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Snow in Tantalus

Chapter Text

It’s a long road to Haven, especially if you’re on foot.
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Ruby and her new team, the remnants of JNPR, walked through the forest, along a beaten path. This was an old trade route in the days of yore, and the land was still stomped flat by the travelers and traders that had come along these ways.

They were fortunate in the regard that there weren’t many Grimm on these roads, but the weather carried a sense of foreboding. Heavy, soft-looking clouds hung in the sky, and the wind carried an unwelcome chill.

“It’s probably going to snow tonight,” Ren mused, “It would be wise for us to get to the next town.”

Nora pulled her jacket a little bit tighter around her and nodded in agreement, Manghild propped against one shoulder. Ruby tried to keep her hood up, but they were walking against the wind, so it was an act of futility. One gust pushed it away from her head, causing her to scowl in frustration. “I agree,” she said, “A hot cup of tea or some soup would do some good.”

Jaune still remained silent, instead focusing on the path that lay ahead. He pulled out the map of the area, nicked from one of the archives and copied as best as he could, and hummed to himself.

“What are you thinking, Jaune?” Ren asked, causing Nora and Ruby to tilt their heads towards him in confusion.

“There’s a town not too far ahead. We can get extra supplies and stay the night if the weather goes bad. He looked up to the sky and wrinkled his nose in mild frustration, “If my guess is right, we’ll be staying the night.”

Ruby looked ahead and frowned slightly. He’d grown up. Just not in the way she hoped he would. He was still an excellent leader, but he was a broken bird. He was not only a commander, but someone that lost a friend, a loved one, while under his command.

Ruby was glad that if it was her or Jaune that saw Pyrrha’s final moment, it was her. She wouldn’t want Jaune to be burdened with the sight of Pyrrha kneeling before Cinder, an arrow sticking out of her breast as she crumbled away into ash.

Nobody should have had to see that.

It never should have happened.

Jaune tucked the map back away and walked ahead a little ways. “I’ll scout,” he said, “I’ll be back in a little while.”

With that, he moved off at a slight trot, moving further and further away from his friends.

The second he was out of earshot, Ruby looked over to Ren and Nora. They shared her expression: Worried, saddened. “Do you think he’s going to be okay?” Ruby asked.

“I don’t know,” Ren said, his brow creased in concern. “He’s been like this ever since the attack on Beacon.”

“I miss him,” Nora said quietly. “I mean, he’s here, but he’s not HERE. It’s not the same Jaune as before. I can’t joke around him anymore. He doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t smile.”

“Do you blame him?” Ren’s question cut deep, carved to the heart of the matter. “Aside from Ruby, he was the last one to see her alive. Them and Cinder.”

Ruby remained silent for a moment, listening to see how it would play out. Ren continued, “Did he tell you what she did before she sent him away? He talks about it in his sleep if you listen.”

Nora stared at Ren, horrified, scared of what Ren would say.

“She kissed him and shoved him into a locker, programmed the locker to fly away. Her last act to him was to say that she loved him.” He stared down the path at the quickly-dwindling form of Jaune. “Any man would be shattered over that.”

That rendered everyone silent for a moment. They were still reeling. Pyrrha dead, Ozpin missing, Cinder carrying powers that allowed her to do who knows what.

It was almost too much to handle.

Scratch that. It was too much to handle. It resulted in a diminished personality from each of them. Everyone was more subdued than usual. That meant something special in Ren’s case. He hardly talked unless something needed saying in the first place, and now… now he was just a man of even fewer words.

“What do we do about him?” Ruby asked, still concerned.

“I don’t know,” Nora responded as they walked on, remaining silent until their leader and scout returned.

“What’s the word?” Nora asked, trying to appear cheerful.

The cheer didn’t go over well. Jaune just stared at her with a note of cold, and said, “The town is about an hour away, if we’re walking. We should get there before dark. But snow’s started to fall. We should hurry.”

Nora bowed her head and Ren nodded, trying to maintain a sense of professionalism even though he wanted to knock Jaune’s teeth in for hurting Nora. “Lead the way, then.”

“If we double-time,” Jaune said, turning around and starting to jog, “We can make it sooner. I don’t think we want to be caught in the cold.”

Ruby started to follow, thinking to herself that the cold had already come with his presence. He was a good man and a good leader before, but now, he was frozen on the inside.

If an auramancer could see within him, they would know that his aura was cold, black, and stagnant. A dangerous thing indeed. Yet since no auramancers travelled with him, his teammates knew not the extent of his spiritual damage.

Ren and Nora jogged to keep up with the other two, and they reached the town in a bit less than a half an hour. The town in question was carved in a manmade clearing, with a road passing through the center. The houses and buildings were crafted from strong wood, presumably from the section of forest they had cleared out around them, and a tall palisade wall stretched up around the area, as was custom of the towns outside the city-states that ruled Remnant.

As the young huntsmen and huntresses approached the town, a number of men and women above the gate cocked rifles and nocked arrows to bows, ready to fire at a moment’s notice. “Who goes there!” a heavy, booming voice called out.

Jaune held up his hands in surrender and kept moving forward, though he did not run. “Travelers from Vale, making our way to Haven. We would like to take shelter within your walls to buy supplies and avoid the weather.”

One of the rifles lowered, and a grizzled old man with a series of raking scars crossing over his face answered. “You bring trade to our small town?”

“We have coin to spare, yes,” Jaune said. It was true, to an extent. They had enough to last them the journey, provided no unnecessary price hikes.

The old man furrowed his brow, and his scars appeared that much uglier as a result. Four long scratches carved their path across from the course of his face, down and right. One of the scratches had crossed over one of his eyes, presumably rendering it blind. He wore an eyepatch over that eye, and he was missing a chunk of his nose, his lips were split and shoddily patched back together, but the smile that came shortly thereafter was earnest. “Then come on in. Let me show you around. We don’t have much, but what we have, we’d like you to see, ‘specially since there’s heavy snow coming in.”

The gates swung open, and the four entered the town. The old man replaced a small fur cap on his head and gestured for them to follow. “Most of what you need is right on the main street. Most of what’s off is homes, so we’ll get more than a tad suspicious if you stray off the beaten path, understand?”

Various sounds of assent emanated from the group and they kept walking. The old man introduced him as Lucius, and pointed out the stables (not that the group in question would be needing them), the general store, the greengrocer, the butcher, and the inn. As they meandered down the main street, Jaune thought he spotted something out of the corner of his eye.

