Apologies for the big delay. Haven't been very well recently, but I'm doing a bit better, and I'm trying to catch up on what I've missed. Thanks to everyone who has followed or favorited, I hope you'll enjoy the chapter!
"Theresa? Can you tell me a story?" Ruby was eight years old now, having spent three years raised by the elderly blind woman who led their Caravan. Currently, Theresa was overseeing Ruby as the young girl did her best to learn weaving, in particular so she could mend the cloak that was the only link to her past. How the sightless woman could actually sew without hurting her hands, Ruby hadn't really figured out, but that didn't matter. What did matter was if she would tell her a story.
Theresa had the best stories.
"A story?" The old woman questioned, brow raising as she looked at the young girl. "Do you think you can manage to keep concentration on your work while I speak? You wouldn't want to poke your finger."
"I can do it!" Ruby chirped insistently. She was good at doing multiple things at once. Sometimes. Okay, rarely, but she could totally listen to a story while she worked on tending to the crimson cloth she was mending. "Pretty please, Theresa?" Pouting like a sad puppy might not work on the old woman, but surely flattery would. "You tell the best stories in the whole camp."
"Oh, very well. Just one." Theresa chided, though she thankfully didn't frown. That meant she wasn't really annoyed about having to tell a story, so that was a relief. "What sort of story do you want to hear today, Sparrow?"
"Um, can you tell me another story about the founding of Vale?" Ruby's favorite stories were the ones Theresa told about the great Hero who helped found the Kingdom of Vale some fourteen hundred years ago. She wasn't sure how the old woman was able to do it, but she always seemed to make it sound like she had really seen what had happened. Well, not seen but that sort of idea. "You finished off with the first time he returned to Oakvale after he lost his family, I want to know what he does next!"
"Ah, yes. The story of Twinblade, the Bandit King." Well that sounded interesting! Who knew that bandits could be kings? Not Ruby! Well, he probably wasn't an actual king, but still! A Bandit King sounded like a cool foe for a great Hero! "The Hero of Oakvale arrived in his hometown which had been so viciously sacked by bandits some fifteen years before, but there was little time for respite."
"Though sturdy walls now shielded much of the coastal town, there was still a great fear that bandits might return." Theresa explained, Ruby's eyes darting up to the woman before returning to her needlework. "A mighty bandit, the hero-turned-villain Twinblade, had set up a camp further up the coast, and the meager town guard feared that another raid was soon to come, one that they could not withstand."
"You must understand, Sparrow, back then, there was no army, no union between people that kept the disparate villages of the land." The old woman elaborated. It was a somewhat foreign concept, even now, the villages in the fringes of Vale's outer borders had some protection that came with being in the Kingdom, and the CCT was at least somewhat usable, so there was no true disconnection. Even the Caravan, as much as they tried to be completely independent, had a few members with Scrolls. "There was a great fear that if bandits struck once more, there would be no hope for the town of Oakvale, and this time, there would be no survivors."
"It was not the desire to save the town that motivated him, though." Theresa revealed - a strange lilt to her voice that was very uncommon. Fondness, perhaps? "One of the few survivors of the raid many years ago revealed to him that the bandits may have had ties to the ones who killed the boy's family, and it was his desire to see justice for his family that drove him."
"He didn't just want to help?" Ruby was aghast, eyes wide in shock, stopping her work as she looked up to the woman. "But, he was a Hero!"
"Heroes are not always so clean cut, Sparrow." Theresa cautioned, which earned a frown from Ruby. Heroes were supposed to always be good people, who came to save the day, no matter what! The thought of someone acting purely out of selfish motives, no matter who good a deed it might also be, it just really bothered her. "The Hero of Oakvale was still young, and unlike you, he didn't grow up so certain in his goals. The thought of facing a horde of bandits on his own for an undoubtedly meager sum wasn't an appealing one, but getting revenge for his family outweighed any concern he might've had."
"The Hero gathered his gear, readying himself for the most difficult mission he had come across yet, and that was just after escorting traders through a cursed forest." The blind woman continued, Ruby's lips pursed with frustration as she continued to work on her cloak. "Sword and bow at his side, he ventured up the coast by night, arriving at the bandit encampment just as the sun began to rise above the horizon. Waiting for the bandits silently, he crept between patrols at the gate, slaying one of the guards and taking his attire."
"Disguised as one of them, the Hero entered the camp, and found a settlement just as developed as the village he had come from, hundreds of people going to and fro, even some children amongst them. Despite their unsavory methods, they too were simply just people seeking to survive in a dangerous world that did not favor us." Theresa explained, though if she noticed the puzzled look on Ruby's face at that, she didn't make any mention of it. "He didn't care though. Disguised as he was, he was able to slip through the camp without being forced to slay every bandit he came across."
"Entering the bandit's inner sanctum, the Hero confronted the Bandit King. Twinblade offered him riches and power to stand by his side as he united the surrounding lands beneath his banner. Though he was but a bandit, his desire to be a king was true, as he sought to bring together the various peoples west of the Ruon mountains. The valleys served as a solidly defensible location from the Grimm, and the lands between Oakvale and Bowerstone would be ideal for development if the Greatwood was stripped for resources to build."
"There was a validity to the plans of the Bandit King, but the Hero knew that if he allowed him to follow through with his plans, many more would suffer as he had in his childhood, and any part that might be swayed by the bandit's promises was steeled against them. Challenging the Bandit King to single combat, the Hero clashed with the hero-turned-villain, one greatblade against two lesser."
"For an hour and another, the two fought, as the bandits of the camp watched on in awe. Never before had someone shown the strength to stand against their leader, but still the Hero fought on. As great as Twinblade's determination to bring a new civilization to the land was, the Hero of Oakvale's desire to avenge his father and mother and sister, to prevent anyone else from knowing the pain of their family being butchered, burned brighter still."
"The Hero brought his blade down in a mighty strike, channeling all his Aura forward as he did, shaping his Will upon reality. With a clap of thunder, Twinblade's swords shattered, and the Bandit King fell low, the Hero standing over him. Again, the once-hero pleaded that he be able to unite the separate villages and clans into a single people, and the Hero shut his eyes and listened. For a moment, none knew what would happen, before the Hero of Oakvale struck one last time, and the Bandit King's head fell from his neck."
