chuckle, but that died quickly because of the three pairs of eyes firmly locked onto her person.
What was she supposed to do or say? Should she reveal everything or just a select few facts?
"Cut to the chase. What did you do in the forest?"
Ruby felt a shiver run down her spine at her partner's frosty tone. "I...don't know?"
"Then why did you make it sound as if you had an explanation ready?"
She had to groan inwardly. She did make it sound like that, didn't she? She could have just said that she didn't know and could have just acted all confused. Well, hindsight was twenty-twenty. Nothing she could do about that now.
"Ruby," Yang began and leaned forward, her face earnest and genuinely worried. "You evaporated a crap-ton of Grimm at once. I saw that...that light coming from you."
"From her eyes, to be exact. She did it consciously."
Ruby gave Blake an incredulous look. Just how much attention did her sister's partner pay to her? She felt weirdly violated.
"We...deserve to know. We are...a team."
Ruby's eyes darted to her own partner now. The way Weiss said that sounded oddly painful. She appeared to be really bitter about the whole leadership-issue. It wasn't like Ruby couldn't understand where Weiss was coming from, but, honestly, the Schnee heiress wouldn't have made a great leader. She lacked basic survival skills and that wasn't even the most important aspect which would have made her a bad leader. Still, she wasn't completely without sympathy to her partner's plight. "You aren't wrong there," she finally admitted with a sigh. This whole situation sucked. If she ever found whoever was responsible for what happened in Emerald Forest, she'd make sure to give them a piece of her mind for putting her in this predicament.
"Well?" Blake asked with a raised brow and her arms crossed over her chest.
Ruby wilted a bit. That girl and her piercing amber eyes had something about her which really put her on edge. Yang would have her hands full with that one. Good luck, Sis.
She rubbed her hands over her face, trying to collect herself, her thoughts, her courage. Facing Grimm was definitely more fun than facing her very protective and worried sister, her sister's intense and mysterious partner and the very slighted heiress of the Schnee Dust Company, who also happened to be her own partner. "It's...an ability I have."
Weiss looked decidedly unimpressed. "Really? We couldn't tell."
Ruby hoped she wouldn't bleed out from Weiss's cutting sarcasm.
"What kind of ability? Where does it come from? Why do you have it? How do you control it? How are you able to control it?"
Ruby blinked at Blake's rapid-fire questions and even Weiss turned to give the girl an impressed look.
"Why haven't you told me about it?" Her sister's voice was low and her face betrayed her hurt feelings.
"Yang…" Ruby gave her her full attention. "It's not because I don't trust you or anything like that, believe me! You know I love you to death. This is just...it's not something I can just...you know, showcase or – or brag about. If it were up to me, I wouldn't have had to use it during the initiation in the first place, but we were butt-deep in Grimm, so…"
"What's so special about it?" Weiss asked. "Aside from the obvious, I mean."
"People with Silver Eyes – like mine, like my...like my mum's – they are being hunted down because of them." Ruby looked at her teammates; Weiss with a thoughtful frown, Blake not giving anything away and her sister paling in shock. "I don't know why and I don't know by whom...but...yeah," she hastily added, her fingers toying with the hem of her skirt.
"Who told you?" Blake asked and Ruby got a distinct feeling that this wasn't the first questioning the mysterious girl had conducted.
"I can't tell you that." Her voice was firm this time. "You just have to trust me in this. Telling you about my eyes is already a huge gamble on my part – Yang is excluded here for obvious reasons – but I don't know you, Blake, or you, Weiss. I'm putting a lot of trust in you right now and I don't do this easily."
Blake was quiet for a while but gave a quick nod in the end. "Fair enough."
"You still haven't answered Blake's earlier questions, though."
She glared at Yang. Traitor. "Fine. I have to focus on positive emotions and happy thoughts to channel the...I don't know...light, I guess? It only works against Grimm. Also, I don't know where it comes from, but everyone with Silver Eyes has this ability. If they can use it is another question. As I said, silver-eyed people have been hunted down for a while."
"What exactly do you mean when you say hunted down?" her partner asked.
Ruby winced at how her sister looked even more interested than before. "Can we skip that part? I mean, the answer is kind of obvious…"
She looked at her feet, her voice barely above a mutter. "Hunted...as in...usually killed."
Her sister took in a sharp breath, cursing under her breath. Blake focused on something else, though.
"I've been told that...sometimes...they just get their eyes slashed...or pierced...or removed...or burned...or-"
"We get it, Sis…"
She glanced up to see her sister looking a bit sick. Even Weiss looked disturbed at what she just described. Blake, though...she betrayed nothing. Ruby couldn't decide whether to be impressed or suspicious at just how well that girl was able to hide...well, everything.
She sighed and shrugged. "Well, there you have it. I really would have liked to keep all of this secret, but...teamwork is based on trust and I'm kind of the team leader, so…"
Blake nodded. "I understand and appreciate it."
"Thanks." There was a bit of awkward silence before Ruby continued. "Anyway...we all have a lot to think about and tomorrow's...for the cadets that didn't make it...just...rest and get up early."
Weiss and Blake seemed to agree and went to their luggage to look for their toiletries. Yang, on the other hand, was still sitting on the bed, gnawing on her bottom lip.
Ruby got up from her's to sit down next to her sister. "Yang? Are you...mad at me?"
"No...I mean, I should...I should be, shouldn't I? Because you kept all that from me...but I'm not." Yang threw an arm over her shoulder and pulled her to her side, an invitation Ruby gladly accepted. "Now I'm just worried. Worried about you and what happened today and...just worried."
That was fair. She could understand that. If the roles were reversed, she'd probably – definitely – feel the same way. It, undoubtedly, was not something one could just take in stride and move on from. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay...and...you really aren't going to tell me who-"
"No, Yang. Not a chance."
Her sister was quiet but she could practically hear the frown.
"Please don't tell dad any of what I told you."
"Don't worry, I won't."
It felt a bit unfair, Ruby had to admit. Here they were, dressed in their Beacon Academy uniforms – as was the rest of the student body – standing still and listening to headmaster Ozpin's speech in the amphitheatre. It felt unfair because they were here – they being Teams RWBY, PRJN and CRDL – while the rest of the cadets from yesterday's initiation were only names and pictures. It felt unfair because, while their dad got to hug them and tell them how much he worried and everything, other parents didn't get that chance. The parents who could make it were either stone-faced or weeping or throwing around accusations in their anger before collapsing in a heap.
The huntsmen and huntresses guarding Vale's border walls were on high alert.
She was no stranger to death, to grief. Her dad and her sister had grieved for her mother as if she were dead, as did her uncle Qrow. Ruby had experience there, more than she wanted to.
But her friend had shown her how to be death itself. Those were brutal, bloody memories and she had puked her guts out at first. Arrows into hearts, slit throats and much more she didn't want to think about. She knew what her weapon was capable of doing to another human being.
"There are people out there who want to kill you. They won't show you mercy and you won't survive with mercy."
So she shed it. She puked and cried and had nightmares for weeks and months. She told her dad and her sister that she dreamt of her mother.
Eventually, she became numb to death. It was true after all, what they said: it did get easier, but that didn't mean she enjoyed it. It simply became...a tool of sorts. A tool she learned to use without inhibition whenever necessary. It scared her, but she could deal with it.
So, no, Ruby was no stranger to death. She was familiar with it. Intimately familiar.
But she didn't like it.
It scared her.
She glanced to the side to watch team PRJN. Pyrrha was supporting Jaune, who's broken arm and leg were healing nicely, according to the tall redhead. Jaune was still very...down with everything that happened. She hoped he didn't suffer from survivor's guilt, but it was very likely he did.
She still didn't know what exactly had been going on with him yesterday either. There had been no time to ask and now wasn't the proper time to do so. But she would ask him as soon as the opportunity would arise.
He was a friend. She wanted to make sure he was okay.
"Now, please...let us all join in a moment of silence to remember those who left us too soon in yesterday's tragedy."
