New chapter, new problems! At least I managed to force myself past some newly obtuse writers-block, so enjoy!

Thanks to Robert Waldron, Udeme Akpan, LOLZMAN, Amil, Dakota, Ragy, Hydrolic and Fridrod for supporting me this month! I'm deeply grateful for your assistance! For those of you at Full Supporter or greater, there will be a new link to the new document for Book 3 on the Pa Treon!

It was more than often that Jaune found himself at an impasse, unable to decide the right course of action, but rarely was it that the choice he made had such dire consequences. To be standing here, amidst nearly every enemy he'd faced down, and some he had yet to have the displeasure of doing so, that he realized that his next decision would be exactly what he had feared it would come to.

Life or death were really the only options available to him, but which was life and which was death were concealed behind a thick veil, almost an oppressive kind of obfuscation.

"Nice of you to finally drop in, Jaune," Cinder greeted, voice sly and seductive, as if she was greeting an old flame. Technically, she was, just not in the more socially acceptable term of phrase. He could hazard a guess as to what kind of flame he'd be involved with in a moment. "We wouldn't want to miss seeing you. After all, you owe me a favor."

"And here I was hoping you'd forgotten all about that," Jaune fired back. "How about I do you the favor of mercy, and kill you quickly instead of slowly?"

"Unfortunately for you, I have other matters to attend to. We'll have to postpone that for another time. Raven, if your maiden could open the Vault?"

"I can't let you do that," Jaune interjected, lifting his arm to point Predator at Cinder. He wasn't the only one to go from ready to near-engagement, as a wide host of weapons were raised and pointed from both sides.

"Then we should be thankful that it is not up to you," Talon answered from behind them, his own rifle trained on the back of Jaune's head. "You cannot win this fight, Wielder, so I wouldn't try."

"And what, you'll just let us go? You think we're so naive?" Ruby exclaimed, Crescent Rose drawn and aimed but not unfurled, pointed directly at Talon.

"You are not in any position to be making demands, little Rose."

"Don't you dare call me that!" Ruby shouted back, finger twitching on the trigger. "You don't get to call me that, no one does."

"Touchy subject? My apologies." His gun didn't waver from its point of aim, still trained on the back of Jaune's head, but the human skull he wore turned away from the ironsight to properly stare at Ruby. "I don't suppose it matters what we call you. You'll be a rotting corpse soon enough."

"Keep talking and I'll be putting that skull of yours up your ass, you bastard." Qrow wasn't facing the Oathbreaker, but it was no less a threat.

"Oh I'm sure you would love the opportunity to try, Branwen, but I think you might have bigger problems."

Talon was right. Qrow was staring down Tyrian and Hazel, the two men polar opposites in more than just physicality, considering Hazel's stoic demeanor, and the fact that Tyrian couldn't seem to stop his ceaseless giggling.

Raven and Vernal were moving regardless of any other interjection, stepping close to the statue.

There was a moment where Cinder looked away from him, eyes straying to the statue and the two women in front of it. Jaune took the only advantage he'd seen thus far, knowing any other chances would be few and far between, letting his finger squeeze on the trigger.

The sharp sound of the thick metal hammer of Predator slamming forward and striking the primer of the hefty .50 GK round that sat in the chamber was barely enough warning for Cinder to turn before the projectile left the cold-forged barrel and was airborne, and there was even less time between the bullet exiting the barrel and impacting against her superheated Aura.

Even still, during that single moment of time, everything burst into a purely chaotic mess of conflict as everyone moved at that same moment, weapons discharging and Aura's flaring as they were brought to the forefront of their defenses.

Jaune didn't get much of a chance to fire a second shot at Cinder as a bullet struck him in the back of his head, and he felt a chunk of his Aura flicker and die as he tumbled forwards, turning the sudden fall over the railing into a roll, recovering quickly and pulling Crocea Mors sheath off his hip and expanding it outwards to block the follow up shot that ricocheted off the metal plate.

In doing so he'd brought himself closer to Cinder, but it seemed luck was still on his side as instead of attacking him she'd leapt clear, her hand resting on her temple as a thin trail of blood dripped down the side of her head. Clearly she hadn't had the reaction time to incinerate the bullet entirely, thanks in part to the oversized round. She'd gotten most of it, though, leaving only a graze. Something he could say he hadn't managed to do in their previous encounter, so at least he had improved.

His musings were interrupted by another two shots from Talon's rifle as he closed the distance, and Jaune rolled again, this time out of the way as the Oathbreaker vaulted the banister after him and landed quickly, another three shots all denting off Crocea Mors as Jaune returned fire, albeit blindly, as he covered himself with the thick metal shield, poking the barrel of Predator out from behind it.

