Hello dear readers! This chapter was only late on schedule by a couple of days instead of months, hurray! To be serious, it was rather difficult to cram 25 hours of writing inside an already busy week, but I'm sorry nonetheless.

Beta Reader: Jkdelta38

Good reading!

The deep rumble of artillery was heard ahead, the crack of exploding shells behind. Weiss vaulted over a fallen tree still connected at the stump and swung Myrtenaster blindly to her side, sending another discharge of electricity behind her. She was pleased by the grunts of pain she heard from many of the Grimm chasing her but did not stop to admire her work. They were nearly out of the forest.

As he continued running to her side, Jaune brought the handheld piece of his radio to his mouth and told the Platoon exactly what Weiss had just surmised herself; they were about to exit the forest, to finally reach one of the defensive lines from which the Grimm could be held.

The Hunter Platoon ran past the last rows of trees still sporting any foliage and arrived onto the cratered plain which had seen dozens of battles already in the past few weeks. The carcasses of dead trees covering the area showed that it had once been an extension of the forest before hundreds of hours of bombardment turned it into a lunar landscape. Each day now saw the forest losing more ground to modern explosive weaponry.

Weiss continued running, now clearly seeing her objective. In front of her was spread out a long line of tanks and light cannons and infantry; thousands of soldiers from Vale and Mistral forming the last roadblock before the main defensive fortifications. It was hard to tell from the front, but Weiss knew this line was curved like a crescent facing the forest. This crescent was convex, meaning that its center was much further away from the forest than the flanks and that nearly all guns were pointed towards the center. All the better to deliver heavy firepower towards a specific point; the Hunter Platoon's exit point.

"Get down, now!" Jaune yelled into his radio. The trainees were all sprawled on their bellies within a second, and the air rang with the detonations of hundreds of shells.

Each and every heavy weapon in the crescent was fired in relative unison, sending tons of explosives into the trees and the Grimm within, pushing back the forest once again as trees were shattered or sent into oblivion. The heavy howitzers of Mistralian KV-2 tanks shook the earth with as much strength as most static artillery guns. The high-explosive shells of lighter tanks sent bits of trees and Grimm flying through the air. Mortars of all makings and sizes sent their payloads high into the sky to fall back down as a punishment from the heavens onto the Grimm. All of a sudden, it seemed that the horde had found a worthy foe.

The teens of the Hunter Platoon climbed back to their feet and continued their run to reach the friendly lines as most of the cannons were now reloading. It took them five minutes at a sprint. Jaune went to the front of the formation and led them all to the center of the crescent, where Weiss rapidly started recognizing faces.

Komdiv Katyusha, commanding officer of the Mistralian 2nd Armored Division and de facto leader of all Mistralian units in the area, was at the very middle of the line and at its very front. Only half of her small frame could be seen coming out of the hatch of her T-34/85 tank and her short blond hair was mostly hidden by the black tanker's cap she wore, but her loud high-pitched voice made her stand out even on a noisy battlefield. She took the time to salute the Hunter Platoon with a hearty 'Hurrah' and a triumphant fist to the air before going back to her shouting of orders to subordinates.

Kombrig Nonna, commanding officer of the Pravda Armored Brigade and second only to Katyusha, was standing out of the hatch of her tank, to the direct right of Katyusha. She somehow managed to balance herself on the commander's seat despite the regular firing of the main cannon of her IS-2. She wore no helmet of any sort, not even the cap she usually had on during staff meetings, so her long black hair flapped in the wind as she kept binoculars to her eyes and observed the continued effect of the bombardment on the Grimm.

Weiss followed the presumed glare of the commander to the North. Each new volley from the hundreds of guns and cannons tore through the trees as easily as wind through blades of grass, ripping terrible paths into the form of the Grimm army. Much like earlier, the Grimm did not show any willingness to stop their charge for such a petty reason as the death of hundreds of their kin, but this time it did not seem to matter. The beasts were faced with many times more firepower than when fighting for the low hill half an hour earlier. Despite showing ungodly amounts of resilience and perseverance, they simply could not advance any further for now; each new offensive being cut down like wheat under a scythe.

Further North, the ominous mushroom cloud was still easily seen, being only a few kilometers away from this new defensive line. It had gone entirely grey now, the Dust inside having faded in strength in the time it took the Hunter Platoon to run from the low-lying hill.

Weiss shook her head and turned back to her allies as a new shot from Nonna's IS-2 shook the ground and sent a wave of heat towards her due to the muzzle-break. Quickly moving out of the way, the heiress came to rest next to her team's second duo.

Ruby and Pyrrha were standing just a few meters behind the main line of battle, the other trainees similarly scattered in groups nearby. Jaune was not with them, having climbed on the tracks of Commander Nonna's tank to talk to the woman. The many tanks of Nonna's own Blizzard Force, the elite tank company of the Pravda Brigade, formed the main frontline here with scattered Valean and Mistralian infantry units.