"The Hero prepared his sword, sure that the gathered bandits would try to attack, but much to his surprise, they respected the duel between him and their leader. None would raise a weapon to strike him, and instead, the woman who had been aiding Twinblade approached from his tent, and…" If Ruby didn't know better, that was a mischievous smile on Theresa's face, but that couldn't possibly be the case. Theresa was far too serious to smile. "I think that's where we'll end for the day, Sparrow."
"Aww." Ruby groaned loudly in defeat, "We were just getting to an interesting spot - not that him fighting wasn't interesting, I just wanted to know who the mysterious woman is!"
"That will be a story for another time," Theresa replied, "now, tell me what you think the lesson of the story was, Sparrow."
"I, um…" Ruby's head ducked down slightly, her cheeks warming in embarrassment. "I don't know. He went to fight the Bandit King, but did it for himself as well as to protect the people of his hometown."
"Sometimes, we can do great, awful things with the best intentions. Twinblade was a wicked bandit, but his goals were not simply conquering for the sack of conquering. He sought to bring together the disparate peoples to found a Kingdom." Theresa said, sounding rather familiar with the plans of the Bandit King. "He knew that divided, the people west of the Ruon would not be able to last forever against the ceaseless tenacity of a foe that knew not physical ailments or emotion."
"The Grimm?" Ruby asked quietly, which earned a nod from her caretaker.
"Correct. As I said, Twinblade was not always a villain. He had seen the horrors that Grimm could cause, and was determined to unite the people into a single Kingdom that they might stand strong against the creatures of Grimm. And though he died, that did happen, didn't it?"
"Yeah, it did… Vale." Ruby realized, looking a bit confused at the implication. "He wanted to make Vale?"
"He may not have seen that as its name, but the Hero of Oakvale did. And though he disagreed with the man's methods, he took on the goal of uniting the divided people into a single kingdom. Though Bowerstone would be its heart, the Kingdom took on the name of Vale, to honor the hero that had served the Grey family so well. Of course, now the city of Vale is so large, both Oakvale and Bowerstone are simply antiquated names for different parts of the city."
"So, um… is the lesson that… sometimes, people will do awful things with good intentions?" Ruby asked nervously, hoping she'd gotten it right.
"And that sometimes, people with selfish intentions will do good things. Even you, one day, Sparrow, will find yourself in the position where you might do something truly awful with the best intentions, or something great while only thinking of yourself."
"But I don't want to do that!" Ruby insisted definiantly. "I want to help people, not be selfish!"
"You simply haven't found something that you would defy your nature for." Theresa replied. "Even though the Hero of Oakvale had not realized that his desire to protect all people was as great as yours yet, Sparrow, it was a part of his nature. He simply needed the right motivation, at times."
"He shouldn't need motivation to help people." Ruby huffed, pouting dramatically. "I'm glad he realized it was the right thing to do, but it should've been obvious from the start."
"Perhaps, but he still latched onto that selfish desire to fuel his quest, and with it, he was able to succeed." Theresa gave an ineffectual shrug, before offering Ruby a rare gentle smile. "Unlike you, Sparrow, he did not have such a simple soul. For you, helping people is part of who you are, but he was not so easily driven to that, not at the start. Take pride that you are, but also caution."
"That sort of selflessness can get you killed. Don't be afraid to be selfish."
"But... " Ruby frowned, before looking at the cloak she had been tending to. She didn't really understand the lesson that Theresa was giving, but she'd try her best to do as her caretaker instructed. The very thought of being selfish and not wanting to always help people was weird, but she would try to be at least a little more selfish, if only about small things. "Okay."
"Good. Now finish up, it's starting to get late. I'm sure that you don't want to miss out on dinner today because you were taking too long with your needlework, right?"
"Eep!" Ruby squeaked, realizing that she'd started to neglect her work as she'd gotten caught up talking with the old woman. "I-I'll be done in just a minute!"
"Just a minute…" Ruby mumbled under her breath, before the loud clearing of a throat drew her out of the clutches of sleep. Eyes widening suddenly as her cheeks warmed, she found Jaune had been nudging her awake as the professor cleared his throat again.
"So glad you're ready to join us, Miss Rose!" Professor Port announced loudly to the chuckles of much of the classroom. Ruby felt her cheeks warm brightly as her head ducked down slightly as she tried to avoid everyone's gazes. Pyrrha and Jaune looked sympathetic, at least, but Blake was rather apathetic. Yang and Nora were holding back laughter, while Ren joined Blake in not reacting. Weiss, on the other hand, looked furious. Weird.
"Trouble sleeping, Miss Rose?" The stout man inquired, sounding surprisingly sympathetic. Ruby nodded dully, still feeling rather embarrassed. She had struggled sleeping, more than she'd expected. While the beds were exceptionally soft at Beacon, something about that was really uncomfortable for her. "Well, that's understandable. Now then! As I was saying, class, a true Huntsman must be honorable! Dependable! Strategic, well-educated, and wise!"
"I was going to ask for volunteers to demonstrate, but instead," Professor Port returned his gaze to Ruby, who had a pretty good idea of where this was going. "Miss Rose, I would like you to grab your weapon and change into your combat attire, and return here to demonstrate to the class if you have what it takes to be a true Huntress."
"Yes sir." Ruby nodded mutely. She knew that there wasn't a point to argue, as she had made the mistake of dozing off in class. Weird that Weiss still looked so angry at her.
The fact that Grimm Studies was held near the lockers made a lot more sense now that she realized they'd be doing the occasional in class demonstration, Ruby able to get there, changed, and back in about ten minutes. Entering the classroom once more, Professor Port was standing beside a large cage housing a Grimm, what looked to be a Boarbatusk. Had his lesson been about them?
"Ah! Miss Rose, welcome back!" The portly professor exclaimed, which caused Ruby to shrink into herself a little as the attention of the class returned to her. At least people weren't chuckling this time. Ruby approached the stage tentatively, her pace picking up as Professor Port gave a subtle nod in confirmation. "Are you ready to show the class whether you embody the traits of a true Huntress, Miss Rose?"
