We're very near the end now—there's just this chapter and then Tuesday's chapter left.

Russel stared up at the sky, wondering idly it was even possible for this much to go this wrong in such a short amount of time. There was a motherfucking dragon circling around them like an oversized vulture, splattering Grimm everywhere. At the same time, the storm had gone from freezing hail to... to... he didn't even know anymore. There was a lot of lightning involved, and the rain had mixed into sleet peppered with chunks of ice the size of his fist. This wasn't just Murphy's Law anymore, it had to be hostile intent on the part of the universe.

"It's coming back around," Dove shouted, over the wind whipping through their hair and clothes and screaming against the shattered remains of the fourth-year dorms.

The swords orbiting Penny spun in a tight ring, and the space within began to glow. BRYN hit the deck, while Goodwitch just stepped to the side to give her room to aim. The resulting blast hit the dragon's chest, shearing through a bone plate and then flickering out. It shrieked, this time in pain rather than in rage, and began to spiral downwards. Black ichor rained down, steaming when it spattered against the ground. More Grimm began to rise from the dark stains. Goodwitch flicked her wrist, sending bits of rubble through the skulls of a half dozen Beowolves.

Penny's swords orbited her again, but she didn't look like she was aiming for another attack. "I seem to have lost pow—um."

"We've guessed about the robot thing," Russel said helpfully. "If that's what you're worried about."

She turned bright green and shuffled her feet. "I don't have enough power to do that again—several major capacitors were damaged by the rebar."

Goodwitch scowled. "Barty and Peter should be here by now."

Russel resisted the urge to blurt, 'Who?' and soon after realized that she was probably talking about their other professors. Oh, he was so going to call Oobleck Barty for the rest of his natural existence.

Kevin roared.

...Which might not be that long, considering.

Then it was just overhead, its mouth and throat open wide, gliding sideways and slamming one wing into the dorm building. Another several rooms were knocked out, and the whole place shook violently. The eastern wall crumbled, collapsing like a house of cards with its supports knocked out. Russel hit the dirt as the great head shot by overhead. It banked, and the gust of wind from its wings drove him sideways onto the lawn next to Beacon's main pathway. He spat out dirt and grass and winced as he wiped partly-frozen muddy slush off his face.

"This isn't working," Dove grumbled. Russel had to crane his neck to even see anyone else—his leader was standing, as was Yang, though Nora was still in a sitting position trying to peel a piece of waterlogged notebook paper off her forehead. Penny seemed mostly fine aside from the dead arm and the hole in her chest. Which seemed to be a less serious set of injuries for her than for... literally anyone else.

Goodwitch, naturally, was upright and glaring. Not at them, for once, but at the Grimm Dragon that was just now circling back around, shrieking in fury and lashing at the main building with its tail. Her cape had darkened with water until it was almost black, and the bun at the back of her head was starting to come undone. If anything, that only made her look scarier. "Well," she huffed. "I don't suppose I or any of the rest of you are ever going to live this down."

Russel blinked. What?

"Follow me."

She led them in a run towards the ballroom. It was still standing, though one strike from Kevin's tail had knocked out several supporting columns and the rain was already getting in through the resulting gap. "Get in. I'll drive it through the front wall. As soon as that happens, the rest of you bring the roof down."

Goodwitch adjusted her glasses, looking down at them through the lenses. "I trust the four of you will find a way to make that happen."

Russel gaped at her for a second, and before he rebooted to the point that he could make any kind of response to that, she was already gone. Dove made some vague, incoherent noises.

"Well," Nora said, clapping her hands together. "I call that one!" She pointed to the furthest column to the left.

Yang blinked a few times. "Did that just..."

"Yep!" Nora grabbed her arm and pulled her over to another column. "You do this one."

"Wait!" Dove hung his head. "That's... you should break the one next to it."

Everyone stared at him. Except Penny, who had cheerfully walked over to the column he'd indicated and looked to be calculating how much force she'd need to bring it down.

