Jaune was in what had become his element. Ruby didn't know how Ozpin did it, but every pair that had been teamed together, seemingly randomly, had become best friends, or better in some cases. She smiled at Weiss briefly who looked mildly annoyed at her chipper attitude. Heck, even Cardin managed to find love with Sky, and a much better attitude. Pyrrha didn't talk about breaking his legs anymore. Not seriously. Nora was still another matter.
It went deeper than relationships though. The pairs were partnered with another pair to form a team. Those teams almost always worked together seamlessly. Among those four he picked the best leader. It was uncanny. There were exceptions, but they were rare. It could be the way they were trained, but even then the success rate was unnerving. She'd checked with other teams that had graduated as well as teams who were one or two years behind them. They all agreed with what she saw.
And her element was leading, particularly in the chaos of a battlefield. It hadn't been obvious at first, which was what surprised her the most. She was hyper, impulsive and scatterbrained. She had self esteem issues, and a need to prove herself. Those attributes more often than not got her taking on more than she could handle. That was her the day she was given the position. How had he known?
She looked back at Weiss and stuck her tongue out. "Brat," Weiss replied with a hint of annoyance which only made Ruby smile more.
Jaune was also a capable leader, but his strength was in longer term strategies and battle plans. Again, it was uncanny. Jaune had been the driving force that had insured the Grimm incursion. He had given plans that dealt with it quick and cleanly with a minimal loss of life. This from a boy who wasn't even partially trained when he first got to Beacon.
"Okay, so we're facing an enemy of unknown numbers who has excellent intel on team RWBY. They have successfully used that information to plan their attacks, and have set the locations to their advantage. We have to assume they have the same information on all teams. They also have an unknown way of making dust move on its own without changing its natural properties," Jaune outlined. "Have I missed anything?"
He looked over those in team RWBY's crowded dorm room. Team RWBY looked satisfied with the information. JNPR looked unphased which was only to be expected. That had no real contact with the enemy. The third team had been a surprise when they knocked on the door, team CFVY. Ruby suspected Velvet had something to do with that.
There was no surprise when Scarlet and Sage showed up with Sun, who was moving with the help of a wheelchair. Yang had automatically helped him to a bed to ease the pressure on his spine. Yang's eyes were healed at this point, but the damage still left a mark. When her eyes were closed a perfectly straight scare went from one temple to another.
"They've had the opportunity to kill us with both engagements but only chose to defeat us," Ruby pointed out.
"Humiliate us," Yang corrected sourly.
"So psychological attacks along with the physical," Jaune decided.
Team CFVY was the most experienced of the teams having graduated last year and were now active in the field. It showed. "Do we have any idea of limitations on this dust ability?" Coco asked. Smartly they had arranged it so Ruby and Coco were sitting as far apart as possible. Coco's handbag was like a laser pointer to a cat for Ruby.
Jaune nodded. "So far all we know is its limited by what the dust is normally capable of without augmentation. We've only seen Fire and Earth used so far but the fact that two have been used means all of them probably can. From the attack on the bullhead we know it is unable to handle water. We can't rule out more disadvantages but what they are is unknown."
Yang spoke with an unusual hesitancy. Her defeat had obviously gotten to her. Ruby hoped she shook it off quickly. All of them were going to have to show their A game. "Uh, is it possible that the dust can only be moved along surfaces? I could see the hole I fell through because of a small amount of light around the edges where whatever covered it wasn't able to make contact with the roof." She looked over everyone's faces, obviously embarrassed to talk about her fight. "If they were going for total darkness and could move dust wouldn't they use it to fill in those holes if they could?"
"Nice catch," Jaune encouraged. Ruby thought he noticed the same hesitancy from Yang she had and realized its cause. "It could be a limitation or it could be misdirection but any possibility has to be pursued."
Coco looked thoughtful for a second. "How about any ideas on where they are at? Is it fixed or are they mobile?"
"No ideas on either," Jaune replied quickly. "They've reached as far out as Patch, and as close as the central city. That's a lot of territory. If I was willing to bet I'd say they don't have a set location though. I wouldn't in their position. Their largest advantage has been surprise. They wouldn't want to lose that."
"Last question. Yang, you said there was no way for anyone to predict where you would run, or that you would be running the night you were attacked." Yang nodded guardedly. "What about Junior himself? You say he was scared for his life. If this enemy cut him a deal do you think he'd take it?"
