Yo! Another week, another chapter of Cinderella.
Not a ton to say, other than that I actually posted the final chapter of Paved with Bad Intentions about... thirty minutes ago? You can go and read that now if you care.
If you don't, feel free to read this chapter instead!
And if you don't care about this chapter, then... why are you here?
Start Chapter 44
They all take the news that's just been presented to them with varying degrees of shock.
Jaune himself has wide eyes, and a wider mouth, hanging open. He tries to absorb just what all of this means, what it is they're now meant to do with this information, but all he's able to hear is the echo of that word – Rose, Rose, Rose – playing over and over again inside his head.
It had to be a coincidence, didn't it?
For a lineage to survive for so long, for nearly twenty-thousand years… clearly, it had to be a coincidence.
And yet, the more Jaune looked around at the others, the more he begins to gather that the others are all thinking the same things he is.
Ruby, their friend, hails from an ancient order; those who had once received the Silver-Eyes from the God of Light himself.
It's a lot to take in.
Despite that, however, he can hear Raven let out a sigh from somewhere off behind him.
"Are we all done freaking out now?"
Jaune rolls his eyes, turning back towards her. "What, you don't think this deserves the tiniest bit of thought?"
"Of course, it does. I'm saying there's no reason to freak out about it."
"What do you– how could we not freak out about this!?"
"So, Summer and Ruby are both a part of an ancient lineage that connects them to the God of Light." Raven shrugs. "We already knew that. The fact that they have the Silver-Eyes in the first place already meant that."
"Well, we certainly didn't know it was quite this direct!"
"Does it really matter?" Raven shrugs. "You're focusing on the wrong bits of information here. They're talking about their enemy. More importantly, they're talking about a way to kill them. And how a member of their order – the Enkidu you spoke of before – had already been killed in their quest."
Jaune wants to argue – and hell, he feels he has a decent motive to argue – but in the end, he simply sighs, grumbling beneath his breath.
"Fine. We'll leave the whole 'Ruby's ancestors were Vacuoan legends' thing alone for now. More importantly… what is this place? Because to me, it seems like some sort of sect of assassins."
"I must confess, it appears that way." Ren states, running his hand along a nearby stone dais, and then flaking the dust off by patting his hands along his thighs. "I simply wish there was more to go on. We're going to be doing an awful lot of guesswork as things are."
"Yeah, really." Nora says, frowning. "That lady was really vague in her note."
"I'd imagine that was on purpose." Blake states. "It was a note that she assumed could possibly fall into enemy hands. Thusly, she worded things as ambiguously as possible so as to only make them obvious and clear to those who were already in the know. It's fairly standard procedure; something I saw in the White Fang a few times."
They all nod at that.
"Still, as far as guessing the purpose of this place, a sect of assassins seems an adept way of reading all of this. These people were given a power by the God of Light. It would seem it was done in order to destroy Salem." Blake continues, except now she's frowning. "Except that doesn't make any sense. Salem says the Gods cursed her with immortality. What reason would there be for them to not just take it away if they wanted her dead?"
"That…" Jaune shakes his head. "I don't know. What I do know is that I'm pretty sure we've found all we're going to down here. Everything else is burned, or destroyed, or ruined."
"We're done here, then?" Pyrrha asks.
"I think so."
"Then stand back." Raven speaks before placing her hand upon her sword's hilt.
They all acquiesce, and with a flick of her wrist, Raven carves a red and black schism through space. It forms into a portal a second or so later, and she gestures for them all to step through.
Jaune goes after the rest of his teammates, with Blake following through shortly after him. As he steps out, he finds himself once more being accosted by the Vacuoan sun.
His eyes are nearly blinded by the intense light, and he has to take a moment to crouch down and let them adjust. During that time, Qrow and the others walk up to their entire group, asking questions and just in general trying to learn of what they may've found.
Still, Jaune doesn't really pay much attention to that until he feels a familiar hand on his shoulder.
