So, this is actually something I wanted to write for a long time, because I really enjoy some of the similarities between Fable and RWBY's concepts with Heroes/Huntsmen and a largely dangerous world with people in somewhat isolated communities.
If people enjoy this and are interested, I'd love to write more, though the priority will always be Hereditary.
If you have any feedback, I'd especially appreciate it here, and I'd be happy to answer any questions in the comments.
It was still sunrise as Ruby passed through the gates to Domremy. It had been over a year since the caravan had last traveled to the largest coastal port on Sanus' eastern coast, but she was glad to see the city again. They hadn't actually been planning to see the city for another few months, usually stopping there in the winter, but Theresa had insisted they make their way to Domremy quickly, and the tribe had arrived in September instead.
Theresa had warned them of trouble near the coastal city, and when Theresa suggested the tribe move quickly, they listened. When she was younger, she hadn't understood why they would listen to her, especially since neither Ruby or the older woman were born to them, but in time, it became clear to the now fourteen year old redhead.
Theresa was a seer, and the things Ruby had learned from the woman who saved her as a child were fascinating. Secrets forgotten to the world at large since the age of the Old Kingdom. Secrets of Will, of the forgotten magics of Remnant, before the shattering of the moon.
The teen dismissed such errant thoughts, not wanting to bump into someone on accident again as she continued down the main road. She had a job to do, like Theresa instructed, and she didn't have time to dawdle on reminiscing. The walk towards the center of the market district took about thirty minutes, thankfully not heavily impeded by large crowds given the early hour of day.
She wasn't in Domremy to shop, though, that much was certain. If Theresa wanted her here, no matter how vague the old woman liked to be, she knew it had something to do with something… unnatural near the city. Be it Grimm or something worse, it was her job as a Hero-in-training to take care of it.
Standing before one of the city's announcement boards, the young teen ran her finger across the large screen, searching up local incidents. Troubling, there was a notable uptick in missing people. That was fairly common for the sort of events that Theresa sent Ruby to deal with, but the amount of missing children is what stood out to the girl. She had an idea of what might be wrong, and she didn't like it.
"Sparrow," The circular seal on Ruby's belt, partially concealed by her tattered red cloak, hummed softly, the teen rolling her eyes at the nickname Theresa had been insistent on giving her as a child. "Did you determine the source of the crisis in Domremy?"
"Yes, ma'am." Ruby said in a hushed whisper, eyes darting around the deserted market to be certain that no one was around to see her, the teen's left hand placed on the seal as she channeled her Aura into it to activate the connection. "It's as you feared, a Nymph. It looks as though it's been active for some time, a couple months, at least."
"A Nymph?" Theresa didn't really sound surprised at the statement, which was, of course, expected. She probably knew the whole time, but she wanted Ruby to be used to picking up on clues like this, and sent her into the town anyways. "Are you sure you're up to the task on your own? There's no shame in asking for Scythe's aid if necessary."
"I'm fine." Ruby snapped back, glaring at nothing in particular, given the lack of people around. "You said this was an important test for me, so I'll handle it! I've been practicing my time alteration, so have a little faith."
"What if the test is learning to accept help when you don't want it?" Theresa retorted, doing nothing to help Ruby's foul expression. A sigh came through the old Guild Seal, indicating the old woman knew there was no point in continuing. "Very well, Sparrow. Be sure to stock up on supplies before you embark on your trial. Those beowolves a few days ago left your ammunition depleted."
"What? Of course I'll remember!" No she hadn't, but she didn't want to acknowledge such a simple mistake. She could almost feel the grin on the aged woman's face, taking a deep breath to calm herself before continuing. "I'll see you in a couple days, Theresa. Thank you."
"Good luck, Sparrow." Ruby rolled her eyes, huffing a little. She was ready for this, no matter what Theresa thought.
Waiting around for the next hour or so until the shops was boring, but at least it gave her a little more time for reading, something she had quite the passion for. Perhaps after buying a few cartridges of fire dust bullets, she could check one of the bookstores for anything interesting, so long as she was on the search in the surrounding region within the next couple of hours. When Nymphs were involved, it was best not to dawdle and risk more lives, so every second counted.
Thankfully, she was able to find a Dust provider that was open quickly enough, and made her way inside. She was a little worried they might not have the sort of ammunition she needed, but after a quick chat with the man at the register, she found they simply kept all higher caliber ammunition behind the counter. After purchasing five cartridges of 12.7mm bullets, 50 in total, the teen thanked the man tending the store through gritted teeth, silently lamenting the high price of dust munitions in Domremy.
Making her way out of the store with her ammunition secure on her belt, the teen looked through her wallet with a defeated sigh. Barely over a thousand lien left, this is what she got for not making her own ammunition while they were traveling this past week. No books for her today, it seemed. With a defeated sigh, the redhead placed her money back in her back pouch, and began making her way towards the city limits.
As she passed by the announcement board she'd used before, she spotted a group of fair-skinned blondes gathered around, accompanied by a weeping brunette with tanned skin. Four women, one man, the tallest and burliest of the blondes. A frown formed on her face as she passed, overhearing some of the group's discussion.
"If you had just trained him, maybe we wouldn't be having this problem!" The brunette exclaimed, prodding the tall man's chest with her finger.
"Juno, you know why I don't w-"
"Don't you dare with that nonsense, Blaine!" The tanned woman, Juno, interrupted who Ruby assumed to be her spouse. "First Indigo went missing, now our son's gone after her! If you'd given him a chance he might've had the wisdom not to go off on his own!"
Ruby didn't hear the rest of the argument as she picked up the pace, a pit in her stomach as she made her way to the city's gates, rose petals trailing behind her as she tapped into her semblance, what Theresa had called her "Inner Will."
The forests south of Domremy were largely deciduous, with wide-trunked oak trees standing firm on gently hilled ground. It was, admittedly, rather beautiful, especially now as the leaves had begun to fall, the canopy above a brilliant mosaic of yellows, reds, and oranges. Various small shrubs and bushes lined the path Ruby was now following, a relatively fresh one she suspected might have been made by the absent son the family she had passed was arguing about.