Ruby was busy cramming ration bars down her throat when Weiss arrived at her and her partner's side. The heiress looked about to reprimand her for her eating manners, but she bit her lip and said nothing, much to Ruby's thanks. The young girl was feeling famished after her group's actions since dawn, and the sugary rations tasted better than she could put into words.

Weiss spoke as Ruby was opening the wrapping around yet another ration bar.

"I think we can safely say that our work on the Dust mine in these last weeks didn't amount to nothing. Wouldn't you agree, Ruby?" Weiss smiled genuinely at the beaming grin of pride Ruby showed in response.

Ruby finished swallowing her last mouthful, not losing her smile as she did so, before answering.

"It was amazing! I knew the explosion would be big, but not that big!" Ruby waved her arms in the air for emphasis, making Pyrrha chuckle. "The shockwave must've went on for leagues and leagues in all directions! It was so strong it even shattered Coco and Neptune's glasses despite the protection!"

Weiss looked impressed with the information, even putting a protective hand over the satchel she used to transport her Dust vials.

"Then I suppose I should thank you for the clumsiness you demonstrated in our first meeting." The heiress chuckled nervously. "I would never have thought to reinforce my vials if you hadn't nearly broken them all."

Ruby felt her eyes widen as she understood the implications. The hilltop on which the teens had been standing could have become a crater of its own. Ruby scratched at the back of her head at a loss for words, only to have this conversation interrupted by a strong and jovial voice she did not recognize.

"Miss Schnee! That was splendid work back there!" A tall woman smiling from ear to ear approached their group with an extended hand. She looked very much like a slightly older Yang, with her long blonde hair and her laughing eyes, though hers were blue and not violet. She wore the uniform of a Valean infantry officer, a Sergeant from what Ruby could discern.

"Sergeant Saunders!" Weiss turned to the Valean officer which had unceremoniously walked into her group, did her obvious best to shake off the surprise of the unexpected visit, and shook the hand presented to her. "Many thanks for the praise, but I am not the only one to compliment, nor the most deserving one. My teammates Ruby Rose and Pyrrha Nikos here present have been fighting the Grimm since the early hours of the day."

Ruby was nearly speechless and felt her face flush as the gregarious Sergeant shook her hand and then Pyrrha's. She had heard the name of Sergeant Saunders many times in the last days, each time the story of Jaune's fight alongside the Valean sixteenth platoon came into discussion. It felt odd to finally meet somebody she had only heard of, especially since her unit had been such a point of contention until very lately.

This awkwardness Ruby felt increased tenfold when a man in the uniform of a Lieutenant followed the Sergeant into the group. She wouldn't have needed the presentations to know who he was.

"Ah, Lieutenant Stone," Weiss smiled politely when she saw the man, "let me present my teammates to you as well." Ruby could tell that Weiss was not entirely comfortable talking to the officer, but the mere fact that no outright hostility was present in her greeting was impressive.

"There's no need for that, Miss Schnee, I heard their names quite clearly already." Lieutenant Stone nodded cordially at Weiss and turned towards Ruby. "Miss Rose, Miss Nikos, I must congratulate you as well for your actions this morning. You managed to truly amaze many of our soldiers even if they saw almost nothing of the acts themselves."

Ruby smiled awkwardly as she shook the offered hand, embarrassed by the praise as well as the situation itself. While she had never harbored any anger towards the man or his platoon, mostly feeling sorry that they had been put in such a situation, obliviously not all of her friends had felt the same. The story around Lieutenant Stone and Weiss' original response to it had almost broken any semblance of unity in the Hunter Platoon, so it was hard to just react to him like any other person.

The booming voice of Sergeant Saunders brought Ruby back to reality.

"After your friend Jaune showed up to save our arses last week I thought I understood just why Huntsmen and Huntresses were considered so deadly, but you've just been doing more crazy stuff since!" Sergeant Saunders said in a voice filled with laughter. "Blowing-up half a damned forest and coming out of the shockwave at a light jog is just the latest heroic act of the pile!"

"We worked on that act for weeks, so it's really nothing so impressive." Pyrrha tried to be modest.

"You can try to diminish this all you want, but to the common soldier it'll still be one of the grandest act of heroism they've ever seen." Lieutenant Stone spoke with a jovial smile, the Sergeant nodding strongly to his side.

"They'll remember it, too, and it'll no doubt lift their spirits for the next time they'll fight alongside you lot or others of your creed." Sergeant Saunders continued nodding happily as she looked around at other members of her unit who were sitting around or mingling with other trainees, having apparently been given a breather since they helped defend the hill earlier.

Ruby normally wouldn't be interested in having her or her group's accomplishments spread and aggrandized, wanting her reputation to be entirely deserved and not exaggerated, but she could see it being useful here. Morale had always been an immensely important aspect of warfare, making it so soldiers would fight to the bitter end and quite frankly fight more effectively. If modern tales of heroism could be added to the already impressive reputation of Hunters it might improve the morale of Vale as a whole and of soldiers fighting alongside Hunter units along the front even more so. She supposed that this process had already been going on since the beginning of the war.

