Roman Torchwick did not heed this suggestion. He chose the opposite. His stumbling turned to a full sprint.

Sounds of combat from the crime scene behind him faded. Pain screamed from his side. Blood loss from the gunshot wound was making his head light. Everything spun in a kaleidoscope of muted blacks and greys with red all over.

Some bozo walking a lap dog crossed his path along the nighttime city street. Roman swung his cane as a warning to get them out of the way. The guy reared back in fear. A trash can he bumped into spilled its contents. His tiny canine yipped at the threat. Torchwick ignored them while in full retreat.

There was only one thought on the fugitive's lips. "Almost there."

That mantra sustained him. Fueled him. The extraction point was nearby. Only a little further. Only a little more. There was no choice but to make it. To stop was to be caught.

To be caught was to die behind bars.

The side alley he diverted through looked like any other. Dim and damp. A perfect place to dump unwanted trash, but little else of interest to the average citizen. His foggy brain told him otherwise.

This was right. Previous research told him this was the correct path. One that would lead to safety.

The escape route was blocked at the end of the back street. The surrounding structures created a horseshoe of steel and glass. A dead end.

Cursing, he twisted in search of a solution. He cursed again when he found the way out. A fire escape with a sliding ladder was hanging from the side of the building. The adrenaline had made him forget that crucial detail.

While weighing his options, the yaps of that annoying mutt echoed. This was soon followed by footfalls closing in on his location. Roman had been ratted out. The enemy drew near.

Raising his cane into the air, he hooked the handle around the bottom most rung. With all his strength, he tugged. Stars danced before his eyes as the ladder slid over the accumulated rust to land on the ground floor.

Reaching for the emergency ladder, he gripped the sides to start pulling himself up. The bars were slick under his palms from sweat. The crawl itself was torture. Each step higher was pure agony.

His body screamed to slow down. Willpower kept him going. The looming threat of an approaching enemy helped as well. That was a great motivator. Higher and higher he went, until he reached the summit.

He had to stop and catch his breath once he hoisted himself over the lip. He took the moment to assess his injury. That was a blunder.

A once beautiful Valean double-stitched vest was ruined. It was soaked in his own lifeblood. He considered losing the clothing, but let it be. The fabric, he morbidly mused, might have been the only thing keeping his guts in place.

Bile reached his taste buds, but he held down his supper. Tearing attention away from the grievous wounding, he found his next objective. The roof of the adjacent structure hosted his alternate pickup spot. All that separated him from salvation was a gap between the buildings.

Calculating the odds of making the jump caused him to pause. From memory, he recalled the length of the crevice was about his body length. While normally this would not have been an issue, he was not sure he could make it given his condition. It was a long way down.

Sounds of his pursuer reaching the ladder spurred him on. The unwanted follower was hot on his trail. Looking across the rooftop, he took a deep breath. That he came this far was a miracle already.

What was wrong with hoping for another?

"I'm the man. Me!" He psyched himself up. "No one else."

He took off in a hobbling dash. His gut throbbed and stretched. Every step increased the sharp pressures. Something felt like it was trying to claw its way out of his body. He persevered.

Panting the whole way, he forced whatever remained of his spirit into his legs. The runway shortened rapidly. At the very edge, he took the leap of faith.

I: Bitter End

The master thief's life flashed before his eyes. It had been a miserable existence, filled with cruelty, pain, and suffering. Still, even if he could have, he would not have taken any of it back. Those experiences were what made Roman.

Trading that away would have made him one of the sheep. Another of the slack-jawed hoi polloi of Remnant. Comfortable with a meager existence. Slowly decomposing in a numbing nine-to-five job with an equally gruesome spouse and kids.

He chose a much more interesting life. One filled with cigars, money, and the finest of food. All lifted from those who could afford the losses, of course. There was little benefit in robbing the common man.

No. Hardships had been essential to his uniqueness. The only part he truly, deeply, regretted had occurred in the last few hours.

His current heist had been going swimmingly. He and a few rent-a-crooks stormed a local Dust shop. Small potatoes by his usual standards, but the boss always got what they wanted. In this case, what they wanted was enough fuel to keep a small settlement humming.

The nature of the robbery made for an easy-breezy plan. A collection of simple steps to follow: scare the owner, fill containers with as much as they could carry, and be back home in time for a cognac and crème de menthe. Shock and awe was the name of the game.

