Chapter 7: A Gathering of Hunters
The closer Ruby got to Beacon the day before, the more she felt like she wanted to hide under a rock and live there for the rest of her four year stay. Older kids looked scary and mean. Well, most of them. Jaune looked harmless enough. He did blast a hole through that Ice Ursa, but that's beside the point. So far she's made one friend, two acquaintances, and one enemy, which at least meant she went further than breaking even (?). Ice Queen was one of the biggest snobs she's ever met in her entire life. Not to mention haughty as hell. She didn't like her. Well mostly she didn't like the yelling. Maybe if she stopped yelling long enough maybe they could be friends.
Fat chance for that now.
What the headmaster had said back during the assembly left her with a mixed taste in her mouth. As she lay down on her sleeping bag thinking of what tomorrow might bring she wondered why he seemed so distant at the time. Maybe he's just seen so many students come and go that his speech reflected how each year comes in as hopeful individuals before they battle harden them for war. Well, no wars were around the corner just yet, or so she'd like to think. The Grimm were always a threat, however. Kind of odd to imagine that the ballroom full of kids would be defending the kingdom as they study. It's an educational, occupational hazard to be a Huntsman or Huntress in training.
"So," she looked to Jaune. He was clad in an unflattering blue onesie. She could hear her sister holding in her laughter. "What did you think of… what were their names? Ellaine and Blaire?" She looked embarrassed. The former didn't have the most common of names. But she remembered that he was a guy. He wore a military uniform too, at least she thought it was one. She knew the latter was a girl though. Wore mostly black. Had a cute bow on her head.
"Elwyn and Blake," Jaune corrected. "And they're right over there you know."
Jaune motioned his head to the left. A few ways away from them, the two they encountered with Weiss earlier that afternoon set up their sleeping bags next to two more people from their batch, a girl and a boy. The girl had orange hair, and the boy had a pink streak amongst the jet black that sat on his head.
"Sorry, it's been a long day," Ruby said sheepishly.
"Well they seem all right," Jaune said. "We just met them today," he looked at Ruby. "To be fair, we just met today too."
"Hey, we gave you directions when you got here!"
She shrugged. "Oh come on, we've had a life or death situation today! Don't you think that means we're destined to be best friends for life?" her eyes sparkled. Jaune let out something between a laugh and a groan. A graugh, or maybe a lauoan.
"For life huh? Sounds like a proposal."
"Ugh, I'm just trying to joke around here," she smacked him on the arm.
Yang was looking at them from her own sleeping bag, as they back and forth'd with their conversation. "You better not get any weird ideas Jauney boy, or my fist is going to find itself embedded in your eye sockets," she said with an ominous smile.
"How 'bout you an' I get embedded," he winked. Ruby made a joking, gagging sound.
A pillow promptly smacked his face. Followed by another. And a fist right into his gut.
"To be fair that was pretty clever, but not while Ruby's around, okay hon?" Yang said as she leaned in closer, and whispered something that Ruby couldn't make out. Jaune gulped.
"Yes sir-ry ma'am."
Yang was used to getting hit on, and Ruby knew that too well, but whenever Ruby was around her sister would always try to get whoever they were to tone it down. As if she thought her sister would get scarred. Kind of pointless really, when Yang had her last boyfriend they would make kissy faces and forget Ruby was even in the room. Her last relationship didn't really last that long. Just didn't work out, she said.
"Good boy," Yang patted Jaune's head like he was a pet. Very carefully, he made eye contact with Ruby. The 'Please Help' that was written all over his face.
"Come on Yang, I promise Jaune's not a creep. I've got good sense of character!"
Yang let up and went back to her sleeping bag. "I know you do Rubes. I'm just teasing the guy."
Jaune looked like he was traumatized. Whatever Yang told him, she had a feeling it would haunt him for a while. He scooted closer to Ruby. He looked over her shoulder, looking at what she was doing. His onesie tickled her a little.
Her hand stopped. She'd been writing a letter since they'd gotten to the ballroom. It was to her friends back at Patch. "I told my friends I'd write to them all about what went on here in Beacon. I'm a special case, so I didn't get to take my friends along, unlike most of the people here, probably."
Jaune shrugged. "If it makes you feel better I thought I'd be alone here, to be honest. My friends are all back in my home town."
There was an edge of sadness to his voice. She couldn't blame him. "You miss them?"
He grimaced. "A bit. But they'll be fine without me, I'm sure."
There was something to that statement that made Ruby want to pry, but she decided against it. Maybe when they were closer, and he opened up to her more, she thought. Kind of like one of those feel good novels. Or something, she wasn't sure. "Well, at least you're not alone right now, right?"
He smiled a bit. "Yeah. Thanks, Ruby."
She smiled as she continued to write things down in her letter. "S'least I could do for helping me get Zwei back from that Ice Ursa."
"Still don't believe you by the way," Yang said with her back towards them.
"Yeah well you don't have to believe us for it to be true," Ruby stuck her tongue out even though her sister couldn't see her. Yang waved the comment off.
They tried to tell Yang about the whole snafu with the Ice Ursa. At first Yang even went so far as to think that Ruby might've eaten something bad in the morning and hallucinated the whole thing. She even teased that Jaune was just going along with the story so she wouldn't be embarrassed about it.