"There's only five of us and Russel and I will probably have to team up on one of them," he said, looking pained. "So we can only do two on each side."

More stares.

"And I'm assuming the Grimm will collapse that entire wall." Dove pointed to the far side of the room. "Plus about three or four columns on each side. That still leaves four or five more. We could try breaking more than one, but then the timing gets difficult and this place is less than sturdy as it is, so we might just bring the roof down on ourselves instead. But I'm almost sure that two columns can't support this entire side of the roof."

Russel clapped a hand over his mouth to muffle the sudden attack of snickers. Dove glared at him. "What?"

"I just figured out why you're on our team!"

"Shut up."

"You know how to destroy buildings! You've studied this, haven't you?"

"I know how gravity works, Russel! It's not like I'm an architect!"

"Shh." He patted his leader on the shoulder and approached the column opposite where they'd come in. That would leave, as Dove had said, about two or three on either side of the room, plus the wall nearest them. Hopefully that wouldn't be enough for the building to stay standing.

"So, glorious leader," he said, tapping the column he and Dove had chosen as their victim. "How do we destroy this thing? 'Cause I think it's gonna take a while if we just chop at it like a tree."

None of the other three were moving just yet—apart from some brief tapping from Yang and Nora to size the things up, they were apparently confident they could bring them down in one hit. That was pretty awesome, in his humble opinion.

Dove heaved a sigh. "I'll try and carve out a hollow, you stab it with gravity Dust, the middle folds in on itself."

Russel felt his face light up. "Oh gods, we are going to blow up Beacon!"

"No! No, we are not! This is a controlled demolition of a single building with no fire Dust involved!"

"It's still using Dust, it counts!"

"Damn it, Russ—"

Another roar from Kevin, coming from somewhere close. Both of them shut up. Dove hacked at the pillar with his sword, grunting with each blow, until he'd carved out a notch going about halfway through. Russel twisted his left dagger and grinned when it started glowing a sinister indigo color. He lined up the shot. Then they waited, hearing their breathing, for several long seconds.

"Listen," Dove said, raising his voice so the other three could hear. "As soon as this goes off—Penny? You take the left wing. Yang, Nora? The right. Russel and I will go for the eyes."

A low whistle was all the warning they got before the opposite wall exploded into plaster and wooden shrapnel. Russel drove his dagger into the pillar, watching in fascination as it crumpled like a piece of paper. Then he leapt out through one of the windows. Shattered glass rained down, and the whole place shook. There was an almighty crack, a groan as the building struggled to support itself, and finally a long and sustained rumbling as the ballroom gave up the ghost and collapsed. Russel clamped both hands over his ears.

Then he heard Kevin shriek. The sound of collapse stopped, only to be replaced by the shifting of debris and angry roars. Russel rolled to his feet, took in the scene—the thing was half-buried in what was left of the ballroom, with only its scaly hind legs and tail sticking out. Goodwitch was nowhere to be seen, but some of the rubble was glowing purple and resisting any attempt by the monster to move it.

The tail swept sideways. Russel yelped and leapt into the air, soaring up and onto the heap of rubble. Dove took a glancing hit from it as he tried to jump over, which sent him pinwheeling into the ground. He got up again, staggering slightly, and Russel gave him a hand up.

From there they walked across the shattered roof. It was hard going—everything was moving constantly, and he kept tripping over bits of wood and feeling foot-long splinters bouncing off his aura. Then they arrived at the head. It was already starting to get loose, its five remaining eyes glowing with fury. Russel jumped over it, landing on the side that he'd already damaged earlier. He'd used fire Dust the first time, scorching the flesh around the socket, but it hadn't died.

Well. Here was his second chance. He tried ice, and buried his arm up to the elbow. There were probably grosser things to be buried up to the elbow in than a Grimm's eye, but he couldn't actually think of any at the moment. Ichor ran down his arm, soaking his vest and his pants and hissing as it came into contact with the air. It would evaporate—still, he was definitely washing all this later. Thoroughly. He'd burn it in a heartbeat, but he couldn't replace it if he did.

