Cover Art: Solace O'Autumn

Chapter 28

"Wait, your Semblance is telling you someone is going to be murdered!?"

Jaune was laid back in his bed in the room Saphron and Terra had told him to keep as his own, one arm under his head and his scroll held aloft in the other. Pyrrha could be seen on it, sat at her desk where she'd been doing homework. Her voice was kept to a low whisper not only because of the confidential nature of his Semblance, but because her mom would tell her off if she knew he was talking to Jaune instead of studying.

"That's what it's saying. I got a quest to protect the `Fall Maiden` not one minute after meeting a woman called Cinder Fall. It feels pretty obvious what that means."

"Did you look at her bio?"

"I... didn't, actually. My eyes get tired reading the bio of literally every person I see, so I tune most of them out. I guess I can if I see her again."

"We," Pyrrha insisted. "This could be dangerous and, no offence and all, but you're the low-level scrub here."

"Hah. None taken. And I am. The quest suggested the ambush would be on the way to Mistral, though, so I'm hoping that means I'll be safe here. I won't say not to help, though. That's why I called in the first place."

Pyrrha looked pleased by that. Sure, he wanted advice, but having Pyrrha there to protect him in case these bad people were in Argus looking for Cinder definitely wasn't a bad thing at all. As for her bio, he supposed he could take a look at Cinder's when he next saw her. And there would be a next time, seeing as how they weren't going to go track down Cinder's killers in the wilderness.

"I'm thinking the obvious thing is to somehow clue her in and stop her going that way to Mistral."

"Definitely. Going to fight them ourselves would be dumb, not to mention we have no idea where they're waiting. Between here and Mistral is a lot of land!" Jaune hummed, and Pyrrha popped another question. "Is there any way we can just up and tell her about the quest?"

"Would you believe it if a stranger came up to you and acted like he was telling the future?"

"..." Pyrrha winced. "Maybe if they could prove it."

"Yeah, and how can I? She'd ask me to tell some other fortune and I wouldn't be able to. I'd have to fully reveal everything to her, up to and including how I can buff other people, and then what if that information got out?"

"Okay, yes, we can't tell her. It'd be too complicated. Then... hmm..." Pyrrha leaned back in her seat and tapped her pen against her bottom lip. Jaune noticed it was cherry red, almost painted and he wondered why Pyrrha wore makeup in her bedroom. She looked really pretty, though. "I think I might have an idea but it'll need some ironing out."

"Really? What is it?"

"We can't tell her the truth of how we know but what if we could come up with a lie that warned her anyway? It sounds weird, but I mean that we could try and find evidence – real or not – that someone is after her, then tell her we overheard them talking about an ambush."

Find a way to warn her without telling her the truth. It was a good idea, even if it'd ultimately mean the ball was in Cinder's court. She might accept their warning but go to her death anyway but, if that happened, he could at least say it was her choice. Also, maybe just being aware of the danger would mean she could defeat the ambush. There was no doubting her strength with her high level.

And, ultimately, it was hard to be 100% sure that he could save her. What if, by warning her now, he averted one attempt on her life and the killers just went and attacked her somewhere else? There was no surefire way for him to protect her other than to lock her in a room for the rest of her life with food and water, and that was ridiculous.

All he could do was try his best.

"I like the idea," said Jaune. "So, we just need to find a way to do it, right? Is there a way to find out if the roads are dangerous?"

"They're always dangerous because of Grimm but I don't think this is Grimm doing it. It said `ambush` and that makes it sound like it's people after her. We can check the police station tonight after I've done my homework."

"What, and just ask them if there are criminals about? They'll up and tell us?"

Pyrrha giggled. "You'd be surprised. Just meet me at the park where we first met in an hour. I'll half-ass this homework and get off early—"

The view through the scroll swept up suddenly, and Pyrrha let out a cry. Athena's face filled the screen before Jaune could ask if she was okay, the woman smiling brightly. "Hello Jaune! Pyrrha will meet you in two hours, and after she's completed her homework to the best of her ability."