Stupid Yang, thinking that she knows best just because she's older.
A figure sauntered up to them in the hazy darkness. With the tiny light that came from the lamp they brought into the ballroom, they couldn't really make out who it was. Then Ruby heard the voice, too familiar for her to have forgotten about it after all she'd been through today.
"Would you all please keep quiet!" she hissed.
"Hey there Princess," Jaune winked. Weiss let out a groan of disapproving disgust. Ruby laughed.
"Some of us are trying to sleep, didn't you hear that the initiations are going to happen tomorrow?" she whispered harshly. "Or could your brain not handle all the information?"
"Hey, my brain can too handle all the information!" Ruby defended herself, but even for her that sentence sounded a little off. She was probably tired, given what had happened to her for the entire day. "I even read through that Dust pamphlet you gave me."
Weiss had given Ruby an easy to read pamphlet about Dust because of their little snafu in the afternoon. She did read through all of it. Well, more of skimmed through some of it. Maybe leaf through most of it. But she did read. Somewhat. Weiss rolled her eyes. "Appreciated, but can you please just go to sleep? You're disturbing everyone else."
"Uhm," Ruby looked around. Some of the students did wake up, but only after Weiss had went up to them and tried to get them to shush up. They were looking at their group with annoyance. "It looks like you're the one that's disturbing the peace, Weiss."
"Oh don't be ridiculous," she groaned. Ruby really couldn't get over that haughtiness of hers. It's as if someone shoved the silver spoon she'd been born with up her butt. Jaune raised his arms in front of him to calm the two of them down. He looked ridiculous because of his onesie.
"Alright, Princess, we'll go to bed," Jaune looked at Ruby. She sighed and nodded. Ruby swore she could hear Weiss' lips curling into a smirk of triumph. Ruby snuggled up in her sleeping bag and set aside her letter. She heard Jaune blow out the dust candle that was illuminating their little area. She fell asleep almost immediately.
The entire ballroom was in a ruckus the next morning, preparing for their initiation. For a prestigious school Beacon didn't disappoint. The bathroom stalls seemed to go on for forever when the exodus of the freshmen happened. Ruby skirted around people after she'd taken her shower. Probably being the youngest Ruby felt a little… lacking, in some areas. He cheeks puffed as she discreetly spied on the older girls. She felt better when she spotted Weiss though. She snickered and skipped along her way to the locker rooms. As she got dressed Yang greeted her with a whistle.
"You growing up alright there, small fry," she winked. Ruby rolled her eyes.
"And your boobs are still as big as your ego," she muttered.
"What was that?"
"I said what a wonderful compliment, dear sister! Ha! Ha! Ha ha!"
Yang crossed her arms. Squish they go. Show off. "Don't kill yourself with the sarcasm there, Rubes," she laughed.
Ruby finally put on her battle dress, and her favorite red hood. "I'll try, sis, I'll try."
Yang put on her clothes as well. She poofed her hair up in the mirror like she always does. Ruby buried her head in Yang's hair. She purred like a kitten.
"Why don't you grow your hair out too Rubes?" she asked while she combed the other parts of her voluminous golden thread cloud.
"And accidentally cut it off while I'm swinging Crescent Rose around?"
The thought of it looked like it caused Yang actual physical pain. "Point," The two of them went on to the waiting room lockers where they stored their weapons and other belongings beforehand. Yang grabbed Ember Celica out of the locker and closed it again, while Ruby got Crescent Rose.
"Finally," Ruby started. "No awkward small talk, no Ice Princess shouting at me. I'll just let my baby do the talking while we're out there," she said as she caressed Crescent Rose.
"Hey, Rubes, listen," Yang was hugging a patch of her hair.
Oh boy. She only ever did that when she was about to say something she knew Ruby might not want to hear, like an emergency blanket. "You should really make friends here while you're at Beacon. It'll be good for you."
Ugh. "You sound like dad," she waved her hand. Ruby only ever had the ability to make a small amount of friends. They were close, sure, but other than Yang and a scant few others, Ruby didn't like meeting too many people. She always thought that having a few people close to you was better than having a hundred acquaintances you barely know, and if she could help it, she'd stick to Yang like glue. Back when they were still at the Academy in Patch Ruby hung out with Yang the most. The gang she was writing her letter to comprised solely of two other people, her best friends since they were young combat recruits. Other than those two and Yang, she never got close to anyone else. Maybe she was scared to. She was always known as the weird kid with the obsession with weapons. When girls her age took an interest in boys, she was busy memorizing smelting techniques from her uncle.
You can always count on your weapon when it matters, she thought.
"What about when we form teams? You could form a team with friends you make!" Yang replied, trying to sound eager. There was a little set back in her voice though. Ruby knew it too well.
"Yang are you implying you don't want to be on the same team as me?" Ruby raised an eyebrow.
"Of course not! It's just…"
"Maybe it'll help you break out of your shell you know? You were never good at making friends."
"I'd rather have a few good friends than a million acquaintances like you, Yang."
