Chapter 22


"When we finally met Brythonians or at least people affiliated with them I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little surprised at just how different they were. Every kid knows that the Outlands had a wide variety of people. What I've never really appreciated was that the Outlanders that lay near or on major routes leading to or from the Kingdoms all exhibited traits of the nearest Kingdom so there was some common ground. Even our brief stay in the Hurin Valleys had the economic structure similar to that of the Kingdoms; however Brythonia took most of the Huntsmen Contingent by surprise that it was off putting and it would only increase."


Jaune stood in a flat field about a few hours south from the Hafren River; the Regiment along with the Loyalist unit that attached itself to them was setting up camp. A few miles further south was the outskirts of a relatively small town, Luguval, which unlike Alnerwick was closer to an actual army base.

As it was clearly fortified and garrisoned by a semi-professional looking force, he could see a well-built ring of heavy caliber artillery, field guns, and trenches with fortified buildings behind them. It turned out that this was one of the forward most towns of the Brythonian line; to the not so far west was the town of Emburacum which was the closest to the Rebel lines.

Emburacum however needed to keep its full attention on the northern line against the Rebels. As such villages or towns like Luguval were required to be used as defensive positions on the flanks to prevent the enemy bypassing or surrounding it.

Once the 4th identified itself to a sortie of Brythonian Armor that had come out when they arrived the wounded were taken into the town. While the Regiment was required to camp outside until room could be cleared to let them in. The Allied Outlanders were resting but didn't seem to be making camp.

Heim in that time had already reported the status of the 1st Battalion, a confirmed count of fifty eight dead and nearly a hundred wound. As well as an assortment of tanks and armored vehicles destroyed or needing serious down time to repair which they didn't have the ability to do.

All in all Jaune's first battle as the Commander had gone relatively poorly. He's been thinking about it the entire time after they got on the road again. If the arrival of the Outlanders didn't come in time then the regiment wouldn't have turned around its rearmost units to return and provide covering fire.

While Amberstriker's tanks were effective, the longer they stayed there the more the Dragoons would have chipped away at them. Fast, agile, damage dealing flyers are the only thing the Regiment did not have a hard counter for as the Hydra tanks were few in number. While the infantry based Pegasus Anti-Air Launchers were more effectively against Grimm, Bullheads and other rotary aircraft.

"Commander." A voice spoke up behind him and he turned to see the armored figure of Areto standing a few feet back holding her poleaxe in one hand while the other rested on the sheathed sword at her side.

"How is she?" Jaune asked and Areto's helmed head bobbed once.

"Ren and Nora are with her right now but I came here to inform you that the Loyalist Commander wishes to see you." She said and Jaune nodded.

"Right, yea, bring them here then." Areto turned to leave and a few moments later she came back with another person.

It was a man about six and a half feet tall with tanned skin. He had shoulder length blonde hair that was tied behind his head. He wore simple dark green plate armor around his chest, shoulders, forearms and shins. Underneath he wore a tanned uniform with a belt of pouches around his waist though on his right hip was a short sword and a short rifle with a long bayonet slung over his right shoulder.

In his left hand was a large, curved green shield but in the upper right corner was a square indent that Jaune suspected was meant for the rifle to be put in.

His right hand carried an odd helmet; it was a relatively simple designed hemispherical green helmet. It clearly had a set of cheek guards that had a hinged face plate with a single slit across the eyes for vision with a slightly flared out neck guard.

"Commander, this is Maggiore Ercole Zuccaro, senior officer amongst the Outlanders as well as being in charge of the main infantry detachment amongst them." Areto introduced and Jaune saluted the man who returned it by touch his helmet to his right pectoral in what Jaune assumed was his own salute.

"A pleasure to meet you Maggiore Zuccuro, am I pronouncing that right?" Jaune asked as he lowered his hand and the man smiled.

"It's Zuccaro, like a pirate, but you were close Commander Arc and the pleasure is all mine, my people have the utmost respect for your Kingdom." He said with an odd accent that seemed to put more emphasis on certain letters or draw them out but Jaune knew that Outlanders had as many accents as there were a number of minor languages. Arcadia even had a few unofficial languages as well but he didn't speak any of those, just the common tongue.

"So Maggiore, why are you here?" Jaune asked and the taller man smiled.

"Well I have orders to meet with Colonnello Rana, my unit commander at Dunholm." He explained and Jaune quirked an eyebrow at that.

"Isn't Dunholm another six hours southeast from here? How or why did you end up by the Hafren River, surely there are better roads to take to reach there?" Jaune asked.

"And you're right but I along with the other commanders travelling with me decided it might be useful to cut across the Hafren River where you were crossing to try hitting one of the northern settlements, like Alnerwick but its eastern bridges were demolished. No doubt in preparation of a Loyalist force trying to cut around the northern flank." Jaune grimaced at that.

"A small correction on that account, we had already passed through Alnerwick this morning. They are loyalists, or at least they were I suspect a part of the force that you saw attacking us had another force that's probably taken control of it by now." Zuccaro frowned at that as he nodded slowly.

"I see, it's a shame that happened but I must ask what you were doing as well. If Alnerwick was loyal then wouldn't it have been prudent to remain there to defend them or at least evacuate them. If you had remained there then our force would have come up south and inevitable pinned the Rebels."

"That's true but Alnerwick was a mess and we wouldn't have been able to defend it for long and keep the people there fed or safe. I can only guess that the force that went after them as well was a sizable threat, we would have beaten them sure but it would still be risky move if you hadn't thought of crossing the Hafren at all. So we'd be behind enemy lines with our already dwindling supplies that were only meant to get us so far. Extended combat would have eaten what we had to fast before a sizable resupply run could make it to us. Plus they would have moved whatever they needed to crush us before word made it south to any other Loyalist unit that we were there."

"That's reasonable thinking Commander Arc. I didn't mean to question your strategic decision making. I was just curious." Zuccaro said bowing his head apologetically but Jaune waved it off.

"Don't worry about it Maggiore, anyways, are you going to continue heading south or stay here for a bit?"

"We shall be leaving after a short break; the other unit commanders have their own orders so we'll be splitting from them here. What about you?"

"I need to get into contact with the commander of the Arcadian forces already here in Brythonia other than that I suppose I'll billet my troops here for now."

"Makes sense, well Commander Arc, it's a pleasure to meet you." Zuccaro said before tucking his helmet under his left arm then held out his hand which Jaune took before giving it a firm shake. He watched the Outlander walk away then sighed as he turned around to look at Areto.

"Well he was nice." Jaune said but Areto simply crossed her armored arms together.

"You should be careful about what you say, you didn't let anything to important slip but informing him about our lack of supplies was a risky move." Jaune frowned at that.

"What do you mean?"

"We'll talk about that later, for now I think you should take a tour around the Regiment to see how they're doing."


Elsewhere…

Ren pulled the last box he needed from the Tauros, nearby Nora, Ruby, Hilda, and Pyrrha were sitting around on the grass talking. Though Pyrrha was mostly quiet, her eyes still tinged red from the tears earlier.

He had always seen Pyrrha as a strong person; sure she was allowed to be vulnerable like any other person but the way she was shaken up after Areto found them haunted his mind. Hopefully Jaune would be able to come by and give her the emotional support she needed as well since they did all they could but the poor girl was still clearly troubled.

"Anyone see those Outlanders earlier?" Nora asked.

"Yes Nora, we all saw them." Hilda replied.

"Has anyone talked to them?" She asked and Ruby nodded.

"I went to talk with them."

"Did you ask about their weapons?"

"What? Of course not." The younger girl said with a dismissive wave but they all looked at her before she sighed.

"Well, not at first but they wouldn't let me see anything."

"Figures but they do look odd, odder than I thought they would since they're with the Brythonians." Hilda said as Ren dropped the box in the middle of them before opening it up. Instead was a small cook set. He pulled it out then began to unfold it into a hollowed box state before taking out a small can marked as flammable.

Ren opened it up to be greeted by the odd smelling purple jelly substance in it. Setting it down he pulled out a second package before taking out a small plastic vial which was only half the size of his pinky finger.

Inside it however it contained a Burn Dust compound, shaking it, he popped open the top then poured the content onto the jelly before slotting it inside the cooking set. In less than a minute the Dust compound, after being shaken to start whatever chemical process, produced enough heat to light the contents.

"It's still a little surprising to see how diverse the people are in this region. For years I've always believed that while there were a lot of Outlanders that they didn't have the materials or population to achieve something as grand as a small Kingdom with multiple groups living together." Ruby said.

"Weren't you in the Hurin Valleys earlier this year? Isn't that the same thing?" Hilda asked but Ruby shook her head.