Then he felt his dagger scrape against bone, and activated the Dust. An array of frozen spikes burst from the empty socket. The monster screeched and yanked its head up, freeing its head and part of its neck from the rubble. Russel was thrown up and into the air, and judging by the swearing he heard from the other side of the head, Dove was also along for the ride.

Of course, their job wasn't the really important one. As he plunged his dagger into the monster's last and largest right eye, he glanced around and saw Yang and Nora working in concert. Yang pulled the wing back, using her entire body as leverage, while Nora slammed her hammer into the joint again and again. Finally there was a mighty pop, and Russel could see the bulge of a bone slipping out of place.

If it had been angry before, it was enraged now. Its head whipped around just as Russel activated the Dust in his dagger—lightning this time, though that didn't seem to do much to the monster either—and he was thrown off and into the pile of rubble. He landed gently. Dove didn't. He came down on one leg, cried out, then collapsed onto his side.

Crap. Russel vaulted over the rest of the roof and landed next to Dove. Before he could do much of anything, a gout of ichor came down and spattered on the ground a few feet away. A creep and four Beowolves pulled free of the mess, sniffing the air hungrily.

Russel grabbed Dove's arm and hauled him upright. His left foot was bending in a nauseating sort of way, and he wisely didn't even try to put weight on it. Russel could sorta carry him, but not while moving faster than a hobble.

"Um..." he said. A Beowolf rushed at him and he stuck a dagger through its throat. "Is anyone done maiming that thing? We could use some help."

He glanced up and saw Penny leaping from the monster's shoulder. She had ignored the joint between wing and body, choosing instead to shred the membrane to ribbons. Her good arm was holding the bad one to her chest, leaving her with just the swords, but... honestly, that was barely an inconvenience.

When she landed next to them, she grinned at him like they were playing some kind of fun game. "The Grimm is no longer flight-capable," she announced happily, as one of the floating swords cut through the Creep.

It roared again, shaking itself free of the last of the rubble. The tail came around. Russel braced himself for impact—

—and found himself fifteen feet in the air, suspended in a purple glow. Penny and Dove were next to him, and below them the tail was lashing frantically. Kevin shrieked, whipping its head back and forth. Dove had taken out all three of the eyes on his side, too. It was blind and its wings were crippled, but it was still the size of the damn ballroom and very, very angry.

"Yang! Nora!" Goodwitch shouted. "Get over here!"

Russel did a double-take at the sound of Goodwitch calling someone by their first name. Apparently the others felt the same, because they came at once. That left the five of them in a ragged circle. She put Russel and Penny down, but kept Dove floating above their heads to spare his ankle.

"I'm sure there's a way to cut through that creature's hide, but we don't have the luxury of time to experiment. We're going to have to be a little more clever than that."

"Well, we broke its wings," Nora said. "So... push it off a cliff?"

Russel made eye-contact with Yang, and both of them broke out into huge, evil grins. Dove glared down at them, as if daring them to laugh.

Goodwitch just nodded. "Exactly, Miss Valkyrie."

A lamppost rose into the air and drove itself into Kevin's side. It stumbled, shrieked in outrage, and started to chase them. Its run was even more disturbing than its flight—it moved with a strange, loping gate, using its hind legs and the wing Penny had slashed up. The other dragged behind it, crashing into the side of the cafeteria and bringing down an entire wall. Its tail lashed into the main building, collapsing a place he was pretty sure corresponded to the arena. Goodwitch muttered something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like the word bastard. Yeah, that had been her classroom.

Then there was no more time for speculation—the thing was charging at them like a bull the size of a mountain, and it was a lot faster than it had any right to be. Russel yelped and took off in a sprint, ending up neck and neck with Yang. It couldn't see, but it was certainly sensing them somehow—maybe it could hear them, or smell negative emotion.