Solid all around. A smash and grab operation like that had worked many times before for lesser crooks. And Roman would be quick to point out he was no mere crook.

For extra security, he bribed the local cops with shiny new watches. They were to 'mistakenly' patrol the wrong road over the course of the robbery. An 'unfortunate mix up' that happens every now and then. That would be how they explained it to their sergeant the next morning.

With all the angles explored, his crew rolled into the shop like they owned the place. The owner knew the drill. He gave up without a fight, not willing to risk getting hurt over insured goods.

It went well, until something unexpected happened.

The henchmen—for how else could men in discounted black suits with cherry-colored sunglasses and matching ties be described—had nabbed their portions. On the way out, they hit resistance. Some vigilante stuck their nose in Roman's business. He was not concerned, even when it turned out that she was skilled.

The girl made quick work of his men. While wielding a metal staff with a deadly sickle attached, she rag-dolled them. Her speed was uncanny. Flower petals were left behind as she zipped from place to place, knocking the goons through displays and windows.

Maybe it was a special ability of hers. A Semblance. Torchwick was still not too worried. He had fought tougher. That confidence lasted until there was another surprise.

Her weapon got crazier. With a click and a twist, it changed form. One mech-shift later, and she now had a long, high-powered gun pointed in his direction. Way too big for her dainty hands to hold, let alone fire.

He was caught off guard when she did indeed pull the trigger. On instinct, he juked left. She missed and the round hit the asphalt beside his feet. The recoil from the high-powered shot sent her airborne.

Too bad for him, regular physics were still in effect. The ricocheting remainder of the bullet was injected into his rib cage. Thinking that only the breath had been knocked out of him, he prepared to engage. When the now persistent agony hit, he paused.

Touching the afflicted spot, his hand returned with a present. A wet coating glazed the appendage. His normal defenses had not protected him. His life was now on a clock. Every heartbeat brought him closer to the end.

That realization was what caused him to cut his losses. There were always more scores for the living. The disposable minions gave him a head start at least. Enough time to try for a death-defying stunt across two adjoining buildings.

Leaping now, he shut his eyes and braced for impact. The fall was a short one. He successfully landed on the other rooftop. Hope burned under his skin that the long night was almost over.

As usual, hope was a fickle mistress.

That hated ruby streak rushed past him, easily clearing the same obstacle. She came to a stop on the other side of the building, staring him down. A flowing tapestry of crimson fluttered around her shoulders. Silvery eyes under a hood and dark hair glowered back at him with determination.

And something else.

It made him sneer. Remorse. A weakness that had no place in this world.

"Surrender." Shouted the caped twerp.

"Really? Just like that?" Roman asked.

She nodded. He laughed. Hysterically. The goody two-shoes routine was great from the psycho that had mortally injured him. He could not help but glance down at the gash again.

Blood oozed from the wound. The jump had seemingly opened it further. Viscera flowed like a river down his cream pant legs. He wanted to faint. Adrenaline kept him upright.

That and the rage he held for the girl opposite him.

"What makes you think I will give up easily, Red?"

"Please! You can't win!" The next words out of her lips were much meeker. "You're hurt, but it will be okay. I will get you help."

Roman pulled his bowler hat down to his eyebrows. This was starting to look more and more like a last stand. If he was going out, he would go in style.

He twirled his cane in the air before catching it by the handle. The ferrule was now facing her. The wannabe hero watched the distraction, as anticipated. Her honed instincts were to follow such movements closely.

This allowed him to reveal his own surprise. His walking stick, despite its fashionable appearance, also happened to be a firearm. Specifically, it was a disguised weapon that fired explosive rounds.

Pulling the trigger on Melodic Cudgel, the curfew breaker did not see the incoming surprise. The shell arched, impacting beneath her dime-store skirt. Smoke and bits of debris suffocated the space she had previously occupied.

Satisfied, he beseeched the sky. "Now where's my ride?"

His question was answered with a lone hum. A grey bird of mercy descended from the clouds to hover above. The sight was almost enough to have him openly weep. Escape was in his reach.

The Bullhead pilot, realizing this was a hot extraction, turned and presented its loading area. A tiny ramp extended down for his access. Thankfully, the entrance did not require another jump. This time he could shamble aboard.

Roman was barely in the door when the engines began to rev. They could not wait around for him to be fully inside. There was trust that he could secure himself. He could feel the lift through his genuine leather soles.

