Chapter 5: Bear With Me Here
Jaune rotated his shoulder a few times. It's been a few days since his arrival in Patch, and his contact with Velvet, his senior at Beacon Academy, and that little tiff he got into that dislocated his shoulder. Velvet helped him crack it back into place when he ran into her as he was purchasing new clothes and armor for his stay at Beacon. One quick snap and a feminine squeal from him later, his arm was almost as good as new. He just had to rest it for a while. He got up from his bed and changed into his new clothing, a simple black hoodie and blue jeans. Over it he wore armor that his father entrusted to him. Nothing too fancy, a breastplate, arm-guards, and gloves.
He got up and saw one of the maids that worked for the inn, Tulip, heaving some cleaning supplies into the room. She was one of the many maids he'd met over his week stay. They were all kind here in Patch, very welcoming people. He treated them with the same kindness that they deserved. He helped her out with the cleaning supplies and set it on the side table beside his bed. Delilah smiled.
"Thank you for that, Sir Jaune."
"S'the least I could do for the hospitality," he replied. The Dustplane for Beacon would be departing at lunch, so he still had a few hours to spare. He got his duffel bag and headed to the front desk. Goldana, a middle-aged woman who Jaune found out owned the inn, was at the reception area. She greeted him with a smile.
"Today's the big day, Jauney?" She teased. Over the course of his stay at the inn he'd managed to make friends with a few of the staff, Goldana being one of them. He always had a thing for making small talk with people. He enjoyed making new acquaintances. "Better not break any hearts while you're there sugar," she winked.
He laughed awkwardly. "I promise I won't. Where's Caleb, off trying to con more foreigners?"
Goldana chuckled, showing off her laugh-lines. "I always tell that boy to never go through with it. You think he would've learned his lesson after you taught him a thing or two."
"He should be careful, not everyone's as humorous as I am."
"I'll be sure to tell him that, dear. So, checking out?"
Jaune signed a few papers and left some Gold on the counter-top before saying his goodbyes. He exited the inn with Crocea Mors clipped to his belt and a spring in his step. It felt like it was going to be a good day. He thought of exploring the town again to see if he could find anything like a trinket or a souvenir for his parents. He reached the main hub of the town where all the shops were held. He said he said hello to a few people he recognized, some of them were also students that were about to enter Beacon academy, some were Hunters who said they 'knew what a student of Beacon looked like from a mile away' and give him some sagely advice. The others were shopkeepers, the like. He'd gotten a good feel for Patch. It was homey, with some of the kindest residents he's known. Sans that run in with the White Fang when he arrived.
He was stopped in his tracks by a sight. It was one of the two sisters that helped him with directions when he first got to town, the short one who liked wearing the overcoat. He wouldn't forget a face, especially not someone as cute as a button. Well that and he met them again after they gave him directions when he was buying some ingredients for Poultice class. He never did get their names, but he figured they were also about to become students at Beacon. The girl looked troubled. She was pacing around with something in her hands. It was a leash attached to a collar. He guessed it was probably supposed to be attached to some sort of pet too, but the collar remained uninhabited at the moment. He walked up to her quietly. She was mumbling to herself.
"Oh man Zwei, where are you... Uncle Qrow's gonna kill me... Yang's still not back from her last-minute shopping binge... What am I going to do..."
"Er, hello there?"
The girl spun on her heel and jolted up from surprise. Her head collided with his nose, sending him reeling. She gripped her head while she crouched down from the slight hurt.
"Owie…" he heard her mumble.
He put a hand on his nose. It was sort of bleeding. Not so much. It was kind of crooked though. He looked up. "Erm, sorry for that."
The girl looked up at him and immediately recognized him. She stood up and started flailing her arms. "Oh man, I'm so sorry, you're that guy me and Yang keep running into. I'm Ruby by the way, uh," she started stammering. It was kind of cute, but the pain in his nose was very distracting at the moment. Ruby noticed it and went up to him.
"Look, I'll make it up to you! Grit your teeth."
Janue's eyes widened. "What-"
Before he could say anything else, Ruby cricked his nose back into place, eliciting a less than masculine sound to come out from his mouth. He rubbed his nose. Everything seemed to be back in order. "A little warning could have been nice."
"S-sorry, I tend to just do things without thinking about them, my sister says I'm too impulsive, kind of a bad thing really, but anyway," she started, like a firecracker. "At least it's back to normal right?" she laughed nervously.
"Yeah, thanks," he managed a smile. Ruby grinned back. "Anyway, Ruby, was it? You looked like you were in trouble."