She needed to keep calm, despite the severity of the situation, as she wanted to avoid drawing Grimm towards her. Sure, Intrepid Rose, her self-described "Sword-Howitzer" (which it absolutely was not, rather a very high caliber pistol-sword), rested in its compressed form on her magnetic holster at the small of her back, but she didn't want to waste ammunition if she could avoid it. Relying too much on her Will was out of the question as well, as it could be detrimental to her Aura if she wasn't careful.
So, she did what she always did when she needed to calm her nerves: she sang.
"Down by the reeds,
Down by the reeds,
Swim the sirens of Oakvale,
Down to the seas."
It was an old tune, one she wouldn't know if not for Theresa singing it to her when she was still a young girl, lost and afraid, separated from her family by an attack from crazed man and a tumble down the cliffs her mother's grave lay on. For a woman pushing well over a millennium in age if she was to be believed, the old woman had a rather gentle voice, one of the few positive memories of those early years with the caravan, when Ruby was scared and felt alone.
According to the blind seer, Oakvale was the name of the town that had eventually blossomed into the great Kingdom of Vale known today, it's founder a great hero the seer knew personally. Ruby would be far more skeptical of the woman had her foresight not been proven correct time and time again, but it was hard to imagine she was nearly two thousand years old. Sirens, of course, were a rather vile form of Grimm, which took the shape of young women and drew men off their ships and into open waters with a seductive song, though in Ruby's experience slaying one, it was more of a loud hum. Pleasant, but not enough to enthrall her.
"Down by the reeds,
Down by the reeds,
Float the souls left unbroken
By white Balverines,"
As far as Ruby could tell, "Balverine" was another, older term for Beowolves, by the lupine description Theresa had given her when she asked. Strange that the woman had also made a distinction. Ruby opened her mouth, about to sing the next verse, when a voice called out to her, clearly human.
"Hello?" Ruby picked up the pace, going from a brisk walk to quick jog, following the sound of the voice. Soon enough, she came across a teenaged blonde boy, dangling in a heap from a primitively made net woven from vines and torn cloth, likely the clothes of some of the missing people. Noticing her, the boy gave a desperate wave with the arm not securely in the net. "Um! Hello! Can you get me down from here?"
A lighthearted chuckle escaped Ruby's lips, despite the growing weight in her stomach at the sight of the net. This confirmed her worst fears, and she would have to be on guard. Taking a deep breath, she focused her Aura into her left hand, holding it palm down in front of her right hip as she channeled her Will. Bringing it quickly upward in a diagonal slash, Ruby unleashed the collected energies into an invisible blade of wind, cutting through the already fraying rope of cloth and vine, bringing the boy tumbling to the ground with a loud "oof!"
Standing up, the blonde gave Ruby a sheepish grin, scratching at the back of his head. He was about to speak, until his cheeks took on a verdant hue, and he proceeded to lose what the redhead presumed to be a haphazardly prepared breakfast all over her boots.
Brothers damn it.
"Oh, god! I'm so sorry!" The blonde desperately exclaimed, wiping his face with his sleeve, before mumbling to himself something about needing a wash anyways. Looking at Ruby, he tried desperately to explain. "I-I'm really sorry! I just get motion sickness and I've been stuck in there for like an hour and it was swinging so much for a while."
"Why do you have a cut on your cheek?" Ruby asked bluntly, noticing the small trail of blood running down his face.
The boy gasped, clapping hand to his face in an attempt to locate it. "I-I must've gotten cut by a stick or something on the ground." The blonde excused, looking a bit perplexed. "It's no big deal! Just a little cut."
"Why hasn't your Aura taken care of it?" Ruby asked, perplexed by his nonchalant reaction.
"My, uh, what?" Ruby's brow furrowed at his question. Did he… not know what Aura is? She knew he was untrained but surely he wouldn't have run off without it at all.
"Your Aura." Ruby said a little slower, a growing worry at his confused expression. "The Will of your soul? Aura!"
"I, um… I don't have that?" The blonde revealed, giving another sheepish grin, which Ruby could only respond to with a deadpan stare.
She was about to walk past the boy, when Theresa's words came forward in her mind. What if this was a test on accepting health, even if she didn't want it.
"Damnit, fine. Just a second." Ruby taking a deep breath, doing her best to remember the chant Theresa had told her. Technically, she wasn't supposed to do this, it was ill advised to not allow people to unlock their own auras through training and meditation, but this sort of situation called for desperate measures. Placing a hand on his chest, just above his heart, and another on his forehead, she took a deep breath, shutting her eyes.
For it is in Will that we achieve divinity.
Ruby felt her heart beat slowly as her Aura reached out, prodding at the blonde young man in front of her. This was… wrong. Intimate. Something that should've been saved for someone close to him, if it wasn't to be unlocked on his own.
Through this we become a vessel for freedom and determination to stand for ourselves.
Aura concentrated in Ruby's hand placed above the boy's heart, searching deeper and deeper to find the core of his soul within him. It felt as though time had slowed completely as she made contact with it.
Liberated from Darkness and unbound by fear, I release your soul, and by my light, shepherd you.
She had assumed at first because of her difficulty finding it, it was going to be small, meager. Nothing truly noteworthy, fitting for a boy who had no real place in this, but had decided to seek out his sister despite the risk. Instead, it was overwhelming, like a surge of power that pulled in her own before the connection was broken.
Ruby staggered back, eyes wide with surprise as the faint outline of the blonde's golden Aura surrounded him, his soul glowing brilliantly even in the morning light that pierced the canopy.
"H-Hey, are you okay?" The boy asked, Ruby holding out a hand to ask him to wait as she struggled to catch her breath. How? How could someone like this have gone untrained? He had more Aura than her, and she had been training since she was five years old!
"I'll… I'll be fine." The redhead insisted, standing tall again with a slight groan. "You… You have a lot of Aura."
"I do?" He sounded both surprised, and not sure what that meant. Brothers, his parents really had refused to teach him anything. It was hard for Ruby to imagine, having lived with the caravan for most of her life. Everyone there had their Aura unlocked, they had to if they were going to travel the wilds of Sanus, be it in Vale, Vacuo, or the untapped lands of the south where people were few and far between. "What, uh, what does that mean, exactly?"
