Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (2024)

Chapter 1: Setting Things Right

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (1)

Preface

Hello, Ao3. I am DragonoftheEastblue, and this is both my first RWBY fanfic, and my first time writing on this website. I began writing on FF, and did so for a while before going on a hiatus for years. Upon returning to the hobby, it was my old friend, Chapelseed, who recommended I post my work here as well. I am a little overwhelmed with the options thus far, but no doubt with practice I will gain the necessary familiarity with it.

Before we begin, I want to state for the record my relationship withRWBY. While I was a die-hard Rooster Teeth fan at the time, I chose to ignore the show, for fear that it would be terrible, and I did not want to blemish my view of Monty Oum. When I heard of his medical complications, I was certain he would recover. When he did not, I decided to binge the first two volumes in mourning. By the end, I was in tears. I fell in love with the show, and I felt terrible that I did not give it a chance. I was heavily invested at that point, though I was unsure of what would happen with the show, for there were only two plausible options: either end it, or go on without Monty after a hiatus to consolidate matters. Learning that RT would continue with the show's production without delay, I was cautiously optimistic.

I was hilariously naïve.

Volume III was a great struggle, as throughout its airing, I wrestled between my desire to enjoy it and believe everything was fine, and my mind crying out at every issue that arose—each contrivance and error compounding into the next. Volume IV was RWBY’s last chance, and it confirmed that the show was dead, crowningRWBYas the ultimate example of "death of the author". I walked away with a heavy heart, and began to reminisce and imagine what could have been. Over the years, I began to hear more and more horror stories of what was occurring, not just the show, but RT itself. I then made the prediction that the show/company would fold by the end of 2020, and while I was not entirely correct, the trajectory has not changed. I consider next to nothing past V2 as canon, which CRWBY seems to agree with, as they retcon whatever they can. And despite no longer thinking V3 onward as canon, what has happened since still bothers me, as I honestly, albeit foolishly, still care.

That is how we find ourselves with this little story. I decided to write this as a love letter to what Monty originally created. It was originally meant to honour Team JNPR, who have been treated terribly since V3, but it then became a story to honour every character and the world. There will be many changes throughout, both small and major, for it borrows heavily from a complete rewrite in my head. I recommend paying close attention, for no change was made absentmindedly. And since V8 will very likely be the final volume before Warner/AT&T givesRWBY/RT the axe, and Miles is no longer Head Writer, it seemed to me as the right time to write this.

Brace yourselves, and I hope you enjoy this passion project.

Incipit Liber Primus

Chapter I: Setting Things Right

The Beacon Dance concluded as well as anyone expected. The students enjoyed themselves, the guests felt welcome, and romance had begun to bud. Many Huntsmen and Huntresses-in-training took advantage of the Dance to ask their teammates out as dates, to hopefully convey their growing feelings that always bloomed in teams such as these, as well as foreign students meeting their Valian counterparts. One such couple was Neptune and Weiss, whom may not have come together to the Dance, had clearly enjoyed each other's company, and had left together, arm in arm.

Another couple, however, weren't so lucky. It was clear to nearly everyone who met Ren and Nora that they were together. How well they played off one another, communicated, and understood each other, made them appear to be a strong couple long since in love. But it was always a shock to learn that they were merely friends, even to their own companions. The truth of course was that the pair were in love with one another. Spending nearly a decade together, without question had caused both Ren and Nora to fall for each other, but certainly there was more to it than that. While the couple hadn't confessed their feelings that night, their dancing and time alone had only deepened their feelings for one another. How much longer would they wait was only something the Gods knew.

One couple, however, stole the entire show. When Jaune Arc strutted into the dance hall wearing a white dress that barely fit his tall frame, all heads turned in shock. None were as shocked as Pyrrha, who couldn't believe that her captain had kept his word. She couldn't contain her laughter at this realization, which the many onlookers had expected such a reaction. Who was this joker coming up to Pyrrha Nikos, a champion of Mistral, asking her to dance? Of course, the partygoers had no clue that Jaune was her captain, as it seemed obvious that any team Pyrrha was a part of, would make her captain. They weren't wrong to think so, given the young woman's prestige, though they couldn't see what Pyrrha saw in him, as she shocked them when she accepted his proposal.

The two danced alongside their teammates to the surprise of the attendees, but surprised them further when they danced to several slow songs. Jaune and Pyrrha could not keep their eyes off one another as they swayed gracefully to the music along with the other dancers. Nora watched them mischievously, as she knew how much Pyrrha had fallen for their captain, and wasn't able to hold back a cheeky grin at the scarlet haired woman's blissful smile. Across the dance floor were Neptune and Weiss, who were also keeping an eye on the unlikely couple. The white-haired woman didn't quite understand Pyrrha's attraction to Jaune, as she had found his advances and behaviour rather cringe worthy. And yet, she had to give the young man credit. By being himself, he was able to win over Pyrrha's heart without even trying. Furthermore, by going so far as to humiliate himself in front of a crowd, he now had her in his arms, smiling as if she was on her wedding day. Weiss had assumed Pyrrha would have gone after a warrior as mighty as herself, but if she wanted a man like Jaune, then who was she to judge? After all, that same man had convinced Neptune to take back his rejection, so perhaps a thank you and some respect was in order.

With the conclusion of the Dance, the couples were now going on their separate ways. The Beacon students were returning to their dorms, and the foreign students to their arraigned lodgings. Some had decided that the night was still young, either because they weren't first-year students, who would be sent on their first missions guided by veteran Huntsmen, or would gladly pay the cost of sleep for a few more hours of fun. One such couple was Sun and Blake. While initially rejecting Sun's request to the Dance, Blake had come around thanks to Yang's advice. She was having trouble admitting it, but she had enjoyed herself far more than she thought possible. Sun had proven himself to be far more of date and dance partner than she had assumed. He had given her his entire focus, and communicated through his eyes so clearly, that it was as if she was able to read his thoughts.

Blake wasn't blind to Sun's advances, and was quite aware that he was interested in her. Of course, it wasn't as if Sun's feelings were a secret, as he was quite upfront and persistent; admittedly being suaver than Jaune had been with Weiss. Nevertheless, like Weiss, she had pushed him away, but not for the same reasons as her heiress friend. Blake had spent her entire life dedicated to the cause of the White Fang, before finally running away from her past. However, running away physically had not meant she had run mentally or spiritually, and was constantly haunted by her past actions. This had made her unable to trust people, fearing not only their discovery of her past, but the looming dread that she very well would have to run away once again. Why grow close to then be forced to betray them?

This made the idea of having a romantic relationship with someone even more impossible, and frightening. Relationships were built, held together, and strengthened by trust. If she could not trust her partner, then how in the names of the Gods could she have a meaningful relationship with him? These emotions were conflicting heavily within Blake, going against the new emotions that had been developing since she revealed herself to be a Faunus to her friends. She was beginning to feel as if she had finally found a place to belong. A place where she could trust and rely on people, united for a cause that wasn't so easy to pervert and darken. Now with Sun in the picture, her emotions were now in even greater turmoil, fueled by the fear that her past was now coming back to haunt her—this time with a vengeance.

The former guerrilla fighter had to admit to herself that she was very flattered by the Vacuo student's attention. She indeed found Sun attractive, which she had done her best to suppress, along with revealing that his happy-go-lucky attitude and comedy was rather infectious. His free spirit and radiant smile made her feel special, in a way she had never felt before. Acknowledging that she had no real dating experience, given she had no time or interest in such things during her revolutionary days, having a boy so confidently and passionately court her, was as or perhaps even more exciting than was described in her novels. Her books were her only escape over the years, and began reading romance novels with many a prince charming like character would sweep the young lady off her feet. While Sun was no prince in shining armour riding on a white horse, he was still charming, honourable, and honest.

After the life Blake had led, honesty was something she dearly desired. And after such a wonderful night with Sun, who was now walking beside her arm in arm, perhaps now was the time she was waiting for to trust someone. She gently squeezed the crook of his arm to guide him away from the direction of the dorms, to now go for a stroll through the grounds. Since she had delayed her date with her hesitation, a few moments more might be in order to make up for it.

At last, the most popular couple of the night, walked slowly through the Beacon grounds, smiling, thoroughly pleased by the entertainment. And like some of the other couples, they decided that the night was not yet over, and things that were also far too delayed, needed to be made up for.

"Honestly Jaune, you didn't need to go so far as putting on a dress!" laughed Pyrrha.

"Hey, an Arc keeps his word. I wouldn't be able to look you in the eye if I didn't own up to my mistake" defended Jaune with a half serious half amused expression on his face.

"Well," she replied, returning with the same expression, "while over the top, the thought and public humiliation was very much appreciated. Thank you."

"You're very welcome, though it would only have been humiliating if you turned me down. Not to mention this dress wasn't easy to find, ya know."

"I could never turn you down, Jaune; especially after learning that you were such a skilled dancer" the redhead said warmly. "Though I have to ask, where in Remnant did you find a dress at this hour?"

The blond began to blush and scratched his cheek with his free hand.

"W-Well...I kinda had to buy one" he explained sheepishly. "I ran to all the clothing shops in town, hoping to find at least one that might still be open. Obviously, they were all closed, but I was lucky enough to catch a shopkeeper that about to leave for the night, and convinced him that I needed a dress. I knew lying wasn't going to convince him, so I told him the truth, and got a pretty big laugh out of him. He somehow believed me and reopened his shop to find a dress that fit. I had to rush to get one in time, and this one was the best I could get on such short notice. When I offered to pay for it, he said that was free of charge so long as I return it tomorrow. I gave him all the money I had as a sort of down payment—just in case. I didn't think I had enough time to change twice so I ran back to the dorm in the dress, dropping my suit off, and got back to the Dance. Sorry to keep you waiting."

Pyrrha blinked at her captain's story in mute amazement, before becoming unable to contain her laughter.

"J-Jaune! To go through all that trouble!" she laughed covering her mouth with her hand, "Th-That's just too much!"

Jaune couldn't help but smile at his date. Though he wasn't exactly sure if she was laughing at him or with him, the sound of her laughter was so musical and warm-hearted, he didn't care which it was. Was her laugh always so beautiful, or was it only so obvious in the quiet night beneath the stars?

"For you, it's worth it. Even if it as a bit tight across the chest."

"Yes, it doesn't quite fit you" Pyrrha admitted regaining her composure, her eyes falling onto the young man's half exposed pecs.

Muscular athletic men were nothing new to Pyrrha, as not only had she seen many during her bouts in the arenas, but it was nearly impossible to find a single Huntsman that wasn't in peek physical form. This meant that she had hardly been swayed by the attempts made to woo her during her days at Sanctum, as few as they were. But Jaune had not wooed her with sweet words or glistening muscles, but by being himself. His kind, innocent self was what had kindled the flame in her heart; so now to see that sweet young man's bare chest, was causing a blush to blossom on her cheeks.

"Perhaps we should turn in. We wouldn't want you to catch a cold right before the tournament" she added, though it pained her to bring this night to a premature end.

"I think I can handle a light breeze if it means spending more time with you tonight" replied Jaune, causing the heart of the young woman on his arm to skip a beat. "Besides, idiots don't catch colds, from what I hear."

This made Pyrrha frown. "Jaune, you're not an idiot."

The blond shrugged as he looked to the shattered moon that loomed overhead.

"I have to be to not notice that the most beautiful woman in Vale and Mistral wanted me to ask her out to the Beacon Dance; especially when she's on my team."

Butterflies immediately took flight in the Huntress-in-training's stomach.

'Is he...flirting with me?' she asked herself in bewilderment. 'Where is this coming from all of a sudden?'

Indeed, this was certainly not normal behaviour coming from Jaune. Even during his attempts to court Weiss, he hadn't said such things with such certainty. Why was he doing this now?

The young captain didn't see the reaction his words had caused on Pyrrha's face, but likewise, Pyrrha couldn't see the reaction said words had caused on Jaune's.

'Damn, I just said that without thinking. There's no going back now, is there?' he thought, his cheeks now several shades redder, knowing the gravity of his words.

That gravity was carried over by the powerful words Pyrrha had said to him when he had first spoken to her earlier in the evening.

That had not simply been the words of a friend frustrated with her position. That was a confession. Pyrrha Nikos had feelings for him. While he had treated her like a person and not a celebrity, he nevertheless had treated her as if she were unobtainable; so far out of his league that the idea of asking her was absurd. The reason he was wearing a dress in the first place was because he incorrectly assumed that Pyrrha had guys lining up to ask her to the Dance. Hearing her voice her frustrations, that being a celebrity had been the sharpest double-edged sword possible to carry, had cut Jaune deeply. Not only because he never realized what she had gone through, but that she valued him so greatly for treating her like a person over her accolades.

This only made things more confusing for him, however. Why in Remnant would one of the best Huntresses of their generation be interested in a man like himself? He could barely hold a sword, let alone fight competently, so why would someone like her even give him the time of day? That was the rational side of Jaune's mind of course, trying to justify his disbelief that Pyrrha wasn’t able to get a date for the Dance. The other side however brought back to every instance of Pyrrha taking time out of her day to help him, even after learning that he forged his records to get into Beacon Academy in the first place. But wasn't that such an insulting thing to both a Huntsman and a warrior? Was it not as if he had stolen a spot from a more capable Huntsman or Huntress?

These were the thoughts that had been flying through his mind as he ran to find a dress. It didn't make sense to Jaune that someone like Pyrrha would be interested in him. Placing the titles and achievements aside, the redhead was outrageously beautiful, kind, compassionate, humble, and caring. Those qualities alone, in his mind and certainly in the minds of those who looked upon them as they danced, made Pyrrha so far out of his league. Could he be blamed for thinking he had no chance? Eventually during his dash for a dress, two words came screaming to mind: Weiss Schnee. Why had he thought that the heiress of one of the most profitable and powerful companies in the world, was more obtainable than Pyrrha Nikos? He had spent the entire evening thinking on it, and honestly couldn't come up with any suitable answer.

It was when he was dancing with Pyrrha, gazing into her eyes that maybe, the answer to why she wanted him over some champion Huntsman or athlete, didn't really matter. Of course, it did matter in terms of his pride, but for right now, trying to rack his brain to figure out why such a woman wanted to be with him, was just being stupid. While it was true that he had absolutely no dating experience, he knew that now was the time to take action. Who knew when the next opportunity would come his way? He gently pulled his arm away from Pyrrha, allowing him to face her, which snapped her out of her own thoughts.

"Pyrrha...I'd like to ask you something..." he said slowly, though he wasn't able to make eye contact with the young woman. 'Damn it, my heart is racing. Why was this so much easier with Weiss? Gah, don't think about that now! Just do it! You can do this. You're an Arc, just look her in the eyes and-'

However, the moment he locked eyes with his date, he felt the words lodge themselves in his throat. Pyrrha was standing before him with her hands held together, and was looking at him with nervous anticipation. Her beautiful green eyes seemed to Jaune as if they were sparkling like starlight, with her cheeks lightly painted with blush, complimenting her carnelian-coloured hair. In that very moment, Pyrrha became the most beautiful woman that Jaune had ever seen.

"Yes?" she asked, sensing that his question had nothing to do with fighting or Aura.

'Why didn't I notice before?' the blond asked himself. He had obviously always known how beautiful Pyrrha was, but now, she seemed to be on an entirely different level. Of course, there were many things he hadn't noticed, either out of pure ignorance or self-doubt, but now he had to make things right.

"I was wondering if..." he began, scratching the back of his head in nervousness. 'Keep it together, damn it!' he cursed himself, the sound of his heart pounding in his ears, only adding to his anxiety. 'Don't keep her waiting any longer.'

"If...um..." Jaune looked to his left, no longer able to maintain his gaze.

"Then do it. Tell her exactly what you said. No ridiculous schemes, no pick-up lines. Just...be honest."

"But what if-"

"Jaune, you can't get if wrong if it's the truth."

"Gahh! I'm so bad at this!" he grumbled, rubbing the back of his head furiously, before looking back at Pyrrha, and holding the back of his neck. "Pyrrha Nikos" he straightened his back, "when the tournament is over...would you...like to catch a movie, or something?"

The redhead was silent for moment, almost as if she hadn't understood what had been said. But then the worried expression on her face began to melt into the warmest and most radiant smile Jaune had ever seen.

"I would love to" she replied softly.

Her smile was contagious, causing a sheepish grin to spread across Jaune's face, as he breathed a sigh of relief. The couple gazed at each other lovingly for a little while, taking in the moment, as they knew their lives had just changed forever, before a cold wind blew through the grounds.

"We should return to our dorms. We'll have to get up early tomorrow" said Pyrrha. "And you might catch that cold after all."

"Ha! Yeah, you're right" agreed Jaune. He held out his hand, which Pyrrha took gladly, and the couple began to walk to their dormitories, fingers interlaced.

λΛλ

Jaune and Pyrrha reached their dorm rooms, which were next to each other, hand in hand. They were both reluctant to end the night, for it felt as if time had passed too soon, but they knew that the following day was going to be a busy one.

"Thank you for such a lovely night, Jaune" said Pyrrha standing before her door, still smiling warmly. "I'm sorry for all the trouble you had to go through."

"Hey, there's no need to apologize" the blond replied, also smiling. "If putting on a dress got you to forgive me and not turn me down, I'd say it was worth it."

Pyrrha blushed at his honesty. "Well, while it did work in your favour, I personally prefer you in a suit."

Jaune laughed. "I'll keep that in mind for next time." He looked down for a moment, his smiling fading slightly. "Though, this does feel so surreal. I saw how everyone was looking at us at the Dance, like I had no right to be with you. I guess that's about right, as I also did exactly what you hate, place you on a pedestal and not even consider asking you to be my date. I know admitting this isn't going to come across great, but I can't help but feel undeserving. Not noticing your feelings until you got fed up and told me directly, brushing off your comments...you said I saw you for you, but I didn't when you needed me to most..."

Pyrrha's smile faded, but only slightly. She understood what Jaune was trying to say, and what he was feeling. He may have kept his word, believing it was the right thing to do after being wrong, but the guilt hadn't left him so easily. He felt as if she had forgiven him too quickly, that what he had done was so insulting to her, that more needed to be done to make things right. Unbeknownst to her captain, his continued honesty only deepened her love for him.

"Jaune..." she said calmly, yet assertively, and placed her right hand on his cheek, causing him to look back up at her. "If I thought you not realizing that I had feelings for you, was so grievous that it couldn't be forgiven, why would I have said yes to a second date?" Jaune remained silent, but breathed out of his nose sharply, indicating he realized he was overthinking things again. "I think you are more than deserving. I think you are exactly what I've been looking for."

Without hesitation, she leaned forward and kissed him on his right cheek, causing both of them to flush, and his eyes to widen. Pyrrha's own cheeks had turned red, and her smile had returned to its full radiance, clearly pleased with the blond's reaction.

"Good night, Jaune."

"Night..." he replied, now possessing a warm smile of his own.

Pyrrha opened the door of her room and entered, but kept her gaze with the young man as she closed it, just to keep the moment going for just a few seconds longer. Even with the door closed, Jaune remained outside, staring at the door as if he could still see the beautiful young woman who had just taken his breath away. He then looked up to the ceiling and sighed, before chuckling and shaking his head in disbelief.

"I am so over my head..." he said to himself, rubbing the back of his neck once again, before returning to look at Pyrrha's room one last moment. Keeping a smile on his face, he finally grasped the knob of the door to his own room and entered, determined not to mess things up.

λΛλ

Pyrrha's heart was racing as she stood on the opposite side of the door, unable to believe she had just done that. But she wasn't sorry that she had. Jaune had finally taken notice of her, accepted her feelings, and asked her on a date. She had never felt so nervous, happy, terrified, and exhilarated in all her life. She leaned against the door, tilting her head so that it rested on it, eyes shut and smiling as if it was all she knew how to do. It was as if she were on top of the world.

"Well now..." came a sly voice, causing the Mistralese champion to jump to her right. To her left was her teammate Nora, already in her pyjamas, lying on her side with her head resting on her right palm, and a sh*t-eating grin plastered on her face. "...someone looks like they had a great time tonight."

"Nora! You scared the daylights out of me!"

"Did you then?" the ginger asked, ignoring the previous comment.

"Yes, I did."

"Aaaaand?"

Pyrrha blushed, "Jaune asked me out."

"Yay!" cheered Nora, leaping to her feet and hugged her friend tightly. "I'm so happy for you! So..." she continued, pulling out of the hug, but kept her hands on Pyrrha's shoulders, "did anything else happen?"

"...I kissed him—on the cheek!" she replied, making sure to quickly add the last detail, knowing what kind of reaction it would get from her friend.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaand?" Nora asked again.

"That's all."

"Really?!...boring."

"Nora!" Pyrrha gasped incredulously, pushing past her to reach the armoire and began disassembly her evening wear. "Honestly, what were you expecting for us to do so soon?"

"Probably what a lot of other students are doing right now" she admitted, sitting back on her bed, and reaching for her Scroll.

"W-Well they can what they wish" replied Pyrrha, placing her earrings into their box, slightly flustered. "Such things are far too soon for us. You should have seen how nervous Jaune was while trying to ask me out. Furthermore, we haven't even kissed yet."

"And whose fault is that?" asked Nora playfully, sending her text. "Could have kissed him properly instead of on the cheek."

'Maybe' thought the redhead. "I feel there is something special between Jaune and myself. I want this relationship to work, so we'll be taking it one step at a time. I don't want to rush things, nor does Jaune, which I'm sure is why he asked me on a date after the tournament."

"Hmmm, that's true" agreed Nora, eyeing the reply to her text, "not to mention that you're probably his first girlfriend. That would explain his nervousness. If you kissed him, it would be his first kiss too."

The Mistral champion wiped away some of her makeup before responding.

"It would be mine as well" Pyrrha admitted softly, but not regretfully.

The ginger looked up from her Scroll and saw the blissful look on her friend's face. It took her a moment to remember that Pyrrha was just as inexperienced as Jaune, as her status in Mistral had kept anyone from asking her out. Nora watched her teammate carefully, and observed her removing the rest of her makeup, clearly delving into her own thoughts of the past few hours. It was now easy to understand that Pyrrha wasn't merely crushing on their captain, but was falling deeply in love with him.

Nora grinned devilishly. "You two are so adorable" she cooed playfully.

Pyrrha turned to her left and squinted at the girl with pursed lips.

"I don't want to hear such comments comings from you. What did you do when you left the Dance? Did you and Ren go off to kiss, away from prying eyes?" she asked, sticking her tongue out.

Nora snorted at Pyrrha's sudden act of childishness, and looked away with flushed cheeks.

"No, we just came back to our rooms. No kissing or anything like that. Still..." she admitted disappointingly.

The redhead's gaze softened into one of pity, seeing her friend's frustration. She rose from her chair and walked to Nora's bed, seating herself to her right.

"You didn't tell him?" she asked.

Nora sighed. "No, I couldn't. It just didn't feel right."

Pyrrha frowned. "What do you mean? He was the one who asked you to the Dance. Did Ren not make any kind of sign that he wanted to take things further?"

"Nope" confirmed the ginger, bringing her knees to her chest and folded her arms on top of them. "I think he asked me because it was the obvious choice, which would make me happy if I knew he had feelings for me. We're friends so going together made sense, I guess." Nora sighed again and buried her face into her thighs, pressing her forehead into her arms in defeat. "I don't know anymore."

Pyrrha gently placed her left hand on the ginger's shoulder.

"Don't think that way. There will be another chance to tell him how you feel" she said reassuringly.

"I've been telling myself that every time I couldn't. Every time I look at him, and I feel the words building inside me, my stomach does flips, my heart races, my knees get weak, and then...I can't. All I'm able to say is 'boop' and tap him on the nose to hide all the emotions raging inside me" Nora explained, not lifting her head. "Maybe Ren just sees me as family and not as a woman."

Pyrrha remained silent. She had always been able to sense her teammate's frustration with her situation with Ren, but she had not realized it had grown to this level. Admittedly, she had been preoccupied being frustrated with her own boy problems, but the talks they previously had, hadn't revealed how deeply the discouragement was entrenched. To Pyrrha, Nora's discontent was very similar to her own as a celebrity, feeling as if she were underwater and gasping for air, but having to pretend she was sailing.

"You don't know that for certain, Nora" she said at last. "I can speak openly that everyone, and I do mean everyone, believes that both of you are already a couple. I thought that the moment I met you both, Jaune thought that-"

"Yeah, I was in the room when he asked about that. That was awkward" laughed the ginger half-heartedly.

"But do you see what I'm getting at? People around you interpret how you two bounce off one another, as evidence of a strong loving relationship. Does that not say something about Ren? I'll be honest; I was initially shocked that someone so full of energy like yourself, was with someone so docile as Ren. And as soon as the thought was in my mind, I saw Ren be right up to speed. I knew right away there was something special between the both of you. I think you're not giving him as much credit as he deserves."

Nora lifted her head and looked at her friend sheepishly.

"Maybe...but I'd like to have some idea that he might feel something more. I don't wear my skirt that short for nothing, ya know" she mumbled, playing with her hair, embarrassed. "I'd hope I'd catch him checking me out, but I haven't yet."

Pyrrha covered her mouth as she began to giggle.

"Well, Jaune and I will keep a look out for you when he does."

This finally got Nora to smile, and playfully nudged her friend with her elbow.

"Thanks, Pyrrha" she said genuinely. The hammeress remained silent for a moment, before looking at her teammate. "Did I ever tell you when I fell in love with Ren?" she asked. Pyrrha shook her head gently, so Nora rested her chin on her forearms and began to speak.

"It was about ten years ago. I don't have any memory of my parents, and I grew up on the streets, wandering from place to place, before I finally found myself in a village called Kuroyuri. I was scavenging around for food one day, and found a loaf of bread, right before I was surrounded by a group of boys. They bullied and attacked me, which happened at lot back then, but then out of nowhere, Ren and his father appeared and scared them off. It was rare that anyone would bother to help me, so I got scared and ran away.

Not long after, the village was attacked by the Grimm. I hid under a house during the attack, hoping that I wouldn't be found. Then Ren appeared again. He seemed like he wasn't afraid at all, and told me to be brave while being surrounded by monsters. I only learned later that he was using his Semblance to cloak us from the Grimm. He found a wooden mallet on the ground and gave it me, promising that we would keep each other safe. He had such a warm and calming smile on his face, and despite what had just happened, I felt completely safe with him.

That's when I fell in love with him. He's been my family for all these years, and I couldn't imagine being with anyone else other than him. He's the bravest man I've ever known."

Pyrrha listened to her friend's story intently, and was shocked to hear how horrible Nora and Ren's past were. Neither had shared any details other than they had been together since they were children, but them being orphaned due to a Grimm attack, had not been at the forefront of her theories. A small piece of guilt began to develop in her stomach in comparing their upbringing to her own, but she also quickly gained a new level respect for her teammates. However, despite the darkness of Nora's story, Pyrrha noticed the warmness in the ginger's turquoise eyes and smile. Her love for Ren was now fully on display, and her smile was so infectious, that it made the redhead smile herself.

"You two are so adorable" she echoed, nudging her with her elbow.

"Shut up!" snorted Nora, pushing Pyrrha back with a good shove. Pyrrha laughed as she toppled to her side, and quickly grabbed Nora's pillow, swiftly whacking her across the face. The thunderess recoiled but quickly recovered from the blow, a wild grin on her face and a twinkle in her eye. "Oh, we're grabbing weapons, huh?" she asked, jumping to her feet, and cracking her knuckles in excitement.

"Wait! Now we might be taking things too far!" laughed Pyrrha, holding up her hand in surrender. "Though, I'm saying that for the sake of my dress, more than for myself."

"Aww..." sighed Nora, slumping over in disappointment. The redhead laughed again as she rose to her feet, while the ginger face planted onto her bed, and reached for her Scroll once more.

Pyrrha finally finished removing the rest of her eveningwear, and changed into a pair of golden-brown pyjamas.

"I firmly believe" she began, letting her hair down, "that Ren feels the same way about you. I think that being here at Beacon, surrounded by friends, he'll take notice, if not feel that the time has come to confess. In the meantime, I'll get Jaune to get any information possible out of him."

Nora looked up at her teammate, and smiled sincerely.

"Thank you, Pyrrha" she said gratefully, "that means a lot. I owe you one."

"Don't mention it. What are friends for?" the redhead replied smiling back. "It's getting late. Try to get some sleep."

"Same. Night, Pyrrha."

"Good night, Nora."

Both girls tucked themselves into bed, with Pyrrha switching off the lights before turning over to her right. However, she opened her eyes as she immediately became distracted by a new light source hitting the wall on her side of the room.

"Put your Scroll away, Nora. We have to get up early tomorrow" she said in a false scolding tone.

"Just give me a sec" Nora said back, typing quickly.

"Nora..."

"OK, moooom" she whined, throwing her bed sheets over her head to dampen the light.

Pyrrha giggled at the girl's childishness, and closed her eyes, pressing her cheek into her pillow with satisfaction. The images of the night's events replayed in her mind on repeat, warming her cheeks, and easing her gently into a deep and blissful sleep; the handsome face of her blond captain being the last image she saw.

λΛλ

While the girls were having their conversation, Jaune had entered his room smiling, and closed the door behind him.

"Things went well, I take it?" asked a voice.

Jaune looked to his right and saw Ren sitting on his bed, dressed in a simple light green t-shirt and matching pyjamas bottoms, reading a book.

"Yeah, they did" Jaune replied, maintaining his smile from earlier. "I asked Pyrrha out, and she said yes."

Ren looked up from his book and gave his captain a small but endearing smile.

"Very good, Jaune. I am glad you came around."

The blond laughed. "Thanks, man, but I don't want to hear you of all people talking about how long it took me to notice a girl's feelings. Especially since you and Nora aren't 'together-together'; whatever that means" he shot back, making air-quotes with his fingers, as he walked to his bed and began removing his dress.

His back was turned, so he was unable to see Ren's smile fade, and his eyes return to his book, but was not actually reading.

"Speaking of which" continued Jaune, struggling with his dress, "what does that mean exactly? Not being together-together?"

Ren did not answer right away, as his Scroll buzzed, forcing him to quickly reply and hide it so not to appear rude. He then placed a bookmark in his book and closed it, before giving Jaune his full attention.

"What do you think it means?" he asked at last.

"Umm..." thought the blond, unsure of how to correctly phrase his response. "...friends with benefits?"

Jaune had looked over his shoulder to deliver his comment, and was shocked to see Ren glaring at him. While they hadn't known each other for long, this was the first time he had ever seen his teammate with a genuine look of ire.

"Absolutely not" Ren said coldly.

"Whoa whoa wait!" protested the swordsman, waving his hands defensively. "I'm not saying that I actually believe that! I meant that it just sounds like it does. Everyone thinks you guys were already together, me included, so it's weird that Nora said that you guys are together but not 'together' together. You get what I'm saying?"

Ren's glare softened as he exhaled through his nose.

"Yes, I do" he said sighing, looking downward. "I'm sorry."

Jaune continued to observe his subordinate worryingly, as there were new emotions bubbling to the surface, and manifesting in Ren's eyes.

"Don't worry about it" he reassured, "It's my fault for wording it badly. I never meant to offend or insult you."

"I know you didn't. I just don't like the idea that people would think that Nora and I would be engaging in such a selfish relationship. Nora is not that kind of girl" explained Ren, folding his arms as he leaned against the wall.

Jaune paused for a moment, before pressing further.

"So, may I ask what kind of relationship do you and Nora have? Cuz like I said, everyone thinks you guys are just dating like any normal couple. It's only because of how Nora explained it that makes me confused" he reasoned.

The dark-haired Huntsman-in-training sighed and closed his eyes.

"It's...complicated..." he admitted, sounding tired; as if this had been eating away at him for a long time.

The blond continued to look at him, waiting for some form of answer. The fact that Ren was beating around the bush made him even more curious. If they were just friends, then both of them would have come out and said it. However, it was obvious to Jaune that Nora was in love with him, so perhaps Ren was aware of this, and wasn't sure of how to go about it.

The silence between the two had now grown from a pregnant pause to an awkward one, leaving Jaune with the feeling that he may have finally overstepped a line, and the conversation was now over.

"I'm gonna go take a shower now...yeah..." he said at last, gesturing with both index fingers to the bathroom door to his left. He finally succeeded in undoing the dress, and placed in on a chair, before reaching for the knob of the bathroom door.

"Ten years" said Ren quietly, halting his captain.

"What?" Jaune asked.

"Nora and I have been together for ten years" he repeated, his eyes now open and looking at the blond with a sombre expression.

Jaune blinked in surprise. "That's a long time, Ren. But that doesn't exactly answer my question."

Ren's eyes dropped to his knees and took a deep breath before speaking.

"Nora and I have been traveling across the Kingdom on our own for a decade. We've drifted from town to town, doing our best to survive. We first met in my home village where she was living on the streets, stealing food to live. When my village was attacked by the Grimm, none were left alive, safe for the both of us. By some miracle I awakened my Semblance, and managed to get to her, shielding ourselves from the horde. That is what my Semblance does. Tranquility dampens my emotions, thus shields me from the Grimm, effectively turning me invisible to them. Ever since then, we promised to protect one another. We've been by each other's side through thick and thin, never straying far and never wishing to. Essentially, we're family."

Jaune swallowed in mute shock at his friend's story. The man had always been the quiet type, and spoke very little on any matter, let alone of his past. Jaune had naively assumed that he and Nora were just childhood friends, having grown up together and naturally, as a consequence, became so close. But now learning of the truth, Jaune began to feel deep remorse and pity for them. For them to have gone through something so traumatic, and remain so upbeat, showed the blond just how strong his new friends truly were. A profound respect for the pair quickly emerged from the depth of Jaune's soul, and was more grateful than he could express to have the both of them under his command.

He walked to Ren's bed and sat next to him, placing a hand on his right shoulder.

"I'm so sorry, Ren. I had no idea."

Ren nodded understandingly, and glanced at his friend.

"There's no need to apologize. You could not have known."

"I couldn't have even guessed, but I guess I now get what Nora meant by not being together-together. If you see each other like family, then it makes sense how close you two are" Jaune reasoned. 'Wait...that doesn't add up' he thought. 'Nora is clearly in love with Ren, so even if they have been together this long, and have looked after one another as if they're family, she clearly still sees him as a man. So, what about Ren?'

"Do you see her like a sister?" he asked directly.

Ren looked away, hesitant to answer the question, which was already serving as an answer to his team captain.

"I..." he began slowly, "...don't know..."

Jaune tilted his head in intrigue, 'Now we're getting somewhere'. "Are you in love with her?" he asked bluntly.

Ren hesitated again, unable to establish eye contact with Jaune, and only repeated "I don't know..."

He closed his eyes, causing every memory he had with the ginger hammeress, to come flooding through his mind. Every laugh, every smile, every tear, all came into his mind's eye with crystal clarity. Then the memory of Nora when she was a child, crying and hiding under one of the destroyed houses, came into view. That image had been etched into his very soul, for he hated it with every fiber of his being. He hated seeing Nora cry, thus that memory served as fuel for his drive to protect her, at all costs. He could never forgive himself if harm like that would ever come to her again.

"Ren?" asked Jaune, noticing that his friend seemed to be a thousand miles away. "Ren?"

The young dark-haired man finally came back to the present upon hearing his name a second time. He looked at Jaune in momentary confusion, before remembering where he was and what they had been discussing.

"I'm sorry, I was just lost in my own thoughts" he confessed.

"Yeah, I figured. If you don't want to talk about it further..."

"No..." sighed Ren, "I'd like to share this with you. You came to me for advice before, so now I would like to ask you the same." He waited for Jaune to nod before speaking again. "What I feel for Nora...is not something that I can explain in words. For so long she's been by my side, that I couldn't imagine a day that she wouldn't be. It feels as if she's a part of me, one that I'm always afraid of losing. Nora is my entire world."

There was a momentary silence between the two boys, before Jaune smirked and clapped Ren on the back, startling him.

"I may be pretty bad with girls, but it's clear to me that you're totally in love with her" he said confidently. Ren looked up at him in surprise, his cheeks lightly tinged with pink.

"I..." he began, trying to form a coherent sentence, but his mind was now filled of images of Nora smiling.

"Oh, don't act like this is some earth-shattering revelation!" Jaune shot back impishly. "You probably fell for her years ago and didn't even realize; that or you didn't have someone like me around to point it out."

Ren cleared his throat. "That is a tad rich coming from you" he said, regaining most of his composure.

"Yeah, that's fair," admitted the swordsman, "but I'm still right." Ren sighed, causing his captain to laugh. "Oh c'mon! This is a good thing! And I'm damn sure that she feels the same way. Why are you looking even more gloomy than usual?"

Ren leaned against the bedroom wall once again, and inhaled deeply before replying.

"Because of what I feel for Nora...makes me feel undeserving of loving her" he said sadly. This caused Jaune to snap into a sharp focus, keeping his eyes locked onto his friend, who seemed to not notice. "I promised Nora years ago that I would protect her, and she promised she would do the same for me. That was how we built our relationship—with trust and support. It's what's kept us alive. And then came the day Nora discovered her Semblance. Do you know how? She was hit by lightning. She was climbing a tall apple tree while a storm was coming, and when she reached the top, she was hit with a bolt. I was watching her climb, and saw her get hit, throwing her out of the tree and crashing to the ground. I hadn't been that terrified since the attack on my village. I ran to her, praying that was alive, and was shocked to see her immediately wake up and stand, as if nothing had happened.

From then onward, Nora began to grow stronger at an incredible rate. She became stronger, faster, and more durable, making it seem she were indestructible. I was so proud of her, seeing her grow from a scared child to a smiling, fearless young teenager. But I quickly saw how much of a gap was growing between us. We would train together, and I could never beat her. No matter how hard I trained, all I could do was watch her soar, and feel as if I was being left behind. It's why we wanted to become Huntsmen; so we could become stronger and fight evil together. We wanted to never be helpless again. But how could I help her, protect her, when I myself, was helpless? And now being on this team, has only cemented how far behind I have fallen. Nora and Pyrrha are warriors through and through, excelling in combat. While you haven't discovered your Semblance, it will undoubtedly benefit you on the battlefield. My Semblance however" he explained, opening his left hand, and turning over his palm, flowing Aura into it, "is not meant to be used in open battle. And that is what I'm afraid of. I'm afraid that a day will come where she'll need me to defend her, and I won't be able to. And the thought of that happening, her getting hurt or worse because of my weakness, fills me with..." he finished, clenching his fist tightly, "rage."

Jaune stared at Ren in shock. He hadn't said a word during the entirety of his friend's monologue; how on earth could he? Ren was a very quiet young man, rarely speaking more than a few sentences, or raise his voice, unless he needed to keep Nora in check. So to hear him speak for so long uninterrupted, and with his emotions on display, was bizarre and unexpected. Furthermore, Ren had never spoken about his past. Jaune had assumed he and Nora had grown up together, but as childhood friends and classmates, not homeless orphans. Now hearing him open up and speak so freely, in context to his past, to, in the short run, a complete stranger, was deeply humbling and eye opening.

What surprised Jaune the most however, was that Ren was feeling the same emotions he was. As on top of the world as he felt knowing that Pyrrha had feelings for him, he couldn't for the life of him, understand why. He was a terrible fighter and leader, who lied to get into Beacon. She knew all of that, and yet still wanted to be with him, despite being one of the best warriors of their generation. "Undeserving" was exactly how Jaune would phrase his feelings.

"I'm being ridiculous, aren't I?" asked Ren, letting his fist fall, slightly weary.

"No, you're not" replied Jaune, pausing a moment before answering. "I get exactly what you mean about not feeling worthy. I feel the same way with Pyrrha."

"Why? You don't have the history with her, as I do with Nora, so why would you think that?"

Jaune sighed, knowing that what he had to tell Ren could change how he thought of him.

"You're right" the blond began, "I don't have a decade of history with Pyrrha. In fact, I have no history at all...I forged my transcript to get into Beacon." Ren's eyes widened, it now being his turn to not have expected his teammate to admit a secret. "Pyrrha is absolutely amazing" continued Jaune. "She's beautiful and kind and incredibly talented, and just like you said, a warrior through and through. So why would she want to be with a guy like me, who can't fight worth a damn? Even after I told her the truth, she still stood by me, helping me train, and agreeing to go out with me.

I'm having the same thoughts you are—about not being able to protect her. And what makes things even worse, is that I'm the leader of this team. Not only do I have to worry about Pyrrha, but you and Nora as well. I'm supposed to make hard decisions in the field, keep it cool under pressure, and lead you guys to victory. How am I supposed to do all of that when I can barely hold my sword? I'm constantly plagued with doubt, and I'm afraid of making mistakes, since they could cost someone their life. I keep thinking of how Pyrrha would make a much better captain, and how I don't understand why Huntmaster Ozpin chose me over her. Maybe because JNPR sounds better than PNJR; whatever word that makes.

But I realized something tonight. I can't keep thinking as if there is nothing I can do to change for the better. Feeling sorry for myself, and as I currently am, is not only a waste of energy, but the worst possible habit I could have. Pyrrha likes and supports me, you consider me like a brother, and Nora has followed my orders without question since the get-go. I'm going to use the faith you guys have in me to fuel my drive to improve as both a warrior and a leader. I think you should do the same. Nora loves you, and I don't believe for a second she thinks of you as deadweight. And I'm certain there's more to your Semblance than just controlling emotions. We'll figure it out together, and we'll both grow as Huntsman; me for Pyrrha, and you for Nora. Together, got it?"

Ren looked into his captain's eyes with amazement. He saw his determination as clear as the shattered moon, and realized that the Jaune he had come to know over the past several months, was beginning to give way to a more confident and focused one. He could see that the blond had meant every word, and how profoundly he had been affected by Pyrrha's love. Furthermore, Jaune had completely understood his feelings, and that was something that made Ren more grateful than he could ever express in words alone.

"Got it. Thank you, Jaune" he replied, closing his eyes, and bowing his head slightly in gratitude, a small but content smile on his face.

"Don't sweat it" Jaune said smirking, punching his friend on the arm puckishly. "On a lighter note, I've got a question for you." Ren nodded, allowing the swordsman to proceed, "I know that Nora's been like family to you, but she's a very pretty girl. You must have realized that and checked her out over the years, right?"

The normally composed Huntsman-in-training swallowed nervously, as the question began to tint his cheeks pink.

"W-Well..." he tried to say, not being able to maintain eye contact. A roguish grin began to form on Jaune's face as he saw how the question was affecting his teammate, and eagerly awaited for his response. Ren coughed skittishly and shifted his sitting position slightly. "Nora...um...has very distracting legs" he admitted at last.

Jaune snorted before doubling over from laughter.

"What?" demanded Ren, becoming more flustered by the second.

"It's nothing! It's just funny seeing how nervous you are admitting this" reassured Jaune.

Ren huffed, folding his arms. "Well, it isn't as if I've ever had the company to discuss such things" he shot back poignantly.

"That I know. I grew up with seven sisters, the rest of our team are the girls in question, and Team RWBY is all girls. But you don't have to be so shy, dude; Pyrrha's got great legs too."

"True, but she doesn't go barelegged like Nora does. She's been wearing that skirt for almost two years now and it's very distracting."

"Hey, Pyrrha's thigh-highs don't leave much to the imagination, either" the blond pointed out. He then tilted his head slightly. "So, you think Nora is beautiful?"

"Very much so" Ren replied nodding.

Jaune placed a hand on his friend's shoulder, "Then tell her."

"Not...not yet."

"I know this is incredibly hypocritical coming from me, but you shouldn't make a girl wait. And if telling her how you feel about her it too much for now, then at least say that you think she's beautiful. Just a word or two like that could make all the difference in the world. That you can take to the bank" Jaune advised confidently.

Ren looked at his captain suspiciously, but knew that he was right.

"I'll keep that in mind. Thank you again, Jaune."

Jaune smirked. "Hey, what are bros for? Now if you don't mind, I'm gonna go take that shower, as having such a heart-to-heart conversation in my underwear is starting to get real awkward. OK? OK."

With that, the blond tapped Ren's shoulder twice, before getting to his feet and waltzing to the bathroom.

As soon as the door closed, Ren chuckled slightly and shook his head. He replayed the conversation he had just had as he pulled the covers of his bed back, and slipped under them. He then felt something under his elbow, and realized that his Scroll was still where he had hidden it. He pulled it from under his pillow with his left hand, while resting his head in his right, and noticed that Nora had responded to his earlier message.

Nora: Pyrrha just came back. Jaune asked her out finally! She's over the moon!

Ren: I know. Jaune just told me, and he seems quite beside himself.

Nora: Awesome! She's so in love with him too. They make such a cute couple, don't they?

Ren began to type a reply, as he had become entirely invested with his conversation with Jaune, that he completely forgotten he had been speaking to Nora.

Ren: I'm sorry, I was speaking with Jaune. Yes, they certainly do. He thinks the world of her, and feels incredibly lucky that she has feelings for him.

Nora: It's OK, I was talking with Pyrrha. Awww, they're so cute! They won't be going on their date till after the tournament though, but we have plenty of time to tease them now ;)

Ren smirked at her mischievousness.

Ren: Be nice, Nora.

Nora: Nyuuuuh!

Ren audibly laughed at her text, clearly hearing her protest in his mind, as if she was standing before him. He stared at their conversation quizzically, new emotions growing in his heart. Nora's enthusiasm for Jaune and Pyrrha, was causing him to feel something he had never felt before: jealousy. He was jealous that his captain and lieutenant had become a couple, and how they could openly talk about their feelings. Of course, if he admitted this to Jaune, the blond would without a doubt begin to grill him that if he just told Nora how he felt, there would be no need to feel jealous. There was truth to this of course, but for now, he began to recall a more fitting piece of advice.

"I know this is incredibly hypocritical coming from me, but you shouldn't make a girl wait. And if telling her how you feel about her it too much for now, then at least say that you think she's beautiful. Just a word or two like that could make all the difference in the world. That you can take to the bank."

Ren took a deep breath before typing out what could either be a very good idea, or a disastrous one, before hesitantly pressing send.

Ren: Speaking of nice, I had a nice time tonight. You looked very beautiful in your dress.

He was incredibly nervous sending the message to Nora, and his nerves were straining by the second, as she was taking longer than usual to reply. He stared at the bottom of his Scroll, waiting for her response, his heart beginning to race. For a moment, Ren thought about activating his Semblance to calm himself, but it felt as if that would be cheating. So, he continued to sit and wait, nearly unblinking.

On the opposite side of the dorm wall, Nora saw Ren's message appear, and her eyes immediately widened.

'Where is this coming from?' she asked herself, a strong blush blossoming from her cheeks. 'Is it because he was talking with Jaune? Is this really happening?'

The ginger read the message over several times until she convinced herself that it was indeed what her crush had written. The question that was now racing through her mind, was what in Remnant was she supposed to say back? Yeah, you look great too, sexy? Of course, there was no way, as she knew she'd pass out before the message reached Ren's Scroll. Nora took a deep breath to steady herself, before composing her reply, stared at it, and slowly pressed the send button.

Ren tensed as soon as Nora's reply appeared on screen, but breathed a sigh of relief when he saw what it said.

Nora: Thank you, Ren. That's really sweet of you. I had a really great time, too. You looked handsome in your suit.

The dark-haired Huntsman-in-training bowed his head and shut his eyes; a small but warm smile now spreading across his face. He then looked back at his Scroll, and began typing a reply.

Ren: You're welcome, and thank you. I hope I wasn't a boring date and dance partner.

Nora: Boop. Don't be silly. You were great, and amazing at dancing as always. Maybe we should go dancing more often.

Ren's heart skipped a beat at the last message, but his thumbs were already typing his response.

Ren: That would be fun. Hopefully we will have time off soon.

Nora: Bleh, that means after the tournament if not the festival :P School and Hunting takes up sooo much time!

Ren: Speaking of which, we should go to bed. We have to get up early tomorrow.

Nora: Nyuuuh fine. Good night, Ren! Sleep well! Boop!

Ren: Good night, Nora. Same to you.

Ren placed his Scroll on his bed stand, and lay on his side, facing the wall. He shut his eyes but continued to smile peacefully, allowing the drowsiness to wash over him. On the other side of the wall, Nora was rereading their conversation, and beamed. She closed her Scroll and nuzzled into her pillow, felling as if she were on cloud nine.

'I love you' she said in her mind, and slowly drifted into a blissful sleep filled with pancakes and a handsome young chief making them.

Author's Note:

And that is the first chapter. I truly hope you enjoyed it.

Now, given the nature of this story, I think it would be beneficial to explain certain things, as well as provide a bit of commentary. With how much I have diverted from the original show—changes both large and small—it would serve you all better to provide you with some sort of explanation beyond what speaks for itself. Do not misunderstand me, however, the core of the story is the same, but the number of changes made will surprise you. While I cannot go line by line, as that would be both impractical and annoying, I will address the changes that I believe are more important than people may realize. Feel free to ask for clarification if I miss anything.

Pyrrha's Confession

The first major change is the acknowledgement of Pyrrha's confession as a confession. This is something that has been stuck in my craw for a very long time—honestly, since it happened. Pyrrha's outburst was more than her simply voicing her frustrations with Jaune's ignorance and stubbornness, but rather her true feelings about him, if but a portion of them.

"I guess, you're the kind of guy I wish I was here with. Someone who just saw me for me."

That was a confession. It was not a direct "I love you" confession, but a confession, nonetheless. Look at the context. Going to a culturally important dance with a date? This is not some mere friendly get-together, especially with the subplot of the characters wanting to ask the people they like, to said dance. And despite that fact, the rest of the volume does not acknowledge it, nor does V3. That is unacceptable. Why go through all this trouble, telling the story of Jaune chasing after Weiss when Pyrrha is the one in love with him, Pyrrha losing her patience with him, Jaune telling Neptune to man up, and Jaune finally keeping his word and setting things right, to then just pretend it never happened? That is bad enough, but when you remember that they had Pyrrha panicking in V3 over "choosing" her destiny that supposedly would cost her her future with Jaune before killing her off, you can see how little thought went into this.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (2)

Unlike most people, I think that romance is rather important for storytelling (at least with stories such as these). Done well, it can help your characters grow and mature, and in doing so, it effects the story overall, as love and loyalty can, and often does, change the decisions characters make. How they perceive risks, how they plan for the future, how they react to crises; decisions that once seemed so obvious and clear-cut when characters were single, now have larger implications that go beyond themselves. The straight road is now forked.

Pyrrha's confession and Jaune asking her out are some of those forks in the road—the entire chapter embodies that in fact—where Pyrrha and Jaune's actions change everything. They now know that their lives have changed, and whilst they hope it is for the better, it will not be as easy as they would want. There are responsibilities and consequences that come with romantic relationships, one of which is—as I said—thinking about the future. That is self-evident, however, in the context of Huntsmen, specifically dating your partner, it means training hard to be the best Huntsman you can be to protect one another and ensure a future together. That can be done, as we have seen with Ruby and Yang, but it can go as poorly as Ruby and Yang also. Realizing what it at stake is a very good motivator, which also includes the issue of the heart getting in the way of duty.

In that same vein, I do not believe that killing off a loved one is the only way to motivate a character to grow. To be quite frank, I think you are a psychopath if you think that is the only option, and I fear for your spouse, children, extended family, and friends if you do. I mention this because there are many in the community that think killing Pyrrha off to help Jaune grow was the right decision. How poorly that sentiment has aged.

I hope that this chapter has shown a better course of action, for not only has this possible future with Pyrrha been the right kick in the pants for Jaune, but also for Ren with Nora. From my point of view, that always came across as the best approach; and after all this time, it has only been reinforced.

JNPR Lodgings

Leaving aside the subject matter of the cohesion of mixed-gender teams, does it not seem inappropriate to place hormonal teenagers of the opposite gender in the same bedroom—especially teenagers that have romantic feelings for one another?

This was my immediate reaction back in 2015 when I first watched the show, and it too has not changed, other than being reinforced. Yes, I know, it gave birth to many "Team Building Exercise" rule34 pieces, but I think it would be far more beneficial to think this through as adults. And when you do, you realize that it does not make any sense, with many very obvious problems arising. Then again, I seem to be quite alone in this, and that is rather depressing—for lack of a better word.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (3)

Placing that aside, there was a narrative reason for changing it that the boys and girls of Team JNPR were divided by gender and given their own rooms. By doing so, it allows them to have boy-talk/girl-talk respectively—something that was brutally absent from the show. This change allows Jaune and Ren to talk about their feelings for the girls, and Pyrrha and Nora to talk about the boys, without any form of interruption. The way that Jaune and Ren's original conversation before the Dance was cut off never quite sat well with me either, seeing it that we were robbed of important character development, so here I was able to amend it. Also, given their pasts, they can now experience boy and girl talk, as each of them have been unable to do so before coming to Beacon. One would think that would matter to each of them—especially with Jaune and Ren being "brothers".

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Speaking of which, this change of lodging allowed me to reveal Ren and Nora's back-story in a more natural fashion. I was not at all a fan of how they were handled overall—not addressing Nora's Semblance until V3, not addressing Ren's Semblance until V4, and quickly revealing and wrapping up their back-story in V4—so here I can begin the character development that was lacking from the start. There is no excuse as to why they did not introduce their back-story earlier in the show (past a throwaway line from Nora in V3) safe two: they did not think of it until years later, or they did not have the budget to include it until a later volume. Neither of these are valid in my mind, however, for if a simple conversation is too much to ask, either due to lack of planning or coin, then the show is dead on arrival. In the end, it confirms that RWBY was rushed from the get-go, and the consequences were far-reaching. Of course, I have deeper thoughts on Ren and Nora's back-story itself, but that will be discussed at a later date.

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Also, this change allowed me to reveal what exactly are Ren and Nora's feelings for one another. To this very day they have not been explored, let alone explored properly, and since they seemed fairly obvious, I knew I had to cover it. Making Ren completely oblivious to her feelings was just not feasible, so I instead gave him a reason similar to Jaune, which in turn allows them to better understand one another. It may not lead where you think, but it will do them all some good—I dare say more that some.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (6)

With that said, I hope you all enjoyed this first chapter, and that you will continue to enjoy yourself to the very last. Cheers and see you all next time 。^^

Notes:

And here's the first chapter! I hope it's piqued your interest, and will hold it till the end. Happy Halloween and Carpe Noctem!

Oh, and speaking of never-ending horror, just in case I don't post the next chapter before the start of V8, I might as well give my predictions. Ironwood is going to die, Jacques will die, Oscar will probably die, Ren might die, Wasp will become canon, and then the company will go under.

I hope that this fic will be refuge for all ye heartbroken fans.

Chapter 2: No Good Deed

Chapter Text

The following morning was a beautiful one, though its beauty was appreciated differently by each member of Teams RWBY and JNPR. Ruby and Yang would have preferred to have slept in, as they were still not used to waking so early. Blake awoke feeling rested for the first time in a while, but was a tad reluctant to leave her warm bed. Weiss was the best off, and was already preparing for the coming day.

Team JNPR was in a similar situation. Nora was too engrossed with her dreams of Ren and food to be roused, even with Pyrrha, who woke rested and full of energy, doing her best to wake her. Ren had awoken earlier than either of them, but only because he had been disturbed by Jaune preparing to leave their dorm, intending to return the dress he had hastily borrowed the night before.

Eventually, the two teams made their way to the Beacon dining hall, in various states of consciousness. Sitting across from one another, they each began to eat their breakfasts while discussing the previous night.

"Well, last night was fun" said Yang, biting into a piece of toast.

"Yes, it was," agreed Weiss, sipping her tea, "minus all the foibles with planning the event, everything turned out well."

"And whose fault was that?" the blonde asked coyly.

"Excuse me? You were the one was trying to turn the Dance into a rave!"

"But not every dance is a formal ball, Weiss!"

"My entire life has been formal balls and gatherings. Therefore, I brought that experience to organizing this one" defended the Ice Queen, taking another sip of her tea. "Regardless, I compromised where necessary, and it went without a hitch. The true issue was the limited time for preparation. These kinds of events take weeks of planning, so the blame falls on the school for informing us of the responsibility on such short notice."

"I can agree with that" admitted Yang, finishing her toast.

"I think you both did a wonderful job. I very much enjoyed myself" compliment Pyrrha, smiling.

"Thank you, Pyrrha" said Weiss, returning the smile, "that's very nice of you."

"Speaking of enjoying the Dance..." said Yang with a grin spreading on her face, "someone seemed to have really enjoyed herself..."

The blonde Huntress-in-training's eyes rested on Blake, who didn't realize she had become the focus of the conversation, until she looked up from her meal and saw nearly all of her friends were looking at her.

"Wait, what?" she asked confused.

"You came back rather late last night..." stated Weiss, bringing her teacup to her lips but pausing to look over the rim at her Faunus teammate, "...care to fill us on the details?"

"Oh, I think I can fill in most of them" said Yang, resting her chin in her right palm, propped up by her elbow so she could look down the dinner table; a sh*t-eating grin on full display as she raised her left hand showing three fingers. "One third begins with S," she retracted her ring finger, "another third begins with N," she retracted her middle finger, "and the last third which is missing is..." she turned her left hand and gestured with her thumb and index finger like a pistol at Blake "...U."

The normally gloomy Huntress-in-training was now very much flustered, eyes wide, and cheeks burning red.

"W-Wha–" she began to stutter, eyes darting between each of her friends who were all beginning to grow grins of their own, minus Ruby who was picking at her food with her fork.

"Went off with Sun in the night, did you?" asked Nora, leaning forward.

"I-we-wait!" Blake stammered, her face becoming redder by the second. "Yes, we left the party together, but it was because I felt bad for turning Sun down, so I thought we could go for a walk to make up for it!"

"Uhuh, and how exactly did you make up for it?" asked Yang suggestively.

"We just talked!" defended the Faunus. "We went for a walk, and we talked! That's all!"

"No kissing under the moonlight?" added Weiss.

"No! And what about you?" asked Blake, pointing at the Atlassian. "You left with Neptune!"

"Neptune was a complete and utter gentleman" Weiss retorted, her cheeks tinged only slightly pink. "We danced, we chatted at length, and he walked me back to the dorm and kissed my hand."

"How suave of him" commented Pyrrha.

"Yes, though I will have to teach him to dance."

"Oh, he couldn't have been that bad."

"He..." paused Weiss, trying to find the right words without sounding overly harsh, "...tried his best."

Pyrrha covered her mouth trying to suppress a giggle.

"Well, no one is perfect" she said, smiling. "I'm sure you'll be a good teacher."

"Of course," Weiss replied confidently, raising her teacup. "Not all of us can have partners that are secretly expert dancers."

"I wouldn't go so far as call myself an expert..." said a voice, causing the students to turn their heads to Jaune, who stood with a tray of food in his hands, "...but I do appreciate the compliment."

The blond's eyes then rested on Pyrrha, who began to blush from his gaze, the memories of the previous night returning. The same memories were also playing in Jaune's mind, causing him to smile warmly as he sat beside her.

Immediately, their friends could sense that the atmosphere had changed, and Nora most of all, was ready to take full advantage.

"Did you have any issues at the shop?" asked Pyrrha.

"No, not at all. The shop owner was just happy nothing was damaged, and I actually returned it" replied Jaune, adding sugar to his coffee. The couple gazed at one another for a moment or two longer than they realized, leaving them unaware of the others watching them curiously.

"I take it you also enjoyed yourself last night?" asked Weiss,

"Hmm? Yes, I did. The dance was really fun, minus the initial social awkwardness" replied Jaune, cutting a piece of breakfast sausage.

There was a moment of silence as Jaune began to eat. The others watched him, each preparing for the right moment to strike. Pyrrha was now aware of what was going on, and felt her cheeks warm, knowing that their friends were going to exploit the situation to the fullest.

Jaune finally began to notice his friends were staring at him, and he looked around in confusion.

"What?" he asked at last.

"Did anything of note happen late night?" asked Blake, now glad to no longer be on the receiving end.

"Uh, n-no–"

"I know what happened!" cut in Nora, no longer able to contain herself.

"Oh? Do tell" said Yang, grinning from ear to ear.

Nora planted her elbows on the table, resting her chin in her palms, and was smiling wildly and radiantly.

"Jaune asked Pyrrha ooo-ut~!" she sang excitedly.

The aforementioned couple began to blush, not expecting to be discovered and put on blast so soon.

"Really? Oh Jaune, how are you handing the rejection?" asked Yang in mock concern.

"I-I said yes!" defended Pyrrha, blushing even deeper.

"Wow..." exclaimed the blonde Huntress-in-training, eyebrows raised exaggeratedly. "So, guys in dorky PJs and dresses do it for ya, huh?"

Jaune eyed the elder Xiao Long, and knew that she was baiting for reactions from both him and his lieutenant. Instead of giving her what she wanted, he smirked and grabbed his coffee.

"That's bold talk coming from someone who went to the Dance alone" he said calmly, taking a sip of his drink. "And you can't use the excuse that you were too busy with planning, since Weiss went with Neptune."

Yang squinted at the taller blond with pursed lips.

"Well played, Arc" she said nodding, earning a wink and a raised glass from the captain of Team JNPR. She then tried to hit him with a tatter from her plate, but he managed to avoid it by quickly leaning to the left.

"Well, it's great to see that you finally came around" said Blake genuinely.

"Yes, congratulations" added Weiss, "And thank you for speaking with Neptune. I very much appreciate that."

"Hey, no worries. I know when to call it quits," Jaune admitted, showing he was no longer hurt by the heiress' rejection, "but I have to point out the 'coming around' comments. That's been pretty much everyone's reaction thus far. That's far better than disapproval obviously, but were Pyrrha's feelings obvious to everyone but m–"

"Yes!" everyone cut in unanimously.

Jaune's eyes widened as he looked at all of his friends, before his gaze finally rested on Pyrrha, who was smiling with both amusem*nt and bashfulness.

"Sorry" he said, looking down in shame. Pyrrha took his hand and squeezed comfortingly.

"As I said last night, there's nothing to forgive. I'm just happy you changed your mind" she reassured, her eyes gleaming with love.

The blond couldn't suppress a smirk and squeezed back, taking in her beauty as if they were the only ones in the dining hall. Of course they weren't, which gave Nora another chance to tease.

"Now kiiiiiiissss~" the ginger cheered, getting a playful nudge from Ren.

"Be nice" he said, though not trying to restrain her.

Nora hardly noticed as she got the reaction she wanted from her teammates, who were now both blushing and flustered. The others were equally amused, enjoying how cute the new couple were being.

"So, you two are officially together, right?" asked Yang.

"W-Well, we haven't gone on a proper date yet" admitted Jaune. "There was the Dance yeah, but that was rushed and wasn't about talking of relationship goals and stuff like that. I think it's only going to be official when we go on real dates and cement the relationship. Right?"

He had turned to address Pyrrha with the final statement, earning a courteous nod in reply.

"Yes, it would only be fair" replied the redhead, though in her heart of hearts, already considered Jaune to be her man, and completely irreplaceable.

"So in the meantime, you're both free to hook up with whoever?" Yang asked.

"Of course not!" the captain and lieutenant of Team JNPR cried in unison.

Obviously, Yang had not been serious with her question, only continuing her game of teasing. The reaction caused the others to laugh, knowing that the couple were indeed officially together, romantic dates under their belts or not.

"Well, you all seem nice and lively this morning" said a voice.

The group turned to see it was none other than Sun speaking, with Neptune to his right, both smiling brightly. The Vacuan Faunus' eyes rested on Blake, causing her to blush, as a roguish grin spread across his face.

"Of course!" chimed Nora, "We're talking about how everyone's dates went last night."

"Oh really? Mind if we join you?"

"Not at all. Have a seat" gestured Yang.

Weiss, who noticed how Sun had looked at Blake, moved over to her left, giving him enough room to sit next to her teammate. As Sun took his seat, Neptune sat to Weiss' left, and wished her a good morning, earning himself a reserved but sweet reply, accompanied with a light blush on the heiress' cheeks.

"So, did everyone have a good one?" asked Sun.

"Yup! But none of us had it better than these two since they're going out" quipped the ginger.

"Wait really? Congrats" Sun said, giving the new couple a thumbs up.

"I figured that was the case after the stunt you pulled last night. Even I can't pull off looking cool in a dress" Neptune said honestly.

"Cool is not how I would describe it" Yang snickered.

"Again..." Jaune responded, this time being bolder by sliding his right hand around Pyrrha's waist, and pulling her closer, "which one of us got a partner to the Dance and left with a date?"

Pyrrha's face had turned rather scarlet from her captain's sudden act of manliness, which only deepened when she saw the confident smirk on his face.

Yang had expected Jaune's retort, and quickly returned on the offensive.

"Well then Mr. Prince Charming, have you even kissed your date yet?"

This time the blonde Huntress-in-training had landed a solid hit, as both Jaune and Pyrrha blushed and looked at one another nervously.

"W-Well...yes..." the swordsman said slowly.

"Liar" Nora blurted out. "Pyrrha just kissed him on the cheek."

"Pfft, that's it? Boring."

"That's what I said."

"Oh, come on!" protested Pyrrha, her face now matching the colour of her hair. "Why are both you so fixated on Jaune and I jumping that far into our relationship so soon? What about them?"

She pointed at Sun, Blake, Neptune, and Weiss, who were all at differing levels of flustered; Blake being the most, followed by Weiss, then Neptune, and then Sun being more amused than embarrassed.

"Well, they are just starting to get to know one another, whereas you've been crushing on Jaune ever since you met him. And you're both on my team so it's extra important—and you're fun to tease" confessed the ginger without shame.

Yang and Sun burst out laughing, and high fived the thunderess enthusiastically. Jaune and Pyrrha hung their heads in red-faced defeat, knowing that this would continue for the entirety of their relationship, or when they finally made love, though there was no guarantee that the teasing would end there. Pyrrha then felt her Scroll vibrate in her pocket, and slowly pulled it out, glad to have some form of distraction from the situation she was in.

"So, Vale's turning out to be a pretty fun place. Wouldn't ya say, Neptune?" complemented Sun.

"Yes, I'd think so" agreed the blue-haired Vacuan. "Nice capital, nice night life, nice people, and a nice start to the Vytal Festival."

"Though there was a severe lack of cold booze at the Dance last night, to be honest" Sun remarked.

"I like the way you think, Sun, but the school forbad the inclusion of a co*cktail menu. I tried to change their minds, but nope, no booze. I think someone got in trouble trying to spike the punch last night too" agreed Yang.

"Aren't you technically still underage?" asked Blake, which caused Sun to scoff.

"As if that matters in Vacuo!" he replied bluntly. "Vacuo is a harsh place, where you need to be tougher than nails to survive. If the blazing heat of the desert doesn't kill you, then a million other things will. So, there's plenty of other things to worry about than if some teenager is having a beer. And let's be real, there's nothing like a cold one after a hard Hunt. So, I guess that's the one flaw of Vale so far. Well, that and the weather. It's too cold here, right, dude?"

Neptune nodded in silent agreement, both which caused Weiss to nearly spit out her tea. She coughed loudly as the blue-haired lieutenant placed his hand on her back in an attempt to sooth her, before she looked at the both of them in bewilderment.

"Excuse me?" she demanded, eyes wide. "Perhaps I misheard, but did you just say that it is too cold here?"

"Yeah, that's what I said."

The Schnee heiress' mouth hung open in shock.

"Are you insane? How in Remnant could you possibly think that Vale is cold? We are just at the beginning of spring, and it is positively humid! Winter cannot come soon enough. Gods, how I miss the snow" sighed Weiss.

"We're from desert country, Ice Queen. It gets to nearly 50° at high noon, and almost 70° in the centre of Vacuo. Now that is hot!"

"To be fair, it does get to nearly 0° at night" chimed in Neptune, "especially in the winter where it can hit -5°."

The Monkey Faunus shivered from the thought, which caused the Atlassian Huntress-in-training to scoff.

"Minus five? That is still autumn wear weather! In Atlas, it hits fifty below in the city, and in the tundra lands to the north, where there are no trees to slow the polar winds, the temperature drops to -70° with ease. And I say with ease because even we Atlassians have been unable to develop devices that can survive the northern climate to record the temperatures at the peak of winter. In short, we have no clue how cold it can get" she explained, with a sort of pride that seemed alien to the others, though was hardly any different than Sun's pride of Vacuo's own unforgiving climate.

"Remind me never to visit Atlas, would ya?" said Sun to Blake. "I'll stick to sand, sun, and the only ice in sight is in my drink."

"Hmmm. It doesn't sound so bad" commented Nora, oddly intrigued by Weiss' description of Atlas, though she didn't know exactly why.

"I love summer for the beaches, I love fall for the colours, and I love relaxing near the fire in winter...but if those are the two extremes I gotta work with, I'm gonna stay right here" said Yang, rubbing the dining table with both palms.

"Just a moment" realized the lady rapierist, "if you find that Vale is too cold, then why are you going about with your jacket open with no shirt beneath it?"

The Vacuan Faunus looked at Weiss as if she had suggested that the moon was in one piece.

"What? And hide the goods?" he inquired in stupefaction, passing his hands down his torso like an artist displaying a masterpiece, with Blake's eyes following. "Now who's being crazy here?" he said while flashing his roguish grin.

Weiss simply rolled her eyes at the Faunus, unsurprised by the explanation.

"As long as you dress competently, then you will be able to enjoy Atlas and all her beauty. But if you must feel the heat, then you can make full use of our saunas and hot springs; that would be the best of both worlds."

"I'll take a rain check on that" he said, making Neptune laugh, though the others weren't aware of the meaning behind the comment.

The heiress rolled her eyes once again, which got a laugh from the others, as it was clear that neither were going to win each other over.

"Oh no..." moaned Pyrrha, causing her friends to look at her with concern.

"What's wrong?" asked Jaune, clearly seeing the distress in his lieutenant's eyes.

Pyrrha covered her face with her right hand as she held up her Scroll with her left, so that her captain could see what had upset her. Jaune looked at the screen and saw that it was a photo of a newspaper called the "Argus Tribune", on what appeared to be a kitchen table, with a cup of coffee sitting beside it. It was on the front page with a large photo of himself and Pyrrha dancing, just below a large title that said, "Champion of Mistral Goes to Beacon Dance With Unknown Huntsman". Jaune was confused at why their photo was in the news, and more so of who sent it, rather than a link to the digital version of the article. It was then that he noticed the photo was sent through the Scroll default messaging client, from a contact named "Mother".

Pyrrha looked at Jaune through her fingers, hiding only a portion of her blush.

"My mother says she is very much looking forward to meeting you" she said slowly.

This realization caused the blond to blush as well, though it was more due to embarrassment than with romance. He had been fine with a little humiliation to make up for his mistakes, and in the end, he could laugh it off as it had earned him a second date with an incredibly beautiful woman. However, it was the fact that Pyrrha's mother's first impression of him was one clad in a dress, that embarrassed the young man deeply.

"Your mom knows about Jaune?" asked Nora excitedly, believing this was another chance to tease her friends.

"Of course. I've told her about the team and Jaune being made captain the day JNPR was formed" replied the redhead, looking down at her Scroll dejected. "But that is not the issue." She held up her Scroll so that the rest of the table could see, and all were shocked to see its contents.

"Why is that in the news? And on the front page no less" asked Yang, stumped.

"It is because I am Pyrrha Nikos..." the champion replied breathlessly, noticing her mother was beginning to write to her. "There must have been a freelancer—or a student from outside of Beacon—who took a photo and sold it to the Argus Tribune." She began to tap on the screen to reply to her mother, before attempting to locate the original article. "And that is also the reason why it is on the front page. News that I went to the Dance with a date would draw the interest of the entirety of Mistral. The fact they referred to Jaune as an 'unknown Huntsman', means they are inflating the situation to make the story as gargantuan as possible. No doubt they'll begin looking into our relationship."

"Are you serious?"

Pyrrha sighed as she located the article. "It is one of the many joys of being a celebrity. Privacy is the cost of fame."

"That's gross" grimaced Sun, folding his arms, as the redhead took a breath and began to read.

"Last night was the beginning of the Vytal Festival, this time hosted by the Kingdom of Vale's crown jewel, the Academy of Beacon. As is tradition, a formal dance takes place to welcome the competitors to the host school, allowing them to settle in comfortably before the main tournament begins. Many Huntsmen and Huntresses-in-training go to the Dance together, most with members of their own teams, as dates, though many also take the opportunity to experience the local pickings. As champion of Mistral, it seemed appropriate that Miss Nikos would seek someone with equal skill, as there are no warriors of her generation that can compete within our Kingdom. I, and I am sure as did many others, waited with bated breath to hear of such news come to light in the coming weeks.

However, I was shocked to receive a message from a from a freelancer attending the party that Miss Nikos' date was none other than the young man in the dress you see in the photo above. Our freelancer said that he was baffled at what he was seeing, as this student walked straight up to Miss Nikos, and asked her to dance. He was baffled further when she accepted his offer and danced with him the entire evening, and was even spotted leaving the ball room together.

Immediately I began collaborating with our freelancer to gather as much information as possible on this mysterious student. What history does he have with our champion? On the ground information gathering proved to be incredibly difficult, as most had no idea who this Huntsman-in-training was. Most refer to him as 'the blond swordsman that hangs out with Weiss Schnee and Pyrrha Nikos'. My intrigue to know more about this young man began to grow, as he was rolling with the largest players in eastern Remnant. How could a Huntsman-in-training remain unknown whilst being familiar with the champion of Mistral and the heiress to the Schnee Dust Company? My own research was turning up empty, as no Huntsman or athlete of his description matched anyone of note from previous tournaments in either Mistral or Atlas, nor in Vale. This was incredibly confusing, as neither Huntress have ever been to Vale. So how could such a person, with enough prestige to be associated with them, go under the radar?

It was at last our freelancer than informed me that this Huntsman's name was Jaune Arc, and was none other than the captain of Miss Nikos' team named 'JNPR' (pronounced Juniper). This came as a shock to us all, as any team Miss Nikos would be a part of would no doubt place her as captain. However, I can confirm with the official first-year team registry that indeed, the team is called JNPR with Arc as captain, and Miss Nikos as lieutenant. In fact, their entire team, safe for Miss Nikos, are made of up unknowns. As shocking as this all may be, having Jaune Arc's name finally gave me the ability to do some proper research, and learn just who he was.

It grieves me to inform you all that Jaune Arc has no record of any kind. He has no accreditation or titles to his name, nor any notation. It would appear that this Jaune Arc, is a less than average first-year student. We are still waiting for a response from Beacon Academy's Huntmaster, Professor Samuel Ozpin, to confirm Jaune Arc's record. When a response is finally given, we will update this story as soon as humanly possible.

In the meantime, we are left to speculate on what exactly the relationship between this Jaune Arc, and Pyrrha Nikos is. Since he is indeed her captain, then perhaps them going to the Dance together was nothing more than a courtesy. Why he was in a dress, neither I nor our freelancer can say for certain, but it does give some insight into why Miss Nikos accepted his request to dance. She may have been embarrassed by the ordeal, and decided it would be best to go along with it, in order to save face. She very well might have felt such pity–"

The last sentence was the final straw for the Mistralese champion, who slammed her Scroll onto the table, causing the others to jump in shock.

"They always do this. They always have to do this!" she cried, her voice filled with frustration, and a deep scowl on her face.

The rest of the group, along with Ruby who had been lost in her own thoughts for the entire morning, looked at Pyrrha in complete shock. They had never seen her so frustrated, let alone angry, and yet here she was with all that emotion being clearly reflected in her eyes as she stared at the article. The only people who had seen her reveal some of the emotions that she kept hidden were Nora and Jaune, and the blond swordsman had seen a very good display of that frustration the previous night. It was because that seal had been broken, and her love for the young man being known, that she was now no longer trying to hide what she truly felt.

"Every time I have fought in a tournament, so called journalists go through my opponents' pasts, and belittle them. Instead of giving them the respect any Huntsman or Huntress deserves for taking up the Hunt, they mock them! I have lost count of the number of promising Huntsmen and athletes that lost their edge before battle because of the support I have received, and the subjugation they received. It's why I came to Beacon in the first place. I wanted to meet new and talented warriors, who were devoted to the cause, and where I would not be obsessed over. I'm so naive."

She turned to look at Jaune, who was gazing at her with a sombre face, knowing there was little he could say to comfort her.

"I'm so sorry, Jaune, now you're going to be swarmed by reporters demanding to know more about you and our relationship."

Her eyes were filled with remorse, and Jaune knew that this was her fears coming to life.

"Everything is going to be fine" he assured her, taking her hand once again. "I've got nothing to hide, and who cares if I don't have titles or whatever. So long as they leave my family alone, then they can do and say what they want about me."

This wasn't entirely true, however. While he did mean that he would gladly take the brunt of the paparazzi's ire if it meant protecting Pyrrha and his family, he did indeed have something to hide. The reason why his record was empty was because there was no record. He had forged his documentation to get into Beacon. What would happen if some journalist got their hands on his transcripts, and could prove they were forged? He'd be expelled, there was no question about that, but what would be the consequences for Pyrrha? Or Team JNPR for that matter? Those fears would be in his thoughts for a long time.

"Oh Gods! You need to contact your family to let them know" she gasped, covering her mouth, eyes widening in realization. "If they find out where they live, they'll pester them and dig into their history to get to you."

"I'll let them know. My eldest sister just had a baby, and they deserve their privacy" Jaune replied, though he wasn't looking forward to speaking to them. It was his rocky relationship with his family that led him to escape to Beacon in the first place, but he knew that it was the right thing to do.

"They can't really be that low to go bug your family, can they?" asked Yang, grossed out by the idea of reporters shoving a camera in the face of a young mother to get information.

"They are, I guess. My team is pretty popular, but it's never gotten that bad, thankfully" admitted Sun. "We like having the limelight on us, and it's been nothing but sunshine and roses; it's much easier to get into clubs, get free drinks, etc. We're obviously not as famous as Pyrrha, but if we ever start getting really nosey asses digging into our personal lives, then we're really gonna have some problems."

"Yeah, that's terrible. And to think that's how your mother learned about Jaune too" added Nora, knowing how important her friend's relationship with Jaune meant to her.

"Well, no I told her about the team..." repeated Pyrrha, looking at her Scroll and saw her mother had replied, saying that she believed nothing in the editorial, and that she trusted her judgement on who to date. Seeing that did alleviate some of the anxiety, and she thanked her before speaking. "It would have been nice to let her know about Jaune and I on my own terms."

"So, what does she think of me so far?" asked Jaune, scratching his cheek.

"Well...she did have some questions about the dress..." she replied, causing some snickering from the others, "but she seems to have a positive opinion of you. When I gave the context regarding the dress, she said that it spoke far louder than the several thousand-word long opinion piece masquerading as journalism."

That caused Jaune's pride to swell greatly, knowing now without question that his heart had been in the right place on all counts. Not only did it earn Pyrrha's forgiveness, but also won over her mother, whose approval he most certainly wanted.

"Well then" he said, preparing to take a sip of his coffee, "there's a silver lining after all."

"Yeah! And besides, there's got to be more important things to talk about than who's dating who, right? The papers will just move onto something else" reasoned Nora.

"Unfortunately not" sighed Weiss, holding up her Scroll to reveal a front-page article of the "Mantle Gazette", with a photo of herself dancing with Neptune, and an equally sensational title.

"You too?" blinked Blake in surprise.

"I may not be a celebrity in terms of my combat abilities" explained the heiress, closing her Scroll in annoyance, "but I am nevertheless a point of fixation for Atlas, given that I am the heiress of the Kingdom's oldest and most respected family."

"And what does Atlas think of me?" asked Neptune. "Have I also been thrown under the bus?"

Before Weiss could answer, her Scroll vibrated. She raised it to see who was calling her, and instantly slid a finger across the screen to hang up.

'Absolutely not' she thought. "Thankfully they have not. There are some that are disappointed you aren't some Atlassian politician's son or someone of that nature, some aren't pleased that you're from Vacuo, but otherwise seem to not have strong feelings one way or another."

"Why does it matter that he's from Vacuo?" asked Blake, which brought out a slightly out-of-character chuckle from Sun.

"Looks like there are still some who've got a grudge against us and the ol' King of Vale" he said, getting a smirk from his lieutenant.

"Wait, why would Atlas be mad at Vacuo because of the King of Vale? Vale doesn't even have a king" Nora remarked perplexed.

"Alexandre Vale, the last King, sided with Vacuo in the Great War, and defended it against Mistral and Atlas. You need to spend more time paying attention in Professor Oobleck's history classes, and less time sleeping" explained Ren, scolding her playfully as usual.

"Uh, it's Doctor Oobleck" corrected the ginger, wagging her finger dismissively. "See? I do pay attention."

"Ren is correct" added Pyrrha, with a more sombre expression on her face. "There are still those in Mistral that feel resentment towards Vale because of that past history. I do not doubt that if we traveled to other parts of the Kingdom of Vale and to Vacuo, we would find those who feel similarly to the Eastern Kingdoms."

"Well..." said Yang, after a short silence blanked itself over the group, as she finished off the rest of her breakfast, "so much for the Vytal Festival. What do you think, sis?" The blonde looked over at the miniature sniper when she didn't respond, and seeing that she was still staring at her plate, nudged her with her elbow. "Ruby."

The younger Xiao Long instantly snapped out of her thoughts and looked at her sister in confusion.

"Uh, what?"

"Did you hear anything that we just talked about?"

"Uuuuh..."

"What's up with you? You've been quiet all morning, and you've barely eaten your..." the blonde eyed her sister's meal which was a crepe filled to the point of bursting with chocolate spread, syrup, bananas, and powdered sugar, "breakfast."

"Is that what you call it?" asked Jaune, leaning forward and raising an eyebrow at his fellow captain's meal.

"I wouldn't. That's dessert" added Blake.

"No, it's breakfast" defended Ruby.

"There is nearly as much sugar in that as there is in the heated cup of syrup you call coffee" jeered Weiss, crossing her arms.

"I think it looks delicious" complimented Nora, feeling her hungry renewing.

"Don't encourage her" warned Yang, pointing at the thunderess. "But seriously, what's up? Is everything OK?"

Ruby sighed. "I can't stop thinking about what happened last night. I know that I've seen that woman before. She has to be who backed up Torchwick when he and his goons attacked that Dust shop I was at."

"Are you sure?" asked Blake, her focus becoming razor sharp.

The red-hooded girl nodded. "I could never forget her and her power. And that's what worries me. Not only do we have her and Torchwick's gang working together, but they're also working with the White Fang. That can't be good. Something big is coming."

"We can't be sure of that" Yang commented, worried that the conversation would reignite Blake's anxiety. "As far we can tell, this woman and Torchwick's gang are Human; why would they work with the White Fang?"

"Both are sound observations" said Pyrrha with a collected and sharp look on her face. "It is odd that a group such as the White Fang, solely driven by a cause involving the Faunus race, would align themselves with any Human faction. It is confusing, but not abnormal. There have been many times throughout history where opposing factions joined forces to deal with a common enemy. It's where we get the phrase 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'. Naturally, these coalitions of power descend into civil conflict, regardless of the outcome of their mission. If they succeed, then they fight amongst themselves for their new holdings, and if they begin to fail, they then blame one another, and implode.

This is why that phrase is rather misleading. If the only commonality between two factions is the hatred of a single enemy, then what happens when said enemy is vanquished? Friendship that can only be formed under the banner of hatred, is not friendship at all. Without sharing morals, principles, and ideals, there cannot be true unity. Nevertheless, our enemies do appear to be gathering at our gates, and it must be for a reason. I have fears regarding the White Fang, as a terrorist group mobilizing at the same time as a massive international gathering like the Vytal Festival, could spell..."

Pyrrha's words sent a chill down everyone's spine. The idea of a stadium full of civilian spectators, containing women and children, being targeted for an attack, made everyone's blood run cold and their stomachs twist. Blake was especially affected, as she secretly knew just how terrible the White Fang, and their leader, Adam Taurus, could be. She had seen his villainy firsthand, and while she did wish to defend the group's original goals, she painfully had to admit that their infamy was entirely deserved.

Weiss was equally disturbed by the notion, as the terrorist group had already done something of that nature eight months before in Atlas, utilizing a hijacked train with Schnee freight in tow, which resulted in the deaths of many innocent people. Her great loathing of the White Fang at times was mistaken as a dislike of the Faunus themselves. However, she had only began to think of them when she became aware of the White Fang's attacks on Mantle and her family's company. If they were going to unleash terror upon the capital city of Albion, then on her honour, she would fight for its citizens.

"The more I learn about the White Fang, the more I hate them" said Sun rather coldly, though it came out more as a low growl. "If they do something terrible like that here, then at best it will unite the Humans and Faunus of Vale against them, and at worst, would start a race war...which might be what they want, now that I think about it. They should learn a few lessons on how we do it in Vacuo: if you're tough enough to survive, you're one of us. Who and what you are doesn't matter."

"Not a bad system" agreed Yang, with Sun and Neptune nodding along.

The other Faunus remained quiet, knowing anything she could say would reveal more than she wanted, and decided to instead think of what in Remnant Adam was planning. Weiss was also in thought, and was about to speak, when her Scroll once again began to vibrate. She instinctively prepared her right index finger to kill the call, when she noticed that the caller was not who she had expected. The white-haired Huntress-in-training hesitated for a few moments, before slowly sliding across the hang-up command.

'I'm sorry sister, but not right now' she thought, closing her Scroll.

The air surrounding the table had become noticeably heavy, obviously due to the topic they had just discussed. The young Huntsmen-in-training were all lost in thought, when a voice boomed over the school's intercom system.

"Would Miss Ruby Rose please come to Huntmaster Ozpin's office immediately? Miss Ruby Rose to Huntmaster Ozpin's office immediately."

The voice was none other than Glynda Goodwitch, the Deputy-Huntmistress. From her tone it was impossible to tell if there was something urgent that the Huntmaster wanted to converse on, however, given that Ruby was being called specifically, gave the others a fairly clear idea of what was on the table.

"Looks like we're not the only ones wanting answers" remarked Jaune, looking up at one of the dining hall speakers, before turning his gaze to his fellow captain. "You better get going and get back quick. We'll be shipping out soon."

"Wait, we are?" asked Ruby confused.

"I saw a fleet of ships docked at our skyport this morning on my way back, and I overheard the crew of those ships discussing something about special runs for Hunts and other missions requested by Beacon. It probably has something to do with the festival" he explained.

"Oh, this could be interesting" said Sun grinning.

Ruby got to her feet and began to walk towards the doors of the hall, when Nora caused her to halt.

"Are you gonna eat that?" she asked, eyeing the crepe hungrily. The sniper turned on a dime, returning to the table, and quick as lightning, inhaled her breakfast, before scampering away to Ozpin's office.

The others, minus Yang who was used to this behaviour, were left in wide-eyed shock.

"Well, I'm impressed" Nora commented at last.

"I didn't think there was anyone who could match you in eating" added Ren genuinely.

"And where does it all go?" asked Blake.

"She eats so unhealthily" groaned Weiss, rubbing her temples. "How does she eat so many sweets and pastries, and yet remains that petite?"

"Well..." began Yang sighing, "the theory I subscribe to after being her sister for fifteen years, is that it instantly fuels her Semblance."

The ginger snorted. "So, her speed isn't her powers, it's just a sugar rush?" she laughed, clutching her sides. The rest of Team JNPR chuckled along with her, with the remaining members of Team RWBY and Team SSSN joining in.

"Right ho, if what you're saying it true, then Neptune and I better get back to our team and get ready" announced the Monkey Faunus, rising to his feet.

"Hmmm. We should" agreed Neptune, standing as well, and looked down at the Schnee heiress. "Hope to see you soon" he added with a smile, causing her to blush lightly.

"Cheers and see y'all later!" echoed Sun to the Beacon students, before adding a salute directed at Blake. "See you around, beautiful" he said with a wink, causing her to smile and blush as well.

The Beaconites were at last left to themselves, each thinking of what would be waiting for them in the coming days. Jaune was wondering how to approach speaking to his family about Pyrrha, and how to deal with reporters digging into his past. Pyrrha was thinking similar thoughts, along with their relationship being in the open. Ren and Nora were both thinking of one another, and Yang was thinking of the coming battles with a mixture of excitement and uncertainty.

It was Blake and Weiss that were having the most turbulent thoughts. Blake was of course racking her brain over what Adam was doing working with Torchwick, and this mysterious woman. She had known him for years, and he had never shown sympathy for Humans. His hatred for them had grown stronger over time, till the point that he felt justification in committing atrocities in the name of White Fang. If he was willing to join forces with Humans, she had a terrible feeling that it was not due to him having a change of heart, but rather a means to an even viler end.

Weiss was equally uncertain of what was going on with their enemy. Fighting against the local organized crime seemed like fun to the young Atlassian heiress, but now things were beginning to turn into something more dire. She had never possessed any resentment to the Faunus. Honestly, she was indifferent, and saw them as neither inferior nor superior. She was a daughter of the House of Schnee, thus came with a natural prestige above others. Nevertheless, she was still bound by honour to not sully the name of her House by subjecting others to cruelty or belittlement for simply being not of the same status. It was a balancing act of knowing that being of the oldest family of Atlas meant being of a higher standing, but not an autocrat. To put it simply, it was the difference between being an elite and being an elitist. Of course, there were those who still perceived them to be the latter, but Weiss had striven to remain true and unshaken.

That changed when the White Fang began to target her family. When the White Fang began to sink their jaws into the city of Mantle, and began to claw at the Schnee Dust Company, Weiss started to see a change in her family. How much her father's frustration began to eat away at their peace, how much cargo and money was lost to raids and sabotage, and how their name was being dragged through the mud. However, the crime that drove Weiss to truly hate the White Fang, was the night they hijacked an entire train with a large shipment of their Dust onboard, and took dozens of hostages. The military had been called in to deal with the situation, and believed that Adam Taurus would be willing to negotiate, as the hostages must not have been in his plans. They only learned the truth when it was too late. The White Fang detonated bombs on the train, tripling the explosive power by igniting the refined and unrefined Dust, and killing all aboard, along with soldiers and Huntsmen.

It was then that Weiss began to truly loath the White Fang. It was then that she decided to take action. Her sister had chosen to serve in the military after becoming a Huntress, to bring honour and respect to the Schnee name without having to run the company. While she had no interest in serving, Weiss did want to join in the fight, and decided to become a Huntress. Her decision to study in Vale as opposed to Atlas, was due to her wanting to benefit and uphold her family name, whilst not having to be there with them, and deal with her father's disappointments.

If the White Fang was attempting to commit another atrocity, then on her name and honour, she would stop them.

λΛλ

The senior Huntsmen watched Ruby as she left Ozpin's office. Just as the door closed behind her, Huntmaster-General Ironwood turned to face his friends with a smirk on his face.

"Not very good at being subtle, is she?" he said, seating himself on one of the chairs before Ozpin's desk. "Not at all like her mother."

The Beacon Huntmaster gave his old friend a small chuckle as he took his own seat.

"Nonetheless, she's indeed Summer's daughter" he said softly, with both nostalgia and forlornness in his voice.

"Indeed. She has the same initiative to help others and protect the innocent. Furthermore, it would seem" the General said as he fished out a long cigar from inside his coat, as well as a metal lighter, "that Miss Rose and her friends have been gathering a little intelligence of their own."

"The woman is without question the same that I fought that night" added Glynda, "but what's this about a hideout in the Southeast?"

"That I believe" answered Ironwood, punching a hole in the cap before stoking his cigar to life, "was her attempt to subtly let us know of said gathered intelligence—as subtle as a Nevermore in a chicken coop."

"That she gets from her father" replied Ozpin, getting a quick but hearty laugh from his fellow Huntmaster.

"Right then. I can have a scout team ready to move out in twenty minutes. In the meantime, I'll lend a hand with figuring out what this woman was doing snooping around the campus with my cyber division."

"Much appreciated, James. Do inform your scouts to keep an eye out for friendlies, as no doubt Team RWBY or Team JNPR will attempt to take a shadowing mission today in the Southeast."

