Here we go.


Cover Art: Mystery White Flame

Chapter 4


Juniper wasn't blind to the fact her son was changing.

With six older children before him, she'd experienced the growth spurts and changes – sometimes those were inches upward and sometimes they were inches outward, with much complaining of chest pains and embarrassing trips (for her daughters, anyway) to the closest shop to try on bras. At least that was something she didn't have to worry about with her only son, and she'd enjoyed letting Nicky handle the birds and the bees for once. Wonders never cease, he hadn't even mucked it up so badly.

A good mother didn't have favourites and Juniper considered herself a good mother, but Jaune was her only son and that sometimes meant she paid more attention to him because he was different from his sisters. Because of that, it wasn't difficult to see the changes coming, even after he sprouted to almost six feet a year or two back and she'd thought they were over. Her little boy was turning into a man.

And what a man he was turning into! Sheesh!

She wasn't the only one to comment on how handsome he was looking lately. The older women she hung out with wouldn't stop talking about it in a way that really made her feel uncomfortable. It always stunned her that mothers could talk about another's son in terms of how handsome and happy they'd make a girl one day, but if a husband were to say the same about someone's daughter then it'd be time to call the police.

Juniper hadn't liked it when they did the same with her girls and had lamped one old bitch for saying it was "such a shame" when Saphron came out as gay, but it somehow felt a lot more predatory toward Jaune. Mainly because it was sometimes hard to know where the line between joking compliment and thinly veiled interest lay when a woman of some thirty-five years said, "I'd love to take him home and make him call me mommy." The other women had laughed like it was such a good joke, and it might have been if they'd just left it there, but they kept going until Juniper had wanted to pick up her chair and beat them to death with it.

Damn it, Jaune. You couldn't have waited until you were eighteen to suddenly become hot?

Her son was hot. There was no other way of putting it. He'd always been handsome to her – biased as she was; all her children were beautiful – but he'd been boyish and gangly like every teenager. Oh, she'd always known he would grow up to look like her Nicky, and even Nicholas hadn't looked good when he'd been at Beacon. It had taken a few years for him to mature out and start growing some facial hair and develop some muscles and stop being such a teenager. Juniper had preferred men even when she herself was a teen.

Jaune, on the other hand, was looking increasingly airbrushed.

That was the only way she could describe it. His skin was so smooth and clear – practically unheard of in a boy his age – and his face looked ridiculously angular. He had the look of a model in a magazine who had been touched up with post-photography editing, except in real life.

And his sisters weren't blind to it either.

Jade and Hazel had been raiding his bathroom while he was out to try and find what products he was using so they could steal it, and Sable couldn't stop showing pictures of him off to her friends. Except Becky, who she'd had a falling out over due to the other girl asking if Jaune wanted help with his V-Card.

Who knew sons could be so troublesome?

Not that Jaune was, of course. Her little baby was doing charity work, defusing a robbery, busking to raise money for kids in need. Juniper had run out of squeals. Her weekly quota of motherly pride was expended, and she'd dipped into her overdraft as well.

"You've got that pensive look on your face again." Strong arms wrapped around her from behind and settled over her stomach. "What's wrong?"

"I'm thinking about Jaune," she said, leaning back into Nicky. "He's changing."

"In a good way."

"Mmm. I know. That doesn't mean I have to like it."

"They can't be tiny children playing hide and seek and telling you how much they love you forever."

"They could be," she complained. "Amber hasn't said it in weeks."

"She's at that age. She's too cool to say she loves her parents."

Too cool? There was nothing less cool. Then again, she'd lost hers in Mountain Glenn, and had never had the chance to really remind them of that fact. Nicky sensed her mood darkening and quickly distracted her with featherlight kisses up and down her neck. Juniper squirmed and wriggled in his hold. "Nicky!" she gasped. "What if the kids see?"

"We have eight of them. I think they know what we get up to by—"

"SHUT UP!"

The two froze as their son's voice echoed upstairs.

"Did he hear us—?" asked Juniper, only to be interrupted by her son shouting again.

"You have literally the whole world available to you! Why the hell are you screaming outside my window at six in the morning!? Find another bloody tree!"