His breath caught in his throat when the machine jittered. His mind went to the darkest place possible. They must have hit something. A crash was imminent.

When there was no immediate detonation, he reassessed. The Bullhead was still operating. However, the rotors were now straining, as if they were now too heavy. Roman knew he didn't weigh that much. Some force was holding them back.

Glancing back to the rooftop, he found the culprit. This time, it was not little Red being the nuisance. Another person stood resolute. A blonde-haired woman in a tight skirt and tan over jacket was beside the slightly singed tyke.

The schoolmarm stared through him with a raised arm towards the aircraft. In her hand was some kind of wand with a loop on the end. She was exerting pressure on their getaway vehicle.

Another Semblance. What kind, he was not sure. Judging by the way she was maintaining unblinking eye contact, the ability must have required concentration. If they were going anywhere anytime soon, he would need to break that fortitude.

His cudgel trembled as it locked on to a new target. This new arrival, having observed what happened to the runt earlier, made a jerking motion. This response caused the entire machine to shake.

Roman tumbled to the side. His finger was retracted from the trigger at the last minute to prevent a discharge inside the cabin. That would have been a disappointing way to die.

Alarms began to blare. The Bullhead was taking heavy damage. Although hardy, there was only so much any vessel could take. Soon they would be grounded, and there was not much Roman could do. He was too tired and damaged to try again.

Thankfully, he was not the only one in the aircraft.

From the recesses of the Bullhead, a continuous stream of fire snaked its way out and down. Roman shielded his face from the blistering heat, only able to catch the result far below them.

The lady was forced to drop her intangible hold on the Bullhead. He did not get to see if she managed to protect herself. They were away before the outcome was plain to see.

From the cockpit, the golden eyes of his benefactor watched over him curiously. They belonged to a black-haired woman in a form hugging red dress. Mistralian infused Dust silk if he was not mistaken. Equally beautiful and deadly.

The flame-wielder was not bad either, he supposed.

There was thinly disguised judgement in her stance. Honestly, he did not care. This evening could not get much worse.

/ / /

The Bullhead's ascent was relatively smooth during its escape over the Vale city skyline. There was some minor turbulence. Damage to the side compartment had caused the gears for the sliding mechanism to cease functioning. Wind drafted out the open aircraft and into inky darkness.

This would have been a problem for a long-distance flight. However, the passenger's hideout was not that far. The machinery would be just fine.

The same could not be said for one of the occupants. With a guided flight path set, Cinder Fall was confident enough to leave the machine alone for a while more. She wanted to take time to evaluate her rambunctious employee.

The man had elected to ignore the 'stay seated' sign and loiter in the middle of the aircraft. A low whistle from the air escaping behind him hummed in the background. It did little to muffle his gruff voice.

"That little pissant!" Roman growled while hugging himself. "Damn this smarts."

"Such language. And here I thought I had hired a gentleman thief."

The pallor of his face almost matched his clothing. Previously vibrant green eyes and blazing hair had lost their luster. If he had not been moving, she would have assumed he was already a corpse.

"Sorry if I'm not exactly mister rainbows and sunshine right now." He snapped. "Unless you haven't realized, I'm bleeding out here!"

Cinder had noticed. It was hard to do otherwise. His usually immaculate suit was dripping. Such carnage put her teeth on edge. Enough for her to forgive the slight.

"Yes. Do tell. How did you arrive in such a sorry state?"

"A brat got in my way. She had this fancy get up and an oversized wheat cutter. Went through my men like wet paper and shot me on the way out."

She frowned. "A huntress?"

There had been a woman who had tried to divert the Bullhead. A rather famous huntress, if Cinder's memory served her correctly. It was not unheard of for those of that most venerated of professions to insert themselves into an active crime.

However, that did not fit. Glynda Goodwitch was no 'brat.' She also did not use a blade or a gun. Her telekinetic prowess made such mere instruments beneath her use.

"No." He shook his head. "She was too young. Too inexperienced."

The thief would not fib to her. Cinder had contacts in the police. She would have found out eventually. Better, he assumed, to be truthful than have to explain the lie later.

All the pieces came together. Goodwitch served as a teacher for aspiring hunters. The one who injured Roman so thoroughly must have been a prospect. Conceivably, someone worth keeping an eye out for. Cinder hated unknown variables.