She jumped at the mention of it. "Er, well, y'see, my dog kind of… ran off."
Jaune tilted his head. "Your dog?"
She nodded. "Cute little fella, black and white, takes after his mommy, which is me of course, keeps getting into trouble. He looked like he smelled something and ran off, now I don't know what to do, the plane for Beacon is leaving in a few hours and I have to get him back to the house…" She looked sullen.
"Well if you need help finding your dog, I could pitch in, the least I could do for helping me out with those Poultice ingredients."
Ruby smiled. "Well, I can't turn down such a generous offer now can I?" She straightened herself. "Alright then, the hunt for Zwei begins, Squealie, I appreciate the help." she gestured to him. He realized he hadn't introduced himself yet.
Jaune looked at her like she'd insulted his ancestors. "Whoa whoa, who're you calling Squealie? Me?"
"Well, yeah, that was one girly scream you let out just now." She teased.
Cheeky aren't we? "Oh yeah well how about I call you Stammer-mouth?"
Ruby's ears turned red. "Hey! It's not like I do it on purpose, I get flustered easily!"
"Well the name's Jaune Arc, short sweet, rolls off the tongue. Ladies love it," he said confidently. She, however looked a bit skeptical.
"Do they?" she replied, after an awkward pause.
"Th-they will. At least, I hope they will," he blurted out. Ruby laughed. Wonderful, I'm getting pity laughs.
"Uh huh. Well Jaune, thanks for the help… Why are you helping me? This isn't some convoluted plan to get my number is it?"
Jaune looked at her disbelievingly. "No it's not, I just want to help. My mother always said strangers are just friends you haven't met yet, and you need to help friends out," he explained. "And you're like what, 13?"
"I'm 15 thank you very much!"
"Yeah, well, sorry. Anyway," He looked around uneasily. "Are we looking for Zwei or what?"
She imitated a salute and pointed to him. "Alrighty, come on, I've got a few hunches."
Before they started they checked in their luggage at the airport counter so they wouldn't have to lug them around everywhere. They searched various bakery shops and restaurants, looking for signs of distress that a tiny dog with the appetite of a whale could cause. Nothing of the sort in any of the establishments that they'd went to. All the while they were keeping up the small talk. Ruby, as Jaune noticed, was an extremely hyperactive girl. Her penchant for weapons knew no boundaries. Eventually they got to the topic of their own weapons. Not something that he was too fond of. Well, he cherished Crocea Mors, sure, but when he saw everyone else's weapons as the students started to flood in from all across the kingdom, he just thought it was a little too… antique, for modern times. Still, his father used them as if they were right up there with the latest bazooka-mace or rail-gun-flail or whatnot.
"So, I've got this thing," Ruby took out something from behind her. It quickly unfolded and transformed.
"Whoa, hey, a scythe." He said in awe. That was some entrance.
"It's also a customizable, high-impact sniper rifle."
"… So it's a gun too?"
Ruby smiled and nodded eagerly. She placed her weapon away back into its holster and looked to him. "So, how 'bout you?"
Jaune unsheathed the blade and unfurled his shield. "Nothing fancy, unfortunately. Just a simple sword and shield," he retracted the shield a few times to make a point. Ruby laughed. "It gets smaller so when I get tired of carrying it, I can just put it away."
Ruby put a finger on her chin. "But… doesn't it weigh the same…?"
A moment of silence passed. "… Yeah it does," Jaune sheathed the blade and retracted the shield before placing it back into his holster. "It's kind of a hand me down. My great-great-grandfather used it to fight in the war," he scratched the back of his head.
Ruby beamed. "Sounds like a family heirloom to me! I like it, not everyone has an appreciation for the classics these days."
Jaune smiled a bit. "That scythe of yours hardly looks like a classic."
Ruby flushed slightly, laughing. "Well I'm kind of a dork when it comes to weapons. Guess I did go a little overboard designing it…"
His eyes widened. "You made that yourself?"
"Well, yeah, all the students at Signal forge their own weapons. It feels like you've got a stronger connection with it if you make it yourself, you know?" she looked at Crocea Mors for a split second. "Not that heirlooms don't have their own je ne sais quoi about it about them, like it kind of has a connection to you because it's been with your family for so long but," she was stammering again, and she realized it and sighed. "Sorry, you get what I mean right?"
It wasn't like he didn't want to forge his own weapon himself. He always thought that if he made a weapon for himself it would help him get that much closer to becoming his own kind of hero, instead of being tied to his familial expectations. The most he's managed to make for himself were clothes and other household things, largely attributed to his having seven sisters at home to help around the house. Still, he was thankful he even had a weapon, and Crocea was a good, sturdy one. A classic, as Ruby put it. He put on a smirk for her. "I dunno, you may have just injured my manly pride."
