Another week, another chapter!

Start Chapter 42

They begin their search when Raven had said they would, which is to say at the first hint of light cresting the horizon, they're being ushered up and told to get ready.

"The sooner we start, the sooner we might find something." Raven tells him as he groans into his sleeping bag.

"It's six in the morning."

"Yes, the world has awoken."

"I'd rather not."

"Tough." Raven states, leaving no room for dissent.

He gets up, grumbling all the while about unfair treatment and how he'd been wrong to soften somewhat on her the night prior. He and Raven actually had a rather interesting conversation, one that had Jaune questioning some of what he'd always assumed about her since they'd met.

He'd thought her entirely heartless, but he can see it in the way her eyes often lock on a far-off location, not really conscious of that which is within her gaze at all.

There is regret, there. Regret, and longing, and a thousand other little things that have him humming beneath his breath.

"Are you alright, Jaune?"

He startles somewhat, looking up at Ren, who is standing above him with a curious expression on his face, already having dressed himself. His hair is beginning to grow quite long, falling well past his shoulders, and beginning to hover in front of his eyes in some places.

"I'm fine. Just…"

"Missing Cinder?"

"That obvious?"

"Mm." Ren hums, smiling somewhat. "You and her have not been apart in quite some time. Since back at Beacon, and it's been months since then."

"I guess I just feel like… shouldn't I be able to handle my soulmate being gone for a few hours?"

"I myself have rarely, if ever, been separated from Nora." Ren speaks, gazing back at his soulmate, who is fighting valiantly to cling to her tent, trying to prevent Raven from pulling up the spikes and putting it away. "If I were to be pulled away from her… I am not sure how I would cope. She is, in some ways, my other half, despite how ridiculous a phrase that is."

Jaune pauses a moment. "You find the phrase weird or something?"

"It's simply…" Ren stops to think. "There can be no relationship between two people who are only halves of a whole. Such a relationship would only ever result in chaos; dependencies that both rely on far too much. One eventually subsumes the other. A true relationship cannot come of halves. It is only when two whole people come together, each independent and capable of being apart, that a true, real relationship can be formed."

"Huh." Jaune mutters. "That's… pretty deep."

Ren breathes out a laugh. "I've been told I think too hard about such things."

"Eh, maybe a little," Jaune comments, earning a roll of Ren's eyes. "But I don't think that's really a bad thing, either. And besides, with how wild Nora can be, sometimes she needs someone around who can think deeply."

Ren's lips curl upwards further. "I think Nora would likely agree with you. She has told me before that between the two of us, I do roughly ninety percent of the thinking."

"I think I would agree with her, truth be told."

They share a laugh at that, before they finally get roped into helping Raven break down Nora and Ren's tent – which Nora has to be pulled away from, yelling out for her baby (the sweet embrace of her warm, inviting sleeping bag) all the while. Somewhere along the way Blake comes in as well, and she and Raven finish setting the tent away, packing it away in a large bag that Raven sends into a portal, apparently back to her tribe.

"I'll have them give it back to you this evening," Raven tells Nora as she cries out for her tent. "Not like you want to be carrying it around all that time, do you?"

"Tentie! Nooooo!"

Raven just watches as Nora collapses to her knees, sobbing into her hands.

"…You are all beyond my comprehension." She mutters with her eyes closed. "I'm telling you; you'll be glad I got you out of bed when I did in an hour or two." Raven speaks, shaking her head as Ren pats Nora on the back in a consolatory way. "It's cold now, but the moment light hits the dunes, this place will quickly become a veritable anvil for the sun. You'd likely suffer from heatstroke if you were curled in a burly blanket at the time."

Nora grumbles about that, much as Jaune himself had done when Raven had awoken him, but can't seem to find much fault with her words.

Of course, despite being the least experienced in all of this, Pyrrha has had no problems whatsoever with camping out in the middle of the desert.

Hell, her hair is still somehow perfectly maintained.

Jaune squints, wondering what dark Fae magics she's had to employ to accomplish such a feat.

Eventually, they do manage to get moving. They step out onto the dunes of Vacuo and begin their trek towards higher ground. They settle on a dune that's likely fifteen or twenty meters off the ground, using it to get a good view of their surroundings.

Jaune finds himself unsurprised to see… sand. Really, just a whoooole lot of sand.

And then, for some reason, everyone turns to him.