Yang groaned, "Yeah, in a heartbeat. Why didn't I think of that?" She looked even more crestfallen than before.
"So, on to our assets. We all know each other's strengths when it comes to combat, so no point rehashing that. That would leave Phoenix." Jaune looked at Blake. "I'll let you fill them in on that."
Blake nodded and stood, arms behind her back, and looked at each in turn. All three leaders recognized the change in her demeanor and approved. She didn't just look the part, she was the part. No one would have a doubt she ran Phoenix with just one look. "Not including the command wing, we have five wings. The two most important for us is my black ops and my defense force. As a newly formed group they are still being trained, so their effectiveness is not what it will be in a few months, and their numbers are still smaller than I would like."
"I've had my black ops look for any clue of their whereabouts and strengths for the last four days, and I have had my defense force back them up. So far all they have come across is rumors, and most are wildly different. The general consensus is we're dealing with a small group of five to fifteen members; all highly skilled and none of them afraid of a little blood on their hands."
Ruby listened with interest. This was as new to her as the rest of the group. "How large is your defense force, and what are we talking about in the terms of skill level?" Jaune asked.
"Seventy-eight members, five are ex-military, the rest are average towns folk with only a week's worth of training. They are concentrating on defense, of course, so they would be good bodyguards once they are fully trained, but not very good in active combat. Black ops is down to thirty-two members. My head has been working to weed out the ones who are unsuited to the job quickly before they either die or accidentally reveal their existence. Twelve of them are thieves of one level or another which adds to their competence much better than my defense force."
"We have a numerical advantage then, but it will only be effective if they can pick the battlefield," Jaune decided. "Then obviously we need to draw them out. Ruby, Weiss, and Yang; you've all been targeted already. Blake is most likely the next on their list and once they complete that list we will have no clear idea of their next move. We'll need to plan this carefully."
"From this point on no fewer than three Huntsmen will stay with Blake. Keep it at a distance. They've proven already that they can manipulate the field so numbers don't matter when we are all close." Blake was ready to say something, and Jaune stopped her."This isn't negotiable." Blake stopped, accepting that Jaune was in charge of the planning. She'd seen his skills in action before and they had always led to the best possible results. She obviously didn't like it though.
"Yang, we need additional information from Junior. It's safe to say that he won't give it to any of us because he knows we will stop short of what our enemy will do to him." The tactician paused, and then asked with a certain level of humor in his eyes, "Can you get a hold of Raven?"
For the first time since her fight Yang cackled with glee. "Now that's evil. I'll see what I can do."
"Good. Now, another source of intelligence is Ozpin. It's safe to say he knows more than he's telling us. It wouldn't be the first time, and I'm sure he thinks it's for our own good. This enemy is tough and one that could likely take down an entire team, even one as good as RWBY, by itself." Everyone nodded in agreement. They had all been thinking the same thing. "Whatever it is I'm willing to bet we can at least get a hint of it in his office. Scarlet, Sage, you're a wildcard that he might miss. Think you can sneak in and look about?"
Everyone took in a deep breath involuntarily. Ozpin's office was sacred. You entered when asked, or you didn't enter. "I know, it's risky. That's another reason to have Scarlet and Sage to do it: plausible deniability. You two are acting on your own, got it?"
Both nodded, Sage looking grim, Scarlett looking excited. What a pair. "The rest of us need to get with Phoenix. We need to lend them our expertise to get them in a position to help us, and help themselves." He looked at Blake again. "I know they're distrustful of humans, but think we can get that turned around fast enough for them to allow this?"
Blake cocked her head to the side, thinking on it. "Probably not the majority of them yet, but I know I could get the heads to accept your help."
"That's a start. We'll work with it. Go to them and set the groundwork. Bring the rest of RWBY with you for a kind of ambassador and honor guard. Hopefully their fame will work to your advantage. On the trip there CFVY will take lead and JNPR will take the rear and keep a two block distance. It's an excessive amount, but I want to be sure that if they attack they don't lure us all into it at once."
"Once there I want CFVY and JNPR to split into pairs and watch the theater from across the street in cardinal positions. Pyrrha, you'll be with me in the north, Ren and Nora, take east. Coco, you know your team. Split them up how you think is best and take south and west. We're going to use coms to stay in contact with each other at all times."
"Sage and scarlet, wait till we leave to try getting into the office. We need the best alibi we can get and not being at Beacon at all is the best I can think of. "
"That only leaves one question," Jaune finished, "how long till you can arrange the meeting Blake?"