"Pretty sure you already injured it when you squealed a while ago."
His face became deadpan in a heartbeat. "Har har, Stammer-mouth."
She stuck her tongue out at him.
They resumed their search. They checked out Zwei's favorite hydrant. It was clean and didn't look like it had been 'marked' recently. They checked his favorite tree. There were no new scuff marks on it, as far as Ruby could tell. They asked old man Jacobs if Zwei went through his cabbage patch again. No luck on that end either. No luck with Ms. Burmese's Rutabagas, Violet's Potato plantation, not even Chuck's Burger dine and dasher. It had been almost an hour since they started looking. Jaune thought it wouldn't take them that long, but that assumption was obviously out the window now. Ruby plopped down on a bench, dejected. They'd reached a park. A sign further out had a skull and crossbones on it, saying 'KEEP OUT, FOREST UNSAFE' on it. Must be wild Grimm, Jaune thought.
"Where the heck could he have gone…?"
Jaune put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sure he'll show up, we've got a few hours left."
"Excuse me, I'd heard you two were looking for your dog?"
A tall, bespectacled man with gaunt cheeks and slightly greying brown hair called out. Jaune and Ruby looked at each other before looking to him and nodding cautiously. The man laughed. "No need to look suspicious now. Was it a small black and white dog? Kind of fat?"
"Um, yes?" she replied as she stood up. Jaune looked at the man again for a second. It seemed too good to be true for a guy to just show up regarding Zwei. On the outside he looked happy about the information, but he kept cautious of the man. There was something up with him. Call it a gut feeling.
"Good heavens, the little guy took off into the forest not too long ago. It looked like he was in a hurry, too," he said, with an unreadable expression on his face. He pointed towards the path that lead to the dense outer forest. The same sign still hung gloomily. Ruby looked at Jaune, a little skeptical, but with eyes that told everything he needed to know. Jaune gripped Crocea Mors tightly. She was going whether he was coming or not.
"Alright, I'll go with you," he said finally. She smiled.
The man bid them farewell and went on his way. That was definitely a foreign symbol on the man's coat, but Jaune couldn't pin point where he'd seen it previously. Shrugging it off, he looked to Ruby who was already heading towards the break in the wooded path. She looked back to him once he caught up.
"I know it isn't much to go on, but I'll take anything I can at this point."
"I know, I know. Lead the way then."
She looked at the overgrown shrubbery and groaned. It was an area she wasn't too familiar with. She'd always entered the forest through the beaten path near her uncle's house. She hadn't entered it through the park in years, and for good reason. When she was around ten years old she decided to be a little more adventurous than normal. She exited into the woods through an entirely different area. Because of that she got lost for a solid two hours and had to hide from the Grimm that were constantly roaming the area. In her defense, she could probably fend for herself much better than she did before now, but that was beside the point. If they got lost here, today of all days, and be late for the plane to Beacon, She might have to use Zwei as a stress ball. He didn't usually get that feisty. The moment he started barking at something she knew something was up, but she thought it was more of the 'I'M HUNGRY FEED ME BARK BARK BARK' kind of something was up. Obviously she was wrong. The moment she took her eyes off him, he probably wiggled free of the leash. For what reason she could only guess, but it was important enough to miss second breakfast.
She looked back on her companion for the morning. Jaune, in all his blonde, good-looking, dorky glory, was wrestling a tree branch from his face. She had to stifle a laugh. She thought she would have stumbled on her words earlier, but she didn't, well, eventually. The guy was a riot. Didn't look like much in a fight though, like those cut and paste prince charmings from all those stories that were just there to look good. Well that Sleeping Beauty one did fight a dragon. And the Beast from that other one was a beast, but he got unbeastified, so she couldn't tell if he could actually fight without the extra few hundred pounds of muscle. Maybe she was just underestimating him, so she could be pleasantly surprised when-
A crack. That was definitely a crack. Somewhere in the distance. Jaune heard it too. He looked at her with urgency, trying to get a reaction from her. Even if she didn't know the area all that well, she knew how to follow animal trails well enough. A nifty additional skill she picked up from her uncle. Not that the animal trails would help her now. Her bloodhound-like ears could pinpoint a sound that loud. Kind of like a semi-GPS system. A Ruby Position Satellite. An RPS system. Did that sound cool? She thought it did.
