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The Boundaries of Humanity

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The smell of ash filled the air, accompanied by the sounds of metal striking metal, a warning sign to any potential customer that the blacksmith was occupied. Hammering out the last dent, Ruby lifted the molten sword held in her right hand and ran her eyes over it one last time, looking for any more flaws or imperfections. Finally satisfied, she placed it in a water barrel to cool, only just noticing the tiredness of her muscles and emptiness of her stomach. She had always been good at focusing on her work, but never to this extent.

Standing for a moment, her legs quivering in protest, she wandered outside to find the sun still high in the sky, signaling it was just past midday. A wide smile graced her face: she had finished with the days orders with plenty of time to spare, giving her more than enough to finish setting up. Assuming things went well, tonight was the night her problem would be dead forever, dead and buried.

You see, for the longest time Ruby had had an issue, an impossibly large issue that was ruining her very existence: she was bored. Bored with her job, bored with her life, bored with everything. Her life had been full of adventure when she was living with Taiyang and Yang. But her father was a general in the King's army, which kept him away from home for long periods. And Yang had left a year ago, seeking adventure and excitement, away from their tiny village. Ruby, 14 at the time of Yang's departure, had stayed behind. She had claimed it was because she wanted to become a master blacksmith, but they all knew the real reason. Her mother's grave was there, and she was not yet ready to let go.

So Ruby's life had settled into a routine, a rut so deep she was certain she could go through an entire day with her eyes closed and not give herself so much as a paper cut. Wake up, craft some new weapons for the army or fix whatever the townsfolk had broken this week. Study magic whenever she had nothing to work on, avoid blowing herself up again, and wait for one thing or another to happen. Day in and day out, it never shifted.

Eventually she would run out of tasks and would inevitably find herself back home, polishing Crescent Rose, her oldest and most prized possession. She spent countless hours modifying, sharpening or just staring at the scythe. It was her closest friend, her only constant companion throughout the years. And while spending time with the scythe never failed to enthrall her, the rest of her waking hours were spent in mind numbing tedium.

Every so often, normally on a particularly boring day, where not a single customer came in and all her orders were already filled, she decided she had to time to modify Crescent Rose. Again. Normally she began by removing the various modifications and additions, leaving only the metallic core: the rarest of all metals, archon sky iron. It never failed to take her breath away, as perfect as the day she had first crafted it, her mother's final gift.

Years ago Summer Rose had stumbled across the smoldering remains of a ball of black metal that had fallen out of the sky. She and her Uncle Qrow had dragged it back to his workshop where he discovered the metal's wondrous properties. Harder than the strongest castle forged steel, it was more flexible then supple leather, making it perfect for weapon crafting. The trick to melting it down had taken almost a year to discover, but eventually Qrow had created Summer a weapon worthy of legends. A massive longsword that was almost as tall as she was and sharp enough to cut through a dragon's hide like a hot knife through butter. She had called it Thorn's Embrace, and it had helped her become a warrior known far and wide among the four kingdoms.

Unfortunately not even a warrior such as Summer could win a fight against the plague, and she eventually succumbed, entering Death's realm like so many before her. Unwilling and unable to wield the weapon himself, Qrow had passed Thorn's Embrace onto Ruby. But the sword was far too large for a short 12 year old to handle, so with her uncle's help Ruby had melted the sword down and fashioned herself a scythe. From the moment she had finished the last cooling treatment the weapon was perfect, sharp enough to draw blood with the lightest touch. And no matter how much practice she did, no matter how many trees she cut down or boulders she sliced through, it never lost its edge.

Wrapped in red leather and metal turned grey with ash, the scythe was a terrifying sight to behold. Black death coated in the ash of the damned and the blood of her enemies, or that's what people whispered behind her back. But Ruby found her scythe attractive, beautiful even, a whirling storm of fury in her hands that somehow made her grin in delight. But she could only practice or polish for so many hours a day, which in her mind was never enough. She needed a change, the more drastic the better.

So when she had found a spell that could bring inanimate objects to life several months ago, she had to try it out immediately. And sure enough, it worked. Sort of.

