"Ouchy." Ruby Rose rubbed her overused arms.

As much as she loved Crescent Rose, they were a heavy baby. All the practice in the world did not prepare her for wielding the sniper/scythe for an extended period of time. Aura only helped to soothe her taxed muscles so much.

Luckily, her task was done for the day. She stood in the safe zone that Beacon had set up. Her group's decision to push through to the temple was the correct one. Soon after arriving, they had linked up with other initiates and stood their ground.

Even with the extra hands, the fighting was intense. The Lancers, numerous. Just as they were about to be overwhelmed, a fleet of Bullheads landed. Teachers and older students rushed out to reinforce the tired young people.

Soon, the tide turned. With so many powerful weapons and Semblances concentrated in one place, a perimeter was quickly established around the ruins. Now the borders were being expanded as forces from the huntsman academy pushed back against the swarm.

Leading the charge was Professor Goodwitch. The telekinetic teacher swiftly overwhelmed the Grimm. Before departing for the front line, she had personally checked on the initiates. She praised their resolve and encouraged them to keep to the protected areas.

Her message was clear. The professionals were taking over.

Ruby had mixed feelings about the directive. It felt wrong to stay back and let others take the risk. At the same time, she knew she needed the rest. So, the girl stayed put. She was content to let events unfold without her.

For a while.

Despite the aches and pains, she wanted to do more. To be useful. To help.

She paced the grass trying to ignore the sounds of distant combat. Her nervously wandering feet led her to the ravine. Staring downward, she sighed and moped.

Rocks kicked over behind her. A pointy chin came to rest on the top of Ruby's head as a curtain of long, yellow hair fell about and tickled her ears. Strong arms surrounded her, but they did not hug as expected. Instead, gloved hands rose to eye level. Held in each was a miniature statuette of a black horse head.

"Why the long face, Ruuuuuuby?" A deep, whinnying voice said while the horse in the right hand wiggled.

"Yang?"

"Naaaaay." The left horse neighed in exactly the same voice before turning to the other carving. "Who is this Yaaaaang?"

"Don't rightly know." The right horse said. "But whoever they are, they sound beautiful, smart, and capable. Just like this little lady right here."

"That they doooooooo. Now tell us your problems or we'll have to kiss them out of you!"

The equines alternated tapping Ruby on the nose with their snouts. Accompanying these pecks were wet smacking noises. She could not help but giggle.

"Okay! Okay! I'm fine. Just tired all over. My mind and body feel fragile. Like I'm made of glass."

They had almost died. Repeatedly. She was shaken in all sorts of ways. Even now, her hands trembled. Yang completed the embrace.

The blonde returned to her natural voice. "Oh I know it. Can't wait 'til we're done here. I'm going to sleep like the dead tonight."

"Me too, if I can get past your snoring."

"Wha- I don't snore!"

"Sure you don't."

"I don't! Tell her horsey." Yang's right hand rose once more along with the whinny tenor. "No Ruuuby. Be nice to your siiiiiiister. She's the only one you got!"

Ruby shook. This time with intense, side-busting laughter.

When the hysterics broke, she asked about the figurines. "Where did those come from, anyway? What are they?"

"They were in the temple. The professors hinted that these are the relics we were supposed to have been after. I decided to pick some up for us. Hope you don't mind."

"We passed, then?"

"Looks that way."

"Good." One less thing to worry about. "How's Ren?"

During their retreat, his Aura broke. Overuse of his Semblance, plus all the running, had finally gotten the best of him. The dark-haired boy had collapsed from exhaustion just as the safe zone was established.

"The medics are holding on to him for observation, but they seemed optimistic. He woke up just long enough to tell them not to bother. Then he fainted again." Yang snorted. "What about your new gal pal?"

Ruby shook her head. "Blake said she was going to help the teachers with tracking down stragglers. I don't know what happened to her after that."

Before the red-caped girl could offer to go as well, Blake had disappeared. Ruby would have gone looking for her, but she did not want to leave her sibling in the lurch. It did not seem right after all they had been through.

Yang blew her cowlick. "These partners of ours are pretty closed-off, huh?"

"Yup! But they seem nice enough. We just got to be understanding and accommodating. Like Dad!"

"Not sure we should be as much of a doormat as him, but point taken." Ruby could feel Yang's grin. "Speaking of understanding and accommodating-"

"Oh no..." That type of segway was always a bad sign.

