Here we go


Cover Art: Curbizzle

Chapter 10


"We're not going to find anyone just walking around Vale, you know."

Ashari watched Emerald's shoulders tense up and knew she would be furiously trying to come up with a snappy insult. Something Cinder would have been proud of. Alas, the short period of silence while she thought ruined it. The moment was gone, and she glared back over her shoulder as cruelly as she could. Rather than make him cower, it brought an indulgent smile to his face. Emerald huffed and turned to stare ahead.

Teasing her was fun and all but perhaps wasn't the best idea right now. There was no denying she hated him – despised him, even. "Why don't we stop to get a bite to eat and talk?" he suggested. "Cinder did say we should take this time to get to know one another."

"To get you under control." Emerald corrected.

"Contrary to Cinder's beliefs, you're not going to be able to force me into that. It would be easier to try and get to know one another, to come to an understanding."

"What's there to understand? You belong to me and I belong to Cinder."

Ashari's face hardened. "And yet there is nothing to stop me from killing Cinder, is there?" Before him, the green-haired girl froze. A frightened tremble ran down her body. "The only reason I haven't is because of you, but if she keeps pushing…"

"You can't."

"I can't?" He threw back his head and laughed as he hadn't for a long time. "Oh Em, you're so funny. You really do think she's the be all and end all, don't you?" His laughter drifted off into an amused chuckle. "Cinder isn't strong, Em. Not compared to Tyrian or Hazel, and I killed them. I killed Salem too. There's not much she Cinder could do to stop me if I decided to end her."

"You're lying!" she accused. "You're just… You're jealous! Cinder is amazing, strong, kind and-"

"Shall we go back and test that right now?" He turned. "Come on. I'll go slit her throat and show you."

He heard the sharp intake of breath before her quick footsteps, and he turned without hesitation, catching her weapon on the outside of his left arm and hooking it over. He pushed her down with his right hand on her shoulder, ripping Emerald off her feet and laying her flat on the cobbled street. A nearby pedestrian hurried away, not wanting anything to do with it.

"Or…" Ashari said, pointedly staring at Emerald's neck and not her eyes. "You and I can have a nice, peaceful chat over a few drinks and snacks and work things out. It's that or I get rid of Cinder. Your choice."

That was how they found themselves in a late-night diner at the mall, Ashari lounging back on one leather-padded bench while Emerald sat mulishly opposite, alternating between scowling at him and the table like a sulky child. There was no doubting the roll of the waitress' eyes when she came to collect their order and Emerald refused to speak. He smiled back as if to ask what anyone was to do with unhappy children. This was a family restaurant after all.

"Two strawberry milkshakes with cream. I'll have a salted caramel cake and she'll have hot chocolate fudge with ice-cream." Emerald glared at him and made to counter the order, but he spoke over her. "Make it a large on everything, please."

"Sure thing, hon."

If it were at all possible, and it was, Emerald managed to look even unhappier than before. "You ordered for me," she hissed.

"You weren't going to order for yourself."

"What if I don't like chocolate?"

"You do."

"But what if I don't."

"You do," he said firmly. "Let's get one thing straight, if you haven't somehow figured it out from the number of times I've said I've killed Salem. I am from a future version of this world. I know you, I know Cinder, I know Beacon, Salem, Ozpin, your half-baked plans for the Vytal Festival and a whole lot more. How? Because I've lived through it. That means I know things, Em. You could very well say I know the future."

He could tell she wanted to argue against that, but it was hard when he was as old as he was. They knew from Jinn about the Jaune from this world, spared from the competition for his own safety, and that he was seventeen years of age. The very fact Ashari was closer to forty made it clear he'd survived beyond Beacon. His skills further attested to that.

"Our plan isn't half-baked…" Emerald said.