Jaune waits a moment, wondering if Raven is going to expound on that particular line of questioning.

She doesn't.

"Well, what?"

"Anything from your little magical ping system?" Raven asks him, and Jaune remembers that that had been their plan.

"Oh." He looks out amongst the dunes, already starting to feel the touch of the morning sun warming the back of his neck. "…Uh… no."

Raven lets out a hoarse sigh as she rubs her hands up and down her face, rather clearly… displeased with Jaune's comment.

"Can't say I expected anything else." She shakes her head. "Right, you lot, wait here. I'm going to go and scout the area."

"Uhm… shouldn't we come with you?"

"Unless you can fly, no, you shouldn't."

"What do you–"

And then Raven Branwen transformed into a… well, a raven Branwen.

It's a rather hard thing to take in. None of their group seems particularly sure what to make of it.

"That…" Blake murmurs below her breath. "Magic?"

Jaune reaches out towards Raven's bird form, and feels a small pulling sensation in his gut.

Ambient magic curls around her.

Of course, it would have made more sense for such to be a semblance, since that gives off the same thing, but given he knows Raven's semblance…

"Yeah." He answers. "It's magic alright."

The raven squawks petulantly, pecking at Jaune's fingers until he steps back.


Then, it flaps its wings, and soars into the air, flying high into the sky.

They watch it go with some fascination. Jaune has to wonder what it's like; being able to take to the sky like that, being able to fly high above the earth and look down upon it. He wonders if her perspective becomes different in such a form, if she sees them all a different way, with a different mindset.

He also wonders if she suddenly finds herself rather interested in hunting for mice and other prey animals, but decides that asking that will likely have her clawing out his eyes, and so he decides to keep that particular question to himself.

It takes roughly fifteen minutes for the raven to return, and when she does, she lands beside them, before morphing back into the Raven they all know and mostly tolerate.

"Right. So, rather unsurprisingly, we're surrounded by an awful lot of sand."

That makes a good deal of sense.

"We've got two potential things to check out. To the east is a collection of stones that looks vaguely manmade. Whether or not they're actually related to our quarry or not, however, remains to be seen. To the west is a cave carved into the canyon. Could be a natural phenomenon, could be something manmade."

"Which do you think we should check out."

"Caves would last a while, but they're also not the favored haunts of King's of old." Raven says with a shrug. "I'd say the stones are out best bet."

"Alright then." Jaune nods. "That's what we'll do."

Raven had, apparently, been underselling just how much walking they'd have to do to reach their destination. It feels like two hours have passed before they see the hints of stone peeking out of the ground, and by the time they do, Jaune's just about ready to collapse.

The heat is getting to him already, and they've barely been in it that long.

"What time is it?"

Raven checks her scroll. "Seven-o-three."

"What!?" Jaune screeches out in response. "That's not– we've been walking forever!"

"We were barely walking twenty-five minutes." Raven squints at him. "Don't go falling apart on me so early. I'm not here to babysit you all."

Jaune lets out a horrid groan, but does his best to get his act together. Apparently, they'd not been walking for two hours at all.

Which is news to him.

Still, they begin investigating the sight.

It doesn't take them long to come to two conclusions.

The first of which is that the stones are most definitely manmade in origin. The edges are straight and carved at ninety-degree angles. There are cracks and wear that show the age of the pieces, but they've all held up considerably well, all things considered.

The other thing they learn is that this sight has no significance whatsoever.

"It's a tomb. And not a particularly grand one." Blake of all people says. "I read about these. They're made for workers. Small stone structures with the deceased placed inside. I'm sure we could dig for a while and find the person who was in here, but there wouldn't be a point. No King, or the lover of a king, would be buried in such a place."

"Could this structure mean we're near Uruk-El, at least?"

"It could, but it could also mean nothing." Blake shakes her head. "From what I know, these structures were built long after Uruk-El's fall, based on the time period you gave me, Jaune. These were built by civilizations some three or so thousand years ago. It's possible this particular tomb is older, but at the same time, it's just as likely it's a dead end."

Jaune lets out a breath of frustration, but nods his head regardless.

"Nothing here, then?"

"I'd wager that there isn't, no."

"Do we hit the cave to the west, then?" Jaune asks, turning to Raven.

"It's worth a shot." Raven shrugs her shoulders. "We're going to have to backtrack quite a bit, but we won't have to worry about getting lost at least. It's that canyon over there."