"But mom—"

"Pyrrha says she'll talk to you later."

"Give me back—"

The call ended with a click. Jaune laughed awkwardly and replied to a few texts from Penny and Nora before setting his scroll down and sitting up. Two hours was fine, it only being six in the evening currently. The only question was what to do for that time.

The door creaked open and Terra stuck her head in. "Oh Jauuuuune," she crooned. "How do you feel about swimsuits...?"

Jaune sweated. "Like... shorts...?"

Terra held up a two-piece bikini.

"There's no way I'll convincingly look like a girl in that."

He did.

Somehow, he managed to look smooth-skinned and feminine despite being a young man with no chest, a male body shape and the beginnings of chest hair, which Terra and Saphron had waxed off along with his leg hair, but which still should have meant he looked like a guy. And yet, because of his stupid Semblance, the photos came out of a blushing teenage girl looking like she'd been caught on the beach. He – she – was gorgeous.

Damn his Charisma cheating on everything!


Pyrrha had dressed up in tight jeans and a cream blouse that looked a little too thin for how cold the autumn evenings were becoming. As a result, she had to cling to his arm for warmth – which felt like unusually bad planning on her part. Not that he minded.

She's out your league, Jaune. Don't be stupid. Pyrrha is a superstar and you're her only friend.

"So," he broke the silence as she led him away from the park by his arm. "Can we really just walk into the police station and ask for crime figures?"

"It's nothing like that. Investigations are still private, but this is about road safety. Watch."

Pyrrha brought them to the station and stepped inside, where the warm air from various heaters washed blissfully over them. Apparently, it wasn't warm enough for her to stop using him as her personal radiator, but he'd seen his mom do that with his dad and figured it was just women getting colder easier. Maybe something about how women needed less calories causing their bodies to create less heat.

The station wasn't as militant as he imagined it'd be. It had the look and feel of a dentist's office with a receptionist's desk and various posters and leaflets around the place – though they were about law and order and police jobs rather than the importance of regular flossing and how to identify gum problems. There was even a noticeboard with various posters of missing pets and blurred images with requests to let the police know if you recognised said person in it.

Pyrrha brought him to the desk and waited patiently for the officer there to come to them. "Hello. Can I— Oh? Pyrrha Nikos. Well, I'll be." The man smiled affably. "What brings you here tonight? How can I help?"

He didn't seem worried by their arrival, but then it probably wasn't an emergency matter if someone was coming in and patiently waiting to be seen. Had they come in screaming and bleeding, Jaune imagined the reaction would be different.

"My friend here is planning to travel to Mistral in a few days and we wanted to ask on the state of the roads," said Pyrrha.

The officer nodded and began typing on his computer. "You going by foot, son?" he asked.

"Um. Yes. Unless I can find a vehicle going the same way."

"Hmm. Okay, one moment." He continued tapping. "Well, there have been reports of bandits to the north-east of Mistral, but, judging by the dates, they're likely still in that area. Huntsmen have been dispatched to the affected villages. There haven't been any recent news of attacks on the main road to Mistral. Let me see about neighbouring ones."

Jaune was a little surprised at how open the officer was being, but it kind of made sense. Argus was a convenient port city and a big deal between Atlas and Mistral, and there would be a lot of people using it to travel from one continent to the other. It made sense, then, to be open about the safety of the roads so people wouldn't run into accidents.

"There have been one or two Grimm sightings but nothing unusual in frequency or number. The closest threat I can see is the bandit tribe going around, but they're operating east of here and they normally know better than to hassle a major road like this. Huntsman patrol it regularly." He sat back. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"No thanks. You've been a great help."

"Ah, then, if I may..." the man smiled and leaned forward. "My son is a huge fan of yours. Could I trouble you for an autograph?"