However, if Roman expected this honesty to be appreciated, he was in for disappointment. Cinder began to laugh openly. Truly, his misfortune was just too funny to keep her enjoyment to herself.

"Oh Roman. Brought low by a huntress-in-training." Humiliation was implied.

"It was a lucky shot." He snarled.


Perhaps that was all that it was. Million-to-one odds. Run enough risky bets and, no matter how good you are, eventually your number gets called.

Or maybe not.

Torchwick was a legend. Revered and reviled by crime lords and politicians alike. The last decade had been his to steal as he robbed with impunity. It was why she had been compelled to recruit him.

However, this incident had highlighted a critical flaw that the stories had not captured. Namely, a lack of imagination. He was slipping. Incapable of meeting a changing landscape.

Like a famous artist who was still riding high off their past glory, Remnant was leaving Roman behind. An apt metaphor, given the penance for flare. His reactions were amateur at best. Clownish at worst.

Both the hired help and the valuables were lost. If that were not enough of a poor showing, he was also maimed. He would now be out of action for months to heal. Their operations would be set back tremendously.

Now Cinder was faced with a conundrum. Did she stick with her first choice in Dust provider? Or did she seek out other possibilities? Both carried risk, but which did she think held more promise to help achieve her goals?

Really, Cinder had already decided. She had chosen his fate when he had dropped in earlier. The answer was basic economics.

"Think I corked it."

Her attention was pulled away from those musings on staffing decisions. Roman had managed to patch the hole in his belly with improvised bandages. The length of his overcoat was now shorter and frayed.

She marched up to him. "You missed a spot."


In her right hand, a dagger formed. Roman saw the deception. Astonishment at the betrayal played out across his face.

The blade burrowed up to the hilt in his flank, on the opposite side of the covered wound. She had missed his heart. The thief had used his forearm to push her off target. He had been too tired to stop the incoming assault completely.

"Right there."

"Cinder…" His hands wrapped around her arm, feebly trying to remove the foreign object. "Why?"

"Do not take this personally. You no longer fit into my grand vision for the future."

"You-" She twisted the knife, causing his whole body to spasm.

Life and death power over another was delicious. Cinder wanted to savor this rare treat. She could not partake in it often. Other subordinates would have understandably been horrified by her proclivities.

Alas, she could not. The Bullhead would reach the hideaway soon. There were complications waiting there she would prefer to avoid. It was better to arrive alone.

That did not mean she was barred from one more indulgence. Something to remember the dear thief by. The perfect coup de grâce.

But what to do? Another dagger? A jab to break the neck? An arrow through the heart? Once again, the answer was obvious.

"In other words?" Cinder brought her free hand before his face. "You're fired."

She snapped her fingers. From that crack came a combustive burst. Roman screamed as flames engulfed his body. The eruption pushed him back and out the still open Bullhead.

There he went. A falling candle's wick. Alive and conscious, she liked to imagine, the whole way down. Cinder shivered with pleasure.


/ / /

Jaune Arc had been winding down for the night when he heard it.

There had been a disturbance further down the back street he was squatting in. A horrible crash followed by a squelching noise. At first, the teenager thought the furor had been made by a careless driver. The nearby docks attracted many too-large trucks to the narrow roads.

Later came a new noise that was tough to comprehend. A wailing that echoed in the passage. Its pitch increased before suddenly dying off. He was content to leave whatever made the sound be, figuring the matter was settled.

And then, the distinct voice of a person became clear. They were yelling. Screaming, really. He could not make out the words, but it could have easily been a call for help.

The teen went from huddling against a dumpster for warmth to his feet in a matter of moments. Nervously, he strapped on his pearly chest guard and pauldrons. He also unsheathed the short sword from his belt.

Not knowing what lay ahead, he wanted to be ready for anything. His pulse raced as he conjured ideas. Each was worse than the last.

An appalling accident? A mugging? A monster on the loose?

Whatever was happening, he could not ignore someone in trouble. This was why he was in Vale. Heroes did not hide, no matter how terrified they were.

Jaune was indeed terrified. His knees shook as he edged forward. Already, he was having second thoughts about his life choices.

Running away from home a few weeks before school started was not his best plan. In his defense, the opportunity to slip away presented itself sooner than he had anticipated. With two month's allowance in his pocket and a handy down weapon on his waist, he left on the evening Bullhead for Vale.