Ruby loved her sister to a fault. She really did. But she never liked Yang having new people over to the house every week. She was a social butterfly. She had a feeling most of the guys hung out with her because she was, frankly speaking, gorgeous. She was always wary of them. Yang didn't know it, but even she had remnants of her naiveté left in her, despite being older. Sometimes she felt like she was the one protecting Yang, not the other way around. And Yang, of course, didn't think anything of it. She always just thought Ruby was the one needing protecting, the one that was naïve. Sure she was sometimes, but you don't get around Remnant as a Huntress-in-Training without learning a thing or two.
Yang raised her hands defensively. "Alright, alright I'll drop it. Sheesh."
They decided to move along to where the entrance exams would take place. Ruby spied Jaune next to Weiss and an athletic-looking red-head. She wore a bronze… tank top? Wow that was new. Like I think the material is actually bronze not just the color wow. Her red skirt stopped just around her thighs. Her bronze sabatons and her weapons, a sword and shield, made her look like one of those ancient warrior women. She looked foreign too. Definitely not from around Patch or Vale. She could hear their conversation as she and Yang walked closer. Weiss got in between Jaune and the warrior girl.
"Jaune, was it? Do you have any idea who you're talking to?" she asked, sounding like it should have been a rhetorical question.
Jaune shrugged. "Not in the slightest, Snow Angel," he winked. Ruby rolled her eyes.
Weiss puffed her chest out. "She graduated top of her class in Sanctum."
"Never heard of it," he said plainly.
Her eye twitched. "She's won the Mistral Regional Tournament 4 years in a row."
Weiss had had it. She flailed her arms like a child. "She's on the cover of every Pumpkin Pete's Marshmallow Flakes Box!"
Jaune gasped and went starry eyed. "That's you?!"
He started gushing, and that's when Ruby nudged Yang. "So, who is that again?"
"Pyrrha Nikos. Tough as nails, pretty as a… pretty metaphor."
"Nice one, Yang."
"Sh-shut up," she blushed. "Anyway, she's one of the favorites this year. Real grade A Huntress material."
"I see…" Ruby paused. She looked at Pyhrra. Then back to Yang. Then to herself. She sighed. "Grade A all right…" An announcement suddenly sounded over a speakerphone. It was Glynda asking all the first year initiates to gather at the Beacon Cliff for their initiation. "Guess that's our cue."
The next moment they looked at the trio Jaune was stuck onto a locker, his hoodie impaled by what Ruby guessed was Pyrrha's spear. Ooh, that looks cool too. Pyrrha walked up to it and detached it from the locker. She beamed at him and helped him up. "Sorry about that. It was nice meeting you."
Jaune brushed himself off. Weiss rushed past him, brushing against his shoulder. "Likewise," he replied. Yang and Ruby approached him.
"Having some trouble there, lady killer?" Yang giggled.
"It's alright," he sighed. "Dad always said confidence was the key, but mom said respect was the password. Or something."
Yang punched him lightly on the arm. "Snow Angel probably wasn't the best thing to start with."
"Man do you think Pyrrha hates me? I didn't know who she was, I'm so out of the loop with these things."
Ruby shrugged. "I dunno, she seemed like she was okay with it," she looked around at the almost empty locker room. "We should get moving."
They made their way out of Beacon and onto a cliffside, just outside campus. Ozpin and Glynda were waiting for them. The initiates lined up. There was around twenty of them on the edge. It was awfully dangerous, Ruby thought. Her group was at the forefront, having arrived early. She saw that girl named Blake and her group off to one side, also at the frontlines. Blake was with that Elrond something or other, the tall broody boy and the short, hyper girl with the orange hair. She was trying to see who else was in their line, but when she saw Weiss she lost interest. Ozpin began speaking not a moment too soon.
"For years, you've been trained as warriors," he adjusted his glasses. He was still drinking from that coffee cup of his, even out here. "Today, your skills will be tested and evaluated here in the Emerald Forest."
"Now," Glynda continued. "I'm sure all of you have heard rumors of team assignments," she looked at the crowd. "And unfortunately, the system this year has changed slightly due to… unforeseen circumstances."
Huh. Wonder what they are.
"The changes that we will be introducing will be explained to you once the examinations are over. But do note that these teams will be your family within Beacon for the entirety of your stay. So make sure you all find a way to get along."
Ozpin began speaking again. "With that said, we will follow the partner rule that we've had since the indoctrination of the very first Hunters. Hunters are never alone, never forget that," he paused, wanting to drive the point home. "Your partner will be the first one you make eye contact with once you reach the area proper. If by some cosmic reason, you do not make eye contact with someone who does not have a partner, we will assign you one based on your results after the initiation. Afterwards, make your way to the northern end of the forest."
He went on about finding a relic and returning it to the top of the cliff, you will be graded as you go, yadda yadda yadda, it was all very arbitrary for Ruby. She was just waiting to rip into something. She was a little worried about not getting into Yang's team though.
"Erm, Mr. Ozpin, sir?" someone spoke to Ruby's left. It was that Eldritch… Earl… something, guy. "Where are the other students? There were hundreds of us in the ballroom."
Ozpin turned to answer. "My associates, your other instructors, are also debriefing them in different parts of the Emerald Forest. There isn't only one Ancient Ruin out here, you know. All of you will be undergoing the initiation today, in different parts of the forest."
"How do we know if we're going over our initiation area then? Erm, sir."
