Jaune felt useless. It was a feeling he'd come to terms with for the most part. Given his notable lack of experience compared to that of his peers, it was understandable that he would find himself comparing himself to them when it came to things such as combat. It was the overall gap in his combat abilities compared to theirs that had motivated him to train longer, harder, all in an attempt to bridge the gap that separated himself from the rest of them. He knew such things would take time. He couldn't expect himself to reach the same combat prowess as Ren or Yang overnight, let alone Pyrrha. It would take hard work and dedication on his part as well as the ability to accept the losses when they came. However, there were moments when he found himself feeling completely inadequate when presented with a certain situation and, frankly, he doubted anyone else would feel the same.

When Cinder had made her presence known, brandishing a power that seemed otherworldly, he would have been forgiven for thinking they had no chance at all of facing her down, let alone escaping. That was until Professor Ozpin began to glow in the same otherworldly manner that Cinder was.

The two soon engaged one another, Cinder taking the initiative to strike first while Ozpin opted to defend, throwing up a massive glowing green barrier while occasionally taking a few potshots whenever he saw an opening. To her credit, Cinder never attacked the same spot twice. She flew around the barrier, shooting fireballs to probe it for weaknesses while staying mobile in an attempt to rob Ozpin of any chance of countering. All the while Jaune had the unnerving feeling that their opponent wasn't utilizing her full strength. She was holding back, waiting for something, and he was fairly certain he knew what it was.

"Mr. Arc, when the power transfer to Miss Nikos concludes, I need you to take her and leave," Ozpin instructed.

"Not that I feel like arguing with you, especially because that is what I had in mind, but I doubt Cinder's going to let us walk out of here uncontested."

"Leave her to me. I'm far from a one-trick pony and despite the impressive control she's shown over her powers, I have years of experience that puts me at a level above her."

"I'll just take your word for it," Jaune replied.

Jaune didn't have to ask what to look for to indicate that the process Pyrrha was currently being made to endure would conclude. Her screams of pain began dying down and the pods themselves showed similar signs. Before long, the pod door holding Pyrrha inside hissed, expelling a cloud of steam before popping forward and sliding up to allow her outside. Jaune quickly moved to her side, catching her as she attempted and failed to climb out herself. The process had left her noticeably exhausted and no doubt in a weakened state.

"Pyrrha, are you alright?" he asked.

"Y-yes, just… tired," she said. She was breathing heavily and sweat dribbled down her forehead.

"Can you walk?"

"I think so."

Despite her best attempts, her legs gave out from under her the moment she tried to take a step. Rather than wait for her strength to return, Jaune instead took the initiative by sweeping his arm under her legs and lifting her up into a bridal carry. She gave a feeble protest before leaning her head against his chest plate, mumbling about how it felt good. No doubt the cold metal helped to alleviate some of the lingering effects from the power transfer, something which Jaune did not envy her for.

"I've got her," he announced.

"Good, I'll clear you two a path."

By now Cinder had taken up a position between them and the elevator. The smug look on her face showed how overly confident she was about being able to beat them and therefore saw no need to destroy their only escape route to the surface. Jaune silently prayed that her arrogance would prove a boon to them and tightened his hold on his partner, waiting for Ozpin's signal to move.

It was surprisingly obvious and yet altogether unexpected. Cinder concentrated a large amount of power in her hands, focusing it in her palms, before blasting it at them as a massive wave of fire. Ozpin responded by causing his shield to recede, keeping just enough of it up for the fire to cascade around them and into the chamber itself. This had the added effect of raising the temperature significantly, but Jaune ignored this. Before Cinder had time to follow up her attack, Ozpin sprang forward, carving himself a path through the flames themselves. Jaune managed to catch a glimpse of the woman's face just before she was forced back by the old man. The look of surprise was enough to tell me she hadn't expected him to go on the offensive, but she just as quickly switched gears, shooting flames out from her feet to gain some distance as Ozpin herded her out and away from the elevator.

Jaune was moving a second after, sprinting towards the elevator even as he felt the heat from a fireball sail over him. He forced himself to focus on the exit, knowing that if he looked back, he risked both their lives. He slammed his hand against the button, relieved to find it open without much protest, before leaping inside and slamming his hand against the button for the lobby floor. It was now that the elevator decided to take its time, taking a moment to think about what Jaune wanted before slowly closing the doors shut. This had the added effect of giving Jaune a lovely scare as the face of Cinder, contorted into a snarl and highlighted by a backdrop of flames, came flying in towards them. They were saved at the last minute by a pulse of green energy curtsey of Ozpin that sent her flying into the nearby wall before the doors finally shut and they began to ascend to the surface.

