Through the eyes of an assassin - a RWBY fanfiction
A/N: RWBY is the intellectual property of Rooster Teeth and all rights belong to them or something like that. I guarantee that no profit is made from publishing this story.
Chapter 1 - The acceptance letter
Terminating that contract felt like chains slipping from my neck. Not the heavy ones mind you, but the thin versions. Easy to conceal, very likely to slip your mind when you are not looking, until the moment they were used to garrote you to death, eating into your flesh until you started to bleed around your throat…
She would probably call me morbid, but she was not the one managing our very limited funds. When half of our expenditures went into rent and almost the other half into buying food to feed that black hole inside her stomach - well, there was not a whole lot else left, was there?
Getting the acceptance letter from Beacon Academy was a life saver. As a publicly funded boarding school our need for food and shelter will be accounted for. Then there were Grimm bounties. It would have to wait until our second or third year, but nevertheless – a secure roof over our head, the future prospect of earning good, clean money and all that behind the protection of new assumed identities.
I looked for the third time over the flat contract. For a brief moment my sight lingered on the name that I will soon discard. A quick brush of my hand produced the last signature of my old identity, finalizing the conditions for termination. Due to us spontaneously moving, we would have to pay the rent for another three month and some of the flat-deposit will be withheld from us to repair the damage our living quarters sustained. Nothing unexpected really. I was living alongside a typhoon in human form after all.
I shook hands with the kindly landlady feeling very stiff while doing so. Even after all these years in Vacuo there were still some customs I could not get used to. The ingrained reflex of bowing sat deep inside me waiting for the slightest crack in my attention to slip out.
I exchanged some further pleasantries with Mrs Auburn. We then settled for a date on Tuesday next week when I had to return the flat keys. We still had some days left in these rooms until moving to Beacon, but I insisted on getting the paperwork done beforehand.
Never underestimate paperwork. Getting sloppy around it will just lead it to bite you in the rear at the most inopportune moment possible.
I went into my room taking out a metallic briefcase from below my bed. The thought of paperwork reminded me of another errand I had to finish. I took out my scroll, set the line on heavy encryption and dialed a particular number from memory.
"Yes?", answered a squeaky voice. "This is Lie Ren." I decided to use my new identity to introduce myself. Fitting, considering that the man on the other side was the one who forged it.
He paused for a second to process my words. Or perhaps the signal was delayed through the encryption process. "Ah, Mr Lie, my latest customer. Sorry, I didn't expected you to adapt so quickly."
I did not bother to humor his attempt at small talk. "Do you have the other papers?"
Another pause. "Yes, just finished them today after pulling an all-nighter. Your timing is quite impeccable."
"So I've been told. Meeting at the abandoned industrial Dust facility at 8 pm?
And another delay. It's definitely the encryption. "How merciful of you to allow me some time to catch up on my sleep. I take it you have the rest of the money?"
"Would I bother to waste both our times otherwise?"
"Of course you won't." The man heaved a sigh that sounded all but fake. "Really boy, you should brush up on your conversation skills. If you are always so no-nonsense, you won't be popular with the ladies." He makes a dramatic pause. "On the other hand, you are already stringing a girl along, aren't you?"
Emotions flared inside of me, too fast and too complex to analyze. Heat rose to my cheeks and I was ready to raise my voice in what felt like a very long time, but my verbal indignation got violently cut when the line disconnected.
I cursed under my breath. Little sneaky rat, pushing the one button that can actually get me worked up. Knowledge of that kind was very crucial when bargaining.
I left the bedroom and went into the kitchen. There were still five hours left until the designated time. I could as well use them to do something productive.
"I aaaaam back hoooome."
I glanced up from the stove as that boundless ball of energy with orange hair broke into the flat exuding vitality and vibrancy with every movement she took. I could not help but smile a little.
"Ooooh, that smells awesome", she cooed. "Really the right way to end a totally awesome day at work on a high note. So how long until you're done? How long until you're done?"
"About ten minutes", I clipped.
"My stomach is growling."
Isn't it always?
"No matter. I can endure ten minutes if it's to eat your food. So what are you preparing?"