"Your scroll will guide you to your destinations. We've sent coordinates to each of you. Your scroll will also recognize the first person you make eye contact with, in case some of you feel like cheating your first encounter." He raised an eyebrow at the crowd. Immediately some groans were heard from the back. "Now, good luck to all of you."
The moment his words finished, Ruby wondered how they were going to be transported all the way down to the initiation area. Maybe they'll fling us there.
Almost immediately a large glyph surrounded their initiate group. It glowed a bright haze of purple, before flashing white. Ruby shielded her eyes as she heard everyone else shouting in surprise around them. Before she knew it, she felt like something punched her in the gut, all the while she was being thrown like a ragdoll. She felt like she wanted to throw up. In the next few seconds she'd realized that she was standing in the middle of the forest already. She took a few weary steps forward. She balanced herself on a nearby tree and looked upward. The cliff was already pretty far away. She gasped for air and got her headache to die down a little. She took her scroll out of her pocket and looked at the directions. "Well. Here we are then."
She took no time in starting for the Ancient Ruin. Whoever she met along the way was an afterthought at this point. She dashed through trees and shrubs, her hand on Crescent Rose. The moment she felt something slam into her it was too late. She felt a claw dig into her right arm. She forgot to activate her Aura. In those few seconds she already knew it was a Beowolf. Damn that was stupid. She thought back to what Ozpin had said while she was spacing out.
People have died here.
She braced her Aura and kicked her adversary away, well, tried to at least. It was like she kicked a brick wall. She got Crescent Rose with her free arm and smashed the gun butt right into its face. It broke some of the Beowolf's teeth, and its snout became a twisted mess. It let go of her reluctantly as it screeched in pain.
This is a lot stronger than the Beowolves I've fought...
She sized it up. Even if it was alone, she could tell it wasn't a push over. It knew what it was doing. It had weapon marks all over its body. The battles this thing must have seen, she thought. A kick while she was in an Auric state would have knocked away the Beowolves back near Patch.
I guess this one is used to fighting Hunters. But if it's used to fighting Hunters, what happened to them…
She eyed the Beowolf warily. As it struggled to get up, she stepped on something that cracked. She looked down and saw what looked like a white stick. She traced it with her eyes. It ended in a pile of white rock things, with a sword on top of it.
And it hit her.
"Bones!?" She looked around her and saw where the Beowolf was trying to take her. It was a feeding ground. As she looked around she felt something akin to fear grip her. There were more of them waiting in the shadows that the trees had cast. Their eyes locked onto her. For a moment, it paralyzed her. Way more dangerous than the ones I've ever fought, way more dangerous, way more dangerous.
She felt a cold sweat coming on. She didn't know if she was hallucinating. For a moment she felt like she was. The Beowolf's broken silhouette in the shade of the trees seemed to get bigger and more intimidating. Everything around her seemed to grow more grotesque by the minute. But her panic stopped. Her breathing flowed naturally. In her ten second panic attack, she managed to recollect herself. Not being afraid is tantamount to suicide when you fight Grimm. Being afraid but thinking clearly, now that's the fine line between your survival and your downfall. Her uncle taught her that. Think clearly. Think quickly. But most of all, think.
She dashed forward. Beowolves will always be the aggressor. She wouldn't give it time to become one. Crescent Rose unfolded, and its blade gleamed.
My sweetheart wants to sing.
She kicked off a tree, dashing forward and swung Crescent Rose in a full arc. Trees around her crashed down as they clashed in the remote wilderness. Soon another Beowolf joined the fight. Then another, and another. Normally, she'd be ripping through a crowd of Beowolves just like the ones in the forest in Patch. But these were stronger, coordinated, and at most she could keep three at bay before needing to chip at each of them before going in for the kill. Her scythe swirled around her in a flurry of bullets and metal, while fangs and claws gleamed brightly against the small rays of sunlight that had broken through the forest canopy. Her cloak ripped at the edges her Aura couldn't reach. When she felled one, two took its place. In the distance she could hear screams and shouts, moaning, cursing. She wasn't far from everyone else, and only now do they probably realize that the Beowolves were stronger, faster. These were the ones that have lived in the forest designed to train Hunters, nothing like those that stalked the outside of villages with barely any opposition, where an angry mob could fend and scare them off. No, these were the ones that have faced Hunters and slipped under the radar during initiations when they were left in favor of completing the initiation. They knew how to fight Hunters.
She'd taken down almost a dozen of them so far. There were several more, some of them worn down, some of them fresh and ready, among them was the first one that smashed her right into the feeding den. It looked like the alpha. She kicked off a tree in a sudden burst as she did at the very start of their little dance and lopped one's head off, but she failed to evade the next Beowolf's claw.
She did a wild maneuver in mid-air, forcibly changing her direction with her Semblance, kicking off the Beowolf's arm and double tapping its head with her rifle. The whiplash almost made her pass out, but she stayed awake long enough to get away from another one's claws. She fumbled with her pacing as she dashed away from the group still chasing her.
This is it huh?
Fear gripped her again. Her gut wrenched as she thought of what they'd do to kill her. Rip her limbs off? Eat her entrails? How did Grimm even kill their prey? She never knew. She was always the one that killed them. All she could think about at this point was moving forward, and forward, until she couldn't any longer. The Beowolves lunged at her.