From within the confines of the elevator, sounds of the battle below echoed upwards. It made him feel nervous, knowing that they were essentially confined in a metal prison until they reached the surface. Despite knowing there was little he could do to protect them, Jaune had his sword and shield prepped regardless. If his last moments were to be spent in here, he'd rather go down fighting to protect his friends than spend it languishing like a sardine just before it slapped into a sandwich. To his immense relief, the elevator reached the ground floor with little issue. The sound of combat could still be heard though they were more distant than before. Tucking an arm under Pyrrha, he helped her walk out into the ruined hallway before leaning her against some rubble.

"Pick up. Pick up. Please pick up," Jaune mumbled as he watched his scroll ring for a moment.

"Jaune! You're alive. Thank the gods," Weiss said when at last she answered his calls.

"I could same the same for you. Where are you?"

"I'm with some of the other students, currently holding the school courtyard."

"Where are the others?"

"Blake ran off for some reason. I'm not quite sure why but I'll bet anything it has to do with the White Fang. Yang ran after her, mostly to watch her partner's back."

"What about Jade? Is she with you?"

"No, I left her in the care of Miss Goodwitch. She and Kitsune are currently holding the auditorium. They've turned it into a makeshift medical bay and temporary base of operations. She'll be safe with them."

"I know. I trust your judgment," he said, fighting back the uneasy feeling he had about leaving Jade alone, even if she was with Beacon's teachers. Given everything he'd learned recently, he was beginning to question how many of them he could actually trust.

"Where are you? Ren and Nora arrived a while ago and said you left on a transport with Pyrrha before them."

"We're safe. We're currently outside Ozpin's office."

"What are you doing all the way over there?"

Jaune opened his mouth to speak but hesitated. Looking back to Pyrrha who was currently resting against the rubble, he considered for a moment just how much of what he'd learned he should divulge to Weiss. His hesitation lasted only a few seconds as he soon came to the conclusion that he should tell her everything, or as much as he could considering the circumstances. He could go into greater detail when they had a moment to themselves after this was all over but for now, he'd tell her what he knew.

"Ozpin's been lying to us," he said, causing Weiss' expression to shift to one of surprise. "Turns out they'd been anticipating an attack like this for some time."

"What? Why? Why didn't they inform any of us?"

"They didn't trust anyone to keep quiet about it, I suppose. Ironwood knew as well as Goodwitch. The lady who was targeting the school was apparently after a woman with a very unique semblance, someone who they'd been keeping in suspended animation underneath the school."

"Jaune, you're not making any sense. That sounds more within the realms of science fiction than reality."

"I honestly wish it was," he replied. "We managed to transfer the woman's semblance into Pyrrha and only just escaped. I'm going to try and make my way towards you."

"Alright but watch yourself. Someone managed to take down General Ironwood's flagship, so the drones are no longer a threat but a massive erupted from the nearby mountain range. We didn't even know it was there, but it's been dropping Grimm all along its flight path."

"Geez, we leave for five minutes, and things go from bad to worse," he groaned.

"I know, I know. Just make your way over here as quickly as you can."

"We will," he said, then, thinking about it for a moment, he added, "I love you."

Weiss blushed, obviously unprepared to hear those words. She looked to the side, obviously embarrassed, and silently debating with herself before she replied, "I l-love you too."

The call quickly ended but before she caught sight of Jaune's goofy grin at hearing his girlfriend say that. With that out of the way, he turned to check on Pyrrha and saw that she was already on her feet. That was a good sign as it meant they wouldn't have much trouble traveling now, though he couldn't help but wonder how her new powers might come into play and whether or not they would be of any help to them or a hindrance. There was also the woman, Cinder, who was after the half now held by Pyrrha. No doubt she would be gunning for her now more than ever, making their lives that much more complicated. It was perhaps the one and only time in his life that he found himself grateful to know his family had already passed. Aside from Jade, there were barely a handful of people she could threaten to get to him now with the majority of them able to hold their own.

"Pyrrha, we need to leave. We're going to head to the courtyard to help Weiss and the others retake Beacon."

"It's stopped," she replied, having seemingly ignored everything he'd just said.

"What do you mean?"

"Do you hear that?" she asked.

He stopped and listened for a moment. Sporadic gunfire, howls and screeching cries from Grimm, and explosions off in the distance all met his ears. He assumed none of that was what she'd been referring to and instead focused on where they were currently. It was difficult to tune out the rest of the background noise, but he managed it for a moment to find he could sense nothing else.

"No, I don't hear anything," he replied.

"I know. They've stopped fighting. Cinder and Professor Ozpin have stopped."