I raised the two woks from the stove, shaking them in each hand, letting their contents shoot in the air in a tight arc and catching them again without a single piece of rice falling to the floor. I was quite proud of my little circus act. It also had the added benefit of stirring up the ingredients without using a spoon or spatula, which in turn had the benefit that damage to the ingredients through tool-assisted stirring was negated. When cooking rice it was important to preserve their form. Amateurs in the kitchen always thought it was all about taste and smell, but haptic qualities or mouth-feeling is almost as important. The particular charm of flavored rice was how each and every grain has the potential to be a small potent carrier of taste – as long as you preserve their structural integrity by not crushing them into mush during the stirring process.
I should stop and yes, I was a little bit of a cooking enthusiast.
"Oooh, its stir-fried rice and two different kinds to boot." She laughed. "Didn't you say the other day that you want to stop spoiling me?"
She was right. I did say that.
"You are not making good on your promise, you know? Oh, I am not complaining about you not keeping your promise not to spoil me. Feel free to continue to disregard your own promise, please,"
Too late, now that you have reminded me so kindly.
"...and as I already said, my day at work was totally awesome, though whether it is as awesome as your food is something I have to decide after I tasted everything you have cooked..."
More like gobbled up everything into that bottomless pit of yours.
"... and is that stew you are preparing?"
"Beef stew Szechuan style and steamed dumplings with shiitake and fried egg filling."
"You are sooo spoiling me."
Which will stop effectively tomorrow. "There is something to celebrate."
She perks up. "Really?"
"We got our acceptance letters for Beacon."
For the first time since she barged into the room, her big, ever-present smile disappeared.
"We have to move again?"
"And we have to play the name-changing game again?"
"And I will have to leave my friends here behind?"
I hesitated, but only for a second.
Her face adopted a somehow wistful expression. It was an expression so unfamiliar that it almost changed her face into that of stranger.
A very pretty stranger.
I turned off the stove. The residual heat should cook up the dishes just fine.
"You know, aside from living in the wilderness at the northern borders of Vacuo, this is the first time we have stayed in one place for so long."
And it was the first time we stayed so long at a place with genuine human contact. Two years were long enough to be assimilated into social circles, long enough to create human bonds that mattered.
"So, what will be my new name?"
I procured her forged ID from my right sleeve. She took it with uncharacteristic hesitance.
"Nora Valkyrie." She smiled sadly. "Quite a nice name. I think I will get used to it very quickly. It is after all, what? The fourth time?"
"Saphiria at the smithy will be devastated when I have to leave so suddenly. She has really started to depend on me and Garnet is so nosy. I will have to think up a good excuse." She laughed without mirth. "You know Sh..., sorry, what is your new name?"
"Lie Ren." Saying it to her face left a strange aftertaste.
"That name is also pretty. Do you think them up yourself?"
"Still... Ren, you are really amazing."
I blinked. "Aren't you upset?"
"Of course I am, but I am not really mad at you. Way back then, we agreed that you would make the decisions that mattered, because I really was nothing more but a brat, and over the years we kinda turned it into... how do you call it again? Right! Division of labor. I do the heavy lifting, the loud socializing. You do the subtle and silent stuff."
A very accurate description of our current partnership. I nodded in acknowledgment.
"Sometimes, when I talk to young customers at the smithy, people my age who attend combat schools, I ask them about the stuff cluttered on your desk. Financial reports, health insurance, all these contracts and tax forms, but most of the time they just stare at me blankly. Some of them recognize these things, but they always say their parents take care of those, but we don't have this luxury."
"I am five years older than you. It's appropriate that I do the adult stuff."
"And how long have you been an adult for my sake?"
We both knew the answer to that question, but the intensity behind her words forced me to say it aloud: "Since I was fourteen."
Her expression turned wistful again. "You are amazing. I mean, you manage all these adult matters without ever tiring or complaining and suddenly you turn up these." She held up her forged ID. "I am sure most adults don't have a clue how to get something like that, but you... you do it without making any fuss at all, like a magician pulling rabbits out of his hat. I honestly thought you were half joking, when you said that we should attend Beacon together. And you never joke. I mean, it really is a very good place for us to be, but we never went to any secondary combat schools at all, or any schools period and all the public records about us are fake and you were also against taking the special combat entrance exam because you did not think you could make the cut without revealing your special techniques, though you did offer that I should just take it myself, but I am not leaving you behind period, so I thought it was just a pipe dream."
She breathed deeply after having spoken so much without pause. "How many documents did you have to forge this time?"
"A lot." I did not mention that forging these documents also involved creating fake digital records in public security as well as combat school databases. This was Beacon after all. I was ready to take as many precautions as possible. Even in case our documents were to be scrutinized there would be digital files ready to back up our papers. The only way our fake identities could be unraveled was if someone would take the pain of tracking our records through talking to actual persons who at least according to our documents should know about us. But if the directory in Beacon saw it fit to dig this deeply we were screwed anyway.