Clearly blindfire hadn't been the strategy to choose, considering Talon was still firing at his shield, but after a moment there was a break in the gunshots, and Jaune moved, pushing the muscles in his legs to their extremes as he lunged forwards, letting Predator swap itself with Caligo Mors as he swung the mace overhead, slamming it into the ground where Talon had been standing only a moment before.

He felt the warmth of the metal suppressor against his temple and spun, kicking his leg out to try and trip the Oathbreaker, but Talon was faster, using Jaune's own shoulder like a springboard to leap back up and grab the banister with his free hand, heaving himself over to rain fire back down on Jaune, who responded by lifting his shield above his head and trying to cover himself.

He didn't have a chance to do much else as a torrent of flame struck him in the side, scorching his outfit and trying its best to liquefy the skin underneath as his Aura flared up, trying to prevent injury and succeeding, at cost.

Cinder had stopped playing around now, and as Talon vaulted the banister once more and landed next to her, weapon trained on Jaune, she placed a hand on his rifle and pushed it down. "I have need of you inside the Vault."

Talon resisted her redirecting his aim. "I do not take orders from you, Fall."

"They are not my orders," Cinder replied, taking a step back towards Raven and Vernal. "Finish opening it, now."

Even amidst the gunfire and clashing of blades, Jaune could hear Vernal's acceptance of Cinder's order, and stepped forwards, lifting her hands, eyes closed as Raven stared at Jaune, eyes burning red behind her mask.

The statue began to tremble as it shifted downwards, grinding stone on stone as it lowered enough for Raven, Cinder, Vernal and Talon to step atop the elevator platform.

Jaune heaved himself to his feet and began sprinting towards them, only for several shots from both Talon and Vernal to slow him down until the elevator began to drop, speeding up as Jaune leaned over the edge.

"We have to stop them from getting into the Vault!" Jaune shouted, as he felt his Mana begin to flow at the tips of his fingers again. "They're getting away!"

It wasn't as if he could just jump down and follow them, either. All of his landing strategies relied on his Mana, and the moment he got within Talon's range, he'd lose his ability to use them, and most likely go splat on the floor. Not a great way to counterattack.

Likewise, his flying summons weren't going to be able to fly in such a compact space, so that put them firmly in the bad idea category too.

He pushed Mana into his legs and leapt, letting the Jump carry him over the gap and up onto the upper walkway.

His friends were heavily embroiled in combat, and there was nothing he could spare to help. If he didn't get down to the Vault, all of this would be for nothing. Whatever was down there was far too dangerous to let Cinder and Talon get their hands on it.

Blake and Yang were out of the question, both teens locked in combat with Emerald and Mercury, and likewise Weiss and Ilia were trying to take down Vox, the female Oathbreaker far too flexible to be human or faunus.

Oscar was out of the question not only just because he was untrained, but also because he was currently beating Lionheart in one-on-one combat. Ozpin's influence, Jaune had to imagine.

Jaune ducked and rolled, as did almost everyone else, as a giant tendril of blood swung its way across the impromptu battlefield and slammed against the far wall, only for an explosion to go off against it and send shards of hardened blood splintering against the ground.

Jaune would have been worried about Ren, Nora and Pyrrha, but if anyone was capable of taking on Khayin, it was Pyrrha. Even as blow after blow from tendril after tendril were sent her way, Pyrrha remained unharmed, if unable to return fire, her hands glowing with that black edge that indicated the only thing that was preventing her from being struck was her semblance, redirecting the iron in the blood.

Qrow was nowhere to be seen, likewise Hazel and Tyrian, but from the sounds of buckshot and shouting, they weren't too far away.

The only person who would be able to help was Ruby, who was raining down sniper fire whenever she got the chance, providing as many openings as she could for as many people as she could.

Jaune leapt again, sticking to the wall next to her with Surface Walk. "Ruby, we need to stop them from getting into the vault. I've got an idea for how we can stop Cinder and Talon, but I'm gonna need your help! Wait for me at the hole down, I'll be there in a moment, I just need to give your sister something!"

He leapt off the wall with a run and a jump, slamming down on Mercury from behind shield first, though to the silver mercenary's credit he recovered quickly, spinning himself to his feet with a scowl. "I'm gonna enjoy beating the crap out of you, Arc."

Jaune ignored him. "Yang, need a hand?"

She took the single presented moment to stare at him. "Really? You're gonna make that joke now?"