"The Hurin Valleys are impressive sure but they're not an independent territory, they're under the protection of the 13th Brigade stationed and the Governor is obviously an Arcadian or someone approved by them."

"That sounds a little imperialistic when you think about it." Hilda said with a small frown on her face.

"It is but the arrangement they have seems to be working since the people we saw seemed happy or at least content by it." Nora said as she waved a hand dismissively.

"I have to agree; at this point I don't think it really matters." Ren said.

"That's good enough reason for me." Another voice said and they looked back to see Captain Salvi standing behind them. All of them got up but he waved them down.

"What can we do for you Captain?" Ren asked but Salvi said nothing as he looked at Pyrrha and Ruby.

"Who are you two?" He asked instead, Ruby spoke first.

"Huntress Ruby Rose."

"Ah, the Liaison that Commander Arc put in, and you?" Salvi said before looking at Pyrrha.

"Huntress Pyrrha Nikos, sir." Ren could see the flicker of recognition in the man's eyes.

"I can understand why Huntress Rose is here but why are you here Huntress Nikos? You should be sticking with whatever company you were attached to." Salvi said as he crossed his arms but Hilda chimed in.

"Actually Captain, Praetorian Areto brought her to me for a routine medical checkup on her old injuries she suffered during the Battle for Beacon since she was with the 1st Battalion's rearguard action today." The Beacon medical student explained and Salvi just nodded at that.

"Fair enough. Anyways word just came down, we're camping here for the night but I also need a sitrep on your status Huntsman Ren, which means the condition of your unit, the Tauros and your supplies. When you have it done find me in twenty. Carry on." The five of them said nothing as the Captain walked away.

"Well he seemed like a nice fellow." Ruby said as they sat down.

"Ah, don't mind Captain Salvi, he's an alright person." Nora said.

"Oh, is he nicer once you get to know him?"

"Not really, you just get used to it." Pyrrha watched as they talked, she felt tired but didn't have it in her to excuse herself. The idea of returning to 1st Battalion only to explain why Areto had escorted her away was not something she was looking forward to at the moment.

"Hey, Pyrrha." Hilda asked as the older girl sat closer to her, she looked up at her.

"What I told Captain Salvi wasn't just a cover story; I do want to see how you're feeling."

"I'm doing fine now, thanks for asking Hilda."

"We both know that isn't strictly true cause you seemed to have a panic attack and if you're not careful you might start getting them more often and that could put you in danger if it happens at a very bad time."

"Look, I'm fine, okay. Things happened and I just got a little overwhelmed by it all. So I would appreciate it if you would back off for now." Pyrrha said the metal around and on everyone began to rattle softly causing everyone to look at her before she closed her eyes to calm herself.

"Sorry." She said before standing up but Ruby got up quickly to stand in front of her when she turned to walk away.

"Hey don't worry about it Pyrrha, just sit a little while longer with us. Pleeease." Ruby said but Pyrrha didn't respond before finally sighing in defeat as Ruby gave her best puppy eye look.

"Fine, I'll stay." She said before turning back to sit with the others. A part of her didn't want to admit but this was the sort of thing she needed but a part had wanted to find someplace where she could vent her frustration. Another part yearned to see Jaune; she wanted to feel his arms around her but another part was angry that it was taking him so long to find her. Pyrrha was beginning to fear that she might have made a mistake coming on this campaign.


The Next Day…

Jaune stood in front of the Regimental staffers after finishing informing them of their new billets which he had already done to the battalion officers an hour earlier. A part of Jaune however was more focused on the movement of the Regiment behind him as it felt like he could see the noticeable difference in how his people moved, cold, hungry and tired.

Of course that was really just his mind beating itself up but a point could be made for it when he spotted the damaged vehicles of the 1st Battalion rolling past him.

"So what's our current status in terms of supplies, I want to keep it in my mind as the day goes along before you get the official reports ready." Jaune said turning to Captain Wallace, the young woman cleared her throat as she looked down at the notepad she carried around.

"I've had my staff going over the numbers all night. Our current munition count shows that we've spent a little more than one hundred and fifty thousand rounds for infantry weapons this count encompasses Agripinaa rifles, Assault Stubbers and handguns mainly due to the action 1st Battalion faced. Then we've used around fifty fragmentation grenades and forty smoke grenades. After that we've used around thirty High Explosive rockets and twenty five High Explosive Anti-Tank rockets for the Accatran Launchers. With another forty rockets for the Pegasus Anti-Air launchers. Amberstriker's count shows that they used nearly a hundred High Explosive tank rounds and forty five High Explosive Anti-Tank rounds. We're also down around twelve thousand Heavy Stubber rounds, forty Silenus mortar rounds and thirty Basilisk shells. Then we need to requisition an additional two hundred pieces of infantry body armor as 1st Battalion is or will be out of repair kits. Next on the list is fuel, we've used two hundred and thirty thousand gallons worth of fuel give or take an additional five thousand with the number of vehicles we've lost that leaves us at a less than half fuel reserve. Major Osment is still working on getting a report together on the state of our medical supplies other than that our second tier supplies are in good strength. But I still suggest getting a line on resupply as we have three methods of resupply, first we go to the other battalions to shift their reserves around to even out the disparity without dipping to far into our reserve, or we use the reserve but would only be able to do an eighty percent restock for the entire regiment at that point, the third would be of course we find a suitable supply chain that can regularly resupply us but judging by the fact there are no Arcadian units in Luguval we can only assume that isn't the case." Wallace concluded and Jaune looked towards Lange.

"And do we have a final count on 1st Battalion's manpower?"

"Yes sir, Major Osment reports that an additional sixteen soldier perished from their wounds but the remaining seventy eight wounded are showing signs of recovery however only forty of them will be able to return to active duty within a week, the other thirty eight he recommends retiring for further treatment and possibly early retirement from service. Then Colonel Heim informed me that she'll be forwarding the paperwork for three new sergeants, five corporals and eight official commendations. Lastly the local Brythonian Commander also requests a meeting when possible."

"Alright then, I'll go meet the Commander but for the time being proceed with billeting the Regiment for the short term. Dismissed." Jaune said and the assembled staffers started to leave one by one. Jaune headed back down towards the ground where a Chimera rumbled idly by with Areto addressing four soldiers who saluted when seeing him.

"How'd it go?" Areto asked.

"Fine all things considering, they're going to continue getting the final reports in but they gave me a heads up on what they have so far. In the meantime we need to go visit the Garrison Commander."

"I'll get a full guard detail ready."

"Nah, I want to wait under the Regiment is settled in for the time being."

"That wasn't a question or request Jaune, a part of the Retinue's duty is to serve as your guard detail off the field. In either case did the Garrison Commander say what he wanted to talk about?"

"Information, I assume he wants to know about the Rebels we fought, our strength and how the battle turned out." Jaune said before stepping in close which Areto did as well guessing at what might come next.

"How's Pyrrha?"

"Rattled, with some tossing and turning last night according to Ren and Hilda. I do suggest you see her when you can, it might cheer her up and help keep her grounded mentally."

"I'll visit her after the meeting with the Garrison commander." Jaune replied before pausing to add.

"Thank you for getting her Areto."

"It's not a problem Jaune, I like her as well plus it's funny watching you two love birds. I know your mother would love to hear how your relationship develops."

"Please don't tell her."

"Sanian already told her, no point in hiding it now."

"Crap."


Later That Night…

Jaune climbed stepped out of the Tauros into night, the guard detail comprising of the Retinue soldiers were off loading crates of local good that they had been given. Nearby he could see Areto talking to a pair of soldiers and he figured she was detailing them to follow him for the time being as he had ordered her to go inform Faerber of the basics that they learned from their meeting with the local Brythonian command.

He took in a deep breath, relishing the cool air on his face before exhaling, seeing his breathe billow out in the cold air. A part of him was glad he had the bodysuit on as kept him warm enough that the night air didn't bother him as much as it probably should.

Speaking of air, it was nice to be out of the Brythonian command center with its stuffy atmosphere.

The command center was the second most impressive structure in Luguval following the Dust powered energy station that not only supplied power to them but also augmented Emburacum's power grid which was partially crippled as well as four hamlets to the east that were still populated by their inhabitants apparently.

The command center was a compound with high walls; a motion sensor system and even automated gun turrets. From what he was told as he entered a concrete bunker that led him down to the main complex that was situated nearly a hundred feet underground it was protected by eight feet of spaced out layers of metal coated concrete with a last layer of solid steel about a foot thick. With enough room for a few hundred people but also had a connected underground vehicle depot with the supplies to sustain the force guarding them for month long siege.