The cliffs loomed ahead of them. They kept running right up to the very edge, then whirled around. Kevin was only a few dozen yards behind and covered the distance in three long bounds. Then its good wing came down on empty air and it lurched forward. It didn't fall, though—it dug its claws into the cliffside, and its tail curled around a clump of trees to help steady it.

Goodwitch straightened up. Dove was deposited gently on the ground. At the same time, tree after tree that the tail was wrapped around glowed purple, rose into the air, and shot towards the monster like javelins. One struck the back of its neck, shattering into a thousand splinters longer than his daggers. Another hit the wounded wing joint, then the center of its back, then one of its ankles. It stumbled, shifted forwards. The remaining trees supporting it toppled, and it lurched forward.

Nora grinned, wound up her hammer, and slammed it into one of the great legs. Yang drove both fists into the other and heaved. Another tree, this time smashing against the base of its tail. It slid forward, overbalanced, and plummeted over the cliff's edge.

It didn't die, obviously. They could still hear it roaring in rage and scrabbling at the side of the cliff. But with one wing joint out of its socket, it couldn't climb that well—all it was really accomplishing was doing some pretty epic damage to the cliff face.

"We'll be back," Russel told it, in tones as patronizing as he could manage. "Just sit tight and don't go anywhere."

The answering roar made part of the cliff's edge crumble. If he'd been standing two feet closer, he probably would have ended up in the thing's mouth.

"Thrush," Goodwitch snapped. "Don't antagonize the monster."


She sighed, rubbing at the bridge of her nose. "The five of you should go back to the airfield. Look for your friends, and do what you can to help evacuate civilians. I'll see what I can do about this... creature."

Russel blinked. "Wait, you're going to kill Kevin?"

Goodwitch gave him a look. "This is why we don't name them, Mister Thrush."

The flow of refugees was starting to slow, finally. Cardin leaned back against a low stone wall that had been partially demolished by something, probably a Grimm, nad stretched his bad leg out in front of him. It was starting to heal, though damnably slowly. Jaune was sharing his semblance between him and Blake, and some of it was being used up on the cut on his arm.

He felt wrung out, like a cloth that had been twisted and twisted until it was starting to fray at the edges. Just... twice as exhausted as he'd ever been in his life, plus an exam and a few hundred suicide drills. That kind of tired. The sort of tired that meant that all four of them spoke in slurred mumbles, and were nodding off sitting up.

Blake was resting her head on Weiss' shoulder, which made him a little jealous—he wanted something or someone to use as a pillow badly enough to sell his firstborn. Jaune didn't count—the armor on his shoulders looked massively uncomfortable. Cardin tried to wrap his arms around his head and rest on those, but he banged the bridge of his nose on one of his bracers and soon abandoned the attempt.

"We should probably... beds," Jaune finished, a bit lamely. There was a murmur of agreement from Weiss, and Cardin grunted affirmative. Blake was fast asleep and didn't say a word. No one moved.

Then, crack! Cardin jolted upright, banging his head against Jaune's as he did the exact same thing. Blake was alert in an instant, ears standing straight up, her eyes wide. Weiss just cursed under her breath and peered out through her eyelashes, looking about ready to murder someone for disturbing her.

It wasn't close, though. A flash of lightning lit up a wall of bulbous, roiling green-black cloud. Seconds later, there was another roar of thunder. Cardin stared at the storm for a moment, cocking his head to the side. It almost looked like...

Two gigantic columns descending from the sky. Both circling slowly, growing closer together, then erupting in flashes of lightning that arced from one to another. Even from this far away the wind was picking up, whipping against the glass window in font of them and sending a combination of freezing rain, sleet, and hail scattering in every direction. Cardin was suddenly very glad they were inside an airship—it had been grounded by the initial surge of Grimm, but since it was already in the safe zone it had been repurposed as a first aid area.

