Author's notes: I have a ! I am also a starving artist! Help me not starve this year by going...

P a treon . com (slash) Blackmarch

...here, If what I do pleases you and you want to see more! Which there is! Remember, it only takes two dollars to feed a birb and keep them hatching plots!

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The experience that was hearing Ozpin give a speech was almost entirely like I thought it was going to be. Cryptic as shit and kinda rambly, in other words. There was some deepness to it, yeah, but it was the sort of deepness that you'd expect off of the contents of a fortune cookie.

'Think for yourselves' and 'only you can choose your destiny' type stuff. Not exactly fresh material… Of course, that probably had been pretty cool at the time he'd made it up. Or heard it. Whatever. He was thousands of years old or something. If being middle-aged got you set in your ways, his habits must have been made out of bedrock.

… I now had to wonder just how long he'd been throwing kids off of cliffs and into Grimm infested forests. Or the equivalent of such... Whatever had been available at the time. Catapults, maybe? Trebuchets? Something older? Like, I dunno, physically throwing them?

We had, as a people, just started using the very most basic forms of mechashift weaponry in the last century. Who knew what he'd been up to before remote cameras had made everything interesting? Not me, clearly and goddamn was I glad that anyone with an Aura hit an eight on the hotness scale, easily, if not better. Whether that was due to Aura making people more beautiful in itself, or just the Brothers deciding they wanted their science project to be pretty to look at, I had no clue.

Anyway, besides that, having to sleep in the cafeteria with a bunch of sweaty, morbidly obese weirdos with superpowers would have really made me rethink this entire thing, if anything did, for one simple reason.

Mistral existed. They had a roaring comic book industry, some of it not exactly safe-for-work. That was not a good thing.

Doujins weren't all that much different from what they'd been in my former life. I could read a bad situation when I saw one and that one would have definitely been a bad situation. I was already going to have to deal with hormonal douchebags as it was (Yes, I can see you flexing over there, and I am not impressed) and I didn't need narrative forces against me as well. Enough said.

Anyway, forget all that. It was time for me to do my job. Not the Neo one. Or the dutiful daughter one, no. The other one.

"So, Ruby. Come on. Spill. Reveal your secrets." A nudge with my shoulder into hers nearly had her tipping over, the only thing keeping her up being some sideways skipping that had me rolling my eyes. So dramatic. "Did you meet someone cool? Don't leave me here, sitting in suspense."

Being the overbearing but well-meaning older sibling/mother figure was a full-time job. Ever vigilant, that was me.

"Why shouldn't I?" Ruby huffed back at me with faux-offense as she smoothed out the thin fabric of her strawberry-themed sleeping shirt in that clumsily dismissive way she'd grown into over the years. The one she did when she realized that people could see her...sometimes. It was adorable when she forgot. And hilarious, even with the consoling I had to do to get her out of her hood. "You embarrassed me in front of the entire school-"

"All of two people besides us," I pointed out slowly. Reasonably too, in my opinion. "Everyone else was already gone. And it's not like any of them cared. We aren't the center of the world, you know?"

Schnee was, clearly. 3D animation hadn't done nearly enough justice to the size or amount of her luggage and…and I hadn't even talked to her yet, and I already knew her voice was going to grate on me something fierce. She hadn't exactly been shy about making noise earlier over something or other, I'd say that, and it hadn't exactly left the best impression.

Jaune (That was his name, right?) had a bunny onesie and some mussed up hair. You'd literally just met...no. Not even that. You'd picked him out of a crowd. No need to talk down on him in front of everyone like that… The more things changed, eh?

"The entire school," Ruby asserted under her breath as she took the chance to slide down the nearest wall with her sleeping pack in her arms, ready and waiting to be unfolded into its chocolate-brick and marshmallow pattern splendor. Best three-hundred Lein I'd ever spent on a birthday, yep. "I'm not happy with you right now."

One of my brows slowly began to rise right after she went silent. Higher. Higher… A little more while I opened my own pack...and I nodded. "So you did make a friend."

"I didn't say anything like that!"

"You don't have to. Didn't." I nodded again. "You're doing that thing you do. You know." A hand to each side of my cheeks with a tap outlined exactly what I meant. "Smiling."

That wasn't much by itself, really. It wasn't like Ruby gave out smiles sparingly or anything...but, depending on how she reacted to this...