The interior was, all things considering, actually kind of pleasant with an internal temperature system as well as a self-contained air filtration system to counter gas attacks apparently. Yet for all that, it didn't explain the stuffiness he felt, which had to do with the people he met.

Jaune had been well aware that the Brythonian Government and even society at large was an odd thing based on older forms of government that even Arcadia didn't prescribe to anymore. Even though Arcadia had a monarchy they still elevated individuals from village leaders to High Council seats based on their record and verified talents or actions rather than wealth or status.

The Levy commander, Sir Dornar Togor, was an alright person but Jaune would be remiss if he didn't express his doubts about the man's actual command ability. Of course he did find it an ironic assessment since he didn't think he was a real military commander either.

Putting that aside, the Dornar was a minor nobleman who stayed loyal and came to Luguval with his three hundred militiamen where he at first served under the previous nobleman commander.

About two weeks prior to their arrival the other nobleman had taken Luguval's Levy force westward to support a counter attack against the Rebels. It went poorly, as the commander along with nearly eight hundred Levies and fourteen tanks were lost. Another hundred would die from their wounds or get discharged from service leaving only three hundred Levies, but around sixteen hundred militiamen and twenty one tanks.

The next problem in that was the fact that most of their veteran captains and lieutenants were dead as well. The noblemen who took their place were the enthusiastic but inexperienced, the lazy, the cowardly, or just plain selfish who bought their way into their positions more for the prestige than actually fighting.

In the end it didn't really matter, his concern was just for his troops and his orders. But right now all he wanted was to take off his armor off then get some rest.

"Commander." A voice spoke up and he looked over at Lange who saluted him.

"Yes Adjutant?"

"Praetorian Areto asked me to take you to your quarters and I've also got that list from Colonel Heim's staff about promotions and commendations for your review along with some new standing orders that she wants to implement sir." Jaune nodded as he held his hand out while Lange placed a trio of closed Data slates into it.

"Lead the way." Jaune followed him while two members of the Retinue followed behind him in full battledress.

Their billets were technically a lot more fancier than even their camp at Beacon as Luguval's population had long since evacuated as such a number of buildings were opened up then furbished to house an armed force.

Brythonian troops and supplies held their quarters toward the center of the town while they were bunkering down in the northeastern edge. In a nearby apartment building Jaune found was now the Regiment's Headquarters and Retinue barracks.

The moment he stepped inside aides and staffers were coming up to him with updated reports, four more soldiers died from their wounds, updated accounting of munitions, food, water, fuel, spare parts for infantry gear and vehicles. He was able to rein it in quickly taking the data slates with the new information in hand as he made his way up the rickety stairs of the building until he reached the fourth floor.

It was a lot quieter as it along with the third floor were reserved for the Retinue; he made a point to chat with some of the soldiers he saw trying his best to instill more camaraderie as he knew after fighting besides them it was the ripe time to further his impression amongst them.

After a while he slowly moved away as while he wanted to be friendly he didn't think it would be appropriate to try so hard right now. With that he headed towards a hallway where the two soldiers broke away to stand to either side of a door waiting for him.

With a nod he dismissed them after he opened the door then closed it behind him with a soft click. Looking around he could see that it was a well furbished, if not a little messy, apartment there was a soft clink of metal and Jaune walked further into it.

"Who's here?" He called out and a welcome sight appeared before him.

"Hello Jaune, I didn't think you'd be back with how late it is." Pyrrha greeted him with a tired smile as she turned a corner. It appeared as though she was in the middle of changing out of her armor as her arms were bare along with her torso where she wore a black tank top.

"Uh, why are you here Pyrrha?" Jaune asked then quickly added.

"Wait let me rephrase that! I mean, I thought you were bunking down with Nora, Ren and Hilda?"

"Actually they're here as well; they're just in the bedrooms." Pyrrha said and Jaune frowned.

"Why?"

"Apparently Colonel Heim issued orders that allowed the Huntsmen teams to move freely if they ask permission to move amongst the Regiment since they're small enough not to cause any bunking issues. So we decided to move here, though we'll have to report in at morning and evenings until we decided to move back to our original units unless a full transfer is performed." Pyrrha explained and Jaune hummed as recalled Lange mentioning that Heim had put in some new orders.

"Well that's a thing." Jaune said as he set the stack of data slates on a small hallway table before moving to Pyrrha before surprising her by hugging her.

"Huh!? Jaune what is this about?" Pyrrha asked but Jaune couldn't help but notice that her arms wrapped around him as well.

"Because I needed it and I figured you might want it as well." Jaune said without breaking the hug and the two of them stayed like that for a while.

"I have to say that I'm digging the new look though." Pyrrha said as they finally broke the hug.

"You should thank my father for that, not only did I get new armor but Crocea Mors was upgraded as well. But it looks like you've updated your look as well." Jaune pointed out as he could see over her shoulder into what was a small kitchen where a neatly sorted pile of armor as well as a new weapon was laying on a dining table.

Overhead Jaune noticed a standard issue lamp pack though depending on the person Jaune had also heard them called glow globes. The Arcadian military used as a flameless light source that had a reach of about twenty feet with a charge that lasted twelve hours and could be recharged by its solar pack or a Lightning Dust port add-on.

"Oh yea, I got it just before we left Vale, I decided I need to update my look and wear something more functional to what we're doing." Pyrrha explained excitedly as she began to show him the pieces while he also began taking off his own armor for her to examine.

During which they caught up on the time they didn't see each other when they disembarked from the fleet. Pyrrha told him about how exciting it had been to traveling with Heim's company, the soldiers had all been welcoming of her and she understood a bit more about military life. Then she regaled him on the nighttime excursion where she had miraculously spotted a creature watching them and the eerie feeling it had left her.

Her mood darkened when she got to the part when they arrived then quickly left Alnerwick with the subsequent fighting that happened. Here Jaune put an arm around her shoulder as she told him about the breakdown she had after the fighting had finished which Jaune was surprised even happy to hear. While he was no expert he figured trauma was a difficult matter to get a grip on, no one wants to admit that they have something like that as it's almost like a curse. If Pyrrha was able to talk to him about it then surely it was a good thing or at least he hoped it was.

"What are you wearing?" Pyrrha asked when she noticed what he was wearing under his armor; she reached out to touch it and was surprised by a number of things. It looked like he wore a synthetic layer of muscle that had a weird mesh texture but when she pressed down on it she was surprised to see that it locked up firmly as if she was poking a solid object that it prompted her to keep pushing that until she had him up against a wall much to his amusement.

"Feels weird doesn't it?"

"Yea, what does it feel like to wear?"

"I'm not really sure how to explain it but it's like I'm wearing a comfortable shirt but it's also not a shirt as no matter how much I tried or moved it never shifted but just kept formed to my body."

"What?"

"Yea I guess that sounded confusing. Think of it like this, if I were to do a handstand unlike a real shirt it won't move, it just sticks to my body. While it isn't stuffy or anything at the same time I feel like my sense of touch is sort of masked or muffled mainly around my hands. Like I put on really thick leather gloves then decided to throw on a gauntlet as well."

"That's a little odd but it's like the bodysuit Areto wears under her armor?"

"Technically yea." Jaune said before explaining what he understood about this light version as well as his suspicion that it was actually an early prototype to the Praetorian bodysuits.

"So you can't wear these, Nano-composite Graphene bodysuits, because you don't have a proper body and training to wear it without getting hurt even if you had Aura because the bodysuit would drain your Aura continuously as you use it? So your father gave you this cut down prototype that's more like torso armor that offers a decent amount of protection on its own in combat and high or low temperatures."

"Yea, I'm not really sure how to explain it since I don't really get the science of it either but I know it isn't invincible. As for the temperatures it's supposed to be more like a layer of protection but only for the short term, if we had to march across a desert or be outdoors with no shelter in the dead of winter I'll have problems like anyone else." Pyrrha nodded at that as the two of them finished laying out their gear. Pyrrha took a deep breath as she steeled herself for what she was about to do before turning to Jaune.

"Want me to help you with that?" She asked pointing at his torso and Jaune blinked before clearing his throat.

"I'm sorry, what?" Pyrrha blushed but she decided not to back out from this path.

"I mean, I'm sure it's comfortable but wouldn't you like to get some fresh air on your skin?"

"Well, uh, alright then but I don't think you need to help."

"No, no, I insist." Pyrrha said as she stepped closer to him and Jaune reflexively tried to step back but he was already against a wall.

"Jaune, don't be so skittish, it's fine." Pyrrha said she was awfully close to him; both of her hands were resting on his chest as she looked into his eyes. Whatever panic he had been experiencing was washing away the longer they made eye contact.