The many conversations around her group had been going on at quite a high volume so people could hear each other over the noise of the continuous firing of all types of weapons, so it was immediately evident when most of them were muted. Ruby looked around herself in confusion and quickly saw that many around her were staring northwards with shocked expressions. She followed their gaze and found herself in much the same state.

Jaune had been talking to Commander Nonna about the effectiveness of the fighting retreat his Platoon had performed since the early morning when he felt the words die in his mouth at what he saw to the North.

In what seemed like perfect synchronicity, three large groups of gigantic Grimm broke through the treeline at a charge. They truly broke through the trees, pushing even the largest trunks out of the way with as much ease as one would walk through wheat. One group was directly North, one about two kilometers West and the other the same distance East. They thus faced the convex center of the line and its two flanks.

It took Jaune a few seconds to register what he was seeing, his mind screaming its panic certainly not helping him, and he had to muffle a swear when he recognized the Grimm.

They were the Aspis.

The beasts were quadrupedal, walking just as a Goliath might. They were also of a similar size to most smaller Goliaths, being about 5 meters tall at the shoulder. The resemblances stopped there. While a Goliath had visible facial features, an Aspi quite literally resembled a stone wall from the front; a very spiky stone wall made of black and white armor plates of various sizes haphazardly hammered together. A third taller than the rest of the Aspi and dragging onto the ground, this wall-like shield was several meters thick and extremely strong. Indeed, Jaune watched as dozens of shells from cannons strong enough to pierce the armor of nearly any tank in existence simply bounced off or blew up uselessly on contact with the plates. Even precise shots from Nonna's IS-2 and Darjeeling's experimental Black Prince barely managed to shake the numerous Grimm.

The Aspis did have faces somewhere under these plates, or so Qrow had told them in a distant conversation, but the beasts would always close their eyes and mouths when in combat. Their eyelids and lips being themselves made of armor plates, it was impossible to attack these weak points for all practical purpose.

The three groups of Aspis counted around 10 members each. They advanced at a fairly rapid trot in a compact formation; their shields slightly overlapping with those of their kin and forming a formidable shield wall. As many smaller and quicker Grimm continued to charge around the advancing behemoths, Jaune clearly saw many instead taking refuge behind the protection. From his angle, he saw long columns of small Grimm form behind the charging Aspis to the East and West, showing terrifying coordination. It almost seemed planned.

Just to add to the terrifying mass of Grimm starting to run across the plain, Jaune saw two massive MehTehs shatter the treeline to the West. The two bipedal Grimm had been leaning forwards as they ran through the forest and only now straightened their backs to continue. Jaune felt another blow to his courage as he realized why. By running like that, they could hide their approach through the trees, make it so their heads did not stick out far over the treeline. Yet another proof of the dangerous intelligence of older Grimm.

The MehTehs charged with the agility of a sprinter, despite being equipped with the equivalent of a knight's plate armor. They quickly became the vanguard of the Grimm horde to the West.

This is bad! This is really fucking bad!

This secondary line of defense had been expected to face only the smallest and fastest types of Grimm for at least a few hours. It was in no way meant to effectively resist a coordinated attack by large amounts of massive and resilient Grimm. They would have to fall back to the last line of defense.

Jaune heard Commander Katyusha yell a series of swears from the hatch of her tank and then heard her high voice coming through every single radio along the line and behind it.

"Soldiers of Mistral and Vale! We won't be able to hold here any longer, so we have to fall back to the main line!" Katyusha nearly screamed these orders. "I want an organized retreat; fallback measure 3! I want all cannons and artillery guns in range to fire at the flanks and top of these moving bunkers!"

Measure 3, measure 3…

As Sergeant Saunders and Lieutenant Stone ran from her side and into action, Weiss did her best to push away the panic that had taken over her and tried to remember the specifics of fallback measure 3 as Jaune had explained to them. Before she could remember even a word of the plan, Jaune's clear voice came in through her earpiece.

"Alright, Platoon, nap time is over!" Jaune spoke authoritatively, his tone alone being enough to shake her into attention. "Measure 3 means the center will be forming the rearguard while the wings of the crescent fold backward. Only then will we start the retreat proper. We'll have the Blizzard Force and Darjeeling's tanks with us till the end, so we won't lack for covering fire!"

And so the entire line was thrown into action, all seven thousand of them with their nearly 150 tanks and hundreds of smaller vehicles. Weiss followed Jaune as he ran to the vehicle to which team JWPR was attributed; the T-34/85 nicknamed Delta. The commander of this tank, a young woman named Klara, greeted the teens with a military salute. Standing behind the turret of this tank and grasping at the rope net installed on it to keep her stability, Weiss managed to get a clear and unobstructed view of most of the fighting.

The wings of the crescent started folding backward with its center as the hinge. The thirty-six artillery guns at the very top of the Fort were firing for effect, making for more than a hundred shells a minute. Two of the Aspis on the Eastern flank were taken down by shells falling almost vertically upon their backs, and with their shields gone there was enough of an angle for a T-34/85 to the West to punch a hole through the flank of a third and fourth one in quick succession.