She leapt forward at a blinding speed, forgetting that Jaune didn't have her kind of semblance, or she guessed he didn't. She didn't even know what kind of semblance he did have. She shrugged it off. The faster they find Zwei the better. It could be highly possible that the thing that made the sound was nothing more than a Grimm, but she'd take anything at this point other than crush-leaves-look-both-ways-then-suddenly-branch-to the-face. In a few leaps of speed she'd gotten to the point of the noise. She looked around the area for a sign of anything that might have made it. It was a small clearing (why do forests always have convenient clearings, she thought). A quick movement got her attention. Followed by darkness. Pure, complete darkness. And saliva. Lots of it.
"Zwei!" She carried the little dog at arm's length from herself. He panted happily and was waving his little paws in the air, like he was swimming. She groaned. "I'd be mad at you but you're so cute." Zwei whimpered suddenly. He seemed to shrink back and he started thrashing to get closer to Ruby. "What's wrong boy?" Zwei started barking at something behind her. She instinctively jumped forward, cradling Zwei in her arms, and she heard a crash behind her. She felt a sudden chill, a cold wind rushing behind her. Ice crystals stained her red coat, and even Zwei had some frost on his fur. She let Zwei down and readied Crescent Rose. "Zwei, hide, go!"
Zwei was a smart dog. He was also vicious for his size. He was nimble enough to take on smaller Beowolfs no problem., amazingly enough. But if he was afraid of whatever was behind her. "What the heck is it…?"
She was cautious with her movements. She had choices to make in the span of a second. Zwei ducked behind a nearby tree trunk. She could either turn around and risk getting mauled by something she hasn't identified yet, or run up that tree in front of her and hopefully jump over it. She jumped on the tree trunk and kicked off. She was high in the air as she looked down. It was an Ursa, literally a giant, bear-Grimm. Something was off about it. For one it wasn't the dark abyssal black that she'd come to associate with being a Grimm. Instead its fur was flaked with fluffy, white tufts of snow-like substance, and crystals were forming on its hide. Kind of like an armadillo, but much larger, and less cute.
The Ursa roared at Ruby as she sailed above it. It jumped up and opened its maw wide. It was much larger than she thought, and reacted much quicker than she anticipated. She tried to bring Crescent Rose to bear, but it looked too late.
She heard a voice boom from below. The Ursa jolted forward abruptly, sending its entire weight into a tree and knocking it over. Ruby righted herself and landed in a crouch. Jaune stood in front of her with his shield raised from the charge he'd committed on the Ursa. He was breathing heavily.
"You okay?" he asked.
"I'm good, thanks."
She noticed a certain twitch to Jaune as he held his stance. He seemed… scared. She readied her scythe as the Ursa got back up and looked at them. It was definitely different from a normal Ursa, but just how different they had to gauge in a few minutes. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Ruby was taught never to underestimate the Grimm, even if a large amount of them were cannon fodder. The Ursa took no breaks to charge at them again. Ruby rushed forward and took a swing of her scythe down hard on the Ursa's head. But the Ursa parried her swipe with its large forelegs, sending her flying to one side. She flipped in mid-air and recovered a ways away.
Well it's definitely smarter than others. "Jaune! Be careful, this isn't a normal Ursa!"
She noticed that her Scythe didn't manage to cut the Ursa's foreleg at all either. Ursa's were sturdier than Beowolf, sure, but a normal Ursa would have at least gotten hurt. She saw crystalline formations on its fur, like large, prismatic shields that reflected the sunlight that cascaded through the breaks in the trees. The ice that was on it was acting to harden its defenses. They seemed to be alive, wrapping around the limb at the point of impact, then receding after the blow had been dealt. It was a huge, lumbering, vicious, tank of an Ursa. More so than usual.
Jaune slammed into the Ursa with his shield. He tried to follow up with a bash but was immediately blown back by a swipe. He slammed into Ruby and the two of them into a tree-trunk. Ruby shook off the dizziness and grabbed the hand Jaune extended. He was already up. Built like a tank, she thought.
"You wanna just ditch it?" He asked through his breaths. "Zwei's right there."
Ruby looked behind her and saw Zwei, alert and growling at the Ursa, but not willing to attempt attacking. "And lead this thing back to Patch? I don't think so."
Jaune groaned. "Alright. Hard way then."
Ruby noticed something off about Jaune. She couldn't put her finger on it at the moment. She decided to put that thought on hold and go in for the kill on the Crystal Ursa. Cool nicknames are the best, she thought. "Launch me!" Jaune seemed to get her immediately and crouched low in front of her. She stepped onto his sheild and he jettisoned her at the Ursa, gaining her extra momentum. She swung her scythe from behind her, shooting a bullet to increase its head speed, and its huge blade sank right between the Ursa's head. Or so she thought.