"Are you alright?"
He smiles. "Yeah, just a little blind at the moment. We were in some underground temple up until about a minute ago."
Cinder hums. "An underground temple? Your day certainly sounds an awful lot more interesting than ours."
"Did you all find anything?"
"Not a single speck." Cinder says with a sigh, even as she leans back and sits down beside him, which inspires Jaune to do the same, letting his legs take a break and plopping down on the warm sands beneath. "We've been roaming about for hours with nothing to show for it. Branwen's barely been able to locate anything of note, and I've not felt a thing in terms of magic. The most interesting part of the day so far was you giving me that signal earlier."
Jaune lights up. "Could you tell what I meant by it?"
"I could tell you were pleased with something, so I assumed that might've meant you'd found something. I didn't tell the others, but I figured you all might show yourselves within due time. And lo and behold, I was right."
Jaune smiles. "In terms of what we found, uh… it's actually kind of crazy."
"Nora seemed to be trying to communicate as much to Ruby, although she was far too excitable to accurately transcribe anything." Cinder says with the smallest bit of mirth within her tone. "So, what did you all find, exactly?"
"Well…" Jaune rubs the back of his neck.
"We're sort of wondering that ourselves…"
"So basically, you found the origins of the Silver-Eyed warriors… or, well, perhaps the Silver-Eyed assassins, in this case?"
"It certainly seemed that way." Jaune finishes summarizing.
He'd initially been thinking that he'd leave the talking to Raven, seeing as how she had seniority in this whole saving the world business. She, however, doesn't really seem to be the talking type, so the duty falls to Jaune to take up the reins.
Their group is camped out in their stolen bullhead at the very edges of the Vacuoan desert. They've managed to land it atop a particularly flat, stumpy plateau of rock, which is a lot more conducive to landing gear than sand. For now, they're sitting idle, and discussing their next moves.
"So, mom and I are descended from Vacuoans?" Ruby pipes up, her face scrunching rather adorably with confusion. "I had never really heard that from her. From what I knew we'd been in Vale as long as anyone could remember."
Qrow snickers. "Most people can't remember twenty-thousand years into the past, to be fair."
"That's… actually a good point, yeah." Ruby laughs a tad awkwardly. "Okay, so… what does that actually tell us?"
"Nothing." Raven repeats her earlier point. "At least nothing actually useful. It means that the power of the Silver-Eyes is something that's been passed down through your family for thousands of years. But then, judging by the fact that you had them in the first place, we know that."
They all give a smattering of agreement towards that.
"What we didn't know was that the Silver-Eyed warriors were apparently given the task of fighting against Salem by the God of Light," Jaune cuts in. "That's a pretty huge deal. It also opens up about a thousand different questions, and a lot of things that don't make a whole lot of sense."
"The largest of course being; Why would the God of Light create warriors to fight Salem?" Qrow is seemingly both posing the question, and asking Jaune himself if said question had been one of his own. Jaune nods. "Because yeah, sure, it would make sense for us humans to try and find some magical way to fry Salem and the Grimm off Remnant, but Salem wouldn't even be here if not for the Gods cursing her with immortality. Based on what you're telling us this Blacksmith lady said, it's not like they don't have the power to just undo the curse. So why go out of their way to create some mystical order of assassins to do it when they could just… wave a finger, and Salem would burst into dust on the spot?"
That really does seem to be the million-lien question. Not a face in the room isn't furrowed in thought, then, as they all take a moment to try and figure out some magical solution.
It's actually Mercury, of all people, who suggests something first.
"Could it be a way to punish Salem further?"
Jaune looks up at him. "What do you mean?"
"Well, didn't you say something about the Silver-Eyes being able to trap Salem in stone forever or something?" Mercury looks down and away. "Not all of you have experience dealing with people without morality, but for a god who's been wronged by someone, that might seem an appropriate fate to inflict upon their enemy. An eternal prison within a casing of stone, never to speak, or eat, or scream."
