Disclaimer: I own nothing of RWBY.
Jaune Arc embraced the deafening silence.
No one in the auditorium cheered. Not a person spoke or whispered. Silence, heart-thumping, blood-churning, hair-raising silence greeted him and Headmaster Ozpin as he announced that he and only he had passed initiation. Some probably thought of it as nothing but a joke, a farce to Beacon Academy's academic standing, but when Ozpin concluded the ceremony by clasping his hand, well, teenagers were best at gossiping and spreading untrue rumors.
It wasn't his fault.
The goal for initiation had been simple enough. Retrieve the Relic and escape Emerald Forest. Easy. Could people blame him for being the only one to conclude that those chest pieces were, in fact, Relics? Why else would they be sitting there in the middle of a Grimm invested forest? The others hadn't. No, they chased and slaughtered those Grimm in an attempt to find a Relic chewed between those monsters' jaws. He forgot whose idea it was, maybe that Nora girl? Sounded about right, she had ridden in by mounting a Grimm bear hybrid. Craziness and her mixed together like cranberry and apple juice. Technically all juice mixed well together. Either way, he remembered grabbing a chest piece and hightailing it out of there with the others mowing down Grimm after Grimm.
In all honesty, he had expected to fail once initiation ended, not be the only one to pass.
Everyone staring in the audience must have thought the same, still quiet as mice. Gulp! He experimentally waved his hand, only for hush whispering to begin. Life spurned anew, except it wasn't mindless drivel. Okay, new plan. Turn around and escape before things turn from bad to worse. He turned, offered the Headmaster a weak smile, and walked off stage with his back turned to the judgmental stares. Every one of his hairs raised in fear.
Headmistress Goodwitch was kind enough to show him to his new room but never offered a word in-between. Just peachy for him, he spent the unnerving silence thinking about his circumstances. Things only fit into perspective when he entered the four-bedroom room. Two dressers, four beds, a luscious closet? When she left, it finally clicked. A team, a team of four no less, was supposed to be part of the Beacon experience, hence why some of the chest pieces matched, or why everyone turned into a mismatched mess when Ozpin announced his residential status. Ironic. Now nothing greeted him but a cold room with too much empty space. What a change from a household of ten.
A bitter smile graced his lips when he dropped his family heirloom on the nearest bed. Eyes without light inspected the closet, hoping to hear some resonating sound. Not to say he wasn't overjoyed because he was, passing was his goal from the start, but knowing others deserved this room way more left an ashy taste on his tongue. Call it guilt, but upon seeing their faces when Ozpin revealed that they didn't pass struck a cord right where his heartstrings laid, especially that Ruby girl. All of them had appeared crushed in their own special way.
Oh well, no point in fussing over it now.
After all, this was what he wanted, right, to be a student at Beacon to live his dream and become a Huntsman worthy of the Arc name, like his father and his father before him. He left home for that very reason, against his parent's wishes. So what if some people failed, there was always next year for them. Not every one passed on the first try. Until then, he could only move forward with his dream. Still, pleasant thoughts aside, having three other empty beds in the room killed the mood effortlessly and made celebrating all the more depressing. What was the point in rejoicing when no one was around to share with the festivities?
Jaune sat down on an empty bed, staring woefully at his resting sword.
"Welcome to Beacon Academy."
The first day of classes went as well as anybody expected.
A mixture of students fluttered into their rooms with Jaune being the only first-year mixed in a class of second and third-years. Grimm Studies was as riveting as watching paint dry, except, well, some people enjoyed watching paint dry. Dust class led to many accidental burns and explosions, but presumably, that was commonplace, still didn't make the subject matter any simpler to handle. He never used Dust, much less interacted with the glowing rocks, so the learning experiences were something else. History bored him, but at least he understood something for once. Already it overshadowed his previous two classes, but when it came to combat class, things tilted.
Professor Goodwitch ushered him out of the room before he made it in within two steps. Something about him lacking the fighting prowess—from observations she noted during his initiation—to combat against higher years. So he asked about class, and she pushed him toward the training arena to practice, and that was to be his combat class from here on out. Grades depended on how many bots he managed to defeat versus how many pummeled him to the ground by the end of the semester. He thanked his lucky stars for such a break, knowing his lack of training would make him stand out, that was until he fought against a level-one training bot.
It wiped the floor with him.
Thank Oum no one was around to witness that with classes going on. His body hurt from being tackled to the floor by a hunk of metal and wiring. Bruises formed with his breathing shot, and hair in disarray, but Aura fixed most of the injuries, minus his damaged pride. Huh? Aura? The vanishing injuries greeted him warmly. He never said thank you to that Pyrrha girl for unlocking his Aura, did he? Next time he saw her, he would. Until then, Jaune pulled Crocea Mors out of the floor, frowning at the level-one bot mocking him. To lose to the lowest settings hurt in more ways than one, and Jaune knew he lacked training, but seriously, the level-one? No! Stop thinking like that, and try again. He made it to Beacon, that was the hardest part. Fighting this toy should be child's play, or so he thought.
A second fight ended with the same results.
When he picked up Crocea Mors from the floor a second time, covered in greater bruises, he sighed and headed straight for the Mess Hall once his Scroll beeped for dinner. There was nothing wrong with losing. He made sure to repeat that mantra when playing with his food. Not like he had anything else to distract him with how lonesome the empty table was. For a Mess Hall brimmed with an abundant of students, it sure got lonely. The wandering eyes, hushed voices, and undiluted gossip assuredly isolated him from everyone else, a stranger alone in a room filled with faceless figures, but they beat walking back to an empty room.
"Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet."
It was the only thing keeping him going.
Beyond the isolation, and wayward glances, it was all he had. He smiled for no one, talked to no one, nor hung out with anyone. Nobody wished to associate themselves with a first-year, especially not him, too many rumors circulated about him. Some of the more outlandish ones focused on him being the sole reason that all those students failed, sabotage or something along those lines, others thought of him a Faunus, and one said he was the son of Glynda Goodwitch, consequently why he passed, and everyone else failed, including Pyrrha Nikos. All of them were ridiculous, bizarre to a fault, but they each helped to keep people at arm's length. So between classes, lunch, breakfast, and dinner, and after classes, he sat alone at the tables with everybody else avoiding him like the yellow plague.
None of it mattered.
He would prove them all wrong, not just the rumors, but the doubts plaguing his mind. All he needed was confidence, good thing he already had plenty of that before leaving his home. Things wouldn't remain the same forever. They must change. By being the only one to pass, he felt compelled to change, to see it through to the end. If that required him to be a loner until the next semester, then so be it. Not like he had much choice in that regard, leaving him only with option B, make something of himself. A miserable sigh escaped him.
Ha! Easier said than done.
Confidence only got him so far. Maybe it got his foot in the door, but beyond that, well, the rest was up to him. Grades, training, appearances and everything else demanded sacrifice. Becoming a Huntsman required more. Confidence maybe only got him so far, but it bred courage in the darkest of times. Courage pushed the weak to fight back. It made him tackle that test without training. He knew from the moment he passed how lucky he got. Jaune Arc was soft compared to his upperclassmen. Heck! Compared to the people during initiation, he was but a child in their presence. All those things they did, those crazy moves and unmatched strength, showed him how much he needed to learn, to grow. Whelp, confidence and courage would help him overcome these obstacles. Time to take his studies more seriously! Time to prove everyone wrong.
Loading up on carbs, he wolf downed his meal in record time before heading straight for the library. Self-loathing would have to wait. Their first test on Grimm studies was this Monday, followed by an exam on the Iron Age, and he planned to pass and hang those on the door, anything to give the desolate room more life. A little confidence could go a long way.
Besides, it wasn't like he had any friends to distract him.
After losing to that level-one training bot for a week straight, Jaune finally had enough and banged his fists hard into the floor. That little voice in his head told him not to give up, and that worked well enough for studying, but training physically proved to be a different challenge. A lack of experience made compensating for it now an nearly impossible wish. He said almost because he managed to land a strike or two on the training bot. So progress, slow, but progress nonetheless.
Huffing, he reached for his sword and shield, getting into a position he remembered his father adopting, waiting for the bot to resume. His breathing haggard between each breath, but he met the machine's incoming strike with undaunted bravery. Sword met metal pole. Muscles strained against a consistent output. Feet tightened with the pole upturning to shift his blade into an awkward angle. Then, before the edge of his opponent's weapon met the side of his head, he ducked and swung his shield upward, landing a blow on the bot's chin, following up with a strike across its torso and then kick to its stomach, only for the machine to grab him by the hoodie and toss him to the floor.
By the time he opened his eyes, he had a weapon aimed at his neck. Surprise, surprise. Another loss, but he rejoiced at landing three strikes on the bot's body, one more than two, and better than when he first started, a grand accomplishment for a dolt like him. Still, made him wish that he had trained with his family, instead of wasting his youth doing nothing. Having someone to practice with would be an Oumsend, but only determination and dedication accompanied him, and he pushed the pole away to get into another battle stance.
The bot merely waited for ten seconds before charging forward, aiming a pole strike for his lower abdominal. He met the stroke, sliding his shield against the pole as sparks flew. Crocea Mors then moved diagonally down, only to be countered by the blunt end of the weapon, pressing his sword upward with the pole coming in for a swift-strike directed for his neck. He leaned back, narrowed his eyes upon the armament missing, and dropped his shield. One arm reached out and grabbed the steel staff, and the other posed Crocea Mors right at the droid's neck. A calm atmosphere filled the empty training room, and the bot's eyes lit up, dropping all pretense of attack.
Suddenly, he was thrown off his feet, landing on the floor from a surprised sweep kick, and had the pole once again hovering over his neck before he had time to breathe. Emotionless eyes stared down at his dropped form, never judging him. Despite the situation, he laughed. He laughed harder than he ever had ever since entering this academy. Again, slow progress, but progress. Reaching for his shield, he now stood up with a tiny smirk, time to put this level-two to the test and improve.
Whatever it took to stay out of that empty room.
Coming back to an empty room with no one to talk to was starting to get to him. He needed to talk to someone. Anyone! The training bot so far was his only companion. How sad was that? No. No, no! Jaune refused to accept that, pacing around the room with his feet digging into the carpet. Calling his family was out of the question, but other than that, and that old lady who paid him five liens to mow her lawn every other Saturday, he had no other contacts on his Scroll. He stopped pacing. Well, no, that wasn't entirely true, he managed to receive Ruby's Scroll number right before initiation, but what were the chances she might want to talk to him? Hell! What were the chances she even remembered his face? Still couldn't hurt to try.
Flipping over to her contact, he typed a quick message before heading out to class.
Hey Ruby, how's it going? Beat up any bad guys lately?
Perfect. Straight to the point. Smiling, Jaune paused at the doorway to appreciate the B's poking back at him from the aged wood. Heh, they added some character to this dull room. Too bad most of the walls lacked the pizazz the door had, but he had plenty of time to change that. An hour later, between Grimm Studies and History, he received a message.
Jaune? Is that you? Oum, how's it going at Beacon?! Is it awesome! Please tell me it's awesome!
He couldn't wipe off his silly smile.
Fine, Beacon's tough. And yes, it's awesome. There are classes, and books, and so many tests to study for, and don't even get me started on Professor Port's lessons. If you've ever needed a class to take a nap in, that's the one.
I still can't believe you passed and I didn't! So unfair! I killed so many Grimm, but nooooo, that dumb chest piece had to be the Relic! My dad was so surprised when Yang and I returned home empty-handed. Grr!
Feeling bold, he smirked. You should've tried harder.
