Here we go


Cover Art: Solace o'Autumn

Chapter 18


There was no plan in his mind for how to best her – not when she was so absurdly strong. He was level six to her twenty-eight, and that was before factoring in how all his stats had been pumped into Charisma, meaning he was less than useless in an actual fight against her. He was slower, weaker, less resilient and, quite possibly, less smart.

But her weapon had fallen closer to him.

Jaune landed atop it and wrapped his arms around it, then tucked his knees up to pin it to his stomach. He tightened his whole body around it, dragging it into him like a horny dog might hump a pillow. He rolled onto his front, pinning it against the ground.

The faunus landed on his back a second later, knees on either side of him. Her hands grabbed his shoulder and she tried to roll him over. When that didn't work, she grabbed his head, raised, and slammed it down into the ground, then cuffed him in the back of the skull.

It almost killed him.

.

Jaune Arc

Lvl 6.

Title: Bard

HP: 65/150

MP: 70/70

.

Had his head not been spinning from the blow, he would have pondered at how much she'd taken in a single hit and what actually would happen on reaching zero health, which was one good punch away from a terrorist already on top of him. Stunned as he was, he couldn't stop her rolling him over, but he managed to keep hold of her weapon despite her attempts to pry it free.

Growling, she brought her fist back to knock him out. Except that he didn't know if that'd happen, and she wouldn't kill him here and now.

"S—Stop!" he hissed. "You'll kill me!"

He wasn't sure what the point of saying that was meant to be. She was a terrorist and they'd come here to kill, so why did he think him saying that would matter? But he hadn't been asking her to stop. Not really. He'd been speaking to the world at large, just rattling out the first thing to come to mind in his dizzy state.

And yet, against all odds, she hesitated.

Froze.

The nausea from her first blow faded and clarity came back in time for him to see the panic in her eyes, the reluctance. In a moment of life or death, he took it in. With some small words, he'd made her stop.

Was this his Charisma at work…?

He didn't know but there was no time to find out. The only thought in his head was that his Charisma had bought him time, and that brought his Semblance crashing back to the forefront of his mind. He had another ability included with his Bardic Skills. Another song if one wanted to put it that way. As well as Motivational Song, there was another.

Discordant Song.

He didn't have an instrument to hand, but he had her weapon. Not at all sure if it would work, he yanked the ribbon tight and strummed it once. There wasn't really a melodic sound, more of a dull twang, but he activated his Bardic Skills as he did, focused on the faunus above him, and thought of the idea of fear, of panic, of absolute terror.

And Blake screamed.

Blake shrieked like a banshee, flung her fist down into his chin and vaulted off him. Jaune's health dropped to 30/150, almost ending his life right there, but the blow had been clumsily executed due to panic. The faunus landed in a crouch several paces away, staring at Jaune in a mixture of confusion and fear. She swallowed, took a step back, then bolted. He watched her flee through a doorway and out the hall entirely, leaving her weapon behind.

"Huh." His voice was slurred. "That actually worked…"

"Jaune! Jaune, are you okay?" Athena knelt at his side and pulled his head up into her lap, which he might have been a lot more pleased with was his head not spinning. "Are you okay?"

"I—I've been better…"

All this against one mook. Their leader was in a running duel with Winter and Pyrrha and holding his own. They were driving the fight out the hall, however, more interested in protecting lives than actually fighting him. Ironwood was staying behind to see to the wounded. If the three of them could have focused on the redheaded terrorist without worrying about everyone else, Jaune was sure he'd have died.

But, from a distance, and seeing the man's level as Lvl 58, he wasn't so sure. Ironwood outmatched him, but that was still an insanely powerful huntsman. And the levels only mattered in his head and to his Semblance. No one else's life worked on this game logic, no one else's abilities were determined by stats and numbers. At best, the numbers were a rough approximation of a person's strength. A way for Jaune to compare people to himself, but not something hard coded into the laws of reality.

Either way, that guy was over nine times as strong as he, so why his Semblance seemed to think Jaune could take him in a fight, he didn't know. What was the point of giving him a quest with such ridiculous parameters? Had he accidentally wandered out of newbie starting town and come to a high-level area…?

He was lucky to have survived a single terrorist.

"You'll be okay," said Athena, running her fingers through his hair. It reminded him of mom, both the motion and the motherly concern. "Pyrrha will deal with that monster. You were very brave dragging me out the line of fire. I bet she'll remember that. I'd be surprised if she didn't fall in love with you after that display of bravery."