The scytheblade had snagged between two crystal formations that suddenly formed on its head. Even at that speed, all it did was push the Ursa back a bit, but because of its mass she jerked abruptly to a halt. She felt her shoulder stress out as she instinctively positioned herself to inflict the least amount of damage to her person. The Ursa tried to grab for her but Jaune followed up quickly. He jumped and swung his blade at the foreleg about to grab Ruby. His blade met some resistance, but it managed to gouge some meat out of the Ursa's foreleg. It roared in pain and flailed as Ruby kicked off. Jaune brought his shield up as it headbutted him right into a tree-trunk. Ruby could see Jaune struggling, but putting up a fight. He was pretty strong to be able to keep the Ursa off him like that. She transformed Crescent Rose and took a few potshots at the Ursa's head. The Ursa was blown from the force, the Ice still forming around its head to protect itself.
"The Ice forms around its vital spots!" Jaune shouted as he regrouped near her. "We take out its legs and we can worry about the head later."
"You got all that from that one exchange?" Ruby glanced at him while reloading Crescent Rose.
"It's a guess. Well if I'm wrong then we're going to have to find another way, won't we?"
"Alright alright, sassy aren't we."
"Have I mentioned this is the first time I've ever fought one of these things?" He called out as he charged ahead.
The Ursa stood up on its hind legs. Jaune kept going, wary of what it was about to do. Ruby was right behind him when the Ursa brought its entire weight down on them. They both jumped to either side. Before she could think of her next move she felt her legs go numb. She stopped abruptly. She looked down and saw her legs encased in ice. She tried to struggle free.
"Where'd this come from?!"
She saw the lines from the ice trailing back to where the Ursa's legs had fallen. She realized those crystal formations weren't just for show. She didn't want to think about it, but at the back of her mind she had a suspicion. It could use Dust. "Jaune, you okay over there?!" The Ursa was still recovering from its shockwave of ice as it looked to either side. No reply. The Ursa looked at her with predatory eyes. It lifted a giant foreleg once more and smacked her right out of her ice prison, sending her into a roll a few yards away. She grit her teeth from the pain as she tried to get a hold of herself. If her Aura hadn't been up she'd be broken right now. But her Aura wouldn't last another hit like that, she could feel it. She shook off the dizziness and readied herself again, just to see Jaune riding on the Ursa's back like it was some sort of carnival pony. His sword was embedded deep in its back. He must have dodged the Ice wave.
"Just to be clear I am completely terrified right now!" Jaune said with desperation in his voice.
"I'm coming, Jaune!"
She dashed forward again, channeling her semblance and rammed the Crystalice Ursa (best she could think of right now) with Crescent Rose's blade, then firing off three shots. The Ice formed a barrier again when she struck its side. The massive beast blasted back from the force, smashing through a tree. Jaune withdrew his blade and jumped off. The Ursa pounded the ground to prevent itself from being hurled too far, and spikes of ice raced across the ground towards them. Ruby was still in motion from her semblance when the icicle spike was about to impale her. She closed her eyes and hoped for the best.
She felt a pair of arms push her out of the way, followed by a pained outcry. Ruby looked back and saw Jaune's left arm twisted slightly. He'd blocked the icicle with his shield, but she could see the force from it push him back. He grit his teeth. She heard him cuss under his breath. His arm went rigid. It might have been dislocated. Why didn't he use his Aura to prevent it from dislocating? She thought. Jaune got up and stood beside Ruby again. The Ursa was feeling the pain from getting stabbed in the back, the injury Jaune left on its foreleg, and all the potshots Ruby's taken. Its defenses were solid, but it was feeling it. It wobbled slightly, baring its fangs at them and frothing at the mouth. Icicles started shooting off from its body.
"Get to cover!" Jaune shouted. This was getting ridiculous. It was like fighting an Ice Porcupine the size of a small car. Ruby ducked behind a tree while Jaune forced his arm to raise his shield as he hid behind it looking for cover. He found the broken trunk of the tree the Ursa had collided with and found sanctuary there as the spikes flew overhead. The Ursa wobbled and lifted its head as it sniffed at the air. Jaune signaled Ruby to get close. She nimbly rolled to his side without attracting the Ursa. He was holding in a grimace.
"Your arm alright?" She asked with concern.
"I'll live," he half smiled. He looked over the broken trunk and saw the Ursa getting close. "Alright, new plan. We can't go for its legs, it knows we're trying to."