Ruby glanced at the pictures and names displayed behind the headmaster.
She closed her eyes and folded her hands, praying that her fellow cadets had found their way safely into the afterlife.
*Pyrrha voice* Hello again! I bet you guys thought I forgot about this fic, but worry not! I had this chapter half-finished but the holidays made me lazy and then I needed something new and fresh to kickstart my muse and inspiration again. And here I am now, back with another chapter! You may wonder why Jaune isn't the leader? Well, I'd like to think that not even Dumble- uuuuh, Ozpin would make a broken and bloody guy with no training and only recently awoken Aura the leader of a team, especially after an initiation that disastrous (I can understand his canon reasoning to some extent). So, PRJN – pronounced Prune. You may wonder about Ruby praying. I always found it curious how RWBY's plot revolves around Gods and whatnot but we never see actually religious people. Religion is something humanity does and the ones inhibiting Remnant after the first wipeout could have just come up with their own religion, based on remains of a lost society. Personally, I'm not religious myself but I find the concept interesting enough. Don't worry, though, in case some of you are super anti-religion: it's not going to play a central part in the plot. Not even really a side plot. It's just something I wanted to add because, as mentioned above, the show kinda skims it despite the existence of Gods. You may wonder how much Ruby's friend knows and how much they told her. Well, I'm not going to tell you. Speculate away!
Ruby was glad to be a student again.
The initiation still felt unreal to her, she had to admit. Almost like a distant dream – a fabrication of her mind, rather than something that actually transpired.
Sitting in class and listening to Professor Port explaining Grimm biology certainly helped her to focus elsewhere. While he, admittedly, wasted a lot of time recalling his deeds from his youth, there still was useful information intermingled here and there, so she did her best to not let herself get distracted too much. It was a challenge, no doubt, but she was the leader of her team, so she had to lead by example – even though she knew most of what she needed to know about local Grimm.
With her dad and uncle being huntsmen themselves, she grew up in a fountain of knowledge for that particular profession. On top of that, her dad and her Uncle Qrow had been – still were – extraordinary huntsmen in their own right; prodigious even.
So, she knew most of the helpful things Professor Port blended into his anecdotes. Still, she did her best to take notes, be as attentive as she was at Signal. Her dad always said what an eager student her mum was, that she was top of her class.
Ruby wanted to follow in her mother's footsteps and any information she could soak up in class, whether she already knew said information or not, was useful to prepare her for her quest after she graduated. Everything she learned now was to equip her for when she would finally start to investigate the truth behind her mother's disappearance.
Everyone else seemed to just have accepted her mum as...as gone. But not her. Ruby knew her mother was strong – one of the best huntresses there ever was – and she knew her mother would not fall to Grimm or those who would hunt her for her eyes.
She sighed softly. There was no point in dwelling on those things right. She was not ready yet to tackle that journey.
With renewed focus, she continued to listen to Professor Port's boasting. It was amusing enough.
She glanced to her right, her partner still sporting that frown. It hadn't disappeared since she had been made Team RWBY's leader. The fact that their team had been named after her – on top of her being made leader – probably added insult to Weiss's injured pride as well. Alas, nothing she could do about it.
She admired Weiss, though. Even angry, slighted and disappointed, the Schnee still kept her head up and focused on excelling at everything. It was a single-minded focus and determination her partner put on display which had Ruby congratulate herself for having run into her in Emerald Forest. Even if their relationship was strained at best right now, she could appreciate what Weiss had to offer to their partnership and their team as a whole.
"Now who thinks they have what it takes to be a true huntsman or huntress?"
Ruby returned her attention back to their Professor, a brow raised at his question. Her other brow quickly followed suit at Weiss's raised arm and eager exclamation.
"I do, Sir!"
Ruby had a feeling what this was all about and exhaled noisily through her nose. Still, it was her teammate and, more importantly, her partner who was about to head up in front of the class and face the captured Grimm Professor Port had brought in at the start of his lecture.
Now the class was waiting for Weiss to go and reprieve her rapier from her locker. A few students used the time to engage in whispered conversations, her sister one of them, though Ruby wasn't particularly interested in Yang's and Blake's chatter.
She was more concerned with how to salvage her partnership with Weiss. It wouldn't do, to allow that bitterness to fester. They'd already be taking their first missions in their second semester. They needed to be able to rely on each other and she needed to be sure that her team was accepting her as their leader, that they respected her authority – in a healthy and reasonable way, of course.
Weiss, obviously, was feeling neither yet; she neither respected her authority nor did she accept her as her leader. Something needed to be done. Maybe a one-on-one talk, so they could finally see eye-to-eye. She wasn't even a confrontational person. If confrontation was avoidable, she would avoid it. This, however, was not avoidable. As the leader, it was her responsibility to make sure her team's atmosphere was healthy and positive instead of toxic and negative.
It wasn't like she wanted to be a leader. Being a team's leader was a ton of responsibility and extra duty, proven by the several documents sent to her scroll by the Academy, which contained dates for mandatory leadership-classes among all the must-read essays on leadership. She was already deep in the spotlight, what with being allowed to Beacon two years early. Now she was the youngest Beacon student to ever lead a team to boot.
So much attention.
The damage was done, however, and since she was put into this position, she would do her best to lead competently and fairly and see her team through their Beacon years successfully. It simply was how she worked. If she did something, she'd do it to the best of her ability.
But, to be a successful leader she needed every one of her teammates to accept her.
And that took her – full-circle – back to her partner.
Such a pain, she thought with a sigh.
Weiss took that moment to return, her rapier at the ready in her left hand, her chin up and posture perfect. She was oozing confidence all over the place and Ruby was sure she could deliver. She had talent; that much was a given.
It would be interesting to see, however, just how deeply ingrained her need for a perfect stance was.
"Are you ready, Miss Schnee?" their Professor asked her.
Weiss replied with a quick nod, her expression intense and focused.
He then unlocked the cage. At first, nothing happened and the class was holding its breath. A moment later, a Boarbatusk stepped out, its four glowing red eyes immediately locked onto Weiss, who readied Myrtenaster. Ruby noticed the slight shuffle of her feet in search of the perfect posture and groaned inwardly. Apparently, her partner was not yet ready to let go of that habit of hers.
The Grimm wasted no time to charge – or more like roll – at her in its species's signature attack, while Weiss dodged it as elegantly as ever with a fluid sidestep. Once the Grimm got out of its rolling dash, Weiss immediately took the brief moment it needed to reorient itself for an attack of her own. With quick swipes and piercing attacks, she tried to tear it down, though most of them just bounced off its thick hide and platings.
Ruby leaned back into her chair, a leg bouncing up and down quickly. She wanted to scream at Weiss, wanted to tell her to expose its vulnerable belly, but to do so would only antagonize her further. She opted for being a quiet observer instead.
She winced when Weiss lost her rapier and, from the corner of her eyes, she caught Yang and Blake do the same.
But, the fight was not lost yet. The Grimm charged again at her and she dodged it once more, quickly grabbing her dropped rapier again. Weiss then summoned a glyph – the first she used here – and catapulted the Boarbatusk into the air. It landed on its back, struggling but unable to turn, giving Weiss the chance to pierce the Grimm's weak and vulnerable underside, effectively killing it.
Professor Port gave a hearty laugh. "Well done, Miss Schnee!" While Weiss glowed under the praise, their Professor turned his attention back to class, though Ruby tuned out what more he had to say. Instead, she watched Weiss return to her seat next to Ruby. No evidence existed of her previously rattled state at having lost Myrtenaster, even if just for a brief moment.
Professor Port then finally dismissed the class and their first day of being Beacon students was officially over.
Ruby packed her things into her bag and, after a moment of hesitation, quickly caught up with her partner, who was already on her way out of the lecture hall.
Said Weiss's shoulders stiffened visibly before she turned around to face her. "What is it, Ruby?"
The Schnee's frosty tone was already foreboding, but Ruby ignored it. "We need to talk."