"I'm…" she saw the large shapes coming at her from above. She grit her teeth in frustration. It turned into a wry smile. Her eyes lit up.
She stood up. The nausea from the whiplash subsiding, replaced with the urge to live.
"I'm not done yet."
She swung her scythe with wild abandon. Keep fighting. Don't die like a cornered rat.
She took out two of her pursuers in one swipe. Their decapitated bodies crumpled over. There were quite a few of them left. She hefted her scythe over her shoulder, a crazed expression in her eyes and a smile on her face. Her instincts started kicking in again. She rushed forward. These ones were injured. She focused on one side of the group. Two were injured at the legs, one at the shoulder. She could see the limp. She ducked under the one with the torn up shoulder at its injured side. It was too slow to react with its good arm. She latched onto the bad shoulder with the scythe blade. The Beowolf roared in pain. The other two were charging at them. She released a shot from her rifle. The force of the bullet caused the scythe blade to rip through her captive's entire torso. The bullet blasted another one's head clean off. She slammed the scythe head down on the other's spine, and released a bullet that blew her back, ripping another one in two. As she recovered, she realized they were in a clearing again. A large group of them remained. Her first magazine was out of bullets. She got her replacement and reloaded.
"What is with forests and clearings," she said aloud, to no one in particular. She took a stance. She lay low, with Crescent Rose extended behind her. Then, she fired.
Crescent Rose unfolded further. Her semblance activated again. In a moment, she was in the middle of the group, clashing with ferocious teeth and claws that didn't let up, even in her heightened state. She remembered the first time she used this technique, after she'd visited her mother's grave a few months back. It filled her with confidence, with adrenalin. These wolves were stronger, faster, but it worked well just the same. Some of them were agile enough to evade some of her strikes, while others managed to even clash with Crescent Rose's blade. But her entire fighting style thrived off of momentum. The moment they would deflect it, she'd swing in the opposite direction, using the centrifugal force they'd just created for her. Even if they evaded the blade, her reaction time was fast enough to finish them off with the rifle the moment the barrel of her rifle passed them. Their dance ended in half a minute. Then it was over.
She stood in front of a pile of dead, decapitated Beowolves. It could have gone smoother. With her Semblance on full blast she couldn't fully envelop herself in her Aura. A few scratches and nicks here and there, nothing too serious, she hoped. She could've had a bruise or two but she'll feel that later. She folded Crescent Rose back into her holster.
"Alright. Time to head north."
As she took a step forward a dark shape slammed into her from the front. She couldn't see it in the shade. She blasted back into a tree. She groaned as she recomposed herself. The alpha stood in front of her. As quick as lightning its claws swiped overhead. She had no time to redraw her weapon. She braced for the impact.
The blow never came. Instead, something had jumped onto the Beowolf's back. It roared as something was stuck into it, and a shape was struggling to hold on as the Beowolf flailed for whatever had gotten onto it. It was a boy. Their eyes locked onto each other for a moment, and they communicated their thoughts immediately.
Without a moment's hesitation, Ruby unsheathed Crescent Rose and swung overhead. The Beowolf managed to lean backwards. It flailed for the boy on its back once again. An explosion emanated from whatever was stuck inside it, and he jumped over and across to Ruby's side. He looked a bit injured with some gashes and tears on his clotes. As the dust cleared, the Beowolf was still standing, its back singed from the Dust explosion. Her newly found ally's weapon glowed. She heard the click of a cartridge being ejected.
"Well that didn't work."
The Beowolf charged the two of them. Ruby readied herself again. The boy's spear clicked as what she guessed was a new cartridge being loaded.
No rest for the wicked.
Jaune extracted the hilt of his blade from the skull of an Ursa. It was smaller than the one they fought in Patch, but it was sizeable enough that he was proud with what he did. He hasn't come across any large groups. Thank the gods he had his luck going for him. The screams and shouts he'd been hearing from the distance rattled him a bit. It quieted down sooner or later. He looked around for a trail. No tracks from Grimm at least. He looked at his scroll. It showed him the coordinates of the ruins to the north.
"Better start trekking."
He sprinted forward. If he could avoid a confrontation with anything, he wanted to. It would be too much for him alone if he got into a fight with more than one or two enemies. He knew his limitations well. Just as he broke through some tree branches he slammed into something. It was like a wall. He ended up flat on his backside. He fumbled and recovered, his sword and shield at the ready. As he looked up, he saw a well-kept hair of burnt-orange color, and a towering frame outfitted with silver armor with a golden trim, a tower shield strapped to his back. The figure looked back to see him. Jaune recognized him immediately.
The tall boy looked at him with apt surprise. "Arc?"
"I thought I saw you at the cliff," Jaune scratched his head. He realized they'd made eye contact. "Well I guess that means…?"
Cardin shifted, arms crossed. "Not exactly."
He motioned behind him. Standing there, like she'd heard a ghost and didn't want to turn around, was Weiss. Jaune's expression hardened. "Ah."
"I met with Weiss earlier already. Did you know she was here?"
Jaune grimaced. "Yeah. We saw each other yesterday."
Cardin looked surprised. "Well she didn't mention anything to me."