"Caww! Cawww!"

"I don't exist to feed you!"

"Hoooot!"

"You can piss off as well! You're meant to be nocturnal! Go to sleep!" The window slammed shut, and then the window slammed back open again. "Also, you caught a vole or a fieldmouse last night and I had to hear its dying screams as you tore its head off. Can you please do that away from my window? I realise you need to eat and nature is cruel and stuff but think of others! Thank you!"

The window slammed shut again.

Juniper giggled, while Nicholas sighed. At least some things were going on as normal, up to and including Coral shouting that she'd stab Jaune in the throat if he didn't shut up and let her rest. It was too late by that point, and everyone in the Arc household was awake.

"Things have been getting a little too exciting here lately, haven't they?" asked Nicky. "First that business with the bandits, and then that robbery Jaune wandered into and somehow talked down."

"Tell me about it."

"Well, I was thinking we might give them all a break... and ourselves..."

Juniper cocked her head to the side. "Hmm? I'm listening."

"Well..."

/-/

Jaune trudged down to breakfast with a yawn and a lump on the back of his head where Coral had smacked him one. It had cost him 10hp. Go figure. It was hard to say he didn't deserve it since she'd had her sleep interrupted for the better part of a week now and was already begging anyone who would listen to trade rooms with her.

Not like any of them would.

"Okay everyone," said Juniper, setting a huge pot of breakfast down for them to pick bits and pieces off. Jaune hung back like the smallest hyena, watching as the girls lunged at the buffet like ravenous animals over a downed carcass. It wasn't like mom didn't make enough, and there were still two eggs, toast, bacon and hashbrowns left over for him at the end. "Your father and I have an announcement to make!"

"Oh, come on!" groaned Jade. "Another one? Isn't eight children enough!? Get a vasectomy already, dad!"

Nicholas Arc coughed into his coffee and Juniper paused, then giggled. "Not this time, darling. The news isn't pregnancy related for once."

"That's a miracle."

"The news is more related to us having a holiday," their mother pushed on, trying to get away from the awkward conversation about her and her husband's very active love life. "Things have been so hectic here recently that we thought you all deserved a bit of a break."

Everyone perked up at that.

Even Jaune.

Since they lived in the countryside, holidays often meant a trip to a big city, which he'd heard was the opposite of how they did it, liking to visit the countryside. Either way, the last time he'd been to Mistral was two years ago and it had been incredible to his fourteen year old mind. The amount of people, and the amount of shops! Ansel had maybe one bookstore that would, with the sufferance of its elderly owner, order in comics if you asked really nicely, but it was always with a tut and a roll of her eyes like she couldn't believe how childish you were. Mistral had, like, entire comic stores the size of their house, with not only the famous ones like X-Ray and Vav, but really obscure ones from all across Remnant.

And the games stores.

Good lord, they were huge.

"The beach?" asked Saphron, perking up.

"Noooo!" every other sister whined at once. "The city! The city!"

"Not everyone wants to stare at women in bikinis, sis. And don't you have Terra?"

Saphron's face flooded crimson. "That's not the reason I like the beach, you cretins!"

"Settle down. Settle down." Nicholas tapped the table with his mug. "Aside from wanting to give you all some time off school and some fun, we also wanted this to be a bit of a gift to Jaune for all the things he's been through lately." All eyes were on him. "Like his charity work, the robbery—"

"Being molested by a criminal," said Coral.

Jaune blushed at the thought of Raven.

"—and there were those two girls in school that tried to put a scroll on record in the school changing room..." Jade trailed off as Jaune made frantic head-shaking motions. It was too late though, and Juniper's eye was twitching.

The worst part was Jaune didn't know if his Charisma had caused that or not, but he had the feeling it had a part to play, and now those girls were on suspension. It would have been worse if he hadn't spoken on their behalf and asked for clemency.

"S—So," continued their father, leaning away from the dangerous aura their mother was releasing. "We thought we'd let Jaune decide. Your options are a beach resort and hotel in Mistral, or a visit to the city of Mistral itself."