"First-years can't take such mission" corrected the Deputy-Huntmistress, though she knew Ozpin was well aware.

"Of course, but I have no doubt they will try to do so anyways. As you said James, she wants to show that she can take the initiative. Perhaps we should help her along" said Ozpin, his fingers interlaced and resting in his lap.

"Are you suggesting we allow her and her team to sniff around for the enemy hideout?" Ironwood asked, slightly puzzled. "Only in the field can you gain true experience, but to send out green troops on such a sensitive mission might do more damage than good. And in Miss Rose's case, you can still smell the milk."

"Well to be fair, that has more to do with her obsession with pastries" said Ozpin, bringing his teacup to his lips.

Ironwood took a long draw of his cigar, and leaned back in his chair as he slowly exhaled the bluish-grey smoke.

"Like mother like daughter" he echoed with a sigh, before rising to his feet. "Right then, time to get to work. I'll get to my scouts and leave you to the shadowed missions. I'll have my cyber division contact you shortly, though we'll need the Crow to roost to positively ID this infiltrator. If he does before I see him, let me know. Good day, Sam. Glynda."

The General gave his friend a courteous salute and a polite nod to the Huntress, before leaving the office and closing the door behind him. There was then a rather pregnant pause, which Glynda broke after realizing that Ozpin wasn't going to.

"Do you think that She's planning an attack?" she asked, trying her best to hide her alarm.

The silver-haired Huntmaster stared into his teacup, looking deep into the amber coloured liquid, as if trying to foresee what was to come.

"Always."

Author's Notes:

While this is a relatively short chapter, and technically speaking, only made up of two scenes, there are still a few things that I think are rather important to cover for the overall picture of RWBY. That said, I think most of you picked up on them without my dissection, but being thorough is something I like to do. Let us begin.

Friendly Banter

When I first watched the show, I found it rather odd that after such an eventful night like the Beacon Dance, the cast did not want to talk about it. Obviously, it is not their fault, it is the writers', but I still think it reflects poorly on them. This is a continuation of what I did in Chapter I, where the cast is actually allowed to talk to one another like regular people, as regular teenagers, and as friends. The lack of these interactions—from friendly banter to heartfelt, and even sensitive, confiding—has been detrimental to the show, which, to this very day, has been a massive problem. People—rightfully so—do not see these characters as friends, with every interaction being stilted, unnatural, and awkward.

So instead, I had them chatting about what you would expect them to: boys, girls, and the weather.

Regarding boys and girls, unlike most Anime and Manga, where characters have crushes and nothing really comes of it, RWBY—or rather, Monty—actually made it part of the story with tangible consequences. Now that is a subversion of expectations I can get behind. Of course, CRWBY decided to ignore all of that with V3 and beyond, and while I have already moved to correct this in these first two chapters, we will go much deeper into that subject at later date. I figured that it would be fun to have these characters act like friends and tease, support, and congratulate each other with their dating ventures—especially since they took the time to do so beforehand.

As for the weather, I always found it odd that despite the fact that these characters come from every corner of the world, they do not act like it. They do not talk about their home Kingdoms, they do not talk about what it is like coming to a new Kingdom for the first time, they do not ask questions about customs—all actions and reactions that you would expect, for they are completely normal. On top of that is the Vytal Festival, where the point of it, or so we have been told, is to show the unity that the four Kingdoms have. Again, you have characters from all over the world, yet they act like it is all the same. That might be the case from one major metropolis to another in our world, but that is absolutely disappointing (and downright destructive) in fantasy. It is so simple, so Human, so small an act, for characters to speak about their homelands, and yet so impactful and pivotal in the long run—especially when it is missing. Furthermore, in my full rewrite, weather becomes a running gag throughout the story, with characters reacting to the cold of Atlas and the heat of Vacuo in their own unique ways, which you have seen a taste of here.

That reminds me, what Weiss said is 100% true, as that is how the winters are in Canada. The True White North, indeed.

In the Papers

While I know I am not the only one who has questioned how little Pyrrha's celebrity status effects the story and the world, despite her being affected by it on a personal level, there is still a large number of people who do not consider it an issue. I think it is an issue—massively so—thus I decided to have people commenting on Jaune and Pyrrha going to the Dance together. In that same vein, I did it for Weiss and Neptune, as she too is considered a celebrity in the world of Remnant, yet not treated as such narratively. To me, this was beyond obvious, so why did they not touch on it past a few throwaway lines and Pyrrha's outburst, as well as completely ignoring it with Weiss? I cannot be certain, though the usual suspects are budget, absentmindedness, stupidity, laziness, lack of interest, and time. It could be any of these or any combination of them, and boy, was it a costly error—at least for those of us who care—so I had to address it here, as well as in future chapters.

This scene also allowed me to touch on the state of the world that perhaps not everyone can get along after a World War—very much like in our world—and it is up to future generations to not blame the sons for the sins of the fathers. Obviously, I did not want to make a huge deal of it (at least for now), but since a World War, one that occurred in a world where fighting monsters would take priority, would affect how a world develops, I figured it should at least be mentioned.

Virus Scan

Am I the only one who thought when Cinder was caught messing about, "Well, just do a full network diagnostic and you'll see what's up"? I was shocked that Ozpin and co did not bother—something that continued into V3—and to be frank, this makes the heroes appear quite stupid, thus making it hard to root for them. We will, however, get into that later on in the story, so, for now, let that be food for thought. May it not cause indigestion or food poisoning.

And that is the second chapter! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you next time.

Chapter 3: To Stand By Your Side

Chapter Text

The past few weeks had been both incredibly eventful, and incredibly calm. Team RWBY's raid on Roman Torchwick's hideout had been more successful than originally expected. Ruby and her team had slowed down their enemies, as well as the Grimm, giving Teams JNPR, CFVY, SSSN, and the Atlassian military, enough time to ready themselves and launch a counter-attack. They pushed into the tunnels and continued to slay the Grimm, ensuring that none could break through again. There were still members of the White Fang hiding below ground, most of who had not expected to be flanked or were left onboard the train, and chose to either die fighting or surrender.

The march was slow given the debris, but thanks to General Ironwood deploying a full company of his armour division, they were able to punch through and allow the Huntsmen and the soldiers to press on deeper. Their mission, though unknown to the Huntsmen-in-training, was to recover any and all intelligence that remained, in whatever condition they found it. Correspondences, notes, dossiers, hard drives, maps, manifests; anything that could provide the Huntmasters with information about their enemy's plans. Unfortunately, there was not much intelligence to gather. Torchwick had not been a fool, and had either hidden vital information, or destroyed it. But what did remain would be utilized to its fullest, however useful it proved to be.

Despite his cleverness in covering his tracks, Torchwick had not been able to escape, and was currently being held prisoner by Ironwood. Attempts had been made to interrogate him, but so far, he had not let slip any information that they did not already know. While speaking with Ozpin, the General had commented that he had expected the crime lord to crack given that his empire was falling to pieces, and wouldn't survive without him there to control his goons and manage his dealings. What he was surprised to discover was that Torchwick was still incredibly confident, and appeared to have not an ounce of concern for himself or his gang. Ironwood argued that this could be due to him being delusional, or him being aware of information that they did not possess. Ironwood's final comment was just as intriguing and disturbing as the second; that Torchwick's silence was on par with that of the most loyal of soldiers, more willing to die than to spill their guts. The immediate question that came to all their minds was why? Why would someone like Torchwick, who before this year had never garnered this level of power and ambition, align himself with the White Fang, have command of their fighters, and plan assaults? Furthermore, his gang's gathering of supplies in such great quantities was worrying, for it appeared to the Huntmaster-General as the gathering of war materiel. Continuing in that vein, why would a mere gang leader have this level of loyalty to his comrades? Thus far they had no explanation, but Ironwood was confident that they would get the answers they were looking for.

Unfortunately for the elder Huntsmen, there was one piece of information they were not provided; a piece held by Yang Xiao Long. Team RWBY had been asked to file reports about their assault on the train with Doctor Oobleck. Ruby's report was most appreciated as she had been captured by Torchwick, and Ozpin and Ironwood were hoping that she would have been privy to information that they had not yet discovered. However, they were looking in the wrong place, as Yang's report would have held information that would both illuminate and complicate the situation...if she had chosen to mention it. Yang had lied in her report that her opponent had fled after taking too much damage, leaving out that she had been saved by an unknown warrior. This warrior, clad head to toe in black with a strange helmet, and possibly wielding a sword, had scared off Yang's attacker, before leaving without a word by opening a portal. Without question the knowledge of this new player would be valued by Ozpin and his allies, as not only was someone with the power to create portals alarming, but attempting to discover the allegiance of said warrior, would be paramount.

Of course, none present would have been able to identify this new warrior. No emblems or insignias, no Kingdom crests, no uniform, nothing at all to point to their origin. Yang hadn’t been able to determine if they were Human or Faunus, or even their gender. With nothing to work with, and given that she was barely conscious with blurred vision at the time of her rescue, Yang decided not to mention the warrior as a way of thanking them—if nothing else. Since then, both the White Fang and Torchwick's goons had appeared to have gone underground, making no visible movements, signaling that they had gone dormant; at least for the time being. This then left Huntmaster-General Ironwood and Grand Huntmaster Ozpin to their own devices, combing over the intelligence they recovered, along with continuing to plan the Vytal Festival Tournament.

This had been what the others decided to focus on as well, as both Team RWBY and JNPR began to train for the upcoming event. Their recent battles had made it clear that they needed to sharpen their skills, as well as polish up their teamwork. Both captains were aware of this fact most of all, Ruby for being so easily defeated and captured, and Jaune for being himself. They realized that things needed to change and change quickly, not only for the upcoming tournament, but for all battles to come. If they were to be true Huntsmen, to take on not only the hordes of Grimm, but evil people, Human and Faunus alike, they would need to improve. Ruby began focusing on refining her tactics and team combinations, maximizing not only her effectiveness as a sniper, but the effectiveness of her teammates.

Jaune was even more dedicated to self-improvement, spurred on from his recent involvement with Pyrrha, and his private conversation with Ren. He began scheduling training sessions with his lieutenant whenever there was room for them. He no longer tried to avoid his training—not even regarding Aura. Instead, when Pyrrha would suggest they focus on that for the day, he would nod and not complain. On top of increasing his training with Pyrrha, he also began training with Ren. It was not only so that both of them could improve together, as well as spend more time discussing the women they loved, but to train specifically on hand-to-hand combat. With the blond swordsman's options in combat being so limited, he decided it would be best to build on any and all things at his disposal.

Pyrrha and Nora began doing the same; the two strongest members of Team JNPR, testing their might against one another. It also gave them more time to talk about Jaune and Ren, continuing the conversations they previously had. They were having more and more of these chats as of late, mirroring the boys, as neither of them had such an opportunity before coming to Beacon. Furthermore, they were both emboldened from the events of the Dance. Nora was especially encouraged, as she now no longer felt stranded in her attempts to convey her feelings for Ren to him. Without question Ren had been a good friend and brother to her for a long time, but after her feelings for him turned into romantic love, she felt trapped, unable to express herself honestly. Pyrrha had now become an outlet for her feelings, and in turn, Nora felt that she was becoming a sister to her.

These new training regiments were proving to aid Team JNPR greatly, building not only their strength as a team, but trust as friends. Pyrrha was especially enjoying the training, as it was mirroring what she had become accustomed to while training at Sanctum. Of course, she was enjoying herself for more selfish reasons, and she was now spending far more time with Jaune than she had previously. While they had agreed to wait until after the tournament to go on their date, the heart will do as it wishes, and they spent time during and post training in playful banter.

Today was no different. As per usual, the pair were on the roof of the dormitory, where they previously had most of their secret training sessions. Of course, they had moved to other locations depending on what was planned for the day. However, as all the training grounds were being occupied by other students, both foreign and Beaconite, their old stomping grounds would have to do. As Jaune was adjusting the straps of his armour, Pyrrha began to take a fighting stance.

"Are you ready" she asked.

"Nearly" he replied, buckling the last strap on his breastplate. "I've got a good feeling about our sparring session today."

"Oh? Why do you say that?"

"Just got some new ideas I'd like to try."

"Well..." she said with a smile, performing a sword flourish with Miló in her right hand before raising it behind her head, tip pointed at her captain, and Akoúo held before her, a hybrid of Ox and High Guard, "I look forward to testing these new ideas. Don't get discouraged if they fail."

"No worries" returned Jaune, drawing Crocea Mors, keeping it low and pointed behind him in Tail Guard, shield raised. "If they fail, I'll just blame it on being distracted by your beauty."

Pyrrha blushed at his words, but smiled coquettishly at him. This was now a regular occurrence, as Jaune had become rather bold since the Dance, and would flirt with her often when they were alone. Of course, she was enjoying every moment of it, as going from trying so hard to get his attention, to having him treat her as is she was the only woman in the world, was a change she could very easily become accustomed to. They held their gaze, waiting to see who would make the first move, before Jaune flicked his sword without warning, aiming for her left side.

Pyrrha parried the attack with Akoúo, and made an overhead thrust with Miló for the right side of the blond's now exposed breastplate. Jaune absorbed the blow, and forced his shield forward to knock her back, before returning to a fighting stance. This had all occurred in a blink of an eye, displaying how proficient the two had become, though it was more Jaune catching up to Pyrrha's level. The couple began to slowly circle each other clockwise, taking care of their footwork, and keeping their eyes locked, trying to anticipate each other's next move. The redhead twitched her sword as a feint, but the blond did not take the bait. She internally smiled at him for that, as she had made sure to beat it into him to avoid falling for obvious feints. Sword play was as much mental as it was physical, and Jaune had a sharper mind than he realized. She hoped that sharpening it would translate to whetting his blade, and so far, her faith had not been misplaced.

Pyrrha decided to press on the attack, and thrust Miló at the same spot on Jaune's breastplate. Jaune instantly brought up Crocea Mors to counter the blow, but as soon as the blades made contact, Pyrrha countered clockwise and stuck his right spaulder. Jaune jerked back from the attack, but kept his footing. He brought his shield up in an attempt to obscure Pyrrha's view, and quickly swiped at her left leg with his sword. Pyrrha didn't try to block or parry the attack, but instead lifted her leg, allowing Crocea Mors to miss, and attacked with the edge of Akoúo. As fast as the young captain could, he brought up his shield to block the strike, however this time he was slightly caught off balance, and staggered backwards. Pyrrha took full advantage and pressed forward, pushing into Jaune's space, and transforming Miló into its javelin form. Knowing that he could not allow her to gain momentum, Jaune took the best stance he could muster, and thrust his sword directly at Pyrrha.

The Mistralese champion was also aware of the importance of maintaining pressure in combat, and brought Akoúo up as she dashed forward. Instead of blocking or parrying the attack, she cradled Jaune's sword in one of the scooped indentations of her dipylon-style shield, and sharply twisted to her left. This kept her momentum and only added to Jaune's less than desired footing, allowing Pyrrha a full lunge, and drove Miló into the blond's breastplate. The attack sent Jaune hurling backward, and it appeared as if he was going to fall. However, Pyrrha had underestimated her captain's ability to recover, and was slightly taken aback to see him regain his balance. Knowing that there was no time to waste, Jaune dashed forward to begin his retaliation, but took his lieutenant by surprise once more, by aiming a strong front kick at her chest. Surprised, but not stunned, the redhead managed to bring up her shield in time to absorb the blow. It was now her turn to be knocked back, and now appearing as if she was going to fall over, Jaune dashed forward to continue capitalizing on his punish.

Unfortunately for Jaune, Pyrrha was not a champion for nothing, and turning the tide of battle was something she was very well-versed in. She had angled Akoúo slightly to her right to utilized Jaune's kick to give herself momentum, and spin clockwise, transforming Miló back into its xiphos form. She swung her sword at the advancing Arc, aiming for his head, where Jaune just managed to halt his charge to lean backwards and avoid the attack. He was genuinely shocked that she had aimed for his head, which was exactly what Pyrrha wanted. She of course was not trying to decapitate her boyfriend, but she knew she had to stop his advance, while setting him up for a follow up attack. This came in the form of a solid back spinning high kick that connected squarely with Jaune's right cheek. That undeniably had rung his bell, which Pyrrha was aware of, and took full advantage of him recoiling by sending a fast but powerful spinning side kick directly into the centre of his breastplate.

This kick knocked the blond swordsman right off his feet, and he would have certainly crashed to the ground if his shoulders had not collided with the stone wall behind him. Nevertheless, the wind was knocked out of him, allowing Pyrrha to perform a sword flourish with Miló to turn it into its javelin form, before charging forward. Jaune lifted his head just in time to see her charge, and knew he had to get away from the wall to avoid being cornered. He pushed himself to his feet and moved to his right, expecting another javelin thrust, and planned to flank her after she committed to the attack. Unfortunately, Pyrrha had expected this, for when she dashed forward and Jaune changed position, she jumped and kicked off the wall, twisting in the air and striking at him from above. Jaune's eyes widened, being taken off guard, and quickly raised his shield, using his legs to absorb the blow as much as he could before backing off.

'OK...this is going south fast' he thought, tasting blood in his mouth. 'I need to take her by surprise or else she'll just topple me again. I can't let this drag out either; she wins the long game every time. Let's try to shake things up.'

Jaune readied himself, tightening the grip on his sword, and rushed Pyrrha. She was surprised that he was pressing an attack so quickly, but was glad to see him not submitting to the pressure. The captain began a thrust, but quickly changed trajectory to aim lower. Pyrrha could tell that Jaune had overcommitted to the attack, and quickly parried the strike, causing Jaune to crouch and drive a quarter of Crocea Mors' blade into the roof. Without hesitating, Pyrrha did a backhanded slash at Jaune's chest, to then open him up to a combo that should end the fight. However, this was exactly what the blond wanted. Acting as fast as possible, Jaune torqued his chest so that his breastplate took most of the blow, allowing him to get as close to Pyrrha as possible. He let go of his sword to grab her belt, and collapsed his shield so he could grab the top of her corset plackart. With all his might, he brought Pyrrha into a shoulder throw, and launched her several feet behind him.

This had genuinely taken the Mistral champion by surprise, not expecting him to begin utilizing grapples in combat. She was not helpless however, and instinctively tucked into a combat roll, making sure not to lose her grip of Miló and Akoúo. While she was in free fall, Jaune reopened his shield and pulled his sword out from the ground, before dashing in so not to give Pyrrha a moment to breathe. Quick as lightning, the redhead was facing her opponent once again, and saw Jaune preparing to strike down onto her. She quickly raised her sword and shield, planning to parry the attack and end the fight via disarmament. She rose with her plan, feeling certain of her predication of what Jaune was going to do.

To her surprise, Jaune had feinted his downward stroke, and instead flicked both sword and shield in an underhand motion, striking beneath Miló and Akoúo. It was a more powerful strike than Pyrrha had expected, but not enough to disarm her. Of course, that wasn't Jaune's plan, as he knew disarming Pyrrha was not only incredibly difficult, but wasted effort, as she could easily call her weapons back to her with Polarity. His actual plan was far more unconventional. As soon as Pyrrha's arms where high enough, so that her line of sight with him was obscured, the blond let go of Crocea Mors and collapsed his shield, and ducked below. Before the Huntress-in-training knew what he was doing, Jaune spun past her, got behind, wrapped his arms around her waist, and with all his might, grappled Pyrrha into a German suplex. His plan was that the suplex would knock the wind out of her, and give him enough time to get on top of her, and win the fight by pointing the tip of his sword at her throat, forcing her to yield.

Unfortunately for Jaune, it was not going to be so easy. The young swordsman had never done such a move before, and miscalculated the timing, the angle, and the amount of force required to perform the suplex correctly. As soon as the combined weight of Pyrrha and himself passed his shoulders, his heels slid out from under him, and both crashed to the ground. Jaune in the end was the one who took the brunt of the fall, causing him to wince, and lose his breath for a moment or two. When he opened his eyes, he was looking at the tip of Miló pointing right at the bridge of his nose, with Pyrrha kneeling above him. Her right hand gripped her sword in a reverse fashion with her left hand on the pommel, the blade hardly trembling.

"I will admit..." she said, breathing heavily but steadily, "...that took me off guard. I was not expecting you to use grappling techniques. That's not a bad idea, Jaune."

The blond blew a lock of his hair that was obscuring his view in a rather incredulous manner.

"Well, ideas being good or bad tend to rely on them succeeding or not" he said, slightly disappointed. Pyrrha attached Miló and Akoúo to her back before extending her hand and helping her captain to his feet.

"I don't think so. Plans rely greatly on their execution certainly, however, the plan itself can still be quite sound" she reasoned. "Tell me, what made you think of trying to grapple?"

"It's pretty obvious" Jaune began, dusting himself off before picking up his sword and shield. "I've only awakened my Aura last fall, and I've yet to awaken my Semblance. I fight with a straightforward style wielding a simple sword and shield. It doesn't transform and it doesn't turn into a gun. I figured I'd have to start getting creative with my fighting style to not only make it through the tournament, but be effective on actual Hunts."

Pyrrha nodded. "You're right. And not only did you successfully use grappling techniques to compliment you raw fighting power, but you utilized your armour correctly and effectively. You're using your best attribute to deal with combat, and you've come a long way. However, if you are going to use both grapples and armour, then we should work on strength training, and you should look into getting fully armoured."

"Thanks, Pyrrha, but for now, it's too late. I can't grow a pair of shoulders in a day, and I can't get a proper full suit of armour made in time for the tournament."

"Of course, I'm just thinking about the future. Have you consulted the academy's Master-at-Arms?"

"No, I figured it'd be pointless for now" Jaune admitted. "Getting fitted for a full suit would take more time than I have, on top of then having to get used to fighting in full armour. That's my biggest problem right now; I just don't have the time. My Aura control is bad, and I don't have enough time to catch up to everyone else. If I were to unlock my Semblance now, it wouldn't help as it takes months if not years to master your Semblance. I just need to do what I can with what I've got."

Pyrrha was quiet for a moment. She was worried that he was being too hard on himself, but he had thought through his situation rationally, leaving her without much to point out. However, it did prompt a question that she had wanted to ask ever since they had met.

"That's very wise of you. I do have a question regarding making use of what's at your disposal. Why is Crocea Mors your weapon of choice? As you said, it doesn't transform or have a secondary function as a firearm. Have you considered upgrading or replacing it?"

Jaune fitted and sheathed his sword to his belt before closing his eyes and took a deep breath.

"Crocea Mors is a family heirloom. It belonged to my great-great-grandfather who fought in the Great War. It's sorta how it is in my family. We've fought for generations with melee weapons, seeing it as the more honourable way to fight and serve. I've got nothing against firearms, far from it, but even when I was a kid, a sword had always been the weapon I wanted to use. Yeah, I'm pretty bad at it but...just holding one feels so...natural. I can't explain it any other way."

At that, Pyrrha smiled. "No, you've explained it perfectly" she said warmly, causing the blond to look at her curiously. "I grew up with my mother telling me every fairy tale and legend under the sun. I fell in love with tales of warriors of old, charging into battle with sword and shield, ready to fight and die for their Gods and Kings. Glory, majesty, unity. I knew that one day I wanted to be a warrior, and my arms would be a sword and shield. It was just so natural for me as well. Tell me, is any modification out of the question?"

"Yes" he replied, resting his left hand on the pommel of his sword. "Because it's an heirloom, it has a special purpose of being a training tool. When I become proficient enough, then I can get my own sword forged and do what I want with it. It's been a tradition to pass Crocea Mors from father to son, and in time, if the Gods are willing, I'll pass it on to my son."

He glanced at her when he said that last part before looking away, blushing slightly. Pyrrha caught his glaze and blushed as well, for the implication of having children with her caused butterflies to flutter in her stomach. Such things were far too soon of course, but there was something reassuring that Jaune was treating marriage and children as an important priority. Hunting was a dangerous profession, and Huntsmen growing old was less likely than not. This left many students to utter the eternal phrase "You don't want to die a virgin, do you?", as a way to rationalize having carefree sex. That of course bothered Pyrrha greatly, so hearing him suggest that he took relationships seriously was comforting, and made her love him more.

"Well..." she began, placing her left hand on her captain's shoulder, "I will do everything that I can to help you master the sword, and respect your family's traditions."

Jaune looked at her and quickly succumbed to her infectious smile.

"Thanks, Pyrrha, though mastery is gonna take a while" he pointed out.

"All great journeys begin with a single step, as they say" she replied reassuringly. "You've been making wonderful progress with your swordsmanship. Even with Aura you've been far more dedicated, and developing a better grasp on controlling it. I can sense that your Semblance will awaken much sooner than you think if we continue on this training regimen. As for the tournament, I would still recommend getting small changes to your armour. You're correct about a full suit. Thusly, I would suggest replacing your spaulders with proper pauldrons."

She tapped the armour attached to his arm.

"They'll offer better protection, and will pair better with Crocea Mors. Furthermore, I would also replace these," she continued, taking his hand, indicating his gloves, "with gauntlets and vambraces. What you have now offers no protection, and if you decide to wield a longsword or a warsword, with gauntlets, you can make use of half-sword techniques. Plus," she tapped the armour on her forearms together, "vambraces can serve as a shield in a pinch. The same goes for your legs, where you should get greaves and cuisses, as I do."

Pyrrha raised her right leg to show the armour attached to her leather flat-heeled thigh-high boots, the base of the greaves resting comfortably on the instep of the boot.

"You were smart to go for my legs, however, I wouldn't have needed to dodge the attack, as I could have kicked your sword away. And lastly" she said, placing her hand on his chest, "your torso armour. This breastplate is too small, and does very little to protect your vitals. You should consider either adding a plackart to cover the lower half, or a proper full cuirass. Those would help you on such short notice."

Jaune raised an eyebrow at the beautiful champion and gave her a playful smirk.

"Is there anything else, professor?" he asked teasingly. "Because it sounds like you pretty much listed off a full suit of armour."

Pyrrha tried to keep a straight face, but ended up making a humorous pout, causing Jaune's smirk to grow at how cute she looked.

"Well, I'm sorry for trying to help!" she shot back in mock offense, giving her captain a playful shove. Jaune laughed and looked back at Pyrrha, seeing her pout had turned into a dazzling smile, and her cheeks slightly flushed.

'Gods, she gets more beautiful every time I look at her' he thought. 'Why didn't I ask her out sooner?'

"I know you are, and thanks. It means the world" Jaune said genuinely, getting a deeper blush from the swordswoman. "I'll swing by the school forge to see what can be done, though it's not the end of the world right now. I don't expect to get too far into the tournament."

This caused the redhead to frown. "Jaune, you need to be more confident in your abilities" she said dejectedly.

"It's not about confidence, it's about tactics" he replied, giving her an earnest glance. "I've gone over this year's tournament format, and I think I've come up with the best method to get us to the final round and win the whole shebang. The first round will be full teams against one another, so we're fine there. The second round will be doubles, so Ren and I will step out, leaving you and Nora to take on the competition. You two are the strongest on the team so that's a no-brainer. And then there's the final round which will be singles, which we'll leave to you. I've watched your old tournament fights in Mistral, and have trained enough with you to know that you excel at one-on-one combat. It'll be a breeze for you, cuz let's be honest, who could beat you? See? I'm positively bursting with confidence."

Pyrrha looked at the blond smirking at her with his hands held out as if he were shrugging, and could not suppress a proud smile from spreading across her face.

"Jaune, that's absolutely outstanding" she beamed. "Hang on. Is that the reason why you suggested that I start training with Nora?"

"Hey, like you said, gotta use my best attribute" he grinned, tapping his forehead. "Now, where did we put our water bottles? I gotta get the taste of blood out of my mouth."

The redhead blinked in confusion at him, but now that she was aware, could see that the corner of Jaune's bottom lip had been split; exactly where she had kicked him.

"Oh, Jaune, I'm sorry!" she apologized, touching his right cheek with her left hand.

"Hey, it's fine! It's already mostly healed anyways" he replied reassuringly. "Even if my Aura control is crap, I can at least unconsciously heal quickly. Plus, I've got countless bruises from all the training we do together, so what's a little split lip?"

"I–"

"Pyrrha" cut in Jaune, seeing the concern growing on her face. "I know you care about me. You're worried about my wellbeing, and that means more to me than I can ever put into words, but I need you to train me seriously. I'm the weakest member of this team, even though I'm the captain. I need to get stronger. No matter how much blood, sweat, and tears it takes to get stronger, I have to grit my teeth and keep going. So don't hold back when we train together. Unless I'm finally catching up and you need to start fighting seriously for the sake of your pride" he added teasingly, leaning forward to come across as smug as possible. He meant none of it of course, but he knew what was in his control, and what was beyond it. He truly did need Pyrrha to avoid giving him any special treatment, and put aside her feelings for him in order to train him properly.

Regrettably, he may have overreached slightly, as the worried look the young woman had, melted quickly into one of smug contempt. Without speaking, Pyrrha raised her right hand and activated Polarity, causing both her hand and Jaune's armour to glow red. Before the blond realized what was happening, he was thrown across the roof and crashed into the stone wall, though with enough care by Pyrrha to not hurt him. Jaune tried to move but immediately realized that he was completely immobile. He looked down at his armour, then to Pyrrha, and then off to the horizon, sucking on his teeth.

"Right, let me rethink that last statement" he stated. This washed away the redhead's facade, and she began to laugh.

"I'm so sorry! I just..." she tried to say, but her words were lost in laughter.

Jaune watched her with admiration. Without question, her laughter had become the most beautiful sound he had ever heard, and he made a small oath to make her laugh whenever possible. He may have teased her a bit too much this time round, but the results were still what he wanted.

"So, it finally comes out. The true Pyrrha Nikos" he began, preparing to rile her up once more. "Beautiful on the outside, but secretly cruel on the inside."

"Hold on just a moment, Jaune Arc" she retorted, her eyes flashing mischievously. She reversed the polarity and brought the young Huntsman-in-training back to her, but kept her hold on him, leaving him suspended several inches off the ground. "I'm secretly cruel? If I were as you described, I could have simply thrown you from the roof with my Semblance, could I have not?"

Maintaining composure, Jaune fired back playfully.

"Perhaps. No doubt it was my handsome good looks that held back your full might" he stated matter-of-factly.

Pyrrha kept a smirk on her face, understanding the game he was playing, and continued to use the philosophy of speaking calmly and carrying a big stick. In this case, her Semblance represented the stick, and with a flick of the wrist, flipped Jaune around so that he was hanging before her at eye level, feet to the sky.

"Do you wish to rethink that last statement?" she asked sweetly.

Jaune paused for moment, more due to how close they were than for effect.

"Alright, I was the one distracted by your beauty...and you were kind and merciful...because you're a wonderful teacher; a gift from the Gods, crafted in their image..."

"Alright, now you are layering it on a tad thick" Pyrrha admitted, though she would be lying if she claimed that his words weren't making her heart flutter.

Jaune shrugged. "Hey, I'm honest if nothing else" he said sheepishly, earning a warm giggle.

The pair gazed at one another tenderly, becoming lost in each other's eyes. Their playful flirting had changed the air, first filled with the tension of battle, and now filled with the enticing aura of romance. Several times during their teasing, Pyrrha's urge to kiss Jaune had steadily risen, and now, being so close to him, was reaching a fever pitch. This was the perfect moment was it not? They had not yet gone on the date they had promised, but spending so many hours alone together training, had still strengthened their relationship. There had been many moments like these, growing in intensity, and leaving her to ask herself the same question again and again: was there anything truly wrong with taking things further?

Similar thoughts were racing through Jaune's mind. Over the course of the past few weeks, the time he had spent with Pyrrha had done more than sharpen his prowess with the sword. He began to see Pyrrha evermore as a woman, and was becoming infatuated with her. Every moment with her had been something that he wanted to treasure. It did not matter if they were training or talking, it just felt right to be with her, and it made him happy. He had never felt happiness like this before; not that he had any prior dating experience, but this felt as if were straight out of a fairy tale. And what was happening right now, felt exactly like that. Should he kiss her? He wanted to. It felt like the right moment; alone, together, joking and teasing, their faces so close. His heart was beginning to pound, and he was wrestling with the emotions that were growing inside. Was he starting to have feelings for her, or was it merely teenage hormones? He wanted to be sure of before doing something he would regret; something that would hurt the first person who had ever believed in him. He stared into her vivid green eyes, more beautiful than emeralds, and felt every part of him want her to be in his arms. Was waiting till the end of the tournament so important, or was it just prolonging the inevitable?

Jaune's head began to move slowly, leaning in, and Pyrrha made no attempt to stop him, her own heart pounding like a drum in her ears.

Suddenly, the young Huntress-in-training's Scroll began to ring loudly, scaring both of them, and caused Pyrrha to lose control of her Semblance, allowing Jaune to crash onto the floor.

"Jaune! I'm so sorry!" she gasped, kneeling down to help him.

"I'm fine!" the blond groaned, rolling over and accepting her hand, getting to his feet. "The ground broke my fall. You should...probably answer that" he added sheepishly, his cheeks flushed.

Pyrrha nodded, her own cheeks painted red, and using her Semblance once more, summoned her Scroll from the opposite side of the roof top, and hastily slid her finger across the screen.

"Yes, Nora?" she said as collected as she could be.

"Hey! How's it going?" the ginger said energetically.

"I'm alright, and yourself?"

"I'm good! Ren and I are about to start our training for today. What about you?"

"Jaune and I have already begun our sparring session. We're just taking a little break."

"Huh...is that what you two are calling it, or are you actually training?"

"Nora!" Pyrrha hissed, quickly turning away from her captain to avoid him hearing.

"What?"

The champion of Mistral wanted to scold her friend, who had been taking a great deal of enjoyment out of teasing her, but decided it would be best to leave that for another time.

"Did you call me just to ask questions that you already know the answers to, or was there something more pressing at hand?" she asked steadily.

"Just wanted to make sure that we'll be meeting up with the others for lunch at the fairgrounds."

"Yes, we are."

"Good! Let's meet at our rooms to wash up before we go. Have fun!"

"You too. See you then."

"Bye! And don't get distracted!~"

Pyrrha was about to make a retort, but the line went dead before she got the chance. She looked down at her Scroll and saw Nora's icon, a photo of her flashing a peace sign while giving the camera a cheeky wink, blink several times before fading into darkness. She wasn't annoyed with Nora exactly, as she was able to see the humour in her playful teasing, but she was nevertheless miffed. In this case, it was because she was starting to agree with her teammate about wanting more. The time she and Jaune were spending together was deepening her love for him, and the desire to kiss him was now at a near constant. Pyrrha supposed that this was how Nora felt, being with Ren for so long, wanting to be more than a friend to him; wanting to embrace him, but never being able to. She hadn't needed to wait for as long as Nora had, so feeling such impatience was rather childish of her. However, the heart wants what it wants, as they say.

"Is everything OK?" asked Jaune.

Pyrrha was shaken out from her thoughts, and quickly replied as calmly as she could.

"Yes! It was just Nora wanting to know if we were still meeting with Team RWBY for lunch after our training."

She briskly walked to the other side of the roof and placed her Scroll next to her sack where they kept their water bottles. She took one of them that she knew belonged to Jaune and tossed it to him, taking her time so that her flushed cheeks could pale once more. She returned to the centre of their makeshift dueling arena as Jaune brought the bottle to his lips.

"Then we should get back at it" he said, taking a swig.

"Of course. Are you ready?"

Jaune gargled the water before swallowing it in one gulp, and tossed the bottle to their packs.

"Ready" he replied drawing Crocea Mors and took his fighting stance. "Round two, my lady?"

Pyrrha couldn't hold back a smile, and felt her cheeks reignite.

'Well, patience is a virtue after all' she thought, taking her fighting stance of her own. 'But I have to disagree that it is its own reward.'

With that in mind, she struck the flat edge of Miló twice against Akoúo and dashed forward.

λΛλ

Team JNPR stood before the fairgrounds with both awe and hunger in their eyes. The Beacon campus had been turned into a bustling fair, full of booths neatly organized in rows, selling everything from food, to clothing, to weapons and armour. People from all four Kingdoms were strolling through the makeshift streets, indulging themselves on all that Vale had to offer. The scents from the food stalls were wafting above the crowds, reaching the young students' noses with ease—Nora especially.

"I'm starving!" she chimed salivating, her eyes scanning for a suitable eatery.

"Same" added Jaune, grinning at his teammate's eagerness. "Where are the others?"

"I believe they are at a noodle shop" answered Pyrrha, shielding her eyes with her hand in order to spot it.

"There they are" pointed Ren, seeing their friends seated on stools before a booth. The party then made their way to the pop-up restaurant, and when they were close enough, began to overhear them apparently arguing with the owner.

"What?! How can my card be declined? I was barely into my monthly allowance!" reasoned Weiss, confused to why her credit card was rejected, though she was starting to put two and two together as to whom the culprit was.

"Maybe I could help?" offered Pyrrha with a smile, getting the attention of Team RWBY.

"Pyrrha!" cheered Ruby, throwing her arms in the air with delight.

"Aw, you don't have too..." said Yang.

"What are friends for? Think nothing of it" the redhead reassured.

"Mind if we join you?" asked Jaune.

"Please!" said Team RWBY in unison.

Team JNPR graciously sat on the stools adjacent to Team RWBY, and began to make their orders. Pyrrha paid for the meal in advance to assure the owner they would not dine and dash, along with Team RWBY's tab, which he accepted graciously.

"So, how's your training been?" asked Jaune after taking a forkful of his noodles.

"Great! We've been working really hard on our combinations, getting our teamwork in tip-top shape! We've come a long way since our initiation" said Ruby smiling, a proud look of accomplishment on her face.

"Indeed. The wrinkles in our battle tactics have been ironed out, our resolve has only sharpened in the process, and we have gone as far as planned a course of action to take us all the way to the final rounds" added Weiss, equally proud of herself.

"And that's just getting these two to stop bickering" quipped Blake as she added a healthy amount of chopped chilli peppers from a jar to her noodles, causing Yang to snort in her glass.

"Is something the matter?" asked Pyrrha with concern.

"No, they're just like they always are. Getting on each other's nerves and arguing over ballistics, Dust calibrations, ammo, impingement systems, yada yada yada" explained Yang, twirling her left hand in annoyance as she slurped a mouthful of noodles.

"You should have seen the last one about modifying bullets" followed Blake.

"Well..." began Ruby and Weiss together, causing Blake and Yang to immediately lean over and physically silence them.

"Don't start! We're eating" groaned the Faunus. The elder Xiao Long agreed with several loud but muffled noises that hardly resembled words; her eyes wide, and cheeks puffed, full of noodle.

Team JNPR laughed at their friend's antics, earning a look of amusem*nt from Yang.

"So" she said after swallowing, "what about you guys?"

"We're ready to rock!" replied Nora, punching her fists together, grinning from ear to ear. "Jaune's got us on an intense training schedule. We get barely any free time, which sucks, BUT now we're so much stronger than we were before. Our weapons are cleaned, oiled, locked, and loaded, plus we have a great plan to win the whole tournament. I've lost count at how many drills we've done, AND Jaune's come up with lots of really smart strategies. We can't lose!"

Ren nodded. "Jaune has taken the reins rather impressively."

"Absolutely" agreed Pyrrha with a warm smile.

The captain could not help cracking a smile of his own while scratching his cheek bashfully. He hadn't expected such glowing praise from his teammates, and was rather embarrassed by it. However, he was not feeling self-conscious, but rather, deep gratefulness. He had never been praised in such a way before, and knowing how genuine it all was, made his spirits rise to the heavens.

"Thanks, guys" he said softly, expressing his gratitude.

"So how about your fighting ability?" inquired the shorter blonde, eyeing Jaune doubtfully.

"Jaune's been improving tremendously" defended Pyrrha, slightly perturbed by the look Yang was giving her crush.

"...Y-Yeah!" blurted out Nora, though with some hesitation.

Ren eyed Team RWBY and saw the dubious looks on their faces, before glancing at his teammates.

"Are you going to take that?" he asked with a small smirk of amusem*nt.

Jaune sighed. "Well, they're not wrong; none of them. Pyrrha and Nora aren't wrong that I've gotten better at my swordsmanship, and Yang isn't wrong to question if it's enough. I have gotten better as a swordsman, and I can now handle my own against many good civilian sword practitioners. But I'm not a civilian. I'm training to be a Huntsman, and as I am now, going up against other Huntsmen, who have better grasps on their Auras and Semblances, and have more versatile weapons, leaves me pretty outmatched. I'm the weakest one here, so I have to do what I can with what I've got."

"Jaune..." frowned Pyrrha, again not liking him being down on himself. Quickly but smoothly, Jaune pressed a finger against her lips to silence her.

"Pyrrha, we talked about this" he countered firmly but gently, a content smirk on his face. "I'm not complaining, just stating facts. We all came here to train and to grow. Losing is part of the learning process, and I know, just like everyone else here, that the road to being a true Huntsman is long and hard. And hey, better to fail here than out in the wilds, right?"

The others watched and listened intently as Jaune spoke, giving him a gaze of silent approval when he finished. The remaining members of Team JNPR had of course seen Jaune's growth over the course of the past few weeks, and were even more proud of him. Team RWBY on the other hand had been far too preoccupied with their own training to spend time with their friends to notice, so it was a rather captivating experience to see the underdog captain display such maturity. Weiss was especially fascinated, as she harboured the most doubt that Jaune would accomplish anything. And yet here he was, dating the most distinguished Huntress-in-training of their generation, and articulating sage words of advice. What an incredible transformation he had undergone, and the way he looked at Pyrrha, which all present noticed and were entertained by, for it showed he was beginning to fall for her, pointed to the origin of that growth.

"Very well said, Jaune" expressed Weiss genuinely, a small smile of respect on her face.

The blond nodded in thanks, and glanced over at Yang who was smirking. Before he could say anything, the shorter blonde began to laugh quietly to herself.

"Long and hard" she giggled childishly.

Jaune sighed again. "I was going to say 'thank you' for not ruining the moment, but never mind..." he bemoaned, though he had a frivolous grin on his face.

Nora burst out laughing as Ren shook his head slowly, smirking in equal amusem*nt as his captain. Blake couldn't suppress a laugh, though she managed to pass most of it through her nose, whilst Ruby was embarrassed as she usually was by her sister's sexual jokes. Weiss on the other hand was not shy about showing her displeasure with Yang's sense of humour, as her eyes nearly rolled out of her skull. Pyrrha was blushing, though not directly due to Yang's joke, but Jaune's commanding certainty, and him touching her lips. The secret desire for him to press his lips instead of his finger onto hers reared itself to tease her heart yet again, and she did her best to suppress it.

Suddenly, the sound of a ringtone began to play over their laughter, turning their attention to the Schnee heiress who was fishing out her Scroll. She gave her phone a glance, and with an annoyed sneer, instantly killed the call.

"Crank call?" asked Nora.

"Worse..." huffed the Atlassian heiress.

"Her father has been calling her since the article of her and Neptune was printed" explained Yang.

"He probably blocked your card because you won't talk to him" mused Blake, a tad sympathetic given her own radio silence with her family.

"Why aren't you speaking to him?" asked Pyrrha, unsure as to why Weiss would be so reluctant to speak to her family, as she had openly spoken to her mother after her own article was published.

"Because...because..." Weiss began, struggling with how to properly express her frustration that had been building for years.

"He's controlling, demanding, believes he's always right, puts the family legacy over the wishes of his children, never satisfied with what you accomplish..." listed Jaune with a sombre face, causing the others to turn their heads to him.

Weiss looked up at him with intense eyes; a face mixed with restrained surprise and fierce curiosity. A pensive frown formed on her brow as she eyed the young man with fascination for the second time that day.

"That was suspiciously close to the mark..." she said at last, examining him in a new light.

Jaune lifted his glass to eye level as if he were proposing a toast.

"Here's to overbearing fathers" he sighed with tired sarcasm, before taking a swig.

The group looked at him with concerned curiosity. Jaune had never spoken about his past or his family, publicly or privately with them before, other than what he had told Pyrrha regarding the tradition of Crocea Mors. They all noticed the look in his eyes containing some hurt he had never revealed prior to now, which in retrospect, explained some of his previous actions.

"Did you have to deal with something similar as of late?" asked Weiss slowly.

Jaune twirled some noodles and brought it to his mouth.

"I haven't called home yet" he confessed, knowing what she had meant, before taking a bite.

"Jaune" sighed Pyrrha, "you said you would as soon as possible. The reporters have certainly been working like mad to dig into your past, as well as your family's."

The swordsman shut his eyes, not wanting to look at his lieutenant, as he knew he'd become washed with guilt.

"I got so swamped with the training and the planning for the tournament that it slipped my mind" he lied, feeling his appetite turning to queasiness.

"Jaune" the redhead said again, this time with the gentle but firm demeanor that she used when trying to advise him, placing her right hand on his left cheek so that he would look her in the eye. "The tournament will begin in a few days. There is no longer any time to train, our plans are set, and we are currently in our cool down. You have enough time before the games begin to call them and let them know. Please, for me?"

Jaune felt the guilt hit him like a sledgehammer as he saw the concern in her eyes. He hated lying to her. He hated making her worry. He knew that even if he explained the situation to her, she would still insist that he call them out of courtesy and respect. In the end, he knew she was right, and nodded.

"Alright" he conceded. "I'll call them tomorrow, after I take care of a few things so there'll be no distractions."

"Thank you" she said with a small smile, the worry in her face melting into warm gladness, knowing he was speaking truthfully. As always, Jaune returned the smile, and gazed back at her, allowing himself to be absorbed by her beautiful, emerald eyes.

Once again, the others watched the couple forget where they were, and waited with amused delight for them to realize the change in atmosphere. Yang, in particular, was observing them with both amusem*nt and even a tinge of jealously, as she rested her chin in the palm of her right hand, elbow on the table. An incredibly smug smirk was on her face, and she was no longer able to stay silent.

"Gods, you two have it bad for each other" she said at last, shaking her head in disbelief.

The oblivious couple quickly snapped back to reality and looked at the blonde Huntress-in-training, before realizing that all of their friends were looking at them with amusem*nt. Their faces began to glow red from embarrassment, the knowledge setting in that they had repeated what had occurred at breakfast the day after the Dance.

"I know, right?" added Nora, before Jaune and Pyrrha could defend themselves. "They do this a lot now. Can you imagine what else they do when they're alone training?"

"Nora!" gasped Pyrrha, her face now matching her hair.

"Oooo. Got any juicy details to share?" asked Yang grinning.

"I'm doing my best to get her to spill the beans, but sadly, nothing" sighed the thunderess, shrugging.

Ren nudged her yet again. "Be nice" he said as he usually did, though he was starting to also find pleasure in the new sport of teasing their captain and lieutenant. Of course, he hardly had a leg to stand on, but for now, he would enjoy himself; with moderation.

Jaune and Pyrrha stared at their half-eaten bowls of noodles, cheeks burning and shame mounting. They had no reason to feel so self-conscious of course, as there was nothing wrong with them feeling so strongly about one another. While they were still well over a week away from their first official date, the pair had behaved no differently than any other couple their age; minus the passionate kissing and lovemaking. While sex was still too soon, the desire to kiss was starting to become unbearable for the both of them. To further fuel that desire, was the teasing from their friends. The teasing didn't hurt them, it didn't offend them, but it did birth a thought that both shared without admitting it one another. What if they just threw caution and patience to the wind? Forget waiting till the end of the tournament, forget trying to go on a date and avoid noisy fans and journalists, and simply find quiet places on campus, and kiss between training sessions till the cows come home. That way, what was there to be embarrassed about?

Their young bodies certainly agreed with that idea, and every moment alone they would be reminded of it, but there was something holding them back. For Jaune, it was still the sense of feeling undeserving of Pyrrha's love. He had been brutally honest about his abilities to remind himself of how much more he needed to grow. He could not deny that every time he was with her, he wanted so desperately for her to be in his arms; to hold and kiss her. Over the past few weeks, Jaune had begun to develop feelings for Pyrrha. He wanted to be with her. He wanted to be by her side, and for her to be beside his. He knew that the only way he could have that, was to continue to self-improve, and be the best man and captain he could be.

Pyrrha felt all the same desires he did; to kiss, to cuddle, and to finally be together. His flirtatious quips would make her heart skip a beat, and she genuinely loved every time he made them. She loved feeling desired. She loved the way he looked at her, and she loved who he truly was when not pretending to be something else. Pyrrha loved everything about him, which was why she was hesitant to take things further. She loved him so dearly, that she was fearful of making a mistake, and ruining what they had and what they could have. She wanted her relationship with Jaune to work, as she truly felt that he was her one true love. Her mother had told her when she was young, that the moment she had met her father, she knew they were going to get married. Pyrrha had not understood how her mother had been so sure then, but now after meeting Jaune, she finally did. Now however, she wished she had asked more questions so she could know how to approach this relationship with more confidence.

"Let them date at their own pace" defended Weiss, causing the others to look at her in surprise, and it was now Jaune's turn to look at the Schnee heiress with fascination. "We will know soon enough how their relationship is progressing."

"Fine" sighed Yang, tossing her hair over her shoulder. Then an idea struck her, and she turned to face the right side of the stall, a smug smile plastered on her face. "And how are things progressing with Neptune?"

Weiss' cheeks tinted pink at the mention of the Vacuan Huntsman-in-training.

"Things are going well" she replied guardedly.

"Nothing to share after all this time? It's been a while since the Dance."

"As I said the last time you asked, Team SSSN has been just as busy as the rest of us, getting ready for the tournament. Where do you think Neptune and I had the time to spend together?"

"Hello?" asked Yang, gently shaking her Scroll in her left hand. "The Horn messaging app exists for a reason. You can at least text him and keep up with him."

"I have—which you are fully aware—and we have had many pleasant conversations" Weiss shot back, while remaining measured.

"Pleasant or flirty?"

The white-haired heiress squinted at her.

"I will let you know how things develop in due course" she affirmed slowly.

Yang rolled her eyes as she sighed, annoyed by how little information her friends were sharing. She then shifted her attention the Blake, who knew she would be the next target placed in the fiery blonde's crosshairs, and braced herself.

"So, what's new, puss*cat? Been monkeying around with Sun?" she asked without hesitation.

Blake immediately began to cough in shock, not expecting to be hit with the double whammy.

"Well, that was direct" grinned Nora.

"Better than beating around the banana tree" Yang punned.

Blake quickly recovered, and looked at the elder Xiao Long sister, wide-eyed and cheeks flushed.

"Excuse me?" she asked.

"Don't play dumb" shot back Yang, leaning in, and looking into the Faunus girl's eyes. "We all know how proactive Sun is. And I know you like that about him more than you let on, so what's been going on since the Dance?"

Blake swallowed at her friend's interrogation, still not used to having such conversations with people. She slowly pointed to her right at Weiss with her left hand while maintaining eye contact.

"What she said" the raven-haired Huntress-in-training said.

"Oh c'mon!" Yang cried incredulously. "You've gotta give me something to work with!"

"Why are you so fixated on knowing about what we do in our personal lives?" asked Blake, reluctant to reveal anything more.

"Because I like to talk to my friends about fun things like boys, as it breaks up the monotony of the more boring parts of school life" explained the blonde matter-of-factly. "Also, being single sucks, so offering advice lets me help my less experienced friends while I'm still looking."

"But you don't have any experience" noted Ruby, essentially throwing her sister under the bus.

"And I'm blaming dad for that" she shot back. "He would always watch over us like an eagle, never letting any boys get close to us. I figured that going to Beacon and getting away from his ever-piercing eyes, I could finally date in peace. So far, not a damn one."

"He's just being a dad" defended Jaune, "though he should count himself lucky to have just two daughters. I have seven sisters, so my dad has his work cut out for him. Still does, since I have sisters younger than me."

Yang simply mumbled as she continued to eat her noodles, not wanting to concede to the other blond.

"Well, if there is one thing that the Vytal Festival is not short of, it would be new young people" added Pyrrha looking at the crowds. "I am sure if you look around you will find someone that catches your eye."

"That is what I'm hoping for" said Yang, polishing off her bowl. "Right. I think I'm gonna head out and check out the fair grounds."

"Let us finish eating, and we will join you" said Weiss.

"Well, hurry up!"

"I think we will do the same" added Pyrrha pushing her bowl forward and allowing the owner to whisk it away. "Transferring to Beacon was my first time in Vale, and I would like to know more of it. Would you mind showing me around?" she asked Jaune with a smile.

"Not at all" replied Jaune, smiling back and rising to his feet.

"Oooo, can we get dessert?" Nora asked Ren, jumping up excitedly, eyes sparkling.

"I am sure we'll find something" reassured the quiet young man.

Yang glared at them enviously. "And of course, Team Couples decides to rub it in my face right before leaving" she jeered, her eyes drifted from Jaune and Pyrrha to Ren and Nora. The former couple looked at the brawler apologetically, not meaning to offend. However, the latter couple was blushing, not expecting to also be referred to as such.

"U-Uh, we're not together-together" corrected the ginger awkwardly, repeating the now infamous phrase that was beginning to sting every time she said it.

"Whatever you say" Yang retorted, not believing a word of it. "Go on ahead. I'm sure we'll run into each other eventually."

"And thanks again for paying for lunch. We owe you" added Blake with a small but sincere smile.

"Oh, it's fine" the redhead reassured with a smile, though it was now turning slightly smug. "Think of it as a consolation from the winning team."

Immediately, fire sparked in the eyes of Team RWBY. Jaune looked at his lieutenant with confusion for a moment, before realizing what she was doing. Pyrrha was a veteran of Mistral's gladiatorial combat culture. She had participated in countless tournaments, starting from a young age. Thus, this was just her furthering that experience into the Vytal Festival Tournament. She had not meant to offend their friends, but instead to playfully taunt them as a form of encouragement. Of course, they were all friends, but while that was true, they were still competitors in this tournament, and would undoubtedly face once another in the later rounds.

"See you in Top 8, Nikos" stated Yang, grinning eagerly, her eyes turning red. The remaining members of Team RWBY each displayed a variation of Yang's eagerness, proving that Pyrrha's comment had done exactly what she wanted it to.

Team JNPR walked away from the stall grinning back at their friends, with Nora taking it one step further by signalling to them with her middle and index finger pointing at her eyes, saying that she was going to keep an eye on them. Ruby stuck her tongue out at them, but felt the same way as her sister, and was very much looking forward to the tournament.

λΛλ

Team JNPR wandered through the makeshift lanes of the fairgrounds with wide eyes. The booths were stacked shoulder to shoulder, with the attendees similarly assembled, as they shuffled from one vendor to another. Ren and Nora had never been to a festival before, and were soaking up all the sights and sounds. Well, that was not entirely true. The pair had snuck into smaller fairs before to steal food when they were younger, so having the ability to experience the festivities had been impossible. Thankfully those days were long behind them, and now they could enjoy themselves as proper fairgoers.

Jaune had been to a number of festivals and fairs growing up. Coming from a larger family, such events were the perfect place to bring children and have a good time on summer evenings. Pyrrha had done the same as a child, her parents taking her to local festivals, which were common in Mistral. However, in Mistral, many if not most festivals had small combat tournaments, where non-Huntsmen could take part in classical fighting. The larger festivals had separated brackets divided by age, gender, and expertise, with the higher skilled brackets making use of steel swords instead of padded wooden ones used by less experienced combatants. It was here, alongside the many fairy tales told to her by her mother, which had birthed the young champion's love of battle and swordsmanship. She would marvel at the competitors clashing swords and spears against shields, fighting for cash prizes and for glory. Her favourites were the Ancient Warrior brackets; separate groupings for fighters who would go so far as to armour themselves in full suits, as warriors once did in the elder days. They would drape themselves in the colours of their houses, though many were designed for the sake of the tournaments, as very few people came from prestigious families these days. To Pyrrha, the combination of chrome steel and colourful banners, was more beautiful than any painting.

Her upbringing would surprise no one after learning of it, for it explained why Pyrrha had chosen the life and style she had. She never forgot those desires from her childhood, however, and planned to take up the sport as a hobby after establishing herself as a professional Huntress. And with Jaune as a boyfriend, it would certainly be something they could do together. Only they could consider a hard day of combat as a romantic date.

While Jaune and Pyrrha were eyeing the booths, reminiscing of their childhoods, Nora was on the hunt for something sweet.

"Ooo Ren, look! They've got ice cream and stuff over there!" the ginger pointed excitedly. Before the stoic Huntsman-in-training could say anything, Nora grabbed him by the arm and dragged him towards the vender.

Jaune and Pyrrha could not help but laugh at their friends, though the suggestion of ice cream did sound rather appetizing.

"Should we get some?" asked the blond.

"Why not?" Pyrrha replied with a smile.

"Anything in particular? My treat."

"Well..." she thought for a moment before smiling, "surprise me."

"Alright. My first test—which I am sure will go terribly. I'll be right back" Jaune said curtly before walking briskly in the direction his teammates had flown to.

Pyrrha giggled as she watched him disappear into the crowd. While she very much enjoyed his flirtatiousness when they were alone, it was his cuteness that had initially charmed her. He was completely unaware of it of course, which only made Pyrrha enjoy it more, as it was so genuine and tender. She kept her smile as she began to browse the stalls behind her as she waited for Jaune's return, when she heard her name being called.

"You're Pyrrha Nikos!"

The young champion looked up to see it was a boy, a few years younger than herself, with several other people around him.

"Yes, I am" she replied politely, standing straight.

"I'm a huge fan! Could I get an autograph, please?" he asked with a large smile, a pen and promotional photo from her Sanctum days in his hands.

Pyrrha smiled back and extended a hand to accept the photo, and began to repeat a routine she had grown accustomed to over the past few years.

It was not as if she disliked this aspect of being a celebrity, far from it; she would go as far to say that it was one of her favourite parts of gaining international fame. Having fans that cheered her on was an incredibly humbling experience for her, especially when there were young boys and girls that looked up to her. She had taken many photos with children who said they were inspired to become Huntsmen because of her, and were practising every day to become strong. She could not put into words how touched she was to hear such things from people, especially children. Instead, she put those feelings into actions. It drove her to fight harder and continue to improve, as if she owed them that dedication as a thank you for their support. It also strengthened her belief in the Huntsman cause, for if she was being considered an ambassador by inspiring more young people to take up arms and defend their Kingdoms, then she was doing near holy work.

What she truly hated about her status, was of course, the disconnect. Pyrrha was the epitome of a "people-person", as she loved being with people and interacting with them. She loved going to tournaments, meeting new people, combatants, and attendees alike, and talking to them. At first, she loved the opportunities she was granted from winning tournaments, as she was free to enter more challenging competitions, and thus meet the best fighters of her generation. It was soon after, however, that she began to notice the distance between herself and the other students when she attended Sanctum Academy. Making friends was not possible, for they thought she was beyond them, as if she were in a class they had not earned the right to entre. This left dating an even more impossible venture. Jaune hadn't been the first boy she had crushed on, but he had certainly been the first to treat her like a woman. The boys she had tried to get close to would not return her advances, nearly recoiling, as if they were too close to fire. They, like others, treated her as if she was royalty, and none were worthy to be with her. Pyrrha had encountered some other Huntresses that had similar experiences, but had gone in entirely different directions. They had decided to avoid dating all together, throwing away any attempt to be feminine and dedicate themselves to training for the Hunt.

The red-haired champion could not accept that ultimatum. Many Huntsmen dated and married other Huntresses, so why was that not possible for her? She wanted to dedicate herself to the cause, but still wanted to find someone to love and build a life together. And where better to find such a person than the schools where likeminded young people gathered? Sanctum had been such a place, but Pyrrha had quickly learned that her reputation preceded her, making relationships of any kind impossible. The stronger she grew, the higher atop the pedestal she was placed, and the more alone she felt. It was then that she made the decision to attend Beacon instead of going the expected route to Haven. It was a school on a continent different than her own, and she hoped that with that great distance would come fewer people to keep her on that pedestal. Her mother was a little hesitant to have her only child travel to the other side of the world to be educated as a Huntress. However, she was the only person who truly understood what Pyrrha felt, and eventually agreed. At first, Pyrrha thought she had succeeded, but she quickly began to meet more and more people who recognized her, treating her as she had been in Mistral.

And then Jaune made his appearance.

Not the most graceful of entrances, but an entrance nonetheless. The moment Pyrrha had laid eyes on him, she had become interested. His handsome but cute features, his golden locks, and his deep blue eyes, that had a hint of mischievousness behind them. She knew other women would not have found him all that appealing, his boyishness uncertainty making him appear more boy than man, but she thought he was rather attractive, something she thought more so with every interaction she had with him. He treated her as if she were any other person, and judged her on her qualities instead of her titles. It was more liberating than she could ever put into words, and she had yet to tell him it was the reason she was now in love with him. What she had told him at the Dance was only a fraction of what she truly felt, and things had only grown since then. However, as she signed yet another portrait, posed for more photos, and noticed that the crowd had only grown, she felt in her chest that her chances of sharing that with him today would be impossible. She had hoped to spend the rest of the day with him alone and enjoy each other's company, and yet, she could not help but feel a mixture of guilt and exasperation. She felt guilty because she wanted to abandon her kind fans, and she felt exasperated because she wanted time alone with Jaune. Seeing no way to rescue herself from her predicament, she maintained her smile and continued to indulge her adoring public.

From beyond the crowd stood the aforementioned blond with two ice cream bowls, one in each hand, watching his lieutenant being swarmed. He had taken his time choosing the right flavour of ice cream for Pyrrha, but now realized he should have chosen faster to avoid Pyrrha being recognized. His eyes rested on her and saw that she was, thankfully, smiling, though he noticed it was not as genuine as he had become accustomed to. After spending so much time alone with Pyrrha, he had begun to notice and recognize her subtle facial expressions and body language. She had never been a good liar to begin with, however, as a more experienced warrior, the Mistralese champion knew how to make herself unreadable in combat. Despite that, this was not combat, and after hearing the young woman express her frustrations, he knew she wanted to, at least for a while, step away from Pyrrha Nikos the champion of Mistral, and simply be Pyrrha Nikos the student.

Jaune knew he had to get her away from the crowd, but how he was to achieve that was not so obvious. He could not just walk in and tell them to buzz off, as he knew how terrible it would look, but he also knew Pyrrha didn't have it in her to push them away. Could he call her and just say that he was giving her an out? She could say that her team needed her, and no one could her fault her for it.

'No, that won't work' he thought. 'She can't lie to her fans, and making her to would be wrong. What if I just go up to her so they know that was she busy before they came up to her? She'd say she just needs to finish up and she'll be ready to join me, which will give them a clue to buzz o...'

The idea died then and there, as he looked down at himself and winced. He was painfully reminded of how he looked, with his old subpar armour and casual clothes he used as his combat attire. He knew just how amateurish he appeared, but next to Pyrrha, it was downright comical. There was no way he could walk up to her fans looking as he did, especially after the piece that was written about him. He had previously stated that he did not care what others thought of him, and he did indeed mean that, but after their conversation of getting new armour, he began to think of his appearance in terms of looks as well as functionality. Now that he was potentially in the line of sight of her fans, he was forced to admit how bad he looked; especially beside the Mistralese Champion. He could hear people's commentary in his mind clear as day: "Is he even taking his Huntsman training seriously?". He certainly was, but they did not know that, and despite what they were all taught as children, people did judge books by their covers.

He then began to hear words of the past making their way to the present; of how a man was to present and carry himself. The blond could not help himself from gritting his teeth, as he recognized the person who was speaking. His stubborn nature began to fight back, not willing to give credence to the speaker, even if his words were proving to be true. He still had his pride, after all.

As Jaune mulled over the situation he now found himself in, he noticed that the crowd was beginning to disperse, and he tried to see what was causing them to leave. They were waving goodbye to Pyrrha, who had not moved from where she stood, and since they were all leaving together, Jaune wondered if an event was now taking priority over her. When the crowd was finally gone, Pyrrha looked about her to see where he was, and quickly made her way to him when she did.

"I'm sorry for making you wait, Jaune" she said with an apologetic smile. "I was noticed by a few of them, and that began to attract the rest. This happens quite often back home in Mistral, and I should have expected to be recognized with all these people attending the festival. Have you been waiting long?"

"No, not at all. I should've guessed that something like this would happen too, but since it hadn't till today, it never crossed my mind" he replied honestly. "So don't apologize. It's not your fault you're so popular, other than being as amazing as you are."

His words caused Pyrrha's cheeks to flush, which eased her guilt for getting in the way of their time together.

"Thank you, Jaune."

"You're welcome. So, uh...here's your ice cream" said Jaune, offering one of the bowls to Pyrrha.

The red-haired young woman accepted the bowl graciously, and saw that it contained Neapolitan ice cream.

"Is it OK?"

"Yes, thank you, Jaune" she replied smiling.

"You sure? You said to surprise you, so I wasn't sure which to go with. Then I thought that maybe you would have preferred frozen yogurt, since you'd probably want something healthier. I didn't want to make you wait too long, so I just went with Neapolitan. I figured with three flavours my chances were better than going with one."

"It's fine, Jaune. I like Neapolitan. There's no need to fuss over it."

The blond breathed a small sigh of relief, feeling a tad silly that he had stressed over something as trivial as ice cream. Pyrrha noticed this, and a slightly mischievous thought crossed her mind.

"Strawberry frozen yogurt is my favourite, though" she added. Jaune quickly looked at her with a regretful expression on his face, causing Pyrrha to snicker. "Oh, don't make that face!" she chimed, nudging him with her elbow playfully. "Now you know for next time. So, what flavour did you get for yourself?"

Jaune held up his bowl and revealed it to be chocolate chip, with cookie pieces added on top. However, when Pyrrha took a closer look, she realized that they were not cookie pieces at all.

"Are those clumps of Pumpkin Pete's?" she asked.

Jaune cleared his throat while rubbing the back of his head.

"I know they aren't great for you, but I still like them" he admitted sheepishly.

Pyrrha began to giggle at him, his adorable demeanor getting to her once again. She then reacted over and plucked one of the bunches out of the bowl, and popped it into her mouth.

"Me too" she confessed, knowing it was certainly a guilty pleasure. "But I think given how much training we've accomplished over the past few weeks, a treat is in order."

The captain looked down at the smiling redhead, and returned it.

"Shall we?" he asked, extending a hand down the fairground lane, indicating they go for a walk.

"Yes, let's" replied Pyrrha.

"We should probably find a more secluded place to eat though—to avoid another crowd of your fans recognizing you."

"True" she sighed. "Have you an idea of where we could go?"

Jaune paused for a moment. "How about the Forest of Forever Fall? It's far enough that no random festivalgoer or tournament competitor would wander in and see us."

Pyrrha nodded, though felt a slight pang of woe in her heart. She knew that the further they continued their relationship, the more care they would have to take to avoid the prying eyes of onlookers. It was a constant reminder that things would not be so easygoing between them thanks to her celebrity status. However, before she could dwell on that displeasing thought, Jaune placed a finger under her chin to look her in the eye; a soft but stern look on his face.

"If some small inconveniences like these are all I have to put up with, then I've got no right to complain. So don't let it get to you, OK?" he reassured her softly, a tender smirk spreading.

Pyrrha's cheeks began to turn pink at his forwardness, but she could not help returning the smile, knowing he was right.

"Alright. Thank you, Jaune" she said.

"No need. Now eat your ice cream" he replied with a tone of mock authority.

The Mistralese champion laughed. "Yes, sir" she answered with a salute before bringing the bowl below her chin to eat a spoonful. "Such a bossy captain."

Jaune eyed her in amusem*nt, and without warning, bumped the bottom of her ice cream bowl so that the lower half of her face pressed into it. Pyrrha jolted in surprise, making sure to not drop the bowl, and revealed that her nose, lips, and chin, now had a light coating of ice cream.

"Jaune!" she gasped, looking up to see the cheeky grin plastered on his face.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bump into you!" he exclaimed with mock theatrics.

Pyrrha slapped the blond's shoulder, cutely fuming at his antics.

"You're such a child!" she laughed, licking her lips. "Now give me napkin, please."

Jaune's grin dropped from sudden realization.

"Oh crap, I rushed to get back and forgot to grab some" he confessed. He began to look around for another food stall to ask for some, feeling rather embarrassed for the oversight.

"It's alright, I see a bathroom" said the redhead, and handed him her bowl. "I'll be right back. Don't get into trouble."

"Yes, mom" he replied with an exaggerated tone, rolling his eyes. He smiled as he heard her laugh, and watched her lovingly as she made her way to the bathroom and entered it.

He breathed in deeply as he contemplated—something he often did these days—on his relationship with Pyrrha. What an incredible young woman she was. He was hilariously out of his league, and yet, here they were, flirting and spending time together. His thoughts drifted to their sparing session only two hours prior, and how he unconsciously began to try and kiss her. No, not unconsciously; he wanted to kiss her. He thought back to when their faces were mere inches from one another, and how badly he wanted to kiss her; to hold her in his arms and never let go. He had those thoughts coming into his mind more times than he could count, which did not help that there had been a number of moments that appeared to be the moment. Today had been the first where he had actually made a move to turn those thoughts into reality. Pyrrha had not tried to stop him, though to be perfectly honest, why would she stop him? She was the one who had been crushing on him since the beginning of their attendance at Beacon, and the ball was in his court. It wasn't shocking that she accepted to go on a date with him, but she was clearly further down the line than having a mere crush. If he was being entirely honest, he was too, and the realization that they were going to be alone and secluded for potentially the rest of the afternoon, placed a new thought to the forefront of his mind.

Why not make a move?

Everything seemed right. Their training was done, their relationship had only strengthened since Pyrrha's confession, and their near kiss had made it clear things were becoming serious, even if they had not spoken more deeply on the topic of relationships.

'Well, there was that comment about having a son...' he thought, unable to stop his mind from conjuring an image of a smiling Pyrrha holding a baby with matching red hair, swaddled, and bearing his likeness. 'Stop that' he told himself. 'You know what thoughts like that mean. You haven't even called home yet...'

He tried to shake the image from his thoughts, which he was having more trouble doing than he expected, as it was a rather beautiful image indeed. What did succeed in bringing him back to reality, was something entirely different.

"You Jaune Arc?" asked a voice.

The blond looked up to see a group of four young men about his age, each looking at him with clear disdain on their faces. He noticed they were all armed with melee weapons, and each had the Mistral Kingdom and Haven Academy crests, the latter being a castle keep with a central doorway and two flanking towers with machicolations, corbels, crenellations, and merlons, sown proudly on their clothes. Jaune knew instantly what was going on and sighed, realizing it was now his turn to be on the chopping block of celebrity. Of course, these people clearly were not his adoring fans.

"That's me. How can I help you?" he replied, deciding to remain civil for the time being.

One of the Haven students stepped forward, presumably the one who had asked the question, and stood only a foot away from Jaune. He was about his height, with short black hair, black eyes, and a scar running up his jaw on the left side of his face. He eyed Jaune before making a quick snicker through his nose, and smirked, unimpressed.

"The photos in the papers don't do you justice. You're far more pathetic in person" he jeered, getting laughs from his teammates.

Jaune stared back at him with an equal lack of admiration.

'And here we go' he thought. He turned and placed the two bowls of ice cream on top of the trash bin to his left, before looking back at the foreign student, straightening his back, and resting his hands on his sword belt. "Well, I'm sorry to disappoint. Was that all you want to say to me?"

"Now that I know what you really look like, no" replied the Havenite, as he began to circle Jaune. "Cheap armour, possibly second hand..." he commented, "old sword, definitely second hand...garbage fighting attire...how in the Hell did you make it this far?" he finished, standing before him, shaking his head.

Jaune's jaw tightened, but he said nothing. This was nothing new to him. He had been bullied since he entered Beacon, though that had finally stopped after standing up to Cardin and his team. He could let this all slide, so long as this jackass had his sights only on him, and not Pyrrha and the others.

"I guess the papers were right; Pyrrha Nikos must have just felt pity for him that one night, cuz there is no way they're actually dating."

That caused Jaune to tighten his grip on his belt, his patience running out faster than he had planned.

"I tell you what boys..." continued the Havenite, looking over his shoulder, "if Nikos is into boys like this, then she must be pretty desperate since coming to this plac–"

Without warning, the foreign student's insult was cut short by a shockingly hard-hitting punch that knocked him to the ground. He coughed in shocked, with one hand clutched his bleeding nose, which he instantly knew was broken. He looked up in anger and confusion, trying to figure out what hit him, and only saw Jaune standing before him. His right hand hung taunt to his side, with his left hand, still gripping his sword belt tightly, glaring at him with eyes that could freeze lava.

"You can say whatever the f*ck you want about me..." Jaune said steadily, though with more harshness in his voice than he had ever displayed before. "However..." he continued, his left hand gripping the hilt of Crocea Mors, "...insulting Pyrrha like that..." he forcibly drew the first two inches of his sword, "is unforgivable."

The bleeding Havenite stared back at the blond with mute shock. He could see the rage burning in his eyes, and felt what he could only presume was the seemingly pathetic boy's killing intent. It was as if a mouse had suddenly turned into a lion without warning. Was this all a ruse? Or was this who he truly was, and the dopey fool he presented himself as, was the ruse? Knowing how tense this situation had just become, he decided that he did not want to find out.

While these thoughts were running through his mind, his teammates had all reached for their weapons the moment Jaune had partially drawn his sword.

"Stop!" growled the injured student, getting to his feet. "Let's not get disqualified before the damn tournament starts". He looked back at Jaune who had not relaxed, and kept his glare trained on him, looking as if he would cut his head off in an instant. "We'll deal with him in the arena. You better watch yourself, Arc" he added, turning his back to the blond, and left with his teammates tailing behind.

When they were finally out of sight, Jaune finally relaxed and sheathed Crocea Mors, breathing a sigh of relief. He had never gotten that angry in his life, but it was perfectly understandable why he had. He was ready and willing to fight for Pyrrha's honour, but he was still glad he was able to end the altercation without resorting to violence. Well, without too much violence.

"Jaune..." came a soft voice from his eight o'clock.

The blond turned to see Pyrrha emerge from the entrance of the bathroom, with a very concerned expression on her face. Jaune froze, knowing that she had witnessed everything, or at least him punching the Mistralese student.

"How much of that did you see?" he asked finally.

"From when he began to mock your sword till the end" she replied, walking forward while maintaining her distressed gaze. "Jaune, I'm so sorry that happened. I should have stepped in, but I saw how you were handling the situation, and I thought it would end peacefully."

"So did I, but as soon as he..." Jaune began before stopping himself and looked at Pyrrha in confusion. "Wait...why are you apologizing?"

"Because they were belittling you for being with me. Why else?"

"Belittling me?" the swordsman echoed in disbelief, "It's what they were saying about you that pissed me off. I don't care what people say about me."

"Jaune, they were from Mistral, and they sought you out because of that article."

"And then they insulted you!"

"Jaune–"

"Pyrrha!" the blond said sternly, cutting her off, which took the redhead by surprise. "I'm used to people looking down on me. It's been that way since I was a kid, and it's continued here. I meant what I said when we read that article the morning after the Dance. I don't care what people say about me, but I will not stand for people going after my team or you—especially you. I know this is going to sound macho but it's what I honestly believe: if I allow people to insult your honour, then I'm not a man. You chose to stand by me when I lied about getting into Beacon, you forgave me for not treating you like a woman when you wanted me to, and accepted to go out with me. If I can't stand up for you when it matters, then how can I stand by you?"

Pyrrha felt her breath become caught in her throat. Where had this come from? The tone in Jaune's voice was serious and commanding, and the look in his eyes was resolute and unwavering. Even his body posture made him look taller than he truly was. She had never seen him like this, and it was as if the boy had faded away to reveal the man that lay beneath. Was this who Jaune always was, but was just too nervous to show? This was not the bravado-like confidence he had shown when they first met and used to court Weiss. This was as genuine as the cuteness he unconsciously displayed. Was she the cause of all this? She must be, given that he had said that he would defend her honour and to stand by her side. Pyrrha felt her heart begin to beat strongly when she realized the core of what he was truly saying.

No one had ever done something like this for her before. Of course, she had never dated, but nonetheless, never had a man professed that he would defend her honour, other than her father. Being a champion of Mistral, no one dared to insult her openly, and so many boys her age certainly felt emasculated by her strength. Jaune was obviously nowhere near her level of might, but here he was, standing firm that he would defend her, regardless of the personal cost. He hadn't known she was there, and without hesitation struck down the boy who had besmirched her name. It was in that moment of realization that Pyrrha recalled something that her father said many years ago.

"Moral behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching, Pyrrha. If you only do the right thing when people are looking at you, then you fail to understand the difference between right and wrong. The same goes for one's principles. There are many hypocrites in the world, and those who do not uphold their principles are pathetic in this world and the next."

Pyrrha felt her cheeks warm, finally understanding what Jaune was talking about. He truly meant that when it came to people insulting him. The composure he showed when that Haven student insulted him, neither cowering nor exploding with anger, proved that he had risen above who he had been when Cardin had taken advantage of him. The moment that she was the target of their offense, was when he put his foot down. In that moment, Jaune transformed from a passive boy into a proud Knight right before her eyes. Countless bedtime stories of Knights and princesses began to flood her mind, and childhood dreams of meeting her prince charming, washed over her like a tidal wave. Her mother's advice then came to the forefront of her thoughts.

"Make sure that when you choose the man you want to be with, that he will treat you with love and respect in order to earn yours in return. You are a beautiful young woman, my dear, and I know you will have many boys chasing after you before long—to your father's horror. However, I know that you will make him proud by choosing the One who loves you truly. I knew it the moment I met him, and I know you will too. To give him some peace, keep in mind to not be fooled by boys that are only being nice to you. See how they act when your honour is being insulted, for righteous anger is better than being merely 'nice', because it stems from love."

Pyrrha knew why those words were ringing with such truth. It wasn't that Jaune was taking her from one pedestal and placing her atop another. It was that he cared for her so deeply, that he valued her more than himself because of who she was, not what she was. There was a world of difference between the playful flirting Jaune had done for weeks, and what he had just done now. It spoke louder than words ever could, but bolstered by his words of passion, brought his actions to even greater heights.

'Mother knows best' the redhead thought, taking a deep breath. "You're absolutely right. Thank you, Jaune" she said, smiling warmly, and kissed him on the cheek.

Instantly, as it always did, Jaune had his breath taken away by her smile, and his stern expression melted into a more bashful one with deep gratitude. The kiss of course caused his cheeks to burn, not at all expecting it, and he could not help but sheepishly rub the back of his head. Pyrrha was blushing as well, and giggled at his shyness, loving that his cuteness always took precedence.

"Shall we go to the forest?" she asked.

"Y-Yeah, of course" Jaune replied, picking up both their bowls of ice cream, and handed the red-haired girl hers.

Pyrrha took it graciously, as Jaune left his right arm up for a little while longer than necessary, allowing Pyrrha to take the crook of it. Jaune had not exactly offered his arm in an attempt to be suave, but rather a natural reaction to them leaving together. Likewise, Pyrrha had taken his arm in the same vein, something that was becoming more and more natural every time they were together. This of course drew the eyes of all who recognized them as they walked to the edge of the fairgrounds, though after what they had just gone through, they hardly cared. Pyrrha was in love with him, and Jaune was falling for her.

No matter the critics, the trails, the tribulations, the stress, and the pain, they would stand by one another.

Author's Note:

There are some small yet major things I want to explain in greater detail, some of which I have not heard from anyone else. They may seem like nitpicks, but since nitpicks are small yet valid criticisms, I think they deserve to be discussed.

Pyrrha the True Champion

Since the beginning, Pyrrha has been presented as this great champion from Mistral. She has played the game, and she knows how to win. Unfortunately, as time has gone on, I have noticed some things about her that do not add up, and these are entirely due to Monty's original design. I mention this because these mistakes run counter to Pyrrha as a character. Allow me to explain.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (7)

Let us begin with her boots, or rather, the lack thereof. Canonically, Pyrrha wears high-heeled booties. This is confusing on two levels. The first is that she is a champion athlete, the only woman who wears armour, meaning she takes things very seriously. So why would she not wear practical boots for running and fighting? To make matters worse, these are awful boots (for combat), as they look as if it would take only one good kick for them to fly off her feet, given how wide the shaft is—no laces or buckles either. The second issue is Pyrrha's height. Pyrrha is self-conscious about her height, and thinks that is why Jaune does not see her as a woman—despite the fact that he is taller than her. She is six foot in heels, so if she puts on proper boots, boom, problem solved. I decided instead to have my cake and eat it too by making her naturally six foot and wear proper boots.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (8)

But we are not done with her heels. Not yet. Her heels draw the eye to her leg armour, where you see a very stupid problem. Her greaves, the armour that goes onto the shin, go behind the shaft of her heels. The reason that this is an issue is that greaves are made of metal, and are fitted to your shin and calf. In the Middle Ages, they went over tight woollen hosen, just as Pyrrha's do. In the Renaissance Era, you would wear tight boots so that everything hugs together without moving too much, with the bottom of the greaves going around your ankle, and the bottom section in line with your foot at the instep. This allows a place for the greaves to rest if they move, not to mention to connect with sabatons. Pyrrha's on the other hand, are behind the shaft, which do not even reach her knees, by the way. I hope they are padded, for if they are not, those booties are full of blood.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (9) Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (10) Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (11)

If none of this crossed your mind, I do not blame you. My editors were quite cross with me when I pointed this out, as it seemed so obvious to them when I did. It is also why I had Pyrrha show off her legs; not to perv, but rather to show the readers how things are meant to be done, since she of all people would know good armour and how to wear it.

That being said, I do take issue with her armour as a whole. Her cuisses hang on without waist support, with the gap and the short skirt, meant to show off thigh, are both short-sighted and out of character. The same goes for the cleavage and midriff thanks to her plackart corset. Some have noticed this as well, and explained it away in fan-fiction that her "manager" made her do it to boost her popularity, something that I obviously have not done. Her single vambrace is odd as well, for not only is there only one, it is on her shield arm, not her sword arm. The design of the vambrace is also underwhelming, open and held on by ropes rather than encasing her forearms and secured with buckles. The gorget armour she wears around her neck is dangerous without padding, and the circlet, while pretty, is also hazardous in battle.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (12) Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (13) Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (14)

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (15) Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (16)

I love Pyrrha to death, but there are flaws with her design I cannot ignore, especially when they run counter to her character. Thus, I made the appropriate changes. Small, but crucial.

Pyrrha the Celebrity

Here is another small but important change, and one that I have mentioned before. One of the core elements of Pyrrha's character is that she is a celebrity, and because of that, she has been unable to make friends, let alone date. So why has she never been treated as a celebrity? It takes Weiss, another celebrity, to inform the rest of the cast (and us) of that status. And that is the end of it. Teachers, other classmates, and civilians have no reaction to Pyrrha's record, treating her no differently than anyone else. Even Weiss gets more recognition. Obviously, this needed to change, and given that this is the Vytal Festival, where thousands of people from all corners of the world gather, there is no way Pyrrha could go about the grounds without being noticed.

I have seen people try to point to the lack of this celebrity treatment as proof that she was never a champion to begin with. This is, of course, absurd. The true reason is that Monty and the rest of CRWBY, either did not think of it, or did not have the budget for such scenes; keep in mind that background characters were nothing more than black figures at this time, with them only reusing assets and simply changing their hair colour in V3 onward.

It is obvious to why I made this change, but I also made it to force Jaune to think upon the matter, though he has been doing so since Chapter II.

Like a Man

Now this is a big one. Ever since the Jaundice Arc, I have been concerned with Jaune's development. The lesson that I took away from the arc was that Jaune was wrong to try and protect his friends, and that he acted "macho".

This is dumb for several reasons. One, the term macho is broken. It comes from the Spanish word "Machismo", which is basically how a man is meant to conduct himself— effectively the Spanish version of chivalry. America, sadly, butchered the term to mean "pseudo-masculinity", which is what Monty used it to mean in that arc. Two, why would such a term exist in Remnant? Three, it is condemning Jaune for acting like a man and dealing with his problems without dragging others into it. And four, that is what Jaune did anyways by pushing Cardin back. So, what exactly was the message here?

It was confusing, but I understood it that his actions were to be condemned, and that has never sat well with me. A man should stand up for himself and for others, especially to bullies, and the idea that such behaviour is wrong and selfish, is beyond cowardly and self-defeating. This sadly has been the fate of Jaune since, and as this new scene I created shows, I will not tolerate it. As the theme made it clear, if Jaune cannot stand up for Pyrrha, as she has for him, he does not deserve her. You must earn your partner's love every day, and Jaune has a lot of catching up to do, due to all that goodwill deposited in Pyrrha's bank. He is also a Knight, so he needs to start acting like one. Plain and simple.

Lastly, what I will add on this topic is the issue of Cardin. He could easily get Jaune thrown out. So why was it dropped? A solution is that instead of having Jaune merely shove Cardin and talk back, he challenges him to a duel in secret. If he wins, Cardin must keep his mouth shut, if he loses, he continues to be his servant. Of course, Jaune wins, using everything he has learned, with a strong hint at his Semblance thrown in. And when Cardin reneges on the deal, as one would expect him to, Pyrrha would emerge from the bushes, revealing she was filming everything on her Scroll, and would be willing to use it to counter-blackmail Cardin. But that is my idea in hindsight, not what actually happens in this story. And since this story is based off of the canon of V1 and 2, what is up with Cardin? We shall see in time.

Chapter 4: Running From Destiny

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Jaune walked across the Beacon campus lost within his own thoughts, which he was doing more and more often these days. It was not that surprising given all that had transpired over the past few weeks, and what feelings were developing on the daily. He had spent a great deal of time thinking about what he said to Pyrrha, and what he was feeling. He liked her as a woman, and there was no denying that now. It was not just mere attraction, though he could not deny he found her incredibly attractive to the point that he was checking her out constantly. That in and of itself was a strange mixture of emotions, as it felt odd doing so after treating her like a friend for so long, along them not yet officially dating. On the other hand, he knew she had strong feelings for him, so she would be flattered if she noticed, if she had not already. It was that knowledge that fed his own desires to ignore the post tournament date, and just take their relationship further. Every time Pyrrha smiled it would ignite his heart, which would then demand him to embrace her. There had already been a couple of close calls, and Pyrrha, never making an effort to stop his advances, was subconsciously fueling them. It felt as if at any moment the line would be crossed for good.

It was that realization which had sent his mind into overdrive. The previous day's near kiss on the roof, and defending Pyrrha's honour at the fairgrounds, forced Jaune to take inventory of his current situation. It was certainly difficult to do, as he was rather nervous about the tournament, regardless of the sure-fire plan he had concocted, which caused him to get very little sleep last night. His thoughts were of Pyrrha and his future with her. As his feelings for her grew, the more seriously he thought about what the future would be in store for them. They were on the same team with him as captain and she as his lieutenant. There would undoubtedly be some complications with simultaneously having a personal and professional relationship, but if others had done it, so could they. Ren and Nora, though were not officially together yet, would no doubt be a model for them. Ruby and Yang were a by-product of teammates becoming more, and there were certainly others that he was not personally aware of. It gave Jaune encouragement that they could do this, which he definitely needed, as he felt that what he and Pyrrha had was the real deal.

However, it was that realization that made the altercation with the Haven students affect him so devastatingly. He had been completely honest that people insulting him did not bother him anymore. Coming to Beacon and meeting Pyrrha and his new friends, had given him the kick in the pants that he had been in desperate need of. He was growing stronger both as a warrior and as a man, and for the first time was determined to train and rid himself of his weaknesses. However, he had not been prepared to hear people belittle Pyrrha because of them. They had been from Mistral, and had called her a desperate whor* because he was not some Knight in expensive shining armour. That had enraged him like nothing had before. Her honour being dragged into the dirt because of his inadequacies, might as well had been a spear driven through his gut. And what made him feel sick to his stomach was that his lying to get into Beacon had not been discovered yet. What would happen then? He would be expelled immediately, but what would happen to his team? What would happen to their names? Their public images and standing in the Huntsmen community? He would pull them down with him, and that had kept him awake the entire night, staring at the ceiling, plagued with guilt.

That guilt had forced him out of bed much earlier than he planned, skip any form of breakfast, and walk the grounds, lost in his thoughts. He felt powerless. He could not just bugger on because there were so many outside actors in play. There were the reporters in Mistral with connections in Vale trying to dig up his past, there was his family who had no idea he had forged his papers to get into Beacon and could easily reveal the truth, there was Huntmaster Ozpin who as far as Jaune knew believed he was legitimate, and of course there was Cardin, who was the only one who knew the truth outside of Jaune's small circle. That thought caused another pang of guilt as Nora, who was fiercely loyal, was the only member of his team that did not know, and he knew he had to tell her soon. The amount of moving parts had forced the blond to physically draw up a full page of war manoeuvres, and examine it closely to see how to devise the right course of action. There were certainly several things that he could do, but after staring at them for several hours, he realized that half the morning was gone, and knew there were other things he needed to take care of. He knew he would have to go back to strategizing, but he would save it for that evening.

The sun had already risen around a quarter of the way into the sky, as Jaune walked past the bank of the body of water that encircled the Lecture Dome to reach the large building that lay behind it. This was the Beacon Armoury. While one needed their own weapon to enter Beacon, brought over from their primary Huntsman education, and were expected to know said weapon inside and out, students were not masters. Every Huntsman academy possessed a Master-at-Arms, a weapons and armour master smith leading a team of other smiths, to oversee all weaponry and ammunition at their respective schools. His job was to both forge and repair any and all weapons and armour the students of Beacon required. Furthermore, the Master-at-Arms was also a teacher that taught individuals that wished to become smiths instead of becoming Huntsmen. This meant that the armoury was constantly busy, crafting ammunition, refining Dust, and forging armour. The sounds of metal clanging could be heard around the clock, and only grew in volume as Jaune approached the armoury.

It was a rather impressive looking building, appearing to be much older than the rest of the school, both in physical age and architecture. It was one of the few original structures that remained from the former castle the academy had been turned into, and it seemed that the Huntmasters hadn't seen fit to modernize it—at least not much. Above the giant wooden double-doors hung a large sign forged of wrought iron, shaped into an anvil with a smith's hammer resting with the handle pointing upward. To the right rested a pair of forging tongs, and to the left was a bullet mold. Resting at the feet of the anvil was a longsword, a shortsword, a maul, a two-headed battle axe, a spear, a mace, a bolt-action rifle, a shotgun, a revolver, and many brass cartridge cases spilled on the ground. If that did not make it clear that here stood the armoury, then nothing else could.

Embarrassingly for Jaune, he had yet to step foot into the building. It seemed that all of his friends had at least made one trip here, leaving him to be out of the loop when they began discussing the functions of their weapons, as well as possible upgrades. Granted, he figured all he would need was a supply of whetstones and mineral oil, as Crocea Mors was just a sword. Furthermore, his armour was minimal and had held up so far, so he never really gave it much thought. Of course, it was now clear that his way of thinking had been a mistake, and he took Pyrrha's advice to heart. He may not be able to be fitted for a full suit of armour in time for the tournament, but agreed there were at least some pieces of armour he could add that would be a net positive.

Jaune wrapped his hand on one of the iron door-pulls of the armoury, and with more effort than he expected, heaved it open. Instantly a blast of hot air hit him, along with the familiar smells of brimstone, oil, smoke, and the burning of wood and coal. The ringing of hammers on metal accompanied the smells, joined by random bangs, forges roaring, drilling, pieces of metal being quenched in oil, and the shouts of the many workers within the armoury. It would appear as nothing more than pure chaos to many, but for Jaune, it was incredibly nostalgic and rather peaceful. It had been a while since the last time he had been surrounded by metalworking, and it was genuinely surprised at how much he missed it. His eyes scanned the immediate part of the armoury and saw smiths and apprentices running about, tossing coal into forges, breaking open crates of raw ore and Dust, and arguing over what needed to be made that day. In the centre of the armoury was a large forge with a chimney that went all the way to the vaulted ceiling. Surrounding it were well over a dozen smaller forges, grouped by their intended purpose, as they varied in shape and size. The blond also noticed that there were several members of the armoury bringing packages to a set of stairs that led to below the building. He managed to make out the labels on some of them, several that said, "brass casings", and others said "Dust", though he could not tell if they contained crystallized or powdered. What he was certain of, was that they were on their way to the reloading stations in the lower levels of the armoury. Given that nearly all Huntsmen's arms were either primarily or secondarily firearms, centrefire rifles, shotguns, or pistols, the academy required hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition for training, as well as for Hunts. Of course, the calibre varied greatly from one Huntsmen's weapon to another, so every known calibre was cast, loaded, and stored for use. There were specialists like Ruby that would go as far as crafting their own ammunition, but most chambered their arms in readily available cartridges to avoid being caught with not having enough. Jaune guessed that the cause for all this commotion was for the Vytal Festival Tournament, where students were in need of all these materials for both training and the competition.

