I don't really have any witty opening today. If you've paid attention to the news, you could probably guess why.


[Sun]

Nora dumped a ladle-full of soup into the bowl Sun clenched in his hand. The orange-red broth sloshed about as it settled to its lowest point, some dripping down the side of Sun's thumb. He bit his tongue, ignoring the scalding liquid running along his skin and delivered it to a tray he had prepared. Once free, the boy licked the broth off him, savouring the rich taste of pepper and tomato most prominent in the dish.

Damn, this is good...

"Wait, take this too," Nora said, grabbing a fresh loaf of bread from under a cloth. She hissed as it was too hot for her hand, but she powered through it and dropped the bread on the tray. "There, fresh bread..."

"Nice, the girls will like that," Sun expressed as he piled some more stuff onto the tray. "Got some beer too."

"Beer?"

"Eh, it won't hurt to have some," Sun replied, shrugging his shoulders. "Better for taste."

It's got some good stuff in there. Carbohydrates and some vitamins.

"I don't know when their last meal was; what if it hurts their stomachs," Nora proposed, her voice filled with concern.

"Mmmm, good point," Sun agreed, cupping his chin. "Probably need to bring them some water. But this will definitely do the job if they haven't eaten in a while."

Nora had made a rich beef soup. It was fantastic for Sun's taste but probably going to be tough on a malnourished person's stomach. Given the state of Lara, it was safe to say taking care of their cattle wasn't high on the vampire's priorities. Meals were hard to come by. So, giving a person who lived under such conditions a substantial dish was a risk.

At least, that's what Sun had once experienced and read about in a class.

"Just give it to them; it's food," Nora replied despite the risk. "They need to eat something."

"Yeah, at least it will get some more water in them," Sun acquiesced. "I'll tell them to take it easy." He then grabbed the tray and moved to exit the kitchen.

"Ren will be up there soon," Nora said as he left. "I think he was making a potion for the girl's fever."

"Got it!"

...

Departing the kitchen, Sun passed by Weiss in the main hall. The Mage sat on the ground with bloodied papers in front of her, attempting to discern their nature. Walking closer, the Rogue peeked over to get a better look.

"Are those the enchantments," he asked, propping the tray up in his arms. "How many we get?"

"Two runes," Weiss replied with an exhausted sigh. "However, Lime's book was ruined by the blood. There was alcohol in the glass, which made the ink run. Anything we could have used is gone now." She grabbed the book and chucked it across the room. "So, we could only translate a rune for fire resistance and one for poison."

Hmmm...

"Eh, not that bad," Sun expressed. "Only cost you some blood, but we can use those."

Fire resistance was something you could never go wrong with. Sun's master taught him that much. Since most people slung around spells involving fire, it was solid protection. Poison enchantments were a bit rarer, like the explosive characteristic of Jaune's whip. Something like that was better for a bow or sword. Tagging a guy with poison and following him until he quit and died was a strategy.

"Half glass full, I see," Weiss mumbled. "You have a point, but I'll need to speak with Dr Oobleck about translating the rest."

Hope he doesn't charge an arm and a leg...

From what he remembered, the monks at the monastery were basically charging a king's ransom for translations or transcribing documents. A book was like three-thousand lien to rewrite in Vacuoun from Valean. Those were languages people still spoke and could read. This stuff was older than regular magic speak.

"If you want help, Ren and I will be free soon," Sun offered. "Just gotta make sure our friends are good to go first."

"Do that," Weiss replied. "We need to take care of them before we leave."

Nodding to the Mage, Sun left her to continue working. Behind him, Ren had entered the house and was unpacking his gear. So, Sun zeroed in on his goal and tuned out anything that would interrupt him. He made for the second story and crossed into the east wing of the manor. There, he found the makeshift infirmary with an open door. Surprisingly, Sun saw Willow standing there and speaking to someone.

"Do you or your sister know how to read," Willow asked, pacing back and forth with her hands clasped behind her back.

"I-I don't," the elder sister answered. "My sister knows a little, but she can only write her name."

"I see," Willow said to herself. "Then, while you are in this house, you will learn... All young ladies must understand how to read and write; they are the foundation for everything else to build off of." She paused and looked at the sisters. "When your sister has recovered, we can begin. I have some time to spare later in the day, so your lessons can be held then."