"City! City! City!" Six out of seven sisters crowded him, eyes shining. "City! City! City!"

"Beach?" asked Saphron, smiling sweetly. "Remember who changed your diapers, Jaune. Remember who cleaned your room and helped you with your homework. I've been your best sister, Jaune. Quality over quantity. You know who loves you most."

Sweat dripped down his brow.

There was no quest that popped up, but if it did then he imagined it would be "please all your sisters" and that the rewards would be as incredible as they were impossible to achieve. Jaune gulped and tried to break eye contact with them, but they hunted him down, surrounding him from every side.

Sorry Saph. It's six versus one.

"The city sounds nice—"

Cheers filled the kitchen.

Saphron pouted at him and crossed her arms.

Quest Failed.

/-/

The route from Ansel to Mistral wasn't an easy one. Travel across Remnant rarely was, with only the bigger towns and cities being connected in any meaningful way. They had to travel on a mail bus with about six other families to a larger town that was connected to an actual transport hub, and then take a ship to Mistral, during which Jaune emptied out his stomach into the water and listened to fish chatter mindlessly and dolphins have full-on conversations about what the other was up to and where the best fishing spots were.

Turns out they were pretty damn smart.

When they arrived in Mistral itself, the sounds of the city drowned out the sounds of the wildlife and gave Jaune a much needed break. The girls were already chomping at the bit to rush off and explore, but their parents wrangled them to the hotel first, reminding them that they'd have a whole week here, and that they should at least put their bags down before vanishing into the city.

A lot of parents might not have liked the idea of their country kids getting lost in a city at all, but Nicholas had drilled plenty of survival skills into their heads and Mistral was a generally safe place. Plus, they all had their scrolls and were old enough to look after themselves. Saphron was still sulking of course, doubly so because Terra wasn't able to get time off work to come spend the week with her. The pouting had reached the point where everyone was choosing to ignore her.

Once they had their gear stashed, the girls vanished, but Jaune was asked to stay by his parents so they could talk to him. He gulped, not sure what he'd done wrong but expecting the worst as he met them in the hotel's little diner downstairs. They were smiling, though. That was a good sign.

"How's your room, sweetie?" asked his mom. "No birds to keep you up?"

"None at all. It's great."

"Aww. But how will your pet back home survive without you? Aren't you worried?"

"Doom is fully capable of finding his own food—"

"Doom?"

"Ah." Jaune laughed awkwardly. "That's what I've taken to calling him. It's hard to explain."

Judging by their eye rolls, they didn't really care to ask and were just writing it off as an edgy joke or reference to a tv series or game or something. They weren't entirely far off, but he wasn't sure how he could explain the reality. "Oh yeah, I can talk with animals now" wasn't exactly something you brought up in casual conversation.

"So, what did you want to talk to me about?"

"Your charity work mostly, and your stopping of that robbery—"

"I told you I didn't know there was a robbery," Jaune lied. Again, the truth that he'd been forewarned and stepped in anyway would have him grounded until he was middle-aged. "It's not like there was a police cordon for me to walk past."

"We know, and we're not angry." Nicholas cut in. "We're actually rewarding you."

"Really?" Jaune's head perked up. "You are?"

"Yes, sweetie. Your father and I have been talking, and we know how much you've been enjoying the guitar lately—" And his father was happy about that since it wasn't as dangerous as being a huntsman. "And we know you've been borrowing one from your music room at school. We thought it'd be a fun idea while we're here to take you to a music shop and get you a real guitar."

His own guitar? Jaune's eyes lit up, not only at the free gift but also at the idea that this could count as the success criteria for his quest. It had said he needed to pick out an instrument but it hadn't worked when he'd borrowed one from school, and maybe that was because it wasn't really his to have. It was just being loaned to him. Having his own guitar could be the deciding factor.

"That is," said Nicholas, "if you really want—"

"I want! I want! Yes, yes, yes! This is so awesome! You're the best parents ever!"

Nicholas laughed. "I had a feeling you'd say that."