Again that thoughtful expression crossed Blake's face. "With only the five heads? Probably a matter of hours, but I'll have to check. Phoenix isn't self sufficient yet. Our members have their own lives and their own jobs so short notice can stunt how many appear pretty badly. I know Angie can be anywhere in a moment's notice. It's the advantages of being a thief by trade. I'll let you know on the rest in an hour."
"Okay. Everyone meet here in two hours then," Jaune finalized.
Yang went directly to the clinic after the meeting, pushing Sun's wheelchair in front of her. She dreaded it, but she couldn't stay away. It had all been her fault, and she would watch over him as much as she could and care for both. "Okay, the silence is killing me Yang. Stop being all gloomy. You're starting to remind me of Blake."
Sun grabbed the wheels of his chair, stopping them both dead. "You're letting him into your head, aren't you?"
"I don't know... Maybe. I can't help it. You two were there for me when I needed you, and then I let you both down when you needed me." Unconsciously Yang started rubbing Sun's shoulder where it was determined her shot had hit. Luckily it was in the back of the shoulder blade, and the round had been slowed down considerably by the roof. The damage was minor, but it was there. On many levels she couldn't stop obsessing about that shot. It was better than obsessing over Neptune's prone body, though she was managing to do both.
Sun spun the chair around to face her. "Don't make me get up and kick your ass. Neither me nor Neptune are maidens in distress, and you aren't the white knight to sweep in and save us. So don't give me the 'I failed you' crap. We all failed, and we'll all find him and get some payback. Got it?"
Was there any wonder why she loved this man? "Got it," she grinned. "Now let's go check on Neptune. I'm sure he could use a bit of that ass kicking, lazing around in that bed all day."
That moment of happiness didn't last beyond seeing Neptune. The docs said there was no change. His face looked horrible and Yang couldn't think of how he would deal with it. A peacock is only as good as his feathers, or so he thought. "He will pay," Sun said under his breath. "I promise you that bro."
Yang silently agreed. For the next hour neither said a word, just watched over their friend; Yang holding his hand; Sun watching in silent vigil.
Weiss and Ruby headed to the Garden. To 'their' bench. The spot where their relationship had truly begun. Neither could look at the other directly. There was a distance there that hadn't been before Nora had talked to them. It was a rift that had always been there, gone unnoticed and unwanted.
"Nora's right," Ruby opened by going straight to the point. They didn't have the luxury of time to dance around the subject. "Your jealousy needs to stop."
"And your guilt," Weiss countered, feeling hurt that the blame had been squarely put on her.
Ruby acknowledged the poor choice of words. "And my guilt," she agreed. She looked over at Weiss for the first time since leaving their room. "How?"
She watched Weiss look for an answer, and Ruby was doing much the same. Ruby couldn't look at her time with Nora without feeling guilty. It was good that Nora had forgiven her. It wasn't enough. She'd used Nora knowingly. Suddenly she realized that she wasn't guilty because she had in some weird way cheated on Weiss. She was guilty because of the way she'd used Nora. Even the last time they'd been together, the day Weiss had found them, she'd told Nora that it had been 'good' knowing the lie behind the words.
There was emotions attached to Weiss too, but it wasn't guilt, exactly. It was regret. She regretted not coming to Weiss as soon as she had even a hint of her attraction. How much time would they have saved? On some level she knew that went both ways, Weiss could have easily approached her too, but that had been out of her control. She had to think on what was in her ability to change.
Weiss broke her out of her spiraling thoughts. "I don't think I can forgive Nora," she said honestly. "She may not have intended it, but she took you from me, for however long it may have been. I can't see it any other way. I'm trying to, but all I see is her smiling face as she sat but naked in bed with you."
"That's as much my fault as hers," Ruby said, realizing that her regret did lead to guilt. Guilt that because she hadn't acted on her feelings sooner she had caused that kind of pain to Weiss. "I felt something for you long before I got together with Nora, and I just couldn't admit it to you, or to myself. If I had none of that would have happened."
Weiss covered Ruby's hand with her own. "Nora was right in that too," She told her fiancé. "I have to tell you, I forgive you for your part. I was never approachable; it was only natural for you to take that hint." Ruby looked away again, unable to accept the forgiveness she didn't feel she deserved. Weiss wasn't having any of it though as she grabbed Ruby by the chin and forced her to look again into Weiss's eyes. "I. Forgive. You." she said, emphasizing each word. "You're my Dolt, and as mine I'm putting my foot down. You will accept my forgiveness. Am I clear?"