"Y-Yes, ma'am," she nervously answered.

She's right...

Reading and writing were powerful tools. You could use the stuff to lift yourself out of poverty with a bit of luck. It meant you could find jobs or go into maths to learn even more. Sun loved the notion for that simple reason.

If everyone could learn, the world would be a better place. Sun really believed that.

Suddenly, Willow turned and walked out of the room. As she passed through the hall, the older woman nodded to Sun as she walked along the corridor. When she rounded a corner at the end, disappearing into the manor, Sun turned back to the infirmary. He slowly pushed the door open, revealing their guests.

The yet-unnamed girls to Sun had changed out of their rags into basic Mistrali tunics with belts tied at their waists. Lara was still passed out on the bed, wearing a Valean dress any villager would wear. The former pair had also managed to wash, appearing to be in a much better condition than yesterday.

"I guess you're learning now," Sun said as he stepped inside, placing the tray on a nearby table. "How are you guys feeling?"

The little girl was sleeping but seemed to still be shivering despite the layers of blankets on top of her. A wet cloth was placed against her forehead for the fever, hoping to cool her down slightly. If Sun had to guess, those blankets were soaked in sweat by now.

"I didn't sleep," the older sister spoke with a soft tone and a slight rasp to her voice. "I had to keep watching my sister..."

"Ren's got something cooked up for her," Sun explained, crouching down to her level. "It might be enough to help." He leaned down to look the girl directly in the eyes. "What about you? You just got out of a vampire's lair."

The monks at the monastery would have dealt with this. Any adventurer or town guard who came across an attack would send them to a convent or give them to the monks if they were girls or boys. Most of the time, they had no one else to turn to due to their families getting wiped out, so it was the only option.

"S-Scared," she spoke honestly. "I didn't think we would leave that basement."

I get it...

"You don't have to be...," Sun tried to console, dropping the ball at the end as he didn't know what to call her. "Uh, I didn't get your names."

"Iris," she said, gesturing to herself with a hand on her chest. "And this is my sister, Lily."

"Yeah, Iris, you don't have to worry about it anymore," Sun sincerely continued. "Pretty much everyone here chews vampires up and spits them out, so they won't be coming after you. Both of you can take it easy and get some rest."

"Thanks, I'll try to remember that," Iris replied, nodding.

"But, you have any idea where you're going after," Sun further inquired. "Got some folks somewhere? Blake, she's the one with the cat ears," Sun mimicked her ears with his index fingers, "and I can go look for them if they're around."

"I-I don't think so," Iris answered, looking away from Sun. "It's just been the two of us for as long as I can remember. We didn't have anyone in Vacuo." She took a deep breath. "I thought leaving would be a good idea, but we didn't make it a week before those vampires grabbed me."

Shit, they're orphans...

Sun knew what it was like. Being an orphan on Remnant was a shitty thing unless you got very lucky. It meant suffering on the streets until you starved to death, died of disease, or someone kicked your face in and left you to rot. Anyone who reached their late teens ended up as a thief or worse.

There were too many guys Sun knew who turned to banditry. The girls typically ended up in brothels or getting taken advantage of by someone with greater means. Salvation was rarely found for those few lucky kids.

"Then you guys can stay here as long as you need to," Sun insisted, looking around the bare room for anything else they would require. "We can try to find some spare clothes and stuff for you guys to have..."

Iris was struck dumb by the declaration. She gritted her teeth to suppress the reaction, but Sun could see it. The girl may have begun crying before long.

"Thanks, the girl with the red hair already brought some tunics," Iris nervously replied. "She said they were old and wanted us to have them."

Good on her...

Behind Sun, the door again opened to reveal Ren standing there with a bag in hand. He nodded to the two and silently walked around them before setting the case on a table towards the back of the room. Over there, he picked through his tools, causing them to clank against one another as he finally settled on a preferred item.

That's when Ren pulled out a giant syringe!

The instrument was nearly three inches long and wide enough to resemble a worm. It caused Sun's skin to crawl just looking at it lest he be shot in the arm with it. That thing was terrifying. Scarier than vampires, the giant spiders, and zombies all combined!

He's not going to use that?!

Sun's heart beat out of his chest when Ren drew a solution from a vial with the syringe. His fingers and toes curled up in stress, and he unconsciously backed away from the boy out of fear. The Rogue's skin broke out in a thick sweat, starting to drip off him like runoff from a roof.

