Right as Jaune felt feeling return to his body, he
immediately jumped back with his dukes up. He made sure that he had his eyes
aim at Aqua, the Faunus who casually smoothed out her clothe's wrinkles.
“You’re back. Alright, teach this bitch a lesson!”
“O-okay, I’m not sure what you did, but this is taking it too far.” Regaining his bearings, Jaune looked around to find that he and the escaped Faunus were near one of Beacon’s gardens. This tranquil place had many plants and trees that showed off their array of bright colors. This view and scented aroma were almost enough to make Jaune forget that he was kidnapped.
“Relax, I’m not going to hurt you. We’re just here because I wanted to see this place for one last time.” Aqua bent down near a pink flower and used one hand to gently raise the plant’s flowery head. “I’m not really thrilled about hurting people in the first place, but there isn’t a choice in the matter.”
Hearing this statement had Jaune lower his hands enough to where his guard was still intact. “Really? Not even Humans?”
“No, I have nothing against them. I was trying to put up an act back there because your friend was asking the kind of questions I didn’t want to answer.” As Aqua confessed, she stood back up while her cat ears slightly wiggled, trying to detect suspicious noises. “If I wasn’t so riled up, I could have lasted until that interrogation team arrived to take me away. I shouldn’t have used up those fake cuffs like that.”
“Huh, so she doesn’t mind banging Humans either? She is kind of cute; willing to see if she’ll be a good pair with Blake? Never bad to have a lady in each of your arms, much less two pussycats.”
Ignoring Lou, Jaune waited as he saw Aqua take out a small cigarette from the pocket of her jacket. He didn’t interrupt the Faunus after she took out a lighter with the other hand so she could heat up the end of her smoking stick.
When the cat took in and breathed out the nicotine smog, Jaune finally asked, “So why set all of this up? What are you trying to do?”
“Eeh, wrong question,” Aqua said as she imitated the noise of the ‘wrong’ blare. Aiming her cigarette at Jaune, she said, “Go ahead and ask me another question. Or don’t, your choice since we can’t stay here for long.”
Jaune realized that the Faunus was giving him time to interrogate her as he tried to do with Blake back in the detention room. Ignoring the strange reason of why she’s doing this now, he asked, “Then how did we get out here? Did you use your Semblance to make this happen?”
“Yep, it involves turning me and the things I touch into any kind of liquid. Pretty cool, huh? I could also pass through walls, making physical attacks kind of useless against me.” Aqua’s smirk showed that she enjoyed bragging about her special skill. “The WF could have made me a spy or assassin, but I didn’t really like that idea.”
Jaune nodded, taking note that WF was for ‘White Fang’ and the aqua cat sounded legitimate concerning her honest tone. “Then who helped you get out of those Null Stone cuffs?” he asked as he knew real cuffs sealed Aqua’s Aura, thus her Semblance. She had to get help, especially when she had on a fake version of the restraints that were delivered to her by unrevealed contacts.
Unfortunately, the Faunus’s face scrunched from disapproval. “Another question I can’t answer. Seriously, you should know what to ask by now, so hurry up and ask it.”
Jaune knew what Aqua was asking for, but avoided the question since the first two held more precedence. Finding no choice as he was out of ideas, he finally said, “Alright, fine. Why did you take me with you during your escape?”
“Bingo, finally said it.” With a smile, Aqua took a long drag from her smoking stick. Blowing out white smog, she continued, “Since Blake wasn’t so nice back there, I wanted to talk to you alone about some things on my mind. And since I let you ask all of these questions, you should have the courtesy to hear me out, Jaune.”
The blonde felt sour that Aqua used his questions as an exchange for letting her take control of the situation. Also realizing that she knew his and Blake’s name the entire time, he asked, “Then what do you want to talk about? I’m not sure if there’s anything really important for me to give you since we never saw each other.”
“Not entirely true. You always had my attention.” Aqua‘s eyes fluttered in a manner that even Jaune realized was considered a language used by girls. Sadly, the boy didn’t have a clue due to both his inexperience and naivety. “And to see your kind of tolerance has me think you’ll believe this next part. The White Fang has my little brother captive.”
Jaune’s eyes widened at the sudden news that gave him a new perspective of the blue-haired cat. “Your brother is a hostage?! Is that the reason why you’ve been doing all of this?!”