"It means…" A sigh escaped her lips, which formed into a playful smile. "It means you're going to have to put those ears to use while we walk, Vomit Boy. I have a lot to explain."
It was about twenty minutes after she'd met the blonde, who was quick to insist that she call him Jaune, not "Vomit Boy," before they first encountered their foes. She had just finished helping the clumsy blonde (not that she could talk, given her tendency to run into people) up after he'd tripped on a root, when she heard the first footfalls around them. "Jaune."
"Huh?" The blonde bumbled out, caught off guard by the severity of her tone.
"Bring your Aura up, just like I told you, then get your weapon out." Ruby instructed, reaching behind her back and deploying Intrepid Rose, the bulky weapon whirring as she expanded it from it's travel form, the barrel expanding forward as the blade deployed across the bottom, almost like a bayonet that widened considerably at the end, curving up the front of the large pistol and coming to a stop just before the muzzle where the bullet would exit.
"R-right!" Jaune agreed, pulling the arming sword from the sheath at his hip, before fumbling around to get it properly gripped as well when it expanded to its shield form. Ruby heard the blonde take a nervous breath, looking back to see the glimmer of his Aura coming up.
As if on queue, the first of their foes arrived, a short, squat creature with a sickly grey skin color, seeming to lack a proper neck. In its arms, the creature carried a large sledgehammer in front of it, beady red eyes darting around as it pushed through a large bush in front of the duo. Spotting them, it let out a startled grunt of some kind, before charging forward blindly, hammer held over its head.
Ruby dashed forward, not even bothering to tap into her semblance as she spun on her foot, dodging the haphazard overhead swing from the creature, before bringing down Intrepid Rose through the back of its head. A startled gurgle escaped its lips before the creature fell face forward onto the ground, blood quickly pooling beneath it as Ruby flicked her weapon clean.
"Wh-What the hell was that?" Jaune blurted out, Ruby worried the boy may lose his stomach again at the less than pleasant sight in front of him.
"Hobbe." The redhead noted grimly, a frown on her face. "If we've run into one, that means we're going in the right direction. Unfortunately, that also means we have a limited amount of time if we want to save anyone."
"What?" Jaune sounded understandably frightened, the blade in his hand trembling. Ruby felt bad for the teen, he was clearly not prepared for something like this, but that didn't matter. His sister was gone, and at the very least, the redhead wanted a chance to save her. "That's not a Grimm, is it?"
"They're aren't Grimm." Ruby confirmed, her tone solemn. "They're… something else. I can't explain it right now, but we need to go." Looking to the nervous teen accompanying her, she tried to give a reassuring smile. "Come on, we can stop whatever is taking people. Do you know of any caves in the local area?"
"Caves?" Jaune sounded confused, but at least he looked to be thinking about it if the pondering expression on his face was anything to go by. "There's the old "smugglers cave" some kids would play in last year. Why?"
"That's where we need to go." Ruby explained, clicking the button on the side of Intrepid Rose's handle, collapsing the weapon. "Lead the way?"
"Oh! Uh, yeah. Sorry." The blonde chuckled nervously, still looking a bit green from the sight of the first Hobbe she'd slain. "Uh… follow me, I guess."
She did, staying silent as she kept herself ready in case more hobbes arrived, or worse, the blonde's discomfort drew Grimm to them. Ruby knew it wasn't his fault, but she couldn't help finding it a bit frustrating that she had to deal with this sort of situation. It could've been worse, of course, she could've had to rescue him before the hobbes added him to their menu, but still, it was an unpleasant situation, not one she was best equipped for.
"So, uh," Ruby's attention turned to Jaune as the blonde spoke up, though neither stopped in their tracks. "How do you know so much about this stuff?"
"There are things, in the wilds, where people no longer tread." Ruby said, an admittedly vague explanation, but Theresa had been adamant that she keep as much of her knowledge of the Old Kingdom and the creatures that haunted the land other than Grimm secret.
"Ah, yeah, that's fair." The blonde acknowledged, chuckling nervously. "You, uh, you seem to already know that I'm pretty inexperienced. I guess it's not hard to tell. I always wanted to learn this kind of stuff, how to save people, how to fight Grimm."
"Why?" Ruby asked, curious why someone would choose this instead of life in one of the Kingdoms. Perhaps in another life, she would feel the same way, but her role in life had been thrust on her by that twisted Faunus' attack when she was a child, it had never been a choice for her.
"I just… I want to be a hero." The redhead's breath stilled for a moment at his answer, before she relaxed. He didn't mean it the way Theresa did, when she said "Hero," though there wasn't much difference between the two. "I want to help people, like my father, and grandfather, and his father before him. I just… I never got the chance."
"That's fair," Ruby nodded, "I admit, my own ambitions aren't that different, though I never really got a choice in the matter."
"Yeah, I've heard you Caravaners have it rough." Jaune said, "a lot tougher than us city folk, at least. Lots of Grimm and… whatever those things were. Dangers. Lots of dangers outside the Kingdoms."
"There are many, but the one we're after is particularly menacing, as it can draw people outside your walls." Ruby cautioned, not bothering to correct him on his assumption. While she was a Caravaner, that was hardly the reason she had no choice. "How much further do we have to this cave?"
"It shouldn't be too long! My sister Indigo is the one who showed me," Jaune had a levity to his voice that Ruby noticed quickly fade at the mention of his sister. "She's the one who… yeah."
"Don't worry," Ruby quickened her pace, coming up next to the boy to give him a reassuring smile. "We'll find her, I promise."
The entrance to the cave had been haphazardly fortified with a few wooden spikes carved from large branches, and a trio of hobbes patrolled the entrance, but Ruby made quick work of them, though it cost her a little ammunition. Jaune did his best, but she wasn't surprised he was able to do little more than block, his inexperienced attempts at swinging the sort of thing Scythe had trained out of her when she was still a child.
As they entered the cave, Ruby took out a vial from the pouch on her hip, one of the many potions provided by the Caravan using rare herbs. Raising the bottle above her eyes, she let a single drop fall in each, wincing slightly at the rather uncomfortable process.
"Hey, what is that?" Her timid companion asked, sword still trembling in his hand.