While he was not well versed in firearms, the forge nevertheless felt far more nostalgic than he thought it would be. Molten metal being poured and pounded into sword, weapons and armour being forged for all; it was almost as if he were home again. These were the better memories of home, and he knew that no matter how much time would pass or how much resentment he felt towards his family history, there were still some things he cherished and held close. It had proved to be serving him better than he had imagined, so perhaps there were more interesting surprises left in store.

The blond's eyes finally rested on a very tall man only a dozen or so strides to his two o'clock, standing near a lathe. He was over six foot and very muscular, as his brown short sleeved shirt fit tightly against his upper body, and revealed his impressively large arms. He wore a blacksmith's leather apron, dark leather gloves that reached halfway up his forearms, and a red bandana that kept his long black hair, which was tied into a ponytail, from falling forward. He also wore a dirty pair of jeans and equally dirty leather boots, and was peering intently at a blueprint. He was rather young looking, despite the grease on his face making it difficult to guess his age, though Jaune could estimate he was five to ten years his senior.

The swordsman walked over to the smith, and spoke loudly to make sure he was heard, but refrained from shouting.

"Where can I find the Master-at-Arms?"

The smith looked at him without turning his head, and eyed him slowly. Without changing his expression, it was still clear that he recognized Jaune as another first-year, and knew what he wanted.

"Master Winchester is in his office on the second floor" he replied in a gruff voice, gesturing to a stairway behind him with his right thumb. "He's already with someone right now. A real nuisance that one, so who knows when he'll be free."

"Mr. Browning! We need your help with the tempering process!" called a voice of one of the younger smiths, who appeared to be Jaune's age.

"Damn newbies can't be left alone for a second. Comin'!" the smith muttered before shouting the last word and marched briskly over to where he had been called to.

Jaune stood rooted to the floor as his blood ran cold, which was rather shocking, given the humidity of the forge. Did he just say "Winchester"? That was Cardin's last name. There was no way they were related, were they? It had to be a coincidence. However, Winchester was far from a common name. Was the Master-at-Arms his father or even his grandfather? These thoughts raced through his mind as he forced himself to walk towards the previously mentioned stairs, and with heavy steps, made his way upward to the second floor.

'Calm down' he told himself. 'The world is a big place. All this is is a big coincidence, and he just happens to have the same name as Cardin. That's all. Nothing to worry about'.

But what if it's not a coincidence? An annoying voice in his mind said.

Jaune shook his head, knowing he already had too much on his plate, and forced himself to reach the last flight of stairs to get to the office. As he drew closer, he began to hear voices, two of them in fact, having a heated argument. One he had no idea who it belonged to, though the second became more and more familiar as he neared the door at the top of the stairs. By the time he grasped the doorknob, he had already figured out who it was and breathed a small sigh of relief. He turned the knob and opened the door to reveal that the second speaker was none other than Ruby Rose.

"Look! It's not that crazy of an idea!" shouted the short Huntress-in-training, slapping both hands on the old oak desk.

"If I've told ya once, I've told ya a thousand times, girly!" an old man spat back angrily, pointing at her with an equally old chimney style tobacco pipe. He was a short elder man with dark olive skin and silver tinted white hair, tucked behind a green bandana with a headband magnifier resting on top. Like Browning, he wore a leather apron, except that his leather gloves were of an older style, and lay on the table just behind Crescent Rose, which was resting in the centre of the table in its storage configuration. The master smith's face was quite crinkled, causing his eyes to appear to be continuously squinting, though it could be due to the frustrating conversation he was having with Ruby. "And it's still no!"

"But all I'm asking is to increase Crescent Rose's firepower! That can't be as impossible as you're making it out to be!" reasoned the hooded girl.

"Impossible? No. Stupid and dangerous? Yes! You should be focusing on trying to load better ammunition than wanting to rechamber your weapon to a larger calibre."

Jaune correctly guessed that this was the Master-at-Arms, and was rather amused that he was having similar arguments with Ruby as she did with Weiss.

"I am loading new types of cartridges, and experimenting with new Dust combinations and projectile types" Ruby countered hotly, "but there are limits with what I can do with the calibre Crescent Rose is chambered in! If we rechamber her in–"

"Rechamberin' would mean not only reborin' the barrel, but alterin', if not completely replacin' the lock! And the problems start with reborin' as it would make the barrel too thin! Overheating, warping, and most likely bucklin' from the weight in her scythe configuration, are all disastrous problems that ya don't want happenin'! Then we have the recoil–"

"Then just swap the barrel with one made of higher gauge steel!" cut in Ruby. "That takes care of the overheating and the warping, and the added weight will compensate for the higher recoil. Then we just strengthen the frame and upper receiver–"

"Increasin' the weight counters the recoil, obviously so. Think that statement over, hmmm" countered Winchester. "Do you really think that Crescent Rose would properly align and transform with those changes? Everythin' would have to be remade to make it all fit right! And that means more weight to boot! I bet you're not even a hundred pounds soakin' wet, and ya want to increase BOTH the weight and the recoil? I still can't figure out how ya can swing this thing with those twigs ya call arms."

"I'm plenty strong! I drink milk!"

"Then ya should eat ya greens too!"

"Uh...Ruby?" asked Jaune, causing both the young markswoman and the master smith to stop arguing, and realize someone else was in the room. "Not to be rude, but is this gonna take much longer, cuz I need to talk to the Master-at-Arms."

"Jaune!" said Ruby in surprise.

"Hmmm? Ya know her, sonny?" asked the old man.

"Yes, she's my friend."

"Then YOU tell her that what she's askin' me to do is moronic!"

The swordsman threw his hands up defensively.

"I know next to nothing about firearms outside of hunting rifles and shotguns, so please don't drag me into this one. She argues enough with her lieutenant as it is" he deflected, though he did find it humorous that Ruby was always so happy and positive, until the topic of arms came up. Then she would argue with anyone to the death, as she held a rather impressive amount of knowledge in her head, despite her age.

"It's not moronic! I just want to give my weapon more stopping power" argued Ruby, turning back to Winchester, but the smith was not having any more of it.

"Listen here, ya bouncin' jellybean!" he sputtered leaning forward. "This here..." he tapped Crescent Rose with the lip of his pipe "is a large calibre sniper rifle. Sniper rifles are specialist tools. Snipers are force multipliers and support soldiers, meant to provide recon and cover. They are not infantry troops, they are not armour, they are not vanguard troops; they are support. I know this rifle inside and out because I remember every weapon I have ever worked on. I remember your ma when she was a student at this here school, and she was a magnificent markswoman, gunsmith, Huntress, and sniper. She was one of the best Huntresses of her generation and she knew how to maximize her effectiveness, as well as the effectiveness of Crescent Rose. I had tons of great conversations with her, and I admired her greatly. Now..." he breathed, leaning backward. "If ya're willin' to listen to some advice, if ya badly want a sniper rifle chambered in a larger calibre, then I suggest making one from scratch. Design one around a .50-calibre or larger anti-material cartridge, and use it when ya need to. Crescent Rose is a good arm. Treat her well and she'll treat you well."

Ruby remained quiet for a moment, contemplating what the Master-at-Arms had said. She stared at Crescent Rose, her eyes scanning it carefully, before letting out a sigh of defeat.

"OK..." she said half-whining, picking up her weapon and attaching it to her back. She turned around and was about to sulk out of the office, when Winchester grabbed her hood, causing her to choke.

"Just a minute" he snipped grouchily, leaning behind his desk, and pulled up a rectangular package around two feet long and seven inches high, and dropped it gently before him. "Here are your reloading components. I'll see ya when ya need more" he said more softly.

Ruby looked at the smith, then to the package, and back to the smith, before giving him an apologetic look.

"Thank you" she said quietly, taking the components with both hands and bowed before turning to the door. "I'll see you later, Jaune" she added, and closed the door behind her.

Winchester sighed as he fished around in his apron for some matches.

"She's a firecracker, that one" he muttered.

"True, but she's impossible to get mad at" admitted Jaune with a smile. "She reminds me a lot of my younger sisters. Though it's weird how she's so positive and upbeat every other second of the day, and then turns right into her sister, ready to passionately argue with anyone over anything related to weapons."

"She's her ma's daughter, through and through" replied Winchester, striking a match, and stoking his pipe to life, as it had gone out while quarrelling with the girl in question. "Though the passion you're referring to is entirely from her pa. How those two complete opposites got together, I ain't got a clue, but it explains why she's doin' what she's doin'."

"What do you mean?" Jaune asked, genuinely curious.

The elder smith drew from his pipe, and exhaled a plume of blueish gray smoke out through his nose.

"Her old man was one Hell of a Huntsman. The best, many called him. Didn' matter the size of the Grimm or the number, he'd just charge in like a bat outta Hell, and crush'em all; spittin' fire with a temper that burned just as hot. He should have died dozens of times, but he just kept on fightin'. He was something alright. And then you have her ma; so kind and sweet, like spring flowers just before the turn of summer. Yet somehow, in the same woman, was a Huntress that could drop a man between his eyes at 1500 yards like it was nothin'. I couldn' believe that was the same girl that would bring me freshly baked cookies in the mornin' so she could hang round the forge and talk. What an incredible girl. What an incredible team. They were a deadly pair on the battlefield, but I never thought they'd make a good pair as sweethearts, especially after he got with their lieutenant. And then I hear years later they up and got married and had a little one. I didn't believe that either until she walked into my forge.

You see what I mean, sonny? About the way that she is? Her pa was captain of that team, so there's that part of her that wants to lead. But here she is, carryin' her ma's arm and wants to use it, but still wants to charge into battle. That's not how a sniper is meant to fight. She wants it all, but she's failin' to excel at her own skills."

"I've seen her kill Grimm, and she's an excellent shot" defended Jaune, though surprised at the story the smith was sharing.

"Oh, I know. I've seen her practice at the range" Winchester confirmed, taking another puff of his pipe. "I just pity her, is all. She wants to be close to her ma, so she uses her rifle. I don't blame her in the slightest; I just want her to honour Summer the right way, and be the best she can be...especially since her ma passed so suddenly..." The old smith sighed and looked out the window to his right. "But now I just sound like a reminiscin' old timer. Anyways," he cleared his throat, turning back to face Jaune, "what can I do ya for, sonny?"

"I'm looking for some armour" replied the blond.

Winchester co*cked an eyebrow, and rolled his pipe with his tongue to the other corner of his mouth.

"What?"

"Nothin'...I mean, I may be older than the mountains, and I can clearly see that you need armour, badly" he replied, taking a short puff, and allowing the smoke to escape his aged lips. "I'm just shocked you came out and said it."

Jaune just looked back at the smith, completely confused.

"Alrighty, I'll spell it out for ya, string bean!" Winchester snapped, his face turning slightly red. "Brats your age don't give a pinch of loon spit's worth a damn about armour, and only want more firepower. They got it in their thick skulls that havin' a hard-hittin’ weapon is what's gonna make'em Huntsmen; that they can furget armour since they can use their Aura to block attacks. That's how ya die young in this profession! Dang kids worrin' about lookin' pretty and chase tail rather than trainin'. I've lost track of how many hobbledehoys like yourself just want to be dapper for the girls, and payin' for it later. Good to see at least one of ya's have somethin' in that noggin', despite bein' greener than a bag of sprouts."

The blond smirked at the smith's grumbling.

"Well, actually, it was a girl that suggested I should invest in new armour" he admitted. "My lieutenant actually; she's very knowledgeable about that sort of thing."

"Marry her" Winchester stated without hesitation.

Jaune chuckled as he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly.

"Well...if things keep going the way they are..."

This made the Master-at-Arms grin, causing the bowl of his pipe to rise.

"You two goin' at it like rabbits, ain't ya?"

The swordsman blushed deeply, not expecting the old man to be so direct.

"I...well...not yet–I mean, we're together, but we decided to go out after the tournament so we could focus on training" he stumbled, trying his best explain the situation. "But I think she's incredible, and I'd be lying if I said the thought of marriage and...stuff hadn't crossed my mind..."

This was unbelievably awkward for Jaune, as he had not even spoken to Ren about either of these subjects, and here he was being confronted by an old man on both. Winchester noticed and began to laugh at him, which came out like a five-pronged wheeze.

"Well, blow me down! I have to commend ya for usin' your head and not thinkin' with your pecker!" he laughed folding his arms. "There are Gods after all!" Just as Jaune was considering taking his chances and hurling himself through the window of the smith's office, Winchester cracked his neck and fished out a pair of blacksmithing pincers. "Right then, let's get to it, shall we?" he said, and rapped the embarrassed swordsman's chest plate. "That needs to go. I wouldn't even be able to make good cutlery out of that. Same goes for the spaulders. Those gloves are terrible as well...that sword, however..."

Winchester leaned forward to take a better look at Crocea Mors, and was instantly intrigued by it.

"Can I take a closer look at that, sonny?"

Jaune nodded and drew his sword, offering it to the Master-at-Arms with both hands. Winchester accepted the blade, and dropped down his headband magnifier to examine every detail.

"Yes siree, this is a finely crafted sword...a rather old design" he remarked, turning the blade expertly, "older than I am, if ya can believe it."

"It was my great-great-grandfather's sword" affirmed the blond. "He fought in the Great War."

"Oh, most certainly" the smith said, taking particular interest in the hilt and guard of the sword. "It was definitely made in the style of that era...a very particular style...tell me, sonny, was your grandpappy a Knight in the King's Guard?"

Jaune paused for a moment, not expecting the smith to know such history.

"Yes, or so my father claims. He also said that he was so powerful that he could withstand the breath of an Elder Wyvern Grimm without so much as a scratch. That could just be a family legend though..." he admitted, realizing how childishly farfetched it sounded when spoken aloud.

"I can't confirm your grandpappy's feats, but unless he stole this here sword, then I do believe he was a Knight. Fancy that. Never thought it my life I'd see surviving craftsmanship from that time in history outside of the armoury. Anyone who has anythin' from that war either puts'em in museums or puts'em over the mantel. I must say, you've taken good care of this sword, sonny. Well oiled, nice'n sharp, not a speck of rust on it. If I wasn't as good of a smith as I am, I wouldn't have guessed it was forged nearly a hundred years ago."

"Thank you. It's a priceless family heirloom and every descendent who’s wielded it in battle has taken good care of it" said Jaune graciously, glad that he had at least done something well enough to be praised. He accepted Crocea Mors back and sheathed it as Winchester removed his magnifying glasses.

"Now back to your armour" said the smith. "Ya know what ya want, or do ya need my advice on that?"

"Pauldrons, gauntlets, vambraces, couters, rerebraces, greaves, and a cuirass" recited Jaune without missing a beat. "A full suit is too late for now, so just those pieces will do for the tournament. I just need to make it through the first round to get my teammates to the doubles and let them do the rest."

"You're the captain and you're not aimin' for the singles?" asked Winchester in surprise.

"I'm not the best fighter on the team" replied the blond honestly, "my lieutenant and our other teammate are both far stronger, and without question my lieutenant is best overall, so we'll be sending her to Singles."

Winchester looked at him in silent approval, impressed by his humility, something else that young Huntsmen had trouble being.

"Very good, sonny. Ya sure ya don't want cuisses too?" he asked.

"That might limit my mobility more than I would like. And I really need to be mobile since I'm not exactly built like a brick sh*t-house. Probably later when I have time to get used to them, and then onwards to a full suit."

"Fair enough, but ya should take some poleyns" advised Winchester, pulling out a clipboard and a weathered tailor's tape from the drawers of his desk. "Ya don't want to butcher your knees at your age, or ya'll have Hell to pay when you get to mine. Alrighty, stand up straight, and I'll start takin' your measurements."

Jaune complied and made sure his back was straight for the Master-at-Arms, who with incredible speed and finesse, began to take all his dimensions.

"That about does it. Now sit here nice and quiet like. I'll be back in a jiffy" he said tucking the clipboard under his arm. "Gonna go and get the armour myself to get the blood flowin', or else I'll be crampin' all day."

And with that, the elderly Master-at-Arms exited the office, leaving Jaune to himself, along with the muffled sounds of the forge.

Not expecting to be left alone, the blond began to occupy himself by looking around the master smith's office, and found it to be more homely that he expected it to be. The walls were genuine dark wood paneling, adorned with many smithing tools of centuries past, some appearing to be several hundred years old. There were a large number of bookshelves that reached the ceiling, filled with an impressive number of tomes. Jaune noticed that they were organized by subject, with topics ranging from metal work, to gunsmithing, to Dust refinement, to reloading, to weapon history, and even topics that he had never heard of. There were also a number of framed sketches of what must have been every past and current cartridge ever produced in Remnant. The swordsman was honestly shocked at the sheer number of cartridges and shells, and felt a new level of respect for gunsmiths, as having to retain all that information could not be easy.

As Jaune continued to scan the office, his eyes came across some photographs that rested atop a short three level bookcase. They were mostly old photographs, showing Winchester in his younger years, one of which appeared to be him as a child sitting on the knee of a man that must have been his father. It was the photo beside this one that caught Jaune's interest. It was of a slightly younger Winchester sitting on a stool before a reloading bench, probably somewhere within the forge, and grinning from ear to ear, his eyes vanishing into his wrinkles. To his right was someone that if Jaune did not know any better, would have sworn it was Ruby Rose. She was taller than Ruby, by half a foot at least, had shoulder-length hair with the ends folded and held against her head with pins, and wore an outfit similar to hers, with many more pockets and pouches. A snow-white hooded cloak was attached to her neck with a rose broach; the very same that Ruby now wore. She bore the same bright and sweet smile as her daughter, as Jaune knew that she had to be Summer Xiao Long. It was different, however, for despite it being a photograph, he felt a warmth that he could only describe as motherly; even though this was clearly taken years before Ruby was born. Jaune then noticed that between them was Crescent Rose sitting in a rifle vise, showing that Winchester had not been lying when he claimed he had worked extensively on the weapon, as well as knowing Summer personally. He could not suppress a smirk when he noticed the basket of cookies just behind the young woman.

"I'd say that's where Ruby gets her sweet tooth from, but now I'd say that's where she gets everything from" he said to himself, though feeling a pang of pity in his heart, knowing that such a lovely woman had died so young, leaving behind two young daughters and a widower. "A firecracker, indeed" he added, acknowledging how strong Ruby was to persevere through the loss, and put her emotions into action by becoming a Huntress. She was a better person than he was.

"Got'em all, sonny!" shouted Winchester, kicking the door of his office open, and scaring the life out of the blond. "Let's see how well they fit!"

"S-Sure!" Jaune replied, recovering quickly, and walked briskly back to the smith's desk, where Winchester had just dropped a leather duffle bag onto. He quickly removed his old armour and Crocea Mors, as the Master-at-Arm began to show him how to strap the armour onto himself. Jaune was about to protest that he knew how to attach armour, but Winchester demonstrated that these had been specifically designed so that they could be easily assembled and disassembled by the wearer. Older armour required a second person to help warriors prepare for battle, which was why Knights of old had Squires accompany them. It was not impossible of course, as Jaune had learned to do it himself, and had seen others do the same, but it was admittedly time-consuming.

He listened intently as Winchester explained how the armour interlocked, and he realized that with some practice, he could get in and out of the armour rather quickly, which was certainly a net positive when at any moment a Grimm attack could occur.

"So, how does it fit?" the old man asked, taking a step back.

Jaune began to pace back and forth, rotating his shoulders to see how much resistance the pauldrons caused, which he was very glad to discover did very little of. The same went for the new couters, which when he flexed his arms, gave him minimal interference. He did a few knee strikes and squats as well, and found the poleyns were in line with the previous pieces of joint-armour. He brought his hands up and balled them into fists, and smiled when he felt how much of his dexterity he maintained. It was then that Jaune took a closer look at this new armour, and noticed just how nice it really was. It was not ornately decorated or engraved, in fact, it was just plain looking steel that could use a bit of polish, but nevertheless was clearly well made. It even appeared that all the pieces he now wore matched, as if it were from the same set.

"It fits great" he answered at last, turning to face the Master-at-Arms, who grinned when he was able to see the swordsman fully.

"Well, don't ya look a Hell of a lot better? You were made to wear armour" he praised, which actually meant more to Jaune than he was willing to express.

"Thank you. These all look like they're all part of the same suit."

Winchester nodded. "They are. I just gave ya what ya asked" he confirmed, tapping out the contents of his pipe into an ashtray and began to search for his tobacco pouch. "The rest will be waitin' for ya when the tournament is over. Not like anyone is gonna take it before then."

Jaune remained silent for a moment, as he placed his left hand flat against his new cuirass.

"This is very good armour, sir. I don't feel right taking it" he confessed.

The smith froze mid-refill, and looked at him confused.

"What are ya yappin' about? You wanna go into a big tournament like this one with sh*t armour? I figured ya were a bit naive, but queer wasn't on the list."

"No, I mean–" Jaune began, though he was not exactly sure what he was trying to say.

"That armour has been sittin' on the rack for years" cut in Winchester, pointing at him with his pipe in annoyance. "I just told ya that no one wears armour these days, and then I go all the way into the bowels of this forge to get you the good stuff, and ya say it's too good for ya? Maybe it is, but I'd rather that it be worn by someone like you then go to waste in storage, ya hear?"

Jaune felt rather foolish beneath the master smith's glare, but only for voicing his thoughts aloud.

"You're right. Thank you, sir" he said bowing.

"Glad to hear it" Winchester replied, as he finished refilling the bowl of his pipe, and began searching for his box of matches. Jaune picked up the matches from the desk and handed it to him, which he accepted graciously. "Will that be all, sonny?"

"Actually" said Jaune, fishing out a neatly folded piece of paper from his pocket, "would these modifications be possible?"

The Master-at-Arms tossed a used match into the ashtray on his desk while taking a pull from his pipe, and accepted the paper. He produced a pair of half-moon glasses from his apron, and put them on as he unfolded the request. He skimmed down it quickly, before snorting in comprehension.

"In my sleep."

"Can it be done before the start of the tournament tomorrow?"

Winchester closed his eyes and began to do a mental inventory check. He exhaled some smoke out of his nose before opening his eyes again.

"I think I might be able to squeeze ya in. Will ya be here bright and early to pick them up? I ain't gonna currier it to ya" he said sternly.

"I will."

"Then off with ya, and see ya tomorrow. I have work to do, since ya ain't the only young buck comin' in for last-second requests" the smith remarked, walking around his desk, and returning to his seat. He opened one of the drawers and pulled out a form which Jaune correctly assumed was for smithing orders. "Nearly forgot, what's your name, sonny?"

"Jaune Arc" he replied, currently in the process of removing the armour.

"Hmmm" pondered Winchester as he scribbled down the form, before stapling the paper with the modifications Jaune had requested to it, and dropping it in his "Rush Order" box. "Right then, have a good one" he added, before opening one of the folders on his desk and began to read its contents.

Jaune, having stacked the armour properly, looked at him for a moment, wondering if he should ask the question that had been on his mind since he learned the name of the master smith. He knew if he didn't it would eat away at his sanity, but he was also hoping that keeping quiet would be smarter in the long run. Unfortunately, in the short amount of time he spent thinking over this decision, the Master-at-Arms looked up at him with a puzzled look, clearly not expecting him to still be there.

"Yes?" he asked.

"Uhh..." began Jaune, blushing slightly out of embarrassment, "your name is Winchester, isn't it, sir?"

"Yep. Henry Colt Winchester."

The blond swallowed. "Are you by any chance related to a Cardin Winchester?"

The old man mulled over the name for a few moments before shrugging.

"Can't say that I am. Never heard of him before. Who's he?"

"No one important. Thank you again for your time, Master Winchester" Jaune said courteously with a bow, and walked to the door, closing it behind him.

The smith looked at the door curiously, admittedly lost at the boy's actions, but decided not to dwell on it. He then leaned back in his chair, and folded his right arm while holding the bowl of his pipe with his left hand.

"Arc, huh?" he puffed thoughtfully. The silver-haired smith grinned and slapped his desk enthusiastically, rising to his feet and walked to the window that overlooked the inside of the old smithy.

"Browning!" he boomed over the din of the forges below, alerting the tall black-haired smith Jaune had first encountered.

"What?"

"Get your ass up here! I got a special order I need your help with!"

"I'm still dealing with the green kids you told me to teach today!"

"Let Savage handle them! I need you now, brat!" the master smith shot back hotly, before slamming the window closed.

Browning glared at the window for a few moments, before holding up a rolled-up blueprint, which another smith took with a smirk on his face before walking away. The taller smith cracked his neck in annoyance before finally walking to the stairway that led to his master's office.

Just outside the forge stood Jaune, taking a deep breath, relieved that at least he had not just run into Cardin's grandfather. He pulled out his Scroll to take a look at the time, and nodded before putting it back in his pocket.

"Well, that's one down. Now for the hard part" he said to himself, reluctantly beginning to walk past the pond back towards the main Beacon building. He was not going to like this, but he knew that it had to be done.

λΛλ

Jaune was in silent thought as he rode the elevator to the top floor of the former Donjon where Grand Huntmaster Ozpin's office resided. He could feel his stomach in his throat, and nearly two dozen swallows had not help settle it. He had spent the entire morning thinking over the decision he was about to make. He hated it, truly he did, but he knew that it was the right thing to do. This was what it meant to be a leader, to make hard calls, and this would be the hardest he ever had the misfortune of making.

The doors of the elevator chimed as they opened, and after a moment of hesitation, the blond stepped out. He could see the doors of the Huntmaster's office, and blinked several times, as it felt as if the hallway had tripled in length. Taking a deep breath and exhaling through his nose, he began the long march. However, now that he was in sight of his destination, his thoughts became impossible to focus. They had become a cyclone of images and emotions, and Jaune was starting to think that he was going to be sick. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he clenched his fists tightly in a vain attempt to calm himself.

'This is the right thing to do. You know you've had this coming for months' he told himself, feeling the nausea building. 'You can't keep running forever.'

When he finally reached the tall double doors, he felt his feet glue themselves to the marble floor. He told himself to get a grip and knock on the door, but he was completely frozen. All he could see was Pyrrha's face, and the sound of her beautiful laugh chiming in his ears. He wanted to run to her. He wanted to take her into his arms and kiss her deeply, more than anything he ever wanted to do. But he knew that he could not. He had to be an adult and face his problems, rather than run from them, as he always had. He made his bed, and now he had to sleep in it.

"And what are you doing, Mr. Arc?" came a voice.

Jaune's head spun to his left and saw an unamused Deputy-Huntmistress, standing with her arms crossed.

"Professor Goodwitch..."

"I asked you a question, young man" she said sternly, walking towards him.

"I uh...wanted to speak with Huntmaster Ozpin" he explained.

"He's currently very busy with the tournament, and will not be seeing anyone."

"But it's about the tournament that I need to talk to him about."

"If it has nothing to do with withdrawing from the tournament, then it will have to wait."

"No, it can't" said Jaune, louder and more desperate sounding than he wanted to. "Please Professor Goodwitch, I just need a few minutes to speak with him. I have to let him know before it starts. It's not about what's been going on with Torchwick and the White Fang" he added hurriedly, stopping the professor from interrupting, "but it is about my team, and their wellbeing means more than anything."

Glynda looked at the stressed blond with uncertainty. She was still suspicious of the boy's record, as his grades were far from satisfactory, and there were still some holes that had yet to be explained. Ozpin had assured her that everything was in order, but her suspicions were rarely wrong, though neither were his. What made her hesitate from sending him out of the building, was the sincerity in his eyes and voice. He appeared to be genuinely in distress, which gave validity to his claim that his reason for coming was important and for the sake of his team.

"Wait here a moment" she said at last, deciding to trust the Huntmaster's judgement, and entered his office, leaving Jaune outside.

The blond swordsman finally managed to unglue himself from the floor, and began to pace in front of the office, feeling his guts twist as he waited. Thankfully he didn't have to wait long, as Glynda returned in only thirty seconds, and allowed him to step inside, before leaving the office and closing the door behind her. Jaune looked before him, and saw the Huntmaster behind his desk, steady and composed as always.

"Mr. Arc" said Ozpin calmly, looking at Jaune with a patient gaze. "It has been a while since we last spoke. Ms. Goodwitch tells me that you wish to speak to me about a serious matter."

"Yes, sir" Jaune heard himself say, as he walked forward and stopped a few feet from the front of the Huntmaster's desk.

"Well, I could use a small pause from the frenzy of this festival" he stated with a small smile. "Now then, what seems to be the matter?"

Jaune swallowed. There was no going back now.

"Grand Huntmaster Ozpin" he began, trying to be as polite as possible, "when the Vytal Festival Tournament concludes, I would like to officially withdraw from Beacon Academy."

The silver-haired Huntmaster raised his eyebrows, clearly not expecting this.

"I see" he said slowly, leaning back in his chair with his fingers interlaced. "Of all things that I expected you to request an audience for, this was certainly not among them" he admitted. "May I ask why you've come to this decision?"

The soon to be former captain cleared his throat, preparing to recite the lines he had repeated in his mind while planning this course of action.

"My short time here at Beacon has been the best time of my life. I've learned a great deal, and I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity, but I would be lying if I claimed that I was deserving of it. I've proven to be a poor student and an incompetent leader, which my team don't deserve to be subjugated to."

"That is a rather humble proclamation, Mr. Arc, however, I believe you are being far too hard on yourself" countered Ozpin softly. "Your grades, while lacking, have been steadily improving. I have personally noticed how much training your team has undergone as of late, the part you've played in dealing with our conflict with the White Fang and Roman Torchwick's gang, and many other achievements. Thanks to your leadership, your team has become the odds-on favourite to win this tournament, and many have great expectations for Team JNPR in the years to come."

"Expectations and achievements earned due to the hard work of my teammates, not I" rejected Jaune, refusing to allow himself to succumb to the praise. It was time to finally speak the truth. "Pyrrha earned her place at this academy, as did Ren and Nora, but not me. I...forged my primary Huntsman transcript. I never attended Signal Academy or any primary Huntsman institution. I've stolen my place at this school from someone who truly deserved it. I want to correct my mistake."

Ozpin studied the blond carefully, peering over his shaded spectacles.

"By admitting this, Mr. Arc, you have given me the need to fulfill my duty as Grand Huntmaster and expel you immediately" he said steadily.

"I know, sir. I just ask you that you give me till the end of the tournament" bargained Jaune. "I believe that my team can win, and I want that victory to be my goodbye to them for the time being."

"Except for the fact that with you enrolling into this academy with forged documents, de facto meaning that you have illegally entered this tournament, thus invalidating any victories your team achieves" Ozpin pointed out, though maintaining his calm and steady tone.

"I..." Jaune began, knowing that if he could not convince Ozpin to go along with his plan, everything would fall apart. "I'm fully aware of that, but I'm begging for you to delay my expulsion for a little while longer."

The Huntmaster paused yet again, examining the blond, noticing his steadily increasing desperation.

"So, the entirety of your plan, Mr. Arc, relies on whether or not I choose to accept your demands" he mused, as if able to read Jaune's mind. "As I said previously, I am the Huntmaster of this academy, thus I hold the power to have you removed or allow you to stay. Since that is the case, why don't we delve a little deeper into your plan, shall we?" Ozpin reached for an antique tea pot that sat on a small Dust powered burner, and poured two cups of tea, placing one cup in a saucer to the other side of his desk. "Please, have a seat."

Jaune looked at the cup with uncertainty, trying to understand the game the professor was playing. There was not an ounce of maliciousness or mockery in his voice, so perhaps he genuinely wanted to know why he was asking to quit Beacon. He slowly seated himself on one of the chairs placed in front of Ozpin's desk, but did not take the tea. He then noticed a stuffed Great Horned owl perched on a wooden stand to his left. It was a rather large bird, and he wondered why the Huntmaster would have such a thing.

"Now then" began Ozpin, gently blowing on his tea, "let us go over this plan of yours step by step. You want to be honest by admitting to me that you forged your transcript, which would mean you will be expelled, but you wish for me to withhold that expulsion until after the conclusion of the tournament." He took a sip of his tea and placed the cup back onto its saucer before speaking again. "Why not remain quiet on the matter? I was not aware that your transcript was forged."

"Because it was going to be discovered sooner or later" rationalized the blond, trying to argue his case. "I had already let it slip to Cardin when I was talking to Pyrrha, and–"

"So, Miss Nikos is already aware of your secret" Ozpin cut in politely, taking another sip of his tea.

"Well...yeah."

"And how did she take the news?"

"Not well at first...but she seems to have forgiven me" Jaune admitted.

"And what of the rest of your team?"

"I've told Ren, and he didn't act like it was a big deal minus the initial shock, and I haven't told Nora yet."

"Then why, Mr. Arc, are we having this conversation?" asked Ozpin politely. "If your team is not offended by the truth and I did not know it, then a better course of action would be for you to simply continue to improve on your grades and complete your education as a Huntsman."

"But it's not about me!" argued Jaune, leaning forward, holding his hands up. "Journalists have been trying to dig into my past because Pyrrha and I are..." He immediately looked down, as what he was about to say was rather embarrassing, given he was going to say it to his Huntmaster. "...involved."

"I am very much aware" said Ozpin with a nod, holding up a paper copy of the Albion Free Beacon, the capital's major newspaper, with the same photo of Jaune and Pyrrha dancing on the front page titled "Who is Jaune Arc?". "I have received no less than several dozen requests from a number of publications across Remnant for information regarding who you are. They are acutely fixated on knowing more about you."

"Exactly! If they find out that I cheated my way into Beacon, they'll drag her name through the mud. And not just her, but Ren and Nora too. I'd never forgive myself if that happens."

At this point, Jaune was no longer trying to appear measured with overly professional language. His fear was now clearly on display, and the Huntmaster acquired the final piece to the puzzle he had been solving since Jaune stepped into his office.

"Mr. Arc..." he began, placing his cup and saucer onto his desk and leaned back into his chair, fingers interlaced and resting in his lap, "your heart is in the right place. However, you are nevertheless misguided. I take it that you haven't spoken to your team about what you were planning to do today." Jaune nodded, but was halted from speaking by Ozpin asking another question. "How do you think they will take the news that you are leaving them behind?"

"But I'm not!" the blond defended. "I want to do this properly by reenlisting, so that no one can question my record and mock my team for it. If you can allow me that, then I can protect my friends and be a normal student here without stealing the valour of a better qualified one."

"You care deeply about your teammates, and you clearly care even more so for Miss Nikos. No one would fault you for that. However, not communicating these feelings with your team, is not how a leader is supposed to act. Placing that aside, they are not merely teammates, they are your friends, and in the case of Miss Nikos, apparently more. You have gone behind their backs to confess your crimes, crimes that your team have already forgiven you for, and would stand by you through the possible naysayers."

"But..."

"Do you expect them to remain your friends after you depart from this academy? Do you honestly expect for Miss Nikos to maintain her respect for you, and continue to date you after hiding today's actions, and learning that you are effectively running away at the end of the tournament?"

Jaune slumped in his chair, taking each salvo of criticism from Ozpin like a castle wall being wailed on by trebuchets. The reality of course was that Jaune was not a castle, and his defenses could not withstand the silver-haired professor's dismantling, the shame he had fought to suppress now washing over him.

"I just...I'm just tired of lying to them...all of them; Team RWBY as well" he said at last, nothing being hidden. "I never thought I'd survive this long here, and I never guessed that I would make such good friends so fast. And Pyrrha..." he ran his fingers through his hair "I don't deserve her. I don't deserve any of this. I've done nothing but think about all that's happened since the Dance, and I just feel that I've stolen it. I thought I could just carry on, take the hits, and keep walking forward, but then students from Mistral started insulting Pyrrha, saying she was desperate to go out with someone like me. That I can't stand. I don't care what people say about me, but going after my team, and insulting her, that's not..."

Ozpin watched the boy in silence, waiting patiently for a moment to cut in.

"Trust me when I say, Mr. Arc, that I understand what you are doing. As I said, your heart is in the right place; however, you are preparing to throw yourself upon your own sword when there is no reason to. Your teammates have clearly displayed great loyalty to you, not caring of your past actions, and appear more than willing to remain mum on the matter. Miss Nikos apparently is more than willing to go above and beyond for you. Of course, you would have known better than I, if you had spoken to her on the subject, which you clearly have not, as you chose to plan all of this in secret. Again, I understand why. Your feelings for her have grown more than you thought they would, and you are trying to act before you lose the strength to resist. Though with that being said, some would deem what you are attempting to do unwise. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, as they say."

He ended that final sentence with a smirk, which succeeded to make Jaune look up at him with a little less dread, and helped lift the tension in the air.

"Take my advice" continued the silver-haired Huntsman, "keeping secrets like these from your friends, or even your partner, will only bring distrust and pain. I think you should first tell Miss Valkyrie the truth, and then, when you feel it is right, tell Team RWBY as well. I think they will be far more understanding than you expect, and have thicker skin."

Jaune stared at the Huntmaster completely baffled, trying to understand what was going on. Was Ozpin implying that he was going to let this slide?

"I take it by your expression you have many questions" commented the Huntmaster. "I can answer the first, as it was the initially suggested terms; no, I will not accept your request to withdraw from my academy, nor will I expel you. Instead, you will complete your education, and graduate as a Huntsman in five years’ time. How about that for a plan, Mr. Arc?"

Jaune sat there with his mouth agape, and at a complete loss for words. Of all the possible outcomes he thought could happen by revealing the truth to Professor Ozpin, this was not even in the realm of possibility. He closed his mouth, and instantly realized just how dry it was, causing him to finally reach out for his cup of tea. Ozpin watched him take a mouthful with an amused smile, and waited patiently for the blond to compose himself.

"Why?" the swordsman finally said, unable to think of a better question to ask.

"Why am I allowing you to remain at Beacon? A good question. You broke the rules, therefore you should be punished accordingly. Tell me Mr. Arc, do you know how many applicants this academy receives every year?" he asked. The blond shrugged, allowing the Grand Huntmaster to continue. "Not enough. We live in a world where monsters roam, and more than ever we need warriors to defend us from them. We have our royal militaries, but it is the trained Huntsmen that can make full use of the tools the Gods have given us to fight the dark legions of Grimm. Only we stand between the shadows cloaking our Kingdoms in Darkness, and the continued survival of Men and Faunus. There are only four Huntsmen academies in Remnant, with one or two accompanying primary academies for each. And despite that small number, the amount of applicants, let alone the number of graduates, is embarrassingly low. Our standards are high, there can be no denying of that, but the number of young men and women who are willing to take up the cause, to heed the call of the Hunt, brings about a strong sense of desperation. We are in an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity, so there is no drive for the people to rush and take up arms. As my dear friend James has put it, 'Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And weak men create hard times'. Nevertheless, I, nor any professor or Huntmaster, will abandon those standards to get more Huntsmen in the field."

"Then why in the f*ck are you letting me stay?" cut in Jaune, immediately regretting his choice of words.

Ozpin surprisingly smiled.

"We do this not for the sake of elitism or tradition, but so that we do not have the blood of young Huntsmen who met their end prematurely on our hands. This then brings us to the question of why am I not having you escorted off the campus. The answer to that Mr. Arc, is that I would be a fool to turn away such a promising young man, when we are in dire need of dedicated individuals to fight for the right. Yes, you forged your transcript, and your lack of basic Huntsman training sets you back with a terrible handicap. However, you've chosen to persevere nonetheless. As I said, I've noticed the increase in training and overall dedication. That is not wasted effort in my eyes, and speaks far more about one's character, than an obviously forged transcript."

Jaune once again stared at his Huntmaster in mute awe, touched by the gravity of his words before the final statement hit him with the momentum of a runaway train.

"You knew my transcript was fake?!" he cried, jumping to his feet. At that moment, the stuffed owl turned its head to him and hooted in protest, not enjoying the loud noises the boy was making. This caused Jaune to recoil, not realizing that the owl was alive.

"My dear boy, if you think that you are the first individual to try and get into this school with false documents, then you are more naive than you appear. Ms. Goodwitch still does not believe you are who say you are, despite having done my best to convince her otherwise" Ozpin confirmed, without losing his calm tone and gentle smile, taking another sip of his tea. "I have always been present to the initiation trials, for I must judge the first-years with my own eyes. I saw you stumble, Mr. Arc, but I also saw you stand tall when you were needed. It was there I knew that you had every right to enroll in my academy. I saw something special in you, and I am glad to see that I was not mistaken."

The blond felt his knees give out, and he collapsed back into his seat, trying his best to make sense of what he had just learned. Ozpin had not only known that his transcript was forged, but he had chosen to allow him to enroll despite knowing the truth. All the weight that had been on his heart had suddenly been lifted, but it unfortunately made him incredibly aware of how little sleep he'd had.

"I'm a f*cking fool" he gasped, wincing once again at his cursing. "I'm sorry, sir."

"Oh, it's perfectly alright. Far worse things have been uttered in this room" dismissed the Grand Huntmaster, chuckling. "Also, you're young, Mr. Arc. It is fully expected of you to make a fool of yourself. By doing so, you can learn, which is the very point of attending institutions such as these. Indeed, your plan was a very unwise one, but wisdom can only be gained from acquiring knowledge and testing it through experience. Now then, was there anything else you wished to speak to me about?"

Jaune ran his fingers through his golden locks, trying to think with his sleep deprived brain. After a few moments, one finally materialized.

"What are we going to do about the reporters?"

"Weather the storm" Ozpin replied, sipping his tea.

"But what if they find out the truth?"

"I very much doubt they will. You are a student in my academy. Therefore, your wellbeing and privacy are my responsibility to protect. I have rejected their requests, and I will continue to do so. If they do find the truth, they will not get it from me. But I assure you they will find nothing to sully you or your team, as I took the liberty of replacing your poorly forged transcript with a genuine forged one" reassured the Huntmaster, pouring himself another cup of tea.

Jaune's eyes widened. "Are you serious? Professor, thank y–wait! I wrote that I attended Signal! What if they check there and find out I was never a student?" he realized.

"And they will find a genuine forged record there as well" added Ozpin.

"Wha–how did you forge my documents there? You're the Grand Huntmaster, sure, but..."

"I called in a favour from a good friend of mine in the faculty."

"Who do you know that would go so far as to risk their career by creating a fake student record?" asked Jaune in bewilderment.

"Miss Rose and Miss Xiao Long's father. He teaches at Signal" answered the Huntmaster, sipping his tea.

The blond gave a short laugh as he shook his head in disbelief.

"I don't know what to say other than thank you. But I have to comment, I had no idea you had this much experience in forgery. Had a shady past of your own, Professor?"

"I've been at this academy for nearly twenty years, including my time as a student. You become knowledgeable of such things" Ozpin explained. "Take this for example. Let us say for the sake of argument, that a student submitted a false transcript to enroll at this academy, to hide their past. Let us then say that this student decided to use their real name, not realizing that their parents were students here, therefore making it very obvious their transcript was false, despite trying to hide important details, say, their race..."

Jaune was not sure what the Huntmaster was getting at, before the pieces finally came together in his mind.

"You're talking about Blake!" he gasped.

Ozpin smirked. "As I said, you are not the first person to try and lie their way into this school, and you will certainly not be the last."

The blond puffed his cheeks as he exhaled, surprised by how unaware he was at the depth of this rabbit hole.

"I knew she must have lied about being Human, but a complete false paper trail? Well, that does make sense. I take it you also made genuine fake transcripts for her?"

"Indeed."

"Did she really not know her parents went to Beacon?"

"Apparently so, which means she is not aware we were classmates and good friends" guessed Ozpin, taking another sip. "We have grown apart over the years given our life choices, but we have always been a mere phone call away. I suppose I should give them a call when the festival concludes and invite them back to the academy. I do miss Mrs. Belladonna's cooking. She makes a lovely spicy tuna casserole."

Jaune laughed again. "Yeah, Blake loves her fish, so I guess her folks would too. Would you have guessed who she was if she had used a fake name?"

"I knew who she was the moment I laid eyes on her. She is the spitting image of her parents, just as Miss Rose and Miss Xiao Long are of theirs. She has her mother's beauty and her father's..."

"Doom and gloom expression?"

Ozpin chuckled. "Well, a mutual friend of mine and the Belladonnas would certainly have put it in much harsher terms, but yes."

Jaune chuckled as well, and hung his head with a sigh.

"I dare say you look exhausted" commented the silver-haired man.

"I didn't sleep a wink."

"You should remedy that before the tournament."

"Yeah. I think I'll have a shower, eat some pancakes if Ren made any, then I'll hit the hay. Thank you again, Professor, for everything. I won't waste this opportunity, I swear to the Gods I won't" Jaune pronounced clearly, rising to his feet, and holding up his teacup.

"No, I do not believe you will" the Huntmaster acknowledged, joining the blond and clinked his cup with his. Jaune drained his cup and placed it back onto its saucer before giving his secret saviour a curt bow, and headed for the double doors. He reached for the doorknob but paused, knowing there was one final thing he needed to ask.

"Huntmaster?" he began, turning to face Ozpin who was still standing behind his desk. "You said that you saw something special in me. What was that exactly?"

The Huntmaster smiled, knowing that question would come.

"I saw a spark" he replied.

Jaune blinked. "A spark? That's it?"

"A spark is a start, and if you feed it with the right fuel, a fire will burn" Ozpin rationalized. "Though if you would like something a tad deeper philosophically, Grand Huntmaster Tanngnjóstr, my predecessor," he gestured to a large portrait that hung between the large bookshelves to his right, which was that of an elder Sheep Faunus with a long grey beard and wide double curled horns, "was fond of saying 'A person often meets their destiny on the road they take to avoid it'. It was clear from when I first met you, you were running from your past, trying to find something better. I now agree with my predecessor, seeing destiny being more literal than metaphorical. I believe you were meant to come here, Mr. Arc, and I am glad to help you on your way."

Jaune's back instinctively straightened from the profoundness of the Huntmaster's words, and gave him a deep bow.

"In hoc signo vinces" he said, before finally turning for the door.

"One last thing, Mr. Arc" interrupted Ozpin. "I have one condition regarding you staying at this school: you must win the tournament or else I will expel the entirety of Team JNPR."

Jaune whipped around in wide-eyed confusion, as he was sure that things had been finally settled.

"Wh–Wha..." he began, only causing the silver-haired man to smile.

"I have a very good relationship with my fellow Huntmasters" he explained, his smile now revealing a hint of mischievousness. "However, I will not stand a loss on home soil. I hope that plan of yours for winning the tournament is sounder than the one we just discussed."

The blond paused for a moment, slowly understanding that his Huntmaster was only kidding. He breathed a sigh of relief, and bowed again.

"We will do our best, sir. I swear on my honour I will."

With that, he finally opened the door of the office, and left, closing it behind him.

"In this sign thou shalt conquer. I'm sure you will, young Squire" Ozpin translated with a smile, and at last returned to his chair. Just as he did however, his office phone rang, which he answered as he brought his cup to his lips. "Yes, Glynda?"

"The Crow is nearing the castle" she said.

He smirked. "Such wonderful timing as always. Please let James know, if you would."

"Right away."

Ozpin leaned back in his chair and stared into the amber liquid.

"How long will that road be, I wonder?" he said to himself. The owl examined him without making a sound, making itself clear with its intelligent eyes that it understood was Ozpin was feeling. Ozpin noticed and smirked. "Only time will tell, hmm?"

The raptor hooted twice in agreement, causing the Huntmaster to drink his tea, delving ever deeper into his thoughts.

λΛλ

Jaune stepped out of the Beacon Tower, and took a deep breath. In the strangest stroke of luck, his fears and concerns had been completely wiped away. As hindsight was 20/20, he could now see just how foolish he had been in thinking he could forge his transcript without anyone realizing, and even more foolish in thinking his plan to withdraw was in any way sound. He had completely succumbed to his fear, and made a series of terrible decisions that fully showed just how green he was as a leader. Some important lessons had been learned today, and he knew he could not afford to make those mistakes ever again.

Despite feeling significantly less encumbered by his consternations, there was still a portion of guilt that remained in his heart. Ozpin had been right. He had gone behind his friends' backs, which might as well have been him spitting in their faces, given what had happened between them over the past few months. He felt as if he needed to make up for it, but decided to follow the Huntmaster's advice and be quiet on the true reason for trying to absolve himself of his sins.

"A carton of frozen strawberry yogurt for Pyrrha, a generous portion of pancake ingredients for Nora, and some green tea for Ren. That should be a good start" he said to himself, and was about to walk towards the Beacon grocery store, when a voice from behind caused him to halt.

"Jaune Arc!"

The blond turned and saw that the voice had come from a young woman in her mid-thirties, dressed in a woman's suit, and held a device in her hands.

"Yes?"

"Jennifer Smith from VNN, I'd like to ask you a few questions regarding your relationship with Pyrrha Nikos" she said, holding up her device, which Jaune now figured was a recorder of some kind.

He eyed the reporter with disdain, but calmly squared himself with her, his hands resting on his sword belt.

"No comment" he said flatly.

"Where did you train before coming to Beacon?"

"No comment."

"How did you and Pyrrha Nikos become invol–"

"Ms. Smith, is it?" cut in Jaune, no longer willing to entertain this reporter any further. "I am captain of Team JNPR, therefore, the wellbeing and privacy of my teammates are my responsibility, as well as to lead and protect them. Furthermore, I have no right in sharing anything they share with me in confidence. You will get not an iota of information from me. If you take issue with that, take it up with the Grand Huntmaster."

With that, the young Knight-in-training walked away from the reporter, feeling rather pleased with himself.

'Now then' he thought, 'two down, one to go.'

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his Scroll, making note of the time as he did. He tapped open his contacts, and swiped down to the entry marked as "Home". He stared at it momentarily, not exactly looking forward to speaking to his family after avoiding them for so long. He had hastily messaged them that he would be staying at Beacon during the Winter and Spring holidays, thus extending his avoidance of confronting them. And with journalists wanting to know about his relationship with Pyrrha, word must have in some form reached home, which consequently made him even more reluctant to contact his family. Nonetheless, he had made a promise to Pyrrha he would call home. He was a man of his word, and he would follow through. He tapped the call command and brought the Scroll to his ear. No more running.

After the second tone, the line connected.

"Hello?" came a small voice.

"Aline? It's me, Jaune."

"Big brother! I missed you! How are you?"

Jaune could not help smiling at his adorable little sister's enthusiasm.

"I missed you too. I'm doing alright; how about you?"

"I'm good. How's Hunting school?"

"It's going well. How's school going for you?"

"Booooring!" Aline moaned, causing Jaune to laugh.

"Hey, is mom there? I need to talk to her."

"Yeah! One sec" she replied quickly. The elder blond could then hear the sound of bare feet slapping against polished wood floors, as she no doubt was sprinting to the other side of the house. After a few moments, he heard the phone being passed on.

"Jaune?" a woman's voice came through the Scroll.

"...Hi, mom."

"Sweetie! It's been so long since you last called! Is everything OK?"

"Yeah, everything's fine; it's just been busy. Listen" he said, wanting to get to the point, "have people been calling the house? Trying to get information about us?"

"N-No why?"

"Have you seen the papers for the past few weeks? Regarding me and Pyrrha Nikos?"

"Oh, yes, that. I've seen those articles, but I never gave them much thought. I figured that–"

"It's true" cut in Jaune, his pride raising its head like a lion woken from its sleep. "Pyrrha and I are dating."

The call went uncomfortably quiet for a moment. "...Oh..."

If the silence was not terrible enough, the tone of his mother's voice made his guts twist in wroth. That one word laced with shock, felt like a dagger being jabbed straight into his ribs; that it was too much of a stretch to imagine that he could be with Pyrrha. That wasn't something he could disagree with, but he knew coming from his mother's point of view, it was the idea of him dating anyone that was unbelievable. Clearly the conversation was going as poorly as he assumed it would, so Jaune decided to end it by telling his mother what she needed to know, even if she had trouble believing it.

"Listen, if anyone calls claiming they're from some newspaper and they want to know more about us, don't tell them anything. They have no right to our personal lives, so don't even bother giving them the time of day. I've already spoken to Grand Huntmaster Ozpin, so everything that I can take care of on my end, has been locked down. Just let the girls know and tell them to be careful—same for Bridget and Bruce. I'll call if anything else comes up."

Jaune was about to hang up, when he heard his mother speak.

"Jaune...I know that we didn't leave on the best foot when you left home, but I'm so glad you're finally becoming who we've always known you would be" she said with sincerity. Jaune felt a large lump develop in his throat, taken completely off guard by her words. "You've always been so shy, never giving things your all, and doubting yourself so much that you'd give up so quickly. You know I was so worried about you going to Beacon, and you haven't told us how things were going, especially since you didn't come home for the holidays. But it sounds like you're taking things seriously and working very hard. I'm so proud of you. We'll all be watching your first match tomorrow, and everyone will be cheering you on. Good luck, sweetie, and be careful."

The blond swallowed with great difficulty, forcefully removing the lump, and at last replying to his mother.

"Thank you, mom, I will. I'll try to keep in touch more often too."

He knew he should have said more, an apology at the very least for his stubbornness, but it was difficult for him to find the right words. No doubt a small portion of his pride was responsible as well.

"We'll always be here for you, sweetie, you know that, so call when you can. She's very pretty, by the way."

He blushed. "Yes, she is."

"Do you love her?"

The lump was returning with a vengeance, as this was the first time that anyone had asked him directly if he did. Before it reinserted itself in his throat, he swallowed and answered.

"I think I might..." he said honestly.

His mother said nothing at first, which left only the sound of Jaune's heart pounding in his ears. Then, as sweet as fresh honey, she said the words that would linger in his mind for days.

"I look forward to meeting her. Goodbye, Jaune."

With that, the line went dead, leaving the blond with cheeks flushed and the tread of his father learning the truth at dinner. Part of him wished he could be there to see the look on his face when he was told, but the thought also made him want to run out of the house and not stop till he hit the red sands of Vacuo.

"You're a fool of an Arc" he sighed, tapping his Scroll against his forehead. "You'll be paying for all of this soon enough. Well, it's not like I don't deserve it. Light, I can't even imagine how hyper they must be getting over this."

Jaune sighed loudly once more, but managed to compose himself, for those thoughts would have to wait. He would cross that bridge, and the subsequent bridges the first would lead him to, when he came to them. For now, he needed to get those groceries, as well as some sleep, so he could pick up his new armour before the opening of the tournament.

Tomorrow was going to be a lot of fun.

λΛλ

That night in the former Donjon, Grand Huntmasters Ozpin and Ironwood, alongside Glynda, Winter, and Qrow, stood before a holoscreen displaying a freeze frame of a mysterious woman dressed in black.

"What do you think?" asked Ozpin, resting his chin in his interlaced fingers.

"Yeah, that looks like her. She's definitely the one that attacked Amber" said Qrow coldly, taking out his flask and having a swig. "Lines up with every description of her I've been able to find too."

"So, they're officially here" said Ironwood, pacing slowly behind them, his arms behind his back. "And if there's one, there's certainly more."

"It makes perfect sense they were behind the unification of the White Fang and Torchwick's gang" added Winter, standing to the left of Goodwitch.

"We'll share her description and composite sketch provided from Miss Rose, will all of our forces to keep an eye out for her. We'll do the same with local law enforcement. Of course, they've been laying low since our raid, but they will begin to move again with the opening of the tournament" said Ironwood, already running through a number of tactics in his mind to predict the enemy's next move.

Ozpin continued to stare silently at the screen, delving deep into his mind, and like his fellow Huntmaster, trying to anticipate what the enemy was planning next. He then suddenly frowned deeply, and his fingers tightened, digging into his hands just above the knuckles. Glynda noticed this immediately, and looked at him with concern.

"What's wrong, Sam?" she asked, causing the others to turn their heads to the silver-haired Huntsman.

"I just had a terrifying thought" he explained in a low voice. "What if the enemy are impersonating students?"

This caused the others to instantly tense.

"I'll send over the entire tournament roster, as well as every foreign student who came to spectate" said the Deputy-Huntmistress, walking briskly out of the office to her personal computer.

"Get me the files of every soldier deployed to this mission" Ironwood said sharply to Winter, who in a flash, was on her Scroll speaking to the head of their military communications.

"You think there might also be a mole in your ranks?" asked Ozpin.

"Probably not, but I'm not taking any chances."

"What're you gonna do if there is?" asked Qrow knowingly. "I hate traitors just as much as you do, but don't jump the gun and immediately put them before a firing squad."

"Of course not" the General said coolly, drawing his revolves, Semper and Fidelis, and checked their chambers. "I'll shoot them myself—after fully interrogating them, of course."

Qrow snorted as he brought his flask to his lips.

'Brass tacks as always' he thought, taking a drink. 'Tomorrow's going to be a pain in the ass.'

Author's Notes:

A rather heavy chapter, all things considered, but that is what is needed given the circ*mstances. Let us begin.

Let the Bellows Blow

The inclusion of a school forge and armoury is something that, at least to me, is beyond self-evident. I speak in "I" statements for two reasons.

The first is that I have never heard anyone else make comments about there needing to be some form of armoury at Beacon, or any Huntsmen Academy for that matter. Even when I looked for maps of the layout of Beacon, finding official, semi-official, and fan-made, some of which for homebrew tabletop RPGs, there is a constant exclusion of an armoury, despite the fact they exist in the show, and naturally would, given the world of Remnant. What is a fantasy story without a blacksmith or weapon's vendor, or a monster hunting series without a weapon's master?

The second is that, to this very day, my friend and editor, Eddy, disagrees with me that there should be an armoury. His argument is that the Huntsmen, given that they were tasked with building their own weapons in the first place, should know how to fully repair their weapons without the need of an armourer. Now, putting aside the gaps in plot in how students were able to achieve that, I just cannot believe that such a place, let alone the world, would not have a store of weapons and trained experts to repair and maintain them. Your average soldier knows their service weapon well enough, as do specialists with theirs, but they still need armourers and weapon technicians. Firearms are complicated pieces of technology, especially transforming weapons, so there is only so much you can do in the field. In any event, the characters are never even shown cleaning their own weapons, so I doubt that, as they are in the show, could fix something if it broke.

As I covered in the chapter, not only would students be able to get their weapons repaired and upgraded at the forge, as well as be provided ammunition for Hunting and training, but it also serves as a school in and of itself. After all, there is as much of a need for weapons makers as there are for Huntsmen and warriors. I stand firm that such a concept is desperately needed, not only to follow in line with the traditions of the past, but the reality of the situation at hand. Verisimilitude is extremely important, especially for fantasy, so we end up with Beacon Academy having a school forge.

Jaune Getting New Armour

This is something that raises more questions that one would think, which is why I felt so compelled to focus on it for two chapters, and more.

Jaune's armour and combat attire has been terrible since the start. No one denies that, yet I am not aware of anyone who has stressed that he needs to change his gear as soon as possible; not in the community, nor in the show itself, despite being at a school for Huntsmen and being with a professional fighter like Pyrrha. It took literal years—in the show and in real life—for anything to change for Jaune, and it is nowhere near enough. All Jaune has is an arming sword and a shield. If he is not going to get a firearm, he needs to have better armour and battle clothes. The school provided him with a uniform; can no one even suggest him getting a better chest plate? I honestly feel foolish having to explain myself, given that it is so obvious, especially with both Pyrrha and Master Winchester being very clear for me.

That being said, I must touch on some rather insane conversations I have had with RWBY fanatics. When I expressed the importance of Jaune getting armour, as well as having armour at large, their response was, "Why does a fantasy series where everyone has magic soul armor need their characters to have a full suit of armor? They do not. Because it is fiction". That is a direct quote.

This is beyond stupid for obvious reasons, but let us examine why in a concise a manner as possible.

Aura Armour has been incredibly inconsistent throughout the entirety of the show's history, primarily because Aura itself has never been consistent. Characters who were previously very strong thanks to their Aura Armour and Semblance, were later on incapable of taking similar hits, either because they became weaker (narratively speaking, yet never addressed by the writers), or The Plot Demands It™, despite claiming time has passed and they got stronger. So, it is already something that you cannot put faith in.

In that same vein, Aura Armour is not active all the time. It must be channeled by the Huntsman or Huntress, which means if said Huntsmen does not think they are in danger, why burn the Aura? I pointed this out to fanatics that disagreed with me, and how you could just shoot a Huntsman at a distance. Never got a response on that.

And that is something major no one recognizes. Unlike so many other sci-fi and fantasy series, where the developing of magical abilities increases their physical fortitude (DBZ, One Piece, Katekyo Hitman Reborn, History's Mightiest Disciple Kenichi, Star Wars, Shadow of the Conqueror, etc.), RWBY either does not, or is never clear on that. Again, how Aura makes Huntsmen stronger is very inconsistent (Yang was originally able to gingerly carry a speaker nearly as big as she is, and it weighing hundreds of pounds, while Ruby gets manhandled by normal, Human thugs), so it only gives more credence to the idea of wearing real armour. What do you have to lose?

The funny thing is, Pyrrha was the only woman in the show that wore armour (not very good armour mind; could have saved her life actually), and Team CRDL, the loser bullies, are the only ones with brains to wear armour.

I think this is the fault of Hollywood by making armour so ineffective, as well as empty-minded people who do not think for a moment that if armour was so useless, why did so many people for thousands of years, keep making it. But I guess I have my answer: "Because it's fiction", meaning there are no rules. So why do you get so mad when people like me disagree and point out the flaws of the show, and why do you get mad at me for changing things if there are no rules?

It also does not dawn on these people that if weapons technology has increased, that armour technology would as well. Do a Google search on "Armour Flexibility", and you will find a one minute and twenty-one-second-long video, taken from the documentary "A Visit to the Armor Galleries of the Metropolitan Art Museum, 1924", showing off armour from the end of the Medieval Era (15th century). It is a magic in and of itself.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (17) Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (18)

Now imagine what Remnant could do. Also, we still make armour to this day—if you were not aware.

The final thing about this is that Jaune is a Knight, and a Knight needs armour. Even CRWBY, for a fleeting moment, remembered that in V4, by giving Crocea Mors a warsword form, which was developed in history because armour had improved to the point that shields were not as important, freeing the other hand to swing a bigger sword. But you must give him the armour to compensate for the loss of the shield, and what they gave him was, and still is, not enough. And armour is so damn cool, let us be honest.

I truly feel foolish having to explain all of this, but I guess we are dealing with people that are truly uneducated and have no experience with fantasy and story-telling, let alone history. I hope it is now clear, and that you will enjoy what is to come regarding Jaune's journey to Knighthood.

Team TRQS > Team STRQ

I made a small but important change to Team STRQ, now called Team TRQS (pronounced Tracks; I could have called them "Turquoise”, but I truly hate this naming convention, not to mention none of them have turquoise in their colour scheme), in that the captain is Taiyang, not Summer.

The reason for this is that I had always assumed Tai was captain. I just did, mostly due to Yang being so powerful compared to Ruby, and that Ruby is described as a copy of her mother. The show was never clear on this (even the damn Official Companion does not say anything) so I just went with what made the most sense, especially with Crescent Rose being Summer's Hunting arm, as that explains why Ruby is not as good with it as she could be.

Since Team STRQ is supposed to be the best team of that generation, I actually took the time to make it so. Keep an eye out for when I start revealing more about them and their past, for I fully rewrote them, gave them new weapons, Semblances, and back-stories, and I hope you will approve of the changes.

The reason I did so was a natural process, as you cannot tell a story such as this without knowing what came before, especially the parents of the main characters given their legacy, and especially when those parents were and are involved with the plot. And while that is true and I stand by it 110%, another reason is CRWBY's stance on it. They have claimed that STRQ's story is important to RWBY's, and that they look forward to telling it alongside Team RWBY's. They said that years ago. We are now at the end of the story, and we have learned next to nothing; and what we do know is embarrassing. This means that CRWBY lied once again. As to why, there are a few reasons. Either Monty never told them before he passed, he had not thought of anything before he passed, they came up with what they used on the fly and do not have much else, or a combination of the three. Just like everything else.

I think that is beyond sloppy, and I have gone a different route. I hope you like it.

The Obviously Fake Transcripts

This is something that garners odd reactions depending on who you ask. Some think it does not matter, some think it is a major issue, and some consider it a problem for some characters but perfectly fine for others. As for myself, I do think it is important, so much so that I have done quite a bit of background work to make it all make sense, which you will learn as the story goes on.

That is how we find ourselves with this critical scene. Jaune's foolish plan speaks for itself, but so does Sam's revealing that he always knew that Jaune's transcript was fake. How could he not? How could Jaune have forged it given that being a Huntsman is so important to the world of Remnant, so much so by having their own academies? Even Glynda saw things were not lining up, and Ozpin just hand-waved it away...for a reason that has never been provided.

Instead, I had it that Sam always knew, and having some obvious reasons for allowing Jaune to stay, with some being a tad coyer and unclear. An answer he did give is that they do not have enough people applying to be Huntsmen, and that is me mocking the situation. There really are not enough Huntsmen in RWBY to make me believe that this world survived, let alone thrived, to become what it is, especially the distinct lack of standing armies, despite all the supposed wars. This is mostly due to budget, as they used black, featureless models for non-plot related characters, and then recycled models with different colours in V3. Nevertheless, it affects the story and world, which is why I had Sam explain that peace and prosperity makes people lazy, and they refuse to lower standards.

In my full rewrite, this scene happens much in the same way, except that the man made the squad leader of both Team RWBY and JNPR, overhears Jaune and Pyrrha's conversation and acts. He always made it clear that Jaune's performance was suspect, and revels when he learns the truth that proved his suspicions were accurate. He then uses Jaune and Pyrrha's pleading to not inform the Huntmaster, with the squad leader saying it is now Pyrrha's responsibility to train Jaune, and that all three will be training together in private. If Jaune does not improve by the end of the year, he is out. Sam then reveals that all of that was staged, and both he and the squad leader just want the best for him. I think this scene truly shows that, as well as a kinder side to Sam, something that was very much missing from the show version.

In that same vein, Sam reveals that he knew full well that Blake also faked her transcript. Now, that has caused so many problems for the show, and we will get to them in time, but for now, I revealed something else to explain things. Indeed, Blake's parents went to Beacon and were friends with Sam and the others, which certainly explains why Sam accepted her into Beacon and placed her with Team RWBY. But why has he not called her parents yet? Curious. I also had Sam make the comment that she strangely never bothered to change her name. That is a major issue, so much that I have a chapter dedicated to it, so keep all of this in mind until then.

Jaune Calls Home

Very little of Jaune's past has been revealed, even to this day, but one thing that has been pushed, yet never substantiated, was the rift between himself and his family. I obviously have not forgotten and have been touching on it slowly but surely, for the simple reason that it matters to Jaune's character. That is why he has been making small, chiding comments about his family and has been reluctant to speak to them. Thanks to Pyrrha, he has at last, and is beginning to realize things are not as bad as he thought they were.

We all have family issues. We all argue with our parents. And while I cannot say that there are no bad parents who do not care about their children or that there are not dysfunctional families that one needs to cut ties with, I cannot say that generally speaking your parents hate you when they give you tough love, and that many times it is you overreacting and misunderstanding their intentions.

And that is the point of this scene. To touch on Jaune's family issues, and give it some clarity. A small but touching scene that I hope you enjoyed. Also, maybe not be so Nihilist and predictable when writing stories, eh, CRWBY? Why does every family have to be dysfunctional? Bloody Hel.

Anyways, take care and see you next time.

Notes:

And with that, the stage is set for the rest of the story. The road is indeed long, and the journey to reach its end begins with a single step. I hope you all have a good pair of boots.

Speaking of ending a long journey, V8 has begun. Oh Gods, it's awful ಠ_ಠ

Chapter 5: Let the Games Begin

Notes:

I just wanted to quickly explain my change to Cinder's team name, which is now "CLME" (Calamine). It was difficult to come up with a name that worked, and this was the best that I could come up with. This was a recent change, as the name I had mostly settled on, just did not work the more I thought on it. Nevertheless, CLME at least could be turned into a colour, if a bit of a stretch to do so, and is much better than the official name, which is CMEN...

With that out of the way, I hope you enjoy this chapter.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The sun was high in the sky as hundreds of people began to pour into the Coliseum. The first day of the Vytal Festival Tournament was finally underway, and both the spectators and the combatants were on the edge of their seats. There were still thirty minutes to go before the opening ceremony, which all the students scrambling to get everything they needed in time, knew painfully well. Even if they would not be scheduled to fight today, they were nonetheless making sure they were prepared, for they knew full well they were going to be on television for the world to see.

The Coliseum, as it was called by the locals, was an arena built decades ago for the very purpose of the Vytal Tournament. Mistral already had such arenas, leaving Vale and Atlas to build their own, and with Vacuo to make do. Of course, these arenas were used for events other than just the annual tournament, though they needed to give the Vytal Festival a full month to prepare. Below the Coliseum were four large locker-rooms, specifically made for Huntsmen-in-training and other participants to change and wait for their time to enter the arena. In the north locker were the Beacon students, with Teams RWBY, JNPR, CFVY, and CRDL, all waiting eagerly for the start of the tournament. Team CRDL was obviously keeping a wide birth, staying in the back corner of the waiting area, as they were not at all on good terms with the other teams. The only person missing was Jaune, who said he had to leave early that morning to collect his new armour from the school forge, but had yet to return. Pyrrha had texted him several times, which he did reply to, and assured her that he would be on time. With thirty minutes to go, she was starting to get worried.

"He will be here" said Ren calmly, causing Pyrrha to look up from her Scroll.

"I know...I just wish he would tell me what's taking him so long" she said with a concerned frown.

"Think he got cold feet?" asked Yang, which earned her a glare from the redhead.

"I would be genuinely shocked" admitted Weiss, which surprised the others, as her tone was endearing, and not sarcastic. "He seemed to be far too dedicated to suddenly cower at the last minute."

"I agree, but that was rather nice of you" added Blake.

"Yeah, weird how you're being nicer to him after he stopped chasing after you for Pyrrha" said Yang coyly, never letting a chance to bait her friends go to waste. Weiss merely fired back with one of her signature piercing, frigid glares.

"I can see what you are implying, and that is so absurd, it is not even worth labeling it as such."

"Oh, I know, I just went with that on the fly, cuz I wasn't able to workshop the pun I wanted to use" confessed the blonde. "I was gonna say 'That's not very Weiss of you', which it wasn't, but it was a nice thing to say. See how it doesn't work properly?"

"It's all horrible" the heiress stated coldly, folding her arms. "And you of all people are in no position to condemn me on my past indifference to Jaune. I wasn't interested in him, I knew Pyrrha was, and I'm interested in Neptune. That is the end of it. You on the other hand, specifically tease him."

"He makes it too easy" Yang smirked, "but I'll give him credit for finally firing back. It's gonna get real fun."

"I'll stop going easy on you then" came a voice from behind. The others turned to see Jaune, not wearing his armour and gloves, and carrying a large pack on his back.

"Jaune!" cheered Nora, throwing her arms in the air.

"Where have you bee–" began Ruby, but started to laugh when she noticed the Pumpkin Pete logo on his hoodie. "That's what's been under your armour all this time?"

"Nice" added Yang with a smirk.

"I think it's cute" defended Pyrrha.

"Oh, you're his girlfriend. Your opinion doesn't count" Yang said, shooing the redhead away with her left hand.

"Actually, her opinion matters the most" commented Jaune, causing Pyrrha to blush, not only from him openly saying how much he valued her thoughts, but also not contesting that she was his girlfriend. "Anyways, I think this old thing has worn out its welcome, given the new armour."

"You got it in time? Were there any problems?" asked Ren.

"Yeah, I got it all, and it turned out great...I think. You'll all tell me after I put it on" he replied. "And no, there weren't any issues. I'll explain why I was late later. I'll be right back."

"Do you need any help?" asked Pyrrha as the blond swordsman headed to the men's changing room.

"Thanks, but I'll be fine. You just sit there and wait to laugh with everyone if the modifications I requested don't look as good as I think they do" he assured before disappearing into the locker-room.

"Jeez" commented Yang as she folded her arms. "You can't keep your hands off of him for a second, can ya?"

Pyrrha's cheeks instantly flushed from the blonde woman's comment.

"Th-That's not why I was offering! Full armour is difficult to equip without help!" she defended, which was of course true. "And it does not require removing clothes, you pervert."

Yang didn't reply, but merely laughed to herself, very much pleased with the reaction she got.

"That didn't seem like an entirely inappropriate question" reasoned Coco.

"Yang gets a kick out of teasing us all" explained Blake.

"It's very fun" added Nora with a grin.

"Oh, I don't doubt it" smirked the well-dressed upperclassman. "Been having fun, Nikos?"

Pyrrha's blush deepened, unable to find the words to express how uncomfortable she was from being asked such personal questions.

"If she won't share with me, she won't share with you" sighed Nora. "We'll just have to wait for her to open up."

The Mistralese champion stared down at her boots, doing her best to calm herself.

'They're your friends, they're just teasing you because they care' she told herself, though she was once again wishing that she could have at least enjoyed the pleasure of making out with Jaune. That way she could weather the storm of playful ribbing with greater ease. Unfortunately, that did not appear like it would happen until after the tournament, so she instead prayed for help.

As if her prayers were heard, the distinct sound of armour came into earshot, causing the others to look at the entrance of the men's locker-room, as Jaune finally emerged.

The blond was armoured in pieces of well-crafted steel, painted a brilliant white that was rather eye-catching. The cuirass, plackart, pauldrons, rerebraces, couters, vambraces, gauntlets, poleyns, and greaves, were all trimmed with gold, which not only accented the white well, but Jaune's own golden locks and blue eyes. Jaune had been telling the truth about his hoodie, which was now replaced with a jet-black gambeson, though it stopped at the waist. His sword belt had also been replaced with one made of better-quality leather, with a golden belt buckle made in the shape of a lion's head, and the tail of the belt looped and knotted in a traditional manner. At last, his shoes had been replaced with proper leather boots, allowing his greaves to rest correctly on top of his foot, and were a good palette to build future sabatons onto.

However, what caught the eye of all present was the large sigil on the cuirass and plackart. Part of the sigil was immediately identified as the same painted onto Jaune's shield: the golden double crescents. It was the rest of the sigil that sat below the crescents, which was far more elaborate, that caught everyone's eye. Just beneath them was an armoured Knight wielding a lance while on horseback, with the stallion rearing on its hind legs. Below the Knight was a helm, a Barbuta with a closed visor and an axe cut into the visible left cheek, as it was facing leftward, and a metal wreath crown on its brow. A mantling of red maple leaves rested beneath the helm, and was draping over a shield in the centre of the chest armour. It was a heater shield, very much like the one Jaune carried, though instead of two arcs, it bore the Arms of the Kingdom of Vale; a pair of axes encircled by a laurel wreath. Encompassing the shield was a red and gold ribbon with the words "Desiderantes Meliorem Regnum", which none of them understood what it meant, or even what language it was. On either side of the heater shield were two animals. One was a golden lion standing on its hind legs in a side profile, one paw resting on the left point of the shield and the other above the centre point. It was looking into the eyes of the other creature, a white stallion with golden mane and tail, mimicking the lion's pose and pressing its hoof against the lion's outstretched paw. Beneath them was a red and gold ribbon with the words "Ad Rex, Ad Regnum, Ad Fastus", two words per segment of the ribbon. Finally, at the base of this intricate design, was a chain of flowers: yellow saffron, star thistle, and golden thistle, tying the entire sigil together.

"So" he asked, holding his arms open, "what do you think?"

His friends were honestly a bit shocked. Jaune unfortunately appeared rather shabby in his former combat gear, causing others to see him as pitiful. Of course, unbeknownst to them, the clothes and armour he had worn were in fact all the belongings that he owned, as he had to quickly leave his home to come to Beacon. All he had were the clothes on his back, his pyjamas, some money, and Crocea Mors. Even his armour, which was actually training armour and not meant for combat, was hastily grabbed. He had thankfully been provided a uniform, but other than that, he did not even have a set of casual wear, which meant that everyone mostly saw him in his poorly put together combat attire. Seeing him in his new armour, however, was an entirely different story.

Jaune's new armour gave a completely new air about him; a more put together aura that radiated confidence. And while the others saw this as a transformation, Pyrrha saw it altogether differently. While training with him alone, she had begun to see the real Jaune that was beneath the timid shell. The warrior he was meant to be was being forged, and the Knight she had seen a glimpse of when he had defended her honour at the fairgrounds, was manifesting. It now was emerging at last, and stood proud for their friends and the world to see; proving once again she had been right about the boy she loved.

"You look great!~" cheered Nora, giving her captain two thumbs up.

"A significant improvement" added Ren with an approving smile.

"Definitely" agreed Blake with Weiss nodding, who was paying close attention to the sigil, her eyes slowly examining it.

"But there's no hood anymore..." grumbled Ruby, being clear about her own priorities.

"Oh, there is" confirmed Jaune, pulling a detachable hood from the pack he had used to carry the armour. "I'm more of a fan of capes and cloaks, but it came with the gambeson."

"Yes!" she cheered, holding her hand out, which Jaune clapped with a humorous grin on his face.

"What's with the lion motif?" asked Yang.

"Lions have always been a symbol of my family" the taller blond explained. "There's been lion art and designs around my house for as long as I can remember, and every warrior in my family weaves them in some way into their gear. And since I learned they'll all be watching the tournament when I spoke to them yesterday, if I don't go in looking like an Arc, there will certainly be Hell to pay."

"But what's with the rest? I thought the golden arcs were your family crest or something. This is way more elaborate than an emblem or crest."

"That's because it isn't a mere emblem or crest" said Pyrrha at last, her eyes scanning the design with great intrigue. "It's a proper full heraldic achievement. I've seen many in Mistral at historical re-enactments; some from actual history, and others created by the re-enactors themselves to make them look more historically authentic. Usually the centre part, the escutcheon, contains sigils of their own called charges or devices, though here it bares the Vale Kingdom Arms. I adore their symbolism and personality, which is what inspired me to create my own."

She touched the bronze plate on her belt that bore her famous spear and shield charge, which had always been connected to Pyrrha throughout her tournament career. The others had simply assumed it was something put together by a manager for promotional purposes, and were now intrigued to learn it served a more personal purpose. Ren and Nora's interest were peaked by this revelation, and the ginger's eyes rested on the gold-trimmed magenta lotus sigil that sat in the centre of the back of Ren's green tailcoat.

"Despite some changes, it is a full achievement, complete with supporters, crest, Order, and motto. So few have true armorial achievements in the modern age, as most were lost during the transitional periods when the monarchies of Remnant were replaced by the Councils. This is really your family's achievement, Jaune?"

"Yeah, it is" he confirmed, and instinctively stood a tad straighter. "It's been flown on banners at home, appeared in family paintings, and even in books going back to the time of King Alexandre's reign. Like I said, my family is going to be watching, so I have to look the part and represent them." He gazed at her for a moment, his smile turning slightly sheepish as he cleared his throat. "So, what do you think, Pyrrha? The armour overall and how I look in it, I mean."

The redhead said nothing for a moment, looking at him from head to toe.

"I told you before; I much prefer you in a suit" she replied, unveiling the bright and warm smile that Jaune could not get enough of. "I'm very glad you took my advice."

"And I told you before, your opinion matters the most" he answered, smiling back in relief.

They stared at one another warmly, but the moment was ruined by their biggest critic.

"Just get a rooooom already!" groaned Yang, throwing her head back, causing Nora to laugh, and Blake to smirk.

The couple blushed, both mentally kicking themselves for forgetting that every time they did that in the presence of their friends, they were opening themselves up to their comments.

"They haven't already? Colour me shocked" remarked Coco.

"H-How much time do we have until the opening ceremony?" asked Jaune, quickly changing topics.

"Twenty minutes or so" replied Weiss.

"Alright, uh Nora, can I have a word with you—privately?" he asked.

The ginger blinked at her captain, unsure of the reason why he was making such a request, but complied without protest.

"Uh...sure" she said, and followed him out of the waiting room.

Coco pulled down her sunglasses and watched Jaune leave.

"He cleans up surprising well, doesn't he?" she remarked, instantly getting a glare from Pyrrha that every woman present understood, and caused the captain to raise her hands defensively. "Easy there, champ, I'm not trying to steal your man—just window shopping."

"The shop is closed" the redhead replied stonily.

Yang laughed again. "Please forgive her, Coco, she's very protective of him."

"I can't blame her. Tall, blond, and blue-eyed is a deadly combination. The white armour just takes it to a new level; though some of us like them practically shirtless, right, Belladonna?"

The Cat Faunus blushed. "Wh-What?" she squeaked, not expecting to be dragged into the conversation.

"Oh, don't play dumb. Everyone's aware of you and Sun, just like everyone knows about Weiss and Neptune."

"Sun's very popular with both Faunus and Human girls, so well done and good luck" added Velvet with a smile.

Blake did not answer, allowing Yang to wrap an arm around her shoulder.

"This will be a fun tournament" she said, looking at the exit of the waiting room that led into the arena. "My friends will fight for love, the rest of you will fight for glory, and I'll be fighting for that sweet, sweet prize money. I've been in desperate need of an upgrade kit for my bike for months."

"My sister, ladies and gentlemen" commented Ruby, gesturing to the older Xiao Long with her left hand. "Always keeping her priorities in order."

"If I can't ride a man, I'll ride my bike" Yang stated shamelessly, causing the others to both blush and laugh.

λΛλ

Jaune led Nora down the hall, making sure that they were alone and out of earshot. Satisfied with their location he turned to face her, clearing his throat, which echoed slightly against the bare subterranean walls.

"So, what's up?" she asked. "Is something wrong?"

"Well, no, not exactly" started the blond, scratching his chin. "But there is something that I've been meaning to talk to you about. What do you think of me, Nora? As a person."

The ginger blinked again at the blond, confused by the question, but answered honestly.

"I don't get why you're asking but, I think you're a really good person. You're kind, and honest, and resourceful, and loyal. You're a great leader, and a great friend; and the way Pyrrha talks about you, a great boyfriend too."

Jaune blushed at her final piece of praise, but he focused on her calling him honest.

"What if I said I wasn't as honest as you think I am? Would you think less of me?" he asked.

Nora examined him curiously with her big turquoise eyes.

"If you mean you lied about something, it depends on what it was, right? It's nothing serious, is it?" Her tone was cautious, as she was having trouble believing that he would lie about something important. However, to pull her aside like this made her a bit worried.

"That depends on you" he replied honestly, taking a breath. "I forged my transcript to get into Beacon. I never went to a Primary Huntsman Academy, which is why I know so little about Aura and Dust. I've been a failure my entire life, so I wanted to strike it out on my own and try to make something of myself. It's been my greatest shame, since I feel as if I've stolen a spot from a more talented student. It's what's been driving me to do better and be better; not just to self-improve, but for Pyrrha, Ren, and you. You've been so loyal, never questioning a command, and I honestly feel so undeserving of that from you. I told Pyrrha when I couldn't accept the praise she gave me, I told Ren when we spoke privately after the Dance, and now I'm telling you, because you have every right to know, and because it's wrong to keep it from you. So, now you know. Am I still as great as you think I am?"

"Yup" she said without hesitation, which took Jaune by surprise.

"Wait, really?" he asked.

"Yup."

"It doesn't bother you at all?"

"Nope."

"Really?"

"If it doesn't bother Pyrrha and Ren, why should it bother me?" she asked with a shrug, which was a sound rationalization, all things considered.

"Well, Pyrrha walked away in shock, and only after I dealt with Cardin did she forgive me, and Ren at least looked surprised. I'm just baffled that you're taking it so well. Pyrrha's reaction made sense, though I'm still blown away she still wants to date me, so...I'm sorry, I'm just having trouble understanding why you can just accept it like it's nothing. I have to ask why."

To add to the blond's shock, Nora looked away, and began to appear a little shy.

"W-Well..." she began, pushing the tips of her index fingers together, "it would be—what's the word?—hypocritical for me to be angry with you faking your transcript since...Ren and I did it too. We're orphans, so we didn't go to any school, and we had to learn about Aura and our Semblances on our own. Our weapons took a long time to build, as we had to work off what we owed the smiths. But when we began to apply to Beacon, we realized we had to show all that paperwork. We've wanted to be Huntsmen since we were kids, and we couldn't give up after making it this far, so we lied. Do you think less of us for that?"

Jaune stared at her with his mouth agape, never expecting that to be the answer she would give him. Then again, Ren had told him that he and Nora were orphaned due to a Grimm attack, so it made complete sense that they could not have attended a Primary Hunting Academy. However, he had assumed that because they were able to prove they could use Aura, had Semblances, and possessed arms, they were accepted into Beacon despite being orphans. Since all he had was Crocea Mors, he made sure to cover all his bases and claim he attended Signal, thus not needing to prove his experience with Aura. He immediately tried to process the information, but a voice emerged to the forefront of his mind.

"My dear boy, if you think that you are the first individual to try and get into this school with falsified documents, then you are more naive than you appear."

'You did this on purpose, didn't you, Professor?' Jaune thought, realizing that the rabbit hole went even further than he had assumed whilst talking with the Huntmaster. That registration caused him to laugh, and before Nora could ask what was so funny, he embraced her in a tight hug. "You're amazing, you know that?" he said in joyful relief.

Given that Nora was a foot shorter than her captain, her cheek was squashed against the centre of Jaune's cuirass. This did not hurt her, of course, and the tone of his voice caused her to close her eyes and smile. The comfort her words had brought him was very clear to the hammeress, and she graciously returned the hug.

"Thanks, you too" she said. "We good?"

"Yeah" laughed Jaune, pulling away. "Thanks for making me feel even more foolish. I definitely deserve it."

"Glad I could help" the ginger replied genuinely, placing her hands on her hips with pride.

"You really think I'm a good leader?"

"Absolutely. You've gotten so much better since we first met, and with your cool new armour, you look like such a badass warrior! I'm super proud to have you as my captain" Nora praised smiling.

Jaune's cheeks burned, and he looked away, rubbing the back of his head.

"Well, Pyrrha deserves a lot of the credit for that" he admitted.

"Sure, but so do you. We've talked a lot about you, and she's told me what she sees in you. And ya know what? I see it too."

"Really? What's that?"

Nora grinned cheekily and pressed her right index finger to her lips.

"Sorry, that's between just us girls."

The swordsman smirked at his teammate, and folded his arms, up to the task of goading her back.

"Alright then, keep your secrets. Speaking of seeing things, did you notice Ren checking you out as we left the room?" he asked saucily.

This took away Nora's grin, and replaced it with wide-eyed shock, her cheeks igniting into a bright pink.

"H-He was?" she squeaked.

"Yes" replied the blond, nodding. "Pyrrha asked me to keep an eye out for that, since she mentioned you've been trying to get his attention with that skirt. And don't start with the whole 'we're not together-together' thing cuz I knew that was bogus the moment you said it. We all know you like him, so you don't have to pretend with me of all people. Anyways, Pyrrha asked me to keep an eye on him since he'd probably be more relaxed around me when we're alone, and be willing to talk about that sort of thing. That's pretty much right, since he and I have talked about you before."

"R-Really?" she asked, her heart racing and her blush spreading. "W-What did he say about m-me?"

For a moment, Jaune considered telling her the truth. He was honestly surprised by her behaviour, as he had never seen this side of her before. What it did do was confirm his well-grounded suspicions that she was deeply in love with Ren. He also knew and understood Ren's feelings, making him want to, on a gut level, run back to the room where the others were, drag the quiet young man back to Nora, and get them together. However, by his own admittance, he completely understood Ren's feelings, and for now, had to restrain himself. He would make use of this new information in time, but until then, he would be patient.

He smiled as he walked to Nora's left and placed a hand on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry, but that's between us boys" he stated with a wink. "But I'm rooting for you two. Good luck" he added and gave her a thumbs up, before continuing down the hall back to where their friends were waiting for them.

Unfortunately for Jaune, he had just forgotten one of the most important rules of warfare: never turn your back to your enemy. Of course, Nora was not his enemy, but by teasing her in such a vulnerable state, the ginger felt as if she had been slapped with a fish. After a few moments of being stunned, she registered what her captain had just done. While it was admittedly quite funny, her being so close to hearing what the man she loved thought of her, and then for it to be yanked away, was crossing the line. Without a moment more, she wheeled around and sprinted right at the unsuspecting young man, and jumped onto his back.

"Gahh! Nora?!" he shouted in shock.

"You jerk!" she shouted back, trying to get him into a rear naked choke.

"Hey! Let go!" Jaune tried to shake her off, but she had already locked her legs around his torso, and she was not going anywhere without significant force, which he was not willing to use. Then again, Nora was considerably stronger than he, thus it was very much doubtful he would be successful in his attempts to remove her.

"Not till you tell me what Ren said!"

The commotion they were making was far from quiet, as their shouting was combining with the clanging of the blond's armour. This caught the attention of the others in the waiting room, who were equally curious as to why Jaune wanted to speak to Nora privately, and now was taken aback by the din.

"Is everything all–" asked Pyrrha, beginning to walk towards the doorway that led into the hall, but stopped when her captain staggered into the room hunching over with a very angry ginger on his back. "What's going on?"

"Pyrrha!" whined Nora, looking up at her friend pouting. "Jaune is being a jerk!"

"Is he now?" she asked, folding her arms and smirking at them in amusem*nt. "Jaune, what did you do?"

"She teased me, so I teased her back!" the blond defended, trying to straighten up. Once he was able to look at her, and noticed that she was obscuring the view of the others, he mouthed "It was about Ren."

The redhead's smirk grew. "I think what's fair is fair, Nora" she said, siding with Jaune.

"What?!" she shouted, tightening her grip around her captain's throat.

"She's right. You've been rather merciless the past few weeks, so it was about time you got a taste of your own medicine" added Ren, appearing beside Pyrrha. "Now stop trying to choke him."

Nora could not stop her cheeks from turning pink, as seeing Ren so soon after trying to learn what he thought about her as a woman, was shifting gears too suddenly for her to handle. She immediately calmed down and let go, sliding off Jaune's back, and rejoined her friends with her team.

"So, what was that all about?" asked Yang, grinning at the antics of her friends.

"Nothing" mumbled Nora as she folded her arms.

"Is the ceremony about to start?" asked Jaune, straightening out his armour.

"Soon" answered Weiss, once again eyeing Jaune's achievement. "We saw some people move into the arena—bannermen for the schools and Kingdoms I believe."

"That means Huntmaster Ozpin will be speaking shortly" confirmed Pyrrha. "Is everyone ready?"

The rest of her team nodded excitedly, joined by Teams RWBY and CFVY, just as a horn blast echoed across the Coliseum, causing the crowd to roar in excitement.

"Show time" grinned Yang cracking her knuckles.

Above the arena was a private sky box with a balcony, which provided a comfortable view of the battlegrounds. From the covered section of the box emerged both Ozpin and Ironwood, but the General stopped short to allow the silver-haired Huntmaster to reach a microphone placed near the railing. Resting on his cane with his overlapping hands atop the handle, Ozpin began addressing the crowd.

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen" he began. "My name is Samuel Ozpin, Huntmaster of Beacon Academy, and it gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the 40th Annual Vytal Festival Tournament!"

The crowd roared once again, but quickly calmed down, allowing Ozpin to continue.

