Last update of this story in 2023. However, in 2024 it's going to be moving to a weekly slot every Sunday. Rejoice. Unless you hate the story, in which case despair! The date at the bottom should be accurate, but basically the next update of this will be Sunday 7th January.


Cover Art: Mystery White Flame

Chapter 6


His rising internet fame as a femboy haunted Jaune through the night. That was not a metaphor for deep thought or mental anguish. The way it haunted him was quite literal, and usually when he least expected it.

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

"Erk!" Jaune flinched once more, right on the verge of falling asleep before the message hit and snapped him back into wakefulness. "Again? Seriously? How many people are watching that video? It's just a girl playing the guitar. Come on!"

Nora's genius plan had gone off perfectly. Too damn perfectly. He'd gained something like ten points of Charisma, which was downright ridiculous, and it kept on coming. While he'd been spending days trying to find the perfect exploit and coming close with his busking, Nora had cracked the system, and without even realising there was a system.

And all it had taken was a little bit of dignity.

Not only his, but the dignity of those poor fools online writing out such lovely comments to a girl that didn't exist. Jaune rolled over and pressed his face into the pillows, stifling a scream. He stopped at the last second, remembering that Coral was in the hotel room next door and that she would eventually murder him if he kept waking her up.

Rolling back over, he reached for his scroll and navigated to RemTube where his new account lay. Nora had gotten it monetised fairly quickly, and even if he'd missed the first wave of viewers there should be some money coming in. He needed 20,000 lien to finish the quest. He'd be lucky if he had a few hundred—

"Two and a half thousand!?"

A fist banged on the wall furiously.

"S—Sorry!"

That didn't stop him looking back down to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. Nope. The current revenue was at an estimated 2,545 lien, and the video was now at over 250,000 views. He also had around 4,000 subscribers off the back of one video.

"It's no wonder I got so much Charisma for this," he said, careful to be quieter so Coral wouldn't kill him. "I've technically performed for a quarter of a million people. I thought it was being too generous, but it probably is nerfing the gains. It just doesn't matter when the number is this high!"

He'd busked for maybe twenty people at a time back home and gained several points in Charisma. If the math followed, then for performing for ten thousand times that number should have given him a hundred points at least. It hadn't, which meant the system was aware of the exploit and had given him a malus for not personally and publicly performing for people.

It just didn't matter because 250,000 people was a lot of performances even at a lower rate.

That came with two startling realisations: the first was that his Semblance was in some way aware and adapting to what was going on. That, or it was brought into the world knowing every possible route he could take. The second realisation was that he was doomed.

Because after seeing how much he could make from these videos – both monetarily and in terms of his stats – he was never going to be able to stop. It was just too much. He'd have his money to travel in a little over a week, and he'd be farming Charisma like it was going out of fashion. How could he possibly put this aside and go back to working his butt off for one or two points when he could gain that many in his sleep while a video of him racked up views online?

He just couldn't.

Nora had ruined him for life.

/-/

"I prefer to think of it as having opened your eyes to a whole new world," said Nora, the next afternoon, when he'd given excuses to his parents to go to Sanctum. His parents were caught between delight he'd made some friends and horror (mostly on his father's side) that those friends were training to be huntsmen.

But Juniper wore the pants, so he'd been allowed to go either way.

"Half a million views!" Jaune groaned. "Half a million! How? Why?"

"Sex sells."

"I'm not showing anything!"

"Ah, but you're implying everything." Nora swung an arm around his shoulder – and he was a he at that moment, thankfully. "Think about it. Cute guitar girl that's too shy to speak but pushes her feelings out through her music. A blushing little shut-in who desperately wants to be confidant and popular enough to show her talents, but who needs the love and support of her legions of fans. That's what you are!"

Jaune's mouth opened and closed. "I'm a monster!"

"Okay. A little exaggeration there—"

"No. I'm literally a monster. I'm tricking people into supporting me—"

"I mean, you're not taking donations so actually you're tricking them into listening to your covers and the soulless advertisers are paying you. And they're bigger monsters, so you're like the monster who hunts monsters. The anti-hero."