"Yeah," Jaune looked over at Weiss's direction. "I figured."
Weiss slowly turned around. At first she was looking at the ground, but she raised her head, her expression full of her confidence. Always filled with confidence, always filled with that regal gall of hers.
Ever since we were kids.
"I had simply thought it was something you would rather find out for yourself," she started. "In any case, as my partner you're now obligated to help me get to the ruins, Cardin. Jaune can tag along if he wants to."
"Alright alright, princess. Jeez," Cardin hoisted his large mace over his shoulder. His tower shield that was strapped onto his back clanged as he rested the mace on it.
So he finally inherited the family mace.
Jaune rolled his eyes. "I don't mind tagging along, Snow Angel."
Weiss stiffened, before moving onwards. Cardin just raised an eyebrow and thought nothing of it.
This was a bit nostalgic for them, walking as a trio. Jaune remembered a simpler time. When they were children, when their parents were summoned to the Schnee Dust Company in Atlas, when they met the first time, and they became friends. Or so Jaune thought. He was young. And naïve. Welll he's still naïve until now. But less naïve than he was before. Cardin was always the over achiever. He was a bit of a jerk as a kid, but not so much that he would hate the guy after he got to know him. He wasn't sure if anything changed now. He was always the stronger one, the headstrong one, the leader type. Everyone said he was going places, and he should have been more like him.
Weiss? Man he didn't know how to feel about Weiss at the moment. She acted like she didn't even know him. He wasn't the type to make a big deal out of anything. But it kind of hurt. Well no it hurt a lot. Just now she confirmed that she remembered him. Then she didn't say anything else about it. He didn't feel like bringing it up anymore. When he was talking to her the day before, and in the lockers, he sort of hoped she'd drop the act and say it was all a big joke. No cigar though.
They walked in relative silence, until Beowolves and Ursas started coming their way. Cardin dispatched an Ursa quickly with a brutal strike from his mace, cracking the Ursa's skull right open, leaving it a whimpering, dying pile of darkness. Weiss took out a rapier looking weapon. Myrtenaster, if he remembered right. He saw blueprints of it when they were children.
It's elegant and beautiful. Much like myself. She had said with her eyes full of stars all those years ago. Well she was still beautiful. He couldn't deny that. Which is why he'd had a fondness of her since they were younger. Which is why the moment he saw her he felt it again. And now he's just really confused about the entire thing.
I hate puberty.
Weiss lunged forward with skill and grace. She placed a Glyph on the ground that turned a large area into her own little ice skating rink. As the other two took care of everything that got in their way, here he was struggling with a single Beowolf. He seemed to work a lot better when he had a partner. Jaune brought his shield to bear and slammed the Beowolf's muzzle. It roared, before it lunged at him faster than he could react. He felt his Aura kick in at the last second. After Ruby pointed it out it became distinct. The Beowolf's claw slammed into his shield. He felt his legs give way as the force overpowered him. He wasn't as strong as Cardin or as fast as Weiss. He had no specialty.
He felt his Aura envelop him again. He felt invigorated. Like someone just handed him some really strong energy drinks. With a sudden jerk the pointed end of his shield came into contact with the Beowolf's jaw. He felt it puncture through flesh and bone, before swinging his sword in a horizontal arc to lop its head off. Another one came at him from the side. He went on the defensive, and parried at the last second. He smashed the Beowolf's arms away as it swung, and embedded its blade right into its heart. The adrenalin wore off. He looked around and saw Weiss and Cardin walking to him. Cardin gave him a smug look.
"Not bad Jauney boy," he called out. "That's two for my seven."
Jaune groaned. "It's not a competition, Cardin."
"Might as well be," he replied. "We're being evaluated. May as well give em a show. How many'd you get princess?"
Weiss looked at Cardin with annoyance. "Eight."
The latter whistled. "Guess your ballet skills are paying off then."
"Anyway, let's go. We're nearing the ruins."
Cardin jogged ahead of the two of them. Weiss looked Jaune hesitatingly. Jaune raised an eyebrow.
"What is it, Snow Angel?" he said smoothly, yet sarcastically. He's had years of practice.
She rolled her eyes and scoffed. "To think I was going to compliment you."
Weiss walked off without another word. Jaune kicked a tree trunk. 'Stupid,' He thought. He remembered something from the past when they were comparing scores. Weiss was always at the top. Followed by Cardin, and of course, he was always last. That time they played Dust Ball, the time they played video games at an arcade, the mock 'Junior Hunter' exam their parents had arranged for them. All of them, he was at the very end. Being around them didn't exactly let him feel more confidence. He thought about Ruby for a moment. At least she was nice. Yang too. Although, she mocked him a bit the day before, and until today. But he felt like they were good people. Not that Weiss and Cardin weren't good people. Their families thought they were good people, overachievers and all that. And they were, honestly.
Ever since they were younger they always had to live up to their family name. Weiss and Cardin had no problem with that at all. Jaune struggled a bit. But his family was supportive. He loved his parents and his seven sisters to bits. But he knew, while he wasn't around, the other adults talked about how much he had to improve, or how he wasn't doing a good job as the only male in the family carrying on the legacy. His parents would always defend him. Sometimes he wondered if they ever believed even a little of it, especially given their family line. Maybe he wasn't cut out for this sort of work. But that's exactly why he had to make this work. To prove the others wrong.