"Catseye Elixir." At the dumbfounded look Jaune was giving her, Ruby sighed, before elaborating. "It's a mixture of herbs that causes the eyes to dilate, allowing someone to see in the dark better. I don't have a torch or something to light the way."
"Oh." Jaune mumbled sheepishly, scratching at the back of his head. "I don't suppose you might have some for me?"
"Of course I do." Ruby mumbled reluctantly. This stuff wasn't easy to make, and Keira had given this to her as a gift almost a year ago for her fourteenth birthday. Maybe the chemist would be willing to provide more come the end of October. Walking up to Jaune, Ruby had to stand on the tips of her toes to reach his eyes safely, before giving him two drops of the elixir.
"Oh, God! That stings!" The blonde whimpered, staggering a couple steps back as he blinked furiously while the chemicals took hold. Ruby watched impatiently as his eyes widened with awe as he started to clearly take in their surroundings. "Woah. What's in that stuff?"
"Trade secret!" Ruby announced with a teasing lilt, a brief smirk on her face at the chance to add some levity before an otherwise grim task. "I don't even know what's in it! That's not my job. Now put this on, or you're not going to have a good time."
"Huh?" Jaune could barely let that out before the redhead pulled a thick, checker patterned scarf of purple and red, carrying a pleasant lavender scent, Ruby thrusting it into his arms before taking out one colored solid crimson for herself, smelling of rose petals and strawberry, quickly wrapping it around her head to cover her nose and mouth. "What's this for?"
"To keep the stench from getting to you, I'd rather we avoid a repeat of earlier." She replied, giving him an impatient look as he fumbled to get in on correctly. "Now come on, we're running out of time, Vomit Boy."
The blonde nodded sheepishly, while Ruby took the lead. While the elixir might aid her eyesight, it did nothing for her hearing, the redhead remaining silent as they continued through the cave. Aside from the occasional broken crate, it barely looked as though the hobbes were even in the cavern. Had it not been for the sentries out front, she might've dismissed it completely.
Thrusting her hand up abruptly, Ruby rolled her eyes as the blonde almost ran straight into her before coming to a stop.
"What is it?" Jaune whispered, not able to determine the cause for their sudden halt.
"Listen. Carefully." She shot back as quietly as possible. Though faint, the sound of strange attempts at speech could be heard, following along to some tune Ruby couldn't recognize, but her temporary companion did, the tune following along to a common children's playsong in Domremy.
Before he could ask what it meant, Ruby blitzed down the cavern, drawing Intrepid Rose from her back and deploying the blade. Jaune ran as quick as he could, but the sounds of gunfire had already filled the large room he entered by the time he arrived. The last of seven of the diminutive creatures was running away from the redhead, who simply aimed down the barrel of her high-caliber pistol-sword and fired into the back of the creature's head.
Jaune stood dazed for a moment, nausea returning at the sight of the bloodshed as well as the assortment of what he assumed were human bones surrounding a small fire burning at the center of the room. "H-Hold on a minute!" He shouted just as Ruby was about to continue, his chest rising and falling with exasperated breaths. "What the hell are these things? Why are they singing like children?!"
"They are children." Ruby stated bluntly, neither hostility or levity in her voice any longer, just a solemn grief. "Hobbes are… taken, twisted by dark spirits of the earth, "Nymphs," my mentor calls them, though she's said "Fairies" as well. They abduct children, lure them away and twist them into monsters that feed on human flesh, when they can get their hands on it. That is why we have to hurry. Before your sister joins their ranks."
"I…" If Jaune wasn't about to lose his stomach before, he definitely was close to it now. Gulping nervously he did his best to calm his nausea while giving a nod to the redhead. He was, in a word, horrified. In many, he was sick, disgusted, terrified, worried… he couldn't find enough words to describe how he felt at that revelation from the girl who had rescued him. "Right… l-lead the way."
She couldn't blame him for being shaken, she had been when Theresa first revealed it to her a little over two years ago near Goldwood, a small town north of Vale known for its unique golden oaks, and house to a cult - though they preferred the term "church" - of pacifists who worshipped a vague concept of "light." There had been a sudden spike in disappearances there, too, that Ruby was sent to deal with. She found herself chasing a man through a cavern filled with them, lured by the sound of his son calling for help, only to watch him die by the hand of what had once been his child. The experience had been beyond awful for the then-twelve year old girl.
Scythe had helped her look at it from a different angle, in his own disconnected way, and while she still felt uncomfortable with this task, she could at least focus on the idea of releasing the souls of children that had been malformed. If she had anything to say today, she would make sure there was at least one less child to release from that nightmare.
Soon, the reluctantly formed duo came to a rather sudden drop into water. There was a makeshift rope, woven of similar material as the net that had held Jaune, but Ruby found herself uncertain of how sturdy it could be. While the blonde was rather eager to to start climbing the rope, Ruby took a more direct approach, jumping down the hole with reckless abandon, her Aura flaring up as she crashed against the water.
"Come on!" She exclaimed, wanting the boy to hurry as she swam to the exit of the large pool, a ramp made from the ruins of a stone stairway. Judging by the architecture, this wasn't some ancient Valean ruin, either, though she couldn't exactly say who it once belonged to. Maybe she should've paid more attention to Theresa's history lessons and less time pestering Scythe to train her in the weapon he took his moniker from.
"Are you crazy?!" Jaune shouted, dangling awkwardly from the rope as he halted his descent.
"Just jump!" Ruby insisted, tapping her foot impatiently as she stood on the ruined ramp, waving at him. "Your Aura will protect you, just bring it up like I told you!"
"Oh, right." The blonde mumbled sheepishly as he took a deep breath, bringing up his Aura with a warm glow, before letting go of the flimsy rope and dropping into the water below. Looking at the less than clean water as he drudged his way over to Ruby, he pouted. "I hope this doesn't stain my hoodie, it's limited edition."
Okay, that got a little snicker to escape Ruby's lips, thankfully muffled by the thick scarf. "Come on. Hopefully we're almost through."
The blonde followed behind Ruby, her weapon at the ready in case of anything. The cave was at least in part a ruined structure, though through the debris and general collapse brought on by the ages, it was impossible for either of the duo to make out what it might've once been.