She points off behind Jaune, and he turns to see exactly what Raven is describing. This particular canyon is quite tall, being able to be seen even past some of the taller dunes in its way. It's an odd color, almost red, despite an overall brownish hue.

So, they make their way towards it. This time, Jaune's fairly certain it actually does take them at least an hour and a half to reach the wall of the canyon. By the time they make it there, Jaune is sweating up a storm, constantly wiping it away from his forehead, and trying to ignore how sticky and gross he feels in general.

At the very least he's not the only one. Every single member of their group, even the ever-stoic Raven, is clearly feeling the sun's light.

"Well, at this point searching this cave serves both to try and find a clue as to the God of Light's magic, and getting us out of the heat."

"At this point, I think I wouldn't much complain if it was just the latter." Jaune finds himself saying as he shakes his head from side to side, trying to get some of the sweat out of his hair.

When they do finally make it in, they're initially unconcerned as to what it is they've found. Getting out of the heat and cooling down is the top priority. Luckily, the cave is, somehow, nearly twenty degrees colder than the outside air. Jaune is pretty sure there's probably some deeply scientific answer for that, but he doesn't really have it in himself to care at that moment.

He shucks off some of his clothing, trying not to think about the fact that he's likely making Cinder feel hot and sweaty and gross, with quite literally no outlet for said feeling, and how that's a fate he'd never wish on anyone.

Ren and Nora are both doing the same, and though he's seen Nora's breasts before – rooming with someone for eight months sort of guarantees that someone will catch someone else naked on accident at some point – he gets a rather unwanted view of then then and there as Nora pulls her bra away from her chest, and fans herself beneath it.

"It's… soooo hot!" Nora complains, somehow missing the way that he, Ren, Blake, and even Raven are totally staring at her. "Why is it so hot!?"

Pyrrha clears her throat, and snaps the four of them out of their breast-induced stupor.

"If we could perhaps get back to the mission at hand, everyone?" She cocks an eyebrow, seemingly directed at all of them. "And Ms. Raven… perhaps hide your interest a tad better? You're supposed to be the adult here."

Raven tilts her head. "What, she's nineteen, isn't she?"

Jaune just groans. "Well, good to know you have some standards."

Ren glares Raven's way for quite a while as they move further into the cave, and come across…

Jaune shivers.

"That… is a very narrow passage." Nora points out the obvious, staring at the crack in the rock that can't be any wider than half a meter.

It is a tunnel – if such can even be called that – that goes into the rock as deep as Jaune can possibly see. He steps up to it with a bit of claustrophobia playing about his body and holds up his scroll light towards the gap.

Nothing. Blackness as far as the light can see.

Jaune swallows on nothing, his mouth impossibly dry.

"…Tell me we're not going in there?"

"Oh, get over yourself," Raven rolls her eyes.

"Hey, I don't want to hear anything from the cradle robber over there!"

"She's nineteen!"

"And you're what, forty, at least!?"

Raven goes silent a moment.

"…Alright, admittedly, now that I think about it, it is a tad bit weird–"

And then, entirely out of nowhere, Jaune feels his head pulse.

It is an intense feeling; like his entire head has been split down the middle. It's calling to him, although what it is isn't exactly obvious. It's just… there's something beyond this chamber, something wherever the gap in the wall leads that's calling out to Jaune.

And yet… he can say with fair certainty that he's never wanted to follow a lead less.

Even so…

"Jaune?" Pyrrha seems to have noticed his condition. "Did you feel something."

"Yeah, I did," Jaune sighs. "As much as I'd like to pretend I didn't, I very much did."

He points towards the crack in the cavern wall, and hears Blake let out a skittish breath, same as him.

"Whatever it is, it's through there."

Raven grunts. "Ugh. Can't say I had shimmying my way through a tiny ass gap on my itinerary when I woke up this morning. What exactly is that feeling, kid? Can you identify anything about it?"

"Not really." Jaune admits, feeling a tad awkward to admit it. "Nothing more than 'something's there'."

"Not particularly helpful, then."

"No. Admittedly, not."

"Well… do we go for it, then?" Nora asks, taking her grenade launcher from off of her back and handing it to Raven. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but send that back to your camp. I won't be able to fit in there if I have it on me."