"Fine, you can help." He said after a moment, feeling his face go flush as she hummed happily before tilting her head as she looked down at his waist.

"Uh, Jaune, how far does it go?"

"Well that's sort of the issue; it reaches down to my hips."

"Oh." She said.

"You know I can just do it." Jaune started to say but she cut him off.

"No, no, it's fine." With a deep breath she reached out then began to undo the belt loop around Jaune's trousers before unbuttoning the trouser then grabbing onto the zipper before slowly pulling it down.

During that Jaune was having a mental breakdown, a part of him was screaming for him to stop Pyrrha while a much quieter but far more seditious part was whispering for it to continue as a certain feeling began to grow.

As for Pyrrha she too was experiencing the second biggest breakdown in the last few days. A voice was telling her she was taking it too far but a louder voice, which for some reason, sounded a lot like Nora was telling her to keep going. A third voice smaller but surprisingly insistent seemed to also yearn for this.

With a slow pull she lowered Jaune's trousers a little until she could see not only the edge of it but also Jaune's underwear. What she was not expecting but maybe hoping to see was the growing bulge in them.

"Interesting." She said before lifting her head to smile at him and she felt a little giddy at seeing how red his face was though she knew her face probably mirrored his own.

Jaune coached her in what he figured would be the best way to take off the Graphene torso cover, sliding her fingers under the edge before sliding back and forth while simultaneously pulling it up. Jaune's body felt like it was buzzing as Pyrrha's fingers constantly brushed his skin, the whole process probably took five to ten minutes but it felt like it ended far sooner than he would have liked.

Pyrrha might have marveled at the cut down Graphene piece but the moment she and Jaune got it off him she was more draw to what her hands were touching. She had seen him shirtless a number of times, always admiring his growing bulk that he gained in muscle at Beacon. Now however she could tell that he had in fact lost some weight, his body had trimmed down more leaving it much more defined that it had been a few months ago.

"You've been eating right?" She asked.

"Yes mom, I've been eating my vegetables."

"Well if you've been a good boy then you just might get your dessert." Pyrrha said and slapped herself mentally. That was so cheesy, why did she say that? Alas it was too late to take it back so she might as well continue.

"Yes ma'am." Jaune said with a cute boyish grin that made Pyrrha just wanna squeeze his cheeks.

"Come on, let's move this to the couch, I wouldn't mind being off my feet and on something comfortable." Pyrrha said as the two of them moved towards the small living room area. There was a couch and a lounge chair with a small coffee table with a large but flat physical television mounted on the opposite wall.

The couch was a little worn in but it was still surprisingly comfortable as the two of them sat next to each other. Pyrrha always trying to keep a hand on Jaune's torso as she slowly rubbed it up and down. Jaune surprised her however when he leaned in to kiss her forehead making her face warm up in giddiness as she looked at him with a soft smile before kissing his lips.

She could practically feel the heat radiating off Jaune's face, or maybe it was hers but that thought drifted away as they continued to kiss. A small tingle passed down her spine as Jaune rested his left arm over her shoulders, his fingers lightly rubbing her collarbone.

Pyrrha in another spur of the moment decision, though this one she consciously made, she shifted over to straddle Jaune as she kissed him. She was vaguely aware of a previous reaction that Jaune was having still below her as all she wore was a relatively thin top while wearing her old black mini-skirt.

So when she had lowered herself down on him, she was still a little shocked that it was still bulging out before she sat all the way down. At that, Jaune broke the kiss realizing that she had felt him.

"Sorry." He said sheepishly but Pyrrha couldn't help but smile again at the unintended copying of her own common response to something even a little out of the ordinary.

"It's fine, but do you want to stop?" She asked and Jaune shook his head before the two of them leaned in to kiss again. Pyrrha was surprised however when Jaune briefly broke the kiss again only to move his own head down a little then began to kiss her neck softly. She of course never realized it but it seemed that her neck was a relatively soft spot as feeling Jaune kissing up her neck slowly before reaching her mouth was driving her crazy.

They continued to sit there kissing; Pyrrha found it adorable that whenever she pulled away from Jaune's mouth he'd always try to follow the movement of her face as if he couldn't stand the idea of not kissing her. Jaune on the other hand enjoyed it whenever he could feel Pyrrha's hands curl up when he found a particular spot on her neck or collarbone to kiss.

"Would…would you like to touch me?" Pyrrha asked after breaking the kissing again and Jaune's eyes widened in surprise as he saw her glance down at her chest. He could feel his heart beat hard at the question as a wave of anticipation passes through him.

"Can I?" He asked just to make sure and Pyrrha smiled at him as she nodded. With a slowly deliberate motion he raised his hands towards her chest.

With a deep breathe he grabbed Pyrrha's chest and his mind went blank.

Pyrrha on the other hand reveled the feeling of Jaune's hands cupping her chest. It was an interesting experience and definitely not bad but still something she'd need to get used to. Pyrrha looked at Jaune as she realized that he wasn't rubbing or squeezing them like she thought he would, she could see that he looked mesmerized and laughed softly at the look of shock on his face.

"Jaune? Hello?" She asked and Jaune shook his head slightly.

"I'm sorry, was I doing it wrong?" He asked and she laughed before kissing his cheek to assuage any hurt feelings from her laughter.

"No, no, its fine Jaune, you just sort of locked up there." She said as he grinned sheepishly.

"Sorry, it's the first time I've got to touch, well, a girl's chest, it's…amazing." Jaune said visible swallowing before the last word and Pyrrha nodded with a smile.

"It's the first time I've let someone touch my chest but I'm glad the first person to do so is you." As Pyrrha leaned in to kiss him again there was a faint knock at the door and the two of them froze before Pyrrha got off Jaune who began to button up his trousers again.

The door opened a few moments later to reveal Areto who walked slowly, her armor making the floor creak with each step. She spotted Pyrrha in the kitchen area while Jaune was shirtless by the living room window peeking out a curtain covered window.

"Hmm." She said simply while she let her poleaxe lean against a wall before reaching up to take off her helmet which unlocked with a hiss before it came off.

"Did I interrupt something?"

"Nope!" Jaune replied instantly as he turned around and Areto could see the glance the two teens sent each other before smirking.

"Whatever you say, I just came to see if you needed anything."

"No we're fine for now, thank you Areto." Pyrrha said more coolly than Jaune's earlier response and Areto nodded as she crossed her arms.

"That's good. That being said I know young lovers want to burn the midnight oil and all that but you two need to get some sleep." With that Jaune and Pyrrha collected their stuff before heading the bedrooms. Jaune would sleep in the same room as Ren while Pyrrha went with Nora and Hilda.

Both of them didn't go to sleep for a while as they collectively marveled at the new turn that they had taken in their budding relationship. For Pyrrha it was a monumental step that made her want to squeal with joy. Jaune was also very excited but a small part of him wondered if he did the right thing.

A small part of him doubted that this was the smart thing as Pyrrha had an emotional rollercoaster of a day that influenced her actions. Yet he knew to question it would do more harm than good but his doubts still have a deep impression in them that he feared may never leave. Of course this wasn't something he could or should keep secret and he swore to himself that if it ever became too much to think about that he would bring it up with Pyrrha. But he hoped that it wouldn't be the case.


Elsewhere…

Blake watched from the shadows at the back end of the stage as her father was finishing a speech at a podium addressing a crowd of Faunus outside their home in Kuo Kuana.

It had been a few months since they arrived in Menagerie, though Blake was surprised when she was told to leave ahead of the Arcadian group led by Zophiel. His reasoning that he gave her was that it wouldn't be fair to take time away from her to spend with her family; even Sun was allowed to accompany her. However Blake didn't believe that was some altruistic reason.

It became clear to her when she found out that the White Fang had a major and open presence in Kuo Kuana. So she could only guess that they wanted to assess the situation from a distance before making their presence known, as even though a history of fairness even friendliness was known between the Arcadians and the Faunus. As the last few years of racial tension had bled into the wider public again causing a new level of unrest that even she didn't experience when she was in the White Fang.

So it made sense that the Arcadians, who would be seen at best, as outsiders would not want to rock the boat until they know it was safe. She glanced at Sun's wounded shoulder at that before turning her eyes forward again when he glanced back at her.

It drew on a brief memory of her time in Vale when she was attending Beacon, the relatively few times she went into Vale proper with her team she had seen posters denouncing the White Fang or others condemning Faunus as a whole. In return anti-Schnee posters would get put up or posters that condemned the unfair legal loopholes that the Kingdoms used to ignore Faunus Rights or concerns.