She had first tried the spell out on her favorite hammer, expecting it to gain the ability to talk. Instead it turned into an adorable dark grey corgi, who immediately proved itself it be an asset when it dragged a still burning hot poker out of a bale of hay. The dog now lived at the foot of her bed, and while Zwei had eased her boredom for a while, eventually it had come back full force.

She had then applied the spell on various other tools and weapons, which resulted in several soon to be dead fish, two chickens, three cows and almost a dozen pigs. After asserting that the animals were fully alive, and safe to eat, Ruby found herself with several pounds of delicious bacon and a hundred questions that needed answering, most of which had to do with why she kept getting the same four animals no matter what object she used the spell on. Unable to translate the rest of the text she had deciphered the spell from, she had no choice but to seek professional assistance. Which unfortunately came in the form of the world's strangest mage, her friend Penny.

Penny had been her first friend in the village, but she had moved away years ago after her father had successfully gotten a position in the Royal Magic Academy. She and Ruby had kept in contact through letters, first delivered by hand, which took months at a time. But Penny had created a spell that made paper fly, and from then on their communication took only 3 days to get from Ruby's tiny little village of Patch all the way to the Remnant's capital.

Ruby had sent Penny the text, expecting the problem to take the genius mage-in-training days, maybe a few weeks at the most. That had been 7 months ago, and she had almost given up hope when Penny's response had come.

Dearest friend Ruby

Salutations, I hope you are doing well. Things are unchanged here, boring as always. There has been talk of movement along the border with Vacuo, but as of yet nothing has happened. Father is fine, still over protective as always. I'm hoping to convince him to let me out of the city so I can come visit you, but no promises.

Regarding the problem you sent me: you're spell was written in the language of the Blasted Lands, a society that existed long ago and has long since passed. Records were scarce, but I managed to translate most of the text, with the relevant passages to the spell written below. From what I can tell, the spell was originally meant to provide for food during famine times, which is why everything was turning into "delicious meaty goodness". In order to fully bring the object to life, several conditions must be met, which are listed below.

The object must be of great importance to the caster

The caster must have a firm mental image of what they desire

The spell must be cast under the light of a full moon

The accompanying casting symbol must be used, with candle's burning at each point. The candles must contain the user's own blood, a few drops at least. Something to tie the user to the circle.

There was also a paragraph at the bottom that could not be translated fully, though it spoke of a warning concerning the spell. SO PLEASE BE CAREFUL. And please don't "forget" to respond this time.

Your friend, Penny

Ruby re-read the letter several times, her smile growing wider and wider. She had almost a week until the next full moon, more than enough time to prepare things properly. As for the important object,Ruby thought, it's Crescent Rose, it's always been Crescent Rose.

She had spent the last week drawing the circle, making the candles and preparing everything else, sacrificing sleep to get it done. But in the end it would be worth it: she would finally have a solution to her boredom. But more than that she would have a friend that wouldn't abandon her, or leave her, or get too caught up in their own lives to check in on her. Someone to help ease the void that her mother's death had left, a void that even now she refused to acknowledge.

The daylight came and gone, and by the time the moon was fully risen she was finally ready. The spell channel, a massively intricate creation compromised of several intertwining pentagrams, hexagrams and no less than 5 concentric circles. 24 pink candles, signifying that they contained more than "a few drops" of Ruby's blood to ensure things went right, sat at all the necessary points. In the exact center of the circle stood Crescent Rose, stabbed into the ground at a perfect right angle.

Ruby sat in a smaller, scaled down version of the casting circle, focusing her mind on what she wanted to achieve and reciting the spell to make sure she got it perfect. She knew first-hand what happened if you recited even the most basic spells improperly. Years ago she had "borrowed" one of Qrow's spell books, hoping to impress the other kids in the village by casting a fire spell. But her youthful arrogance and enthusiasm made her reckless, so she made several errors when reciting the spell, which magnified its effects. Thankfully there were several adults close by, and they managed to get the blaze under control before her uncle's house had completely burned down.

The memory was one she dredged up often, a constant reminder to ensure she never made that mistake again. Seeing the moon was almost in positon, she focused on emptying herself of her fear of failure, sharpening her mind until it was as sharp as Crescent Rose itself.