Arriving later that night, he gaped at his surroundings. The city was filled with exciting scenes straight out of a brochure. Concrete and glass stretched out in every direction. It was here, he swore, that he would leave his mark.

There was a slight oversight right off the bat. He did not have enough money to stay in the city. The three hotels he had tried downtown turned him away. By the time he reached a fourth on the less high-end side of town, the lobby had already closed.

It became apparent he was going to have to rough it outside. Not a big deal, in his estimate. He had slept in the wilderness before when his family went camping. The difference was that he did not have a tent.

He would have to improvise.

The warmest place would have been an office building. Unfortunately, they were all patrolled by security guards he did not want to run afoul of. He had tried sleeping on a sheltered bus bench but had been yelled at by a homeless person claiming that was their bed. Jaune walked away to avoid conflict.

On and on the search continued. Eventually, he ended up near the industrial side of the city. It did not seem to attract as many pedestrians as the interior. This allowed him to find a secluded spot between two warehouses to hunker down.

The smell from the dumpster he leaned against was terrible. However, the decomposing food inside radiated enough heat to keep him comfortable on an otherwise brisk night. Drawing the strings on his hoodie, the fabric gave a little bit of cushion between him and the metal container.

Vale was a big place, he told himself. There had to be a cheap hotel around somewhere.

Worst case scenario, he roughed it outside until his academy started up. He had enough money to feed himself and perhaps take a shower every few days.

Everything would work out.

With those self-reassurances made, he attempted to get some rest. It was already past his bedtime. That was when the crash happened.

He tried to keep low to the ground. Although difficult given his taller frame, he crouched with hunched shoulders. His sword was pointed ahead of him, a slight gleam from the polished metal helping to guide him.

The further he went, the clearer the voice became. It was deep. Probably male. They were alone though. No other voices or growls could be made out.

Coming to a stop at a juncture, he flattened himself against a wall to peer around the edge. This section of the alley was better lit than where he was staying. A floodlight above a garage door was active.

At first, all he saw were stacks of cardboard. Leftover moving supplies that the owners must have been planning to throw away. What caught Jaune's attention was that one of the stacks was knocked over. A man was laid out on top, several boxes crushed underneath him.

His head was propped up by a tower while he was babbling to the sky. "A pun! She tried to kill me with a pun! That absolute bit-"

"Excuse me!" The teen came out from his hiding place. "Are you okay? Do you need assistance?"

The man stilled. Thinking there was no danger, Jaune pointed his blade down. He regretted this decision instantly when something small and hard smashed into his jaw.

"Oh come on." He mumbled into his hand.

The taste of copper filled his mouth. A jagged rock the size of his thumb lay on the ground. Who threw the projectile was never in doubt.

"I have more where that came from." The aggressor wheezed.

To prove they were serious, another pebble pelted Jaune in the stomach. Wanting to avoid more hits, he unclipped his scabbard. Fumbling a bit, he was able to locate the proper switch. The sword holder expanded into a heater shield.

The white barrier, showing off his family crest of two yellow crescent moons, was brought up in time to absorb the next volley. Jaune cheered. That triumph was cut short when another rock slammed into his unprotected shin.

He hurriedly ducked behind a forklift for cover. In one of the side mirrors, Jaune could see his face. The beginning of a nasty bruise swelled to the surface. Broken capillaries visually popped with his fair skin and blonde hair surrounding it.

More gravel struck metal while he self-examined. "Alright! I'll go! Just, stop throwing things at me."

Clearly, they could fend for themselves. Jaune was more than happy to let them figure out their own mess. He had begun to slowly retreat when the man called out.

"Wait." They slurred. "I thought you were someone else. Come back."

Jaune considered leaving anyway. His body was throbbing in multiple places. Frustration had almost killed his capacity for kindness that evening.

Empathy got the better of him. He linked the components of Crocea Mors together before returning the antique to his side. Slowly, he approached where the man rested, ready to duck. Once he got a better view, Jaune gasped.

"That bad, huh?"

Very bad. The man looked more like a sack of raw meat than a person. Whatever remained of his clothing was as charred as the rest of his torso.

The limbs were not much better. Both legs were horrifically mangled, with the left joint bending in the opposite direction of the hinge. Only his right arm seemed functional. The other lay limp beside him.