"I am, sir." Ruby nodded, conviction clear in her voice despite how quietly she replied. As the professor stepped aside to grab the blunderbuss-axe he called a weapon, she drew her own from her back, deploying Intrepid Rose in her full form.
"Very well, then!" Professor Port announced, returning to the cage which housed the Boarbatusk, which was readying itself for a charge. Ruby shifted her feet slightly, left forward, right back, as she readied her stance to meet the eager Grimm. Bringing down his blunderbuss-axe, Professor Port grinned. "Let's find out!"
Taking a deep breath, time seemed to slow for a moment as the cage burst open and the Boarbatusk charged wildly forward. A loud crack accompanied the first pulling of Intrepid Rose's trigger, Ruby shooting suddenly to the right with the recoil of the shot, just in time to avoid the Grimm's initial attack. Skidding against the ground, Ruby spun with another shot from her pistol-sword, Intrepid Rose's blade scraping against the pale bone that armored the beast's hide.
No luck piercing it, though. Ruby cursed under her breath before launching herself backwards with another shot as the Boarbatusk righted itself for another charge. A clattering was heard as she landed on the professor's desk, an expression of shock on the man's face as she managed to keep from tripping.
Unfortunately, while Ruby had no intention of harming Professor Port's desk, the Boarbatusk had no such reservations. Letting out a startled squeak, Ruby dived to the side as the Grimm charged into the desk, which splintered apart in a flurry of wooden shards. Scampering to her feet, Ruby fired Intrepid Rose again to gain momentum and get back to leading the fight instead of just reacting.
With the help of the recoil from her high-caliber pistol-sword, Ruby soared above the Boarbatusk's next charge, taking a few futile swings against its armor before Intrepid Rose found brief purchase against the swine Grimm's underside as it passed for a moment. Ah, that was where she'd need to target.
The single successful strike she'd made had sent the Boarbatusk staggering, if briefly, though it was clearly not deep enough to kill the beast. That was fine, though, time was all she needed. As the Grimm made for another charge, Ruby focused her Aura into her left palm, and just as the Boarbatusk neared her, she slammed her hand against the ground. Channeling her Will into a burst of fire that exploded all around her, the brief display of her magic sent the beast into the air, where she lined up a shot with Intrepid Rose.
A single 12.7mm round to the unprotected underside of the Boarbatusk was all that was necessary, the Grimm giving a final defiant squeal as it began to fade away from the hole in its stomach. Collapsing her weapon, she returned it to its place on her back, hoping that she hadn't made too grandiose a display of her Will in that brief use of it.
"Well done, Miss Rose!" Professor Port exclaimed cheerfully, not seeming to mind at all the rather destroyed state of the small stage he taught from. "An excellent use of Dust, though if you'd been paying attention in class, I'm sure you could've handled it much sooner."
"Yeah." She agreed awkwardly, scratching the back of her head as she gave a nervous grin. Thank the Brothers he had assumed she'd been using Dust, that was the excuse she'd have to go with. Maybe she could say she had Dust on the inside of her gloves? A few members of the Caravan used Dust woven into clothes, so it was hardly impossible. "Sorry about your desk, professor."
"Haha! Not a problem! I'll ask Glynda to take care of it!" Professor Port dismissed with a cheery wave, "you may return your things to your locker, Miss Rose. As for the rest of you, that's the end of class today! I look forward to regaling you with more lessons on Wednesday!"
The chorus of groans he received for that at least showed Ruby that she wasn't the only person who wasn't a big fan of his teaching style. She didn't stick around to chat before getting changed, only sending a sheepish wave to the rest of her team before disappearing into a cloud of rose petals.
Getting changed again wouldn't have been a problem, but she hadn't really expected to see a bunch of upperclassmen in the lockers as well as herself. Presumably one of the later years had their class with Professor Goodwitch while the first years were with Professor Port. Hiding herself away into one of the stalls to avoid peering eyes, she let out a sigh and got out of her combat attire and back into her school uniform.
This whole public changing thing was going to be a problem if it kept up, but it was easier to be unseen instead of having people ask questions. Especially from Yang. She was happy to have her sister back, but there were some things better left untouched. Ruby shook her head, dismissing the thoughts. She'd work something out.
Apparently, Professor Port wasn't lying about asking Professor Goodwitch to fix his room, as that was the reason she had encountered so many upperclassmen in the lockers. Going by what she'd overheard as she slipped out of the changing area once she was dressed, he had called her in the middle of her class and she'd been forced to dismiss her students about ten minutes early.
It sounded like a regular occurence.
The next class was History of Remnant, with Doctor Oobleck. It was further away from the lockers than Grimm Studies and the combat arena, so Ruby assumed that it would at the least not involve fighting Grimm in the classroom. What the class would involve, though, was history, which had Ruby more than a little worried.
While she didn't consider herself by any means ignorant, she also knew that the history she'd been taught in the Caravan, both by Theresa and the other adults, wasn't exactly the sort of stuff they learned in the Kingdoms proper. While she might know obscure facts about the long ruined Old Kingdom, there was no way that would be much help now. Even what she'd been taught of the founding of Vale was likely not something that went exactly in line with the version the Kingdom used.
Entering the classroom, she found the rest of her team and eagerly took the empty seat between Pyrrha and Blake, her partner already reading the same book she'd been looking through during Professor Port's class. The tall redhead gave her a small smile, which Ruby returned. "That was a splendid fight, Ruby." The older girl said, her tone gentle and genuine. "I should've let you know about its weakness."
"It's okay!" Ruby insisted, shaking her head erratically. "I was able to get it, and I really should've been paying attention in class."
"If you're certain." Pyrrha didn't sound convinced, but there wasn't really anything more Ruby could do to reassure her. "I'm sorry that you had trouble sleeping, was it something we did?"
"No, nothing like that." Ruby reassured, shaking her head once more. "It just had a lot of trouble getting comfortable, which was weird, since the beds were so comfortable."
"Maybe you're not used to it?" Blake spoke up, causing the other two girls to jump slightly in surprise. "It's not all that weird, really. If you're really used to a certain way of sleeping, it can take a bit of time to adjust."