"About what?" Weiss asked, arching a neat, white eyebrow at her.
She sighed and her patience was wearing thin. That attitude was annoying. "I'd rather do this in private, so, please come with me to our dorm. I'll let Yang and Blake know not to disturb us for a while."
Ruby gave a curt nod, leading the way back to their dorm room. All the while, she was typing out a quick message to her sister and thinking about how to actually broach this topic without risking a catfight.
Ruby sat on Blake's bed, Weiss across from her on her own with her arms crossed and one leg over the other.
Neither said anything for a while. Ruby watched her partner, while Weiss was staring out the window.
"Look," Ruby began, the one to break the silence, "I get it, okay? I get you are angry and I get you really wanted to be the leader, but this...attitude is not really helping. It's bad for the team."
Weiss snapped her head at Ruby, an angry glare on her face. "How else am I supposed to feel then? I worked hard all my life! My father spent a lot of money on the best possible tutors he could possibly find! And yet here I am, led by some – some –"
"Yes?" Ruby prompted her, curious where she was going with this.
"...by some fifteen-year-old child who shouldn't even be here!"
"That's it? My age is your problem?"
"Of course it is!" Weiss shouted angrily, now up on her feet. "I can admit that you are a talented fighter, but you lack a whole two years of education and a teenager should not be the one to bear the responsibility of leading others during missions and such!" She then walked to the window, looking out again, her voice lowered again. "It's not fair."
"What exactly do you know about me?" Ruby asked and continued after Weiss's shrug. "You say I lack two years of education, but...you simply think of what I'm missing of the academic curriculum. You don't consider my background...or Yang's, for that matter." Ruby now got up to her feet too. She walked to her partner, leaning her side against the wall by the window and matching Weiss's frown with one of her own. "Our family...all of them were students here at Beacon. My mum...Yang's mum...our dad and our uncle."
Weiss turned to give Ruby a curious look. "You two have different mothers? I wondered how siblings could have such different looks."
Ruby shrugged. "Yeah. Yang's mum...we don't talk about her. She left just after Yang was born. That's really all I know. I don't know her first name – her last name is obvious because she's our Uncle Qrow's sister – or even what she looks like, though I think Yang does."
"I...don't want to talk about it."
"I apologize. I didn't mean to pry."
Ruby shrugged. "It's okay. Anyway." She took a breath and diverted the conversation back to its original topic. "As I said, all of our family were students here and they were all part of one of the strongest and most notorious teams ever. They were called Team STRQ." Ruby paused for a moment and scratched her neck. "We learned everything we did from our dad and uncle. The only reason we actually went to Signal was to make it more official and to have a controlled environment for semblance training. Most of what we learned was from actual huntsmen."
"So? I learned from actual huntsmen and huntresses myself. It doesn't make you special."
"How much leading did you actually do during initiation? Do you know how to track in the wild? Do you know how to estimate the cardinal directions? How much fighting experience have you actually had before the initiation – and I mean outside of possible sparring with partners and, maybe, however you got that scar. If I assume things about that, I'm sorry. What I want to say is that I may be younger than you, but I still have more experience at this whole huntress business than you do."
She didn't miss how Weiss's expression turned stony with every weakness she threw at her. It wasn't like she took pleasure in hurting her partner's pride like that, but it was necessary. It was mean and rude and borderline cruel, but it was necessary to pull Weiss's head from whichever clouds it was stuck in, so she could take a good look at herself outside of that inherent entitlement she possessed.
"Are you done?" Weiss asked, her voice low.
"I don't mean to be hurtful, Weiss. I actually find you impressive and I think you can be a great huntress. I didn't even care for this whole leadership thing. If I look at it objectively though, I think I am the better candidate out of us two. Probably even out of everyone in our team." Ruby shrugged. "If you would stop being all entitled about it and if you would look beyond your wounded pride, I think you could see it too. You are smart like that. All I want is for our team to function organically and for you to give me an honest and fair chance. I actually would like for us to have a healthy partnership. We are going to be stuck with each other for the next four years after all."
Ruby then pushed herself away from the wall and walked towards the door leading to the hallway. "I'm giving you some time to yourself. Again, I see where you are coming from but you are not really fair and rational about it."
She then walked out of the room and closed the door behind her, leaning against it and exhaling loudly.
At the sound of Team PRJN's door opening, Ruby turned her attention towards it, smiling at an exhausted-looking Pyrrha. "Hi," she greeted her with a lazy wave.
Pyrrha looked at her in surprise and gave her one of those genuine, kind-hearted and warm smiles that were so inherently Pyrrha. Ruby knew the tall girl only for a day and a few hours, but she could tell that the redhead didn't have a single mean bone to her.
"Hello, Ruby. How are your leadership duties going?"
Ruby wiggled a hand back-and-forth and shrugged. "So-so. It's stressful and not everyone is eager to just accept a fifteen-year-old as their leader."
Pyrrha nodded in understanding. "So that was what the earlier shouting was about?"
"I'm sorry you heard that…"
With a chuckle, Pyrrha waved it off. "It's alright. Growing pains. I assume we all go through them."
"Yeah, probably. So...why are you out here?" Ruby asked, cocking her head to the side.
The redhead now looked decidedly uncomfortable before allowing her shoulders to slump. "I...needed a break, to be honest. Admittedly, I never wanted this position. It's...very difficult and with Jaune…" She shrugged helplessly.
But Ruby nodded. She understood where Pyrrha was coming from since she wasn't out for this position either. "How is Jaune doing, by the way?" she asked. He had been very quiet the entire day; so much so, with her own early leadership struggles she actually forgot about him.
Pyrrha sighed. "Better, I suppose. His injuries are healing, but mentally…"
"Can I...can I ask what was going on with him during the initiation?"
The redhead shook her head. "It would be best if you asked him yourself. It's not my place to explain that."
Ruby scratched the back of her head awkwardly. "It was wrong of me to ask in the first place. I understand."
"It's alright," Pyrrha said with a kind smile. "It is good to see you care about him. He just...needs time."
She would give him that time, as hard as it was for her. It was a mystery she needed to be solved, but self-control. And patience.
"May I ask you something?"
Ruby looked up at Pyrrha and nodded. "Sure."
"How did you kill all the Grimm in the forest?"
Aw man. "Don't take this the wrong way, but...I'd rather not talk about that right now. I already had to explain it to my team and took a huge gamble with that...aside from my sister, that is."
"Is it such a big secret?" Pyrrha's curiosity was evident.
"Yes." Ruby nodded in confirmation. "I would appreciate it if you and your team would not mention it to anybody."
"Of course. We won't tell a soul." She seemed genuine about it.
Ruby smiled at Pyrrha. "Thank you."
Later in the evening, Weiss entered their dorm after she apparently had gone out for some more alone time.
Ruby appreciated that Weiss had seemingly, really gone out to take the time and think about their conversation. It spoke volumes of her character. She could have just dismissed it and went on with that attitude, but, apparently, she didn't.
She looked down from her elevated bed slash bunk bed. Weiss didn't really look like she was nervous. She didn't really look like she was anything, really. "Yes?"
"I'd like to talk to you." Weiss glanced at the curious looks Yang and Blake gave her. "Outside," she added with a roll of her eyes.
Ruby answered by jumping down from her bed, making it swing a bit in the process. She then followed Weiss out into the hallway and idly thought that she was becoming quite familiar with this particular spot between their and Team PRJN's dorms.
"I thought a lot about our conversation," Weiss began as soon as the door was closed behind them.
"And I appreciate it."
"I've come to the conclusion that...you aren't entirely wrong."
Ruby suppressed her smirk. Saying that she wasn't entirely wrong was, of course, more comfortable than saying that she was right. "Okay."
"I still think that I would have made a good leader, but...I am willing to give you a fair chance. You wouldn't be here if you wouldn't have something which makes you the most deserving of this position. You also...you also did really well in Emerald Forest. I have to admit that much."
"Thank you, Weiss. I really appreciate that." She really did.