A flicker of red hair, brilliant red like the brightest flame passed in his periphery as they passed by an alley. His step faltered and he stared down the way, his brow furrowed as he stared down the alley, between two sturdy oaken buildings.

“Something amiss?” Lucius asked, turning back to Jaune. He must have heard the faltering in steps. One trains their senses if they live this far out in the wilderness.

Jaune snapped himself out of his reverie and shook his head. “No. I just thought I saw something.”

“You’re huntsmen and huntresses, hm?” Lucius asked, shifting his gaze forward.

“In training,” Ren said in confirmation.

“But we’re the best of the best,” Nora continued, flexing to show off her muscles.

“Well you have nothing to fear here. We have a few folk that are better than most huntsmen. Every member of Tantalus Village is a trained warrior. Kind of have to be, out here.”

Lucius paused, a single finger extending over to a broad, two-story building. “That’s the inn. It’s where most of us retire for the evening. Gronacer handles things relatively well. Any questions?”

The group shook their head and Lucius looked skyward, thinking for a moment. “Eh. If the sun’s position is any indication, then I’m almost done with my shift. Come on. Let’s see if you scrubs can hold your beer.”

“Beer?” Ruby muttered, a little concerned. “I don’t think we should.”

Ren spoke as the voice of a lack of reason for a change. “When in Vacuo, do as the Faunus do, Ruby. It would be out of place for us to not drink with them.”

Nora concurred in a quiet cheer, excited that they were finally going to cut loose for a change. Jaune remained silent and was the first one to follow after Lucius. The rest of the group followed in a sense of somber silence, his mood affecting them all.

Julius pulled open the doors to the inn, a sign just outside reading “The Towering Goliath”, and stepped in. “We got a couple weary travelers here, Gronacer. Five pints of your best, on me. They’ve got their own the rest of the night,” he said with a laugh. Despite his scary appearance, he was rather genial and jovial with regards to the burly, stout ram Faunus behind the bar. As Julius spoke, the bartender poured out bordering on black beer into five tankards before he set them on the counter rather deftly, casting them down the bar to coast to just in front of five stools.

As appropriate, the group sat at their stools, with Julius sitting on the far left, swapping stories with Nora. Ren, Ruby, and Jaune sat in succession, from left to right if you walked into the inn. Jaune politely informed Gronacer that they would need rooms for the night, to which the Faunus was happy to oblige. Gronacer gave the young folk a pair of rooms, each with two beds. Ren and Nora agreed to take one room while Ruby and Jaune shared the other. It was fitting. This way, they could have the most empathetic looking over the one that needed the most help.

Jaune drained his first drink in no time at all and set his scroll on the counter, sliding it across to Gronacer and telling him to keep the tab open.

This worried Ruby. She sipped at her pint of the bitter black ale. It was tasty, but she never really liked beer or any alcohol for that matter. Jaune drained a second mug and gestured for Gronacer to keep them coming. The bartender was happy to oblige, though Ruby felt like she should have said something.

“Jaune, are you okay?” she asked cautiously as Jaune started dipping into his third pint in ten minutes.

“Fine. Just fine, Ruby. There’s absolutely no reason to worry about me.”

So there was reason to worry.

“Jaune, I know you’re still hurting, but this is hardly the way to get over it. What would-” Jaune cut her off with a raised hand. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a form moving fluidly to the back kitchens, capped with a massive mane of scarlet hair pulled back into a ponytail, spinning to dodge another one of the people in the pub. In that moment, Jaune had locked eyes with her, his own sapphires catching contact with a pair of emeralds and a set of unmistakable features.

“Jaune!” Ruby chided, her brow starting to furrow in worry.

“No… I think…” He said with a sigh, wondering if he should continue.

“You think what? That you’re being a little bit dangerous with all of this?” Ruby said, an accusatory note in her voice.

“I think I just saw Pyrrha.”

Chapter Text

“You saw what?” Ruby asked, her voice hitching up slightly even though she tried to keep her voice down. She leaned in close to Jaune as Gronacer moved down the line to talk to Lucius, Nora, and Ren. They were safe for a moment.

“Pyrrha,” Jaune replied simply and quietly, staring out at the door that led to the kitchens. He pushed the tankard away from him, his hands folded as he watched the one door.

“Ruby, she’ll be coming back out again soon. Watch the other door. I don’t want to miss her because I want to be sure.”

“Jaune, you’re sounding really crazy right now.”

“I know what I saw, Ruby!” he hissed at her, turning back to her and locking eyes. There was a flame of fury, of borderline insanity that churned behind those sapphire stones that he called irises. Ruby knew he was serious. She turned and watched the other door.

Sure enough, moments later, a tall, lithe form moved out of the opposite door with a platter of food, dancing effortlessly around the other people that stood in Gronacer’s inn. There was an almost combat-oriented element to the way she moved, to how she ducked and dove between people, flowing like water around submerged stones.

Ruby thought Jaune was right, and in that moment, she moved her hand back to tap him on the arm. But it only lasted for a moment.

She watched Pyrrha die.

She watched the arrow pierce her heart and turn her to ash.

She remembered the feeling of fury and despair that surged up inside her to overwhelm all else.

Ruby did not remember much about that night, those moments in particular, but she remembered that.

The second she got Jaune’s attention, she regretted her decision.

Jaune turned around and stared at the barmaid, deftly placing plates of food in front of the various people that sat in the pub part of the inn, and his eyes widened.

“It’s her, Ruby.”

“Jaune…” she started to caution, though she kept her tongue civil. There was no way. No way in heaven, hell, or on earth.

“I know it’s her. It’s how she moves, Ruby. That three-step motion. In, out, in. She would use that to get inside my defenses all the time. I never saw anyone else do that. It’s her.”

“Jaune, it can’t-”

“It IS, Ruby!” Jaune said, slamming his hand on the bar, prompting the attention of their other companions, as well as Lucius and Gronacer.

“Somethin’ wrong here,” Gronacer said, moving down the bar to stare at Jaune.

“No… it’s just… I…” he let out a long sigh and turned to face the bartender fully. “Sorry. I was just talking strategy with my partner. Out of curiosity, that barmaid with the red hair. How long has she been working here?”

Gronacer saw right through Jaune’s ruse, yet humored him in this one moment. “She’s been here… say, about a month or so. Came from the West. Don’t know why I’m tellin’ you this, but she’s been as good as gold and better. She a fugitive at all?” Gronacer said this last statement with a subtle quietness in his voice, as if she would hear.