"Yeah, I guess." Ruby mumbled, honestly more surprised that her partner had spoken up than by the answer she'd been given. "Speaking from experience?" At the narrowing of Blake's eyes, she quickly added "if it's okay to ask!"
"No, that's fine." Blake replied with a sigh. "I used to spend a lot of time… outside of the Kingdoms. So I'm used to sleeping on stuff that's less comfortable than what they've got here. If I hadn't had the time to adjust before coming to Beacon, I'm sure I'd be having the same issue."
"Oh. Well, I'm glad you were able to adjust." Ruby replied, giving her partner a smile. Blake seemed less pleased with the situation, not bothering to return it as she went back to reading. Noticing Pyrrha's concerned look, Ruby shot her a halfhearted smile. "I'm sure that things will be fine. We all just need an adjustment period."
"I suppose." Pyrrha's tone was clearly worrying, but Ruby was confident that she was right. Blake was nice, in the forest, but just like with her own sleeping habits, her partner was going to have to adjust to their team. They all were, really. "Ready for class?"
"I think so!" Ruby chirped, smiling enthusiastically despite her own nervousness about how far behind she might be. "I'm sure it'll be different than what I'm used to, but I can get it."
"Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need to." Pyrrha cautioned, before offering a gentle smile again. "I've already offered to Jaune, so I might as well to you: if you ever need any tutoring, I'm happy to help."
"Oh! Really? Sure." Ruby gave a grateful nod. Having someone else's perspective would probably help a whole ton, especially if things were as different to what she'd been taught as she feared. "If I can ever help you with something, don't be afraid to ask either, okay?"
"I'll keep that in mind." Pyrrha replied, before adjusting the paper in front of her. "It looks like the teacher is getting here, but let me know after class if you need any help at all."
True to what Pyrrha said, the professor was indeed here, and he was particularly intimidating. Unlike Professor Port, who at least spoke clearly even if his voice was a bit droning at times, Doctor Oobleck spoke at a lightning speed matched only by the way he moved around the room.
"Greetings class! I am Doctor Oobleck, and I will be teaching you the history of Remnant. Your syllabus has been sent to your scrolls, please get out your books and turn to page five." The words spilled out of his mouth at what seemed like mach speed. They had books? Why didn't anyone tell Ruby? Oh, thank goodness Pyrrha seemed to be willing to share, giving Ruby a gentle smile. "Today we will be discussing the oldest of the Four Kingdoms! Would anyone like to tell me what that is?"
To Ruby's surprise, Pyrrha's hand shot up, which Doctor Oobleck seemed to notice. "Ah, yes, Miss Nikos. I suppose that such an exceptional student would have the answer I'm looking for. Please, continue."
"The oldest of the Four Kingdoms is Mistral, founded in 2432 B.V.T., by Emperor Takehiro when he united the tribes of Eastern Anima." Pyrrha replied, her voice rather monotonous. The ever so slight decline of her lip into a frown gave Ruby the impression that the taller redhead hadn't really been looking for a compliment from their teacher like that. "That said, the current dynasty has only been around for some seven hundred years, long after the founding of both Vale and Vacuo."
"Very precise, Miss Nikos. Thank you." Doctor Oobleck nodded furiously, before looking at the rest of the students seated. "Well, you should be writing this down! Yes, as Miss Nikos stated, the oldest of the Four Kingdoms is Mistral, with a history going back just beyond two thousand five hundred years. Can anyone name me the only known Kingdom that dates that far back that is now defunct? No? Its name is still used today, for the city built in its place: Argus."
"Though the city of Argus shares its name, little is known of the Kingdom that once preceded it other than that much of it sank in a great earthquake, and refugees came to Mistral in droves, leading to the culture we know of today." Doctor Oobleck continued on at lightning speed, the only students Ruby could tell were able to follow along at all being Pyrrha and Weiss. "Despite extensive efforts to keep records intact, the Mistrali Civil War some seven hundred and twenty years ago resulted in the loss of much of the Kingdom's accurate history, and now all we have remaining are stories and legends, which may hold more truth than fiction, if you know where to look."
Oobleck continued to blaze through the lesson, Ruby struggling to follow along. She would definitely have to ask Pyrrha for help with this - how could she keep up with him like that - at least until Ruby was able to adjust to the way their teacher spat out words at such a rapid pace. From the looks of things, Jaune wasn't doing all that much better, while Blake wasn't even paying any attention at the moment; though Ruby was able to notice the slightest shifting in the secret Faunus' bow, indicating that she might be listening more intently than she first let on.
Looking over at Pyrrha's notes, it looked as though the lesson had continued on to the intricacies of what historians believed the dynamic between ancient Argus and Mistral, both the conflicts over disputed territory and the various trade agreements that helped solidify the oldest of the Four Kingdoms during its infancy. It was important stuff, and interesting to say the least, but Ruby felt like they'd blown past that whole wandering monk who helped the first emperor establish order. Maybe there just wasn't a lot of information on him, but he seemed like an important enough man that there'd be at least some surviving myths about him. Weird.
Soon enough, it had come to an end, and Ruby felt as though she'd barely absorbed anything at all. As everyone started rising from their seats, Ruby tried to remember what was next on the schedule for the day. Lunch, and then a free period. That seemed like as good a time as any to speak with Yang, especially about getting something she could wear outside of her combat gear or that nightgown she'd brought along. Why she'd brought it along when it had never felt quite the right fight to her, Ruby wasn't sure. Poor foresight, she supposed.
Shuffling out of the classroom, she stuck close to her teammates, just as most of the students seemed to be doing, only a few breaking away from their groups to try chatting up Weiss or that large boy, Cardamom or something? The Atlesian didn't seem all that interested in dealing with the various people making attempts to address her, but wow was Cardamom preening from every person talking to him. No wonder he looked like such a jerkwad.
"Do you think you'll need any help, Ruby?" Pyrrha spoke up, drawing the shorter girl from her people watching with a brief squeak.
"Oh, um, yeah." She admitted, Ruby ducking her head slightly in shame. "I thought I'd be fine but he just spoke so darn fast! How could you keep up with him?"