"Maybe that's a good thing? He might have defeated her without us there to hinder him and he's just resting before coming up."

In spite of his hopes that Ozpin had proven himself to be more powerful and too experienced for Cinder to handle, Pyrrha instead shook her head.

"If she was dead then the other half of the powers would have returned to me," he said. "She's still alive. It's only a matter of time before she comes for us."

"Then we'd better get going and put as much distance between ourselves and her," he said, grabbing her arm and dragging her away from the tower.

They walked for several minutes, climbing over debris, wreaked Atlesian Knights, and even bodies. The latter Jaune did his best to ignore and look away. Regardless of whether they were White Fang, of which they were numerous, or students either from Beacon or one of the other schools, the scenery reminded him too much of his village just after the fire had subsided. It was beginning to feel like a pattern, one that almost assuredly seemed to be destined to follow Jade and himself all their lives. He pushed this thought aside, focusing instead on the road ahead and of reuniting with his team and friends.

Still, a part of his thoughts lingered back at the tower where they'd left Ozpin, presumably dead, and Cinder who would no doubt be gunning for them the moment she recovered from whatever damage she'd sustained during her fight with Ozpin and came gunning for them. The thought brought with it the temptation to look back and see if she was following them, but he instead forced himself to keep his eyes faced forward. Whether she was hobbling her way towards them or flying through the air on a trail of flames, he didn't want to look back and see anything that might cause his courage and determination to falter. Pyrrha no doubt was looking back for them and would probably warn them if she caught sight of Cinder. That then brought to mind what they would do once they reached their companions. Knowing the kind of power Cinder had at her disposal, he couldn't help but wonder if they'd have any chance of defeating her, let alone surviving another encounter with the mad woman. If they were fresh and prepared, with ample time to plan, perhaps they might have stood a chance. Given how things had turned out for them now, however, he couldn't help the doubt that creeped its way into his thoughts, telling him their chances of getting out of this alive were slim. At best their only option was to run but even then, he couldn't help but wonder how far they'd make it in their current condition.

"Jaune," Pyrrha said, interrupting his thoughts and, as a result, his gait, "you need to stop."

"We can't stop now, Pyrrha, not even to rest," he replied, keeping his eyes facing forward.

"You know that's not what I mean," she said, taking hold of his hand, "you need to let me go. You need to leave me behind and prioritize getting yourself to the others."

Her words were enough to break through, breaking down his concentration enough that he spun around to face her, his gaze hard as he looked her in the eye.

"Don't you dare ask me to abandon you. I'm not leaving you behind just to save myself."

"You need to. You have to. If you're to have any chance of surviving this, of getting back to Jade, to Weiss, then you need to leave me here and prioritize your own safety. We both know Cinder will ignore you in favor of gaining the powers I hold. At least this way I can give you all a chance to regroup and prepare a counterattack, one that has a chance of retaking Beacon," she argued.

"And what if she kills you?" he asked, knowing her argument was built on weak foundations. "What if she kills you before we have any time to prepare, to regroup, to must a force strong enough to defeat her? She was already powerful enough to defeat Ozpin and that was with half of that woman's powers. What hope do we have if she kills you and gains the rest of them, hmm? You don't honestly think she's just going to take her powers and leave. We're a threat to her, Pyrrha, and even though we know for a fact that it's you she's after, that at least gives us a chance. It'll give us a chance because she'll be half as powerful, and we'll at least know who her target is. Who knows, we might just find something that can turn the tide for us, even if only briefly. We just need a chance and not one that's built on some stupid self-sacrifice."

"Jaune, please, you know we don't stand a chance against her. We're just students, we're not real Huntsmen, not yet. You need to let me do this," she pleaded.

"NO!" he roared, his voice echoing through the ruins around them and momentarily drowning out the sounds of battle in the distance. "Don't you dare ask me to leave you to die, Pyrrha," he said, tears now streaming down his face as his voice cracked from emotion. "I've already lost too much. My village. My Parents. My Sisters. All of it, gone, and I could do nothing but watch as it was burned to ashes around me. I thought my only chance at redeeming myself was through raising Jade but since then I've gained so much more. I've gained a family and that includes you Pyrrha. I'm not abandoning you. Not now, not ever."

"Jaune," she said, cupping his face as she leaned her forehead against his. "I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

"I can't lose you too Pyrrha," he said, his voice hollow as he spoke. "I've already lost so much. I couldn't live with myself if I left you behind to die."

"I know," she said, gently wiping a tear from his eye. "That's what I love about you."

He barely had a moment to register what was happening before he felt something soft crash against his lips. A moment later he realized she'd kissed him and by then the moment had passed. Confusion blossomed as he saw the guilty expression on Pyrrha's but somehow, he knew it wasn't because of what she'd just done. He soon realized why a moment later when he felt himself being flung back before he slammed into something hard, metal, and compact. A second later a door slammed shut and he found himself trapped inside a rocket locker, unable to free himself as Pyrrha began pressing buttons on the exterior.

"I'm sorry Jaune," she said.

"Pyrrha, wait!" he shouted, banging on the locker door in a futile attempt to force it open.

"I can't lose you either."

"Pyrrha!"

His screaming died out as the locker launched into the air, sailing away and to safety as Pyrrha watched him leave before turning her attention back to the tower.

/-/

It didn't take her long to retrace her steps back to the tower. For all the walking they'd done, she and Jaune had spent a great deal of time navigating their way through debris and fallen rubble in an attempt to make their way to the courtyard. Hopefully, the locker she'd sent blasting into the air would make it to the destination she'd input but, if not, she was certain he would be safely away before the worst occurred.

Reaching the tower, she was relieved to find that the elevator was still there, waiting for a new passenger or to be called away by someone. That, at least, was a good sign. It meant Cinder hadn't yet recovered from her fight with Ozpin. While she was tempted to take it down in an effort to confirm he'd been killed or at the very least to see if perhaps she'd been wrong and that Ozpin had in fact won their fight, she instead opted to take it to the Headmaster's office. It was part of her overall plan. The office itself sat on a pile of massive gears, ones that turned a large clock, and would provide her with alternate weaponry to fend off Cinder with. It was also out of the way, ensuring whatever battle ensued would not threaten the lives of bystanders. What's more, it was an important target for the latter part of her plan, one that would be implemented should the worst come to pass.

Stepping into the elevator, she pressed the button to send her up and waited for it to respond. It was a few moments before she realized nothing was happening and, after pressing several more of the buttons, she concluded that whatever emergency power that had been hooked up to the elevator was either used up during the power transfer or had been severed during the battle that had followed. This did little to deter her, however, as she placed both hands on either side of the elevator and reached out with her semblance. Slowly, the sound of grating metal reached her ears. It was a few moments more before the cabin began to move and she found herself rising up to the top of the tower. As soon as she reached the top she stepped off and let her semblance go. The elevator didn't stay, dropping like a rock back towards its previous destination. It was several seconds before Pyrrha heard it land, the sound echoing through the ruins below. No doubt whoever was still alive down there would know someone was up here and would come to investigate. She hoped against all odds it would be Ozpin, but she was prepared to face the inevitable regardless. With what little time she had to herself she took out her scroll and put a call through to Miss Goodwitch.

"Miss Nikos," the woman said, answering after a few moments. Her hair was disheveled and the was a large bandage on her head, denoting she'd been fighting for long enough that her aura had been expended. "It's good to hear from you. When I didn't hear from Ozpin, I assumed the worst."

"I think it's safe to say he's dead," she replied, watching the woman frown at that confirmation. "I'm currently at the top of Beacon tower. I think Cinder may have defeated him, but I can't be certain."

"What about Amber's powers? Was the transfer successful?"

"It was," she confirmed. "We don't have time to celebrate, though. I don't know if Cinder is alive and I'm not confident enough in my own abilities to be able to take her down myself, even with half the maiden's powers."

"That's understandable. I suggest you start making your way towards us. We'll be able to protect you and fend her off should it come to it."

"I can't do that, Miss Goodwitch," she said, ignoring the woman's look of concern as she said it. "So long as I have these powers, I'll be putting everyone in danger. It's best I stay away until we can confirm that Cinder is dead, and the remaining powers transfer to me. Hence why I'm currently at Beacon tower."

"Pyrrha, what are you planning?" Glynda asked, slowly piecing together Pyrrha's plan.

"I need you to get into contact with General Ironwood or someone with Atlas capable of taking control of their remaining ships. I'll act as bait and lure Cinder up here. I doubt she missed my invitation. I'll hold her off as best I can while you get the Atlas ships ready to target the tower."

"Pyrrha, no," Goodwitch said, stopping her before she could finish. "I'll not sacrifice one of my students on the chance that we can eliminate an adversary."

"We don't have a choice!" Pyrrha argued, reminded all too much of her argument with Jaune earlier. "So long as I have these powers, I will be a target and Cinder will come after me and anyone you send to protect me from her. This is our best shot at taking her out and ensuring the maiden's powers are removed from her grasp."