"Please, save your applause for the brave and talented young Huntsmen-in-training that will be competing in this tournament. Let us welcome them, beginning with our guests from across the sea."

He began calling the teams from Atlas, who walked from their respective corner of the Coliseum into the arena. Weiss had been correct about the bannermen, as for each corner stood two, fully armoured with spears, one bearing a gonfalon flag for the Academy and the other with a gonfalon for the Kingdom. The Atlassian banners were the Kingdom's Arms and the Academy's Arms. The former was a flat top heater shield bearing a sea anchor as a main device, with an eagle standing behind it with its wings wide open, a trident in the right talon and an ice axe in the left, and a compartment of the top of an iceberg. The latter was a polar bear and a white wolf standing on their hind legs facing one another below a White-tailed eagle, wings spread, and carrying a boar-hunting spear in its talons. Below the eagle was a blazon bearing a fully drawn golden longbow against a blue field. An arrow was notched and pointed upwards, along with two more arrows crossed behind the bow. Ozpin did the same for the teams of Mistral and Vacuo, the latter Academy Arms being a single palm tree with a Tawny Eagle perched atop it, carrying a wreath of desert flowers.

At last, he set about introducing the Valian teams.

"Here we go" said Ruby, fidgeting.

"Any advice for us, champ?" asked Coco.

"Keep your head high, address the crowd when they cheer, and ignore them when they boo" she said matter-of-factly.

"Got it" registered Nora, interlacing her fingers and cracked them by pushing outward.

Jaune took a breath, which caught the attention of his lieutenant.

"Are you alright?" she asked softly.

"Yeah, just a bit nervous" he admitted.

Pyrrha gently took his hand and squeezed it reassuringly.

"Don't be. Like we said, we are ready for this, and you have come so far. We might not even compete today, if it gives you some comfort."

Jaune shook his head. "No, that's just as bad as running away. You'll be doing the most fighting in the long run, so if I can't dig in my heels and fight, then I'm a coward. The reason I'm nervous isn't even the fighting, it's knowing that my family will be watching."

"You said they would be when you spoke to your mother" she echoed.

"Yeah..." he paused for a moment and scratched his left cheek, blushing slightly. "My mother says you're very pretty by the way, and that she's looking forward to meeting you."

Pyrrha felt her own cheeks warm.

"Tell her I said thank you, and I look forward to meeting her as well" she replied genuinely. She knew there was tension between Jaune and his family, but she could easily tell that he still wished to honour them. "You will make them proud, Jaune. You've changed from when you left home. Show them." Before he could reply, she leaned forward and kissed his left cheek. "Better?"

The swordsman's cheeks burned, but a calming warmth washed over him, and he smiled at her.

"Yeah, thanks" he replied softly, squeezing back.

"Hey! None of that lovey-dovey sh*t! Save it for after the ceremony" jeered Yang.

"No, give him a big wet one and let no one tell you different, Nikos" defended Coco.

"Hey, I'm trying to help. If you want to give the reporters ammunition, then go out there carrying her bridal style, and stick your tongue down her throat for good measure. Your relationship is none of their business, so don't make it."

This genuinely caught the couple by surprise, for it was a rare moment of empathy from the brawler blonde, and not secretly a playful jab. Jaune was about to thank her for doing so, when Ozpin's voice boomed across the arena once again.

"From Beacon Academy, Team CRDL!"

Cardin and his team walked past the others, and they glanced at Team JNPR, who gave them a look, along with Team CFVY, that said loud and clear "Keep walking", as nothing had been forgiven. For a brief moment, Jaune and Cardin locked eyes, tension rapidly mounting as they did. They had not spoken to one another since the incident in the Forest of Forever Fall, as the bully knew he wouldn't get anything more out of the blond. However, that brought up the lingering question of why had Cardin not fed information to the newspapers. Of course, it would be his word against the Huntmaster's in the end, for all Jaune had to do was deny the claims, and for Ozpin to provide the officially forged transcripts. Nonetheless, Jaune did not trust Cardin, and now that he possessed armour easily rivaling that of his former bully, he stood his ground with ire in his eyes. It appeared to be as visible as it was effective, for Team CRDL all swallowed and quickly walked through the doorway towards the arena, acknowledging just how unwelcome they were.

"You know" said Coco folding her arms, "those reporters kept asking who you were, Arc, since you aren't some famous athlete or something, when I want to know how those clowns got into this place."

"Thanks" Jaune said chuckling, "I guess we'll never know."

Of course, he did have some idea, given the conversation he had with Ozpin, and he almost wanted to make an inside joke to his team, but he decided against it. Perhaps after he told Team RWBY, for Blake was one of the four who enrolled into the academy using less than legitimate means.

"Team CFVY!"

"Best foot forward, people!" Coco cheered, giving Teams RWBY and JNPR a curt nod, before walking out with Velvet and the others.

"You think we'll fight today?" Ruby asked Weiss.

"Knowing our luck, most likely" she replied.

"We gotta win! Dad will be watching."

"Damn right" added Yang. "And it needs to be solid, or else he'll give us Hell."

"I see we are all in the same boat" remarked Weiss with a small smirk. Blake on the other hand said nothing.

"Team RWBY!"

"Go Team go!" the younger Xiao Long chanted, and walked confidently with her friends through the exit.

"I hope we go today too" Nora wished, rubbing her hands together.

"Time to see our hard work pay off" added Ren, smirking at his partner's never-ending eagerness.

"It will" continued Pyrrha.

"Ad astra per aspera" said Jaune serenely. "Through adversity to the stars. Let's show'em."

The others grinned at him as Ozpin finally called them forth.

"And last, but certainly not least, Team JNPR!"

Holding their heads high, they marched in unison through the archway, and their eyesight went white as they stood beneath the sun, before quickly becoming clear once more. They walked up the path leading towards the arena where the others stood, the cheers of a very excited crowd crashing upon them. Jaune could not stop himself from swallowing, as he saw just how many thousands of people were in the stands. He swore he could feel every single pair of eyes pointed right at him, riddling him as if he were a paper target. He had never been in a place filled with so many people, and it would have been enough to make his knees shake, if he had not grown so much in the time he spent with his friends and Pyrrha.

What did shake him slightly, were the chants that rose above the cheers.

Pyrrha! Pyrrha! Pyrrha! Pyrrha!

"Is it always like this?" he asked her, leaning in close so she could hear him.

"Pretty much" she replied, and smiled as she waved to the crowd.

They reached the others, and stood behind Team RWBY, who stood behind CFVY, with CDRL in front. They noticed that all the teams, foreign and domestic, were oriented in the same fashion, standing in Testudo formation with their respective bannermen on either side. Their bannermen stood with one carrying the Beacon Arms of a lighthouse sitting atop a cove emitting beams of light in all directions, and the other with the Arms of the Kingdom. To their left were the Vacuan teams, with Team SSSN leading the group, and Sun and Neptune saluting them. Of course, they were aiming for Blake and Weiss specifically, who blushed at the attention. From the Atlassian side, Penny noticed Ruby as she took her place with her team, and waved excitedly to her, which Ruby eagerly returned.

Interestingly enough, there was a great deal of attention being diverted to Jaune, giving credence to his earlier nervousness. Thanks to the busy work of journalists the world over, Jaune had become an overnight celebrity in his own right. People were gossiping about him, wanting to know what his relationship with Pyrrha truly was. There had been some excitement with Team SSSN interacting with Teams RWBY and JNPR, and even more so when Neptune and Weiss were seen dancing together. This led people to speculate who else would get together, particularly which remaining members of SSSN would court Pyrrha. Many assumed it would be Sun, which would certainly be major news for weeks, but were shocked that he went with Blake, and Pyrrha with Jaune. Both celebrities were with an unknown, which made people speculate on their identities. With Pyrrha being the more famous of the two, there were many more invested in the blond captain than with Blake.

Thankfully, this time around, people were pleasantly surprised. While nothing had been discovered about Jaune's past, Pyrrha's fans had begun to craft in their minds what kind of person he truly was; selling him far shorter than was fair. They would have been closer to their estimate if he had emerged in his older gear, but seeing him now, showed how badly they had misjudged him. The photos of him in that dress, made them think he was an unserious buffoon. And yet, here he was, standing before them in shining white armour, bright blond locks, and equally bright blue eyes, pensive and even-tempered. How could he turn from jester to warrior with such ease? He hardly even looked like the same young man. But there he stood, right beside Pyrrha, and looking like they made a very good pair.

"Now, before we begin with the bracket seeding, the Grand Huntmasters will each give a small greeting to the students" explained Ozpin. "Unfortunately, the Huntmasters of Shade Academy and Haven Academy could not join us in person, so they have instead sent a video recording. Without further ado, please welcome the Grand Huntmaster of Shade, Teodoro Blanco."

The Vacuan students and spectators cheered as the holoscreens that hung above the arena switched from Ozpin to a man sitting behind a desk. He had shoulder length white hair with equally white goatee and eyebrows, which was a bewitching combination with his bright amber eyes. He had a number of white scars on his face that were clearly visible against his tanned skin, without getting lost in the wrinkles caused by his toothy grin. He also had a large number of facial piercings; two for each eyebrow, a nose ring through his right nostril, two through his bottom lip, a labret stud, and a pair of small die earrings. He wore an amber-orange charro coat without a scarf or shirt, revealing his incredibly toned barrel chest. It was rather difficult to judge Blanco's age, but for those who did not know him, guessed he was in his early 50s.

"Hello, Vale!" he shouted, grinning like a wild man. "Forgive me for not coming to your Kingdom in person, but Vacuo needs me here to run things smoothly. I'll be keeping an eye on the tournament and cheering on my brats in between what needs doing, obviously. I'm especially looking forward to Team SSSN smacking that puss*cat's champion down a notch! Well, I guess she isn't his champion anymore. Doesn't matter, they'll whip you all! Show them what you got, boys! And that goes for you ladies too! Show these city brats that we Vacuans are the toughest sons of bitches around! Good luck!"

Team SSSN, along with the other Vacuan teams, raised their fists to the sky and roared, ready and willing to honour their Huntmaster and Kingdom. They were joined by their countrymen in the stands, who shared their enthusiasm, and Blanco's sentiments.

"I do apologize for the vulgarity of my fellow Huntmaster, however, I have known Teodoro for a very long time, and that was him being as reserved as I have ever seen him" admitted Ozpin. "Now, please welcome the Grand Huntmaster of Haven, Leonardo Lionheart."

The screen changed once again to reveal a middle-aged Lion Faunus, with greyish-brown hair, eyebrows, and full beard, along with a pair of slightly rounded lion ears atop his head. He wore a brown greatcoat with matching mantle and a pair of cross emblems on either side, with a white dress shirt under his coat, and a western necktie. He bore a warm smile, which caused his dark brown eyes to nearly disappear into his crow's feet.

"Hello to you all! My name is Leonardo Lionheart, if you did not know, and I would like to thank the Kingdom of Vale for hosting this year's Vytal Festival" he said graciously. "I know that my dear friend Samuel has done everything in his power to make everyone feel right at home, and James has done everything to make everyone feel safe. I do hope that my students are behaving well. Speaking of which, I feel it is necessary to address the Goliath in the room...Miss Pyrrha Nikos."

Immediately the atmosphere in the Coliseum became full of tension, as all present were unsure of what the Grand Huntmaster was going to say next. Pyrrha stiffened next to Jaune, as she of course understood why she was being mentioned by Lionheart. He would have been her Huntmaster if she had gone to Haven, and she would have, but made the last-minute decision to attend Beacon. Of course, it only appeared last minute, as it was at the last minute that she announced her decision. She had made up her mind that she would not move onto her secondary education within the Kingdom of Mistral months before, and had not changed it since. Many wanted to know why, but the champion had only given the excuse that she wanted to see more of the world, keeping the true reason a secret. Her leaving had robbed Haven of a strong addition, thus giving rise to Pyrrha worrying over what her countryman thought on the matter.

"I admit that I am disappointed that you decided to study abroad, Miss Nikos" Lionheart confessed, sighing. "I think you would have done quite well here. But I will not hold it against you. There is always a silver lining...and that is Beacon might finally stand a chance this year."

That final comment caused an uproar, a mixture of boos and cheers, which drowned out the Haven Huntmaster's best wishes to all the competitors.

"Well, I'll be damned" said Ironwood with a grin. "Never thought he would take a shot at you like that, Sam."

Ozpin chuckled. "Don't take it personally, my fellow Valians. It is all in spirit of the game. Now, please welcome the Grand Huntmaster of Ýdalir Academy, and General of the White Army, James Tiberius Ironwood."

Trading places, Ironwood marched to the microphone, back straight with his left hand resting on the pommel of a Lowland sword, Einherjar, which hung at his left hip from a two-point harness. The scabbard was pure white, safe for the locket and chape, which were both an icy silver. To match them was a series of silver runes running down the body of the scabbard, though none who saw them could comprehend their meaning. The hilt of Einherjar was equally eye catching, for the pommel was the head of a wolfhound, the grip, a long one coloured navy blue with a riser in the middle, and Blue Beryl gemstones set in the crossguard. One final detail lay in the middle of the crossguard; a Tiwaz t-rune, shining visibly within the gemstone it was encased in. The blade exuded authoritativeness, as well as confidence, and its master bore that confidence in the smile that rested on his face, revealing it as he removed his white peaked cap. Taking a deep breath, he began to speak to the spectators below.

"Thank you, Sam, and good afternoon, everyone. It's wonderful to be back in Vale again after so long. And don't let Leo's words get to you, Miss Nikos, for I also studied at Beacon many years ago. However, I will agree with Huntmaster Ozpin that it's all in the spirit of the tournament. It's about us coming from all four corners of the world, to represent our Kingdoms, and celebrate as one. This tournament was created to remind us all of when brother fought against brother, and that we fought for things that did not matter; that there are greater evils in the world, and we must fight them together. It's that unity that makes us strong. The might of our militaries and our righteous Huntsmen are what keeps the hordes of Grimm at bay, so that we may continue to bask in the Light. We Atlassians have merged those institutions so that all who are ready and willing to defend those who cannot defend themselves, can stand side by side. That is why I brought my army here today; to provide additional protection to your Kingdom; to defend Vale. The last time there were this many White Army boots on Valian soil, was to invade her. This time, we come to defend her. If we cannot stand together against our foes, than we cannot stand at all. With that, we of the Kingdom of Atlas swear to the Gods, wherever and whenever, we shall answer the call of duty, for the Atlassian Eagle brings with her, liberty. We shall serve and protect the people of all Kingdoms, Human and Faunus alike, to the bitter end. Good luck, young Huntsmen. May you too find that conviction to march forward, regardless of the trials that stand in your way, and may the wings of liberty, never lose a feather."

The Coliseum erupted in thunderous applause, as Jaune smirked at the General.

'Spoken like a true military man' he thought.

"And we greatly appreciate your convictions, my friend" thanked Ozpin, retaking the microphone. "Now, I will not delay this tournament any further, as my fellow Huntmasters have wonderfully expressed all that needs to be said. I shall instead wish you all the best of luck, and pass the torch to my colleagues in the commentator's booth, Professor Peter Port, and Doctor Bartholomew Oobleck, and allow them to explain the rules of the tournament."

"Thank you, Ozpin!" boomed Port as the screen flashed to reveal the aforementioned teachers. "Good afternoon to everyone in this glorious arena, and to all of the wonderful people watching at home! Welcome to this year's Vytal Festival Tournament. I'm Professor Peter Port, head of Grimm Studies, and what a beautiful day for a tournament, wouldn't you say, Professor?"

"Doctor" he corrected in annoyance. "And yes Peter, it is a gorgeous day for young men and women to battle for the honour of their schools and Kingdoms. I am Doctor Bartholomew Oobleck, head of Historical Studies, and I am bursting with anticipation for today's bouts!"

"Then let's not delay! Allow us to break down the rules of the tournament!"

"The tournament is divided into three distinctive rounds: Teams, Doubles, and Singles. Age and school year are irrelevant! In this tournament, your only attribute being tested...isskill" explained Oobleck.

"Correct!" agreed Port. "The winners of these battles will elect two of their members to represent them in the Doubles Round, followed by the winners of that round choosing one member to advance once again. The remaining combatants will then fight their way through the final bracket in the hope of achieving victory for their Kingdom!"

"And there is another element to keep the combatants on their toes!" added Oobleck. "Unlike regular tournaments, the seeds will reset with each new round. This way, the combatants will only learn of their opponents once the entire round has completed their bouts, and our digital roulette wheel selects new combatants the day-of. You must expect the unexpected when on the Hunt, and this will be a great way to test one's adaptability. Thus, these upcoming fights will certainly be some spectacular spectacles on which to spectate on! I don't think anyone tuning in around the world is going to disagree with me on that!"

"But they might on the amount of time we are wasting! Let's reveal the first day tournament seeds!"

The screens flickered to display a sixteen-team bracket, before focusing in to show only eight slots.

"There will be four fights today—half of the registered teams" explained Port. "The second half of the first round will be fought tomorrow at eleven am, thus concluding the Teams Round. Let's see who Lady Fortune favours today!"

Two slots in the bottom left of the screen began to pulse, as a pair of digital roulette wheels simultaneously spun on half of the holoscreens. They at last slowed to a standstill, and vanished before revealing Teams RWBY and ABRN; each letter of their team name dropping to reveal their individual portraits.

"And the first bout of the tournament will be Team RWBY of Beacon and Team ABRN of Haven!" shouted Oobleck.

"Yes!" cheered Ruby and Yang, pumping their fists in unison.

"What did I say?" smirked Weiss, waving a hand.

"I wouldn't have it any other way at this point" commented Blake folding her arms, also smirking.

"Now, for the second fight!" announced Port, the next pair of slots pulsing before repeating the previous animation. "And it will be between Team JNPR of Beacon and Team BRNZ of Shade!"

"Finally!" cried Nora, jumping for joy.

"Time to test our mettle, as they say" said Ren in agreement.

"I'm just glad I got my photo with the new armour submitted in time" Jaune remarked in relief.

"Is that why you were running late?" asked Pyrrha.

"One of several" he admitted. "That's all I'll say for now."

The redhead pursed her lips slightly, but decided to be patient.

"And the third fight will be between Team SSSN of Shade and Team NDGO of Haven!" announced Oobleck, causing Team SSSN to throw their fists in the air, shouting their approval.

"Whoa, are all of us fighting today?" asked Yang.

"And the fourth and final match of the day will be..." began Port, "Team CLME (Calamine) of Haven and Team ICCE of Ýdalir!"

"Guess so" replied Blake, though she squinted at Cinder's team, Mercury in particular. Pyrrha also eyed them curiously, as she was beginning to have some thoughts she had not considered until now.

"And that will be the first half of the Teams Round!" declared Oobleck. "Combatants, please exit the arena so it may be prepared for the first match!"

"Fret not viewers, the tournament will start shortly, so don't go anywhere!" added Port.

"Make sure you get some refreshments before the match begins to avoid missing a moment of the action!" advised the history Professor before taking a big swig of "coffee" from his thermos.

The students began to make their way back to the locker-rooms, with the teams now scheduled to fight deciding to wait for their turn.

"You guys ready?" Nora asked Team RWBY.

"More than ever!" grinned Ruby.

"Despite not only fighting on the first day, but the very first match of the entire Vytal Festival Tournament, I believe we are" added Weiss, not shy on pointing the reality of the situation.

"We will be cheering you on" said Pyrrha honestly.

"Not to be rude, but I think we'll do that from the stands" said Jaune. "That way we can get a better look of the match."

"We'll do the same. Good luck!" chimed Coco, with her team joining in before exiting the waiting area.

"Kick butt!" encouraged Nora.

"Yes, fight with everything you got" continued Ren.

"You bet we will" grinned Yang.

With that, Team JNPR left their friends, and began to make their way above ground to the stairs that led to the stands.

"A better look of the match" echoed Pyrrha, eyeing her captain with an amused smirk. "You wouldn't happen to have an ulterior motive by suggesting that, would you?"

Jaune tilted his head to his lieutenant, displaying a smirk of his own.

"Why, Pyrrha Nikos, are you suggesting that I would propose that we observe our friends' match for a reason other than to cheer them on, as good friends should?" he monologued in an exaggerated posh accent.

"Am I wrong?"

"No, you're spot on" he replied, returning to his natural voice, and getting a laugh out of her. "I get the 'expecting the unexpected' logic, but I also know the value of recon and intelligence. They won't hold that against us, right?"

"I doubt they would" she guessed. "They will certainly do the same after their match concludes."

"If we are going to spy on our friends" added Ren, "then I suggest we make use of the reserved seating for combatants. They're closest to the action."

"Then what are we waiting for?" asked Nora. She grabbed Ren's hand and pulled him after her, causing him to stumble, but he managed to regain his footing and vanished around the corner of the hall with the eager ginger.

Jaune could not help laughing at them. "I have a feeling I'll be seeing that again" he remarked.

"What do you mean?" asked Pyrrha.

"As soon as they're together, she's dragging him straight to the bedroom."

"Jaune!" gasped Pyrrha, slapping his arm as she blushed, though secretly agreeing with him.

"What? If you ask me, that's probably the only way he can make it up to her for making her wait so long; if I were in Nora's shoes, I mean" he reasoned.

The redhead paused for moment, and because they were alone, said "Yes she might, but that would take a little more time. Nora is surprisingly shy when it comes to Ren."

"Yeah, I just figured that out when I spoke to her."

"That explains why she tried to strangle you" Pyrrha realized. "What did you tease her about specifically?"

"I didn't really" Jaune defended. "She said you and her talked about me, and what you talked about would be kept secret between you both, so I pointed out Ren was checking her out, and mentioned we'd spoken about her. When she asked to know what we talked about specifically, I said I'd keep it a secret between me and Ren. That's all."

"Ah" Pyrrha said, things finally becoming clear, and caused her to feel a bit more sympathetic to her friend's frustrations. "Well, at least she finally has some confirmation that her plan to attract him is working."

'You have no idea' the blond thought humorously. "And we'll continue to do our part. Anyways, let's get back to the others."

The couple walked the remaining stretch of the hall until they turned the corner, and climbed the stairs to the reserved seating of the Coliseum. When they were once again above ground and beneath the sun filled sky, they saw Ren and Nora sitting side by side with Team SSSN to their left, and Team CFVY to theirs.

"There you are" said Nora as they sat down. "What took you so long?"

"Finally gave him that wet one" commented Coco with a grin.

Jaune blushed slightly, but remained calm. "Is the match about to start?" he asked.

"Shortly" replied Ren.

As if on cue, the screens returned to life, showing the commentator's box once more.

"Hello, everyone! Forgive the delay, but we are now ready to begin with the first match of the tournament!" said Port eagerly.

"Before we do, we would like to add some additional information regarding the tournament to the spectators, as well as a reminder to the combatants" said Oobleck, adjusting his glasses. "All Huntsmen-in-training competing will not and cannot use field munitions. All cartridges and explosives must be tournament mandated non-lethal—rubber projectiles and halved Dust loads. Any combatant caught with field loads will be immediately disqualified from the tournament, along with his or her team. We do not want any accidents today, or any day of the tournament. In that vein, victory is determined by four outcomes: one, a combatant knocks their opponent unconscious. Two, a combatant knocks their opponent out of the ring, or a combatant falls out of the ring. Three, a combatant gives their opponent an injury that results in a technical knock-out. A proctor will determine if the injuries are severe enough to retire the combatant and/or end the match, along with the medical staff on standby. The fourth and final determinate is simply a team or combatant surrenders, and yields defeat. Now then, Team RWBY and Team ARBN, please enter the arena!"

From their respective corners, the teams entered the Coliseum once again to the cheers of the crowd. Team RWBY had taken Pyrrha's advice, and were saluting the audience, bolstering their cheers, which were already near deafening given Weiss' appearance. She gave the Atlassian spectators someone to support, joining in the clamour of the Valian locals. As the arena terrains were being randomized, Pyrrha turned her head to speak to Jaune.

"What do you think will be the outcome?" she asked.

"I have no idea who Team ARBN are, so I can't make a definitive call" the blond admitted, "but I'm pretty sure Team RWBY will win. Obvious bias for our friends is obvious."

Pyrrha gave him a small giggle. "Yes, I feel the same way, though I do believe them when they said they worked tirelessly on improving their coordination. Weiss especially doesn't appear to try and take command as she used to. Team ARBN were obviously my classmates at Sanctum, and while I can say they are an above average team, Team RWBY is more than capable of handling them." Jaune nodded in agreement as the arena began to transform. Pyrrha then tilted her head slightly. "So strange..."

The swordsman shifted his gaze to her curiously. "What is it?"

"I have taken part in countless tournaments since I began training to be a Huntress, and have spectated even more since I was a child. And yet..." she explained with a slight frown, "I cannot comprehend how they organized this one. This three-category system is baffling, is it not?"

Jaune thought for a moment. "Yeah, now that I think of it. Normally you'd have those separated into their own tournaments, rather than have them all together, wouldn't you?"

"Precisely. That becomes even more confusing, as we Huntsmen are taught and trained in teams of four. Why not have us fight as a team throughout the tournament? Furthermore, not separating the teams by school year is equally baffling, for school year is a direct correlation to skill, with seniors being allowed to have field experience. I know of several seniors in Mistral that are incredibly talented, and if they were to participate in this tournament, would demolish the competition. What they should have done was have several tournaments divided by school year. That way, skill would be the true determining factor, and there would be more matches per day. And then there is this reseeding business with every round. I cannot make heads or tails of it."

Jaune sighed as he ran his tongue over his teeth.

"I can't argue with you there. Like I said, I can sort of understand the 'expecting the unexpected' thing, but yeah, it's all weird." He looked back to the arena as the match began. "But it's too late now. We've planned out our strategy with the rules they've set, so we'll do what we can with what we've got. Better we focus on what's in front of us than what's way behind."

"And what are you focusing on exactly?" Pyrrha asked, not taking her eyes off the fight.

"Two things: one, try and figure out who from Team RWBY will be sent to the Doubles and Singles rounds, and two, figure out how they fight" he replied, also without looking away.

"I doubt Ruby would be chosen for the Singles, but she could take part in the Doubles with her sister, given they know each other best" Pyrrha suggested.

The blond nodded. "Sure, but she's also the least experienced next to me" he pointed out, crossing his arms. "Then there's Blake, who seems to be used to fighting alone, so she might still be learning to fight as a team. Weiss is a strong contender though."

"Certainly" agreed the redhead. "Atlas has a strong dueling culture, very similar to ours in Mistral. Myrtenaster being a rapier is proof of that. If I were to hazard a guess, she would be their candidate for the Singles as well as Doubles. The military culture of Atlas also explains her tactical prowess, making her a very well-rounded fighter."

"Except in one category: raw power" pointed out Jaune, steadily tapping his right index finger against his left rerebrace. "I'm with you on Weiss being part of the Doubles round, but not for the Singles. Weiss is a strong warrior because she makes great use of Dust combinations and her Glyphs, maximizing her tools to their full potential with great efficiency. But she's lacking in knockdown power. So, if I were to put my money where my mouth is, I'd say it will be Weiss in the Doubles with Yang, as she'll cover what Weiss lacks, and then it will be Yang in the Singles."

"Fire and Ice" Pyrrha remarked with a smirk.

"Nice and poetic. Team RWBY is probably betting on Yang's raw firepower; and given her brawler fighting style and Semblance, she'd be the best choice to make it through the entire Single's bracket."

Pyrrha looked at him as she giggled. "Yes, I am sure that is what Yang said."

Jaune looked at her, confused, before the realization hit him, and his face soured in annoyance.

"Oh right, 'firepower', Gods..." he groaned, rolling his eyes, which caused Pyrrha to giggle again and cover her mouth. "Oh, don't start making puns."

"I can appreciate them without making them" she defended, giving him a kittenish smile.

"Fine, fine" the captain relented, looking back to the match thinking, 'She's so damn cute'. "But there's something to point out about Yang's fighting style and temperament: she's got a few bad habits we could exploit."

"And those would be?"

"Firstly, her defense" he began to explain. "To put it bluntly, she kinda has a tendency to block attacks with her face. She relies on her Semblance to act as a shield, constantly burning Aura in the process, which is her second bad habit. She has a lot to burn, but a fire that burns twice as bright, burns out twice as fast. If she doesn't get herself knocked out in combat, or burn herself out leading up to her fight with you, then she certainly will burn out when she does; you have way more efficient Aura management, after all."

Pyrrha looked at her captain with admiration and pride. His growth regarding swordsmanship was tremendous, but she was beyond proud with how much he had grown as a person, as well as a captain. His focus and confidence had refined to a sharp point, which now matched beautifully with his new armour. While she had not fallen for Jaune because of his warrior skill, she could not deny it was becoming a wonderful bonus. How far he would grow in time, she could only imagine.

The blond noticed her gaze and turned again to face her. "What?"

"Oh nothing" she dismissed, taking his hand. "I'll tell you later."

Jaune gave her a quizzical look, but knew that if he was keeping a couple of little secrets from her, she could keep a few of her own.

"And that's the match!" shouted Port, drawing the couple's attention back to the arena, where Team RWBY were celebrating and showing their appreciation to the crowd. Sun and Neptune were both whistling loudly, happy to see the girls they liked, along with their friends, do well out the gate. "What an explosive start to this year's tournament, wouldn't you say, Bart?"

"Indeed, I would, Peter" agreed Oobleck with a grin. "This tournament is already displaying that this generation is bursting with potential. So let us keep that explosive rolling start rolling! Will Team JNPR of Beacon and Team BRNZ of Shade make their way to their respective waiting stations?"

"It's game time" said Jaune, rising to his feet.

"Finally!" Nora added eagerly, jumping up, and for a moment appeared to consider jumping out of the stands to get below faster.

"Good luck, love-birds!" called Coco with a grin.

"Do your best" added Velvet.

"Can't promise that we'll cheer as loudly for ya like we did for Team RWBY" stated Sun honestly with an apologetic smirk. "You know how it is."

"We'll win whether ya do or ya don't" Jaune declared soundly, but gave the Monkey Faunus a knowing smirk.

Pyrrha and Ren gave their thanks to the others, and joined the rest of their team as they made their way back to the locker area. As they expected, they ran into Team RWBY who were coming up to the stands to watch the remaining matches.

"We won!" cheered Ruby.

"We saw" laughed Pyrrha. "You've all greatly improved."

"Scared, Nikos?" teased Yang with a co*cky grin.

"Nope!" replied Nora, sticking her tongue out at the blonde.

"Let her answer for herself!"

The redhead paused for a moment, and looked at her teammate's determined expression, before smirking and looked back at the elder Xiao Long.

"Nope" she said, and also stuck out her tongue. Yang merely laughed at the Mistralese champion's childish response, which Ruby joined in on, and caused Weiss and Blake to smirk.

"Regardless, best of luck to all of you" said the Schnee heiress politely.

"Thank you" replied Jaune with a nod. "We hope to join you in the Doubles."

"You better" shot back Yang. "I want that one on one, Pyrrha."

"So do I" the redhead agreed.

They waved and made their way to the lower levels of the Coliseum, and finally reached the waiting area. As they stood by, Team JNPR began making last minute checks of their equipment. Pyrrha, Ren, and Nora all made sure that their firearms cycled correctly, and their magazines were loaded with non-lethal ammunition. Jaune, being the only one without a firearm, made sure that Corcea Mors fit correctly in its scabbard, and the latter transformed correctly into heater shield configuration. When satisfied, he began to double check that his armour was well secured, especially his cuirass, as the last thing he wanted was his family achievement falling in the dirt on live television. Instinctively, his right hand resting on the Arms, and he looked down, staring at it while in thought.

Jaune then noticed that Pyrrha appeared to be doing the same, eyes closed, both her hands held together, hand over fist, and pressed against the centre of her chest.

"You OK?" he asked.

"Mhmm" she answered softly. "Just praying."

This caused Jaune to lean back slightly, and before he could stop himself said "You think we're that screwed?"

Without opening her eyes, she gently slapped his chest armour with the back of her right hand.

"Of course not. I always pray before a match." She then opened her eyes to look at him and asked "Still nervous about your family watching?"

"A little" he admitted, exhaling out of his nose, "but not as much as before."

"Don't worry, Jaune. We will win today" encouraged Ren.

"I don't doubt that for a second" the captain replied. "I have complete and unwavering faith in each and every one of you. I could've never asked for better friends and troops. It's having faith in myself that I need to work on a little more."

Pyrrha took his hand once again and squeezed it, smiling warmly at him.

"And we have unwavering faith in you, Jaune. No matter the challenges, we will stand by your side. What did you say before? Ad astra per aspera?"

Jaune nodded. "Through adversity to the stars" he translated.

"It's a good motto to stand by. Let's aim for the stars, shall we?" Pyrrha then kissed him on the cheek again. "For luck."

The blond blushed, but smiled back, truly grateful for her being there for him.

"Thanks, Pyrrha, but I think you're already all the good luck I need—my good luck charm."

The redhead blushed at his words, and squeezed his hand.

"Am I really?" she asked softly.

"All I could ever need" he repeated, squeezing back, and smiling.

The couple gazed at each other lovingly, the world once again beginning to melt away, leaving them in their own little paradise. And as per usual, there was someone or something to pull them back to reality.

"Now kiiiiiiiiissss" teased Nora, grinning from ear to ear.

Jaune and Pyrrha jumped and became incredibly flushed, as if they had been caught in a far more perverse act. Ren looked at them in amusem*nt. He had spoken to Jaune in private as to why the blond had not sealed the deal, despite things progressing far more than he had anticipated. He did his best not to let his own feelings cloud his judgement, as he wished he could be further along with Nora, thus he simply told Jaune to not drag things out for too much longer. As hypocritical as that was, he at least understood part of his friend's reasoning, so Ren left him to his own devices. However, he no longer bothered to stop Nora from teasing them, using it as his own form of playful jabbing.

"I'm sure they will when they are ready" Ren said with a small smirk.

"Will it be this century or the next one?" the ginger asked.

"I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say this century."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Ren" shot back Jaune.

"Any time."

"Speaking of good luck charms, aren't you supposed to rub them?" Nora teased.

To everyone's surprise, including Ren, the stealthy Huntsman-in-training began to rub the top of Nora's head.

"Like this?" he asked.

The hammeress' face lit up like a Christmas tree, as she had never expected him to do such a thing, especially out of the blue. Her eyes dropped down to her feet, very unsure of how to act or respond. Jaune and Pyrrha looked at the black-haired young man with excited confusion, as it was a big step for him to show affection like this. Jaune especially was happy to see his friend make some sort of move on Nora, and quickly mouthed "Smooth", which gave Ren his turn to blush.

"Yes, Ren, like that" laughed Pyrrha, and began to ruffle Jaune's hair.

"Well, I guess we could all use a bit of luck, whether it be rubbing good luck charms or praying. Whichever helps most" he added, getting an odd sense of enjoyment from Pyrrha playing with his hair.

"The Gods aren't gumball machines, Jaune" corrected the redhead. "I'm not praying for good luck, or for the Gods to simply give me what I want by praying for it."

"Sure...so why do you pray before a fight?" he asked timidly.

"Of course, I pray for guidance, but never for my hand to be held. It's for meditation and reflection, to achieve inner peace before honouring the Gods in battle. I have always been close with my faith, given how religious my family is, and when I began training to become a Huntress, I took the lessons my father taught me, and applied them. When I feel closer to the Gods, I feel that I am a better Huntress, thus a better sword to do their holy work by Hunting the Grimm. There are many other reasons, of course, but in regard to combat, those are the main motivations. Does that make sense?"

Jaune thought for a moment, her words resonating with him more than he expected, though he did ultimately know why.

"It does. My family is religious as well, doing the praying before battle thing, and my dad would agree with you. Some of the things you said are what he's said to me before" he confessed, being taken back to his youth as she spoke of her reasons to prayer.

Pyrrha examined him for a moment, and recognized the tone of his voice as one who had drifted away from observing.

"When was the last time you prayed?" she asked softly.

"Don't know" the blond replied sheepishly, touching the crest of the lancer with his right hand.

Jaune, like most Valians, was a Paladinist; one who believes and worships the Paladin of Light, also known as the Great Lancer. The tale goes that long ago, a Knight left for dead against a horde of Grimm, wielding only a mangled lance, prayed to the Light before making himself ready to die. In his hour of need, lightning came from the Heavens and struck his raised lance, forging it anew. Shining with the brightness of the Sun, the Knight charged on horseback, laying waste to every Grimm; his new lance of Light never failing to hit its mark. He then rode back to his King, taking other scattered cavalrymen with him, and with great strength, rescued the besieged castle, saving Albion from Darkness.

"A few years, I think. I've just felt so unlucky and useless that when I prayed for things to get better and they didn't, I stopped finding any solace in it. I did the gumball thing you mentioned."

"What prayers do your family say before battle? I'd like to hear them."

Jaune thought back to his past, and remember the many holy days he had gone to his local temple with his family.

"There's a few I can remember. Tesis sum Lux; I am a witness to the Light, was a common one. In absentia lucis, tenebrae vinc*nt, sicque portabunt aeternum; In the absence of light, darkness prevails, thus we shall carry the eternal fire—that was another..." Then one came to the forefront of his mind. "There's one we say all the time. It ties into the achievement of our House; In hoc signo vinces; In this sign thou shalt conquer."

"Yeah...I like the sound of that" commented Nora, who had recovered from the shock of Ren's head rub, and had been quietly listening to the conversation. "Let's go and conquer our enemies" she added, punching her right palm with her left fist.

"Will that be before or after we break their legs?" asked Pyrrha, also enjoying her friend's enthusiasm.

"I'm good either way."

"This is a tournament, not a war, Nora" Ren pointed out, but then chuckled when he only got a raspberry blown at him as a response.

"It is time for the second match!" came Professor Port's voice over the Coliseum speakers. "Will Teams JNPR and BRNZ please enter the arena?"

"It's time" said the raven-haired young man.

"Keep your heads held high, and never allow doubt to cloud them" advised Pyrrha.

"In hawk signo vinches!" shouted Nora, utterly butchering the pronunciation, and causing Jaune to laugh.

He grasped the hilt of Crocea Mors with his left hand, and struck his cuirass with his right fist.

"In hoc signo vinces!" he cried passionately, a wide toothy grin on his face, igniting the fire in their souls. With that, Team JNPR marched in unison, ready and determined to achieve glory for the Valian realm, and Beacon Academy.

Author's Note II:

The tournament is finally here, and our characters are ready to rumble. With it, come a number of changes, which I will cover down below. Let us begin.

The Coliseum

A small change, but one that I thought was sensible. It made far more sense that the arena would be a normal addition to the city itself, rather than something offset from the academy. No doubt it was due to RWBY's limited budget, as well as the complicated nature of working without Monty. Since this tournament is meant to be an annual tradition, it just made far more sense to have a structure made for that use. Obviously, I am drawing full inspiration from the real Colosseo.

I should add that I had no idea that it could fly thanks to the retcon in V7, as well as that being beyond bloody stupid. There are other stupidities with the original structure I would like to mention, but I will save it for later chapters.

Jaune's Coat of Arms

I explained why I introduced the use of proper armour in Chapter IV, though here we take things to the next level. With Jaune being a Knight, he was always in desperate need of armour, and while I followed suit with the white and gold—as obvious a colour scheme for him as can be—even by V8, his show armour is pitiful. Not enough pieces, too many gaps, not even a plain panoply (complete suit of armour). Therefore, that had to be changed, and changed quickly.

There are many examples of expensive suits of armour for highborn Knights and royalty from history; so colourful, so intricately engraved, so precisely interlocking, that it puts fantasy and Anime to shame. That was not available to Jaune, but he can carry his family's coat of arms, as painting and laser engraving it on is much easier than forging metal and engraving by hand.

So, why did I give him such a thing, you may ask. Are the double arcs not enough? Not quite.

Heraldry is something that I have been fascinated with ever since I was a little boy, designing my own and inventing them for groups, people, and characters. It is a core element to history, as well as fantasy, both in the West and in the East. So, you can understand why I would want to include that in DDCT, especially given that RWBY has emblems for their characters, as well as a great emphasis on colours.

And now time to vent.

From the very beginning, I have been annoyed with RWBY's "emblems". I have no idea what compelled Monty to create and include them, as they seem to be both immensely important and completely insignificant. While some characters have them because they correspond with their names—arcs for Jaune Arc, a snowflake for Weiss Schnee, a lotus for Lie Ren, a nightshade for Blake Belladonna, a rose for Ruby Rose—there does not seem to be any reason for their inclusion. These crests (devices, charges, sigils; all will do, just not emblems) traditionally represent something significant to the individual and House, as well as their Kingdoms and nations.

Despite that fact, the series has never provided any explanation—either the show or the Official Companion—as to why they were included, what purpose they serve in the story, and how they came to be. For a character like Weiss, her charge is tied to the Schnee Dust Company like a logo—ironically like the Schnee's Company out of Bozeman, Montana—as well as her name. But what about the rest? They are personalized, often tied to their family names, painted onto gear, stitched into clothes, and even have them cast in metal. So, they must serve some kind of purpose, but even orphans and criminals (Roman, Neo, Mercury, Emerald, Adam, and Cinder) have them, so you can understand why I am so annoyed by all of this.

What makes matters worse is the inconsistency in their quality. They vary from intricate (Pyrrha), to appropriate (Jaune, Weiss, Sun, Neptune, Ruby, Ren, Nora, Mercury, Emerald, and Adam), to lazy (Ozpin and Summer), to unrecognizable (Blake, Qrow, Raven, Taiyang, Penny, Roman, Neo, James, Glynda, Coco, Velvet, and Cinder), to downright ugly (Yang). The Kingdom Arms are just as varied, hence why I made changes to the ones I disliked, and are overall lacking compared to real Kingdom Arms.

I mention all of this, not only because of how confusing emblems are in Remnant, but for how people have placed undue significance onto them, mainly for theories regarding the forgotten past of Remnant. I have my gripes about such theory-crafting, with a great example being Ruby's emblem. Yes, it is a rose, but by taking a closer look, you can see that there are flames coming off the top petals. Since, for some lazy reason, Ruby does not have her father's name, this small detail shows a kinship with her sister. That is rather clever. The problem is that Tai's emblem has no such fire motif, and Summer's emblem is the exact same as Ruby's, just white...meaning it is either a retroactive addition, or just a copy. Sigh...

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (19)

I hope it now makes sense as to why I made all these changes, especially for Jaune. He is meant to be a Knight, and therefore, he has a proper Coat of Arms, or more accurately, a Heraldic Achievement, taking his arc device on his shield and turning it into his armorial crest. I also, somewhat directly, gave a reason for why Pyrrha has a charge, having grown up loving such things. The others, however, well, you will see. Furthermore, I tip my hat to those who have also redesigned these charges, as well as those who have come up with new ones from the ground up. Some are genuinely fantastic.

Lastly, yes, I gave the academies armorial blazons because we still do that in our world. Why not? Huntsmen Academies are important...aren't they?

I lied, one more thing: does anyone know why they keep changing Weiss' charge? It is meant to be white, yet even in the Official Companion, it is at times blue, grey, or black. I admit, I changed it to blue for a while, but then have settled back to the original white. I thought colour mattered here.

Introducing the Huntmasters

A rather simple thing, yet quite significant to the world-building of Remnant and my own stories. With the Vytal tournament being so important, I find it odd that the Grand Huntmasters do not make their appearance here. The only legitimate reason is that Monty and CRWBY had not come up with them yet, which is rather damning if you ask me. While I could concede on Leonardo, I could not on Theodore, or Teodoro in my version, hence why I wanted to include him here, as it would be my only chance before CRWBY introduce their version.

In that same vein, it also allowed be to show off my version of James, which is necessary given how he quickly fell apart thanks to CRWBY's biases, amongst other things.

Official Tournament Rules

Ho boy, this was a nightmare. I admit, this was not as obvious when I first watched the show—I blame being so shocked by Monty's death for that—but upon working on this story, I came to realize just how bad it was.

Everything Pyrrha said is what crashed to the forefront of my mind upon realizing just how badly this tournament was structured. Oobleck's line that age and year do not matter, only skill, is beyond stupid, as students with more training and experience, would also be more skilled. No tournament, other than EVO, is that open. Leaving aside any real-world examples, an obvious literary one is the Tri-Wizard Tournament from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

In that same vein, we have this Team, Double, and Singles nonsense. Why break it up that way? Pyrrha voiced my thoughts exactly, for if Huntsmen are trained in teams of four, in order for them to hunt Grimm as a team, then why make such rounds? Sadly, the answer is Monty's death, budget, and time, with Kerry admitting that it was meant to be far larger in scale with more teams and fights. This gets much worse when you see the final result, being that the scaling down of characters for the fights did nothing to help with deepening the choreography by freeing up resources. Well, it did scale down the fights, in that they are basic and trash.

I stress all of this because of the importance of tournament arcs, not just in Anime and Manga, but even here in the West, with series such as Harry Potter and The Karate Kid. Characters grow as people and in skill, we world-build, new characters—allies, rivals, and enemies—join the cast, the stakes get raised, all good fun and always welcome. That being said, the acceptance of death being a possibility or even a positive outcome in most of those series does make them function more smoothly, as there is no need for safety protocols like the ones I introduced.

And that is the last major issue with this tournament—the high chance of death. Fighting with edged weapons without proper protection is bad enough, but firearms? Thankfully there are very easy solutions to that, hence we have the inclusion of non-lethal rounds. We still have the problem of slashing and impaling, as well as other issues, but we do what we can, and I will address them as we go. There is also the inclusion of Aura Armour as a helpful tool, except for the inconsistency of Aura itself, as well as said armour, and how it is treated like a health bar; something that confused me since its introduction.

There are more issues to cover, and we shall do so as the story progresses, so I will end it here for now.

Cheers, and see you next time.

Notes:

And now the tournament begins. There will be many twists and turns, but where will they lead? Only time will tell.

Also, what in the Hell is V8 doing to Nora? Gods help us -_-

Chapter 6: For Love and For Glory

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Both first-year teams entered the arena. They addressed the crowd as they had done during the opening ceremony, before stopping and standing thirty feet apart. On the tiles were two designated starting positions, and the first-years made sure to stand on them so they could face one another. They had already seen that the arena could change shape; not only to alter the terrain, but to replace any broken tiles. This was useful for an additional reason. The locker-areas of Beacon and Shade were not head-to-head, and since the tiles of the arena could be swapped out, there were done so to make sure the correct starting positions were in place with every new match. This helped avoid any confusion for the combatants, as well as the spectators.

As they waited for the match to begin, the teams were examining each other carefully, trying their best to determine the skill sets of each opponent.

"Looks like three brawlers and a sniper" said Jaune to Pyrrha.

"Yes, I can see her rifle" she confirmed, referring to May Zedong, the only woman on Team BRNZ.

"She's going to be a problem."

"Annoying you mean" commented Nora.

"She'll be covering her teammates" guessed Ren.

"Then we need to take her out as soon as possible" advised the blond.

Pyrrha was about to suggest a plan of attack, when the screens switched to the commentator's box.

"At last, we have our second match of the tournament; Team JNPR of Beacon versusTeam BRNZ of Shade!" announced Port with gusto. "And I do mean 'at last', as I am sure that everyone has been waiting for this one as much as I have. Wouldn't you say so, Bart?"

"Oh, absolutely, Peter! Miss Nikos always draws in large crowds, as her long record of tournament victories in both Mistral and Atlas prove many times over! So, no doubt many are eager to see her do what she does best in this tournament; myself included. Furthermore, to see two of my favourite students competing is something that, as a teacher, fills me with indescribable joy."

"Yes, I understand completely! Miss Valkyrie is my favourite student, and I've been looking forward to seeing how she fairs as well. Interestingly, you were telling me earlier that Mr. Arc has a rather impressive knack for history."

"Indeed, he does! Top of his class in fact, beating both Miss Nikos and Miss Schnee!"

"I'm still bitter about that final exam" muttered Weiss, folding her arms crossly, and only became more cross as Yang began to rub her head.

"There, there" said the blonde.

"But will brains help in this contest of strength? Let's find out!" said Port, as the terrain random selection began.

"Thanks for trying, Doc" sighed Jaune.

"Hee hee, I'm his favourite" smiled Nora, referring to the Grimm Studies professor.

"At least you were mentioned" noted Ren, feeling as if he was suddenly turning into the third wheel, which was odd given they were in a team of four. His eyes suddenly darted to the right as he felt a hand begin to rub his head, and saw that it was none other than his entire world.

"There, there" she said consolingly, eyes closed and smiling, her cheeks tinted pink. Ren felt his own warm as the environment roulette landed on two symbols: a green pine tree and a gray thunderstruck mountain.

"No time to complain, Ren" alerted Jaune reaching for the hilt of Crocea Mors. "Draw your weapons and get ready!"

The rest of Team JNPR complied and joined him, as the arena completed its transformation.

"Three...two...one" counted down Port.

"Alea iacta est (The die is cast)" Jaune said under his breath.

"BEGIN!"

"Sagitta! (Arrow!)" the blond shouted as they charged. Ren peeled off from the group after May, who was sprinting to the tree line.

Brawnz Ni, the captain of the enemy team, locked eyes with Pyrrha, and launched himself at her with a jumping knee strike. Pyrrha blocked the attack with Akoúo and was pushed back slightly, before she swung Miló in its xiphos form in an overhead stroke, aiming for Brawnz's head. He blocked the attack with the claws on his left gauntlet, and used his right gauntlet to block the edge of Akoúo when the redhead assailed with it.

Nora went for Nolan Porfirio, the boy with dark red hair, a deep sky-blue jacket, and wielding what appeared to be a cattle prod, by leaping a good twenty feet in the air, and swung Magnhild at him. He dodged to the left, letting the giant hammer strike the ground, with such force that it shattered at least six of the arena tiles, sending shrapnel in all directions. He then thrust his cattle prod at the ginger, who leaned backward, allowing the prod to sail past by mere inches. Nora quickly regained her footing, and swung a haymaker punch, aiming for Nolan's right cheek. He quickly tucked and rolled to avoid the attack, before getting back onto his feet, as Nora used the momentum of her punch to raise her hammer and face her opponent.

Jaune engaged with Roy Stallion, a boy with gold tipped brown cornrow dreadlocks and buzzsaw gauntlets, who spun into a double strike which the blond blocked with his heater shield. Jaune quickly landed a shield bash on Roy, causing him to stumble to one knee, and allowing the swordsman to thrust Corcea Mors at the Vacuan boy's chest. Roy parried the thrust with his left buzzsaw, and punched with his right, aiming for Jaune's exposed left thigh. Instinctively, the blond raised his leg, allowing the buzzsaw to strike his greave, glad that he remembered Pyrrha's advice. He then did a diagonal slash at Roy's shoulder, but his opponent rolled to the right to avoid the attack, and quickly got to his feet, firing a pair of buzzsaw blades at the blond, who blocked them with his shield.

On the forest half of the arena, May had reached the tree line, and vanished into the cover of the thick foliage. From the cover of the leaves, she quickly took aim at her pursuer, and fired right before him, leading the shot. Just before she took the shot, Ren realized that he had no chance of reaching her, and halted, causing the bullet to fly into the tile just in front of him. Ren immediately began to flip backwards, trying to put as much distance as he could between himself and the sniper as she fired upon him. Jaune instantly took notice and began to bark orders.

"Sniper! Receptum! (Fall back!)" he shouted, signalling to an outcrop at the base of the mountain half of the arena. Ren and Nora quickly got behind Jaune and Pyrrha, who used their shields to cover their retreat from the hail of sniper fire. They quickly vaulted over the rocks and kept their heads down as bullets whizzed overhead. "I gave you one job. One job!" he hissed at Ren.

The amateur chef shrugged. "She was faster than I expected."

"Regardless, we can't advance while taking sniper fire" Pyrrha said, informing the obvious, before turning her attention to her captain. "What do we do?"

"The plan hasn't changed. We have to take out their sniper. Nora, covering fire" he ordered quickly.

"Got it" the ginger grinned, transforming Magnhild into its grenade launcher configuration, and began to fire upon the members of Team BRNZ, halting their advance.

"Ren, draw her fire."

"Great, I wanted to get shot today" he replied dryly.

"If you get hit, that's on you, cuz there's no way she's a better shot than Ruby" retorted Jaune. "Just give Pyrrha enough time to get a beat on her. Go!"

Without hesitation, Ren bolted around the outcrop towards the trees, just as Pyrrha did a flourish to transform Miló into its M1 Garand sniper rifle configuration, and took position at the edge of their cover. May instantly took notice of Ren and smirked.

'Again?' she thought in amusem*nt, repetition and predictability being bread and butter for snipers. She once again began to lead her shots, forcing Ren to zigzag.

Pyrrha immediately reacted to the sniper's gun shots, which were clearly visible in her scope, and she leveled her crosshair just above where the last muzzle flash had been. She quickly pulled the trigger thrice, holding her rifle tight enough so that the recoil hardly affected her shots; though with halved loads, the recoil was even more manageable than usual. The first shot struck the barrel of May's rifle, taking her by surprise, as she hadn't realized that anyone on Team JNPR was armed with projectile weapons; especially ones so precise. The second shot hit her in the shoulder, causing her Aura armour to take a heavy hit, and the final shot hitting her rifle scope, completely shattering it.

"f*ck!" she cursed, jumping out of her perch, knowing she needed to reposition.

It was too little too late however, as Ren had closed the distance between them, and quickly drew Stormflower, unleashing a hail of bullets, and knocking her out of the air. May crashed to the ground, but quickly forced herself to stand, and swung her rifle by the barrel as if it were a bat. Ren used the sickle bayonets of his pistols to block the attack, before pushing May backward, and spun to deliver a powerful spinning hook kick, hitting her in the right temple. While she reeled, Ren holstered his pistols in mid-spin, and swiftly disarmed her completely by grabbing her rifle and twisting it from her grasp.

"Over the top! Oppugnare! (Charge!)" shouted Jaune leaping over the outcrop with Pyrrha and Nora right behind, transforming their weapons as they vaulted.

"sh*t! We got to help May!" said Roy.

"No! We have to take out Nikos!" ordered Brawnz. "Without her, the rest are nothing! Move out!"

He then began to sprint at the advancing Beaconites, backed up by Roy and Nolan. Jaune had heard the other captain's orders, and was not in any way pleased by his comments. He was now gunning for Brawnz, wanting to fight captain to captain, but knew he had to change tactics the moment Nolan pulled ahead.

"Malleus! (Hammer)" he shouted, causing Nora to eagerly take point, very much wanting another go at the pink-eyed Huntsman-in-training.

She made an overly telegraphed swing, allowing Nolan to drive his cattle prod into her gut, causing her to double over. Believing he had incapacitated her, Nolan threw a full-strength punch at the ginger's head. To his shock, Nora caught the punch and held it like a vice, as she slowly raised her head, grinning like a wild-woman.

"Thanks for the snack" she said, her body beginning to arc with electricity. Before Nolan could react, she rammed the top of Magnhild, now enforced with pink lightning, into his chest, sending him flying across the arena.

During this exchange, Jaune and Pyrrha had begun to fight Roy and Brawnz, which was an impressive display of skill and teamwork. To the spectators, it appeared as if the couple were engaging in a dance, twisting and spinning around each other. They were in perfect sync, covering one another and alternating between their two opponents. The amount of time Jaune and Pyrrha had dedicated to training was now paying off, for they knew each other's movements so well, they could coordinate their combat without even speaking.

While they fought, Ren was ending his fight with May. It was incredibly one-sided, as the Vacuan Huntress-in-training had neither a backup weapon, nor any close-quarter-combat training. Ren delivered a pair of back-to-back crescent kicks, shattering what remained of her Aura armour. These were followed by a palm strike to her throat that led into two elbow strikes, before he began to twist his body as his pink Aura charged. Only pausing for a moment, Ren unleashed a left-handed palm strike to the centre of May's abdomen, sending her flying a dozen feet, before she crashed into the grass, unconscious.

"Lie Ren has defeated May Zedong!" announced Professor Port, as May's portrait faded on the screen.

"It's now a four-versus-three fight in favour of Team JNPR!" added Doctor Oobleck.

"We have to take out Nikos, now!" Brawnz shouted, and dashed away from Jaune to overwhelm Pyrrha.

Jaune tried to give chase, but Roy fired his blades at him, covering his captain, and allowing a weakened but still conscious Nolan, to join in the rush. The redhead held her ground, raising Akoúo and Miló, more than ready to take on all three at once. However, her captain had other plans.

"Pila pone! (Drop your javelin!)" he shouted, getting his lieutenant's attention. "Malleus! (Hammer)."

Understanding what he was doing, Pyrrha quickly dropped to one knee, revealing to the remaining members of Team BRNZ a very eager Nora swinging her hammer at them, lightning coursing through her body and weapon. Brawnz was able to pull himself backward, but Roy and Nolan were not so lucky, eating the brute force of Magnhild, and were sent flying out of the arena, into the walls of the Coliseum.

"Roy Stallion and Nolan Porfirio have been defeated by double knockout by Nora Valkyrie!" shouted Oobleck.

"See why she's my favourite student?" said Port with pride.

"With the match suddenly becoming a four versus one in Team JNPR's favour, I certainly do, Peter!"

Brawnz staggered backward, realizing just how much of a miscalculation he had made. His eyes darted between Pyrrha and Jaune, who were staring at him in amusem*nt.

"So, you thought that the whole team was being carried by Pyrrha, huh?" asked Jaune, not liking how the rest of them were being thrown under the bus. "As you can see, that isn't the case. How about I give you some advice" he continued, beginning to casually walk towards him, with Pyrrha at his side. "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy..."

"...for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat" continued Pyrrha, giving the blond a knowing glance, which he saw, and a smirk spread across his face.

"If you know neither the enemy nor yourself..." he carried on.

"...you will succumb in every battle" she ended, halting at the same time as her captain.

"You made your bed, now sleep in it" Jaune stated, pointing his sword at Brawnz, who was beyond confused, as he never expected to be schooled literally. "Welcome to Vale."

The couple unleashed a flurry of blows at the Vacuan student, who did everything he could to parry, block, and dodge the attacks. Of course, he could not fend off the assault. Pyrrha alone was more than a match for him, so both she and Jaune were overkill. Strikes began to get past Brawnz's defenses, whittling down his Aura, and of course dealing damage. He brought up his right clawed gauntlet to try and hit Jaune, but the blond took the motion as an attack of opportunity, and hit him with the edge of his heater shield, causing the Vacuan to reel back in pain.

"Pilum! Impetus altus! (Javelin! Attack high!)" he called, raising his shield above his head as if he were protecting himself from a volley of arrows.

Pyrrha understood his command, and leapt onto his shield, jumping off of it into the air, with the added momentum of Jaune aiding in liftoff. As she soared, Jaune grabbed Brawnz before he could recover, and drove his poleyn covered right knee into his opponent's gut. Above them, Pyrrha began her descent, spinning forward, and brought her right heel brutally onto Brawnz's head, forcing him to one knee, and shattering his Aura armour completely. Miraculously, he was still conscious, and forced himself to rise, but was unable to defend himself as both of his opponents unleashed powerful spinning sidekicks that hit him with such force, he was sent flying out of the arena; unconscious before he hit the ground.

"And Brawnz Ni has been defeated by Jaune Arc and Pyrrha Nikos! The winner of the match is Team JNPR!" announced Oobleck.

The crowd erupted in thunderous cheers and applause, the Valians and Mistralese loudest of all. The couple simultaneously struck their shields twice with the flats of their swords, which caused Pyrrha to look at Jaune with playful annoyance.

"Hey! That's my thing!" she defended.

"Sorry. I noticed how much you did it during our training sessions, and it looked cool, so I thought I should do it too" he replied, playfully brushing the accusation off as he sheathed his sword and shield. "I think it's fair given that you took my speech."

"Those were passages from General Arthur Paladin's book on war strategies!" she laughed, attaching Akoúo and Miló to her back. "He's the most studied general in history, and his writings have severed as a guide to military forces the world over. My father would read it to me when I was a child."

"Huh, me too actually. Well, I said it because it seemed appropriate. Either way" he said, folding his arms. "I think, as captain, I can borrow my lieutenant's flourishes if I so choose."

"No, you can't!"

"Careful, Nikos" he warned in mock authority, pointing a finger at her. "That's insubordination."

"You jerk!" she laughed, giving him a playful shove, causing him to drop the facade and laugh with her.

From a distance, Ren and Nora watched the couple with approving smiles on their faces.

"They've come a long way, haven't they?" Ren commented, folding his arms with a smirk.

"Yup" agreed the ginger, strapping Magnhild to her back, and placing her hands on her hips. "Jaune's become confident, and Pyrrha's come out her shell. They're both themselves now."

"They were made for each other" he added softly. "They've become pillars of support for one another—each other's good luck charm."

"Yeah..." Nora couldn't help herself from stealing a glance at him, thinking that he was made for her. Hesitating, she decided to take a chance and ask him the question that had been on her mind since their interaction in the locker room. "Um...Ren...do you really think I'm your good luck charm?"

The raven-haired young man looked at her for a moment, and felt his cheeks begin to warm, as he saw the soft shy expression on her face. He looked back at their laughing friends, before taking a breath to steady himself.

"Yes and no" he answered honestly. "We've kept our promise to watch out for one another, relying on each other to keep us safe. The captain of the team we just faced assumed that Pyrrha was the one carrying us to victory; she being nothing more than a crutch for the rest of to lean on, as if we're too weak to fend for ourselves." He took another deep breath, knowing he was going to admit something more personal than he ever had to her before. "That's honestly a gross way to see your friends. I do rely on you, but I would never refer to you as a crutch or use you as one. You're so much more than that. Honestly, I would have never made it this far without you. So, if calling you my good luck charm is what works for now, then I will."

Nora felt her heart skip a beat, his words taking her completely by surprise. Was he saying what she wanted him to be saying? Ren was so reserved as a person, and normally communicated by saying very little. She had grown to understand him in that respect, so hearing him speak like this was entirely new. She had not expected him to give her that head rub either, as his usual displays of affection never surpassed hugs; hugs that she always initiated. Then again, he did say she was pretty in the dress she wore for the Dance. Was this just a continuation of what was born from his conversation with Jaune that night? It had been so long since the last out-of-nowhere compliment that she honestly expected it would take another year before it would happen again. However, with him now voicing his thoughts, her mind began to race, trying to unpack his words and decipher them.

She desperately wanted to interpret his words as an admittance that she meant more to him than a surrogate sister. Finally learning that he had been checking her out was certainly fueling that desire, and was steadily building her confidence. However, she knew that she would be lying to herself by considering him checking her out as an indication that he felt as she did for him. Her feelings were deep and passionate, growing in depth and passion with each passing year. It was love that she felt, not simply physical attraction. And yet, Ren saying that she was the reason he made it this far, filled her with more joy than she could put into words. He did care for her more deeply than he expressed, and while it was still in the territory of family, it nonetheless touched her greatly.

Nora knew that the right answer was the hardest; she needed to be patient. It was soul crushing, given just how long she had waited for him to begin to see her as a woman, but she knew she needed to be grateful for these small steps, and allow him to come to her. After she had been the one to chase him, it was appropriate that it was now his turn.

She smiled at that premise, and without warning, punched Ren in the arm. He jumped, not expecting it, and clutched his right bicep in confusion.

"Likewise" she said, showing him her smile, which painted his cheeks even pinker. Ren felt his heart began to beat as he looked into her big turquoise eyes, but smiled back, her words sending a wave of warmth across his body.

From the stands, Cinder and her cohorts watched Team JNPR throughout their post-match banter, with cold malice in their eyes. Mercury glared specifically at Pyrrha, the realization sinking in.

"And what do you make of that?" asked the half-Maiden, looking at him from the corner of her eye.

Mercury remained silent for a moment, contemplating whether he should be honest with her. The venom in her voice compelled him to speak frankly, if cautiously.

"She was holding back during our fight" he said at last.

Cinder pressed her index finger and thumb against a kernel of popcorn, slowly burning it.

"Will that be a problem?"

The assassin glanced over to Emerald, who looked back at him, and he could tell despite her well-crafted mask, that she was feeling the same murderous tension being exuded by their leader. Her face may have been still, but her eyes betrayed what she was truly feeling.

"Not in the least" he replied coldly.

"Well, that was even more of a spectacle than I expected it to be!" said Professor Port heartily.

"Yes indeed, Peter! All my expectations have been surpassed! Truly extraordinary!" agreed Oobleck with gusto. "The crowd expected the best, and by the Gods, they got their money's worth with this one!"

"Absolutely, Bart! And I must say, Jaune Arc has truly grown as both a warrior and a commander. If he ever hesitated during this fight, I couldn't see it. Stupendous work on his part!"

"Agreed my old friend. Team JNPR as a whole has come in top condition with their eyes set on winning the entire tournament. It wouldn't be ethical as an educator, but I would love to take a look at the betting odds! Of course, I cannot condone gambling either!"

"Yeah, is it too late to change my bet?" asked Qrow from a bar stool at the private skybox, holding a glass of whisky gingerly in his left hand.

"All bets are final" denied Ironwood with a smirk, looking over his shoulder. "You can make a new bet if you'd like."

"...No thanks" he muttered into his glass, wondering why someone with his luck agreed to make a bet in the first place.

"Only the Gods know what the future holds. For now, Team JNPR will be advancing to the Doubles Round, and we will have to wait to see how they fare" added Port. "Until then, take a well-earned rest, and allow us to prepare for the next match: Team SSSN versus Team NDGO!"

Team JNPR complied and walked together back to their corner, as Jaune sheepishly scratched his cheek, blushing from the praise. They traversed the now familiar path back to the reserved seating in the stands, each with a spring in their step.

"We won!" cried Nora excitedly when they returned to their friends.

"We saw!" Ruby cheered. "You guys did great!"

"That's an understatement. You all did a fantastic job" complimented Blake with a small smile.

"I'm actually impressed" Yang added, nodding in approval. "You two especially" indicated Jaune and Pyrrha "I thought you two were just making out during your private training sessions, but it looks like you really did train."

The couple felt their faces flush, but both decided to just accept the complement and not even address the tease.

"Thanks everyone. That means a lot" the captain said genuinely. "We look forward to seeing you in the Doubles."

"Same here" added Sun grinning. "Taking you guys on is gonna be tons of fun."

"You won't be saying that when you lose!" warned Nora with a grin of her own.

"As if we'd lose! You'll be the ones eating your words, unless you get super lucky."

"Well, we already got our good luck charms, so you're in trouble!"

"Oh yeah? Which are?"

"The person you care about, apparently" said Jaune, as he rubbed Pyrrha's head, causing her to blush. "Makes sense."

"Then I guess we should do that too; makes things even" smirked Sun, reaching over to rub Blake's head.

"A-Ah" the Cat Faunus stuttered, not ready for several reasons for him to do such a thing, and quickly said "W-Well, Y-Yang was the one that convinced me to go with you to the Dance, so..."

The Vacuan Faunus paused for a moment, before changing targets.

"Ooo goodie" the elder Xiao Long said with venomous sarcasm. "I always wanted my own Monkey's Paw."

Sun instantly froze and sucked on his teeth, before returning to Blake and quickly rubbed her head.

"Well then, let's head to our corner, shall we boys?"

"I guess we should" agreed Neptune, as did the rest of Team SSSN.

"Good luck" said Weiss with a slight blush, which deepened when the blue-haired boy smiled at her, and took her hand to kiss it.

"Sorry about Yang" apologized Ruby, holding up her hands as if in prayer. "She's very particular about her hair."

"Good to know" replied Sun. "See you guys after the fight."

As Team SSSN shuffled past, Nora gave the blond a knowing glare, indicating that she was ready to brawl, and could not wait to face him in the next round. Sun returned the glare with one of his own, though a much more playful one, before disappearing around the corner with the rest of his team.

"OK, what was that about?" asked Yang, looking at her raven-haired friend with a co*cked eyebrow.

"Yes, why would you suggest he rub her head and not yours? He is your boyfriend" added Weiss, equally confused.

"H-He's not my–how's my bow?" the Cat Faunus stuttered, blushing deeply while touching her bow to make sure that her ears were properly concealed.

"It's fine. So, why where you not down for Sun petting his kitty?" the blonde continued to pry. She was more restrained than she usually was when teasing about the Vacuan Faunus, but nevertheless wanted to know why Blake acted as she had.

"I-It's nothing. Just forget about it."

Yang and Weiss looked at one another confused, not sure of what to make of Blake's behaviour, but reluctantly shrugged, letting it slide till a later date.

"Regardless, you four did very well. Well done" complimented Weiss.

"Thank you, Weiss" replied Pyrrha, smiling appreciatively.

"I must ask, what were those commands you were shouting, Jaune? I couldn't make out the words."

"Oh! Jaune taught us how to use commands in a different language so that the enemy team wouldn't know what we're planning!" explained Nora with pride, before slumping over. "It took so long to memorize. Only our captain would give us homework."

"Hey, you pulled through in the end" said Jaune supportively.

"Wait, you speak another language?" asked Yang incredulously.

"Etiam, didici a parentibus. Est unus de antiquis lingua. Datum quam antiqui domus mea est, et saepe locutus est. (Yes, I learned it from my parents. It is one of the ancient tongues. Given how old-fashioned my family is, we spoke it often)" he spoke eloquently, taking Team RWBY by surprise.

"Whoa" gasped Ruby, eyes wide.

"Where did this come from?" demanded Yang, also baffled.

"I know! It's cool, isn't it?" Nora stated rather excitedly. "Who would have thought Jaune knew another language?"

"Überraschend? Ja. Ich muss jedoch einwerfen, wenn Sie denken, dass es so einzigartig ist, wie Sie andeuten (Surprising? Yes. However, I must interject if you think it is as unique as you are implying)" added Weiss, nonetheless eyeing Jaune suspiciously as she spoke.

"Dýo boroún na paíxoun se aftó to paichnídi (Two can play at this game)" commented Pyrrha smirking. "Í tría, se aftín tin períptosi (Or three, in this case)."

Yang clutched her head as if she had been told that her precious bike had been totaled.

"What is going on?!" she demanded before the realization struck her. "Oh wait, of course the history nerds would know a bunch of languages no one speaks anymore! Forget I said anything."

"Yare yare" said Ren under his breath, which only Nora heard and caused her to smirk, as he almost never spoke in his mother tongue.

Jaune and Pyrrha couldn't help but laugh at the blonde's frustration, as it was a new and fascinating experience for them. Suddenly, the taller blond felt his Scroll vibrate in his pocket, though it oddly seemed as if it was not stopping. Confused, he fished it out, and his eyes widened in realization.

"What's wrong?" asked Pyrrha, noticing the bewildered look on her captain's face.

"It's..." he began, his eyes bouncing up and down the screen, unsure of what to say. "My entire family is messaging me."

"Really? Why?" asked Nora curiously.

Jaune paused for a moment as he read the notifications flying in.

"...They're all...congratulating me..."

Indeed, each and every one of the texts that were sent Jaune's way, were those of his immediate and extended family cheering him on. He assumed that only some would bother to tune into the tournament, but he was shocked to see just how many of them had been watching his match. His mother and sisters, he understood, seeing their messages at the very top, alongside his brother-in-law, who he had a very distant relationship with, and expected him not to message him. Nonetheless, he had, along with his eldest sister, congratulating him and his team on their first victory. He began to slowly go through them all, reading each text and replying in kind, whilst feeling a strange humbling warmth wash over him. They were all honest and endearing, and with each one that he read, caused him to feel more and more pride for his family grow in his heart. However, when he finished, he noticed that one person had not sent a word.

'Of course, he wouldn't text me' he thought with a sigh, feeling a bit foolish.

"Well, Peter, after that last match, Vacuo fans are sure to be hurting" said Oobleck. "But this next one will have them on the edge of their seats!"

"Without a doubt, Bart! Team JNPR has become the odd-on favourite leading up to the tournament, and without question have gained more support after their first match. But this team has been making a name for themselves ever since they made their first appearance in the Vacuan circuit" added Port. "They are some of the toughest, testosterone-filled Huntsmen-in-training we've seen so far! I'm of course talking about...Team SSSN of Shade!"

From the Vacuan corner of the Coliseum emerged Sun and his teammates to the thunderous cheers of their countrymen in the stands. The cheers only grew as Team SSSN began to hype them up, waving and saluting the audience with gusto, making it clear they were not new to this sort of spectacle. There were of course many young women, Human and Faunus, squealing with joy to see them. This did not go unnoticed by Weiss and Blake, who simultaneously tensed, feeling pangs of jealously in their chests.

"Sun Wukong and his team are certainly a force to be reckoned with, with many expecting them to make all the way to the grand-finals and take the tournament" continued Port.

"And after their fellow classmates were knocked out by our own students, they have more reasons than you can count to win today!" Oobleck noted. "Though I very much doubt you need to tell them that."

As Team SSSN reached their starting position, Weiss plucked up her courage and cupped the sides of her mouth.

"Good luck, Neptune!" she called. While the photos of them together at the Dance had spread rumours just as they did for Pyrrha and Sun, it seemed that Neptune's fan-girls either didn't care or did not believe they were involved. Understandably that got under her skin, and she wanted to make it clear that they now had to keep their distance, for she had already struck her claim.

Her cries caught the blue-haired boy's attention, and he turned his head to see the blushing heiress. He grinned and saluted her, which erased the jealousy completely, and replaced it with calming tenderness. Weiss calling out caught Sun's attention as well, and he locked eyes with Blake, giving her a special double-gun gesture with a wink, eliciting a blush and a small smile from his target.

"Yeah, totally not your boyfriend" Yang said sarcastically, nudging her friend playfully.

"For those who can't handle these boys, brace yourselves for the lovely ladies of Team NDGO of Haven!" announced Port, enticing the Mistralese team from their corner into the arena.

"Good luck, girls!" called Pyrrha waving. The blushing members of Team RWBY looked at the redhead, which caused her to give them an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, but they were my classmates at Sanctum. I can wish them luck, at least."

"You think they'll beat SSSN?" asked Jaune.

"Team NDGO are a solid team, and did quite well back home, though I don't know how much they've improved since I left. Furthermore, I'm not well informed on Team SSSN's abilities, so I cannot make a solid prediction for either outcome" the Mistralese champion confessed.

"Either way, we'll be cheering for the team with Weiss and Blake's boyfriends" said Yang with a grin.

"Go Weiss and Blake's boyfriends!" cheered Ruby and Nora, causing the girls in question to become very flustered.

Returning to the arena, the teams began to size each other up.

"These dorks are famous? Seriously?" asked Dew Gayl, the young woman with dark blonde hair and violet eyes, holding a spear in her right hand. "I can't say I'm impressed."

"I don'know, I think they're cute" said Nebula Violette, the captain of the team with short indigo hair and a crossbow on her back, eyeing up Sun.

"Sorry ladies, Neptune and I are off the market" informed the Monkey Faunus, holding his hands up defensively. "But might I interest you in our friends over here? They're single and ready to mingle."

He held out his hands to his left, indicating Scarlet and Sage. The latter posed with a grin on his face, while the former turned to look at his captain with an expression of confusion and bewilderment. Team NDGO looked over the other members of Team SSSN, and were not shy in showing their initial judgements.

"I guess the outcome of the match will change our level of interest" Nebula said casually, as the biome roulette began to spin. The first slot landed on a symbol of sunny dunes and stone formations, causing Team SSSN to fist bump one another.

"Nice! Home-turf advantage!" grinned Sun.

"Makes you miss the sun and sand of home more than ever, huh?" remarked Neptune, stretching and soaking the sunlight as it formed behind him.

"I actually miss having sand in my shoes" added Scarlet.

"Think the other half will be caves filled with monsters? Then it'll really be like home" Sage asked, as the second slot slowed its rotation.

"Hey! The ocean!" cheered Dew excitedly, causing the heads of Team SSSN to snap to the holographic screen, which now displayed at symbol of a tidal wave.

"f*ck..." cursed Sun, his eyes shifting to Neptune, who hands had balled into tightly clenched fists, and despite the sun beating down on them, was developing a cold sweat.

"Oh no..." moaned Blake.

"What?" asked Yang.

The Cat Faunus winced in sympathy as she looked at the blue-haired Vacuan, for she could clearly see the fear in his face.

"Neptune's...afraid of water" she said slowly.

"What?" echoed Weiss, looking at her friend with great concern. "What do you mean he's afraid of water?"

"When I was hanging out with Team SSSN" explained Blake, rubbing the back of her arm as she spoke, "we walked past one of the little ponds on campus, and suddenly Neptune walked as far away as he could, coming back only when we completely cleared it. When I asked what was wrong, he wouldn't say, and it was Sun who told me afterwards what happened."

The Schnee heiress looked back to the arena, her anxious eyes resting on Neptune, and she pressed her hands, fingers interlaced, into her lap.

'Please be make it through the match safely' she prayed.

"Three...two...one..." counted down Oobleck, as both Teams, safe for Neptune, drew their weapons.

"Neptune!" shouted Sun, snapped his friend out of his paralysis, which made him draw Ionio, currently in its rifle configuration. "You can do this, dude!"

"Y-Yeah" stuttered the lieutenant, gripping his weapon like a vice.

"BEGIN!"

Neptune instantly backed off, and with impressive agility, scaled the rock formation and took a designated marksman's position; or so he argued in his retreat. Team NDGO watched him in confusion, as Sun sighed, knowing how bad his friend's actions appeared.

"Did he just abandon you?" asked Nebula.

"No, he...he's just...repositioning" he replied, which earned him looks of disbelief from the girls. "Forgive him, he means well."

Nebula smirked. "Attack!" she ordered, charging with her teammates.

"Bollocks" muttered Scarlet, tossing his coat, knowing he would have to put in extra work.

"Don't worry, we got this" reassured Sun with confidence as he cracked his knuckles, his nunchaku tucked under his arm as he did so. "Let's kick some ass!"

The remaining members of Team SSSN engaged their opponents, knowing they would have to avoid being swarmed, given they were rushing into a four-versus-three situation. Scarlet locked eyes with Octavia Ember, the girl with brick-red hair and wielding a kris shortsword, and swung his cutlass, Midnight Star, in a wide stroke at her. She immediately fell to her knees and slid under the blade, before pivoting and lunging at Scarlet's exposed back. The Vacuan managed to reach behind with his sword and parried the attack, before spinning to the right to face his opponent.

Dew and Sage clashed several times before they entered the sand portion of the arena. Given the length of their weapons, it was difficult for them to engage properly. Deciding to take a new approach, Dew began to wave her spear and summoned thirty-foot-tall tornadoes, kicking up sand, and created a miniature sandstorm. The three wind columns began to buffer Sage, and surrounded him before merging. Instantly, Sage felt his body lifting, and he quickly plunged his greatsword, Pilgrim, into the sand, hooking his right leg around the blade, taking care to use his Aura to avoid cutting himself. He began looking around him, trying to locate his opponent in the sandstorm, as he knew she would attack him when she realized he had not been thrown by her tornadoes. Then from the corner of his eye, he saw the glimmer of green moving towards him. Realizing it was the Dust crystal embedded in the head of Dew's spear, he readied himself just in time to see the sharp tip emerge from the swirling sand. He twisted his shoulders to the left, allowing the spear to pass, and like a vice, caught the shaft of the weapon. This caused Dew to halt in her tracks and her eyes widen, now visible to the Vacuan Huntsman-in-training.

"How...?" she gasped. Sage merely smirked.

"We have a lot of sandstorms back home" he said calmly.

Without wasting the element of surprise, Sage grasped the spear with both hands, and with all his might, flung the Mistralese girl directly into her own tornado. She tumbled in the column before being thrown from it, and out of the arena, crashing onto the surrounding grass.

"Dew Gayl has been thrown out of bounds!" announced Oobleck. "And SSSN gains the advantage!"

Sage grinned that his plan had worked, before taking closer inspection of the spear that was still in his hands.

"Hmmm, nice spear" he complimented honestly, turning it over before reaching into his coat.

Outside the arena, Dew was dusting herself off, not happy in the slightest with her defeat. She then jumped in shock as her spear impaled itself two feet above her head, with a small piece of paper tied to it. When she pulled it off, she saw a Scroll number with Sage's signature had been scribbled upon it in surprising fine spidery writing.

"Yeah right" she said, rolling her eyes.

In the arena, Octavia was now facing both Sun and Scarlet, as her evenly matched fight with the red-haired swordsman, caused the captain to lend a hand. Feeling the pressure, she swung her sword in a wide arc, which produced a wave of flame that also kicked up a plume of sand. While the Vacuan boys were quite used to sand and sandstorms, adding fire to the mix was a less familiar issue. Suddenly from behind them came a volley of blue electric bolts provided by Neptune, aimed for Octavia, who managed to deflect them. This gave Sun the opportunity to jump in the air and land a butterfly kick on the swordswoman, causing her to stumble. Scarlet then noticed Nebula rushing in to support her teammate, and began to fire his flintlock, Skullbuster, at her, before engaging her with his cutlass. With Sun able to properly fight one-on-one, he unleashed a storm of blows, separating and reconfiguring Ruyi Bang and Jingu Bang from staff formation to nunchaku, and back again. When Octavia's defenses were completely blown open, he swung his staff around his body in a beautiful flourish before performing a powerful lunge, knocking her back with such force that she was unconscious before she crashed onto the sand.

"Octavia Ember has been defeated by knockout!" announced Port. "The fight has become a four-versus-two match in Team SSSN's favour!"

Despite this unfavourable turn, the remaining members of Team NDGO were not showing any signs of surrender. Scarlet and Nebula fought while they ran across the arena towards the beach half. This was more difficult than it should have been, however, as Gwen Darcy, the other remaining member of Team NDGO with shoulder length black hair pulled back into ringlets, was hailing throwing knives at him. In combination with Nebula loosing crossbow bolts, Scarlet knew he had to put some distance between them, as fighting them at the same time would mean certain defeat. He fired a quick volley at Gwen before taking off for the capsized pirate ship. Instantly, the girl threw a knife at the swordsman's exposed back, but the blade was blocked by Pilgrim impaling itself between them. Sage came barreling in to reclaim his weapon and even the odds, which did not boost the girls' confidence.

"Just keep moving and stay out of range of his sword. I'll be back" Nebula instructed before taking off after Scarlet.

Gwen looked at the tall muscular opponent as he pulled a sword nearly as tall he was out of the ground.

"Yeah, sure, no problem" she muttered nervously, her eyes also drifting to Sun, who for some reason was not trying to fight with his teammate. The Faunus noticed this and grinned, as if he could read her mind.

"It wouldn't be gentlemanly to gang up on a woman, especially when it's such an uneven fight, so don't worry. Sage is more than enough for the job anyways" he explained. "This match is as good as won."

"Lucky me" she retorted sarcastically, drawing a pair of throwing knives.

Scarlet boarded the ship and fired the trigger guard of Skullbuster, which doubled as a grappling hook, at the yard of the mainmast, and hoisted himself onto it. From below, Nebula fired her crossbow and imbedded a bolt into the mast, and used it as a stepping stone to reach the pirate-like Vacuan. When they finally came face to face, she grinned and held out her crossbow with both hands on the stock. Scarlet thought she was going to try and bayonet him with the blade at the front of the crossbow, which was odd enough given it was where the co*cking stirrup would be placed. Just as these thoughts raced through his mind, the limbs of the crossbow collapsed and the blade extended, turning the weapon into a makeshift Iklwa spear.

The pair clashed blades, dancing across either side of the yard. They both displayed wonderful balance in their exchange, though it was clear that the Vacuan was especially gifted. This made the fight more challenging for Nebula, as she wielded her weapon with both hands, forcing her to make rather limited strikes for fear of losing her balance and falling. Scarlet was not so limited, and parried the attacks expertly, before grabbing the foregrip of the crossbow with his free hand, and swiping at Nebula's legs with Midnight Star. The indigo-haired girl raised her right leg to avoid the attack, giving Scarlet the opportunity to spin clockwise and drive his right elbow into the centre of her chest, knocking her off the yard and into the water below. Pleased with himself, the swordsman glanced back to the fight between Sage and Gwen, which was still in progress, as neither had been able to land effective blows.

"I'll return the favour then, shall I?" he said to himself, and fired Skullbuster's hook at Gwen, catching her ankle, and hoisted her up as he jumped off the yard, using himself as a counterweight. As soon as he touched down, he sheathed his sword and used two fingers to whistle. "Oi, Neptune! Got a free one for ya!" he hollered.

The blue-haired lieutenant, who got as close as he dared, leveled Ionio's barrel at the suspended Huntress-in-training, charged a bolt, and fired it at her. It struck Gwen heavily, and shocked her till she went limp, passing out from the surge. Scarlet then let go of his pistol to bring her down, catching her with ease, and placed her gingerly on the sand.

"Gwen Darcy has been eliminated by an electrifying knockout blow from Neptune Vasilias!" announced Oobleck. "This match is all but over, as it is now a four versus one in Team SSSN's favour!"

All that remained of Team NDGO was their captain, Nebula, who was now treading water, holding her crossbow in short spear form, eyes darting between all four members of Team SSSN.

"No shame in bowing out" offered Sun, walking with swagger towards her with Ruyi Bang and Jingu Bang in its staff configuration, resting on his left shoulder.

The indigo-haired teen smirked despite the situation, and pointed the tip of her blade at the other captain, clearly unwilling to yield.

"Maybe for you, but surrendering isn't my style" she replied confidently. "I'd be willing to give you my number if you forfeit, though."

Sun laughed as he entered the water.

"Sorry. Like I said, I'm off the market" he repeated, stopping around a dozen feet in front of his opponent. "Also, I'm into brunettes."

There was a momentary pause before Nebula bolted forward, crossing the distance between them in a flash, and brought her weapon down onto the Faunus. With both speed and grace, Sun split his staff into two pairs of shotgun-nunchaku, and parried the attack with Ruyi Bang in his left hand. He then spin-co*cked Jingu Bang in his right, and shot the crossbow out of Nebula's hands, causing her eyes to widen at his speed. The blond then spun clockwise, tossing Jingu Bang to his other hand and he channeled his Aura into his right palm, before striking Nebula below the thorax with such force that she was sent flying into the hull of capsized ship, crashing into the sand beside her teammate.

"Captain Nebula Violette has been defeated by Captain Sun Wukong!" announced Port. "Team NDGO has been eliminated from the tournament, sending Team SSSN to the Doubles Round!"

The crowd erupted into cheers, with the Vacuan spectators reaching a fever pitch, ecstatic that their favourite team had avenged the previous loss. Sun pounded his chest like a gorilla, and along with his team, responded to the crowd enthusiastically. The Mistralese groaned in despair, now with two back-to-back losses, their spirits were dampened greatly. Team RWBY and JNPR joined in the cheers, and laughed at Team SSSN's celebratory dance, with Sun windmilling in the middle. However, Neptune stood there rather solemnly, clearly not as enthused as his friends.

"That was a fantastic match!" complimented Oobleck. "I'm sure the Vacuans watching at home would agree, as Team SSSN has ended Shade Academy's losing streak!"

"And I would bet that the Mistralese at home are hurting for the opposite reason" added Professor Port. "But fear not! There is still a chance for the Kingdom of Mistral to achieve glory, as Team CLME will be facing Team ICCE of Ýdalir in ten minutes time. If Team SSSN would finish their dance number, that is."

Sun and his friends heard the message loud and clear, and made their way back to their assigned corner, taking care to avoid the water as it vanished below ground. In the stands, Weiss rose to her feet.

"Let's go congratulate them" she said, grabbing Blake's hand, and dragged her away from the others, ignoring her protests. They reached the hall below ground, and headed in the opposite direction, hoping to reach the Vacuan locker room before Team SSSN exited the arena. They caught them just as they entered the waiting room, all minus Neptune brandishing excited smiles on their faces. "Congratulations!"

"Hey, thanks, Ice Queen! Glad to know someone is happy we won" the Monkey Faunus teased, clearly referring to Blake, who received a strong nudge from Weiss.

"Y-You did really well. I'm glad you won" the brunette said softly, blushing from both embarrassment and nervousness. Her blush only deepened when Sun grinned at her, pleased by receiving her praise.

"I think we should go topside to give the lovebirds some time alone. What do you say, Scarlet?" said Sage with a smirk.

"I'd say so. They've certainly earned it" he replied, and walked out of the waiting area after saluting the girls. Neptune began to walk for the door, but was stopped by Weiss.

"You did very well, Neptune" she said softly, but felt a sting when he did not look at her.

"Yeah...I'll see you guys later..." he sighed, and walked out into the hall.

"Nep–" began the heiress, but felt the words die in her throat; the sight of the blue-haired Vacuan making her feel deep concern, as despite him being 6'3, he appeared to be much smaller as he sulked. She instantly wanted to chase after him, but the need to understand what had affected him so strongly forced her to stay, and she turned to face Sun. "What happened?"

The blond rubbed the back of his neck. "Forgive him. He's just..."

"Blake told me that Neptune is afraid of water" she echoed. "I watched the fight. That was not fear. That was how someone with a phobia behaves. Please tell me what happened to him."

Sun folded his arms, as he wasn't sure if it was his place to reveal part of his friend's past, even if it was to the girl who liked him. Nonetheless, he could see the concerned expression on her face was genuine and he sighed, giving in to her demand.

"We're from a desert Kingdom. There's barely any water as it is, so most of us don't know how to swim. Only people close enough to the coast get that chance, which is how I learned. Funny enough, Neptune's parents are fishermen, so you'd figure he'd know how...but no. Instead, he has a deep fear of drowning."

He paused for a moment when he noticed Weiss held her hands together tightly, pressing them against her skirt, and he quickly continued.

"When he was a kid, he nearly drowned, and he's been terrified of water ever since. I've tried convincing him to look for a way to get over it, but he won't budge. And for the record, I've never seen him act that way before. He reacted way worse than usual, and I guess it's because you were watching."

"What?" the white-haired Atlassian gasped, feeling as if she had been stabbed in the chest.

"I'm not blaming you! And he's not blaming you either!" the blond Faunus hastily clarified, waving his hands defensively. "He just wanted to look good for you and fight well. And if I could guess to why he's so disappointed, is that he might think that you think he's a coward."

"A coward?!" repeated Weiss gobsmacked. "Why in all of Remnant would he think that?"

"He cares about what you think of him" Sun replied. "He turned you down at the Dance because of how bad of a dancer he is, and he's told me how much he regrets doing that. And now, he acted even more cowardly, so he feels shameful."

Weiss mouth fell open. "Having stage fright and being paralyzed by memories of a past trauma is not the same thing!" she argued in frustration, and without uttering another word, turned and walked with all possible haste out of the room after the blue-haired young man.

Sun reached out to stop her, but was too late, and instead began to rub the back of his head in annoyance.

"Gahh! Neptune is gonna be so pissed at me for telling her!" he groaned, cursing himself.

"You did it because you care about him. He won't be mad at you for that" reasoned Blake, feeling rather proud of him for telling Weiss the truth.

"Maybe. I just know that he really does care about her, and it was so dumb of him to turn her down because he can't dance worth a sh*t. He doesn't want to mess this up any further, and I don't want him too either" he reasoned. "It's weird how stubborn he can get sometimes when he's usually so polite and understanding."

Blake placed a hand on his shoulder, causing him to look up at her.

"You did the right thing. I kind of understand your frustration, since everyone, especially Yang, weren't happy with me turning you down and not wanting to go to the Dance. Neptune is your best friend, and you want him to be happy. He'll understand why you did it before long" she explained with a small smile.

Sun gazed at the disguised Faunus, and could not help but smile back.

"I guess you're right. We'll find out soon enough. Shall we meet up with the others?" he asked.

"Yes" she replied before blushing and looking away. "And I really am happy that you won."

Sun grinned, knowing that this time she was being genuine, and wrapped his left arm around her, pulling her into a sideways hug.

"Thanks. You're super cute when you're shy, ya know that?"

Blake's face lit up when he did this, and could not come up with a proper response, causing the blond to laugh, and guide her to the exit so that they could return to the stands.