Jaune shook his head and held up a hand, “No, nothing of the sort. It’s more a matter of she looks like a missing person and her family would like to hear from her.” Partially true, but Ruby felt a knot in her stomach about the whole notion. Jaune turned from apathetic to obsessive in a moment, and it was honestly a bit scary to her.

“Missing person? Oh, goodness,” Gronacer said, stroking a goatish beard. “She came here a bit lost and confused, but she’s a good girl, sir. I haven’t had help half as skilled as her in a decade.”

Jaune nodded slowly, “Thanks. I was just curious, is all. If we need to, we’ll talk to her on our own time. I’d hate to interrupt her while she’s working.”

Gronacer refilled Jaune’s tankard, keeping an eye on him. He’d tipped off the bartender, though the Faunus harbored no ill will towards him in any way. It was more a sense of caution for the people he knew rather than the people he didn’t.

Jaune took a sip of the beer once again, cautious about how he would approach the situation. It was Pyrrha. He knew.

Eventually, food came out for the group sitting at the counter, plates of meat and veggies settling down in front of them from the kitchen, carried by the hands of the beautiful barmaid that had caught Jaune’s attention. When the plate settled down in front of Jaune, he stared up at her across the bar and asked, “Pyrrha?”

The barmaid stared at Jaune and tilted her head in confusion. “Excuse me, sir?”

“Pyrrha, is that you?”

The barmaid frowned slightly and shook her head, “No, sir. I’m afraid you have me mistaken for someone else. My name is Petra.”

Given that kind of response, most people would have let it go. Jaune was not most people. He reached into his pocket and fished out his scroll, pulling it out and showing Petra the lock screen. It was a picture of the two of them dancing at the ball. Jaune had to give his scroll to Ren because he didn’t have a purse and his dress didn’t have pockets. Nora took the picture in question when she snatched the scroll away from Ren in a moment of light fingers.

Jaune and Pyrrha had their hands locked, bending towards the photographer, laughter on their faces as they both looked up at the exact right time. The picture not only necessitated the use of a lock screen in the first place (as to prevent more shenanigans on Nora’s part), but also to serve as the lock screen’s inaugural photo.

Petra stared at the screen for a moment, her brow furrowed in frustration and confusion. “Why are you wearing a dress?” she asked.

“That’s not…” Jaune took a breath and hung his head before he brought his gaze back up to her, “Don’t look at me. You’re in the picture too. That is you, Pyrrha!” He pointed right at the picture on the scroll, prompting another look from Petra.

“My name’s not…” she trailed off as she stared, her eyes widening in fear. Her mouth hung open and she took a step back. “Sir, I don’t know how you got a picture of me, but I don’t remember you. I don’t know who you are.”

Jaune felt his heart sink, but the despair was quickly overcome by a sense of determination. “I’m your partner, Pyrrha!”

“Stop calling me that!”

“But it’s your name!”

“No it’s not!” she shouted, slamming her fists on the bar, causing not only Jaune, but the rest of the group to jump back. Gronacer moved up behind Petra, his arms folded as he stared at Jaune with a gaze that said “if you keep this up, we’re going to have trouble.”

Behind Jaune, Lucius had moved to loom, ready to cast him out into the cold if he kept on disturbing the barmaid. Jaune readied for another statement, but Ruby’s hand resting on his arm made him suddenly aware of his surroundings.

“I’m… sorry,” he said, now realizing that he was in deep. “I don’t know what came over me.”

Gronacer rested a hand on Petra’s shoulder and said, “Go get yourself something to eat, Petra. I can handle the rest of the work here.” Petra nodded, still a little bit scared by the prospect of someone thinking that she was someone that she was not, and left, heading back to the kitchen, presumably to enjoy her meal. Lucius returned to his seat, though he kept a sideways glance on Jaune, hoping that the young man wouldn’t cause any more trouble.

The bartender leaned over to Ruby and said, “I hope your friend won’t pester my staff like that again, otherwise you’ll have long overstayed your welcome.”

“I can promise that it won’t,” Ruby said, offering Gronacer a smile as best as she could, though she stared at Jaune with a sense of worry. He had started to dig in to his meal, filling his mouth with food instead of his foot.

Once Gronacer moved away to serve some of the other patrons, Ruby leaned in and hissed in Jaune’s ear, “What where you thinking?!”

Jaune paused, chewed, and swallowed, exhaling before he responded, “It’s her, Ruby. I know it is.”

“You thought you knew the answers to Doctor Oobleck’s history exam, too, but that doesn’t change the fact that you were wrong on some things!”

“What’s that supposed to mean,” he said sharply, turning to stare at her. Behind Ruby, Ren and Nora were keeping Lucius occupied, swapping stories in order to keep his attention away from Jaune. Lucius saw through the distraction, but figured that he’d humor the pintsized powerhouse right in front of him, and diverted his attention away from Jaune and Ruby and back to the excited face of Nora.

“It means that you think you know what you’re talking about,” Ruby continued, “But you’re dead wrong, Jaune. It’s not Pyrrha. She may look and sound and move like Pyrrha, but it’s not her. She’s her own person.”

Jaune felt his stomach sink a little bit, and he stared right back at his food, continuing to eat in hopes that the boar meat, mushrooms, and potatoes would bury his thoughts and his emotions. He hoped wrong.

“I know you’re hurting, Jaune,” Ruby said, sympathetic to him as she laid her hand on his back. “We all are. But Pyrrha is gone, and no amount of wishful thinking is going to change that.”

“You don’t know what I know about Pyrrha,” Jaune said, “You don’t know all the little things that made her so special.”

“And you know what I saw, Jaune,” Ruby said, slightly heartbroken. “Just please. Let it go.”

Jaune nodded, resigned to her statements, and continued to eat. He knew something was there, something that he couldn’t shake. He finished up, paid Gronacer for his meal and his room, then went upstairs to retire.

Sleep didn’t come easily to Jaune. But it came, and he considered that a small mercy.

Chapter Text

Tantalus Village awoke to a cold blanket of snow, almost a foot thick, covering it. Jaune was one of the first to rise, aside from maybe the previous shift of guards. He went out to the porch of the inn, staring out at the snowfall, a few stray flakes still drifting down to coat the land a little further. When he exhaled, a small puff of cloud escaped his lips, dispersing into that grey light that comes before the sunrise.

He dreamt of Pyrrha last night.

Hell, he dreamt of Pyrrha every night.