Pyrrha watched the screen, seeing the emotions that warred on Miss Goodwitch's face. It was obvious she was struggling to decide whether she should sacrifice her student in order to rob both themselves and their adversary's control over the maiden's powers while at the same time wanting to protect one of her students to the best of her ability, even if it meant sending someone else to die in Pyrrha's place, most likely herself. After a moment, though, she came to a decision as she slowly nodded her consent.

"I spoke with James not too long ago. He's in the city and is currently making his way towards Beacon," she said, confirming that not only had General Ironwood survived the destruction of the flagship but had restored their communications if Jaune's call to Weiss hadn't already confirmed that for her. "I'll see to it that he makes his way towards the nearest airship. With any luck, we'll be able to do something about Cinder."

"Thank you, Miss Goodwitch," Pyrrha said.

"Pyrrha," she said, interrupting the girl before she could end the call. "As a Beacon student and a future Huntress of Remnant, it is your sworn duty to do everything within your power to survive this battle. I will not accept anything less from you."

"I understand," Pyrrha replied, knowing all too well what Glynda meant by this. "I'll see you after we've retaken Beacon."

Glynda merely nodded before ending the call.

/-/

Jaune stumbled out of the locker and into the open air of the Emerald Forest. He'd had to use his sword as a makeshift crowbar as the impact had dented the locker door inward, preventing him from opening it the usual way. The area around him was surprisingly devoid of Grimm, especially given the waves of negativity that must have been rolling off of Beacon, Amity, and Vale itself combined. Normally this would be something Jaune would consider to be a blessing but given recent events, it only served to stock the fire of his emotions as he was robbed of anything tangible to take his anger and frustration out on.

"FUCK!"

An aura-protected fist slammed into the locker, denting it further and causing it to topple over to the side with a resounding crash that echoed through the trees.

"FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!"

He slammed his sword into the side of a nearby tree next. Wood and splinters shot out, bouncing off his aura and serving to only feed his frustration. It was several moments before he'd managed to calm down enough to start thinking about what he needed to do next. Withdrawing his scroll from his pocket, he quickly dialed the one number he had saved to his recent calls. It didn't take long for Weiss to pick up and from the looks of things the battle wasn't going very well for them.

"Jaune, where are you? What's happened?"

"Pyrrha," he began, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. "Pyrrha is going to die."

"What? Jaune, I don't understand, what's happened? Where's Pyrrha?"

"She's back at Beacon tower, I think. She tossed me into a rocket locker and shot me away in some fucked up sense of duty to protect me. She's going to use herself as bait to lure Cinder away. We need to help her. You need to send someone, anyone, to back her up. She won't stand a chance on her own otherwise."

"I understand. I'll make sure we can get someone to back her up," Weiss assured him, having either missed or simply ignored his crass manner of speaking to her. "My scroll puts your location in the Emerald Forest. You're not too far from Beacon but it's obvious she wanted you as far away as possible."

"Yea, I gathered that," he confirmed.

"Just get yourself back here safely and don't take any unnecessary risks," she replied.

"The same to you."

"I'll see you when you get back."

Their call ended shortly after and as he shockingly placed the scroll back in his pocket, he stumbled over towards another tree, his emotions still a torrent within him.

"Gods damn you, Pyrrha," he seethed. "If we make it out of this alive, I'm going to kick your ass."

/-/

Pyrrha wasn't made to wait very long for her opponent to arrive. With the elevator officially out of commission, she instead opted to provide her own transport by propelling herself to the top by shooting flames out of her hands and feet. From the state of her clothes, it seemed she'd come out relatively unscathed from her battle with Ozpin. However, her labored breathing was enough of an indication that her fate had taken more of a toll on her than she was willing to let on. Still, she smiled coyly at Pyrrha, looking very much like the cat that had cornered the mouse, as if she'd managed to force Pyrrha into this situation through her own merits alone.

"So, you've chosen to face me alone. How noble of you," Cinder said.

"I refuse to allow anyone else to die for me," Pyrrha replied.

"How predictable," Cinder said, laughing at the situation as if it was all some grand joke. "Your faith and reliance on your friends has always been a weakness. It's what allowed me to corral you into this situation."

"My friends aren't a weakness," Pyrrha replied. "My friends are what make me strong. I had assumed Emerald and Mercury were more or less the same to you, but I guess I was mistaken," she said, referring to her teammates.

"Emerald and Mercury are my subordinates, nothing more. They do as they are told and, when their usefulness has ended, they are cast aside. Eventually, I will replace them with others but, for now, they still have some uses for my plans."

"What happened to you?" Pyrrha asked, causing Cinder's smile to falter. "What happened in your life to cause you to become so callous and willing to sacrifice other people's lives just to attain your own goals? You're from Mistral, just like me. I don't understand how one of my own countrymen could stoop so low."

Whatever façade Cinder had been using seemed to falter and crack under the barrage of pity and questions Pyrrha shot her way. It was obvious the woman hadn't been expecting her to react like that and no doubt had hoped she would be begging for her life or at the very least act in some noble fashion akin to those Mistral Heroes of old. While Pyrrha would admit she'd been tempted to act as such, she quickly found her decision contested when Cinder arrived, clearly exhausted from her fight with Ozpin but no doubt determined to take the other half of her powers from Pyrrha no matter the cost. It was like facing off against a cornered rat and that made things so much worse for her.

"That power is mine by right. I defeated her. I stole the power from her before Ozpin's lackey stole her away from me. I will have what's owed me and you can either hand it over willingly or I'll simply take it from your lifeless corpse."

"All this," Pyrrha said, motioning to the ruins of Beacon and Vale down below, "all this for power? Thousands of lives lost, a war ignited, all so you could gain power?"

"Don't act so surprised, child. Wars have been started for less. Lives lost and forfeited for the most trivial of reasons," Cinder countered. "I may have gone to these lengths simply to take what is rightfully mine, but Ozpin was foolish enough to think all of this would be enough to stop me, to prevent me from retaking my power. He's already paid for his mistake with his life and if you persist in standing in my way then so shall you."

As she said this, flames engulfed the sides of her eyes as she showed off her mastery of the maiden's powers. Despite the fact that they held equal portions, it was obvious to Pyrrha that Cinder's abilities far outmatched her own. She'd had more time to study and understand her new abilities while Pyrrha was flying by the seat of her skirt. She could feel the power somewhere inside her, waiting to be called forth. Just how she was meant to do that was unknown to her, however. Instead, she kneeled to the ground, placing her hands on the floor in a placating manner that had Cinder's victorious smile returning.

"I understand," she said, reaching out with her semblance to the gears just beneath her feet. "There's only one course of action left for me to take."

"I'm pleased to see you've come to your senses. I'll be sure to remember you for this," Cinder cooed, taking a step forward in anticipation.

"Don't worry. I'll make sure I'm someone you never forget."

Before Cinder had a chance to react or decipher Pyrrha's cryptic wording, the glass flooring beneath her cracked violently. Cinder's instincts were enough to have her fly up and away from the glass as it shattered, showering the area in large chunks of shrapnel. While safety out of the blast radius, it wasn't enough to save her from the mass of gears and metal beams that came at her, batting at her like an annoying bug marked for death. Cinder retaliated by blasting the machinery away with fireballs, zipping around and through them with ease before zeroing in on their source. With a guttural growl, she shot a fireball at Pyrrha's location, forcing the girl to drop her concentration and dodge lest she end up charbroiled.

Taking advantage of the lull in their combat, Cinder flew at the champion, summoning her swords in an attempt to impale her and end the battle quickly. Unfortunately for her, Pyrrha was far too seasoned in the arena to be caught so easily. With the slightest twitch of her wrist, she summoned her shield, feeling it slide from her back over her shoulder and into her arms mere moments before Cinder's swords impacted the polished bronze face. Robbed of her chance to kill her, Cinder leapt back, gaining some distance and preventing Pyrrha from following up with another attack.

"You should have let me kill when you had the chance. I would have made it painless, merciful. Now, I will take my time and make you suffer for your insolence," she snarled.

"Bring it, bitch," Pyrrha challenged.

/-/

Ruby sped through the ruins of Beacon, her semblance allowing her to easily maneuver over the fallen rubble and broken machine bodies of the Atlas drones. Occasionally she'd see one of the large Atlesian paladins, some of which were smashed or riddled with holes while others were still intact, fallen to the ground when their connection with the Atlas flagship was destroyed. The events that had led to that moment were still fresh in her mind. It had been one of the most harrowing experiences of her life. Roman Torchwick looming over her, smacking her with his cane in an attempt to dislodge her from the side of the ship, only to miss the Gryphon that landed just behind him until it was too late.

From there she'd managed to make her way down to Vale by using Crescent Rose to ease her descent. Thankfully, she was small enough and the shells were powerful enough that it offset her weight, making the landing doable. As soon as she hit the ground, she made a beeline for Beacon, slicing up any Grimm she found along the way. She naturally ignored any bodies along the path as well. It was difficult to see all the people she'd failed to protect but she knew there would be so many more bodies alongside them if she didn't make her way to Beacon and help her friends retake their school. It was the one place that could ensure these people didn't die in vain.

She pushed herself as hard as she dared. Her aura was already low due to her fight with Torchwick and his accomplice, but she managed to survive that with most of her reserves still in the green. Unfortunately, the constant use of her semblance had already caused her to dip down into the yellow and she was drawing dangerously close to the red. Thankfully she managed to reach her school before it came to that and the sight that greeted her nearly broke her heart. Drones and mechs littered the grounds, either riddled with bullet holes, smashed or torn to shreds, or simply having fallen to the ground with General Ironwood's flagship had been destroyed and the signal powering them had been shut off. Amongst the machines, she could see bodies, mostly White Fang, but a few here and there were students a little older than her, cut down while defending Beacon itself. The worst sight, though, was the one of her sister.

"Yang!"

In spite of herself, she sped over to her sister's unconscious form. Blake was kneeling next to her, exhausted and clutching her side where she could see several bandages wrapped around an area that had turned pink from discoloration. Zwei lay next to Yang, nuzzling next to her, eyes roving over the bandaged stump where her arm had once been.

"Wha- what happened?" Ruby asked in a shaky voice.

"I'm so sorry," Blake managed to say, her voice shaky and broken. "It's all my fault."

"She's stable," Weiss said, coming up to her partner's side.

"Weiss, you're okay," Ruby said, relieved and almost brought to tears. Weiss returned the exuberant teenager's hug, wincing a little as the show of affection irritated a wound on her side. "You're hurt."

"I'll be fine," she said, waving it off. "There are others worse off. How are you on aura?"

"I'm good, still within the yellow," she replied, her answer being neither fully truth nor lie. "Do you need me somewhere?"

"Not me but Jaune does," she replied. "I received a call from him not too long ago. I'm not sure why but his position puts him on the other side of Beacon. He said Pyrrha needs help and she's trying to fight someone on her own."

"Where is she?" Ruby asked, already eager to help.

"If I had to guess, she would be up there," Weiss said, pointing to Beacon tower.

At first, Ruby didn't understand why she would make that assumption. However, a moment later, large blasts of fire followed by strong gusts of wind enveloped the sky around it. Ruby knew or at least had some idea of Pyrrha's semblance, and the light show she was witnessing wasn't anything that struck her as being her friend's. It was obvious it must have been from her opponent, a powerful adversary and no doubt someone beyond the invincible girl's ability to overcome. The fact that Jaune had called Weiss out of desperation was all the evidence she needed.

"I need to get up there. Fast."

"I can help with that," Weiss said, summoning a glyph in her palm. "I have just enough aura to get you to the top. The rest will be up to you."

"Don't worry Weiss, I'll bring our friend home safe," Ruby said resolutely.

/-/

Pyrrha would be the first to admit that she wasn't having the best day so far. Starting with the abysmal fight between herself and Penny, one that ended with her discovering the girl was actually an android after she'd come down from the initial shock of dismembering the poor girl, she'd been whisked off to Beacon to have another woman's power drained from her and poured into her own body, enduring unimaginable pain as a result, and was now facing down the woman who'd initially stolen half the woman's power in a fight she was currently losing. Badly. So, yea, not the best day so far.

Despite all of this she still fought on, hoping against hope that someone would appear to reinforce her. At most, she needed a veteran Huntsman, someone who could go toe to toe with the woman, but that was sadly not an option. Given the current state of Vale and Beacon both, such experienced Huntsmen were no doubt preoccupied with protecting civilians from the encroaching Grimm. Thankfully General Ironwood's flagship had been taken out so that should alleviate some of the pressure brought on by Atlas' robotic soldiers, but it didn't help her much. Her was dangerously low and all her tactics she'd honed during her time as Mistral's champion fighter were proving next to useless against her current opponent. She had a sneaking suspicion that the raven-haired woman had taken the time to study up on her, possibly evening figuring out what her semblance was, all in preparation for this fight. It was proving more of a challenge just to fend her off than to keep her on the back foot and while she would have relished having an actual challenge after dominating the tournament ring for so long, the excitement was soured by the knowledge that she was fighting for her life rather than a title.

"Give up, child. You've no chance of winning this fight. That power is rightfully mine."

"You say that like you earned the maiden's power but it's my understanding that you simply stole it from its original owner."

"Amber wasn't worthy of such power," the woman snarled. "She had grown stagnant, complacent, barely ever tapping into the maiden's power unless it suited her. It was wasted in her hands, but I'll make sure it's put to use."

"By using it to subjugate innocents and destroy lives?"

"I never said my intentions were noble," the woman admitted. "I simply have a greater purpose in mind for the power you hold. Now surrender. You have no hope of winning this fight."

"I don't have to win," Pyrrha replied. "I just have to make sure to waste your time long enough for reinforcements to arrive."

"A nice thought but an altogether foolish one. I took great pains to skater and distract any potential allies who might come to your aid. You have no hope of beating nor of anyone coming to your rescue."

"I'll still take my chances," she spat.

"So be it."

Having grown tired of their fight, the woman summoned a bow and nocked an arrow, aiming it directly at Pyrrha's chest. She loosed it within the same moment, causing Pyrrha to react in kind by throwing her shield to intercept. The bronze edge met the glass arrowhead on, shattering it on impact as intended. What she hadn't expected, however, was for the glass shards to reform once the shield had passed through, continuing their path before puncturing her chest and shattering her aura. It took her a moment to register what had happened, the pain not yet reaching her brain to let her know she was hurt. Labored, pained breaths escaped her lips as she looked down at the glass arrow sticking out of her chest, having skewered her heart as a result.

Her mind struggled to comprehend what was happening. Slowly, without her desiring to, her hand came up to grasp the smoky glass shaft only to feel it break in her grasp, dissolving into bits of dust and smoke. This quickly proved to be a mistake as, without the arrow sealing the puncture, her heart began to struggle more and more simply to pump blood throughout her system, causing internal bleeding that would surely lead to a slow death if she didn't seek medical attention immediately, assuming she was capable of doing anything aside from kneeling here. No doubt sensing her impending end, the maiden's powers that had resided in her quickly fled from her body, seeking out the source of its other half and leaving Pyrrha feeling weaker than she had ever felt before. Had she been able to she would have broken down into sobs at the realization that here and now she was going to die.

"A valiant effort, to be sure," the sultry voice of Cinder said to her as the woman's heels clicked across the glass flooring, "but an effort made in vain. These powers were always destined to be mine. All you've done is prolong the inevitable."

She knelt down, gently titling Pyrrha's head so she could look into her eyes and see the cynical smirk on her face. It was enough to make Pyrrha sick, were she able to. Instead, she simply opted to glare at the woman, knowing she was prolonging her end simply to gloat. She didn't take too much time, however, as she felt Cinder's hand beginning to grow warmer, uncomfortably so. It was the only clue she needed to know what was intended for her. She hoped, at the very least, there would be something left to return to her mother and let her know she'd die a true warrior of Mistral.

"Pyrrha?"

The new, familiar voice dragged Pyrrha from her thoughts, long enough for her to register who it was. How she had managed to get up here or even why she was here, Pyrrha couldn't say. Currently, as her sight began to fail her from lack of oxygen, she thought she could see Ruby standing near the edge of the tower, her signature scythe in hand. She assumed it was simply an illusion, one constructed by her dying mind as a means of bringing some comfort to her final moments. As her sight finally faded, she felt herself fall to the side, her head smacking the floor as her life slowly seeped out of her.

In her final moments, she thought she heard Ruby scream before a blinding white light flooded her vision and the darkness finally took her.

/-/

A blinding white light shone out from the top of Beacon tower, giving the structure the appearance of its namesake if only for a short moment. Those near the tower were forced to look away and cover their eyes to avoid the risk of losing their sight temporarily. Those who were far enough away, however, were able to witness the destructive power that surrounded this unexpected phenomenon. Grimm of all kinds that had been standing too close to the tower were incinerated, their bodies not even given the time to disintegrate into motes of dust. The Grimm dragon seemed the only one capable of surviving such an ordeal and even then, its body remained, encased in what appeared to be stone as it clutched tightly to the sight of the tower, mouth open wide as if raging against its fate.

It illuminated the world around him as he stood amongst the decaying corpses of the Grimm he'd slain. Staring up into the sky, his heart sank as the light began to fade. At that moment Jaune knew what had transpired. At that moment, he knew that Pyrrha was dead. Silently, he fell to his knees and shed the last tears he would spring for a long, long time.


Next chapter will wrap up the Beacon story arc as well as set the stage for what will be Mistral. I'm so excited to begin starting on the next portion of "My Sister's Keeper." I have a special storyline already in the works for Jade that I think readers will enjoy. No spoilers but we're going to be seeing Jade acting a bit more grown up and see her go through some character development of her own.

I know some people will have problems with me killing Pyrrha off just like they did in the show. Just so you're aware, this was something I'd planned on doing as part of Jaune's necessary character growth. Her death won't simply be a "it was in the show so it should be a part of the story" cliché that some other fanfics have. Pyrrha's sacrifice will have some character growth payout later on with some of it being apparent in the next portion.

I'll be working on the final chapter soon. Expect to see a new update, hopefully before December or prior to Christmas at the latest. My goal is to have the arc finished in time for the new year. Hope you all enjoy.