"It's trash. Really, you want to catch people by surprise and yet you have the White Fang announcing your presence. You let the Fall Maiden slip out your grip when you literally had her eating from your hand." Emerald stiffened. "That wasn't your fault by the way. If Cinder had a functioning brain she'd have had that apple poisoned, and then you'd not have even had to fight her. Or you could have laid a mine on the road and made her not see it until she rode over it. You could have literally had Cinder walk up to and slit her throat while you kept her under your Semblance, so she didn't notice until she was bleeding out. Instead, you got into a fight that you almost lost."

"We did win."

"Not because of Cinder. You won because of Salem. If it wasn't for the gifts she gave Cinder, she'd have been roadkill. You all would have been." He paused suddenly, all smiles as the waitress returned with a tray and set it down. He helped her by taking the milkshakes while she put the large and still steaming slice of chocolate cake drizzled in chocolate sauce with a dollop of white ice-cream by it in front of Emerald. "Thank you," he said, sliding some lien onto her tray. "Keep the change."

"Thank you, sir. I hope you and your daughter enjoy."

Emerald, with half a fork to her mouth, choked before she had even taken a bite. By the time she recovered, the woman had already left and had no idea Emerald was staring at her. "I-I'm not-" Her eyes shot angrily back to him. "You knew what we looked like, didn't you?"

Ashari shrugged, sipping his milkshake. He released the straw with a happy sound. "Well, it was either they thought I was your father or I'm a very creepy man. I'd rather one than the other. How's your cake?"

The fork clinked down. "I'm not hungry."

"Emerald…"

"I'm not some child you can feed!"

"Adults need feeding too. Or do you think Cinder photosynthesizes? Eat it. We're here to come to an understanding and learn to work together. Spitting on my hospitality isn't a good way to start with that, is it?"

Grudgingly, and with a pomp and sulk that made sure he knew it, she picked up her fork again and slowly brought the steaming chocolate to her lips, blew on it for a moment and then bit. Her eyes closed, her shoulders trembling slightly, before she quickly swallowed and tried to look unaffected. A dusky hue rose up her neck and threatened to reach her cheeks as she looked away and said, "It's alright…"

Alright. He could have laughed. He didn't because that would have had her stomping out the diner, threats be damned. Emerald was a sensitive young woman like that, all prickles and thorns. Ashari hummed instead, cut into his own salted caramel and watched with half an eye as Emerald went back for seconds, this time dipping a healthy slice of cake into the ice-cream and savouring both at once. She sucked on the fork after, working the prongs through her lips to get every last morsel.

Cinder cared enough to keep her minions fed but that was all. There certainly hadn't been cake in Salem's tower, and he doubted she saw to treating Emerald and Mercury much when they were at Haven. Emerald called the woman kind, and he supposed she was that when your standards of kindness before was being abandoned on the street to fend for yourself. Even the worst of scum could appear generous by comparison.

On the third slice, Emerald had lost control completely, stuffing a whole mouthful in and chewing with a blissful expression, her cheeks puffing out and working like a squirrel's. Until, sadly, her eyes shot open and she caught him watching with an indulgent smile. She scowled, swallowed and said, "Why are you watching me?"

"Is it wrong to be happy you're having fun?"

"This isn't about fun. This is work. We have a job."

"Our job right now is to make peace between us. Isn't that what we're doing?"

"I don't need peace. I just need you to do what I say."

"You mean, do what Cinder says."

"Yes."

"Didn't I already say her plans are bad? Cinder is an egotist. That's why she made it a fight against the fall maiden and nearly got you killed – because she had to prove she could beat the girl. It was a matter of pride for her. And news flash, she couldn't. If it weren't for you and Mercury, more you than him, she'd have died right then and there. Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me she couldn't have handled that without a fight."

Her complete refusal to answer, hidden behind her doggedly eating her cake, was as close to her admitting it as he'd get. If she had any way – any at all – of proving him wrong, she'd have certainly given it.

"Cinder is the kind of person who likes to gloat over her enemy. She has to – it's the only way she can make herself feel powerful. I tell you now, Em, it'll also be her death. I guarantee she'll die because she spent too much time gloating and not finishing someone off."