"S-so what if I am? There's nothing wrong with that," Ruby challenged me outright, her smile changing to a frown and back as if it was unsure on what it wanted to be. "I'm allowed to smile! Why does me smiling have to have any meaning to it?"

"Oh… Well. When you put it like that..." A look across the way at the ginger waving madly in our general direction, and Ruby's own twitching fingers as she fought to keep her hand down, put the lie to her defense. That I was the one to return the waving with one of my own didn't seem to bother Ruby's new friend in the slightest. She just added another hand for double the waving while my tone went dry. "You might have a point there. I'm sorry for questioning you."

With some grumpy staring and mumbling at me to start off with, Ruby gave up the withered corpse of her argument and joined in on the disconnected sea of enthusiastically flapping arms.

"Fine. You got me. Her name is Nora and she's really nice." Ruby and I quit waving in jerky tandem when Nora's friend quietly interrupted her with a hand on her shoulder, stopping our greeting ritual in that way only lifelong friends could do; with a look and a touch. How sweet. "There aren't a lot of people that know their weapons as close as she does." She hummed a dreamy sound that could have only been for one reason. "Magnhild is amazing… Nothing on Crescent Rose, of course, but..."

"Of course not. You don't need to explain. The thought had never crossed my mind." I assured her, unphased by her playfully flat look as I slid into my own sleeping bag; a 'Ladies and the Beast' limited edition, one of fifty ever made for a lottery and Hunter rated… I'd had to insist on that last part. It had been one of my better life choices and I'd never had cause to regret it…yet. If anyone knew the source material, they weren't owning up to it. "But, come on. We've got a big day tomorrow. Initiation and all that. Sleep."

"Blah, blaaah, blaaaaaah."

"... Oh. I see how it is. Well, if that's how you're going to be, even after I asked after your day…" I sniffed. "Blah to you too. Blah and humbug."

She giggled at that, leaving me with one last retort as her face disappeared into the depths of her bag where my words couldn't reach her. "You're such a dork."

… My heart. How would I ever recover? Oh. I know.

Pulling the bag up to my chin, I went to sleep. Like a baby... A genius baby.

All according to plan...and tomorrow was going to be great.

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Nine in the morning. The start of the week. A Monday, standing out in the open and on top of a cliff; overlooking an idyllic forest expanse that espoused the glory of Nature and all its wonders just by existing (as long as you ignored the endless streams of murder beasts inside of it)… It was nice, I guess. A good place for a picnic. Or making out… Or picnics and making out… Once again, it was nice.

Too bad I already hated it. In another life, we could have been friends...but it seemed that was not to be.

"Is your sister alright?" I heard Nora ask Ruby at a loud-whisper, one that was in no way subtle even against the ever-present backdrop of other student whispers. Get more than five of us together and there'll be whispers. That's a fact. A hateful, hateful fact. "She's been staring at the forest for the last five minutes now, and I don't think she's stopped frowning since she woke up."

I slowly turned my head, giving my slightly blurry vision time to focus into its rightful laser-like intensity for optimum transfixing… How was I supposed to put the fear of god into my enemies and innocent bystanders without laser-like intensity? Was such a thing possible, or was it only myth?

Gift upon me thy secrets, oh harsh and uncaring reality.

Ruby took her time in answering, spending it on fiddling with the inner lining of her cloak as I caught my bearings and pushed off the fog. "She's - not all that good with mornings." She shook her head and let her cloak fall. "Or Mondays. All of the coffee at breakfast being purely for the staff didn't help either. Or having to share - accommodations with so many people." Ruby lowered her voice into a whisper of her very own, one that happened to be much more successful than the last...not that that was hard. "And I don't think she likes that one girl. The loud one with the white hair and the-"

My frown deepened. Weiss had made it quite obvious this morning that she'd never had to wait for the bathroom before...while I was using it. I wasn't sure how I could be less impressed with her, but she was really working on it.

"Stick up her butt?"

… No. Too easy. The very meaning of 'low-hanging fruit'. Leave it be.

"Yeah, her." Ruby sighed. "Yang is just being grumpy. Give her an hour."

"Ahhhh… Say no more. I understand." Nora intoned with a sympathetic nod and eyes full of exaggerated pity. "Renny's the same way when he doesn't get his daily green tea and thirty minutes of close physical contact. He's very sensitive, you see. Gets all emotional and everything without them."