λΛλ

Weiss had looked everywhere below the Coliseum for Neptune, before finally returning to the surface and exiting the stadium. She had tried to call him several times, but he was not answering his Scroll, meaning he did not want to be found. That was not going to stop her, however, as she knew that she needed to get to him, even if his stubbornness did not want her to. When she did finally leave the Coliseum, she surveyed the city streets before her. It was unsurprisingly dead, as everyone who had come for the festival were all currently spectating the tournament. To her relief, her eyes finally rested on the boy she was looking for, seated on a park bench, and inspecting his rifle. She slowly walked up to him, and when he did not acknowledge her presence, she spoke.

"Neptune?"

The blue-haired student's head snapped to attention, and looked at her with genuine shock, as if he had been so focused on tuning Ionio, he had not noticed her approach.

"...May I sit down?" she asked softly.

He gazed at her for a moment before silently nodding, and returned his attention to his weapon. Weiss sat beside him, but remained silent. She had been so preoccupied with trying to find him that she had not given herself the time to ponder over what exactly she would say to him. For her to simply say outright that his feelings of shame for being aquaphobic were wrong, would probably not be the wisest decision to make. Nevertheless, she needed to say something, as she could not bear to see him in such a state. Taking a breath to steady herself, she began to break the silence.

"You did very well today" she complimented again, slowly.

"Hmmm" he hummed, clearly not convinced by her words.

Weiss felt another sting in her chest, and decided to try and gently get to the root of the issue.

"Is everything OK? The others seem very happy with their performance."

"The guys always do well, and today was no different" he replied flatly.

The heiress looked down at her hands that were once again balled into fists as they gripped her skirt. There was no other option. Right to the root.

"Sun told me why you are afraid of water" she confessed at last, making Neptune look at her.

"Why wou–"

"You're not a coward!" she exclaimed, cutting him off. "I cannot imagine what it must have been like to nearly drown, or what it must feel like now to harbour that fear, but none of that makes you a coward. I would never think of you that way!"

Neptune stared at her in shock, not expecting her to say that, and began to feel a conflicting set of emotions building.

"But I backed away from the fight in fear. How am I not a coward?" he argued.

"But it isn't your fault! You nearly drowned. Anyone would have acted the way you did."

"Yeah, but I'm not just anyone. I'm training to be a Huntsman, and a Huntsman isn't supposed to be afraid of dumb stuff like that" he growled, displaying more anger than he wanted to. He massaged his temples in an attempt to calm himself, before speaking once more. "Did I ever tell you why I decided to become a Huntsman?" he asked. When Weiss shook her head, he continued. "In Vacuo, the unwritten rule is that if you can survive here, then you are welcome here. Because of that, everyone learns how to fight, whether you become an official Huntsman or not. The culture is pretty nomadic, but there are some permanent towns, one of which is my hometown near the coast. My parents are fishermen, and I was expected to continue the family business. After I nearly drowned on a fishing trip when I was a kid, I could never get near the water, let alone board a ship ever again, so I felt beyond useless; my only talent taken away from me. I knew that I had to do something to help my parents when they would be too old to run the business, so I chose the only path that made any sense: to become a Huntsman. I want to be something my parents can be proud of, even if I can't carry on the family trade. So far, I've managed to become a strong fighter and gain fame, but that fear hasn't left me. I might be a minor celebrity and have all the confidence in the world, jumping into any fight, ready to face any challenge, but I'm still afraid of water. So long as I never have to fight Sea Grimm, I'll be fine, right?"

Weiss looked upon him without uttering a word, taken aback by his words. The cool and dapper presentation that Neptune usually displayed had now completely washed away, revealing a conflicted and stressed young man. This was the first time she had ever seen this side of him, and was beginning to understand why he was struggling.

Neptune pressed the butt of Ionio's stock against the top of his boot as he stared at the ground.

"I'm not as cool as you think am anymore, huh?" he stated half-heartedly, with an equally half-hearted smirk on his face. That smirk instantly vanished when he felt a soft hand take his left, causing him to look at the white-haired Huntress-in-training, who gazed at him with tender eyes.

"Yes, your coolness was the reason I became interested in you when we first met" she said honestly, squeezing his hand. "But getting to know you as a person is the reason why I stayed. Coolness is a form of appearance, and I have spent my entire life with people who spend every waking moment keeping up appearances. What I value far more, is honesty. And what I want is for you to be honest with me. Are you interested in my family name or me?"

"What?" blinked Neptune, "Of course I'm interested in you. I didn't know who you were until afterwards. You think I like you because you're some rich girl?"

"Do you?"

"No!" he gasped, dropping his rifle, and turning to face Weiss. "I just thought that you were beautiful, and I wanted to get to know you. I turned you down because I didn't want to make a fool of myself and make you look bad in the process. It was stupid of me yeah, and I really owe Jaune for telling me to stop being up my own ass and just be honest, but I'm–"

"Then I do not care if you have a fear of water or if you cannot dance. I like you for you, and that fact you like me for me, means more to me than I can express" she said, cutting him off gently. "I can help with the dancing, and while I am not sure how to help you overcome your aquaphobia, I am more than willing to try, if you want me to."

Neptune swallowed, suddenly becoming very aware of his tongue. He had not expected her to be so open, given her rather reserved nature. On top of that, she was without a doubt an Ice Queen, and yet, she was now glowing with a warmth he had not seen before. It made his heart quicken its pace, and felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. His squeezed her hand in gratitude as he returned her smile.

"Are we clear?" she asked.

"Yeah, I think we are. Thank you, Snow Angel" he replied softly, eliciting a blush from the Atlassian, who secretly loved her nickname.

To show her appreciation of her pet name, she took him by surprise and kissed him tenderly on the cheek. Her smile widened when she saw that it caused the Vacuan boy to blush, as well as deepen her own. It was to be expected of course, as that had been their first proper display of affection, other than him kissing her hand. Glad that she had that effect on him, she rose to her feet, maintaining her gentle grasp of his hand.

"Shall we go back to the others?" Weiss asked softly.

It took a moment for Neptune to find his voice, but quickly responded when he did.

"As much as I would love for us just to stay here and spend some time alone, I guess we should" he confessed as he picked up Ionio and fastened it to his back. He then semi-consciously changed his grip of her hand so that their fingers were now interlaced, and together they walked back to the Coliseum. Secretly, the pair was thinking the same thing: they both were incredibly thankful for one another, and they were greatly indebted to Jaune Arc.

λΛλ

Just as the couple returned to the reserved seating in the stands, Professor Port was in the process of selecting the biomes for the last match of the day.

"Finally, you're back!" said Ruby, clearly not pleased at how long they had taken to return.

"You almost missed the start of the match! What the Hell were you two doing?" Yang asked in annoyance.

"I can hazard a guess" added Blake, pointing out that the couple in question were holding hands.

"Oh, of course" Yang remarked as she rolled her eyes, though she let slip a smirk. "Should have guessed."

"Hey, way to go Ice Queen" said Sun, giving them a thumbs up.

"Yeah, thanks for telling her by the way, asshole" the lieutenant shot back with only half-seriousness.

"Hey! I was trying to help you out, bro!"

"You did, and thanks, but you're still an asshole for doing it. Now move over" he answered with a smirk.

Sun clicked his tongue sassily, and slapped Sage's arm to initiate the shuffle to allow Neptune and Weiss to sit to his left. When they sat, Weiss leaned over to the Monkey Faunus and whispered a thank you to him. He gave a curt nod and a grin, glad that things had worked out.

"And now let us begin the final match of the day! Team CLME of Haven vs Team ICCE of Ýdalir!" announced Oobleck. "Three...two...one...BEGIN!"

"Go Cinder! Go Emerald!" cheered Ruby.

"Kick their asses!" shouted Yang.

"It appears we will be cheering for opposing teams" said Weiss matter-of-factly. "I'll be cheering for my countrymen this time round. You can understand, right Pyrrha?"

"Hmmm" the redhead hummed, focusing intently on Team CLME.

"What's wrong?" asked Jaune, instantly able to tell that something was on her mind.

"Team CLME" she began, "they are your friends, yes?"

"Yeah, they're really nice. Emerald even found my wallet at the fairgrounds" explained Ruby.

Pyrrha remained silent, continuing to watch the match hunched over with her chin pressed against her interlaced fingers, elbows resting on her legs.

"...I don't know who they are" she said at last, causing the others to look at her, Blake gazing at her with exceptional focus.

"What do you mean?" asked the Atlassian Huntress-in-training.

"I don't recognize them. They're from Mistral, and they have to be our age, therefore I must have seen them when I was at Sanctum. And yet, I don't remember their faces in the slightest" the Mistralese champion explained cautiously.

"Maybe they're from a different school. We're from Signal, but Coco's from Pharos" reasoned Yang.

"Sanctum is the only Primary Huntsmen Academy in Mistral" Pyrrha informed. "Therefore, they must be graduates of Sanctum, and they did not graduate with me."

"Maybe they got pushed ahead like I did" suggested Ruby.

"But they're our age, so that can't be" countered Blake, beginning to understand what the redheaded swordswoman was getting at. "They're first-years so they had to have gone to Sanctum with Pyrrha."

"There must be so many students in Mistral, Pyrrha" argued Weiss. "You could not possible remember them all."

"Yes, I can" she countered resolutely, not taking her eyes off the match. "I am a four-time consecutive champion of the Mistral Regional Tournament. I have fought with every known and unknown combatant in my age bracket from across the Kingdom of Mistral. I kept an eye on the Mistral tournament rankings throughout my time as an active athlete, and continued to do so since I transferred here. I never forget a face, and I can say with certainty that I have no idea who Team CLME is."

A tense atmosphere of uneasiness settled upon the group, as they now understood the severity of what she was implying. Pyrrha knew exactly who Team ARBN and NDGO were, so it was very suspicious that the members of Team CLME were entirely alien to the most prolific and well-traveled athlete of their generation; especially when they claimed to be her countrymen. It begged the question: just who were they?

"Perhaps they are like us" suggested Weiss, referring to herself and Pyrrha. "They merely transferred from another Kingdom."

"How likely is that?" asked Jaune. "I know why Pyrrha left Mistral. Why did you leave, Weiss?"

"I did not want to serve in the military alongside my sister, though I still wanted to be a strong representative of the House of Schnee, and honour Atlas" the heiress replied. "I chose to enroll into Beacon to further strengthen the bonds between our once feuding Kingdoms, as well as to stand united in our fight against the Grimm."

"Exactly. Weiss and I are special cases. The vast majority of people train and operate within their Kingdoms" continued Pyrrha. "All of us here are from the four Kingdoms of Remnant. Does anyone recognize them?"

"They didn't go to Signal, and I'm pretty sure they didn't go to Pharos either" admitted Yang.

"Not ringing any bells" confirmed Coco, as Team CFVY had begun to listen in to the conversation.

"Definitely not from Oscuro" tossed in Sun. "Hell, I can tell just by looking at them they sure aren't from Vacuo, unless I missed something."

"Nah, you're spot on" agreed Neptune, along with Scarlet and Sage.

"Then I can confirm they are not from Atlas either" confessed Weiss, "thus making my point invalid."

"They could just be a special exception" offered Jaune, though not entirely believing his own suggestion. "Can't people just enroll so long as they qualify?"

He added that possibility as a reference to himself, Blake, Ren, and Nora, for none of them had attended either Signal or Pharos. Then again, they had all been caught by Huntmaster Ozpin, and Jaune certainly did not qualify in the same way his friends did—previous education or no. It was only by Ozpin's empathetic blessing that they had not been rejected outright. What this did do however, was plant a small seed of doubt in Pyrrha's mind.

"I suppose..." she said slowly, "though that would be a rare thing to occur...and for it to happen not only once, but thrice more afterwards..." Pyrrha then frowned, and went over what she had said. 'Am I over thinking this?' she asked herself.

Team CLME could very well have been a special case. And even if they were not, would it not be hypocritical to withhold the same benefit of the doubt she had given Jaune? Though that was true, there was still an uneasy shadow that hovered over her mind, however. Ever since she fought Mercury Black, there had been an eerie feeling of caution that never dissipated. She could tell that he had been holding back, and she was not entirely sure why. It could very well be that he was merely testing her for the tournament, which if anything, pointed to the fact that he would be sent to the Singles Round. Nevertheless, there was still something unsettling about the young man. He may have had a strong poker-face, but his eyes had a hint of malice behind them. The same went for his captain, Cinder. There was something indescribably cruel about her aura; not her literal Aura, but her general composure; something that could only be sensed instinctually. That final thought brought the concerned redhead to the only reasonable conclusion, for she knew where the road would lead otherwise.

"Perhaps I should have a talk with them" Pyrrha suggested at last. "Instead of creating conspiracy theories, I will simply ask them directly."

"That would be the most logical option" agreed Ren, with Nora nodding.

"Are you going to ask them after their match ends?" asked Jaune.

"Yes, I think I will."

"Do you want me to come with you?"

Pyrrha straightened and placed her hands into her lap.

"No, I think it would be best if I spoke to them alone. I'm not looking to start an altercation. I just wish to clarify the confusion. Thank you though, Jaune."

The blond eyed her with uncertainty, his own anxiety heightened with her voicing her suspicions. Her voice then began to echo in his mind, recalling her previous words of caution.

"Nevertheless, our enemies do appear to be gathering at our gates, and it must be for a reason. I have fears regarding the White Fang, as a terrorist group mobilizing at the same time as a massive international gathering like the Vytal Festival, could spell..."

While things had been very quiet after they had stopped Roman Torchwick's assault, the looming fear of the White Fang and their other allies was ever present in the back of their minds. They still had no real idea as to why they had united, nor did they know exactly why they were attacking the capital in the first place. Was it just to cause terror, or was there an even more sinister objective? This of course led Jaune to wonder if these unknown players were connected to...

'That might be reaching...' he thought, though now that he had contemplated the possibility, it was impossible to shelve it entirely, with a feeling in his gut warning him to be cautious.

Blake had also been thinking along those lines. She had initially been too preoccupied with her fears regarding Adam and the White Fang to notice, but now that things had calmed, she had switched her focus to Team CLME. She could not put her finger on it, but they were strangely familiar. Had she met them before? She could not even guess the general timeframe where she could have encountered them, though it most certainly had to have been before coming to Beacon. It was that possibility that caused her to hesitate, and not share immediately with the others she was having the same suspicions as Pyrrha. Doing so meant she would have to explain more about her past than she was willing to share, and she selfishly hoped it would not come to that just yet.

"And the winner of the match is Team CLME of Haven!" announced Professor Port. "The Mistralese are certainly happy with that display, though I'm, of course, just stating the obvious. What an explosive Day One of the tournament, wouldn't you say, Bart?"

"Indeed I would! And it only makes me more excited for the matches that are to come! But that will have to wait, as that concludes the matches for today. We shall see you all tomorrow, so please leave the Coliseum IN A CALM AND ORDERLY FASHION!" bellowed Oobleck.

With that announcement, Pyrrha rose to her feet, and turned to leave, but stopped when she felt a familiar hand take hers.

"You sure?" Jaune asked once again.

"Yes, don't worry" she replied softly, squeezing before reluctantly letting go.

The blond watched his lieutenant leave, before slumping into his seat with his arms crossed. The others had not moved either, unsure of what to do next. They could simply return to their dorms and wait for Pyrrha's return, but the uneasiness that had blanketed them, kept the students rooted. Perhaps it would be better if they waited for her to make her way back to the reserved seating, as it would be difficult for them to leave, given that the Coliseum was emptying. Jaune began to tap his finger against his arm, his patience thinning by the second, until it finally emptied like sand in an hourglass.

"Gods damn it all" he spat before jumping to his feet and headed straight for the exit.

This caused a domino effect, beginning with Nora and Ren, who were compelled to follow their captain. Blake was only a moment behind along with Weiss, which caused Sun and Neptune to follow. With only a moment of hesitation, the rest of the group brought up the rear, and quickly caught up with the brisk pace set by Jaune. They used the subterranean halls that linked the four locker areas to get to the Mistral side, as there was no doubt Pyrrha had chosen the same route.

"Do you think something is going to happen?" asked Blake, walking to Jaune's right as he led the pack.

"I pray that it won't come to that" he replied honestly, eyes locked forward.

"The fact you've been gripping your sword like that says otherwise" commented Weiss, who had noticed the blond had been holding the hilt of Crocea Mors as if he was afraid it would be taken from him.

"Because I can't shake this bad feeling. If they so much as lay a finger on Pyrrha, I'll take their heads" he growled, his Aura pulsing for an instant, causing his golden locks to flare, and revealed he had succumbed to his darker suspicions of Team CLME.

This took his immediate friends aback, never before hearing him speak in such an intimidating tone, or making such a violent threat. However, while shocking, it was not surprising in the least. Jaune and Pyrrha had yet to go on an official date, but it was abundantly clear that they cared deeply for one another; to the point the others could confidently call it love. If her life was in any way in jeopardy, then it was fully expected for him to want to protect her with his. That confirmed a few things for the others, as Jaune had not been alone in is his speculations, and set a new tone. Instinctively, the others reached for their weapons as they neared the Mistral locker-room, now expecting the worst.

However, Ruby and Yang were less than content with the blond's anger, for it implied a harsh animosity to their new "friends". It was strange that Pyrrha did not recognize them, but the Xiao Long Sisters were not ready to throw them under the bus and think of them as their enemies. Cinder, Emerald, and Mercury had all been so nice to them ever since they first met. Even their other teammate, Laura, while had not spoken a word, also seemed nice enough. The girls were not so naive that they had forgotten Pyrrha's words, and what Jaune's threat was deriving from them: that he suspected Team CLME was connected to Torchwick and Taurus. As suspicious as the situation was, they were not prepared to jump to that conclusion just yet, and would need more proof before joining in.

When the Huntsmen-in-training entered the locker-room, they unfortunately found it deserted, and Jaune quickly steered the others to the passage that led above ground. As they finally exited the Coliseum, they found themselves amongst the spectators, and they desperately began looking around for Pyrrha.

"She's there!" called Ruby, pointing across the park to the tall Mistralese Huntress-in-training, who seemed to be looking for something or someone.

They quickly made their way over to her, and Jaune was the first to call out, causing her to face them.

"Jaune! Everyone" she said in surprise, not expecting them all to follow her.

"Where are they?" he asked.

"I don't know" she admitted. "I just caught a glimpse of them exiting the locker area, but when I exited the Coliseum, they were gone. I must have lost them in the crowd. I'm sorry."

"It's alright. You're OK, and that's what matters" sighed the blond in relief. "We'll get another chance tomorrow, or even today if you want to go directly to the arranged lodging for the Haven students."

Pyrrha paused for a moment, thinking over the suggestion, before glancing to her friends, whom she now noticed were tense and resting their hands on their arms.

"No, I think it would be best if we all sleep on it, as I can clearly see you were all spoiling for a fight" she replied.

"If anyone was spoiling for a fight, it was this one" Yang remarked, wrapping her knuckle against Jaune's pauldron. "He was about to go berserk if they attacked you."

"Uhuh" agreed Coco with a smirk. "Remember girls, find yourself a man that wants to protect you like this one wants to protect Nikos."

The captain of Team JNPR blushed at being singled out, realizing how brutally honest he had been. He meant every word of it of course, but it was the first time that he had shown just how far he would go for Pyrrha in front of his friends. He looked at the redhead and found her lightly blushing with a small smile on her face.

"Yes, I'd consider myself very lucky. Thank you for your concern, everyone" she said graciously. "However, I must point out that this is exactly why I wished to speak to Team CLME alone, for you all look rather hostile to my eyes, therefore, you will certainly appear hostile to them. Again, I think we should sleep on this, for it will give me enough time to think it over, and see if I've merely forgotten their faces. Rushing to violence is not the answer, and we should never attribute malice when stupidity will do, as my father liked to say; stupidity in this case being my possibly faulty memory. I think we should go and enjoy the rest of our day, and perhaps Team CFVY should rest, given you will be fighting tomorrow."

"Not a bad idea; that or take advantage of the festival's sales and get some last-minute shopping done" contemplated the well-dressed second-year, eyeing the crowd. "Then again, maybe not with this amount of people about."

"How bout we get something to eat? I'm starving!" moaned Nora.

"I think we've earned that after our victories" smirked Ren.

"I'm down" agreed Sun "Who's up for barbecue?"

The students all voiced their agreement, and headed through Albion's Commercial District in search of a good barbecue joint. However, Jaune, Pyrrha, and Blake still had their suspicions of Team CLME, and continued to mull over the supposed Mistralese team's origins. Only time would tell how correct their suspicions would be.

λΛλ

As the sun set over Beacon Academy, Grand Huntmasters Ozpin and Ironwood, along with Winter, Qrow, Glynda, Port, and Oobleck, all situated themselves in the Huntmaster's office around his desk. All possessed stern expressions on their faces as they examined the portraits of Team CLME on a holoscreen.

"So, these are Her Pawns and Bishop?" asked Port.

"Unfortunately" replied Winter, shaking her head in disbelief. "For them to recruit so young..."

"Don't let their baby faces fool you, Ice Queen" addressed Qrow, fishing out a leather-bound flask from his vest. "They may be young, but they must have been taken in for a reason—that one especially" he pointed at Mercury "I knew that one the moment I laid eyes on him."

"It isn't hard to believe She would recruit people no older than our students by that very admittance" added Ozpin, pressing his chin into his fingers. "Do we not train child soldiers?"

"Only voluntarily and for a much holier cause" countered Ironwood, inspecting a tablet he held in his hands as he smoked a cigar. "Intent is just as important as means."

"Then what are we to do?" asked Oobleck. "We can't possibly continue with the tournament if they've infiltrated our defenses to this degree."

"We have to carry on given how far they've infiltrated" corrected Ozpin, nodding to the General.

"Exactly" James agreed, taking a long draw from his cigar before slowly blowing the greyish blue smoke out of his lips, ending with a retrohale through his nose. "The border has effectively been secured, shutting down any external threat. It's the internal threat we need to worry about. Thankfully, we are more in a position of control than you may think. My military opinion is to continue to draw them in until it's too late for them to retreat."

"And continue to put the lives of our students at risk," remarked Glynda bitterly, "not to mention the thousands of spectators, and the hundreds of thousands of civilians in the city."

"I have sworn an oath to defend the lives of the innocent just as you have, Glynda. I will not let a single soul be taken; you have my word."

"Then arrest them!" she shot back, throwing her hands into the air in frustration. "If we know who they are, then just stop them before they can do any more damage, or worse."

"We are still gathering intelligence" explained Winter. "If we engage the enemy before pinpointing the exact location of Adam Taurus and his forces, then not only have we lost an incredible opportunity to capture a vile terrorist at the top of Atlas' Most Wanted list, but possibly provoke a repeat of what happened in Mantle. We cannot allow either to occur."

The Deputy-Huntmistress stood in mute frustration, struggling with the need to argue for the safety of the school and the city, versus conceding to the valid points of her brethren. She turned to look at Ozpin for support, but only received an apologetic look.

"James is our military advisor, Glynda" the silver-haired Huntmaster said with empathy. "My field is ancient history and folklore, therefore, I have no choice but to put my faith in the General's and the Major's guidance. We all have our part to play."

"Then we do nothing?" she asked incredulously.

"Hardly" countered Ozpin, pouring himself a cup of tea. "We shall continue with the current plan. Bart and Peter will continue to officiate the tournament unaltered, giving our informant more time to collect the information we need. Qrow will keep an eye on our uninvited guests, while I will play the part of the dutiful Huntmaster."

"And keep the Council in the dark" added Qrow in amusem*nt, taking a swig of his flask.

"Anything to impede the bureaucrats" commented Winter with a small smirk.

"And you're certain that this plan will work?" continued Glynda.

Ironwood exhaled the smoke of his cigar slowly before giving his well thought out reply.

"When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard at first. Instead, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy gives you an opening. Afterwards, emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you. Such is the art of warfare."

Winter nodded in approval as Glynda looked to the marble floor, partially unconvinced. She crossed her arms and took a breath before looking back to her Huntmaster.

"Will that be all?" she asked, slightly hopeful there was more.

"Not quite" admitted Ozpin bringing his teacup to his lips and blew gently before taking a sip. "I believe it is time to have a word with Miss Nikos."

Author's Note:

We have got some major changes here to cover, don't we? Let us dive in, because I have a lot to say.

Team JNPR is no Joke

I am not sure how many of you share my thoughts here, but was the original JNPR-BRNZ fight not an incredible disappointment? It certainly was for me, with two prominent thoughts situated at the forefront of my mind: why are they so bad and why is there so much comedy?

Since there was a small time-skip between the end of V2 and 3, there was an expectation that all of our main characters were going to be stronger for the tournament. After all, that is the very point of a tournament arc; to train and achieve new abilities in order to face new enemies and rivals. Instead, we were presented with a Team JNPR that was even less co-ordinated than we last saw them. Jaune especially, whom we thought would be far more dedicated to his training after breaking down all the walls between himself and Pyrrha, was even more of a joke than he originally was. Even worse, the entire fight was drowning in cringe-worthy slapstick "comedy", where there was no rhyme or reason to the fight itself, not to mention the lack of logical weapons and Semblances, which we will touch on later.

So, what went wrong? The simplest answer is that Monty's death robbed them of their best animator, as well as creative lead, and that left them with a pair of shoes too large to fill, especially since they did not slow down production of V3. Instead, they scrapped what was too much to complete, and oversimplified everything. The most blatant piece of evidence to this is the leaking of five seconds of the first JNPR fight, set against Team CFVY, where we see Jaune fighting with Yatsuhashi. It is very much in its infancy, and is overly flashy with a lot of openings in both fighters, as well as Jaune inexcusably transferring his sword into his shield hand, but you can clearly see that Jaune is immensely more competent with the sword. We know nothing about Pyrrha, Ren, and Nora, but it is easy and reasonable to speculate that they too would have fought better, especially since they would be going up against Team CFVY, who CRWBY were pushing to be more popular, even if the fanbase was not so keen.

The obvious course of action was to rewrite the fight to be more serious, as one would expect in a competitive tournament, which a professional like Pyrrha would be adamant about. Here, Jaune shows his ability to plan and lead his team, which he first revealed in V1, as well as how much he has grown since the Dance. The rest of the team also do well, being sent to face the members of Team BRNZ they had the best chances of defeating, with said team being fully aware of the threat Pyrrha posed, and doing their best to eliminate her first.

I would very much want to get into the problems of Team BRNZ, but I want to touch on the more pressing issue of Nora's Semblance. I froze when they finally "revealed" her Semblance during this fight, as it (thunder)struck me that they had yet to explore her Semblance—or Ren's for that matter—and to have Port be the one to explain it, was terrible. It made me realize how much had been skipped over and rushed throughout the first two volumes, further validating my initial gripes of the short runtime of the show.

While I kept some humour, it was meant to show how well Team JNPR know one another and work together, rather than for them—mostly Jaune and Ren—being the butt of the joke. There was very little I was able (or willing) to do with Team BRNZ, other than them taking Pyrrha seriously and undermining Jaune, Ren, and Nora, given their lack of notoriety. Instead, Team JNPR show off their progress, maintain their dignity, and have some cute banter between the couples. I should add that the latter, of Ren and Nora's mutual support of one another, was written long before what happened between them in V7 and 8, which brought my blood to a boil. *sigh*

“You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.” — Geoffrey Willans

I made the decision long ago that the characters of RWBY would know multiple languages, meaning that there are more languages other than English in the world of Remnant. I have no idea if anyone else has thought to do this in their own fan-fiction, or even remark upon it, but I felt entirely justified due to the naming conventions of the characters, weapons, and Semblances. If characters and their weapons are in languages other than English, then that would rationally indicate that other languages exist. But what languages would they speak? English being the "common tongue", as it is in Middle Earth, works well enough, but what about the rest?

Pyrrha speaking Greek, Weiss speaking German, and Ren speaking Japanese, are all obvious given their names, weapons, and inspirations (Ren being only half qualified). But what about Jaune?

While Jaune's first name is French for "yellow", and is based on the patron Saint of France, Joan d'Arc, there was never anything French about him. Instead, I made it that Jaune can speak Latin, as that is the language Monty used for his sword, Crocea Mors, which was also the name of Julius Caesar's sword. While I speak French myself, as an Italian, I have a strong reverence for Latin, which is why he has been speaking Latin phrases for the past few chapters. Since he is meant to be a Knight, and is based on one of the most famous Paladins of all time, it makes sense that he speaks Latin, which is also why I had him know Templar mottos.

This might seem as if I am making a mountain out of a molehill, but I take world-building seriously, and I am a major sucker for languages.

SSSN Burns Hot Like the Sands of Vacuo

In the same vein of the JNPR-BRNZ fight, the SSSN-NDGO fight was retooled slightly, removing the humiliating humour and having both teams taking the fight seriously.

The show originally kept stressing that Team SSSN are well known because of their fighting ability, as well as their looks, which I decided to deliver upon, whereas the show seemed more interested in revealing them to be frauds. Instead of getting a better idea of how Team SSSN fights, their weapons, or their Semblances, it just became a big waste of our time, and since they decided to assassinate Neptune's character out of left field at the start, we are encouraged to care even less. Sun's flashy fighting style steals the show, but I cannot in clear conscience say that it saves it. It does not help that Team NDGO is just as bland as Team BRNZ, with questionable choice of weaponry and lacking of Semblances.

In that vein, I made another "change", that being of the names of Neptune and David's weapons. This was not something I set out to do, but rather done out of necessity. Years ago, I was very annoyed that only nine of the main characters had names for their weapons (Teams RWBY, JNPR, and Sun), whereas characters like Neptune and Qrow had nothing written other than "Neptune's Trident" and "Qrow's Scythe". Naturally, I gave them names, and had no idea that CRWBY retroactively named them with the release of The World of RWBY in 2019; something that I only learned when I went to the RWBY wiki to check Neptune's height that same year.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (20)

Tri-Hard is an awful name, and the reason for why they gave it is even more insulting, so I, of course, refused to use it. Instead, Neptune's rifle is called "Ionio", after the Ionian Sea, just off the southern coast of the Italian province of Calabria. Seemed a pretty obvious choice. The same was done for David's flintlock and cutlass, which I learned are now called "Hook and Darling"—incredibly dumb names. My name for his pistol, Skullbuster, is taken from the Peter Pan novel, where the Lost Boys refer to their slingshots as "Skullbusters", as is "Midnight Star", as a reference to the second star on the right. I left Sage's Pilgrim be, primarily given that I did not care, as well as being a big John Wayne fan, and I kept reading the name in his voice. Not a great reason, I admit, but I had larger things to tackle.

In short, I did the best I could, so that our boys did as well as they should have, and even having Neptune get involved despite his phobia. I know what needed to be done to fix these fights properly, but...well, why don't we cover that?

A Comedy of Errors

There is no way to get around this: these fights sucked. Not just for a couple of reasons, but several.

  1. The choreography is awful. Even those without an eye for combat have noticed just how slow and clumsy all the fights in V3 were. I regret to inform you that the fights get far worse when you watch them frame-by-frame. Slow, clumsy, exaggerated, and stupid. As the leaked footage reveals, Monty's death completely killed V3, as without his animation talent, the rest of the animation team, along with Luna and Shawcross as writers, could not compete. Instead of completing what Monty had started, they fully scrapped them, and cut as many corners as possible to meet the deadline. This is why I laugh when people tell me that one of the great selling points of the show are the fights, for while cool fights without substance are not enough for me, I know damn well how bad the fights truly are. And to be entirely honest, I am now worried to go back and watch the V1 and 2 fights, and discover those fights were not as good as I remember.
  2. Comedy over choreography. Another reason for the poor fighting is the nonsensical slapstick humour. Instead of taking these fights seriously, we get bad comedy, with both the heroes and the other combatants stumbling all over the place. Not only is the comedy terrible, it is completely out of place. This is meant to be a tournament. Not a death match or a war, but a tournament with a lot of cultural importance, nonetheless. Despite that, it is played off as a joke.

    I take great issue with this, for not only did our heroes fight much better in the previous two volumes, but the Sword of Damocles that is Cinder and the White Fang, is present throughout the tournament. We need these characters to be in the best shape possible, and since they proved not to be, it is no surprise things go terribly when the Battle of Beacon begins, with many of them dying in the conflict. It does not help that these fights are 4v4, meaning there are so many more variables to juggle without Monty. I can only be so sympathetic, however, as it was never a secret that Huntsmen operate in teams of four.

    Alas, Luna and Shawcross injected "comedy" to make up for the lack of solid fights, and it was a disaster, where even myself at the time, when I was still hurt from Monty's death and did not want to be so harsh, I knew it was bad.

  3. Bad weapons and no Semblances. While I have much to say about weapons generally in RWBY, I was shocked at how awful the weapons of Teams BRNZ and NDGO were. Buzz saws, crossbow, throwing knives, armoured claws, kneecaps, and...cattle prods? Excuse me? These would be terrible against mortals, let alone the bloody Grimm! It is beyond clear, without a shadow of a doubt, that they had to slap things together with what little they had available at breakneck speed. It kills me given the amount of weapons that exist out there, but then you must realize that these characters do not matter, so why invest the time and the effort?

    That also explains the second problem, which is the complete lack of Semblances. Almost none of the characters use their Semblances, and as The World of RWBY confirms, CRWBY never came up with any. Even Dew's tornadoes are caused by her spear, not her Semblance. You would hope that they would at least reveal the rest of Team SSSN's Semblances, but no, why bother?

    I understand Monty's death was beyond crippling, I swear I do, but this was meant to be a tournament arc. We know how those are supposed to go. They should have delayed the season to make it as good as they were capable of doing, and finish what Monty started.

    The obvious question now, is why did I not fix this in this rewrite? Simply put, it would have taken a great deal of time to do it properly, and I wanted to focus on fixing the greater issues, and at least point out the flaws if I could not fix them.
    For the record, I came up with a Semblance for Neptune long ago.

  4. Far too short. Name any tournament from any other series, and you will find that not only are the fights longer, but so is the tournament itself. This is again due to the massive cutting of content, as Shawcross admitted, but when they end up being so short that there is nothing to be gained from them, one wonders why even show them? These are 4v4 matches, meaning they could go on for quite a while, yet they did not. We also normally get character insights, either through the characters own thoughts or through flashbacks, which I guess is a knock against RWBY being an Anime, now that I think about it.

    Yes, longer does not mean better, but it does feel incredibly underwhelming and cheap by how little we got, especially when this show was known for its fights.

  5. Degrading of the cast. Putting aside the obvious for now, there really is a sense that Luna and Shawcross have little passion or respect for the characters, which is truly saying something, given that they voice two of them. They all come across as idiots, to the point that you cannot believe that they are training to graduate into the most important profession in Remnant. I understand that the tournament is meant to be symbolic, but...again, why bother with it if it does not matter?

To this very day, I am finding issues with V3 that most have not, or have intentionally ignored, only further confirming how unqualified CRWBY were to carry on what Monty started, if Monty himself was qualified in the first place. The lack of self-respect, let alone respect for Monty and the show, is both disheartening and disconcerting.

Treating Neptune (and Iceberg) With Respect

The original fight was what ended not only the Iceberg ship, but Neptune Vasilias as a character. For those of you that still cared about both, I am sure you must be pleased to see it has been fully avoided, and that I gave Neptune, not just respect, but an actual character and a future in the story of RWBY.

To be fully transparent, I originally had no interest in the character. There was nothing to work with, and his only purpose that mattered to me, was to keep Weiss away from Jaune, she being another character that I did not like. So, you can imagine my shock when, after all they had done with the Dance between Jaune, Pyrrha, Weiss, and Neptune, that they immediately had him cheat on her by flirting with Team NDGO. The first thought that went through my mind was, "This isn't right. Neptune wouldn't do this".

This was a terrible mistake by Luna and Shawcross for three reasons:

  1. It completely undermines the character development from the Beacon Dance. Instead of it being this watershed moment where these four characters grow, it erases it and halts it forever. We expected that Neptune and Weiss would deepen as characters from this, as well as build a stronger friendship with the main cast, along with Sun and Blake. Instead, we learn that we wasted our time, and they completely regressed.
  2. It means that between the time of the Dance and the tournament, nothing has developed between Weiss and Neptune. I, of course, am not saying they should have been madly in love by that point, but one would assume that they would have begun to talk and text privately, saving the more important moments for the screen. Given that none of the cast has improved in any way, this was undeniably the case.
  3. It destroys Neptune as a character. Not only does this go against who he was, it gives the audience no reason whatsoever to want to see him again. He is now "the pervert that cheated on Weiss", and that is all he will ever be. This was just before the fight where we are supposed to cheer him on. Did Shawcross just not want to voice act anymore?

To make matters worse, we are then introduced to something we had not known before about Neptune: he has aquaphobia. I was confused as to why they would do this to him, as he is meant to be based on the God of the Sea, and what made it even worse, was how the show was telling us to laugh at him about it.

That very much rubbed me the wrong way at the time, and has only gotten worse since, as I was made aware that it was all an inside joke that his voice actor, Shawcross himself, is unable to swim. That was it. It was the final straw for me, and I began to take a closer look at the character, seeing if there was anything there to expand upon in a rewrite.

This is how we ended up with what you now see in this chapter. I decided to play into his Neptunian/Italian origin and make him the son of a fisherman, which provides a serious explanation as to why he has a phobia of water, and why he decided to become a Huntsman. Here we get to see a different side of him, and make him more than just some aloof pretty boy. It also helps with writing the Iceberg relationship with more depth, and for it to not simply be something I supported to uplift Arkos. I am honestly proud of what I have come up with for the both of them, turning something I could not care less about, into something that I love in more ways than I can count.

That is why I must mention what happened during the time I left the show. For some reason, CRWBY decided that they wanted to give Neptune a back-story, and affectively gave Neptune the same story as I did, in how he became afraid of water. It is far worse, and I do not say that just because I prefer what I came up with, but because it is, especially with the tasteless nature of it all when you look back at how many jokes they made about it. Neptune's entire "canon" back-story exists only to humiliate him, from that his rifle is called "Tri-Hard" because Sun suggested it to mock him, and that he was too dumb to know until later, and is still too dumb to change it, to that he nearly killed his own brother. I can say with pride that I did a better job, and my only regret is that it took me so long to get back to writing and show it.

One final thing I want to touch on, is something that happened a year after fully publishing DDCT. For those who are reading this for the first time, I only began to write Author's Notes from Chapter XI onward, and I am now going back to provide more context after re-editing the chapters, which still have a long list of errors I missed. A reader by the name of "YoungHistorian", made it known to me that he suffers from aquaphobia as well, and what happened with Neptune very much got to him. I only mention this because he thanked me for treating the subject matter more tactfully, and I can only imagine how many others were insulted by Shawcross' flippancy.

There is so much more to Neptune, as well as the Iceberg romance, but there is only so much I can get into...at least for now.

Pyrrha's Suspicions

And here we are at the big one. The thing that people keep asking me, is did I made a mistake by writing that Team SSSN from Vacuo instead of Mistral. All I could say was for them to keep reading, as all would be explained. It has been such a pressing issue that I had to write a FAQ on the matter, which is one of the major reasons that I felt it necessary to go back and write new author’s notes. Let us go through it step-by-step.

I had originally understood that Team SSSN were from Shade Academy of Vacuo. I heard that Sun was from Vacuo, so it made sense that X characters are students from the schools of their native Kingdoms—plus I thought it explained why Neptune could not swim, given that he came from a desert Kingdom. Furthermore, it complements the theme of their team, with Sun and Neptune growing up together and living near the sea, Neptune being the son of a fisherman, Sage's clock design to play off the "sands of time", and David's Peter Pan inspiration.

Pyrrha and Weiss are the outliers, of course (they have legitimate reasons, though I did a much better job with them), but doing it this way helps with the world-building—and it is the Vytal Festival. Having characters just go wherever they want, ruins the point of having separate Kingdoms with past histories come and work together. It also makes the world seem smaller than it is.

But here is where the real issues come to light. When I realized that SSSN were from Haven, the Cinder plot breaks entirely and shows all the flaws of the show. If SSSN are from Haven, that means they went to Sanctum and graduated with Pyrrha...so why do they not act like they know each other? There is nothing to indicate that Neptune, Sage, David, and Pyrrha know one another in the show, or even alludes to it. This plot-hole gets significantly worse as time has gone on, as CRWBY have retconned it that Neptune is from Argus. So, not only did he go to Sanctum with Pyrrha, they grew up in the same town together—probably went to the same grade school before Sanctum too. So, why did they not act like it? Because not a bloody thing was thought through; and the retcons are only making things worse.

And that brings us back to Cinder. Cinder and her team are meant to be from Haven. Why does Pyrrha not talk to them as a fellow Mistralese? Why does she not ask them why she never saw them back home during her days at Sanctum? Why does she not ask Team SSSN about them since they are supposedly Mistralese/Havenites as well?

This is precisely why I had Pyrrha ask these questions, and try to figure out the truth. This is also why I disagree with people—including critics like HeroHei and Adel Aka—and stress that Cinder was never a smart character. I am very critical of the stupidity of the Inner Circle and the heroes, but that does not mean that the villains are clever. They are also as dumb as a bag of hammers, only slightly less so than the "heroes". Just compare Cinder to Roman.

Not only does this change make Pyrrha an intelligent character, but everyone joins in, granting them agency, along with Team RWBY (everyone but Blake at least) not ready to think ill of their new "friends" just yet. Also, we get Jaune worrying greatly for Pyrrha's safety, which is not only touching, but has greater implications later on.

For me, this is the worst part of V3, and I am beside myself at how many people do not see it. I can only hope it all makes sense now, and that you found enjoyment in these changes.

Oh, and about the Inner Circle at the end. Pretty obvious, is it not? Also, that is how you have them disagree without sh*tting on each other, CRWBY.

See you all next time, for even greater revelations await. Ave Legio JNPR! Ad Victoria!

Notes:

It goes without saying, but V3 was incredibly rushed, and not much has changed.

Speaking of which, it turns out that Rooster Teeth and CRWBY lied, as V8 is NOT complete, and will go on a two-month break. Is it because they want to avoid crunching their team, or is it something else? I am sure it will be leaked sooner or later. However, I always suspect the worse with them. Therefore, I repeat myself: when people say CRWBY know what they are doing with RWBY, I call thee a liar.

Chapter 7: Of Gods and Monsters

Chapter Text

The following day was another beautiful one. Plenty of sunshine with a light breeze; perfect for spectating the second half of the Team Rounds. Unfortunately, the brighter the sun, the darker the shadows, as Teams RWBY, JNPR, and SSSN had learned. They were all seated in the Beacon dining hall, picking at their food more than eating it. While they had taken Pyrrha's advice to sleep on their suspicions of Team CLME so that cooler heads would prevail, it appeared that it had the opposite effect—fermenting and becoming more potent. Team RWBY did not want to think that their new friends were secretly aligned with Torchwick and the White Fang, but Pyrrha's analysis of the situation had made them very doubtful of their innocence. Blake was even more cautious, and paid for it by getting very little sleep, as she had spent the night wide awake, wracking her brain to recall where she had met them before.

Pyrrha had also been deep in thought on the matter, doing her best to be absolutely certain that she had not forgotten their faces. She was not perfect, as much as her fans would say otherwise, and she could very well have come across the members of Team CLME and had simply forgotten about them. It's what prompted her to go through her old tournament seedings, trying to find them amongst the hundreds of combatants. She may not have fought against them, but they may, at the very least, had participated in a tournament she had. To her dismay, she found nothing, and it only caused more wariness. Pyrrha continued to second guess every thought she had on the matter, as she kept asking herself if the only reason she was suspicious of Team CLME, at least to this degree, was because of Roman Torchwick and the White Fang. If those parties were never in the picture, would she be this worried? That question continued to vex her as she did her best to eat her breakfast, where she was barely making any progress on. When she looked at the others, she saw that they were all in the same boat as she was.

"I take it everyone has been thinking about Team CLME?" she asked, already knowing the answer. The others looked up at her, each slightly startled, as they had been jolted out of their thoughts by her question.

"After what we talked about yesterday, kinda hard not to" admitted Yang.

"We should just go over to the Mistral lodgings and ask them what's up" declared Sun, not a fan of the indirect approach.

"We cannot just barge in and start interrogating them" pointed out Weiss. "Just because you and Neptune were junior detectives, does not give either of you the powers of arrest—not yet."

"We're not gonna kick the door in like it's a raid. We'll just ask them some important questions."

"And if it turns out they are planning something, then we take them out and drag them to the police" added Neptune.

"It's not as if we haven't ignored the rules before" said Blake with a slight hint of sarcasm, earning a smirk and a finger point from the blond Faunus.

"We could give Huntmaster Ozpin a tip" suggested Jaune. "He did bend the rules for Team RWBY to purposely raid Torchwick's hideout, and that was after Ruby dropped the hint of its location in the first place."

"It couldn't hurt" agreed Ruby.

"I agree" said Pyrrha at last, pushing her plate away from her. "I think we will do that, after I speak to them myself—alone."

"Are you sure?" asked her captain, the worry of the previous day returning.

"If they are secretly working with our enemies, then a dozen armed warriors turning up to their dorm asking questions of their identity, will have major repercussions" the redhead argued. "I am the only person here from Mistral, so it makes sense that I would like to speak with them. I'll begin with that I'm curious about home, and that I was impressed with their last match. I'll be fine, don't worry."

Jaune frowned at her, unconvinced, which made Pyrrha take his hand and squeeze it reassuringly.

"I'll call as soon as I'm done speaking with them. If I suspect anything, I won't fight them alone. I promise." The blond gazed at her for a moment, trying to think of a better counter than "I'm really worried about you getting hurt", but sighed when he knew he had nothing.

"Just be careful" he said at last. Pyrrha smiled and kissed him on the cheek, something that had now become very natural for her.

"I will" she reassured, and began to stand, when the loudspeaker in the dining hall began to speak.

"Will Miss Pyrrha Nikos please report to Grand Huntmaster Ozpin's office" said Deputy-Huntmistress Goodwitch. "Miss Pyrrha Nikos, please report to Grand Huntmaster Ozpin's office. Thank you."

The others all looked at the redhead in question, confused to what was going on.

"What did you do?" asked Nora.

"I'm getting flashbacks..." said Ruby nervously, causing the others to shift in their seats.

"I'm sure it is unrelated, and it won't take long. I'll text you when I finish up before I head over to the Haven lodges" Pyrrha assured calmly, and made her way out of the dining hall, leaving her friends to continue pondering over the matter at hand, their concern only growing.

λΛλ

Glynda led Pyrrha to the large double doors of Ozpin's office, and knocked thrice before opening one of them once she heard the Huntmaster call. When they entered the office, she was surprised to find that Ozpin was not alone. To his left was Grand Huntmaster-General Ironwood, along with another White Army officer that greatly resembled Weiss. To his right was a man she did not recognize. He had graying black spiky hair, slight stubble along his jaw line, and an Ehwaz e rune pendant that looked like a capital M hanging around his neck. At his hip were two tattered sashes, one red and one white, and wore a gray dress shirt with a long tail, black dress pants and black boots. Attached to the base of his back was a weapon she could not identify. It appeared to be a sword, but the handle was over extended, and the blade itself was shortened to the point of seeming axe-like. Obviously, it was collapsed for more comfortable transport, but Pyrrha was still curious to what the weapon truly was.

However, what caught her attention the most, were his eyes. They were a dull red, which was certainly unusual, but what drew her interest was the sadness that lay behind them. Never before had she seen eyes like his; so filled with pain and melancholy that they gave the man an air that bordered on the macabre. As she and Glynda approached Ozpin's desk, Pyrrha did her best to avoid gazing at him, which was proving to be more difficult than she expected, as she could feel the sombre man's eyes pierce her very soul.

"Thank you for coming, Miss Nikos" greeted the silver-haired Huntmaster, giving her a small but warm smile. "Please, take a seat."

"Thank you" she returned graciously, but faced Ironwood and saluted respectfully. "It's very good to meet you in person, General, and thank you for your kind words yesterday."

Ironwood smiled as he returned the salute, and held out his hand.

"The pleasure is all mine, my dear. You and your team put on a fantastic display. I look forward to the remainder of the tournament."

Pyrrha shook his hand with a smile of her own, and then looked over to the female officer when she also extended her hand.

"Please allow me to second that, Miss Nikos. It is good to see that my sister's praises of you were well founded."

"Do you mean Weiss?" Pyrrha asked.

"Yes. I am her elder sister, Winter Schnee."

"It's a pleasure to meet you. Weiss has been a good friend to me ever since we met."

"Well, it is good to see she has made at least one friend who is...focused on her education" said Winter with as much politeness as she could muster.

Despite sensing the Major's less than impressed recollection of Team RWBY, Pyrrha smiled.

"I wouldn't have it any other way. Team RWBY's enthusiasm makes up for their shortcomings, and Weiss has proven to be a good guide for them" she replied with genuine politeness.

"Yes..." Winter admitted with a small smile that revealed the pride she had in her sister. "We shall see her progress in the Doubles Round. Do not hold back if you face her. Friend or no, experience is vital."

Finally, Pyrrha looked towards the last member of the group.

"I'm sorry, but I don't believe we've met before" she said politely.

"Qrow" he replied shortly.

"Oh. You're Yang and Ruby's uncle, aren't you? They mentioned you when we were out for lunch yesterday. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr…Xiao Long, or is it Rose?"

"Branwen" Qrow corrected, the coldness in how he said his family name caused the redhead to wince.

"I'm sorry, I wasn't aware."

"Don't mind the old crow" assured Ironwood with a smirk. "He just doesn't like getting up at a decent hour."

"Sorry for being the only sane one here, Jimmy" Qrow shot back, causing the Atlassian Huntmaster-General to chuckle heartily.

Thankfully, that was enough to ease the tension, and allowed Pyrrha to take her seat and face her Huntmaster once more, whose kind smile never faded throughout the exchange.

"Qrow is a colleague of mine, and one of my oldest friends" explained Ozpin. "Fear not, his bark is worse than his bite. Now, I would feel it disrespectful to not congratulate you on your first victory. Your team performed wonderfully."

"Thank you, Huntmaster" she replied, his praise bringing a smile to her face. "We trained intensively, and the results were all that we hoped for."

"Indeed. I spoke with your captain, and he was quite certain that his plan would ensure your victory. So far, so good, I would say."

"Much to Qrow's chagrin" noted Ironwood, earning him an annoyed sneer from the lonesome Huntsman.

"Jaune has had a mind for strategy ever since I first met him, and it has only strengthened since. Thank you for your kind words, Huntmaster" Pyrrha replied politely, glad he approved of their performance.

"You're very welcome. Now then, I am sure you would like to know why you've been summoned" Ozpin continued, getting a nod from the lieutenant. "Tell me, Miss Nikos, what is your favourite fairy tale?"

Pyrrha blinked in confusion, not expecting such a seemingly unrelated question.

"I'm...sorry?"

"Fairy tales—stories from your childhood. Surely you must remember some of them."

The redhead paused for a moment, and a nostalgia laced smile began to spread across her face.

"Well, there'sThe Little Briar Rose,The White Cat,The Goose-Girl, The Valiant Little Tailor, The Princess on the Glass Hill, The Black Bull of Northern Way, The Norka, The Golden Branch, Snowdrop, The Seven Foals, Heart of Ice, The Dragon of the North, The Beast of Gévaudan, The She-Wolf and the River Twins—oh, and Sigurd the Dragon Slayer. There are others of course, but those are some of my favourites."

"That's a rather splendid assortment of tales, Miss Nikos. A fair number of them are rather unknown, both due to age and lack of translation into modern common languages. I must say I am impressed that you know so many off the cuff."

"Thank you, sir, though the praise should all go to my mother. It's due to her profession that granted me the honour of hearing fairy tales and legends from across Remnant that are, as you said, old and rarely translated. She would read them to me every night when I was a little girl."

"That would certainly explain your eclectic knowledge and taste. Tell me, have you heard ofthe Story of the Seasons?"

"Well, of course! A callous old man, who refuses to leave his home, is visited by four traveling sisters. The first understands his reclusive nature and urges him to use his time in solitude to reflect and meditate. The second brings him fruits and flowers, tending to his crops and revitalizing his garden. The third warms the man's heart, convincing him to step outside and embrace the world around him. And the fourth and final sister begs him to look at all that he has, and be thankful. In return for their kindness, the man grants the maidens incredible powers, so that they may continue to help others all over the world. They graciously accept, and promise to share their gifts with the people of Remnant till the end of days. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall; the Four Maidens. My mother loves that story. It's a shame that it doesn't seem to be as well known in Vale."

"Indeed" agreed Ozpin, nodding his head. "It's been my favourite since I was a boy, which both ignited and fueled my pursuit in studying ancient history and folklore—a passion that you and I share. So, tell me, Miss Nikos, what would you say if I were to tell you that those tales are true?"

The champion paused for a moment before smiling.

"Well, all legends have some truth to them, Huntmaster."

"Not some...all."

The change in the tone of Ozpin's voice produced tension in the young woman's heart, as well as in the Huntmaster's office. She could feel everyone's eyes upon her, but it was in a manner that made her feel more uncomfortable than she could describe. Pyrrha had been a shy girl in her youth, and having spectators other than her parents for her spars had been nerve-wracking. That was long in the past, of course, for she had now become a professional, and was completely unaffected by thousands of people watching her intently. How Ozpin and the others gazed at her, however, was something else entirely.

"I'm sorry, but I don't believe that I follow what you are suggesting" she said in a measured manner.

"I think you know exactly what we're suggesting" Qrow answered in a low voice.

Pyrrha's eyes drifted to each of the senior Huntsmen, and saw there was not a hint of doubt or humour behind their eyes.

"...Please explain."

Ozpin watched her for a moment before producing a small smile, and he poured a cup of tea, placing it before her. He could tell with ease that she was being made to feel rather anxious, and that needed to be mended.

"Our world is one full of mysteries, Miss Nikos. Things that we cannot explain with the knowledge and tools we have at hand. The more we delve into them, the more questions are asked and left unanswered. For the four Kingdoms and beyond, there are countless legends, fairy tales, myths, folklore, and old wives' tales, all fueling our imaginations and inspiring us in one way or another. You are right when you say that all legends and myths possess a grain or two of truth to them, but I can tell you with all sincerity and honesty, Miss Nikos, that the number of them that are true is far more numerous than you could have ever dared to imagine. The most important of them, is the Story of the Seasons, and the reason as to why, is because it is true.

When I first came to Beacon nineteen years ago, I was just as determined to become a Huntsman to fight the Grimm as I was to study ancient lore. It was those very fairy tales that inspired me to take up the cause. It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I dreamt of being like those heroes who fought the monsters and saved the day. However, I soon learned once I began to walk the path of the Huntsman, that I possessed much more valuable talents than combat. I also learned that my predecessor, Grand Huntmaster Greydane Tanngnjóstr, was also fond of old lore, and would indulge my curiosity with many stories that he knew, and even granted me near unrestricted access to the vast academy library. It was there, between the pages of forgotten tomes, that I discovered that the Maidens may in fact have existed. My childhood nostalgia took advantage of this discovery, and I began to spend every spare moment researching if the claims had any validity. Then, after many sleepless nights, and finally entering the most restricted part of the archives that even I had not been given permission to access, I found what I was looking for.

I found a very damaged tome that went into more than moderate detail about the Maidens after they received their powers, as well as what their powers are, something that the fairy tale does not explain. Each Maiden has unique powers coinciding with their respective season, granting them a form of embodiment of said seasons. Upon the death of a Maiden, her powers would then pass on to another, meaning that they cannot be removed from the world, unless the Gods take them back. That, of course, is beyond unlikely, as they gave these Maidens powers in order to protect us from Darkness.

Like any prominent figure, they drew followers, worshipers, and disciples. One group, however, stood out amongst the rest. An ancient order called The Order of the Maidens' Ring was formed to safeguard the history and knowledge of the Maidens, and ensure that the line of succession of each Maiden would remain strong to protect the world. This order was once known throughout Remnant, operating for over two thousand years, before they decided to go into hiding. The text I found does not explain why they made this decision, but I can only assume that it was to maintain secrecy, and to protect the young Maidens and their families. Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain, as at some point, the Order was destroyed."

"What happened to them?" Pyrrha asked, only then realizing she had been holding her breath in rapture.

"We do not know" admitted the Huntmaster with a sigh. "As I said, the tome I found was in poor condition, and contained significantly less information than I had hoped. Please bear in mind, we are dealing with some of the most ancient history of our world that spans thousands of years. To have any of it survive till the present is a blessing in and of itself. Furthermore, it would be impossible to compile and contain multiple millennia's worth of knowledge in a single tome without sacrificing a great amount of detail. The author of this text, a young paladin named Heidrian the Heroic, admits that the information he is presenting, is a compilation of oral tales, significant later editions of original texts, and whatever else he could find. He mentioned there were 'Dark Agents' at work, which could be responsible for the demise of the Maidens' Ring, though he does not go into detail of who or what these Dark Agents were. Nevertheless, what he did put to paper, has proven to be accurate, and has severed the Order well in regaining what was lost...within reason, of course."

The redhead sat in silence, her mind racing, trying to make sense of everything she had been told. Overwhelmed was the largest understatement of the age, as her mind was being flooded with questions, making it impossible to decide which she should ask first.

Suddenly, she heard herself say, "If the Order was destroyed, why are you speaking as if it is still operating?"

Ozpin smiled, glad that she had been paying attention.

"Because Miss Nikos, it is. When I discovered that the Maidens were real, I took it upon myself to revive the Order, and make it my life's work to search for them, wherever they may be."

"And dragged us all with him, since we had the rotten luck to be in his vicinity" commented Qrow cynically, earning a glare from Winter.

"Only you would complain of being granted such a humbling honour and privilege" she shot back disapprovingly.

"You'll understand when you've done it for as long as we have."

Winter said nothing, allowing the room to return to a deathly silence. Pyrrha was deep within her own thoughts, trying to categorize her questions, and ignored her tea that slowly grew cold. At last, she spoke, doing her best to remain both calm and respectful.

"If I am, for the moment, to accept that what you are telling me is true...why are you telling me, Huntmaster Ozpin?"

The silver-haired Huntsman leaned forward in his chair, and peered over his glasses.

"Do you believe in destiny?" he asked.

"Of course" she answered, though it was odd to hear the question after being the one to ask for so long.

"I do as well, and I believe it was destiny that brought you here—that brought us all here—whether we are grateful for the opportunity or not" Ozpin continued, causing Qrow to suck his teeth. "From the moment that I laid eyes on you, I believed that you were destined for great things. Your titles and victories mean little. It was your conviction, your composure, and your dedication that convinced me that the Gods had blessed you. I have told you all of this, Miss Nikos, because I, as head of the Order of the Maidens' Ring, along with my fellow members, believe that you are the best candidate to inherit the Fall Maiden's powers."

Silence blanketed the room once more as Pyrrha sat stunned. Nothing could have prepared her for what had just been told. Even the explanation of this supposed order, could have readied her to be told she would be directly blessed by the Gods. Of course, many had said she had been ever since she was young, and to a degree she agreed, but not in this context. There was a part of her that was demanding to be rational; to demand answers for a thousand other questions, as it was absurd to take any of this on its face. And yet, there was another part of her that was enamored by what the Huntmaster was saying. Not the idea that she was destined to be some great Paladin, or a Goddess incarnate, but that there was a group of people actively fighting for a holy cause above that of the Hunt. It was that desire to protect that drove her to become a Huntress in the first place, and to why she championed for others to do the same. Ozpin's words were awakening those feelings once more, along with her religious convictions causing her to feel that this might very well be a calling. There was one factor that remained, and it was what held her emotions in check: was it really all true?

"I have several questions" she said at last.

"As would anyone" Ozpin replied with a humorous smile.

"And anyone would laugh, call you a liar, and walk away. If this is all true, and is such a valuable secret, to be guarded for thousands of years, why did you decide to tell me before guaranteeing that I would swear my allegiance with an oath of secrecy?"

To Pyrrha's surprise, the adults all smiled approvingly.

"Because we knew that anything less than the truth, would not convince you" confessed Ozpin, propping his elbows onto his desk, interlacing all his fingers except the indexes, which he pressed lightly against his lips, half masking his smirk.

"With all due respect, Huntmaster, I haven't been convinced of anything yet. As enticing as it is to learn there is more to the fairy tale, a single source is not enough to devote yourself as you have. Have you actually found any form of tangible evidence of the Maidens?" Pyrrha asked.

"Yes, the current Fall Maiden, as I mentioned."

That surprised the lieutenant, as she interpreted what Ozpin had meant by her being the best candidate for the Fall Maiden, was that it would be for the future when they found her, or how ever she would receive these powers. This changed the situation greatly, and brought about even more questions.

"Well, can I meet her, because if she exists and is already part of your order, then why do you need me to inherit her powers?"

Ozpin removed his fingers from his lips and rose to his feet.

"While I am not particularly fond of the phrase, as it truly limits one's view of the world" he said as he walked around his desk, "I must admit that in this case, it will serve us accordingly: seeing is believing. Please come with me, Miss Nikos."

λΛλ

The Huntsmen entered the elevator without speaking. Around the Car Operating Panel were a series of large golden hex bolts, one of which Ozpin pushed and revealed it was secretly a button, causing a hand scanner to emerge. He placed his left hand on the screen, which immediately began to scan him, and pulsed green once it accepted the print as legitimate. The cabin began to descend after the scanner retracted into the C.O.P., leaving the elevator completely silent, safe for the hum of the machine drive. It was Pyrrha that broke the silence.

"Where are we going, Huntmaster?" she asked, seeing that the cabin was nearing the ground floor.

"The vault below the school" he replied softly, just as the elevator passed the assumed end of the shaft. "Some things are best kept from prying eyes."

The cabin returned to silence, though it was only momentary, as Pyrrha still had an innumerable amount of questions left to ask.

"What was the purpose of the Maidens?"

"As I stated previously, the Maidens were given to the world in order to protect it from Darkness—the Grimm and other monstrosities" Ozpin explained. "In the early days of Men, we were not as well equipped to deal with the shadow dwellers as we are now. The Maidens would fight against the creatures that we could not defeat, even at the cost of thousands of lives. Outside of the Hunt, the Maidens would do everything from advise and crown Kings, hold court, officiate religious ceremonies, the days of Solstices especially, teach magic, marry couples, conduct funerals, and many other roles. They were once a predominant part of our society, until the Order went into hiding, taking the Maidens with them, to continue their original purpose in secrecy: to be the Hammers of the Gods. And with the Grimm growing in number and activity in this current age, we need those hammers more than ever."

The elevator at last came to a halt, and opened its doors to reveal a very large but sparsely lit hallway with a high vaulted ceiling. Pyrrha followed Ozpin as he and the others stepped out of the cabin, and walked forward. Her eyes began to carefully scan the hall, and found it was filled with many tall bookshelves, containing not only tomes of knowledge, but ancient artifacts, weapons, and pieces of art. Most were from Vale, given their style and design, but others were clearly that of Atlas and Mistral, with some being even of Vacuo before its shattering.

"If the Maidens were so important to the world, and were so active for so long, then how did they turn into a nearly forgotten fairy tale?" asked the Mistralese athlete.

"Like any event or person in history, they transition from common knowledge, to history, to legends, to fairy tales, and then antiquated knowledge on the cusp of being forgotten" Ozpin replied. "Wars have a nasty habit of destroying history. So much knowledge of the past has been lost. Furthermore, with the Order going into hiding, nature took its course, along with members of the Order taking care to safeguard that history by taking it with them. As time went on and the original Order destroyed, there was no one to maintain the training and protection of the Maidens. Their powers continued to transition from one generation to the next at random, possibly without the knowledge of the transfer even occurring. Our mission once restoring the Maidens' Ring, was to locate the current successors of the Four Maidens, train them if they were young and healthy enough, or protect them if they were too feeble until a new successor could be found. And after years of searching, we finally found one of the Four."

The group stood before a strange pod-like apparatus, with a second pod adjacent to it. Within one contained a young woman who appeared to be sleeping, wearing nothing but two pieces of medical undergarments. She had a light brown complexion, with shoulder-length straight brown hair, and extensive scarring across her face. Pyrrha examined her with a sensation of dread, unable to look away from the young woman's injuries.

"She is the Fall Maiden?" she asked.

"Yes. This is Amber Calico..." Ozpin sighed, his eyes reflecting more pain than he permitted his voice to portray, "...and our dear friend."

"What happened to her?"

"She was attacked coming home from a scouting mission six months ago" Qrow explained with bitterness in his voice. "If I had just gotten to her sooner..."

"There's no guarantee that you could have changed the outcome" Ironwood offered sincerely.

"Bullsh*t" he growled back. "The kid got blindsided and overwhelmed, which means her attackers weren't some elite assassins. If they were, then she wouldn't have been so cut up or lasted as long as she did. She only lost because she hadn't mastered her powers. Damn it..." Qrow turned his back to the others, gripping his belt in frustration. Despite his sour and macabre exterior, it was clear that he still cared deeply about his friends, which certainly changed Pyrrha's initial impression of him.

"We've managed to keep her stable thanks to this state-of-the-art stasis device my army's medical division created" explained the General. "However, it wasn't the attack itself that placed her in this condition."

"What do you mean?" Pyrrha asked.

"Amber's attackers were not assassins," continued Winter, "at least not in the conventional sense. They were specifically targeting her to take the Maiden's powers, and according to Qrow, were performing some form of magic to take it from her by circumventing the normal process."

"Circumventing?" the redhead echoed, looking to her Huntmaster.

"Yes" he answered, obviously uncomfortable with the subject matter. "Heidrian the Heroic provided some explanation on the inheritance process, referred to as 'The Changing of Seasons'. Firstly, the term 'Maiden' appears to be literal, as in a young woman. The powers of the Maidens can only be wielded by young women, and will hold onto them until their deaths. The rest is rather sparse, though Heidrian mentions that the current Maiden's power will transfer to the last person in their thoughts, or with someone she is making direct eye contact with, in the last moment before death—eyes being the windows to the soul. Men cannot inherit the power, as far as we are aware."

"sh*t, that reminds me" Qrow muttered turning back to face his fellow members, and looked directly at Pyrrha. "You haven't f*cked that Arc kid yet, have you?"

Pyrrha's face exploded into colour, and her eyes became as wide as dinner plates in both horror and embarrassment. It was bad enough to be asked these things by Yang, but for her uncle to do so in front of the Huntmasters and faculty, nearly killed her.

"Qrow!" shouted Ironwood, Winter, and Glynda in unison, as Ozpin closed his eyes self-consciously.

"What?"

"That is don't-ask-don't-tell" Ironwood continued hotly.

"Bullsh*t! That's need-to-know!" Qrow fired back, pointing at the flustered Maiden-candidate.

"As I said," Ozpin managed, opening his eyes slowly, "it appears that it is literal, not that it truly is. That is the unfortunate issue with reviving an order this old without any set guidelines. As far as we know, which means that as far as Heidrian the Heroic knew, men cannot inherit any of the Four Maiden's powers, and if a dying Maiden has no one to directly transfer the powers to, then it will randomly awaken in another young woman. He makes no mention that a woman's...womanhood needs to be intact to be blessed with the Maiden's powers, however. Heidrian does make some reference to specific temples for transferring the powers of the Maidens from one wielder to another. However, we have yet to find any of these temples, and they could very well be nothing more than places of worship or holy sites; by this point destroyed by nature, development, or time. This leaves us in the desperate situation we now find ourselves with Amber's attack. Amber's attacker divided–" Ozpin caught himself, and rolled his cane in his hands before continuing. "We do not know what occurred exactly, but half of the Fall Maiden's powers were taken by Amber's assailant. I am trying to be careful with my verbiage, as we do not know if her powers were divided or fractured. This, as far as we are aware, has never occurred before."

Pyrrha, who had recovered from the shock of Qrow's bluntness, now began to understand the severity of the situation.

"Does this mean that if she dies, her assailant will reclaim the other half?" she asked.

"We can only assume, hence why we've placed Amber in an induced coma—though the magical siphoning helped with that—and stabilized her in this device" Ironwood replied, fatigued. "As archaic as it is."

"I thought you said that it was state-of-the-art?" she reminded him.

The General gave her a sheepish smile.

"These are not mutually exclusive" he said, which perplexed the lieutenant, as by definition, they were exclusive. "In Atlas, we've been experimenting on new innovations with Dust, and delving deeper in its relationship with Aura. In doing so, we've been able to develop technology to correctly identify individual and unique Aura signatures. In a military application, correctly identifying targets would become invaluable. In our situation, it's allowed us to identify the unique Aura of a Maiden—or should I say, the magic of a Maiden. This is where the special functionality of this stasis device lies. Because we can specifically identify the Maiden's powers within Amber, we can focus on it, and harness it. By using the Aura boosting technology of the device that is meant for healing, we can surge the Maiden's powers and forcibly remove it from Amber. Aura cannot be contained in any way, let alone that of a Maiden, so it must be transferred into a woman. That is what the second pod is for. If you chose to accept our proposition, then by stepping into the second pod, we will transfer the remainder of the Fall Maiden's powers into you." Ironwood looked at Pyrrha, who appeared to be somewhat shaken by what he had just told her. "I wasn't joking about it being archaic."

Pyrrha was greatly confused by this claim, for as far as she was aware, there was no way to see or identify unique Aura with current technology. All Huntsmen could sense and identify Aura, but the specialized could sense it at great distances, along with suppressing their own to avoid it being sensed by others or Grimm. She supposed that if it were possible, and was discovered by the White Army, it would be a heavily guarded military secret, coinciding with the nature of the Order. Perhaps that was why the General referred to the stasis device as archaic, though it still perplexed her, as well as leaving her somewhat suspicious.

Pyrrha then looked at the comatose Amber, her eyes resting once again on her scarred face. She had been attacked and would have been killed if not for Qrow, but was now left to a fate she had no say in. Her stomach was twisting itself into knots as she thought about what consequences would come of all of this.

"What will happen to Miss Calico if we take the powers from her?" she asked finally.

"We pray that the remaining powers of the Fall Maiden will unite with you" answered Ozpin. "The terrifying truth is that we have no idea if this will work, along with the uncertainty of the Maiden's powers being damaged, thus leaving us at the whims of fate."

Pyrrha then turned to look at the Huntmaster with harsh eyes.

"What will happen to her?"

Ozpin looked her in the eye and knew what she was truly asking.

"She will most likely die" he said slowly.

"Then I cannot accept your proposal."

"Miss Nikos–"

"No!" Pyrrha half shouted, her face filled with disgust and tinged with anger. "This is wrong! You are asking me to kill her! Do you truly wish for me to have your friend's blood on my hands?"

"Amber is a Huntress who swore an oath to protect her Kingdom and the innocent, as well as the oath of our Order" Ironwood stated strongly. "She knew all of the risks involved with those oaths."

"Oaths she chose to swear" Pyrrha fired back. "Huntsmen swear to defend their kith and their Kingdoms with their lives, soldiers swear to do the same, but they do so by freely accepting those terms. The Gods gave us free will so that we can make our own decisions—good and bad. She is in a coma, and cannot give me her consent to potentially take her life! This goes against everything that I stand for; my morals, my values, my faith, and the oaths I swore. How can you come to this conclusion so lightly?"

"We don't, Miss Nikos" said Glynda, stepping forward. "Please believe us when we say that we hate this just as much as you do, if not more so. But we are left with so few options."

"You said a few" Pyrrha caught, hoping there was a way to avoid wasting innocent life. "What else can we do?"

"If we can find and kill the slu*t that attacked her, then maybe with the Maiden's powers united again, we can save her" said Qrow, though the tone in his voice showed he was not holding his breath on it working.

"If the powers don't transfer themselves into a completely different woman," added the Atlassian Huntmaster, "or disappear entirely, which is why I would recommend capturing her alive."

"We have spent the past half year going over every possible option, Miss Nikos" continued Ozpin, pain clearly visible in his eyes, "and we are out of time. Our enemies have come to finish what they started, and I fear much more is at stake than the loss of a dear friend."

"The Dark Agents..." Pyrrha whispered in realization.

"Yes. Just as we have returned the Order of the Maidens' Ring to the world, so have the forces of Darkness to meet us. How I wish we had more time to prepare not only you, but the other promising young men and women of this academy, James', Teodoro's, and Leonardo's, for what awaits us at the turn of the tide. But these are the cards we've been dealt, and we must tempt fate with the best gambles we can muster." He placed a hand on her shoulder as his face softened. "I am so sorry for placing such a burden upon you. Never in all my life have I wished to put the lives of children in harm's way; that goes against all of my own morals and oaths as well. This is why I do not ask of you this great request lightly, and I will not pressure you further into making your decision. This device is the contingency plan. If things remain on course with the strategy we have devised, then you have only until Amber's condition takes a turn for the worse, as we would have successfully retrieved the Maiden's powers. Furthermore, returning the Fall Maiden's powers to Amber could in fact save her, thus that possibility drives us to capture her assailant as soon as possible. If we fail, and our enemies encircle us, then we will need you to decide before we lose every inch of ground we have gained over the past two decades."

Pyrrha shut her eyes and took a breath to steady herself.

"That does apply more pressure, Huntmaster, but I'm sure you chose to be honest, as anything less than the truth would not convince me" she suspired.

Ozpin smiled somberly. "You deserve nothing less than the truth" he said, before deciding to make a more comforting appeal. "You are a person of deep faith, are you not, Miss Nikos?"

"Yes, I am Anazititís Asterión Orthodox."

"Ah, of course. As a Mistralese, you would be a practitioner of Vóreios Astéras. Being orthodox, however, does explain your convictions through and through, for the Light of the Northern Star guides you in all your ventures. This, of course, is why you are our first and only choice in this endeavor. You are right to have your concerns, and we are made more certain of your legitimacy because of it. The values of your faith coincide with ours, for we too believe in the importance of free will; very much so in the clashes against the paralyzing fear that the enemy so joyously revels in. Take the time you need to think on the matter, and confine in the Gods. They will guide you, as they guide us all" he advised, patting her on the shoulder, before resting a hand on the glass of Amber's pod for a moment, and began to walk back towards the elevator. "We certainly need all the help we can get."

The others turned to follow, leaving Pyrrha to take one more look at the wounded Maiden, and with a heavy heart, turned to join her peers.

λΛλ

The brethren re-entered Ozpin's office, accompanied by their possible new Fall Maiden, who had not said a word the entire journey back. The Beacon Huntmaster returned to his seat behind the large desk that sat in the centre of the office, appearing to fall into his chair more heavily than usual. His eyes rested on the distressed redhead, and felt shame and guilt surge in his chest once more.

"Will you be alright, Miss Nikos?" he asked genuinely.

Pyrrha looked up at him with troubled eyes, but did her best to remain composed.

"As much as I can be, given what I have just learned" she replied honestly.

"It's overwhelming" admitted Winter, standing next to her with a small sympathetic smile. "When I was asked to join the Order two years ago, I honestly believed the General had succumbed to battle fatigue, and was rambling nonsensically. In time, nothing will faze you."

"If she agrees that is" Qrow added, folding his arms. "And even then, newbie, there's still a lot of sh*t to see."

"I think we've given Miss Nikos enough to think about for now, my friends" Ironwood offered, holding his hands behind his back. "I'd suggest that you take the day off to reflect on the situation at hand."

"Indeed. You should avoid spectating the second half of the Teams Round, and let your teammates handle the scouting" continued Ozpin, wanting to give Pyrrha as much room to breathe as possible.

"I...will consider it" Pyrrha answered slowly. "What am I supposed to tell my teammates?"

"Nothing that we have discussed."

"Huntmaster!"

"You will carry on as if nothing has changed as if you never set foot in my office this morning. If we cannot ask for you to join us immediately, then we must ask you to take an oath of secrecy."

"I...I can't do that to my friends!" she argued before adding more quietly "to Jaune..."

"I understand, truly I do" the silver-haired Huntsman expressed sympathetically, "but we cannot reveal the secrets of the Order to the world any more than we have—not yet."

"But I cannot keep secrets from the people I trust most."

"For the sake of Albion and the Kingdom of Vale, I implore that you must. They will learn the truth in time, and if the Gods are with us, you will not have to make the final decision on your own. However, for now, you must walk this path alone."

Pyrrha looked down at her feet, completely at a loss. She was not a person that enjoyed hate, and thus there were very few things that she could say she truly hated safe for three: traitors, liars, and cowards. She strived to be as loyal as possible, as honest as possible, and as brave as possible. And now, she was being asked to lie to the people she loved. It was as if a war was going on inside her, all her convictions and morals against what many would refer to as the "Greater Good". She nearly laughed, for as a student of history, she knew how often the "Greater Good" had been invoked to commit great evil. And yet, great evil was now approaching, and she had a legitimate opportunity to fight against it in the names of the Gods. She tried to focus on that fact, and the duty she was demanded to fulfill, but Jaune's face materialized in her mind, and her heart ached.

She loved him, oh how she loved him dearly. She was ready and willing to do anything to protect him, but did that include lying to him? Was this the manifestation of the phrase "Love is the death of duty"? Her mind rested on "death", which caused her to shudder, as imagining anything nearing that occurring to Jaune, filled her with dread.

"I have one question, Huntmaster" she said at last. "You keep referring to our enemies and the forces of Darkness. Evil always has a face and a name. So, please tell me, who are our enemies?"

Ozpin paused for a moment, examining Pyrrha's eyes and facial expression, for he now knew they were both playing on the same board.

"You have already met them" he admitted slowly. "Roman Torchwick and the White Fang."

"You speak of fighting Darkness in the names of the Gods, which I myself have sworn an oath to, thus I answer to a higher power than the laws of mortal men" the redhead spoke in sobering seriousness. "So, tell me, Huntmaster, who do they answer to?"

The two stared into each other's eyes with steely glares, as if they were fighting for control of the conversation.

"I'm sorry, Miss Nikos, but that is not information I can disclose until you swear to join our cause and Order in full."

Pyrrha paused for a moment before sighing, fearing that that would be his response.

"I understand. Will that be all, Huntmaster?"

"No" he replied. "There is one final pressing issue that I would like your opinion on." He tapped a key on the touch screen keyboard on his desk, activating the holoscreen above him, and revealed the portraits of Team CLME. Pyrrha's heart fell into her stomach.

"Do–"

"You have no idea who they are either" she breathed is dismay.

The adults present all tensed, more that she had been suspicious of Cinder and her associates than confirming what they already knew, for that was the very reason they had decided to ask her.

"You've noticed?" Ozpin asked carefully.

"Of course! They supposedly are from Mistral, but I've never seen them before. No one has seen them before. I tried to speak to them after their victory yesterday, but I lost track of them. I was about to go to the Mistral lodgings this morning to ask them directly."

"No" Ironwood warned. "Do not engage them under any circ*mstances. We will deal with them when the time comes."

"But if you are aware they are the enemy, then why haven't you arrested them?"

"It's no use, Miss Nikos" Glynda sighed, understanding her student's frustration. "I share your concerns, but I have been completely outvoted by the others. We have no choice but to wait for the opportune moment."

Pyrrha's eyes darted from each adult in distress.

"I have to tell the others" she said.

"No" ordered Ozpin strongly. "You will do as we agreed; you will carry on as if nothing has changed and we never had this lengthy conversation."

"Huntmaster, Team RWBY still believes them to be their friends, and asking me to pretend they are, will give all my friends a false sense of security, thus trusting Team CLME once again. You are putting my friends and the civilians of this city in jeopardy by letting them walk free!"

Her eyes flicked to Qrow, hoping that he would give her some support, given that he now knew that his nieces were in direct danger.

"Miss Pyrrha Nikos" Ozpin said in a very strong voice as he rose to his feet, to which he appeared to tower over her more so than he usually did. "I know that I have asked more than any teacher should ever ask of a student, but I demand that you will remain completely silent on the matter, and not speak a word to either Jaune Arc or any of your friends or family. We have placed our faith in you, so I implore–no," he bowed deeply, "I beg of you, please place your faith in us."

Pyrrha was utterly shocked by the Huntmaster's humility. For him to prostrate like this before her, meant just how severe the situation truly was, and how much he and his Order were in dire need of her help. As the Grand Huntmaster of Vale, he had the complete authority to make this an order, and yet, he did not. How many sacrifices they must have made to accommodate her, putting themselves in jeopardy in the process? For two decades they had been trying to protect the innocent, and now being forced into an incredibly vulnerable state, had left them no choice but to extend a hand in desperation for her help. They were all on the same side, and they were just as unsettled and worried for the safety of the innocent as she was. Swallowing her fear, she returned the bow.

"...I shall" she surrendered quietly. "I will remain silent and reveal nothing. What do I tell the others, however, for without question they'll want answers for our meeting, and as well as my claims that Team CLME are legitimate?"

"You will say that you were wrong, and they are indeed Huntsmen-in-training from Mistral. Say that they were granted special permission, and our meeting was just to congratulate you and the rest of Team JNPR" Ozpin instructed with a small but deeply grateful smile. "Thank you, Miss Nikos. We are indebted to you. We will contact you if the situation changes. And again, we wish you continued success in the tournament."

Pyrrha nodded silently, and bowed respectfully to the other members of the Maidens' Ring. Before leaving the office, she looked once more to the holoscreen, and her eyes rested on Cinder.

"She's the one that assaulted Amber, isn't she?" she stated more than asked.

"I've got sh*t luck, so I don't gamble on anything, as a rule" Qrow answered, glaring at Cinder's portrait. "But if I had to bet what little I've got...yeah, she's the one. She didn't use any of the Fall Maiden's powers during her single match—for f*cking obvious reasons—to be one hundred percent sure, but we know it's her."

Pyrrha bore her eyes into the false-Maiden's malicious orbs that she had suspected from the beginning revealed who she truly was.

"How much time do we have until they attack, or Miss Calico's health fails?"

"We are nearing completion in regard to our defensive strategy" replied Ironwood, "though our enemies will be the ones to make the first move. As for Amber...that is up to her. She's stable for now, but we must be ready for everything and anything."

After a moment of pause, Pyrrha silently nodded, and at last turned to leave the office. As soon as the door closed behind her, Ozpin collapsed into his chair.

"Gods forgive us" he sighed in exhaustion.

Ironwood rested a hand on his friend's shoulder in comfort.

"You've done everything you can, Sam. She'll be an incredible Maiden, if the worst should come. Her strength is the most impressive I've seen in years, even amongst my students. She'll pull her weight, just as we'll pull ours."

Ozpin removed his glasses and held them in one hand as he rubbed the bridge of his nose with his left thumb and index finger.

"I can only pray so."

λΛλ

Jaune stared at his Scroll in frustration. He had been sending texts regularly to Pyrrha for well over an hour, and had even called her several times. Thus far, he had yet to hear back, which was very much unlike her. It was clear that things had taken much longer than she or any of them had expected, but why had she not given him so much as a text to explain why? By that point, he and the rest of their team, along with their friends, were seated once again in the reserved rows of the Coliseum stands. At least they were in the only place Pyrrha would go to other than the Mistral lodging itself.

'What's going on, Pyrrha?' he asked, gazing at the long string of unread texts and missed calls.

"She hasn't responded?" asked Ren, though he already knew the answer.

The blond closed his Scroll in annoyance and placed it back into his pocket.

"No. What the Hell is taking her so long? She said she would let us know when she was done before going to talk with Team CLME, but the damn tournament is about to start, and she isn't back."

"I'm sure she's alright, Jaune. She would never rush into a situation without thinking things through," Ren reassured his captain, "and if she were to find herself in a bad situation, she is more than capable of handling it. Give her a bit more time."

The swordsman sighed and folded his arms. "Yeah, I know" he muttered, unable to shake the anxiety that had been gripping his heart since she left the dining hall.

"Hey, there's Cinder and her teammates" announced Ruby, pointing to the opposite side of the Coliseum. Everyone's eyes snapped to where she was pointing, and saw that all four were now seating themselves to watch the remainder of the Teams Round.

"What does that mean?" asked Yang.

"It could be that Pyrrha spoke with them, and everything is fine" offered Weiss, though not entirely sure she believed what she was saying.

"Or things went south, and she was beaten by them..." Blake added, cautiously.

"No way! Pyrrha would never lose!" defended Nora, not able to imagine her friend being defeated by anyone.

"Your confidence in me is always appreciated" said a familiar voice, causing the group to look to their right and see the Mistralese standing before them.

"Pyrrha!" they cried in shock, with Jaune quickly rising to his feet to face her.

"Are you OK?" he asked intensely, unable to hide his worry for her wellbeing, and gripped her shoulders both gently and strongly.

"I'm fine. I just got caught up with a number of things" she replied smiling. "I'm sorry, I saw how late in the morning it was, so I chose to rush back instead of texting."

"Did you talk to Team CLME?"

"Yes, I did."

"And?"

Pyrrha kept her smile. "I was mistaken. They are legitimate students of Haven, and were allowed to enter the tournament with special permission from Grand Huntmaster Lionheart, which Grand Huntmaster Ozpin confirmed. Everything is alright" she explained.

There was a mixture of relief and hesitation amongst the group, as the time they had to think and discuss on the matter, had led them to be more certain that Cinder and her team were impersonators. However, hearing Pyrrha herself, who had been the most suspicious of them all, admit she was wrong, was certainly reassuring.

But not to all. Jaune continued to gaze upon his lieutenant, having a great deal of trouble believing her, something that he himself thought to be impossible, as he always had complete faith in her judgement. Blake was also hesitant to accept Pyrrha's words on their face, as she too had become convinced that she had encountered Cinder and her associates before coming to Beacon. That notwithstanding, why was Pyrrha now saying that everything had been a misjudgement?

"Well, at least that's been taken care of" said Ruby "Now we can all enjoy the tournament together without being worried."

"Actually, I think I will sit out for today" interjected Pyrrha politely, which sent up red flags for Jaune.

"Why? What's wrong?" he asked quickly.

"I just feel a little under the weather" she said casually. "Nothing serious that would take me out of the tournament, of course, but I think that I will take the day for myself."

Jaune's worry began to grow, as he knew something was off.

"Does this have something to do with whatever Huntmaster Ozpin called to talk about? What was that even?"

"No, it's unrelated" she lied. "The Huntmaster just wanted to congratulate us on our first victory, along with General Ironwood. It was nothing serious."

The blond swordsman was not convinced, and he cupped her left cheek, gazing into her eyes with concern—not as a captain, but as a lover.

"Please, Pyrrha, is everything OK?" he asked softly, his eyes and voice leaving nothing to the imagination.

Pyrrha instantly felt her heart lodge itself in her throat. She never wanted to lie to him, and the fact that she now had to after how far they had come in their relationship, made her heart ache. How badly she wanted to tell him the truth, to ask for his advice, and feel that she did not have to bear this burden alone. She just wanted to be in his arms and feel safe within them. She could feel her will crumbling, knowing she was just mere inches away from getting exactly what she wanted. But then, she saw the scarred face of Amber in her mind. She was lying in a coma beneath the academy, fighting for her life after facing the agents of whatever dark forces were trying to destroy the Kingdom. Now, it might be up to Pyrrha to determine whether the Fall Maiden would live, or that her sacrifice would have been in vain. Pyrrha began to feel her stomach twist in guilt, knowing just how selfish she was being. If she could not be strong and delay her gratification for the sake of protecting innocent life, then she should not even be trying to be a Huntress.

"Yes, everything is fine. I'm just a bit tired" she managed. "I'll see you tonight. I promise."

Without allowing herself a chance to break the facade, she kissed Jaune on the cheek, and left him with the others. Jaune watched her leave, once again feeling the desperate need to chase after her, but he knew that he needed to respect her wishes. Nevertheless, as he sat back down with his friends, he and Blake thought the same disconcerting notion.

'She's lying.'

λΛλ

Pyrrha walked the near deserted streets of Albion aimlessly, not sure what to think or what to feel. She knew that she had done the right thing, protecting Jaune and her friends from the dangers of Amber's attackers, and keeping the oath she had sworn to the Maidens' Ring that she would not reveal their existence. And yet, she could not stop herself from feeling she had gone against her own principles, and betrayed her friends in the process. It was impossible to explain what she was feeling in words; her emotions being too turbulent to decipher. However, the closest comparison she could make was that it felt as if her entire world had been thrown into the sky, and she had no idea when it would come back down, whilst fearing it would smash into a million pieces. If she ever needed something or someone to guide her, it was now.

Then from the corner of her right eye, she saw an all too familiar building. It was a beautiful temple with a stylobate base leading to eight columns ordained with red and white banners, and a symbol of a bursting star encircled with a laurel wreath embossed in stone above the oak double doors. The entablature above the columns was equally beautiful, with the constellations carved into the frieze, set with Dust crystals. It was the head temple of the Valian chapter of her faith, a place of worship that she had visited many times since her arrival at Beacon. The academy had a temple of their own on campus with both Paladinist and Starseeker holy men, and while she did visit it, she tended to prefer this one. She had not planned on walking to the temple, but now more than ever did she need its comfort.

She slowly walked to the doors, and with more strength than she normally required, pushed one open, and entered the hallowed halls of the temple. It was truly a beautiful place, filled with tapestries, sculptures of the Gods, and Dust infused stained glass windows. They were carefully crafted to always capture the light, whether it be from the Sun or the Moon, and flood the temple with their radiance. The wooden pews had holy symbols carved into them, leading towards a large stone altar, draped with a red cloth. Standing before the altar was an elderly man in worn brown robes, probably in his sixties, carrying a basket filled with gardening tools. Despite his age, he heard Pyrrha enter the temple, and turned to greet her. He had thinning white hair, and a respectable amount of wrinkles that only grew in number when he recognized her; her presence causing his pale blue eyes to nearly vanish as he smiled.

"Pyrrha, my dear child. How wonderful to see you again. Congratulations on your team's first victory. My brothers and I enjoyed watching it. May you have many more" he said warmly.

"Thank you, Presbyteros Alesandro" she said bowing. "I pray we will win the tournament."

"Oh, I am sure you will. Especially with," he reached over and pinched her cheek playfully, "that handsome young man of yours. How beautiful young love is when it blooms in spring." His words and actions brought about a genuine smile to Pyrrha's face, and she could not suppress a sheepish laugh from escaping her lips. Before she could say anything, the holy man's smile turned mischievous. "Have you come to discuss the arrangement of your marriage?"

The redhead's face blossomed into a strong blush, not expecting him to propose such a thing.

"Th-Thank you, Presbyteros, but I think that is a bit too soon for us" she stuttered, having trouble maintaining eye contact.

"So you say, but even through the television, I and my brothers could see how deeply in love the both of you are. Why put it off any longer?"

Though embarrassed, she smiled warmly at the elder's honesty.

"Again, thank you, but I think it would be better if Jaune were to meet my mother and I meet his family before we elope. Also, Jaune is a Paladinist."

"If you tell them, it would not be eloping" Alesandro reasoned, "and that was most obvious with him being Valian and bearing the sigil of the Lancer on his armour. Our faiths have never been at odds, so I am sure we can come to an agreement. Nevertheless, when you do decide to tie the knot, you come straight to my Naós, you understand?"

"We would have to consult with our families first, as his is much larger than mine, though most likely we would marry in Mistral given my family's connection to the High Naós at the capital."

"If I must fly to the High Temple of Astrofengiá (Starlight) to marry you two, then I shall" he said defiantly. "If I cannot fly, then I shall ride to the coast and board a ship. If I cannot sail, then I shall swim!"

The holy man's enthusiasm caused Pyrrha to laugh, never seeing him so animated before.

"Presbyteros! You don't have to go to such lengths!"

Alesandro smiled from ear to ear, and took her hand gently.

"For our Champion of Light, I would do it all. Now tell me, child, what brings you to the temple when the tournament must surely have begun?"

Pyrrha was touched by the old man's words, and wanted to speak to him honestly, as a holy man of her faith would surely be able to offer her the advice and guidance she desperately needed. But once again, she knew that she could not tell him the truth. To involve anyone else in her struggle was a cowardly thing to do, and she would not misinterpret her stumbling to the temple as a sign from the Gods to begin breaking her oath of secrecy. She instead decided to take it as a sign to reflect.