She replied with a tongue emoji before he walked into Doctor Oobleck's mile-a-minute lecture. Hiding his Scroll from his professor's eyes proved challenging, and he almost got caught once or twice, but the rewards outweighed the consequences. For the first time, he talked to someone—outside of the professors—and that made frowning an impossible feat. Somehow his anxieties got to her, relating to the nervous tummy, and she offered him a figurative pat on the head. Not the best motivation opener, but better than anyone else in this academy or his circle of family granted him.
At the end of the week, she sent him a photo of a cat hanging on a tree. It hung triumphantly over a bare bed, adding some flavoring to the comforters with the rays of sunshine making the eyes of the kitty poke out. It was tacky, cliché, and overall played out, but he hung it with pride.
Things were gradually starting to turn around.
No matter how he looked at it, tilted his head, squinted his eyes, or blinked, there was no denying that statue was of his great-great-grandfather.
Yup! Without a doubt his ancestor. Same hair, same sword, and the same sense of fashion. Unquestionably an Arc.
It made him laugh, not in the ha-ha way, but in the nervous, awkward grin when someone forgot a person's name type of way. All of his ancestors before him created a name for themselves by acting as heroes or amazing warriors during times of crisis, his father included. To see a statue of his distant ancestor in the middle of Beacon's courtyard made him forget to breathe. Not to say he wasn't proud, because he was, very much so to be part of the Arc family, except, well, living up to such a high legacy weighed down on his shoulders like cement in water. Pride made people attempt foolish things to fulfill their roles, like sneaking into Beacon Academy with fake transcripts.
Yeah, pride, the sin that made fools die early and heroes quicker.
Jaune sighed, dipping his feet into the brisk water. Most people ignored the oddity, either still wary of him or not caring. Whatever rumors that floated around died within the first three weeks, a blessing because he got tired of pretending he didn't notice the shushed stares, but every person venomously kept their distance. On the positive side, classes were simpler since he spent the majority of his time in the library or training room. The little victories mattered the most. Still, with Ruby at Signal, he received plenty of messages asking—demanding—he spilled what he learned so she could use the knowledge for when she retook the test. A double-edged sword. Ruby's thirst for knowledge practically forced him to listen to Professor Port's rambling and keep up with Doctor Oobleck's lectures. Thank Oum her proficiency in Dust matched his, or else she might have asked for a heads-up on that subject. Greetings, flammable Fire Dust.
Regardless of future second-degree burns, having someone to talk to eased the tension and made studying and training much smoother. Heh! Just yesterday he reached level-three on the training bot, only for the blasted machine to beat him in two seconds flat. Bruised pride, anyone? Eh, kicking his feet in the water, Jaune reached for his Scroll to check the time, noting he had a few hours before the library closed and maybe another hour before Ruby stopped sending him funny cat videos or the latest update on Weapons Magazine. When would she learn that he had no desire to upgrade Crocea Mors? Hello! Classic!
Sighing foolishly, he tossed his ancestor's statue one final glance before heading off toward the archives, feeling better about the whole ordeal of a family image and burdened expectations. A buzzing on his Scroll alerted him of a new message. A smile grew. Time to see what new photo Rubes sent him this time.
Huh, Jaune paused, studying the photo, a picture of Ruby snuggling up to a corgi with a bold caption written in doggy treats?
Sooner or later, he knew his luck had to end.
Professor Goodwitch demanded to see progression on his training, except she wanted him to show off his skills in Emerald Forest, against a flurry of Grimm since he avoided most of them during initiation. Something about testing out his aptitude and possibility of sparring with the second-years if he proved vital enough. Anyhow! None of the technicalities mattered, after classes ended, he found himself fighting a pack of Beowolves with his professor observing from a neutral distance.
The first few minutes had been utterly terrifying, and then they dulled when he killed his first Grimm, a Beowolf blacker than a lump of coal, and as aerodynamic as one.
Not the powerhouse he expected from a creature of darkness, one of humanity's greatest threats. Not weak per se, a threat, but not too challenging. Fair was the best word to describe the beast. Maybe a fluke? Perhaps he got lucky? The next Beowolf would surely keep him on his toes. This one had only been inexperienced, except the second and third fell to simplistic strikes when they leaped into mid-air, getting severed in half from having no guard up. The training bot would have shielded itself before attempting such a lousy tactic. Entertaining enough, he would have fallen for such a move during his first week at Beacon. Now a month and a half into his semester, he saw through the execution with experienced reflexes.
Then things changed when Beowolves with bone-plating started marking their fallen brethren's tracks.
Suddenly they moved with higher velocity but never lunged without their guard up. Claws connected against blade and skin, his Aura worked overtime to compensate for the wounds, muscles strengthened when needed, and his teeth gritted with his feet dug into the dirt. Humph! Now he knew why those first wave of Grimm were easy pickings.
"I guess there is a reason to pay attention to Professor Port's lessons."
The ones that had eagerly lunged at him were the runt of the litter. Newborns. No common sense whatsoever. He should have noticed this with their lack of bone armor. No wonder they lacked precision or style. He internally shrugged, oh well, less Grimm to fret over. Blocking a clawed strike aimed for his neck, by lifting his shield, Jaune thrust his blade forward and dug into the Grimm's stomach. He got shoved from behind, but drilled instincts made him roll to avoid the collision of black fur from above before he dashed forward and split the creature's neck from its spine. Blood splattered his cheeks, only for it to disperse, along with its ashy remains.
He huffed, finding only two more Grimm around. A quick sharp glance at the dissipating ash forced him to consider their threat level as he prepared for the last two. The common Beowolf was on average a level-two training bot, or so he believed. They fell equitably enough, going down between one to two slashes across the torso. Some moved faster while others needed more cuts to finish off the job, but level-two was where he concluded their strength. Such a discovery threw him into a loop as he dug his blade into the back of a grunting monster while shielding bashing another's jaw.
More ash, no more Grimm, victory belonged to him. His feet struggled to stay up. His body hackled between each breath, bruises and aches formed, yet none of it burdened him with doubt. He only glanced toward his professor when she cleared her throat, sitting on top of an Ursa Major's withering corpse.
Somehow Yang Xiao Long learned of his messages between Ruby and him.
Jaune only discovered this when he received a message from Ruby's Scroll while he read a book on his bed, a voice message, with a long and sing-songed hello that sounded nothing like Ruby's voice. More mocking with hints of undertoning mischief. Then he accepted a picture of a squirming Ruby stuck in a headlock, shaking her arms about as Yang smirked at the camera with Zwei wagging his tail in the background. She added a quick caption underneath, filtered with winking faces.
Oh, oh! So you're the reason Ruby's been extra-happy recently? Who would've guessed? She's been glued to her Scroll for weeks now, and here I thought she was fussing over some new weapon gizmo. Good to see ya, Vomit Boy! Hope Beacon's not kicking your butt too hard! Just wait until I get there!
Jaune blinked harmlessly at the message. He saw no problem with that, but evidently, Rubes had been keeping their back-and-forth a secret. Strange? All things considered, he saw why she hid it. He was an older brother by default, and he knew what to expect if he found his younger sisters talking to some boy. Trouble, plenty of it with threats or warnings guaranteed, but maybe being an older sister changed the rules because Yang sent him more winking faces instead of promises of pain.
Then she called him.
"Yoo-hoo! Hey, Vomit Boy! How's it going?!"
"Yang!" Ruby yelled in the background. He heard the struggle from the other end of Ruby's Scroll. "Gimme back my Scroll!"
"Ignore Ruby. She's got to learn to share during some point." Yang laughed. It sounded like she was running with her breathing heavily between each other word. "So come on, tell me. How's Beacon? What am I missing? It's got to be a snore-fest without me there."
He snorted, folding his arms in an instantly good mood. "You mean other than the tests and boring classes? Plenty! There's homework, too. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten Saturday detention because Ruby sends me some message right when Doctor Oobleck starts talking."
"History professor. Talks faster than you can write. Moves faster than Ruby. Prefers to be called doctor. He's very enthusiastic when it comes to history."
"Sounds like it." Yang chortled, grunting in the background. It sounded like a body tackled her to the floor. A struggle went on. "But you're saying Ruby's been messaging you between classes? Ha! Now I know why dad keeps saying she's been distracted during class. He works at Signal as one of the professors. You should meet him. He's a total dork."
"Yang!" Ruby cried, only for her to laugh uncontrollably from the other end. "Ah! Stop it!"
"Oops, my finger slipped." Yang huffed, out-of-breath. "Listen, I gotta go, but talk to ya later, Jaune."
Yang ended up sending him a pillowcase, as in a pillow in the shape of a briefcase. Weird and so out-of-place in this room, but it brightened up that corner he tended to stay away from, and made looking at the side more bearable. The poster on the wall helped with his good grades covering the door.
Bleakness gradually turned to color.
That picture book inside his head that made up convoluted ideas and plans.
For example, how to incorporate Dust into his skill set since he had yet to beat an opponent during Combat class. Professor Goodwitch rarely scolded him on his losses, using his first-year residency excuse as a reason for his terrible track record against a class of second-years, but her disappointment still hurt. Any rumors following after only threw salt into the wound, but he welcomed the backlash. Backlash made him act irrational, irrational made him turn innovative, and that led to his mind becoming more imaginative. So he carried around extra vials of Dust from Professor Peach's class and set his sights on level-four combat drones.
No one expected him to use Dust considering Crocea Mors allowed none of that within its weapon design, so he would have to improvise ways. Should throw them off-guard. Ha! Sounded simple enough, but nothing in this academy ever proved to be easy. Now, how to pull it off?
He owned no firearm to fire Dust rounds. His ancestor's blade revealed no hidden compartments, neither his shield. From what he learned in Dust class, after countless explosions and a mishap with Wind Dust blowing some girl's skirt up, Aura made Dust react. Adding Aura to his weapons might, possibly, a chance, maybe make the Dust respond if he found a way to implement it.
He shrugged. "Maybe it'll come to me when I'm fighting this bot?"
A level-four training bot patiently waited for him to cease his rambling before charging forward, weapon aiming for where his liver lived. He gripped the vial tightly in his hand, abandoning his shield to deflect the machine's strike by tilting Crocea Mors above his head. The droid quickly shuffled its feet, throwing a kick aimed for his chin, but he blocked that move by catching it with his palm, crushing the Dust in the process. Drat! Aura protected his hand from the shard of glass, but it still tanked to lose one of his vials so quickly.
He threw back the machine's foot, sprinkling Fire Dust into the air, before arching an Aura-charged slash for the bot's torso. It blocked easily enough, but a torrent of fire Dust infused in the air and burn marks appeared on the machine's chest from a wave of fire. Both the human and the robot stopped their fighting to stare down at the scorch marks on its chest, unsure how to react to fire spurting to life in the air.
The answer then came when specks of Fire Dust floated in Jaune's line-of-sight, some burning, others not. He stopped to catch some of the lingering ashes, blinking once as his imagination worked overtime as embers danced on his skin. Fingers gripped a second vial with Aura infused between his digits.
"Huh? Now that's an idea."
Jumping back, he threw a pepper pocket amount of Fire Dust at the bot, and swung his blade with Aura infused inside, creating an arc of fire from the impulse of the swing clashing with particles of floating Dust. Momentum carried the flaming arch, cooking the assault droid in a cataract of fire. He managed two more swings in, sending out a diagonal cross, draining the hovering specks before not enough remained for a fourth swing, except to burn like tiny embers in the air. Did create an impressive pose, minus the part where some of the flames landed on his sleeve and started to burn the fabric.
"Ow! Hot! Hot! Hot!"
Later, when he challenged a student during Combat class, no one expected a flurry of ice to appear in the air and hurl toward the unsuspecting fighter. When the second-year opened his eyes, he found Crocea Mors hovering over his neck with a grinning Arc holding a frozen handle.
Glynda Goodwitch proudly nodded at his first win.