Jaune blushed and groaned. He appreciated the support, but he wasn't on death's door. Well, he was, but not in that way. His head was even beginning to clear up, so he forced himself into a seated position.

"Is it over…?"

"As good as. The loose terrorists have been… well… they've been killed." Athena grimaced as she said it. "But I don't think there was ever any other choice when they were shooting on people. The only ones who survived are the one Pyrrha and Winter are fighting, and the one that ran away from us." Athena looked the way Blake had gone. "I guess she saw the way the wind was blowing and decided she wanted to live."

"Yeah. Probably."

In a sense, he'd saved her life. Jaune wasn't sure that counted for much, but maybe it'd be a reason for the person not to come after him again.

"Everyone stay calm!" shouted Ironwood. "The threat has been dealt with! I want all those who do not need medical attention to make their way to the edges of the room. Move!"

He and Athena were already by the edge, sparing them the need, but everyone else hurried to obey, leaving behind those unable to move or who would never move again. That let Ironwood see them at a glance, and he flitted between them, checking on those still alive and doing his best to stabilise them while speaking into his scroll. Hopefully, calling for reinforcements and medical teams.

What I wouldn't give to have rolled a healer class right now. I could help these people…

He hadn't, though, and there'd been no skill selection on his first selection that made it seem like he could heal anyone, so it wasn't a matter of poor choice on his part. The option simply hadn't been there at the time.

-/-

Quest Success.

The White Fang are in full retreat and the day has been saved. Good job, hero!

Bonus: Failed.

You have gained +2 Levels.

You have gained +10 Stat Points.

You have gained + Rep with Atlas, Schnee Family, Nikos Family.

You have lost rep with White Fang, Adam Taurus, Blake Belladonna.

You have gained +1 Perk.

-/-

Jaune's eyes twitched as the notification came in. Success…? This was a success? He didn't want to see failure in that case. There were people dead and dying, and his Semblance had the worst timing imaginable. The only saving grace was that he hadn't caused this, hadn't made it worse, and he'd done his best.

The White Fang had come for the Schnee family. He was just a bystander.

Another perk, though. And two levels at once. That wasn't so surprising given how wildly over-scaled this quest had been. With little more to do than lay there on Athena's lap as people whispered and cried around him, he checked his stats.

-/-

Jaune Arc

Lvl 8.

Title: Bard

HP: 30/170

MP: 70/85

Str: 7

Con: 7

Dex: 6

Wis: 8

Cha: 140 (141)

Aura: Locked

Semblance: The Game

Perks:

Speak with Animals.

Bardic Skills.

You have +10 Stat points available.

You have +1 Perk option available.

-/-

His Charisma was higher again, courtesy of Guitar Cutie but also his repeated private shows with Willow and today's public concert. There really was no point pouring more stats into it while it was growing faster than he was levelling up. In the time it took to gain these +10 points, he'd earned more than ten in charisma.

For now, he dumped them all in Constitution. Was it a good idea? Maybe not, but he'd nearly died to two hits from someone his own age, and he'd rather not deal with that again. His Constitution swelled to 17 points, and his HP went up as well. Sadly, it was his maximum rather than the minimum.

.

Jaune Arc

Lvl 8.

Title: Bard

HP: 30/270

MP: 70/70

.

Still, he felt a lot safer now that the number was higher. Enough that he could have taken another two hits from Blake – which might well be the difference between life and death someday.

I'm never going to be strong enough to beat them in a fair fight, but as long as I can survive, I can run away. Or make them run away. Discordant Song really came in clutch today. And to think I wrote it off as useless.

More fool him – but also good fortune in having chosen it, to be honest. He couldn't remember the other choices, but he recalled they scaled with each stat, and that many of them had been combat focused. Against someone like her, he didn't think they would have made a bit of difference. But even at Lvl.28, her Charisma was probably lower than his, and if that influenced her "resistance" to the Discordant Song, as it might in a typical game, then it was solely due to his Charisma that he was still alive.

Jaune closed his eyes and focused on the perk as well. With any luck, it might be something he could actually use to help those injured people.

-/-

Perks: You have (1) free perk slot available.

Available Perks:

Juggernaut: When running at a full sprint, gain damage resistance scaling on your STR stat. Also increases your mass to crash through objects.

Second Wind: Enables passive HP regeneration based on Constitution. Current Rate: 1hp per 10 mins.

Discern Motive: Targeted ability to discern the motives of an individual as pertaining to yourself. Accuracy and range dependent upon Wis Stat.

Ambidextrous: Immediately gain the ability to wield weapons and other objects in both hands with no loss of concentration or dextrous ability.