Through the great glass windows they watched the storm—which looked for all the world like two storms, each trying to destroy the other. Sometimes the lightning crackled out in all directions like giant Tesla ball in the sky. At others it took on an oddly reddish hue, as though it was fire rather than electricity. He would have thought it was a blaze starting in some of the nearby buildings if it hadn't been raining like the end of the fucking world.

"There's no way that's natural," Weiss decided, after they'd been gawking at it for a few minutes. Blake put her head down again, and Weiss lay one arm over her shoulders. Cardin tried to come up with a clever way to mock them for it, but all he had was 'get a room,' and he'd used that one already. He was too tired for this.

Jaune yawned hugely, his tongue poking right out of his mouth. Sometimes Cardin could swear he was the damn cat. "Well, I'm done. Drained. Dead battery. So no running towards it. Please?"

"I wasn't suggesting that we should," Weiss said, a touch defensively. "Just pointing out that something caused that, and we're sharing a city with it."

"It's almost beautiful," Blake murmured. She was more asleep than awake, though that didn't mean she looked relaxed. Her brow was furrowed, her eyes glazed over, and she had started chewing on her fingernails. Probably something to do with the mass-murdering terrorist Weiss' sister had killed. In front of her. He was apparently something to her, though Cardin had no idea what exactly.

Jaune hummed agreement. Cardin didn't. More lightning flashed, and there was a wave of flickering light. That was definitely fire, not electricity. And it was definitely happening in the pouring rain. It was ominous. Not natural, but also not the kind of man-made he was used to. Dust couldn't do that. Semblances had never been recorded doing that. It was... wrong.

Still, it did look pretty badass once he got past that weird vibe. The four of them gradually shifted closer and closer together. Weiss and Blake were on one side of Jaune, Cardin on the other, all shivering slightly despite the shelter from the elements and staring in open awe as the sky went from fighting itself to devouring itself. Fantastic gouts of fire erupted out of the clouds—there was no calling it anything else, now—and the very earth and sky themselves were reacting. The air hummed with that latent electricity you got with storms, and he even imagined he could smell smoke. The earth shook in time with the thunder that proceeded every flash of lightning. At times it felt like someone was beating on a drum the size of a small village.

As they stared, the occasional arrivals of civilian transports taking people up into the Atlesian warship slowed to a bare trickle. People were mostly just waiting around, and the number of Hunters guarding the airfields had nearly doubled. Things were starting to get under control. At the same time, Cardin could feel strength ebbing back into his bad leg. They were all perking up, acting less like roadkill. It felt good, like he'd needed that confirmation that they were all still alive before he could get over the fact that they'd won, and without losing a single member.

Sun and Neptune showed up about fifteen minutes after the beginning of the freak storm. They'd been told to go back to the medship and wait, because their auras were pretty much gone and anyway there were hardly any civilians left who hadn't been evacuated. Both of them sat down on the other side of Blake and Weiss, watching the storm.

"Holy crap," Sun breathed, when a particularly vivid twist of lightning split the sky into five pieces, each looking jagged and warped.

Then they waited some more, while the great slash in Blake's side closed up with the help of her aura and Jaune's semblance. The trickle of refugees slowed to a halt. More people came into the medship to mill around and ask for news, as well as to inquire about what looked like a pair of hurricanes in a turf war. ABSW didn't bother moving. Cardin couldn't give less of a damn about that storm. He was done, he'd helped stop one deadly madman from entering the airfield. He couldn't be fucked with this other one, especially if elemental powers were involved.

And speaking of elemental powers...

The only warning they got was the sounds of voices, muffled through the glass but still much more intelligible than you'd expect, considering. Then the door burst open and BRYN piled in. They looked filthy but unhurt—Yang had bits of brick in her hair and the entire left side of Russel's face was covered in plaster dust. Nora was giggling and saying something about not thinking it would be that easy to bring down a building.

"Hey!" Sun jumped to his feet and pointed. "Are you guys Brine?"