What had made Blake more concerned was when she had seen the torn remnants of posters that referenced the Third Crusade.

A cataclysmic conflict that happened before even the Great War, most research on the topic view it as a false crusade, as the first two had been aimed outward from civilization. The first Crusade was for survival after the discovery of Dust; the second based on expansion was attributed as the roots that would eventually form the Four Kingdoms. The third Crusade however was speculated to either be a Faunus crusade on humans or vice versa.

As such it became a sore subject for the old White Fang, as a great deal of radical Faunus Rights intellectuals or writers latched onto the idea of resuming it with the false hope of gaining equal treatment.

She knew a former White Fang member who loved books and always talked about opening a book store that once told her that holding a copy without preapproved license would garner heavy fines even temporary closure of most Faunus owned bookstores. Or incite the wrath of Anti-Faunus groups if someone did have it in stock.

She wondered what happened to the guy, he had been planning to leave the White Fang around the same time as her. She knew he headed towards Vale but she never was able to find him again.

"With that, please give a warm welcome to our guest and friend." Ghira Belladonna called out and there was a polite applause as the robed armored giant that stepped onto the stage with a deep thump. A hush fell across the crowds of over a thousand strong; even the media personal seemed to stop their reporting as they looked at him.

Zophiel had cleaned up his armor, the dark green coating looking spotless as well as the clean beige robe that covered his torso and armored legs. He had opted out of his skull based helmet instead showing his scarred shaven head with the odd looking plates drilled into the left side of his forehead. Blake figured it was another calculated move as the helmet gave him a cold exterior that separated him from the average person due to the anonymity which it gave that would compound the already obscured nature that the Kingdom of Arcadia had.

"Citizens of Menagerie, I am Interrogator-Chaplain Zophiel Inias of the Praetorian Legion charged with maintaining the mental and spiritual wellbeing of the Praetorians and proud warrior sworn in loyalty to High Lord Alexander Arc of Arcadia. Though I imagine that for many of you this mean nothing and that is for the best for I am not here to spout things that have no meaning to you. I am however here on behalf of my lord and Kingdom to extend a hand of friendship to the good souls of Menagerie. The Kingdom of Arcadia has long expressed the desire to keep the focus of our warrior spirit on the war against the Creatures of Grimm but it has come to our attention that our focus has led us to ignore the problems that brewed in the rest of Remnant resulting in conflicts that drew our attention far too late to prevent such as the two wars of this century. It was this second war that we saw the follies done by the Four Kingdoms that made us to march our banners to your side and help you secure a rightful place at the table of Kingdoms." Zophiel said and there was cheering but Blake could see even from the back that there was a certain level of reluctance in the crowd as many of them did feel the slight intended or not to their pride that came with Menagerie. The feeling of resentment was still something that haunted them to this day at being given such a poor token of compensation.

"And on behalf of the Kingdom of Arcadia I extend my sincere apology." This caught them all by surprise. Blake looked to see Zophiel move to the side of the podium then bowed. It was an act that surprised not just her but everyone else. The Faunus of Menagerie never officially received an apology or acknowledgment of their grievances over the issues they felt the Four Kingdoms glossed over.

The Councils and politicians all tried to paint it as everyone was wrong in regards of the Faunus Rights Revolution. They would then condemn the Faunus in particular the White Fang for using violence to achieve a fair place at the table, which forty years of peaceful protests, boycotts and petitions failed to do. So to hear a representative publicly announce an apology was shocking. Especially considering that Arcadia was fundamentally the largest Human ally that the Faunus had during those times. Which may seem odd to an outsider's perspective but Blake herself had held resentment at the lack of follow through from Arcadia that resulted in the equal treatment of Faunus being pushed aside.

"You may wonder why, and the answer is simply. We swore to assist your people in winning that war but we never finished that fight properly, you were shunted aside while your brothers and sisters still in the Four Kingdoms suffered. In their suffering a new force rose to guide the next generation to fix our mistakes, the White Fang." With that Zophiel pointed at Ghira.

"Ghira Belladonna has not only my respect but the respect of the Kingdom I stand for with his principles for the White Fang. For he is someone that even we can look to for guidance in matters of helping the Faunus in the Four Kingdoms finally heal the wounds of the past." Zophiel said before his face darkened as he spotted the Albain Brothers of the White Fang.

"But like any wound left untended for too long, it has begun to fester. And that festering wound however was made worse by the actions of a few. I cannot know how many of you do or do not know this but the city of Vale was invaded. Humans and Faunus died in the thousands with many more wounded, the city left a battle scarred image that threatens to make more lives suffer. Yet things could be worse if it were not for the actions of the delegations of the Four Kingdoms for the Vytal Festival, they put their lives at risk, some of them dying, to save that city. Yet why was it, that a city with a few thousand Huntsmen and Huntresses from Four Kingdoms as well as the forces of the Atlas Military and Arcadian Army were forced to defend against a horde of Grimm estimated to be over a hundred thousand strong. How or why did this happen?" There was a murmur in the audience; the news of the Battle of Vale had been for the most part just rumors as there was no CCT in Menagerie to confirm what happened. The Faunus of Menagerie relied on merchants, nomadic Outlanders, radio broadcasts that bounced through the Outlands separate from the CCT and returning Faunus to gain information for their newspapers.

"After a good deal of investigation the Huntsmen of the Four Kingdoms, or the ones who were left alive, were able to piece together that the Vale branch of the White Fang was one of the key organizers of not only the invasion of Vale but the earlier train attack that breached the city of Vale. Adam Taurus led hundreds of White Fang members willingly into Beacon killing students, faculty and festival goers alike. So while I and the Kingdom I belong to are friends and allies of the Faunus. We cannot sit back and let the actions of the wayward and criminal few to tarnish what peace bounds the Four Kingdoms and the Faunus." This last part was clearly directed at the two representatives of the White Fang.

"You wish to be equal but fear and hatred is the results of the path you are on. I am a warrior to my core but I am no fool either, my being is made to resolve the effects of failed diplomacy and to keep my people alive. Look to the Kingdoms and Outlands the White Fang have left a new scar on the face of society, before people looked at the Faunus with resentment to what they don't understand. Now they look at the Faunus with fear and anger. The White Fang must change and the first step in doing so would to cease all ongoing operations to attack merchants, businesses, even the SDC and finally for High Leader Sienna Khan and the rest of the White Fang leadership to step down allowing for free, democratically elected leaders who want to bring unity not by force but by peace and understanding." This drew a murmur of agreement from the crowd and Blake was surprised. When she found out that the White Fang had an open presence here she had taken the time to get a feel of the Faunus in their attitudes.

While many Faunus were unhappy about the mistreatment of their kin in the Four Kingdoms they were at best lukewarm to the new White Fang, it was a well-known fact that Sienna Khan was much more extreme than her father. There were also the rumors that circulated constantly that the White Fang had also targeted Faunus that did not conform to their views, culling their own ranks then their allies, a number of whom were also humans, when Sienna took power.

Yet progress had been made, the problem however stemmed from the fact that this progress was false, as Zophiel was saying it only had short term gains that sacrificed long term peace. It was one of the reasons why she had run from the White Fang in the end though it definitely wasn't the main reason at first.

"And so it comes to light the intentions of why you are here." A deep voice said and Blake watched as Corsac and his brother stepped onto the stage.

"Brothers and Sisters do not listen to this, man. He says the same honeyed words that we've so often heard only to find it covering for the dagger that strikes our back." Fennec followed up.

"You've chased and hounded our kind from the rest of Remnant. Making us servants to your whims but that is not enough is it? Now you come here to our home, a paltry token to keep us quiet after the glorious Revolution, only to exert your will on us here so your high classed masses don't have to see the blood being spilt for their benefit." Corsac said walking towards Zophiel who looked impassively at him.

"Look at him; he stares at me like a scientist staring a piece of flesh to pick apart. He has no emotions or feelings of friendship. Look at what he comes in, battle armor, who does he expect to fight? Us?" Corsac said stepping close enough regardless of the fact that he needed to look up at the much bigger man.

"It's customary to introduce oneself when addressing another person." Zophiel said calmly as the Faunus stepped back, a sudden feeling of unease crossing his face as he made his way to stand beside his brother.

"I am Corsac Albain." The taller of the two said.

"And I am Fennec Albain." The shorter of the two said.