"Oh, I have a lot of experience with fast talking professors like that." Pyrrha waved dismissively, as though she hadn't done something spectacular at all, when she definitely had. "I'm sure you'll get used to it soon, and until then, I'm happy to help."
"Thanks, Pyrrha." Ruby chirped, smiling widely at the older girl. It was nice to have someone other than Yang looking out for her like this. No offense to Jaune, but he seemed just as lost as she was, or she was sure he'd offer to help, too. "Let's hurry up, I want to see what they've got on the menu!"
Collecting lunch wasn't too much of a hassle, though Cardamom or whatever his name is had knocked into Jaune, forcing the blonde to return to the line for food after losing his tray. Ruby would've been quick to dismiss it as accidental had the larger boy not laughed as he walked away, but Jaune seemed determined not to press the issue. Hopefully it wouldn't be a big problem, but Ruby was going to keep an eye open for if the leader of Team Cardinal was causing more problems.
Once Team Rainbow had gotten situated at their table, Team Sylvan was quick to join them, Weiss rather rudely taking the seat Pyrrha had been trying to save for her partner - poor girl really seemed to have trouble saying no, didn't she? While Nora and Ren sat across from Pyrrha and Weiss, Yang remained standing, looking unexpectedly nervous.
"Hey, uh, Ruby." Yang started, before clearing her throat and inhaling slowly. "Do you want to come eat lunch with me outside? We could have some… sisterly bonding."
"Oh, um," Ruby looked over to Pyrrha, who gave about as comfortable a nod as possible while trying to not to look as though she wasn't paying attention to Weiss. "Sure. That should be fine!"
"Great!" Yang sounded a little more grateful than necessary, but Ruby didn't blame her. This who situation was really weird and it wasn't like they could just flip a switch and suddenly be as close as sisters could be. "I know a great spot, follow me."
Mouthing a silent apology to Pyrrha, Ruby stood up and followed her sister, giving Blake the slightest of nods, not that the hidden Faunus saw it with her nose deep in a book. Ruby was going to have to work on getting her partner out of the little box she'd enclosed herself in. Was it racist to call it that? Oh gosh Ruby really hoped it wasn't.
"Ta-dah! Here we are!" Yang cheerfully exclaimed, having calmed down a good bit now that she'd actually asked Ruby to have a lunch with just the two of them. That was nice to see, Ruby really liked seeing her sister confident and happy, not nervous. The place Yang had selected was rather nice, with a wooden circular table and four metal chairs that looked as though they'd seen their fair share of bad weather. "I figured it would be nice to be away from prying ears!"
"Yeah, that's probably a good idea." Ruby agreed with a sheepish nod. Taking a seat across from her sister, the redhead put down her plate, which held a single sandwich and a ridiculously high pile of cookies. "So, um, anything you want to talk about in particular?"
"Well, first things first," uh oh. That sounded a lot like Yang had been planning to talk about something for at least a little bit. "How did you sleep?"
"I, um, it was an… experience." Ruby chuckled awkwardly, not expecting such a simple question. "I actually woke up on the floor, of all places! Blake said it's because I probably wasn't used to sleeping on this sort of mattress. Back ho- back in the Caravan, my bed was basically a wooden board covered in blankets and the occasional fur. We didn't have enough of that fancy stuff for everyone to have one, and I was plenty comfortable as I was."
She hadn't meant to almost say home, even if she did consider the Caravan her home. She was afraid Yang wouldn't understand why she considered it home, and just as she'd feared, for a moment her sister's jovial expression darkened. The dower mood on her sister's face faded into an understanding smile, much to Ruby's relief.
"Uncle Qrow complains about the same thing sometimes. Y-you probably don't remember him, but he used to be on the road a whole lot for Huntsmen work - still is, really - and is really used to camping outside." Yang gave a somewhat hollow chuckle, despite clearly doing her best to not be bothered by Ruby's slip up. "It makes me wonder if he was raised outside of the Kingdoms sometimes, but he'd never admit to anything. Better to keep his background "mysterious," according to him."
"Well, I'm used to camping outside." Ruby quickly replied, glad her sister had given her an angle to work from. Sitting around trying to awkwardly talk around the fact that Ruby felt more at home with a group of people Yang had never met than at a house she couldn't even remember clearly wasn't the best bonding activity she could think of, but talking was helping a little. She wanted to make things better. She really wanted a sister, sort of like Kiera, but also different. "I used to go on lots of excursions with my mentor, so I got lots of experience camping."
"Well, that's good. Maybe you can even give me a few pointers, right?" Yang replied with a cheerful grin, thankfully looking to be passed Ruby's earlier error. "So, um, were you able to sort out your whole… nightwear situation?"
Hearing Yang try to say it so delicately elicited a small giggle from Ruby, though her face became downcast as she thought about it. "I, um… it's weird, wearing something like that around the others." She said, barely above a whisper. There was a shame to it, she could admit to herself, that she wasn't able to just go with the flow as the rest of her team had, but she really wasn't comfortable with it.
"We'll figure something out." Yang reassured her, giving Ruby an encouraging smile. "If need be, you can always borrow something of mine, and we can go over the weekend to get something more substantial than a few hand me downs."
"You really don't mind?" Ruby was surprised by her sister's willingness to share, even more as Yang shook her head in affirmation. Ruby disappeared in a cloud of petals, reappearing just so she could wrap her arms tightly around her big sister in the tightest hug she could give, a wide smile on her face. "Thanks, Yang!"
"Yeah." The blonde's voice had gone soft as her big sister slowly returned the hug, seeming maybe a bit nervous. Had she come on too strong with the hug? She had always dreamed of reuniting with her sister but actually doing it was hard! What was okay and what wasn't? Yang patted her back a few times, and the embrace loosened. "You're pretty strong, you know that? We'll have to go a round or two sometime, see where you are."
