Even though she lived a rather spartan lifestyle, Pyrrha was still impressed by how much stuff she had to bring with her as she packed up to head to Beacon. Running down the checklist, it was hard to imagine that her whole life was contained on this sheet of paper, but, well, Beacon was going to be where Pyrrha would enter the next great stage of her life, competing no longer on just the Kingdom-wide stage, but truly facing down the best in the world, seeing how she compared to the finest Huntsmen alive.
Her mother stepped into the room, and Pyrrha realized, as she followed her mother's eyes, how empty her now packed up room felt. And how real her imminent departure was.
It was a sorrowful note, even as excited as Pyrrha was to step away from her old life in Sanctum and Mistral and face a new adventure far off in Vale. Her mother had raised her all on her own, after Pyrrha's father had passed, and now Pyrrha was leaving her with an empty nest.
She didn't hesitate to return the hug as her mother enfolded her into her arms. "I'm so, so proud of you," she murmured.
"I know," Pyrrha replied, hoarsely, feeling a surge of emotion come over her.
"You've always made me proud..." but then her mother seemed to stiffen her spine a little as she loosed herself from the hug and forced herself to keep it together as she looked Pyrrha in the eye. "Just… remember where you came from, Pyrrha. And never forget, you have a home here, no matter what happens. And you can always come back here for help or advice or anything you need! And remember... your accomplishments are not just for you, they're for-"
"The glory of our Queen Salem," Pyrrha interrupted her mother with a laugh, the familiarity of the phrase giving some levity to break the situation's weight. "I know mom, I've been practicing since I was a child to honor our culture and traditions. I'll make you, and all of us, proud. I promise."
Her mother wrapped her back in a tight hug, and Pyrrha struggled not to let the emotion she was feeling get the better of her. While so many of her fellow competitors fought for selfish, personal glory, Pyrrha knew that this was worth more than any of that. All victory gained for the self was hollow and empty. Pyrrha had learned how the champion's life could be a lonely one, the level of dedication it took to excel so consistently had a tendency to drive away people who might get close, and success brought an endless tide of false friends and manipulators.
But Pyrrha had something more than the glory of a tournament victory. She had purpose, she had community. Even if it was all in secret, in underground meetings held only in the most secure locations, Pyrrha knew that her efforts to succeed as a competitor was part of a greater plan. She performed so that, one day, when the True Queen of the World would reveal herself in her glory, Pyrrha would be in position to welcome her return to Remnant.
But as her mother released her from the hug, she looked away. "Well… there's more to it. You see..." for what might be the first time in Pyrrha's life, her mother looked… uncertain. "I received a notice from… Mr. Rainart. A request from the Queen. Herself."
Pyrrha's eyes went wide at that. She had spent a summer training under the great Hazel Rainart, an incredible honor, not just in how much she'd learned from the master, but in knowing she had the attention of someone who attended to Queen Salem personally. But Master Rainart was only a man—to know she had earned the Queen, their Goddess's personal interest almost made her heart stop beating.
Her throat, she realized, was suddenly dry as she asked, "What… what would our Goddess have of me?"
Nodding, her mother relayed to her the instructions. "At Beacon, you will rendezvous with a pair of cult agents, codenamed Stormflower. They will be looking for you and will introduce themselves as such. They will give you more specific instructions, but… the Queen has requested that you serve as the bodyguard for someone... precious to her. I don't know who he is, but… Queen Salem evidently considers him to be a man of… the highest importance."
That wasn't in question. If Queen Salem thought he was important enough to deserve Pyrrha's protection, Pyrrha's only question was what she had to do to live up to her Queen's expectations. "I will protect him with my life and my honor," she replied, resolutely.
Pyrrha suddenly found herself enveloped in another tight hug, this one strong enough to almost knock the wind out of her. But she didn't mind, not when her mother's voice was just bursting with so much happiness as she said, "This is the greatest honor our family has ever received, and I couldn't be more proud that it came to you. I know you will bring honor to the Nikos name, that even our Blessed Queen will hear of your accomplishments."