Jaune actually shivers.
"So, what, the God of Light created the Silver-Eyed warriors to torture Salem for eternity?" Yang sits forward. "It sounds kind of out of character."
"Does it truly?" Cinder shrugs her shoulders. "Salem told us that the brother gods cracked the moon and nearly slew the entire human race because Salem tried to attack them, despite her not truly being able to harm them in the slightest. I can buy them being petty enough to do something of this nature."
"Okay, sure," Nora says, before shaking her head. "But then, why not just inflict that upon her?"
That seems to cool the enthusiasm that they'd been making progress on this right down. Jaune can't help but agree with Nora, despite the fact that he'd briefly felt they had something.
"Actually yeah, you're not wrong." Mercury nods his head.
"The tablet did say something else that might aid us," Blake says, stepping over towards it, picking it up, and then, seemingly remembering that only Jaune – and Cinder, whose eyes had adjusted to the magic adorning the stone the moment she'd seen it – can decipher it, sets it back down. "It told us that their enemy was not allowed to learn of their purpose. That Enkidu had already perished because of his being discovered."
"Sure, they wanted to hide information from their enemy, that makes sense." Raven opines. "Again, that's just proper planning."
"Except we've gone over that the God of Light could do just about anything he wanted to if he set out to do it, right?" Blake states, leaning forward. "So why not just make every child on Remnant be born with Silver Eyes if he wanted? Why section it off to only a select few zealots hidden away in a secretive cave in the middle of Vacuo's desert?"
The question prompts an answer out of Jaune.
"He didn't want them to be discovered."
"What do you mean why?"
"Why did he care?" Blake asks, shrugging. "Why bother caring? He's supposed to be all-powerful, isn't he?"
"Not omnipotent," Cinder cuts in. "Salem was able to trick the God of Darkness once, although he discovered her deception quite quickly. Even still, that suggests they are not all-powerful, just rather powerful."
"But for this example, the God of Light wouldn't need to be omnipotent. Just grant a bunch of people the power, sit back and wait for whatever you want to have happen, happen. Except he doesn't."
"He's selective. Careful." Jaune's starting to see where Blake's coming from on this as he speaks. "And again, he doesn't need to hide this from Salem, because he could deal with Salem at the drop of a hat. The Blacksmith said it would barely take her any effort to undo Salem's curse if she knew the magic itself. I doubt the Gods have forgotten it."
"So why hide at all? Why give a 'mission' to his newfound spawn to hunt down and destroy Salem at all?"
And then Jaune comes to an epiphany, something that's been skirting about the edges of his mind for the last fifteen or so minutes; the thought that maybe, this is beyond the scope of any of their considerations. That maybe, this is bigger than any of them had thought it to be.
The tablet had mentioned their enemy being one with the power of darkness…
…But it had never specified that it was Salem.
"Okay, so… this is going to sound crazy, but…" Jaune clears his throat, and steps into the center of the room, looking around at everyone. "What if… what if the God of Light didn't create the Silver-Eyed Warriors to kill Salem…"
"What if he created them to kill his brother?"
Silence falls for but a moment, and then all hell breaks loose.
A chorus of shouting and talking over one another begins that lasts for at least five or ten seconds before Raven shouts, "Enough!" loud enough to silence them all. "Focus. Going at each other like idiots isn't going to help."
They come to their senses after that, with the others all actually taking a minute to collect themselves.
It's another five or so seconds before Cinder asks him, "Explain further; what leads you to the idea that the God of Light might want to kill his brother?"
Jaune admittedly doesn't have much on that particular front, but he does have some supporting evidence.
"To be fair, there's nothing explicitly saying that the God of Light is trying to kill his brother. On the contrary, however, there are a lot of things that say the Silver-Eyed warriors were created for the express purpose of destroying those with the powers of Darkness. The Grimm, those infested with it, and even Salem herself. To me, at least, the solidifies that the God of Light at the very least had some interest in experimenting with overcoming his brothers' creations."