"And the money?"
That was the first time she was this inquisitive about my shadier activities. "Don't worry about it. It has been dealt with."
"I see." She sat down at the table, still in a pensive mood. Did she forget about the food?
"While in Beacon, will you cook for me from time to time?"
Scratch that. "Perhaps."
She grinned. The familiar glow of childish glee and mischief returned to her face. "Admit it. You are totally glad you don't have to cook for me anymore."
"There will be other priorities."
"Ha, I know what my priority is right now, Ren. Sampling every little piece of your food."
It took her about fifteen minutes to eat through everything. All in all, I prepared an amount of fried rice with vegetables and meat that could fill a wok to the brim three times. Add to the above a big pot of beef, potato stew as well as dumplings... well, one got the picture.
I stopped wondering about conservation of mass and silly things like that a long time ago. Physically it should be impossible for her stomach area to remain as flat as a board. Not after stuffing in this kind of sheer mass.
A black hole perhaps? Or what about some kind of pocket dimension located inside her gastrointestinal system? Nothing but hypotheses. Confirming them would require me to open her up with very sharp implements. Luckily, my scientific curiosity was far too undeveloped to drive me into suicidal acts. She was after all much stronger than me and her qi reserves outstripped my own by a factor of three or four.
Honestly, I gave up on dotting down exact measurements of her qi pool about two years ago. The fluctuations since then became far too violent, though the upward trend was unmistakable. Her qi potential was increasing steadily, long after her body had begun the development of secondary sexual characteristics, commonly referred to as puberty.
It threw out every established rule of endogenous qi development in human beings right out the window. Well, there was a reason they were still after us which in turn justified my paranoia.
But the line between caution and paranoia was a thin one; not that it had stopped me from performing back flips or somersaults on that very line for eight years.
I finished cleaning the dishes. She..., well I should think of her as Nora now, shouldn't I? Nora went to her own room, told me something about taking a nap to help her digest the food.
I did not believe her words for even one second. Nora Valkyrie's digestive system was never in need of any kind of help the rest of us petty humans required. She probably needed some time alone to... dare I say reflect? Mourn? I had a nagging suspicion that the move this time would be tricky, but now I felt like an insensitive jerk for not thinking about her feelings.
I wiped my hands dry and went into my room to take the metal briefcase. 30,000 Rand. A sum earned by a middle class worker in about a year. Illegal money. The other half of the payment to buy us a shot at leading a truly respectable life.
It won't be a safe one. Dying in the line of duty was an occupational hazard for Huntsmen and Huntresses, but both of us were used to danger. It was a much hated friend by now. I left our flat with focused steps.
The southern part of Vacuo could be considered a sprawl. A giant, blistering, growing network of dilapidated buildings, eroding infrastructure as well as houses which mainly consisted of glue barely holding them together. There were also broken cars, buses and bulkhead vehicles that had long ceased moving, retrofitted into barely hospitable living quarters. The energy network did not reach here, nor did any kind of public sanitation system. Even the sewers had been cut off, while desertification reared its ugly head from the south.
It was a place abandoned by human civilization, so it became a sanctuary for the outcast, the lawless.
Black markets, gambling and drug dens, religious sects. Rumors even whispered about hidden headquarters of paramilitary faunus groups, among them the notorious White Fang.
I had not noticed any White Fang quarters yet, but most people living here were faunus, a testament to the days before the sprawl when this part of Vacuo was nothing more but a ghetto - a walled off suburb of sorts or an animal-pen depending on who you asked, erected to keep the faunus population away from the public eye and to inflict living conditions on them that were only fit for caged and mistreated animals.
I was not surprised they fought back. Violently at that.
But while I understood the plight of faunus right activists, I was far from being a sympathizer. It had nothing to do with faunus or humans. Personally, I thought the distinction to be a ridiculous one. There were some anatomical differences, but if one looked closer at qi development, fauni and humans were pretty much interchangeable. Besides, both so called races were able to have offspring together who in turn were able to further procreate with either a human or a faunus. So even biologically speaking there could not be that big of a difference between us and them.
This in turn also meant that there were individuals among both humans or fauni who were never to be trusted, because due to their unsavory characters you could never know when they decided to screw you over.