On the center flank, a specialized Ice-Dust shell from a KV-2 struck the ground just a meter away from the right flank of the charging shieldwall. The shell unleashed its payload on impact, ice spreading to all sides like fire amongst dried grass. The ice latched onto the rightmost Aspis as it ran past, and soon the beast crashed down onto the ground – almost half of its body covered in a thick sheet of ice.

On the Western flank, things were starting to go much worse much more quickly. While three Aspis were taken down by artillery and a few more started lagging behind due to crippled limbs, the two MehTehs quickly reached the fleeing Mistralian units. Weiss looked on painfully as a MehTeh ran toward a BA-64 armored car and reached it at the end of a long stride. The vehicle weighed a few tons, Weiss knew, but it was kicked into the air without even slowing the Grimm. Bent and nearly broken in two due to the kick, the car still flew for hundreds of meters, only to crash down in the middle of the retreating column. Even if anybody had survived the horrific impact, it was evident that nobody would dare try to save them, not when stopping for the smallest instant meant moving into the reach of a MehTeh.

A small BT-7 tank was caught as it tried to form a rearguard, a gigantic hand closing down on the turret and lifting it from the ground. The soldiers riding on this tank jumped from their ride, only to be swarmed by Beowolves. The BT-7 itself was crushed into a misshapen sphere by the powerful hands of the MehTeh, the beast not slowing its stride even as it threw the metal carcass forwards.

Trucks and cars and tanks barely managed to keep in front of the advancing horde, and each piece of wreckage thrown into the column by the MehTehs meant the slowing down of much of them.

Weiss felt each death she saw as a punch to the gut, but she would not stop watching and she forced these images into her mind. Each of these soldiers had a life of their own, memories and hopes and dreams which now would be forgotten. They at least deserved their deaths to be remembered. To be avenged.

The next deaths on the Western flank would be remembered by many more than just her, she knew. They were the crew of a T-34, and they died in glory. Their tank had been near the end of the column, to its right, but it suddenly shifted even more to the right and moved away from the other vehicles. Turning its turret entirely backward, it pointed upwards at one of the MehTehs and fired a shell imbued with Lightning Dust. The shell did small damage, but it annoyed the giant enough for it to shift its direction as well and turn its stride to follow the T-34. In a few seconds, the tank was reached, grasped in a massive hand, and was just about to get crushed into formless debris when it fired again. This shell was a regular armor piercing one, and it punched right through the gritted teeth of the gigantic Grimm and into its skull. The shell did its work, and as the MehTeh fell to its knees it was evident that it would never stand back up. The T-34 fell from limp hands and smashed onto the ground, crushing an Ursa under its weight, and was summarily swarmed and torn apart by dozens of Grimm.

Two minutes into the retreat, the units that had formed the flanks of the crescent were finally starting to move past the static center that would serve as a rearguard. Thousands of soldiers on their vehicles rushed past this center on both sides, many continuing to fire backward as they made their way towards the last and most fortified line of defense before the Fort.

The Grimm were relentless in their pursuit. On both of the flanks, the wrecks of dozens of vehicles could be seen, Grimm of all sizes continuing to swarm around them. The last MehTeh and remaining Aspis plowed through lagging units with horrific efficiency.

The center of the line had been the furthest away from the forest, meaning that the Grimm had not yet reached the Hunter Platoon and other units told to stand fast, but they were getting closer. Having this center remain in place for so long did have the hoped-for effects, at the very least. The powerful tanks of the Gloriana Company and the Blizzard Force could fire much more effectively when static, and they were able to both clear large swathes of ground with HE shells and bring down the largest of Grimm on the flanks with AT fire.

Weiss' attention was taken away from the fighting as Lieutenant Stone suddenly climbed on the track of JWPR's tank and addressed Jaune with urgency.

"Jaune! I need your assistance!" The Lieutenant started, Weiss seeing that he held the handpiece of his radio. "I've asked the artillery headquarter up on the hill that they make the line of Aspis in the center into an Uncle target, but they want the approval of at least one other officer on the field. I hoped you'd be the quickest to convince."

Jaune gritted his teeth and brought his gaze to the North, where seven Aspis were still leading the charge. Many of these beasts on the other flanks had been killed or crippled by accurate shots to the sides by the static units in the center, but those in the center now had nobody to flank them.

"Good call!" Jaune met the eyes of the Lieutenant and gave him a confident nod. "Tell them the leader of the Arc Force agrees with you!"

Stone spoke a few quick lines into his radio before bringing the handpiece closer to Jaune's mouth, who immediately repeated his approval for the ears of the artillery officers.

Weiss looked at the two allies with pride and respect. Lieutenant Stone seemed the complete antithesis of how she had imagined him during his first encounter with Jaune. He was quick-thinking and decisive, looked competent and ready for anything. She could also see the same glimmer of complete determination as she could in Jaune's eyes. He would not back down. He would regain his lost honor.