Pyrrha wrote out a message to the man's son and signed it for him, and then posed for a photo with the officer while Jaune stood by the door. She kept smiling and assuring the man it was no problem until they were outside, where she let out a long huff.

"That happen often?"

"All the time," she complained. "And I get they're just being nice and it takes barely any time out my day, but it gets exhausting after a while."

"I'm sorry."

Pyrrha smiled. "Don't be. You're much better. Anyway," she said, sighing and looking away. "That was a bust. I was hoping there'd be news of attacks and we could tell her that, but it was a total bust. The roads are safer than ever."

"It was a good attempt. What now?"

Pyrrha thought for a moment. "We should go have a drink at the local inn. There's one that a lot of travellers frequent and I bet she's there. Maybe we'll get a better clue if we read that bio thing you can see. It might at least tell us who might be after her."

It wasn't a bad idea at all.


The inn was crowded and Pyrrha got very much the same treatment as she arrived, up to and including their meals being free so long as she let them post a photo on the wall of her coming there to eat. Pyrrha accepted more out of politeness than need, the both of them having more than enough money to afford a simple meal. This wasn't exactly a five-star restaurant they were coming to.

Though the cooks certainly pulled out all the stops on their meal, obviously hoping Pyrrha would use some of her influence to promote the place. The food was exceptional for what it was, and a few other tables looked over with obvious confusion as to why theirs wasn't as generous in portion size.

It's ridiculous how if you're famous and have money, people are more willing to give you stuff for free. Then there are people who can't afford food who are told to pay full price. Everything is so backwards.

At least Pyrrha didn't like it any more than he did.

"Is she here?" she asked, once the attention had died down. Even that took a while, with people snapping photos of them on their scrolls. "Ignore the cameras," she grumbled. "They'll just get more obnoxious if you let it bother you."

"I mean, fine, but are you going to be okay? They're not going to take this out of context, are they?"

"Probably." Pyrrha shrugged. "But I don't care. Let them say what they want. Is she here or not?"

Jaune sighed and looked around, doing his best to act like he was just trying to find the restrooms or something and not ogling for random women. The worst part about his Semblance was seeing the names of people he looked at, especially in a crowded room like this, and that was a big part of why he no longer bothered to check everyone's bios. It was just too much information slamming into his brain at once, not to mention it was distracting. Reading it when he wasn't doing anything was fine, but it took a few seconds and if he had long, silent pauses before talking to everyone he met, people were going to think he was weird.

It didn't take long to spot her, however. Cinder Fall was sat alone in a corner, thankfully looking down at her scroll and tapping away with her thumb. She didn't notice him glance over, nor narrow his eyes and focus.


Cinder Fall

Lv. 45

A huntress-in-training at Haven Academy in Mistral. Cinder seeks to gain as much power as she possibly can and currently aims to claim the title of the `Fall Maiden`. Though she officially owes her allegiance to Salem, her true loyalty is only to herself. She is annoyed at being dispatched to Mistral in search of a famous guitar-playing young woman.


Jaune winced.

"What is it?" asked Pyrrha. "What did you see?"

"N—Nothing." He wasn't about to mention that last bit. "Sorry, I mean, I saw some bits but no details on who is after her. But she plans to claim the title of Fall Maiden, so I guess that's confirmation we have the right person."

"That's something at least."

They lapsed into silence, Pyrrha trying to think up an angle and Jaune trying to figure out how Cinder knew Guitar Cutie operated from Argus. She must have had connections to one of the sponsors. The money came to his bank account, which probably linked back to Terra and Saphron in some way. They wouldn't be daft enough to put their names on it, but the money had to go somewhere and they were taking payments. If someone was well placed, they might be able to identify the couple as Guitar Cutie's agents.

Were they in danger? He didn't think so, at least not in terms of physical danger, but he did worry they might have paparazzi staking them out hoping to catch a glimpse of Guitar Cutie herself and corner her for an interview. If they were willing to do it to Pyrrha, they were going to be willing to do it to him.