"If you want." Ruby did her best to sound confident. It wasn't that she didn't feel at all confident, but she really wanted to not rely on her Will while at Beacon, this was a good chance to train in her physical skills more; it certainly didn't help that she wasn't sure she could really disguise the few powers she'd learned under Theresa, the lightning was situational and she couldn't exactly count on a thunderstorm inside a combat arena. She'd have to investigate more in the option of disguising her gloves as some sort of Dust container. "How, uh, how are things with your team?"
"Oh, well, it's been… interesting." Yang said with a shrug, giving Ruby an awkward smile. "Weiss is still a bit haughty, but she's preoccupied with trying to reign in Nora, at least. Ren's nice. Polite about going to the bathroom while we change. How's that going for you guys?" Yang noticed the wide-eyed, embarrassed look on Ruby's face, and lilac eyes narrowed slightly. "Jaune didn't give you any trouble, did he?"
"No! No. Nothing like that!" Ruby was quick to blurt out, not wanting her sister to take out any aggression born from misunderstandings on the boy. "I just… I didn't change out of my combat gear last night, I just went straight to bed. I know that's bad, I just… get nervous."
"Hey, it's okay." Yang insisted, gently patting Ruby's shoulder. The younger girl frowned, but her sister shook her head, giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "It'll be fine. We'll get you something today. Now you should be sure to have a talk with your team today, okay? Set some good boundaries."
"Yeah, okay." Ruby pouted slightly in reluctance, but she knew that Yang had the right idea. There was no way things would get better if she didn't actually work to improve the situation. "I should probably finish my food before it gets icky. Do you want a cookie?"
"Me? Nah." Yang waved dismissively as Ruby returned to her seat. "It may not look it but I try to keep a pretty strict diet when it comes to eating, and it's not a cheat day. No way I'm going to be a loaded gun if I'm sloppy."
As if to accentuate this, her sister flexed her arms, muscles visible even under their uniform's jacket. Ruby giggled in response, which elicited a playful pout from Yang, before the older girl stuck her tongue out teasingly and returned to her own meal. The two remained outside for the rest of the lunch period, and much of the free period that followed, chatting about little things to pass the time and get more familiar with one another. Had Ruby ever had any crushes? No. Had Yang? Yes, several, but she was quick to point out only on women. Were strawberries still Ruby's favorite food? Of course, though blackberries were a close second! It was nice, getting to just relax and learn more about her sister as they traded questions. They'd have to make a habit of this.
Dust Science was… difficult, to say the least. Ruby wasn't actually too bad at some of it, but the numbers really made her head spin. The professor, one Dusk River, was a somewhat stern Faunus woman who reminded Ruby a little of Professor Goodwitch. She stood at about six feet tall, maybe an inch shorter, with greying hair that looked to have once been a dull blue color, and pale blue scales that dotted her cheeks.
Ruby had done her best to get through the class, but it became quick that she was going to need help from Pyrrha when it came to the actual numbers involved. Back at the Caravan, sometimes she'd measure, but usually she just ground the fire and gravity crystals and made bullets with them - she knew how to safely handle the Dust, but not how to do any complex mixtures with it.
Thankfully, class did end eventually, even if that hour and a half felt like an eternity. The sun was already starting to set as Team Rainbow made their way to the cafeteria alongside many of the students from Professor River's class, and Ruby could spot other students from around the campus, upperclassmen no doubt, also making their way there. It was going to be crowded, wasn't it? Maybe she ought to invest in some cooking things for their dorm, Kiera's mom had always insisted that food someone you knew cooked was always better.
Ruby frowned a little at the thought of her friend, and her mother. Thank the Brothers Jaune seemed to have noticed, the lanky blonde quick to speak up the moment her face turned downcast. "So, Ruby, how are you doing? We haven't really talked much today."
"Oh, um, I'm doing okay." Ruby hastily replied, offering him a smile. "Classes were a bit more than I was expecting, though. Did you guys really go through all that sort of stuff normally?"
"I mean, school back in Domremy wasn't quite so fast paced." Jaune said with a shrug, before looking over at Pyrrha. "How about you, Pyrrha? What were classes like for you before coming to Beacon?"
"Me?" Pyrrha seemed a little surprised to be pulled into the conversation, though she was grateful for it. "Class at Sanctum was more… rigid than that. We were all at individual desks, and the classrooms were completely flat, so seeing the teacher could be a challenge at times. That said, I think the biggest difference is that we weren't so encouraged to work together as we are here."
"Well, we didn't have anything like this in the Caravan." Ruby sighed with a lighthearted pout. "We focused on more practical stuff for the most part. Like… I know how to sew really well! And I can make my own Dust bullets, but there's no way I know all the weird number stuff with mixtures and all that. The only numbers I know are for making weapons, and I had to learn that on my own!"
"You taught yourself how to smith a mecha-shift weapon?" Pyrrha sounded impressed, which was weird, but it really wasn't all that cool. Ruby just liked weapons a lot, so she learned how to make them! "That's incredible, Ruby. Even at Combat Schools where we design our weapons, we get a lot of help from our teachers."
"Aw, shucks, it's not all that cool." Ruby mumbled, ducking down slightly as she felt her cheeks warm up. "I bet you know all kinds of stuff that I wish I'd gotten to learn! What about you, Blake, was class weird for you, too?"
"...No." The concealed Faunus replied dryly, before the staring eyes of the rest of Team Rainbow drew out a sigh. "Even though we didn't live in the Kingdoms, the people I lived with made sure all of us were up to snuff in this kind of stuff, and I've always liked reading, so it was easy to get an edge in the areas we didn't touch on."
It was pretty clear Blake didn't want to elaborate more, so Ruby decided to move the discussion on before they alienated her partner any further. It was nice she'd opened up a little, at least. She'd have to give a try in getting her out of her shell later. "What about you two? Do you like to read?"
"I, uh, I went to the library a lot with my sister, Indigo, if you remember her at all, but not really." Jaune scratched at the back of his neck sheepishly. "Reading never really was a hobby, just kind of something I had to do sometimes. I liked listening to stories more than reading them."
"Reading was one of the few things that I was able to do with any frequency during tournament season." Pyrrha replied, a soft smile on her face. "It's nice to be able to spend some time just relaxed with a good book, but I'd like to explore some other hobbies as well, now that I don't have to worry about tournaments."