"Nora, I'm a femboy."

"Femboys can be anti-heroes too, Jaune. Tight little anti-heroes."

"Please don't call me tight ever again."

Nora giggled. "It's fine. You need the money, right? Look at this. You have four thousand lien now. You're a fifth of the way there in one night. You're going to be travelling in style! I wonder if we can earn you enough before you even leave Mistral."

Jaune winced. "Ah. About that. We're leaving tomorrow morning." It was Nora's turn to look horrified, and then sad. Her eyes watered. "But we said we'd stay in touch and—"

"Waaaaah!" Nora struck him like a Beowolf and dragged him down onto the bed. He'd never been pinned to a bed by an unrelated girl before, but it wasn't as hot as he imagined. Especially not when she was crying into his neck. "No. Too soon! I'm not ready. You have to stay."

"N—Nora…"

"Nora doesn't have many friends outside me," Ren explained, coming over to rub her back. "Growing up in an orphanage doesn't give you much room for making friends, and a lot of parents feel tense at the idea of having an orphan stay over with their child." He smiled ruefully. "I'm not sure if they think we'll somehow corrupt their children or if they think it'd be too awkward to tease an orphan with a loving home when they're not being adopted."

"Hey. Hey." Jaune ran his own hands up under her arms and over her back. "It's okay. Um. I said I'd travel, and Mistral is a place to go, right? I'll make sure to travel back here and hang out with you both again."

Nora sat on his stomach, sniffing and wiping ugly tears from her face. "P—Promise…?"

"It's a promise."

-/-

Quest:

You have promised to come visit Nora and Ren again in Mistral during your time spent travelling. Make sure to keep to that promise at some point before they graduate in one year.

Success: +EXP. + Rep Nora Valkyrie. + Rep with Lie Ren.

Failure: -Rep with Nora Valkyrie and Lie Ren. Nora Valkyrie will cry and cry and cry.

-/-

Jaune's eye twitched.

It wasn't like he'd been planning to trick them. Sheesh.

"I won't go to Mistral first because then I wouldn't have any stories to tell you, but how about I come back before you graduate? I'll even attend your graduation."

Nora smiled a watery smile. "Hn," she said, nodding. She poked his chest. "You better."

"We're planning to head to Vale after graduation," said Ren. "Our goal is to apply to Beacon. If you want, you could make Mistral your third stopping point after Atlas or Vacuo, and then all three of us could take a boat to Vale together."

That sounded like fun. Nora liked the idea too.

"You're so smart, Ren! You're forgiven!"

He frowned. "Forgiven for what?"

"When you said I didn't have many friends and made it sound like you're walking around with friends spilling out your pockets." Nora's frank tone had Ren coughing in embarrassment. "We're both orphan loners, Jaune. Don't let him convince you otherwise with his subtle lies!"

"It wasn't a lie, Nora. More of an omission."

Nora crossed her arms and looked away. "Hmph!"

"Don't hmph me. We live in the same dorm. I cook your breakfast. And lunch, and dinner." Ren tapped them off on his fingers. "And I clean our room. Come to think of it, what do you do around here?"

"I keep up morale!"

Ren sighed.

"And do you know what would really boost morale right now?"

"What?"

"Jaune making another video!" Jaune's morale plummeted in direct contract to Ren's rising, and the fact wasn't lost on either of them. "Guitar C needs to continue her hype by responding to her fans and making them know she's reading their comments!"

"I don't— Wait, Guitar C? My name is Guitarc."

"Yeah, Guitar C."

"No. It's Guit-arc." Jaune stretched the two words out. "As in, guitar but also Arc. Jaune Arc. Guit Arc. Guitar Arc. Get it?" He waited for the amazed smiles. "It's a play on words. A pun."

"It's awful is what it is," said Nora.