I'd best warn them and see what can be done. I don't ever leave the house in disguise so I'll be fine, but I'm more worried it might ruin their lives.

Or at least upset them. People sneaking into their home or harassing them on the streets to try and meet his femsona. He didn't want to imagine anything bad happening to Adrian, but there were crazed fans out there. You didn't have to search long to find stories online of stalkers and psychotic fans trying to break into the homes of their celebrity crushes.

Maybe Saphron and Terra should invest in some security. He'd bring it up later and offer to pay for anything they needed. There was more than enough money coming in, especially since those body-length pillows had hit the market. They were selling like hotcakes.

"What if, and this is a crazy idea," Pyrrha whispered. "We just wing it?"

"Wing what? How?"

"I know this sounds stupid but how about we just go and tell her we heard some shady people talking about an attack on her?"

"Do you think she'll buy it?"

"Even if she doesn't, it'll stick in her head. If she's as strong as you say then just knowing there might be an ambush should be enough to have her on guard. That could be the difference between walking into an ambush and seeing it a mile away." Pyrrha shrugged, adding, "And what can it hurt? We don't have any other ideas and she could be heading out tomorrow morning for all we know. Better to try and fail than not try at all. Unless you can somehow convince a flock of birds to follow and protect her."

The last idea was thrown out as nonsense and yet Jaune found himself pausing to consider it.

Could he do that...?

He could talk with animals, which suggested he could reason or even negotiate with them. "That's... That might be worth a try," he said. "Both, I mean. Like you say, it can't hurt to try and convince some birds to help out. We could bribe them with sunflower seeds."

Pyrrha grinned. "Let's try it then."


"Sure. I'll do the talking."

Pyrrha stood and pulled him up, then yanked him over toward Cinder's table before he could protest. Cinder must have heard them coming, or just naturally looked up from her scroll. Her eyes met his and he saw her let out a breath before a pleasant smile appeared. It was painfully obvious she didn't want to talk to him.

"Hello!" Pyrrha said brightly. "You're Cinder, right? Cinder Fall."

"I am," the woman replied. "Is there something I can do for you?"

"Actually, it's the other way around. This is going to sound really strange but you're planning to travel to Mistral soon. Right?" Cinder nodded. "Well, Jaune and I have been out tonight and we were walking past an alleyway when we heard something worrying that might concern you, something about what we think might be an attempt on your life!"

Cinder sat a little straighter, eyes narrowing. She set her scroll down on the table, considering them seriously for the first time. "Really?" Her voice was calm, cold, angry. He didn't blame her. "What exactly did you hear?"

Pyrrha elbowed him in the side.

"We, uh, heard two people talking about how they were planning to attack someone called the Fall Maiden." Her eyes widened again, and he knew she recognised it. "And since your name is Fall and you're a maiden – ah, a woman – I instantly thought it might be you. They were saying how they were going to prepare an ambush and kill you on the way to Mistral."


Complete nonsense.

But Jaune leaned into his Charisma and hoped it would do as it often did in games and give his falsehoods a little more weight to them. And even if the story was made up, there was an attack planned, so he spoke with absolute belief. The details of how they'd found out were lies, but nothing else was.

Cinder seemed to sense that. Or maybe his Charisma bulldozed through her scepticism.

"I see..." Her eyes darted down and she tapped her fingernails on the table. "I see," she repeated. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I shall have to reconsider my travel plans." She stood suddenly, taking her scroll. "Please excuse me, but I think I need to plan the journey ahead in my room. I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all." Pyrrha was all smiles. "We only wanted to warn you. We'll be on our way."

"Please be safe," said Jaune, meaning every word.

Cinder brushed past them and to the staircase, her pace at a furious power-walk. It was obvious she was taking this seriously, and for that he was grateful. There was no immediate notification of a successful quest, but maybe there wouldn't be until Cinder reached Mistral safe and sound. He just knew he'd be agonising over it until it came.