"It's nothing terrible." An even worse sign. "I was wondering if you could introduce me to Blake."

Ruby tilted her head. "Haven't you already met?"

"No, I mean, introduce us. Get us acquainted. Outside of a life-or-death sitch, I mean."

"Since when do you need my help talking to someone?"

Of the two of them, Yang was the social butterfly. Back at Signal Academy, she was incredibly popular due to her ability to strike up a conversation with anyone. She could walk into a party knowing absolutely no one and walk away at the end of it as everyone's best friend.

"Weeeeeell, I thought since you already knew her, you could maybe talk me up a bit. Tell her how awesome-sauce I am?"

"…Why?"

After a beat of silence, Yang came out and said it. "Because she is a total hottie. Did you see her butt?"

"Yang!" The dark-haired girl squirmed, but the blonde held strong.

"Be my wing woman, Rubes."

"I'm not setting you up with my partner!"

"C'mon, help a sister out!"

She escaped the human straight jacket. "You are so-"

Before Ruby could expand on her objections, her attention was caught by sudden movements to their left. A Lancer was approaching. A big Lancer. It had avoided detection from the huntsmen by flying in the ravine.

Though, the giant did not seem to be heading for the safe zone specifically. It appeared to be preoccupied. The Grimm moved in erratic zig-zag motions across the open air.

The reason for this behavior became apparent as it neared the girls. On its back, Ruby was able to make out the shape of a boy on its back. A very familiar boy.

"Hey." Yang squinted. "Isn't that-?"

Ruby did not answer. She was too focused on the Lancer. Too busy planning a rescue.

Her feet were moving yet again. She was now running towards the dilapidated bridge that spanned the ravine. Yang was yelling for her to return, but she could not stop now. Not when a friend was in trouble.

As Ruby reached the ancient structure, it passed below. A wing struck a support strut. The stones that made up the span wobbled. This almost made her tip over, but her balance was well enough to stay surefooted.

Activating her Semblance, Petal Burst, she accelerated right off the edge. This extra bit of speed was enough to get her to her destination. She caught on to the Lancer just in the nick of time.


IX. Boom, Drop


She conducted a less than graceful landing. Ruby nearly slid off the smooth surface. Her fingers fought to find a hold between the white insect's plates.

It did not get much better from there. The humongous hornet performed a barrel roll with extra steps. Much spinning occurred. A hoarse cry rang out. Turning her head, she spotted Jaune clinging to a spike near the midsection.

When they evened out, Ruby took a chance. She attempted to crawl to him. Hearing her scratching feet, he looked back. His goggled eyes widened.

At the worst possible moment, the Grimm began to spin. Scrambling for a lifeline, she propelled herself forward. Not fast enough to find a grip, she went weightless.

Her reaching hand was captured by an armored one.

Jaune pulled her to him. Ruby grabbed a jagged scale with both hands. His arm draped over her shoulders to keep her weighed down.

He said something. The wind howled. She could not hear him.

"What!?"

His breath tickled her ear. "What're you doing here!?"

"Saving you, dummy! C'mon! We'll jump together!" She had seen his nonexistent landing strategy and was prepared to assist.

"Not until we bring this monster down!" He yelled back. "It almost killed Weiss and Nora and Pyrrha! If we don't, it will just keep causing problems!"

His reasoning made sense, but Ruby had a question. "Who's Pyrrha!?"

"My partner! She's great! You'll love her!" The bug's body started to tilt. "Here we go again!"

For the next several minutes, they experienced Remnant's most menacing amusement park ride. The Monarch performed countless dips, dives, and rolls designed to toss them. Throughout, they held fast with bare knuckles.

At last, it leveled off. Even Grimm grew tired of repetition.

Her eyes spun. "That seemed unnecessary!"

Jaune did not say anything. Ruby looked at him. His face was green.

"I-" He gulped air. "Hate Lancers! So much!

"What now!?"

"We clip the wings!" He pushed about a dozen round objects into her hands. "Take these!"

Her fingers felt the oblong shapes. She clocked them as grenades. 40 to 50 units across, each, and capable of low-to-high yield explosions. Possibly thermobaric. She understood his meaning.

"I take the right and you take the left!?"

"You read my mind!"

The two crawled away from each other. Ruby crouched as low as possible. Even still, cool air rolled over her shoulders and fluttered the crimson cape. She tugged the material down before a billowing carried her away.