"Hey you already said this one was smarter than most."
Ruby paused. "Well, yeah, it knows how to split us up, defend its vital points, the works. Not to mention it can use Dust for some reason."
"Grimm can't use Dust?" Jaune asked, genuinely curious. Ruby shook her head.
"We learned that at school, Dust was something that we used to fight the Grimm way back when. The reason we won is because that was the only thing we had over them. Didn't you learn that in your school?"
Jaune hesitated for a bit. "I, ah, wasn't really the best listener," Jaune looked over again. The Ursa knocked down a tree not too far from them with a swipe from its massive claw. The tree crystalized into Ice before breaking in two. "Anyway, we have to attack it at the same time. I think even with its Ice barrier thing it can only defend one place at a time. That's when we need to hit it."
Ruby cocked Crescent Rose in reply. "Got it, boss."
"Hah. Funny," He looked at her for the moment. "Sorry, I'll be the distraction. You get its neck while I go for the head. I'm not much of a fighter, but I can distract it at least."
"I noticed," Ruby said offhandedly. Jaune looked like there was a hit to his pride.
"You wound me, madame."
They got out of cover and went in for the kill. But each time Jaune went forward he couldn't get the Ursa to stick on him. Ruby tried to get in as much as she could but she was built for speed, not defense. One good swipe would be all it takes for something horribly wrong to happen. While they did have some semblance of trust for one another, they couldn't fully commit. The Ursa managed to expel spikes of ice around it whenever they got remotely close to do what they wanted to, so that didn't help at all. It made the ground slippery, and Jaune didn't have Ruby's aerial capabilities. He could run up a tree trunk and go in for a slice, but that was about it. Even when they did manage to land a few love taps, Jaune managing to scratch the Ursa up here and there, it always saved its Ice barrier for Ruby's kill shots. They were managing to wear it down, but they were running out of steam as well. Jaune called Ruby off so they could regroup. He slashed a tree in half and kicked it at the Ursa. That should buy them some time.
They found Zwei sleeping a few hundred yards away from where they led the Ursa.
"This dog can sleep through anything," Jaune commented. Ruby cracked a smile.
"Any ideas boss?"
"The thing's built like an ice-slinging tank. We're running out of options. Worst case scenario is we leave it here and hope it doesn't follow us back to Patch."
"That's too dangerous, I don't like that plan." Ruby frowned. She breathed in deeply for a moment. She became surrounded by a soft white glow. Jaune gazed at the sight, mesmerized. Ruby channeled her Aura to heal some of the wounds the Ursa inflicted on them. Those Ice Spikes were randomly shot about, but they hurt when they met their mark. She was sure one of the cuts on her face might take a while to heal. She had to sacrifice some of the Aura on her person to be able to use her semblance more effectively, because that was the only way she would be able to get close enough for her scythe to finish the job. The bullets did next to nothing. As the glow faded, Jaune was still staring at her. Ruby tilted her head.
"What is that? That thing you just did?"
"What, my Aura?" she asked, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Jaune took a step closer. "Just like dad..."
"Don't tell me you haven't been using your Aura this entire time."
Her query was met with silence. "Wait, you're serious?!" Jaune shrugged.
"How do you use it?" he asked with a hint of anticipation. Ruby thought for a moment. How did she call on her Aura. By now it seemed like such a natural reflex.
"I... I'm not sure, honestly. My Aura just came to me one day when I was training with my Uncle. Then my Semblance came after that."
He really doesn't know anything! "You know that thing where I gotta go fast?" Jaune nodded. "That's my Semblance. Different people have different Aura effect and Semblances, but Aura basically boosts your stats, for lack of a better term."
Jaune slumped. "So you wouldn't know how to, I dunno, unlock my Aura?"
"I thought you knew how to use yours already! I mean I see you flash White with The Glow when you're about to get hit by the Ursa."
"What, really?" he looked genuinely confused.
"If you could use it at will you could have prevented that arm from being dislocated," she pointed at his shield arm. She noticed him having difficulty with it ever since he saved her from the icicle spike. It was a bit rigid, there was probably a certain position he had to keep it in to prevent it from hurting. She put her hand on his shoulder, and channeled some of her Aura into it. The glow felt tingly, different from when she was healing herself. She pulled her hand back.
"Better? That's the best I can do."
"Yeah, actually," he tried moving it. It was still a bit stiff, but it had a better range of motion now. "I've always just braced myself whenever I'm about to get hit. I guess I couldn't do it when I pushed you out of the way because I was focusing on you instead of myself..." he doubled back. "Not that I regret it or anything."