"I...needed to take some time alone and to pray" she said slowly. "I've had a lot on my mind as of late, and I feel the need to reflect and calm myself."

"Of course, my dear. Please, stay for as long as you'd like. If you need me, I shall be with my brothers tending to the green houses. Máio to Fos tou Vóreiou Astéra fotízei tin poreía sas (May the Light of the Northern Star illuminate your path)" he blessed, touching her forehead before walking to a door towards the back of the temple, and leaving Pyrrha alone in front of the altar.

The champion's smile began to fade as the temple became deathly silent. She looked above the altar where a stone carving of the same Star symbol that was in front of the temple, placed upon a marble pillar, surrounded by nine statues of the chief Gods and Goddesses. She knelt before them, and retrieved a small golden pendant of that symbol from a secret pocket within her plackart. She held it by its chain with her hands in prayer, but then pressed them against her chest as if to hold herself, as tears began to slide down her cheeks.

'Patéras... (Father)...'

λΛλ

"Thank you, please keep me posted with any and all updates. Over and out" said Ironwood into the mouthpiece of a radio device, before dropping the headset he was listening in to, and forcibly returned the mouthpiece to the receiver. "Damn it!"

"I don't want to know, but I must ask" sighed Ozpin, looking across his desk at his fellow Huntmaster. It was now in the late evening, and the Order had reconvened to plan, as had done nearly every day since the start of the Vytal Festival.

"Our informant just contacted us and said that Taurus and his forces have relocated to a new position, and he needs more time to pin their location and the exact number of their forces" Ironwood reiterated. "Which means I need to know where they've repositioned to, because I can't just have my men running around the city like chickens with their heads cut off."

The silver-haired Huntmaster sighed again. "If it isn't one thing, it's another."

"We need more time, Oz" added Qrow, examining the contents of a square leather pouch.

"If you have any suggestions, you can present them, rather than complain as per usual" Winter commented crossly.

"Easy, Ice Queen" the sombre Huntsman warned testily. "I know exactly what my job is, Jimmy knows what his job is, and Oz knows what his job is. And since he's the leader of this motley crew, he's got to lead and pull the trigger when it needs pulling."

"And what would you have me do?" asked Ozpin in a receptive tone, rather than a condescending one.

Qrow looked up at his old friend and spoke as bluntly as he always had.

"You need to make some magic and pull a rabbit out of your hat, cuz if we don't lock down the White Fang's forces, we're potentially looking at a repeat of what happened in Mantle, but even worse."

Ozpin gazed back at his brethren over the rims of his spectacles for several moments, contemplating what he had just said. He once again rested his lips against his index fingers with the rest interlaced, pondering with his eyes closed in the silence that came from the heavy ultimatum Qrow had uttered. After a full minute of quietness, he opened his eyes.

"I believe that I might have the magic you are looking for" he said at last. "Although, more than one rabbit will be needed, and I will need your help to gather them in time."

Qrow could not suppress a smirk, understanding his friend's implication well, having never doubted him for a moment.

"If I'm good at anything, it's chasing tail. Lay it on me."

Author's Note:

If you thought that I changed a lot of things from the show before this chapter, then get a load of this. Let us begin.

From Inner Circle to Maidens' Ring

From the outset, I had assumed a great many things about this show. I know, shame on me, especially given that I am the one who usually chastises others for assuming things regarding RWBY, but it was a simpler time then. As this story has shown thus far, my assumptions are well-founded, especially in comparison to where things have gone in the show. This time round, we are going to venture into the now infamous Ozpin's "Inner Circle".

The original presentation of this Inner Circle was a frustrating one. To me, it seemed that it was meant to be some secret ancient order, yet what was throwing me for a loop was how unorganized it was. I then thought that the reason for this lack of organization and polish was that they were a young revival of an ancient order, so they were still trying to find their feet. We very quickly learned that this was not the case. Well, we did not learn much of anything until V5, but that does not help the V3 situation by any means.

If this Inner Circle was meant to be very important, and in charge of guarding an even more important secret, then why in the name of all that is holy do these people act like petty, callus, immature morons? The entire group does not even act like friends, let alone like powerful Huntsmen in prominent positions in government; and as we were made aware, part of a holy order with the intent of protecting the world. This gets considerably worse when we learn the truth behind Ozpin, but we shall cross that bridge when we come to it. Every single decision they made was the wrong one, and not due to there being no good options, but because they were morons. Instead of taking charge and doing the obvious thing (such as doing a system check after finding out someone was snooping around as I mentioned in Chapter I), they sit on their hands and bicker. So, not only are they incompetent, they are just unlikable, leaving you unable to trust them, which is a problem when the plot requires that you do. The result was, and still is, obvious.

This was not tolerable for me, so I very quickly began to envision what I found to be self-evident, culminating into what you have been seeing since the start of this story, and at last this very chapter. Not only are the characters of Ozpin, Ironwood, Qrow, Goodwitch, and Winter more compassionate, competent, likable, and sympathetic (especially regarding Pyrrha and Amber), but their mission is now clearer and...appealing, for lack of a better word. They also do far more than merely sit on their hands, as you can clearly see.

Before we move onto that mission, let us return to the Order for a moment. Here, we now have the ancient order that I always thought was more likely and in line with the genre, the revival element explaining the lack of certainty in places, an ancient text to which they are drawing their information from, which adds to that uncertainty, but also its legitimacy. We have an explanation as to why everything has been kept secret/lost, and we have a better idea as to why these people came together to form this Order.

I truly hope that this major change—major in comparison to what the show went with, at least—was to your liking, though given the reviews I have received thus far regarding them, I think I did well.

A Maiden for Each Season

Originally in V3, we learned very little about what the Maidens are and what purpose they serve. “The Story of Seasons”, while on its face seems typical of such fairy tales, serves little purpose. The story does not have any properly defined characters, there is no plot, there is no moral message, and despite being called "The Story of Seasons", it does not provide an explanation as to how these Maidens brought about the seasons. Usually, fairy tales such as these explain how major elements of the world—the Sun, the Moon, the stars, mountains, islands, animals, etc.—came to be as we know them, generally set during the world's youth (How the Raven Stole the Sun comes screaming to mind). With “The Story of Seasons”, we get none of this, and it comes across as rather slapped together without much of a point.

This becomes far worse when you then realize there is almost no connection between the story and what the Inner Circle is presenting to Pyrrha in V3, let alone what gets revealed in V5 onwards. Is this supposed to explain where the seasons came from, because that cannot be the case, as the setting is after the world is set, other than the Moon getting shattered. Thus, we must ask what purpose do the Maidens serve in all of this, for if they are this powerful and are so important, then how are they nothing more than a somewhat known fairy tale? How did the fairy tale even come about, especially after learning the truth about Salem and Ozma? This, without question, is due to Monty's—and then Luna's and Shawcross'—inability to settle on either the Maidens or the Artifacts, going by the seat of their pants, and then deciding to go with both without thinking things through. What a tempest of chaos.

This is how we find ourselves with this rewritten story of the Maidens. Like everything else, I wrote what seemed the most obvious to me; nothing too crazy or overly complicated, just what made the most sense given what was on the table. There is the obvious inspiration from Avatar, though I suspect that was Monty's/CRWBY's inspiration as well, especially given the similarities to Korra, mainly Vytal Island and the Council system...and traitorous allies. This way the Maidens have an understandable role in Remnant's societies, as well as how they would have slowly faded into legend, with multiple versions of fairy tales in their absence. That being said, I did not change the "canon" fairy tale, other than it being more well-known in Mistral than Vale, and more for the folklore buffs. While I no doubt should and will rewrite the fairy tale to something that better dovetails into my rewrite of the Maidens, I hope that what I have come up with will please you more than shock you.

And yes, all those fairy tales Pyrrha listed are real.

The Convincing and Convictions of Pyrrha Nikos

Now, this is a topic that I am very happy to find that I was not the only one that took issue with. The original episode required the Inner Circle to convince Pyrrha to take on this "immense" responsibility, which included not only the execution/murder of the current Fall Maiden, but the warning that Pyrrha may lose herself by merging with Amber's..."soul"...somehow?

Before we get to that, I want to cover the selecting of Pyrrha as the next Fall Maiden. I am of the mind that Pyrrha is perfect for the role, so I do not fault the Inner Circle for seeking her out. What I do take issue with, however, are their methods. Instead of being clear on anything, all they do is scare Pyrrha, and I do not blame her for reacting that way, but I do blame them, as well as CRWBY. It is clear, yet again, that because of the lack of planning and cementing of ideas, everything is as vague as humanly possible, leaving you just as confused as Pyrrha. Small piece of advice for anyone listening who wants to create stories: vague is not mysterious; vague is laziness.

Pyrrha does not ask the Inner Circle the most obvious of questions, and the only reasons I can think of as to why, are that they (Monty, Luna, and Shawcross) would not have been able to answer them, and that the plot needed to move forward. Again, the Artifacts and the Maidens were jockeying for position behind the scenes at the time. Instead, for this story, since I did have all the answers ready, I had Pyrrha act like a sane person and ask for clarification. Of course, I had to balance her thinking that this is a bit ridiculous, and being genuinely curious given how stone-cold sober Sam and the others are being, not to mention her religious convictions. Indeed, since all of this is about saving the world, it should be taken very seriously by all involved.

This brings us to Amber and Pyrrha's convictions. Everyone appears to be on the same page that what the Inner Circle did, or rather, did not do, to Amber, is disgusting. The complete disregard to Amber's life is sickening, which only adds to our inability to trust or like Ozpin and his pawns cohorts. They could have at least pretended to care. However, what makes things worse is Pyrrha's reaction. Her initial reaction is the correct one, that it is evil to kill Amber to maybe successfully transfer her half of the Fall Maiden's power to herself. Do not worry, we are going to get to that as well. For no reason whatsoever, she quickly changes her mind and agrees to sign Amber's death certificate.

I can say with great confidence that Pyrrha would NEVER do that, and shame on Luna and Shawcross to write it that she would. This is why I have Pyrrha lose her cool with them when the Order tell her that there is a strong chance that Amber will die in the process. She swore an oath to protect the innocent, and she will keep that oath, may she be covered with death if she were to fail.

Since I share her disgust, I made the necessary changes. Here, the Order does not take this decision lightly, and do not want to sacrifice Amber if it can be avoided. They hate that this is the case, but they need a contingency plan if all other options fail. This is how both Pyrrha, and you (I hope), the audience, can accept the terms of this offer, as their primary objective is to capture Cinder and save Amber, but need the reassurance of Pyrrha being there for them. Of course, Pyrrha is not fully in, but it at least gets the ball rolling in a believable manner.

Speaking of believable, I must ask, did anyone else call into question the claim that Pyrrha could lose herself (?) by transferring Amber's half of the Maiden powers? That claim then becomes the other major stake of the volume, and yet, there is nothing to validate its legitimacy. This is disastrous, not only because everything hinges on this, but because it never comes up again throughout the rest of the show. Pyrrha must choose between Jaune and the world, so naturally she would be very distressed with this ultimatum. The problem with this is two-fold. The first is that Luna and Shawcross regress Jaune and Pyrrha's relationship by not treating Pyrrha's confession as one (effectively retconning it), as well as not making them as close as a couple can be without sealing the deal, and the second is that Cinder did not change for doing the exact same thing to Amber.

It is because of this that I believe that the "losing herself" stake was a whole fabricated Sword of Damocles, thus making Pyrrha's death even more pointless, and further delegitimizes the claims that it was planned from the start. Tell me that I am just angry for no reason again, I dare you.

I hope that you agree with my changes and sentiments, and that I did a better job in executing them.

Vóreios Astéras: The Light of Life

Yes, you did not misread anything: I created a religion for Remnant. What, you thought the Paladinist thing in Chapter V was a throwaway line? Where I come from, there are no throwaway lines. Given that this is a massive subject, I will try to keep this concise.

Religion is important, more so than people think these days, as it is the glue that keeps society together. It is just as important in fantasy, for with magic being prominent, it all but confirms that there is at least one God and an afterlife. In the context of RWBY, it is that and more so. Aura and Semblances are proof enough that there is some form of Higher Power, as Pyrrha so aptly said that they are tied to the soul. To add to that, the existence of the Grimm, they being the monsters of Darkness, and they are to be stopped by the Huntsmen, warriors blessed by the Light, make it all more significant.

It is blatantly clear to me that religion would be very important to the world of Remnant, and it has baffled me for years that it is not. Even if there were not Huntsmen with magical abilities, the very fact that the Grimm exist, monsters that are clearly not living beasts, would be enough to bolster religiosity. So, why is it not present in any shape, way, or form? The two obvious reasons are, one, to invent a new religion that makes any modicum of sense is not easy, and two, if you do not have respect for good religion—not even believe in it, just respect it—you cannot write it.

Now, this is a major topic, and I cannot get into the deeper issues with it in RWBY until a later date, so what I will touch on are the comments made by Glynda Goodwitch. In the original episode, she warns that if the masses learned the truth about the Maidens, it would illegitimatize all religions and cause a global panic. Not only does she not explain how this is the case, she informs us that there are multiple religions in Remnant. To this very day, none are mentioned, except for the "true faith" of the Brothers later on, which also has no evidence of their existence (i.e., practitioners and temples) in the first five volumes. Apparently, Luna says he came up with the Brothers in a V4 Director's Commentary (note: as of posting this, my copy of V4 is in the mail, so I cannot confirm), yet nothing comes about until V6C3. This is precisely why I believe that Glynda's comment was yet another attempt to raise the hollow stakes, as well as add pressure to Pyrrha and make her panic.

This, as well as the reasons I mentioned previously, are why I knew I had to create a religion for Remnant, and I ended up with Vóreios Astéras, Northern Star, and a slight Valian denomination, Paladinism. Given the nature of Remnant, I scrapped the idea of there being multiple religions, or as Qrow says, "dozens of Gods", and stuck to just one religion with nine primary Gods in the pantheon (though I am working on their children). I think this is a simple solution without being infantile, which is what the Brothers are; a Dualist religion where there is a good God and a bad God in order to explain the world. Again, that is a major topic that requires its own time and place, as it raises many questions (canon, ethics, values, practices, the Faunus, the Huntsmen, free will, etc.), as well as the continuation of Qrow's statement, "But if you believe Ozpin, two of them are actually real". So, despite everything that exists in Remnant, you, and presumably others, do not believe in a Higher Power? *Dragon.exe has stopped working*.

While I cannot wait to get into that topic, it will have to, and I hope that all of you appreciated the change, as well as my reasons for doing so.

This then leads us to the subject of Pyrrha's piety, which you began to see more prominently in Chapter V. This is, yet again, something that I found to be obvious given her personality and behaviour, as well as her archetype. As you can now see, it was not a throwaway scene, or that her words were spiritually hollow pabulum, but rather something core to Pyrrha's character, and the world at large. It further cements that Pyrrha is the perfect choice for the Fall Maiden, as well as to why she was receptive to the offer in the first place. This was also what CRWBY were relying on for you to buy that Pyrrha would agree to be the Fall Maiden and rush to her death against Cinder; basing it all on her archetype and your knowledge of it, though not doing anything to establish it properly and undeniably as a part of who she was. I am a major supporter of show-don't-tell, yet you must also tell, and if you tell, then you must show. Pyrrha is the Queen of that—unmatched champion, Paladin/Einheri-type, very experienced in all fields, fights chumps, and dies for hack writers' clout—which I planned to mend in this very story.

There is still a long list of things about this subject I want to get into, but we will get to it at a later date. I know, I am saying that a lot, but I want to avoid spoilers whilst being as clear and detailed in my thought process as possible.

I can only hope that you enjoyed both the notes and the chapter, and I will see you all next time. Happy Halloween and Carpe Noctem!

Oh, and speaking of never-ending horror, since this could be the last chapter before the start of V8, I might as well give my predictions. Ironwood is going to die, Jacques will die, Oscar will probably die, Ren might die, Wasp will become canon, and then the company will go under.

I hope that this fic will be refuge for all ye heartbroken fans.

Brace yourselves.

Chapter 8: Duty and Honour

Chapter Text

The third day of the tournament had broken, and the capital was already bustling with life. Within the campus of Beacon, the students were in a fervour, both those spectating and those competing. They made certain that they had submitted to the tournament board who would be competing in the Doubles Round before the deadline, and were now going over their gear in preparation for their matches. Given that Team RWBY had the larger dorm room, both they and Team JNPR had gathered there to inspect their weapons. Yang and Weiss were making sure that Ember Celica and Myrtenaster were indexing correctly, as was Nora with Magnhild, who was now inspecting an assortment of 40mm rounds. Pyrrha was examining the sharpness of Miló, however, she was already quite certain it was in perfect condition, and was checking out of habit. The others were talking amongst themselves, though once again, Blake and Jaune were keeping an eye on Pyrrha.

Both were quite certain that she was lying about Team CLME, but they could not for the life of them understand why. The only probable explanation was that it had something to do with whatever she and Ozpin had spoken about. This did give them some hope that he was aware of the situation and was handling it, thus there was no need for them to take matters into their own hands. While they still wanted to know the finer details, part of them argued to respect Pyrrha's privacy, as they still had secrets of their own they had yet to reveal.

'I guess it's fair, I still haven't told her everything' he thought as he watched her examine Akoúo's straps. 'But I just wish she would tell me what's really bothering her. I hate seeing her like this.'

As Nora began to load all her extra grenade rounds into a multilayered bandolier, Ruby could not help but comment.

"Are you gonna be able to fight with that on your waist?" she asked.

"Oh, I'll be fine. It's not that heavy" reassured the ginger.

"That might be too many though."

Nora gave the sniper a rather smug smirk.

"If you think that you can have too many bombs, then you don't understand the concept of bombs" she explained.

"True, though you should diversify your ammunition" advised Weiss, noticing they were all the same. "The nature of your weapon has more versatility than mere bombardment."

"Yeah, I know, but it's too late now" Nora acknowledged with a pout. "Maybe I'll look into it after the tournament."

"I wouldn't mind going over it with you, if you'd like" the heiress offered.

"Really? Awwwww, thank you!" beamed the hammeress. "I've got some cool ideas for Magnhild, like firing all six shots when I hit something in hammer form for a super finishing-move."

Weiss thought for a moment.

"That would probably need an entire firing mechanism overhaul" she pondered, with Ruby nodding in agreement. "Then there is the need to find a way to expose all six chambers for simultaneous discharge without damaging them when you strike targets, along with strengthening Magnhild itself to withstand the gas pressure of firing six rounds at once—if it isn't already. I'll need some time to come up with something."

Without warning, Nora pulled Weiss into a tight hug.

"Thank yoooou~!" she expressed with joy, and while the young thunderess was not aware of her strength with the hug, the heiress could not suppress a humble smile.

"You're welcome. At least for new ammunition we can cover that in a day, so hopefully it will tie you over until I can come up with a plausible upgrade."

"I owe you, Weiss!"

"So..." began Blake, bringing the attention of the room to herself, "not to be a stick in the mud by pointing out the Goliath in the room, but what are we going to do if we fight each other today?"

Indeed, the thought had been on all their minds for a while now. It was inevitable that as the tournament progressed, the chances of Team RWBY and JNPR fighting one another rose dramatically. While Pyrrha's initial tease before the start of the tournament got them all excited to compete, and the tournament was just a more intense sparring session between friends, there was still some reservation of fighting against allies. Blake was not entirely sure if the others felt the same, but she was becoming incredibly fond of them all, and after what had happened during her past, it was a bit unsettling for her.

"I can't wait" stated Yang confidently. "If we don't fight against each other today, you better not lose, cuz I want that one on one, Nikos. And if we do fight, I still want that one on one, so don't interfere, Nora!"

"I agree to these terms" Pyrrha concurred with a small smile. "Will you promise to give us a wide birth, Nora?"

The ginger looked between the blonde and the redhead slowly, before lowering her head submissively.

"OK..."

"OK what?"

"...OK I won't get in the way of your fight."

"Good Nora" said the blonde, rubbing her head approvingly. "At least someone on your team can do as they're told."

This caused Pyrrha to blink, slightly taken aback. "I'm sorry?"

Yang reached for her Scroll and began to sift through some application.

"I was going to bring this up yesterday, but given all that happened it slipped my mind" she explained, before finally finding what she was looking for, and held up her Scroll so Pyrrha could see.

It was yet another article about Jaune and Pyrrha, this time titled "MORE SERIOUS THAN WE THOUGHT?" Below the title were two photos; one on the left of Team JNPR walking into the arena, and a second which was a blow up of the first, cropped and zoomed to show the couple holding hands. When the blond and redhead realized this, their cheeks began to burn.

"O-Oh" gasped Pyrrha, slightly embarrassed. "I-I didn't realize we were still holding hands..."

"Y-Yeah..." admitted Jaune, scratching the back of his head sheepishly. Nora and Ren looked at their flustered friends with smirks on their faces, fully entertained by their romance, as well as their shyness. Yang on the other hand, was not so amused.

"I told you not to give them any more ammunition!" she scolded.

"We forgot. It's not the end of the world" defended Jaune. "Plus, it's just handholding."

"It might as well have been a juicy steak to these vultures. If you guys want to keep them out of your relationship, then don't bait them."

"I've already told a reporter personally to shove it" the young Knight added.

"Like that'll work for long."

"I know" Jaune sighed, "but at the same time, it's not like we'll keep it a secret forever. I don't want to keep it a secret. It makes it seem like I'm ashamed of our relationship, when I could never be prouder. So, I'm not apologizing for anything."

His words carried more weight than he realized, earning him grins of approval from his teammates, as well as from Team RWBY, though Yang knew the fervour of the press was only just getting started. Pyrrha, obviously being the most touched by them, leaned against his legs and looked up at him, smiling sweetly.

"I'm proud of you too" she said softly, meaning every word from the bottom of her heart and soul.

Jaune looked down and once again returned the smile, as he felt her love in both her words and her gaze. He could tell right away that she was truly smiling this time, unlike yesterday where he could see that her smile stopped before her eyes. Now, he saw her honesty shining through, and it showed just how beautiful she truly was.

"OK, I have to ask" groaned Yang rubbing her temples. "Have you two actually made out yet, or are you still beating around the bush with pecks on the cheek?"

The question snapped the couple out of their amorous gaze, and caused them to blush.

"N-No, we haven't yet" admitted Jaune.

"Are you serious? What the Hell are you waiting for?"

"To go on our date after the tournament wraps up."

"Oh, who cares at this point?" the shorter blonde asked, which she did have an argument for, as it was clear to all that the couple in question were in love and together. "At least you can enjoy yourselves while the papers scramble."

The swordsman cleared his throat and looked at his thrill-seeking friend with serious but tranquil eyes.

"Pyrrha and I take relationships seriously, so we want to do this right. We also take being Huntsmen seriously, so we're not letting our feelings get in the way of the tournament. If we can't wait a few more days, then I doubt we'll be able to date for long" he explained, earning nods from his teammates, as well as Weiss, who saw relationships the same way.

"Yeah, you've said that before and I get it; I just expected you two to be balls deep at this point" Yang shrugged. "I've never seen two people so in love."

Jaune and Pyrrha's collected composure was instantly broken by the elder Xiao Long's bluntness, and their faces became beet red as a result. Once again, it was nice to hear that the strength of their relationship was clearly visible, and interpreted correctly as true love. Nevertheless, it was still rather embarrassing to hear from Yang that she assumed they were sexually active; a thought that was not so singularly held, as it turned out.

"C-Could you not speak of such things, p-please?" asked Pyrrha, stuttering in embarrassment. "I cannot handle both you and your uncle posing such questions."

"What?" Yang and Ruby asked in unison, not expecting such news.

"When I went to Huntmaster Ozpin's office yesterday, he was there" the Mistralese explained. "During the conversation, Mr Branwen found it necessary to ask if Jaune and I h-had...um...r-reached that level in our relationship."

Upon hearing this, Yang did her best to hold back her laugher, whereas her younger sister's face instantly scrunched as if she had licked a lemon. Weiss added to her captain's disapproval with a look of disgust on her face.

"That man is truly abhorrent" the heiress commented sourly. "First belittling and attacking my sister, now asking incredibly inappropriate questions about the personal lives of students. Who is he exactly, and what does he do?"

"Hey! That's our uncle you're badmouthing!" defended Yang, slapping the back of her hand across Weiss' shoulder. "And he taught at Signal."

This made Weiss go wide-eyed in horror.

"He's an educator?!" she cried, completely shocked by the revelation.

"Well, he was. He retired and hunts fulltime now."

The Atlassian Huntress-in-training breathed a sigh of relief, but was not entirely soothed with the clarification.

"This explains so much about your behaviour and humour" she remarked.

"For the record, I get my dirty jokes from Uncle Qrow, and I get my puns from my dad" established the blonde. "Uncle Qrow hates puns."

"Oh, so he does have some redeeming qualities."

"As sombre and tactless as he appears to be, he seems to be a good person deep down" offered Pyrrha, recalling his actions towards Amber, though she made sure to remain clear of revealing anything about Qrow's involvement with the Order. Yang nodded appreciatively as Ruby held her hands up apologetically, as if in prayer.

"Sorry" she said half whispering, which Pyrrha smiled back understandingly, knowing full well neither she nor her sister had to excuse their uncle's behaviour.

"Well, you two have the patience of saints so, good for you, I guess" finished Yang, before jabbing her thumb in the direction of her teammates. "Then again, these two are just as patient...for some reason."

Both Weiss and Blake blushed at her provocation, though they were accustomed to it and countered in turn.

"I have the same perspective as Jaune and Pyrrha in regard to relationships" the heiress stated poignantly. "And things are progressing rather nicely between Neptune and I, thank you very much."

"You finally stuck your tongue down his throat?"

Weiss flinched as Nora snorted in amusem*nt.

"I kissed him on the cheek" she shot back.

"OoooOOooo" Yang awed exaggeratingly, fluttering her fingers. "You girls know that boys have lips too, right?"

"And when you get a boyfriend, I'm sure you will show us how it all works" Weiss retorted calmly, as she loaded the last of Myrtenaster's chambers before locking the rapier. The room was quickly filled with snickers as Yang leaned forward and glared at her white-haired teammate.

"Watch it, Princess" the elder Xiao Long warned, pointing at Weiss. "You and I are fighting together today. You're gonna want me watching your back, so don't get on my bad side." She then looked over to Blake, who immediately tensed as she knew that Yang was going to turn it up several notches. "And what base have you gotten to, or are you still on the bench?"

The Cat Faunus relaxed, glad that her friend had not gone the vulgar route. Nevertheless, she gave a passive response, not wanting to speak openly about her personal life just yet.

"I'll share when something major happens" she said slowly.

Yang threw her head back in annoyance.

"Why do I even bother asking? I should just go straight to Sun and ask him!"

"Ask me what?" came a voice, causing the Beaconites to turn their heads to the windowsill to Jaune's right, and saw the Faunus in question hanging off the edge with his arms folded and his chin resting on them. To his right was Neptune doing the same, giving the others a small wave and a knowing nod to Weiss, who blushed.

"What base are you and Blake on?" Yang asked eagerly, before the raven-haired Huntress-in-training could stop her.

Sun examined Blake, and was very much amused by how flustered she was.

"I'm sure she'll tell ya when she's ready" he said at last, causing Blake to sigh in relief, and Yang to glare in annoyance. "Speaking of which, are you guys ready for today?"

"Yes, I believe we are" replied Pyrrha with a polite smile.

"Mind if we ask who's competing in the Doubles?" asked Neptune. "The teams are locked, so there's no point in hiding it now."

"Pyrrha and Nora will be teaming up for this round" Jaune answered.

"That's the most obvious thing in the world" grinned Sun. "What about you ladies?"

"Yang and Weiss" announced Ruby, confident in her choice and their chances of victory. Unfortunately, this caused Neptune's smile to vanish, and his eyes rested on the Schnee heiress, causing her to realize what was going on. Blake also registered what had occurred, and felt both sympathy and worry for her friends.

"You and Sun are going forward to the Doubles, aren't you?" she stated more than asked.

"Uh oh" added Nora, looking between the white-haired girl and the blue-haired boy.

Everyone else in the dorm was now up to speed, and began to share in Blake's sympathy. They all understood the reservations of fighting against friends, especially given they had grown closer since entering Beacon, and continued to do so with each passing day. However, what none of them had yet to experience was fighting against a lover. Team JNPR had spared constantly of course, but there was a world of difference between a training spar and a serious fight. Jaune and Ren never wanted to harm Pyrrha and Nora, just as much as the girls never wanted to hurt them; their stomachs twisting from just the thought alone. None of them could describe the level of anxiety from being in such a situation, so all they could do was hope Team RWBY and SSSN did not face one another today.

"sh*t, I'm sorry, dude" apologized Sun honestly, looking over to his friend with a very concerned expression on his face. "If we have to fight them today, I'll take on Weiss and you fight Yang."

"That doesn't make things any better" pointed out Neptune, not bothering to hide his unhappiness with the possible outcome.

"I know, just please don't forfeit the match if it happens, OK?"

The blue-haired Huntsman-in-training remained quiet as he looked back at Weiss, and saw his own emotions being reflected back at him.

"Dude, promise me" repeated the Monkey Faunus.

"Would you be saying the same if we were going up against Blake?" he asked.

Sun paused for a moment, and after taking one look at his fellow Faunus, his expression softened.

"Yeah, I'd fold too" he admitted with a sigh. The others nodded silently, all knowing they would do the same if they were in Neptune's shoes.

But it was Blake herself that felt the weight of Sun's words the most, as they caused her heart to jump into her throat. For someone like him who loved to fight and compete, to so quickly throw in the towel to avoid hurting her, touched her in more ways than she was willing to admit—even to herself. Never before had there been someone in her life, other than her father, who would be so inclined to do so, and it was a very alien experience; one that she would ponder on for days to come.

Sun then sighed loudly and looked up to the sky. "We chose a good time to find some amazing girls, didn't we?"

"Yup" agreed Neptune.

"Could have been better timed, yeah" added Jaune, glancing down at the redhead.

"Why, what's your problem? She's on your team" Sun pointed out, confused.

"Yeah, and I wish I'd noticed her feelings sooner" the other blond replied. "Then I would have saved myself some time, and allowed me to spend more of it with the most incredible girl in the world."

"I thought you said not to use pick-up lines?" reminded the former fisherman.

Jaune shrugged sheepishly. "It's not wrong if it's the truth" he pointed out. "Plus, is it still a pick-up line if we agreed to go out?"

The Vacuan lieutenant smirked at Jaune, and nodded silently in approval, along with a grin from the Monkey Faunus beside him. Jaune then felt Pyrrha lean even harder against his legs, and he knew that even if she was no longer looking up at him, she was smiling.

"Pushing the overly romantic crap to the side" muttered Yang, her annoyance knowing no bounds, "if we do fight, I won't hold back, so neither should you. I want to fight Pyrrha anyways, so either you put up a decent fight or get out of the way."

Weiss looked over to her teammate with disapproving eyes.

"How am I the Ice Queen again?" she asked.

"It's a tournament, not a mixer!" argued the blonde hotly, holding out her hands to emphasize her point. She was right of course, but given that she had never been in a relationship before, she was a tad inept on what exactly her friends were feeling. "Whatever, I'm gonna go for a ride on Inferno until the tournament starts. I'll see you guys there."

Fixing Ember Celica to her arms, she rose to her feet and left the dorm, leaving her friends to their own devices.

"...She means well" offered Ruby. "My sister's just very competitive."

"I could tell" added Sun. "So, what are you guys gonna do until the fights start? We still got a couple hours."

"Enjoy the tranquility, I guess" offered Blake.

"I think Nora and I will go over our battle plans" suggested Pyrrha.

"Again?" the ginger asked in shock.

"It couldn't hurt."

Nora groaned, earning a nudge from Ren.

"You've done very well so far" he complimented honestly. "Think of this as just extra polish."

"Mmmmmmm...OK..." the hammeress caved, drooping her head forward. The rest of Team JNPR chuckled at her, and decided to head back to their dorms to review their plans in private, leaving the remainder of Team RWBY with the captain and lieutenant of Team SSSN.

"Are you two gonna stay?" asked Ruby, turning to the window.

"Any time with Blake is great" answered Sun, causing the Cat Faunus to blush, "but I think it would be better to take this one for a walk and clear his head." He gestured at Neptune with his thumb as he said this, before saluting the girls. "We'll see you at the Coliseum. And whatever happens, no hard feelings, right?"

Weiss looked once again at the blue-haired Vacuan, before surprising him with a small smile.

"I'll pay for our dinner when we go out after the tournament; my treat for winning" she said, her cheeks brushed pink.

Neptune's mouth opened slightly in a mute daze, before turning it into a confident grin.

"Alright, Snow Angel. I can live with that" he affirmed.

"Great! Thanks, Schnee! See ya, beautiful. Let's go, dude!" cheered Sun, grabbing his friend by the back of the collar, and pulled him along as he jumped off the side of the dormitory building.

Ruby snorted at the whole affair before looking to her lieutenant, who was now faring much better after learning she might have to fight her love interest.

"Pfft. Snow Angel" she echoed in amusem*nt.

"I think it's cute" defended Weiss as she sheathed Myrtenaster. "You'll understand when you're older."

Ruby blew a raspberry at the heiress, who ignored it as she began to look for restaurants on her Scroll, joining Pyrrha in greatly looking forward to the end of the tournament.

λΛλ

Grand Huntmaster Ozpin was in his office, staring at his Scroll as it sat upon a short stack of books. Every so often he would look at the antique clock on his desk, reminding himself just how little time remained. The latch of the double doors clicked as Glynda entered the office, a worried expression on her face.

"It's time" she said softly as she approached him, trying her best to conceal her concern.

"I know" Ozpin answered, pocketing his Scroll before taking his cane and rising to his feet. The Great Horned owl that sat on its perch turned its head without shifting its body, and gave his master a quiet concerned hoot. The Huntmaster gently stroked the top of the raptor's head with two fingers to sooth him, though he knew it was meant to be the other way round.

"Has he not contacted us?" Glynda asked, though she was fairly certain she knew the answer.

"No, he has not."

The office returned to silence as Ozpin continued to stroke the owl for a few moments more.

"Perhaps we could dela–"

"No" he said strongly, glancing at her as he straightened himself. "We proceed."

The Huntmaster walked around the desk, joining his Deputy-Huntmistress to make their way to the Coliseum. The owl kept his eyes locked on his master, watching him open the door for Glynda, and maintained his watch till the door shut behind them. The raptor then hooted, almost nervously, and leapt off his perch, flying through one of the open windows above.

λΛλ

"Good afternoon, Albion City and all of you watching around the world!" Professor Port greeted, his voice booming throughout the arena. "And welcome to day three of the Vytal Festival Tournament! For those of you just joining us, though I must ask why in Remnant are you tuning in now, I am Professor Peter Port, and I hope you are ready for the Doubles Round! If you are just joining us, allow my colleague and friend Doctor Bartholomew Oobleck, to get you up to speed."

"Why thank you, Peter!" said Oobleck, very pleased he was addressed by his proper title. "And yes, the past two days have been incredibly entertaining to say the least. We began this tournament with sixteen teams, four hailing from each Kingdom. Over the course of those two days, these teams went through the first round of the tournament, aptly known as the Teams Round. The weak have been eliminated, leaving only eight teams to carry on: Teams RWBY, JNPR, CFVY, and CRDL of Beacon, Team SSSN of Shade, Team CLME of Haven, and Teams FNKI and PKTS (Pickets) of Ýdalir. However, unlike the previous bracket, they will not compete in teams of four, but as teams of two. That's why it's called the Doubles Round, you see."

"And if I didn't know any better, I'd say I was seeing double, as all four of our academy's teams have made it through the first bracket" commented Port with a smirk. "Poor Grand Huntmaster Lionheart mustn't feel all too proud for saying we needed help winning, when only one of his teams made it to the Doubles."

"I would say so, along with Grand Huntmaster Blanco, however, the remaining teams of both Mistral and Vacuo have proven to be tough as nails, so I wouldn't count them out of the running just yet. So, let's see just how much running today's combatants will be doing! Drum roll please!"

Half of the holoscreens flashed as the computer began to randomize through the entered teams, before landing on Teams CFVY and CLME, and revealing the photos of Coco, Yatsuhashi, Mercury, and Emerald. The crowd erupted into life, with the home spectators and Mistralese shouting loudest, restless and excited to see the match begin. In the reserved seating, Team CFVY grinned in anticipation, with their friends all eager to see them fight.

"And the first match of the day will be Coco Adel and Yatsuhashi Daichi of Team CFVY against Mercury Black and Emerald Sustrai of Team CLME!" announced Port. "Both teams please make your way to the arena!"

"Wish us luck, kiddies!" Coco chirped getting to her feet, accompanied by Yatsuhashi.

"Kick ass out there" cheered Yang, fist-bumping the two upperclassmen as they walked past.

"Don't let up and be careful" added Pyrrha, keeping a serious but soft expression on her face.

Of course, she meant that more than she was letting on. The moment Team CLME appeared on the screen, her stomach twisted into knots, recalling everything she had learned from Ozpin. She had secretly prayed that she and Nora could fight and defeat them before the start of the Singles Round. This would take them out of the tournament, and hopefully render them unable to continue with their plans to assassinate Amber. Her luck was not as strong as she had wished, and all she could do now was hope that her seniors would either defeat Team CLME, or whatever plan the Order had up their sleeves, was ready to be put into action. It did give Pyrrha some comfort that Cinder would not be taking part in the rest of the tournament, though it did cause the Mistralese champion to dwell on what the half-Maiden would be doing in the meantime.

Above the arena in the private skybox, were Huntmasters Ozpin and Ironwood, seated in their chairs and appearing to enjoy the view.

"I take it Qrow hasn't touched base" stated the General, looking down at the floating ice cubes in his glass.

"Not yet" Ozpin replied, his Scroll sitting on the armrest of his chair. "Nothing on your end?"

"Negative" confirmed the Atlassian. "Neither the bird nor the beast have pinged anything, leaving us to sit on our hands."

"Patience is a virtue" Ozpin reminded him, though he was not exactly taking his own advice, knowing how little time remained.

"It certainly is, though I'd feel more at ease if I had even a basket to hold the eggs I'd need to miscount before they hatch."

"Then let us walk on eggshells for the time being and hope for the best."

In the arena, the combatants walked into the centre of the battle grounds and greeted each other, with Team CLME ready to play along.

"Hey! Love the outfit, kid!" complimented Coco, as she lowered her sunglasses to get a better look.

"I'll try not to get any blood on it" Emerald returned.

"I can't promise you'll leave without a scratch" offered Yatsuhashi, drawing Fulcrum, a bronze coloured towersword with a gut-hook at the end, and rested the blade on its point.

"I won't be the one bleeding" Emerald said calmly.

"Ooh, I like her!" Coco chimed, looking even more forward to the match.

Above them, the digital roulette was once again sifting through a list of terrains for the match. However, instead of two environments being selected, four appeared on the holoscreens. Once registered, the arena began to change shape, revealing what they were to both the audience and the combatants. One was a patch of tall grassy plains with a single tree in the centre, and some rocks amongst the blades. The second were the ruins of a city, complete with buildings holding shattered windows and rubble amongst the pavement. The third was a hot spring containing geyser spots along a small river, as well as some blue Dust crystal growths, with the fourth being a familiar section of dense forest.

"Fighters ready?" boomed Port. "Three...two...one...GO!"

Coco and Yatsuhashi readied themselves to either fend off an attack, or take advantage of an opportunity to assault their opponents. To their surprise, Mercury and Emerald backed away slowly into the tall grass, vanishing from view. The captain of Team CFVY was hardly amused by the false-Havenite's tactics, and swung Gianduja over her shoulder, transforming it into its minigun form, and began to open fire, the bullets cutting down the glass like a lawnmower. Yatsuhashi readied himself to spring onto either of his opponents, expecting them to break from cover like spooked rabbits, but frowned when it became clear that they were no longer in that quarter biome. His sharp eyes scanned the terrain before him, pivoting slowly without weakening his stance. Suddenly his eyes darted above, and saw Mercury soaring in with a flying kick aimed for Coco, which Yatsuhashi parried with a powerful stroke of Fulcrum, knocking the kick-fighter back. Before he touched the ground, Coco began to spin the six barrels of her minigun, and then unleashed a hailstorm of 7.62mm bullets at her target. Impressively, Mercury pushed off the ground with one hand to avoid the gunfire, and peeled off, managing to stay ahead of the shots despite Coco's lead.

"He's fast" commented Sun, appreciating Mercury's acrobatics.

"Yeah, but where's the girl?" asked Scarlet, trying to spot her in the three remaining biomes, along with Neptune and Sage.

Mercury rushed in between the members of Team CFVY, and sent a kick at Coco while performing a backwards flip. Coco managed to block the attack with Gianduja's barrels, and dashed backwards to put distance between herself and her opponent, knowing her weapon gave her no advantages in close-quarters-combat. Yatsuhashi brought his towersword into a heavy two-handed chop, which the kick-fighter managed to dodge by a hair, before sending a spinning back kick at the swordsman's head. Yatsuhashi raised his left shoulder and blocked the kick with his five-layered sode, and slid back several feet from the force of the blow, but otherwise unharmed. Coco, seeing an opportunity, unloaded once again on Mercury, but missed as the young man jumped into the air, flipping backwards towards her. He landed on the barrels of her minigun and kicked her in the face before flipping away once more to avoid a stroke of Yatsuhashi's sword. Mercury then tried to kick both of his opponents, but the taller Huntsman-in-training backhanded him with his right fist. The kick-fighter flew over Coco, but managed to grab her shoulders, and placed her into a hold before using his right foot to ram the muzzle of Gianduja into Yatsuhashi's gut. Without hesitation, the swordsman performed a long thrust right for Mercury's head, forcing him to flip away as Coco brought around her minigun to open fire once more, though merely slicing some strands of his hair.

While in midair, the false-Havenite launched two blasts from Talaria, his boot weapons, before spinning on his hands. Coco and Yatsuhashi turned to face their opponent, just in time to see the projectiles, and batted them away, sending them into the hot spring biome where they exploded on contact. Returning their gaze to Mercury, they witnessed him creating a cyclone of projectiles as he spun his legs around him, before unleashing a bombardment at them. As the projectiles struck the ground, they kicked up a large plume of smoke, obscuring Team CFVY's vision just long enough for the kick-fighter to flank them. Yatsuhashi noticed him first, and tried to land an elbow strike, but Mercury avoided the attack, and grabbed the both of them, letting loose a flurry of kicks. He successfully managed to knock the swordsman back so that he could strike Coco at full strength, and sent her flying to the edge of the forest biome, before turning his back to her. Coco was not down for long, and sprang to her feet to attack the kick-fighter, but was halted by akusarigama flying out from the forest behind her, and wrapped itself around her waist. Before Coco could react, she was yanked across the arena into the forest, vanishing from view.

"Coco!" shouted Yatsuhashi, seeing his captain disappear into the foliage. He wanted to chase after her, as he feared for her safety, but in the corner of his eye saw Mercury perform a butterfly kick in mid-air, and land a hit in his left temple.

The swordsman's head spun to the right, but to the genuine shock of the kick-fighter, the attack did not break his opponent's stance. Without looking at Mercury, Yatsuhashi punched the grey-haired imposter in the mouth with his gauntleted left fist. Mercury's head snapped backward from the blow, but was given no time to recover, as the swordsman grabbed him by the collar, and swung him over his head, driving him back first into the tiles of the arena, which broke beneath him. The wind was partially knocked out of Mercury, but what remained was then taken as Yatsuhashi stomped on his gut with his left boot. The Beaconite then grabbed his opponent once again, and threw him across the arena into the hot spring biome, before leaping incredibly high into the sky. Mercury crashed back first onto the wet, stony ground, sliding a short distance before slowing to a halt, and let out a groan.

'Oh, you motherf*cker...' he thought, realizing that he had taken actual damage.

He would not have time to assess that damage however, as he saw Yatsuhashi careening towards him from above, bringing Fulcrum down upon him. He managed to block the blade with the soles of his boots, and gritted his teeth in pain as he felt the astonishing power of the attack. That power was visible for all to see, as it created a shockwave that surpassed the biome itself. The ground beneath cracked in every direction, and caused shrapnel and steam to fly into the air.

'Oh, f*ck right off!' Mercury thought, feeling pain shoot through him, and firing two shots from Talaria to knock Fulcrum back, used the recoil to kip-up onto his feet.

Now in a crouch, he swiped at Yatsuhashi's legs, who leapt over him to avoid it the kick, and turned on a dime to face his opponent, just as Mercury rose to meet him. The pair began to fight in an impressive display of skill, appearing very much to be engaged in a dance. Mercury was making full use of the momentum of his spins to increase the power of his kicks, which also helped with his evasiveness. To his great annoyance, despite being much faster than Yatsuhashi, the tall swordsman was keeping up with him blow for blow. Yatsuhashi was fully aware of the limitations of his large sword, and how much strength was required to wield it. He learned that he needed to utilize the momentum of his swings also, and roll them into his fighting style, alongside his armour, which he used to parry attacks, as well as to protect his vitals. Yatsuhashi was no amateur, and was proving to be a more durable opponent than the undercover invader had anticipated.

'If I don't end this soon, she'll give me sh*t for the rest of the mission' Mercury thought, digging in his heels, and continued to kick at the swordsman.

λΛλ

In the forest quarter of the arena, Coco crashed back first into the trunk of a tree, before falling to her knees. She shook her head to regain her senses, and was about to take inventory of the situation, when she realized that her sunglasses had been knocked off her face. Coco looked around, and found them lying beside her, shattered beyond repair.

"I take it back; I don't like her" she muttered.

Suddenly, she spotted something in the foliage, and realized at the last moment that it was the muzzle of a firearm. It, of course, was Emerald, who was about fire both of her revolvers, Thief's Respite. Coco began to back flip to avoid the gunfire, once again trying to put some distance between herself and her opponent, and make full use of Gianduja's firepower. At last, she was able to transform her weapon back into its minigun form, and retaliated with fierce determination. Emerald jumped and swung through the canopy of the forest, returning fire while she used the bows to shield her from the onslaught of the minigun. Normally this would have been impossible, but thanks to the tournament rules requiring all munitions to be lessened for safety concerns, the fake trees were victorious.

As Coco began to lead her shots to catch the younger teen in mid-jump between trees, she was shocked to see her disappear right in front of her. Her eyes began to dart from tree top to tree top, trying to spot her foe, very much hating how elusive she was being.

"Damn!" she growled, tightening her grip on the carry handle and trigger stick.

"Coco!" came a voice behind her, causing her to glance over her left shoulder to see it was Yatsuhashi.

"Watch out, she's in the trees!" she warned, but froze when she noticed something was awry.

Her partner was in pristine condition without a single scratch on him. She had fought often enough and long enough with Yatsuhashi to know exactly how he looked at the end of a battle. His fighting style focused on utilizing his armour to divert direct attacks, and as a tank, he was very good at taking hits. It also went without saying that Coco had an eye for fashion, and she was very good at noticing when something was wrong with an outfit. There was no way Mercury's attacks had not scratched his armour scuffed him up, so what was going on?

"That was a fantastic fight, but that last attack was the final blow with Mercury Black defeating Yatsuhashi Daichi!" announced Port.

"What?!" shouted Coco in shock, as her eyes flew to the holoscreen above her, and saw a replay of her teammate being knocked to the ground in the centre of the arena.

She then spun back around to look at "Yatsuhashi", and saw that she was alone. She swept her minigun around her, trying to spot her target, confused and fearful of what might occur. The previous day's conversation regarding the identity of Team CLME, was now returning to the forefront of her mind. Pyrrha might have said that everything had been a misunderstanding, but now, she was beginning to doubt the champion's words.

Unfortunately, her rattled nerves had been just enough of a distraction for Emerald to appear behind her, and struck her twice with such force that she flew out of the forest biome and crash next to her teammate.

"And there is Coco Adel!" shouted Oobleck, hiding his anger well. "What an upset! Mercury Black and Emerald Sustrai are victorious! It looks like Mistral still has a shot of winning the tournament as Team CLME continues to the Singles Round!"

The Valian spectators groaned as they had now experienced their first loss of the tournament, whereas the Mistralese cheered excitedly that their final team was still in the running. In the reserved seating however, it was a different story. Fox and Velvet were at a loss for words, unable to believe that their teammates had lost against a first-year team. Teams SSSN, RWBY, and JNPR joined in their shock, as while they had seen Team CLME in action the previous day, they had not expected them to take the victory so easily. But it was Pyrrha who was the most distraught by Coco and Yatsuhashi's loss. She was doing everything in her power not to show it, but she felt her stomach twisting in so many knots she was fearful she might lose her breakfast.

'This shouldn't have happened' she thought as she watched four medics enter the arena to escort the fallen combatants in stretchers. 'They lost because they went against vile invaders instead of proper students. This wasn't right...this wasn't fair...'

The guilt of knowing the truth had weighed on her heavily ever since the Order had spoken to her, but it had now tripled seeing the consequences of remaining mum. Pyrrha began to think she should have told them at least a portion of the truth, so that Coco and Yatsuhashi would have had a better chance at victory. While she was not able to witness the fight between Emerald and Coco, the thick canopy of trees obscuring the match, the swordsman had put up a very good fight against Mercury. There at least, one of the dark agents could have been taken out of the equation. Alas, they would not be so lucky this day, leaving either the Order or the Singles bracket to determine the fate of the battle.

Fox and Velvet rose to their feet, and quickly began to walk to the stairs, needing to get to their injured teammates as soon as possible. The concerned redhead watched them leave, and after a few moments, also stood and began to follow.

"Pyrrha?" asked Jaune.

"I'll be right back" she replied quickly, disappearing before the blond could say anything else.

She walked hastily to the hallway below the Coliseum, and followed the sound of footsteps, knowing her upperclassmen were only just ahead. When she turned the corner, she saw Fox and Velvet looking over their fallen comrades, who were sprawled onto two stretchers carried by the assigned medics.

"How bad are their injuries?" she asked.

"Yatsuhashi took a monstrous beating from Mercury, but he's tough" replied Velvet. "But Coco..."

Pyrrha looked over to the captain on the second stretcher, and instantly felt her heart sink. Coco had a horrible gash on her left temple, blood running from her nose, and a nasty bruise on the right side of her jaw, which Pyrrha suspected was a sign it was either fractured or broken.

"I'm...sorry..." she said in a quiet voice, the guilt enveloping her even more as she knelt next to Velvet.

"It's alright, it's not as if it's your fault" reassured the Rabbit Faunus, though her words only brought about more guilt to the swordswoman. "You don't have to answer for them just because they're Mistralese."

"We need to bring her to the Coliseum infirmary" insisted one of the medics. The girls nodded and were about to let the stretcher-bearers do their job, when Pyrrha felt a hand grab her sash.

"Ni...kos..." wheezed Coco painfully, regaining consciousness.

"Coco!" they gasped, not expecting her to speak.

"Don't talk" Pyrrha advised as calmly as she could. "You fought well, but you need to rest. We will take things from here."

"Li...sten...to...me..." the wounded Huntress-in-training continued in a quiet voice, not letting go of the redhead. Pyrrha leaned forward so that her left ear was right next to Coco's mouth, and listened as intently as she could. "The...girl...Em...erald...her...Sem...blence...is...dan...gerous. It...ill...usions..."

Before Pyrrha could ask her to be clearer, Coco lost consciousness once more.

"Coco?"

"She's sustained head trauma. We need to examine her right away" said the medic, and without any more delay, carried Coco down the hall, along with Yatsuhashi.

"We're going to go with them" added Velvet quickly. "Good luck to you and the others." And without saying another word, the other members of Team CFVY followed their injured friends, leaving Pyrrha alone in the hall with her remorse.

She remained there for several moments, trying to calm herself before returning to her friends, when from the intersecting passage to the right, emerged Mercury and Emerald, just as Cinder and "Laura" came around the bend further up the hall. Pyrrha froze, unsure of what to do, or how they would react to seeing her.

"Oh, it's you, Pyrrha Nikos" said Emerald, putting on her fake smile and persona.

"Y-Yes, hello" the redhead managed to say quickly, putting on a mask of her own. "Congratulations on your second victory."

"Thank you" replied the green-haired thief, increasing her hollow smile and closing her eyes. "Good luck with your match today."

"Same" added Mercury, giving her a curt two finger salute. "I'm going to the Singles Round. I'm looking forward to our rematch."

"So am I" replied Pyrrha, meaning that more than the imposters could have possibly known.

"Give our best to Ruby and the others" Cinder said in a manner that was meant to be warm, but to Pyrrha, solely came across as cold and foul.

"I will" the true Mistralese lied, bowing to hide the loathing in her eyes, as the team turned to return to their side of the Coliseum.

There were a few second of silence that followed when the invaders disappeared from view. Then, in a shocking display of speed, Pyrrha punched the wall with her left fist, sinking it into the concrete past her knuckles. Her Aura flared as she felt rage like she never had before, and it took all of the discipline she had acquired throughout her life to stop herself from drawing her arms and charging after them.

'With the Gods of Light as my witnesses' she vowed with fierce determination, 'if they grant me the opportunity, I will bring judgement upon those vile invaders. On my life, I shall.'

λΛλ

In the skybox, Ozpin sighed mournfully as he watched his students being escorted out of the arena.

"There's nothing you could have done, Sam" assured the General. "Any form of interference would have given them wind that we're onto them."

"I know" acknowledged the silver-haired Huntmaster, rubbing his temples with his left hand as he checked his Scroll with his right.

"Still nothing?"

"None."

"Damn it, Qrow" hissed Ironwood, taking a sip of his whiskey. "If he could just send us some form of update; that alone would give me some piece of mind."

"As it would for me, but this, as it has always been for us, is a test of faith."

"In Qrow or the Gods?"

"My faith in Qrow is unshakable" Ozpin affirmed, pulling an antique pocket watch from a front pocket, and opening it. "This is a test of all our collected experience, preparation, and determination to the cause...and I believe that we will triumph."

Ironwood looked over to Winter who was standing at attention ten feet behind him, and noticed she was very tense, despite the cold composure she portrayed.

"I pray so."

λΛλ

Pyrrha returned to the reserved seating and sat silently next to Jaune, doing her best to maintain her mask for the sake of her friends.

"Are you OK?" he asked, worried she had left for a reason she was still keeping secret.

"Yes, I was just concerned for Team CFVY" she replied honestly enough.

"How are they?" asked Ruby.

"Yatsuhashi is fairly roughed up, but otherwise alright. Coco is..." she trailed, feeling the guilt return.

The others looked down in worry, not at all pleased to hear their upperclassman had been severely injured. Jaune continued to eye his lieutenant, wrestling with his own emotions, as he could see through Pyrrha's facade. She was deeply troubled about something beyond Coco's injuries, but he continued to force himself to respect her privacy, and not berate her with questions. The problem now was that he could see just how shaken she was, as her eyes once again revealed the truth when her face did not. In that moment, he struggled against the two parts of himself that now defined him: the lover and the commander. As her lover, he desperately wanted to know what was causing her such distress, as he wanted to protect her from harm, and be the same supporting person she'd been for him. As her captain, he worried how she would perform in the tournament, as being this rattled could cost them the victory or worse; her getting badly hurt. Obviously, the lover part was winning, and he desperately wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her. He knew however that he could not, but instead took her hand and squeezed it, trying to infuse the action with all his love.

Pyrrha looked up at him, and he felt his heart lodge itself in his throat when he gazed into her big, vivid green eyes, seeing both the turmoil and beauty within. What he could not see of course, was that Pyrrha was having the same internal struggle as he was. She desperately wanted to be in his arms and tell him the truth, in its entirety, and wanted to hear his opinions. At the same time, she desperately wanted to protect him, and not involve him in the Order, fearing he would be severely hurt or worse. Seeing what Cinder could do to a Maiden and what her lackeys had done to Coco and Yatsuhashi, forced her to admit that Jaune was in no way ready to take on such foes. The dread that came from imagining her captain in pain drove her to remain silent, just as much as her desire to uphold her holy oaths did. She promised she would tell him the truth, but not now—as much as it pained her.

"Let's begin the selection for the second match of the Doubles Round!" announced Port, initiating the randomizing process, landing on RWBY and FNKI. "And here comes Vale's chance at redemption with Yang Xiao Long and Weiss Schnee of Team RWBY versus Flynt Coal and Neon Katt of Team FNKI!"

Yang pumped her fists in excitement as Weiss sighed in relief along with Neptune, both incredibly grateful that they would not be facing one another. The heiress looked over to her love interest with a smile, and was about to take his hand, when Yang grabbed the back of her collar.

"No time for love, Schnee! We got a match to win!" the blonde cried, and bolted with her teammate in tow, protesting in a language Yang did not understand.

"Well, that's one crisis avoided" chimed Sun, resting his hands behind his head.

"Now we just need to win" continued Blake with a smirk, happy for her friend's good fortune.

"We will" smiled Ruby confidently. "My sister is unstoppable, and Weiss is sharper than a tack. They got this!"

"Since they're going up against an Atlassian team, I won't feel so bad cheering for'em" the Monkey Faunus added, getting a laugh from the rest of his team.

λΛλ

Yang and Weiss walked side by side through the now familiar hall below the Coliseum, heading towards the arena as their souls burned with determination. The blonde was especially excited, for while she would not be facing Pyrrha that day, she knew she needed to win in order to face her in the Singles. The heiress was more even-tempered, but nonetheless felt her competitive drive firing on all cylinders, no longer hindered with anxiety.

"Finally, it's our turn!" Yang grinned, shrugging her shoulders and causing an audible crack. "Man, I'm on fire!"

"Just remember to keep proper form, and adhere to the battle strategies we devised if they try to overtake us" advised Weiss.

"I got ya. So...you're from Atlas; what do you expect we'll be in for?"

They climbed the ramp that connected to the grounds, and made their way up the path to the arena itself.

"My Kingdom operates very differently from the other three" the heiress began. "Minus Vacuo, as they are the outlier, Vale and Mistral have their Royal armies and their Huntsmen institutions as separate entities that work together, rather than separate branches of one overarching force. Atlas on the other hand, unites them under one banner, making sure that all are trained under one united doctrine and system. Of course, not everyone can be a Huntsman or Huntress, as they are in Atlas what they are in the other Kingdoms: the elite. Nevertheless, you are given a military rank, and trained with the same strictness as any proper standing army requires to run smoothly. I expect Team FNKI to display excellent form, tactics, and discipl–"

Weiss halted as she finally laid eyes on said Team FNKI, who were clearly the exact opposite of what she had just explained. Flynt Coal was a dark-skinned man with equally dark brown eyes partially hidden behind rectangular sunglasses, as well as an earring on his right ear. He wore a dark fedora with a blue trim, a dark vest over an untucked white dress shirt, with a loose tie wrapped around the collar. Completing his attire was a pair of dark dress pants, silver dress shoes, and a dark glove on his left hand. In that hand was surprisingly a C trumpet, called Iam Tenebris, which was something that Weiss noticed right away, and was befuddled on how it could be used as a weapon.

To his side was Neon Katt, a Cat Faunus girl with a light complexion, green eyes, and moderate red-orange hair with light blue streaks in her bangs. Protruding from her eye-drawing hair done up in two pigtails, were a pair of pink cat ears that matched her tail, which were covered with pink fur that became lighter toward the tip. Her outfit bore a vast range of bright colors, which included a light blue cropped tank top over a dark purple bra, showing her upper cleavage. She also wore dark purple short shorts under a pink combat mini-skirt, and a white belt with a yellow winking smiley face on the buckle. Two buttons were fixed to her tank top over her right breast, one purple with a cat design and the other one green with a heart. On her neck was a white cat bell collar, with a pair of matching bracers on her arms, and pads on her shins and knees. Her right arm had a visible tattoo of a shooting star with red, green, and yellow trail winds around, which wrapped around her bicep several times. To complete her strange attire were a pair of red roller blades, and a pair of nunchaku, called Grave e Prestissimo, which were clearly visible in her right hand.

These two were clearly an extravagant pair, leaving Weiss in a state of shock, where her tongue had curled and left her without words. Yang was in a similar state with her mouth hanging open, mostly due to the horrible colour clashing of Neon's outfit. At last, Weiss managed to recover, and pinched the bridge of her nose.

"...or whatever they are...why are they out of uniform?" she groaned.

"You mean their school uniform or their military uniform?" asked the blonde, also recovering.

"Everyone who attends Ýdalir Academy is required to wear uniforms, designated by their branch" the heiress explained. "Yes, Huntsmen are permitted to modify their uniforms to personalize them, however, that is after they graduate. How and why they are allowed to compete in such fashion is beyond me."

Atop the skybox, her elder sister shared her disdain for the students.

"Why are they out of uniform?" she asked with a scowl.

"I suppose they wanted to look good for the tournament" replied Ironwood.

"They are disgracing the uniform, sir" Winter objected.

"Well..." the General eyed his students over the rim of his glass, "technically speaking they aren't in uniform, and therefore, they cannot disgrace it." He looked over his shoulder to see the agitated expression on his Major's face. "Given what we already have on our plate, Major," he went on, "I don't see the validity of adding something as insignificant as an Appearance and Grooming violation."

The elder Schnee was not completely satisfied with her commanding officer's response; however, she did understand the point he was making, and returned to standing at attention.

Returning to the arena, the two opposing teams finally reached the centre of the battleground. As per the usual arrangement, they began to size each other up with some light-hearted banter.

"Hey!" called Flynt with a smile. "You're Weiss Schnee, right? The heiress?"

"I am" Weiss acknowledged with a bow. At least they were polite, even if they poorly represented the best Atlas had to offer.

"I take it you're pretty good with Dust, then?"

"I do my best" she replied with a shrug, "though I would like to think it's one of my better skills."

"Yeah, my dad was good too. Owned a little Dust shop of his own..." he nodded as he looked at her from over his sunglasses. Then his smile turned into a scowl. "...till your father's company ran him out of business."

The change of tone in Flynt's voice caused Weiss' smile to vanish as well, and a sharp, icy gaze had taken its place.

"That is a rather inflammatory accusation that I cannot accept on its face" she countered in a steady timbre. "Care to provide both a proper explanation of what occurred, and any evidence that my father or my company was responsible for the downfall of your family business?"

The trumpeter gritted his teeth, not liking her answer, and Weiss knew that he would be facing her one-on-one. Yang, who had witnessed the exchange, turned to look at her friend with concern, before deciding to fire back herself.

"Hey! Why don't you–"

"Hey! Why don't you?" Neon imitated as she pointed at Yang with a smile. "That's what you sound like!"

"Uh..." the blonde managed, blinking in utter confusion at the girl's childishness.

"Hey! Where'd you get your hair extensions?"

"...This is just my normal hair."

"Ooh, really?"

"Yeah! Is that a prob–"

"You should try rollerblading sometime! It's super fun!" the Cat Faunus cut in again, spinning in place. "It'd probably take you a while, though, since you're so... you know, top-heavy."

Yang, taken aback by the comment, looked down at herself as the holographic roulette wheel began selecting the biomes for the match.

"Excuse me!?"

From the stands, Ruby rolled her eyes, understanding the situation that was unfolding.

"Oh, here we go" she sighed.

"What's wrong?" asked Nora.

"Nothing, it's just..." began the younger Xiao Long, "Yang has always put a lot of time and effort into her appearance; making sure she looks good and stuff; especially her hair. So, she kinda gets offended when people critique her looks, like, that she's a little chubby or her boobs."

"Her boobs?"

"Yeah, like they're too big, which is something Yang obviously disagrees about."

Nora squinted in confusion, her eyes darting back and forth in thought.

"Why are big boobs a bad thing?" she asked in a horse whisper. "That's like me saying my thunder-thighs are a bad thing."

"Aren't 'thunder-thighs' a bad thing?" asked Blake.

The ginger looked at her friend with a smug smirk.

"Oh, ho ho no. I think they're a very good thing, and I like mine quite a bit—just like Yang likes her boobs."

Jaune nudged Ren playfully when hearing this, earning a return nudge, and causing the blond to snicker. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the slight frown on his friend's face, as well as a light blush on his cheeks.

'The feeling's mutual' he thought, knowing that Ren could not hide forever.

The biomes had since been selected, and the arena transformed into four separate quadrants once more, this time with two new environments: a volcanic area and a sandy desert, with the return of steaming geysers, and ruined buildings.

"Fighters ready?" announced Professor Port, causing Yang to shake her fists while taking a fighting stance, activating Ember Celica.

Weiss, keeping her eyes locked with Flynt's, drew Myrtenaster from her right hip, and took a menacing Alfieri stance. Her sword hand was held lower so that her rapier faced at her opponent, while keeping the point level with her eyes. Her right hand was held up and open with her arm bent, and her palm facing slightly away. She leaned on her right foot, pointing it almost behind her, while keeping her left leg extended and pointing forward, practically on tiptoe.

"Three…Two…One…BEGIN!"

The Beaconites dashed forward just as Flynt raised Iam Tenebris and blew a powerful sound wave, pushing them back and allowing Neon to skate towards them. Instantly Weiss summoned white glyphs to give themselves footholds and halt their sliding, though also gave the Cat Faunus a perfect chance to attack. Thankfully, Yang realized she was the target, and was ready.

"I got the eye-sore!" she shouted, using both arms to block Neon's charge, before they took off to the ruined city biome.

Flynt, seeing that his teammate had successfully separated Team RWBY, grinned in satisfaction, and stopped playing. He argued since the beginning of the tournament to fight the heiress alone if they were matched against her team. Given that he now had this once-in-a-lifetime chance, he was going to thoroughly enjoy it. Now free, Weiss rose from her crouch and retook her previous fighting stance; an ice cold and determined glare on her face.

"Auf der hut! (En garde!)" she challenged, knowing that the honour of her family name was on the line.

The trumpeter replied by firing another blast of sound at the lieutenant, which she quickly countered with a black glyph, propelling herself forward and cutting through the wave. Flynt blew once more, this time maintaining the waves. Weiss countered by summoning a chain of glyphs, giving herself a path to slowly approach her opponent while she kept Myrtenaster's point up. Realizing what she was doing, Flynt stopped playing his trumpet, causing the white-haired girl to rocket forward, which she had expected to happen, and channeled her increased momentum into a lightning quick lunge. The Atlassian captain managed to lean back in time to avoid the attack, before aiming a kick with his right leg at Weiss' now exposed back. The heiress brought her sword over her shoulder and blocked the kick with the flat of her blade, as she summoned a white glyph with her right hand to halt her advance. She then pivoted to face her opponent and lunged, aiming for his head, and punched a hole cleanly through his hat, just before he tried to back away. Once he did, he realized what had happened and sneered at her in frustration.

Weiss smirked proudly, knowing that she had injured his pride.

"That C trumpet appears to be out of tune" she mocked, retaking her stance and pointed her sword at him. "Shall we begin the second movement?"

In the ruined buildings, Yang was swearing continuously under her breath as she ran after Neon through the biome. Following the first attack, the Cat Faunus no longer seemed interested in fighting the blonde, leaving her opponent to give chase as she fired her weapon at her. She dodged the shots with ease, and began to make faces at Yang, hoping to enrage her further.

"I'm gonna kill this bitch" the blonde growled, and returned to her fruitless barrage.

"She's just burning through her ammunition" commented Pyrrha, who was studying Yang's match to gather more information for their inevitable meeting in the Singles Round.

"Lead your shots!" shouted Ruby in frustration, knowing just how little respect her sister had for marksmanship.

Yang, of course, could not hear her captain's advice over her cursing and gunfire. As per usual when it came to combat, she allowed her emotions to get the better of her, and would become laser focused on crushing her foe, regardless of the personal cost. However, while this was happening, Neon seemed to be focused on something entirely different.

"Never miss a beat! Never miss a beat! Never miss a beat! Never miss a beat!" she repeated like a mantra, evading the incoming projectiles with hardly any notice of them.

She finally skated down a makeshift ramp made from the roof of a collapsed building, and with surprising speed, charged at Yang while drawing Grave e Prestissimo. She began to unleash a bevy of drive-by strikes with her nunchaku, encircling the blonde so that she had to continuously guess where the next attack would come from.

Yang had successfully managed to block the first half-dozen attacks, but her defenses quickly eroded, and many more attacks landed before Neon skated away. Impressively, Yang had not been knocked off her feet, and appeared to be uninjured as she cracked her neck in annoyance. She jerked her arms, causing her gauntlets to eject the spent shotgun shells, which bounced on the concrete with a hollow plastic sound, as she glared venomously at her Faunus opponent.

Neon merely grinned at the curvier blonde's glare, getting exactly what she wanted from her. Gripping both ends of Grave e Prestissimo, she bent them until they cracked, revealing they were also blue glow sticks. Twirling her nunchaku with glee, she charged at Yang once again with wild excitement in her eyes. Neon bounced off some ruble, and came at Yang without attacking, provoking the brawler to throw a haymaker, which she avoided by skating under it. Yang was about to turn and fire at the Faunus, when she suddenly felt her right leg getting cold, and looked down to see that it was covered in ice from the knee down. She was not in pain of course, but felt as if she had been slapped in the face, as it was abundantly clear her opponent was not taking this seriously. If it was not clear enough, Neon's laughter cemented it.

"Hm-hmm! Look!" she giggled, slapping her own ass. "Now you'rebottom-heavy, too!"

Yang felt a vein throb in her temple, and she aggressively stomped her foot onto the ground, shattering the ice and making a small crater. Just as she freed herself, she caught Neon coming at her in the corner of her eye, and just barely managed to block a strike with her left arm, which froze the same way her leg had. The Atlassian girl skated off once again, making use of the rubble to show off her proficiency with her roller skates, before she had enough running space to charge at Yang, greatly telegraphing her attack. She jumped into the air and aimed both feet at Yang, who raised her frozen left arm and used it as an impromptu shield, which Neon bounced off of giggling. The blow pushed the blonde back, but she thankfully dug her heels in before the attack landed, and she only skidded a dozen feet before halting. Some shards of ice fell to the ground as Yang looked up to the Cat Faunus, who was still giggling like mad.

"You shouldcool off!Get it? Because you're angry" she punned, very much pleased with herself.

The blonde swung her arm to the wall behind her in anger, shattering not only the remaining ice attached to her gauntlet, but the wall itself.

'You f*ckin' try to pun in my presence?' she growled internally, her eyes burning bright red. 'Oh, I am gonna skin this cat alive.'

Weiss and Flynt continued their battle of Dust in the meantime, rather intensely. They kept each other at bay with sound waves and shards of ice, unable to land solid blows. They traded positions in the centre of the arena, before finally moving into the volcanic biome. This certainly put the heiress at a disadvantage, but she was ready to face any and all challenges to defend her family's honour, as well as her own. She began to summon white glyphs behind her, creating more large ice shards, and sending them at the captain of Team FNKI. Right before they hit him, Flynt noticed the ground in front of him was glowing, and knowing what was going to happen next, performed a back flip to dodge the first two shards, before blowing Iam Tenebris as a column of hot steam erupted from the ground. Using his sound waves, he angled the steam to melt the remaining two ice shards, before standing with a proud smile on his face.

"Too bad all that money can't buy you skill" he said mockingly.

Weiss was unmoved. "Well, thank the Gods that talk is cheap" she returned smoothly.

Flynt sneered at her as she flicked Myrtenaster's cylinder with her left thumb, positioning it to the chamber containing white Dust. She pointed her rapier at her opponent just as he brought his trumpet to his lips, and she unleashed a tornado. Flynt blew a blast of sound waves to counter the white-haired rapierist's wind, but this was exactly what she wanted. With her right hand, she began to summon white glyphs to encircle them, evenly spaced to guarantee there was no escape. Weiss jumped to step on the glyph right behind her, and began to bounce from one to the other, summoning more ice shards as she leapt, pelting Flynt from every direction. It was impossible for him to defend himself, as not only was he unable to keep up with her speed, but the flurry of ice made it so he could not even raise his trumpet.

Realizing that the fight could end right then and there if he did not counter her onslaught, Flynt decided to go full throttle, and began to increase his Aura. To the surprise of both Weiss and the spectators, three more Flynts emerged from the first, only distinguishable by the different coloured ties and hat ribbons, and positioned themselves back-to-back. Each began to simultaneously play their trumpets, unleashing sound waves to cut off Weiss' multidirectional attack. She dissolved her glyphs and dashed outside of the range of his quartet, assessing what new approach she would have to take. In the stands, Sun and Blake tilted their heads in intrigue, as the similarity of their Semblances caused them to wonder how his worked.

The battle between Yang and Neon had hardly improved in the meantime, as the blonde's frustration was beginning to reach a fever pitch. She fired shell after shell at the evasive Cat Faunus, but not once had she hit her target. Neon skated and jumped off another ramp made from debris to reach the centre of the arena, with Yang only a few beats behind. The blonde landed onto the tiled surface of the battle ground, cracking it where she touched down, and rose to glare with burning rage. The skater-girl noticed this and spun to face her, tilting her head like a curious cat.

"Ooh! Flashy eyes! Y'know, you're actually kinda pretty when you're angry" she said.

'Oh, Hell no!' Yang shouted in her mind. 'I can't get a guy to hit on me, so I get this annoying bitch?' She threw her arms behind her and fired her gauntlets simultaneously, launching herself forward to close the distance between them before her opponent could get away. The blonde was unfortunately not fast enough, and Neon rolled out of the way, and circled around Yang while skating backwards. "Get back here!"

"Are you angry cuz of what I said?" she asked in mock innocence. "I wasn't trying to say that youshouldgo on a diet, I was saying you reallyneedto go on a diet!"

"That's f*ckin' i–"

"You're fat."

"YOU f*ckING whor*!!!" screamed the busty blonde, her Aura flashing as she unleashed her Semblance at last. Her hair burst into flame, materializing her internal rage, and having it on full display.

In the stands, Ruby quickly pulled out her Scroll and shut it off, causing Blake to look at her in confusion.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Turning off my Scroll."

"Why?"

Ruby sighed. "Because if I was able to hear that, then the cameras were able to hear that, which means my dad was able to hear that, which means he'll be trying to call me to tell me to tell Yang not to swear" she explained in a tone that made it sound as if it were a common occurrence.

"She is a bit foul-mouthed" admitted Pyrrha politely.

"You weren't kidding about her being sensitive about her looks" commented Sun scratching his chin, amused by older Xiao Long sister. "I thought she was being over the top with her hair, but this..."

"Yeah, she has a little bit of a temper" admitted Ruby.

"A little?" Sun pointed to the burning blonde with one of his eyebrows raised. "That's what you call that bonfire?"

"Well, no...Dad has two nicknames for her depending on her mood. When she's normal, he calls her his 'Sunny Little Dragon'."

"And when she's bursting into flames?"

"...'Hell on Wheels'."

Nora and Sun threw their heads back in laughter, as Ruby and Blake anxiously watched their teammate fire off in every conceivable way.

With Weiss and Flynt's match, the trumpeter and his clones faced the heiress, each with a confident grin on their faces.

"What's wrong, Schnee? Afraid to face the music?" the original taunted, proud he had shut down her assault.

Once again, Weiss refused to allow his frivolous comments affect her.

"Hardly, Coal. Your rather poor excuse of a quartet merely requires that I raise the tempo" she replied coolly, swinging her sword in a clockwise rotation, and summoning a black Glyph beneath her. "And now, the third movement."

The Flynts began to play once more, blowing on their own Iam Tenebris, all aiming for Weiss. Like a bullet out of a gun, the white-haired Huntress-in-training fired herself out of the way. The quartet instantly positioned themselves back-to-back to avoid being flanked, and each tried to land an attack on their quick-footed opponent. Unlike the previous attempt, Weiss was moving significantly faster, but refrained from attacking with projectiles. This wasn't giving the other Atlassian any piece of mind, as he was growing more irritated by the second, as he was not able to land a blow.

"Whoa, she's fast" said Neptune with a proud smile on his face, impressed to see the level of skill his love interest was displaying.

"I know, right?" furthered Ruby with an equally proud grin. "I'm the fastest by far, but thanks to her Glyphs, she can actually keep up with me! We decided to practise manoeuvrability for the tournament." She folded her arms as she said this, very pleased with herself for using a big word.

"They played tag" explained Blake with a smirk, getting a chuckle out of Sun.

"A very enthusiastic game of tag" corrected the little captain, tilting her chin up in delight for using another big word.

While it was true that the captain and lieutenant of Team RWBY had effectively played a form of tag as a training exercise, there was sound logic behind it. The goal was to improve their manoeuvrability and reaction times, traversing less than desirable terrain, and learning how to avoid obstacles. In Weiss' case, it was about improving her Glyph coordination, switching between their combinations with Dust, and nailing the timing. For both of them, it also aided in their stamina, both physical and Auracal, pushing themselves to exhaustion and beyond. The training was now beginning to bear fruit, as it was giving Weiss the time she needed to put her plan into motion. She was not merely running for the sake of it; she was trying to find a chink in Flynt's defenses. Weiss knew that she would have the take down the fake Flynts before going after him directly, as they would otherwise keep him out of harm's way. If she should find the gap in the armour she was looking for, she would end this faster than it took Ruby to finish a plate of cookies.

Flynt was desperately trying to predict her movements, knowing that his sound waves were not fast enough to hit her otherwise. But every time that he tried to lead a shot by firing where he believed she was going next, she darted away like a snowshoe hare, and evaded the attack with ease. He eyed his Dust levels and frowned as he could see just how much remained in Iam Tenebris' valves, or rather, just how much he had wasted. If he did not land a hit on her soon, he would have to reload under an extreme amount of pressure, and he was not sure he would be able to before she overwhelmed him.

That was when Weiss saw the moment she'd been waiting for. Turning on a dime, she lunged towards the Flynt with the lime-green tie, and pierced him cleanly through the heart. This Flynt instantly vanished the moment the point of Myrtenaster passed through his back, causing a grin to form on the Ice Queen's face. Before the real Flynt realized what happened, the heiress dashed away, allowing the panic she believed would set in to do its work, and wait for the opportune moment to strike again. The Flynts closed ranks, trying to avoid losing any more ground. However, the snowball had already begun rolling, as Weiss initiated the final steps of her plan.

She entered the blind spot of the fuchsia tied Flynt, and pierced him under his right armpit. Before the other two could react, Weiss dashed away, and then returned from below, and drove her rapier through the neck of the canary-yellow Flynt. With the real Flynt remaining, she prepared herself to end the fight decisively. The trumpeter spun round to face her, and his eyes widened as he saw her posed before him. She threaded her rapier through the space between the leadpipe and the bell, and with a violent twist, wrenched Iam Tenebris from Flynt's hands, cleanly disarming him. She then touched the point of Myrtenaster, freezing it with an ice stopper, and took a menacing stance with her right hand extended before her, and her left hand drawn back, anchored just behind her ear.

"Auf Wiedersehen, Flynt Coal" she said, staring into his eyes with all the coldness she could muster, before unleashing a flurry of strikes at blinding speeds. In the blink of an eye, she had landed over a hundred strikes, ending the onslaught with one final lunge aimed for the centre of his chest, which sent him rearwards and crashing onto his back.

"Flynt Coal has been knocked out by Weiss Schnee!" announced Doctor Oobleck, causing the Valian spectators to cheer, and leaving the Atlassians to quietly boo, as they felt conflicted between the team competing for their Kingdom, and the heiress to their Kingdom's crown jewel. In the reserved seating, Teams RWBY and JNPR cheered for their friend, with Neptune rising to his feet and calling out to her.

"Way to go, Snow Angel!" he shouted, grinning from ear to ear, feeling his chest swell with pride. He was unable to see from where he stood, but Weiss had heard his praise, and she could not stop a proud smile of her own from spreading across her face, her cheeks dusted pink.

On the other side of the arena, Yang and Neon stopped fighting and looked at their teammates.

"Flynt lost?!" the Cat Faunus cried in disbelief, her mouth hanging open in shock. The entire point of making Yang chase her was to give him the freedom to publicly humiliate Weiss, but it had come with the expectation that he would been entirely able to handle her. Alas, that was not the case, leaving her alone to fight two opponents, one enraged and one very quick.

This proved to be a mistake for the skater-girl, as she had stopped moving when she realized her captain had lost his fight. Yang took full advantage of her distraction, and fired Ember Celica behind her, launching herself at the Faunus while twisting in midair, and landing a powerful spinning back kick centre mass. Neon doubled over from the blow, and flew towards the sand biome.

Weiss had seen this, and decided to give her teammate a helping hand. She launched herself towards the flying cat, and unleashed a tornado from Myrtenaster, pushing Neon away from the desert and towards the geysers. Her timing had been perfect, as Neon got caught within a geyser blast, sending her flying high into the air. Yang, who had since calmed down enough to think clearly, understood what Weiss was doing, and she aimed above Neon, firing a shot. Her timing was spot on as well, as the projectile connected with its target, creating a dazzling explosion in the sky. As soon as it did, the blonde threw up the double bird, and let out the most guttural "f*ck you" she could manage through clenched teeth.

"And Yang Xiao Long has knocked out Neon Katt with a favourable wind from Weiss Schnee!" announced Professor Port. "The winner of the match is Team RWBY!"

The crowd erupted in cheers and applause, which Teams RWBY, JNPR, and SSSN joined with gusto. Ruby had slumped back in her seat however, as she was relieved that her sister had at last led a shot. In the private skybox, Winter could not suppress a proud smirk, as her younger sister had shown just how much she had grown since the last time they trained together; even though she could not summon properly yet. Her smirk quickly vanished as her General slapped his hand on the armrest of his chair.

"Pity that" remarked Ozpin as he glanced at his still dormant Scroll.

"Ah, shove it" Ironwood retorted, bringing his glass to his lips. "That was a good showing by your students—one of which who should've been mine, by the way." He drained the contents of his glass, and rose to his feet to procure a refill from the bar.

While the cheers rang inside the Coliseum, Flynt regained consciousness and bolted upright. He looked around in confusion, before his eyes rested on the holoscreen to his left, causing his heart to fall into his stomach. His head dropped to the tiled ground of the arena, and he saw his shattered sunglasses, adding insult to injury. He then saw a pair of white high heels come into view, and he looked up to see Weiss walking towards him.

"You come to rub it in my face, Schnee?" he sneered. "To gloat above the little guy from your ivory tow–"

Weiss stabbed Myrtenaster between Flynt's spread legs, shattering the ice on the point, and burying it into the tile, cutting him off. She rested both hands on the pommel, and she took a slow and steady breath.

"Allow me to make something abundantly clear, Coal" stated the heiress, glaring at the trumpeter glacially. "While my father and I have disagreements on a great many things, neither of us will tolerate the family name to be dragged through the dirt by baseless accusations. The fact that your family business went under is unfortunate, and I am truly sorry for that. However, placing the blame at our feet is both slanderous and vituperative. I do not have your records, so I cannot see how your father's shop was run and make any definitive judgements. If you would like, I can offer some business consulting, or even pass word to my father for a possible partnership with your shop, where you can continue to sell Dust under the Schnee brand."

Flynt stared at the swordswoman in shock, before gritting his teeth angrily.

"You think I want your charity? Your sympathy?" he growled.

"I am offering you neither charity nor sympathy, Flynt Coal" Weiss replied, removing her rapier from the ground, and sheathed it with a metallic click. "I am offering you my pity. And with that interjection, you will get that and nothing more."

With that, the Ice Queen turned her back on the defeated trumpeter, who slumped over in bitterness. As Weiss walked back towards the Vale locker area, Yang joined the heiress and leaned over to speak to her.

"What was that all about?" she asked. She had patiently watched the exchange, understanding there was some sort of history between them. However, Yang knew she was missing a great deal of context, and had wanted clarification since the initial spat.

"Tell me, Yang, you are from a small island called Patch, yes?" the white-haired Beaconite posed.

"Uh...yeah—near Blanche Town" the blonde replied, not understanding why her friend was asking a question she already knew the answer to.

"And you have lived there your entire life, correct?"

"Yeah..."

"Have you heard of the Schnee Dust Company?"

"Of course, who hasn't?"

"Precisely" Weiss nodded, appearing to finally get to the point of her questioning. "My family's company has been the world's largest Dust mining and refining enterprise for generations; distributing not only raw and refined Dust, but state of the art mining and refining equipment for both small- and large-scale Dust operations across Remnant. Yang, if you would be willing to entertain me, please explain why we, the Schnee Dust Company, would care about shutting down one small Dust shop?"

The elder Xiao Long paused for only a moment before shrugging.

"I've got no clue."

"My point exactly. Coal claimed that my father ran his father's shop out of business—as if he came after them personally with a pack of thugs to ruin them" continued Weiss, shaking her head in disbelief, and making no effort to mask the frustration in her voice. "How many times has this happened before—individuals blaming us for their own problems? And you know what is most amusing about all of this? I am willing to bet half a year's allowance that his father is not whingeing. Gods, I despise liars."

"There's got to be more to it than that, right?" reasoned Yang.

"If there is, it matters not, for I no longer care" excused Weiss bitterly. "I offered him an opportunity to start again, and he wanted no part in it. That is entirely fine. The Schnee Dust Company, including myself, have only one true enemy, and that is the White Fang."

λΛλ

Returning to the skybox, Winter pressed the earpiece in her right ear closer to make sure she could fully hear the voice on the other end. After a moment, she thanked the caller before speaking aloud.

"General Ironwood. We have word from Gray Boar" she said, before pressing a button on her earpiece to transfer the secured call to his own communicator.

The Huntmaster-General sat up straight and pressed his earpiece closer, while he blocked his left ear to deafen the sound of the crowd. Ozpin watched his friend closely, as this could affect their plans significantly in either direction. After a full minute, Ironwood finally spoke.

"Understood. Give him my thanks and tell him to stand by. Over and out" he said curtly, before killing the call and turning to his friend, grinning like a wolf after spotting its prey. "We've got a lock on Taurus' forces."

The silver-haired lore master nodded, as the news was good to hear.

"We still require word from Qrow to carry out the first half of our plan. Then and only then can we go about executing the second."

"Of course. I can't have my men move during the day anyways, but this does take a load off my mind. However, time is running out, Sam, and the next match will no doubt be a short one. If Qrow doesn't show before the final match..."

Ozpin glanced at his Scroll one last time before speaking definitively.

"Qrow has never failed us before, and I refuse to believe he will start now."

Author's Note:

Well, that was eventful, and a tad different than how it went down in the show. Once again, there is a lot to say, though I will try to be brief without sacrificing detail. Let us begin.

Lover Against Lover

As always, when it comes to RWBY, key details, which tend to be rather obvious to folks such as myself, are overlooked. In this case, it is the fighting against friends and lovers in the Vytal Tournament.

Leaving aside the romantic element for the moment, one would think that if teams RWBY, JNPR, SSSN, and CFVY are friends, they would be a tad disconcerted with the notion of having to fight each other. As the chapter points out, whilst there is a fun component of fighting against friends, there is still a bit of concern in doing so. No one wants to hurt the people they care about, yet there is an obligation to fight seriously; not only for the spirit of the tournament, but as a sign of respect to the spectators, as well as their friends as warriors. Of course, the elephant in the room is that guns and bladed weapons are being used, and that is all insanely dangerous—even with my change to nonlethal ammunition—as the "first blood" rule is hard to justify given Huntsmen's abilities.

In my opinion, there should have been more scenes of these characters interacting as friends, rather than solely through plot relevant episodes, which is redundant to say, as character interactions such as these are plot relevant. That, obviously so, has been a major component of my story, though that does not limit it to the fun and sweet moments.

This then goes into the second and more dramatic consequence: the possibility of lovers fighting one another. Whilst this is not an issue in V3 because CRWBY went out of their way to destroy Iceberg, and had begun their sabotaging of BlackSun, I, being the lord and master of all things obvious, wanted to point out that such a thing can happen, and should be treated seriously. Take note, contemporary "creatives".

CFVY vs CLME

I have mixed feelings about this fight in the original season. The implication is that Mercury and Emerald are a force to be reckoned with, especially since they helped with the overpowering of a Maiden. The problem, as always, is that there is not enough to go on to sell such stakes. I never bought that these two were better trained than your average Huntsman-in-training, which is made even more unbelievable by the fact that they have only been "training" for several months to perhaps a year, whereas their opponents have been training for multiple years.

This then dovetails into the second issue, which is that their opponents, Coco and Yatsuhashi, are second-year students. This means they are even more experienced than the rest of the tournament combatants (other than Pyrrha), therefore, having these criminals walk all over them is a hard pill to swallow. It does not help that CFVY are the other "golden team", as in that CRWBY really want us to like them, even though there is really nothing to them. One then must wonder why they would do something like this to them in order to move the plot, as we would have more respect and concern for them if they proved their mettle. Then again, what they are willing to do to all their characters in the name of plot and The Message™, it is not so surprising.

To have it stated for the record, I have no love whatsoever for Team CFVY. Coco's fashion model design is out of place, and her weapon being insanely nonsensical, leaves nothing to find appealing. Yatsuhashi is fine, though the addition of a gut-hook to his sword is confusing. For the unaware, a gut-hook is what is found on a number of hunting knives to cut open the bellies of wild game to gralloch them without catching the organs. It has no practical use on a sword of any type or size. Velvet is a nothing character, though what I take great issue with is her camera, which is not only insane in what it can do technologically, but that it is incredibly broken. CRWBY really have a bad habit of introducing insane technology, and have no understanding that their inclusion changes everything. And then there is Fox...anyways. I do not understand the push to make them a thing, and, as all things RWBY, the supplementary material, especially Before the Dawn, makes them insufferable, and I would not have them in this story if it could be avoided.

Since I always try not to follow CRWBY's example, however, even though I have no love for Team CFVY, I nevertheless tried to make improvements. While there was nothing I can do for Coco, as her weapon and lack of Semblance makes her very limited, though I did try to make her less stupid, Yatsuhashi at least, acted as one would expect him to. I personally still think that he would be able to defeat Mercury, especially given that Mercury does not have a Semblance, although for the longest time I thought that the tornado he created was his Semblance. My only solution was that Mercury trained especially hard to compensate for that, as well as overcome his need to get used to not having legs and his new prosthetics. Making them roughly equal is better for storytelling, as well as for us to respect Team CFVY as good guys, and Emerald and Mercury as the bad guys. I will never understand why this is so difficult and even controversial these days, but I will gladly go against the modern grain. And while it goes without saying, it was not a fight to the death, so Yatsuhashi is the one to fall.

Coco Warns Pyrrha

Now, this is something that has eaten at me for a long time. The first time I watched this fight, I assumed that Coco would tell the others that Emerald's Semblance was illusion based, and I was beside myself when it never happened. I thought it to be incredibly obvious as a plot point to enact, yet we got nothing, and I cannot understand why. Is it possible that CRWBY feared that it would have unravelled their shoddily crafted plan, for if the others become aware of Emerald's abilities, they could defend Yang and disqualify Team CLME for interfering with the tournament, thus give the Inner Circle the opportunity to arrest them with little to know incident? Possibly, though I never apply malice when stupidity will do, though one should never wholly discount malice. It might not have ever crossed their minds, though it certainly did for me, and I am glad that some share in my observations. I hope now by having it put out there, others can see and perhaps agree as well.

And since it was part of this scene, I had it that Emerald genuinely hurt Coco. That was not done out of malice for the character, but rather me writing Emerald accurately. She is a thief from the streets who only knows how to fight to survive, but never in face-to-face combat. Therefore, she attacks from behind and aims for the head in order to take out the target quickly. I obviously portray it as something negative—because it is—and it allows Pyrrha to finally show the anger within against such injustice.

Again, just wanted to be clear.

RWBY vs FNKI:

At last, we are at the meat and potatoes of this chapter. I will be breaking it down into more manageable chunks, as not only does it show just how poorly done this fight was, as well as how the entirety of V3 was handled, but where I personally began to change my mind about Weiss. Let us hop to it.