His parents had obviously planned this ahead of time because they knew the way to a huge music shop and had picked the hotel to be close to it. Like everything in Mistral, it was gargantuan, spanning two floors with the ground floor dedicated to music in the form of CDs, albums and retro jukeboxes, and the second floor to instruments, split between classical and modern. The classical side actually had a few lutes that his eyes were drawn to, but he still didn't know how to play one compared to the guitar. Maybe it was the same and he was overthinking it, but it didn't seem wise to take that risk when it might be years before he got this chance again.

Jaune practically skipped through the room, turning and looking at everything while his mother showed the saleswoman a video that made him cringe in embarrassment. His own off-key singing played out, and the shopkeeper crooned.

If his self-esteem had hit points then he'd have been at death's door.

"Are you thinking of an electric guitar or an acoustic?" His father kept his mind occupied, steering him toward a huge guitar section. It seemed like they had more guitars than any other instrument, along with accessories like amps, tuners, spare strings and whole bags of decorated plectrums. The weirdest were a bunch of plectrums with a redheaded girl in bronze and brown armour on them. Some kind of local celebrity, perhaps. He didn't think he'd feel comfortable strumming with some random girl's legs.

It just felt weird.

"I'm thinking acoustic," he said. "Electric is probably cooler but then I'd have to get all the extras to use it properly."

"It'd make shopping for your birthday easier."

"Yeah, but I'd also have to carry those extras to the park and back."

"Ahhh. That does make sense. Honestly, I feel like the electric guitar is more for if you want to be a part of a band and perform." Nicholas was rubbing his own jaw. "But if you're planning to keep busking then how about an electric-acoustic?"

"Those exist?"

"Looks like your old man knows something you don't," boasted Nicholas, even though he'd probably just checked online ahead of time to sound clever. "It's basically an acoustic guitar which has the ability to plug into an amp. But it doesn't have to, and it's still acoustic and sounds like one. You could use it without, but if you ever did want to take even a small amp out to make your music louder then you could plug it in. You can also plug headphones in to practice at night without your sister shanking you."

"Coral has been crotchety lately."

"Jaune, you scream at birds anywhere from four to six in the morning right next to her bedroom. Anyone would be crotchety. That she hasn't murdered you yet is a testament to her patience."

"The birds scream at me..."

"Uh-huh." His father rolled his eyes. "So, any of them catch your eye?"

A few of them. They weren't as ostentatious or bright as the electric guitars, which came in all sorts of patterns and colours. There were some black ones with blue lightning down them, flame patterns on others, then marble effects and other floral patterns. The acoustics by comparison were typically a matte colour, most of them brown wood.

Jaune walked among them and touched each one, wondering if his semblance would "pick one out" for him or give him some kind of signal like it had with the scarf, but all he got was a brief description about them. They were well-made, high quality and meticulously cared for. It was obvious the people running the shop loved the hobby and cared for the instruments deeply.

But if my semblance isn't going to tell me which one to get, I guess that means I get to pick myself.

"I like the black ones," he said. The wood colour was nice, but he preferred the glossy varnish look of the black guitars, and some had some clever gold panting around the sound hole. It still stunned him that it didn't have a better name like "mouth" or "throat", but he didn't make the rules. Jaune picked one down off the wall and gave it a light strum.

It sounded really good.

"It's tuned, too. Nice."

"Give it a play," said Nicholas. "You wouldn't buy a pair of shoes without trying them on."

He absolutely would, and regularly did, but he knew what his father meant and began to play a soft medley. He'd improved a bit with practice, and while he wouldn't call himself a real guitarist, he knew a few moderately complicated songs now. Only them. He was still at the stage where it took several nights trying to practice chords on the internet before he could get anything new down, but he'd been trying to switch up his busking by learning a few old songs people liked, and it was one of those he played now.

And Jaune felt something more than just music stir within him.

-/-

Quest Completed:

You have found your bonded instrument and begun upon the path of the bard.

Success: +Musical Skill. +Title: Bard. + Bardic skills. +Rep with classmates.

Title:

Bard – Increases impact of music played, subtly ensuring all within range hear. Also increases the impact of musical-based buffs and debuffs.

Bardic Skills Learned:

Motivational Song: Encourage allies to increase their spirits and capabilities.