She smiled a bit. "That means you can at least instinctively use it," Ruby put a finger on her chin, thinking about his situation. "If you can somehow channel it while you attack, you may be able to get the Ursa's attention long enough for me to get the final hit in," she smiled and nodded to herself, liking her idea. "Don't think, just do it, alright? And hey if it doesn't work out we could always run like you said. We can't beat it with just the two of us if you can't use your Aura properly, especially when it can use Dust like that. If only Yang were here..."
There was a few moments of silence before Jaune spoke up again. "Alright, I'll try."
Jaune hadn't really thought of that warm glow to be something that he could do at will. He'd seen his father do it before hand, during some practice matches, and when he'd seen him fighting on television. It was always that warm glow that drew his attention. It felt commanding, yet caring. And he noticed it on other people too. And they all had different feelings to them. Whenever Ruby fired hers up he could feel her excitement and her rush for battle. Maybe he never felt his own because it was natural to him to feel like he didn't want to get smashed in half by a gigantic darkness bear.
Last chance to kill the damn thing, he thought. He was running on steam, and thought Ruby didn't want to show it, she was too. If he were more of a fighter they could have probably taken it down by now, but he wasn't. He cursed his own inability, but he always told himself that he can improve. That's why he needed to get to Beacon. He had to learn from the best of the best and train with the ones who aspire to become the best themselves. Was it for glory or for his own personal reasons? He didn't know yet. That probably meant he was doing it for himself right now.
Nothing wrong with that, he thought.
The Ursa came charging right at them after he and Ruby talked about the last thing they'd try. If he could find it in himself to figure out how to use his Aura for an attack, they'd have to leave this beast here and hope for the best. Right at the start, it sent spikes of ice in their direction, crashing its massive forelegs in front of it, sending tremors over and over while the crystals rushed along the ground. Jaune dodged left and right, while Ruby shot from afar with Crescent Rose. The Ursa turned its attention towards Ruby, who started regrouping. Jaune took the opportunity to throw his shield on the icy ground, and ride it like a skate. He shouted loudly, catching the Ursa's attention. He weaved left and right, between the tremors and the crystal spikes, he didn't know which would get him first.
Do it Arc, do it!
He slammed his leg down on his shield and flipped over the Ursa as he slipped his left arm into the shield handle. He landed to its side, and it tried to swipe at him with a foreleg. Jaune rolled under the blow, but crystal spikes shot out of the ground where its massive paw connected. It raced toward him and he braced for impact. He felt the warm light envelop him. Now that Ruby mentioned it he was more conscious of the power he kept summoning. Had it always been like this? Time seemed to slow as the crystals came into contact with his body. They shattered on impact as it tried to dig into his skin, but he still felt the blunt force of the spikes trying to get through his Aura's defenses. Then he focused.
The Aura kept the spikes at bay as the Ursa stood on its hind-legs, summoning a ring of spikes around it, all racing to impale him. The tips shattered again, but he felt his Aura breaching. He looked up and saw the Ursa towering over him. He could distinctly hear Ruby somewhere in the background shouting at him. He hadn't planned on getting this close, but given he was here already, it was do or don't time. He exploded. Somewhat. He felt like he willed his Aura to explode around him, and it had. It wasn't a wide radius, just enough to give him a little breathing room. It was a slight release of force, within a foot radius of himself. The ice around him shattered, but were quickly reforming to create new spikes. The Ursa brought itself down on him, and he held onto his sword, which was still in its shield-sheath. He willed his Aura to go to it. No, he couldn't do it. He felt like his Aura was stuck on him.
But the moment before the Ursa smashed its full weight down on him, and before the spikes started assaulting him again, he pulled his sword from its sheath and slashed upwards. It was on pure survival instinct. One last gamble. And from the tip of his sword his Aura exploded upwards. Now that he was aware of it, even if he couldn't will it to happen, it responded to his instincts. He knew what he wanted his Aura to do. The pillar of light created by the Aura blasted the Ursa into the air, and the shockwave broke the spikes around him. The ice formed onto its belly, trying to protect it from the blast. It was probably enough to punch a hole right through a normal Ursa, but this one was could take it like a champ. It probably took all of its concentration to protect its belly from Jaune's outburst of energy. Even from the ground and the blasting sound of energy being released he could hear its defenses cracking.