Ruby still wanted to look away, but she slowly nodded. "So what is it going to take for you to forgive yourself?"
Looking inside herself, Ruby couldn't find a clear answer. "I don't know. Time?"
"Time takes too long," Weiss said sourly, then shrugged. "But sometimes it's the only thing."
Ruby quickly changed subjects, moving the center of the conversation back to Weiss. "So, what about your jealousy?"
"I don't know either. I want to take Nora apart by the seams still," Weiss nearly growled. "If anyone else looked at you the same way I don't think I'd have the same reaction. You haven't shown any interest in anyone else except her."
Ruby understood where Weiss was coming from, but tried to make Weiss understand it was different than that. "Even knowing I was only with her because I didn't think I could be with you?"
She wasn't having any of it. "Especially because of that. She stole you from me. Can't you understand that? She knew, and she took you anyways." There was no answer to that. That feeling of guilt returning to the pit of her stomach at the reminder of how she had caused that pain.
She should admit the full truth. Ruby knew that, but the truth was it hadn't been Nora who'd seduced her away. The seduction had been the other way around, and Nora was taking Weiss's blame. A last kindness from her former lover. She should tell the truth, but she couldn't. The shame was too great, and the fear of losing her was unbearable.
"I'm sorry to interrupt," Pyrrha said into the sudden silence. "Weiss, can I have a word with you?"
Both halves of the arguing couple jumped, not expecting the amazon to be there. "This is private Pyrrha. Can it wait?" Ruby asked while Weiss just glared.
"I think what I have to say is something she needs to hear," Pyrrha said seriously. "And may help you both."
"Then just say it," Weiss told her testily. "I don't have time right now to waste it."
Pyrrha sighed, but agreed. "I understand. Do you know how much I wanted to hurt you once?"
Weiss looked floored, though Ruby had a shrewd idea what this was about. "Why? I don't think I ever did anything to you."
"You could have taken Jaune at any time our freshman year. I had to watch him pine over you. I even gave him advice on how best to attract you. I may be a nice woman, and I would do it again, but that still hurt," the redheaded goddess professed. "Worse was watching how cruel you were to him when you refused him. You didn't take him from me like you feel Nora did with Ruby. You did worse. You took the gift I wanted the most and stepped on it right in front of me." Ruby could only remember hearing that kind of anger in Pyrrha's voice when talking about people who preyed on those weaker than them. She certainly never had heard her use that tone about another friend.
She wasn't done though. "In the end Jaune came to me, and you know how it went from there. What you saw of it at least. You never saw the fights. You didn't hear him apologizing with true anguish because he had chased after you. And like Ruby Jaune had the same reason: He felt I was unattainable. That I had too many other options to have feelings for him, so he set his aim lower."
"That didn't make me not want to hurt you any less, and I felt guilty for wanting too. I knew you were simply trying to make Jaune realize there was no interest in him," She let loose one of her more common smiles that sprang so easily on her. "You could have been kinder about it though."
Pyrrha turned to leave, looking over her shoulder she said in parting, "you are right, we don't have a lot of time right now for talk, but later I hope we can discuss this further. I think I could help you from my own experiences."
After she was out of sight the couple looked at each other, hurt, pain, and above all else love showing in each other's eyes. Words weren't going to help at this point and both knew it, so they comforted each other with their presence. It was all they had to offer in the short time they had before they had to return.
Blake started making calls as soon as the room was empty. She got four answers, and all of them agreed to the meeting under such short notice. All except Thompson. Calls to his scroll went straight to his message system. That wasn't normal, and Blake was instant worried. Of her heads, Thompson was easily the most reliable and dedicated.
Thompson had set up a second on the night he had gotten the position. Blake went down the chain of command and called her instead. Shannon answered quickly. Like Thompson she was ex-military, and like Thompson she had a job that allowed for unexpected leave when necessary. These were the two main reasons she had been chosen. She agreed to the meeting, but said she had no idea where Thompson was or why he wouldn't be answering his scroll.
For this small of a group the auditorium wasn't needed. To avoid possible complications she set the meeting across the street from the garage the bus landed at. It was an option that pleased Jaune to no end, not thinking that was a possibility.
Looking up she nodded at Jaune who smiled his approval. "It's ready. They'll be there in two hours."1025Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ21zvHSao6ins 220.127.116.11da2