Discordant Song: Discourage and frighten enemies with discordant music.

Special: Nature's Song: Your music translates to animal ears through Speak With Animals skill, granting bonuses when playing music to animals and wildlife.

-/-

Jaune was so happy with what he saw that he didn't even twitch at the last one. A smile split across his face, and Nicholas, Juniper and the saleswoman all clapped at the music.

"That was really good!" cheered the woman. "Like, wow. Really good. We get a lot of amateurs here but I'd almost believe you were semi-pro! Do you have a band?"

Jaune blushed. "You don't have to say that to get the sale. I want this one."

"What? I'm not! That was seriously good!"

"That was really good," said Juniper, equally surprised. "I could have listened to you play for hours. Maybe you should consider a career in music. You're certainly good enough."

"And hot enough," whispered the salesclerk.

Not quietly enough. Jaune's face flooded red and Juniper stared at her.

"I—I mean, boy is it hot in here or is it just me?" The woman fanned her face wildly. "How about I get you the case that comes with it. All our guitars come with a free set of replacement strings to. I—I'll just go take care of that."

The woman sprinted away with her hands over her face.

Juniper glared at him.

"I didn't do anything!"

"Nicholas."

"Yes, dear...?"

"I assume you did teach Jaune how to use a condom."

"Yes, dear."

"With the banana?"

Jaune whimpered at the memory.

"Yes, dear," groaned his father. "With the banana."

"Good. Jaune. No babies until you are at least eighteen and have a stable job. Am I understood?"

"But I didn't do anything!"

"AM I UNDERSTOOD!?"

Jaune sighed. "Yes mom..."

"That's my sweet little innocent boy," she cooed, ruffling his hair. "And he'll stay innocent until he's of age, yes he will, or your mother is going to go on a killing spree."

His mother could be scary sometimes...

/-/

Once they headed back to the hotel, his parents gave him permission to go on and amuse himself while they spent time together. The translation was while they risked a ninth child, but Jaune was happy to get away before that happened. He took his new guitar with him, wanting to test it – and his new bard title – out somewhere in the city. The embarrassment of performing didn't match up to the sheer joy of seeing his numbers increase, so maybe he'd go busk a little more.

Why change what was working?

He didn't exactly know Mistral but it wasn't hard to ask a few people if they could tell him where the closest park was. He had more luck asking women than men for some reason; most of the guys seemed uninterested and told him to mind his own business or get out their way, while the women and younger girls were happy to strike up a conversation and point him in the right way.

Growing up surrounded by girls in the form of his sisters, he just wrote it off as them being friendly.

When he found the park, he had to marvel at the size of it. Yet again, Mistral had decided to take everything to the extreme, with the park being around six times the size of the one back home. But given that Mistral itself had probably ten thousand times the population of home, the park somehow felt smaller. Or just more cramped. There was a small lake with an island in the centre with a memorial on it, with ducks floating around, and oddly geometric sections of trees which formed unnatural patterns. The park was as much decoration as natural, and it all looked a little too mathematical for his liking.

It was as if the city's architects had decided Mistral needed some greenery from the countryside but couldn't quite grasp what "country" or "nature" actually meant. Maybe that was why so many people living here felt the need to go out to small villages and towns for their own holidays.

But what really caught his eye was the fact that someone had beat him to it.

Two someone's, in fact.

They weren't busking, but they were standing on a path jingling a charity bucket. The orange-haired girl was doing that, while the black-haired boy held up a sign saying the money would go to orphanages across Mistral. A few people stopped to give them lien, but most walked on by keeping their heads down and their eyes focused on their scrolls.

It didn't feel right to set up and compete with them.

But...

I only need to play music to practice and get some Charisma points. There's no reason I have to do it on my own. He couldn't imagine they'd refuse him either, and they looked friendly. Well, the girl did. The boy looked like he was stone cold bored.

Jaune approached.

The girl spotted him and leapt forward. "Hi! Will you donate to local orphanages!?"

"S—Sure." Jaune opened his wallet and dumped everything he had into the bucket, making her eyes sparkle.

-/-

Nora Valkyrie

Level 21.