Fuck that!

"Iris, this is a tonic refined from the extract of the star anise," Ren explained in a clear and calm voice. "An alchemist in Vale discovered it can prevent certain viruses from exiting the cells in our bodies upon replication."

"I-I don't know what any of that means," Iris confusedly said.

"It should help reduce Lily's symptoms," Ren explained in simpler terms.

"Really?!"

"Yes, as long as we caught them before we were too late," he answered.

Ren pulled back the sheets from Lily and moved one of her arms into plain view. Finding a vein he could use, Ren slowly dug the needle into Lily's arm to the required depth and gently pressed the trigger on the syringe. The solution in the barrel was pushed forth by the plunger, injecting the drug little by little until it was all gone. When he was done, Ren grabbed the covers and draped them over Lily, returning her to bed so she could rest.

She took it like a champ! What the fuck?!

Ren then walked over to Sun without warning and reached out with his right hand. Just barely grazing Sun's middle brow with his index finger, a pink aura leapt from his hand. This magic seeped into Sun, immediately calming him faster than he realised. The fear of the needle, the sweat, and the rapid heartbeat vanished.

What is that?

"Good," Ren spoke as he walked back to his tools. "Iris, continue keeping Lily hydrated and try to get her to eat something. If Lara wakes up, tell her there is food downstairs." Locking his case, Ren slid the tools into an armoire before closing it tight.

"Thanks, guys," Iris called out to the boys. "I won't forget this!"

"Don't worry about it," Sun replied, trying to act modestly. "You needed help; we helped. That's all there was to it..."

Ren nodded once more to Iris before leaving the room. Sun shut the door behind him as he retreated into the hallway. There, he found the smug expression of Ren staring at him when he turned around.

"You don't like needles," he asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Fuck no," Sun whined, rubbing his arm in the same spot Ren injected Lily. "I can deal with getting my leg chomped on by a beowolf, but I can't deal with that shit. Makes my skin crawl just thinking about it." He took a deep breath to centre himself. "And what the hell did you do to me? Didn't feel terrified of the damned thing after you poked me."

"Monk ability," Ren tersely answered. "'A calm mind is open to reason...'" The boy raised a hand, and a pink aura fluttered within his palm. "I can remove any person's emotions and return them to a neutral state." He began walking to the main hall. "I figured it was the right time to use it when you were hiding in the corner."

Not like I had any choice...

"Yeah-Yeah, just keep that fucking syringe away from me," Sun said in surrender, giving up on trying to talk his way out of that. "I'll probably hit you if you tried to shoot it up my arm."

"I will keep that in mind," Ren calmly replied, giving no reaction to the warning. "But, it was the only way I could give it to her. The elixir is very bitter, so forcing her to drink it would not go very well."

"Why not ask Jaune to help," Sun asked, turning to walk down the main staircase. "He's got that cure disease thing. Just hit her with that and give a few days for Lily to recover."

Everyone had these cool abilities that made people do stuff or could do stuff to other people. Sun could turn into a monkey, make clones of himself, jump between light sources as a wisp, and do some other things. That's all he had to work with. It didn't have the appeal of making magic swords or bows that one-shotted vampires.

Made Sun kinda jealous.

"I actually could have but chose not to," Ren revealed, stopping midway up the stairs. "When people have viruses, they make these things to cover the virus, which attracts these cells to eat them. After you fight it off, you can handle another infection better than the first time. Jaune's ability would just get rid of it. If Lily fights it off on her own, she should be safe from the flu for a while."

What?

"Woah, really," Sun said, cocking his head to the side. "Is that how it works?"

Sun hadn't heard of that. Cells in your body eating the things that made you sick. He knew what cells were from lectures at Beacon, but they hadn't talked about much beyond that.

"There's much more involved, but that's a basic summary."

I gotta read up on this stuff...

"Are you two ready to go," Weiss asked from the side.

Looking at her, she and Jaune were standing by for their cue. The boy nodded to the pair, but the Mage had this impatient look plastered on her face.

"Let's see what we can squeeze out of Dr Oobleck!"

...