Memes and Inside Jokes are Not Characters

It should be very obvious who Neon Katt and Flynt Coal are, though if you are unaware, allow me to explain. Neon Katt is the Nyan Cat meme, a pixel half cat half pop tart creature that flies through the sky farting rainbows to annoying music (it was heaps popular back in the day, trust me), and Flynt Coal, an inside joke from the Achievement Hunter Minecraft Let's Play series. Not exactly great fairy-tale characters, there. In fact, they are not characters at all.

The reason why this is an issue is because there are literally hundreds of available characters for them to have used, yet they chose a dead meme and an inside joke that did not match what they came up with. Obviously, Nyan Cat is nothing more than a cute earworm, so how that could become a character, I have no idea; and as we learned, neither did CRWBY. Flynt Coal, is again, an inside joke invented by Gavin Free, so there is nothing to that either, with the only thing coming to mind is that it would be the hammy name of a Private Detective. Instead of having that be the character that Sun and Neptune are mentored by when they were junior detectives, we get an angry jazz player.

I can say with sincerity that this is beyond lazy, though what else was to be expected when an entire tournament, that began with sixteen teams, a whopping sixty-four characters, in a short season, other than corners being cut? What makes it worse, however, is that not only do these characters have none, their weapons are awful—bloody glow stick nunchucks, roller-skates, and a trumpet?—which is entirely in line with the rest of the new teams, but that they are the ones that come back in V7.

If we are scraping the barrel this early, then this show has no hope. Turns out that was the case.

"When you put on a uniform, there are certain inhibitions that you accept."—Dwight D. Eisenhower

Now, this might seem as something small and rather insignificant a thing to address, but I took issue with the uniforms, no differently than Weiss and Yang originally did. If you are going to establish that Atlas has a different and more militaristic system to Huntsmanship, which would naturally include uniforms beyond school blazers, then you must follow through. For goodness sake, you already have the uniforms designed!

The reason for this, without a shadow of a doubt, is that CRWBY and the entirety of RT are not at all fond of the military, so any chance to slight an armed service is taken, and taken with pride. They come across as the type of people that would quote the Duke of Wellington—"Believe me that every man you see in a military uniform is not a hero"—failing to realize the context of that quote is that the British army at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, especially under Wellesley's command, were mostly made up of criminals, thieves, murderers, and other undesirables of Britain, leaving only a few patriots in their ranks. Old Nosey called them scum, beggars, and scoundrels, and he loved them. The hierarchy and relationship between the blue-blooded officers and the lower class enlisted men of the British Army is very complicated, and not something that people such as RT could ever understand.

The British people did not like their military then, and neither did the Americans. It is only in the last century that people have begun to value and respect the people that put their lives on the line, and those who lost them for our freedoms.

Whilst all of that is of a deeper and more philosophical nature, it does reflect onto the show. It undermines the Atlassian Military and Kingdom by having such insubordinate students, not to mention that it sullies their image as the best military in the world, as well as, as Weiss put it, "display excellent form, tactics, and discipline". This is why I made these changes inspired by what was originally established and expected, and the right people—they being Weiss, Winter, and for different yet similar reasons, Yang—reacting negatively to Neon and Flynt's clothing and behaviour. At the same time, General Ironwood knows there are bigger fish to fry for now, though they will be dealt with at a later date.

I have said it before and I will say it again, world-building and verisimilitude is paramount alongside character, and I will strive for it at every opportunity.

Yet Another Poorly Choreographed Fight

As I have previously gone in great detail to explain, the fights in this volume were terribly choreographed from start to finish. Without Monty to take the lead, as well as proper weapons and Semblances as a base, there was no way to have a compelling fight. Yang versus Neon was the worst of the entire volume, as it was literally Yang chasing her. Now, I included that it was all Flynt's idea so that he could fight Weiss one-on-one, whereas there is nothing of the sort in the original episode. Nonetheless, it does not excuse the fact that the fight is so subpar, as it would have been far better for Yang to have cornered Neon and forced her to fight, allowing us to see what both of them could do.

That, of course, did not happen in DDCT either. The reason for that is two-fold. The first is that there was nothing to work with regarding Neon, and I had no interest in trying to invent something that would work. Just like the rest of the new teams, it would have required a complete reinvention from the ground up—inspiration, overall design, weapons, Semblance, and perhaps race—including the motivations of the characters, which was the entire point of their inclusion in the first place.

It honestly would not have been worth the effort, hence why I went in this direction where Neon gets fully humiliated for her infantilism, and I instead focused on the greater humiliation that was the point of the entire chapter—mine and theirs.

The Humiliation of Weiss Schnee

As I said previously regarding Iceberg, I was not at all a fan of Weiss. I found her cold, unlikeable, controlling, and elitist, though not at all racist, regardless of what the community and CRWBY think. With that said, by V3, I still saw her no better than I did at the start.

It was here in this episode where things began to change. Flynt's accusation that Weiss' father and company ruined his father's business was absurd on its face, given that the Schnee Dust Company is so large and institutional, that one would instantly wonder why they would bother. One would immediately ask for some evidence to this accusation, hence why I had Weiss do so, whereas in the show she immediately cowers without any resistance. This allowance of Flynt to walk all over her and her family name becomes worse when she makes every poor decision in the fight possible, safe for actually shooting herself in the foot—unless we consider her throwing herself into the geyser as such.

My reaction to all of this was one that I was not expecting: I felt it was wrong. I actually said aloud to myself, "Weiss doesn't deserve this", despite the fact that she was my second-most disliked character of the show. That sentiment has not changed in all these years, other than the fact I now like her quite a bit, and I consider her to be the best of the show, though that is due to how awful the rest have become.

So, why on Earth did CRWBY do this to her? It cannot possibly be for her to grow, as she does not, nor needs to, and the act of mindlessly tackling Flynt into magma—which if we think upon for a moment, is insanely dangerous, and realistically should have killed or crippled both of them—was not only unlike her, but its mending of all wrongs with Flynt, completely undermines his wrath.

The reason, as is very much the case with RWBY in why decisions are made, is something that we like to refer to as "politicking"—the action or practice of engaging in partisan political discussion or activity. In these modern times, it takes on a new form, which we call "virtue signalling"—the public expression of opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or social conscience or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue. That is what was being done in humiliating Weiss, for here it is an "eat the rich" moment, where the poor entrepreneur lost his business at the hands of the evil corporation, and by proxy, points out the evil of Capitalism and the so-called "1%". And that is not hyperbole, as I am quoting CRWBY directly.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (21)

—The World of RWBY: The Official Companion, Part 2: Characters, Team RWBY, Weiss Schnee, page 60.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (22)

—Miles Luna, The World of RWBY: The Official Companion, Part 2: Characters, Team RWBY, Weiss Schnee, page 60.

If this sounds like contemporary politicking of our world, you would be correct, as well as it being very out of place for the world of Remnant, as the point of the story should be to kill monsters. It is also quite humorous given that Rooster Teeth is owned by Warner Brothers, which, at the time of this writing, is the 233rd largest company in the United States at $34.39 billion, and the people at RT had no problem with the 4th largest company, Amazon, ruining small businesses for the past 5 years. And yet, this is what CRWBY prioritize above all, as well as this being how they see her, for the entirety of her subchapter in The World of Remnant (I am more than tempted to copy-and-paste it all here) is everyone insulting her, alongside backhanded compliments. She was designed to fail.

It should now be no surprise to you that Weiss is more based on Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger than Snow White (I have no idea where Hermione fits in according to them, plus I have always seen Whitley as Draco), thus why her only "redemption" is to disown her family and past, and give up her wealth. The cherry on top was that Flynt is black, and Weiss is white of German extraction, just to infer that not only she is "racist" against Faunus, but she is also a white-supremacist/Nazi...which makes even less sense, but why not? Does this mean we have our version of racism alongside actual racism in this world? How wonderful. Grimm? What Grimm? Salem? Who? What? Pudding?

The core message of this fight and these statements about Weiss is that the rich are evil without exceptions, so long as they maintain their wealth, and that the poor are inherently better. It does not matter if you built up your company from the ground up, and your wealth was the result of years of hard work; you make a lot or have saved up a lot, then you are scum. This, of course, is nonsense, but what is hilarious is that the poor and downtrodden of RWBY are nearly always worse as people than the rich, and that this slander of the upper-class does not apply to other characters such as Blake. I must ask, does this mean that the poor should not want to rise in class, for it is better to remain poor and "morally superior", and to do otherwise is a form of treason? Sadly, CRWBY most certainly think so, which is not uncommon for people in their position, but from members of the lower-class as well—your typical crabs-in-a-bucket mentality. As the son of poor, immigrant farmers, I find that rather abhorrent. In the words of Sergeant-Major Patrick Harper, "There's no sin in being born in the dirt, boys, but it's a terrible sin to want to stay there", and of Viktor E. Frankl, "There are two races of men in this world, but only these two—the 'race' of the decent man and the 'race' of the indecent man".

I should also point out that there is no acknowledgement that the Schnee Dust Company provides the all-important energy source known as Dust, used to defend all life from the Grimm, and is especially important to the Atlassians, who use it to warm their homes during their brutal winters. Even though it is this fantasy eco-friendly resource, it is being treated like oil and the Schnee as oil tycoons. I am sure they would love to strip it from them and nationalize it.

All I can take from this is that CRWBY themselves are envious and greedy of those who are better off and more successful than themselves, echoing Marxist doctrine. In fact, all I can hear is Henry Hazlitt, "The whole gospel of Karl Marx can be summed up in a single sentence: hate the man who is better off than you are", and Sir Winston Churchill, "Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery" and "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries".

If I have offended anyone in pointing this out, make sure you tell me about it using your expensive iPhone, Galaxy, or computer, which you are currently using to read this story, right after you have bought some overpriced RWBY merchandise that Rooster Teeth keep encouraging you to buy. I would also recommend reading Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom and Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy, 4th Edition. That goes for you also, CRWBY.

Now, while I have been chiding CRWBY thoroughly, the question that arises is, "how much of this is due to Monty himself?". It is the right question to ask, as Monty did invent the character and had two volumes to play with her. As I said, I did not like her then, so there is clearly blame to be placed on his shoulders, though there were good things about her as well—and she never came across as racist to me. The same goes for Monty, as I never felt he had that sort of selfish, self-righteous, anti-rich streak in him. I knew the rest of RT rather well—the good and the bad—and I always chose to look past the flaws for their perceived good sides, which is why when the scandals occurred, I honestly did not blink an eye. Since there are no direct quotes attributed to him in the same vein as to what CRWBY were saying in Weiss' chapter, perhaps the blame is not there, or at least not to the same degree as CRWBY's thoughts and actions. That being said, maybe I just misjudged him, as I have since found quotes from him that are rather Nihilist and anti-heroism, which undermines his "human spirit is indomitable" quote. We may never know the truth.

In any event, this all became clear to me by V4, where CRWBY very much hammer this home, and according to The World of Remnant, are very proud of it, despite it being layered so thick it made me gag. At the same time, however, it caused a change in me that I was not at all expecting.

It was then that I no longer began to hate Weiss, as her actions were the only rational and moral of the entire cast. And while that may have been the intention by CRWBY, they did not succeed in the manner they intended. I began to see the great potential in Weiss Schnee, and if given the chance to be written correctly, she could soar to untold heights. CRWBY realized this too, but instead of allowing Weiss to soar, they handicapped her whenever she came close to overshadowing Ruby. That is my theory at least, and I will stick by it, especially since Weiss has now become the best character of the show, though again, to be transparent, it is also due to how far the rest have fallen that she stands so tall. But I digress.

This is why I push back against all of this nonsense by CRWBY. Not only does it serve no favours to the story of RWBY, but it is a disservice to Weiss herself, as it turns her into a political prop and not a character—a main character at that. After quitting the show with V4, I began to truly think on what I could do with Weiss, and in that progression, I have made her into one of my favourite characters, causing me to say unironically, "All hail the Ice Queen". And given what I have heard from all of you thus far, I have done my job well.

This Weiss will not be humiliated, slandered, belittled, betrayed, manipulated, or forced to bend the knee. She is a daughter of the House of Schnee, the granddaughter of Santa Claus, and a child of Atlas, the Kingdom under snow. She is a Lady, and in the words of Margaret Thatcher, "The lady's not for turning". It is why she points out the very obvious flaws in Flynt's accusations, which in turn shows how CRWBY never took into consideration the world-building before dragging her through the mud. If the only way for your hero characters to shine is by kicking down allies, then they are neither good characters nor heroes.

Alas, there is more to Weiss' humiliation than mere politicking, and it goes all the way back to Monty himself.

Weiss the Rapierist

"Keep up your bright swords, or the dew will rust them."—Othello

Not all things leveled at and attributed to Weiss are negative. One, if not the only, good element is her swordsmanship. Many times, I have seen the title of "sword master" being given to her, as if it were her forte, much as "sniper" would be for Ruby.

As all things RWBY, reality disagrees.

Despite Weiss' archetype and her mantras, she is a terrible swordswoman. Her "catchphrase" for lack of a better term during the Beacon Arc was, "Keep proper form". The problem with this, in spite of it being very appropriate for her to say, is that she never keeps, or even takes, proper form. Now, if this had been done on purpose, then one would expect for someone of greater repute—someone like Pyrrha, given her experience, as well as her jealousy towards Weiss—to point out that Weiss has no idea what she is doing. And yet, this has never happened, and would go against the fact that Weiss is an honour student, meaning that she should know better and be better. Alas, a character cannot know more than the author, so Weiss' lack of competence is a mirror of CRWBY's, and not meant to purposefully undermine her. To make matters worse, CRWBY thinks what they did with her was correct. I am here to say otherwise.

Let us deal with the obvious (or not so obvious, given the people I have spoken to) issue: Weiss' carrying of Myrtenaster. Weiss is a left-handed woman, and that means that she is a left-handed rapierist as a result. And yet, when you look closely, you will see that she carries her sword on the left hip, rather than the right. Anyone who has worn a sword—real or fake—or seen a film, show, or animation, knows that a sword is worn on the opposite hip in order to properly draw it, as well as allow one to simultaneously defend and attack. It has been this way for 5300 years, and yet, Weiss does the opposite. Why?

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (23)

It pains me to say that this is entirely Monty's doing, and it is truly maddening. The reason why Weiss is left-handed in the first place is because he is left-handed (he admitted as much), but it is the reason as to why she carries Myrtenaster on her left hip as opposed to her right that baffles me beyond words.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (24)

Monty, with all due respect, that is one of the most retarded things I have ever heard, and I have heard my fair share. It should be obvious what is wrong with his statement—which is also cited in the wiki to explain this insanity—but given that nothing can be taken for granted anymore, allow me to explain in brief:

  1. A sword is not a pistol. I do not care that Myrtenaster has a ridiculous revolver system in it, it is still a rapier. It does not even fire projectiles, so what would Weiss aim at?
  2. Pistols can be carried and drawn in many different ways—inside-the-waistband (IWB), outside-the-waistband (OWB), pocket carry, appendix carry, shoulder holster, and ankle holster—whereas swords cannot, mainly due to their size and length in comparison to a pistol. You can even carry and draw your pistol as you would a sword—aptly called "cross-draw"—and the even odder cavalry/plains/reverse draw. The difference is that it is situational and doctrinal (fighting on horseback), as well as the difference in length.
  3. Drawing a pistol with your dominant hand on the dominant side allows you to quickly acquire your target given that in the vast majority of cases, one's dominant eye is the same as their hand. This is not required in swordsmanship, and again, despite that Myrtenaster has a revolver action, it is not a firearm.
  4. The only group that carried swords on their dominant side were the Roman Legionaries, for they fought in tight formations, and to avoid them from hitting their fellow soldiers or their scutum shields, they carried their Gladius shortswords on the right and drew them upwards.
  5. Weiss has no holster to holster Myrtenaster in, and it just hangs there. Whether this is due to the old tropes, or for budget reasons, I do not know for certain. Also, holsters are for pistols, scabbards are for swords.
  6. Unorthodox does not mean good. It is unorthodox to wipe my ass on the carpet to clean it after taking a sh*t as well.

What left me beside myself when I first read that Tweet, was not just how stupid it all was, not just that people were fine with it, but that absolutely no one around Monty looked at him and said, "That's retarded, dude". I never expected him or anyone to be trained in swordsmanship, but even children know this makes no sense whatsoever. It sounded like a statement made by someone who must have been born yesterday, despite the fact that Monty was known for his fight choreography, and therefore, would have consumed copious amounts of combat related media for inspiration and information.

I now must ask, how many of you noticed this, for many did not, as well as being unable to recall Weiss ever drawing her sword. I am guilty of the latter, and when you try to envision her doing so, it causes your head to ache, for the biomechanics needed to draw are uncomfortable and counterintuitive. You would think when the point dragged against the ground once, Weiss would reconsider.

If there was anything to suggest that RWBY was always on a bad path, this would be it. As small as such an error like that is (given that early concept art had Weiss as right-handed, I almost believe that it was), it does affect Weiss in my eyes, hence why I made the change, as well as giving Myrtenaster a proper scabbard and sword belt and accompanying sword-carriage. I have grown tired of the trope of carrying a naked sword, as any swordsman worth their salt knows how dumb it is to do so.

Yet this is but the beginning of Weiss' woes. Whilst she says that one must always keep proper form—which I mentioned earlier—never once has she taken a proper rapier engagement stance. Never. The stance she does take—they are random throughout the show, so I will use the official pose in The World of Remnant, again from page 60—is incorrect. To my knowledge, the closest rapier engagement posture to hers is the Pallavicini stance from 1670, which is a compromise of the l'Ange stance from Germany (1664) and the Villardita stance (1670), both of which come from the Giganti style of rapier fighting. That would be tolerable, if it was not for the fact that Weiss has her sword pointed up and to the right, presenting the entire blade, instead of pointing it straight at her opponent. Even complete amateurs know you point the sword at the target, but this goes tenfold for rapiers, as they are thrusting weapons, and their thin blades, when held correctly, can completely obscure their true length.

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Now, there is an entire conversation to be had whether a rapier is even the correct sword to use against monsters such as the Grimm, for the rapier was designed as a civilian self-defence weapon, not a weapon of war. In my mind, a sword with more mass—a longsword, a warsword, a falchion or messer, or a broadsword—would be far better suited for such a task. Of course, the thought process is that Weiss is a dainty little girl, therefore she needs a light, girly sword to use. No, really, that is what they think.

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—Kerry Shawcross, The World of RWBY: The Official Companion, Part 2: Characters, Team RWBY, Weiss Schnee, page 60.

This is one of the most prevalent myths about swords; that rapiers are light weapons, and therefore, they are perfect for women. In reality, rapiers, despite their length and being one-handed swords, weigh the same amount as an arming sword at 1kg (2.2lbs). It is the superb balancing that makes them feel lighter, as well as a sense of liveliness in the hand. It is the subpar fencing épées and foils, weighing at 775g and 500g respectively, if not lighter, which people mistake as being analogous to real rapiers. Furthermore, rapier blades do not flex, as the entire point of them is to thrust, thus must maintain rigidity. In that same vein, Myrtenaster is too short, as the average rapier blade length is 41 in (104 cm), and yet looks closer to a foil at 34.6 in (88 cm).

Again, I do not expect anyone involved with RWBY to be masters of the sword. What I do expect is just the bare minimum of research. We live in the era of information, where we have access to more information than the Great Library of Alexandria at our fingertips, and it is brutally clear that they did not do any research—not even Monty. For the record, I have bought no less than sixteen books on swords, as well as watched hours of documentaries and did hours of online research, in order to get this right. Also, this "dainty" excuse does not hold water, as not only are Huntresses far stronger given their magical abilities, Ruby was given a f*ck-off bulky polearm.

What makes things worse is the fact that those involved do not understand Weiss at all.

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"Weiss always has perfect form from her training as a fencer," explains Eberle, "I was a gymnast so I know about form—shoulders back, hips squared—and the importance of technique. Weiss' fighting style is very ballerina-like, very poised."

—Kara Eberle, Weiss' voice actress, The World of RWBY: The Official Companion, Part 2: Characters, Team RWBY, Weiss Schnee, page 61.

Firstly, Weiss is a rapierist, not a fencer, as the former is a martial art, where the latter is a sport. Secondly, gymnastics has no bearing on rapier swordsmanship, whether it be in movement or in posture, and all that she listed is bad form; nearly all rapier engagement postures have you turning away at nearly 90° to the offhand side to present as small a target as possible. Thirdly, there is nothing about how Weiss fights that is like a ballerina. Ballerinas spin and leap, whereas rapierists fight in direct thrusts. This is especially confusing, given that Weiss is an opera singer. And fourthly, despite what people thing, dancing and swordsmanship have no correlation. Yes, martial artists can be good at dancing, but it does not work in reverse. The "dancing" in sword fighting is metaphorical. I asked my sister, who dances tango professionally, about this, and after showing her proper rapier combat, she agrees it makes no sense to compare it to ballerina dancing (she adores Russian ballet), or any dancing she knows. Also, Weiss slumps forward in her stance, not keeping her shoulders back.

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It is why I had no other choice but to correct Weiss' poor stance, and gave her the Alfieri stance of the Giganti style from 1640. Now, one would ask why I would give her an Italian style rather than a German style, given that I have made her more German than she already is. That is a good question, and while more appropriate, none of the German stances suited Weiss well enough. Some were close, but I had to consider the placement of the offhand, for Weiss's Semblance would serve her in allowing that free hand to cast Glyphs in place of a buckler shield or parrying dagger.

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There is much more to cover on this topic, as well as Myrtenaster's design itself, but I think that will do for now. I can only hope that it makes sense to you all—the changes and Weiss' victory—as well as these notes being informative.

Speaking of which, here is an interesting fact: the scar Weiss has over her left eye is even more evidence of her Germanic inspiration. Dueling scars, known as "Schmisse", "Mensur Scars", and "Renommierschmiss" (Renown Award), are scars earned in academic fencing matches between upper-class university students in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Latvia, Estonia, and, to a minor extent, in Belgium, Lithuania, and Poland. Special swords known as "Mensurschläger"—Korbschläger (Basket Beater) and Glockenschläger (Bell Ringer)—were used for these academic fencing schools, and scars from those matches were held in high regard as status symbols, and badges of honour and courage.

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Did Monty know this when he designed Weiss? I very much doubt it, but there are many appropriate coincidences like these throughout RWBY, such as Jaune's natural sword stance being Tail Guard—a real medieval sword and shield stance found in many sword treatises, even into the Renaissance Era.

Oh, if anyone was wondering, another reason as to why I have placed so much emphasis on Weiss' swordsmanship, is that Dust is incomprehensible as an energy source and as a magic system. I would like to interweave Dust in Weiss' combat better, given that Dust mining is integral to her character, but it makes little to no sense, and her swordsmanship and Semblance are more than sufficient. I tried to understand Dust during the writing process, but I quickly realized that it would require a complete overhaul to correct, and I had to leave it for another time. The very fact that neither the show itself, nor the supplementary material can make Dust's rules and functions clear, the crucial resource used by Huntsmen and civilians, makes it a fundamentally breaking flaw in RWBY. This is what happens when you do not plan things correctly and thoroughly, Monty Oum. That may sound harsh, but I say it with respect as a fan and as a writer. I would consider it disrespectful to lower my standards to avoid hurting one's pride, or whatever reason that would make one want to sugar-coat.

Well, that about does it for now. I badly wanted to write out these notes for this chapter, as these vital changes to Weiss mean as much to her as they do to me. Swords and swordsmanship have been a passion of mine ever since I was a child, and whilst it was the Spanish that invented the rapier, it was we Italians that made them famous, even more so than the French through Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. The Bolognese Style of Rapier combat is the definitive style, as all the great masters come from Bologna, or were taught through masters from Bologna. Masters Philippo Vadi, Filippo di Bartolomeo Dardi, Fiore dei Liberi, Pietro Monte, Achille Marozzo, Francesco Alfieri, Ridolfo Capoferro (anyone watched The Princess Bride?), and others, are our Sword Saints. That said, respect must be shown to the German weapon masters as well, such as Johannes Liechtenauer, Ludwig VI von Eyb “the Younger”, and Joachim Meÿer, which, inadvertently, dovetails into who Weiss is fundamentally.

There is, of course, much more to say on rapiers themselves in this world, as well as Myrtenaster's design (I fully redesigned it but decided not to include it here), but those will have to wait for another time. I can only hope that you enjoyed these changes, as well as the thought process behind them.

Vorläufig auf Wiedersehen!

Chapter 9: All the King's Men

Chapter Text

The fire and ice duo finally reached their friends, glad that the match was over at last.

"Well, that was the worst thing ever" groaned Yang, plopping down next to her sister.

"I think you both did quite well" argued Pyrrha politely.

"Weiss did, but I didn't" the blonde huffed in annoyance, folding her arms. "All that girl did was run around like a puss*, and went down with a single hit when I was finally able to get her. So f*cking annoying."

"I see what you did there" commented Sun, grinning at her pun.

"Oh Gods, thanks for reminding me. She started making puns, and I think she even hit on me."

"Now you know our pain" Blake sighed, holding her hands up as if she were receiving a blessing from the heavens. The others began to laugh, but Yang was not willing to take that sitting down.

"Listen here, I tell great puns. Hers were awful."

"They are all awful, Yang" interjected Weiss.

"You be quiet. Don't think I didn't hear you making puns out there. I'm proud of you, by the way."

"Those were not puns. Those were appropriately themed musical retorts" defended the heiress, which in all fairness, was indeed true. Of course, the others were too shocked from Yang's revelation, so they did not pay any attention to Weiss' defense.

"Weiss made puns, Blake..." whimpered Ruby in fear, clutching onto her teammate's arm. "The world is ending...we need to run..."

"Where are we going to go?" the Cat Faunus asked, actually amused by her captain's reaction.

"I don't care, just very far away from here..."

"f*ck me" swore the blonde, shaking her head in disbelief. "Bunch of primadonnas over here."

While the Huntsmen-in-training had a good laugh at the elder Xiao Long's expense, Neptune chose to focus on the young upper-class woman who had seated herself next to him. He could tell that something was bothering her, despite her claiming a decisive victory over Flynt Coal. He had been unable to hear their conversations, but he had seen their faces clearly enough, thus he was fairly certain their exchanges had been unpleasant.

"You OK?" he asked softly, taking her hand.

Weiss sighed, squeezing his hand, and looked at him with her light-blue eyes. Instantly Neptune could see that they matched the frustrated expression she had on her face, thus confirming his suspicions.

"I'm alright. I took care of it."

"Was it something he said?" the Vacuan lieutenant continued, referring to Flynt.

"...Yes and no. It's...just a continuation of general assumptions made by people who know nothing about me or my family. It is fine, I am used to it."

Neptune frowned a little, and brought up her hand, kissing it. He only partially understood what she was referring to, remembering the conversation they had the day before, but he nevertheless wanted to be as comforting as possible.

"If ever you want to talk about it, I'm here, Snow Angel" he said softly. Weiss blushed, sensing how much he meant those words, and was deeply touched by them.

"Thank you" she whispered, causing him to smile and deepen her blush.

"Right then," began Sun, cracking his fingers by interlacing them and extending his arms, "who's up next do you think? Only four teams left and two of them are sitting on the same bench."

"Looks like we're about to find out" added Jaune, noticing that the holoscreen had changed to the digital roulette, and began to spin through the remaining teams. After a couple of seconds, it rested on two.

"And the next match will be between Penny Polendina and Ciel Soleil of Ýdalir Academy, and Russell Thrush and Sky Lark of Beacon Academy!" announced Port, causing the Atlassians to cheer, eager to recover from the previous loss.

"Go Penny!" shouted Ruby, jumping to her feet in excitement.

"How the f*ck did those chumps make it through the Teams Round?" asked Yang, which was the question that everyone had been thinking since yesterday.

"Even a blind squirrel finds a nut" offered Jaune with a shrug, having not even the slightest interest in cheering for his fellow classmates.

"So, if they're fighting...then that means..." Sun said slowly, turning to his right to look at Pyrrha and Nora, his eyes and smile widening with fiery anticipation. "Oh, this is gonna be fuuuuuuun." He then looked over to Jaune and Ren. "Boys, I hope you can forgive us for having to kick your girlfriends' asses."

Ren and Nora blushed at the Vacuan captain's words, which always amused their friends to see.

"It's a tournament, these things are to be expected, so don't worry about it" reassured the other blond.

"You sure? No hard feelings?"

Jaune smirked. "If you can actually land a hit on Pyrrha, I'd consider that a feat worthy of praise, cuz she isn't losing to you, or anyone. Good luck."

The Monkey Faunus grinned with excitement, very much appreciating the green-light.

"You're mine, Nikos!"

"I look forward to the match" replied Pyrrha with a smile, genuinely feeling her competitive fire being ignited.

"Wait, so I have to go up against the girl that absorbs and generates lightning?" asked Neptune incredulously, the realization dawning on him. The ginger in question grinned wildly, sticking her tongue out playfully as an arc of pink electricity jumped off the tip.

"You wanna go up against Nikos, then?" Sun retorted, equally dubious. The lieutenant looked between the two girls of Team JNPR before letting out a defeated sigh.

"I'll have to come up with a good counter strategy then, I guess. Seriously though, you lucked out didn't you, Valkyrie? First you fought Nolan, and now me."

"At least your weapon's cool" she replied honestly. "Who fights with a cattle prod?"

"We've been wondering that since our Oscuro days" Sun admitted. "You've got to be resourceful in Vacuo, so maybe that's what he settled on."

"Or just get a sword and call it a day" Sage remarked, joined by Scarlet spinning Skullbuster whilst tapping the pommel of Midnight Star.

"I'm sure you taught them a valuable lesson by punting them out of the ring" the red-haired Vacuan said almost condescendingly, getting a laugh out of the others.

Jaune chuckled at his friends, and was glad to see that Pyrrha was genuinely smiling, as well as looking forward to her match. It was then that his eyes caught a glimpse of something familiar; or rather, someone. On the Mistral side of the Coliseum, the blond saw the team of four boys who had confronted him at the fairgrounds. It then clicked in his mind what they were doing there, and he began to laugh.

"What's so funny?" asked Ren.

"Look over at the Mistral side" pointed Jaune. "You see that team on the far right? All dudes?"

"Yes?"

"Those are the assholes that tried to start a fight at the fairgrounds before the tournament. The guy third to the right is their captain. I broke his nose because of it, and I was hoping to face him again at some point. I guess I was so distracted yesterday that I forgot they fought and lost."

"Wait, what?" asked Nora, with the others all turning to look at the blond swordsman in shock, as none had been told of this beforehand. "You broke his nose?"

"There was...an altercation" explained Pyrrha, slightly nervous from how intently everyone was focusing on them. "It was nothing major."

"He called Pyrrha a desperate whor*" Jaune spat, by no means over his resentment of having his woman's honour besmirched. Suddenly, Nora and Weiss were on their feet, glaring with murderous anger at the other Mistralese, appearing as if they were about to vault over the railing and start a fight.

"You think I can hit them with Magnhild from here?" asked the enraged hammeress, quite serious in her implication that she would try it.

"Not only do I not believe you will hit them" Ren expressed, though it was clear in his tone of voice that he was not fond of his teammate being called such a derogatory word, "I am fairly certain that you would instead hit the spectators. And that would only be the case if the Coliseum's shields were not active, which they are."

"Well then, I'll go around!" she announced, and was about to bolt to the stairway, but was halted by her green clad crush grabbing her bandoleer. "Let me go, Ren!"

"No. You'll get both yourself and Pyrrha disqualified if you attack them." That caused Nora to freeze and realize he was right.

"It was a miracle in and of itself that we weren't after what happened in the first place" admitted the redhead, feeling grateful by how quickly her friends were ready and willing to fight for her. "I was hoping that I wouldn't escalate to violence, but Jaune...put his foot down when the taunting turned to me."

"Good" added Yang with a nod, who was joined by the others. "You did the right thing."

"Well...yes, but he didn't exactly use that word..."

"But that was what he meant" argued Jaune correctly.

"Yes but–"

"There're no buts in this situation" cut in Sun, with a much more serious expression on his face than he usually did. "If some prick said that about Blake in my presence, I'd break both his legs."

That was obviously an even greater escalation than what Jaune had done, but at least amongst the boys, as well as Weiss, it still seemed reasonable. For the girls, Blake felt her cheeks warm greatly, as hearing Sun proclaim he was willing to defend her honour so strongly, made her heart skip a beat. Nora on the other hand, turned to look at the blond Faunus and smirked smugly, raising her fist up to him.

"I like you" she said, earning a grin back and a fist bump.

"So, are we cheering for your classmates?" Sage asked, bringing everyone's attention back to the match at hand.

"No" the Beaconites all sounded off in unison. Cardin's team would remain ostracized for as long as they were still bullies and would not apologize for their previous actions.

"We will be cheering for Ruby's friend" announced Weiss definitively. "Also, she is from Atlas, so I can cheer for my countrymen without guilt."

The others nodded in agreement, and looked to the arena eagerly as the match began.

λΛλ

In the skybox, the Huntmasters were watching the match as well, both feeling the final grains of sand falling to the bottom of the hourglass. Ozpin and Ironwood were equally aware that the match would be a quick one, and possibly leaving the outcome of the tournament in the hands of their enemies. They had meticulously crafted a plan to deal with the invaders, but it needed all the pieces to be in play to work. With the new location of Adam Taurus' forces secured, they could plan accordingly to defend the city from within. However, Cinder and her lackeys were currently on the board, and while they did have a plan to deal with them without putting the civilians at risk, without Qrow pulling his weight, they were dead in the water.

Suddenly, Ozpin's Scroll vibrated, causing the silver-haired Huntmaster to look at it. Reading the message, he smiled in relief.

Q: Bagged the rabbits. On my way up to the skybox.

The head of the Order quickly typed a response.

O: Well done. I'll be in the private dining room.

Ozpin rose to his feet as he put his Scroll away in his inside breast pocket. Ironwood looked up at his colleague with reserved hope.

"Was that him?" he asked.

"Yes, it was" Ozpin replied with a smile. "I assured you he would pull through."

The General sighed in relief, and took a sip of his whiskey.

"Punch the bastard for taking his sweet ass time for me, would you?"

Ozpin chuckled as he briskly walked out of the skybox, exiting from the end of the bar into the hall, and began to walk towards a pair of oak double doors. He opened them to reveal a lovely dining room, filled with paintings, tapestries, and many other antiquities. There was a long mahogany table with a dozen high back chairs, upholstered with beautiful red leather, and golden studs. In the corner was a small but well stocked miniature bar, filled with a wide assortment of spirits from across Remnant. The floors were also made of old wood, and were covered in impressively stitched rugs, making the dining room appear as if it were from another age. The Huntmaster took a moment to enjoy the slight pause, feeling a desire to seat himself in one of the comfortable chairs, and begin reading one of the many books he had been desperately wishing to delve into. Perhaps he would indulge in such a luxury after they had defeated their foes—Gods willing.

He then heard a knock at the door, and beckoned for the knocker to enter, already certain of who it was. Of course, it was indeed Qrow, looking only slightly worse for wear, accompanied by a party of eight other Huntsmen.

They were all well-built men in their early twenties, impeccably dressed in clothes dyed in eye-catching colours. On Ozpin's left were four men dressed in variations of the Cavalier attire. They all wore knee high boots, leather gloves, wide brim beaver Cavalier hats with a single large feather in them, well stitched arming doublets, and suede breeches. On their shoulders were capelets, though allowing their dominant side exposed, and had a quick-release hook if ever the need to remove the garment in a hurry occurred. They were all armed with stunningly crafted rapiers with swept hilts, along with modified rifled muskets on their backs, and flintlock pistols at their non-sword hip. There was a clear uniformity to their clothing, something of a rarity when it came to Huntsmen teams. It appeared that they took more from the doctrine of the military than of Huntsmen, as despite being trained and deployed in teams of four, each member was a unique individual.

That being said, each of the four Huntsmen did have differentiating features. On the far right was a handsome young man with shoulder length dark-brown hair, matching eyebrows and anchor beard and mustache, standing at 6'5". The feather in his hat was a crimson red, which complimented the pieces of crimson coloured silk incorporated in his doublet, as well as the sash that was partially tucked into his sword belt. His left hand, which naturally rested on the hilt of his sword, was gauntleted up to the elbow in azure-blue painted metal trimmed with gold.

To his right was a young man about his stature, with silver tipped black hair that past his shoulders, and was tied in a thick braid. He had a handlebar mustache and chin puff beard coloured in the same manner, which complimented the grey feather in his hat, as well as the silver religious pins attached to his doublet. His eyes were a calming aqua, which amplified his soothing demeanor.

The third Huntsman was a burly man with very muscular arms that appeared to nearly burst through his doublet. He had wavy copper hair, matching petit handlebar mustache and petit goatee, and hazel eyes. His attire was fancier than his teammates, with many more combinations of fine silks and jewelry; topped off with an orange feather in his hat. Even his capelet was trimmed with gold, which matched his buttons and buckles. If he was trying to stand out from his friends, he was certainly succeeding, though he was already the tallest of the four—just slightly.

Lastly on the far left, was a clean-shaven man who was both the youngest and the shortest at 6'2". He had long straight black hair tied in a high ponytail, matching onyx eyes, and a white feather in his hat. His capelet was a complementing white, along with his breeches, and ivory buttons on his doublet. Despite being the youngest of the four, he seemed to be the most serious—or at least had the sternest face.

Adjacent to these four was another team of Huntsmen. On the far left was a tall red-haired man with a short, boxed beard and emerald eyes, clad in a green tunic with matching green suede breeches, brown leather knee-high boots, and leather gloves with a bracer attached to his left forearm. He wore a green byco*cket hat with a red feather in it, and a deep green ranger cloak draped on his shoulders, fastened with a silver tree clasp. Despite its length, it did not hide his dark green brigandine armour, which had silver rivets setting the plates, and six leather straps; two on his shoulders and four down the middle. At his left hip was a longsword, and on his back was a large warbow with an accompanying quiver filled with arrows.

Beside him was a giant of a man; a Grizzly Bear Faunus standing at a daunting 6'8". He was incredibly muscular, even more so than the richly covered swordsman, made obvious by his barrel chest, and arms that could be mistaken for tree trunks. He had neatly cut reddish-brown hair, accompanied by a pair of bear ears, matching long sideburns, and chocolate-brown eyes. He wore a simple cotton shirt, green jerkin and short hooded mantle, simple heavy slacks, large hard leather boots, and a hefty belt fastened at his waist adorned with many pouches. Across his back was an impressive quarterstaff that was over nine feet long. It appeared to be made of wood, but any Huntsmen worth their salt knew that it was made of metal.

To his left was a shorter Fox Faunus with tanned skin, and a perfectly trimmed pencil mustache on his face. His long pointed red ears protruded from a black sombrero cordobés, which matched his fiery red hair that was swept back, and halted just above the shoulders. His eyes were a captivating bergamot orange, which held a mischievousness that only strengthened his handsome features. As a contrast to his compatriots, the Faunus was clad entirely in black. Over his shoulders was a black cloak, fasten by a silver chain with a fox-head clasp, also made of silver, and with ruby eyes. He wore black leather gloves, matching black leather knee-high boots with silver spurs and curved rowels, black breeches, and a black Don Juan cotton shirt behind a meticulously crafted cuirass. On his waist was an ornately engraved black leather belt, which he rested his hands on as he stood with his team. At his left hip was a rapier with a beautiful swept hilt, the quillons and arms appearing almost flowerlike, and a matching parrying dagger on the right hip. Beside the dagger was an 1851 Navy Colt revolver converted into centerfire, holstered in a cavalry draw, with several leather pouches resting at the base of his back.

At last, to his left was a thinner man with long flowing red hair with streaks of green, groomed neatly beneath a dark-green renaissance beret adorned with long rooster, pheasant, ostrich, long-tailed widowbird, and ribbon-tailed astrapia tails feathers. He had amber coloured eyes, red eyebrows, and a red brett beard with the hair below his lip and chin mixed with green. He wore an ornate doublet coloured with greens, blues, and golds, with the placket opened to reveal the red shirt underneath. Despite being left open, it was held together with string, stitched between golden buttons. The sleeves were padded with wide cuffs that revealed his bare hands that were decorated with many gold and silver rings, each with their own unique gemstone. He wore tan suede breeches that were tucked into fine calfskin leather boots, polished to a mirror sheen, and a long dark red mantle that draped over his shoulders.

While separating himself from the others by his fine dress alone, what truly stood out, at least to the eyes of Huntsmen, was that he carried no weapons. Instead, there was a beautifully crafted lute strapped across his back. This cemented the young man's appearance to that of a bard rather than a Huntsman, but like his Bear Faunus teammate, his tool must certainly be more than it appeared.

The final touch that united all eight of these young Huntsmen, was that their capelets, mantles, and capes, were emblazoned with the Mistral Kingdom Arms, as they wanted all who met them to know they were proud of their homeland. For it was now, more than ever, that their pride had brought them before the Huntmaster of Beacon Academy.

"Sorry for the delay, Oz—bad traffic" apologized Qrow. "Allow me to introduce Team RROI of Haven." He gestured with his right hand to the Cavalier themed team. "Captain Olivier Rouge" he pointed to the red feathered man "Lieutenant René Argent" the silver feathered man "Pierre d'Ocre" the orange feathered man "and Ivoire Castelmore" pointing to the white feathered man. "And Team LION, also from Haven, with Captain Robin Loxley" he gestured to the bowman "Lieutenant Ian Oak" the Grizzly Faunus "Diego Iglesias" the Fox Faunus "and Allen O'Nottingham" to the minstrel. The hat wearing Huntsmen removed them and bowed low, whereas Ian merely nodded politely.

"Thank you, Qrow, though there is no need for introductions" Ozpin said with a smile, extending his hand to Olivier. "I have met these young men before, two years ago in Mistral when I attended the Vytal Festival there, and if I'm not mistaken, where I had a lovely chat with Mister Rouge in private."

"Yes, sir. I am humbled that you remembered me."

"You make it very difficult to forget you, especially with taking such a hard-fought victory that year, as well as dominating in the league. When I saw that both your team and Team LION were deployed within Vale, I knew that you gentlemen would be of great help to me."

"Je vous remercie (I thank you). It is a great honour to be called to serve, Grand Huntmaster" Olivier said graciously. "My comrades and I thank you deeply in considering us to aid in—as your colleague has alluded to—'a dire situation regarding the Kingdoms of Vale and Mistral'. If this is true, then we shall gladly heed the call."

"I extend my gratitude as well, Grand Huntmaster Ozpin" Robin added with a bright smile, shaking his hand. "We cannot turn away when the Kingdom is threatened."

"And for that, I cannot thank you enough" replied Ozpin honestly, returning their bows. "However, I would ask you to wait to hear what task I have for you before accepting."

"Better make it quick" advised Qrow as he made his way to the bar.

"Time could have been saved if you had simply told us beforehand" pointed out Ivoire, annoyed by the younger Branwen's unwillingness to divulge them of the details.

"This is a very sensitive matter—both in subject and in time" explained the silver-haired Huntsman. "The very fact that we need your help was, in and of itself, a last-minute gamble. We were unsure if we could even find you in time, and my friend has only by the skin of his teeth brought you here. This is why I cannot go into great detail of what is going on, but simply say that we require your help, and you must act now—for the safety of both Vale and Mistral."

"That much we know, but perhaps you can tell us, at the very least, what this threat towards our Kingdoms is" offered Diego.

"Have any of you been paying attention to the tournament?"

"We would have loved to, but given our orders to patrol the outer territories of your Kingdom, we could neither watch nor listen" answered Olivier. "Which is truly a shame, as our dear Pyrrha is competing for the first time this year."

"Given how pointless the patrol was, we should have just stayed in the capital" muttered Pierre. "We were given orders to patrol the northernmost rim of the Kingdom to aid the border guard divisions with any and all Grimm activity. When we got close to our objective, we were told by the Valian military to turn back without explanation. Instead, we stayed put at one of the bases over a hundred miles from the northern forests."

"That's my one moment of good luck for the year" Qrow laughed coldly, pouring himself some bourbon. "It's because they stayed put, I was actually able to find them."

"And it was a long ride back to Albion, which you did not take advantage of by explaining why you came to recruit us in the first place" Ivoire pointed out once again.

"Oz."

"Since you have not been keeping score, there is only one remaining team from Mistral" continued the Huntmaster, reaching into his jacket pocket.

"Pity that" remarked Robin.

Ozpin held up his Scroll revealing Team CLME.

"Do you recognize these students?" The seniors gazed at the portraits and frowned, shaking their heads. "These are not students of Haven. They are enemy spies and assassins impersonating as your countrymen to launch an attack on Albion from within."

The Mistralese all froze at the news, before a palpable killing intent emanated from them, as they were barely able to contain their fury over such an outrage.

"What would you have us do, Grand Veneur? (Huntmaster)" Olivier said firmly, his face focused and cold, but his green eyes were alive with fire. "Subdue them? Join your men to confront them?"

"Not in the way you may think" corrected Ozpin. "I need you to enter the Vytal Tournament."

The Havenites turned to one another in confusion, before looking back at the silver-haired Huntmaster.

"We don't understand, sir" admitted Robin. "Why would we confront the enemy as competitors? Are we to offer them a sportsmen's bout while they plan to assault your capital? If not, then to defeat them without arousing suspicion with their co-conspirators is too late, as the Doubles Round is well underway. We cannot enter now."

"You are correct, but only in part. The enemy believes they are completely in control of the situation. We wish to keep them believing that. General Ironwood has been coordinating with our own military forces, which was why you were turned away from your patrol. Fear not, for they shall deal with the bulk of the enemy. However, the pawns of greater value within our city are our major concern. We must remove them as quietly as possible so not to plunge the civilians into terror. To do so, we must both play along with the assassins to avoid them realizing they have been discovered, pushing them no more than we dare to, and give the General enough wiggle room to repulse the enemy forces. I have chosen you to take part in this secret mission because you all exemplify the defining qualities of Mistral: honour, virtue, and loyalty. Will you accept this task?"

"And how does this remove the enemy without alerting them?" asked Olivier rightly. "We enter the tournament, a suspicious act in and of itself, and defeat them there? How does the enemy not realize they have been foiled?"

"Because you will not be facing them. You will be facing my students and Blanco's today in the Doubles Round, and them again in the Singles tomorrow—matches that you will throw" explained Ozpin. The senior students stood there as if each of them had been slapped with wet fish.

"This plan is madness" René commented, no longer sure if Ozpin knew what he was doing.

"As I said, the enemy must continue to believe they have us unaware of their plans. We must continue to lure them into the trap we have set for them, but also give General Ironwood's forces time to completely clear out the enemy outside of the tournament without the civilians knowing. We must keep them in the dark of the danger they are in. It is less than honourable and less than desirable, I fully acknowledge that, but we have no choice. General Ironwood has stressed that if we do not uproot the foothold the enemy has taken on our shores now and cleanly, we may lose this chance forever, and allow the bulk of the enemy forces to regroup. I trust him, and he has my full support. He is doing his part, and I am doing mine."

Both teams remained silent, mulling over Ozpin's dire words, their weight growing by the second. It was Captain Olivier, who at last spoke, posing a question that sucked all the air out of the room.

"Then, it is war?"

"No, not yet, and I pray to the Gods that it will not come for a good while longer" the Huntmaster expressed. "But I cannot and will not lie to you; what these invaders are doing is an act of war, and an attempt to spark a new world war by sowing distrust in hard-won allies. So, I ask you all one last time, will you help us?"

Teams RROI and LION were quiet once more, and were about to discuss the matter with one another in whisper, when there was a knock at the door. All present turned as it opened just enough for the knocker to stick their head in.

"Huntmaster, the match has concluded" Winter said in an urgent tone.

"We are out of time,” said Ozpin. "I need your answer now, gentlemen."

The teams eyed one another in silence, but the looks they gave were knowing ones, and they communicated without words. Then, in unison, the swordsmen all drew their swords and held them in front of their faces; the tops of the hilts just below their chins.

"For the honour and glory Mistral, we will fight" they said, with Ian and Allen bowing.

Qrow smirked behind his glass. 'You've got a way with words, Oz, like always.'

"And for that of Vale. Thank you, gentlemen" Ozpin replied, smiling graciously. "Now, listen carefully to the plan, for I only have the time to hastily say it once..."

λΛλ

In the stands, Ruby was on her feet, clapping happily before taking a deep breath to shout.

"Way to go, Penny!"

The ginger robot, able to hear her friend over the cheers of the crowd, turned and waved enthusiastically.

"Well, that's another friend of ours in the finals" remarked Yang. "She'll be fun to fight."

"Yes, I think so as well" added Pyrrha, genuinely fascinated by the Atlassian girl's abilities, as she seemed to control the swords attached to her back in a manner that did not appear obvious. Was it her Semblance, or was it the weapons themselves?

"If you get the chance to" grinned Sun. "When I fight her, I'll land a couple hits for you, OK, Nikos?"

"As if you'll beat us" Nora shot back, leaning across Ren to stare down her next opponent.

"Save it for the match" eased Ren, though he could not suppress a blush caused by how close she was to him.

"Be careful out there" said Weiss, looking at her friends before her eyes rested on Neptune. "All of you." The blue-haired Vacuan smiled and nodded curtly, squeezing her hand in thanks.

"Shall we go to our starting positions?" asked Pyrrha.

"Why not? It's not like we need to wait for them to announce the final match" reasoned Sun, and he prepared to stand, before hearing Ozpin's voice boom throughout the Coliseum.

"Good afternoon, everyone, I hope that you are all enjoying the tournament thus far" he said, earning cheers and boos. "Yes, yes, I understand, not everyone is too pleased with having their Kingdom's teams lose. In fact, I understand the feeling so well, that I think that we should make things even more...entertaining. I am sure you are looking forward to the next match between Teams JNPR and SSSN?" This time the crowd cheered in unison, regardless of their Kingdom of origin. "Good. I am as well, and I could not help but notice that the match will be a two versus two. Rather obvious, of course, but I also noticed that Team SSSN is the last of the four from Shade, and it would be far more interesting to see Miss Nikos and Mister Wukong face each other one-on-one, would it not? Therefore, why don't we make things more...interesting?"

The crowd, along with Teams RWBY, JNPR, and SSSN, were obviously confused by what the Grand Huntmaster was saying. Cinder and her co-conspirators on the other hand had snapped to attention, locking eyes with the silver-haired professor.

"What's he doing?" asked Emerald, not hiding her concern. Cinder immediately pulled out her tablet, and began to tap away furiously.

"While it does feel rather good to take the wind out of dear Leonardo's sails, I cannot help but feel a small bit of guilt since we here at Beacon, took on who would have been his star pupil" Ozpin continued. "Therefore, I suggest that we give both Mistral, and Vacuo a chance to shine. Two teams from Mistral have been selected to join and face Teams JNPR and SSSN; two teams that I believe will not only give us a riveting set of matches, but that our Mistralese spectators, both here today and watching at home, will approve of. Allow me to introduce them and whom they shall be facing. Pyrrha Nikos and Nora Valkyrie of Team JNPR of Beacon will face René Argent and Pierre d'Ocre of Team RROI of Haven."

The holoscreens flashed and showed the new matchups, with Pyrrha and Nora on the left, and René and Pierre on the right. While the crowd was confused, both the Mistralese and the Atlassians began to cheer in approval, clearly recognizing the two senior Huntsmen-in-training. Pyrrha recognized them as well, and gasped wide-eyed the moment they were announced.

"What's wrong?" asked Jaune, already worried about this sudden change in the tournament, but was now even more on edge with how loudly she had gasped.

"Th-Those are my upperclassmen from Mistral" she explained. "They're four years older than me, and they should be on the cusp of graduating from Haven as full Huntsmen. I trained with them while I was at Sanctum, and during my final year there, I was allowed to go with them on a number of Hunts. What are they doing here?"

"What is Huntmaster Ozpin doing is what I want to know" stated Yang rightly. "The way this tournament's gone has been weird enough, now he's doing this."

"As happy as I am for not having to go up against a girl that gets stronger from being hit by my weapon, I'm not exactly thrilled to fight seniors" admitted Neptune, scratching his chin uneasily.

"And Sun Wukong and Neptune Vasilias of Team SSSN of Shade will be against Ian Oak and Allen O'Nottingham of Team LION of Haven" finished Ozpin, with the screen changing to reveal the second match.

"Them too..." breathed the redhead.

"Them too?" echoed Jaune.

"Team RROI and LION are close friends, and always travel together, much like us and Team RWBY. I've trained with them both in and out of school, and I look up to each of them, as they have been my mentors in Huntsmanship. I wonder if Wilhelm has come with them to Vale as well."

"Greaaaat. We're going up against the people that trained Pyrrha Nikos" Neptune groaned, slumping back into his seat.

"We can take'em" reassured the blond Faunus. "And if we beat'em, then we got this tournament in the bag, since Nikos will be easy in comparison."

The blue-haired lieutenant sighed and eyed his future opponents pensively, trying to anticipate what they would be like in the arena.

"You gonna be OK?" Jaune asked, eyeing Pyrrha carefully.

"I think so" she replied slowly, trying to keep her face unreadable. "I just hope that I improved enough since the last time we trained." While she was being truthful, her mind was desperately trying to understand what exactly Ozpin was doing. 'This must be the plan he was talking about' she thought. 'But how in the names of the Gods does this deal with the imposters? Why are we being set to fight against my mentors?'

This was a valid thought, as it made far more sense that if they were to bend the rules and insert ringers, then those ringers would go against the fraudulent competitors. Indeed, Pyrrha was well aware of the impressive skills of her countrymen, and she had full confidence in them defeating Cinder Fall and her pawns, especially if Fall herself was no longer competing. Any pair from either team would have easily wiped the floor with Black and Sustrai, and if they took part in the Teams Round, then CLME would have been fully subdued. So why were they being used now? Of course, Pyrrha was unaware of the details of the Order's plan, nor did she know how desperate the Order currently was. This allowed her mind to race, trying to make sense of the situation, despite it being too late to ponder.

"Will Team JNPR and Team RROI please make their way to the arena?" announced Port, doing his part.

Pyrrha and Nora rose to their feet, and made their way to Valian arena entrance, their friends and lovers watching them go. In the Mistral quarter, Emerald, Mercury, and Neo waited in tense hesitation as Cinder continued to examine her tablet.

"Well?" asked the green-haired thief nervously.

"There's nothing that suggests that the trojan has been detected or manipulated" Cinder confirmed, her eyes darting across the screen. "They aren't aware of our plan."

"Then why are they adding fighters? Senior students from Mistral no less" added Mercury, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

"I don't know. It's very suspicious" the false-Maiden admitted, closing the tablet and looking at the new match on the holoscreen. She stared in silence, mulling over the change and trying to decipher what was going on behind the scenes. After a few more moments, she spoke at last. "We'll let things play out."

"What?" the two vocal members of her team said in unison.

"There's nothing we can do to regain control of the situation" Cinder explained slowly. "Regardless, we weren't planning to begin seeping our poison until the Singles bracket. That will be tomorrow, so all we will do is sit and watch."

"But what if they take out Nikos? What if that's the plan to get around our trojan?" argued Mercury. "But then Ozpin said that he's trying to get both her and the monkey to the Singles. Are they drunk?"

"That's why we need to wait and see. It's because of those contradicting points that makes me question if we've truly been compromised or not" Cinder reasoned, crossing her legs. "If anything, we use this time to get a better look at Nikos. You said she was holding back...this could give us a better idea of what she can really do under pressure—and how to break her under pressure. You just need to worry about your match against the bimbo tomorrow. There will be no hiccups with that, correct?"

Her cold eyes moved leftward to enforce what she was truly saying; the power of her gaze communicating her intentions. The kick-boxer shifted again, his arms folded across his chest. Ever since his match with Yatsuhashi, he had been very careful to hide how much damage he had actually taken. Judging from his degree of pain, he guessed he had a few cracked ribs and at least one broken. He had underestimated the power of the older Huntsman-in-training, and let his guard down too far in trying to sell the match. He was in a great deal of pain, he could not deny that, but he would not say a word of it aloud. In the end, it didn't matter, for he was very much accustomed to suffering.

"None" he replied, glad to turn his attention to the emerging combatants.

Neo silently watched Mercury and Cinder as she always did, taking care to not bring attention to herself. She did everything in her power to not show it, but she was very much disturbed by this change in the tournament. She, more than Emerald and Mercury, knew how much was at stake. She was normally very good at reading people, but she was unable to tell if Cinder was actually unconcerned with the sudden change, or was just talented enough to hide it. While Neo had not known Cinder for long, she was very aware than when the half-Maiden was unhappy with something or someone, she would make it abundantly clear. And yet, the mute girl was not soothed. Slowly turning her parasol in her hands, she looked to the arena, hoping that disaster was not on the horizon.

λΛλ

As the redheaded duo walked towards the battlegrounds, Nora looked over to her friend, and noticed she was slightly tense.

"You OK?" she asked.

Pyrrha blinked in surprise as she looked at the ginger.

"Oh, I'm alright, thank you. I'm just a tad nervous."

"You? Nervous? Why?"

"Well, as I said before, these are my upperclassmen. I trained with them, and I look up to them with as much reverence then as I do now. I hoped that I would see them again, but I also wanted to greatly improve my skills before then" she echoed, though she was still musing over what Ozpin was thinking by interfering like this.

He had told her that they could not simply arrest Cinder and her lackeys, for fear of scaring off Adam Taurus and whoever else was involved. Then why was he affecting the tournament seedings by introducing new combatants? It was particularly frustrating for her, because she was genuinely excited to see and fight her mentors. It would be an incredibly fun match, the hardest of the tournament without question, and she would not need to hold back as much as she usually did. That excitement was intertwined with the fear of what the enemy was planning, and despite being informed by the Order, she still felt left in the dark, and felt that she was seeing things that might not even be there.

Perhaps for now she could swallow that fear, and enjoy herself before the real challenge began in the Singles bracket. After all, if she were to go against Mercury Black as she hoped, then she would be able to unleash her fury and remove at least one of the dark agents. In the wake of Team CFVY's defeat and Coco's injuries, she very much wanted to avenge her new upperclassmen, paying the enemy back in full. As always, only the Gods knew the truth and what lay ahead.

As the two vixens entered the arena and walked to their starting position, they saw their opponents were approaching them in tandem; smiling and eager. Upon seeing her countrymen, the Champion of Mistral felt a soothing happiness wash over her. It eased her fears to see her mentors after so long, as well as alleviate a feeling of homesickness she had not felt until learning they were in Vale.

"Good afternoon, René! Pierre!" Pyrrha called with a smile of her own, both coming easier than she expected.

"Ah, bon après midi, Pyrrha!" replied René, removing his hat, and bowing, with Pierre doing the same. "It's wonderful to see you again after all this time. You appear to be doing well. May the Light of the Northern Star illuminate your path."

"And may it shine brightly for you as well" she replied accordingly, returning the bow. "What brings you to Vale?"

"We were tasked with patrolling the north as part of the final missions before graduation. However, when we arrived, we were informed that our services were no longer required" René answered honestly. "We decided to return to the capital, and in doing so, we were offered to take part in the tournament. Oh, forgive my manners. Hello to you and many blessings, Miss Valkyrie."

"Thank you, you too" the ginger said bowing exaggeratedly, not knowing how to respond, but meant well.

"I can't say I'm too happy with the turn out this year" Pierre commented, referring to Mistral's performance during the tournament, running his tongue across the top row of his teeth. "It's a real shame that you decided to attend Beacon instead of Haven."

"Don't pressure the girl" defended the pious swordsman. "She can train wherever she wishes."

"You'll come back, won't you?" Pierre went on, ignoring his teammate.

"Of course I will" Pyrrha replied smiling. "Mistral is my home and I will never abandon her."

"Then that's good enough for me" the muscular swordsman nodded approvingly, satisfied with her response. While they spoke, the new biomes had been selected: forests, stormy mountains, desert, and geyser.

"Fighters ready" announced Oobleck, causing all four to draw their weapons. "Three...two...one...BEGIN!"

Pyrrha and René charged at one another with surprising speed, striking simultaneously with an audible clash of steel, before flying past. They then spun round to face each other, both with grins on their faces, and then rested into their natural battle stances. Pyrrha took her iconic High Guard with Akoúo held in front of her, and Miló held above, pointing towards her opponent, whereas René took a L'Abbat stance; his rapier held chest height and pointed slightly upward in his right hand, and his left hand held behind him, arm bent and pointed to the sky.

During this engagement, Nora had run at Pierre and jumped, before bringing down Magnhild onto him. The taller ginger merely took a step backward, allowing the blow to strike the tiles of the arena, which sent shrapnel in all directions. Nora managed to look up in time to see Pierre bring down his rapier in a two-handed stroke, and she spun clockwise to her left to avoid it. She then used the momentum of the spin to swing her hammer at Pierre's back, where he performed a perfectly timed back flip, allowing the head of the hammer to harmlessly hit his capelet. He landed on his feet, and without hesitation, performed a powerful lunging thrust, which Nora barely managed to block, and nearly shouted in surprise as she was pushed back nearly twenty feet.

'Whoa...he's strong' she thought, and her excitement grew, knowing she was going to have a lot of fun.

In the reserved seating, Teams RWBY and SSSN, along with the remainder of Team JNPR, watched the match with intense focus.

"Oh, this is going to be an amazing match!" said Weiss gleefully, clasping her hands together, and surprising the others.

"Why? Pyrrha and Nora could lose" Yang pointed out honestly, not liking the idea of having her match with the Mistralese champion taken from her.

"But that is why it is so exciting!" the heiress argued with a smile. "Pyrrha finally has some true competition—up against such talented swordsmen like the members of Team RROI."

"What? Are they famous athletes like her? I've never heard of them" admitted Sun.

"Not at all. At least, they aren't the same kind of athlete" Weiss explained. "Both the Kingdoms of Atlas and Mistral have dueling leagues for swordsmanship. They are fiercely competitive, and are constantly drawing swordsmen and women from across the continent. My sister was a top competitor for years before she dedicated herself to her military service. Each member of Team RROI are currently active in the rankings, and have been climbing up them at a truly impressive pace."

"Right, I remember Pyrrha talking about Atlas' and Mistral's dueling culture" recalled Jaune, becoming intrigued by this revelation. "It makes sense now that they all trained together. Where are they placed now?"

"I don't know" the rapierist sighed, annoyed with herself. "I have been so preoccupied with school and training that I have not kept track as I normally do. I used to maintain a very close eye on the leagues, though I stopped checking the rankings ever since I decided to enroll into Beacon. I can easily assume they have only risen, if their Huntsmen qualifying exams have not taken up all their availability, that is."

"What about Team LION?" asked Neptune.

"Diego is a very accomplished, though the others are not, given they are not swordsmen. Robin Loxley is a swordsman, obviously so, but he is far better known for wielding a warbow, and has never taken part in the leagues."

"As fun as all of this sounds..." began Yang, folding her arms, "I'm actually worried about how this match is going to go. Pyrrha might be able to beat her opponent, but I don't think Nora will."

"Yes. She's a bit wild to put it mildly" added Blake. "Against a more disciplined and experience opponent, her bad habits will come to bite her. It doesn't help that she can't just take hits like she normally does, since that Pierre guy looks pretty strong. She's tough alright, but not that tough. In my opinion, this is a bad match up for Nora." Ren shifted in his seat at that diagnosis, not wanting to see the bubbly ginger get hurt. "And then what happens if Pyrrha can't beat René in time? Can she take on two highly experienced senior students? She hasn't trained with them in a long time, so what she knows may not be enough."

While the Cat Faunus spoke, Jaune maintained his focus on the match, shifting between the two redheads, and trying his best to discern how they were progressing. Despite this, he had been listening to every word Blake had said, and they did not give him confidence. He knew just how talented Pyrrha was, and could not imagine her losing to anyone, but he had to ask himself was it because he knew that, or he felt it because she was the woman that loved him.

"What do you think, Jaune?" asked Neptune.

The blond did not look away from the match, but replied in a steady tone.

"Pyrrha will win—so will Nora."

"You saying that because you know they're good enough, or because Pyrrha's your girl and Nora's your friend?" asked the blonde brawler, hitting the nail on the head as she always did.

The young Knight sat silently for a moment before answering. "Both."

The others looked at the boys of Team JNPR, and understood just how worried they were without putting it into words.

"Well...act honestly, and answer boldly, as my dad says" Yang sighed, returning her gaze to the match.

In the arena, the battles went on as to be expected. Pyrrha and René were dead even, at least to most watching, whereas Nora was having difficulty with Pierre. His strength was proving to be more than a match to the shorter ginger's normally unmatched brawn, which to Nora's credit, she was excited by it. Pyrrha had actually abandoned the fear that had been snaking its way through her soul, becoming entirely absorbed with the fight. It had truly been too long since she fought a serious match. For fear of hurting her opponent, Pyrrha had always restrained herself in her time as an athlete; more so after awakening Polarity. Now, she was finally allowed to use more of her true strength without having to bridle herself. The fact that it was one of her mentors facing her, made it all the more comforting, and she could not suppress an eager smile from firmly plastering itself onto her face.

And yet, she could sense that something was off, which caused the question of what was Ozpin thinking by asking her mentors to enter the tournament, to resurface.

She blocked a thrust from René, before sliding Miló down his rapier till their guards locked, and she pushed, which the older Mistralese resisted—as she hoped he would. Locking swords was a good way to get oneself killed, but she did it purposely so that she could speak with him.

"Is something wrong, René?" she asked with a slight hint of goading in her voice. "If I didn't know any better, I would accuse you of holding back."

The holy swordsman smirked at her words.

"If I am, it is simply to test your skills and see just how much you have improved since our last match, my dear" he lied, trying to play it off as naturally as possible. Unfortunately, the man was just as bad a liar as she was due to their shared devotion to their faith, and Pyrrha realized it instantly. They quickly traded blows and parries, before she purposely locked blades once more.

"You are holding back" she accused, her earlier fears returning in force. René saw the emotion in her eyes, and felt his guilt mount.

"My dear Pyrrha, to accuse me of such a–"

"This is about Huntmaster Ozpin's plan to deal with the imposters, isn't it?" she stated, not wishing to beat around the bush any further. The silver-feathered swordsman froze, realizing his underclassman somehow knew of the secret mission. Pyrrha, knowing she had to play along, swiped at René with Akoúo, who thankfully managed to lean out of the way, and then parried the follow-up with Miló, which he riposted out of reflex. The redhead blocked the strike, and took a stance just out of range. "I'm correct, aren't I?"

"How do you know of this?" he asked cautiously.

"I was approached to help yesterday, and I think I know more than you do" she replied honestly. "However, I wasn't told what exactly the Huntmaster was planning to deal with Cinder Fall and her cohorts; merely that he and the General had a plan in motion. How do you and the others fit into all of this?"

René sighed, knowing there was no point in lying any further, put continued to "attack" Pyrrha as he spoke.

"We were asked to defend the Kingdom of Vale by aiding Huntmaster Ozpin in dealing with the invaders you mentioned."

"Then why are you facing us and Team SSSN?" Pyrrha asked rightly.

"We must prolong the tournament to give General Ironwood enough time to remove all invaders."

"I don't understand. How does this protect the Kingdom when the enemy is here in the tournament? Why aren't you or the others facing them instead of us? Will you be facing them tomorrow? None of this makes sense."

"I know, Pyrrha" René admitted mournfully. "We hardly understand it ourselves, but we know that we must give the Huntmasters time to execute their plan properly. Our job is merely to put on a proper performance for the audience to distract both them and the enemy."

Pyrrha frowned. "What do you mean?"

"We will face you and your friends, but ultimately, we will throw the matches, allowing you all to continue on" he explained at last.

The redhead's mouth fell open in shock, allowing the senior Havenite to strike at her, which she barely managed to block. They began to trade parries and ripostes, but the young woman was not able to let this explanation be the end of the conversation.

"That is the plan? To merely put on a charade to entertain the enemy without fighting them?" she asked incredulously. "How under the Light does this protect the innocent of Vale?"

"I cannot say more. I was not even aware that you knew of the situation, and I hoped to wait for my moment to bow out believably without you being the wiser" René confessed, sending a kick for Pyrrha's head, who ducked it cleanly. "Please forgive us, Pyrrha. We do this for the honour of Mistral, and to protect the lives of her people, as well as of Vale's. We will swallow our pride, tarnish our records, and ridicule ourselves to save the souls of the innocent. We have faith in the Huntmasters. Will you put your faith in us?"

'Faith...' she thought, almost wanting to laugh in frustration. 'Faith is the very core to all of this. I'm certain the Order have told them nothing of the truth, what the enemy are truly after, and how much is actually as stake. I understand why they're keeping them in the dark, but what is their plan to remove Cinder and her fellow assassins?'

It was that factor that kept Pyrrha in such a state of turmoil. She had no idea what Ozpin was planning, and being asked to play dumb, left her feeling beyond helpless. Furthermore, seeing Coco badly hurt, had made her feel so sick and guilty, she would have vomited if her anger had not risen above it. Of course, there was the added stress of lying to Jaune and the others, as she saw it as if she was betraying them. It almost gave the impression that a game was being play, and a very dangerous one at that. Pyrrha understood the incredible gamble Ozpin and the Order were taking by opening up to her, but they were taking an even greater gamble by allowing assassins to walk amongst the civilians. Was this all just a test of faith? Or was it a test to prove her devotion by facing evil whilst being paralyzed by fear? She had managed to compose herself after spending hours at the Naos praying the day before, and succeeded in achieving a mostly restful sleep. However, after seeing Coco's bloodied head, and hearing of Ozpin's sudden request of her countrymen's help, the seeds of doubt were beginning to sow.

Nevertheless, the redhead breathed deeply to steady herself, and looked her former upperclassman in the eyes.

"I will" she said with effort, "but what are we going to do about Nora? She knows nothing of this, and I honestly don't believe I could convince her to play along without revealing the truth."

"That we shall leave to Pierre" reassured René, genuinely grateful that Pyrrha was being agreeable. "I trust him to know when the moment will come to take a dive."

"I hope so, because Nora has no idea how to pull her punches. When she wants to break something, she does."

René could not help chuckling at that.

"I think those two will become good friends when this is over."

λΛλ

Despite the fact that the fight between Nora and Pierre was staged, it did not mean that either participant was not fighting seriously. Nora was obviously giving it her all, and was simultaneously frustrated and exhilarated at how tough of an opponent the Mistralese swordsman was. She was used to being the strongest physically, but Pierre was a complete match to her power, and was even able to block strikes from Magnhild. Was it simply because he was a powerhouse, or was this the power of a near fully fledged Huntsman? As for Pierre, he was indeed taking the match seriously in the sense of following the plan, though he was a tad disappointed that his opponent was nowhere near as strong as Pyrrha, let alone himself.

Trying to shift her strategy, Nora put some distance between herself and her opponent, and transformed her hammer into its grenade launcher configuration. She began to rain fire onto the swordsman, who evaded each shot safe for the last. To both the shock of the crowd and the shorter ginger, Pierre caught the projectile with his left hand, and nonchalantly threw it over his shoulder. He looked at Nora unamused as it exploded, not appreciating her changing tactics.

"Don't start trying to be overcautious" he jeered, cracking his neck. "Let's just fight straight and honest."

Of course, the final statement was a dishonest one, given what was going on behind the scenes, Nora nevertheless agreed with him. She wanted nothing more than to just charge in and fight head-to-head, but she had taken Jaune's strategic advice to heart, and wanted to make sure that Pyrrha would continue onward to the Singles bracket. She opened Magnhild to eject the spend rounds, and with decent speed, reloaded the chambers of the launcher. Nora then began to sprint towards Pierre, but instead of returning her weapon to its hammer configuration, she fired two rounds, aiming just before the swordsman. The grenades destroyed the tiles of the arena in front of Pierre, knocking up a plume of smoke and dust, obscuring his view of the battlefield. Nora then jumped into the air, transforming her launcher, and came down at full strength to land a powerful blow onto the unsuspecting strongman. Magnhild made contact, and the ground beneath Pierre cracked and broke, showing just how powerful the attack had been. A grin began to grow on Nora's face, but it suddenly froze. Her eyes began to widen as the smoke cleared, revealing that Pierre had caught the hammer, and it was just the energy of the blow that had gone through him into the ground. The copper-haired senior student looked up at the shocked hammeress, and grinned at her playfully.

"My turn" he said simply, and with Homeric strength spun, ironically like a hammer thrower, and hurled Nora towards the mountain biome as if she weighed nothing at all. Taken aback by the action, Nora had not tried to correct herself in flight, and painfully crashed into the stone. In the reserved seating of the Valian quarter, Teams RWBY, JNPR, and SSSN, tensed in their seats with shock.

"Did he really just catch her hammer?" asked Yang, stunned.

"Yeah. What a tough bastard" Sun remarked, as he watched Pierre nonchalantly walk towards the mountain biome after his opponent.

Jaune, who was watching the match with his lips pressed into his fingers while propping up his arms on his knees, noticed to his left that Ren had lurched forward. The normally tranquil young man now had a pained expression on his face, unable to hide his worry for Nora's wellbeing. Indeed, her safety mattered more to him than her winning or losing the match, even though he knew she would reverse the order of those concerns. While the idea of Nora losing was somewhat absurd to Ren, learning the skill level of her opponent, and just now witnessing him withstand a two-handed overhead swing of Magnhild, and then chuck her like a stone, caused fear to awaken within his heart.

Nora groaned as she sat up, trying to get her bearings.

"Owwww" she winced as she reached to grab her hammer. "So, fighting smart wasn't smart, and fighting straight up wasn't smart either. What do I have to do to beat this guy?" As she watched the muscular rapierist close the distance between them, an idea struck her like a clap of thunder. Well, it was thunder itself that struck her with an idea, as she looked up to see storm clouds gathering above her. "Oh" she realized. "Oooooooh! That'll work!"

"I hope you haven't decided to give up already, kid" Pierre asked, casually holding his sword by his side.

Nora rolled backward, pressing her palms on the cold rocky ground, and eagerly performed a kip-up to get onto her feet.

"Are you kidding me? I'm just getting started!" she replied grinning.

Pierre grinned back, very much appreciative of her enthusiasm.

"That's the spirit" he encouraged, performing a sword flourish before taking a Bolognese-Marozzo stance with his right foot forward, his left hand on his hip, and his sword held low, almost in a Fool's Guard.

It was here that Nora noticed that the copper-haired Huntsman-in-training's sword had a thicker blade than his teammate's. And while it was beyond her knowledge, it was thicker than the average rapier. Furthermore, the sword possessed another trait that diverted it from the rapier family. It had a two-handed handle, which extended past the knuckle guard of the swept hilt; something that would cause any swordsman to blink in confusion. Nonetheless, this did complement the man perfectly—a beefier sword for a beefier Huntsman. It was, nevertheless, a beautiful sword, matching Pierre's overly lavish attire. Interestingly, the fuller of the sword was not left empty—as was the point of a fuller—but instead was inlaid with copper. Of all possible metals to adorn a sword with, copper was not one that came screaming to mind. And yet, copper was indeed there, no doubt the young man's decision, for it to compliment his own hair colour.

Pierre then lunged with impressive speed, which Nora managed to block, this time taking care to dig in her heels, and was not pushed back. She countered with a two-handed thrust with Magnhild, striking with the top of the hammer, to which Pierre blocked with the flat of his blade, supported with his left palm on the Debole—the first half of his sword. He too did not buckle from the blow, and pushed the hammeress back with a grunt, who slid backward, but only a yard or so. The pair continued to exchange blows, though both were aiming for different goals. Pierre was obviously trying to provoke a risky but powerful attack from Nora so that he could take a believable fall, granting her the victory. Nora on the other hand knew that her options were limited, but decided on merging both battle strategies she had previously implemented. She was waiting for the storm clouds of the biome to unleash lightning, allowing her to super charge herself with her Semblance, Thunderforce, and overpower her opponent, fighting both smart and directly.

The ginger performed a two-handed downward swing, as if she was trying to drive a railroad spike, aiming for Pierre's head. She had to swing wider than she would have liked, having to compensate for their difference in height, but nevertheless came in quickly. To her shock however, the Mistralese caught Magnhild by the upper part of the handle, and without a moment of hesitation, punted Nora in the centre of her chest with a heavy front kick. He let go as soon as the kick landed, allowing her to sail backwards by over twenty feet, and crashing onto her back. She only had the wind slightly knocked out of her, and was able to open her eyes in time to see Pierre come down at her from above. She rolled out of the way, allowing him to plunge his rapier deep into the rock of the mountain. Nora managed to get to her feet, and looked at her opponent, trying to come up with a better method of delaying him until she could get an electrical boost.

As if the God of Thunder had been listening, the ginger felt the hair on the back of her neck rise, and she knew that a storm was coming. Interestingly, this was a by-product of her Semblance, and was something she had discovered as a child soon after being struck by lightning and awakening it. Smiling that her patience had been rewarded, she stood up straight as Pierre removed his sword from the stone.

"I hope you aren't getting horror-struck from my strength" the older Huntsman-in-training hoped, honestly wishing that she was not giving in, as he needed her to fight fiercely. To both his surprise and intrigue, Nora grinned wildly.

"No, just thunder-struck" she answered. She raised her hammer to the sky, channeling her Aura into it, as a clap of thunder boomed above.

Lightning began to strike, and a bolt flew home to Magnhild, coursing the 1.21 gigawatts through it to Nora's hand and down into her body. Her eyes flashed blue, as did the electricity that arced across her, before it, along with her Aura, turned pink. The ginger felt the incredible power surge within her, a sensation of invincibility washing over, alongside the drive to fight and crush all who stood before her. There may not be companies of soldiers to mow through, but there was one who had the strength of a company standing right before her. With shocking speed, Nora charged straight at Pierre, and drove Magnhild at him, who managed to block the blow with his rapier. However, the moment their weapons connected, pink lightning began to arc in all directions, but mostly into the swordsman's blade and through his body. While the copper inlay was not the cause of the conductivity, it certainly increased it, joining the many adornments on his person, and shocking him thoroughly. Pierre gritted his teeth in pain, feeling his muscles spasm and lock with the paralyzing effect of the current passing through him. The effect on the senior Huntsman-in-training did not go unnoticed by the thunderess, and she began to unleash her fury; first by shoving him back, then pounding on him again and again to break through his now crippling defenses.

Pierre was now very much aware of this. Nora had proven to be far more powerful than he had expected, though she was not powerful enough to break him. However, this was the moment he had been waiting for, and he knew he needed to bait one final blow to conclude the match. Surging his Aura, he brought up his rapier to block a hammer strike with the flat of his sword across the face of Magnhild, using his free hand to aid him. He dug in his heels and pushed back against Magnhild, just enough so that he could speak to the electrified Huntress-in-training.

"I must say that I'm impressed by your strength, fillette (girlie)" he complimented, albeit with a hint of mockery. "Never had I thought someone so small would be so strong."

"Of course I'm strong! I've got thunder-thighs" Nora grinned with pride. This genuinely took the well-dressed man by surprise, and he laughed heartily despite the current situation.

"Mes Dieux! (My Gods)" he laughed, "Never would I expect to find a girl these days that would take pride in her curves. They are usually so fixated on being overly thin, making them neither fit for the bedroom nor the battlefield. I wish you the best of luck in finding a man worthy of your love."

"W-Well..." she stuttered as her cheeks flushed, not expecting such a compliment, nor the topic of romance to come up in the middle of a fight, "there is someone."

"Ah, now that is unsurprising. Does he appreciate you as much you do him? Your amoureux?—your sweetheart?"

"We-Well, we're not together-together" she echoed yet again, lessening her grip on her weapon. Gods, how she hated saying that.

"Quoi? Is he stupide?" Pierre asked bluntly, more out of curiosity than anything else, genuinely forgetting his mission objective. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on one's point of view, this struck a nerve with the ginger, who would not tolerate any attacks of any kind towards the man she loved.

"My Ren is not stupid!" she shouted, pink lightning surging out of her. With every ounce of strength, she swung her hammer against the giant, bypassing his rapier, and striking him in the chest.

The power of the blow knocked not only the wind clean out of Pierre, but knocked him clean off his feet, out of the mountain biome, and would have crashed into the stands if not for the Coliseum's defensive shield. He collided against it, and tumbled down to the ground, crashing onto the grass, and appeared to be unconscious.

"Nora Valkyrie has knocked Pierre d'Orce out of the arena and out cold by an electrifying hammer blow!" announced Professor Port without hiding any enthusiasm, happy, despite the circ*mstances, that his favourite student had won her battle. "It's now a two-on-one match between Team JNPR and Team RROI!"

The crowd, of course, rose in a mixture of cheers and boos, as Pierre remained still as the medics rushed to his "aid".

'Well, that hurt more than I expected' he thought with a chuckle, which caused him to slightly wince of pain. 'But mes Dieux, what a girl. I wish you luck, jeune homme (young man) who claims her heart. May you not keep her waiting.'

In the reserved seating, Ren breathed a deep sigh of relief. His fears were now replaced with swelling pride as he watched the energetic woman he adored hold her hammer high in triumph. In the arena, Pyrrha and René saw this as well, and both were glad that the match between the two powerhouses had gone smoothly.

"Judging by the noise the crowd is making, the final blow sold it" commented René with a small smile.

"It seems so" added Pyrrha. "We should conclude our fight, as Nora will certainly make her way over here to press our advantage."

"Indeed. Allons-y! (Let's go!)"

The Mistralese began to increase the pace of their swordsmanship, becoming nearly a blur to the less experienced spectators. Strike, parry, riposte, strike, parry, riposte, dodge, sidestep, thrust, block, repeat. The years of training were paying off in full, showing just how talented the two were. With coordination that went unnoticed to the untrained eyes of the crowd, Pyrrha performed an incredible disarming of René by hooking his rapier through the front arm and side ring of the swept hilt with Miló. She then knocked his legs out from under him with a swipe from Akoúo, and using the momentum of the spin, aimed a powerful kick at his chin. Pierre was sent flying backwards, flipping twice, before crashing to the ground.

"And Pyrrha Nikos has brilliantly disarmed and defeated René Argent!" announced Oobleck. "Team RROI has fallen! Team JNPR wins!"

The crowd once again roused with cheers and boos, just as Nora came rushing to Pyrrha's side in a heated sprint. She then skid to a stop while pin-wheeling her arms when she realized that the match was over.

"We won!" she cried, smiling brightly.

"Yes, we did" Pyrrha replied, sheathing her arms with a slightly forced smile, knowing the truth. "You had a good fight, I hope?"

"Yeah, he was tough, that guy" Nora acknowledged, folding her arms. "But then he started insulting Ren, so I whacked him!"

The redhead blinked in surprise before covering her lips with her left fist to try and suppress a giggle.

"Now why would Pierre do a thing like that? And more importantly, how does he know about Ren?"

"It...well...it sorta came up..." confessed the ginger, looking away with a blush of embarrassment. "He kinda complemented me, and he wished me luck on finding a b-boyfriend, and then I mentioned Ren, and then he called him stupid for not getting together-together with me..."

This explanation only brought more giggles from Pyrrha.

"How nice of him" she remarked, seeing the silver-lining of the exchange, and only continued to giggle when Nora pouted at her. "Cheer up, Nora" she added, placing a hand on her friend's right shoulder, "you've gained a new supporter."

"...I guess" she muttered, slumping over defeated despite being triumphant in battle.

While the two victorious maidens made their way out of the arena, there were three groups watching them with intrigue; though not all in the same vein. In the skybox, the Huntmasters were pleased with their performance, and hoped that the following matches would go just as smoothly. They had been keeping an eye on the crowd, and were equally pleased that the spectators were enjoying themselves despite the sudden and irregular change in the tournament. After all, not only were they doing their best to buy time and set up the proper defense of the capital with this intervention, but to also entertain the civilians, and keep them in the dark.

The second group were Teams RWBY, JNPR, and SSSN, who were very happy with Pyrrha and Nora's victory, and impressed that they had defeated two talented seniors. However, there were two amongst the group that were not as pleased: Jaune and Weiss. Of course, Jaune had been growing in suspicion since he first noticed that Pyrrha was lying about Team CLME. Yet, he had done his best to avoid pressing her on the matter, after she explained the reason for her meeting with Ozpin. By this point, he was near certain that their meeting had been about Cinder and her team, though what they discussed about them, he had no idea. Now, with the Huntmaster announcing that the tournament would be modified with new combatants from Mistral, ones who were close to graduating as full Huntsmen, he had a better perception on what was going on.

However, that was not what tipped him off. It was something that many if not most watching would not have caught on to, but Jaune and Weiss had noticed immediately. It was in the swordplay of Pyrrha and René, and it puzzled them greatly: they were holding back. Neither was sure as to why, it being due to their past history or something unrelated, but for Jaune at least, hoped the truth was nothing to be worried about.

The final group, of course, was that of Cinder and her three lackeys. They had all been watching the match carefully, giving their full attention to Pyrrha's one-on-one with René. Unfortunately for them, they gained no new insight on her abilities as it was simply, at least to them, a duel between swordsmen. Neither combatant had activated their Semblances and displayed their true power, giving them nothing new to work with. They were well aware of Pyrrha's Semblance, Polarity, and had seen plenty of demonstrations of that power from recordings of her tournament matches, albeit reserved. What they had yet to see, was her growth since those matches; something she had displayed very little of during the tournament thus far. They had been hoping that the match between her team and Team SSSN would have drawn it out, but this intervention by Ozpin had taken that opportunity away.

"So, what now?" asked Emerald, looking at Cinder with uncertainty.

The cold false-Maiden, leaning back in her seat with her arms crossed, remained silent for a few moments. Her eyes were glued onto Pyrrha like a predatory animal, as she vanished below ground into the locker-area. When she lost sight of her, she spoke.

"We carry on with the plan" she decided tonelessly.

"Are you sure?" asked Mercury.

"Nikos has made it to the Singles bracket; something that we've wanted and planned for since the start. Now that we know about Ironwood's little puppet, it and Nikos fighting one another, is key to our plan."

"But what if they don't fight?" he countered.

"We control the outcome of the match-ups" Cinder explained, tapping her tablet. "We will set the matches for tomorrow. The moment that anything changes to our present outcomes, we shall begin the assault with Emerald using her Semblance to cause panic. If nothing changes, then we carry on with our original plan. Is that understood?"

The three younger members of the group glanced at one another before looking at Cinder, and nodded silently. It was all or nothing.

Author's Note:

Oo-de-lally! Another major change! Eight of them, in fact. Why don't we explore them?

The King's Men

As I have said previously, DDCT is a story that is based on a full rewrite of RWBY, and from that full rewrite come many original characters, all waiting to make their grand debut. That said, those debuts serve specific purposes, therefore, to change them, changes more than merely when they make themselves known. This brings us to the question as to why these Mistralese seniors are here in Vale and were asked to enter the tournament.

In Chapter V, I made it clear that the rules and structure of the Vytal Tournament make little to no sense, and therefore, makes writing such a tournament rather difficult without changing it in its entirety, or thereabouts. As I explained, I must pick my battles, though that still left me wondering what I was to do in order for Sam and his brethren to defeat Cinder and her allies; not only in a logical way, but one that is satisfying to the audience. And in the same manner as the idea came to Sam, it came to me.

But who are teams RROI and LION? Why are they being asked to help with taking out Cinder? What is their relationship with Pyrrha? How did they come to be?

RROI and LION are the in-spiritus characters of two of my favourite stories. Team RROI are, obviously, the four musketeers—Olivier is Athos, René is Aramis, Pierre is Porthos, and Ivoire is d'Artagnan—from Alexandre Dumas' famous novel, Les Trois Mousquetaires. This novel, as well as its sequels, was very influential to me growing up, and certainly played a major part in my love of swordsmanship. Without question it is one of the greatest novels of all time, and it is no surprise that I would want characters based on them in a world such as RWBY. Of course, such novels are not exactly fairy tales as we think of them, as we consider stories meant for children to fit that definition. And yet, Team JNPR and Team SSSN (as well as others) are from folklore, religion, and great, classical literature, which seems to me a perfect invitation to include such a seminal work as Les Trois Mousquetaires. It, and the musketeers themselves, have left a permanent mark on culture, with there being a statue dedicated to them in Condom, France—yes, it is actually called Condom, and it should have been in Paris, just as Robin Hood's statue is in Nottingham, but hey. And with them being already in a team of four, with the timeless motto, "All for one, and one for all", they were a perfect addition.

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Likewise, Team LION are obviously Robin Hood and his merry men. Robin is Robin, Ian is Little John, and Allen is Allan-a-Dale. And just as Les Trois Mousquetaires influenced my love of the sword, Robin Hood is solely responsible for my lifelong romance with archery. I, like many of you, grew up watching the Disney animated version, to the point that I nearly wore out the VHS tape. Speaking of which, for those of you are a tad confused with Allen, the character of Allan-a-Dale is the minstrel in Robin Hood's band of heroes, yet does not appear much in modern interpretations—though I am sure that visually speaking you recognized him as the Rooster from Disney's animated film. I then went on to pick up a bow at summer camp at the age of five, and I never looked back. Is it any wonder that the everlasting legend of Robin Hood—no different than Les Trois Mousquetaires—in combination of my deep love of the character, would result in him being in the world of Remnant as well. I know what some of you are thinking, and we will get to that in a moment, as I need to address the odd fox out.

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For those who are not aware, the character of Diego Iglesias is not one of the Merry Men, but clearly a Fox Faunus version of Zorro from The Ghost of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley, or as it is now known, The Mark of Zorro. Whilst Diego Vega (changed at some point to de la Vega) is also a character that I adore and has left a permanent impact on me, it does not explain why he is on the same team as Robin Hood and his Merry Men—beyond it being cool. That reason will be explained in time, though what I can say is that he is a new invention for DDCT. His place on Team LION is normally taken up by the character of Wilhelm Imperial (who was mentioned by Pyrrha), and he is based on William Scarlet, whom, I expect, is a more recognizable member of the Merry Men. That naturally brings up the question that if I made Ian a Bear Faunus (akin to how Little John was portrayed in the animated film), then why is my version of Robin not a fox?

It, without a doubt, makes all the sense in the world, yet what stopped me is the simple fact that I wish to continue promoting friendship between Humans and Faunus in the face of what CRWBY have done. I could, of course, change it at a later date, as it really does not matter whether Robin is Human or Faunus, whereas for Little John, it enhances the joke that a man so large is called "little", for it is only natural that a Grizzly Bear Faunus would be larger than any Man. Again, if I ever go beyond this medium and am required to make a final decision, I could change him to a Fox Faunus. I hope that clears up any questions you may have on the matter.

This then brings us to where these teams were meant to appear. I had it set that they would not make their debut until the Mistral Arc—set after the Menagerie Arc and mini-Vale/Flashback Arc—where after Jaune and Pyrrha finally go on their long-awaited date—an unorthodox one to us, but perfect for them—Olivier spots them and challenges Jaune to a duel. He does not do it seriously, but he and his friends have been waiting quite a while to meet the boy who won over their precious underclassman's heart, and boys will be boys. They then play a major part in the Mistral Arc, but to say anything more would spoil too much.

I am just glad that I was able to use them, for they are important to Pyrrha's character and story, as well as celebrating two monumental stories that must be told again and again. They are each good and loyal men of their Kingdom, and just as their inspirations fought for their Crowns—King Louis XIII and King Richard the Lionheart—they too will fight for the good of the realm.

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Alas, the elephant in the room is that in the time that I came up with my in-spiritus version of Robin Hood, CRWBY have done the same. I will go into much greater detail on this at a later date in order to give it the respect it deserves, but what I can say is that CRWBY are as much of a pack of simpletons as I thought they were.

That aside, it is because of how I wrote these characters that I saw them as the way for the Order to formulate a plan. All that was needed was for Sam to be reminded that these teams were in Vale due to a final series of in-the-field missions before graduation; a small change from my full rewrite that fits naturally in the overall story of DDCT. This also opens the door to many more, which you will have to wait to see.