His head was the one part that was relatively unscathed. Tangerine locks framed a pale face. Emerald eyes had a hard time focusing. They drifted from side to side. How he was still conscious was a mystery. The pain must have been excruciating.

"H-hang on." Jaune stuttered as he retrieved the communicator from his pocket. "I'll get you an ambulance."

Pulling out the thin device was difficult due to his shaky hands. Pressing the button in the middle of the rectangular prism extended the tablet interface. He had already brought up the directory for emergency services when the man coughed.

"Don't bother. I'm a goner."

He was probably right. Jaune did not need to be a medical doctor to know that. His grandfather had always said there was no such thing as a graceful death. There were just two flavors: Slow or quick.

This was going to be the former.

"Isn't there anyone we should call?"

"Well, maybe one person." He beckoned.

Carefully, the teen tiptoed around crushed boxes. Bending over, Jaune brought the screen before the man's face and held it in place. With his good hand, he started typing.


Confused, Jaune read the screen after retracting the Scroll. In place of a call, the dying man had sent a text message to an unknown number. All he had relayed was a single flame emoticon.

"What is this?"

"A warning. Hopefully she gets it in time." He began to cough violently. "Let this be a lesson to you. Never trade liberty for safety. You'll end up with neither, like me."

Jaune was super curious but decided against asking. Based on the smoldering remains before him, he could guess what the fire referred to. He did not want to get mixed up in anything illegal.

"So, what now?"

"Now?" He reached into his ruined jacket to pull out a crumpled cigar and a beat up lighter. "We wait for the end."

With surprising deftness, the stranger flicked the smoke in the air and caught it on his lips. The only trouble he encountered was when he tried to ignite the lighter. His fingers were having a hard time operating the spark wheel.

"Here. Let me." Jaune took charge.

After two attempts, a small fire started. He held it up to the pre-cut end of the cigar. The man took a deep breath before expelling smoke.


Jaune hacked when some of it got in his face. "That can't be good for you."

"Not like it matters now." After another drag, the man let out a ring of smog. "Life's too short. You need to do what feels good."

"Another lesson?" The boy tried to joke while still shuddering.

"Hmmm. Got a million of them." He savored each puff as though it were his last. "Not that I'm ungrateful, but who are you supposed to be anyway? My own personal white knight?"

"Jaune." The teen introduced himself. "And you?"

He pursed his lips. "You don't know who I am?"

"Should I?"

"Roman Torchwick." Jaune blinked several times, causing the man to fluster. "Master thief. Gentleman extraordinaire. Fashionable scourge of the aristocracy. Ring any bells?"

"Oh!" Jaune tried to save the apparent criminal's pride. "Yes of course! The Roman Torchwick. I'd have to be living under a rock to-"

"You haven't a clue."

"Sorry. If it helps, I'm new to the city."

"Y'know, when I was coming up, I really thought I'd be big time by now." Roman ignored the apology and continued. "Larger than any star athlete or lounge singer. My name in lights. People dressing up as me. The face of a revolution."

"And you were going to do this by... stealing?"

"By setting an example to convince others to live freely. Now look at me. Slowly fading away with only some yokel to keep me company."

Diss aside, Jaune could understand having lofty goals. "I want to be a huntsman. Need to, but I have no idea if that will work out."

"A huntsman? You?" Roman gurgled. "Guess that explains the lame outfit."

The teenager did not know what the big deal was. His clothes and armor were functional. Blue jeans and a sweater kept him warm. Vital areas were protected by thick plating. Most of them, anyway.

"Hey, I got into Beacon."

The name caused the criminal to pause for a second. Beacon was the premier huntsman school in all of Remnant. If anywhere could turn his aspirations into reality, that was the place.

Roman shook his head. "You mean you earned a chance to be weeded out with the rest of the rejects after initiation."

Panic mounted in the boy. He did not know there was another step after being accepted. How was he going to learn if they threw him out before he had a chance to show he could be taught?

"Then I'll ace that test!"

"How will you pass if you can't even evade a rock?" There was another ding to his crumbling confidence. "Your Aura control must be dreadful if I was able to cut you with a simple throw like that."

Jaune touched his still bleeding lip. "Aura?"

"Soul stuff that makes you strong, fast, and protects you? The only thing keeping me alive?" The blank expression must have given away that he had no clue. "Jeez. What are they teaching kids these days?"