Despite the situation, he grinned, reaching into his inventory. "Picked something up for you in Menagerie, I was gonna give it to you another time, but this seems like the best opportunity."

Yang caught the artifact with her one hand, staring at it in shock. Mercury used the opportunity to charge forward, only to slam against a projected Mana shield as Jaune used Mana Field to protect both himself and Yang.

Yang placed the base of XIX. The Sun against where her missing arm should have been, and gasped as the cold golden metal rapidly heated up, mechanical fingers spasming and twitching as the entire mechanical prosthetic melded with her mind.

"Jaune…" Yang didn't know what to say, staring at her new limb, a replacement for what she'd lost, as it flexed and shifted just as if it were her old arm.

"Don't thank me yet, we've still got to win this," Jaune replied, turning in time for Mercury to kick his way through Jaune's projected shield, only for his axe kick to get caught and redirected by Yang.

"Okay, little stronger than I expected, gotta get used to that," Yang remarked under her breath as Jaune leapt away. Instead of focusing on her friend, she watched as Mercury recovered from being flung backwards, landing on both feet tentatively, taking in his opponent with a more careful approach.

Jaune didn't get to watch that fight continue to unfold as he landed once more, returning to the side of the elevator shaft, where Ruby was waiting for him.

"What's your plan, Jaune?" She asked, peering down the hole. "Just you and me against them seems… risky."

That was an understatement, it was more like suicidal. If his plan failed… well, it was better not to think that way. Better to focus on the plan itself, not its consequences.

Not that the plan was really a plan to begin with. It was more like a frantically formed idea than anything else. "Ruby, I need to know if you can control your eyes."

The question probably shouldn't have come as a surprise to the sniper, but it did all the same. "I… I think so."

She clutched his hand in hers, squeezing it tightly in her grip. "I know I can. But Jaune… down there…"

"You won't have to worry about friendly fire, for once. Whenever I'm near Talon, I lose all my Mana, which means you can unleash them without needing to control them too badly. Just try not to knock yourself out."

Those silver eyes of hers widened as his plan went from frantically formed idea to actual, plausible possibility. She squeezed his hand again before returning it to her weapon. "I'm ready when you are."

With a nod, he drew Crocea Mors and gave it a perfunctory spin as he stared down the hole. "Guess it's finally time to make a real landing strategy."

If Ruby replied, he didn't hear her as his feet left solid ground and he began to plunge into the depths.

Qrow was angry. That in and of itself was a rarity. Sometimes he was surly, sometimes grumpy, often drunk, but rarely angry. There weren't too many people who were alive who could elicit that kind of reaction from the Huntsman, and most of them were firmly seated on the side of good.

Those that weren't were family, and this time was no different. Raven's betrayal the first time around had stung, but with Summer, Tai and he had managed to cope with the fact. That plus the fact that Qrow had suddenly become an uncle, and the fact that the reason Raven had left was to distance herself from this shadow war he, Tai and Summer were embroiled in, he may not have liked it, but he could at least understand part of it.

This time was different. Summer was gone, Tai wasn't here, and Raven's reasoning to join Salem's side was… well, unexplained was one good way to put it. Another way to put it was like a sword in the back, and that made him angrier than he'd expected. He'd thought that by now he'd have stopped caring about the actions of his sister, but clearly there was still a part of him, deep down within, a part he hadn't managed to drown out with an overabundance of alcohol, that still cared for her.

And then she pulled a stunt like this, and he regretted ever caring at all. Raven had been afraid when she'd fled, but fear didn't make you turn on your friends and join your enemies. This had to be spite, or maybe Raven really was just a genuinely bad person, on the surface and deep down. Maybe he'd never really known his sister at all.

The one upside to his anger was that it was such a rare emotion for him to experience that he found it to be excellent fuel. Gone were his traditional quips in combat, his taunts and dismissive attitude. Good thing, that, because the two men he was currently locked in mortal combat with were anything but amateurs.

Hazel was a known entity to Qrow, the man had made multiple attempts on old Oz's life over the years Qrow had been serving the man, and whilst many had been ill-fated, there was something to be said about his misdirected tenacity. He blamed Oz for the death of his sister, and with the knowledge Qrow possessed, he wasn't entirely wrong, even if it was a futile effort to try and explain that despite that, his sister had known the risks, just like every other Huntsman and Huntress to ever die in the line of duty.

Tyrian was a different entity altogether. The man was anything but sane, but that didn't mean he fought like a crazed madman. He did, but it was the kind of crazed madman with training that could level a city if left unopposed. He was dangerous, moreso than his larger counterpart, because where Hazel was willing to be reasonable when it came to civilian casualties (most of the time, at least) Tyrian was the kind of man to take a child hostage just because it seemed like something fun to do.