"She is strong," Emerald muttered.

"Strong compared to you, maybe, or people her own age, but there's a reason you all had to run when Qrow dropped by to save the fall maiden. She isn't unbeatable. She isn't even all that good." Couldn't so much as kill Ruby when she found her at the CCT, and that was with Ruby in a ball gown and heels. She only killed Pyrrha after taking the fall maiden's powers. "She isn't half as strong or as clever as you think she is, Emerald. And I'm saying that for your benefit. You can't blindly trust what she says."

"But I'm to blindly trust you."

"Trust yourself if that's all you can but dig deeper and ask yourself why Cinder does what she does. You must have noticed her pushing you away ever since I arrived-"

"Of course I've noticed! You ruined everything!"

"Emerald…"

"If it wasn't for you I'd still be close to her, still be… still be valued. Valuable. Useful. Cinder trusted me, loved me-"

"She never loved you. Used you, yes, but bever loved."

Emerald was shaken from her dreams. Her knife clattered down. "What would you know?" she hissed. "You claim to know everything but you're from another world. Things could be different. They are different. Maybe that Cinder didn't love that Emerald, but that doesn't mean it's the same here."

He watched as Emerald's hands clenched into fists. For all her devotion, she wasn't an idiot. Emerald probably felt the distance Cinder had created all the more keenly. She was being kept out of the inner circle that now only Mercury and Null were privy to. She had been replaced, and for the one to replace her to be yet another Jaune, one with a more useful Semblance than her own, couldn't have made it any easier.

"I wish you'd all never been summoned," she whispered. "I wish things were the way they used to be."

"That would have led to disappointment anyway. Cinder doesn't return your feelings. She betrays you and then abandons you when you're no longer useful."

"You don't know that!"

"I know more than I wish I did. That girl isn't good for you, sweetie. You can do better."

"Don't call me that!"

Ashari winced. The pet name had come without thinking. "Sorry. The point remains, Cinder doesn't see you as a person. She sees you as a pawn. That isn't how love works. This isn't healthy, Emerald. None of it is. You can be so much happier away from her. You can-"

"Is that your game? Convince me to abandon her?"

"I'm trying to look out for you."

"I don't need looking after." Emerald pushed out her bench and made to walk away. He grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her back. "Let go of me. I… I'll tell Cinder!"

"And she'll kill you to remove me. Or do you really think she wants to try her luck against someone who handled two whole teams of huntsmen-in-training? Easier to put a bullet through your heart, Em."

Her lips peeled back into a snarl. "I'll take it. If it makes her happy-"

It was his time to stand and scowl back at her. He yanked her close and snapped, "Don't joke about that! Do you really think that'll make even the slightest difference? You'd die for someone who won't even look at you like you want them to."

"That's what love is!"

"That's not love. That's an obsession."

"Then maybe I'm obsessed. Maybe I'm fine with that!"

"You're not, obviously, or you wouldn't be so angry about all this."

It was, he thought, a reasonable point to make, and yet he'd forgotten just how stubborn she could be. Her head exploded in a shower of gore – making his heart clench – and then the illusion faded. Emerald had already yanked her wrist from his grip while he stood frozen after watching her die. White-hot anger surged through him, quickly stamped down as she pushed past, knocking her shoulder into him as she went.

"Emerald!" he snapped loudly. "Come back here. We're not finished."

"We're done!" she yelled, uncaring for the few customers watching. Some looked his way sympathetically; most kept their heads down. Jaune Ashari snarled under his breath and chased the errant girl out the diner. "Stop following me. Just go away!" she ordered. "Leave me alone."

"I'm not going anywhere without you."

"Because you want this wish!" she spat, rounding on him. "That's all I am to you, a means to a wish. You say Cinder is using me but you're no different!"

"I am different. I don't give a shit about that wish. What I care about is-" The glass door of the diner smashed back into his face before he could finish. Ashari stumbled back and rubbed his nose, then cursed as he saw Emerald stomping away. "That damn girl," he hissed. "She's going to get her heart broken if she carries on like this. How the hell did you make parenting seem so easy, Summer?"