"I'll make you proud, mom," she whispered back into the hug.
"I know you will," she said, and Pyrrha struggled to keep the tears from flowing, "You always do."
"Agent Lotus—psst—this is Thunderbolt, come in Agent Lotus, over—bzzt."
"Agent Thunderbolt, this is Lotus, we are not on a radio and you do not have to represent static," Ren replied without looking up from his book, "Also, it might be unwise to be using our code names so casually while we're in public."
Nora rolled her eyes. "But they're so cool," she protested.
Ren briefly looked up from his book. "It's a bad idea, Nora."
"Well!" she huffed, "Uncle Tyrian said I was your commanding officer for this mission, and-"
"Ms. Fall said Victory's our immediate superior."
Nora rolled her eyes. "Yeah, but until we rendezvous with her, your cute butt belongs to me, Agent Lotus!"
Suddenly, Nora realized there was a girl in a red cloak with wide silver eyes next to her. "I'm sorry, but… are you two secret agents?" she asked in an eager, squeaky voice.
"We absolutely are!" Nora proclaimed before Ren could stop her.
"Wow!" she replied, in genuine excitement. "Are you infiltrating Beacon for Mistral? I mean, cause your outfits are totally Mistralian and… oh no, is that racist? I'm so sorry, I didn't-"
"Nope!" Nora cut her off, "We're infiltrating for an even cooler and more secret conspiracy than any Kingdom's government! It's gonna knock your socks off once we reveal ourselves to-"
Suddenly, a confident, powerful-looking girl with a big head of blonde hair and biceps that made Nora really excited to start punching, rounded the corner. "Oh, there you are, Ruby! And hey, you're already making friends!"
"They're secret agents!" The girl, Ruby, eagerly informed Yang, "They're infiltrating Beacon and it's a conspiracy!"
"We are not secret agents," Ren replied offhandedly, still not looking up from his book. "Secret agents don't tell everyone they're secret agents."
"Oh, yeah," Nora said, putting a finger to her lips, "I guess we're just regular agents then. But it's still for a really cool conspiracy!"
"Come on Ruby," the blonde girl said, rolling her eyes, "though I get the feeling you'll have an easier time fitting in at Beacon than I thought."
She and Renny had the perfect double act. Nobody took what she said seriously, so she could hide in plain sight as they both covered for the other effortlessly. Really, was there anyone who'd meet the two of them that would catch on to the fact that Renny always lied while Nora only told the truth?
As the airship docked, she knew they had two priorities to achieve. First, to rendezvous with Agent Victory (and, sadly, pass on command, though, it was to a super-cool warrior princess type!) and then, to get a visual on their target: code named Sauvignon.
Sauvignon. Nora was excited to meet him. With a code name like that—Renny said it was Old Valean for "savage," which was crazy—she was sure she'd recognize him on sight, but like a lot of badasses Nora had met in her loyal service to Queen Salem, maybe he hid it on the inside, looking like anyone until it was time for the knives to come out!
Ren had a picture of him with a detailed description and his name and all that, but Nora much preferred the mystery of knowing that someone Queen Salem herself had ordered them to protect could be anyone on this airship! Like that girl with the hood who- wait, she did know it was a guy. But it could still be any non-Renny boy on the airship! Maybe even that blond guy who'd ran into the bathroom to throw up!
Nora liked that option—she really hoped that guy was Sauvignon! Maybe he was just bad at flying to compensate for the way he could utterly dismantle his enemies! Yes, that was almost certainly what was going on!
Of course, it was much easier to spot Victory while they were disembarking. After all, who didn't know who Pyrrha Nikos was? Nora and Ren had been living in the wilderness for the past few years with Uncle Tyrian and even they could recognize the crimson-haired warrior goddess standing like she was imperiously above all of them.
And, damn, looking as fine as she did, Nora couldn't blame her for flaunting it!
She and Ren allowed the various gawkers to file past her, far too intimidated to actually speak to the champion, but they knew the password.