Orphaned child and survivor of the attack on Kuroyuri that decimated the town, Nora Valkyrie now studies to become a huntress at Haven Academy in Mistral. She continues to support the orphanage that adopted both her and her childhood friend and fellow survivor Lie Ren in her available time.

-/-

This girl was level twenty-one!? Holy crap!

That was like a third of the level of Raven and Qrow Branwen!

"Thank you so much!" she said. "I'm Nora and this is Ren!"

"H—Hey. I'm Jaune. Nice to meet you. I'm not from around here. So... Raising money for charity?"

"Yep! Both Renny and I grew up as orphans and they looked after us and we want to do right by them for that, and to help all the other kids that are still there. We got into Haven on a scholarship," she explains. "We're going to be huntresses. Well, I'm going to be a huntress and Ren is going to be a huntsman. Not that he couldn't be a huntress. He looks pretty enough, doesn't he!?"

The boy, Renny, sighed.

"Nora, please stop talking. I'm sorry for her."

-/-

Lie Ren

Level 22.

Orphaned child and survivor of the attack on Kuroyuri that decimated the town, Lie Ren was instrumental in his and Nora's survival and has continued to look over her ever since. He is a student at Haven, studying to be a huntsman, but feels like he owes a debt to the orphanage that took them in and gave them a chance to succeed in life.

-/-

"It's okay," said Jaune, tearing his eyes away from information that was probably private. But was his name Lie, then? Why was he being called Ren or Renny? "I... uh. I do a lot of charity work at home and I was going to do some here, but then I saw you and thought it wouldn't be fair to step on your toes. I busk."

He hefted his new guitar for them to see.

"That's so cool!" said Nora, rattling the bucket. "What do you raise money for?"

"Children in need mostly, but I'll do anything. I... I was actually wondering if you wouldn't mind a little help. Not that you need it," he added. "But I was looking to busk here anyway, and I was just going to pick a random charity and you're already here so—"

"Yes! Yes, yes, and yes!" Nora bounced on her feet, which caused other parts of her to bounce as well. Jaune flushed and broke eye contact, only to meet Ren's knowing look. Caught. "It's okay, Renny. Isn't it okay?"

"Technically, you need a license to busk but we did get one to raise money here from the local council and that should cover him. As long as we claim he was always with us."

-/-

Quest:

You have offered to help Lie Ren and Nora Valkyrie raise money for local orphanages.

Success: +EXP. + Rep with orphans of Mistral.

Failure: Crushing Guilt.

-/-

Crushing guilt, Jaune mused. Isn't that a little too self-aware for a quest notification? I guess it's a good job I already decided to go ahead with this.

He set his new guitar case down and opened it up, and let Nora place her bucket in it, then stepped off the path and strummed a few strings. Now that he was ready to go, and now that Nora and Ren were watching expectantly, he suddenly felt a little self-conscious.

But that was silly.

He'd done this before, and he even had a specific title dedicated to it now. He was a Bard, practically literally, and that meant he'd only be better at playing than he had been back home. And, honestly, it was just about the effort and the thought. No one expected him to be the next king of rock and roll. He was a teenager busking for charity.

Jaune put his hands to the strings.

/-/

Lie Ren wasn't sure what to make of the new arrival, but he didn't sense any malice. The other boy had been friendly, perhaps interested in Nora – and Ren wished him luck on that front, he really did – but that wasn't unusual. Nora had her fair share of admirers ever since she'd hit puberty and gone from a tomboy to a much bustier tomboy.

He wasn't blind to the changes on his friend, especially when she kept sneaking into his bed to spoon into his back, but he'd always seen her as the tiny, orphaned child he'd met her as, and they were the only survivors of Kuroyuri. It was difficult to develop feelings as the other boys had when Nora was all he had, and when he was all she had.

When you stuck together for survival and lost everything together, hormones didn't really factor.

Still, he wouldn't begrudge anyone an attempt at his best friend as long as they were good people, and Jaune seemed nice. A little shy, but most people were when Nora set her eyes on them. It was what made her so good at badgering people for charity money. Ren tried, he really did, but he knew his apathetic exterior sometimes turned people off.