Jaune-dor Calls for Aid!: Active ability. When in danger and calling for aid, increases chance nearby allies with a positive reputation will hear and respond. Chance scales based on Cha Stat.

-/-

No such luck.

He didn't know if healing was locked behind certain choices or a high Wisdom stat, or if it was just something reserved for much higher levels. These still felt like baby-level skills, the kind a starting character picked up but would never use by the end of a game.

His only real choices were the Constitution and Charisma skills. His stats were just too low in everything else to matter, and they weren't likely to increase much in the coming days. He could work out at a gym, but it wouldn't make enough of a difference. While ambidexterity would be convenient, he wasn't sure what he'd want to use it for. Life was perfectly navigable without it, and it didn't feel right to waste a perk on something so banal.

The Constitution perk sounded good in theory, but that rate was low. It was obviously designed as the kind of skill that was useful over the course of a full day, not one that'd make a difference in a dangerous situation. To get it to the point where he was gaining hp every second, he'd need a Constitution stat 10x faster to reach 1hp per minute and then 60x faster on top of that to reach per second. That'd be in the thousands.

Maybe it'd actually scale the amount recovered per 10 minutes too. That'd be a lot more useful long-term if he could regain all his HP in ten minutes, but still little use if his life was in danger like it had been here. If he could be certain it scaled like that, he'd consider it more, but there was too much risk it'd work the other way and he'd only ever get it down to 1hp per 9 minutes and 45 seconds. A wasted perk.

The Charisma one… well… it didn't sound half bad. He was gaining reputation with people no matter what he seemed to do, and having people help wasn't a bad idea when literally everyone was stronger than him. It certainly sounded more immediately useful than Speak with Animals had ever been. The scaling based on Charisma could be meaningful too, especially if it kept getting higher. Maybe it'd be possibly to get it to 100% one day and always have the possibility of help if he was in trouble.

It was the best option and he selected it.

-/-

Jaune Arc

Lvl 8.

Title: Bard

HP: 30/270

MP: 70/85

Str: 7

Con: 7

Dex: 6

Wis: 8

Cha: 140 (141)

Aura: Locked

Semblance: The Game

Perks:

Speak with Animals.

Bardic Skills.

Jaune-dor Calls for Aid!

-/-

He didn't use it now, however. Testing it here, when people so obviously needed medical attention, seemed like such a dick move. Instead, he sat beside Athena as security and eventually more soldiers arrived, followed by aerial ambulances and medical professionals, then even more soldiers, and finally military police.

In the midst of it, Winter and Pyrrha came back, Pyrrha coming to check on them and hug her mother and then him for saving her before sitting down on Jaune's other side. "The leader got away," she said. "Winter said it was more important for us to look to the injured than chase him into the wilderness and a possible ambush."

"Hmm. Probably for the best."

"Thank you for saving my mom." Pyrrha's hand took his and squeezed. "You were really brave."

Athena wriggled her eyebrows at them, apparently either having regained enough confidence to tease, or so panicky that she was hiding it in teasing them.

"You literally raced into gunfire to fight a terrorist," Jaune pointed out. "I don't think you of all people get to call me brave."

"Even so, the first thing you did was tackle mom to the floor."

"Yeah, well, given my apparent and undeserved reputation with older women to everyone working in the Schnee manor, I think they'd say that was the expected outcome." At their confused expressions, he said, "Literally everyone here thinks I'm sleeping with Willow, up to and including her own husband and children."

Pyrrha was gobsmacked.

Athena burst into laughter.

"A… Are—"

"NO!" He interrupted Pyrrha before she could finish asking. "Of course I'm not! Sheesh!"

"I mean, I was just asking. I think a lot of guys your age would… you know… jump at the chance."

"Yeah, right." Jaune snorted. "Guys my age will say they would, but they'll get cold feet and panic before it actually happens. Trust me. I happen to be a guy my age. I know these things."

Pyrrha giggled. "I suppose so. It's easy to talk a big game."

"Hmm. Not that I'll dare after tonight. You were amazing, though." He meant every word, even as Pyrrha flushed bright pink. "You just charged that guy when he was so strong. You're not even in a proper academy yet, and you fought a dangerous terrorist in a life-or-death battle."

"T—that… I… well…" Pyrrha toyed with her ponytail. "Winter was there. A—And she did a lot of the heavy lifting. I wasn't that important. But…" Pyrrha smiled and glanced back. "Did I really look that amazing?"

Athena snorted.

"Yeah," said Jaune. "You were super cool."

"I—I see. Ahah. Um." Pyrrha looked away, smiling oddly. "Thank you for that. And, um, I think you were cool too."