If he had a head-shrinker look into his mind, they would have called what he had “Night Terrors”. Intense nightmares that he can’t quite shake even when he arises from his rest. It’s all he can do to not wake up screaming in the middle of the night. He’d done that the first few days of their journey, and he was even able to rouse Nora from her rest.

It was an exercise of extreme will to keep his mouth shut and keep his body locked in place, to not fall screaming out of bed and wake up half the inn.

The dream was always the same: The two of them standing outside Beacon, the kiss, and the shove. Except instead of shoving him into the weapons locker, she shoves him off a ledge, tumbling into the abyss as she crumbles away into ash above him. He hits the water, flails as he tries to stay afloat, but finds himself sinking no matter how hard he tries. Then the Grimm come.

The eels, slithering and squirming in the water around him, latch on to his arms, his legs, his back and chest, and keep hauling him deeper and deeper. There are so many that he can’t even move anymore, yet while the water feels so oily and slick to the touch, he can see through it as if it was glass. Bit by bit, Pyrrha crumbles away into dust, and he can’t do anything to help.

“I’m guessing you couldn’t sleep?” a voice said behind him, snapping him out of his reverie briefly.

Jaune turned around to see Petra in a wool shift, slippers, and a thick robe tied around her waist. He bit his lip, still remembering how badly he embarrassed himself the previous night. “Yeah.”

Petra moved up the porch to stare at the falling snow with Jaune for a moment. “I don’t sleep well either.”

“Bad dreams?” Jaune asked, trying to stay polite.

“Yeah,” Petra said quietly, looking down at her feet, then back at Jaune. “You?”

“Yeah,” he said in return.

“Dreaming about her?”

“How did you know?” He asked, a little confused and intrigued.

“Lucky guess,” Petra said, and her chuckle sounded so much like Pyrrha’s that it twisted the knife between his ribs a little more. “Call it a woman’s intuition.”

“It’s really hard for me to think that you’re not her,” he said despondently. After a moment of silence, he turned to Petra and said, “Listen, I’m really sorry about last night.”

Petra held up a hand and shook her head. “I don’t care… well, I do. Do you have any idea how terrifying it is for someone to scream in your face that you’re someone that you’re not? Did you think about anyone but yourself in that moment?”

Jaune felt his shoulders hunch a little bit, now even more ashamed of his actions. “No. I guess I didn’t.”

“Just keep that in mind the next time you have another case of mistaken identity on your hands,” she said, though there was a note of humor in her voice. “I can’t really blame you, though.”

“You can’t?”

“Yeah. If I ran into someone that looked just like my brother, I’d probably react the exact same way.”

“You lost your brother?” Jaune asked, saddened by the notion.

“And my mother, and my father. They all… died… when the White Fang started letting Grimm loose in Vale.”

Jaune’s heart sank like a stone. He wanted to reach out and comfort her, to offer his shoulder to cry on, but he feared she did not want any form of contact from him, and her head, strangely, was held high, staring up into the sky at the snowflakes that still fell.

“I’m sorry,” he said, looking up at the sky with her. The sun had started to rise off in the east, but the sky still showed as grey from the cloud cover. Petra shook her head and let out a shuddering breath, showing that she was still holding something in. Maybe she wasn’t the kind to cry in front of strangers.

“It’s not your fault, is it? Did you ask the White Fang to dump Grimm into the city? Did you ask them to release that dragon? No? I thought not.”

Jaune let out a sigh and started to head back in. “I think I should still help out around here. What time does Gronacer wake up? Maybe there’s some wood I could chop or something. That’s a normal chore, isn’t it?”

Petra let out a little snicker and said, “Yeah, that’s something that we do. Don’t know how much good you’re going to do splitting frozen logs, though. They still need to dry out otherwise they won’t burn. They’ll just smoke.”

Jaune gave her a small smile and said, “Yeah, I just feel the need to do something, is all. I don’t like feeling useless.”

He left the statement at that and went back inside to find Gronacer starting the various fires in the kitchen and in the common room. “Mornin’,” the inkeep said, turning back to Jaune once a merry blaze started in the common room’s fireplace. He tossed a couple more quartered logs onto the flame, the fire licking at them and slowly turning them to embers. “You’re up mighty early.”

“I am,” Jaune confirmed, hoping that Gronacer wouldn’t press as to why. “Is there anything that you need done? I hate being a load on people.”

Gronacer stared at Jaune for a moment and let out a barking laugh for a moment before he rubbed his forehead and let out a long sigh. “You’re somethin’ else, you know that? A huntsman that worries about being a load and spends his spare time terrorizing young women.” Jaune took insult at the second part of the statement, but restrained his words lest he anger the inkeep any further.

“Tell you what, son,” Gronacer said, “There’s a lot of logs that need splitting in the back. They’re frozen, damp, and probably won’t be any good for firewood today. But if you feel that you need to do something, I’ll get the woodaxe.”

Gronacer went and got the tool in question, a long haft of heavy maple with a solid steel head. It was simple, easy, not unlike his sword. Though the intent of each item was made abundantly clear from appearance, they were similar in that one respect. Simple. Efficient. No bells or whistles, just the bare bones of what needed to be done.

Jaune pulled a jacket tight about him and walked out back, taking the snow shovel just out the back door and began shoveling his way out to a raised lump of snow that he assumed was the chopping block. A larger pile of snow that stood almost as tall as Jaune did and twice as wide at the base, probably the pile of unsplit logs that Gronacer had spoken of.

The shovel ducked and lifted, heaving mounds of snow aside to form a larger pile, composed of the fresh powder that had only previously covered the chopping block (the stump of what was once a great oak tree), and about three feet around it. Using the blade of the snow shovel, he scraped the rest of the ice away from the top of the chopping block, and went to retrieve the logs.

The logs were cut perfectly, about eighteen inches long each, and ranging between three to six inches in diameter. He would have to split some of the logs twice. He didn’t care. He drove the axe blade into the chopping block, then took an armful of logs, dumping them alongside the block before he got the axe and began placing the logs on the block.

He fell into a rhythm almost naturally, leaning back, his arms raising the axe back and swinging it forward, splitting it with a single “thwack” as the single-bladed head split the log right down the middle. A flick of the wrist in either direction sent the split pieces scattering to the ground. He grabbed another log and repeated the process, splitting the larger logs twice just so the majority of the pieces were about the same size. The grey clouds overhead had turned bright with the sunlight behind them, and Jaune had lost track of time.