"You also weren't wrong about my behaviour being bad for the team's atmosphere. I apologize." Weiss then paused for a moment. "We...are going to be partners and a team for four years. As you said, we need to function as a cohesive, organic unit. My behaviour didn't help. So...from now on I will do my best to be the best possible partner and teammate you could possibly ask for. If I can't be a leader, I will at least be that."
Ruby had to smile. A genuine and bright smile. This turned out way better than she could have hoped for and that made her very happy. "I know you will, Weiss."
Her partner smiled in return – a small one, almost shy, but the first Ruby had seen on her.
Maybe there was hope for their team yet.
Something more lighthearted. I hope you enjoyed.
Her eyes were slowly blinking open and she was ready to get up but then remembered that it was the weekend. Her first week as a Beacon student had passed and she actually survived.
Ruby then folded her hands for her morning prayer, thanking the Brother Gods and asking them for their guidance once more.
She wasn't what she would call devotedly religious. Not once in her life had she visited a house of worship for the religion of the Brothers of Balance. Neither her dad nor Uncle Qrow were devout people either – at least not to her knowledge.
The reason why she picked it up in the first place was as a means to cope. She couldn't tell her family about her training, about the things she learned to do. Coming home feeling dirty, feeling violated for months on end after killing people and not having a means to vent and ease that inner turmoil had been hard on her. So, she figured that religion was her best bet, considering how many people all over Remnant used it as guidance throughout their lives. On a whim, she bought the holy book about the Brother Gods and was surprised how interesting it actually was and how the Light and Dark Brother were depicted. Neither was inherently evil or good; they simply approached life from different viewpoints. At the end of the day, they were all about balance and balance was what Ruby had needed at that point.
Praying to those Gods, whether they existed or not, helped her find that balance in herself. Since being under the wings of her friend, balance was what her whole life was about – balancing her own morals with what needed to be done to survive. Finding solace in those Gods was a crutch she desperately needed at that point in her life and it simply had stuck with her.
Once done with her morning prayer, she turned onto her stomach and pulled out her notebook from under her pillow, then pushed said pillow under her torso. She opened her notebook and took the pencil she used as a bookmark, tapping the eraser-end against her chin in thought before starting to write.
"I met Roman Torchwick," she began and soon the pencil flew on the blank page. Meeting him had been something she was excited for since her friend told her that rumour had it Roman Torchwick was in over his head with some new big player. Said, big player could supposedly, maybe, lead to someone even bigger – someone who could have knowledge or ties to the hunts on those with Silver Eyes and, as a result, to her mother. At first, Ruby was sceptical, thought it a bit of a stretch. In the end, however, she trusted her friend though. They hadn't led her astray so far.
Noting down the events, she stopped for a moment, a spark of curiosity hitting her again.
"Who is this 'Neopolitan?'" she continued, the scratching of the pencil on paper obscenely loud in the silence of her still sleeping team. It was something she hadn't really had the time to actively wonder about. Just who was this person a common criminal like Torchwick seemed oddly protective of and who seemed to be in the crosshairs of her friend? And, her thoughts straying back to Torchwick, the whole night with him was kind of disappointing in the end. She left with no answers and quite a few questions.
"I got accepted to Beacon and the initiation was a s-h-word-show," Ruby went on, the words flowing. It still was hard to wrap her head around the fact that so much had happened in the span of three or four days – all of it culminating in the Cadet Trial. The odd behaviour of Grimm, the many dead cadets. It was clear, by Professor Ozpin's and Goodwitch's reactions, that they had been unaware of what actually transpired in Emerald Forest. That left Ruby with one plausible conclusion: the cameras had to have been tampered with just before the start of the initiation. Them being faulty was unlikely since she expected the faculty to make sure that they were in working order. Either way, the implications were scary.
And then, there was that moment when a – what she assumed to be non-local considering how Ren had never seen it before – Grimm catapulted her up the air for the Nevermore to snatch. Teamwork like that should not be possible for Grimm of any intelligence and the word intelligence was used very liberally here. On top of that, she had to wonder if it had been her specifically who was the target or if it had been a wrong-place-wrong-time-situation.
Ruby finished her notes, put the pencil inside her notebook again and closed it, pushing it under her pillow. With a sigh, she shook her head. She really needed to find a better hiding place for it.
Landing on her feet after jumping down from her bed, she stretched and, grabbing her toiletries, went to the bathroom. It wouldn't do to wait like five-hundred years for Yang to finish after all.
Ruby allowed her team the lie-in, so she went to breakfast by herself. It wasn't something she particularly minded. Eating in peace while people-watching could sometimes be a nice pastime and she enjoyed the quiet.
Well, quiet was relative in a cafeteria with hundreds of students, but still – the point stood.
What surprised her, however, was that she spotted Jaune sitting by himself at a table. She walked towards him immediately and sat down across from him, giving him a once-over. It was good to see that his fractured arm and leg seemed to have mostly healed. He was not wearing casts anymore. Aura was amazing like that.
She gave him a small smile. At last, the first person to talk to her at Beacon started talking to her again after days of silence.
He frowned again and looked down at his table, picking at his scrambled eggs with his fork. She was hungry but she didn't want to go and get some food for herself out of fear of Jaune making a quick exit behind her back.
"I'd really like to know why you've been avoiding me...or everyone else – aside from Pyrrha, that is. I honestly thought we could be friends." She really did. While she was not one to be particularly social, she still didn't mind having friends. It just never really clicked with the people at Signal. Here, she was – finally – on pretty decent terms with Weiss, whom she genuinely found admirable. Pyrrha, on the other hand, was such a nice and sweet person. It simply was impossible to not be friends with her. Jaune...he was awkward and dorky, but he was the first one to approach her and he was kind of funny...in his own, goofy way. He had something about him that made you want to have him around. He was a good person.
"You...don't want to be friends with someone like me," he muttered, dropping his fork onto his plate, making it clatter loudly.
"And why is that?" she asked in a challenging tone. "I'm really curious, Jaune. I would really like to know just what was going on in the Trial with you." She paused a bit and shrugged after Jaune made no indication that he would be speaking any time soon. "I won't judge you. I promise. You don't have to tell me, of course, but I promise I won't judge you."
Again, silence followed. It was clear how much Jaune was struggling internally. His eyes were clenched shut, she could hear his heavy breaths coming from his nose, his jaw was working nonstop. Still, she waited. Patiently and quietly.
"You really mean that?" he finally asked and lifted his head a bit to look at her. His eyes were earnest, seeking hers out. "You swear that you won't hate me or – or...you know, tell everyone?"
Ruby lifted a brow. Just what exactly was going on? But she nodded all the same. "I promise."
He hesitated for a moment, then got up. "Come on then. I won't tell you here."
The two of them walked out of the cafeteria, Ruby following Jaune in silence. She wasn't sure what to expect, but he obviously felt it was a big enough deal to genuinely be afraid of her reaction. Shivering a bit in the chilly air of the late Autumn season, she pulled her cape around her. The sky was grey, with thick clouds covering most of it, and winter was approaching rapidly.
Jaune stopped by a tree, turning around to look at her. He seemed to struggle for words, so Ruby just waited patiently.
"I...don't belong here…" he finally muttered while kicking lightly at the ground with his shoes and with his hands stuffed in his pants' pockets.
Cocking her head to the side, Ruby furrowed her brows a bit. "You don't belong in Beacon?"
"What does this have to do with the initiation?" Ruby asked curiously.
There was no reply – not for a while. She could practically see Jaune wrestling with himself once more. Walking to a tree herself, she leaned against it while pulling her hood up to cover her head and protect her ears from the cold.
"I…" Jaune stopped, still struggling to find the words. "I...forged my transcripts," he finally admitted, his voice soft and low.
Ruby's brows immediately shot up and her mouth formed a perfect 'O'. That...was honestly not what she expected. It did explain so many things at once, though, like how he was accepted despite the clear lack of knowledge of...well, of everything that was basic knowledge for any huntsman and huntress in training, for example.