"And me?" asked Athena.

"Oh mom. You're here."

"Yes, dear daughter. I am. Glad to be remembered. You know, you could always thank Jaune properly for saving my life. Not only did he push me out the way of gunfire and drag me to safety, but he even tackled a terrorist to protect me."

"There's really no need," Jaune said. "It's not like I'd have left her to die. And I tackled her weapon, not her. I was just keeping her from killing us."

Pyrrha gasped. "You fought one of them…?"

"No. I fought her weapon while she beat me senseless."

"Still…" Pyrrha shook her head. "No. We can talk about this tomorrow. You did what you had to. I'm just glad everyone is safe." She leaned against him, resting her head against his. "I'm glad it all worked out."

Jaune smiled and leaned back. "Me too."

It was a peaceful moment.

Quickly shattered.

"ARC!"

Weiss tramped along in her overly complicated dress, stained with soot and a little blood, shouting his name. Jaune groaned and called out to her, quickly bringing her jogging – or at least as best she could jog in a dress so low it dragged along the floor.

"There you are," she said. "And alive as well. Thank goodness. Mother has been asking about you."

"Oh, I bet she has," said Athena.

Jaune ignored it. "How is she? Was anyone from your family hurt?"

"Father took a bullet to the leg but will survive. Mother actually shielded him with her aura and managed to pull him out the line of fire, so I suppose he should be grateful to be alive. Whitley was close to Winter when it all began and she saw him to safety. I'm more worried about the staff myself." Weiss frowned and glanced away, worry writ across her face. "I refuse to believe they would willingly let the White Fang in, which almost certainly means something has happened to them." As an afterthought, she said. "Oh, Pyrrha. It's good to see you're safe."

"Yourself as well," Pyrrha replied, though she sounded a little irritated for some reason. The attack clearly wasn't Weiss' fault, so he wasn't sure why. "You should see to your father if he's in danger."

"No need. He has his doctor with him. Mother wanted me to make sure Jaune was safe."

"Then go back and report to her that he is."

"He doesn't look like he's perfectly healthy. Maybe I should see him to a doctor."

Pyrrha grabbed him by his shoulders. "He shouldn't move and make his injury worse."

"So, he is injured?"

"No."

"Then what injury would become worse by moving…?" Weiss looked utterly confused, which was a state he shared so it was nice to have company. Her eyes dipped a little lower, to Jaune's crotch. "What is that…?"

"My eyes are up here, Weiss."

"Hilarious." Weiss rolled her own. "But I'm asking what that thing is you're holding onto. Is that a weapon?"

Oh, right. That. He'd honestly forgotten all about it. The strange gun, sword, ribbon thing that the terrorist had dropped, and which he'd been unconsciously holding onto to keep away from her. It was a little pointless now, but he'd been so rattled that he just hadn't noticed. Thankfully, Athena quickly explained so he didn't have to.

"General Ironwood will want it," said Weiss. "To see if he can't find some fingerprints or such. I'm sure he'll be impressed you managed to disarm one, and he'll want to talk if only to see if you saw her face. You say she ran away. Why?"

"I think she saw how badly the attack was going," Jaune lied.

And when he lied with 140+ Charisma, everyone damn well believed it.

"Understandable. They're cowards at heart. Why else would they strike at a charity event like this? Faunus rights." Weiss clicked her tongue. "They never even demand them, do they? Just show up, kill people, leave, and act like they're helping anyone."

Jaune would have said that sounded personal but… well… they'd tried to kill her.

He'd take that personally too.

"I'd like to say they have their reasons, but I agree that doing something like this doesn't help them," said Athena. "It's easy to get lost in anger and lash out at what you see as an uncaring world. Even easier for us to sit back and criticise without living a day in their shoes."

Weiss snorted. "You'll forgive me not being interested in hearing the excuses of a group of extremists that would gladly execute me on live television." With a sigh, Weiss swept her skirt back. "Make some room, Jaune. My feet are killing me."

"Aren't you supposed to tell your mother he's fine?" Pyrrha complained as she was forced to shuffle along. Weiss sat beside Jaune and between him and Athena.

"Mother can wait."

Pyrrha's scowl only grew.

/-/

It took hours for the whole ordeal to be over. As Weiss suspected, he'd been interviewed at length by Winter – on behalf of Ironwood, who was understandably busy. The interview itself hadn't been so bad, especially since Winter was exhausted from her battle. There was no reason for it to go badly, either. He'd just been a guest.