“Jaune?” said a voice behind him, interrupting his rhythm just as he put another log on the block. He turned around to see Ruby standing there in her long cape, the hood pulled up as she stared at him. “How long have you been out here?”

Jaune looked up into the sky, then at the massive piles of wood on either side of the chopping block. He had taken a moment every now and then to rearrange the stacks into something that could be a little more manageable and possibly easily carried when it came time to haul the wood to a place where it could dry out and defrost. “A while,” he answered simply, bringing the axe down to split another log, flicking the parts aside and grabbing another log to split. The “to split” pile was starting to run out, and since people started coming out to speak to him in tones of worry, he deemed it a wise decision to not continue.

“I asked Gronacer where you were, and he said that you came out here before dawn. I’m worried about you, Jaune,” she said, just as he brought the axe down to split another log.

“I’m worried about me, too,” he said quietly, just loud enough for her to hear.

“You wake up in the middle of the night,” she said, starting to list off all the things she had seen that were off with him. “You sometimes scream her name, you’ve been distant, scary. We’re all worried. You’re even bringing Nora down.”

That made Jaune pause again, the axe lowering slowly until the head rested on the ground. “You’re not lying, are you?”

“Does this seem like the kind of thing that I would lie about?”

Jaune let out a long breath, his sigh misting into a thin cloud, and drove the head of the axe into the chopping block. He started to pile the freshly split logs into his arms, speaking as he did. “I miss her, Ruby. I miss her more than you could possibly understand.

“I’m still trying to deal with the fact that she’s gone, and seeing her face on another person just… destroys me. I want to talk to Petra more and have Pyrrha respond, but she’s not Pyrrha. She’s her own person, and I’m an idiot for having ever thought otherwise. I loved her… still love her. And I’m only realizing that just now, after she’s gone.” He let out another long, shuddering sigh and straightened up, his arms full of logs, only to feel pressure against his back and around his waist.

Ruby buried her face between his shoulder blades, hugging him even tighter and mumbling against his back. “You don’t have to do this alone, Jaune. We miss you.”

Jaune felt tears welling up in his eyes for a moment, the cold making the sensation a little bit painful. “Jeez, Ruby. You wait until my arms are full before you get all touchy-feely on me.”

Ruby let out a snorting laugh and there was a sense of bubbling sound to it. She muttered something like “Jerk,” and Jaune dropped all of the logs in his arms and turned around in Ruby’s embrace as they clattered onto the ground, hugging her in return.

They held each other for a moment, Ruby’s head pressing into Jaune’s shoulder, trying to stifle a sense of sniffling. Jaune pulled away and looked into Ruby’s silver eyes. She had been crying. Just a little bit, quietly, but there were those streaks running down her face, and she smiled at him for a moment. Jaune’s hand reached up and wiped away the still-wet tears from her face. “Oh, look at you,” he chided playfully, as if he was talking to one of his younger sisters, “You’re a mess.”

“At least I admit it,” Ruby said in return, pulling away and slugging him in the shoulder. “Come on, you’re going to miss breakfast.”

“I have to bring all of these logs in,” Jaune said, gesturing over at the pile he split.

“Fine, then I guess I’ll help,” she said, rolling her eyes and taking a pile of split logs of her own.

In that moment, as Jaune started to collect the logs back into his arms, hauling them back inside. Gronacer directed them to a cellar where the logs could thaw and dry. Ren and Nora saw the two of them working, and volunteered to help. The rest of the logs were carried in one more trip, with Nora easily hefting twice as much as anyone else.

“Well, that should last us for the rest of the winter,” Gronacer said with a laugh, pointing out that Jaune had spent the better part of a couple hours swinging an axe out in the backyard. “You’ve definitely earned your keep, young man. Feel free to go and use the bath upstairs. Petra should still have a bit of hot water left over from her own bath.” As Jaune thanked him and started to walk up the stairs, Gronacer spoke to the other teammates, saying, “Now! If you lot have half of the initiative that your leader does, you’ll be more than happy to earn your share of bath and breakfast as well.”

Nora groaned as she was assigned to shovel snow while Ruby was asked to sweep and keep all of the fires going; Ren was tasked with helping in the kitchen. Ruby considered that a small blessing, since Ren was probably the most skilled cook out of the lot of them, and Nora would have eaten all of the breakfast anyway. Within the hour, the early morning shift of the watchmen started to file in, calling for tea, beer, and food from Gronacer. From upstairs, Petra came clambering downstairs to respond to the group of ten or so men and women that wanted food and drink, even as Gronacer shouted out of the kitchen at the people that had already congregated.

Ruby paused in her sweeping and smiled at the barmaid that deftly served a few pints of beer and several cups of hot nettle tea, just as Nora came back inside with the shovel propped against her shoulder.

“Whew!” Nora said, placing the shovel against the wall and letting out a long breath. “You guys got the easy jobs. I just shoveled out like… eighteen snowmen’s worth of snow!”

Ruby stared at Nora in confusion for a moment, both out of befuddlement that she had literally used “snowman” as a unit of measurement, and the fact that it certainly sounded like a lot of snow. “Nora, snowmen aren’t all uniform.”

“Yeah, some are bigger than others,” she conceded. “Mine are like ten feet tall.”

Ruby stared at Nora with her jaw hanging open, not only at how much snow Nora had shoveled, but also at the notion that she built snowmen that were twice as tall as she was.

“What?” Nora said before she went over to the bar and flagged down Petra. “Yoooo! Petra! Can I get a cup of tea, please?”

Ruby sighed and placed the broom against the wall, moving over to sit at the stool next to Nora. Petra soon came over with a cup of tea and placed it in front of Nora, before turning to Ruby. “What can I get you, kiddo?”

“Tea as well, please,” Ruby responded, genially. While the guardsmen bustled and talked and drank, Petra hung over by the two young huntsmen.

“That captain of yours,” she said with a chuckle and a shake of the head. “He’s something else, I’ll tell you.”

Ruby spoke up, “We’re really sorry about last night. He’s been through a lot.”

“I know.”

Nora took a turn to cock her head, “You know?”

“Yeah, he told me this morning when he apologized. He’s a really sweet guy. You’re lucky to have him as your captain.”

Nora and Ruby looked at one another, confused for a second, before turning back to Petra, who let out a loud laugh. “I wasn’t talking about his apology, though. I was talking about what happened just upstairs.”

Ruby’s mouth hung open in slight shock while Nora leaned forward and gestured for Petra to continue, a look of deviant glee on her face. “Come on! What happened?”