Like the ratty guy who was counting my money. His name was Fidelius and when I say ratty I mean it literally.
"Now, now, Mr... Lie. This looks very satisfactory. So much money in such a short time. I do wonder how you procured this kind of sum on the mere salary of an assistant librarian?"
"I paid you for your services and part of your portfolio includes that you do not ask questions. Or did I misread the fine print?"
Fidelius shrugged his shoulders. "Written contracts are worth nothing in this place. They are a product of so called civilized society. I am also a very curious man by nature. "
"Curiosity killed the cat."
"But I am far from being one", said Fidelius. He laughed boastfully displaying a confidence he lacked in our previous meetings. But having two bodyguards accompanying him seemed to raise his confidence – or should I say recklessness?
Both of them looked like typical hired muscle. Broad chests and shoulders, arms as thick as my thigh, absolutely crude qi refinement. Their breathing patterns were a mess, barely harmonized with the large amount of meat hanging on their upper bodies. Their legs were lacking in strength, at least in relation to the muscles above their waist. Typical bodybuilders. Pushing weights was useful to build muscle mass, but if one could not utilize the potential of said muscles they simply became dead weight. Nothing more but cheap intimidation.
"Can I have the rest of my documents, please?"
"Now, now, don't be so hasty, Mr Lie. I am very grateful you are such a reliable customer, but why don't we chat for just a moment?"
Fidelius face looked like it had been slapped. He was probably not used to being rebuffed in such a blunt fashion.
"You got your money. I want my papers, now."
"I did a little bit of digging, you know? It's not your first time you changed identities. I don't get commissions everyday to forge someone into the prestigious Beacon Academy."
I glared at him. I never told him upfront I wanted to cheat my way into Beacon. But for the one forging the papers it was probably clear as day that I wanted entry into one of the four combat academies. Question was: How did he manage to narrow it down?
"Now, I don't know what kind of hotshot you believe yourself to be or what kind of past you are running from, but Beacon's security and intelligence are on quite another level. If you get busted, your paper trail could lead them to me and this would make me a very unhappy rat. So..."
"You want more money."
"You do have a firm grasp..."
"Boy, do you really not understand the situation you are in?" He inclined his head towards the two bodyguards flanking him.
I did a step-in, formed the fingers of my left hand into a sword-seal piercing the high dantian of the left bodyguard, disrupting the flow of his meridians. I turned my body halfway to add momentum ramming my right elbow sideways against his neck.
There was no need at all to charge my elbow strike with qi. His barrier had already collapsed so his carotid artery received the full brunt of my attack robbing him of consciousness.
The other bodyguard tried to draw his weapon, a scimitar he carried on his hip, but before he could finish his draw, I was already upon him using a left palm thrust to block his arm doing the drawing motion. The faunus bodyguard was physically stronger than me, so my palm thrust merely delayed his arm motion, but the moment I touched his meridian, I injected it with a qi needle which started to bounce and race around his qi network.
I crouched down do evade his right handed slash and when he followed it up with a strike of his left fist, I simply thrust my other palm against it injecting another qi needle.
My timing was perfect. The first qi needle and the second met each other at the faunus' fist. They created a meridian-detonation that ruptured every blood vessel in his hand.
The howl that followed sounded suspiciously like a wolf. His stance was a total mess. The grip on his blade turned shoddy. I released him from his suffering, albeit temporarily, by slamming both my palms against his eardrums at the same time.
The sudden change in pressure propagated through his double auditory system causing him to black out. It was a move that only worked this way on faunus with an additional pair of ears. On humans or fauni with only one pair, the technique could destroy their inner ear and in some cases part of their brain.
The whole encounter took about five seconds.
When I turned around to face Fidelius he had been reduced to a whimpering mess. Coward.
"I apologize", he cried. "Please spare me. Take the documents. Take the money, just spare me."
I took the papers. Two birth certificates for me and Nora, several papers signed by fictional guardians to prove their 'existence' as well as certificates of death for the same guardians who were not alive to begin with.
Everything was in order.
"You should get your two companions to a doctor. Otherwise my attacks may have serious long-term consequences." I looked at the wolf faunus' left hand and sighed. Using the delayed meridian-detonation was perhaps a little overkill. Even taking qi regeneration as well as professional medical attention into account, he will never be able to use his hand the same way again.
I left the abandoned dust factory on silent steps. I also left behind a very frightened rat faunus, two unconscious bodyguards and a suitcase full of money. Business was business after all.