He was lucky, Qrow supposed, that there were no civilians in the area. Leo might deserve to be killed for his betrayal, another betrayal that had Qrow extremely angry, but at least he had cleared the school. Qrow was going to take advantage of that even if it wasn't directly meant to be an advantage to him, but then again, Hazel and Tyrian didn't know as much about Qrow as he knew about them.

The main problem with fighting the Huntsman two-on-one was that sometimes they would have some bad luck when it came to positioning. A swing from Hazel accidentally clipping Tyrian, a dodge from Tyrian sending the agile man straight into the path of an oncoming Hazel, just plain bad luck.

A misstep here, a broken floorboard there, a lump of rubble tripping one and a misfire on the weapon of another, all unfortunate accidents.

Qrow was angry, and he was going to make it their problem one way or another.

"Gods this is weird," Yang muttered as an arm that was just as much hers as it wasn't blocked a kick without so much as a shudder, almost disconnected from the sensation as if it hadn't even happened.

She definitely felt the sensation of her flesh-and-bone fist striking against Mercury's other leg as the kickboxer flipped backwards, scowling at her. She ignored his scowl, internally pleased that he wasn't as happy about this conflict as he had been before Jaune had, in his own words, 'given her a hand', and with a half-cocked eyebrow and a fully-cocked fist she charged the silver-haired teen, only to duck under a slug that had threatened to take her Aura down lower than she was particularly comfortable in the current situation.

She turned the unexpected duck into a dive that had her shoulder plow into Mercury's gut, shoving him down onto one knee as she struggled to bring him any lower, the mercenary resisting the attempt and instead swiveling on the one knee, bringing his weight atop her and attempting a pin.

She broke free of it with ease, delivering an unexpectedly sharp jab to his chin before pushing off the ground with one arm, tucking her legs underneath to land on the balls of her feet, letting her momentum carry her upwards until she was standing.

Mercury was just as quick with his own recovery, spin-kicking two tracking slugs at her as he did so, but she found them easy enough to dodge. They'd really only been to buy him time to get to his feet and reload, a new bandolier in each leg, and Yang took the momentary reprieve to chamber a new round with a quick pump of her arm.

They'd both gotten some decent strikes in, but Yang was confident that this wasn't an even match, in her favor. Maybe, down an arm, she'd have been worried, but now, well, Mercury was as much a concern to her as she was to him. She could appreciate that, even if he was a shitty person, at the least he was a good test for her newer capabilities. There was no way this arm was a standard affair, no way on Remnant it was just a prosthetic he'd picked up in Atlas for her, not when he'd said he'd picked this up in Menagerie.

The only things that Yang really knew about Menagerie was that it was a backwater, was where Blake had grown-up (though that had required thorough interrogation), and that Jaune, Blake and Ilia had delved into a dungeon over there. So, Jaune had found her a prosthetic in something that only his semblance had been able to make, so naturally it wasn't by any means normal.

There had to be some kind of trick to it. Did it link with her semblance, did it have some kind of trick function, a command word or some kind of hidden button?

Mercury wasn't going to wait around until she figured it out, though, and even though she could keep up with his onslaught, it didn't leave her much time to try and figure out this thing. It wasn't as if it came with some kind of instruction manual. Granted, she'd not really been one to read instructions before, but this seemed like the kind of important thing where reading the manual wasn't just recommended, but necessary.

Mercury struck again and again, and it was starting to get on Yang's nerves. "Would you just back off for a second and let me figure this out!" She shouted, grip twisting as she grabbed his extended leg before another kick could land, spinning into a throw that sent him into a nearby wall. He recovered, because of course he did, and Yang swung out with her prosthetic. "Just go down already!"

The wave of flame that sprouted from her metallic palm caught the silvered criminal off-guard as it struck him. There was no dodging that kind of attack, and as superheated flame washed over him, Yang heard his yell of pain as his Aura flared and twisted against the heat, unable to fully protect him from damage.

She stared at her metal palm in shock, the metal still sizzling from the sudden heat. "Huh. That's what it does."

Following Jaune was always interesting, at least, in Ruby's experience. She'd never seen him doing anything that anyone would consider normal, at least. It made him interesting, and fun, and the fact that he was often just as awkward as her meant that if she made a fool of herself, at least he'd probably follow in her footsteps and stick his own foot in his mouth too.

And then, sometimes, there were moments like this, where all the typical goofiness and laid-back attitude were stripped away to leave behind a man who would go above and beyond to do the right thing.