They nod along; Jaune's glad his own hypotheses seem to be drawing positive reactions.
"Now to be fair, extrapolating from there seems like a bit of a stretch,"
"Slightly more than a bit," Raven rolls her eyes.
"But is it really so crazy to think that they might war against each other? We know how fickle they are, we were just talking about it! And like you said, if he wanted to, the God of Light could've simply ended Salem's curse, or… or just destroyed Remnant outright. But instead, the God of Light went and did all of this."
Qrow hums, and then speaks his mind.
"In all fairness… It's said in the old tales that humanity was the spawn of both the brothers. That after endless conflict between them, they settled on creating us. We alone were given the power of both the God of Light, and the God of Dark. But to Jaune's point, the tales all generally agree that they were in conflict once. It's definitely not that much of a stretch to consider that they might come into conflict with each other again."
Qrow sighs. "I can't believe I'm saying this, kid, but you might not be as batshit crazy as I thought."
"Perhaps the God of Light wasn't confident that he could win a straight up war against his brother," Cinder comments, "But then he thought that, maybe, just maybe, if he had agents with his power on this planet, ones that had managed to defeat and seal away Salem… they might be able to give him an edge over his brother, enough to finally end the only being ever capable of matching him."
"That's all well and good, kids," Raven pipes up. "But you're talking about a plan put into place a good twenty or so thousand years ago. That's ancient history, and then some."
"I doubt Gods obey the same scope of time as we do." Jaune argues. "After all, they gave the Relics to Ozma all that time ago saying for him to summon them back, but they didn't give him a time limit, or limit how many times he could reincarnate. That tells me they didn't particularly care how long it took. Perhaps a war between the two could take the same amount of time, an astronomically long period for people like us…"
"But in the eyes of a god, barely a moment." Cinder finishes for him. "It's… not the worst idea I've ever heard."
"Think about it! It gives a reason for the Silver-Eyed warriors to hide. It gives the God of Light a reason not to go about showing his power off everywhere. And it explains just why the hell the God of Light randomly decided to return to Remnant in the first place." Jaune stresses, finding himself invested at this point. "Salem herself hadn't a clue as to why he'd come back, and she would know the two of them better than anyone alive!"
"It's not… the worst theory I've ever heard." Blake hums out beneath her breath. "In all honesty, the facts line up with your hypotheses. It's not necessarily airtight, but… it could be true."
"It certainly ruins a lot of the bedtime stories mom used to tell us before we went to sleep." Ruby turns to her sister, smiling despite the overall grim atmosphere. "The brothers were always paragons of virtue and stuff. Turns out they're fratricidal psychopaths."
"Wow, that was a lot of big words for you, sis."
"Yang, I'm not five."
"Eh, you'll always be five to me!"
Ruby just sighs.
Blake seems rather entertained by this entire situation.
"Okay, so this is all well and good. The brothers are actually warring with one another in some far-off dimension that not even the Blacksmith can sense, the Silver-Eyed warriors were an experiment to try and break that stalemate that, until now, has totally failed, and all of the bedtime stories your mother told you as a child were lies." Raven summarizes, before gazing sidelong at the Big Bad Wolf out of the corner of her eye. "Frankly, I expected better of you, Summer."
The Big Bad Wolf gives off a low rumbling beneath its breath, before standing just a bit taller.
"Better… Summer…" The horrible voice of the Big Bad Wolf rasps. "Should… Done… Better…"
Jaune actually feels a stirring in his heart as he sees a look of utter regret upon Raven's face, then.
Ruby looks like she might cry as well, and Yang's eyes are red – not from crying, but from her semblance – as she glares daggers at her mother.
"What the hell did you say to–"
"Woah!" Jaune interrupts, which feels a bit weird given he'd pointedly avoided getting involved in this family spat just a few days ago. "Easy, Yang; She was just trying to make a joke."