After some slow progress, she closed in on the wing cluster. The red-tinted, translucent appendages waved like a thin paper fan. They seemed too small and few to keep such a large beast up, but they moved rapidly to offset the weight.

She eyed the point where the wing met the body. Considering the angle and the weight of the grenade, she did some quick mental calculations. Her arm went back to throw.

"Ah!" She cried as a sharp pain spiked in her forearm.

In shock, she dropped the grenade. It fell harmlessly over the side. She cradled the limb and found a tear in the sleeve. The reason for this interruption hovered nearby. A Drone had arrived to protect its queen. Ruby grit her teeth before retrieving her gun.

Before she was able to shoot, it rushed in. She was forced to roll out of the way. More of the grenades popped out of her clutches and disappeared. Furious, she fired several shots. They hit their mark, downing the annoying winged Grimm.

Groaning, she lowered the sniper rifle. Checking her cache, she was left with three of the explosives. Not nearly enough to do much with. She turned in the direction Jaune had gone. He was already back heading in her direction.

"You okay!?" He said when they met up again.

"Yeah!" She shook her head before showing their depleted arsenal. "No, I'm sorry. I lost most of them!"

"I saw what happened! You did better than I would've!"

She doubted that. "What about you!?"

"Couldn't! Nowhere to place them!"

He had tried to set the grenades like blast charges. Smart. Ruby wished she had thought of that. Although both approaches had failed, she might not have lost so many in the attempt.

She looked for other options. Shooting holes in the wings might have worked, though that would likely provoke another round of spinning. Ruby was about to ask for Jaune's opinion just as he pulled his sword and stabbed downward into the Grimm.

"What are you doing!?"

"Making a hole! Cover me!"

Before she could ask why, more Drones appeared. Three of them. Ruby did as she was told and fended them off with wobbly shots.

Each round corresponded with a 'ding' from his sword bumping off the Grimm's hide. While she managed to bring down two of the Lancers, four more joined the fray. There was no way to keep up with the growing crowd. They circled in a menacing manner.

As a pair of Drones commenced a dive-bomb run, they were suddenly transformed into a fine, shadowy mist. A hail of bullets shredded the monsters. Soon, the stream turned on the other Grimm, who buzzed about to avoid a similar fate.

A Bullhead streaked overhead. There was a girl in a beret sticking out of the open loading compartment. The revolving muzzle of her heavy rotary machine gun was the source of the devastation.

"Got it!" Jaune declared.

He had made a large divot in the protective shell of the Grimm. Digging out space with the point of his sword, he started pushing grenades under the exoskeleton. Ruby handed the few she had left over to him.

"What's this going to do!?"

"Cripple it!" He said while using the last of the explosives to plug the hole. "The blast should sever whatever nerves are under there! We just got to blow this thing!"

No sooner was this said that the Lancer Queen acted. It once more spun. This time, it stayed flying upside down. Neither of the teens were in a position to hold on. Both of them fell.

She saw Jaune flutter away. The Bullhead protecting them, being closest to him, had turned to track his descent. Ruby had to trust that the aircrew would be able to help him. She could not.

Their task remained unfinished.

Rotating as she fell, she aimed her gun as carefully as possible and took multiple shots at the still upside-down creature. Several bullets impacted near the grenade filled divot. At least one of them found their mark.

A flash of blinding heat washed over her face as the Grimm Ruler shrieked. There was no time to relish in the accomplishment of injuring the evil being, though. She rubbed her darkened eyes with a free hand.

Hurtling downward, she struggled to regain her bearings. Fear overtook her as she totally lost her spatial awareness. Ruby no longer knew how far she was from impacting the ground. Without that information, she would be unable to execute her landing strategy.

What sounded like the flapping of a bird went past her ears.

Just then, her neck jerked back. Something caught on to her cape's hood. An arm wrapped around her waist as a familiar, bitter smell assaulted her nostrils.

Crescent Rose was ripped from her hand. She jerked in surprise as it fired without her input. Their descent slowed. Her rescuer understood the recoil perfectly. Each shot was evenly spaced to minimize wasted bullets.

When her feet touched the ground, her vision cleared. She twisted around in their arms. An unamused pair of red eyes glared down at her. These did not belong to any Grimm, though. That would have been infinitely less awkward.

"H-hi Uncle Qrow."