Winter was more interested in knowing as much about the fleeing terrorist as he could give in case she was hiding in Atlas under disguise. He wished he could give her name but that'd require him to explain how he knew it, and then his Semblance would come out and General Ironwood had already tried to recruit him once. He didn't need there to be a second time. Because if this debacle had proven anything to him, it was that he wasn't cut out for combat. It wasn't just his level and stats and skills, but his mentality.

I was terrified. Sure, I kept my head together enough to save Pyrrha's mom, but I hated every bit of it. Weiss and Pyrrha both enjoy fighting. I guess dad was right to say I shouldn't become a huntsman. I'm not cut out for it.

That would have hurt before, but it didn't now. His father had just been concerned, and he'd been right so there wasn't much to argue over. Winter Schnee finished by thanking him and taking the weapon, and then taking his fingerprints so they could ignore them when they searched it. His were all over it now, after all.

"For what little it may be worth, you showed great courage tonight," she said before she left. "You may not feel that way, but most people will panic and hunker down when in danger, and that often gets them killed. You kept your head and saw yourself and another guest to safety, and then acted to defend yourselves against a threat."

"But I was terrified!"

Winter chuckled, eyes closing. She smiled for one of the first times he'd seen.

"Fear is normal. It is what keeps us human. In the army, we learn to control our fear, but not to remove it. A soldier without fear is one who will run into a swarm of Grimm and die a pointless death. Courage should always be tempered by caution. Fear without courage is cowardice, courage without fear is recklessness, fear and courage together are wisdom. The actual quote eludes me, but you did well tonight. Better than any could have expected of you, and better than you should expect of yourself. Were you a soldier off-duty, you would have earned yourself a commendation. All we can offer for now is our gratitude, but General Ironwood asked me to pass along a reminder that you're more than welcome to visit Atlas command if you wish. I'd be happy to show you around myself."

"I might take you up on that," he said, eventually. "I'm beginning to think that me staying here might not be for the best. Your mother is… um…"

"Unprofessionally interested in you?"

"We're not having sex!"

"Weiss informed me. I apologise for assuming the worst."

"E—Even you thought so…?"

"Again, I apologise. Mother's interest in you is unusual, however. And I agree that it might even be unhealthy. If you wish to leave the manor, I'm happy to assist."

"I won't sneak out and leave like that. I want to at least talk to Willow first, and I promised Weiss I'd go out for dinner with her tomorrow."

Winter arched an eyebrow. "I didn't realise you were so close."

"We're not," he snorted. "Weiss pulled it out of nowhere as a way to trick Pyrrha Nikos into coming with us and sparring with her. Pyrrha is my friend and I think Weiss is desperate to hang out with her."

"Ah. How very childish of my sister to use such methods." Winter pinched the bridge of her nose. "Would you like me to speak with her for you?"

"No. It's fine. I think she's just lonely. And Pyrrha will be a good friend for her."

"Very well. Good luck tomorrow, and don't be afraid to call my sister out if she puts too much pressure on you. Weiss can be a little ignorant of how her words affect others. I'd much rather you be honest with her than the usual sycophants who hang around her." Winter opened the door, but paused in it to say, "And I happen to think you would be a good friend for her to make as well. You're very grounded for your age."

The door closed behind her.

Huh. A compliment from Winter. That didn't feel so bad. It was nice to have an uncomplicated one as well. Sighing, Jaune laid back on the huge bed in his borrowed room. He meant what he'd said about Willow. Weiss' plan to reach out to her through her own music had been ruined by the attack, but the point remained that she was becoming addicted to his Bardic Skill. Namely, he was dosing her with Motivational Song almost three times a day, and only now was he beginning to realise that was like drugging her. If he was her dopamine rush, didn't that mean her brain would find other stuff less good? It was like having too much sugar and then building a tolerance and needing more.

Ironically, the best to fulfil his quest to fix the Schnee family would be to remove himself from their lives and force Willow to stop relying on a stranger for her fix. If he was gone, maybe Weiss could step in and help her mother through the power of music.

And while he had no intention of joining the military, he had come to Atlas to see the sights and experience everything it had to offer, and a huge floating island with its own combat school and futuristic military base was kind of a big deal. Like Ironwood had said, it was a tourist attraction in its own right. It'd be a shame not to take them up on the offer to see it.

After tomorrow, though. He still had to navigate Pyrrha and Weiss' spar and then this obviously-not-a-date thing Weiss had sprung on him in which he was going to be third-wheeled while she tried to befriend Pyrrha.

"Bloody hell. I'd almost rather have the White Fang again…"


Next Chapter: 14th April

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