"… I thought it was clever…"

"Awww. That's so cute. Anyway, you're Guitar C, now. And the C stands for cutie." Her cheer had him shrivelling even further into himself. "And Guitar Cutie needs to strike while the iron is hot." She grabbed him and yanked him toward the bathroom. "To the Nora-Cave!"

"That's our bathroom!" Ren shouted.

"It's the Nora-Cave now."

"Then where am I meant to go to the toilet!?"

"In the Ren-Cave, silly."

"I don't have a Ren-Cave."

"That sounds like you a you problem, Renny." Nora waved as she yanked Jaune inside with her. "Yoink!"

When Jaune came back out, his masculinity was in tatters. Nora had even added a light touch of makeup this time. Only a little, but only because his Charisma meant he didn't need a lot. Nora had been quite vocal on how unfair it was his skin was so smooth compared to hers. With a too-short skirt and a too-big jumper, he cut a confusing image of a shy, pretty girl trying to hide herself away from the world.

Nora was going for a theme, it seemed.

"Damn it," said Ren, when they came out. "Why are you so cute?"

He'd have loved to say it wasn't his fault but he was the one who went and dumped all his stats in Charisma so it probably was.

"You need to do some audience interaction on this one," said Nora. "But your voice isn't as feminine as the rest of you, so speaking is off the table. I guess we could do subtitles but those aren't as cute. Maybe signs?" Nora snapped her fingers. "Renny, you need to write Jaune out some messages to hold up to the camera!"

"Why am I writing them out?"

"Because your handwriting is flowery and like a woman's."

"Like a woman's?" Ren sighed. "Nora, you are a woman, and your handwriting looks like someone had a seizure while holding a pen. You can't stereotype like that. He stared at his friend, only for Nora to stare back even harder. "Ugh. Fine. You're impossible when you're like this. Just tell me what to write. And I am not drawing little love hearts above the i's."

In the end Ren wrote out six different cards for him to hold up, and the handwriting actually was really beautiful. He'd have said it was closer to calligraphy than anything objectively feminine. His sisters were a mixed bag when it came to their writing, and Juniper wrote in block capitals so that no one could misread her notes.

The cards pretty much just thanked everyone for being so kind and sweet and supporting him – her – and expressed a lot of nervousness for being new to the guitar, but how happy it made him – her – that people were willing to listen.

And then the last one appeared…

"I'm a shy girl who doesn't feel confident speaking so I hope you'll let my music do the talking for me. Thank you all for your patience. I want to grow enough that I can perform for you all in person one day and shine bright like a star."

Jaune lowered the card.

"What rot is this…? Are you just making up my origin story as you go?"

"Yeeep." Nora grinned. "Don't even get me started on how the popular girls bullied you, or how you're convinced you're unattractive because of all the nasty things they said to you."

Jaune clapped a hand to his face. His fingernails were painted a pretty pink. This all felt so deceitful, enough so that he should probably step in and tell her to stop. On the other hand, it wasn't hurting anyone. No one could actively donate or give money to him. They were just subscribing and watching his videos, and the advertisers were footing the bill – but even they weren't being scammed. They wanted to advertise their products to a lot of people, and he was giving them a lot of people.

No one was losing out here.

And he was gaining so much Charisma.

Watching his numbers increase was too heady a feeling to ignore. He'd always been a power-gamer at heart, and nothing got him excited like making his character more and more powerful. How could he just throw this opportunity away when it was happening in real life? Also, his Charisma had literally saved an old woman's life in the charity store. It was his duty to grow strong and build up his stats. Yes. Duty. Nothing exploitative or selfish.

"Fine." Jaune took a deep breath. "Let's do this."

"Yay! We'll make a femboy out of you yet."

"I'm not doing this for— oh, forget it. Whatever."

"First things first. Can you put your fingers together like this? Thumbs at the bottom, index fingers curved at the top – that's it. Look, Renny. She's sending you her love!"