"Let's go," Pyrrha whispered in his ear. "I know a corner store that sells nuts and seeds. I'm sure we can find some to bribe some birds with."

"Yeah. Sure."

Jaune let himself be led outside.


"We didn't talk!" Emerald protested, frightened by Cinder's sudden arrival. "I swear we didn't! Mercury, tell her!"

"She's right. We know better than to yap about that."

"Then how," Cinder seethed, "Did those two overhear this, hm? Explain that to me?"

They couldn't.

"Unless you're suggesting Pyrrha Nikos is somehow psychic – which I highly doubt if she and her boyfriend believe me to be the Fall Maiden – then they overheard this somewhere. And if they could overhear it, that means she could overhear it. And not just her, but Ozpin's agents as well. You were told to remain silent!"

"We did!" Emerald insisted. "We really did!"

"What now?" Mercury asked, more than a little nervous. "Do we go ahead with the attack?"

"How can we?" Cinder spat. "Even assuming they don't tell anyone else, they'll surely alert the authorities to the same thing they warned me of. Amber could find out with ease, not to mention the risk of more huntsmen being placed on the roads." Cinder pinched the bridge of her nose and leaned her head back, fighting off a throbbing headache. "It's bad enough I'm stuck here looking for some internet thot, before this happens and ruins the perfect ambush."

Emerald coughed awkwardly. "G—Guitar Cutie isn't a thot, ma'am."

Cinder glared at her. "Excuse me?"

"I—I'm just saying, she doesn't do anything overly sexual or rely on her looks." Emerald said, feeling suddenly very isolated in the room. She tugged her top down over her branded Guitar Cutie t-shirt. "She's always tasteful and innocent and..." Emerald trailed off, noticing Mercury, behind Cinder, making throat-cutting gestures at her. "Never mind, ma'am. Ahah. Um. Continue?"

"I shall, thank you." Cinder rolled her eyes. "The point I was making is this is beneath me. This is a waste of time. Finding one girl in Argus when practically the whole world is looking is going to take months. I don't care if Watts traced the payments here, if she existed in this city then someone else would have identified her."

"We've been looking," said Mercury. "Even assuming she wears a wig or dyes her hair, there aren't any girls in the local schools who look like her, and I'm starting to get weird looks for hanging around schools so often."

Emerald withheld her snigger. "It's the same on my end. I've asked around guitar clubs and stores and they say they've never met her. The payments might be coming here, but that doesn't mean she is here."

"It doesn't matter," said Cinder. "We'll depart for Mistral but hold off on the attack. We can't risk an attack and putting her guard up if it fails. This will blow over in a week or so, she'll move on, and we'll attack her then instead. And you two will keep your mouths shut."

"Yes Cinder."

"Yes ma'am."

"Good." Cinder sighed. "Then we'll be stuck combing Mistral for this stupid bitch. How hard can it be to find one internet personality? We—" Cinder trailed off, suddenly noticing something on Mercury's bed. "Mercury," she hissed. "What is that?"

The long body pillow of Guitar Cutie, laid on her back with a shy and ruffled expression, hair splayed out over a mattress, looked back at her. The stupid girl was blushing like a virgin about to be deflowered.

"It's research material, ma'am," Mercury said, with incredible self-control.

Cinder's gaze was flat. "Research material..."



"It's modelled to her real height. By sleeping with it, I can accurately gauge her height compared to mine to better identify any potential matches when passing them in the street."

Cinder stared.

A bead of sweat ran down Mercury's forehead.

"And the guitar...?"

"By pretending to be an enthusiast, I can infiltrate guitar jam sessions and try and find anyone matching her skill."

"And the branded instructional booklet?"

"I'll have to be able to convincingly play if I'm to infiltrate them, ma'am."

"And the rucksack? The clothes? The figurines? The pins on Emerald's bag? The sticker album? The rolled-up poster? The swimsuit? The photo album? The calendar? The..." Cinder picked up a long object. "What is this, even? A branded torch?"