Jaune Arc noticed the hushed whispers first.
That followed with the subtle stares and eerie silence he if so much as stopped walking in the Mess Hall. When he sat down to consume his lunch, he purposely slowed his chewing to listen. Not much made it to him, but some tables contained louder individuals than others, and soon his chewing stopped entirely for his eyes to grow and back to straighten.
A quick swallow later and he resumed eating, skeptical to the words getting thrown around. Strong? Interesting? Cute? He almost choked on his steak at that last one. Luckily most people thought it nothing more than eating too fast, but the Arc visibly sighed, using his forearm as a makeshift napkin.
A heavy fork stabbed into his steak. What happened? No, seriously, what the heck happened? Only yesterday rumors floated around about how useless he was in class, not deserving his spot here, but now some people thought he was this brave, robust person? Snort! He almost laughed at the irony, choking practically a second time with his utensil rested between his lips. Level-four training bots still gave him a difficult time. No way was he this impressive guy they conjured up in their minds. Another snort! Rumors sure jumped the shark at any given moment. Must be the short attention spans of gossip-hungry teenagers. Something that lost its appeal with seven sisters.
However, the minute he noticed one giving him a look, he regarded them all. Once someone's mind got set, it allegedly took hold like annoyingly catchy song lyrics. Hardly anything negative passed people's lips. Suspicion remained high, people weren't that easily swayed, but others started to offer him the benefit of the doubt. No more negative speculations or conspiracy theories, like being Glynda's son. He was merely Jaune Arc, only first-year to pass initiation this semester.
Whoa? He took a slow sip of his water. Who would have thought one win could create such a spur? Public opinion on him began turning almost overnight. Suddenly, it wasn't look over there but look over there, look at the only first-year sitting alone.
Okay, he needed to cool off before this all got to his head. Overconfidence led to the downfall of many great warriors, something he read in his studies. Even Professor Port and Doctor Oobleck warned him of too much spirit. So he swiftly got up, threw away his leftovers, and headed for the training room to hopefully destroy a few level-four bots.
There were people in the training room, a bummer, but he pressed onward and challenged the nearest training droid to a spar. Unluckily, two noticed his attention and confronted him simultaneously. Oh boy! Crocea Mors blocked one staff with his shield halting the other. He thought about calling off the fight, but his grip on both his armaments tightened, and he landed a kick on the machine holding his sword in place, freeing Crocea Mors. An attempted slash aimed for the droid's next, except the robot maneuvered back to avoid his strike.
Tch! He reached for a vial of Fire Dust in his pocket, prepared to throw it into the air, but the second bot reached him and punctured the bottle with machine-like precision. An ignition shook the room with a shield falling from the ceiling, but no Jaune Arc. Optic sensors searched for his body, unable to locate his mass in the risen temperature. Then a figure landed behind the toys, slashing a heated blade across their necks with edges of his hair scorched.
The first-year sighed, pinching out the flames on his hair as skin retained a healthy glow. Aura! What a lifesaver! One of the droids heads rolled toward another person, and they stepped on it, looking between him and the downed machines. Time stopped, not a word got spoken, then, to his everlasting surprise, the second-year offered him a thumbs up with a stretched smirk, and he only exchanged an awkward grin.
Not an awful way to start his Saturday.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
Groan! Jaune shifted aimlessly in his bed, covering his head with a pillow. Who called this early on a Sunday? Just ignore it until they stopped calling. Yeah, a solid plan, patent pending. When the beeping finally ceased, he felt no remorse for missing the call, figuring he would get a message or call back later, and drifted off back into dreamland, for all but five seconds.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
"Fine, fine! You win!" Jaune threw the pillow at the wall and reached out to snatch his Scroll off his desk, yawning as he rubbed the Sandman's dust from his eyes. "Hello?"
A pause on the other end.
"Hello? What? That's it? Didn't anyone teach you any manners? You're supposed to address who is speaking on the other line as you answer a Scroll. The proper etiquette is Hello, Jaune Arc speaking, may I ask who's calling?"
He blinked once, twice, and made sure to pinch himself on the arm before tweaking his voice. "... Snow Angel?"
"Don't call me that! It's Weiss Schnee."
A third blink, another pinch, this time on the cheek. When he failed to wake up, he glanced out his window. "Not to say this isn't a pleasant surprise, but why are you calling me? How'd you even get my Scroll number? I don't remember handing it out to you."
"I have many connections, Jaune, agents that will remain anonymous—!"
"Was it Ruby?"
"Don't interrupt me!" Weiss paused, sounding like she was pouting on the other line. Such an easy concept to imagine that it made him automatically smile. "But yes."
"I didn't even know you were still talking to Ruby. I thought you hated her?"
She ignored him entirely. "As we're talking, a package should be arriving at your door any moment with a very significant pamphlet."
Right on cue, a precise knock rhythmed on his door. When he went to answer it, with the Scroll still connected, no one was on the other side with only a bare hallway to welcome him. Only a single pamphlet greeted him, taped to his door. Cautiously, he removed the booklet from the door, tilting his head as he read the title out loud.
"Dust for Dummies?"
"You know, I have a Dust class."
He envisioned the head shaking. "Insufficient. That pamphlet will teach you safety Dust protocols. The instructor you have has been known to throw caution out the window. I should know, I looked her up."
He balanced his Scroll on his shoulders, flipping through the brochure. "Not to poke holes, but why are you doing this? You know, calling me, helping me? I know you didn't think of us as friends. You made that clear from the start."
She sighed. "Ruby's mentioned your hazard use of Dust, apparently you like to boast, and if something were to happen to you because of your mishandling, then I wouldn't hear the end of it. This is purely for my benefit. Now, stop dilly-dallying and read the pamphlet!"
"Okay, okay, sheesh!" Jaune flipped through the pages, frown impossible to stop. "Aw! It says you shouldn't consume Dust. Whelp, there goes my fire-breathing idea."
The other end of the line grew quiet, and he feared Weiss might have hung up, but a bitter tone huffed. "... How you ended up passing and I failing is a greater mystery than why Dust doesn't work past the stratosphere."
"You should've tried harder."
"Watch it, Arc, I know where you live."
"Yeah, at Beacon Academy."
A second package arrived later in the day with a pair of fluffy drapes and a couple of belt holsters to carry Dust. How she knew his size, he would never know.
Legs propped up, shoulders squared, Jaune Arc rested his back against a cozy corner with his head deep into some fine literature.
The library became his second home during his first week at Beacon, but it slowly turned into a sanctuary. Most wandering eyes and whispers stayed away from the archives, too grave of a place for gossip. Must be related to the librarian, a frail old woman who wasn't afraid to use her two-foot ruler to smack people on the side of the head. Everyone feared the supreme ruler.
Truthfully, the need to hide in the library somewhat dwindled with the rumors working for him than against him, but he had grown accustomed to the smell of shag carpet and worn paperback. Well? If he was talking perfectly honest, now that people borderlined toward curiosity, rather than disgust, it made reading an arduous chore. Restless eyes raised the hairs on his neck. Whispers made concentrating a feeble dream. By now he would have thought people would have something new to talk about, but alas, anything newsworthy never happened in a hormonally-filled, superpowered academy.
Not to say he blamed them, because nothing strange, wacky, or weird happened around this place. Nothing exciting at least. Made studying a leisure activity. Too bad he lowered the book in disgust. Every once in awhile, when the reading became dull and lifeless, and the words refused to stick, he craved to read some comics. X-ray and Vav, how he missed those, but excellent grades didn't earn themselves. Look at his door. That all took blood, sweat and tears. No one was around to hold his hand if he slacked off. No, couldn't have that getting him expelled, not after he made it this far.
Back to reading.
Five minutes later, and he shut the book closed. Sigh. Studying for history tests was the worst. Professor Port's class was hardly any better, but the subject material could be interesting to read, more so since it involved killing Grimm, but this, this was dry! He would much rather be downstairs, challenging his newly acquired level-five training bot. Getting the stuffing beat out of him had to be more amusing than reading about the Gold Age. Chatting with Yang or Ruby also popped into his mind, but fought against such a temptation, knowing once either of them started that he might as well forget about studying altogether. Hn? Something needed to change.
A different plan was in order.
He raised his head to peek around the room. Huh? Except for when people glanced away from him, nothing caught his attention, yet his mind remained jumbled? Perhaps a change in scenery might put his subconscious at ease? As much as he hated to say, and it felt like he was stabbing a trusted ally on the back, the library's once inviting atmosphere had dipped in quality. White walls became somewhat too much to support, hardwood chairs lost their glow, countless books remained distant, and the stillness slowly turned restless. Things changed. He laughed bitterly. Just like he wanted, right? For things to change?
He got up, went to the front desk, and checked out the books he needed for next week's exam. Besides, his once empty room carried a more vibrant color.
Jaune cleaned his ears to make sure he heard Ozpin right.
"What? Sorry, I must've heard you wrong? Did you say mission?"
"Correct, all freshman must participate in a few missions. It is a standard procedure."
Yup, functional ears, a clean bill of health—wait just a flying rug minute! Mission! No, no, no, Jaune stubbornly threw his hands out in protest, the Headmaster must have forgotten he was a one-man play. No one else was around to tag along on a mission. Yes, a mistake, a fuddy-duddy, their poor Headmaster must work too hard. Remembering that he was team-less was asking too much. He would politely show him the errors of his way.
"Isn't that done with teams? As in four people, not one, ergo me?"
Ozpin never batted an eye. "It would be for a rather gruesome assignment, but yours focuses on mitigating a population of Grimm. Should be straight forward enough. Expel an excess of Grimm until travel is fit safe for travelers."
Red alert! Okay, common sense and Ozpin must be miles apart. Jaune must calmly apply reason to this situation before things got out of hand. "Not to be that guy, but it still sounds like a team exercise. Can't I do something else, like clean up the teacher's lounge or help an old lady across the street?"
"I believe you are underestimating your potential."
"I believe you're underestimating how many streets there are in Vale."
"We cannot break tradition."
Arms got thrown up. "You broke it for me! I'm a leader without a team!"
"I did not break it for you." Ozpin smoothly countered. He sipped a velvety ounce of chocolate. "You were the only one to pass. My hands were tied."
"You could've untied them."
Ozpin raised a brow from the edge of his mug. "And break my word, impossible. A Huntsman is only as good as their word. You, of all people, know that better than anyone, Mr. Arc. Besides, I've been informed by Professor Goodwitch that you are remarkably resourceful, earning victories against your higher peers. It would be a waste of your talents to have you coped up inside, cleaning the coffee maker."
Giving up, he kicked imaginary dirt. "Can't I at least do the mission some other time, when I'm more ready?"
"We cannot break tradition."
"I'm starting to hate that word."
Ozpin simpered from the edge of his beverage. "Welcome to Beacon Academy. Enjoy your stay. Now, you best get packing. You leave tomorrow morning on daybreak. Your mission ends in two days, and the greater quantity of Grimm you slay, the higher the rewards."
He blinked. Rewards? "Wait, wait, wait, I'm getting paid for this?"
Ozpin mimicked the blink. "But of course, how else do Huntsmen obtain lien? Rewards for your services are common in this line of business. Everyone has to eat. Please remember, Mr. Arc this is a mission, not an assignment. Do not treat it as such. Your life's on the line, not a piece of paper with an arbitrary grade. This is what you signed up for when attending my academy."
Yikes! Well, when he put it like that, Jaune felt silly for arguing. Being a Huntsman, or a Huntsman-in-training, entailed he go on missions and slay Grimm. Thinking otherwise was foolheartedly. Who had time for sleepovers or walking old ladies across the street? Someone had to make sure there was a street.
"I guess I have no choice, I mean, it is tradition."