“Well, I was just getting out of the bath, and-”

Nora began howling with laughter, pounding her fist on the counter, prompting glares from both Petra and Ruby. The laughter died down after a moment, and she leaned back to wipe a tear from the corner of her eye. “Oh jeez. Jaune, the accidental pervert. That’s just his luck, isn’t it?”

Ruby had to concede that point. It would definitely be a situation that Jaune, previously the most awkward dweeb that any of them had ever known, would find himself in a situation of that nature.

“Let me guess,” Nora said, raising a hand to stop any further attempts that Petra would make to speak. “He walked in on you just as you were getting out of the bath and putting your towel on, and he wound up seeing a little more skin than you would have liked.

Petra’s face turned almost as bright red as her hair, “Yes…”

Nora burst out laughing again and rested her head on the desk, unable to contain her mirth while Ruby just looked at the crimson-faced Petra, and asked, “He apologized a lot, didn’t he?”

“Yes…”

“And it was almost charming.”

“Almost.”

“He couldn’t meet you in the eye after you left the bathroom?”

“For some reason, what was going on with one of his feet was more interesting than me walking by.”

“That is very much like him,” Ruby conceded and let out a sigh. “At least he’s somewhat back to normal.”

“He used to be like that all the time?” Petra asked, a little concerned and confused.

“You have no idea,” Nora said just as Ren came out with five plates of breakfast: two in each arm and one balanced on his head. Ren set two of the plates in front of Ruby and Nora, and Nora yelled at him, “Hey Ren! Is Jaune usually a huge dweeb?”

“The hugest.”

“See? He’s the biggest dweeb there is.”

Petra let out a low whistle and went down the line, fetching a cup of tea for Ren, who served everyone at the counters and tables, and eventually sat down next to Nora. Without any further ado, everyone started to dig in, feasting on the homemade sausages and toast with jam. It was simple fare, but something substantial enough that it kept the folks of Tantalus Village in working order.

After a fashion, Jaune came downstairs from the bathroom above, his hair still slightly damp from the water. He was fully dressed once more, and sat alongside Ruby and almost immediately locked eyes with Petra. They both looked away, their faces turning a shade of crimson darker, something that was not lost on Nora.

Ruby hung her head as Nora began chuckling, eventually having it grow into a full-fledged evil laugh. “Look at this, Jaune! She’s almost as big a dork as you are. And by almost, I mean almost half as big a dork.”

“Nora,” Ren said, chiding his partner quietly.

“What? They’re adorable.”

“Nora.” The word came out flatly an unspoken warning that carried much larger implications with it.

Nora looked over at Jaune and saw that her leader had become crestfallen, staring down at the plate of food and eating it quietly. There was a clear sense of guilt on his face regarding the situation, particularly the notion that he was getting so shook up while still focusing on Pyrrha. He just met the woman in question the day prior, after all.

Nora shut up and went back to her meal, trying to focus on something other than the taste of foot in mouth. Ruby stared at Ren and mouthed, “Thank you” for stopping things before they got any worse.

The group ate in silence, the sense of despair and disappointment seeping out of them slowly but surely. It was no surprise that a great brass horn resounded outside, rippling through the air and alerting the entire town. The four huntsmen in training looked up and stared at the men who began to rise from their seats themselves, reaching for their weapons.

“What’s the horn for?” Jaune asked.

Gronacer, reaching for the wood-axe that Jaune had used earlier, responded first. “Grimm.”

Chapter Text

Around the village, more horns erupted into clarion calls to arms, rippling through the still-sleepy village and rousing everyone from their bedrest or their breakfast. The visitors to Tantalus were no exception. Jaune was the first one off his stool, dashing upstairs to retrieve his sword and shield. Ruby, Nora, and Ren followed. By the time they came back downstairs, the inn was empty, everyone having moved outside to the walls to fight.

Horns still sounded, and the people unable to defend themselves (the very young and very old), all moved away from the walls to the center of town, standing just down the main street that Nora had shoveled. True to her statement, she’d piled up a veritable mountain of snow and left the rest of the ground as a slightly icy, slightly muddy slurry. Jaune turned to the other members of his team and did what he did best: Started commanding.

“Nora. The majority of the horns are coming from the west. Go man that wall. Ren, Ruby, make sure that the rest of the civilians are safe first, since you’re the two fastest. Ren, take the north gate afterwards, and play it safe. Ruby, I need you to man one of the watchtowers and offer supporting fire all around the wall. Take out any that start climbing the walls. I’ll head to the east gate and defend there. Let’s move.”

With that, everyone split, heading out to complete their instructions. Ruby and Ren dashed through the town, retrieving anyone that wasn’t exactly safe yet, and moving them to the center of town. All in all, the process took less than a minute. Ren went up to the north gate just as Nora started to open fire, sending little pieces of Grimm flying into the sky with Magnhild’s explosions. While Nora blasted Grimm to kingdom come, Ruby climbed up to the top of one of the wall’s watchtowers, unfolding Crescent Rose and staring down the sights to start sniping the various Grimm that came near, placing particular focus on the larger and older foes. She could see all.

Lucius stood at the north wall with Ren, an old cavalry sabre in one hand and a heavy, long-barreled revolver in the other. It bordered on being a hand cannon, and he made every shot count while Ren sprayed bullets next to him. To the west, Nora turned the area just outside the wall in to a scorched earth wasteland, prompting the Grimm to move to the south gate for another assault on a less protected area. Nora followed, still firing away at the Grimm that attempted to flee. Ruby started to offer heavy supporting fire to the south side after checking on Jaune at the east gate.

Gronacer, Jaune, and Petra stood just outside the gates, fighting through the enemy effortlessly. Gronacer’s woodaxe cut a path through the Grimm just as easily as Jaune’s sword, and Petra used a chef’s knife and a meat cleaver in tandem to carve into her enemies and send them flying past her, darting and dashing around. Ruby lingered there for a moment before shifting her gaze to the right to assist at the south gate.

In a way, she really did move like Pyrrha.

Maybe Jaune wasn’t as crazy as she thought.

The assault kept up for a few minutes, the crack of rifles and handguns, the death cries of Grimm resounding through the air. Anyone that got injured was quickly ushered away to the center of town to have their wounds patched up while they were kept out of the fight. The residents of Tantalus were so efficient that it made Ruby wonder if her people were getting in the way, or if they were actually helping.