Arriving in Vale, Sun had given Jaune and Weiss a breakdown of Iris and Lily's situation. Both were attentive and listened to every detail regarding them being essentially homeless. The entire conversation made the two retreat into reflection or show anger in Jaune's case.

"So, we're not just going to send them out on their own," Jaune posed to the group. "I don't think giving them supplies and a map is a fair shake. They'll get eaten alive if they can't find a sponsor or someone to live with."

He gets it!

Two kids on their own with minimal skills would not survive in Remnant. Sun didn't think they'd make it to winter without something happening to one of them. The group needed to be proactive with their choices to keep that likely future from transpiring.

It didn't seem right to send them out on their own. They would be half-assing the job.

"I agree," Weiss expressed, sitting on Dodo's back. "Any choice they make is their own, but we can suggest an alternative that may keep them safer. We should also let the girls rest before pushing the idea to them. I don't want them to think they're being pressured."

"I think we're all in agreement," Ren concluded. "Nora won't have any problems with it. I believe Pyrrha, Yang, and Ruby would neither. I doubt Blake would allow the girls to wander into the forest if she couldn't help it."

Yeah, if she was all gung-ho about the slavers, she'd want to look after the girls...

Sun liked that about her. She didn't tolerate injustice if there was something she could do about it. Helping the downtrodden was probably Blake's best attribute among her many virtues.

"Then, how about this," Sun began, gesticulating as he spoke. "We let them stay at the house, working for us? Doing some cooking, cleaning, or whatever. There has to be someone watching the place anyway, and Tai won't be here forever. We might go out on another badass quest, and the house would just be open for anyone to walk in and raid our pantry."

The group could get by without someone taking care of the manor. It would just be more work for everyone to clean the house every once in a while. But, having a few people dedicated to maintaining the estate would solve all their problems.

"You want to hire them as maids," Weiss pointed out.

"Eh, probably just housekeepers," Sun countered. "Maid doesn't sit right with me."

Sun didn't know why. Maid felt demeaning in his head. They were basically the same thing, but 'maid' brought up images of servants in Sun's mind. All he had envisioned here was to give the girls a place to stay and some coin for them to look after the house. That didn't scream, maid.

"Housekeepers, then," Jaune concluded. "But, we kinda need someone around to do that work. We're dealing with fifteen people in a large mansion."

"We can draft a proposal later," Ren interjected. "I don't want to stress the girls out right now. When Lily is up, we can suggest it. Lara, too, if she needs somewhere to stay."

"I hope she's okay," Weiss expressed, thinking about Lara. "Has Lara said anything to you, Ren?"

"I'm afraid not," he replied, shaking his head. "Even when Taiyang and I cleaned her wounds, she kept staring into space. And she hadn't woken up this morning."

That's bad...

"Shit," Jaune cursed, snapping Dodo's reigns. "We'll figure it out later."

...

Returning to Beacon, much of the school was abuzz with activity. More and more kids were going out to handle jobs, returning all roughed up and dirty from their adventure. Several groups were bringing their friends back on stretchers or in the rear of wagons. Many immediately made their way to the infirmary as their first destination.

"These wounds don't look good," Sun remarked as he looked over another student.

The kid had half of his face covered by bloodied bandages. Going further down, much of his body on the right side appeared to be burnt by something. Not fire damage, but something very caustic. Sun guessed his flesh had been partially melted by acid.

He seemed to be stable, however. One of his friends, who wore wizard robes, appeared to have saved most of his flesh. The kid only lost the top layers of skin and maybe would lose his hand.

"This seems to be what Ozpin mentioned when only half of the students would make it to the end of the year," Weiss expressed from her observations.

"I think you're right," Jaune agreed, looking over the crowd for anyone in any immediate need of help. "Most of these look like flesh wounds or missing fingers and hands, though." The boy zeroed in on a group within the mass. "That's Cardin and his friends; I'll see you guys later." Jaune slid off Dodo, giving the reigns to Weiss as he slipped out of view.

"Then there were three..."

"It's fine," Ren said, checking on another student. "He might run across someone who needs healing."

Probably better for him to hang out here, then.

Travelling through Beacon, many students went to and from classes or returned to their dorms. However, nearing Oobleck's section of the school, alchemists and students alike were running between rooms. They carried barrels of tonics, spilling them as they lost their footing. A girl or two appeared from the doors leading out to the Emerald Forest, dashing to an adjacent chamber with a sack of freshly picked herbs.