Still looking at the ground, he mumbled his answer. "I wanted to be somebody...to prove I can be somebody…"
Ruby gave him an incredulous look. "By dying?" She pushed herself away from the tree and took a step towards him. "Jaune, this...this is no joke! What we are doing, it's dangerous! Didn't you research anything at all about what it means to be a huntress or a huntsman?!"
He just shrugged again. Ruby wanted to smack her forehead.
With a calming breath, she continued her questioning. "Okay...who else knows?"
"...Professor Ozpin and Professor Goodwitch…"
Considering he was still here, the Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress must have allowed him to stay, despite his crimes of document forgery and whatever else applied to this. Unexpected but not unwelcome.
"What did the Professors say?" she asked, wondering about their reasoning.
"Professor Ozpin...he gave me an ultimatum," Jaune admitted with a wince. "If I don't catch up to a certain level at the end of our second semester I will get kicked from Beacon…"
"I see…" Ruby hummed. "Say, how did you survive the drop when we got launched anyway?" She had wondered about that for a while now.
Jaune scratched the back of his head. "Oh, that...yeah, uh, apparently my aura-thingy got unlocked while I was flying and hoping not to die, so...yeah."
She couldn't help but chuckle. Basically at the level of an average civilian and yet he was here. Lady Luck was apparently quite fond of one particular Vomit Boy. "Does Pyrrha know? I mean, I think she does, but, you know...can you confirm it?"
"Yeah. She saved my life and risked hers to protect me. She deserved to know." His face fell a bit and he rubbed his eyes with a sniff and groan. "She's an amazing person."
"That she is," Ruby agreed and sighed. "You got yourself into quite the situation there, Vomit Boy."
He chuckled half-heartedly. "That one's gonna stick with me, isn't it?"
"I'll make sure it does."
"I'm really sorry, Ruby." Jaune approached her, his expression begging for forgiveness so suddenly, it caught her off guard a bit. "I'm so ashamed of myself and I…I feel like I've insulted everything being a huntsman stands for!" He paused for a moment and Ruby could see his eyes started to glisten with wetness. "The worst thing is how all you guys helped me survive while so many other cadets...just…"
Ruby looked at the ground with a frown. Survivor's guilt. She had suspected it would happen and was really unhappy that she turned out to have been right.
"You know, Jaune," she began, returning her gaze back at him, "there is something you can do."
He looked at her questioningly but didn't speak.
"Train. As soon as you –"
"Oh, uh...Pyrrha already offered that and I accepted, obviously," he muttered awkwardly.
"That's great!" Ruby said with a smile and she meant it too. "I'll help too where I can. And I'll ask Weiss to help with things like Dust Theory and Remnant's history." Ruby noticed Jaune's brightening expression. "Only if you stop hitting on her. It makes her uncomfortable."
His face fell into a half-hearted frown. A smile quickly found its way to his face, though. "Thank you, Ruby. I really appreciate it. I know you don't have to –"
"It doesn't matter if I have to or not, Jaune. I...consider you a friend. You did something stupid and irresponsible, but not to hurt others." She sighed before giving him a determined look. "All you can do now is to make the most of this chance. And we'll help you."
Opening the door to their dorm, Ruby entered but stopped in her tracks upon seeing her partner engaged on a video call with her scroll. "Sorry, Weiss! I'll leave you alone."
"Who was that, little sister? One of your teammates?"
Weiss sighed in resignation, waving her closer. "Yes, Winter. It's Ruby."
Ruby's eyes widened and she shook her head. She had a feeling where this was going and she didn't want it to go there. She hadn't even been aware Weiss had an older sister, to begin with.
"Oh? Your team leader? I would like to see her."
Ruby wanted to just leave but it wouldn't do to embarrass Weiss like that. So, resigned to her fate, she sat down next to her on her bed.
"Hello, Ruby Rose. Weiss has told me a great deal about you."
Weiss's sister – Winter, according to what she had called her moments earlier – looked about as immaculate as her partner. Perfect posture, not a hair out of place, oozing confidence and her facial expression not giving anything away.
Ruby chuckled nervously. "It's uh, it's good to meet you, Miss Schnee. I hope Weiss only said good things."
"She did tell me that you are only fifteen-years-old and that you are the youngest cadet to ever lead a team. Are you sure you are up to the challenge? Are you sure you can handle the responsibilities and carry the burdens which come with being a team's leader? My sister's life and the lives of the rest of your team might depend on your ability to make the right decisions at any given moment."
Ruby thought for a moment about how to answer, while Winter was waiting. "I know I still have a lot to learn," Ruby began carefully, "but I know I can do it. In the end, though, I'll have to show it through actions. Saying it won't make people believe me."
Winter gave a curt nod before returning her attention to Weiss. "I will have to cut this short, Weiss."
"I understand, Winter."
Ruby could hear the underlying disappointment in her voice and, apparently, Winter did as well. The older Schnee's expression softened visibly.
"I wish you to keep me updated on your progress at Beacon. Also, make sure to eat properly and to train your summoning. Do you remember what I told you?"
"The semblance is like a muscle and the more I train it, the stronger it gets," Weiss said dutifully and Ruby had to smile.
It was odd seeing her partner like this – so devoted to another person, so eager to soak in anything they had to say. Weiss obviously held her sister in very high regards.
"Exactly. Now, I have to go. Goodbye, Weiss."
Her partner sighed, but still managed a small smile – a genuine one. "Goodbye, Winter."
The video-call ended, Weiss allowed her hands to drop onto her lap.
"Your sister seems like a nice person," Ruby offered softly after a few moments of silence.
Weiss looked at her with another of those small smiles and a quick nod. "She is. I...I really love her and I feel like she is the only one I can admire and idolize without ending up disappointed."
Ruby tilted her head to the side. That was both endearing and depressing, but she didn't comment on it. Now was not the time to pry into her partner's personal life. Instead, she opted to drop the bomb she meant to drop in the first place.
"By the way, I told Jaune you would tutor him."
We finally got Ruby to talk with Jaune. Also, another, rather quiet slice-of-life-ish chapter. I hope you enjoyed it!
Watching Pyrrha fight was like watching a piece of art.
Not that Ruby knew what watching art was like. She had never been to a museum of any kind before.
Maybe she should visit at least an art museum, considering that there were times when prosecutors would order the destruction of art of any kind.
It did put things into perspective now.
Anyway, watching Pyrrha fight was something else. A block with her shield behind her, ducking a kick, sweeping the CRDL-guy's legs away from under him, her javelin slash sword slash rifle pointing at his face while his aura had reached the red zone.
"That's Pyrrha Nikos for you," Weiss commented with an impressed look on her face.
"She definitely is something else," Yang added with a cocky grin. "I hope I get to fight her once at least."
"You can always spar when we don't have class," Blake said, not looking up from the book in her lap.
Yang frowned a bit in response. "That wouldn't be as official as in class though."
Ruby bore a small smile during the exchange. She then grabbed her bag from under her chair once the bell signalled the end of class. It was time for dinner and she and her team made for a leisurely walk to the cafeteria.
It was just like Yang to jump headfirst into a challenge, like wanting to fight the untouchable girl from Mistral. Her sister strived the most when the odds were seemingly stacked against her. It translated into her semblance as well. As extraordinary as Pyrrha's talent was, Ruby liked to believe that her sister would have at least a real fighting chance. That guy – Dove Bronzewing – he didn't manage to land a single hit on her. Even the ones Ruby was sure would land somehow, just barely, missed. It had to be Pyrrha's semblance.
She then looked at her partner. "Weiss?"
"Could you lend me the schematics for Myrtenaster's dust chambers? You know, because I wanted to add dust chambers to Thorned Rose?"
Weiss nodded, remembering their conversation from after Orientation. "Of course. Have you decided on how to go about it?"