"I take it you two represent the White Fang here in Kuo Kuana. Well then let me start off by reiterating that I am not a diplomat, merely a representative. As many of you may know, the Kingdom of Arcadia is one that devotes itself to the life of war. To many of you I have no doubt that it's a little daunting to hear that, war is a terrible thing. Yet know this, not all foes can be bested by words of peace, the Creatures of Grimm for instance will never stop. So in turn we must never stop but I am not here to sell you on our lifestyle, we know that most if not all here, in the Kingdoms and the Outlands do not want that life so we shoulder that burden ourselves. We fight, so you don't have to." He said addressing the latter half to the audience again.

"And that is what we do as well but for the betterment of our kind!" Fennec called out as he turned to address the audience.

"The White Fang is the shield and sword of the Faunus. We fight for those shackled by the humans, freeing them from their bonds to join us in resuming the glorious Revolution." Fennec said before Corsac stepped forward.

"It's as my brother says, the White Fang does the deeds that words and hope cannot do. We simply wish to bring peace but peace cannot be had if there are those that resist. So we must show those that deny us our rights the error of their ways. This, man, he speaks as if their people have done more for us than the entire history of the White Fang, yet they were not there when we needed them most when we had the Four Kingdoms on their knees. The Faunus were still enslaved, murdered, raped, robbed and driven into despair as the Four Kingdoms did what they were best at, taking advantage of us. So I ask you not to lie to us Arcadian. We know the path that needs to be taken and we have the resolve to take it."

"I am also a warrior; I do not lie or deceive my enemies or my friends. If there is something or someone I must fight then I will do so with my back straight and my weapon in hand with an open challenge to test one's mettle and metal against my own. You speak as if this path you're on is righteous or noble but it's not. You use car bombs, drive by shootings, industrial sabotage, and terrorism. Like in Mountain Glenn, it was discovered that the Vale branch of the White Fang had looted an abandoned train, restored it then loaded it with bombs to breach Vale letting the Grimm loose in the unsuspecting city. An act that would endanger not only the innocent but the lives of Faunus who you so claim to be protecting." He turned back towards them, Blake caught what she felt was a brief glimpse of anger in his eyes as he stared the Albain brothers down.

"As for what happened at the end of the Faunus Rights Revolution, Arcadia had no say in the affairs of what happened between you and the Four Kingdoms. A part of the peace agreement was for us to be left out of the talks; we had no say in what happened as the Kingdoms and even the Faunus leaders at the time felt that our intervention was no longer needed at the time. We assumed the Four Kingdoms would treat you right and when Menagerie was named the new home of the Faunus and we heard no calls of assistance we could only return back to our home. For that we are sorry that we couldn't or didn't help but we will make amends for that. Yet I ask you, what say does the White Fang have on behalf of the Faunus. You claim to be fighting for justice and betterment of your people yet you draw harm upon the ones you claim to protect. If you do not believe my words, then there is another here that can vouch that the White Fang isn't what it claims to be." Zophiel said looking back at Blake. She knew that this would happen, after a run in with Ilia Amitola who had wounded Sun she knew that she couldn't sit by so she had asked Zophiel if she could help; she also knew that the crowd looked to be swaying in favor of the Zophiel's words. This was it, she could feel it in her core, this was the moment she would have the chance to start making amends for the years of hurt she had done in White Fang.

So from the shadows, Blake Belladonna stepped into the light.


Meanwhile…

Yang sat outside her home, she watched the wind stir the trees, the cool breeze going through her hair. Her once bright looking hair had seemed to dampen as she spent a lot less time making it look good, the reason being that doing it with one hand was rather difficult to manage. On the bright side having it tied up actually got rid of the annoyance of having to brush it aside so much.

"Hey kiddo." A voice said softly from behind her.

"Hi dad." Yang said as Taiyang sat down

"What's up?" He asked and Yang shrugged.

"Nothing much really just, hanging out I guess."

"Yea I can never tell when I'm just hanging out either." Taiyang said, a small grin forming on his face but a mere glance from Yang told him he didn't hit the mark. So they just sat there together for a while until he decided to speak up again.

"Ya know, all things considering, it's kind of funny how we're here."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, uh, well you know. I always sort of figured Ruby would be the one stuck at home with me slowly losing her mind while you ran off to do who knows what."

"Jeez dad, thanks, I'll keep that in mind the next time some Kingdom's military decides to come recruit me. Can't have those expectations go to waste." Yang responded but Taiyang ignored the obvious bait of the sarcasm but he found himself smiling. As in his mind a familiar person who looked so much like his eldest daughter appeared in his mind with her own similar albeit darker sarcasm.

"What?"

"Hm?"

"You're looking at me and smiling."

"Oh it's nothing; I'm just taking in this moment that I get to share with my daughter."

"Fine." Yang said and he could tell that she was getting annoyed but not in the usual way. As he could see the subtle difference in her hair when she got angry but this time there was nothing.

"You know, I will say that you're wrong about something."

"Hmm? And what's that?"

"My expectations of you Yang, I understand that losing your arm is hard or well I can try to understand. I've never had that happen to me." He said but continued as Yang opened her mouth.

"However I've seen my fair share of pain and loss. I've seen my friends maimed or killed and I've had loved ones go missing. So really I know something that I wouldn't want to share with you, I know what it's like to be left alone." An old but familiar pain threatened to surge up but Taiyang had long since learned to keep it hidden when in front of his daughters.

"So trust in me when I say this, my little sun dragon, I will always be there for you." Taiyang said as he put an arm around her, Yang leaned into him as they sat there. Looking up he could see the first sign of snowfall coming down as little motes of white in the air. They continued to sit there as the tiny motes of snow continued to fall down peppering the barren trees.

"This old man needs some warm tea to keep his old bones from turning into ice cubes, would you like some?" Taiyang asked as he began to stand up.

"No, I'm okay." Yang said.

"Alright but I'll still make you cup if you change your mind later." He said before turning to head inside but Yang spoke up.

"Wait Dad."

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry; I don't mean to be such a pain in the ass. It's just that, well, things have been a little hard for me right now but I still love you."

"You don't need to apologize to me Yang, I understand and I love you too."

"Thanks dad." She said giving him a faint smile which he returned before going inside. Yang sat there for a while but her mind began to drift back to replaying the events that led up to her arm getting cut off then the days after waking up. She could feel a small lump pressing in her throat as she struggled to contain her emotions.

"You have to stop this Yang." She whispered to herself but she couldn't. The pain, it was still fresh, throbbing like a cut in her psyche and she had no way to fix it.

"What ails you little one?" A voice said and Yang snapped her head up.

In front of her was an older man, she wasn't quite sure of his age as his appearance seemed rather deceiving though not in a bad way. He was tall and lean but had a strange strength to his body that she couldn't put her finger on.

The man wore a faded long forest green cloak with shoulder length red hair and a small beard. He also seemed to be carrying what looked to be a canvas sack on his back, a wooden string instrument and an odd looking sword. Yang could only think that he was a traveller but as she looked past the facial hair she could see that his face was that of a young man, not that much older than her. It seemed odd though for him to be a traveller but his worn boots looked like they've seen their fair share of mileage.

His eyes however spoke another truth though, they were a deep green but she could see the hints of a number of things, a level of intelligence that spoke to her that as she studied him, he did so in return. They were also mischievous, like a smile that had yet to be seen fully, and then there was anger like a campfire that smoldered ready to attain the fuel to set it alight. The last was the most startling however; it was something she couldn't place yet felt oddly familiar.

"May I sit down?" The man asked his voice was light and melodic that Yang for some reason could imagine that he could sing rather well in conjunction to the musical instrument.

"That depends, who are you?"

"Fair enough question, I should have done this sooner but you may call me, Koth." The man said after a moment of thought.

"Why does it seem like you're unsure? Is it really your name?"

"It is after a fashion but what are names really? Just labels we use to define who we are in the moment. But we're not here to discuss naming conventions; we're here to see what's got you down."

"We, are doing no such thing, you just happened to show up while I just so happen to be sitting here. Matter of fact, how did you get here? I would have noticed you long before you got this close."

"Ah but maybe you just weren't looking in the right way. Regardless of how or why we're here, we're nonetheless already here."

"You're an odd one you know that?"

"I'm not surprised; life is weird so when you experience life enough it tends to make you weird."

"Okay?" Yang was starting to think it was a good idea to go inside.

"I know what you're thinking, that it would be best to go inside away from the strange guy."

"Can you blame me?"

"No, but it seems I've done you a favor for it."

"And what's that."

"You've forgotten your pain." The man said gesturing first to her arm then her head.

"Hmm."

"So may I sit down? I've been on my feet for a while and it would be nice to give them a little break."

"Fine." Yang said as the man sat down well out of arms reach of her, which she was glad as she was ready to call for her dad in case the guy started acting weird. Travellers weren't so uncommon on Patch but there was something about this guy that seemed, off, to say at least.