"What is this place?" Jaune asked, looking around in wonder at the crumbling hallway they were walking through, running a gloved hand across the dusty wall, revealing the tattered remains of some ancient mural faded by the passage of time. "How could this be so close to Domremy and no one found it?"
"There's lots of ruins outside of city walls," Ruby said plainly, clearly not finding this anywhere near as fascinating as Jaune did. Not willing to wait for his awe, she grabbed his free arm around the wrist, dragging him along without care for his startled complaints. "This place was probably from some attempt to form a kingdom on this coast, unsuccessful, of course."
"That's… That's awful." Jaune lamented, something that Ruby could understand, to some extent. It was sad, knowing that people had died, but that was the past, and she needed to focus on the present.
"There's a lot of awful stuff out there, that's why it's so important to focus on what we can do." Ruby stated, trying to give some encouragement. "We can save you sister, but we need to focus on that right now, not on the loss of people hundreds of years ago."
"I… I know." The blonde didn't look entirely satisfied, if the way his eyes drifted to the floor was anything to go by. "Sorry about that."
"Don't worry, it's fine." Ruby dismissed, before turning back to the task ahead, her pace quickening. The hallway widened as they stepped through an archway into the next room, a long antechamber that had begun to collapse, all but the archway furthest from them caved in. Of course, there was also another problem, namely, even more hobbes.
Deploying her weapon, Ruby went to work quickly as her companion fumbled to ready his weapons, his Aura flaring up to protect him from a wayward bolt fired by one of the stout creatures wielding an oversized crossbow. There wasn't time for this, not with a life still on the line, and Ruby began to channel her Will into her left hand, sparks dancing across her skin before she unleashed a blast of lightning through the room.
It didn't kill all of the hobbes, though some of the weaker ones dropped to the floor with a sickening sizzle. Jaune stared at the girl with wide eyes, never having seen anything of that magnitude before. Back when his dad still talked about his days as a Huntsmen, he'd spoken before of Dust Sorcerers, people who wielded the powers of the elements using crystals and powder of Dust. He didn't see the redhead using anything like that, though, she'd just done it.
There wasn't time to ask, of course, as she continued into the fray of battle, Intrepid Rose biting into the chest of one of the remaining hobbes as the creatures turned their attention towards her, enraged by her prior attack. Firing from the High-caliber Pistol-sword, Ruby used to momentum of the excessively powered recoil to join hers in a spinning slash as she cut through another two of the creatures, the remaining four looking about ready to run as she slew more of their comrades.
Ruby made quick work of the rest of them as they made a break for it, Intrepid Rose thundering with each shot to the back. It was messy, given the size of each bullet, but it made quick work of them. The redhead ejected the cartridge inside the pistol, before replacing it with another from her belt.
The walk through the extended antechamber was silent, Ruby steely eyed while her companion looked on nauseously at the grisly remains of the battle. Despite their disturbing appearances, Jaune couldn't quite get the fact that they were once children out of his head, and were it not for the fact that his sister was at risk of becoming one as well, he would've long turned back. Instead, he did his best to remain strong in the face of what he'd seen, because Indigo needed him.
Through the far archway, the duo found another hallway, barely lit by dim crystals in the wall. It was curious, but Ruby supposed that they must've been some kind of Dust she didn't recognize, perhaps the ever rare Hard Light? It didn't matter. Ruby came to a stop as they reached a stone door, faded carvings depicting something she didn't recognize, some sort of antlered humanoid, probably a Faunus. Maybe it had been a kingdom founded by Faunus, that would certainly explain why it wasn't around now, humans did love to quash those whenever they began to flourish.
At the sound of faint giggling, Ruby clenched the grip of Intrepid Rose a little tighter, flaring up her Aura as she charged into the door, slamming it open. The chamber within was large and circular, a dome like roof with faded murals Ruby couldn't make much out of, though she recognized the antlered figure from before in some of them. That wasn't important, though, not with the matter at hand.
In the center of the room stood a slightly raised platform surrounded by four crumbled pillars, a blonde girl of about twelve lay in a shimmering blue circle of light. Unfortunately, between her and the makeshift duo, a dozen and more hobbes stood at the ready, crude weapons that lacked any sense of mechashifting in their hands. The gaggle of creatures turned the way of the now busted in door, letting out a series of rasping shouts, before those holding hammers and axes charged forward.
Much to Ruby's surprise, perhaps spurned on by the sight of his sister, Jaune raised his shield firmly as he stepped in front of her, the sound of metal clashing with metal as a few bolts from the hobbes carrying crossbows. Looking back at the redhead, he had a surprisingly stern look to his face, despite nerves clearly eating away at him. "I'll hold them here, help Indigo!"
Ruby wanted to refuse his request, given his lack of training, but knew she couldn't refute his decision. There wasn't time to spend bickering. Instead, the redhead gave him a brief nod, intent on following his request. She only hoped his Aura would hold.
Tapping into her semblance, Ruby exploded forward in a gust of rose petals, weaving through the oncoming attack and arriving at the platform on the other side. Taking advantage of the hobbes' surprise, Ruby raised Intrepid Rose and began to fire into the crowd of diminutive monsters, high-caliber rounds tearing into thick, grey skin. She managed to bring down the ones wielding crossbows, at least, but there were still just over a dozen of the creatures doing their best to swarm her companion, who made use of the doorway to prevent any flanking.
Turning towards the unconscious blonde - Indigo, as she'd be identified - Ruby reached out towards the barrier surrounding the girl, only for her hand to be repelled. The unnatural giggling return, and Ruby turned around to see a diminutive humanoid creature, skin like bark, a wide-eyed, cherubic face hiding the sinister nature of the Nymph.
"Let us complete ritual, then we go." The creature insisted through broken Vytalan, a raspy, somewhat ethereal tone to its voice. The very notion of accepting the creature's request was disgusting to Ruby, who tightened the grip she had on Intrepid Rose. "Can always change out, take older boy instead?"