"Alright." Raven shrugs, seemingly having little issue with Nora ostensibly ordering her to do such.

"Oh, and make sure your little troupe knows that if they touch Magnhild wrong, I will end them!"

Raven just snorts. "Alright."

They make preparations to fit through the hole, and Jaune does his best to psych himself up for this.

It won't be that big of a deal, he lies to himself. It'll be quick and easy, and it'll be over before you know it, he lies to himself. Think of how impressed Cinder will be with you later when you tell her about this, he lies to himself.

Think about how Cinder will hug you later when you tell her that even though you were scared, you still went in anyways.

…Alright, that one actually might be kind of true.

So, he has that to look forward to at least.

Jaune decides that, given he's so terribly nervous, he'll be the one to go first.

He moves up towards the crack, places his hand inside of it…

And nearly pisses himself as a spider crawls down his arm and back onto the wall.

He narrowly avoids pissing himself, but the noise he lets out of his mouth likely isn't much less embarrassing.

"Are you alright, Jaune?" Pyrrha asks him, clearly worried.

"Fine, fine." He lies through his teeth. "Totally good."

He surrounds his body with every ounce of aura that he has and forces himself into the crack. He's never really had that bad of claustrophobia, and that's probably pretty clear by the fact that he can force himself to do this regardless of its presence. But even still, he'd also never once wanted to find himself in a situation like this one.

Here he is regardless, however.

So, he closes his eyes, and works by feel. It feels like a century before he's managed to fit himself entirely into the crack, and a millennia before he begins to see the barest hint of light on the other side.

Which is odd, because… they're deep within a cave. There's not supposed to be any light.

And yet, as Jaune finally forces himself out of the other side of the gap some few minutes later, it is to find that he is in a rather well-lit chamber. One that is massive, almost as large as the ground of Beacon Academy had been.

Off in the distance, he can see water flowing and falling along stalagmites and stalactites. He can see what seems to be some sort of underground river flowing near the bottom, leading out to gods know where.

And he sees, most of all, the massive structure hanging in the distance, obviously of human design.

"Uh, guys…?" Jaune calls back to the group.

"I think I may have found something!"

He's expecting to be alone for the next ten or so minutes as the others all filter through. He's rather pointedly not expecting one of Raven's portals to form just beside him, and for everyone who'd been accompanying him to filter into the antechamber like it's nothing.

"Wha– What!?" He complains rather loudly. "You could've done that the whole time!?"

"Of course not," Raven sneers. "I had to send you ahead first before I could."

"That–" He sighs, remembering the limitations of Raven's semblance. "Okay, fine. Sure. …Hey, wait a second, can't you only make a portal to someone you actually lik–"

"Woah!" Nora suddenly yells out, slotting Magnhild – which she must've immediately taken back the moment she'd realized she hadn't had to slip through the same crack Jaune had – back onto her back as she takes in the sights surrounding them. "Heh. Echo!"

Her voice does what Nora seems to want it to, which is for it to repeatedly say the word 'Echo' over and over again for the next few seconds. Jaune finds himself distracted from what he'd been considering as he suddenly spots a glint of color on a wall nearby. He stands up, and walks towards it, mindful of the way that the rest of the group follows behind.

"What is it, Jaune?" Pyrrha asks him.

"I just… see something."

Finally, their group stops before it. Now that Jaune's so close to it, he can identify that the image before him is some kind of mural, likely painted thousands and thousands of years ago. The colors have almost entirely faded away, and only flakes of each remain in some of the places. Even so, the carvings have stayed, and so Jaune is able to make out what it is the artist had created what must've been ten millennia ago.

And his heart skips a beat, because…

"What are the odds…?" Jaune finds himself muttering. "That among the entire desert, and after twenty-thousand years, we stumbled upon this just like that?"

"Somehow…" Raven speaks, her voice like chipped ice, as she steps before him, and gazes upon the remnants of the mural before them.

"I have a feeling luck had very little to do with this."

The mural shows a figure kneeling on an alter before a massive dragon…

One with gleaming, silver eyes.

End Chapter 42

Not much to say.

Well, actually, I guess I could say that I've decided on what story will be replacing Paved with Bad Intentions when that ends in two weeks. It will be a Pokemon story that I've been wanting to write for years and years now, starring Bianca from Gen 5. I've got pretty much the entire thing outlined already, so hopefully you all enjoy that as well!

See you next week!