Even as they fell towards what could likely be their deaths, he wore an expression of calm confidence, as if he wasn't even the slightest bit worried that this might be the last moments they spent on Remnant.

Cinder and Talon were monstrous, and Raven (she was not, under any circumstance, going to call her Aunt) and her lackey were just as dangerous. And Jaune wanted to face them down, with just her as backup! It was insane, it was crazy, it was…

It was such a Jaune-like idea that she'd just accepted that he had a plan. 'Use your eyes', he'd said, as if it was so simple. She barely had any control over them, and yet he had the utmost confidence in her being able to pull this off. Was it because he was so good at controlling such a strange semblance that he'd forgotten that not everyone was as impossibly adaptable as he was? Or did he just believe in her that much?

She didn't have an answer to that. To think she'd wanted to be 'normal knees' when all this had begun. She'd never been normal, could never be normal.

And if that meant she got to be with Jaune until the end, then never being normal had been worth it. He just never stopped surprising her, in all the best ways. At least by virtue of him being around, she seemed far more normal.

His surprises didn't end when he drew his sword, that glistening metal shining even in the low-light of the elevator shaft, and slammed it into the stone that lined the shaft, taking her hand as he did so.

It wasn't an instantaneous slow-down, it couldn't have been without doing serious damage to their Auras, instead it slowed only for a moment before the stone gave way and essentially forced his sword out once more.

The second time he slammed the blade in, Ruby joined him, deploying Crescent Rose and slamming the super-hardened steel blade into the wall as well.

It was more than twice as effective at slowing them, even as they carved twin channels into the stone, and soon they reached the bottom, dropping down.

The chamber beyond the shaft doorway was massive, full of open air and surrounded by water, a bridge spanning from one end to the center, where it ended on a dais with a gateway that glowed gold, casting shadows that mingled with the ones cast by the blue glowing veins that spanned the bridge.

All of that was not what grabbed the attention of Ruby and Jaune, though. Instead, their eyes were drawn to the slumped corpse of Vernal, laid in a pool of her own blood, hands clutching at the gaping wound in her torso.

Opposite her, in the center of the bridge, both Raven and Cinder were locked blades, eyes blazing with the power of the maidens.

"Fall versus Spring. Their power is on another level, isn't it?"

The question startled the two hunters, and they leaped sideways, weapons pointed at the Oathbreaker. The man, if he could even be called that anymore, had an innate knack for avoiding detection.

He stepped forward from his position watching the engagement. "Well, I was ordered to protect Cinder. Best do as the Goddess demands."

He raised his rifle as the two Maidens took to the air, the oppressive scent of overpowering magic like burning ozone and spent Dust drifting down over them.

Jaune looked at her. "Now or never, Ruby."

She steeled her nerves and leveled Crescent Rose at the monster of a man in front of her and chambered a round. "I'm ready."

A lot of background work went into this chapter, namely a lot of reworking and rearranging subsystems again, in my vain attempt to retrofit the entire spreadsheet into a more usable GUI-based program. Python may not have been my best choice to try that, though, might have to try teaching myself something a little more useful. Oh well, that's a problem for future me, when future me gets some free-time. Not likely to be soon, at least.

Anyways, lemme get into a couple review responses before I wrap this up and post it.

Sonikah: Yeah, he probably should! On a completely different topic, I wonder why Jaune looked so serious while he was descending?

Argus456: Oh god I hope I've covered everything before I've written another 100 chapters. At this rate I'll be thirty before then!

Guest: Systema as a concept actually started when I tried to make a custom ruleset for D&D 5e back in, god, it would've been 2016 or 2017? If someone did want to try to convert this to a tabletop, I'd be more than willing to let them. It's not an easy thing to do, though, trust me, the amount of batshit insane scripts I've poorly written just to get some of this stuff to remotely function is a little much.

Kalbario: He was shot by Ironwood atop the ruined Atlesian cruiser, either the Iapyx or the Icarus, I can't remember which one I said it was. Could've even been the Daedalus, it's been a while since I wrote the Fall of Beacon.

Linkman447: You will never see this, but I understand how you feel. No one is making you read things you don't want to read, you don't have to give a reason, but I appreciate that you did stick around for as long as you did!

Tyler Regis: Fun fact, I didn't know Systema was a Russian martial art until after I'd named this story. Maybe a mistake on my part, but oh well.

That'll have to do for reviews this chapter, I've been at my desk for too long as is! Hope you enjoyed the chapter, and if you really enjoyed it, why not check out my abysmally made Pa Treon! It's only slightly scuffed!

And, as always, see you next chapter!