Dove groaned and put his head in his hands. "Oh, no..."

Nora stared at him. "What? We're famous, how is that bad?"

He gave her a look. "Nora, when was the last time someone knew us by reputation and wasn't at least as bad as we are?"

There was a moment of silence, during which Neptune, Weiss, and Blake all stared at Sun with varying levels of horror and he himself broke out into a wide, toothy grin. "No worries," he said, in the least reassuring tone Cardin had ever heard in his life. "I swear I'm a positive influence."

There was no fear once they rose above the streets of Vale. Only a rush of adrenaline, an exaltation and euphoria that made the tips of Pyrrha's fingers tingle. She felt like she'd been a rat in a maze, boxed in by a thousand cramped streets and alleyways and hallways and classrooms, and had finally crawled out into free, open air.

Then the wind struck her—a searing, serrated wind, full of shards of ice and chips of inky volcanic glass. It blasted her backwards, spinning end over end, and when she recovered she wasn't sure where she had started. Ozpin was down there, and she couldn't quite find room in herself to care about that, but Ruby was with him—and somewhere, she didn't have even the faintest clue anymore where, Ren and Sky as well.

Pyrrha held out both hands. It was an indescribable rush, not just letting the dam break but shattering it by her own choice. The next blast of air turned away, diverting up and over her and raining dark glass onto the streets below. Then she retaliated, and lightning flashed—it was so easy, just like drawing a path from the sky to her foe. The second it connected, there was light and heat and the intoxicating smell of ozone. This was it—this was what this power must be for. Protection.

She tugged again at the clouds. She didn't want lightning or wind or even hail—just more of whatever the storm had to give. More of the freezing water in the air, drenching her and making her feel alive. More of the rolling thunder, vibrating deep in her chest. More. Everything.

The other woman laughed, with fire still dancing around her eyes. Pyrrha saw it, but she couldn't hear it over the storm, or the torrent of flame that poured towards her a second later. Her whole field of vision whited out. She spun, clenched her fists, and all the heat vanished. Water poured from her, sloughing off her arms and face, remnants of the ice she'd called up.

It was only then that she realized she was laughing, too. She couldn't be afraid like this, with the whole world shrunk to tiny pinprick Grimm and dollhouses and skyscrapers that barely came halfway to where she flew. The world was so tiny, so fragile, and she felt like she could pick it up and cradle it in the palms of her hands.

Then there was another blast of wind from her opponent—not a gust but a driving, corkscrewing bullet, laden with shards of obsidian. It collided with Pyrrha's stomach despite her doing everything she could to divert it. She folded over like she'd just been punched and was driven backwards. Something solid collided with her back and gave out, again and again and again, and then at last she skidded to a halt, with one cheek resting on a shattered street and muddy rainwater soaking into her side.

She coughed, twice, then pushed herself onto her back. The sky roiled overhead, clouds coalescing into a malevolent point. It was slowly descending, like a finger reaching out to touch her forehead.

When she tried to stand, a blast of fire knocked her off her feet again. This time she landed on the sidewalk, face-down, with both legs in the street. A hand clasped around the back of her neck, and all of a sudden it was like she'd swallowed a hot coal. The empty void was gone, and in its place she was boiling.

"You're thinking that at least you bought time," the Maiden said, as Pyrrha struggled to move. "You're thinking that this was some kind of noble sacrifice." The powers flexed instinctively, blasting both of them with a hail of ice shards the size and shape of needles.

"It isn't." The hand tightened, and the heat inside of her intensified. Her thoughts were scattered, feverish. "You want to kill me. It's gnawing at you, the emptiness where the other half should be. You'd rip my heart out with your bare hands if you weren't so weak."

The heat crested, ripping an agonized scream from her. She heard a crack, distant and small compared to the howling wind. The grip at the nape of her neck loosened just a fraction and she lurched away, kicking blindly and rolling to the side. Her attacker snarled in disgust.