"Sounds like Jaune might be the odd one out if we ever have a reading party." Ruby chuckled, sending him a smile as he pouted ineffectually.
"It's fine. I'll read my comics and they'll be way more cool." He insisted, though it was clear from his tone he wasn't actually offended.
"Comics?" Ruby raised an eyebrow. She… she knew what they were, sort of, but at the same time, it was kind of unfamiliar to her. She'd not read anything like that as a kid, just whatever books the Caravan could get its hands on or she could buy when they'd pass through towns and cities. "You'll have to show me sometime."
"I'll take you up on that." Jaune agreed, looking a little more happy at the chance to be included. Ruby could've sworn she'd heard her partner audibly scoff at the idea, but when she peeked over, Blake was as plain faced as ever. "I hope dinner is good, I really didn't get a very good lunch."
"I'm sorry about that." Pyrrha spoke up, though Ruby wasn't sure why the taller redhead was apologizing. Neither was Jaune, from the baffled look on his face. "I should've offered to share more since there wasn't much to choose from by the time you got back through the line."
"What? Naw, you were fine, Pyrrha." Jaune waved dismissively. "It was my fault for bumping into that guy."
"What? No it wasn't." Ruby piped in, frowning. Surely Jaune hadn't really thought Cardamom bumping into him was an accident? "He laughed, Jaune. He totally meant to knock the tray out of your hands."
"Nah, that's crazy." Jaune insisted, much to Ruby's dismay, and from the looks of it, Pyrrha's as well. "It's the first day of classes, I'm sure it was an accident. Just watch, I bet we'll be great friends by the end of the month."
Ruby wasn't so sure of that. In fact, if she had any lien on her person, she'd have bet against that very idea. Unfortunately, it looked as though Jaune was content with pretending nothing was at all wrong, and there wouldn't likely be anything she could do to persuade him otherwise. Sharing a worried look with Pyrrha, she decided that she'd not press on the issue for now, but if things got worse, she'd not let it slide.
When they arrived at the cafeteria, they quickly met up with Team Sylvan, who they had dinner with. Weiss tried to sit beside Pyrrha again, but Jaune took the spot she'd been aiming for, with Pyrrha sitting on the end so there was only one seat available. Ruby made sure to stick beside Jaune when they were on their way back from grabbing food, just in case his "totally going to be great friends" decided to knock his tray to the ground again.
Luckily, Cardamom or whatever his name was had the decency not to try after she gave him a rather severe leer, the giant of a boy just scoffing on going the other direction. Jerk. Dinner was a subdued affair, though Nora did her best to liven it up with the most enthralling tall tales about encounters she'd had with Grimm alongside Ren. While most certainly false, they had succeeded in enrapturing Jaune, Yang, and Ruby, who eagerly listened along despite Ren's numerous attempts to downplay the events of the stories.
All in all, it was a pretty good day. The only thing left was going back to their rooms, which meant Ruby was finally going to have to work up the nerve to discuss the arrangements of her team's dorm. Hopefully it would at least go smoothly.
Entering their dorm room, Ruby fiddled with the edge of her cloak nervously as she lingered in the doorway while everyone else was approaching their own little areas. The room still felt a bit too crowded, and she'd admittedly failed to think of a good solution that wouldn't involve drastically changing the layout. Maybe she could ask for suggestions after talking with them about setting up some rules for the mornings and evenings. Hopefully they'd be okay with her wanting to do that, she didn't want to inconvenience them or anything.
"Everything okay?" It was Jaune that spoke up first, drawing Ruby's attention away from her own thoughts.
"I, um," Ruby clenched her hands lightly, trying to work up the confidence to speak. "Do you guys mind if we set up some rules, maybe?"
"What did you have in mind?" Pyrrha asked, sitting down on her bed, a small smile on her face.
"I'm, um, I'm not super comfortable getting changed in here." Ruby admitted, before hastily tacking on "it's not Jaune's fault or anything! I just don't like getting changed in front of people."
"Well, why don't we just get changed in the bathroom?" Jaune suggested, offering a sympathetic smile. "I wasn't really planning on getting changed in front of you guys anyway, I know that'd be weird, but we can all just take turns if it makes you more comfortable."
Oh. Wait, that was a lot easier than she'd thought. She was stressing way too much about something simple again, wasn't she? "Yeah. That'd work." Ruby nodded with a sheepish smile. "I don't know why I thought that it'd be a big deal to ask."
"Sometimes we overthink things when it's about something that makes us uncomfortable." Pyrrha said softly, giving Ruby a reassuring smile. "There's no shame in that."
"Yeah, I guess." Ruby mumbled in agreement. She still felt like she'd been acting silly. "Is that fine with you, Blake?" The silent affirmative nod from the brunette was good enough for her. "Okay! Thanks, you guys."
"There's no need to thank us!" Jaune waved dismissively, giving Ruby a wide smile. "This is important stuff we need to work out. Is there anything else you wanted to chat about?"
"Oh! Well, maybe." Ruby nodded, walking over to her bed. "We don't have a lot of room, so I was wondering if anyone had suggestions. We can't exactly throw out some of the beds or anything."
"Well, maybe we could?" Jaune suggested, before he dipped his head awkwardly as Ruby stared blankly at him, joined by a curious stare Pyrrha. "Right, um, what I mean is that we could stack them. Like bunk beds!"
"Bunk beds?" She hadn't really considered that, but now that she was thinking of it. "Hmm, do we have things to make them with, though?"
"I'm sure we can ask for supplies." Pyrrha suggested.
"And if not, I've got plenty of books to stack." Jaune and Pyrrha joined Ruby in looking at Blake with wide eyes for that suggestion. "What? So long as we're careful, I'm sure we could stack the beds with books."
"That's… quite unconventional, Blake." The tall redhead noted.
"Yes, well, I've had a very unconventional life." The secret Faunus retorted, rolling her eyes a little. "It's just a suggestion, we can always look into requisitioning proper materials."
"We'll figure it out tomorrow." Ruby decided, shooting her partner a grateful smile. It was nice that Blake had even participated at all, let alone actually make a potentially viable suggestion - though Ruby would definitely look into safer methods first. "Maybe Professor Goodwitch will be able to help me."