Jaune Ashari pushed the door open and gave chase. If Emerald wouldn't leave Cinder, that meant he couldn't either. So be it. He'd just have to stick by his stupid little daughter a while longer.

Someone had to have her back.

/-/

Vale was not quite as Null remembered it. A large part of that was because he had the freedom to take his time and walk around without fear of being kidnapped or subjected to human experimentation. There were certainly some people who knew and wanted to hunt him down, Ozpin and Blake especially, but there wasn't the ever-present fear. One of the first things he'd done on being summoned, after figuring out his situation, was look through this world's history.

No Chivalric Arms, at least as far as he could tell. Without them, there was no experimentation, no attack, and that meant his family – mom and dad – were still alive out there, living peacefully in Ansel with his sisters.

No. They're not my family…

That was a painful pill to swallow but one he had to. His family were scattered, his sisters living in Menagerie now but both his parents dead. Murdered. His deal with Ironwood would see him unable to ever interact with them again, but at least he'd known they were safe. It was the best deal he could have gotten at the time. And really, his sisters deserved better than to live with his bloodstained hands.

Hopefully, they wouldn't have to. If he could just win this, if he could just get this done, he could wish for it to have never happened. Mom would be alive; dad wouldn't have had to sacrifice his life for them. They'd all be back in Ansel, safe and sound, and the best thing was he wouldn't even remember it. He could even wish for Chivalric Arms to not exist. That'd free Neo. Save her life. It'd save all the lives they'd taken over the years.

And all I need to do is go back to the killing. Back to the murderer. Null wiped his hands on his sleeves then stuck them into his pockets. It was a small price to pay really. Kill a couple of people, leave this world to its fate, and he could reverse hundreds of deaths back home. I won't even have to live with what I did. They'll wipe my memories. It'll be like it never happened.

Nice and easy. No complications. Honestly, they weren't even the same people he knew. This wouldn't be the Blake he'd once trusted and called friend; it wouldn't be the same thing at all. Of course, that also meant the Team RWBY here hadn't killed his mom. They were, without Chivalric Arms' intervention, complete innocents. Not unlike his family.

No, Null thought with an angry shake of his head. Stop thinking about it. Besides, I can kill the other Arcs. Kill the summons and they can live as long as they want. The ironic part was that it wouldn't even be the end of the world for them. It would be if Salem won, but Cinder obviously had her own agenda, much like she had in his world. At least she can't backstab me and try to kill my sister this time. No need to put her down again.

Just Ashari and Grimm if they got too uppity. They were powerful for now, too useful to let go, but they wouldn't always be. Once the sides started to get pruned out a little. The less either side had, the better his odds, so that was why these independents had to go. They didn't have much of a chance anyway given the wide array of powers available to the different versions of himself. In a way, he was doing them a favour.

Now, if only he could find one. That stripper had been a stroke of good luck – too much so to repeat itself for a second night running. He should have known. By this point, any Jaune with a brain must have gone to ground. Headmaster wasn't showing himself, but Null was loathe to go against an unknown anyway. Better to let him butt heads with Grimm and Ashari.

A street vendor selling hot dogs summoned Null by scent alone. The man smiled on seeing him, a rare change from the terror the name `Jaune Arc` brought in his world. The man treated him like anyone else, taking his money and handing over a juicy looking meal. Jaune squirted some ketchup from the nearby tub and bit in. It's like a holiday in a way. No being chased, no screaming, no having to worry about being taken away to a lab and tested on.

Only other versions of himself tyring to kill him. Honestly, that was preferable. At least they wanted to kill and be done with him. Less personal reasons and a whole lot less pain than what Chivalric Arms would put him through. Jaune licked his fingers clean and deposited the cardboard packet into a recycling bin, then ducked into a nearby alley to cut between the streets. Maybe he could try the busier parts of the city again. If there were other Jaunes out there, they might try and do their food runs late at night. If he was lucky, he might stumble upon one.