It was too late that Jaune realised he'd made a love heart with his fingers, and that he was now aiming it at Ren. Their eyes met, and Jaune blushed, raising one shoulder to try and hide his – or her – embarrassed face. His Charisma did the rest without him meaning to.,

Ren staggered as if he'd been knife-handed in the throat.

And immediately fainted.

"Uh. Ren?" Nora stood over him. "Renny…?" She tapped him with her toe. "Huh. I feel like I should be more worried about this, but all I can think is that this would be a great opportunity to dress him up like a girl." Nora gasped and covered her mouth. "We could be a girl band!"

But they were two boys and one girl.

Jaune sighed. "Let's… Let's just film the video, okay…?"

"And dress Ren up after?"

"Sure," said Jaune, throwing the other man under the bus. "Once I'm gone."

"YES! I'll send you pictures."

There was nothing quite like misery shared.

Nora got the camera ready and dimmed the lighting in the room, just standing over Ren's body as the camera started rolling. Jaune felt the weight of millions watching him, even though this was literally a recording, and it hadn't even been uploaded to the internet yet. He held up his cards as told, biting his lip and feeling more than a little self-conscious. Jaune reached a hand up to nervously brush his bangs from his face as he did.

He'd just played the guitar last time, but he found himself wondering what would happen if he went and used his bardic music through it. Actively used the skill. It probably wouldn't affect anyone other than Nora. That would be like saying a wizard in an RPG could cast spells down a telephone, or that an audio of a barbarian using an "intimidating shout" should send people who heard it into feral panic. Games and RPG systems didn't really work that way for good reason.

But maybe it'd make his music a little better.

It couldn't hurt, right?

These people were here to see music – well, they were here to see a cute girl, but he could at least pretend it was about the music. With that in mind, he should do the best he could to really blow their minds. And maybe that would absolve some of the guilt. If they genuinely loved and got something from listening to him play then it wouldn't be as exploitative on his part. It would somehow be less objectionable.

It can't hurt to try…

Jaune activated his skill and strummed.

He could see the immediate change in Nora, who went ramrod still and stopped motioning to him. The music somehow sounded more melodious. It wasn't that his skills were forcing different sounds to come from the chords, but rather the sounds that did were richer. Clearer. His guitar, by no means cheap but also not a super-expensive one, sounded beautiful. The very air vibrated from every note as he played an old favourite better than the original guitarist ever could have. It was cheating, in a sense, but this wasn't about fame or profit.

Well, it was a little bit, but not mostly. This was about making the people who would watch this happy.

And for a long moment, he lost himself in the simplicity of it.

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

Already…? No, wait. That must have been another point of Charisma from the first video, which was still online for people to see and watch. It was just inconvenient timing, but he was in the zone and didn't let it bother him—

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

Jaune's fingers slipped and misplayed, but even that note was beautiful. Those gains were too sudden. Much too sudden! Jaune looked from the camera lens to Nora's laptop on the side and saw a blinking red light on the screen. Panicking, freaking, he pointed with a shaky finger, his face going completely pale.

Nora looked.

"Oh crud!" she swore. "I have it set to live! Eheh." Nora hit her temple with a knuckle. "Whoops?"

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

Jaune threw up his hands and frantically shook them at the camera, telling her to cut the recording. No. The live show. He managed to keep himself from speaking and ruining everything, but only barely.

"Sorry! Sorry." Nora fiddled with the camera. "You don't need to look so embarrassed, though. You're killing it!"

Jaune's face burned red, and he covered it with his hands.

"Aaand it's off!"

He had to check the laptop to be sure. It was gone, and there were comments spiralling down. Most were just the word "CUTE" repeated hundreds of times, with varying amounts of X's afterwards or smiley-face emojis. And sometimes they had blushing ones and "FLUSTERED" appearing over and over.

"Noooora!" he cried out. "You idiot!"

"What? What? It's all cool. They love it. And look, your reputation as a bundle of shyness is already taking root. They're going to be convinced I did this to help you realise you don't need to be afraid and break out your shell." Nora crossed her arms proudly. "Man, I am such a supportive friend!"