"If you're sure." Jaune sounded a little doubtful of her suggestion to talk to the Deputy Headmaster. Given how intimidating the professor's presence could be, she could hardly blame Jaune for feeling uncertain. "I guess we'll find out tomorrow."
"Yep!" Ruby nodded cheerfully, sitting down on her bed and taking the lupine amulet from her pack. Brushing her thumb against it, she frowned slightly. It hadn't even been a week since she left the Caravan to come to Beacon. No matter how nice it was to have Yang here, or how great her team was, she still missed her home. Her friends and not-quite-family. Standing up abruptly, she tried to wave off the confused look on Pyrrha's face with a halfhearted smile. "I'll be right back, okay?"
"Oh, okay. Is something wrong?" The tall girl asked, not having been swayed by Ruby's attempt to brush away her concerns.
"No, nothing." Ruby shook her head dismissively. "I just want to take a little walk. I won't be long."
"Oh, um, we'll get started on changing, then." Pyrrha offered with an uncertain smile. "Have a good walk!"
"Thanks!" Ruby did her best to inject cheer into her voice before she practically sprinted out the door, trying to avoid any further conversation if possible.
She quickly made her way through the dorms and onto the roof, where she took a seat and looked up at the sky. Despite the dim light of the CCT tower that was in the heart of the academy, Ruby was still able to make out a few stars. It wasn't as beautiful as it might be in the wilds outside Kingdom walls, but it was nice. A frown marred her face as she thought back to the last time she was watching the stars, with Kiera. Was she mad at Ruby, for choosing to leave?
It wasn't like Ruby had wanted this, she would've been perfectly content remaining in the Caravan - Theresa had asked her to go, and everyone knew a request from Theresa may as well be an order! But… if she hadn't come to Beacon, she wouldn't have met her sister, Yang. She wouldn't have found Jaune again, the blonde boy from Domremy somehow able to get into Beacon by some miracle. And Pyrrha! While Ruby didn't know her very well, she seemed so nice and always willing to help. Even Blake had Ruby's interest, even if the concealed Faunus was as isolated as Weiss was haughty.
She liked it here, if begrudgingly. It was such a change of pace, but not in a bad way, so why did she feel so terrible about it? This was just her mission. A mission that would last for four years. Four whole years of friendships, of having her actual sister at her side. She had promised Kiera that she wouldn't forget the Caravan, that it was always going to be her home, but… she really liked it here. It was early, yes, but she felt like things could really be wonderful.
Ruby brought her knees to her chest with a frown, looking away from the sky.
"Hey there!" Ruby let out a startled squeak as she stumbled forwards, turning around to find one Nora Valkyrie standing in the doorway, somehow still as hyperactive as ever. "What's up?"
"H-hello, Nora." Ruby mumbled sheepishly, a bit embarrassed that she'd let the older girl sneak up on her like that. "Did you need something?"
"Hmmm… nah!" Nora dismissed with a grin, squatting down beside Ruby. "I wanted to know what you need."
"What?" Ruby squawked out indignantly, "I don't need anything!"
"Uh huh." Nora said, clearly not believing a word that Ruby was saying. Much to the younger girl's surprise, though, Nora didn't press her on it, simply sitting there in silence with a smile on her face, looking at the various buildings that made up Beacon's campus in the dim emerald light.
They remained in silence for several minutes, Nora never prodding or pressing Ruby to speak, before the younger girl finally broke. "I'm scared." She admitted, "I love my home with the Caravan, but I'm scared I might find a new home, here. I don't want to betray the people who raised me like that."
"You're thinking about it all wrong." Nora said plainly, as though it was as clear as day what Ruby had done incorrectly. "Home isn't a single place, it isn't somewhere you live."
Ruby looked at Nora in confusion, the older girl taking the hint and continuing unabated. "Ren and I… we were on our own for a long time - most of our lives, really. We've watched each other's backs for almost as long as I can remember, and if there's one thing I've learned from that more than anything else, it's that home isn't a place. Home is the people you care about, it's being beside the people you love and would do anything for, and it's about holding them in your thoughts when you're apart. So long as you care about them, you'll always have a home at their side, and they'll have a home at yours."
"Ren and I got lucky, we were taken in by the Church of Light north of Vale. We were found by a missionary and taken there, given a chance to have some semblance of a normal life." Nora looked a little sad, despite the smile on her face. "Even if we hadn't, though. Even if we'd just been the two of us on our own forever, I know that we would still be at each other's side, because it's Ren that I care about, not fancy churches or myths or any of that."
"Maybe you haven't found your Ren, but that doesn't mean the bonds you have with the people back in your Caravan don't exist." Nora insisted, giving Ruby a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "I'm sure that no matter what, they'd welcome you back at their side, just like you'd welcome them. Maybe you'll grow distant over time, but that never has to mean that it's over. Just have a little faith, okay? That's always what the Abbot told me, but I'm pretty sure he didn't mean it that way."
Ruby chuckled at Nora's wink, shoving the older girl playfully. "Thanks." She mumbled shyly, feeling a bit better. "So how come you're out of your room?"
"Me?" Nora chuckled sheepishly. "Weiss was a little mad that I broke the fan by swinging from it. I figured she might need a little space to air out!"
"You didn't!" Ruby gleefully shouted, not even bothering to try holding back her laughter. "What on Remnant inspired you to swing from the ceiling fan?"
"I was bored!" Nora shrugged, nonplussed. "Weiss was taking forever in the bathroom with all her silly hair stuff, and I wanted to hang out!"
"Somehow, I get the impression that Yang's going to have a lot of fun on your team." Ruby noted with a chuckle. "I hope I can with my team."
"I'm sure you can! Just have a little faith, remember!" As if to emphasize the point, Nora poked Ruby in the forehead, earning an indignant pout from the younger redhead.
"Thanks Nora." Ruby said again, smiling at the older girl. "I'm going to get back to my room, I'll see you later."
She might not be totally convinced by Nora's advice, but it definitely helped a bit. Maybe she could come to terms with having two "homes," not just one. It sounded like a nice idea.