Instead of designing to answer the creature's proposal, Ruby fired from her high-caliber pistol-sword, 12.7mm bullets filled with fire Dust exploding against wooden skin and eliciting a shriek from the Nymph. The sprite seemed to collapse in on itself before reappearing several meters away in the air, not bothering with coherent speech as it continued to wail. Noticing their maker in pain, several of the hobbes swarming Ruby's companion turned her way and charged, a mixture of annoyance and relief filling her as she readied her weapon. At least Jaune would be able to better manage a smaller amount, she didn't want his oversized Aura to finally break.
While the Nymph was preoccupied trying to put out it's now immolated skin, Ruby launched into action with a shot from her weapon, aiming it behind her so the recoil could add momentum to her movement as she began to spin, cutting down several of the short monsters before they could make their move. At another shriek from the Nymph, the remaining hobbes seemed to grow slightly in size, muscles bulging unnaturally (even for such inherently unnatural creatures) as they let out a chorus of rasping grunts.
Jaune continued to hold the shield of Crocea Mors up as hammers and axes clattered against it, but the sudden ferocity his foes found themselves with had sent him down to one knee as he struggled to keep his grip. His Aura was still strong, not that he could exactly check it, but the pain reverberating through his arm had been unimaginable up until now. After another failed attempt to strike from behind his shield, he threw his sword to the ground and resorted to holding onto the shield with both hands. He had to keep this up, even if it hurt. Anything to protect his little sister.
The chamber quaked as a deafening explosion filled Jaune's ears, the blonde slowly registering it as thunder as the vile smell of sizzling flesh filled his nose despite the scented cloth around his face. Slowly, he lowered his shield on realizing the constant stream of attacks had halted, and was greeted with a nauseating sight that left him gulping wearily. The remaining monsters - hobbes, the redheaded Caravaneer had called them - were flat on the ground, blackened, charred skin marking where they'd been met by the massive blast of lightning.
Ruby was struggling to stand, having spent much of her Aura reserves in that one overcharged blast of lightning. Theresa would scold her, no doubt, for over-channeling her Will like that. There were risks, ones Ruby far too often ignored when it came time to protect others, but risks nonetheless, ones they had been over before during the lessons the blind seer had given her as a child.
A startled gasp escaped the teen's lips as she felt something stab into her shoulder, Intrepid Rose clattering to the ground at the sudden spike of pain. Turning her head to glance behind her, she spotted the cause of her trouble: while she had been preoccupied taking care of the hobbes before they overwhelmed her companion, the Nymph had taken advantage by repositioning itself and sending an elongated wooden finger spearing through her from several meters away.
Answering Ruby's pained gasp, Jaune came charging across the room with his shield raised, eliciting a pained screech from the Nymph as his shield bashed through its extended finger, severing it. "Hey!" Jaune looked back at Ruby, who was busy trying to stand properly. "Are you okay?"
"Less talking now, more fighting!" Ruby insisted with a shout, driving to the ground to dodge a viscous green bolt sent their way by the wooden monster. The cracked stone floor wheezed, for lack of a better term, as acidic liquid ate away at it, and Jaune's face paled at the realization that voracious attack had almost hit him. "Shield up! I need you to defend me, I'm running on fumes."
"R-right!" Jaune nodded sheepishly, reinforcing his stance as he raised Crocea Mors' shield up and stood between the Nymph and the girl. "I'm on it!"
With their foe preoccupied, Ruby grabbed Intrepid Rose, wincing at the spike of pain through her arm as she tightened her grip on the pistol-sword. She had a few shots left before she'd have to reload, and she intended to make the best of them. Without her Aura to reinforce her, this was going to hurt, but that didn't matter. No matter how fragile Nymphs were, without her Aura to protect her, and successful hit from the monster could be her end. Better a little pain than death.
Peeking out from behind the (flimsily) armored blonde, Ruby raised Intrepid Rose, aiming down at the Nymph before firing her first shot. She almost dropped her weapon again, the already present pain quadrupling at the recoil from the high-caliber pistol-sword, but she steeled herself, teeth clenched as she fired again, and then again.
The Nymph let out another shrill shriek, this time far more prolonged as flames consumed its body completely. As the remains fell to the ground in embers, whatever magic fueling the creature extinguished, Ruby let out a relieved sigh. Collapsing her weapon and returning it to the small of her back before the pain became overwhelming, Ruby shook her companion, who seemed completely lost in the moment. "Come on, we aren't done yet." She said through beleaguered breathes, "tend to your sister, I'll work on getting us out of here."
"Right." Jaune nodded, eyes still wide as he rushed over to Indigo, reaching a hand behind her neck as he gently lifted her up, finding it far easier than it had been before, now that his Aura was unlocked. As the younger blonde started to stir awkwardly, Jaune let out a sigh of relief. With (befittingly) indigo eyes fluttering open, the older boy gave his sister a sheepish smile. "Hey there, Indy. How are you feeling?"
"Jaune?" The twelve year old was understandably confused as she took in her surroundings, but the older blonde did his best to keep her focus on him and not the grisly scene that surrounded them. "What happened? I remember hearing something really soothing, and then… where are we?"
"The old smuggler's cave!" He forced a hint of levity to his tone, trying to keep his little sister calm. "Turns out there's a lot more to this place than we thought!"
"Is she ready to go?" Jaune turned to see Ruby looking at the pair of blondes. She had done her best to staunch her wound with yet another cloth (how many did she have?) wrapped tightly around her shoulder, though the telltale sign of bleeding had stained much of her sleeve. "We shouldn't linger, in case there's more of them, or Grimm."
"Uh, yeah. What exactly are we going to do, though?" Jaune's gaze drifted towards his sister before returning to his companion. "We can't really go back the way we came, not with Indigo."
"We won't have to." Ruby said, feeling rather confident as she stepped into the raised platform, the symbol long since faded from the ground, but Ruby recognized what this was. She had been wrong, in judging the age of the ruins, or perhaps they had been built around this, a piece of an age even farther lost to the world, from a time when the moon was whole. Cullis Gates, Theresa had called them. The first time the redhead encountered one was nearly five years ago, when the blind seer brought her to the ruins of an ancient hall dedicated to heroes in days long since passed. She had done this before, with Theresa's help, but hopefully there was still enough ambient Will energies to power one teleportation, in the local area.