“Yeah, you can say that. Before all of this, I was just a simple student trying to make ends meet in the school and city. Not a lot of people would take care of the Faunus folk, so I had to make sure my brother and I made it till after graduation.” Aqua shrugged her shoulders with her hands up to show her aloof manner. “But that changed after the White Fang came. The day before, they whisked my last family member away and blackmailed me to drive that death machine into campus. They probably did it to make the others scared out of their training bras and shorts.”
Jaune nodded as he realized that the blue feline wasn’t a bad person at all. She was forced into making these difficult circumstances that may bring terrible consequences in the future, all which would only benefit the captors of her beloved family member.
Somehow, this made the boy relieved as he found that there may be a way to help Aqua, a fellow classmate and victim, and resolve the rising tension that would come later. “If that’s the case, then go tell the headmaster. Tell him where the bad guys are so someone can take care of them and rescue your brother at the same time. My team and the others are working with him, so you could at least trust that I’ll be with them along the way.”
“You think I didn’t consider those options?” Aqua bit onto the end of her cigarette so she could frown without dropping the stick. “That’s not going to work. Taking this to the headmaster is just a waste of time because of the council and Atlas. You should know that by now.”
Jaune almost face-palmed as he knew the girl was right. Even if Ozpin was willing to help, his jurisdiction would have been overruled by those above him. Anyone else helping a fugitive within the vicinity of this Kingdom would most likely get into trouble if the right methods of evasion weren’t used. The boy berated himself even more that Ozpin noted this during their earlier meeting with the other leaders.
“And that’s another thing I’m wondering about. Is your group really good enough to take care of the White Fang? If you go up against them at their worst, there’s a high chance that none of you can make it out alive.”
Aqua’s statement had the mind of Juniper’s leader rapidly play out many scenarios. He was shocked to not have ever considered the consequences of such actions that would have placed him and his team in danger.
“Not really your fault, kid. Even if Team Ruby dove into the worst of it, the risks weren’t always that high. All they did was run away from an entire group of those thugs and fought against one of those suits piloted by a third-rate criminal. Seriously, any competent team could have done that.”
Jaune knew Lou was talking about the details of the time Ruby and her team went out with Neptune and Sun. That and their inability to stop a runaway train also spoke of the inexperience that everyone still had in handling matters.
“You guys don’t even have support from an adult Hunter, do you?” Aqua scoffed. Sounding disappointed, she looked up at the sky above. “I heard about the train and city situation from several of the White Fang guys. Those girls who took on that train; your and the other teams working together to stop the Grimm. All of those times involved adults, even that Atlas army. They can’t always be there to help all of you, so I need to know. Are any of you ready to take on this challenge?”
“I am.” Despite his new insecurities, Jaune spoke without hesitation. “You’re right, I didn’t consider the worst cases possible because everything was always working out for us. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to back down from the responsibility we’ve accepted. If we don’t do this…well, what’s the point of becoming Hunters if we’re too afraid to take on these risks?”
“Don’t forget that nobody else is trying to do this.” Aqua’s frown was replaced by a sad smile as she followed up the boy’s statement with her own words. “Yeah, sorry for being the devil’s advocate. I wanted to see your resolve. Nowadays, we can’t rely on adults anymore. That leaves only the people willing to help like you and your friends.”
Blowing one more cloud from her mouth, Aqua crushed the cigarette in her hand. Walking forward, she stood in front of the boy, standing a head taller than her younger student. “Please, save my brother, Caelum. He’s at Port Twenty of the docks and onboard the S.S. Wild. You should also find some things there that could help you stop whatever the bad guys are planning to do.”
While this reveal would have called for a moment of joy mentally expressed by Lou, Jaune didn’t feel any better as he already noticed something wrong. “And you won’t join us? Or are you saying…you can’t?”
“No, because there’s one more thing I need to do. It might even give all of you some time to get things ready. There’s also the issue where we’re out of time.”
“Out of time?” Jaune asked. “What do you mean? You’re not planning on doing something else for that group, are you?”
“That’s…that’s another question I can’t explain.” Aqua’s answer held a tint of fear and sadness that made emotional cracks in the Human’s heart. “I have to do this last thing that I kind of screwed up the preparations for in the first place.”