"Between you and I, I hate that word, too."
Another Beowolf howled in agony as a sword dug into its shoulder blades.
Jaune left his blade embedded within the dying beast, monitoring the area for anymore Grimm. He wiped his forehead once he noticed no more stragglers, grabbing the handle to twist his weapon, before freeing it from the flesh of a rotting carcass. He sat on the nearest rock, resting his sword and shield between his legs as he took a well-earned breather. Two days he had been out here, in some unknown forest, near a forgettable settlement, slaying Beowolves with the occasional Ursai. The wolves weren't much of a threat, level-three combat drones put up a better fight, but he despised fighting those bears, nothing but muscle on those creatures, made stabbing major organs difficult. Sometimes he blindly hacked-and-slashed it.
Part of him felt regretful for killing the younger Grimm, they had no fighting experience to aid them, seemed unfair, but then he laughed out-loud from the irony. Look at him, complaining about killing Grimm or lack of fighting experience. Months ago he would have freaked out at the idea of meeting one. Months ago he barely knew how to hold Crocea Mors. Granted, he ended freaking out, during initiation and when Ozpin informed him of his upcoming mission, but once he got past the initial freak-out stage, things worked themselves out. Who knew going solo with the whole Beacon thing would benefit him in the long run? Crazy. Mind-numbing insane, more like it.
Looking up, he stood and stretched his legs, patting away loose dirt. "Phew! That should be good enough. The Bullhead's set to arrive at night, and the sun's about to set, guess it's time to leave. I can't wait to crash on my own bed."
Not like the settlement didn't provide him with room and board, but he missed his bed. Two days wasn't enough time for the mattress to accommodate his proportions. To think, he just spent those days killing Grimm. Not the easiest feat. Bruises covered his entire body with dried blood coating parts of his skin, some scratches here and there with a few fractured nails, but he survived his first mission. Brainpower was the real champion. Brute strength would have killed him in minutes. No. He played it smart. Annihilate a few and then hide. Kill a few more and then disappear again. Scream to attract the few that grew wary. Conventional, classic, and all-around effective, nothing like fighting second-years or training bots, those opponents had brains and weapons.
Finding them in this forest proved simple enough, especially when one ran out yelling between the trees like some madman, lunacy spoke to the troubled creature, Jaune Arc, the Grimm whisperer!
His feet eventually led him to the village elder, a pale man who lived in this village far from real civilization, and he received his due. Without having to split the reward four-ways between a cornucopia of greedy fingers, he ended up with a pretty penny. Who knew people paid so much to clear out some Grimm? No wonder Huntsmen decked out their weaponry with over-the-top gadgets. The sensation to spend was maddening. Heck! Jaune went crazy with his lien, controlled by impulse the minute he landed back in Vale and bought the first painting he saw in the nearest thrift store.
The dogs playing poker hung perfectly over his dresser.
One of the few items he brought from home, other than Crocea Mors, was his trusty guitar.
Some backwater fantasy of his thought he might play it for some quirky girl, but he ended up tuning and practicing alone most nights. Without friends to chat with in person, he had very few things that occupied his free time. One couldn't train and study forever. That lifestyle demanded trouble and an early grave. So he played on his bed, legs crossed with a towel draped around his neck and naked chest. It sounded odd to play after a hot shower but like the cliché saying went, people sung better in the bathroom, and inspiration came naturally.
Droplets of water spilled from the ends of his hair. Wet. He strummed against the cord anyway, shaking one foot from a nervous habit he picked up from his sisters. Sound soothed the troubled soul, and every day at this academy irritated his soul. Getting away from it all, the rumors, the stares, the emptiness, recharged his batteries for the next day, but nothing beat playing a few instrumental cords with El Diablo. So he played into the night, watching the crescent moon rise above the sky with the stars shining brightly. The vibrancy of the room allowed for his notes to bounce off the walls, and his heartbeat seemed to respond to each cord.
A melody fitting for a loner.
The chilly air created goosebumps up his arm, he had a Dust exam to fret over about tomorrow, and the level-six training bot demolished him today in training, but he played as a man possessed. He struck cords until his fingers ached and feet fell asleep. When a yawn seized his throat, he finally set the instrument down and placed the guitar on the nearest bed, not jumping into his covers immediately, but staring up at the ceiling with his arms bent backward.
A useless habit he picked up, something that replaced the mundaneness of counting sheep. Not by choice, a byproduct of solitude, every once in a while he envisioned those infinite dust particles as onlookers enjoying his music, an audience. Made playing his guitar in a too quiet room bearable. A pity, but without friends around, he was forced to make them up. How adorably sad. A future Huntsman with imaginary friends. He turned on his side, laughing. Making friends with specks of dust, he must be going crazy.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
He reached out for his Scroll, flipping the device open to see a video call from Ruby. Hn? A video call this late into the night? What could she want? Pressing accept, she appeared on the other end of his device, wearing a black nighty with a heart and sweats combo. A Grimm mask adorned her forehead, and he saw in the background a shower curtain. Above all else, she waved vigorously with her other arm busy holding her Scroll.
"Heya, Jaune! What's new?" Ruby stopped, a toothbrush dangling between her toothpaste covered lips. A quick tilt of the head. "And where's your shirt? And why's your hair wet?"
If he wasn't tired, he might be embarrassed. Instead, he ran a hand over his head to press his hair back. "Just got out of the shower. Now I'm going to bed."
"Same here! Just got to brush my teeth. Dad's a real stickler for good oral hygiene."
"And here I thought it because you were afraid of the dentist."
"You can't prove that. I'll deny it." From the off-corner of his screen, she noticed the picture of the dogs playing poker. "Hold up! I've always wanted to see what the rooms at Beacon are like, show me!"
He sighed fruitlessly. "Fine. It's not special. We got four walls, windows, and beds."
"Just show me!" Jaune's Scroll zoomed all across the room with its last line of trajectory resting upon El Diablo. "Oh, oh! You have a guitar? Do you play?"
He rolled his eyes. "No, it's just there for decoration, of course, I play."
"Play me a song!"
He frowned. "Now? I just got finished practicing, my fingers hurt. How about tomorrow?"
She grinned. "Deal! Oops. Hold your horses."
A drop of toothpaste spilled from her mouth and landed on her chest. No problem! She placed her Scroll on the sink and reached down to use the bottom of her shirt to wipe it clean, exposing her bare stomach with the back of her shirt riding up. Yang, like a tornado of mischief, chose that moment to walk into the bathroom, blinking in synch with his video feed. A shirtless, wet-haired Jaune greeted her with her sister's shirt half-raised. Ruby suddenly turned tomato faced from the compromising position, lowering her shirt desperately, and her sister jumped at the golden opportunity.
"Yang, it's not what it looks like!"
"Oh my!" Yang hid her growing smirk poorly. "What kind of video call did I walk in on? You're so bold, Rubes. Excuse me."
"Yang!" Ruby huffed. She pouted at his stunned face. "I gotta go, Jaune! Next time I call, you better play me a song, okay? Good! Goodnight, sleepy head! Don't let the bed Grimm bite!"
For a long beat, he said nothing, staring helplessly at his Scroll. Then, without uttering a word, he sat up and reached for his guitar, already messing around with some timeless verse. Just as he said, inspiration happened in the bathroom.
Didn't have to be his bathroom.
Beacon Academy held dances.
An awkward situation where guys asked girls to accompany them to the dance floor, some people were bolder than others, but he skipped out on the luxury entirely and opted to explore Vale over hanging by the punch bowl. No socially-awkward club for him tonight. Before that, he headed toward the CCT to see what was happening around Vale, maybe spend some of his surplus of lien. Possibly catch the newest film. Minutes passed, he found something suitable, but before he made it to the Bullheads, a figure wearing skin tight clothing, black in color with piercing amber eyes, crossed his path. They collided outside the CCT elevator with her eyebrows raising. He merely waved harmlessly.
When she returned the wave, albeit slow, it made sense. Ah, she must be one of those exchange students, such an odd style of clothing, he didn't think it was one of those mask types of dances. Maybe he would have gone if he found a Pumpkin Pete's mask.
"Oh, hi there."
His finger hovered over a button. "Going down?"
She fixed a stare at his goofy grin, knowing full well this man passed initiation where Pyrrha Nikos' failed. Her intelligence circle figured as much with the gossip floating around. Of all the people to run into, and it had to be him. She had no record of his skills, nothing to fall back on, Mercury wasn't blessed to fight in his class, even if she felt confident taking him, but caution won over, and she nodded painstakingly with her knuckles turning white from exertion. Taking chances and starting a commotion would be counter-productive to her nefarious plans. If one thing went amok, just a single hair out-of-place, everything would shatter. No. Too messy. Play along until he made himself scarce.
Down they went in the slow-moving elevator.
She mentally counted the seconds, impatiently applying pressure to her feet. Tick-tock, tick-tock, the seconds droned on by while he stood their aimlessly, leaning on the guardrail without care. Once they passed the fifth floor, she mentally sighed in relief, only for him to begin talking.
"So do you come here, or are you one of the exchange students?" Jaune asked nervously. Wow, outside the professors and his Scroll, he had the social skills of a rock. Had it really been that long since he talked to a stranger face-to-face? "And why aren't you at the dance? Wait, let me guess, it cramped your style? Me, personally, I'm not one for dancing. I know how, but..."
A pair of lips thinned.
Just her luck, a nervous talker, and right when they touched the first floor. She couldn't stay inside and press the up button without arousing suspicion. Not after answering yes to going down. So she followed when he politely waved for her to move, speaking the drivel nonsense of ladies first.
Once they stepped outside, he followed, and she made zero attempts to push him away. Perhaps she should have because he led her all the way to the Bullhead landing station before he realized she stopped replying in her one-worded answers.
"And I'm boring you."
Jaune waved away the concern, walking up the steps to the Bullhead in waiting. He had Nigel Planter and Beneath the Subtext to watch at the theaters. He bored her enough. She appeared to want to head back to the dance.
"Don't worry about it, I'm already leaving. Thanks for listening, bye."
Cinder Fall never got a chance to plant the virus, suspicion arose of a lack of students with her objective off by two minutes too late.
Level-six training bots were something else.
When they moved for a strike, they went for bone-breaking crushers. Aura protected him from such purpose-driven attacks, but nothing dulled the pain in his limbs from blocking such charges. He quickly learned to avoid them entirely, no point in shielding from a strike that delivered damaging recoil. Footwork became his ally in the fight against one of these machines. Dodge! He avoided a blow that shattered bits of the floor. Yes, footwork.
Clutching Crocea Mors above his chest, he narrowed his eyes at the approaching machine, not seeing an opening as it spun its pole in an endless circle. Tch! He dove back, parrying and sidestepping blows meant to draw blood. Arms tingled from the strikes, and he needed both to block an attack that came in a downward arc, hands placed at both ends of Crocea Mors with his Aura working overtime to prevent the blade from digging into his skin. Same went for his feet with the ground bending underneath the force.
Oh, how he missed dealing with level-one bots.
Air left his lungs. Pesky thing kicked him in the gut. He toppled over, digging his sword in the floor to halt his momentum. All good that did, he barely had time to avoid a strike aimed for his forehead, ducking at the last possible second while using the opening to create some distance. Useless. Another kick, this time on his side, and he ended up losing his grip on his blade.
His body rolled on the floor with his blade resting a few feet away. He looked up from his arm, eyeing his sword and the approaching bot with apprehensiveness, sweat clinging to his neck. A sudden burst of movement, a quick one-two, and he lunged forward to grab his sword, turning with his momentum intact. He rolled in, lifted his weapon, and dug Crocea Mors deep into its metallic chest cavity. Metal met metal, force met force, but only one survived.