Ruby half-shrugged and half-nodded, not really knowing which reaction would be the most accurate here. "I have one or two ideas…"
"What about Ember Celica, sis? You've wanted to check out that recoil forever."
Ruby glanced at Yang, who was walking between their respective partners. She knew her sister could do that easily by herself, but Yang liked to have Ruby tinker on her weapons because 'you are an effin' genius when it comes to weapons, sis.'
"After I'm done with Thorned Rose, Yang," Ruby answered. "Patience is a virtue."
"But I'm your sister."
"And Thorned Rose is my sweetheart. She stole my heart. All you do is steal my food."
A muffled snort could be heard from somewhere, but Ruby couldn't quite pinpoint it. She threw a suspicious look at Blake, whose face was still stuffed in her book, even while they were walking.
"Are you saying I'm fat?!" Yang asked with a shocked expression and a hand pressed against her heart, feigning insult. "I don't have to deal with this disrespect – coming from my little sister no less!"
Weiss gave them both a look which screamed annoyance. "Are you two done?"
"Loosen up, Ice-Queen –" "Hey!" "– this is just some sisterly teasing."
"Don't be rude, Yang," Ruby admonished her older sister. "Weiss is a very nice person and an excellent study partner."
"Thank you, Ruby."
"I just felt how all the fun got sucked out of me."
They bickered for a bit longer – minus Blake – but that died down once they finally arrived at the cafeteria. Ruby didn't even realize how hungry she was until the smell of today's food hit her like a brick wall.
After finding themselves a table and loading their trays with plates of various foods, they sat down and enjoyed their dinner.
Ruby had to admit that, all things considered, her team was getting along decently enough. Those growing pains were still there, of course. It was to be expected though – their personalities clashed almost violently after all.
Blake's moody and antisocial personality was keeping her at a distance from everyone. Weiss's sharp tongue and scathing honesty, combined with that rich-girl-haughtiness, was rarely doing her favours. Yang, with her loudness and brashness, was almost alone in a team of more reclusive characters. And she…Ruby knew she stood out like a sore thumb. The baby of her team by two years, but also the leader. She'd rather be quiet and only talk when necessary but her position forced her into communicating more than she liked. Add to that her eyes...
It wasn't easy, but she managed. They were doing well and, if she was honest, they were doing better than she expected at this point in their Beacon career.
"Do you mind us joining you?"
Ruby looked up from her food, her cheeks stuffed with chicken breast, and motioned for Team PRJN to take a seat. Her team had formed a decent relationship with their dorm-neighbours over the past couple of weeks, especially since she and Weiss had joined in on tutoring Jaune and bringing him up to speed.
"How's training going, Vomit Boy?" Yang asked with a smirk.
Said Vomit Boy had the decency to still look embarrassed, considering how he threw up on Yang's boots. It had taken until last week for him to finally apologize for that. Yang had even forgotten about it by then. "Well, they definitely aren't going easy on me…"
"It's not like you have years to hone your skills as we did," Weiss said, daintily cutting some fish. Ruby wanted to try it but didn't dare to touch her partner's food.
Jaune held up his hands. "I'm not complaining! I really appreciate what you guys are doing."
Jaune had decided to admit to his whole team and even the rest of RWBY what he had done. Ruby had to commend him for that; he laid the truth bare and gave everyone a choice whether to help him or not based on that.
Weiss, at first, was vehemently against helping him and Ruby couldn't blame her for taking that stance. However, after taking some time and talking it out, she still managed to get her partner to agree.
"You better. I can't wait for our first hand-to-hand lesson," Yang grinned and cracked her knuckles, making Jaune pale slightly.
"Cheer up, Jaune!" Nora slapped him forcefully against his back. "We gotta have some fun while teaching you, too, right?"
Ruby winced. Between the kind of fun Nora and Yang could be cooking up at Jaune's expense, she couldn't help but feel sorry for him.
She jolted a bit at the sudden vibration of her scroll. Quickly reaching into her uniform's pocket, she fished it out and groaned.
"What is it?" Yang asked.
"Leadership-classes are starting," Pyrrha answered after looking up from her own scroll.
"On weekends!" Ruby whined and Ruby never whined. She really never did. But this was just pure and utter cruelty.
Ruby looked towards the source of that exclamation of pain and winced. Cardin Winchester was pulling the bunny-ears of a Faunus girl, while the rest of his team jeered and laughed.
She had to take her earlier thought back because that was pure and utter cruelty.
"How barbaric," Weiss muttered under her breath, which Ruby heard, while Yang was just about to get up and deal with it.
However, a girl wearing sunglasses – inside the school, in early December – and a beret hat, brusquely walked over to Cardin and, without so much as a word of warning, punched him square in the face, sending him flying into the fish dishes.
Ruby was about to whine again. She really wanted to try those.
She couldn't hear what the other girl was saying but, the way she was leaning over Winchester, she doubted it was anything less than a friendly warning.
"Holy crap, I just became that girl's biggest fan," Yang gushed with a wide grin as they watched her and the bunny-Faunus walk out of the cafeteria.
"I'm pretty sure the Faunus-girl could have handled it herself," Ruby commented while finishing her dinner. "She must be an upperclassman since I haven't seen her in any of the mandatory firstie-classes."
Yang shrugged. "Probably didn't want to make a scene. Can't blame her, being Faunus and all."
For what felt like the first time today, Blake looked away from her book. "What do you mean?"
"Well," Yang began, "being a Faunus comes with some challenges, right? You can't go to a shop without people thinking you want to steal shit. You can't defend yourself without the aggressors trying to turn it against you and most of the time successfully too. You can't drive a car without some cop stopping and frisking you for no fucking reason."
"Your point?" Blake asked, her face giving no emotion away.
"As much as it sucks, the girl was smart to not defend herself for – and I can't believe I'm saying that – some harmless ear-pulling. There are cameras, sure," Yang pointed out and waved at one with a big grin, "but unless you are in serious trouble, as a Faunus, it's better to not get directly involved if you don't have to."
"So, you are saying Faunus should just let things happen to them because it could be worse if they don't?" Blake asked with gritted teeth.
The way Blake was reacting had Ruby wonder if her silent teammate was an equal-rights-activist of some sort.
"No," her sister denied. "I'm saying that Faunus need to pick their battles. This, for example, would not have been worth it. That Winchester guy's family has a long history of huntsmen and huntresses. My dad told me." She paused for a moment to swallow a mouthful of her dinner. "It could – and most likely would – lead to legal issues if Cardin tells his daddy. You don't want that kind of trouble while attending an academy like this as a Faunus. I honestly wish the world wasn't like this for them, but, well, you gotta adapt, you know?"
Blake didn't say anything for a while, then just returned to her book, seemingly satisfied with Yang's answer.
Ruby sighed. "If only you could follow your own pick-your-battles-advice…"
That caused the rest of the table to snicker – aside from Ren and Blake – and her sister to wink at her.
Oh well, she wouldn't be her big sister Yang if she did follow her own advice.
Ruby yawned loudly while walking down the hallway to her team's dorm room.
Her whole Saturday morning had been spent listening to Professor Goodwitch about leadership and responsibilities and some such. It wasn't like she didn't know of those things. Everything she had been sent after receiving that position she had already read, after all – multiple times at that.
She hoped those classes would become more interesting or she would have to consider skipping them.
...a shiver ran down her spine at that thought. Who was she even kidding? She could never bring herself to do that.
But still, it was incredibly tiresome and troublesome.
She entered her team's dorm and tossed her bag into the corner in front of Weiss's bed before she quickly climbed up into her own.
Only when she finally felt like she could relax and start her weekend did the sound of arguing voices reach her ears. She buried her face into her pillow in frustration before looking down from her bed to see what was going on.
There, on one side, was Weiss – her hands on her hips, her chin jutted out, her brows furrowed.
On the other side was Blake – hands balled into fists, jaw tight, a furious glare marring her usual expression of disinterested aloofness.
"Why can't you just admit that your family's treatment of its Faunus workers forced the White Fang's hand?!" Blake forced out between her clenched teeth.