Several tens of minutes running, jumping, and weaving through the forest, and they were finally at what looked like the ruins. Ozpin said that there would be an artifact at the site. Each individual, given they were already paired up, had to get an artifact. At the site, a large cylindrical area that was made of stone was present. It was like a circular arena made of stone. Some of its foundations were crumbling, revealing the inside. Pedestals, all arranged in a circle, with small artifacts sitting atop them. As they went closer, the shape of the artifacts became clear.
"Chess pieces huh," Cardin said. The three of them looked around. On each pedestal there were black and white chess pieces. Cardin picked a black rook up and examined it. "Well these are pretty I guess."
Weiss picked up a white bishop. "We gather these and head back," Weiss looked back. Jaune was looking starry eyed at all the chess pieces on the pedestals.
Weiss coughed. "Pick one and let's go already."
Jaune groaned. It's like I can never have fun with you around anymore. "I'll be right there Snow Angel."
"Stop calling me that."
At least he could have fun teasing her. Her ears constantly turned red and her face always went sour when he said that. He picked up a White King. Just like me. Can't do much. You just sit in the back, and move around a bit sometimes. Okay I'm no chess expert, sue me. Jaune pocketed the King and looked back. They heard a noise around the corner and readied their weapons. Through the cracks in the stone, Jaune managed to make eye contact with the stranger.
Pyrrha came out of hiding and went up to the three of them. "I'm sorry," she said. "I heard some noise when I got here and I became cautious," she reached her hand out to Jaune. "Jaune, correct?"
Jaune laughed. "Yeah."
Well I guess she's my partner now.
"Well now that you're here, you should get a chess piece," he pointed to the remaining ones. Pyrrha skipped around and scouted the piece she wanted. Her upbeat yet calm demeanor was rather refreshing. Cardin nudged Jaune in the ribs. "Ow, what?" he hissed. Cardin leaned down a bit.
"How do you know red and gorgeous over there?" he whispered.
"We met this morning thanks to Weiss," Jaune replied, rubbing his offended rib. "Apparently she's famous or… something."
Cardin put a thoughtful hand on his chin. "She's something alright."
Weiss groaned. "Boys."
Pyrrha walked back smiling a bit with a black queen in her hand. "Did you all have trouble on the way here? The Grimm are vicious around these parts. I'm amazed we didn't have to face too many of them."
"We kinda did," Jaune said. "How many got to you?"
"Fourteen Beowolves and two Ursa. I've got a gash on my leg as a reminder," she pointed to her right leg. At first Jaune thought it had been a red handkerchief. Now that he looked at it, it was actually caked in blood.
"Sixteen Grimm? You're pretty amazing," Jaune said. He knelt down and checked the handkerchief. "May I? I've got some salves in my back pocket."
Pyrrha stiffened. "No I couldn't impose on you, my Aura's letting it heal slowly anyway. I shouldn't have gotten it in the first place, it was carelessness on my part."
"I'm sure a star athlete like you knows what would happen if it got infected right?"
Pyrrha sighed. "That's true. I wasn't expecting such vicious Grimm. Another oversight on my end for not bringing my own salve. I'm sorry, I'll repay you some time."
Jaune smiled. "Don't mention it."
Cardin wolf whistled from a distance. "Jauney boy's gotten moves since I saw you last."
Jaune ignored him and took the handkerchief off of Pyrrha's leg. "Gimme a sec," as he unwrapped it, a large red gash appeared. It looked angry and inflamed. The Grimm aren't poisonous, but their claws may as well be laced with tetanus with what they walk on every day. He touched the gash slightly with his hand. A sudden warmth rushed to his hands. Jaune felt it, like his Aura was activating. Pyrrha felt it too by the looks of it. She gasped softly.
She bit her lip. Before him, muscle and tissue seemed to repair itself. Not entirely, and not cleanly, but his Aura seems to have something to do with it. The Aura faded. The inflamed areas looked more normal than it was a few seconds ago. He looked up at Pyrrha, who looked at him in confusion. "Was that your Aura?" she asked.
"Possibly? I dunno, I'm new to this," he smiled awkwardly. He got some salve from his back pocket. They came in easy to squeeze tubes. Thank you Schnee Dust Company. He placed some on the already healing wound and bandaged it back up. "There we are."
Pyrrha stretched her leg a bit. "It feels much better, thank you Jaune."
The moment Jaune turned around, he realized more people had already arrived. And they were just there. Staring at the two of them. When he did the healing thing. He saw that tall black haired guy with the pink highlight. He was wielding what looked like pistols with blades on them. In the distance he could spy the shape of a large, two headed snake and an Ursa sprawled and very dead looking on the edge of the small cliff leading to the ruins. The snake had bullet holes and one of its heads were blown off. The Ursa had its skull crushed. The short, orange haired girl's giant warhammer was smoking. Yang was standing next to the pair with a smug expression. The girl named Blake was off to one side with Ruby and that Elwyn guy. They all looked like they've seen better days, cuts and bruises all around.
"D-did you guys see all of that?"
Yang was twirling some of her fluffy golden hair with her finger. "What I saw, was you sexually harassing my partner, lady killer."