The owner of the arm connected to the bot breathed heavily, struggling to keep his balance with the machine sliding down his family's heirloom. Muscles strained underneath the added weight. He offered no grin, no celebratory laugh, nothing. A lucky win, nothing to celebrate, he still wasn't ready to beat level-six training bots toe-to-toe, but he trained for that reason.
He pushed the machine off his sword, struggling with the weight. Oil spilled from the battle wound, drenching his sword and clothing in a slippery substance. He paid extra caution to not slip on the stuff, not wanting a repeat from what happened last—!
A blond knight tripped and fell on his back. Pain-induced eyes opened to see a person blocking his light. She hovered over his downed body, grinning a million-watt smile with her hands placed on her knees. Eyes greener than the grass practically radiated in color, and her hair hinted of fresh oranges with those freckles reminding him of his specks hiding in his ceiling. That pink bow tied it all together, and she continued smiling, against the blurring dots in his vision.
"Greetings, friend, I couldn't help but notice you're were sparring against a level-six combat droid. Most people fight multiple level-five units. Very few, students-wise, go past that marker, unless if they're accompanied by their team. But you are without one, how come?"
He stared at the smiling face with his nerves ticking. "Uh? Because I don't have one. I'm a solo act."
"Don't have one?" Green eyes blinked like she was processing what he just said. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you a first-year?"
He saluted from the floor. "Yup, Jaune Arc at your service. Beacon's only first-year. You might have heard of me. You know, I'm that guy who passed, while everyone else failed. It was all over the third page news, next to the help ads, Miss..."
She appeared to brighten up at the word service and offered him her hand. "Oh! Where are my manners? Greetings friend, my name is Penny Polendina. It's a pleasure to meet you."
He accepted her machine-like grip. "Are you an exchange student?"
Affirmative? Salutations? He grinned. "You know, you talk like a robot."
Penny appeared to shut down at the word, twiddling her fingers. "That's absurd. I am not mechanical in any way. I am a normal meat-person, just like you."
He chuckled at her cute hiccup and rubbed his neck free from oil. "Okay, okay, meat person, got it. I won't make that mistake again."
"Sensational!" Penny paused for the briefest of seconds. So far this person hadn't inched away from her presence. "Do you perhaps want to do the hanging out? We could go to the movies, or get ice-cream, or play board games."
"I'm covered in oil."
"I believe there is a water fountain thirty yards from here."
He snorted at the joke. How could he argue with that logic. "Just give me a minute to clean up."
Her brows knitted. "In my understanding, humans require more than a minute to get cleaned up. Several if I'm not mistaken."
"Are you sure you're not a robot or an android?"
Beacon's socially awkward Jaune Arc, meet boundary-breaking Penny Polendina. Together they ended up going to watch the latest Burninator movie, something that apparently spoke to her, consumed mint-flavored ice-cream, and ended up playing board games in his vacant room.
Penny was nice and quirky. He enjoyed talking to her. She didn't give him anything but her company, which included hiding in his room from some troublesome teammates, or so she put it. Those metallic footsteps, yeah, no, he didn't want to know. Either way, he introduced her to what a board game was, and even if he lost every single match—who rolled that many twelves, no Penny, getting Yahtzee six times in a row was not natural—her company more than made up for the crushing defeats.
Probably the most fun he had ever since stepping into this academy.
No, seriously, what the heck? Jaune had trouble un-biting his tongue from the unexpected news, this close to waving his arms in the air. Why? Why, why, why would Ozpin come up to him and offer—by offer he meant demand—for him to participate in the upcoming Vytal Festival? The mission he understood, not really, no, but it made sense in a life kicks you while you're down kind of way, but asking to compete in a tournament? Alone? Solo. Without a team to back him up? Now he knew for sure the Headmaster was out of his rocking chair. Had to be a sick joke, a prank for being the only first-year. Ha-ha, please laugh.
He wasn't laughing.
"You can't be serious?" Jaune almost-yelled. Even Professor Glynda sided with him, shooting Ozpin a meaningful look. "Me and the Vytal Tournament? I don't stand a chance. I have no team."
Ozpin remained undeterred, smiling in a way only he knew how. "If it's any consolation, Mr. Arc, I fullheartedly don't expect you to make it past the first round."
He choked, both the blonds paused, and then he threw his hands up. "Then why make me compete? It's going to be a slaughter fest, and if you say it's—!"
"It's a tradition that a few first-years compete." Ozpin waited for a moment, twirling his hot chocolate. What a troublesome word. "And with you being the only first-year, you're the default choice. The tournament isn't for another month, do not worry, you'll have ample time to prepare."
"That's not the problem here." Seeing that reasoning with the delusional man was out of the question, he turned to his Combat professor. "Can't I just forfeit?"
Simple and fast, a sound strategy, but she huffed dejectedly and pressed her specs upward. "Sadly, no, you are only allowed to lose in combat. There is no forfeiting in real battle unless you desire to die. The tournament is authentic in that aspect."
He frowned. "So I have to get my butt kicked before I'm allowed to lose?"
"Just for one round."
Jaune glared at his Headmaster. "Not. Helping."
Ozpin merely clasped the young man on the shoulder. "Please, Mr. Arc, you must. Without you, Beacon Academy has no one to represent them during the tournament, and the Vytal Festival is all about unity between Kingdoms. You only need to show up and lose."
"Don't you have other teams? I can point out a few over your shoulder."
"Yes, they, too, will be competing, but not as first-years." Calmness filled the air. Had to be whatever it was their Headmaster was enjoying. "First-years inspire hope for a future generation. Not having one would send the wrong message to our enemies."
He titled his head. "You mean the Grimm?"
Ozpin wavered for a split-second. "Precisely. That is why you must compete."
Jaune clicked his teeth, crossing his arms with his sight pushed toward the floor. A burden pressed against his shoulders, and he kicked imaginary dirt. Why was it so blasted difficult to argue with his Headmaster? Like the word no did not exist in his vocabulary. Sigh. He felt a headache coming in. Whelp! There went his training and studying for the day.
"... A month you said?"
On the bright side, the Vytal Festival brought in a lot of festivities.
Three weeks before the tournament, and already the food stalls, prize booths, and costume stores popped up all around Vale. People celebrated hard for this festival, going all out and then some. The Arc couldn't take a step in the Kingdom without someone screaming bargain or the smell of food blasting his face. Now that he thought about it, his stomach growled at the prospect of food. Something tasty should help replenish his energy after finally beating down that troublesome level-six combat drone. Blood, sweat, and tears went into cutting that thing down to size, but he managed. Reward time!
What to eat, what to eat?
So many choices.
His stomach growled at all of them, confused bugger. A whiff of burgers sounded delectable. That pizza stand appeared appetizing. Just look at those boneless wings! Stomach rumbling! Ah! He scratched his neck, shaking his head to the sides. Burgers, chicken, or pizza? A melting pot of choices. Oh! Chili sounded good, too. Gah! Maybe he should eat at Beacon and save his money?
Or not? He stopped to inhale the overwhelming aroma, mouth-watering at the smell. He nose dragged his feet, and he came upon a noodle stand. Hn? Yup! That would have to do! Noodles sounded too irresistible with that smell backing them up. So he grabbed the nearest seat and waited to be served between either of the two people in charge. Some energetic, short orange-head, unable to stay still, or a long-haired cook with precise movements. When she turned around, turquoise grew in size.
"Jaune? Jaune! Is that you?!"
He leaned back, eyes squinting. "... Nora?"
"It is you!" Nora rushed from the stall and tackle-hugged from the other end, crushing in a mighty grip. Her feet kicked in the air, and she turned with her eyes shining. "Ren! Ren! Look, it's Jaune-Jaune!"
Ren stopped pasteurizing dough to offer him a simple smile. "Hello. It's good to see you again, Jaune. How's Beacon?"
"Yeah!" Nora fussed, poking him multiple times in the chest. "How is it! Tell us all about it! You got to have stories, and don't hold out on me!"
He grinned, rubbing the spots she poked. "There's not much to tell. Beacon, honestly, has been kind of boring. I go to class, study, and train. Sorry, but no stories."
She frowned at the bland tale, hands on hips. "Nope, that won't do, you should be having adventures, not stuffing your face in some dusty, old book. What's the point of going to a Huntsmen academy if it's boring? Things need to be exciting. If me and Ren went there, we would've caused a food fight or something."
His smile somewhat faltered at the claim. Not the monotonous part, but them missing out on the Beacon experience. Maybe a change of subject was in order. "So what are you two up to, working at a noodle stall? How'd that happen?"
Her pout turned into a grin. A quick salute and then she zoomed over to stand next to Ren. "After we failed initiation, we needed to find jobs until we could try again next semester. And this cranky old man hired us when Ren showed him how to make noodles. We've been working here ever since."
"Why didn't you just go back home?"
She shrugged easily. "We don't have a home. Ren and I? Yup! You called it! No families! Orphans for almost eleven years now."
Now his smile died with his lips impossibly thinning. An overcast fell over him. No families? Harsh. He sometimes hated how his family acted, but we wouldn't trade away his seven sisters and overbearing parents for anything in all of Remnant. Knowing that, coupled with their failure to enroll, forced an ashy taste to enthrall his taste buds.
She waved her hand dismissively. "Psh, don't be, it happened a long time ago. We're over it." A pencil clicked on a notepad. "Now, can I take your order?"
His order? Right! Jaune blinked and finally took in their appearance. Nora wore a ramen bowl hat tilted to the side with the chopsticks poking out from the corner. Her tiny apron vibrated as she rushed from customer to patron, swinging loosely to her idiosyncratic movements. She hummed a haphazard melody, notepad in hand as people ordered in a disorganized fashion with her trademark pink making her standout. Somehow Nora fit right in, beating insanity with mania.
Ren appeared the opposite, calm and in control with a pink apron saying Tip the Cook. His hands moved in concise, rhythmic motions, bending dough and creating the broth without fault. Fingers worked effortlessly. Not a move was wasted, not a noodle too long or short, and his ramen hat sat perfectly on his head. Somehow this clustered pair worked well together, blending noodles.
"Uh, a bowl of noodles?"
She ignored his wrong request. "Ren! The special! Make it extra, extra good."
He laughed. Arguing it would be pointless. Guess he was having the special? Nora would have loved to stay and chat some more, but more customers flocked to the stands, and she scurried over to serve them with energy putting Ruby's to shame. She moved like an orange blur in the stands, while Ren stood perfectly still in one spot. When the bowl reached them, filled with an assortment of chickens and meats with noodles long and tangy, broth soaked in a delicious aroma, and serving size large, he licked his lips and dug right in. From the first bite to the last sigh, each noodle was perfect, beyond that even, and he asked for seconds, and then thirds. When finished, Jaune pushed the bowl away and brushed his stomach. She noticed his stuffed belly and threw her hands out before he slinked off his chair.
"Wait here! Out shift ends in an hour! Then we could go explore the festival together."
Fine with him, he hadn't planned on leaving for quite some time. Fun at the festival sounded like a blast. Beat going to his room. An hour passed faster than he expected, and when he heard Nora yell out quitting time, he knew his day only just began. She dragged Ren out the stall before he removed his apron, gripping his wrist in an iron-grip, too. Off they went to play games and trade laughs, bouncing between each event with a little more vigor than the last. Games, prizes, fatty-foods, they explored each one. Ren won every game of luck, Nora was the champ of strength, and he outwitted the vendors' fixed contests with a bit of tactic and some Aura. Never a dull moment, and he relished each memory in the Kingdom of lights.