Ruby wanted to groan. This whole discussion about Faunus had been going on for the entirety of the past week.
"So, because some Faunus weren't happy with equal pay and a place to actually work, the SDC forced the White Fang to execute board members on live streams, to abduct board members, to assassinate board members in front of their children?" It looked like Weiss was up to the challenge. "And if you want to keep going there, the White Fang has more Faunus blood on its hands than the SDC. Just how many mines did those psychopaths sabotage, still with hundreds of workers inside?"
"Slaves, you mean," Blake replied. "Not workers."
"Slaves don't get paid."
Blake looked like she wanted to grab a book and bash it over Weiss's head. Instead, she grabbed a book and left the dorm. Ruby glanced at her sister, who shrugged at her and dashed after her partner.
Jumping down, Ruby walked to her own partner, who was now staring out of the window with her arms crossed over her chest.
"Are you okay, Weiss?" she asked her and watched her shoulders slump slightly.
"I don't know what's gotten into Blake," Weiss began. "We were doing fine enough and suddenly, the moment this incident with Cardin and that Faunus girl happened, she challenged me about Faunus rights at every turn."
It was true. Ruby had found it odd but simply assumed that Blake was passionate about the topic.
"What is your view on Faunus?" Ruby asked. "If you don't mind talking about it."
"I don't care one way or the other," Weiss stated, her eyes still focused outside. "Faunus are Faunus, Humans are Humans. There are good and bad in either group." Finally, Weiss turned away from the window to look at her. "What I hate is the White Fang, Ruby. And every Faunus who supports them. I hate them with a passion because every bad thing that happened to my family over the past decade has been a direct result of that group's actions."
Ruby was silent for a few moments. She wasn't sure whether Weiss was exaggerating or not. "Could you...elaborate?" she asked softly.
Weiss didn't say anything at first. Instead, she moved over to her bed and gently sat down. "Imagine growing up in a household with frequent visitors. Your father's friends, if you will. Imagine liking them, because they are nice to you and even bring you occasional gifts." Her partner picked at her bed's sheet and dusted off some invisible lint from her skirt. "And one day, suddenly, one of them didn't come. The whole atmosphere is different. Your father is angry. And it gets worse. Every other week or month one of your father's friends – and new friends he made to replace the ones who stopped coming – go missing. You hear the words. Assassination. Abduction. Sabotage. White Fang. Every time something happens. And your father is constantly angry and your family changes and all you can do is sit and watch."
Ruby frowned and stared thoughtfully at the floor. To some extent she had always understood where the White Fang was coming from. She never approved – would never do so under any circumstances – but she understood it as a natural response to failed peaceful activism. It was how things worked most of the time when it came to issues such as that.
However, she had never really thought about how it could affect the other party.
Weiss sighed into the lull of her tale. "The White Fang...they act as if they have the moral high ground, but they are just a bunch of psychopaths out for blood." She paused for a moment, shaking her head sadly. "They destroyed so many families...families I've known and interacted with."
"I didn't know any of that, Weiss…"
Her partner scoffed. "Of course you didn't. People don't care about my family because we have money, so we can't have problems, right?"
"I didn't mean –"
"I know, Ruby," Weiss interrupted her. "It's not your fault. I don't blame you."
It was almost uncomfortable – even wrong – seeing Weiss like this. Ruby wasn't used to this sense of vulnerability coming off of her. It wasn't right.
"I know my father isn't – I'm a good person, Ruby," Weiss said, surprising her with that statement.
"I know that, Weiss." She bit her lip for a moment before continuing. "I've also seen a few interviews about your father and, well...he's…"
Chuckling without humour, Weiss shook her head. "Thank you."
Ruby cocked her head. "What for?"
"Nevermind," Weiss said with a sigh and a shrug. "How was your leadership-class?"
Confused at first at the sudden change of topic and mood, Ruby needed more time than should be necessary to answer that question. In the end, though, she decided to just indulge her partner. She could always try to figure her out later.
Ah, the racism issue. I want to dive deeper into this in my fic than it happened in canon. No way is it solved in this chapter.
She nocked the arrow, drew the string, let it fly and hit the dead centre of yet another target.
The semester had taken them well into December and Ruby had used every free moment she could find to work on the dust chambers for Thorned Rose. Her partner had been kind enough to provide the necessary materials and schematics. She almost felt honoured for having had the opportunity to work with such expensive materials; it definitely was some of the most fun she had had in quite some time.
The result was great too. The weight difference was minuscule at best and her aim with her bow barely needed any adjustments. She felt pretty good about it.
Separating the stave into her two sickles, she secured them in her belt and went to retrieve her arrows from the targets.
Working with her weapon did have the welcome side-effect of distracting her from her team's very tense atmosphere. After the last big fight, Weiss and Blake had simply started to avoid each other wherever and whenever possible. Ruby had tried to mediate between the two, to help find some common ground between them. Unfortunately, both were very proud and stubborn individuals and neither gave in an inch. On top of that, the issue had so many layers and so many shades of grey, Ruby couldn't just point fingers at one; both were right, but both were also wrong.
Placing her arrows back in her quiver, she shouldered it and signed herself off from the training room's computer. The lights dimmed, the dummy targets got moved away and she exited the room with a sigh.
It also wasn't like she could just forbid either to voice their opinions. She wasn't some kind of totalitarian leader. Blake had the right to criticize the SDC. Weiss had the right to do the same to the White Fang. Both made liberal use of said rights.
The whole situation was just one huge headache.
And now her good mood from her time in the training room was gone too.
Stopping in front of the exit of the training building, she quickly checked her scroll for the time before typing a message for her sister.
It was still weekend and curfew was still a few hours away.
Her taking a stroll through the city wouldn't hurt anyone.
It was a peaceful Sunday evening in Vale. Most people were cosying it up in their warm homes as Winter had finally hit the Kingdom at full force. The snow was crunching under her boots and white flakes were dotting her crimson cape.
She didn't really have a goal, a target to visit. The only reason why she even took an airship to the City of Vale was to get away because being a leader was exhausting. Sharing a room with three others was exhausting. Most of the past few weeks suffering through the atmosphere created by Weiss and Blake was exhausting.
Some space to breath was necessary every once in a while and a walk through the city provided just that.
So she walked and her feet carried her aimlessly through the city.
Squinting her eyes, she looked into the distance, past the homes of countless civilians and several shops. Through all the snowflakes, in the early darkness, the walls of the Kingdom were just about visible. There had been times when she had wondered if finishing her training would be worth the wait. What if those extra years would be the reason why she couldn't find her mother? What if a crucial trail disappeared because she was sitting in class in Signal Academy – or now in Beacon – instead of actively looking for it? There had been times when she had seriously considered running away from home and just get started with her search.
...even now, seeing those walls, she felt that itch, that pull. Even now she wanted to just go. She knew how to use her eyes. Her aura was easily above average for her age. While her hand-to-hand was not her greatest strength, she could hold her own against most. She had mastered her weapon at age fifteen and knew how to use it lethally.
But it had been drilled into her skull, time and time again, that she would only be truly ready after graduating at Beacon. She trusted her friend's judgement and sometimes she hated herself for it.
Sometimes she wished she was more like Yang. Then, she knew, she wouldn't consider someone else's advice as much as she did. She'd just head out. Do her thing.
It was surprising how fast a momentary high could plummet. There was not a trace left of her good mood from earlier and her success with Thorned Rose was all but forgotten.
With a sigh, she turned on her heel and started to walk back to the airship landing platforms. She had had her moments of peace and her mind wandered to places it hadn't in quite a while.
It was almost a relief. Worrying about her own issues, about her own life was not a luxury she really had anymore. Noting down a few things in her notebook was all good and well, but it simply was not the same as having an hour or two just to herself, away from her team and school and actively thinking about everything.
She used to wander a lot like this, back on Patch. Attending Beacon took that away a bit.
"Oh, you have got to be kidding me."