Aqua’s spoke her last sentence just as alarms shrilled in the air. A moment later, a male voice announced, “All students, return to your rooms. The school is now under lockdown; soldiers have been dispatched to look for Aqua Rudis. All search parties, be advised that lethal force is prohibited.”
Jaune would have panicked as the innocent Faunus has just become the school’s number one target. However, in the middle of the announcement, the blue feline bent her head down and pecked him on his cheek. Since then, he couldn’t really form much of a thought as Aqua took several steps backwards with both hands held behind her back.
“That’s my payment to you. If I somehow make it and you can rescue him, then I’ll consider giving you something better.” As a blue film of energy covered her body, Aqua gave a toothy smile to the blonde teenager. “If only we stayed together after Heaven’s Palace, maybe I wouldn’t have stopped believing in happy endings for everyone. Make sure it at least happens for my brother, okay?”
Confused, Jaune only watched as the older Faunus became a blue mist. When the sheet of droplets disappeared, he suddenly wondered if it was the right thing to let her go.
“Jaune, I did a quick bypass of your memories. I’ll let you see it and decide if she’s worth chasing after.”
Several images went through the boy’s mind, ones directed by Lou’s will. Jaune was breathless as he never even knew he had such memories in the first place. After the last one went through his mind, the boy began to run at full speed down the garden’s path that led back to the buildings.
“Yeesh, sucks how a long-lost friend just tells you who she is at the last moment, huh?!”
Jaune couldn’t reply as he was too busy running. His emotions, however, couldn’t disagree with the jewel. He wondered why Aqua has never approached him at all if she knew of their past relationship.
“I hear you, kid. Who knew Heaven’s Palace was the name of the playground you two played together in with the other kids. I didn’t even know that’s when you made your first Faunus friends.”
Feeling all the more guilty for not discovering the connection sooner, Jaune ran with all his might and kept an ear out for any news. Soon, he was back inside and running through the school hallways. Along the way, he picked up his Scroll after it rang. Putting the device next to his ear, the worried boy asked, “Hello? Who’s this?”
“It’s Pyrrha. Blake told all of us what happened. Is everything okay?”
Jaune felt relieved he was hearing from his partner, although one part of him felt disappointed that the Faunus didn’t call him herself. Getting out of his selfish mood, he replied, “Yeah, I’m fine. Do you happen to know where Aqua is by any chance?”
“Why would you ask that? Didn’t you hear the announcement?” Pyrrha’s words were laced with worry, possibly a sign that she believed her leader to be asinine. “Did…Aqua do something that made you want to see her again?”
“Yeah, it’s really urgent. It’s even more important that we find and stop her.” the blonde said as he noticed the small hint of anger embedded in his partner’s words. “She’s innocent in all of this. She’s forced to follow orders from the White Fang. We have to stop her so she could have a chance to explain herself!”
A crash came from the far side of Beacon. Jaune remembered that area was where the dorms were at. Running to that direction, he panted, “Got to go. Tell everyone who could help to get over to that explosion. We don’t have much time!”
Turning off his Scroll, Jaune corrected his form so his legs and arms could make the proper motions. By the time he was at the end of one hallway, he saw the pathway to his right had scratches and blown sections going everywhere. There were also three figures down the hallway, doing battle in a ferocious manner. Using both hands to take out his sword and shield, Jaune cautiously approached the conflict.
Once close, Jaune saw that one person was Aqua holding onto a lance of blue crystals that had a teal spearhead shaped like the head of a beast. The baffling part of this sight was that he didn’t recognize the other two figures.
One was a tall boy with gray hair. Throwing swift kicks at the Faunus with his armored feet, he grunted, “You’re making way too much noise around here.”
When Aqua jumped back to avoid the kicker, she did a windmill swing with her weapon to block bullets coming from the dual pistols of the tanned girl with green hair. The shooter skillfully transformed her guns into scythes as she said, “And Atlas is bound to come this way, so why do you have to bring them here?”
Stopping in his tracks, Jaune looked on as he still didn’t realize that he was watching Aqua battle the mischievous duo, Mercury and Emerald.
“Jaune, it looks like you might need to work with them if you’re going to stop Aqua. Get ready.”
The young Arc was skeptical as he didn’t like the idea of working with complete strangers. Yet, remembering his short time had the boy decide to take the chance and raise his weapons so he could start the process of stopping Aqua, his friend of his long-forgotten childhood.