"Step in the circle," Ruby instructed, waving Jaune over to stand beside her. Taking the circular seal from her hip, Ruby shut her eyes, allowing the energies around them flow through her and into the Cullis Gate. Jaune watched on in awe as a blue light began to build beneath them, before expanding outward and enveloping the group.
They emerged falling. It was luckily only a couple feet, but a startling feeling to say the least. Standing up, Ruby heard the sound of her companion losing whatever was in his stomach again, now accompanied by a childish "ew!" from his sister, and she hoped he'd at least had the decency to lower the scarf she'd given him.
"What… What was that?" Jaune groaned, still looking a bit green as he turned to Ruby, who shrugged nonchalantly.
"Something very old." She answered vaguely, removing the scarf from her face and returning it to its place in her pack. She'd let him hold onto the one she'd given him, at least until it was cleaned off. "It's a secret, though! You can't tell anyone what you saw!"
"What?" The blonde exclaimed, clearly not thrilled at the younger girl's request. "How can you suggest that? W-We saw monsters, living this close to Domremy! Worse than the Grimm, they seemed intelligent!"
"And they're dead." Ruby stated plainly. "It's… easier if people don't know what exactly happened, okay? The less they try to press the wilder things that wonder where humans don't frequent, the safer it is for everyone."
"But nothing. This isn't the sort of stuff to risk." Ruby scolded. "You know what will happen if you tell them that a fairy came from the woods and turned children into monsters? That you helped slay it?"
"They'd… they'd laugh at me." Jaune mumbled, his shoulders slumping in defeat. "Call me a liar."
"And then they'd target the only people who were relative newcomers, my Caravan." Ruby bitterly continued. "It's hardly the first time towns have accused us of stuff like that. Claim that the Faunus blood in us makes us "bad" from birth."
"But that's not fair! Your group only just arrived! It's hardly like you could be to blame!" Jaune insisted, though he knew that it wasn't exactly farfetched what she'd suggested.
"That hasn't stopped people before, Jaune." Ruby replied, her tone defeated, "now come on, we need to get back to the city, you and Indigo have a family to get back to."
"Yeah." Jaune was clearly reluctant to agree, but he couldn't exactly refute her. Instead, he went to make sure his sister was okay, the younger girl looking around wide-eyed. "Come on, Indy, let's get going. We need to get home."
"Okay," his little sister seemed a bit to leave the forest, something Ruby couldn't exactly blame the girl for. Domremy was a beautiful city, without a doubt, but if she had lived there all her life, she probably would find a lot of interest in simple places of natural beauty like the forests that surrounded it.
Ruby took the lead, trying to ignore the sharp pain in her shoulder as she walked, her Aura reserves still running on empty after how much she had expended, any she managed to recover going straight into restoring the rather nasty wound to her arm. They had just passed by the now somewhat hidden remains of the net that had carried Jaune but an hour or so ago, now covered in autumnal leaves that had fallen from the large oak tree it had hung from, when an overwhelming sense of danger filled Ruby.
"Jaune." She said severely, not bothering to look back. "Shield up."
"W-what?" The blonde asked, though he complied with her request.
From ahead, a large black mass approach, toppling trees as it neared, crawling on the ground with six segmented legs. "Deathstalker." Ruby cautioned, ignoring the biting pain as she reached back for her weapon, deploying the pistol-sword and preparing herself for battle. Before such a clash could take place, if a bit anticlimactically, a large stone scythe blade was planted in the back of the towering Grimm, which barely managed to wail before beginning to dissolve.
"You're being sloppy. You shouldn't have expended so much Will like that. You've gotten injured because of it." The wielder of the weapon scolded, Ruby looking down to the ground sheepishly. He was a tall figure, probably the tallest Jaune had ever seen, at least eight or nine feet tall, with a somewhat lean body, though it wasn't from a lack of muscle. Rather, the man looked like he might've been well-muscled, once upon a time, but his skin, what little wasn't hidden by what the blonde could only assume was truly ancient armor, was withered away, a nasty bluish hue, and covered in bandages. Noticing the blonde gaping at him, the figure turned his gaze towards Jaune. "You've picked up a stray."
"Don't call him that, Scythe." Ruby replied, pouting at the towering figure. "Thank you for helping."
"I always aid my kin, even when you're feeling ungrateful." The imposing man chided, which only furthered Ruby's pout. Jaune looked on in confusion at the interaction, if only because he wasn't sure how that man (corpse? Man corpse thing.) could be at all related to the short redhead. "Introduce me to your friend, he looks lost."
"Oh, right!" Ruby chirped, Jaune noticing that her attitude had significantly changed towards something merrier now that they were out of that cave and seemingly safe. "Vomit Boy, this is Scythe. Before you ask, no, he won't tell me his actual name. He's like… my grandfather, kind of! He taught me all sorts of stuff with weapons, but he refuses to teach me how to use a scythe!"
"Vomit Boy?" Scythe questioned the nickname, before shrugging it off. Looking back at Ruby, the ancient man gave what Jaune supposed was a stern expression, it was admittedly hard to tell when he lacked most of his facial features. "You should return to the city, all of you. I am merely here to ensure that secrets remain buried."
"Thank you. I wasn't sure how to handle something this close to people." Ruby admitted, before looking back towards Jaune and Indigo, who both looked a little disconcerted with the idea of hiding what had exactly happened, even if Jaune had come to accept that they'd have to. The redhead hoped that the experience would not change either of the siblings, but she was sure it would. Experiences like this always did. "Come on. We can discuss what we'll say happened on the way back."
"A Strangler nest? This close to the city? It was a miracle any of you got out of there alive." Blaine Arc, Jaune's father, sounded a mix of relieved and terrified at the thought, but he took what Ruby said at face value. Looking to his son, he gave a proud smile, clapping a hand down on the lanky boy's shoulder, nearly sending him careening towards the ground. "I'm proud of you, boy, but you shouldn't have gone off like that. You could've gotten hurt, and you know how your mother and I think about you trying to be a Huntsman like that."