'Renny', like the highly intelligent individual he clearly was, continued to pretend that he wasn't a part of the conversation happening three feet away from him. If he'd even noticed, he wasn't owning up to it that I could see… That was the face of a man that would clean up at poker. It was like looking at a marble statue. Goddamn.

The loud kchack of someone getting thrown off a cliff had me, regretfully, shelving my book plans in favor of pulling my goggles out of my collar and slapping them on. It might not have been necessary or anything, seeing as Aura's uses were many and varied...but whatever. They made me look cool and were actually useful.

Aviator shades, funnily enough, didn't do very well when it came to staying on while Hunters did Hunter things. Some people got it to work, of course, but I'd just never, personally, got the hang of it. Never saw the point. Learning how to keep shades on while doing backflips and breaking the sound barrier while doing so had never been a major part of my priorities.

I was already awesome. Trying too hard would just mess up my 'easy-cool' image… How would people continue to respect me if I switched my paradigm up like that? Gotta be yourself, man, and stick to your guns. That was the only way to live...and I put a lot of effort into looking this easy-going.

What? Do you think people just - wake up - looking like this? Hell no. Looking this good took time and effort… Some serious prep, at the least. Unlike some people, I didn't have the time to spend a couple of hours in the restroom on waking up and another few hours on going to sleep. Of course not. Ridiculous.

My hair was just past shoulder length for a reason.

"See you at the bottom, sis. Watch out for those trees." Ruby, as the last person before me on the firing line, stuck her tongue out at me and made a 'bleh' noise before blasting off, the ungrateful little shit.

I'd essentially raised her and that was how she treated me? In public even? Actual public? I'd told her about that one time I'd toppled a tree with my face in confidence! This level of escalation, even if only hinted at, in our game of siblings-and-blackmail was completely unwarranted!

When my time came I was ready. Knees bent and jaw set. Fists up and ready to punch that fucking bird (a baby Nevermore, I was glad to see) that had decided to get in my way when things kicked off. When I kicked off, the pad and a double handful of shot behind me were more than enough to do what I'd set out to do.

I punched the bird. Fighting type against flying and fighting won. That was a given...but that was just a single step in my grand plan.

My landing strategy was simple. Well tested. Didn't involve me leaving cartoonish imprints in anything solid that might have gotten in the way or becoming a smear on the floor. All the important parts, really, even if it wasn't particularly fancy or extra when compared to some of the things my peers got up to… The only difference to it was that, this time, I was intentionally going for speed over distance.

Another shot pushed me just past Ruby, already firing her gun into the forest as a quick and dirty lithobraking. One that was instantly plugged into the on the fly physics equations that were beaten into every Hunter child by the age of nine. The sort of shit that would have had rational scientists tearing their hair out and supercomputers going overtime, crunched and processed by instinct; nothing more than a means to an end for the both of us to look as cool as possible while I rolled through the treetops and missed every branch on the way down.

Well...almost every branch. I didn't have X-Ray vision, or precognition, sadly. My life would have been all kinds of different if I did... Though, seeing as I'd hit every one of those branches feet first, snapping them like twigs instead of the multi-hundred pound and foot-thick monstrosities that they were as they worked to slow me down, I felt that I could be forgiven.

Most landing strategies involved you getting to the ground as quickly as possible, not staying up in the air for extended periods of time. Funny how that worked. Considering the objective, it made sense to me, seeing that Aura and Remnant material science were all kinds of bullshit, to skip all the finer points and go straight from A to B. Straight lines were the best lines.

A pull of the primary and secondary triggers in my gloves to fire my heels as the forest floor came into view halved my velocity in a heartbeat. More than halved, from terminal to 'oh fuck me that's fast' with an earth-shattering kaboom and a wash of flames that I came out the other end of, howling with laughter (adrenaline was a hell of a thing)... Before I hit the ground and was forced to shut up before I bit my tongue, or something just as stupid.

Aura or not, that fucking hurts.

Eating the shock of my boots against the ground like the pro at falling from dangerous heights that I was, I spun on my heels and buried the pointed, scaled ends of my fingers into the dirt. Then my toes. Then another hand. Just enough that, instead of plowing into a tree as I bled off my momentum, I was now the proud owner of a five-foot, jagged line of lightly smoldering dirt and leaves.

… I had to wonder if I should just let that sit or something. The only things that lived in here were Grimm, so...maybe? Whatever. Not like Smokey the Ursa was a thing here...and the teachers were watching this, right? If they wanted it put out, they'd put it out. Delegation and shifting the blame to authority figures for when something goes wrong for the win.

Ruby finally made landfall as I was in the process of standing up, her back turned to me and completely oblivious to this fact as I shook off some of the more visible effects of my Semblance. Before she could make a move, probably to run off into the woods to get lost until she randomly met someone or fell off a cliff, as was her wont, I grabbed her by the shoulders.

Loving. Gentle. This is how a life is taken...and she should work on her awareness some more.

I felt her entire body go stiff, then lock up entirely as the first few strands of my hair came into view at the edge of her vision. "Beacon's cycle of education is four years long, Rubes," I whispered all friendly like into her ear. "Four. Years. Long… Oh, just imagine the hell I could put you through if I turned you around right now… The secrets I could tell. The pictures I could show."

"I regret everything right now," Ruby whimpered back at me, her face pointing stiffly forward and away from mine, "and I'm sorry. Please don't."

Letting her sweat a little longer I gave her shoulders a good squeeze. "I bet you do." With a laugh and one last squeeze that could crack a walnut, I let her go. Turned my back and started walking off into the trees. Strolling, really… It was an art. "And I won't. Not today, Rubaby. I'm not that cruel." With a wave back at her, I stepped behind a tree (these fuckers were big) and started towards the direction I vaguely remembered the temple being in… Vaguely. I'll be honest. I was just rolling dice here. Not like I could turn back and ask for questions though, now could I? "Good luck! Try not to die!"

The relief in Ruby's voice as she made her escape was palpable. Adorable. Palpably adorable. "Right back at you!"

Daaaaw...she wanted me to stay alive and stuff. The most basic sort of familial affection, not wanting to see your loved ones take a dirt nap... How cute. All was forgiven...not that I could tell her that. She was long gone by now, out of range before I could change my mind and subject her to a sort of torture unknown to children without siblings.

Opportunities. They liked to wave at me as I went on by, those bastards.

When the bushes ahead and to the side of me started rustling, I started whistling and stopped bitching. Something tuneless, but relaxed as I popped the spent shells out of my gauntlets and slipped them into a pocket in my pants for later recycling. Right, War. Left, Peace. Me in the middle, feeding into them as some fucked up metaphor for the will of the people. Vox Populi, motherfucker… It was all very deep. Remnant worthy even.

Gotta fit in, don't I?

The Ursa that had just crawled out from under that there bush didn't understand any of that though. It didn't understand how fucked it was either. Things like metaphor and threat assessment were beyond it. All it saw was a human, doing human things, and still breathing while within easy reach. Not a Huntress, about as concerned about their black and white existence as they were about the weather.

When it stood up on its hind legs to roar at me, its mouth half open as it drew in a breath, I reminded it that talking wasn't a free action by stepping up to it. By getting real deep into its personal space, still reloading the entire time...before punting the dumb animal right between the legs. Straight to the fork, hard enough for it to hop a foot in the air with a choked wail before it fell to its knees, clutching at itself with its claws and gagging.

I didn't understand why they reacted like that. Like they'd just taken a shot to the undercarriage when they didn't even have that sort of equipment...but, fuck it. They did. Even if I felt a sympathetic twinge for what I'd just done, knowing exactly how that feels, it was a minor thing when compared to the age-old war between humanity and extinction. Every weak point would be exploited, ruthlessly and without remorse.

If he hadn't wanted to get his imaginary balls busted, maybe he shouldn't have come into range of my feet. Just a thought.

"Sorry about this, but you really shouldn't have come at me alone. Your contribution to science will be remembered," I grumbled softly as a pull of War's trigger into his open mouth put him out of his misery...and right into mine as my new loadout instantly proved itself to be - overly efficient. Disquietingly so as, after the smoke had cleared, I found myself staring at a still mostly intact Ursa.

Arms, legs, body. All there. The top of his head though...uh… Shit. That wasn't good.

"Maybe I should adjust the mix on this some more..."

The only part of his head that still existed was his lower jaw and, grossly enough, his tongue. Like - his entire tongue, just flopping out where his mouth used to be and onto his neck as a big, gross red mass… And I could see the rest of his skull right behind him, his brainpan or brainpan equivalent, turning to ash at the base of a tree ten yards away while lit by a sickly blue and somewhat acrid flame.

Nobody needed to see that. Nope. That was the sort of thing hell was made of.

"Yeah. That might be a good idea. Fix it. Remnant doesn't have treaties against war crimes yet." I nodded to myself. Booted the still kneeling corpse over to the side to get it out of my line of fire as the bushes that unlucky Grimm had come out off began to rustle once more and I switched to 'basic' rounds. You know. The ones that everyone else used in some way or another. How boring. "I probably shouldn't give them any ideas."

I wasn't going to give this mix up, of course. Big problems needed big solutions. But, still...no one had to know that this was a thing that I'd just done… Or that I'd been mixing Willie Pete with Fire Dust flakes to see what would happen for that matter.

That White Phosphorus had never been seriously considered for its military uses when Dust was a thing (an, admittedly, magical thing) didn't matter. Hugging jackets and padded rooms weren't exactly in season… Let alone proprietary lawsuits, prompted by non-Schnee chemical/mineral additions to Schnee brand Dust crystals that affected their use or properties.

That wasn't a joke. That had been in the warranty and everything...and everything was Schnee Dust these days, so it wasn't like I could just go around them. Not unless I wanted to go to Vacuo and trawl the bazaars...but fuck that. I wasn't made of money. Also, fuck sand, man.

Fucking Schnee.

The bushes stopped rustling and Weiss (I'd recognize that stupid tiara anywhere) stumbled out of the brush, cursing under her breath as she picked a twig out of her dress...and looked up.

Irony.

Silence. Long, horrified, silence. Silence so powerful that it was nearly a sound of its own as she made eye contact with me… Half of an eye, to be specific, seeing as the other half of her face was behind the protective wall that was an upraised, and lightly steaming, Peace.

The goggles. They did nothing. Shit.

"Oh. It's you." The flat expression on her face slowly morphed into a polite (that was, indeed, a thing) sneer. "The Brute."

I swear to god, I almost pulled the trigger right then and there, right into her face. Not one of my proudest moments.

She'd have lived, sure, seeing as Peace lived up to its name when used in its secondary function. She wouldn't have been all that happy about being alive, of course, but she would be alive...and she wouldn't be complaining about the quality of the school's toilet paper anymore. Or how long I'd taken to do my hair.

A single comment from me about how the 'rough' makeup of the paper had clearly led to her getting a terrible case of booty hurt had really lightened up our collective mornings. Like a garbage-fire lit up a piss-soaked alleyway.

It had been a party, alright...and, damn. My early morning blues were going strong today. Pull it back, girl. She's a bitch, sure, but an inter-student body maiming on the first day of school was a little much, don't you think? Give it some time.

"... No. I refuse. I won't allow it." She turned around and made to head right back into the brush she'd just came out of. "Anyone else would do. Anyone at all," She muttered under her breath, nowhere near quietly enough for me not to hear it. "It didn't count. No. Of course not. I can't even see her eyes. Surely, staring into those hideous, insect-like-"

"I can hear you whining from here. Real classy, Weiss," I cut her off right there, my tone sickeningly sweet. Dissing my completely functional fashion sense just wasn't done. Bitch was just jealous she didn't have pockets... Cargo pants forever, no regrets. "You're my partner now, princess, and I'm yours. I'm not all that happy about it either, but you don't see me denying reality."

I inhaled, deeply, as I forcefully switched off the igniters in my gauntlets and pointedly didn't set her on fire. "Stop acting like a child and let's get 'er done." I turned my back, the bigger woman in all ways that counted… Poor thing was flat as a board. Also, the last word was the best word. "You're going the wrong way too, just so you know. Good luck with that."

Weiss paused, mid-bramble patch. I hoped it itched. "Y-you don't know that!"

"You don't either!" I sang back and kept on walking.

The high growl and stomp on the ground as I made some distance was ignored. The bustle of her skirts getting louder at the thirteen-second mark as she started following after me, not so much.

Weiss had no other options here. Simple as that.

She had no idea where she was going. I 'knew' better than her and that was enough for her to suck it up and fall in line…for now. Weiss was probably just waiting for the right time to tell me I was wrong or something. Her trying to take command at some point was expected.

Try was the operative word here. Fortune favored the bold, people...and, boy, was I BOLD.