Or one might stumble upon him…

The figure had already been in the alley but hidden behind several trash cans and bags so Null hadn't seen him. Curious that he hadn't waited for an ambush. He was dressed in black and grey, a tight-fitting skinsuit beneath what looked like a modified overcoat with slits in numerous places for ease of movement. The most defining feature, quite naturally, was an ovoid glass-fronted mask that covered his entire head, hiding hair and face from view and providing Null nothing more than his own reflection.

It could have been anyone underneath, but they'd given up pretending and so would he. Null slipped his hands under his hoodie, drawing a knife into his right and a handgun into the left. Of all things, the Jaune snapped his right hand out to reveal a thin, metal baton.

"No Crocea Mors?" Null asked.

"…" The masked figure stared him down. He either wasn't much for talking or that helmet prevented it. What was this? A cybernetic Jaune? Some kind of futuristic version? The lack of intel wasn't appreciated.

But then, he doesn't know what I can do either.

"Just to check." Null said. "You are a Jaune, right? It'd be a ridiculous waste to kill someone who isn't involved in this." The mask bobbed down slowly. "Good. No point involving others."

Null leapt in. The baton was short range, but so was his Semblance. Better to let the opponent think they had the edge before delivering the killing blow. Shooting early would also alert everyone on the streets and have police and huntsmen on his ass.

The last thing he expected was for the person to raise their left arm and for to burst out. Not towards him, either. The burst of gas was followed by a sharp implement that stabbed and locked into the brickwork further up the alley, connected to a metal rope and motor that whirred violently and ripped the person off their feet, up into the sky. In a second, they were crouched and connected to the wall, letting go and falling, then zipping to another and over his head.

Null struggled to follow, backing up and wielding his knife upward. From above-? Why? The man's coat fluttered, and several black objects were flung down. "Shit!" Null dove away, only for the grenades to explode with smoke instead of shrapnel. Even so, he covered his nose and squinted his eyes. Watching Ashari fight Knight had warned him of that particular weakness.

He fights dirty. More analysis than criticism. Those that fought dirty won. I thought he'd rush in, but he's not as dumb as the others. Luckily, it was a windy night. Enough that the smoke wouldn't stay for long. That means he has limited time to make use of this cover- behind!

Twisting, he caught the baton on his arm before it could come down on his skull. The sharp crack of metal on aura and his bony wrist echoed Null's gasp of pain. He'd blocked reflexively with his left hand, his gun arm, and while he stabbed with his right, it was never going to hit. He kept his Semblance in check. Better to have aura when he was on the back foot like this.

The baton came up and to the left, swiping sideways. This time, he blocked better – two handed to lessen the pain. The man's knee came up and around from the other side. Null saw it but couldn't do much other than tense his muscles and take it. The sharp bite of metal told him the bastard had armoured kneecaps, right as they drove the air from his lungs. Extra point for the cyborg theory! he thought wheezily, backing off.

That was fine. He'd already killed one cyborg.

Null lashed out before the man could decide the tempo, slicing in while trying to keep his gun barrel hidden under his arm. The masked Jaune responded by jumping back, shooting out his arm and zipping off again above, his coattails flapping like the cape of some comic book superhero. His military boots struck the wall and he kicked off, vaulting through the air and over Null's head, landing on the opposite wall and then leaping off again, this time straight at him.

The last engagement had taught Null where the skill difference laid, however. He was already jumping back, creating as much distance as he could. "You're a bouncy bastard, aren't ya? Seems like every Jaune but me has some kind of weird-ass training. That's fun," he huffed. "Aren't there any normal ones around?"

No answer again, but the time had bought an opportunity for the smoke to drift away. It had been neither poisonous nor tear gas, but he had to wonder if that was more out of concern for the crowded streets than anything. They easily could have been both. He'd need to invest in precautions against that, especially with Ashari and this bloke running around.

Now, if he could just get him a little closer.