Ruby waited in awkward silence as Jaune's face contorted with frustration, something that had been building up for a while, if she was to guess. She really didn't want to watch the family fight, so she quickly interjected, hoping to turn what he'd done into something more positive. "Please, Mister Arc, Jaune was a big help, even if he could use some training. He kept me and his sister safe while we fought the Strangler. Without his help, I'm not sure Indigo or I would've made it out of there."
"That's preposterous!" The large man exclaimed, much to Ruby's dismay. Did he really have no confidence in his son? "I'm sure he was good for a distraction, but I doubt he was of much help! Jaune isn't cut out for that sort of thing."
Ruby opened her mouth to refute what he'd said, but Jaune cut her off, clearly used to this kind of treatment. "Yeah, sure dad. It doesn't matter, all that's important is Indy is home safe." There was something sort of disgusting about the fact that he was so quick to accept his father's doubt, it gave her the impression that maybe this sort of thing was common. Turning to Ruby, he offered a somewhat forced smile, clearly trying to fight back his current frustration. "Thanks for the help, my sister never would have made it out of there without you."
"It was nothing, Jaune. Really." Ruby insisted, offering a sheepish smile. "I help people, that's what I do, as soon as I knew something was wrong I acted."
"Well, surely you can stay for a celebration, yes?" The blonde's father asked, offering a wide grin that Ruby didn't really find all that positive after how dismissive he'd been of her words and Jaune's.
"No, thank you, sir." Ruby shook her head, giving a polite smile. "I need to get back to the rest of the Caravan, to help prepare things. I just wanted to see them back home, first."
"Oh, well, that is a shame." The older man lamented, though Jaune merely gave the redhead a sympathetic smile, which she returned. "Just remember, whenever you're back in Domremy, you're always welcome in our house."
"Ah, thanks. I'll… be sure to take you up on that." She probably wouldn't. Jaune seemed nice, and his sister Indigo was probably fine, too, if a bit shaken up, but with how demeaning his father had been, Ruby wanted nothing to do with that house. She'd rather Kiera and her teasing any day of the week.
Ruby was quick to make her way away from the Arc family, giving Jaune another sympathetic smile as she departed, quickly finding her way onto the road out of the city. Now that it was later in the day, it was far more crowded on the streets, so it took a lot longer than she'd like it to.
It was well after midday when Ruby arrived back at the Caravan, quickly making her way towards the wagon she shared with Theresa. The blind seer was waiting for her, of course, but why wouldn't she be? Stupid magic powers. "Welcome back, Sparrow." The elderly woman said, her voice ever calm as she stood up, approaching the young girl with a hint of concern on her face. "You overextended yourself again. You know that over-channeling can cause adverse reactions to your body."
"I know." Ruby grumbled, though she was grateful for the woman's concern. "Thank you for sending Scythe, I know I was dismissive of seeking his help earlier."
"You are his apprentice, of course he wished to go aid you." Theresa stated ever neutrally, her tone unmoving as she led the redhead towards her bunk, letting the girl sit down before beginning to tend to her shoulder, which was still slowly healing from earlier. "I simply wished to ensure that no one would come across the ruins."
"Did you know there would be a Cullis Gate there?" Ruby asked, not sure whether the woman who'd raised her for nearly a decade would be honest about it. "And those ruins, were they from the Old Kingdom?"
"Yes, I did." Theresa admitted, dabbing a cloth in alcohol before cleaning the wound in her ward's shoulder. "And yes, they are."
"What were they?" Ruby asked, wincing as the woman tended to her shoulder, clenching her left hand tightly. "There were pictures of a man with antlers. Most of it was faded, but I was able to make that much out."
"An old temple, I would guess. Dedicated to the gods who long since abandoned us." Theresa said plainly, "your shoulder should be fine tomorrow or the day after, assuming you let your Aura regenerate properly."
"I'll take it easy, I promise." Ruby reluctantly agreed. It could be hard, not relying on her semblance for the long, but she'd manage. "I'll help Kiera with gathering some herbs or something simple like that."
"Sparrow," the elderly woman stopped Ruby before she left the wagon, "I have one thing for you. You did complete your test, even if your execution was reckless."
Following Theresa, Ruby was led to a chest at the end of the wagon, concealed by a large cerulean cloth until the seer removed it. Opening it, Ruby took hold of the object inside, pulling it out with a look of confusion. It was a rod, or perhaps a staff? It had a pleasant floral pattern along its body, and was topped with a crystal. "What is it?" She asked, looking at Theresa.
"A staff that once belonged to a great Hero, many many years ago." The seer explained, reaching out to touch the dull green crystal at its top. "It may have lost much of its luster over time, but it should still help you focus your Will when you need to use it, so you are not so prone to over-channeling it."
"How did you get a hold of it?" Ruby asked, running her hand against the polished handle, feeling the lingering energy still thrumming within. "This has to be ancient, if it belonged to a Hero of old."
"It is." The older woman acknowledged. "It belonged to a great Hero who lost his way for a time, and by the time he found it again, he had lost it. I found it a few years before your fall, and knew it would do you well someday."
"I'll do my best to take care of it, but… I don't know that I'll really have a use for it." Ruby admitted, feeling a bit ashamed that she didn't really want the gift she'd been offered. "I like Intrepid Rose."
"Then use it as a walking stick," Theresa gave a teasing laugh, "it's hardly as though you don't do a lot of walking. Just be sure to keep it on hand, Ruby, and keep it safe. It's your secret to carry now, not mine."
"Yes, ma'am." Ruby's voice went rigid at the use of her own name. It was very rare that the older woman actually addressed her by it, instead of saying "Sparrow" to her. "I'll take care of it."
"Good, now go out and have fun. We're not staying more than a couple days."
"Okay." Ruby mumbled, offering the old woman a smile as she started walking to the wagon's exit. "Where are we going next?"
"West. It'll be a long journey to Vale if we're to get there before the start of spring."
Vale? That was early for them, Ruby wasn't expecting the Caravan to make their way to the Kingdom's capital until the Vytal festival, when they'd have the best opportunity to sell to the overflow of tourists in the city. The redhead shrugged, walking through the doorway and into the camp. Best not to think about it now.
She had concluded her test, and been rewarded, even if the reward felt a little lackluster. The rest of the day could be spent with friends around the camp, and that was more than enough for Ruby.