If Nora’s grenade bombardment was any indication, it was the latter, though it was still up for debate. Jaune still stood outside the East gate, blocking strikes that would come in for either Gronacer or Petra while the riflemen on the wall backed them up. Only the north end seemed to have any trouble. Ren’s spray-and-pray style weapons limited his effective range to only up close and personal encounters, while Lucius needed to reload every six shots, and it was not necessarily a quick practice. Ruby offered supplementary fire in that direction for a bit before she heard a cry from the east.

“Pyrrha!” Jaune cried out as a massive Boarbatusk charged Petra and knocked her off her feet, sending her careening into the wall with a sickening crunch.

Jaune saw her hand reach for her belly, a spine from the Boarbatusk sticking out from just under one of her ribs. She looked up at Jaune, her face much more pale now, and placed her hand on the wound, which was quickly leaking blood.

The Boarbatusk came around for another pass, hoping to finish Petra off, but was interrupted as Jaune thrust out a kick that sent it flying and knocked it onto its side. He thrust his blade into its soft underbelly, finishing it off, and moved in front of Petra to defend her as people came to evacuate her. Two women jumped off the wall and put her onto a makeshift litter, then tied a couple of pieces of rope to the litter, signaling the people on top of the wall to pull her up. One used a massive mattock to bat a creep aside, while the other picked up Petra’s cleaver knife and chucked it at the nearest Grimm before drawing a claymore off her back. They filled her place, powerfully cutting and smashing any Grimm that dared to come close.

As Petra was lifted up, she saw Jaune, fighting with the fury of a man possessed, cutting through Grimm after Grimm, bashing them away with his shield, standing strong in order to fight away the forces of evil that were becoming more and more tentative by the moment.

A few moments more, the Grimm became more and more hesitant to press their attack, eventually turning around and forming a full retreat away from the village of Tantalus. The second the Grimm started turning tail and running away, a cheer went up from the villagers, a cry of victory that rippled across the wall even as the last injured were carried to the town square. Ruby dashed down from her crow’s nest and ran to the center of town where an older woman, presumably an apothecary, based on how she tended to everyone’s wounds with pastes, salves, and herbs. She was tending to Petra as Ruby showed up.

“Petra! Are you alright?”

“Never been better,” Petra mumbled just before the apothecary started prodding around the injury, her brow furrowing in concern. Petra winced as the apothecary started to poke around, and sucked in a sharp breath. “On second thought… Not so hot, now.”

The apothecary rested her hand on the spine, wrapping around it before she looked over at Petra, “It missed your major organs, though one of your lungs got nicked just a little. It doesn’t look like it’s in danger of collapsing. We need to pull it out, though. Ready?”

“No,” Petra said flatly as the apothecary gestured for Ruby to come closer.

“Take one of the cloths and press on the wound as soon as I take the spine out,” the apothecary said. “We need to stop the bleeding as to prevent infection.”

Ruby nodded and took one of the cloths, readying to press against the wound once the spine was free.

“On three,” the apothecary said, readying to pull it out. “One. Two,” and she ripped it out before she could get to three. Petra let out a displeased groan, muttering curses under her breath, which amplified in sound as Ruby pressed the cloth against the injury. The apothecary got a sterile needle and thread, as well as mixing a tincture for the young woman to down.

As Ruby and the apothecary (who Ruby learned was named Imoen) prepared to stop the bleeding, Jaune came running up, sweating from the exertion of fighting the Grimm outside the wall. Gronacer came up behind him, clutching his axe by the haft just under the head. “Is she goin’ to be alright?” Gronacer asked,

“It would seem so,” Imoen said, “I had some excellent help.” She looked up at Ruby and gave a smile before she hummed and peeled back the cloth just a little. “It appears the bleeding has stopped. I’m going to patch you up right and proper, hon,” she said as she got the needle and thread, starting to suture the wound shut.

Petra swore and gritted her teeth as the injury was slowly but surely patched up, a series of eight slow, agonizing sutures pulling the injury closed. As Imoen worked, she said to Gronacer, “I’ll need a bottle of your pine nut liquor. To sterilize the wound.”

Gronacer nodded and trotted off, returning a moment later with a bottle of clear fluid. Imoen took it in hand and poured a splash on Petra’s wound after she finished stitching it up, causing Petra to let out a scream and pass out from the pain. Jaune winced, “Is she going to be okay?” he asked.

“She’ll be fine. She just needs to rest and heal,” Imoen said, looking to Nora and Ren, who had just arrived as well. “We’re lucky. She was the one hurt the worst this time. It’ll leave a nasty scar, but scars teach lessons.

Gronacer nodded and muttered something about that being incredibly true before he stood up and made to pick up one end of the litter she lay on. Jaune took the other end and they went back to the inn, presumably to load her into a bed and let her rest.

“You know what?” Nora said, looking to Ruby and Ren for a moment. “I could really go for some pancakes.”

“You could always go for pancakes,” Ruby said.

“You talk about them in your sleep,” Ren concurred, “also, you need to refrain from drinking all the maple syrup every chance you get.”

“I’ll stop drinking the stuff when it stops being delicious,” Nora said, laughing as she went back to the inn with a skip in her step.

“I don’t think Gronacer makes pancakes,” Ruby said as Nora walked back to The Towering Goliath.

“I think she’ll find that out soon,” Ren responded as they followed suit.

A couple hours passed, to the point where the sun dipped low in the sky behind the cloud cover that quickly burned away. A few stray snowflakes descended down upon Tantalus Village in the meantime, but the oncoming spring started to melt away the snow on the ground. Gronacer explained that the pass they needed to go through would take a few days to thaw, and that they would need to stay a couple more days in Tantalus as a result.

Nora, Ren, and Ruby agreed to the thought, figuring it would be better to be safe than sorry. Jaune was not present for the verdict, since he had not left Petra’s bedside since she passed out from the pain, and descended into a deep sleep to help with the rest and healing process.

Ruby decided to poke her head inside the room after a bit, where Jaune sat, reading a book of X-ray and Vav comics that he’d brought along with him as a form of light reading.

“You aren’t bored of those yet?” Ruby asked as she went to sit alongside him, legs crossed on the bed.

“It’s hard to get bored of a good story.”

“Waiting here won’t make her wake up any faster, you know.”

“I know,” he said solemnly, “I just want to be here when she does.”

A moment of silence passed between the two of them, and Jaune knew what was coming next. “You called out Pyrrha’s name when she got hurt.”