He struck her with a pillow.

"Gak!"

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

D—Damn it. They were watching the recording, too. He wanted to scream but all that came out was a frustrated whimper. A femboy whimper. He was never going to live this one down. And if his sisters found out—? No. Never. Not happening. He could just imagine if Saphron saw this. He'd be paraded in front of Terra and all her friends. It would be the end of Jaune Arc. He'd have to be a Joan or a Jane! Or worse, a Janet!

At least the usage of his bardic music probably hadn't triggered anything.

It'd be really awkward if it had!

/-/

Cardin Winchester wept big, manly tears as he listened to his angel play for the tenth time. He had tuned in only for the cutie, but his heart had been clutched in tender fingers since the first chord, and he couldn't stop shaking.

Guitar Cutie wanted to be better, and was doing her best to face her inner demons.

And he had made a faunus cry today for no other reason than because it let him avoid his own. Cardin dropped to his knees and stared up at the ceiling, the tears running down his chin and cheeks. He would do better. He would have to. For her.

"We'll both change," he whispered. "Both you and I, my angel…"

/-/

Adam Taurus heard the music from someone's scroll in their camp, and he found himself forced to investigate. They were outside of Atlas and there was little real risk of discovery, but that was no excuse to blare out music like this.

The White Fang had to be better.

An example would have to be made.

And yet, as he came closer, he couldn't help but listen. The song was familiar, but only as a face might be if he passed someone on the street. He recognised it as existing as a song he had heard before, but not from where or when.

But what he did recognise was the passion of the one playing.

And by the time he reached the culprit, who turned out to be his own girlfriend, Blake, he didn't have any anger left in him. Which was fortunate, as he couldn't bring himself to punish Blake for something like this anyway.

"Adam," she whispered. "I'm sorry. Is it too loud?"

"No."

His voice was raw. Adam brought a hand up and removed his mask. His scarred visage frightened many faunus, but Blake never once flinched. It struck him that he'd never thought much of that, nor had he ever realised how much her ease around him meant. His heart felt like it was about to burst out his chest.

"No, it's beautiful," he whispered, sitting down beside her. "Play it again."

For the first time in years, the burning ball of fiery rage within him simmered, growing cold and calm as a tranquil lake. Adam closed his eyes.

And listened.

/-/

Weiss Schnee listened with a musician's ear, her finger twitching with every correct chord and her head bobbing slowly to the beat. It was off beat from the original, but only slightly. Enough that she could say it sounded more like the girl's own take on the song rather than an error. In some ways, it sounded better.

More jovial. Brighter. Happier.

So much unlike her own music that it brought a tear to her eye.

Until a fist banged on her door. "Miss Schnee. You're on in ten!"

"Thank you, Klein." The famous musician stood, her sparkling dress costing as much as a house weighing her down. "I'll be with you in a moment."

Just a moment more to listen to someone make music seem so pure.

Not mired in commercialism, corruption and arrogance like she knew it to be, with exploitative agents, backroom deals, petty rivalries and haughty singers. It reminded Weiss of how she'd imagined it would be back when she began on this path, before she'd been so disappointed by reality.

"Stay as you are," she told the girl on the screen, who looked so adorably flustered. "Don't let the industry sink its claws into you."

The fist came back. "Miss Schnee!"

"I'm coming, Klein."

Weiss set the scroll down. It was time for her own performance.

The songs were much sadder.

/-/

"I want her!" howled the woman with dark red eyes. "Find her! Bring her to me!"

"W—Who, my goddess!?"

Tyrian Callows was almost bowled over by a scroll being shoved into his face. On it, a cute blonde girl was playing the guitar.

"Her!" hissed Salem. "Her music… it… does something to me. Makes me feel something." The woman looked caught halfway between rage and curiosity. "I want her to play for me, Tyrian. For me and me only. You will find her, and you will capture her, and you will bring her to me! Am I understood?"

"Yes, my goddess! Of course! I'll find her straight away!"

Salem nodded and swept away, playing the song on repeat.