Then they lastly found themselves at a skeeball game where none of their talents proved beneficial. Jaune's points ended up scoring the lowest with Ren in the middle and Nora in the high. She chose the biggest sloth plushie they had, balancing a mountain of prizes between her arms with a load of snacks. He would have laughed at her tiny form trying to carry a plushie almost her size, but she pressed the sloth plushie into his chest with a grin brighter than the overhead moon.
"You want me to hold it?"
She shook her head, slurping some of her soda. "Nope! It's all yours. I won it for you, silly."
His stomach warmed. "Nora, I can't—?"
"Hold onto it." Nora pressed the sloth plushie firmer into his arms. "If you don't want it, then give it back when we get into Beacon. Sir Scrabbles is going to keep you company until we get there. Someone's gotta make sure you know how to have fun back there."
"That's his name, don't wear it out!"
He glanced over to Ren, only for the Lie to pointedly look at the gift locked in his arms. He never had a chance to argue. "Fine, Sir Scrabbles can stay."
Nora cheered and spilled some of her soda. Ren quickly shooed them away when some unlucky bystander slipped and fell on the beverage. What a fun way to spend the weekend, Jaune made sure to grab their Scroll numbers before departing back to his no-longer-empty room, but first, he repaid their kindness tenfold by finding that cranky, old man and offering them his surplus of lien as a tip.
Sir Scrabbles' idea.
Crocea Mors embedded into an icy floor with a shaky hilt.
Jaune Arc reached his limit.
Beating a level-seven training bot pushed him to the breaking point, but he knew he needed to train more on the current level before he even attempting a level-eight. For now, between now and the tournament, a level-seven would suffice as training. Acceptable, because his feet wobbled from overexertion. He only beat that monstrosity by sprinkling Ice Dust on the floor, drawing it into a close-combat zone as he used Crocea Mors to slice across the stage with infused Aura to encase the ground in a sheet of ice. When the droid refused to move, metal limbs trapped in ice, he cut its mechanical head clean off, but not before it landed a devastating pole smash against his lower abdominal that knocked the air out of his lungs.
"So you're Jaune Arc?"
He glanced up to see a person strikingly similar to Weiss, just taller and somehow more regal with perfect posture. She stood at attention, like a soldier awaiting an order, and glared down at him with impassiveness that made Ren seem like an emotional outpost. Without a shadow of a doubt, he knew she wasn't a student. People like her stood out on principle alone, which made the question to how she knew his name all the more interesting. Now, what did she want with him? Hard to ask while he caught his breath.
"How'd you know?"
"It wasn't difficult. My sister informed me of your appearance, tall, blond, and scraggly. You're the only one here fitting that criteria."
Her lips thinned. "Weiss Schnee? I believe she sent you that Dust holster you're wearing. It's top-of-the-line, not such a deficient gift."
Weiss' sister? Yes, he saw the family resemblance now. White hair, ocean eyes, an atmosphere of authority, all of that must be a genetic trait. That answered one question. On to the next!
Her eyes widened by the tiniest of margins. "Excuse me, where are my manners, I forgot to introduce myself. My name's Winter Schnee. A pleasure to make your acquaintance."
He stood and cleaned himself up. "Oh, hey, the name's Jaune Arc."
"Yes, I'm well aware."
Oops. "Ah, right, so what can I do for you, Miss Schnee?"
She braced with a smudge of a smile for the formality. "Nothing, in particular, I only came to observe the person who passed the initiation where my sibling failed." Winter paused for a cool moment, expression stern. "Your form could use some work, but overall impressive for a fighter without the use of trajectory-based weaponry. Against a superior opponent, you used tactic instead of brute force. A wise decision."
He blushed at the rare compliment. Been a while since he talked to someone in person at this academy. "Ah, thanks, but it was nothing special."
"Nonsense." Winter left no room for an argument. "You have a keen eye for strategy, an admirable trait. Most soldiers blindly follow orders, and if you had been one of our men, then you would have perished in the line of duty against such a foe. You don't charge at danger. You wait for an opportunity to strike. I highly suggest you practice those observational qualities. They could mean the difference between victory or defeat."
Again, he blushed, and this time he played with the threads of his hoodie. "You think so?"
She raised a brow at the humbleness. "... Now I see why my sister failed."
"She should've tried harder."
Her facade shattered for a brief second, revealing a small grin that morphed into a jitter. Winter quickly looked away, catching herself before any more meaningless laughter passed her lips, but the damage was done, and when she turned around, he smiled all-knowing. Only one recourse left to take. She ever so sternly raised her finger, along with one eyebrow.
"Not a word of that to anyone."
"Only if you do me a quick favor."
The second brow raised.
Later, during the weekend, delivered by express mail from a generously tipped carrier, Weiss Schnee received a letter from her older sister, Winter. Not an uncommon occurrence, they wrote letters to one another quite often. A unique commodity made the act appealing to the Schnee siblings, but this letter made her face burn as her blood boiled. She almost tore the paper in two, this close to allowing her emotions to get the better of her.
It has come to my attention, dear sister, that Beacon Academy, while lacking in discipline, would have been an exceptional school for you to have attended. The facilities may not have been up-to-par with my standards, but an excellent academy regardless. It is quite unfortunate that you failed your initiation and after careful consideration, added with the benefit of speaking personally to the one who did pass, the reason for your failure is quite frankly moot.
You should've tried harder.
Only one week left before the Vytal Tournament and Jaune was stressing hard.
Not sure why, he knew everyone expected him to lose, that rumor floated shamelessly around, but not out of skill, but principle. Four versus one wasn't a fair fight, so no would blame once he lost. A slightly comforting thought. Sure, some had bets to see how far he would make it, a betting pool with the vast majority focused on the first round, a few on the second, a couple on the finals, and one person even bet he would win the tournament. Ha! He wished he had that schmucks' confidence. Must be nice being delusional?
After tackling a level-seven combat droid, reading for next week's exam, and wolfing down a calorie-packed dinner, he ended up going to the only person who would listen to his problems. Someone that never looked down upon him for feeling doubtful in an academy full of cautious stares. Someone who brightened up his room with optimism. An ally, a friend, a companion in the darkest of times.
"Be honest with me, Sir Scrabbles, am I crazy?" The sloth plushie said nothing, resting on an empty bed as he kept talking. "I mean, I know I'm going to lose, but some part of me wants to try and win. That's dumb, right?"
Again, nothing, but he took the silence with vigor and stood up to look out the window, underneath the crescent moonlight. Call him crazy, blame the drive to succeed, whatever, but he desired to prove the naysayers wrong, even if they were looking at this from a realistic point-of-view. He managed this far. Why not a little further?
"Because I don't have a team."
True, he reasoned with himself and the disproportionate plushie. Asking for a chance to win this tournament was praying for the impossible. He shot a look away from the night sky, shutting it away with the curtains Weiss got him, seeing the Hang in There poster Ruby gave him. That cat spoke to him, along with the dogs playing poker, telling him to bet the odds. His briefcase pillow sure made arguing difficult, saying he already made it this far, why stop now?
He scoffed and shunned the objects.
No. Jaune had zero chance of winning. Passing initiation was one thing, but this, this was something else entirely. Maybe he should give up and allow the quick beating to happen? After that, he could focus on studying for his finals. The year was close to ending, after all. Why chance further humiliation? Brute tenacity wouldn't help him overcome this obstacle. A lot of luck and planning would be needed to garner a thought of victory. Battle tactics and outwitting his opponents, that was the only way he a glimmer of hope against an impossible foe.
You have a keen eye for strategy, an admirable trait. Most soldiers blindly follow orders, and if you had been one of our men, then you would have perished in the line of duty against such a foe. You don't charge at danger. You wait for an opportunity to strike. I highly suggest you practice those observational qualities. They could mean the difference between victory or defeat.
Stupid memories! Stop giving him false hope!
Knock! Knock! Knock!
"Friend Jaune, it's I, Penny. It is precisely eight P.M. Time for board game night! I brought the customary, densely compacted sodium-chloride rich snacks."
Thank Dust, a distraction. He completely forgot that Penny visited every Friday night for board game night. Some humiliating defeats should help keep his mind off of the—eh, never mind. He quickly shuffled toward the door, allowing her in as she carried a mountain of games he never even heard of, like Twister or Pin the Tail on the Beowolf. She somehow managed to drop them with machine-like precision, not toppling over any of the boxes or bags of chips she brought. Such occurrences no longer phased him when it came to her, like her susceptibility to hiccups.
He just fetched her a glass of water before every game.
The evening started innocent enough with Penny planting the tail flawlessly on the Beowolf. His mark ended inches away from the target, in the eye socket of the beast. Twister was a disaster as she somehow reached each circle without blushing at the close contact, regardless of the impossible angle. Flexibility, meet Penny. So far each game only showed him outclass he really was. Finally, came Grimm Trap, a game where one person had to stop the Grimm from running off with civilians with a crudely designed trap.
She, of course, rolled a twelve right off the bat.
He only picked up his dice, far too used to such outcomes, and rolled half-heartedly. Penny immediately picked up on it.
"Is something the matter? Your throwing appears to be off."
No point in arguing or denying, not with her. "Be honest with me, Penny, do you think I have a chance of winning this tournament?"
"Speaking off probability; your chances of victory are in the low single digits, but not zero."
He rolled snake eyes, then his own. "Ha! That fills me with confidence."
She laughed, rolling another twelve. "Do not worry, friend Jaune. I will be cheering for you."
A hand shuffling dice stopped. "Aren't you in the tournament?"
"I believe the appropriate saying in this situation is break a leg?"
He smiled at her confusion, rolling whatever number. None of it mattered at this point, she already won, probability not zero or not. At least with her, she sent positive energy his way, so losing to her made the game all the more fun. Maybe one day he might beat her, as long as it didn't focus on dice rolling. Gold Grimm, that seemed like a fair as a game as any.
Still, it haunted his thoughts. Some harsh truth should wash away the false hope he had, and Penny had a habit of being kindly cruel. So asking her would numb the stinging rejection.
"Do you think I will win the tournament?"
Her hands reached out to grab the dice, giving them an angled toss, and she claimed another victory with a final twelve. A toy Beowolf's demise ended up in a plastic cage, and she grinned this smile that was out-of-this-world.
Jaune Arc found it puzzling that Penny Polendina never once hiccuped that night.
Jaune Arc hid behind a boulder as Team BRNZ kept him at bay. Tch! A sniper on top of three close-range fighters. One, maybe two he could clash against, three if he stayed on his feet nonstop, but a gunner pushed that dream down the well. Best he could accomplish was hide until an opening, any opening, presented itself. Not a chance with a sniper aiming right where his feet stepped. One good shot and he would have to kiss his chances of winning goodbye.
A pair of cylinder blades embedded within the bedstone, and he gripped Crocea Mors, bringing his shield up to counter the person coming up from above. Too late. The guy with the cattle prod invaded his territory and zapped him in the chest, sending a thunderbolt of electricity across his nervous system. Aura alleviated some of the damage and allowed him to kick the man away, but the fighter standing on his shield gripped his defense, and wouldn't weaken his grip. Crocea Mors only remained free because he flicked away those spinning blade, but doing so forced him to give up his only protection.
He couldn't even spare his heirloom a second glance, running away from sniper rounds as he hid in the nearby trees. Okay, he reasoned, ignoring a bullet breaking bark, skill alone wouldn't be enough to win this one-sided brawl. Nope! He needed to outsmart them. Put them in a false sense of security. Easier said than done. All he had left in his arsenal was Dust and his blade. Not much, but he made it this far with less. So hope wasn't entirely lost. At the very least the vegetation prevented little Miss Snipes a Lot from hitting him. So there was that going for him.
That one almost hit his foot.