The sudden voice startled her out of her thoughts, the unexpectedness making her heart pound in her chest. She quickly turned towards the owner of the voice and, to her surprise and elation, came face to face with none other than nefarious criminal Roman Torchwick.
And he didn't look nearly as pleased as she felt.
Once again he was surrounded by a bunch of goons, but not like the ones she had seen before. Those looked more fierce, better armed and overall more dangerous. Those looked like the kind of goons who actually got their jobs done.
Her eyes darted briefly behind the criminals and she noticed that, once again, Torchwick had targeted another dust shop. Really taking in her surroundings for the first time, her feet had apparently carried her to an alley, away from the main street which led to the Inner City. The alley itself she recognized – a shortcut to the airship docks, which was lined with smaller shops of all kinds.
"Get the dust out of here and meet up with the others...you know where," he commanded his men without turning his glare away from her.
So, apparently, there were multiple hits going on.
The goons followed his orders without hesitation, a couple sparing her at least a curious glance.
"I'm glad at least one of us seems to be happy about this meeting, Red," he said with clear annoyance in his voice.
"We didn't finish our chat," Ruby replied, still not believing her luck. Second chances like this to get answers were rare. "I just want a name, Torchwick."
"And again, I'm not suicidal."
Cocking her head to the side, she gave him a thoughtful look. "I thought there's no honour among thieves?"
Torchwick actually laughed at that. "Didn't peg you for a smartass, Red." He took a step towards her and smirked when Ruby's hand twitched towards her weapons. "Just why are you so interested in some lowly thief's employer, hm?"
"Personal reasons that don't concern you." She took a step back as he took another step towards her. At least he wasn't a Faunus, or he would have an advantage in this dimly lit alley. "Just answer the question."
"I don't think I will."
The sudden crunching sound of snow coming from behind her had Ruby activate her semblance on reflex, dodging an attack from behind by spiralling upwards, a small twister of snow covering Torchwick and her would-be-assailant in a layer of white.
She landed a few paces behind her attacker and couldn't make out a lot in the barely illuminated area they were in. All she could say for sure was that the attacker was female, wielded what looked like an umbrella and was even more petite than her and Weiss.
"Your semblance is a bit of a pain, Red," Roman Torchwick commented while dusting the snow off his coat.
"I've been told it's a death trap," she said with a small giggle, remembering Weiss's rattled state after she took her in for a ride during the Cadet Trial – but a sudden dash from the small girl towards her cut her giggling short.
The piercing attacks were fierce and precise, despite the immense speed and obvious power behind them. Ruby barely had time to dodge and was pushed farther and farther into the alley.
Then, her eyes widened at the feeling of a cold brick wall against her back. Another attack was coming her way and just in time did she manage to tilt her head to the side, the sound of metal scraping stone confirming her suspicion of a blade hidden in that umbrella. The girl immediately raised a knee, aiming for her stomach, but Ruby blocked it with her arms, her aura absorbing the brunt of the impact.
For such a tiny package, it was clear that this girl packed one heck of a punch.
Activating her Petal Burst, Ruby sucked the girl into her whirlwind of red, forcing a surprised gasp out of her. She kept spiralling upwards and upwards until she slipped them both out of it once they reached the height of the rooftop of a building next to them and then she just dropped her.
The girl, however, simply opened her umbrella – which, under better lighting, turned out to be more of a parasol – and slowly floated back to the ground with a mocking grin and wave.
With the help of her semblance, Ruby dashed onto the rooftop and breathed out a heavy sigh.
She certainly didn't expect any of that to happen during a simple stroll through Vale.
Looking down into the alley from the rooftop, she couldn't find any sign of Torchwick or the girl. Her chance for answers got away again as the sound of police car sirens closed in.
She still made it back to the student dorms in time before curfew, after placing her weapons in her locker.
That didn't absolve her from her sister's fierce glare upon entering their dorm though.
"Where the hell have you been?!" Yang asked angrily before stomping over to her and pulling her into a hug. "You can't just send me a message saying that you are going to take a walk and then be gone for three fucking hours!"
"Sorry, sorry, I just lost track of time," Ruby muttered, hugging her sister back before retracting herself from her strong arms. "I went for a walk in Vale. Should've mentioned that too, I guess…"
"Omitting such an important detail was a bit irresponsible, yes," Weiss threw in as she handed Ruby a steaming cup of hot chocolate.
"Thanks, Weiss," Ruby said, mildly, but pleasantly surprised. She sat down on a chair and took stock of her team, suppressing the sigh threatening to escape her.
It was like there was an invisible wedge placed between Weiss and Blake ever since that whole SDC versus White Fang discussion arose and she just had no idea what to do about it. Forcing the issue would never work. Allowing them to sort it out naturally between themselves was how she would prefer it but it simply guaranteed nothing.
At least Weiss knows how to make hot chocolate, Ruby thought as she hummed in contentment. "This is really good, Weiss."
Her partner looked awfully pleased with herself at the praise. "Klein – my family's butler – used to make hot chocolate like this for me as a treat. He taught me how to make it myself before I left for Beacon."
"Sounds like a chill dude," her sister said from her bunk bed, having climbed back once she made sure that not a hair on her head was harmed.
Weiss rolled her eyes. "Yes, he is a very 'chill dude'," she said, with air quotes and everything. "I do miss him, to be honest."
Idle conversation between her sister and partner was flowing back and forth, leaving Ruby to just sit back and comfortably sip her hot chocolate.
She was glad that Yang hadn't asked any further questions, but she knew that that was mainly the case because she already used to take strolls through Patch like that.
And – she'd like to think – because her sister knew she could take care of herself.
She did so, after all, against that girl. Whoever she was.
A henchwoman? Hitwoman? She definitely was strong – incredibly strong – and very clearly worked for Torchwick.
She had to make notes about her in her Notebook.
And Torchwick himself was obviously still busy stealing dust. He most likely even stepped up his game, stealing from different locations at once if what she caught from his orders was anything to go by.
Even more curious than that, however, was how vehemently he refused to give up any and all information on his employer. He never even bothered to ask if she had anything to offer for it. He didn't ask to trade information – information about her friend for information about his employer, for example.
Not that she would agree to that.
But he simply did not give up anything.
If she had to take a guess, and if she took into account the information her friend gave her about him, then Ruby could come up with only one conclusion:
Roman Torchwick was scared into submission by his employer.
"Did she look familiar at all?" Roman asked her, only to receive a thumbs-down as an answer.
He leaned back into his chair, rubbing the bridge of his nose in annoyance.
His makeshift office inside the large warehouse was well out of earshot, even from the animals of the White Fang, and finally, after taking her precious time, Neo had returned.
"Just what the hell am I going to do with that brat?" he muttered to himself. "She's going to get us both killed, I'm telling ya…"
Neo just shrugged and pointed a thumb behind herself at the general direction of their stolen dust and followed it up with a slashing motion across her throat.
"Aren't you just a ray of sunshine tonight," he replied drolly before his expression darkened. "Seriously, Neo. We need to know who that brat is, who that friend of hers is and why they are about to get us killed just by poking their noses where they don't belong. Get out, get that info and don't get caught."
Neo rolled her eyes at him but smiled all the same before skipping away.
He didn't want to send her away to gather information – not with the strong suspicion of someone out there looking for her – but they needed information.
They were already in deep – his fault, he had to admit – but they could still get out alive and with a shit-ton of money to boot. That red brat, however, was starting to make things unnecessarily complicated with questions she had no business asking.
The only good thing about this whole situation so far was that his employer still had no clue of such questions being asked in the first place.
Roman groaned and lit himself a cigar after eyeing it for a moment, muttering under his breath.
"...stupid little red bitch is going to get me killed faster than this..."
Just how are things going to develop with Roman and Neo I wonder? Also, so far you guys have been great about it, but just to be sure: please no mentions of any sort about Volume 7! I haven't been able to catch up yet since the post-holidays Chapter. No hints or anything of that sort! Thanks!