Tyrian looked to Athur, who looked back and shrugged.

How did they even have scroll signal out here…?

/-/

All across Remnant, people reacted to music that seemed more real than anything they'd ever heard. Those feeling upset suddenly felt happier. Those in despair suddenly noticed better things. Those angry found calm. Those tired felt refreshed.

No one could place the reason why, only that music was a magical thing and always had the ability to influence people, but the video spread and spread. It grew so fast that the site experienced a blackout and had to bring on extra servers, and then it was taken and shared on other sites, sent to a wider and wider audience.

Again and again.

Over and over.

Come morning, it would make the news in almost every kingdom.

But Jaune would not see it.

Because it was 3am and his eyes were bloodshot. His body was quivering, shaking, and his teeth were grinding together. Exhaustion took hold, and he dared to hope and try to close his eyes. To let the sleep depths of slumber take him.

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

He jolted awake, groaned and rolled over onto his side.

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

It was endless.

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

"Go away!" he slurred. "Let me sleeeep!"

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

Jaune dragged the pillow over his face and screamed into it.

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

The constant ringing in his skull. The repeated messages. He would have traded it all to have Doom on his window screaming about the end of the world. Jaune rolled over onto his front and pulled the covers over his body as if they could block out the sound, but it didn't come from without. It came from within, echoing inside his soul with its cruel, cruel words.

Through performing for an audience, you have gained +1 Charisma.

-/-

Jaune Arc

Lvl 5.

Title: Bard

HP: 140/140

MP: 65/65

Str: 6

Con: 5

Dex: 5

Wis: 7

Cha: 77 (78)

Aura: Locked

Semblance: The Game

Perks:

Speak with Animals.

Bardic Skills.

-/-

It was gone 4am when Jaune's body gave up and he passed out in bed, his feet twitching whenever his Semblance informed him – even in his unconscious state – that he'd gained another point in Charisma.

His sisters woke him up three hours later for the airport.

He was strapped into the aircraft's seat and left there, passed out, as the online tv talked about the hit online sensation that was "Guitar Cutie", a shy girl who had taken the internet by storm.

"Who is Guitar C, most colloquially known as Guitar Cutie?" asked Lisa Lavender. "No one knows, but the hunt is very much on with talent agencies and record labels reaching out to the new viral sensation. All that is known so far is that her agent, who calls herself Queen Of This Castle, has stated that Guitar Cutie is too shy to speak due to intense bullying from girls in her school. This has sparked outrage online and calls for councils in all four kingdoms to do more to stamp out bullying. We're going to play a clip from her music now—"

Juniper Arc smiled and leaned her head on Nicholas' shoulder as the pretty song was played.

"Isn't that music lovely?"

"It certainly is."

Saphron peered closer at the screen. "That guitar is really familiar for some reason."

Beside her, unconscious, Jaune continued to twitch as fresh Charisma rolled in.


Poor Jaune.

There's a lot of super cute fem-Jaune pictures online, and I imagine Jaune with high Charisma here just looks like the prettiest of those. It's an adaptable stat, so when he's trying to be a man he just looks very handsome, and when he's trying to be a woman he looks incredibly soft and pretty. It's Charisma after all.

And the downside of power-levelling in your sleep is dealing with the messages. I imagine it like the "whoosh" sound on Warcraft or most games. Right whenever he's about to fall asleep, it's "WHOOOOSH!" and the text. Then sleee—WHOOSH! Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!

Also, his Charisma went up a bit beyond the ones you saw in the chapter since the dinging/whooshing was obviously happening all the way from Jaune returning from Sanctum to the hotel, and while he was trying to sleep. But it'll slow down. Power-scaling and requirements and all that. Early levels easier to get than later ones.

You'll also notice that stats aren't tied to levels here. That's intentional. Is it unbalanced? Sure, but only in a game with level-scaling enemies. This isn't that kind of world, so Jaune could still die to the first Grimm he comes across.


Next Chapter: Sunday 7th Jan

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