"Excuse me," Ren said, his voice low, "but I believe you might be able to help me, you see, I don't recall how to claim my weapons after I checked them? Two machine pistols, called Stormflower, if the weapon type makes a difference."
Upon hearing the codeword, a smile crossed the Invincible Girls' face.
"Oh, I know where we can go to… find it. A pleasure to meet you, by the way—I'm Pyrrha Nikos, though some call me the Goddess of Victory. And you are?"
"NORA VALKYRIE!" Nora loudly announced, throwing handfuls of confetti she had packed for just this occasion. "And this is my Renny Bear, Ren!"
As her comrades recovered from her sudden outburst, Nora smiled broadly. She was so excited to work for Agent Victory!
"Anyways," their new boss coughed, "if you two could… follow me."
Walking with Pyrrha, Nora felt like the belle of the ball! Everyone was looking at them, and, yeah, probably not great for cool secret agents, but Nora was a specialist in Overt Ops, trained by Uncle Tyrian in being loud and boisterous and distracting everyone else by just living life and having a good time! Let everybody look at them; they'd be so distracted by Nora, they wouldn't even realize what they weren't supposed to see. And soon enough, they had broken away from where the people were.
Under Nora's cover, Ren was giving Pyrrha the 4-1... what was the last number? Eh, she'd remember it later.
"Our target is code-named 'Sauvignon,' which I believe is Old Valean for savage, which gives us some guidance to what sort of man we're dealing with. His actual name is Jaune Arc, of the Arc family—their lineage is sacred, quite possibly the literal blood of the Goddess. The Field Commander of our Queen's Valean operations tells me that, while our Lady has… gifted him with some protection, the exact form it takes is unknown and, by her assessment, he will need both a bodyguard and personal trainer."
Pyrrha nodded, smartly. "Simple enough. Is there a plan in place to ensure that the four of us end up on the same team?"
Ren paused a bit at that. "Beacon uses a… fairly… bizarre admissions policy involving, apparently, every admitted student being flung into the woods by a catapult. I don't… I don't know. It's just how they do things here. But your task will be to track down Sauvignon and ensure that you are partnered with him-"
"I would recommend preparing a call in advance," Nora helpfully butted in, "Renny and I are using a sloth call for it."
Ren continued, as though Nora hadn't said anything, "And then grabbing the same chess piece as the two of us recover from a ruin within the forest."
"Obviously, the Castle!"
Pyrrha's mind seemed to be whirring like an overcharged hammer mechashift engine as she took in the information. "Get to the target before anyone else, grab the Castle chess piece, and then exfiltrate. Simple enough. Now—are we to get in touch with Sauvignon before we begin initiation or are we to observe from a distance?"
"We're to maintain distance, until-"
Ren and Pyrrha whirled, while Nora was left confused by the sudden explosion. Usually, she was the one who blew things up at random, this was a completely unexpected situation where-
Oh no! Little red hood girl was the one who was exploded or did the exploding! Another plus in Nora's book, of course, but she looked rather miserable as a bunch of girls just yelled at her for some reason. Nora resolved to help pick her up, give her some reassurance that no matter how many times you get exploded, you still matter!
But before she could march on over and give that advice, it turned out that there were still some heroes in the world of men (a very rare sight, in Nora's experience!) as the guy who was throwing up on the flight over reached down to help her up out of the crater. Good for him! Nora knew that vomit boy was a trustworthy and-
"That's..." Ren's voice trailed off, "That's our VIP. That's Sauvignon."
Oh boy! It was vomit boy!
I don't think I've ever had a story receive such a response before, with over 250 follows and almost 200 faves after the first chapter. I can only hope my work lives up to your expectations! I previewed this chapter on my Twitter (at SeleneSokal), and I wonder how many people picked up that Pyrrha was our cultist? And I know I write a lot of Arkos, but this is actually not going to be an Arkos fic—you'll see the dynamic Jaune and Pyrrha have later. I'm really excited for the Jaune/Cultist dynamic, though don't worry—Cinder and co. will come back as well.
Thanks to Renarde for feedback on this chapter!
Next Up: Execute the Plan