There was so much that Jaune did not know. If Roman could find such glaring holes in the boy's story within a few minutes of interaction, how would he get past initiation? They were going to eat him alive!

"Well, you've been more than hospitable." Roman tossed away the remains of the finished cigar. "Maybe there is something I can do for you."


"Come closer. I'm going to change your life."

Nervously, the teenager did as was requested. Roman must have decided the distance was too great. He reached out and grabbed Jaune by the shoulder and pulled them nose to nose.

"I'm not religious, but who knows? Maybe this will be considered a good deed by whatever hypothetical deities are out there. Listen closely. I'll only say this once."

The aspiring huntsman could have broken away. Roman's grip was weak. The fire in those green orbs kept him in place. There was something taking place that was beyond him.

"Never forget. It is with fame that we achieve immortality." A pulse invaded Jaune's body. "Through fleeting glory, we step over all others. Infinite in potential and unfettered by expectation, I release your soul."

Inside, there was resonance. Deep down, a wave built. Higher and higher. The crest drew near the surface. Roman's last words coincided with the break.

"And by my hand, I set you free."

There were flashes of color. First, a faded orange whispered. Then a bright white roared. The latter rapidly consumed the former as the light's intensity bathed the alleyway in luminescence.

So intense were these fireworks that Jaune fell backwards. His head was going to hit the concrete. Instinctively, he prepared for impact.

Instead of pain, there was only the light again. His whole body radiated that same peach tint. Not as bright as before, but just as intense.

Not only that, but he felt good. Fantastic even. Like he had been wearing heavy weights his whole life, and now they had been removed.

That was the only way Jaune could describe what was happening. One moment, he felt as he always did. The next, he was filled with boundless energy. All the fatigue and pain had been chased away. The lumps from where he had been struck were gone as well.

"Is this Aura?" He marveled as the glow faded. "This is amazing! I feel incredible! How did-"

Jaune stopped his praise when he noticed Roman's head had slumped. The stillness of his chest was the most troubling.


Picking himself up, Jaune scooted closer. He grabbed a shoulder and shook lightly. Then harshly. That garnered no response. Pushing the man's chin up, the teen exhaled sharply. Vacant eyes peered back at him.

"Oh." He swallowed a lump in his throat. "I… I'm sorry."

Even with Aura, whatever its nature, there was nothing Jaune could have done. He was useless. What good could he do as a huntsman if he could not even save one person?

"I'll do better. I promise."

That would be of little comfort now. Jaune would try to find a way of honoring Roman. First, by giving the deceased some dignity back.

Thinking of an action movie he had seen recently, he ran his palm over Roman's eyelids. It took a few tries since it was not a move he had ever practiced before. And with any luck, he would not have to do it again. Eventually those glassy greens were hidden away.

"I can't leave you here."

If he had been thinking clearly, the Arc would have realized that disturbing a crime scene was a bad idea. However, he was too driven. The urge to make good by the man who had granted him the power of a huntsman fueled his movements.

The aspirant picked the thief up in a fireman's carry. Where he would take Roman, he had no idea. Anywhere had to be better than the backlot of a depot.

He had only made a few steps on this new quest when another tingle through his body halted him. It was like his Aura, but more exotic. Shifting. Almost like an odd presence was settling in.

"Welly, welly, welly, well." A recognizable voice surrounded him. "How strange and exciting and unexpected!"


He shifted the man to see his face. Roman's eyes were still closed. Unmoving. Nothing had changed. Jaune started to wonder if a combination of stress and grief were making him hear things.

"Not there." The voice tutted.


"The mirror."

Confused, he made his way over to the forklift again. In the glass, he noticed something was wrong. There was an out-of-place crooked smile on his face. He hardly felt his own mouth move.

"I can work with this." The words were not his own.

Jaune let out a high-pitched scream.

Author Notes: Hey there! Welcome to my second story. Just Another Outfit will center around Roman Torchwick. There will be some supernatural elements, but this tale will focus on larger themes such as legacy and multiple identities. Oh, and all the heists that take place along the way.

For full disclosure, the inspiration for this story came from an outline in The Writer Games by College Fool and Coeur Al'Alran. It was called Deadly Shadows. I liked the set-up, although I'm not going to be following it too closely as this story progresses.

Anyway, consider this a pilot for the full story. I will start working on this fully when As You Was wraps up in a few months. Until then!