Emerald released a choking sound.

"That's... uh... not a torch," said Mercury. "It's also not officially licensed because of what it is, but there's a lot of bootleg stuff you can buy. The top of it comes off. Where the torch would be, if it was one."

Cinder unscrewed the cap, looked in, gagged, and threw it at him. Mercury screwed it back on and passed it to Emerald, who it actually belonged to. Emerald blushed and stuffed it in her backpack.

"WHY!?" cried Cinder.

Mercury and Emerald exchanged long looks.

"It'll help us pose as normal people in Beacon?" Emerald offered, hopefully. "Just a normal pair of teenagers into normal teenage stuff."

"..." Cinder palmed her face. "You're lucky I need you both for my ultimate plans. You realise that, don't you? If I had any leeway, any at all, I would kill the both of you here and now and spare myself the embarrassment. I'm tempted to, even now. Get this crap out my sight."

"I mean, she makes good music—"



"You give us the seeds now and we'll track the woman for you."

Jaune relayed the message.

"What's to stop them eating the seeds and not doing that?" asked Pyrrha. "Are birds especially trustworthy?"

Jaune looked back to the crows. "Half and half," he said.

"Okay. Half now, half before we go."

"No. Half now and half after you successfully come back telling me she's safe."

"Hmmmmm." The crow preened its feathers. "How about all of it now and another whole bag when we get back."

"How is that in any way different to giving you the whole lot now!?"

"It's a new half and half."

"Yeah," Jaune grumbled. "One where you get the full bag and never bother to do what I ask. Or where you up and pretend you've watched over her when all you've really done is hidden out of sight for a day."

"Are you questioning a crow's honour?"


Pyrrha could hear his side of the discussion, seeing as how his Semblance didn't make him chirp like a bird but instead translated it so they could hear. "I take it negotiations aren't going well. Is there no equivalent of a binding contract between birds?"

"I don't think so."

"You could ask them."

"Would they tell me the truth?"

Pyrrha sighed. "Good point. What if I offered to put out seeds every day for the next week for them? We could also buy them a birdbath if they wanted. There has to be something we can do which would get them to commit."

"Short of covering Cinder in seeds, I'm not sure what—"


Quest Successful!

The Fall Maiden's fate has been averted.

Rewards: +Rep Fall Maiden. +Rep Ozma. +Rep Vale. +EXP. You have gained +1 level. You have +5 attribute points remaining.

You have earned a new title.

Fall Guardian – The Fall Maiden feels safer when in proximity to you. You can elect to take any damage intended for her onto yourself.


Well, well, well.

Jaune smirked.

"It looks like the deal is off. I just got a notification that she's going to be okay. Quest success!"

Pyrrha smiled. "That's great!"

"Hey, but, think a second..." The crow hopped down the branch to speak. "Just because she's fine from whatever you were worried about doesn't mean she'll be fine from monsters. Might still be worth us looking after her."

"The deal is off."

"What? You gonna eat all that seed on your own?"

"Maybe we will." Jaune turned away and hooked an arm through Pyrrha's. "Come on, Pyrrha. Let's leave these greedy birds to their worms. I've gained a level and have five, shiny stat points to spend. We need to decide where to put them."

Also, a new title – though Jaune didn't imagine it'd be all that useful. The ability to tank damage for someone else might be cute in a videogame, but him taking hits meant for Cinder sounded like a dumb idea. He'd explode into a fine red mist from a hit she'd shrug off. The birds squawked unhappily behind him but he didn't care.

Finally, he'd done a good deed with his Semblance. He'd saved Cinder's life.

Something wet and runny splatted onto his head.

Pyrrha gasped.

"That's what you get, sucker!"

Jaune growled and shook his fist at the sky, and at the crow that had scored a direct hit atop his yellow hair with its dung. "FUCKING BIRDS!"

Next Chapter: 23rd June

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