He shouted. And she came. It all happened in a moment, but it felt like he could see everything in still frames. She used her semblance so it was hard to catch her, but he caught a glimpse of her beside him. Then in the air, with her scythe gleaming next to the bright light of his Aura. With the Ursa kept in busy with defending against Jaune's energy blast, Ruby went straight for the neck. He could see a round shape separate from the Ursa's body, before the ice on its stomach stopped resisting. At that moment the energy blast tore through the Ursa. The energy stopped, and its headless body fell to the ground with a loud smash. There was a giant hole in it. It stayed there for a moment, before it disappeared, fading into ash. Jaune sheathed his sword again, and fell back to the ground, sitting down and panting. Ruby hopped beside him.
"Well that was something," she said.
"Yeah. You ever see something like that before?"
Ruby crouched down next to him. "I've seen similar before at my old school. Don't worry, you'll live."
He laughed a bit. "Feels like I got hit by a truck. Moreso than getting hit by that Ursa."
"You probably just expended most of your Aura. You just need to rest," she smiled.
Zwei trotted up beside the two of them and started licking Jaune's hand. He petted the little guy and he wagged his tail in delight. "Guess we have to get out of the forest now. You know the way?"
Ruby looked around. "Hm. This place is kind of familiar..."
She got up and pointed in a direction. Jaune and Zwei followed close behind. They traversed the woods for around five minutes before they appeared at a fork in the road. One looked like it lead deeper into the forest, and the other had a somewhat beaten path on it. It seemed like someone traveled through there a lot.
"Yang was right. Nothing but more trees and Grimm down this path," she giggled. She looked behind them back at the path that lead to their battleground with the Ursa just several minutes ago.
"You okay there, Ruby?" he asked. Ruby shook her head.
"Yeah, sorry. This way leads back to town."
They arrived back in Patch not long after. It was an odd sight. The forest path seemed to just blend into the industrial-grade asphalt. A ways away there was a house that stood out. Two storeys, nothing fancy, away from the immediate hustle and bustle of Patch's crowded streets. Ruby went up to its door and called Zwei over, while Jaune stayed on the last step of the front porch. "Uh, Ruby?"
She looked back at him. "Oh right, sorry, this is my house."
Ah. Well that explains it.
Ruby opened the door and let Zwei in. Zwei turned around and sit down. Ruby hung his leash on a hook outside the front door and knelt down to pet him. "I'll be going now Zwei. Take care of Uncle Qrow for us, alright?"
Zwei barked in reply.
Ruby walked back to Jaune and pointed to the central hub of Patch. "C'mon then, Squealie. We're going to be late for the plane."
He rolled his eyes. "Whatever you say, Stammer-Mouth."
"So, how were the readings, Deakon?" Lucrea asked over their cup of coffee. Patch was a quiet town, nothing too big on the radar. Bustling city and all that, but nothing notable came from Patch ever since Qrow and his team. Deakon looked at the readings that he managed to collect from the Ursa's fight. Good defensive capabilities, added by its natural mass, the Ice Dust implanted into it managed to create a Bulwark of a creature.
"A good effort by the West Branch. When I'd heard about their unexpected progress I was delighted," Deakon started. "It was worth losing the Experiment to get the data. They were so keen on their little pet having 'Unbreakable Defenses'. That could be true, but the processing power of an Ursa's brain can't keep up with multiple attacks. The kids managed to figure that out, and that's all it took," Deakon said, without lifting his eyes from the printed out sheets of paper.
"I thought you were going to let it kill the boy for a moment there, honestly."
"I was going to pull the killswitch right before it landed. The boy was already going to slash at it, might as well give him a victory he could tell his friends about."
"And yet he was the one who surprised us," Lucrea raised an eyebrow.
Deakon looked at the boy's file. "Jaune Arc. Son of Jaque Arc, of the Arc bloodline. Heroes, all of them," his eyebrows furrowed. "I didn't expect the boy to be that incompetent, however. He was fighting the entire time without knowing how to use his Aura."
Lucrea leaned back in her seat. "That deserves some amount of praise doesn't it? Being able to fight off Grimm without even tapping into the power of Aura. If the fight showed us anything, he has massive Aura reserves that even he doesn't know about. He has promise," she smiled.
"And the girl?"
He looked at the file again. Ruby Rose. "Qrow's niece. He's trained her well. No problems there."
Lucrea took a sip of her coffee. "Alright then. How's the South Branch's Nevermore coming along?"
"Soon, they said."
"That's good." Lucrea looked around, just in case anyone was listening in. "I still can't believe you resorted to leading the dog to the forest."
"It got results, didn't it?" He laughed.
"True," Lucrea looked around again. "This whole thing needs to produce results," she looked at the file. "Project: Fairy Tale has to succeed."