Even as the agonizing burning stopped, the cold rushed back in. The void yawned wider than ever by comparison, the coal replaced by a starless chunk of the night sky. It was worse, so much worse, and she thought for an instant that she should stay still, let that hand come down again if it meant she would be whole.

Something was digging into her shoulder. She turned and found a spent bullet bent, deformed by its impact with something solid. The crack, her attacker's momentary distraction...

Pyrrha scrambled to her feet, her nose passing inches from the other woman's searing fingertips. She closed her eyes, drew in a breath, and reached up towards the sky that had turned midnight-dark even in the middle of the afternoon.

She herself didn't feel much. Tingling at her fingertips and toes, a ringing in her ears, that wonderful static smell. When she opened her eyes again the other Maiden was several hundred feet away, bracing herself against a wall and snarling. It was an inhuman expression—she realized in an instant that she wasn't really looking at a person anymore but some kind of animal, a wolf that had been starved and starved until it would have eaten its own pack.

Another crack. This time Ruby's bullet missed, shattering the brick facade a few feet away from the other Maiden. The two of them clashed again, still on the ground. Then the asphalt turned into a slick, bubbling soup and they had to rise above it, circling higher and higher, blasting at one another with ice and fire and the bolts of lightning that were incubating in the clouds above.

Pyrrha lost track of time. She lost track of herself, too—that strange widening of her senses had returned. She was suspended, a mere speck against that dark sky, pulling it towards herself. Her body felt far away, unimportant except as the thing she needed to defend, miniscule compared to the storm she commanded.

The rifle shots were a constant background noise. Usually they missed—the air currents around the two Maidens were nothing natural, hellish to aim against. Even so, they kept coming. And Pyrrha kept waiting.

Then, it happened. A crack, and the bullet found one of the tunnels of wind that their fight had created, curving as it went and colliding with the other Maiden's thigh. She lurched, turned partway around, and Pyrrha struck. She let loose everything she had, and now she wasn't just letting the power free but actively pushing it. Lightning arced from cloud to woman to street and back again, lighting up all of downtown Vale. The woman disrupted it, sending it curving towards a nearby skyscraper and blasting away half the lower floors. It shook, but didn't fall.

Pyrrha used the time to dive in close. She didn't touch her—not with the memory of that searing heat still with her. She just hovered there, smelling burning hair and knowing that the woman's aura was gone. She attacked again, wind and rain and ice this time, but as usual the other Maiden blocked them. She'd had this curse far longer, knew how to bend and manipulate it.

There was a signpost behind her, about thirty feet away. With the last of her aura, Pyrrha reached out and pulled. It spun halfway around as was ripped out of the ground, like a knife thrown at a dartboard, and four feet of metal erupted from her enemy's chest. Those fiery eyes went wide with shock, the mouth opened—and she dropped like a stone, landing with a splash in one of the spreading puddles on the street.

Pyrrha dropped down next to her, crouching in the same water, watching it turn cloudy red. Maybe she could have helped—it was next to impossible that she could have stopped the bleeding, let alone dealt with whatever internal injuries she'd caused, but she could have tried. She didn't. She just crouched there, waiting, wanting her to go still but not quite enough of a monster yet to strike a fallen opponent. Or, maybe, not so mindlessly hungry that she couldn't wait a few more moments.

Then, finally, the ragged wheezing stopped. She swallowed, reaching out towards the body, torn between anticipation and dread. It began to flake away, fiery red just like the woman's eyes, drawn at last to join its other half. Pyrrha closed her eyes, feeling the empty pit in her stomach easing, then vanishing altogether.

In its absence, other things came back to her. She wondered where Ozpin had gone. She wondered whether Ren and Sky were still fighting the illusionist, and how long she'd been up in the air. She realized with a sudden wrench that she'd just killed someone, and that Ruby had very probably been watching through her scope.