I am afraid of failure Ruby thoughtnot because of the failure itself, but because it will mean nothing will change. That my life will remain the same despite my best efforts. I fear that I will weaken at the wrong moment, and make a mistake. I do not fear the consequences of the mistake, death or otherwise, for at this moment anything besides success is not acceptable.

She finished her inner talk just as the moon hit the proper position, and without another word began to chant. The words of the spell rolled off her tongue, strong and true, the seconds turning to minutes as she ceaselessly chanted, simultaneously breathing and speaking like her uncle had taught her. Each line seemed to take forever to say, yet before she noticed she was at the last few segments, which were the most important. Now was when her concentration had to be prefect, otherwise failure was guaranteed. She formed the image of what she wanted in her mind even as the chanting continued, the two parts of her mental state working in perfect harmony.

Tolka vuu hess t'Kah'hn V'Dania

I want someone who will stay by my side, who won't leave me alone again

Vaar shou-desth oua qi-el harba voudas

Someone strong, indestructible,

Soudeg s'veth cal-shoull ve-edeth ni v'calsa

A warrior no one can beat

Pleston gashitah hetra-scrateva gaina shouda

Someone like…Mom

Va desz na shouen plessada vu she'naivu IA'NI'KAI.

She screamed the last word, pouring out the last of her energy, thankful that she was finally done. For a moment nothing happened, and she was worried she had failed, tears already forming at her eyes. Then Crescent Rose began to glow, burning brighter by the second until Ruby could not look at it directly. She covered her eyes just as a massive burst of light expelled from the weapon, lighting up the entire clearing and terrifying any villagers still awake. Eventually the light died down, allowing Ruby to open her eyes.

Apparently the translation was a little off, Ruby thought, looking at her success in stunned awe. She had expected a sharp, lithe girl approximately her own age, based off Crescent Rose's current design. Instead she got a fully grown female who looked to be in her mid-20s, and who was without a doubt a warrior of the highest caliber. There was no other way to put it: everything about her bespoke of raw fighting prowess and lethal skill. Large calloused hands, rippling muscles that strained under her ebony skin and a stillness about her that bespoke barely restrained violence merely waiting for a reason to be unleashed.

It was her face, however, that Ruby's gaze lingered on the longest. Her mouth was a firm line, hard and set, not betraying the barest hint of a smile, something that Ruby immediately wanted to change. But the rest of her face gave the impression of gentleness. Wide cheekbones, the barest hint of dimples around her mouth, and crinkles around her eyes that only came from constant laughter made her seem soft, kind, almost in direct contradiction to the power and danger that her body signified. She's beautiful Ruby realized, her face growing hot as she broke out in the barest hint of a blush.

But when Ruby looked into her eyes, everything else fell away, her entire world made meaningless by the power of Crescent Rose's gaze. She looking at Ruby in a way that made her shiver in what she thought was fear, her entire body heating up as she shook like a leaf, barely able to control herself. It was a gaze of control and domination, akin to that of an alpha bear or wolf. It would broker no disobedience, no challenge, and held no mercy.

Unable to stare for a second longer she looked down, discovering that Crescent Rose was also partially clothed. Her lower body was clad in a pair of red leather pants, the exact same color as the leather binding's that had previously encircled her weapon. Her torso was bare, ebony skin unblemished by scars or damage, her only article of clothing being a series of dark grey chest wraps. Her hair was blood red, long enough to reach her lower back and bound into a tight ponytail.

While Ruby could do nothing but continue staring, Crescent Rose began moving. After a moment Ruby realized she was experimenting, testing the limitations of this new body. Apparently she was not only strong but flexible, a feat Ruby ascertained first hand when Crescent bent down so far her head almost touched her toes.

An involuntary intake of breath alerted Crescent Rosy to Ruby's continual existence. She moved instantly, walking towards Ruby, her gaze focused on the smaller girl before her. She walked right up to her, golden eyes burning impossibly bright. And then she kneeled. This goddess of battle, who could probably break Ruby in half by sneezing on her, kneeled in front of her, and after a moment said "Master."