"I was not hara- wait, did you say partner?" Jaune looked dumbfounded.
"Yeah. She went ahead to scout while I guarded her six," she cracked her back. "When I got here you were already working your magic on her."
Jaune looked at Pyrrha, who shrugged sheepishly. "I'm sorry, I forgot to tell you."
He thought for a quick moment. "That's why you said 'We didn't have to face that many Grimm'."
"Was he that good?" Yang asked aloud.
"Oh yes, he was, very good indeed. His hands were amazing."
Yang couldn't hold down a snicker. She could barely breathe as she tried to reply. "Th-that's good to hear, Pyrrha."
She tilted her head innocently to the side. "Is something the matter everyone?"
Jaune looked at the crowd. None of them could hold their laughter down, or at least, some hid it well. Save for Weiss. She looked horrified. He caught her line of sight before she looked away. Guess it's back to being strangers then.
He looked at Ruby, who walked up to him immediately and looked him in the eye, rather abruptly he might add. Their scrolls dinged. "Biometrics completed. Partnership established."
"You didn't have a partner yet either?" Jaune asked. She nodded.
"I met Elwyn and Blake along the way. They helped me with a huge~ Beowolf."
The former gave them a quick, mock salute, and the latter gave them a curt nod. Elwyn was still laughing though. Blake elbowed him in the ribs. The newcomers started getting their own chess pieces. The orange haired girl flashed him a quick thumbs up, while the tall, solemn boy gave him an equally solemn nod. Yang made gun gestures at him. "There goes my reputation I guess."
"Reputation?" Ruby raised an eyebrow. "What reputation?"
"As an upstanding ladies' man," he replied flatly. Ruby burst out laughing. "Oh laugh it up, sure, Red," he noticed a gash on her face. Her Aura was doing a good job healing it, but he wanted to try out if he could use that healing touch again. "Hold still."
He placed his hand on Ruby's cheek, and it started to glow. It wasn't as bad as Pyrrha's, so it healed up better than expected. Ruby nuzzled his hand. Seemingly unconsciously. Probably.
"That's really warm…"
"It feels like it is."
After he was done, he looked around and asked who were partnered up, out of curiosity.
As it stood, the assignments were: Cardin and Weiss, Yang and Pyrrha, Ren and Nora, Blake and Elwyn, and himself and Ruby. That made five pairs. There were around twenty of them, he couldn't remember exactly, that got teleported randomly into the forest. A sudden, disturbing silence settled over all of them.
"Maybe they got here ahead of us," Ruby said. She was standing beside Jaune, fiddling with the hem of her robe.
"The chess pieces were complete when we got here," replied Cardin.
Jaune looked at all of them. No matter what happened to them we have to get back to the clifftop. "I'm sure they're fine, they'll get here sooner or later."
"Shouldn't we wait for them then?" Ruby asked.
The black haired boy, whose name he found out was Ren, spoke up. "We risk attracting a forest's worth of the Grimm here if we stay immobile in one large group. If we don't want to get overwhelmed, we have to go. We just have to trust the others to get home safe."
There were murmurs all around. Jaune knew that he had to convince the others to get out of the forest and back to the cliff so they could get the initiation over with. He took a deep breath. "Alright, then if there are no objections-"
"Uh, guys?" Ruby tugged on Jaune's arm. She pointed upwards, over the clearing and into the distance of the Emerald forest. They saw a large black shape, flapping towards them. Elwyn almost immediately spoke up.
The odd thing about the shape was, even if it seemed far away, it seemed each time Jaune blinked, it jerked closer very quickly. He heard a distinct crackle as the Nevermore shrieked. A talon found itself embedded onto the remains of the roof of the structure they were in. And then, it exploded in a bout of lightning, sending reverberations that caused them to cover their ears. It was like being close to a sonic boom.
Ruby got up before him, and she stretched her hand out towards him. Jaune took it and steadied himself. The Nevermore was almost on top of them.
"I don't think that's your average Nevermore!" Nora, the orange haired girl, shouted as she took hold of her warhammer. Ruby and Jaune looked at each other.
"Think it's the same kind?" she asked.
They were thinking the same thing. "But instead of Ice, it's lightning this time."
They couldn't turn tail and run from this one. They didn't know the extent of what it could do with the lightning. At least, Jaune and Ruby knew they couldn't. Ruby gave a curt nod and Jaune shouted towards his fellow Huntsmen and Huntresses.
"Okay new plan gents and gentleladies!" he started, unsheathing Crocea Mors. "Take care of this thing, then go back to the cliff."
"Who died and made you leader?!" Cardin asked as he unstrapped his tower shield from his back.
"No one, but if you have a better idea, we're all ears."
Cardin grunted in response before taking up a defensive stance. Another lightning feather shot down at them, and Cardin slammed his tower shield into the ground. What must have been his semblance shot up from his tower shield, and it reflected the feather back at their attacker. Before it could get too far, it exploded in mid-air.
Jaune looked around. Everyone was in a fighting stance. None of them seemed frightened, or if they were, they hid it well. Here they were, gathered in a large group, fending off the enemy of humanity like in the days of yore, despite the danger and the fear. Jaune smiled a bit. This was what he wanted to experience.
This was what it was like to be a Hunter.