The overcoat flapped as the man rushed in, finally giving his grappling and acrobatics a fucking rest. Finally. Null tracked the baton as it swung down on his left, stepping right and dodging, then leaning back from the predictable follow-up swing. Ironwood had taught him to be less reliant on his Semblance, but it wasn't easy. Not when it was such a perfect counter to almost everything a huntsman could do.

Falling back, he drew the masked figure in. A deflection there, a step back here, a panicked expression that he knew stank of fear. He couldn't know if it worked because of the mask, but the figure bundled their coat before them and over-extended at last, slashing down from above.

Yes! Checkmate! Null blocked it, brought his gun back from behind his waist and activated his Semblance. Colour flooded his eyes as his, and his opponent's, aura dropped to nothing. Null snarled "You're mine!" but only got the "you're-" out before he began to pull the trigger.

Before something silver speared out from the man's coat and went straight for his throat.

The world didn't stop. It tumbled. Null threw himself aside with complete disregard for anything. His shot went off, the handgun bucking, but it went high – miles high – as he rolled to the left. Heat seared from his left shoulder, blood running down his arm as metal pierced through and was swiftly wrenched out by his body falling and rolling away.

He came to a halt on one knee, hand clasped to his wounded and bleeding shoulder, eyes on the masked Jaune, whose coat was finally flapping open to show a thin, needle-like dagger he'd kept perfectly hidden, concealed on his body until the last second, where he'd used his flapping coat to hide it. The perfect ambush, and Null's gun arm was limp for it.

He knows. The thought burned in his mind with utmost certainty. Against no one else would concealing a knife to get off one stab be worth the effort, and yet he'd chosen the exact moment Null activated his Semblance to use it. He knows about my Semblance. How-? Wait, the docks. Is this the guy who shot the one on Ozpin's side? Is this the sniper?

His would be killed twirled the knife in his gloved hand and caught it in a reverse grip, then bunched his legs. Null wasted no time picking up his gun in his right hand and aiming it up at the sky. The loud `bam` of each shot echoed punishingly in the alleyway. Within seconds, people on either side began to scream. The leisurely evening crowd turned into a stampede of bodies, the same fear that had wrung the city dry when Leviathan's Grimm rained down gripping them once more.

Null backed away into it, his eyes locked on his foe until the press of bodies swallowed him. The figure remained behind, stood in the alleyway with a bloodied knife, unwilling to chase him into the crowds. Unable to, dressed as he was. With gritted teeth, Null hurried among the pack of bodies, yanked out his scroll and dialled Cinder.

"We have a problem."

/-/

In the alleyway, a lone figure stood legs spread apart and weapons at the ready as the people rushed away in panic. The police would be notified, their response sudden, but it wouldn't be enough to bother him. Twirling the stiletto blade once more, he stabbed it into his belt and brought his left hand.

The grappling struck high on the brick wall and pierced through, the spikes within punching out to anchor. As the motors whirred, Rat was torn off his feet and up, catching himself on the lip and climbing over to stand on the roof's edge. Only then did he bring his hand up to touch his helmet's side, pushing a tiny button.

"Target escaped into the crowds. Pursuit impossible without placing civilians in harm's way."

"Let him go. Was it as we were told?"

"Yes. It was as the girl said. He was vulnerable for the moment he used his Semblance."

"That's the confirmation we needed. Return to Beacon and await further instructions, Rat."

"Yes sir."


Relic Jaune not having as easy a time breaking through to his daughter as he did in his own story. To be fair, Cinder currently has the custody battle in her favour, so he has to break Emerald of her infatuation there. If he can. It's not going to be an easy one.

And another Jaune enters the fray. For those who didn't get or haven't read it, it's "In the Kingdom's Service" Jaune. You don't need to have read it, as his abilities and personality will be slowly fed to you as he makes more appearances. He's called "Rat" because that was his codename among the secret service, a reference to his tenaciousness when cornered.


Next Chapter: 29th January

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur