Yo! Early chapter for you all because I was bored and wanted the validation.

PSA to anyone that didn't know, the Game Awards are on in like 5 hours. They'll be revealing a bunch of cool titles probably, so tune in if you care!


Start Chapter 54


Combat with Ironwood and the rest of the Atlesian Military is… actually surprisingly easy, really.

That's not to say that Jaune himself is having a good time; he summarily isn't. He in fact spends a good majority of the fight evading getting socked across the jaw by the robotic arm of one James Ironwood, who has, for some reason or another, decided that capturing him is the most important objective immediately available to him.

Jaune really wishes he had the time to convince him otherwise. Actually, no. Jaune would settle for the time to breathe.

He does not have that.

Still, while he's busy ducking and dodging around Ironwood, his allies are taking out the trash, to use a rather rude turn of phrase. Cinder and Raven alone might've honestly been able to take out this entire room on their own, and once one added on a good half dozen more huntsman and huntresses in training – and honestly, at this point, they probably all classified as true hunters – into the fray?

It isn't all that close.

Winter Schnee, alongside the other members of this so-called 'Ace-Ops' group manage to put up a decent fight, but they're ultimately outgunned and overwhelmed. Cinder handles Winter while the rest of their gang take out the latter group, and eventually, Raven joins up with her fellow Maiden to bring Winter to her knees.

Around fifteen minutes later, combat has ceased.

They've won.

Jaune's nursing a black eye with his semblance, and his shield has several dents in it that he's going to need to iron out rather painstakingly later, but they've won.

"So." Ozma states. "I will lay out what we want clearly, then, seeing as how diplomacy has failed."

Ironwood snarls, either having purposefully lifted Mettle, or simply having lost it entirely as his aura faltered.

"Ozma, why!? Why would you trust that witch!?"

"Trust?" Ozma laughs, but it is a bitter, solemn thing. "You have no faith in me at all, my friend. I trust Salem only in that I am certain I cannot possibly hope to stop the Gods from doing whatever it is they have planned without her assistance. Not to mention, and perhaps far more importantly, having her as an ally means that I do not have her as an enemy."

Ironwood just shakes his head. "If that's how you justify it to yourself."

Ozma's expression falters a moment, and just then, in that instant, Jaune thinks he can see a fragment of the horrid, broken man that Ozma has become over the hundred thousand years he has had to inhabit Remnant, watching everyone and everything he has ever cared about wither and die around him.

"I will do as I must, my friend. Now, where is Fria?"

"You honestly think I'll tell you?"

"No, not truly." Ozma answers. "I suppose I'd merely hoped you might. It's not too late, James. I implore you to see sense on this matter."

"Giving up the Relic of Creation – the device that keeps my city in the sky, that keeps the last bastion of humanity safe – to its greatest enemy… you think that is sense!?"

"When it is the only possible winning play that humanity has, yes, James, I do see it as sense."

Ironwood shakes his head, looking down at the ground.

"I will give you nothing. Do your worst."

"Do you honestly think I would stoop so low as to torture or kill one of my friends, James?"

"You seem to have already stooped far lower, Ozma."

Jaune watches Ozma's lip's part briefly, his brow furrowing, before he takes a shuddering breath and nods his head.

"I understand. I will leave you here, then. I have some idea as to Fria's location, regardless."

Ironwood looks like he's going to protest, up until Raven comes up and knocks him out cold with the butt of her sword to the back of his head.

"That was rather unnecessary, Raven." Ozma chides her.

"Pfft, like that asshole was going to let us go quietly." She shakes her head. "C'mon, unless you feel like killing these people, we have to be quick about this."

None of them do, so off they go.

The halls of Atlas' headquarters are long and winding; as confusing and endless as they are admittedly impressive and imposing. Jaune finds himself at one point taking a peek out of a set of windows off to his right, and taking in the sheer scale of the floating city.

He can see for miles and miles in every direction. He can see Atlas itself, of course, but he honestly feels like he might just be able to see the entirety of Solitas from all the way up here.

Still, he can be distracted by such things later. For now, they're following Ozma as he leads them through the admittedly quite understaffed halls. They don't run into much trouble, other than the occasional guards who are really, really out of their depth. Largely, their journey goes almost entirely uninhibited.

Surprisingly, Ozma's first guess as to Fria's location is spot on as they enter into a large, enclosed location, fit with devices that do things that fly waaaay over Jaune's head, and a sleeping, horribly pale old woman inside a tube.

She does not look well.

"How'd you know to search here, first?" Cinder asks what Jaune had just been about to.

"Simply put, I thought about James' mental state. He is paranoid, jumping at every shadow. I have been in a similar position myself, and thought that by raising every possible alarm, erecting every possible barrier, I might be able to keep insurgents out. Yet one becomes predictable when they shut out everyone else. I thought to check the single most secured room in the entirety of Atlas' headquarters, because that is what I once did myself when I was going through a similar period. And just as it has for James… it did not work out for me."

"So… you just looked for the hardest place to reach, basically?" Nora asks.

"In a sense, Ms. Valkyrie, that is exactly what I did. Although it seems from the lack of any real guardian force that James' soldiers are spread far too thin. That, and it's likely a good deal of the staff that would've been kept here to guard Fria were a part of the force that came to apprehend Mr. Arc."

Jaune grimaces. "Am I supposed to be glad about that, or…"

Ozma smiles, though it is a tad weak. "For now, let us simply do what we can. I will unlock Fria's tube. Hopefully… she is able to make the trip to the Vault."

"Do you know where that is?" Ren asks.

"I do."

"And if she can't make the journey?" Ruby asks.

Ozma's expression dims considerably.

"Then I am afraid we will do what we must."

They make their way down into Fria's chamber with a tense atmosphere clouding them all. The fate of the woman, whether or not she's lived what seems to be a full life, weighs heavily on them.

Or, well, all of them but Raven, who doesn't seem all too bothered about the prospect of killing an old woman for her power.

Jaune's not really sure how to feel about that, truth be told.

As they approach the pod, Ozma steps up to the panel on the side, and begins to type in a few different codes. Seemingly, they do not work, because a moment later, he huffs out a sigh, and motions towards Cinder.

"If you could open this, preferably without harming Fria?"

Cinder nods her head, moves up to the casing surrounding the woman, and begins gradually heating and melting the metal. Eventually, once she's entirely detached the door from the pod, she gently pries it off, and sets it on the ground beside the pod.

Immediately, however, one problem becomes rather singularly obvious.

"Fria, she…" Ozma speaks, but his voice falters as he places a finger beneath her nostrils.

Raven confirms what it is they can all already see.

"She's dead."

It's a blow that none of them had been expecting. The idea that they might have to transfer the Winter Maiden's powers the hard way had been in the back of their minds, but this…

This is just about worst-case scenario.

Because…

"If Fria's dead…" Blake looks at the rest of the group, seemingly for answers. "Then… is Winter the–"

"Stop right where you are!"

Their group is caught by surprise as the door at the back of the room is thrown open, and a good fifteen guards with weapons leveled come storming into the space. Judging by the uniforms, they're of a lower rank than the ones that had tried to aid Ironwood in doing the same, and so Jaune doesn't see this particular scenario ending any differently.

Except…

The person leading the vanguard is suspiciously familiar.

In fact…

"Wait…" Ruby steps past all of them, her eyes nearly bugging out. "Penny!?"

"Friend Ruby!?" Penny responds, with a mortified expression on her face. "You are… among the terrorists attempting to destroy Atlas!?"

"Wha– no, of course not! Do you really think we'd do that!?"

"That… General Ironwood's report was quite clear. All terrorists working to bring Atlas from out of the sky are to be apprehended…" She looks up at them, and her joints seem to be creaking. "…Or destroyed."

"Penny, we're not your enemies!" Ruby tries to convince her.

"That…"

"Please, we need the Staff of Creation to save Remnant!"

Penny's expression is completely caught, and as she shakes her head, she seems to fall further and further into dismay. Eventually, she lets out a pained grunt, and grips her head.

"There's… something wrong with me. I feel… different."

"Penny?"

"I feel… like I'm… like my cores are…"

And then Penny looks up, and Jaune's eyes widen.

"Burning."

Because green flames are emitting from out of her eyes.

And Jaune…

Well…

"Huh." He can't help letting out under his breath, before commenting idly. "Y'know, does anyone else feel like we're getting staggeringly lucky recently?"

"We didn't bring Qrow along." Raven says, with complete and utter seriousness.

"…Hey wait, you're right."

"Uh, guys, shouldn't we focus!?" Ilia reprimands them, and Jaune can't help but grumble out an apology. "Whether or not this is strikingly convenient, we still have a battle to win!"

"Not much of a battle." Raven smarms.

She is proven correct across the next three or so minutes. The only real threat to their advancement is Penny herself, and even then, the confines of Fria's chamber make for an effective hindrance to her newfound Maiden powers.

Eventually, they have her pinned, and Penny is looking upon them all with a rather defeated expression.

"Penny, please!" Ruby exclaims. "We're not your enemies. We're trying to save the world from annihilation!"

"I…" Penny hesitates, which Jaune finds somewhat surprising. They'd all figured out that she'd been an android when she'd been bisected during the Vytal Festival, but… well, he hadn't expected her to seemingly be capable of true free will.

"Ruby… my friend… I don't…" Penny shakes her head. "Would your actions not result in the destruction of Atlas?"

"We have no intention to destroy Atlas." Ruby assures her. "Yes, Atlas will have to land after we take the Relic of Creation, but that doesn't mean it's going to be destroyed!"

"But the Grimm will–"

"We've come to a truce with Salem." Ozma speaks up, stepping forward. "She will be unable to stop all Grimm from hammering away at the city of Atlas, but there is no invasion coming like James expects."

Penny is being swayed; Jaune can tell. She's always been a terribly sweet girl, and it seems that such hasn't changed with her being rebuilt and given what is, seemingly, a rather sharp upgrade.

"Please, Penny." Ruby implores her friend. "We need to get to the vault, before Ironwood and the rest of his men can stop us. Will you help us?"

It's a hard ask; Jaune understands that. It's obviously weighing quite heavily on Penny as well, for she looks down at the ground, her body fidgeting in place. It is a such a human thing to do that Jaune briefly forgets that Penny is an android at all, and instead thinks of her only as another person caught up in this entire affair.

He feels pity for her, in truth. He wouldn't want to be where she is now.

"…I… I'll help you, Ruby." Penny concludes as she looks up, and nods her head. "I trust you. General Ironwood, he… he has not been himself lately. Winter and I have been having discussions about such, and… well, I was unable to convince her or the General that our actions could be harmful to the citizens of Mantle, or even Atlas as a whole. If this… if this means Atlas will have to land, and thusly care about the problems of the undercity? …Then perhaps that is just what the General needs to bring his heart back."

Jaune's expression lights up, as do those of quite a few other members of their band.

"Yes, that's all well and good," Raven interrupts, however, "But we really are on a limited timeframe here. I doubt Ironwood's staying down for longer than an hour or so, and we've already spent a good thirty minutes here. And unless you people want to start putting these guards down permanently, that means we need to be out of here before they wake up."

"Right," Ruby nods her head, turning back towards Penny. "Can you lead us to the vault?"

"I can." Penny nods. "Follow along behind me."

Their journey is not particularly long. It's rather surprising how easy it is to find the vault. A few hallways, a couple incredibly secure doors – which don't prove much of a problem for their Maidens – and they're in. Jaune whistles as he sees it; the golden door that leads into… another world.

Still, he swallows down on that feeling for the moment, mostly because being impressed isn't going to be doing much for them. They make their way up towards the door and Jaune and the rest step aside so that Penny can open it for them.

It feels too easy. Jaune keeps thinking that. It feels like this is all going too well, like everything's adding up for them.

Like something, or someone, is moving aside all obstacles, allowing them a clear path forward.

Jaune shelves the paranoia for the moment, however, seeing as how it's not doing them any good. They step into the vault and are instantly hit with the same wrongness that had pervaded the Vault of Knowledge in Haven as well. The way the entire place just feels… off.

Still, it seems that Ozma is immune to such feelings, for he doesn't hesitate to step up towards the alter upon which the Staff of Creation resides, and pluck it off. He lets loose a sigh of relief, then, as he nods to each of them.

"Mission accomplished." He speaks.

Jaune almost wants to cheer, though he doesn't because no one else does.

It would just be weird.

"Raven," Ozma turns towards her former ally. "A portal to Qrow?"

Raven nods her head, and strikes out against the empty space to form a portal just beside her.

"Well done, everyone. That's another relic gained." Ozma breathes out a sigh. "Two more. And then…"

He hesitates, and then, when it seems the moment has gone away for him to say anything at all, he simply motions the rest of the group forward.

And so, they filter into the portal, out into the wildlands of northern Vale, and away from Atlas entirely.

/

As a courtesy, Ozma had decided to give Atlas a few days before Ren could propose the idea he'd had for the Relic of Creation, so that they could safely relocate anyone that resided within Atlas' crater, and give them enough time to land the city whilst still having the Relic's infinite energy to rely on. It is a kindness that Jaune is fairly certain Ironwood would not have given in return, and yet, perhaps that is precisely why it is right.

It takes only a few hours after they've stolen the Relic for Atlas to begin landing, so it seems they needn't have worried too terribly, but still, at the very least Atlas still has its gravity dust to fall back on in case of an emergency.

They all breathe a relative sigh of relief over the course of the next few days as, instead of trying something stupid like assaulting Evernight, General Ironwood instead battens down the hatches, and makes to defend Atlas and Mantle both. Honestly, landing the city seems to have caused him to actually put some effort into defending the lower city of Mantle as well, which is a definite plus, even if such had only been by proxy of having Mantle as, effectively, a mote.

But hey, Jaune will take what he can get these days.

It's as the days pass, however, that Jaune catches Ren sketching something in a notebook. Now, Jaune's not saying that Ren doesn't seem like the type to be artistic – because who is he kidding, Ren would definitely be the type to be artistic – he's just never actually seen the man draw before.

So, it just sort of… happening is a bit weird.

He walks over, and inspects what's on the page in front of him.

It's…

Well, it looks like the blueprints for a device, in all honesty. There are multiple different angles and drawings of the same general item, which seems to be some kind of mirror array. Jaune can't make out much about it other than that.

"What's this?" He asks instead of wondering.

"What I plan on commissioning from the Relic of Creation." Ren speaks, turning over to him with a smile. "It's… well, it's a gamble, for certain. But I believe it might just work."

"What do you intend to do?"

"I cannot say. Not yet. Not until I've finished this." Ren speaks. "Although I do need to talk with Ruby about a few things."

And on that rather cryptic note, Ren disappears from the room.

Jaune doesn't actually meet up with Ren again for a day or so. It makes sense, of course, given that they're all staying within Evernight, and the castle is far, far too large, even for their twenty-odd people, but even still, he'd been meaning to get a bit more information out of his teammate.

Instead, he is called into the many-windows room along with everyone else when Salem summons for them. As they all step in, Jaune notes with intrigue that it seems as if Ren is the one taking… not charge, but perhaps precedence at this meeting.

Salem nods to him after they've all sat down, and he takes the Staff of Creation from Ozma, who hands it to him gingerly, like it is some horribly dangerous weapon.

Jaune's sure it could be, in the right hands.

The Spirit of Creation – Ambrosius, if Jaune's remembering correctly – is fairly similar to Jinn, all things considered. Sure, he's a bit different personality-wise, but other than that, Jaune's not entirely shocked when he pops out of the staff, and stretches his back.

"Ah, it's been a while." Ambrosius speaks. "Oh-hoh, and I see you're not the last people I've been working with. Please tell me I'll get to do something a bit more entertaining than providing an infinite fuel source? Because that's really quite boring once the novelty of infinity wears off."

Ren clears his throat, which seems to do well enough in getting the Spirit's attention. The giant figure turns towards Ren, and regards him with some small intrigue.

"Hmm… you've something for me then, boy?"

"I do." He takes a few pieces of paper that seem to have been ripped from out of the same notebook he'd been working within earlier, and hands them to the giant being. "…I didn't think to ask if you were corporeal enough to–"

"Think nothing of it," Ambrosius laughs as, instead of grabbing the pages, he lifts them into the air via some telekinesis. "Hmm… I see. This is a rather interesting design. It would refract and angle light, so that it would be less intense in some ways, and more intense in others. And what might you use such a device for, young man?"

Ren swallows, then, looks Ambrosius straight in the eye, and speaks into being words that shock Jaune, and hell, the rest of the room, into stunned silence.

"It will focus the light of the Silver-Eyes to purge the Grimm from off of Summer Rose, and leave what is still within that encasing alive."


End Chapter 54


And finally, Ren's plan is revealed.

It's probably not a shock to some people, but the next few chapters are going to be dealing with Ren's plan, and the fallout of it. We'll see more on that next chapter. I might update this story on Saturday, and just give you guys an extra chapter this week, or I might not. We'll see.

Anyways, see you all whenever!