“Yeah,” Jaune said, “I messed up.”

“Still trying to get over that whole lookalike thing?”

“Sort of.”

“How?”

Jaune dog-eared the book and closed it, leaning back and letting out a long sigh, staring up at the ceiling to collect his thoughts. “Last time,” he started, “She pushed me away and I couldn’t do anything to help her. She went out to fight and I couldn’t be there to back her up. And seeing her get hurt, I knew that I had to step in and fight even if it meant the end of me. I wanted to protect her, Ruby. She’s not Pyrrha, but she’s still someone, and she was hurt. I had a job to do, so I did it.”

As he spoke, a little smile curled across Petra’s lips, and Ruby saw. “I thought you couldn’t possibly sound like any more of a dweeb, but here we are,” Petra said with a rasping voice.

“Petra!” Jaune called as he went to her side, putting aside the book and kneeling next to the bed.

“Oh, that’s my name, now?” Petra teased, wincing as she shifted slightly. “I need water. Could you get me a glass, please?”

As requested, Jaune poured a glass of water for Petra, handing it to her. She gulped it down eagerly, sounding much better when she spoke again. “Thanks. But seriously, I didn’t think someone as big of a dork as you could sound noble,” she chided, though there was a note of thanks in it. The smile that still graced her lips certainly helped.

“I was just doing what I had to, Petra. I didn’t want someone else dying on my watch.”

“And there you go again. Jeez, what do you think you are? Some kind of knight? A hero of old?”

Jaune stayed quiet, going back to his seat and taking his book again. Ruby stood up and said, “I guess I’ll go now. Jaune, dinner’s going to be ready in just a bit.”

“Gotcha.”

Ruby left, and Jaune and Petra were alone. “You really believe everything you just said, don’t you,” Petra said, wondering if she actually crossed a line with her ribbing.

“I said it, didn’t I? I don’t say stuff I don’t believe.”

“I guess I owe you an apology.”

“You don’t owe me anything.”

“Not even a ‘thank you’ for saving my life?”

Jaune paused for a moment, then gave a shrug, “I mean, I wouldn’t say no to that.”

“C’mere,” Petra said, patting the edge of the bed, gesturing for him to come over and sit down. He obliged her, whereupon she leaned in and placed a quick kiss on his cheek. “Thanks, you big doofus. Though I have to say, you looked pretty cool fighting off all those Grimm like that.”

Jaune leaned back and blushed, biting his lip before he admitted, “I had a really good teacher.”

“What was she like?”

“Who?”

“Pyrrha. The one you lost.”

Jaune tried to find the right words to do his partner justice before he spoke, “She was a hero. A prodigy. She taught me how to fight, how to see the bigger picture and the smallest details. She was the first to believe in me as a friend and as a leader. I loved her.”

“She was a lucky gal.”

“How so?”

“Having a guy like you loving her.”

“I considered myself the lucky one. She loved me first.”

Petra let out a little snicker. “She must have been pretty good looking too, if I look just like her.”

“True. She was as beautiful as could be.”

“You miss her?”

Jaune nodded. “More than anything. There can never be anyone else like her, and I know that.”

“You think you’re going to have another? Another someone you love?”

There was a pause, before a question of “Excuse me?”

“Another girl. Someone else that you could fall for, settle down, pop out a couple of brats with?”

Another pause. “I don’t know,” he said, giving a shrug. “Maybe. Why?”

Petra shrugged and lay back down, looking over at Jaune for a moment with a little smirk. “Well, if you’re in Tantalus Village again, I’d like to spend some more time with you. Maybe have a drink, dinner, a dance if there’s a musician. Do you catch my drift?”

Jaune’s face turned a bright shade of cherry and he straightened up, his spine turning into a metal rod. “Excuse me?”

“What? Too cliché for you, Mr. Knight?” Petra teased, sticking her tongue out at him. “You saved a damsel in distress, killed a bunch of monsters. That, and you’ve already seen me in all of my naked glory. Besides, you’re kind of cute, and I’m kind of interested.”

At the mention of her “naked glory”, Jaune felt his face turn another shade darker, and muttered, “I don’t know.”

Petra didn’t seem to be hurt by the thought. “That’s fine.”

“Really?”

“Yup. You’re still reeling, and I probably came on pretty strong. If you’re not interested, that’s okay. I’m not mad or anything.”

Jaune nodded and stood up, heading for the door. “Would you like me to bring dinner up to you?”

“Please,” she responded.

Jaune left her room and went to the first floor, Gronacer serving up plates of cooked beef with mushroom gravy, steamed carrots, and potatoes. Before Jaune even ate, he brought a plate up to Petra, and returned to find Gronacer putting a larger portion at his seat, alongside a mug of the finest dark ale he could have possibly brewed. “Cheers, son,” Gronacer said, raising a mug of his own, and everyone else raised their mugs in return.

“Thank you,” he told the man before he clanked the wooden mug against Gronacer’s own, beginning the celebration of victory.

The rest of the night passed in a blur, with Ren serving as the main waiter for the rest of the evening, Nora beating everyone in arm wrestling, and Ruby dancing a merry little jig on one of the tabletops when Lucius and a couple of the other people broke out a flute, accordion, hand drum, and a few other instruments for the purpose of entertainment.

Jaune didn’t drink as much as the rest. He had his one mug, ate his dinner, then went back upstairs, going into Petra’s room where she sat, listening to the music as she read the X-ray and Vav comic that Jaune had left in there.

“Leaving the celebration early?” she asked, a little amused.

“Not really my scene,” he said, “Besides, it’s not as fun dancing if you don’t have a partner.”

“Well, I’m not really in any position to dance,” Petra said, “But I’m okay for a bit of conversation.”

She and Jaune talked until the predawn light crept over the horizon, and they fell asleep where they sat.

Nobody really minded that it continued that way for three more days while they waited for the snow to melt in the streets, meaning there would be less of a problem traversing the pass.

On the morning of the fourth day, Jaune, still a little sleepy from the previous night of talking to Petra, made ready to lead the team out of Tantalus. Everyone waved and bid them farewell, even going so far as to give them a few rations for the road. Even as they made ready to leave, Petra stood with the rest of the people, a smile on her face and one hand pressed to her side to keep the sutures from coming undone.

“Goodbye!” Nora said, waving frantically at everyone, “We’ll see you again!”

Ruby waved as well, and Jaune offered one final wave to Petra, who returned it with a smile.

They wished each other well, and the team left, once more unto a new day.