It took her that long to give more than a passing thought to the building the dead Maiden had struck—and to wonder why she'd chosen that one. Pyrrha jerked back, rising fifteen feet in the air and whirling around. She could see it from here, and sagged with relief when she saw that it was listing rather alarmingly to the left, but hadn't yet fallen. Her flight was wobbly with exhaustion, drained entirely of the exhilaration she'd felt earlier.

Ruby was waving at her from the highest floor, her scythe over her shoulder in rifle form, her hood up and dripping from the rain. She wasn't smiling.

"Hey," she said, voice small.

Pyrrha settled on the roof with her, not quite daring to meet her eyes. That meant she was entirely unprepared when she was seized in a hug, and in her surprise she very nearly stepped off the edge of the building. After several seconds, she had the presence of mind to return the gesture.

"So, the Maiden..."

Pyrrha swallowed. "Dead," she admitted.

Ruby nodded into her shoulder. "Yeah. I kinda figured, but..."

"I'm sor—" Ruby squeezed her a little tighter, cutting her off.

"I'm glad you're okay."

She wasn't sure she was, but now seemed like a bad time to mention that. Instead she just picked her partner up and leapt off the roof, using the wind to alight gently on the pavement about thirty stories below.

They found Ozpin a few minutes later, his cane nowhere to be seen. He seemed to know what had happened the moment he met her eyes.

"I am sorry, Miss Nikos, that it had to come to this. But the blame is mine, and hers. Never yours."

They staggered together towards where they'd first encountered the other Maiden. It wasn't raining so hard, now—only a light drizzle, much warmer than the freezing downpour of only minutes ago. The clouds had gone from green-black to silvery grey, and here and there beams of sunlight were breaking through.

There was no one in the street they'd come from, but Pyrrha could see signs of a scuffle—mud was streaked partway up a building where someone had kicked at the ground. They turned the corner.

Stillness. There was no sound but the slow and steady whispering of rain pouring into storm drains. No movement besides the small eddies and currents in the water. It was stained faintly pink, though the color was steadily fading. A woman Pyrrha didn't recognize lay face-down in the water. Ren was gripping her wrist, lying on his stomach, his head tilted so that his nose was out of the water. His face had gone milky pale, and his lips were turning purple. Sky was on his back, eyes wide open.

Pyrrha landed on her knees with a nasty jerk, the puddle beneath her crusting over with ice. Ruby scattered apart and reformed between their two teammates, grabbing Ren's elbow and putting a hand on Sky's chest. Then she groped for his wrist. Moved to touch his throat and recoiled with a strangled sound when she saw the cut there—it was little more than a nick, and it wasn't bleeding anymore. Gently, she brushed his eyes closed with her thumb.

Ozpin moved forward. He didn't bother to check on Sky—instead he knelt in front of Ren and checked his pulse.

"He's alive," he said, picking him up and off the ground. He had to pry Ren's fingers off the girl's wrist. "We need to get him someplace warm."

He didn't say anything about Sky—it was quite obvious that he wasn't. Ruby picked him up anyway. Her hood had fallen over her eyes, so it was almost impossible to make out her expression. She didn't make so much as a sound as she stood, arms straining with the weight of him and his armor and the water that had soaked through his clothing.

They started towards the airfield, and Ozpin soon pulled ahead of them. He was moving as though Ren weighed nothing at all. Neither of them would be able to keep up with that pace, which was for the best—the sooner Ren got someplace warm, the better.

Pyrrha reached out and grabbed hold of Ruby's sleeve, her eyes locked on Ren as he and Ozpin disappeared from view. She couldn't see much of Sky, and she focused on the vivid red cloak so that she wouldn't stare at his boots and think about him tapping counter-rhythms whenever someone drummed their fingers, or the way he'd started to flourish his axe just like Ruby did her scythe, or the look of blank terror that had been frozen on his face. She nearly doubled over, then, as a caustic, acidic feeling welled up in the pit of her stomach.

She wanted it to be worse than that hollow void, the emptiness that killing the other Maiden had eased. It wasn't.