The Lieutenant jumped down from the tank and went back to his unit at a run. Jaune lost no time in grabbing his own radio and calling Katyusha and Nonna to tell them of the concentrated bombardment. After nearly a minute of this conversation, Jaune switched back to the frequency of the Hunter Platoon and spoke through the trainees' earpieces.

"Alright, Platoon, there's been a small change of plan." Jaune spoke in his usual confident and authoritative tone. "Since the big Grimm on the flanks are causing even more issues than we would have thought, it's been decided that most static tanks in the center would concentrate their fire on them. That means that despite the bombardment we've called on the Aspis in the center, there'll be a lot less firepower directed at our front. To make up for that and to stop any Grimm that gets too close, the Hunter Platoon will be fighting on foot in front of the other units right up until the moment we can get onto the retreat ourselves. Understood?"

The other team leaders answered in an overwhelming yes, and Jaune ordered everybody into position. JWPR and the other teams jumped from their tanks and formed a line parallel to the other defenders, directly in front of them. This blocked the view of many infantry soldiers, so Weiss saw many of them climb on their vehicles to get a new firing angle on the Grimm.

Team SSSN stood at the left of the formation. To their right were, in order, teams RYBN, JWPR and CFVY. To the extreme right were team ABRN and the last team from Mistral.

Now that they were all formed up, Weiss took the time to look at her fellow trainees. She was glad of what she saw; anger and a powerful will to fight.

They had no doubt been witness to the same vision of carnage among the ranks of the retreating units, and most of them seemed to respond in the same fashion. Instead of cracking under the panic that came into their hearts, they turned the horrors they had seen into a desire for vengeance upon the Grimm. Some like Ren or Blake or Weiss herself kept passive expressions and only showed their emotions through their eyes, but most others presented their fury without filter. Yang was burning, Pyrrha had the most terrifying of hatred present in her frown, and even Ruby had left behind her terror to leave room for wrath.

As the retreat continued to either side and the Grimm up front were now only a few minutes away, Weiss finally heard what she had been anxious for; the perfectly synchronized firing of the thirty-six long-range cannons on top of the hill. Long seconds passed, and then lightning struck with righteous fury.

One of the Aspis was struck by half-a-dozen shells at once, blowing its body to smithereens even as its shield was nearly unaffected. The beasts on both flanks of their line were shredded as HE shells fell to their right and left, metal fragments ripping holes into through their weak sides. Another beast tripped and fell when one of its brethren collapsed into its legs. Beowolves and Ursai and Grimm Weiss had only ever seen in books were sent into oblivion as shells missed their targets and fell amongst the lesser beasts.

Weiss was hopeful for a single instant as the shells fell. Then, she saw the results.

Three Aspis had survived the bombardment unscathed, along with hundreds of smaller Grimm in this wave alone. They continued their charge with unwavering fury, and it took no more than a minute for the quicker Grimm to reach the trainees.

Weiss lifted Myrtenaster in a steady hand and summoned a dozen spears of ice with a twist of the wrist, keeping them floating in the air with her Glyphs. Choosing as many targets as she had spears, she used her semblance to aim her Glyphs and waited calmly for the signal. When Jaune screamed the order to charge, she unleashed her summons with augmented speed and followed the others into the attack.

Her spears each connected with their targets; penetrating throats and lungs, piercing eyes and shattering knees. She brought down twice as many enemies as she launched spears, the ice projectiles skewering many beasts at once or causing deadly crashes. When she reached the beasts herself she continued adding up to her grim list, avenging every men and women she had seen fall on this day, all the while never losing track of Jaune's position at her side.

The first Grimm in front of her was an Ursa, and close behind were a squad of Beowolves. She jumped forward with a Glyph just as the Ursa lifted a paw to strike down and had plunged Myrtenaster pommel deep into its chest before it had time to bring its arm down. She used a Glyph to throw herself off the dying beast and into the sky, using the same method to come back down with speed. She had pierced the lungs of two beasts and cut the throat of two more before the first corpse went down.

To her side, Jaune rampaged through the Grimm in barely controlled anger. Red Dawn cut its burning path through the many arms of a Shrieker and into its shoulder. The sword melted entire columns of Boarbatusks with blue flames. Jaune screamed in rage and pain as his enhanced muscles let him slash and burn through Creeps and Beowolves and Ursai with immense strength.

Weiss looked forward and saw a pack of five Polar Ursai surrounding their leader; a Major. The three charging Aspis were no more than a minute away.

As bullets and grenades and the blades of their allies cut down innumerable Grimm to their left and right, Weiss and Jaune locked gaze. Weiss saw that he had also been looking at the Ursai, and so she understood his quick nod without a word being needed.

The duo charged shoulder to shoulder, explosions from Yang and Nora to their left, Ruby's flying form over their heads. Weiss sent herself flying with a Glyph just as one of the Ursai swung at her, leaving it without a target and out of position when Jaune smashed into it. His burning sword broke through an armored neck and leather-strong skin, cutting dark flesh and cauterizing all before a drop of black blood was split.

As her partner ripped his sword out of the beast's chest and before he was struck by its brothers, Weiss entered a spin and fell into the pack of Grimm sword first. She cut at the nape of a beast, stopping its swing and leaving it open for Jaune. The knight quickstepped to the creature's side and rammed his sword into its flank just over the hip. He visibly sent a wave of aura into the blade and stoked its flames, burning the insides of this second Ursa and sending a jet of white fire at a third.

Meanwhile, Weiss had rolled under the paw of the fourth Ursa and sliced at the tendons behind its right knee as she did so. She flicked her wrist and sent some Gravity Dust into the injury. The Ursa crashed down upon its leg with much more force than natural, shattering dozens of bones so loudly that it almost overtook the sound of its tortured moan.

The heiress created a Glyph behind her to block a bite from the Ursa Major while she thrust her rapier deep into the nape of the fourth small Ursa that had fallen to its palms and knees.

A quick look told her that her partner had quickly dealt with the third and fifth Ursai by decapitation and disembowelment respectively. Weiss cartwheeled out of the way as she dissipated the Glyph behind her and the Major tried to crush her with a downward strike of its two paws.

To their left, Grimm were cut down in mass by team RYBN, a flaming Yang as their vanguard. To the right, Pyrrha weaved and flowed her way through Grimm after Grimm, wasting just enough time on each to deliver them one blow. Many of her victims were left crippled and moaning for death or respite, but she did not deign to finish them off; not when she could be hacking at more of their brethren instead. Ruby was a red blur, more easily followed by the many Grimm and petals she left in her track than by actually trying to see where she was.

Weiss and Jaune's flanks were thus secured, and with the Aspis only a handful of seconds away they had to deal with the secondary threat of the Ursa Major quickly.

The gigantic creature swung down at them, trying to smash them with two fists just like his last move. Weiss was out of the way even before the beast's arms were fully lifted, but Jaune stayed unmoving and with his sword held in the position of the Ox, the blade left of his head but pointed further right. The Major brought its paws down with enough force to shatter a boulder, and Jaune stayed right in their path until the very last second. He quickstepped to the right in a practiced motion and swung his blade anti-clockwise over his head, striking the incoming attack and deflecting it just enough so it crashed uselessly into the mud.

As Jaune made certain the Grimm wasted precious seconds and left itself exposed, Weiss circled the beast to her left and launched a series of puncturing strikes upon its flank. Her rapier had difficulty piercing the thick skin of the old Grimm, but at the end of her combination of ten thrust she saw black blood flowing from at least three wounds. The pricks were enough to annoy the monster into swinging wildly to his side, a move that Weiss saw from a league away and had backstepped away from without worry.

The beast let itself fall upon four legs and roared its anger at Weiss strongly enough so that its breath tugged at her coat. She answered with a simple smirk as she watched her partner's claymore swing down from the side and part the Major's body from its head. Ursai had weak necks, even the Majors. That was something that both Professor Port and Qrow had taught them. She was glad that Jaune had been paying attention.

A quick look behind told Weiss that the Platoon's counter-charge through the Grimm had only brought them about one hundred paces away from the main defensive line. A few quick looks to the sides told her that the combined strength of the Platoon and the firepower from the hundreds of small arms behind them had mostly dealt with the Grimm that had run past the slow charge of the Aspis. A quick look forward told her that these Aspis were now upon them and that they seemingly had found a second wind to finish this charge with even more vigor.

"Don't stand in their way!" Jaune screamed through the earpieces of the trainees even as Weiss had to use a Glyph to throw herself out of the trampling path. "Attack their legs! Their legs! We have to stop them before they reach the - FUCK!"

Weiss had been about to create a Glyph under the leg of one of the behemoths, but the sudden swear in Jaune's transmission grabbed all her attention and had her turn sharply on her heels as she looked for him in alarm.

His handheld radio still in hand, Jaune wildly swung his blade one-handed at the Beowolf which had attacked him as he talked. His meek strike merely deflected on the extended paw of the beast, but the following attack had him shoving the blade deep into its chest.

Weiss quickly realized that Jaune was in no true danger and she turned back to look at the Aspis, but now she was too late. While Ruby had been quick enough to launch herself at one of the beasts and sliced through the tendons behind its knees, the trainees were much too late to stop the others. The last two Aspis continued their blind charge; aimed directly at Commander Katyusha in her T-34/85.

Her lapse in concentration might have doomed their Commander.

Weiss looked on helplessly as soldiers ran for their lives, doing all they could to exit the path of the Aspis in those last seconds. She looked on helplessly as Katyusha screamed orders down the hatch of her tank, only getting her driver to start turning her tank on its axis in those last seconds. She looked on helplessly as another tank came speeding into view, black hair flowing and main gun roaring as one of the beasts came down in those last seconds. Looked on helplessly as Commander Nonna brought her tank in the direct path of the last Aspis in that last second.

The Aspis slammed into Commander Nonna's IS-2 with the strength of a speeding truck, caving in its flank and pushing it back half a dozen meters to itself crash into Katyusha's T-34/85. Bits of metal and scales of white armor flew in the air like shrapnel, sending at least two men to the ground. The Aspis fell to its knees, having taken the blow nearly as roughly as the tank. There, it was killed by a shot behind the front leg from Darjeeling's Guardian which had quickly moved to flank it.

By now, another wave of Grimm had reached the Hunter Platoon, but that did not stop Jaune from sprinting to the Commanders, Weiss on his heels.

"Commander Nonna!" Jaune pushed through the mass of Valean soldiers in his path and jumped onto the back of the damaged IS-2, throwing his burning weapon near the tracks of the tank so it wouldn't get in his way and wouldn't simply melt through its scabbard. Around him, soldiers he recognized from Stone's sixteenth Platoon started breaking open the secondary hatches of the massive tank, striking at the deformed metal with entrenching tools.

He climbed to the hatch of the tank and was immediately met with the empty gaze of its commander. She was slumped back in her seat, leaning halfway outside of the hatch. Some of the structure of the IS-2 had caved in around her, broken and twisted steel pushing into her stomach and hiding her legs from view. Her visage was empty of all emotions and still as statue's, except for the fast trickle of blood coming from the large gash across her forehead and her raven hair flowing in the wind. For an instant, Jaune felt his heart sink as the commander he held so much respect for showed no signs of life. When she blinked, he nearly jumped back in surprise.

"Commander!" Jaune brought a hand to Nonna's shoulder, grabbing her attention enough so that brought her eyes in his direction. "Can you hear me?"

Her eyes stayed unfocused even as she visibly tried to peer at him.

"Jaune?" Her voice was soft, barely heard over the battle still raging. "Yes, I can hear you."

"Nonna!" Commander Katyusha climbed on the other side of the wrecked tank as she called out to her second in command, her voice filled with immense worry.

The two women locked eyes at the very moment Katyusha was into view. All at once, Nonna seemed to get a hold back on reality. Her eyes became more focused and her face twisted into a grimace of pain. Through this, she still managed to smile at her own commander.

"Katyusha, you are well." Nonna lifted an arm towards her friend, the smaller woman grabbing it with two hands and holding it to her chest protectively. "Then I was successful. I am glad."

"We're going to get you out of this mess, Nonna!" Katyusha looked panicked as she let her gaze roam around the battlefield for an instant before locking eyes with Nonna again. "The last units from the flanks are about to pass us. I'll be able to call the retreat for our rearguard in just a minute."

"It might be too late. You need to go now, leave me behind." Nonna shook her head softly as talked, still smiling despite her words.

Jaune grit his teeth as he looked around himself, realizing that Nonna might be right. His own Platoon was holding against the tide of Grimm from the front with heavy support from the rest of the rearguard, but as soon as the last units on the flanks passed them they would get surrounded. They probably didn't have a minute to spare.

Katyusha tried to disagree, but Nonna interrupted her.

"Katyusha, you have to leave me. You need to survive for the sake of us all." Nonna pulled her arm out of the embrace of her commander, bringing it up into a formal salute. "I look forward to the victory of this army under your command as confidently as to successive sunrises."

The small officer seemed in even more pain than her subordinate when she finally nodded her agreement. Within an instant, she had jumped down from the tank and back into her own vehicle. Her high voice thick with emotion rang through their radios as she called for all remaining units to retreat. Since this was fallback measure 3, Jaune knew very well what would accompany this last round of retreat; a large-scale bombardment by dozens of Katyusha rocket launchers. It was now official that they had less than a minute.

Jaune still stood on the carcass of the IS-2 when most of the vehicles around him started falling back, even as Nonna called out to him and ordered him to run as well.

He ignored her, flashbacks of the BT-7 his Platoon had left behind in Operation Howling Choir filling his mind. He refused to let the same thing happen this time. Not when he knew for a fact that there was still someone to save. He had to try.

Jaune reached into the hatch of the IS-2 and grabbed the contorted steel trapping Nonna inside with both hands. Channeling his aura and his semblance into his fingers, he started morphing the metal. He only needed to break some of the bonds within the steel, to shatter the elements that made up the alloy and to heat it so it could become malleable.

As he did this, Jaune realized that, amazingly, he wasn't the only one staying behind with the IS-2. It wasn't just his Platoon either.

Sergeant Saunders and some of her soldiers had dragged two of Nonna's crew out of the IS-2 and were trying to pull the last one out of the driver's hatch. Mistralians in the uniforms of medics were strapping wounded soldiers to tanks with thick orange straps. Lieutenant Stone was standing on a crate as he fired his Thompson gun into the approaching mass of Grimm, many of his soldiers doing the same to his side. A tall Valean fired a 2-inch mortar from the hip and blew a hole straight through the chest of an Ursa.

Mistralian tanks like the Delta and the Sundowner, the Fury and the Jolly Grimm stayed behind, as well as Major Darjeeling with her own platoon of Valean machines minus the Matildas.

Darjeeling's prototype vehicle, the Black Prince nicknamed Guardian, fired from five weapons at once. The three .50 cal machine-guns and 20mm cannon mowed down small Grimm in their dozens, the main 17-pounder gun brought down a pack leader with each shot.

Jaune heard Coco yell orders into her radio and saw the Hunter Platoon form a new defensive crescent that guarded the aggregate of soldiers around the IS-2. Sun ordered everyone to fire for effect and aim for hits not kills so as to slow the horde down, a tactic directly out of Jaune's many lessons. The Platoon leader saw his friends and allies hold the Grimm horde at bay with Dust and Glyphs and brutal melee fighting. He couldn't have been prouder of them all.

With a last pull in which Jaune felt he nearly dislocated his arms, he managed to warp a large chunk of steel away from Commander Nonna. Not losing an instant, he reached out and pulled the woman herself out of the mangled IS-2. Already, Jaune could hear the oppressive howling of the Katyusha rockets high in the sky, aimed at the area that should have been abandoned almost a minute ago.

It seemed as if others around him had been paying attention to what he'd been doing because as soon as he affirmed his hold on the woman in his arms and jumped onto the ground he heard every officer still nearby order their units to finally retreat.

Jaune passed Nonna to a duo of medics at the back of a Valean tank before climbing on the back of the Delta where his team already was waiting for him. Finally, the last of the rearguard started their retreat, one that was already dangerously late on its schedule.

The last of the tanks and armored cars carrying the last of the trainees and infantry rolled away from the converging horde of Grimm in some of the last possible instants. Moments later, Katyusha rockets filled with Fire Dust made the entire plain surrounding the abandoned IS-2 into a raging inferno. The overwhelmingly terrifying howling and hissing of the rockets transformed into the no less paralyzing sound of explosions detonating dangerously close.

Keeping a good grip on the rope net dangling from his vehicle, Jaune reached up to grab Grey Dusk from its scabbard, wanting to protect the retreating column by pushing away rockets that came too close. Only then did he realize that he had not picked his second sword back from the side of the IS-2. Red Dawn was now stuck in the middle of a Dust inferno, unlikely to survive the explosive force of the rockets falling all around it.

The knight felt like having received a punch to the gut. He had just lost one of his family's ancestral weapons and was incredibly unlikely to ever retrieve it. He forced all of this out of his mind at once, though not without difficulty. He couldn't let a sword occupy his mind right now.

Sending a wave of wind up into the sky, he managed to deflect a rocket which would quite possibly have struck the retreating column. He repeated the process three times before the last of the rockets finally struck the ground and stopped being a threat. Only then did he allow himself to look back to the North. His eyes widened in surprise and fear all at once.

While the near entirety of the Grimm horde had been temporarily blocked by the massive bombardment of the Katyushas, there were a few beasts that continued the stubborn pursuit, the surviving MehTeh as their vanguard and only specimen fast enough to be catching up. The gigantic creature was only a few dozen meters behind the convoy and would no doubt reach them in a few more strides.

This threat was not the only thing that captured Jaune's attention, however, nor the one that kept it. Instead, the boy stared at the magnificent and enormous Schnee Glyph that hung in the air midway between the back of the Delta and the MehTeh.

Jaune turned to stare at Weiss, who was herself looking at the Glyph she was creating with the utmost incredulity. Following her glare and that of nearly everybody on the retreating column, Jaune watched as a sword nearly large enough to be wielded by the pursuing Grimm materialized out of the Glyph before launching a single strike of grandiose power. The shining sword fell just left of the MehTeh's neck, and, accomplishing something Jaune was certain he had never seen, broke through the plate armor of the beast and went on into its flesh. The Grimm fell on its knees as Weiss' creation sliced into its chest and came to rest in its stomach before dematerializing into white dust.

Weiss slumped over in her precarious seat, and Jaune tried his best to block a possible fall with the sword in his hand. After a few seconds and as people all over the column started cheering, Weiss regained her composure and straightened her posture. She looked up at Jaune, which was now sporting a beaming smile of pride and pure amazement, and sent him a smile of her own in response.

With the MehTeh dead, the column was easily fast enough to stay out of reach of the remaining Grimm that had overcome the inferno. The Hunter Platoon and its allies were thus truly going to make it to the next phase of the battle alive. Considering the odds that had seemed to stack against them in the last half-hour, Jaune felt he had the right to smile and to laugh his relief.

Jaune sheathed his last sword and hugged Weiss despite their hazardous seating. Over her shoulder, he could see the tall walls of dirt that had been erected in the last days. This was where they would finally stop running, where they would have to stand fast.

Where they would either vanquish the Grimm horde or die trying.

And voilà!

This chapter must've felt rather hectic to many of you. Well, that was intentional. The entire chapter takes place over less than half an hour, from the arrival of the Aspis until the end its more like fifteen minutes. The characters didn't really have any time to have long internal monologues or conversations. Everything was made in a rush and with minimal thinking since they had no time for anything else, and I wanted to partly show that off in the writing. Whether it worked or not I'll leave for you to decide.

If you have comments to make on anything related to this story, feel free to leave a review. I love answering those in private messages.

Oh, and I have no idea when the next chapter might come out. I don't have much time for writing this week, so maybe in a fortnight.