Yang's lip's part, and she looks like she wants to retort to that, but the red film over her eyes seems to clear, and she's able to spot the look of absolute deprecation on Raven's face as she turns away from them all, and exits out of the bullhead they've been camped within.
"H-Hey, Rae–" Qrow groans under his breath. "I'll… go get her. You guys watch Summer."
They do, and Jaune's preparing himself to actually react if Summer pulls something, or suddenly starts talking more, but whatever had given the Big Bad Wolf the strength to stand and project some of its internalized feelings had gone away, now. The wolf had sat back down in the same spot, its maw closing, and its body stilling.
Jaune finds himself sighing as he watches Ruby try and pull herself together as Nora and Pyrrha go over and sit next to her, trying to cheer her up.
It feels like the wrong time to continue talking about his hypothesis about the brother's feud, and so he decides to drop that. A part of him wants to go and sit with Ruby, to try and cheer her up. Another wants to do the same with Yang. Another wants to go and check on Raven – which is definitely the weirdest friendship he's ever stumbled his way into, but as hard as it is to admit, he actually kind of likes the woman – and the last just wants to plop himself down beside Cinder and chill.
He ends up deciding on the latter, seeing as how everyone else is already being talked to or comforted by someone else. Ruby has Nora and Pyrrha, Yang has Blake, and Raven has Qrow.
He'd just be a third wheel; or fourth, in Ruby's case, which would actually really help in terms of balan– actually never mind, he's not thinking about this anymore.
"Hey." He says as he walks to the back of the bullhead and sits himself down next to Cinder. "How's it going?"
Cinder actually chuckles. "Is that the best you've got currently?"
"Yeah," He admits, smiling himself. "Really, every last ounce of my soul went into that greeting. How was it?"
"Maybe a 2 out of 5."
Cinder rolls her eyes fondly, before nudging him with her thigh.
"So, are you going to tell me?"
"What do you mean?"
"The rest of your idea." Cinder continues, and Jaune finds his eyes widening. "You couldn't finish, but I could tell you had more to say."
Jaune just laughs, suddenly feeling an awful lot less silly about how much he'd been missing Cinder over the last day they'd been apart.
"Yeah, I had something else. It's… a bit dumb, though."
"Oftentimes, I find the things you think are dumb to be some of the most useful; some of the most insightful."
Jaune can't help blushing. "Thanks. And it's… well, I was just thinking… if all of that's true; if the God of Light really did create the Silver-Eyed warriors just to aid in his fight against his brother, and them trying to defeat Salem even through her immortality is some kind of test…"
"That makes Salem just a… a training dummy. Only a means to strengthen the God of Darkness' assassins. Always just a pawn… led around by the whims of others."
"Do not feel guilt for her. She is a monster who has terrorized this world for untold millennia."
He laughs. "Not quite that easy I'm afraid. I feel bad for anyone who suffers, even if maybe I shouldn't. It's why me and Raven are friends now, apparently."
"Yes, I'd noticed that." Cinder raises an eyebrow. "I must confess, that has me slightly perplexed."
"Ditto on that." Jaune laughs. "But… well… I had another idea."
He pauses a moment. Cinder stares at him.
"Jaune, you have that look in your eyes like you're about to say something terribly stupid."
"Yeah, and you said that whenever that happens, I should just say it, right?"
"I…" Cinder sighs, rubbing the bridge of her nose with one hand. "I do believe I said that, yes."
"Well then." Jaune says, smiling despite the nerves coursing through him.
"Why don't we go and tell Salem all of this, too?"
End Chapter 44
Well, Jaune, I have to say that of the ideas presented in this chapter, that is still probably the most out-there.
Not a ton to say post-script this chapter. I have a new story debuting next week(ish) called 'Who We Used To Be'. It's a Pokemon Fanfic starring Bianca from Gen V. I think it's going to be fantastic, but then, I'm the author. I think few author's release things they don't think are fantastic.
Alright, that's all from me. See you next week!