/ / /

"Got him! Pull us up!"

Message received, Coco activated the rappel line recovery device. A cylinder inside a box that was bolted to the floor turned slowly, wrapping up a thick cable. Fox impatiently tugged on the line in an effort to speed the process along.

Soon enough, the bulky frame of Yatsuhashi was pulled into the Bullhead. He skidded on his knees before unclipping the carabiner connecting him to the cable. In his arms was a slumped over blond boy in shining armor.

"Hell of a thing you pulled off there, Yats. Snatching him in freefall like that." The leader of Team CFVY communicated using their unique teamspeak.

"It was a close one." Was his monotone reply before standing and shrugging off his harness. "Barely made it out."

Fox hit a button to close the sliding door. The operator of their mental channel then looked them over before touching his ear. The Accessibility Dialogue Assistant in his sight enabling device performed a scan and returned an injury assessment.

"They are fine. Ada has cleared them."

Coco pointed to the exceptionally pale face of their rescuee. "That doesn't seem all that fine to me."

"The sudden increase in velocity must have gotten to him." Fox easily replied.

"He puked before passing out. None of it got on me." Yatsuhashi clarified as Fox and Coco took a step back. "So, where's our huntsman?"

"The schnorrer jumped ship around the time you did. Said he was going after the girl."

"Hopefully he caught her."

Yats sat the boy in one of the bucket seats. His eyes were shut but twitching a bit. He was having a nightmare. Coco decided to wake him.

"Hey! Rookie!"

His breathing became erratic as she yelled near his face. Eyelids still closed; his head rolled about his neck. An understandable reaction given what he had been through, but not helpful at that moment.

"Patch him in." Coco ordered.

"You sure?" Fox asked warily.

"It'll be faster."

No affirmative reply came from her teammate. There was no need. Disorganized thoughts flooded their team channel.

"Am I alive? Ruby! I'm alive! Falling. Lancer! Explosion. Hope she's alive! I am alive! Maybe? Ruby! Flying? Alive! Ruby! Hope-"

"Get a hold of yourself!" Coco intrusively beamed.

There was a pause to the storm. "Who was-? Where? Eyes on me. Is someone watching? Enemy? Where are they?"

"Slow down. Look at me."

Coco lifted his chin and squeezed. Eyes fluttered open. Blue met brown. He flushed as awareness overtook him.

"Gosh she's pretty. Like Weiss! Kind of stern looking, though. Like Weiss! And smells really nice! Like-"

"While flattering, I need you to focus."

He blinked. "She's talking. But her lips aren't moving..."

"My teammate has a telepathy Semblance connecting us."

"Telepathy!? Mind reading! Oh no! Quick! Don't think of her naked." His growing blush told her he had failed, making her scowl. "Boy, her looks could kill. Like Weiss! Or Neo… Wait, don't think about Neo. Definitely shouldn't think about Neo. No way. Bad thoughts. Bad."

"Who's Neo?"

There was an internal scream.

It shut off abruptly before Fox pipped in. "Couldn't take any more of that nonsense. Had to give him the boot. Sorry."

"No sweat. I would have done the same."

"Is something happening back there?" Velvet joined the chat.

The bunny faunus was at the front of the Bullhead, in the cockpit. They wanted her keen eye watching the sky. She had been the one to spot the Queen Lancer's victims and guide the rescue. Even their lush of a huntsman had been impressed.

"Don't worry, babe. Just a debrief." Coco answered, not wanting to worry her. "What's our ETA?"

"We can't go to Beacon yet."

"What do you mean?"

The Bullhead rocked. Coco had to brace herself against the inside wall. There was an ear-splitting screech.

"What was that?" Fox asked aloud.

Their Initiate stood. "That Grimm is still flying!?"

"We're being followed by the Lancer Queen." Velvet confirmed before adding. "We should be able to outrun it, but- Uh-oh. Taking evasive action."

"Hold on to something!"

As Coco yelled, the Bullhead went sideways. Yats steadied Fox and pulled him to an assist bar. She tried to do the same with the initiate but did not have the body mass to pull it off. Rather, he was the one to carry her down to the floor.

"This is not what I meant." She muttered from under the armored blond before asking Velvet. "What's going on?"

"The remains of the Lancer hive are on us! It's an all-out attack!"

"Great…" She sighed before glaring at the numbskull who had pinned her down. "Yo, haystack. Planning to lay on me all day?"

"Yes! I mean no, ma'am!" He pushed up before helping Coco to her feet. "Oh and it's Jaune, by the way. My name, that is."

At least he was polite. "Coco. Over there are Yats and Fox. And outside we have some bug friends dying to say hello. Do you have any long-range weaponry, Jaune? Because we are in desperate need of welcome gifts."

"All I have is my sword."

"Wonderful." Coco pushed him back into his seat beside their supplies before addressing her team. "Gentlemen, we have bogeys. You know what to do."

Both nodded before the trio approached the side door. She picked up her gatling gun, Gianduja, and prepared for combat. Fox readied his ranged options as well. Yats, lacking such firepower but having significant size, grabbed them to try and keep them rooted.

A rude surprise awaited them at the door. The three jumped back as a cluster of silver pointed ends punctured the paneling. Jaune yelped as more tore through on the opposite side.

"Are those their stingers? What are they up to?" Fox asked.

"They are slowing us down!" Velvet cried. "Brace yourselves."

The cabin shook violently. Almost to bits. Luckily, Yats had a firm hold to keep them upright.

The inside lights went out. Everything was quiet. Then the emergency flashers came on. An ominous sign. The Bullhead was no longer running under generated power and had dipped into the battery reserves. Nothing was generating the lift necessary to stay airborne.

Yet they were not nosediving.

"Vel?" Coco called to the front.

"The Lancer Queen has us!"

The pilot spoke up before their imaginations ran wild. "Structural integrity has been maintained! I shut off the engines to protect them! We can still fly if we get free."

"Good thinking." Better to not give the Grimm a reason to break them in half. "Got anything to shake us loose?"

"Our emergency flares! They shoot out the top to confuse flying Grimm! We are not meant to be this close, but the sudden fire might dislodge us!"

Might was not what Coco was looking for. However, it was probably the best that the pilot could offer them. They were in a perilous situation, and she did not like the prospect of abandoning ship when surrounded by enemies.

"Standby to deploy!" She then spoke softer to the others. "We'll need to pick our moment well. Otherwise this bug will crush us."

The irony was astounding. Almost deliciously so.

"Why doesn't it, though? Why capture us at all?" Fox eyed the hull, anticipating that it would start closing in on them. "Is it playing with us?"

"It's after me."

They all looked at Jaune. The boy now stood behind them at attention. His hands were clasped behind his back, like a soldier giving a status report.

"Come again?" The visually impaired student asked, trying to determine if his hearing was going as well.

"Me! It is fixated on me. Targeted me on the ground, totally ignored Ruby-" The team shared looks, wondering who that was. "Now it is holding us. Trying to confirm that I am inside."

"The stress is making you see patterns where they do not exist." Yats said, aiming for some diplomacy. "Why don't you rest now?"

"I'm not paranoid! I know I'm the target!"

"Yeah. So what?" Coco groused, not agreeing but also not wanting to argue. "Why would it matter if this monster was after you specifically?"

"If I'm right, then we can use that information to turn the tables."

"How?"

"Give me to them."

They stared at Jaune as though he had grown another head. "What?"

"Hand me over and I'll blow 'em up." He brought a clear canister out and around to the front of his body. "With this!"

Inside were a slew of suspended multi-colored Dust crystals, each the size of Yatsuhashi's fist. The container was a highly volatile fuel component. The boy had taken the canister out of its protective shell.

These components were a part of the supplies they had loaded to bolster their ground forces. Before they could deliver them, however, the Lancer Queen had distracted them. Now a ticking bomb was in the hands of someone who was all aboard the crazy train.

"Whoa! Hey!" Fox waved his hands. "Let's set that down and come up with a better plan."

"I agree. We should talk about this." Yats spoke with a small hint of heightened nerves evident in his voice.

"We don't have the time! Let me through!"

Outside, there were the rasping sounds of claws on steel. The Drones were crawling about, searching for weaknesses. Then there was another series of punctures. They were intent on cutting their way inside the aircraft.

The leader of Team CFVY chewed her bottom lip. She considered herself good at judging people. Specifically, at determining the worth of a huntsmen. Within moments of meeting Jaune, she had sized the blond up and rendered a verdict.

Bluntly, he was a loser. How he had not yet met a grisly fate was beyond her. His muscles were undersized, he carried himself all wrong, and his style was atrociously uncoordinated.

Seriously. Who wore tan boots with Atlesian armor? It ruined the whole aesthetic.

She had no doubt that if they went along with Jaune's plan, he would die. But he might create an opportunity for them to escape. Coco wondered if she was really willing to throw away a young man's life to save her team.

Looking deep inside herself, she knew the answer.

"Prepare for Maneuver Twelve."

Fox gazed in her direction with unrestrained shock. Yatsuhashi was more solemn. He understood the tight spot they were in but felt the need to confirm. She nodded.

"Very well." Was his shaky exhale before addressing Jaune. "To me."

Jaune approached, wary of the big man taking the canister away. He relaxed when the rest got into position. Fox hovered his hand over the door release.

"I'll clear the way. Ready?" Coco fired up her gat.

"Hold on." Jaune opened a slot in his armor. "Can you make sure this gets back to Beacon? Y'know, in case I don't make it back? Don't want to let my partner down."

Curious, she took the item he held out. It was a Chess piece. A gold Rook.

"Is this your relic?" She guessed.

Beacon picked the strangest objects to retrieve for Initiation. As far as Coco knew, they were never the same thing twice. Her class had been tasked with returning suited playing cards. The year before that had been loaded dice.

"Yeah. Hopefully, they'll pass her even without me."

They had better. Today had been the most royally messed up day of Coco's time at Beacon. She would cause a huge scene if the school did not let his partner in after this.

"I'll make sure that gets where it needs to go." Looking him over carefully, she had to give him another chance to back out. "Do you really think that your plan will work?"

"It almost did the first time." He calmly stated his case while the Grimm continued punching holes. "That was what we were doing before you guys rescued me. We set off a bunch of grenades that damaged the Queen. I just need a bigger boom."

She could help with that much. "Let me see the Dust."

"Okay?"

Jaune held the canister out but did not let it leave his clutches. He did not need to. Coco laid a hand on the container and focused. Her Aura dipped as she activated her Semblance.

"There. That should do it." The crystals inside now pulsed.

He looked upon the shimmering jewels in wonder. "What did you do?"

"I increased the potency. Gave them a little Hype."

"Thank you!" Was his reply before strapping the canister to his arm.

He should not have been thanking her.

Coco signaled Fox to hit the release. The doors to the Bullhead began to slide open.

The heavy-gun wielder did not wait for the entrance to fully open. She pulled the trigger on Gianduja. The spray of bullets started just as the first Drone stuck its serrated arm through the opening. It was immediately torn to shreds.

"Gah! Give a fella some warning next time!" Fox complained, slapping his ringing ears.

"Here's your warning. Clear the way!"

She pressed forward to the door and fired, grounding several Grimm as they flew by. With some extra space created, Coco pushed her head outside. The situation was exactly as advertised.

Their Bullhead was being held tightly to the underside of the Queen. Two long arms clutched the undercarriage, like a child holding its favorite toy. There were dozens of cracks in the Lancer's exoskeleton. Small pieces of the hard shell were breaking off bit by bit.

"Wow. I really did a number on it." Jaune said as he walked up beside Coco.

Yats showed up next. "Where should I aim?"

The Initiate pointed to a ridge near the thorax. "Right there. Hurry and use your Semblance or whatever to get me over there before I think better of this."

"Good luck, brave warrior." Yatsuhashi grabbed Jaune by the pauldrons.

"Wait, are you literally just going to toss-" Her giant teammate spun in place before throwing the smaller boy into the sky. "meeeeeeeee!"

The blond went sailing through the air. Despite how quick the throw was taken, Yats, as always, was dead on with his accuracy. Jaune hit the section flush, slipping slightly before grabbing onto the main body of the Grimm.

Coco blew away a few more Drones to cover him as he climbed. Then she ducked back inside for relative safety. Fox closed the door for the final time.

"Use those flairs! Now, now, now!" She howled before scrambling for a seat.

Her teammates were just able to buckle themselves in when they felt a series of rumbles above. There was an unnatural screech and then a sense of weightlessness. The Bullhead fell for a few heart wrenching moments before the familiar hum of the engines started up.

"We are clear!" They could just barely hear the pilot over the roar.

Their mechanical bird was moving again. Coco let out the most unlady-like groan imaginable. Yats and Fox were similarly decompressing.

Velvet came bounding out of the cockpit, smiling ear-to-ear. The faunus sat beside her favorite human. She laughed.

"Another successful rescue mission for Team CFVY!" No one else was celebrating. "Uh, where's the guy? I thought you said Yatsuhashi caught him."

There was a muted boom. Like a firecracker going off in the distance. Velvet's ears dipped.

It was a sure sign of Jaune setting off the Dust. Coco's Semblance did not mess around. The team leader stared at the Rook long and hard. The Bullhead continued along as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

/ / /

"Looks like your little friend pulled it off." Qrow Branwen said aloud as the Lancer Queen plummeted back to Remnant.

He perched next to his niece on a log that jutted out over a hill. The spot provided decent elevation for their purposes. They had been tracking the enormous insectoid on foot but stopped to conserve their energy. There was not much to do but watch and wait.

The explosion that felled the beast was spectacular. The preceding show, dramatic. The team he had been supervising had escaped, but the boy they rescued had stayed behind to finish the job. Qrow dipped his head in acknowledgement of the sacrifice.

Ruby was not ready to give up. "I'm going after Jaune!"

Before she disappeared into a cloud of petals, he snatched the red hood. "Slow your roll, squirt."

She fell backwards at his feet with an 'oof.' Silver eyes glared up at him with an unusual amount of contempt. It reminded him a lot of her mother.

"You saw! He might be hurt."

He was gone. Falling from a great height while low on Aura was identical to falling from a great height without Aura: A death sentence. But Qrow did not have the heart to speak the truth.

"You'll be of no use if you rush in and get yourself hurt. Remember what I taught you."

She took a calming breath. "Be as thorough as I am quick."

"Atta girl."

Moving through the Emerald Forest, they scrutinized each bush while keeping a strong pace. There were some stray juvenile Beowolves that Qrow let Ruby cut to pieces. Their presence was welcome. The Grimm provided a good way for her to vent.

The bigger monsters were nowhere to be seen. With the Grimm Eclipse suppressed, the wildlife had begun to return from their shelters. A few birds angrily chirped at the two humans making noise in their domain.

In time, they arrived at the crash site. What must have been an entire acre had been decimated. The soil was not so much disturbed as desolated. A crater the size of a Vytal Festival-level swimming pool had formed.

At the center of the devastation was the Lancer Queen.

It had been reduced to a head with a concave torso. Where the wings had once been was now a blown-out gash. The stinger, abdomen, and most of the legs were missing. Only a single appendage remained.

And it was still moving.

The long, chipped limb was attempting to pull the rest of the body across the overturned dirt. Struggling mightily, it pulled forward in agonizing increments. A smoky black 'blood' trail was left behind. Something spiteful was powering the Queen long after its proper expiration date.

Tracing the likely path revealed where it was heading. Bordering the impact zone was a line of untouched foliage. Dangling from the vines in a woodlot was a figure in tarnished armor. They hung there, hammock-style, far above the ground.

"Jaune!" Ruby cried.

"Easy now." Qrow breathed, not wanting to alert the Grimm.

He soon learned not to worry on that front. The Monarch was completely engrossed with finishing the boy off. Paradoxically, this was a good sign for this Jaune fellow. Grimm did not bother with corpses. A combination of lingering Aura and plants must have softened the landing enough for him to survive.

Sometimes it was better to be lucky than skilled. Qrow knew that very well. But skill still had its day more often than not.

He drew Harbinger before saying to the concerned girl. "Circle around to your boy. Leave the Lancer to me."

"Okay!" Ruby agreed eagerly.

She ran at an angle while he walked straight ahead. The creature finally heard them and leaned to see Qrow's approach. It had identified the true threat. Their mangled mandibles clicked with a vicious fervor.

The huntsman would need to follow his own advice here. Injured Grimm were just as dangerous as healthy ones. Even more so here, as it could crush him simply by rolling over. Carefulness was required. There was no room for error.

Qrow activated his weapon's shifting mechanism. Gears turned as the great sword's blade curved and the handle lengthened into a full staff. Transformation complete, he held his war scythe with both hands, ready to begin the bloody work.

Off to the side, Ruby was busy cutting her friend down. A memory flashed before the Branwen's mind. A younger version of his brother-in-law was being freed from a similar predicament by a girl with a white hood.

"Brothers, I need a drink." Qrow focused fully on the Lancer. "Let's get this over with."