He stumbled away, almost tripping on the slippery grass and—wait! Slippery grass? Slippery! Yes! What if he covered the ground in a layer of Ice Dust and then trap them? Worked for that combat drone, might work for these knuckleheads since they had the advantage, guards most likely down in the safety of numbers. Shot! Better than nothing. If he could take out the sniper while they were immobilized, he might, between the slimmest of margins, have a chance of winning this round. A solid plan with the surrounding vegetation to supply him ample cover, excellent, because he reached for his Dust and avoided three people skewing the tree apart.
Time to play defense!
Dodging behind a bush, he sprinkled some Dust on the floor. Flanking to the left, bedewed some more. He even, when forced to clash, threw a meager amount on their clothing. Nothing but Dust littered the floor, but none of them noticed, too focused on bringing down a single opponent, and in all fairness, he didn't blame them, they should have been brought him down by now. Quick footwork kept him just out-of-reach. No matter, he parried the cattle prod, locking the guy's arm in place as the other two charged. A quick twist of his wrist, followed by a knee to the groin, brought the guy down before he hightailed it out of there. Here was hoping they—yes! They were standing by to help their comrade up.
A grip on a handle tightened, Aura flared to life, and Jaune Arc swung on the floor with his Aura's momentum carried over the battlefield. Abruptly, hail encased the better half of the artificial forest, trapping his opponents' knees deep in ice with bits of their clothes freezing in place, locking limbs from constricted fabric. The roaring audience gasped, going from cheering to acute silence. Even Team BRNZ stumbled from the surprise move. Trees looked like snowmen, the temperature dropped, not even Doctor Oobleck, the tournament announcer, had an impressive remark to say.
None of that mattered.
Jaune charged for the direction of the sniper rounds, crossing a great distance by the time May Zedong put two-and-two together. Too little too late! He used all his driving momentum to slash the tree's infrastructure in half, bringing down her one protection from a close-range fighter. His opponent leaped down, hoping to take cover as her allies attempted to break through the ice, but he moved quicker by throwing Crocea Mors to snag her on her hoodie's hood. When it impaled her to the nearest tree, he used every ounce of his honor to keep from smirking.
May panicked upon failing to dig the sword out of the bark. She lifted her sniper, only for him to move past the barrel and rip it out of her arms. Away her weapon went, and in its place stood a six-foot-one fighter who had her pinned with her squad mates trapped in a mountain of snow. The next seconds a barrage of strikes, from his fists, connected her body, pounding damage to her low Aura reserves. Screaming filtered in the background, mostly from the pumped-up audience, some from her frantic teammates, and she failed to block any of the pain.
He unexpectedly stopped, next strike hovering over her nose, and then his eyes lit up in excitement. Before she could react, he grabbed her sweater and hoisted it around her head and pulled her beanie off in the process. A few more blows with shuffling in the background, and May was disoriented. By the time her teammates had escaped their entrapment, already running over to her, the punches stopped, and when they pulled down her hoodie, Jaune Arc was nowhere to be seen. Crocea Mors was still secured her to the tree, but at least she was safe. Must have hid to strike again. Now, to reach for her—gasp!
"Where's my sniper?!"
An eye narrowed behind a magnified scope. Hidden behind a boulder, with the rock keeping him steady, shoulders locked, Jaune smirked with the scope of May's sniper aimed directly at a beanie filled to the brim with volatile Dust. He might not be the most gun-savvy person, but an unmoving target was an unmoving target, not much else to it but to point and fire. Like so, point, click, fire.
A whirlwind of color exploded at the forest side of the arena, breaking apart the tundra with an avalanche of elements. Fire roared, ice formed, lightning jolted, somewhere wind beckoned, all of it, every inch of Dust in his arsenal emptied the four misfortune Huntsmen-in-Training in a point-blank range of discharge. Only the audience and he remained safe, hiding behind Barrier Dust and his shield that he freed from the boulder. Bits of his shoulder stung from the recoil of the sniper. Ouch! Who knew holding a sniper required such refined control? Nevertheless, he tossed the weapon during the madness, catching a soaring Crocea Mors covered in all the elements.
Sword sheathed into a shield. A lone body sat on a rock while a cascading of elements rained down on the arena. The Aura levels of all four members of Team BRNZ dipped below fifteen percent, with a couple of them flying through the air and into the barrier, and Jaune Arc allowed a smirk to grace his presence.
"Winner of round one; Jaune Arc!"
The rumors and stares have only gotten worse.
So much so that he opted to avoid Beacon until the second round commenced. Not for another day or two, which meant he spent the majority of time visiting the stalls to mingle and get lost in the shuffling crowd. Other than refilling his Dust supply, he purposely kept his hoodie overshadowing his eyes to now draw attention. As the tournament progressed, all participants were excluded from classes, a small mercy. Promptly he found himself at the noodle stall, Nora and Ren having the day off. Perfectly acceptable, Nora drew in too much attention at a given time. Everyone wanted to stop and gawk at Beacon's only first-year that won the first round of the tournament. Made him feel sorry for Team BRNZ, losing to a single fighter in a worldwide-broadcasted event.
That could not be an easy title to uphold.
Sitting down, he raised a hand to order a regular bowl, endlessly thankful that the old man never once announced his presence. The food tasted great, not Lie Ren level of excellence, but delicious all the same. During his second order, another patron sat down, ordering a bowl filled to the brim with tuna. Eh, to each other's choice of taste, he guessed, eating in silence, or so was the plan before the new customer turned to him, narrowing her amber eyes in suspicion when he groaned from swallowing the noodle the wrong way. Wrong airway!
He flinched in his chair. "Uh?"
She grinned lightly. "Relax, it's Blake, from initiation. I was there when you caught Weiss. I recognize that groan from when she landed on your back."
The memory forced him to laugh as he pushed down his hoodie. "Yeah, not one of my better plans. Don't be fooled, Weiss' much heavier than she looks."
"I'm sure the tabloids would pay good money for an inside scoop."
"Ha! I think they're more interested in me at the moment."
She hummed, enjoying the humor for all it was worth. Playing with her tuna, she took a predator-style bite out of the delicious fish, licking her teeth clean of the sacrificed morsel. Mmm! How she cherished the chicken of the sea. So ripe for the picking. Made coming all the way to this noodle stand all the worthwhile. Running into Jaune Arc was merely a stroke of luck, but she welcomed his presence. Beat eating with strangers.
Blake, too, ordered another bowl, eating off a Huntress' appetite. No diet for these ladies, calories burned themselves from dangerous training and intense workouts. Anyone foolish enough to count what they ate might as well hang up their mantle, they weren't fit to fight on the battlefield. Huntresses and Huntsmen all ate until their bellies threatened to burst, them two included. Although, some had eating habits that made the food come back up. Lucky for her nine lives, he refrained from having such manners.
Some chit chat might be pleasant, though. Something to fill the atmosphere. So she waited before slurping away at some fish-flavored noodles. "I saw your fight. Impressive with what you did with that Dust."
"Oh, you saw that?" Jaune blushed. He hated getting praised. He never knew how to handle it. "It was nothing."
"No, it was not nothing, it was clever." Blake bit into her fish. "More clever than what we seven did during initiation. I guess that's why we failed, and you passed."
"You seven should've passed. I didn't do anything special but grab the Relic. You were the ones killing all the Grimm."
She disagreed. "You're wrong. Yes, we killed plenty of Grimm, but that was a waste of resources and energy. The mission goal was to grab the Relic and retreat. Not to stay and fight a pointless battle. Doesn't matter how many Grimm you kill, failing a mission is failing. You showed everyone that skill alone doesn't guarantee success. I'm positive Team BRNZ got the memo after you outsmarted them."
He devoured noodles. "Too bad I'm not sure if I could think outside-the-box like that again."
"Eat fish. It's brain food." Blake waved the tuna in his face. "Fish has all the answers. Fish."
He gently pushed the head of tuna back. "I'm gonna have to pass on the fish. It's not my cup of tea."
She huffed, hugging her bowl. "Regardless of your primitive taste buds, I'm rooting for you."
"If you win the tournament, then the seven of us who failed don't appear bad in comparison. Not if you win as a solo act."
Emotions withered away. "Gee, thanks, I can just feel the love."
She ignored his dry sense of humor, reaching into her bag to pull out a book. Then she pressed the hardback into his chest, face blank as he stumbled to grip the spine of her book. She poked him once in the chest before touching the volume.
"Here, take this. I can see you're stressed. Don't be. Sometimes all you need is a good distraction to focus your mind."
"That sounds like an oxymoron."
"Trust me... it'll distract you with its riveting plot and engaging character arcs." Blake smiled at his dopey expression. "Give it back when I get into Beacon. Maybe I'll read it in your room? We could compare notes."
He felt like arguing, ready to push the book back into her chest, but she swiftly finished her meal and walked away, not offering him even a goodbye. Humph! Fine then. Blake must be confident that she would pass initiation a second time around. Well, he flipped the book around, not like he had much else going for him with the tournament canceling all his classes. Might as well spin a yarn and get lost in some riveting plot and engaging character arcs.
"Ninjas of Love?"
He spent the majority of the night red-faced as he turned page after page of, ahem, classic literature.
Jaune hated to admit it, but two versus one made the fight somewhat mocking.
Not that he hated such an outcome, but shouldn't the semi-finals have higher stakes? Fighting a pair of Atlas students, while the Faunus cat certainly made things unbearable with her taunts, didn't shoulder the same fear as fighting four on one. Then again, Neon and Flynt kept their distance, not lowering their guard around a single opponent. Crowds cheered, but not for them. A sense of caution clouded them as he approached the two, holding his shield near his chest with Crocea Mors raised above his head.
Jaune tested their movements. He stepped forward, and they stepped back. One went left with the other two going right. He hopped on one foot, and they flinched. Okay, so defense? He respected that. Not enough to applaud them, two against one as all, but he admired their resolve. With no other options left, he played offense. Charging forward, his antagonists readied themselves, Neon swinging around a lustrous nunchuck with Flynt building up oxygen for his horn. Then she jumped in front of a musical tunnel, zooming forward with her weapon spinning.
Speed was her game.
Her roller skates, plus that guy's turbulence, granted her an impressive velocity. She sped past him, delivering a spinning hit to his chin along the way, only for her to reverse her momentum by using her tail on a nearby lamppost, landing a second and then third strike to his chest. Grabbing her proved out of the question, so he ignored her, running straight for her partner. Not an easy task, not with four of him suddenly bursting to life.
The increase turbulence shot him back and right into Neon's twirling nunchuck, releasing a high-impacted force attack that bent corners of his armor. He tumbled, groaning when bits of his perforated metal pinched his skin and crashed into a building. When the rubble fell onto him, and he opened his eyes in a layer of bricks and debris, he sighed and rose like a zombie. Okay, going for the music player wasn't a good idea until he finished rainbow cat.
Standing up, he winced when more metal scratched his skin and sighed with a heated glare. Whatever! No point now, not in the middle of battle. He unclasped his worn-out armor, stepping over dented metal and out the hole-in-the-wall with Pumpkin Pete standing proudly at attention. If he expected people to laugh at the bunny logo displayed on the big screen, he was sorely mistaken. No one chuckled, everyone cheered, especially the munchkins.
He ignored the cheering crowd to focus on the shifting Faunus. A step forward followed with a back step. Ocean eyes sharpened. More defense? Enough of this! Dust from his holster got pinched out into the air, and before anyone figured out what was happening, he infused Aura into his blade and swung on the space, creating stalagmites. They raced through the wind, right for Neon, and Flynt ended up saving her before they collided, but that happened to be only a distraction.
A wave of infernos danced the battlefield, circling around their position.
Both Neon and Flynt moved near one another, one firing a string quartet of sound, while the other twirled her nunchucks infused with Ice Dust, combating the approaching wall of fire. Quick thinking saved them, but a layer of smog covered the arena from the collision of fire and ice, and neither them could see their opponent anywhere.