The alchemy department appeared to be more of a beehive than a laboratory.

Ren led the way into Dr Oobleck's personal lab. There, books were opened on every surface, his students and staff worked tirelessly to mix fresh potions or make poultices, and Dr Oobleck was the centre of it all. He shouted orders to the next person who came to his attention, them running off back into the mess. He quickly altered a procedure to save time for more work. The man mixed chemicals and prepped a station in seconds for one of his assistants to take his place.

"Dr Oobleck, you seem busy today," Ren pointed out the obvious as he walked toward the man. His demeanour changed into a more light-hearted one, showing he was more casual around the doctor.

"Very, Mr Lie," Oobleck said, gesturing to the chaos around him.

"What's going on," Sun asked as he stepped to Ren's side. "Something big happening? Cause we saw a lot of injured kids out there."

"Oh, that's typical for this time of year," Oobleck replied as if it were nothing. "Lady Schnee proposed to Professor Ozpin that we stock up on any healing potions or poultices as a precaution. Usually, we have a decent stockpile in case of an accident or disaster, but she asked we triple that. So, now everyone in my department and volunteers from the student body are working around the clock. However, I can tell you came here searching for something else." He stepped to the side and into a desk nestled between two supporting pillars that acted as an office. Plopping down in his chair, the man's exhaustion seemed to become visible.

"Sorry to interrupt your work," Weiss began as she pulled out the enchantment scroll. Rolling it out, the spattered blood from yesterday's incident became obvious. "But, we needed this translated... We were given only a few runes before the previous expert we contracted was killed."

"Lime, I presume?"

"Yeah, Jaune kinda cut him in half," Sun confessed. "Then he got back up, and we don't know where he went."

"I've worked with the man in the past," Oobleck continued. "He was smart, but his issues with the thirst became too much to bear, so I cut ties with him. I apologise for you having to deal with him, but, like you said, he's challenging to kill, yet a terrible combatant. However, I heard from Lady Eleonore that you rescued a few girls he had been keeping as cattle."

"Yes, sir," Weiss confirmed. "We're keeping them in a makeshift infirmary until they are well enough. However, one of the girls might not be able to recover entirely..." Her words trailed off, implying more severe issues with Lara's mental state.

"I see; she might develop PTSD or an anxiety disorder, given she was trapped in a vampire den," Oobleck said to himself. He then looked back to the group. "I'll prepare some materials for you. It might be helpful for those girls. But, for you, I like to reward good deeds. Even if the kingdom has given you a reward for clearing a vampire den, I'll translate those documents for free."

Yes!

"Thanks, Dr Oobleck," Sun chirped.

"You're welcome, Mr Wukong," Oobleck replied, nodding to him. "We can put these matters to rest now. I have something else on my mind regarding one of the artefacts you recovered from the Silent King's domain."

"Which one," Ren inquired.

"The Silent King possessed two weapons," Oobleck listed, raising two fingers in gesture. "A staff and a sword. I want to take that sword off you."

"Why," Sun asked in reply with a raised eyebrow. "Something special about it?"

Jaune said it was broken. No more enchantments on it. Just a sweet sword.

"It's a part of Valean heritage," Oobleck cried out, thinking it was apparent to his students. "That sword is Vale's history! I believe it belongs in a museum." He stood up and walked back to a safe behind him. Putting in a key and dialling a code, he unlocked it and grabbed a small sack from inside. "But, I won't take it for free. You put a lot of work into retrieving it, so I will make an offer you can't possibly refuse for it not to fall into a private collection." Dr Oobleck set the sack on his desk, gesturing for the trio to look inside.

In this bag was a bunch of diamonds. All varied by their weight and size, some cut and uncut. Sun even saw a few pink diamonds scattered around the bag. This had to be worth some serious gold.

Does he just have a buncha diamonds lying around?

Now that he thought of it, these professors had to be swimming in gold. They were the best of the best in their fields. That came with the years of adventuring and studying where they would have accumulated considerable wealth. Even if it didn't seem like it, just by Dr Oobleck dropping these diamonds, he had to be rich just to have that much gold to throw around.

"How much are these worth," Weiss asked before accepting.

"Fifteen thousand lien," Oobleck declared. "I had them appraised by a gemologist, so I'm sure of their value."

"We can definitely use these to pay some guys to fix up the manor, right," Sun put forward to his friends.

"I am tired of tearing rotten wood from the walls," Ren admitted, side-looking Weiss.

"If it means we'll have the coin to pay for it, I'm in," Weiss voiced her opinion.

"I'm pleased you made this choice," Dr Oobleck expressed with a smile. "I'll pick up the sword later. In the meantime, you three can get back to repairing your manor." He reached into his desk and handed the group a stack of papers. "These are the documents certifying the value of the diamonds. I'm sure they'll be of use to you."

Yes, we can finally hand this thing off to someone else!

[Jaune]

Moving between the many injured students populating Beacon's gate, Jaune found Cardin, Sky, Russel, and Dove dragging themselves towards the school. The group appeared to have gotten into a serious fight, bearing many bruises or bandages covering bloodied wounds. Behind them, a crowd of knights who had been with them stumbled into the courtyard.

What the hell did they get themselves into?

When the group spotted Jaune, they slowly made their way to him, holding out a hand and dropping a few bags of gold into his own. After paying him, they continued on their way back to the dorms. Each was silent and likely reflecting on their encounter. When Jaune tried to get their attention, they ignored him and kept walking.

"Hey, what happened," Jaune asked in a raised voice.

"You were right about those fucking goblins, dude," Sky spoke in a low voice. Every breath he took was raspy and strained. His right arm was in a sling, and a bandage was wrapped above his brow.

Goblin attack?

"We were escorting a trade caravan to the White Mountains up north," Dove, in the best condition, explained. "Brought a crew with us to keep it safe because they were hauling some pretty valuable stuff. Then halfway there, we got jumped by a goblin tribe."

"Never seen so many of 'em," Russel uttered, on the verge of collapsing. "There was like two hundred, easy."

"Job was done, but we lost a lot of the caravaneers," Dove continued. "Most of us barely broke through when we got swarmed. I think one of the guys we brought with us got pulled down. Russel took a spear to the leg. A big one tore Sky's arm out of its socket. Cardin got the crap beat out of him by two of them."

Shit... There's probably more out there.

"Did you bring any girls with you," Jaune asked in a dead-serious tone. "Any in the caravan?"

"No," Cardin groaned through the bandages wrapped around his mouth. His entire face was swollen and bloody. Both eyes had burst blood vessels. He didn't wear a shirt, only sporting dressings tied around his midsection and shoulder where he got stabbed several times.

"Why?"

"Follow me; I'll tell you when we're at my place."

...

"What the fuck," half the guys yelled in shock as the truth of the matter became revealed.

Dove bent over in a nearby bush and puked his guts up. Cardin had to sit down and breathe, falling to the ground as his legs failed him. Only Sky and Russel stood, bearing unsettled expressions as to what they had just learned.

"Is that true," Russel shouted. "You gotta be fucking with us!"

"Ask Professor Port; he'll confirm it," Jaune replied, watching the boys as he leaned against a nearby tree. "I saw it for myself for the first time back on an expedition to the Pantan Swamps. It's worse than you think when you're in person."

"Holy shit," Sky yelled off into the forest. He began pacing back and forth, overcome with anxiety just from hearing this information.

"How many goblins got away," Jaune asked. "Did you thin them out at least?"

"Y-Yeah, one or two ran off," Dove spoke up, teary-eyed with snot running down his face. "W-We got the rest..."

"Good, local soldiers can handle the rest if you told them," Jaune concluded. "A nest that large wouldn't be ignored. But you guys need to get it together; we got some girls here that we just rescued from a vampire den. I don't want to scare them anymore."

Taking nearly an hour to run its course, the boys could summon enough strength to leave the treeline. However, Jaune could tell the news weighed heavy on them. Luckily, they discovered it from another person before seeing it for themselves. They could mentally prepare themselves that way.

Walking the last mile down the road, Jaune noticed a few more people had come onto the property. Brawnz and May were followed by two more teens about their age. One was a green-eyed dark-skinned teen sporting dreadlocks secured by golden rings at the tip. The other was a dark-red-haired boy with pink eyes and fair skin.

Roy and Nolan?

"Hey, we got the goods; where do you want 'em," Brawnz said with a wave and smile to Jaune.

"By the fountain, we can get them inside," Jaune replied in an equally pleasant tone.

"Cool, Nolan, do your thing," Brawnz said to the pink-haired boy.

With a nod, Nolan appeared to cast a spell. A pink aura emanated from his hands, ensnaring the produce and lifting it out of the cart. He strained as he lifted hundreds of pounds into the air, but he managed to swing the stack over near the front entrance once he gained complete control. As he dropped everything there, Nolan let out a huge breath.

"Are you a mage," Ruby excitedly asked, having witnessed everything from the side. "That's pretty cool! I've only seen Jaune over there try that with lead bullets!"

"Ehe, not sure," Nolan replied nervously, rubbing the back of his head. "Haven't really figured it out..."

"We're between sorcerer and mage right now," May further explained. "None of the books we have say anything concrete."

"Oooo, you need to talk to our friend Cinder; she's probably the best with magic out of all of us," Ruby suggested.

The conversation trailed away as Jaune guided the knights over to the cottage. There, he placed the magic anvil inside the house along with most of his forging equipment. A few benches here and there served as the seats for the more injured members of the group.

"Nice place," Russel complimented as he laid across a bench. "Who'd you have to fight for it?"

"A thousand lien," Jaune said as he counted through the coin he'd been given. "Pretty good for an escort mission..." He then pocketed the gold. "A mutated old Valean in a giant underground city. Nearly killed Ruby and Pyrrha, but we got the cash to pay for the mansion."

"Holy crap, dude," Dove uttered in surprise. "Old Valean's?"

"You wanna see what happened to them," Jaune asked, reaching to grab a notebook off a table. "I got some stuff on them. They were being magically controlled by their undead king." Jaune turned to the entry and presented it to them. "There are pictures if you want a visual. Look over it while I get some work done on your armour."

Cardin and his group poured over the writings as Jaune started his forge. Over the next several hours, he pounded steel while they looked through bestiaries. Anything on monsters was studied comprehensively.

[Ruby]

"And that's what happened," Ruby ended, riding Ash to their neighbour's farm. "So, we have three girls hanging out at our house."

"You guys get into a lot of trouble," May commented, sitting on the back of her cart.

"We're not any better, May," Roy argued in a deep, very smooth voice, holding the reigns on their own horse. "You remember when we stole that chest in Shade?"

"Don't remind me..."

"I almost spent the next four years in jail because of it," Nolan whined. "Don't forget that!"

I guess we have an equal number of criminals in our groups.

"Anyway~," May continued, looking to Roy and Nolan to cease that tangent. "What books didya bring?" Her lips curled back into a smile in anticipation.

"I gotta bunch, freshly snagged from the library," Ruby chirped, whipping the book she was about to lay the smackdown on May with. "There was something new that a guy who calls themself 'Oriole' was working on, so I couldn't get that. Supposed to be coming out soon, I heard."

"That's enough for me," May replied. "Hard enough getting books out here. Even worse, scraping the gold together to buy them."

Yeah, so expensive... Even the cheap ones are a few hundred lien.

Ruby had books her father had bought when she was little that were torn apart from years of abuse by a young child. They were so expensive that buying a bunch was not really argued for. That was despite them being well off by most people's standards.

"Should we leave you two alone for a while," Roy quipped with a grin stretching across his lips.

May punched him in the shoulder hard.

"Ow, I get it..."

Breaching the farm's treeline, someone appeared to be at the house. A young girl about their age sat on the front porch, seemingly waiting for their arrival. She wore a Valean dress in two parts, a puffy-shouldered white blouse with flared cuffs, a green skirt with emerald frills and a black abdominal piece secured by four golden buttons. Her long ginger hair tied with a black ribbon swayed back and forth in the wind.

"May," the girl called out, jumping up and down as she spotted them.

"Hey, it's Penny," Nolan remarked as he waved to her.

"I have an idea," May said to herself as they approached the house. "Hey, Penny. What's going on?"

The girl dashed down the hill to greet them. Every move she made was charged with an excitement similar to what Ruby possessed. When she slid to a stop at the cart, Penny beamed up at them with an absolutely precious and innocent smile.

"May is this one of your new friends," Penny asked outright, looking past May to Ruby.

"Yeah, we were gonna hang out today," May confirmed with a nod.