"So why are you so interested in my pain?" She asked as she realized that it was quiet.

"Why not, you looked like you needed some help."

"What makes you think your help was what I needed? How can you understand the pain you assume that I have."

"I know enough about pain that I can sympathize with what you have even if I personally haven't experienced the exact same thing." She gave him an odd look as he smiled to himself and a part of her hated that she heard that same message in two different forms as if she didn't already know that.

"But we're not here to measure our pains are we?" He said but Yang didn't respond as she looked out into the trees, most of the leaves were gone and the ground had a small layer of frost even in the afternoon. She took a deep breath savoring the chill air, in the sky above them; she noticed four thin contrails going west.

She could only assume they were Arcadian aircraft, from what she had heard that the Atlas Military had pulled out of Vale about three weeks ago when their last Council representative left. Arcadia on the other hand had seemed to hunker down for the long term.

News reports about what was happening in Vale were still sporadic as whatever virus that had affected the Atlas military had ravaged the Vale CCT systems thoroughly that there were still bugs that routinely crippled both long and short range outgoing broadcasts.

Still Yang knew that the Vale Council was in a very loud and prolonged debate about the Arcadians staying in Vale. Yet that wasn't strictly true, while the Arcadian Army occupied Beacon, Headmistress Goodwitch vouched that they were only using their units to patrol the outer borders of Vale and maintain security in the relatively short distance between the city and school.

However they were sending in medical experts from the Sisterhood tended the still considerable amount of wounded along with Enginseers who were helping repair Vale's more damaged districts.

This unfortunately brought up more unpleasant memories of when Jaune had come to visit them trying to recruit her and Ruby. Of course Ruby had left while she had refused him, a part of Yang hated herself for saying no but another part hated him even more.

"Copper for your thoughts?" Koth asked startling her as she looked at him.

"Copper?"

"Never mind, you looked a little constipated there though, is something wrong?"

"It's nothing."

"If you say so." The two of them fell silent again before he finally spoke up again after five or so minutes.

"Let me ask you something."

"What?"

"Do you know the four common doors the mind uses to handle pain or trauma?"

"What are you talking about?" Yang asked looking back at him.

"Do you?"

"No but I don't see how it's useful to know this."

"It's just a little tidbit of information or perhaps wisdom that I've learned over the years. I imagined it would give you something to mull over later."

"Okay? So what are the four methods the mind uses?"

"Well to start off, these aren't the only doors or methods the mind uses just four common types that I've witnessed. To start off however, the first one is that a damaged mind uses sleep."

"Sleep?"

"Yes, the mind sleeps or slips into unconsciousness when it's overwhelmed, it tries to put the person in question into a position to gain distance via time from what troubles it."

"So essentially, time heals all wounds." Yang said feeling like this would be a waste of time but decided to humor him nonetheless.

"Yes but not all wounds can be healed by time, so the minds uses this next one, forgetting."

"How does forgetting help? Doesn't that mean you're lying to yourself or trying to deny that something happened?"

"Not necessarily, sometimes a pain is too great that no matter how much time has passed it may always hurt." Koth seemed to get lost in his thoughts for a second before looking back at her, his eyes no longer seemed to be just dark green as it seemed like there was a shade of blue in them now.

"I once knew a young boy; he travelled a lot in a performance group with his parents. He was a lively boy, smart and talented with a career in theater, living a life that may look rough to an outsider was everything he dreamed of living in. One day however they were attacked. The boy lost everything but his life that night, his friends, family, and home wiped out in one moment. For the longest of time he simply hid the pain of that loss in his mind so that he could focus on the future, to survive. So as you can see an event like that would destroy any person, that forgetting it is the best path to be able to function afterward." Koth said, Yang thought it over taking into account her own experience with that before nodding.

A part of her mind tricked her into getting a faint whiff of freshly baked cookies as she imagined watching them pulled out from a pale skinned woman with dark hair that wore a white cape. Tucked underneath the cape was the sleeping form of Ruby.

"I see." Yang said after a moment and Koth nodded as well.

"But what about this boy you mentioned?"

"What about him?"

"It sounded like he would or did start to remember at some point if he told you about it; maybe he did start remembering it as it no longer hurt." Yang said and Koth seemed to consider this.

"Maybe or maybe he decided to do something about it. Maybe he set himself on the path to justice or revenge."

"And did he get it?" Koth smiled at that, though it felt much sadder than what it represented.

"No, no he did not." Yang felt like she saw a glimpse of something with those words but she couldn't put her finger on it as he slapped his knee.

"Onwards, to the next door that mind uses. This one is far rarer as it requires a blow to the mind or spirit so intense that no amount of time can handle it nor that the mind can forget it. This door is madness."

"That sounds terrible."

"Oh? And why is that?"

"Because when a person becomes crazy they lose what made them whole; madness is like breaking a mirror to get rid of a small crack on it. Everything you've done up to that point is gone." Yang remarked but Koth clicked his tongue but had the sly look on his face that was closer to that of a teacher who had a student ask a smart question.

"Ah you're missing a fundamental point in what I mean. Madness while seemingly useless has its place in life. There are things in this world, and beyond that a sane mind can never truly understand. When the strain of the world and its pain crushes every ounce of resistance that reason or logic puts up. The mind only has one path left to save itself, abandoning sanity for the shield that madness offers, but make no mistake, the mind chooses this path but that does not mean it's broken." Yang gave him an odd look so he continued.

"I don't know how you lost your arm but for the sake of argument think about it like this. Imagine being awake as you lose your arm, feeling every sensation as a part of you is taken away, I imagine there is a lot of pain involved. Now imagine that pain never leaving, that you feel it every day, not just the pain but sight and sound of you losing it. You don't pass out; you stay awake, fully conscious of it, when you do sleep your dreams turn into nightmares as they are all about the experience, playing it over and over and over. You'd do anything to stop that feeling, to get rid of the nightmares; the mind begins to crack so the question comes, why can you do? Nothing, so the mind does what it can to save what's left, it hides behind madness until it's either strong enough to face the pain or until you die." Koth said what mirth or passion his eyes had seemed to dim away until his face looked it had been carved out of stone.

"This brings me to the last door the mind resorts to, death. The final relief that comes from being in the cold embrace of death is that there is should be nothing. No awareness, nothing to tie you to your pain, to life, which drove you to seek the undeniable destination for everything that lives under the sun." Yang said nothing for a while before a thought accord to her.

"What do you mean by should?"

"Hm?"

"You said should, in the cold embrace of death there should be no pain, why?"

"Oh? Did I? I suppose that was just a little mix up." He said but Yang could see through the act he seemed to be putting up. There was something not right about him; she began to think back to the battle in the Hurin Valleys at the oddities she had experienced there. A certain, air, that seemed to surround him, she began to feel a little afraid of who or what she may be talking to.

"Who are you? Really, I mean, who are you? I didn't see you walking up here, neither did my dad. Nor do you seem like someone who travels the Outlands. Are you human?" Yang asked and the man gave her a startled look.

"What makes you say that?"

"You don't have to lie to me, this past year I've seen things, terrible things, and you have that oddity about you but not in a bad way otherwise we wouldn't be talking. So, are you human?"

"Yes, I am human." Koth said after a brief pause.

"But then the question is are you saying that because you really are a human or just think you're human." A new voice said and Yang sighed as she recognized that voice turning to see Sanian Arc standing at the far end of the porch watching them. The older woman wasn't dressed in her armor, instead wearing her red and white robes, her eyes however were focused on the man.

"When did you get here Sanian?" Yang asked and Sanian nodded.

"Just now."

"Okay but why."

"I was on a journey and that journey led me to you." She said and Yang quirked an eyebrow at that as she stood up.

"What do you want from me?" She asked but Sanian finally lifted her gaze off the man to meet hers and Yang felt a shiver run down her back.

"She's talking about me." Koth said from behind Yang and she looked over her shoulder to see him standing up.

"What's going on out here? Yang, is everything okay? Who are you people?" Taiyang's voice called out and Yang looked to see her father standing with his arms at the side in a seemingly relaxed way but she had learned to fight from her father and experience told her that he was ready to move into action.

"Be at ease Mr. Xiao Long. My name is Sanian Arc; I believe you've met my nephew Jaune Arc already." Taiyang didn't say anything but looked out into the distance.

"Whatever you're here for I suggest you take it and leave us in peace." He said and Sanian turned her gaze on him. Taiyang Xiao Long was an experienced Huntsman even if he wasn't as active as he knew he could or should be he was still a competent fighter with good senses. Those senses have gotten him out of danger numerous times before.

He has also met his fair share of fighters that he knew that can win against him; two of them even gave birth to his beloved daughters. But right now there are only a few people amongst that list that could soundly beat him and this strange robed woman seemed like she would fit among them easily.

"That's fine by me. What say you?" This last part was directed to the strange green cloaked man who had stepped off Taiyang's porch.

"I don't know I'm not sure if it's the safe choice."

"My, aren't you skittish. I suppose that makes sense for one of the toys that belong to the Lady of Twilight." Sanian said evenly and Yang turned to see Koth staring intently at her.

"You know of her?"

"I've met her once before, she told me of a fiery red hair poet who would sing of her praises until all would know her as the most beautiful being of the realms. I can only assume by your reaction that you are the person she was talking about." Sanian said as she began to step closer. Yang stepped back to stand beside her father as they watched the two talking quietly to each other.

In the distance a number of armored figures appeared. Yang watched as eight, Battle Sisters as Jaune once called them, moved closer their weapons pointed down or slung over their shoulders.

This was the first time she's ever gotten a close look at the warriors of the Sisterhood. To her they looked like they were mixed in-between the full armored Praetorians and the standard Arcadian soldier. Robed power armor with thick looking belts or riggings of pouches around their waist or torso, they carried the unique firearms of their Order. Short, boxy looking rifles with drum magazines, which fired shells that were a little bit bigger than Ember Celica's shotgun shells.

If she had to find the best comparison to the weapons that she'd seen Arcadian infantry use they were walking around with weapons that were somewhere between Heavy Stubbers and the twenty millimeter autocannons.

"Who is she really?" Her father asked softly.

"She technically is Jaune Arc's aunt but they're not blood related. She's also apparently something of a Champion fighter that serves under High Lord Arc, the ruler of Arcadia." Yang replied and Taiyang hummed at that response.

"There's something she's not telling us, that man, she came here just for him but she won't tell us why will she."

"She won't, I've learned that the Arcadians keep as many secrets as they do soldiers." Yang said.

"They remind me of your Uncle and Ozpin."

"What do you mean?"

"I'll explain another time but let's just say they had their fair share of secrets." The last word almost dripped with venom that Yang was surprised to hear that from her father. She couldn't remember the last time she had heard her father like that. Frustration born from concern sure but this was different.

"Yang is it? I've heard a lot about you." Sanian called out as she walked towards them, the Sisters stood aside as Koth started walking along into the distant trees.

"You're letting him go?" Yang asked in return.

"Why wouldn't I? He's not an enemy, just a lonesome traveller."

"I just find it odd that you, along with your esteemed Sisters came all the way out here to meet him. Plus if I recall, you did ask about whether or not he knew if he was really human." Yang pointed out and Sanian nodded.

"Mine, aren't you sharp."

"I wouldn't say that I'm sharp as most but neither am I stupid."

"Nor did I assume so; sharpness comes in many more forms than knowing an Atlesian formula." Yang couldn't help but smile a little at that, Weiss had always made a point to badger them during study sessions of the schooling she had received in Atlas.

"Would it trouble you to walk with me for a little bit?" Sanian asked surprising Yang but her father stepped forward crossing his arms.

"And for what purpose would that be?"

"Nothing nefarious just some girl time, I haven't gotten much of a chance to talk with those close to my nephew Jaune who I hold close to my own heart."

"While I consider Jaune a good friend, I don't reckon we're as close as you think." Yang replied thinking back to her attitude she had given Jaune when he had come to recruit her and Ruby.

"Be that as it may, there are other things I wish to talk about that don't relate to Jaune but rather your shared experience on a certain mission." Sanian said and Yang frozen for an instance at that before looking at her father.

"I'll be back."

"Are you sure?"

"No, but I don't think I really have a choice." She said weakly before stepping down off the porch to stand beside the tall robed woman. The armored Sisters moved towards the trees while her father just stood along on the porch watching her. They continued to walk in silence for a while and Yang suspected that Sanian wanted to get her away from the house.

"Can I ask you some questions?" Yang asked.

"You just did." Sanian said and Yang sighed.

"Oh come now, no need to be so huffy. I can answer your questions but you may not like the answers."

"Alright then, how did you know you'd find Koth here?"

"I didn't know that I'd find him."

"What do you mean? You did find him and you knew he was here."

"I mean I didn't expect to find, him, per se." Yang snorted at the weird answer.

"And what that does that mean."

"You know about the Neverborn right? I've read the report in the Hurin Valleys; the Norsii attacked destroying the outpost you were stationed at as well as killing your attending Huntress." Sanian asked instead, there was a flash of a desecrated corpse of a women strung up on an eight pointed start that made Yang stop as she struggled to control herself as a mix of emotions rolled in her.

"If you already know this then why ask me." Yang said bitterly.

"You're the one that wanted to ask questions I'm merely returning the favor besides this subject is important to the larger question."

"And what question is that?"

"Do you really plan on sitting idly by as the world moves on? I am well aware that your injury was a tremendous ordeal but you look as if you're ready to give in altogether. There will come a time when an unsharpened blade will cost you your life." Sanian asked again changing the topic but to Yang's annoyance.

"Is that what this is about? Trying to get me back into the fight? To help your interests in whatever matters you wish to use me for?" Yang snarled and Sanian looked at her coldly.

"Our interests are yours as well. It was not just the White Fang or the Creatures of Grimm that attacked Vale. There are forces at work that rival the hatred to which the White Fang represents and the numbers the Grimm will throw at civilization until it is torn down. Forces with the power if left unchecked that can beat the Four Kingdoms even if they work together."

"But not Arcadia?" Yang asked sardonically.

"You misunderstand Yang; if it gets to that point then Arcadia has already fallen."

"There's hubris in that isn't there."

"Not hubris, we merely fight against more foes than you realize."

"Jaune says that as well, explaining that the world isn't ready but I've seen it and I know it exists so it seems to me you need to stop hiding these things."

"And so what if you think know it and you can understand it. That doesn't mean that others can as well nor are we the only ones with secrets, your former Headmaster Ozpin's secrets were one of the main sources for the Battle of Beacon and Vale the only difference is he wouldn't have told you no matter how it went if he lived. As for hubris I find that ironic considering how you seem to act now with your arm. As if you're the first to lose a fight, to lose a limb or your friends leave you behind. That no one can understand your pain but to me your attitude is starting to stink of a sore loser with abandonment issues that wants someone to pity her."

"Insulting me won't do anything." Yang said narrowing her eyes as Sanian turned to look at her.

"Those are not insults, merely truths. Stop being such a child Yang." Those words and the look on Sanian's face made Yang snarl a curse as her fist came up. She was surprised however as the older woman pushed it aside then backhanded her making her stumble back.

"Weak. You've wallowed in defeat far too long." Sanian said looking down at Yang as she sat on the cold ground.

"But there's still an ember in you Yang, one that I think would serve not only you but the world if you kindled it again."

"So this is just a ploy to get me to serve under Jaune's new command." Yang said not looking up at her.

"While you could do so as it's an option I'm told that he wanted to leave open for you I would say no nonetheless, I don't want you to serve with Jaune in his Regiment." Sanian said as she reached down, her fingers lifting Yang's head up by the chin to look at her. She was smiling but Yang could see that the smile on her face did not reach her eyes, it was cold and calculating like someone looking at a half broken device considering if they should keep it or throw it away.

"If you want to hear the truth of why I said I didn't expect to find Koth and what my question of the Neverborn has to do with it then it is simple. Swear an oath to me that you'll serve me, to follow my commands until I release you from my service and I will tell you what you want to know. Deny me and then I will leave you behind and not look back as no one has use for someone like you in your current state." The smile left her face and Yang felt her skin tingle.

"If you betray me, I will kill you Yang Xiao Long." She withdrew her touch from Yang's chin as Yang looked down.

"What say you? Will you accept my offer?" She asked, a definitive tone in her voice suggesting that this moment would be the only time Yang would have this option.

"I accept." She said solemnly before looking up, for the first time since she arrived, Sanian Arc had a genuine smile.


Well it's been a while ain't it, took me a long time to get these chapters done, some of it having to do with trying to keep certain aspects in mind both from the show and what I want to write.

Though let's be honest, there was a fair amount of procrastination involved, for instance, I wrote a erotic or Lewd RWBY script for GonewildAudio on Reddit (which I do plan on doing more cause it's an interesting process) so there's that.

On a unrelated note, Cyberpunk 2077 is living up to its reputation of setting things on fire, just not in the way you'd expect.

Other than that, it is what it is.

Feel free to message me or leave a review.

Till next time!