A body then tackled Neon away from Flynt.
It was no use, Flynt couldn't tell which direction they went, but he heard the slashes of a sword cutting down his partner's Aura. The fog hid them from his eyes. Neon's grunts sounded nothing like music to his ears. No! Neon was weak in close-combat, not without support. He gritted his teeth, grabbed his horn, and summoned his string quartet to look at every venue. Sound waves burst alive in each direction, blowing away steam just in time for him to see Jaune finish off Neon with a headbutt of his blade's handle to her forehead. Down she went, motionless on the ground as her Aura hit zero.
Jaune turned around to see musical notes coming for him. He swiftly dug Crocea Mors into the ground, preventing him from flying away a second time. Feet strained in a sound tunnel with his sword the only thing keeping him tethered to the floor. Change of plans! He skidded to the right, escaping his prison, only for Flynt to summon his army of replicas to corner each possible position for him to take, but he waited. Being a musical player himself, this Arc knew of one weakness a horn player had.
His Aura only needed to outlast the man.
Seconds soon turned into a minute, and he felt his bones shaking in the soundscape, but he couldn't ignore the way Flynt's face was turning bright red from exhaustion. That was right, everyone needed to breathe, especially trumpet players. One, two, and three! He dashed forward, betting everything on his next move as Flynt took a quick intake of air. Too late. Crocea Mors swung upward, missing his head, but cutting half of his opponent's armament with it. A horn trumpet couldn't produce sound, and a sharpened blade hovered near the throat of a musician.
Flynt Coal offered Jaune Arc a smirk. "I forfeit."
"Winner of round two; Jaune Arc!"
He ignored the waves of cheering and shook the guy's hand instead. "Good fight."
Flynt tapped his weapon. "I'm rooting for you."
He smiled and helped Flynt carry Neon to the infirmary. Halfway there, a mass of red hair stood at the medical wing's doorway, green eyes locked on him with a familiar smile. Flynt shoulder bumped the Arc and relieved him of Neon. He gave the two privacy in the hallway with poor Jaune trying for his life to remember her name.
"Ah, you're, um, gah! What was your name again? Hold on, gimme a second to remember!"
His guest smiled warmly. "Pyrrha, Pyrrha Nikos. It's a pleasure to meet you again, Jaune."
His expression lit up, pointing down at his bunny logo. "Now I remember! Pumpkin Pete's cereal box!"
That warm smile turned embarrassing. "Yup, that's me all right."
"Sorry!" Jaune stood awkwardly in the hall. "Hey, before I forget, thanks for unlocking my Aura, Pyrrha, it really helped a lot. So what's new? I haven't seen you since initiation."
"Nothing much. Promoting unhealthy cereal and preparing for the next year at Beacon." Pyrrha frowned. "I was wondering, is there still room on Team Jaune?"
"We have high standards, Miss Nikos. Ahem!" Jaune graced her with a shoulder bump, pretending to be all stiff. "Can you pass initiation? I know it's challenging, but dash it all, if I can do it, so can you."
Pyrrha Nikos laughed at the horrible accent, flipping that frown upside down.
He dubbed it her Hello Again smile.
Jaune had a sinking feeling that this Mercury Black guy hated his guts.
Each one of those kicks hurt!
If he thought his footwork was satisfying, then this guy was phenomenal. Right as the battle started, he went straight for offense, crossing the distance between them in what had to be four very long steps. Somehow the one on one fight proved to be the most challenging of the bunch. Between blocking kicks that shook the ground beneath his feet, and aiming to hit an adversary skilled in sidestepping, he spent the majority of time on defense.
Not like it mattered. Distance wise, breaking any was an impossible feat, so he stayed fighting in close-quarters combat against a man who wanted his head. Oh well. He blocked a kick from above, using his shield, only for Mercury to use it as a stepping stone. He lunged into the air, kicking his shoes to fire an air-based projectile. Jaune barely dodged it, scoffing as more followed with their momentum keeping him in the air.
Of course, they were guns, too. Why wouldn't they be?
Left-right, left-right, he skidded to dodge a few, using the rare moment to create some distance with his shield raised over his head. His hand reached down toward his holster, not giving up such an opportunity to retaliate. Dust flickered in the air, turning into wind itself from a momentum driven swing, only for the turbulence to clash harmlessly against Mercury's. They kept at it, kicking feet meeting swinging arms. A tornado of wind encircled around them with Jaune grunting once he noticed some of Mercury's shot spinning inside the vortex. Soon the twister worked against him, pinning him in the eye of the storm as a volley of wind energy pelted down upon from every conceivable direction.
Ground shook from the onslaught. Mercury kept up his endless barrage, smirking from the air as he met no more Wind Dust resistance, and when his feet finally tired, he landed gracefully on the floor with hands hidden in his pockets. On the floor, barely moving was the guy who messed up Cinder's plans. Served him right for destroying months of hard work, killing those excessive amounts of Grimm only further delayed their scheme. So with a final glare, he turned and began walking off stage, even if his Aura remained diligent. Above fifteen percent or not, he wasn't getting up anytime soon. No one could withstand that impact and stand back up.
It was impossible.
On the floor, body hurting, Jaune struggled to move his muscles. Everything ached. From the tips of his fingers to the ends of his toes, pain everywhere. When he failed to stand on his knees, he slipped and tumbled onto the floor. A counter went off in the background, approaching zero between a repertoire of ten seconds. He smiled despite himself. Guess this was his limit? Second place? Not a terrible way for his first tournament to go, much better than he had anticipated from the start. Time to give—?!
"Get up, Jaune!"
"Move your butt, Vomit Boy!"
He turned his head toward the sound of those voices piercing through the crowd's cheers. In the stands, as bright as day were people he could call friends. Ruby, Yang, Weiss, Penny, Nora, Ren, Blake, and Pyrrha all cheered him on. Some waved around flags, others threw hands up in the air, and where did Penny get that shirt with his face on it?
"What they said."
"The odds are still in your favor, friend Jaune!"
"Show that guy who's boss!"
"Prove the naysayers wrong!"
"Make the impossible, possible!"
He wasn't alone, not anymore.
Emotions bubbled deep beneath his soul. Aura reacted to such comforting words. It burst to life as the energy soared throughout every cell in his body, illuminating his Aura in a warmth related to that of a star. His feet got up from a sudden pull, a gravity that was trapped inside him, hidden, dormant in chilling darkness.
Zero never came. Mercury Black turned around to see Jaune Arc covered in a layer of amplified Aura, brighter than the surrounding lights with a snowy pitch glow. The stars aligned for Jaune, and he pushed his hand out to observe the extraterrestrial sensation expanding his muscles and accommodating to his nerves. He formed a fist, blinking at the surge of power. Such energy? Where had it originated from? To that, he only thought of one logical conclusion.
Aura Manipulation? No. Aura Amplification.
The way his body rejuvenated only made sense. He suddenly felt lighter on his feet, more in control with his highly trained muscles expanded. What an amazing feeling. Almost felt like breathing.
"Hey!" Mercury yelled. "You're really going to try and keep fighting with such little Aura? Just go down. Save yourself from some embarrassment."
Jaune said nothing. Crocea Mors shined in his hand as his palm drifted downward. He effortlessly tossed his last vial of Fire Dust and upturned a swing with an Aura Amplification amplified burst of strength that exploded the Fire Dust into a majestic flame that scorched toward Mercury. His contestant forcefully shielded himself from such a blast, using his feet as a cataclysm. In the end, his metal leggings were shown to all the world to see, including a dusty old crow watching from the stands. Jaune only blinked.
Irony, please shut up! Training bots, meet your leader. He almost laughed, of all the opponents to challenge! Of course, Mercury made even the level-seven training bots pale in comparison, but still. Monty Oum must love messing with him. He failed to keep his mouth shut, allowing his lips to beat his brain to the punchline for the first time.
"You're nothing more than a training bot."
"What the hell did you just say?!"
He ignored him. There were a total of eight levels corresponding to a combat drone. Stepping stones. If only they had been his friends from the start, but who knew where he might be at now if they had distracted him at Beacon? Not here, in the finals, with his Semblance backing him up. Well, maybe, perhaps, it didn't matter anymore.
His feet moved.
Mercury was still dealing with some first to second-degree burns when Jaune invaded his space, blocking a sword swing with the base of his boot. A costly move, metal bent underneath an imposing force. He shivered back, attempting to fire more rounds of his shoe guns, only for his opponent to slice through his bullets with Crocea Mors, battle instincts heightened under an influx of Aura control. Jaune then grabbed his heel by tossing his shield, entrapping him in a ray of light.
"Not this time. And thanks to your legs being mechanical, I don't feel bad about doing this."
Crocea Mors suddenly drifted downward, slicing through the dented metal like butter. Aura helped. Mercury stumbled with one leg, got pressed down by Jaune's limb, and had The Yellow Death pointed directly at his Adam's apple with that snowy glow putting the surrounding lights to shame. He couldn't move, failed to utter a word, and realized that Emerald was nowhere to be seen.
"Winner; Jaune Arc!"
How time flew.
Weird to think it was a whole new year.
Beacon Academy felt dull without the exchange students around to fill the empty rooms.
Huh? Now that he mentioned it, he never knew what happened to the runner-up of the tournament. Seemingly, someone named Qrow Branwen went to have a chat with Mercury and his friends after the competition. Something about Emerald needing assistance with Ozpin busy interrogating one of her teammates for various other reasons with Glynda around to get to the bottom of the story. Jaune shrugged his shoulders, he didn't know, not his team. Not even Beacon students. Not his problem.
So that left him to stand awkwardly on a podium as bright and eager students flocked into the auditorium.
Headmaster Ozpin asked him personally to make a speech. Half because he felt he earned it, and the other, and more exclusive reason focused on the fact that Glynda Goodwitch went on an early vacation with earnings from some gamble she made. Presumably, she made a killing, winning a one-to-thousand bet. Happened right after he won the tournament. Huh? Odd. Go figure.
As the students flocked in, he pulled against his hoodie, butterflies in his tummy. Just a year ago, that was him down there, looking up at this stage. Ah! He still remembered Weiss calling him Mr. Tall, Blond, and Scraggly. Uh-huh! All natural blond right here. Seemed so long ago, sleeping in the ballroom, getting flung out of a catapult, running for his life. Sweet, blissful memories. Now he got to watch people soar through the air.
Tomorrow was going to be a fun day.
Maybe more than one person might pass initiation? Whelp! With that in mind, next to the students below getting restless, time to get the show on the road. The sooner, the better. Penny planned to barge in and take him to the local arcade. Sounded like a blast, this time he would beat her at something. Fingers crossed for the dancing game.
Beyond that, he considered running into the forest with the new first-years, tempted to train as the level-eight combat drones hardly put up much of a fight. If not, then to at least return to his room and catch up on the latest issue of Ninjas of Love. Sir Scrabbles loved it when he read it to him. Ha-ha! Ha! Uh? He needed to make some friends. Most people kept their distance now in awe-inspiring inspiration, like some podium he had trouble getting off, a true buzzkill. Maybe this year things might be different? Only one way to find out!
He coughed into the microphone to grab everyone's attention.
Jaune Arc stood at the podium, sporting a five o'clock shadow with messier locks. Vials of Dust hung on his multiple belts, a rainbow of color, and Crocea Mors hung on his hip with his shield strapped to his back. Cheerful ocean blues searched the crowd, and he grinned at the seven familiar faces staring back.
"Welcome to Beacon Academy."
Author Notes: A what-if story with each letter holding about five-hundred words, some more, but never below five-hundred. Got tired of rolling my eyes at all the Jaune Arc fails initiation stories and decided to reverse that problem.