"Ohh, I see," Penny exclaimed, turning to Ruby. "Then, if you are friends with May, can I also be friends with you?" She cocked her head to the side slightly, giving that feeling when a puppy looked up to you.

"Yep," Ruby replied without missing a beat. The direct nature of the request didn't even click in her mind. Just the offer was enough for her to accept. "Ruby Rose. I'm an adventurer!"

"From Beacon, I presume," Penny asked.

"That's right," Ruby confirmed. "I also do some forging stuff on the side with my group. They made this awesome set of armour for me when I was out for an injury!"

"Yeah, and I wanted to talk about that," May interjected, looking to Penny. "Penny, Ruby and her friends work with magic tools for a lot of the stuff they do. You want to show her Pietro's lab?"

Penny's eyes widened in realisation of May's intentions. "Yes, I would love to show her Father's lab," she cheerfully expressed. "You have to see it, Ruby! I think Father is there right now."

Sounds awesome!

"Let's go; I'll follow you," Ruby said, forgetting the entire point of coming to the farm in the first place.

...

The location Penny and May brought Ruby was similar to Saexhollow. The village that once belonged to the Torchwick Estate was a small grouping of buildings at the centre of acres of farmland. Though the homes were constructed from wattle and daub, they were finely built, beautiful structures in this ideal Valean village. Some were even being upgraded with stone walls towards the main square of the hamlet.

Leading Ruby to a house in that square, Penny revealed her home. It was a modest three-story structure crafted from timber in the Altstadt style. Beyond that, it was unremarkable. There were no signs posted indicating it was a lab or anything outside of it, just being a house.

"You're gonna love this," May said with great confidence, smiling in preparation for what Ruby was about to see.

Penny unlocked the front door and pushed the entrance open. Inside, it was like a dream come true. Ruby's jaw dropped when she laid eyes on the inside.

There were diagrams of weapons or machines posted against the walls or on tables everywhere. Metal constructs resembling a person were laid out on a table. Magic items brimming with energy were hung on tool racks. Further in the back, an alchemical laboratory was bubbling with a new potion or brew in progress.

"I've never seen some of this stuff," Ruby squealed, dashing over to the metal construct. "Is this some kind of golem?!"

"No, young lady, I like to call it a man of iron," a voice spoke from around a corner. "Far more sophisticated than a mere golem..."

Ruby turned to see a dark-skinned elderly man come from a back room. He did not walk but, in fact, was carried by a chair supported by metal spider-like legs. When their eyes met, the old man smiled and nodded to the girl.

"I'm Pietro Polendina," he said in an ageing voice. "Penny's father." He gestured behind him to an old woman sitting in a rocking chair in the corner. "The young lady behind me is Maria. She showed up one day, and we couldn't get rid of her."

"Shut up, you old fart," Maria replied in a tone of faux indignation. "You like me too much to get rid of me!"

"Your lab is awesome, Mr Polendina," Ruby complemented as she examined a schematic. "Are you a mage? You have to be some sort of magic class to do this kind of stuff."

"Father is an artificer," Penny explained. "He can infuse items with magic or bring machines to life."

He's a tinkerer too...

"Then I have to ask you about something," Ruby continued, grabbing a piece of paper from her side.

This parchment contained the cutout workings of a spherical metal receptacle. Inside, Ruby had roughly drawn loosely packed Dust shards at the centre with a layer of the lead bullets lining the container's interior. The only piece missing was something to set off a blast in a controlled manner.

"What's that," May asked, cocking her head to the side as she looked over Pietro's shoulder.

"It seems to be a bomb of some kind," Pietro said as he adjusted his glasses. "Everything seems quite accurate here. The Dust exploding would propel the ball bearings and the outer shell in all directions. What you're missing is a fuse."

"She could use Dust packed in a paper tube wrapped with cotton," Penny suggested. "You would not need to light it. Simply crushing the fuse would be enough. Or we could use a spring-loaded pin to activate the fuse."

Holy crap, she knows her stuff!

"Then the problem is solved," Pietro declared with a smile. "You girls are welcome to use my materials to craft a prototype. I wish to see the end result!"

"This sounds like more fun than the books right now," May expressed, looking to her friends. "Wanna see what we can cook up?"


So, we have found Penny. Ruby and her new friends are basically running the anarchist's cookbook in Pietro's house.