A little music certainly couldn't hurt.

As long as he can actually play and isn't just walking around with a guitar to try and pick up girls...

Jaune set his hands to the strings.

And played.

Ren's eyes widened as he not only heard but felt the music wash over him. It was uplifting, stunning – not in the way of fine art, but stunning like an actual punch to the solar plexus. Not painfully, though. More like a sudden rush of caffeine and sugar and good vibes that had him smiling despite his best efforts not to.

Nora was similarly affected, clasping her hands together and bouncing on her heels. It made Ren happy just to see, and the music also caught the attention of passers-by, who stopped pretending they couldn't see them and turned to listen.

If Ren were forced to judge, he'd say the music itself was good but not exceptional, but that didn't matter. It felt amazing. Maybe it was the atmosphere, or the passion, or that the day had been a bit crummy so far and they hadn't made all that much money. Never enough for him to feel like he'd really repaid the kind matrons who looked after them. Never enough to feel like they'd brought in money that would keep the orphanage open for future generations.

And that always hurt. It hurt Nora too, for all that she was better at keeping a happy face.

But now he felt that tension drift away.

Maybe it wasn't enough, and maybe it never would be, but they had tried. They had done their best, weekend after weekend, for almost every year of their time at Haven. Ren took a deep breath through his nostrils and felt a little stinging behind his eyes.

The two of them might not have made enough to keep the orphanage going, but they'd contributed, and maybe the matrons hadn't been lying when they said the two of them shouldn't feel guilty. That the money helped, and they didn't have any debt to repay.

Maybe I – we – need to accept that... and let go...

Be happy.

Lien tinkled into the guitar case. More than they had made in two hours. It flowed freely, and scrolls came out to record and Ren felt as though he should be doing something, but he couldn't think what. He couldn't sing, and his weak dancing would just ruin the moment.

Almost as much as an eagle swooping down and landing on Jaune's shoulder did.

Though it less ruined the moment and more put it on pause.

"Huh...?"

Jaune stopped playing. Quite understandably, of course, because there was a huge eagle on his shoulder and that wasn't exactly a typical thing. Their small audience stopped to stare, pointing and whispering.

"Uh..." Jaune and the eagle made eye contact. "Hey. What are you..." Another bird landed on his other shoulder and pecked at his hair. "Ow! Hey!" The eagle pecked him too. "Ow! Stop! Okay, okay! I'll keep playing!"

His hands went back and more music came, and the birds stopped pecking him. The audience whispered and recorded it all, and Ren could only stare as another bird fluttered down to perch on the head of his guitar, and then a squirrel whisked through the grass to climb up Jaune's pantleg and hoodie, and to make a small nest for itself atop his bright yellow hair, not even reacting to the apex predator nearby.

It took hardly two minutes for a flock of pigeons to land and surround him, and to perch on the guitar case and his shoulder, and for one to work its way into his hoodie pocket. The boy staggered under the sudden assault, his music faltering a little – again, very understandable – as he was assailed by at least twenty birds.

"It's always birds!" he howled, now a ball of feathers and flapping wings with a guitar poking out from it. "Why is it always birds!?"

"Renny!" Nora grasped his arm, her eyes sparkling like uncut gems. "Renny, look! He's a movie princess!"

Honestly...

It really looked that way. Cameras were flashing and people were amazed, watching and talking as Jaune Arc was smothered half to death by an avian flock that had seemingly come out the trees and off nearby buildings to hear him play music.

"FUCKING BIRDS!" Jaune screamed.


Did I say it was Remnant's Blond Bard? Maybe I meant it's Remnant's Blonde Bird.

Congrats, Jaune. You're a Disney princess now.

This is a city though, so there might be deer and rabbits and other critters in the countryside but being a city, he's just getting assailed by birds. Don't worry, he'll have more variety come Beacon with animals and the like. There's a whole forest nearby after all.


Next Chapter: 28th November

Like my work? Please consider supporting me, even if it's only a little a month or even for a whole year, so I can keep writing so many stories as often as I do. Even a little means a lot and helps me dedicate more time and resources to my work.

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur