Autumn Leaves

Have you heard this story before? Once, long ago, there was a smith in a far off land, and on the eve of a great battle, the King demanded that every horse in the army be reshod. The King wanted the smith to work quickly, you see, but the smith was a man of virtue, and refused to cut even a single corner…

Prologue: Before the Fall

Even before she came into the power of the Fall Maiden, Amber Fall loved the open road. It spoke to her of new horizons, of strange new peoples, of sights unseen. On the road, staff in one hand and magic in the other, she could meander far and wide as her heart demanded. That her travels inconvenienced Ozpin was only a side benefit.

This time, her heart lead her to the small island of Patch during the fading days of the summer, year 217 Vale Reckoning.

She knew several of Ozpin's supporters had families there, but then, if she refused to go places that the old man might have touched, she would find herself lost in the wilderness in short order. Besides, she reasoned, fall was the perfect season to try new things. She could change, the world could change. She would offer Ozpin the chance to change as well, and keep his nose out of her business despite the opportunity.

It was with this sort of mental… girding… that Amber Fall pushed her way into the colorful little forge that claimed a place of pride next to Patch's central road. A brass bell jingled as the door opened, a mellow tone to go with the warm interior.

Amber walked up to the oak counter, soaking in the heat of the forge that always permeated these kinds of places. Most would find such warmth oppressive, but these little embers, these sparks of mankind's determination of resourcefulness, were one of her favorite places in the world.

"Hello?" she called. The counter stood empty, and the sound of metal striking metal echoed from the back of the shop. "Hello!" No one replied. She looked around for a buzzer or bell to ring, but found nothing. Taking a brief moment to admire the finely made shields and staves that were proudly displayed on the walls, she lifted up the partition and walked into the back room of the smithy. Instead of a well-muscled man or woman, however, Amber caught sight of a young girl tending the forge.

She had pale skin and the hair of the darkest red, the color of Forever Fall at midnight, lit only by the shattered moon. Amber found herself immediately smitten.

The girl was so caught in her task that she missed Amber's entrance. Red hair sparkling in the light of the forge, she dashed between the bellows and the mouth of the forge, barely pausing to work on the metal lying within.

Amber couldn't help but wonder how difficult it must be to keep the forge at just the right temperature all by oneself. With an effort of will, Amber flared her magic, breathing warmth into the coals. It wasn't much, not even enough to set her eyes ablaze, but Amber couldn't help but smile as her efforts made an immediate difference.

The girl smiled when she saw the temperature of the forge holding steady, and began working with even greater alacrity. She removed the metal rod from the flames several times, shaping it with hammer and machine at the nearby anvil, before returning it to heat before the cherry red glow could fade.

The blade of a dagger quickly began to take shape beneath her hands. It didn't look fancy, none of the separate pieces necessary for intricate machinery. Even still, the girl poured her heart and soul into the blade, focused on making a weapon that would last, even if would never transform into a gun or a whip or any number of other things.

It was honest. It was simple.

Amber waited until the girl doused her creation in oil before speaking up. "That's a fine blade."

The girl jumped, squeaking like a mouse. The tongs clattered to the ground as she spun. "H-hey!" The girl said, silver eyes flashing, "You're not supposed to be back here!"

Amber smiled. "Well, I wouldn't have had to come to the forge if there'd been someone at the counter," she said.

The girl blushed, glancing away. "Oh… uh, Mister Gray says I'm not supposed to man the counter…" she said. "Wait, did I forget to flip the sign to 'closed' again? I thought I got it this time! Mister Gray is always telling me to make sure no one comes into the shop while he's away and if it happens again he might kick me out before I can finish my dagger—"

Amber started laughed. "I'm not sure about the sign," she managed, "but the door was unlocked?"

The expression on her face sent Amber into another round of laughter.

The girl blushed, "He only told me to flip the sign…" she mumbled.

"Well, I'm sure he'll be happy you followed instructions."

"Uuunnnggg..."

"It will be fine." Amber said, ruffling the girl's hair. "Oh my, but you such beautiful hair."

"Oh, uh, Thanks!" The girl chirped. "Oh, I'm Ruby Rose, by the way. My mom always says to introduce myself to new people at the store! Though she always says to introduce myself as 'Autumn', and then Dad tells me that I should only use my real name…"

"Then why would you say Autumn?" Amber asked.

"Well, it's cause my mom's name is Summer, and she really wanted to name me Autumn, 'cause she's Summer Rose and summer comes before fall!" Ruby said. "Dad talked her out of it, but she says that I… um… I 'take after' her! Yeah! So she tells people to call me Autumn, and then Dad says that Ruby is more colorful."

"Really? My name is Amber Fall," Amber said. "and I have it on good authority that fall is actually the most colorful season."

Ruby's nose scrunched. "Huh?"

Amber leaned in close, as if conveying an important secret. "You have to watch the trees. During the Summer they are all green and bright, yes, but it's during Fall that they show the brightest leaves," she flicked at Ruby's bangs, "just like your hair."

Ruby's eyes widened. "Ooooh! Maybe I should call myself Autumn!"

Amber giggled. "Make sure you bring up that argument next time?" she said. "But anyway… you were talking about a 'Mr. Gray, is he the smith? I was hoping to get my armor repaired, you see."

"Ah, um. It's actually his day off today. I think he said he'd be back tomorrow?"

"Mmm…" Amber frowned, "I'm not staying for that long. I don't suppose you can help me out?"

"Sorry," Ruby said. "Mister Gray says I'm not ready to repair armor. Oh, but I can fix mechashift pieces, as long as your weapon isn't too com… too complex! Mister Gray says I'm pretty good at that!"

Amber sighed. Her weapon was very simple to maintain, and she would feel absolutely criminal if she let a young girl play around with the dust crystals that tipped her staff. "I only need of a few armor repairs."

Ruby frowned thoughtfully. "But Mister Gray always says that 'I should never let a customer leave unsatisfied'…" she murmured. Then she perked up. "Oh I know! You can have the dagger I was working on! I already have the hilt all set for it." Having said such, Ruby dashed over to the workbench with the blade in hand, leaving Amber smiling bemusedly by the forge proper.

"I do have a weapon, dear," she said, patting her staff. "Ouroboros would get jealous if I picked up a new one."

"Well yeah, but you can always have a holdout weapon!" Ruby said. "My dad says that I should always have a dagger with me until I finish my own weapon, and then I told him that weapons are never finished! 'Cause you keep making them better. And then Daddy said that meant I had to have a second weapon with me forever, to hold off all the boys." She paused, "Does that mean I'm only supposed to use Crescent Rose on girls?"

Amber smirked. "Just tell your father that you're playing for the other team," she said.

"I don't think there are teams at Signal…" Ruby said, "My uncle said that we do partners, but they switch every year, so that you get used to working with new people," Before Amber could make another joke, Ruby jumped back to her feet. "Finished!"

"Oh? What does it do?" Amber asked.

"Well, I didn't have room for much, but then I remembered that you wanted a backup weapon!" Ruby said. Amber just smiled. "So I put a spring in the hilt, so that you can launch it up into your palm see!" She held it against her wrist, braced with her opposite hand, and flicked. The hilt extended, launching itself upwards into Ruby's waiting hand. "See—ouch!"

Ruby tossed the dagger away suddenly. "The spring got me…" she said sheepishly, "gonna hafta tune that part. Oh, but first let me get you a sheath, c'mon!"

According to the energetic little girl, Amber's 'poofy sleeves' were perfect for a wrist sheath, and Ruby led her through the fitting process with exuberance. Amber was working out a way to turn down Ruby's offer when the bell rang

"Heya girly," Qrow said. Amber grit her teeth, at the sound of his voice "Whatcha doing around here."

Ozpin promised her that he'd be hands off. He had promised her that—

"Uncle Qrow!" Ruby shouted. "Uncle Qrow, Uncle Qrow! Did you come to pick me up from work?"

Qrow snorted. "Where I come from 'work' implies having a job," he said, knuckling Ruby's head. "You been hiding your paychecks from me, squirt? Your uncle has an expensive drinking habit to finance."

"Eewww, Uncle Qrow!" Ruby giggled.

Amber turned.

What surprised her most was that Qrow didn't immediately notice her, even when she was facing him. Instead, the normally gruff and sarcastic huntsman was too busy ribbing his… his niece.

Amber had never seen Qrow so unguarded. She swallowed. "Qrow,"

Then both of them were staring at her. "Do you know each other?" Ruby asked.

Qrow dropped his niece. Amber held back a wince as Ruby hit the ground like a sack of bricks, but Ruby herself seemed inured to such treatment. "Eh?" Qrow said. "Do you know her, yah little weed?" He pushed Ruby behind him.

"'Course I do!" Ruby chirped. "I made this dagger for her."

Something dark flashed across Qrow's expression.

"She didn't really!" Amby said, waving her hands. "I just walked in as she was finishing it and I got swept up in the whole process. Really I couldn't possible take it!"

For a moment, Qrow continued staring at her. Then he snorted.

"Let me take a look at that dagger squirt." He said. He looked it over briefly, before sheathing the blade and handing it to Amber.

"It's a decent blade," he said over her protests. "Nothing fancy, but then, if you liked fancy things we wouldn't be running into each other in places like this."

"I really… can't." She said.

"Eh, don't worry about it, I'll make sure the little rock head here gets what she's due," Qrow said. "Call it a favor, if you don't she'll be whining all the way back to her dad's place."

"That's right!" Ruby said. "Oh and take my business card! Well actually it's Mister Gray's card, but I wrote my name and number on it! If you're ever in Patch again you better come and shop with us! Mister Gray says that's how you build customer loyalty!"

Amber took the card, glancing bemusedly at the childish script, and found that she really had no way to argue. So she strapped the sheath around her forearm and smiled. Then she left the smithy, mounted her horse, and rode away. At the edge of the tree line, Amber glanced back and caught sight of Ruby waving.

It was the last time she would ever set eyes on Ruby Rose.

Despite that, Amber would think of Ruby often.

In the quiet spaces of her life—the roads between the villages, the silences after the storm, the darkness before the dawn—she would play with the dagger Ruby had given her. She would flick it into her grasp and resettle it in the sheath over and over again, motion becoming habit becoming ritual, and Amber would think about that kind little girl with silver eyes.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise then, that Amber was thinking of Ruby Rose two years and six days later, when she plunged that selfsame dagger into her own heart.

When she sacrificed her life to save her soul.

and when the victorious King rode back to his kingdom, he found that three nails in each horseshoe had been snapped during the battle, but not the fourth.

And so, for the grace of a nail, a horseshoe was saved,
for the grace of a horseshoe, a horse was saved,
for the grace of a horse, a King was saved,
for the grace of a King, a kingdom was saved
And all for the grace of a nail.

New RWBY story to commemorate Volume five. Are you hype? I'm pretty hype. Gonna be trying for weekly updates this time, so wish me luck.