For now, I hope that you enjoy these original characters, and you find that they fit as well into the world of Remnant as I think they do.

Mentoring Pyrrha

As I hinted at in Chapter V, I decided to give Pyrrha mentors, both to further develop her character, as well as to tap into her personification of Achilles. In the Iliad, Achilles is mentored by a wise centaur named Chiron, who teaches him everything from how to hunt to how to make music. He then goes on to become friends and be mentored by Phoenix and Patroclus, both having a deep and lasting influence on him.

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It was this idea of a mentor that led me to have it that Pyrrha would have some sort of guide or inspiration to be not only a Huntress, but such a talented warrior. The show, as it always does, provides nothing to explain why things are the way they are, so it is up to me to come up with something that fits naturally. Whilst I would never consider Pyrrha to be a Mary Sue, if there is one tenant of the Mary Sue that I want to avoid, is for her to be incredibly talented without explanation. It is a common trait, especially these days, for female characters to be self-taught geniuses, which at this point is a red-flag that they will be terrible, insufferable characters. Being cautious of this, I made sure that she received the required training from her betters, indicating that she is not a champion in name only, as well as that there are those above her in regard to strength. Do not forget, even Achilles the Invincible, earning that name because of being blessed by the waters of the River Styx, had to train to become the great warrior he was.

That said, I do not remember when I made the decision that teams RROI and LION were to be her mentors. I, of course, loved the idea of the four musketeers being best friends with Robin Hood and his Merry Men, so I was not thinking of their existence as mentors. Indeed, from the outset, I envisioned them as older men, yet still young enough to be made in the same vein as teams RWBY, JNPR, and SSSN. I know it was sometime in 2018, if not sooner, and it was probably due to my developing of what I thought Mistral to be; the heartland of the world of Remnant that was itself the personification of Europe. And while I cannot recall the exact moment I made the decision, I can remember as clear as day how Olivier made his debut in confronting Jaune and Pyrrha, and everything else fell into place perfectly.

This now, at least to me, raises the following question: does this introducing of Pyrrha having mentors, not go against her feeling so alone from not being able to have friends? A good question to ask, for every change like this has consequences—something that CRWBY never take care of, such as having it that Neptune and Pyrrha grew up together in a retcon, despite them never acting as if they knew one another.

My response to that is there is a difference between having friends and having older mentors that guide you in your career. Now, that does not mean that mentors and the mentored cannot be friends, especially when they are so close in age, but I see it that Pyrrha looks up to her mentors because they are the examples of what she wants to be as a person and as a Huntress. There is a degree of peerage here—not "peer" as in "equals", but rather the peerage of nobility—meaning that Pyrrha sees a separation between them—at least until the gap is closed past graduation. Friends and a lover of her own age have more weight emotionally than an older mentor, as she feels she needs to always act professionally to not insult the mentors she admires, whereas with friends she can be a teenager.

I feel as if I am failing to convey my point clearly, but in layman's terms, it is simply that Pyrrha wants to temporarily put aside her career and have fun, rather than being in a constant state of training. Then there is the fact that teams RROI and LION—Olivier especially—have a special prestige even higher than herself in Mistral. This will make more sense in future chapters, but I still felt it necessary to address this major change (or addition) to Pyrrha's back-story.

I can only hope that it made sense and that you enjoyed it.

A Note on Team JNPR vs Team SSSN

I think it necessary that I touch on the halting of JNPR and SSSN fighting in the Doubles Round, especially since I skipped right over it to explain teams RROI and LION.

As I mentioned in previous chapters, V3 was very nonsensical with the tournament seeding, yet it was only by delving into the wiki did I find out that Pyrrha and Nora were meant to go against Sun and Neptune. Supposedly Pyrrha and Nora would win, though given how poorly the fights were in V3, and that Neptune's phobia was to appear in that original fight, I can confidently assume it would not have made sense, and would have been nothing more than an opportunity to humiliate them. To make matters worse, Luna and Shawcross claimed that the original fight had a "lack of relevance to the plot", which I find incredibly insulting, given the RWBY v FNKI debacle, but also that it was a fight between four members of the supporting cast—three of the most popular members of the supporting cast, might I add. It would have been a good place to show what Neptune could do as well, but we all know the agenda CRWBY had by this point, don't we? Then there is the reality that a fight between Pyrrha and Sun would have been a very intense fight animation wise, and one that would have never been done well without Monty.

Alas, that fact results in the mess that became "canon", for when you examine the "canon" seedings, you see that Team JNPR and SSSN fought two "unknown" teams, thus allowing both Pyrrha and Sun to go to the finals. One cannot help but laugh at the sea of "unknown" and "off-screen", as not only does it confirm my postulations at how underdeveloped all of this was, but how large in scale it needed to be, yet never was.

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I can only hope that you will enjoy what is to come, for as Sam said, a fight between Pyrrha and Sun would be very fun to watch. But will it happen? The plan is now in motion, so how will things turn out? Only time will tell.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël, Buon Natale, Feliz Navidad, Fröhliche Weihnachten, καλά Χριστούγεννα, Wesołych Świąt, С Рождеством, God Jul, Gleðileg Jól, メリークリスマス, חנוכה שמח, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Mother Nights, and Júl! Be safe, enjoy the company of your loved ones, eat and drink to your heart's content, be merry, and take care. See you next time.

Chapter 10: Till Death or Glory

Chapter Text

Pyrrha and Nora returned to their seats in the reserved section of the Valian stands to a warm welcome.

"That was awesome!" cheered Yang, with her sister showing similar enthusiasm.

"Thank you, girls" returned Pyrrha smiling, hiding her frustrations and concerns as best she could.

"Did you see?" asked Nora eagerly to both Jaune and Ren. "I kept switching things up, trying to figure out how to beat him, and then I took advantage of my environment to knock him out of the arena!"

"We did, and well done" congratulated the blond with a smile. "Glad you listened to my advice."

"Are you OK?" asked Ren. "You took some hard hits out there."

The ginger looked at her long-time crush, and saw the concern in his eyes. Ever since they had decided to stick together, Ren had always been incredibly protective of her. He always made sure that she was safe before allowing himself to relax, that she had enough to eat before he ate, and overall put her before himself. Even after awakening her Semblance and building a much stronger weapon, making her so much stronger than him, Ren still worried about her. She did not hate it of course. In fact, it had only deepened her love for him over the years, as no one had ever cared for her before he entered her life. That concern for her melted her heart every single time, and now was no different, causing her to smile warmly.

"Don't worry, Ren, I'm tough" she assured him. "He was tough, but I'm tougher."

The green-clad Huntsman-in-training let out a small sigh of relief, before returning her smile with one of his own, as hers was impossible for him to resist.

"I'm glad. You were great out there" he complimented. Nora's smile instantly brightened further, and she threw her arms around Ren's neck, hugging him tightly. She could not show her love for him with kisses or words outside of "boop", so her fierce hugs would have to do, channeling all her love into them at every opportunity. It clearly reached him, as Ren returned the hug, despite feeling the eyes of his friends on them.

"Well, that's one weird match down; one to go" commented Sun, cracking his neck. "Got any friendly advice about your ex-classmates, Nikos?"

"Ian is incredibly strong, and Allen is rather crafty and skillful despite his appearance" offered the redhead. "My advice to you both is simply to not let your guard down."

"Greaaaaat" the Monkey Faunus replied sarcastically before clicking his tongue. "Right, let's go, Neptune."

The blue-haired lieutenant nodded, and while reaching for Ionio, felt Weiss squeeze his other hand. He turned to look at her, and saw the concerned but supportive gaze she was giving him.

"Be careful" she said softly.

"I will" he replied smiling gently, but reassuringly, squeezing back before lifting her hand and kissing it.

Taking his rifle, he rose to his feet and followed his captain to the Vacuan corner of the Coliseum, who just before, gave Blake a playful wink, not wanting to be outdone by his friend in flirting. When they both left, Weiss was given a couple moments of bliss, before realizing that all of her friends were looking at her, very much amused by her romantic exchange.

"W-What?" she demanded hotly, feeling her cheeks warming in embarrassment.

"Oh, Neptune!~" Ruby cried, throwing her right hand to her forehead, pretending to swoon. "Do be careful, my darling! I cannot go on without thee!"

"Fear not, my princess!" Yang cried, joining in, and taking Ruby's free hand. "I shall defeat the enemy, and no matter the pain, I will return to your loving embrace once more!" She then began to exaggeratingly kiss her sister's hand, putting the bow on their impromptu theatrical performance, and causing their friends to laugh.

"I think that was a rather sweet thing for him to do" defended Pyrrha, though she was guilty of laughing along with the others.

"Exactly!" the heiress exclaimed, folding her arms defiantly, her cheeks deepening in colour. "Laugh at me as much as you want, girls, but my Neptune is a perfect gentleman, and his expressions of courtship are very much appreciated."

"Your Neptune, huh?" remarked Nora with a smirk. "So, how do you think your Neptune is gonna do?"

"He will win!"

"You sure?"

"Of course!"

The others chuckled at Weiss' proclamations before turning their attention to the arena, as the match would start momentarily. With their focus away from the white-haired Atlassian, Blake leaned over to Pyrrha and spoke in a low voice.

"Tell me honestly; what are their chances against your upperclassmen?" she asked.

"Worried about Sun?" Pyrrha replied playfully.

The Cat Faunus blushed at the accusation, but held fast and kept the serious expression on her face.

"Tell me."

The Mistralese champion paused for a moment, knowing she could not simply come out with the truth, but she could still give her friend some comfort.

"I am not sure," she lied, "but I believe that if they fight intelligently, they will be victorious. Sun and Neptune seem to be the closest of friends, who no doubt work very well together. I believe their chances are better than you think."

Blake nodded slowly, appearing to be satisfied by the answer, and turned her gaze to the arena.

λΛλ

As the first and second-in-command of Team SSSN walked briskly towards the arena, the crowd cheered them on in excitement. The Vacuans were even more eager for their match, knowing this would determine their chances of winning the Vytal Tournament. As expected, their fangirls cheered for them as well, though neither paid them any attention, for Sun noticed how tense his friend was.

"Dude, relax. We'll win" he reassured, nudging him with his elbow.

"I hope so" Neptune replied, not looking at the blond.

"You look like you're gonna have a cow. Seriously, breathe before ya pass out."

Indeed, Neptune did have a rather grave expression on his face, which was born out of the soft smile he bore when he left Weiss behind. The reason of course, was due to his conversation with her the other day, and his performance against Team NDGO.

"I have to do well today" he explained in a serious tone. "I can't repeat what happened in the Teams Round. I can't make an ass of myself in front of her again."

"She's not gonna dump you, dude" Sun said, trying to put his friend's fears to rest as they stepped onto the white tiles of the battlefield. "I've seen enough at this point to know for sure that she really likes you, and as long as you do your best, win or lose, you won't disappoint her."

"And the best way to not disappoint her is by winning and winning decisively" Neptune countered, looking over at his optimistic captain. "And why are you acting like winning doesn't matter? We're aiming to win this tournament, and that means getting you to the Singles Round. I have to pull my weight here."

"I never said anything that winning doesn't matter, just that the Ice Queen won't leave you in the cold—however it turns out."

"I just don't want to have to fight in anything water related—that's all I ask."

As the pair stopped at their starting position, from the Mistral corner of the Coliseum, their opponents at last came into view. Ian Oak and Allen O'Nottingham walked casually towards them without a hint of fear or nervousness. It became instantly clear that their profiles had not done them justice. Allen's near comical attire was much more brilliant and vivid in person, especially with his clothes and feathers catching the sunlight. However, for every bit of the bard's fashion being flashy, Ian's appearance was equally eye-catching. His match portrait had not fully encapsulated his daunting height, towering at 6'8", and appeared like a mountain beside his teammate, who was just under six feet. Sun and Neptune could not help but lean back slightly in surprise, as they had no inclination to the Grizzly Bear Faunus' true height. Of course, as a Bear Faunus, it would not have been a stretch of the imagination to assume he would be tall. However, Ian's height, in combination with this build, made him an intimidating sight to say the least. Indeed, in the stands, Blake was unable to stop herself from swallowing nervously, as the Mistralese Faunus was even more physically intimidating than her own father.

When the two senior Huntsmen-in-training reached their own starting point, they looked at their younger opponents with differing levels of politeness.

"Good afternoon, lads" greeted Allen, removing his barrette and bowing low. "I hope that we can all have a pleasant match today."

"Here's hoping" replied Sun with a smile, before leaning over to Neptune. "See? They're nice."

"It might be all the same to you pretty boys," yawned Ian dismissively, "but I've got trouble believing that green brats such as you have a chance against us."

"You were saying?" the blue-haired Vacuan muttered.

"Now, now, Ian, that's not how we should treat our juniors" the bard scolded with a wag of his finger. "This is as much a learning opportunity for them as it is a tournament. We should be mentoring rather than belittling."

"I thought we were brought in to fight them, not babysit them."

"Well, aren't you like a bear with a sore head. What's making you so narky today?"

"I just don't like the city all that much. I was looking forward to that patrol mission."

As the combatants spoke to one another, the digital roulette began to spin and selected the four biomes for the match. To the relief of Teams SSSN and RWBY, the selected environments were two forests that sat side by side and covering half of the arena, city ruins, and for the first time, a winter biome with snow and ice. It was hard to tell what the biome contained given that it was completely covered in snow, though a few bulges hinted at what lay beneath.

"Thank the Gods!" praised Neptune, holding his hands up gratefully.

"Well, there you are, you big grouch. A little bit of home to take your mind off the concrete jungle" chirped Allen with a dandy smile.

"It's not the same, but it will do" shrugged the tall Faunus, scratching the back of his right ear.

"Right ho! Let us begin with the match. Mister Vasilias" said Allen, pointing to Neptune. "I like your hair, sir. Is it natural?"

Neptune blinked in confusion, not at all a question he was expecting to be asked.

"…Uh…yeah?" he replied.

"Very good. Then you shall be my opponent. You are clearly someone who takes care in their attire, and as I am one such person myself, I can respect that effort."

"Thanks…I haven't been asked that in years."

"Really? I get asked it all the time" Allen sighed, flicking his odd coloured hair. "I appreciate the attention, but I would much rather enrapture people with my songs than my appearance."

"Have you looked in the mirror?" asked Sun bluntly, getting a small smirk from the taller Mistralese. "Whatever, you ladies enjoy yourselves and talk about your hair."

"I'll take the monkey kid" Ian announced, cracking his knuckles.

"Fighters ready?" shouted Oobleck. "Three…two…one…BEGIN!"

The pairs broke off to face their respective opponents, but none of them were in a rush to jump into battle. Team SSSN was particularly cautious, as they were going up against senior Huntsmen-in-training, and running in half-co*cked could spell disaster. As for Team LION, they wanted to make the match as real and entertaining as possible, without hurting the younger boys severely.

"Looks like you and I fight with the same weapon" commented Sun, drawing Ruyi Bang and Jingu Bang from his back, and spun them into their staff configuration.

"Seems like it" Ian replied, pulling his long quarterstaff over his head, and pulled on one of the ends of the straps after unhooking it, causing it to reel itself into the shaft. "I prefer the simplicity of a good staff."

"Really? I like how flashy it can be. Makes for a good show."

"I leave the over-the-top flash for my friends."

"Fair enough" agreed the blond Faunus, and began to do some deep side lunges. "I can respect that, even if it as a little boring. Then again, it's more fun to fight flashily then dress flashily. I think Neptune goes a bit too far."

"Glad to see we agree on something" returned Ian, resting on his weapon, clearly in no rush. "Though I would add that fighting should be competent and effective over being flashy."

"True. But to be fair, Neptune's style got him a great girlfriend, so credit where credit is due."

"Hmmm. Have you finished stalling?" asked the Grizzly Faunus.

"Noticed did ya?" grinned Sun. "I was just trying to figure out the best way to take you down."

The burly man laughed a slow, deep laugh, revealing his longer than normal canines. "Take me down? With what? That twig? I don't think so, lad."

"Yes, with this 'twig', and stop calling me 'kid'. You're only like four years older than me."

"Four years means a great deal in this line of work," pointed out Ian correctly, "but I hope that you have more to offer than just talk, and that stick of yours, is more than just a baton to twirl around. Because if that's all you've got, then I can just crush you with my bare fists."

Despite his weapon being insulted yet again, the right corner of Sun's mouth twitched into a grin, unable to contain himself.

"You have bear fists?" he asked with an open mouth smile.

Ian was left mute from the pun, but the corner of his mouth twitched, not willing to allow himself to laugh.

"That was terrible" he said at last.

"Sorry, dude" Sun laughed, throwing his hands up defensively. "I've been spending a lot of time with my girl's team, and one of her friends is a riot. I'll try to keep'em bearable."

The older Faunus' face fell into an expression that screamed disapproval and disdain.

"And to think I was actually starting to believe you had some hope" he sighed tonelessly. He swung his quarterstaff over his head before taking a stance, holding it with both hands. "Time to take you to the woodshed."

While this was developing, Neptune and Allen were squaring off. The bard removed his lute from his back, and began to strum it, tuning the instrument.

"You're not going to sing me a song, are you?" asked Neptune, making sure to be ready for anything, no matter how absurd it might be.

"As much as I would love to play for a crowd this massive, music making will have to wait" the musician replied sorrowfully.

"Good. I was worried for a second that I should have brought my violin instead of Ionio."

"Ah, so you are a musician? Very good, sir. Perhaps after this we may make some wonderful music together to entertain the fairgoers" offered Allen, smiling dandily.

"Shouldn't you be taking this seriously?" Neptune asked. "I mean, I don't mind playing some music with good drink and company around, but this is a combat tournament. Why did you bring a lute to a battlefield?"

This caused the minstrel to smile with a strong flicker of mischief in his eyes.

"Because my fellow player, music, as well as combat, is art" he explained. He then played a short quick tune, before spinning his lute by the neck, transforming it into an extravagant looking billhook. He thrust the bottom of his weapon into the tiles of the arena, and held the polearm the same way a basest would a cello. "And art is life."

Neptune examined the Mistralese minstrel anew, as well as his weapon, and smirked.

"Well, I can't say I disagree on that" he mused. He reached behind him and drew Ionio, spinning it clockwise, barrel over stock, transforming it into its fuscina trident form, and slammed the base into the tiles as electricity arced from the prongs. "Let's play."

The pair stared at one another for a few moments, before Allen spun his billhook clockwise over his head, and attacked with the short spike aiming for Neptune's left thigh. The Vacuan kicked the base of his fuscina to spin it clockwise and parried the strike, knocking the billhook away, before catching the upper part of Ionio's shaft with his left hand, and plunged the prongs at the minstrel. Allen side flipped to the right, dodging the attack, then swung his weapon again, this time aiming for Neptune's exposed neck. The blue-haired Huntsman-in-training dropped into a crouch with one leg extended, narrowly avoiding the swipe, and then rose back up to send a powerful front kick at his opponent. Allen brought up his polearm in time to block the kick with the centre of the shaft, which pushed him back slightly, allowing Neptune to return to a neutral stance, ready for the next exchange.

"Whoa" awed Yang honestly. "Neptune's actually really good."

"Of course he is" assured Sage, folding his arms in pride. "And without the damn water getting in his way, you'll see just how good he really is."

Weiss, who was concerned for Neptune's surprise match, felt a surge of pride of her own, lifting the weight on her heart, and allowing her to enjoy the fight.

In the arena, Sun and Ian eyed each other carefully, before the Monkey Faunus bolted towards the giant man. He leapt into the air and brought Ruyi Bang and Jingu Bang onto his foe, who brought up his quarterstaff and effortlessly blocked the attack. Sun bounced off Ian, and as soon as he landed to the ground, separated his staff in two, and began to unleash a hailstorm of shotgun blasts as he marched forward. Despite his size, Ian began to spin his quarterstaff with surprising speed, blocking all of the shots until Sun stopped firing, to which he then brought down his weapon with a monstrous two-handed swing. Sun rejoined his nunchakus just in time to block the blow, but underestimated just how powerful it would be. His legs buckled, forcing him into a low crouch, as his arms bent as much as they physically could, stopping Ian's staff an inch from connecting with his neck. The tiles cracked beneath his feet, displaying just how powerful the attack had been, but the captain of Team SSSN, though heavily strained, remained strong and slowly lifted his head to look at his opponent.

"Well..." he began through clenched teeth, but still managing a flashy grin, "not bad old man. But it looks like your bark is worse than your bite." This was a bluff of course, as the attack could have done some serious damage if he had not blocked it—Aura adding to his defence or no.

Then, as if sensing that then younger Faunus was trying to put one over him, Ian took a deep breath before unleashing a thunderous roar, revealing his large canines once again, and blowing the blond's hair back. The roar was so loud in fact, that even the audience was able to hear it, sending a shiver down their spines. Sun on the other hand, blinked before exhaling through puffed cheeks.

"Well, someone's got bad breath" he remarked, doing his best to maintain an unmoved composure.

"Forgive me, how about I give you some room to breathe?" offered Ian. Before Sun could say anything, the Grizzly Faunus kicked him square in the chest with such force that he was sent flying across the arena and into the forest biomes, disappearing from view. In the stands, Blake lurched forward as a wave of fear struck her, as she was also unable to see where the blond had landed.

"Sun!" shouted Neptune, as he saw his friend hurtling out of sight. Fearing the worst, he turned to chase after him, but narrowly dodged the curved blade of Allen's billhook that tried to catch his shoulder.

"Vasilias, my lad, I am your opponent, not dear Ian" he scolded coyly, positioning himself between the Vacuan and the forest. "Fear not for your friend. Ian will not be overly rough with him, so long as he doesn't annoy him too much."

"Now I'm afraid" Neptune replied, worrying more than ever before for his mischievous captain's wellbeing.

λΛλ

Sun groaned as he sat up, rubbing the back of his head.

"sh*t, that hurt" he winced. "If I hadn't been working on this bod for so long, then we would've really had a problem."

While this was true, the kick had nevertheless knocked the wind clean out of him, and it took him a few moments to recover it. He looked around him to get a fix on his bearings, and noticed his staff laying a few feet away from him. Picking it up, he looked around to spot his opponent, but so far, he had not made his reappearance. There was something a tad ironic about the whole affair, alone in the woods looking out for a bear. Sun had put up a brave face, but if he were to be honest, he was a bit intimidated by the Grizzly Faunus. He was not shaking in his boots, of course, although he was very much aware just how much of a difference in raw physical power there was. Normally it was the other way round, and even if he was to maximize his Semblance and Aura, he had a good idea that mountain that masqueraded as a man, would still defeat him.

"So, how the Hell do I beat him?" he said to himself.

"I hope you aren't cracking under the pressure" came Ian's deep voice as he emerged from the trees.

"Pressure? What pressure?" asked Sun nonchalantly. "If you're feeling too stressed from the match and you want to bow out now, that's just fine."

Ian laughed once as he planted his quarterstaff into the soft earth.

"Cheeky. As much as I would have preferred to relax beneath a tall tree this afternoon over fighting in this tournament, I must fight. You can surrender if you wish."

"Me?" Sun pointed at himself with both index fingers. "Hell no! I got the most beautiful girl in the world watching me right now. Quitting would be the worst thing I could do."

"See, this is why I've been calling you 'kid', lad. You, just like your lieutenant, and Allen for that matter, keep putting looks and women before everything else. As Huntsmen-in-training, that's like putting the cart before the horse. There're more things that beg priority over the rewards that come afterwards."

"Cart before the horse? Priorities? I've got the best of friends, and a girl worth fighting for; what else could I possibly need?" Sun proclaimed with a bright grin, meaning every word of it.

Ian lifted his head with curiosity before shaking it in disbelief.

"The audacity of youth" he muttered.

"Ya done whingeing, old man, or do you want to fight?"

The Grizzly Faunus removed his quarterstaff from the ground and rested it on his shoulder, as a low and deep growl echoed from the base of his throat.

"I'm starting to spoil for a fight..." he said slowly, his brown eyes locking onto his opponent, "...monkey-boy."

The two Faunus stared each other down for a few moments. Then without warning, both lunged with their staffs that struck at the tips, knocking them both back, before simultaneously pressing forward. Metallic bangs rang throughout the pseudo-forest as their staffs clashed, both displaying their proficiency in their discipline. The leaves in the canopy above were being buffered by the wind generated from the powerful swings, with blades of grass being kicked into the air, and swirling around the combatants. Half of the Coliseum cameras had located Sun and Ian, and to the spectators, it appeared as if they were dead even. The reality of course was that Sun was exerting far more energy to counter Ian's attacks, and he knew that he would lose in the long run—sooner rather than later. He began to avoid the attacks that he could, making use of his speed and agility, and putting his abundant energy to great effect. Sun then took to the air, kicking off from tree to tree, circling the Grizzly Faunus, and even successfully landing strikes. Ian was trying to keep up with the Vacuan, but at the same time trying to not fight seriously, knowing just how badly he could hurt Sun if he did.

"What's wrong, old man?" taunted Sun. "Can't get this monkey off your back?"

'This bloody…' growled Ian internally. Losing his patience, he spun round and reached above, grabbing Sun by the tail.

Without hesitation, he wrenched Sun over his head and slammed him into the ground. He then swung him again, smashing Sun behind him, before finally throwing him over thirty feet, allowing him to crash into the dirt, slide onto his upper back, and finally flip backwards onto his front. The spectators, regardless of their Kingdom of origin, unanimously winced at the brutal blow delivered to the Vacuan Faunus. Blake gasped in fear, covering her mouth, and watching wide-eyed. On the other side of the arena, Neptune and Allen, who had been heavily engaged in combat, turned to look at one of the holoscreens that was broadcasting the fight between their teammates.

"Sun!" shouted the blue-haired lieutenant, sharing Blake's fear.

'Damn it, Ian!' cursed the bard. 'The lad isn't the enemy! He needs to win!'

In the forest, Sun slowly brought his arms forward and pressed his palms into the grass, lifting his chest off the ground. He coughed twice before spitting out some dirt and grass, and he wiped his mouth with the back of his right hand.

'Right…' he thought blenching, bringing up his knees to better prop himself up. 'Don't poke the bear…though honestly, all my attacks were pokes. Damn, what options do I have?'

The sound of heavy footsteps caused the blond to look up and see the advancing Mistralese, who seemed no worse for wear. As Sun shifted to get to his feet, his tail moving with him, it brushed up against an object that he instantly knew was Ruyi Bang and Jingu Bang. He quickly wrapped his prehensile tail around the weapon and passed it up to himself as he pushed off his right knee into a standing position. He had to wear him down. There was no other option at Sun's disposal. He separated his staff into two pairs of nunchakus, and began to spin-co*ck and fire in rapid succession. Ian began to spin his quarterstaff to deflect the shots, however, he was not able to block all of them, and some passed through, bouncing off his Aura armour. Seeing this, Sun continued to maintain the pressure, though secretly hoping that his ammunition supply would hold out for longer than his opponent.

'You want to play that way, do ya, lad?' the Grizzly Faunus thought in annoyance. 'Fine then. Ready or not...' he gripped the centre of his staff, each hand twisting in opposite directions, and separating it in two, 'here I come.'

Sun had stopped firing by this point, noticing that the older Faunus was revealing that his weapon was more than just a quarterstaff. This was to be expected, as nearly all Huntsmen arms were multi-form weapons, but there were limitations with most staff types. What would Ian's be? Near instantaneously, the Monkey Faunus got his answer, as each segment of the Mistralese's quarterstaff had become an axe; each bit looking like a hybridization of a normal woodcutting axe and a Danish axe. Before Sun could react, the giant man charged at him, his boots pounding the ground as he ran, sounding very similar to the thunder of draught horse hooves. Sun resumed his barrage of shotgun fire, but grimaced in distress as he saw his shots bounce off the incoming Faunus harmlessly. When Sun was in range, Ian drew his right axe back, and swung it at the Vacuan, who dashed forward before ducking and sliding on his knees between his opponent's legs. Instead of hitting the blond, Ian's axe struck the tree immediately to his right, and sliced through it like a knife through butter, allowing it to fall to the ground with a mighty crash.

After getting past the older Faunus, Sun had twisted round into a crouching position, and looked at the felled tree with a panicked look on his face.

"Were you actually trying to kill me, ya crazy bitch?" he sputtered, very much aware that he could have lost his head if he hadn't dodged.

Ian performed an axe flourish as he turned to face his petrified opponent.

"What's the point of having a dull axe?" he asked casually.

"That wasn't what I asked! This is a tournament, not war!"

"Says the kid shooting at me."

"These are non-lethal shells I'm using!"

"Ah, so that's why they tickled."

As fair a statement as that was, it did not do much to calm Sun's nerves. In fact, they would be rattled further, as Ian began to swipe at the fallen tree with one axe, cutting it into two-foot-thick logs, impaling each with the other axe, and using it to hurl the logs at the Monkey Faunus. Sun snapped out of his stupor, and began to fire his shotguns, blasting two logs before hearing the dreaded click of a hammer striking a firing pin and nothing happening, indicating that he was indeed out of ammunition. He switched back to relying on his agility, and ducked and flipped to avoid the incoming improvised projectiles. When Ian ran out of logs, he charged once again at Sun, this time jumping into the air, and brought both his axes onto the smaller Faunus. As expected, Sun jumped out of the way, straight into the air, allowing the axes to bite into the soft earth. But when Ian recovered and looked about, he saw that Sun had disappeared. Of course, this was not true, rather Sun's natural instincts had taken over, and like a monkey, scampered up to the highest point of the canopy, resting against the trunk of a particularly tall tree, and doing his best to catch his breath.

"Right..." he said to himself, fishing out lose shotgun shells from his pockets, dropping the levers of Ruyi Bang and Jingu Bang, placing a shell in the chambers, and closed the levers before loading the tubular magazines. "I need to think of a better strategy here. These aren't powerful enough to drop him, and I don't have enough ammo to grind down his Aura armour so I can knock him out with a physical attack. Hate admitting it, but I doubt I could hurt him with kicks and punches anyways." The blond attached his weapon to his back and folded his arms, descending into thought. "Well...I could use that, but Hell, it'll take all I've got. If I don't beat him then, I'm dead in the water. Man, I really need to increase my muscle and Aura endurance training after this tournament..."

"There you are, monkey-boy" Ian's deep voice cut into Sun's thoughts from below. The Vacuan Faunus looked through the canopy and saw the giant man walking calmly towards him.

"Ya know, if we weren't both Faunus, some people would say that nickname you're giving me is racist" Sun pointed out.

Ian co*cked an eye-brow. "Why? You are a monkey and a boy. It's a very accurate nickname. Hell, the Human pub owner of my favourite establishment in Haven calls the Human children that cause trouble 'monkeys'."

"I know, but there are people who think that way. Take my girl for instance. She's pretty sensitive about that sort of thing."

"She's a student of a Huntsmen academy?"

"Yeah."

"…She might be in the wrong line of work" admitted the muscular Mistralese. "Being overly sensitive and being a Huntsman is not a good mix."

"Oh, I know" agreed Sun. "I'm from Vacuo, and oversensitivity will get you killed just as fast as coming across an Olgoi-Khorkhoi Grimm."

"Good to know you have some sense. Now then…" Ian continued, folding his arms with his axes sticking out behind him. "While I am enjoying our chat, you can't honestly think you can spend the entire match hiding in the trees like a squirrel."

Sun looked at his tail curiously before looking back at the taller Faunus.

"I thought I was a monkey?"

Ian sighed, realizing that talking was entirely frivolous. He extended his arms and swung both axes, so they embedded into the tree Sun was in, and let them stay there. The captain of Team SSSN snapped to attention, expected that Ian had cut the tree at its base, but was surprised to find that he had not. He would be even more surprised at what happened next, however, as the Grizzly Faunus then wrapped his thick arms around the trunk of the tree, and with impossible strength, uprooted it.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" Sun shouted, bewildered by just how wrong he was about the gap between their strengths, and jumped out of his tree into the next one.

As soon as he recovered, he heard the now recognizable sound of an axe biting into wood, and he jumped once again as a log sailed through the air and struck the bow he was standing on. Showing off his acrobatic skills, Sun swung through the canopy, dodging the logs and trying to put enough distance between himself and Ian to think of a new plan of attack. Unfortunately, he would not get that opportunity, as his opponent threw one of his axes at the tree he was about to land on, cutting through it cleanly. The bow he was aiming for fell past him, causing him to fall to the ground and roll before coming to a stop. As Sun looked up, Ian walked towards him more briskly than before—an unamused expression on his face.

"I'm starting to get very annoyed with you, lad" he growled, pulling the axe he had thrown out of the ground. "You clearly can't beat me. You can either keep running around like a coward, or you can save face and admit defeat."

That ultimatum caused an immediate change in Sun. Insults would bounce off him like they were nothing. They had little if any effect on him, and he would just fire back with insults of his own. That was how it was in Vacuo. Being called a coward, however, was a different story. For Sun, and for most, if not all men in Vacuo, being called a coward, was one of the worst things a person could be called. The shame of cowardice was beyond disgraceful and dishonourable, to the point that the blond could not put into words of how emasculating it was. It was only something that men could understand, and he was feeling every ounce of it. His face had lost all of its normal humour, turning more serious that anyone from Team RWBY or JNPR had seen him make, and only emerged a few times since Neptune, Sage, and Scarlet had met him. For it was not solely the accusation of being a coward, but being told to surrender. Surrendering without fighting to one's last breath was also viewed as cowardly in Vacuo, and it was all too much for the Monkey Faunus to stomach.

He rose to his feet slowly and cracked his neck, before locking eyes with Ian one final time.

'Alright then...' he thought, 'we'll go with that.'

Sun brought his hands up and closed his eyes as if he were about to pray. From Ian's perspective, that was exactly what he seemed to be doing, which did strike him as odd, for he did not take the boy to be the religious type. His initial assumption was right of course, as Sun's body began to glow yellow, his Aura surging. From his body emerged three golden clones of himself, and without a moment's hesitation, they bolted towards the Grizzly Faunus. Ian swung his axes at the clones, but found it to be a more difficult endeavor than it had previously been with the real Sun. Given that the clones were made of Aura, they were lighter than their creator, and could move significantly faster. They ducked and weaved passed the sharp axes like leaves flowing in a stream, bouncing off the trees and striking the tall young man in more directions than he could defend himself from.

This would not be enough to defeat Ian of course, and was only meant to be a distraction to buy Sun time. While his Semblance, Yīqiān Gè Chìliè Tàiyáng Duì, was very useful in theory, as creating clones from his Aura had a myriad of applications, both in and out of combat, there were currently a number of limits. Mainly, he could only create clones and control them while remaining still, as it required a great deal of concentration, thus moving while controlling them was too much for him. Furthermore, while he had a great deal of Aura at his disposal, his efficiency with it was not where it should be, and it burned rather quickly while creating and manipulating his clones. Thus far, he could only create three clones with perfect control, as any more would drain him tremendously. When depleted, he was left near helpless, so he avoided using clones unless the right situation called for it. This appeared to be the right time if ever he saw one. However, three clones would not be enough to defeat Ian, even if he could join them in combat. What he instead had in store, was nothing short of a gamble. If it did not go without a hitch, and if he was not fast enough, then it was all over.

Sun began to concentrate with greater intensity, and forced with all of his might, his Aura to surge once again. He created this time not one, not two, but six more clones, who dashed to the large tree Ian had cut down when he had thrown one of his axes. They all took position around the tree, three on each side, and lifted it in unison. The three that were still engaging with the Mistralese Faunus, were now being given a new order from their creator, and all jumped onto their opponent's back. One wrapped their arms around his left arm while another did the same on his right. They pulled back so that he would no longer be able to attack, and left his chest exposed.

Of course, they were not strong enough to stop him alone, so the third clone aided them by grabbing their jackets and pulled. It sat on Ian's shoulders and locked its legs around his head; not only to anchor himself while he pulled, but to blind the large man of what was to come. When the first three clones were in place, Sun conducted the other six to take aim at Ian, and began running with the log at full tilt, as if it were a battering ram. With a crash, the cut end of the tree struck Ian centre mass, knocking the wind cleanly out of him; something that did not happen very often. However, Sun's clones did not stop here, nor did they retreat for a running start to ram him again. Instead, they kept running, driving the makeshift ram into their target, and pushed him backwards, without any intention of stopping. Sun's arms began to shake, feeling the strain of creating so many clones, and only shook more fiercely as they began to pull farther and farther away.

'Just...a bit more' he told himself, feeling beads of sweat dripping down his body.

Thankfully the Vacuan would not have to wait long, as his goal came into sight. The clones had successfully cleared the forest biome, with the edge of the arena just before them. With one last hurrah, the clones charged forward, and tumbled with Ian off the arena, but vanished into thin air before touching the ground. The Grizzly Bear Faunus crashed to the ground flat on his back, causing a deep thud that even the spectators above him could hear, and the closest could feel.

"Unbelievable!" shouted Professor Port. "With cunningness and ingenuity, Sun Wukong has defeated Ian Oak by ring out! Team SSSN takes the advantage, making it a two versus one match!"

The crowd erupted in cheers, clearly happy with the outcome of the fight, as well as their love for Sun. In the reserved seating, Sage and Scarlet punched the sky in excitement, their pride for their captain on full display. Blake, who only just then realized she had been holding her breath, let it out with a smile of relief on her face.

"Whoa! He actually beat that giant!" shouted Nora with wide-eyed amazement.

"I thought he was actually in some trouble there, but he managed to pull out a victory" admitted Yang with a smirk.

"It is up to Neptune now" Weiss finished, looking to the arena where the boy in question was still engaged in battle.

In the centre of the tiled section of the battleground, the two combatants looked up to the holoscreen that had captured the entire fight.

'sh*t, you actually had to get serious, dude' thought the lieutenant, grinning despite the fact. 'No late-night partying tonight.'

'You didn't make it easy for him, eh, Ian?' thought Allen at the same moment. 'Well done, Sir Wukong, for putting up such a good fight against my stubborn teammate.'

Within the forest, Sun was out of breath himself, but for different reasons than his ladylove. He was hunched over with his hands on his knees, taking many deep breaths to recover his composure, and steady his racing heart. The shaking in his arms was still occurring, and it had traveled down to his legs, which was why he had yet to move from where he first activated his Semblance. Creating nine clones at once had pushed him further than he thought it would, and he was now at near exhaustion. It had certainly been a gamble, for if Ian had not been knocked out of the arena, then Sun would have lost. In his current state, a light summer breeze would be enough to drop him.

'First thing when we get home...' he thought, 'more Aura endurance training...and weight training...'

For now, it would serve him better to appear that the fight had not taken the wind completely from his sails, and walk it off as naturally as possible. Disguising his heaving with a stretch, he smiled for the cameras, and then walked as casually as his knees allowed to the forest's edge, so that he could watch Neptune's match.

λΛλ

"I must say Sir Vasilias," Allen began, keeping the tip of his billhook pointed at his opponent, "you and your captain have impressed me greatly."

"I can't say I've done anything extraordinary, especially in comparison to Sun beating your lieutenant," pointed out the blue-haired Vacuan, mimicking the bard's stance, "but I appreciate the complement. You've done well, yourself."

"I thank you. Indeed, your captain's cleverness allowed him to circumvent Ian's fearsome strength. The man hates to lose, but I think he will get over it; after all, he was not beaten in a contest of strength. As for yourself, it is always a pleasure to face a fellow polearmsman—especially one with your skill. And a player no less! The kinds of folk you meet in foreign lands."

"No kidding. I'm sure we'll have plenty to talk about when this is over."

"Rightly so!" Allen sang, making two circles with the tip of his billhook. "So, let us end this, good sir. And may the best player win."

The bard charged at Neptune, who performed a straight thrust to match him. Allen quickly dropped to slide on his knees under the fuscina, before driving the tip of his billhook into the ground for him to push off it, and kick the blue-haired boy in the chest. Neptune flew back ten feet before landing on his back, but was not given a moment's reprieve, as Allen dropped from the sky, his polearm aiming right for him. He quickly rolled backwards and performed a reverse kip-up, so that he landed on his feet away from the impact. The tip of the billhook sunk into the tile with ease, giving Allen a sturdy support to spin around the shaft of his weapon to land and even more powerful kick. This time it sent Neptune flying even further, but the added velocity gave him enough time to flip and land into a crouch, sliding before coming to a stop. This time when Allen took up the attack, Neptune was ready, and they began to dance around one another, swinging their polearms about them, and trying to find gaps in their defenses to pierce.

They moved to the opposite side of the arena as they fought, finally reaching the winter biome, and began to fight on the cold terrain. Neptune instantly winced as the snow touched his ankles, never in his life coming into contact with the substance before. He had no idea how cold it was, and wanted to know how in Remnant it was not melting in the summer heat. He obviously did not have time to ponder on the melting point of snow, but it was nevertheless a distraction as he fought. Even though he was more heavily dressed than the rest of his teammates, it was not winter wear, and they, as well as his shoes, did not insulate him from the cold. The fight was certainly warming him up, however, yet it was not enough to entirely suppress a slight shiver; something that Allen noticed.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

"I'm fine. Just a bit cold" Neptune replied honestly.

"Why? Because of the snow?" the colourful bard looked around them. "It's just a flurry, this."

"I'm from Vacuo. We don't have snow there."

"Ahhh, that is true. Such a shame, there is nothing more beautiful than the sun shining off hills of snow in the morning. You should travel to see them in future. There's much beauty to the North."

"Oh, trust me, I know" Neptune grinned.

The pair returned to their fight, and despite the less than sturdy battlefield, managed to maintain the pace they set since the beginning. However, Neptune knew that he could not keep this going forever. He and Allen had hardly let up since the start of the match, and extended fights such as these between equally skilled combatants, was more exhausting than people realized. Furthermore, the Vacuan lieutenant was competent enough to know that the Mistralese was better than he was, forcing himself to match him with riskier manoeuvres. To add to the pressure, Allen had yet to use his Semblance, which he was not certain if it was due to an unspoken gentleman's agreement, as if the bard wished to fight with weapon mastery alone, or if Allen was in the same position he was.

'There's no way' Neptune thought blocking a strike. 'He wouldn't be graduating if he was dealing with my problem...'

That thought caused enough of a hesitation in the blue-haired boy's movements for Allen to take advantage and hook Ionio's shaft with the curved blade of the bill, and give it a good yank. Neptune managed to maintain his grip of his weapon, and dug in his heals to not only resist the disarming attempt, but to try and pull the bard in for an attack. Unfortunately, the feather-adorned senior student had a better footing than he did, and pulled Neptune towards him with ease, for he slid across the snow. Before he could counter, Allen struck Neptune in the face with the shaft of his billhook, as if the Vacuan had stepped on a rake. The strike stunned him just enough for his opponent to grab onto Ionio with his free left hand, and simultaneously yanked as he kicked him in the gut. Successfully disarmed, Neptune fell back first into the snow, as his opponent bowed in a sarcastic manner; his left hand holding up Ionio, and his right hand cutting across his chest whilst still holding onto his billhook.

The Vacuans in the crowd moaned with concern, fearing that this could be the end for the handsome lieutenant of Team SSSN. Of course, there was no one more concerned than Weiss, who was clutching at her chest, alarmed at how the tables had turned.

"sh*t!" cursed Yang. "This is bad."

"Where's Sun?" asked Weiss desperately, looking about the arena for the blond Faunus.

"There! At the tree line!" spotted Ruby, pointing to the edge of the forest biome. There indeed was Sun, sitting at the base of a tree with his left knee up, his right foot resting on his left, and his hands behind his head; as if he had not a care in the world.

"Why is he just sitting there?" the heiress demanded in both confusion and frustration. "He has to help him!"

"Sun fought Oak alone, so Neptune needs to fight O'Nottingham alone" Sage explained with his arms folded.

"That's beyond foolish! This is the Doubles Round, not the Singles. What's the point of it if we are to then fight individually?"

"That's what I've been asking myself since the beginning of this tournament" remarked Pyrrha. "However, I can speak as a competitive fighter that Neptune would much prefer to fight this to the end alone."

"But if they are trying to get to the Singles bracket, then why aren't they pressing their advantage and take O'Nottingham down together?" countered Weiss.

"Because we're obviously sending Sun to the Singles" cut in Scarlet, "and we don't want him getting any more hurt than necessary." 'Not to mention that the bloody idiot did a real number on himself for creating nine bloody clones at once' he thought. "Neptune knows that, and he's going to do his job as second-in-command to get Sun to the finals. And we know, as his friend, that he wants to fight this fight alone."

"But–"

"We know that you really care about him," Sage expressed, "and we care about him too. We've also known him longer than you have, and we know how he wants to handle things. Win or lose, he'll do it on his own."

Weiss sat there unable to form any kind of retort. She, given her background as a swordswoman from Atlas, knew exactly what they were talking about. She understood what was going through Neptune's mind, as well as the feeling of wanting to fight to the end on one's own strength. It was also the right strategy to try and weaken Allen whilst giving Sun time to recover from his fight with Ian. Team SSSN knew exactly what they were doing, and in reality, were doing nothing that she would not do. What she was struggling with, of course, was her own feelings for the boy, and how she didn't want to see him hurt. Winning or losing no longer meant anything—a hypocritical thought to be sure—but now she just wanted him to be alright.

Sighing, the heiress nodded, and as much as it pained her, kept her eyes on the downed Vacuan who had won her heart.

"Alright" she relented, hearing her sister's voice in her mind repeating the word "discipline" thrice over.

In the arena, the cold snow caused Neptune to sit up with a jolt, his jacket proving to be very inadequate for such cold climates. He forced himself to his feet, and saw Allen standing several yards away, twirling his billhook along with Ionio like a court jester would a baton.

"Well now, Sir Vasilias," he said smiling, "I do hope that you aren't going to surrender now that you've been disarmed."

To his credit, Neptune actually laughed.

"Surrender? No way. I'd never be able to live down the shame."

"There's no need for theatrics. No one would blame you given your situation" offered the bard. "I just feel for the poor spectators who would be cheated from a good long fight if you exited the stage prematurely."

"I know we need to put on a good show, and my team wouldn't be happy with me if I bowed out now. But...there is one spectator that I care about" he admitted, gesturing with his head. "I put on a bad showing last match, and I sure as Hell am not gonna to do that again. For my Snow Angel, I'll fight, and I'll win."

"Snow Angel?" Allen echoed, looking up to the stands and saw the only person Neptune could be referring to. "Ah, the fair Lady Weiss. She certainly is a beautiful girl. Hmmm, I understand now. I am almost tempted to return your fuscina to you so that we may fight on equal terms..."

"What do you mean? We're on equal footing right now."

Allen threw his head back and laughed.

"Cheeky to the end! Well said, sir...now..." the bard twirled the polearms around him before taking a fighting stance where the midsections of the shafts crossed. "Fight with all your might!"

Neptune took a breath to steady himself, and faced his eager opponent directly with his body turned slightly sideways to the right. He raised both his fists so that the tips of his fingers were level with his goggles, hands partially open and relaxed, despite the cold making him want to ball them. His left was nearly fully extended with his right arm more chambered, but still held further forward than one would expect. The stance he took was visually akin to a boxer's, except that his elbows were not nearly dropped low enough to protect himself from body blows. Only a portion of these details were recognizable to the average eye, but Pyrrha was no such thing, and smiled a small knowing smile. Neptune Vasilias was more than he appeared.

Allen began to advance, flourishing the polearms around him to both intimidate Neptune, and make it more difficult to predict where he would attack from. He swiped, thrust, and chopped at the blue-haired Huntsman-in-training, shutting down any and all of his attempts to get close. Even when Neptune thought he found a blind-spot, primarily when Allen turned and left his back exposed, he was not able to close the distance, as the bard would launch swift kicks at him. It did not help that the snowy ground did not give him the proper footing, which normally would have been most of his weight on his back foot. Blocking was also a precarious endeavor, as he wore not a single piece of armour, and the only safe method was to block with his forearms and aiming for the shafts of the polearms. Even using Aura to armour his arms, it was still painful, and he knew that he would not be able to keep this up forever. What options did he have at this point? If he could just get his hands on the bard, then he could turn the tide.

'Alright, let's do something stupid' he thought, knowing that what he was about to attempt was a large gamble.

Neptune began to dash and feint, trying to provoke the older student to attack him. Of course, Allen responded in kind, not allowing the Vacuan to approach any closer than the invisible line he had drawn. Those counters had been with the polearms, however, and they only spurred Neptune on, knowing he had to keep trying until the right moment presented itself. At last, Allen overcommitted to an attack with Ionio, leaving the left side of his back exposed. Neptune dashed forward, but did so purposely slower than he should have. Seeing the advance, Allen used the momentum of his initial attack to continue spinning, and sent a kick that struck Neptune square in the gut. The attack hurt, of course, but despite that, the blue-haired boy grinned as it was exactly what he wanted to happen.

Before Allen knew what was happening, Neptune locked his arms around his leg and pulled, beginning a grapple submission. The bard may have been taken by surprise, but he was far from helpless, as the moment Neptune pulled, he swung his right leg upward and kicked him in the jaw. The blow was just enough to force Neptune to let go of Allen, allowing the bard to flip backwards onto his feet. However, it was not enough to stun him, as he had managed to lean back just enough to mitigate the damage and recover, not letting the momentum halt just yet. This was a very fortunate move on his part, as he had recovered just in time to see the Mistralese land less gracefully than he had anticipated, slipping on the wet snow.

As Allen reeled back, Neptune reached out and grabbed onto Ionio, halting the bard's fall. Without hesitation, he wrenched the colourful man towards him, and with all his might, punched him in the face with a mighty haymaker with his left fist. The force of the blow caused Allen to flip a 275° before crashing face first into the snow. The crowd cheered as Neptune spun to face his downed opponent, remembering of course to perform a flourish mid turn. Gripping his fuscina with both hands, he activated the electrified prongs and drove them at the bard, making sure that he would stay down for good. Unfortunately, Allen was not as delicate as he appeared, and with apparently no effort, cartwheeled away from the attack before flipping gracefully onto his feet.

"Well done, sir! Wonderfully done indeed!" Allen complimented, resting his billhook on his right shoulder.

"You sound oddly happy with being knocked to the ground" pointed out Neptune, wondering if he had just loosened some bolts in the minstrel's head.

"Credit where credit is due, as they say. Now then," he swung his weapon and pointing it at Neptune, "let us finish this properly."

The combatants eyed each other carefully, knowing that the end was drawing near, and any further mistake would cost them the match. They slowly inched forward, the tips of their polearms drawing closer and closer, until they passed one another. Without warning, the pair engaged in battle once more, their weapons clashing as their feet kicked snow into the air. They circled each other as they fought, trying to land strikes as they parried the others, and neither giving any ground.

For Neptune, however, he knew that he was going to lose ground if he did not come up with a better plan. His earlier assessment that Allen was a better fighter than he was, had been proven entirely correct, which no doubt meant that a direct fight like this would end in the minstrel's victory. Trying to stay out of his range by using Ionio in rifle configuration, would prove disastrous, for as soon as Allen closed the distance, which Neptune knew he could and would with ease, he would cut him down. Despite Ionio's many forms and upgrades, none of them would help him here, leaving him to his own devices, which there were not many of. What he had left in his arsenal would be useful against a weaker opponent, for its use thus far had been minimal against Allen.

'There has to be something I can do' he argued to himself, gritting his teeth in frustration. 'I need time to think, but there isn't any. Damn it all...and my socks are soaked...'

This realization caused Neptune's eyes to widen. He glanced down at the ground and saw that the snow beneath their feet had now been turned to slush due to their trampling. Puddles of water where now forming in the biome, which were also growing in size, thanks to the summer sun above them. There was not nearly enough water to cause his phobia to strike, but what it did do was give the Vacuan a daring and potentially dangerous idea.

'I might as well. Not like I have anything else in the tank' he thought, sucking on his teeth.

Setting his plan into motion, Neptune began to try and bait Allen into a very specific attack. After several attempts, it was clear that the older student was not going to make a mistake, so the blue-haired teen decided he needed to gamble. Knocking away the billhook with Ionio, he pushed into Allen's space, and he raised his left fist, making it seem that he was going to try and punch him again. The Mistralese saw this coming, and brought his bill around as quickly as a serpent's strike, thrusting the top spike at his opponent. This was what Neptune was waiting for, and he leaned backwards to avoid the attack without moving his feet. To both Allen and those spectating, it looked like the Vacuan was about to fall, for he was leaning much too far backwards to maintain balance. This was quickly proven to be incorrect, as despite the unbalanced stance he was in, Neptune managed to raise his right leg without falling, and unleashed a powerful Gastrizein front kick. His heel connected with Allen's chest, which hit with such force that it actually knocked the wind out of the minstrel, causing him to stumble backwards. He had not been expecting such an attack, and he would have laughed if not for the situation he was currently in.

Neptune was far from done with his assault, for the moment that he saw his kick had done some damage, he then moved in to capitalize on it. Letting go of Ionio, he rushed in and grabbed Allen with one hand on his hip and the other on his leg. Then, in one swift motion, he lifted his opponent straight into the air, and slammed him into the cold hard ground. The takedown took Allen by even greater surprise, as this knew fighting style of Neptune's was more aggressive and brutal than anything he had previously displayed. And like the front kick he had just eaten, the throw had proven to be even more painful, for the ground offered no cushioning of any kind. While he knew he needed to throw the match, Allen realized that playing dead with this grapple would not be convincing enough to those watching. Deciding to wait for a better opportunity, he rolled over before pushing off the ground with both feet, and flipping away in one solid arc.

'I'm drenched' he thought, looking down at his attire. 'This will take all night to clean.' Glancing up at Neptune, he saw him pick up his fuscina. He decided he would taunt the boy to provoke an even greater attack, so that he could take the fall and end the match. "Really, Sir Vasilias, I assumed you would do better than resorting to back-alley tactics. Have you been pushed into a corner, and you see no way out? Most undignified, sir."

It was not much of a taunt, as Allen liked Neptune quite a bit, and all it did was cause Neptune to laugh.

"Given how dirty your clothes are, who's the real undignified one here?" he shot back teasingly, flourishing his trident before beckoning the bard the way one would a dog.

"In that case, I will send you my dry-cleaning bill!" Allen laughed before bolting towards the Vacuan. Just before the attack could land, Neptune flicked Ionio so that it caught the shaft of Allen's bill between its prongs, and locked the polearms together in a bind. "You know, lad, you have yet to activate your Semblance. I would recommend doing so if you want to stand a chance."

Neptune gazed into Allen's eyes in silence for a moment, before smirking coolly.

"Given what shocking surprise I have in store, my Semblance won't be necessary."

Before the minstrel could ask what he meant, Neptune twisted Ionio so that it and Allen's billhook stabbed into the ground. He then pulled himself into the air, holding onto the shaft of his weapon to keep himself off the ground, just before activating Ionio's electric prongs. The blue electricity struck the water before latching onto the strings of the billhook, travelling up the shaft, and then to Allen's wet clothes. The bard shook as he was electrocuted, plasma arcing off of him in all directions, until his eyes rolled into the back of his head. The moment that Neptune saw the white of his opponent's eyes, he deactivated Ionio and descended from his perch, letting Allen fall onto his back, twitching for a few more seconds before laying still. Neptune gazed at him carefully, unsure if he had been defeated or not. When he did not stir, he grinned in relief, and held his trident above his head in triumph.

"Allen O'Nottingham has been defeated by Neptune Vasilias!" announced Oobleck. "Team SSSN wins!"

The crowd erupted into cheers and applause, the Vacuans reaching a level above the others, knowing that Sun now had a shot to win the entire tournament. In the reserved seating, Teams RWBY, JNPR, and SSSN cheered, with Weiss, Sage, and Scarlet on their feet, happiest of all. Neptune looked to the stands and saw Weiss clapping. While tired and not at his best in terms of dress, he smiled and saluted at her before walking past the medics who were making their way to Allen. He walked over to Sun, who had yet to move from his seat beneath the tree.

"You napping, dude?" he asked.

"No, just waiting for you to wrap up" Sun replied casually. "Good job, by the way."

"Thanks" smirked Neptune. "You need a hand, don't you?"

"Maybe, yeah."

The blue-haired lieutenant laughed as he offered his hand, which the Monkey Faunus accepted graciously, allowing himself to be hoisted to his feet.

"Looks like we're going to the Singles" Sun remarked.

"You are, you mean."

"We're still a team, even if I'm the only one fighting" the blond said honestly. "So, tell me, you happy with how the fight went?"

"It certainly went better than the last one" Neptune admitted. "Given the way she's smiling, I think it went very well."

Sun looked to the stands and saw not only Weiss smiling happily, but Blake as well, causing him to grin.

"Yeah, I feel you."

As the duo left the arena, the stretch-bearers carried Allen to the Mistralese exit, where Ian lay on a stretcher in the waiting area. Just when they were about to pass the "unconscious" Faunus, the bard popped into a sitting position, scaring the medics half to death.

"Well, that went wonderfully~" he sang, smiling as if nothing had happened. Ignoring the stunned medics, he brought up his billhook, twirled it into lute form, and began playing a cheery tune as he leaned over to Ian. "Are you sleeping dear Ian? The match has ended." When the Grizzly Faunus did not stir, the bard began to play at three times the tempo. "Iiiiiiiiiiian~! It is time to wake uuuuuup~!"

The right eye of the lieutenant opened, and stared at his teammate with the same aura as a bear that had been awoken from hibernation prematurely.

"If you play one more note," he began, bringing Allen's playing to a halt, "I'm going to ram your billhook right up your arse and turn you into a feather duster, ya damn popinjay."

The bard laughed as he swung his legs over the side of the stretcher, and rose to his feet.

"Glad to see you are as chipper as ever. You can leave us, lads, we're just grand" he said to the medics, who looked at one another, unsure of the situation, but finally did leave after Allen ushered them with a shooing gesture. "Well now, you certainly do not know how to play nice."

"If you're referring to the monkey-boy, I did exactly as I was asked: make the match look as believable as possible" Ian defended stonily. "He was far more annoying than I figured he would be."

"You find that everyone is annoying when it comes to fighting you, mate. You do realize that you are quite the imposing fellow, right?"

Ian smirked slightly. "I've been told, yes."

"In my humble opinion," Allen continued, "I think those two and a fine pair of lads. I can see them going far in life."

The Grizzly Faunus eyed his friend carefully.

"Is this some form of intuition, or are you just being hopeful so that you can write music and poems of their adventures?"

Allen grinned from ear to ear as he leaned onto his lute. "How well you know me."

Surprisingly, Ian laughed slowly and deeply as he sat up, scratching the back of his right ear.

"All of this is so bizarre. I understand that the Huntmasters have a plan, but I can't grasp the scope of it. Those second-years got hurt badly from those invading bastards, and it could have been all avoided if we were given the order to put them through a wall."

"As always I enjoy your enthusiasm, but our orders are our orders, and we must place our faith in them. No doubt if things turn for the worst, then we will be called to the front lines. Not that I would want for things to go poorly, of course, so instead we shall sit and be patient. Now then, shall we go get a pint or two with the lads?"

"How well you know me" Ian smirked.

λΛλ

Sun and Neptune entered the reserved seating and were instantly greeted by their teammates, high fiving them enthusiastically.

"Singles Round here we come!" grinned Sun before turning his attention to Team JNPR. "Your upperclassmen suck, Nikos! And I'm gonna add you to the list of overrated Mistralese tomorrow!"

"First off, big talk coming from a guy who got rag-dolled" Yang interjected, pointing at him. "Second, I'm the one who's going to beat this overrated Mistralese."

Pyrrha remained calm with a soft smile on her face. The competitive trash-talking came with the territory, and she knew it was just playful banter coming from her friends. She also knew the truth about the purpose of her mentors joining the tournament, though she wouldn't be able to speak a word of it until after its conclusion, if ever.

"I look forward to tomorrow as well" she said half lying, as she knew that tomorrow could be the day that Ozpin and Ironwood would make their move.

Neptune, who was grinning with pride while being congratulated by Sage and Scarlet, softened his expression when his eyes met Weiss'. He instantly became aware of how dishevelled he now looked after the match, and fruitlessly tried to fix his hair.

"So, was that a better match than the last one?" he asked sheepishly.

Weiss smiled, knowing that he had tried his best to impress her. Of course, he no longer needed to, but it still touched her that he valued her opinion of him so highly. She pulled out her handkerchief, and began to wipe the dirt off his cheek.

"Yes, you did very well" she assured him softly.

"Sorry that I'm a mess" he apologized, blushing slightly in embarrassment.

"Actually..." the heiress examined his handsome face, now smudged with some dirt on his cheeks and his ruffled hair, "that is not a bad look for you."

"She spent her whole life in a clean expensive mansion, so she likes her men dirty" Yang chimed in, causing Nora to snort. Weiss calmly turned to look at the mischievous blonde, and gave her a cool smirk.

"Still single, Xiao Long?" she asked calmly.

"Yup. Too busy winning this tournament."

"Interesting how we've all been able to do both, unlike yourself."

Yang's eyes widened and she smiled wildly, ready and willing to get into a fight.

"In any case," began Pyrrha, trying to defuse the situation, "all of you did very well today. Tomorrow bodes well in terms of performance if you maintain the pace we've set."

"Eh, you kids were OK at best" came a gruff voice, causing them all to turn to see Qrow leaning against the wall with his arms folded.

"Uncle Qrow!" cheered Ruby with a wide smile.

"And where have you been?" demanded Yang. "You showed up out of nowhere without letting us know, then when I try to reach you, you disappear. What gives?"

"Sorry, kid. Oz had an errand for me to run last minute. I just got back."

"Oz? You mean our Huntmaster? You know him personally?"

"Other than on a professional level? Sure. Oz and I go way back" explained the somber Huntsman. "We met here at Beacon when we were first-years, along with your old man and your moms. Man, things have changed since then."

"Such as?"

Qrow grinned. "We were actually good at your age."

"Alright" Yang sneered, cracking her knuckles. "You wanna go, old man?"

Her uncle laughed. "As much as I love schooling you, whether it be in gaming or combat, I've some more important things to take care of. I'll be watching your matches tomorrow, so you better not embarrass yourself and the family. I already had Tai bitching about you swearing too much today, so I don't need him complaining about how badly you fight."

"sh*t...he heard me?" asked Yang wincing.

"Yup. Put that level of enthusiasm in your training, and you'd be unstoppable. Anyways, I've got more errands to run. See you kids tonight, if I don't get held up."

Qrow left the students puzzled by the interaction, but were nevertheless intrigued as he lived up to and exceeded expectations—at least in terms of being interesting and cool uncle. Pyrrha on the other hand had watched him carefully, and felt a pang of frustration when he did not even look at her. She sat there for a few moments as the others were waiting for the exiting crowd to thin, when her patience finally emptied, and she stood to leave.

"Pyrrha?" asked Jaune.

"I'll be right back" she replied over her shoulder, and disappeared in the crowd before Jaune or anyone else could say another word. This frustrated the blond, as this was the second time she had done this. He had understood her reasons in checking on Team CFVY, but what reason did she have to go after Yang and Ruby's uncle?

The redhead slipped passed the stunned spectators that recognized her, laser focused on the younger Branwen twin who was heading for the hallways below the Coliseum. She made her way to the stairway, finally catching up to him just before his disappeared around the corner.

"Mister Branwen!" she called, stopping him in his tracks.

"If the enemy sees us together, they could get suspicious, kid" he said without turning.

"I need to know what exactly you and the Order are planning" Pyrrha implored bluntly.

"We're handling this accordingly, just keep acting like nothing is–"

"I'm already aware that you are using my countrymen to infiltrate the tournament" she interjected. "I know that they will be inserted into the Singles bracket tomorrow as well. However, what I do not understand is how in Remnant this is supposed to deal with the situation at hand. You haven't injected Olivier and the others in order to confront the assassins. In fact, you are actively trying not to confront them. You're trying to delay that as much as possible because of some form of plan. Quite frankly, sir, manipulating the tournament this way is far more suspicious than us speaking. Please tell me what is that plan."

Qrow slowly turned to partially face her, and eyed her coolly.

"Been real busy, haven't you?" he said at last, sighing. "Given that you haven't sworn your allegiance to the Order, I have no obligation to tell you anything. But because I'm such a nice guy, I'll tell you this: tomorrow is when we will make our move. Your job is to continue acting like nothing's wrong, and give the crowd a good show. If and only if things go completely tit* up, will we call you to do what we've asked of you. I can't believe I'm gonna quote Jimmy, but keep calm and carry on. Do you understand?"

He only waited for Pyrrha to begin to reluctantly nod, before turning to leave. However, the Mistralese champion was not ready to end the conversation without playing her final card.

"The girl!" she said quickly.

"The girl?" Qrow repeated looking over his shoulder.

"One of the enemy agents—Emerald Sustrai—her Semblance has something to do with illusions" Pyrrha explained quickly. "I spoke to Coco after she fought her, and she mentioned that before she lost consciousness. I...thought you should know that..."

The somber Huntsman looked the Huntress-in-training in the eyes, and maintained his gaze for several moments before slowly nodding. Without saying another word, he turned the corner and left Pyrrha alone to close her eyes in exasperation.

What in the names of the Gods was in store for them tomorrow?

λΛλ

Late that night, all members of the Maidens' Ring stood in Grand Huntmaster Ozpin's office, silent as the grave. Qrow was nursing his leather-bound flask while sitting on the corner of Ozpin's desk, carefully eyeing the contents of a vial. Glynda was standing with her arms crossed behind the silver-haired Huntsman, as he gently stroked his owl's head. General Ironwood was at the window that overlooked the campus courtyard, smoking a cigar as Winter was listening to someone speaking to her on the other end of a military phone, jotting down the information that was being recounted to her. The silence was broken at last when she returned the handset to the cradle and turned to face her commanding officer.

"Everything is ready, sir" she said steadily.

Ironwood removed the cigar from his lips with his left hand, but did not turn around.

"The northern brigades?" he asked.

"In position alongside their Valian counterparts, with the adjoining tank battalions, field artillery batteries, and the CVW KASS Jörmungandr 'patrolling' with a flotilla of submarines courtesy of the Kraken fleet in the Vytal Sea."

"And the southern battalions?"

"Repositioned and ready on your command, sir."

Ironwood allowed a small smirk as he returned his cigar to his lips.

"The board is set" he said looking up to the broken moon.

Ozpin closed his eyes for a moment, before looking forlornly out the window to the moon also.

"And may the Gods be with us" he said quietly.

The Great Horned owl looked at his master with his large eyes, and made a single long hoot, matching the dispirited tone of the room exactly.

Author's Note

First off, Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you have all enjoyed both your Christmas and your New Years; not too hung over, hopefully.

With one bonus fight under their belts, here is the second, though clearly different than the first, and one that I have been very much looking forward to. Why don't we examine them?

The Bear and the Bard

Just as we saw in the previous chapter, our heroes face off against two more of Pyrrha's mentors. This time it is Ian Oak, the in-spiritus character of Little John, and Allen O'Nottingham, the in-spiritus character of Allan-a-Dale.

As it is now apparent, they were the perfect choice to go against Sun and Neptune, for they have similar weapons and personalities (to a certain degree). Little John is as famous for wielding a quarter staff as he is for his height, so there was no doubt in my mind in giving him a quarter staff as his weapon, though because this is RWBY, it must transform in some capacity. Whilst giving them an ax form was equally self-evident, there is a particular reason for Ian doing so, which will be made clearer in time.

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Likewise, Allen's weapon is a lute, or at least, on the surface. It is actually a combination of no less than three stringed instruments in the lute family (lute, theorbo, and archlute), granting it a much longer neck. This then allows him to transform it more believably into a billhook. I chose the billhook because of its forgotten status in polearm history, as everyone only thinks of the staff, the pike, the spear, the halberd, and the trident. The billhook was originally a farming implement that was properly reforged into a battlefield weapon, and was successful enough that those who wielded them were known as "billmen". It paired well with Allen in my mind, and allowed him to be a perfect match for Neptune.

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Sun's Semblance

I made a small, yet significant change to Sun's Semblance, for it has the same flaws that handicaps all characters, their abilities, and their gear, in RWBY. The name of his Semblance is now known as "Via Sun", though no one knows why. The word "via" has different meanings depending on the language, though none in Chinese. Despite Sun being Chinese in origin, his Semblance is not, with the Chinese word for the Sun being, funny enough, "Tàiyáng", whereas the name "Sun" or " Sūn", means "grandfather", and only in this context does it refer to monkeys. As an Italian, the word "via" means "street" and "the way", coming from the Latin, which is used by non-Italians to mean "by way of". However, we Italians also use "via" to mean "go away" or "shoo". Do I think that CRWBY did this purposefully to mock Sun? No, because they are not so clever (though in reality is still quite dumb), as well as them always being very public in their hate towards Sun and other characters.

In any case, the name "Via Sun" does nothing to explain what exactly Sun's Semblance is or does, and for a long time there was no name for it, as well as it having no independent meaning. This, as all things RWBY, gave me carte blanche. I chose the name "Yīqiān Gè Chìliè Tàiyáng Duì", meaning "Thousand Blazing Suns". It not only indicates how strong Sun is (fighting like a one-man army), but that his ability to create clones meaning he is a force multiplier. The name came from something that his father said to him, that he fights with a passion of a thousand blazing suns, as well him being a bright and passionate person. As always, I try to make it seem that it was the characters themselves that have come up with the names of their powers and weapons, which rarely seems to be the case. It admittedly does not roll off the tongue as well as "Via Sun", which was probably the reason for it in the first place, as all Semblances have short, empty names. Regardless, it hardly matters, as the names of Semblances and weapons are almost never uttered—whether the names are officially designated or not.

Another issue is the limits and abilities of Sun's clones. The three-clone limit, as well as being unable to move, seems incredibly counterintuitive and counterproductive. It is a far cry from Sun Wukong's original seventy-two Bian (Seventy-Two Earthly Transformations), where he is capable of assumingseventy-two different forms. For each of said transformations, he holds an extra life. This goes even further with "Shen Wai Shen Fa" (Body Outside of Body), where he can transform each of his body's 84,000 hairs into another form, be it an animal, person, or inanimate object. Even Naruto could do better than RWBY's Sun—at least in regard to the number of clones that can be created.

As it would be insanely overpowered to make our Sun that strong so soon, I instead decided to show that his Semblance is not hard-locked at three, and that with training he can increase the number, albeit difficult, given his current limitations. Here, it allows us to see the great potential of Sun, as well as see his cleverness, his resolve, his passion, and respect for the character he is based on.

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There is indeed much more to our Monkey King, but we shall leave it at that for now.

Neptune the Retiarius

Just as I have wanted to show these characters fighting competently, as well as having things in their arsenal that allows them to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest, Neptune displays at last what he is capable off. Merely having him redeem himself by not betraying Weiss out of the blue was not enough for me, nor do I think it would have been enough for you. Instead, we have him using his weapon, Ionio, as well, if not better, than he did before the Vytal Tournament.

While that is obvious enough, I should comment on his choice of weapon. Ionio (I refuse to call it by its "official" name) has three forms: rifle, trident, and guandao. This is a good degree of versatility, as the rifle can be used for range, the trident can be used to pin down enemies, and the guandao can chop and slash. Leaving aside the idiocy of CRWBY for a moment, I wanted to further tap into Neptune's inspiration, and therefore made his trident form his preferred weapon. This works, not only because he is meant to be the God of the Sea, but that I made the change that he is the son of a fisherman, where, in spite of his fears, is still proud of his heritage. Again, things such as clothing and weapons are deeply personal, especially in the realms of fantasy, so I knew he had to fit his archetype and inspiration properly.

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In that same vein, I decided to go in a particular route with his archetype. Whilst his last name is Greek (Vasilias means "King", which does make him an even better match for Weiss, the Ice Queen), his first name and design is, and is based off of Neptune, the Roman God of Waters. It is because of this that I have made him more Italo-Roman, and therefore, I drew inspiration from the Retiarii, the Fisherman Gladiators. Not only does he fight with a trident, now properly called a "fuscina", but he also fights with Pankration, an ancient Greek hybrid fighting style of wrestling and boxing, though Neptune's style is infused with the more violent Roman Pugilatus. As it turns out, there is so much to draw from historically, yet CRWBY, and even Monty, failed to take advantage. Of course, this will influence his final design, which I do not think I can ever show until the very end of my RWBY projects. Alas.

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The result is a Neptune that is actually a Huntsman that can be respected and believed to be the lieutenant of Sun Wukong. He is no pushover, nor some pointless pretty boy, but a warrior. He is both a lover and a fighter—just like Sun—and is spurred on to "redeem" himself in the eyes of the girl he loves. Unlike CRWBY, I am trying to make likeable characters, which not only includes them having honourable motivations and heart, but being competent, act honourably, and trying to do their best. I will never understand doing the opposite, for even if one wants to humiliate their own creations for ideological reasons, your sabotaging of your own work only turns people away and hurts yourself. It is the same foolishness as drilling holes in your own ship, and getting angry that people get on lifeboats or refuse to come aboard. The tide raises all ships, and my job is to simply make them all seaworthy beforehand.

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I hope that this continuation of Neptune's development will elicit the same positive reaction he has received thus far. I will be maintaining this growth of his character, as well as others, to the best of my abilities.

Hail to the Monkey King and the Sea King.

Pyrrha Tips Off Qrow

As I mentioned in Chapter VIII, I truly did think that Coco would warn the others of what Emerald was capable of, and yet, nothing happened. Here, I followed through with my criticisms, with Pyrrha taking the opportunity to warn Qrow of what she knows. She rightly counters Qrow's shaky concerns, and ends up passing along what Coco told her. A small, yet important scene.

What will come of it, if anything, remains to be seen.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and that it was a great start to the new year. Cheers, Gods bless, and see you next time.

Chapter 11: Divide and Conquer

Chapter Text

The following morning was as beautiful and calm as the one before, which was the exact opposite of the typhoon of emotions Pyrrha was experiencing as she tried to eat breakfast with her friends and teammates. She had slept sporadically the night before, due to both being unable to relax, and having vivid nightmares wrench her out of sleep. They were not separate dreams, but rather a continuous stream of related fears. Grimm invading Albion, White Fang forces marching through the streets, Cinder killing Amber, her friends falling in battle, Jaune's white armour stained red. That final image had firmly planted itself to the front of her mind, to the point that she could see it clear as day every time she shut her eyes. She knew that she was letting her fear get to her, but she had no idea how to overcome it. Normally she had a very good grip on her fears, never allowing them to cloud her judgement, and open the floodgates to errors that could cost her victory.

'Just pretend that this is a regular tournament' she had told herself. 'Just another tournament; no different than the many you've competed in since you were a girl.' However, she knew with every fiber of her being that this was not just another tournament.

It was not her reputation and record that was on the line, but rather innocent civilians, her friends, and the boy she loved. It was an all or nothing scenario, with everything to gain and everything to lose. How could she stay as calm and collected as the Order wanted her to in such a situation? Huntmaster Ozpin had been more reassuring than Qrow, going as far as to prostrate himself before her. However, the reason he had been so calming then was solely on the fact that he had been so sincere and open emotionally. What she needed to know to suppress her warring emotions now, were immovable facts. What exactly was the Order planning to counter the enemy forces? She knew that Huntmaster-General Ironwood was heading the defences of Albion by bringing troops and new mechanized armour, which truly did give her some comfort, but it was the overarching plan she desperately wished to know. And now, if Qrow was being truthful, was the time to be aware of those plans, as they were meant to go into motion today. Just remain calm and continue as if all is normal. How laughable that statement now sounded.

"Pyrrha" came Jaune's voice, which the fraught young woman only heard after feeling him grasp her right hand. She looked up to see him gazing at her with concern in his eyes, and she instantly realized that he had been trying to get her attention the entire time she had been lost in her thoughts.

"Yes?" she managed.

"What's wrong?" the blond asked directly, no longer interested in trying to be subtle with his worry for her wellbeing.

"It's nothing, Jaune. I'm just a bit nervous about today" she lied. "The Singles bracket will be far more difficult than we expected since my upperclassmen have been invited to compete."

That normally would have been a convincing argument, but Jaune was not being fooled. He had been as patient as a saint thus far, but now, seeing her this anxious, had drained all the patience he had left.

"No, it's something else" he said firmly. "You've been like this since after you went to talk to Huntmaster Ozpin, and it got worse after Coco and Yatsuhashi's match yesterday. Please tell me what's wrong."

Pyrrha felt her stomach twist, knowing now that her attempts to keep Jaune unaware of her distress had completely failed.

"It's...It's nothing. I'll explain when the tournament is over." Before Jaune could interject, Pyrrha laid down her fork and rose to her feet. "I'm going for a walk" she announced to the others, who thankfully had been overly engrossed in their own conversations to notice the exchange with her captain. "I'll see you all at the Coliseum."

"You OK? You barely ate" Nora commented.

"I'm fine, just a bit anxious for today" the redhead lied once again, and promptly left, feeling more like a coward with every step, distancing herself from the friends she so desperately wished to protect. Jaune kept his eyes on her, the emotions he had been struggling with for the past two days raging to a boil.

"Is something wrong with Pyrrha?" asked Nora, starting to become worried about her friend.

The blond continued to stare at the end of the dining hall, hardly noticing the others looking at him and expecting a response. At last, the final grain of patience he had dissolved, and he slammed his fist on the table.

"f*cking Hell" he cursed and got to his feet, nearly running after Pyrrha, which only made the others grow in concern, but ultimately decided not to follow.

"OK, what's going on?" demanded Yang, looking to Ren and Nora.

"We don't know" the ginger replied, a concerned expression on her face. "Pyrrha's been like that since yesterday, and she looked exhausted before we got ready for breakfast."

"We've noticed" added Weiss, her face now serious and focused. "Have you not spoken to her about this?"

"I tried, but she said it was nothing. What about you two?" Nora asked, pointing to the Xiao Long sisters. "Why did Pyrrha talk with your uncle?"

"We asked!" the blonde defended, throwing her hands in the air. "All we could get out of him was that she wanted to know why her mentors were asked to join the tournament. And then when we asked him about that, he just repeated with Huntmaster Ozpin said."

"Uncle Qrow can be a bit secretive" added Ruby, though her tone and expression suggested it was a rather common occurrence, "but it can't be something really bad, right?"

While she came across a tad naive, her voice revealed a slight hint of worry, fearful if there was indeed something to be concerned about. Their previous conversations about Team CLME and the White Fang began to surface in their minds, for despite Pyrrha's insistence she had been wrong, the lack of detail was worrisome.

"I personally would like to know the reason behind her countrymen being asked to enter the tournament as well" Weiss continued. "Her match with René was questionable."

"What do you mean?" asked Blake. "It was a good match from what I could tell."

"As it would to the rest of you, but not to me" the heiress explained carefully. "As I mentioned, I have a great interest in dueling and swordsmanship, and have trained in it for years. I followed the leagues even before my sister competed, and I know very well how René fights, as well as how two highly skilled swordsmen engage. They held back."

"What do you mean?" demanded Nora. "That Pierre guy hit me pretty hard yesterday."

"Oh, I am certain of your fight being legitimate, but I am equally certain that Pyrrha and René were not fighting at their full potential."

"That isn't surprising" Ren said at last. "We've been training with her since we became a team, and if she were to fight us seriously, then we would have been severely injured or worse. Pyrrha is the most disciplined person I know other than yourself, so I suspect that she's being careful for the Singles bracket. She's a veteran of Mistral's Gladiatorial circuit after all, so she of all people knows what she's doing. Furthermore, given that René is someone whom she trained with in Mistral, there most certainly be some sort of understanding we aren't aware of. Neither used their Semblances, if you recall."

"I suppose..." Weiss conceded, though she was not entirely convinced.

"Why don't we ask her when she gets back? Or when Jaune comes back" offered Ruby. "She'd tell him what's bothering her; she loves him."

The others Huntsmen-in-training nodded in agreement, though nonetheless maintained their worry for the Mistralese champion. Whether it large or small, they didn't want to see her in distress. But if anyone could make her happy, it was Jaune.

λΛλ

Jaune left the dining hall and was now walking northward towards the lecture dome. He had already lost sight of her, so he began to run in hopes of covering the ground between them fast enough to see even a glimpse. Thankfully luck was on his side, and he saw the redhead walking between the water and the kitchen when he turned the corner, causing him to sprint towards her.

"Pyrrha!" he called, causing her to turn around in shock.

"Jaune..." she began, but the blond was not having any of it, and walked right up to her, placing his hands on her shoulders.

"What's wrong?" he asked again.

"Everything is fi–"

"Pyrrha, stop" he cut her off, raising his voice more than he wanted to, but his emotions were now getting the better of him. "You're a terrible liar and I know you've been hiding something from us. I tried respecting your privacy and wait for you to tell me when you're ready, but the way to you were acting at breakfast was killing me."

Pyrrha felt her heart fall into her stomach, as his words hurt in ways she could not describe.

"I'm so sorry, Jaune. I never wanted to make you worry like this. I was trying in every way possible not to" she lamented, bringing her hands to his cuirass. "Everything's fine. There's just something that I need to manage on my own. I'll be alright."

"Pyrrha" Jaune yearned, cupping her right cheek with his left hand, making her look into his blue eyes. "You've stood by me this whole time, helping me with everything and anything. I want to do everything in my power to be the same person to you. Not as your captain or as your friend...but as someone who cares about you so much, you're all I think about. Please, let me help you with whatever it is you're dealing with."

The redhead swallowed anxiously. Her heart beat faster at his words, and even harder as she could see the sincerity painfully reflected in his eyes. How badly did she want to tell him the truth. How badly did she want his help, to confine in the person she loved most and was doing all of this to protect. More than ever Pyrrha wanted to be in his arms, and feel safe from all the uncertainty that had been plaguing her ever since she had learned the truth from the Order. However, that was the very reason why she had been keeping things from Jaune and the others. She had made her oaths, and she would keep them, as she could never forgive herself if something where to happen to any of her friends, especially the kind blond whom she loved.

"I want you to help me" she confessed, placing her right hand on his left. "But I have to do this alone for now."

"Why? At least tell me that. I'm here for you, Pyrrha."

"I know you are" she tightened her grip on his hand. "But I can't. I promised that I wouldn't tell anyone; but I promise I'll tell you when the tournament is over."

Jaune looked into her beautiful emerald eyes that normally shone so brilliantly, but were now glassy and full of dismay. He felt as if a knife was being twisted into his heart, which now only spurred him onward to help her. What was causing her such distress that she still felt the need to keep it from him? Then it clicked in his mind.

"It's about Cinder and her team, isn't it?" he stated more than asked. "That's what your meeting with the Huntmaster was about." He didn't need her to confirm his assumption with words, as her eyes widening were confirmation enough.

The anger he had felt when he and the others had suspected that something was off about the supposed Mistralese team, had now returned in full force. If this was what was bothering her so much, then it may have something to do with their Huntmaster. Was he not taking any action against them? If their identities could not be confirmed, then they had to be an enemy of the Kingdom, and most likely were in league with the White Fang in some capacity. Why else would they try to hide who they were other than for evil intent? He knew that was partially hypocritical, given Ren, Nora, Blake, and himself, but each of them had good honest reasons for coming to Beacon, and every piece of evidence pointed to foul play in regard to Team CLME. If they were working with the White Fang, then they needed to be dealt with before they did anything like what occurred in Mantle. Pyrrha's own words about them taking advantage of the Vytal Festival came instantly to mind, and he knew that with today being the potential last day of the tournament, if they were going to make a move, now would be the time.

"Let's go."

"W-What?" she managed.

"You're worried sick because Ozpin told you not to attack them, right? It's why you were so stressed yesterday after Coco's match. Well, if they aren't gonna do anything, then we'll do it ourselves. Hell, it's not like we haven't been doing that already. Let's finish what we started and take them down before they can hurt anyone else."

Jaune began to turn, planning to get Ren and Nora as back up before marching straight for the Mistralese guest lodgings. From Pyrrha's point of view, it was as if he were moving in slow motion, as a thousand thoughts rushed through her mind. She was indeed frustrated that the imposters were allowed to walk freely, despite being known by her superiors, and what their intentions were. Pyrrha was of course privy, as least to a certain degree, that the Order did have a plan to deal with Cinder and her lackeys, but it was the unwillingness to share that plan and their strange idea of calling for her upperclassmen to help by throwing matches, that distressed her so greatly. There was then the pressing issue of Amber and the Fall Maiden's power. Not only were innocent civilians in danger from the enemy's forces, but if successful, the enemy would then have claim to a power gifted to the world to protect them from the forces of Darkness. This was as much of a security endeavor as a holy one, making it far more vital and pressing for Pyrrha. The image of Amber, injured and comatose in the special pod below the school, was clear in her mind, before morphing into the horrific image of Jaune covered in blood—what could be his fate if he faced Amber's assailant. That final thought instantly took her back to when she was a girl, standing beside her mother, and staring at a white casket covered in Asters, Tulips, and Sunflowers.

She would not let that happen to him. She would not.

"No!" she screamed, reaching out to him with her right hand, but used her Semblance, as he was already beyond her physical grasp.

Unfortunately, in her panic, she had pulled him far harder than she planned, and caused him to fly past her at blinding speed, and crash painfully against the wall of the academy kitchen building. He cried out when he collided with the wall, and fell to the ground in a heap, stunned from the blow. Pyrrha gasped in horror at what she had done. Covering her mouth in shock, she stood frozen and wide-eyed at the slow-to-recover blond. She had just done something she had been doing everything in her power to avoid; to hurt Jaune. Even during their training sessions, she had been incredibly careful—arguably more than she should—to avoid injuring him. Her love for her captain was the cause, and it was what drove her to remain mum on the truth of who and what the Order was, along with their plans. But despite all her efforts, Jaune had figured out a great deal of what was going on, and by trying to protect him, she had hurt him.

Tears began to form as the blond lifted his head to look at her, and they fell down her cheeks, which unbeknownst to the redhead, caused Jaune far more pain than her accidental throw.

"I'm sorry..." she cried through her fingers, before turning and sprinting away.

"Pyrrha! Wait!" Jaune shouted, struggling to his feet, which took more effort than he thought as the shock from the impact had gone to his legs.

By the time he was up and ready to give chase, the girl who had captured his heart was gone, leaving him alone in the sunny morning, which did not coincide with the depressing gloom and pain that bogged his heart. However, if he had pushed through the pain, he might have discovered that Pyrrha, while an impressive runner given her athletic background, had stopped running when she passed the academy swimming pool, and was only a hundred or so yards further. She felt completely drained, with not an ounce of energy remaining to let her run, though her distresses made her want to run forever.

"What have I done?" she moaned, her face in her hands. "I hurt him, then I ran like a coward, and now I'm sobbing like a child. Ti me to Fos eínai láthos me ména? (What in the Light is wrong with me?)"

Truly, what had she done? Normally so calm, so well put together, so steady, and now she was shaken and afraid. What was the honest cause to all of this? Was it the call of duty that she now had the opportunity to heed by serving as a hammer of the Gods, or was it the fear of losing the first, and she hoped, the only man she would ever love? The obvious answer was that it was both, forming a volatile co*cktail of emotions, topped perfectly with the correct amount of fear of the unknown, that being of the plans of the Order and the consequences of those plans failing. More than ever, she needed to clear her head, but it was spinning so violently that she felt as if she would vomit. Her heart begged her to return to Jaune; to see if he was alright, to hold him tightly and for him to hold her. But another part flooded her with shame for wanting to be comforted after what she had done. That shame won, and forced her legs that felt as if they were weighted with lead, to walk further into the forest that joined with that of Forever Fall, and she vanished within the leaves.

λΛλ

As the final minutes ticked away before the start of the Singles Round, Mercury was already in position in the Mistral locker area. He gritted his teeth as he made sure that Talaria was fully loaded, as well as that his legs were properly attached. He had taken some over the counter painkillers to help deal with his fractured ribs, but they were a drop in the bucket it terms of what was needed to dull the pain. The small amount of rest he managed to acquire had done very little to heal his injuries, which did leave him wondering just how he was supposed to pull off his part of the plan. He only needed to wait for Emerald to do her part of course, but to be this injured before the true show was to start, did leave him in a rather tight bind. At least he could say with certainty that he had concealed his injuries well enough that Cinder had not noticed. Emerald may be loyal to her for getting her out of life on the streets, but he was not so naive. He had alarm bells going off the moment he had met her, and he was only going along with her plans because she had given him new legs, and had promised him to give him back what he had lost if he was successful with his mission. He wasn't indebted to her, nor did he feel any inclination to be, but he would continue, as she had kept her side of the bargain thus far.

Furthermore, there was something odd about the relationship between Cinder and Neo. It had developed after they had convinced Roman to join them. Well, she had convinced him. How Cinder had managed that partnership, he did not know, but ever since, when Neo was not with Roman, she was by Cinder's side, which was at a constant these past several weeks. She was like a loyal lapdog, always at the half-Maiden's heels, and doing what she was told. It was more than Emerald's level of obedience, but what made him wonder what was truly going on, was the fear she would let slip every so often. Her face would never betray her, but her eyes were a different matter. What Mercury was not able to shake, was that he felt as if he knew exactly what kind of fear she was hiding, and that it was uncomfortably familiar.

He would have remained consumed with his thoughts until his match began, when a voice emerged from the silence.

"Merc?"

The crippled assassin snapped to attention and looked over his shoulder to see Emerald standing in the frame of the entrance of the waiting area.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded in confusion. "You're supposed to be in position."

"I know" she replied walking forward. "I just wanted to check on you. You've been acting weird since our match yesterday."

'f*ck' he groaned internally. "I'm fine. Just worry about what you need to be doing today. Give me the signal when you start making your illusions so we can get the bimbo exactly where we want her."

Mercury rose to his feet and began stretching his legs, keeping his back to the green-haired thief so that she could not see his face if it betrayed him.

"You're hurt, aren't you?"

'f*cking damn it.'

"Let me see."

"I'm fine!" he growled as she walked around the bench to stand next to him, but stopped when he snapped at her. He looked at the girl and saw that her concern was oddly genuine, and strangely felt a pang of guilt when he saw the look on her face. "Sorry...I'll live. You just worry about making your illusion seamless, and I'll worry about throwing the match and crying for the cameras. They'll start calling for me soon, so you better get going. Good luck."

Emerald remained where she stood for a few moments in silence, before finally turning and walked back to the exit. She then stopped and looked over her shoulder.

"Hold out for as long as you can. I'll make sure that it'll look like she hurt your ribs too—to cover your ass" she said, adding the last comment to erase the tension and return the situation to normal.

Mercury actually smirked at that.

"Thanks, good looking, you better. Cuz if you f*ck up, we all die. So, no pressure" he remarked.

Emerald's red eyes remained on the kick-boxer, before finally turning for the exit, and walked down the hall towards the stairway that led to the stands.

λΛλ

In the Valian reserved seating, Teams RWBY, JNPR, and SSSN sat side by side, waiting for the final set of matches to be determined. Unfortunately, they were no longer as eager for their matches as they had been this morning. Jaune had not told the others what had happened between Pyrrha and himself, and had only returned to the others an hour before they left Beacon for the Coliseum. They asked where Pyrrha was, of course, which only caused more anxiety for the blond, as he had hoped she would have returned before he did. He lied and said that she wanted to be alone to mentally prepare herself for her match, using her faith as a smokescreen and avoid further questions. However, with only a few minutes before the Singles bracket was set to start, she had yet to appear. Jaune desperately wanted to call her, but he felt such shame for what had happened, that he decided against it, wishing to give her as much space as she needed.

'You're such a coward' he told himself, tightening his folded arms closer to his armoured chest.

He felt like he was a child. He had been so impatient with her, jumping to a conclusion without working his way up to it steadily, and then provoked her into accidentally throwing him with Polarity. This obviously did not put his fears to rest about Cinder and her team; if anything, it only cemented that his assumptions were true. What ate at him now was that he was missing key details that Pyrrha knew, and because he did not know them, he acted impulsively, and caused her to panic. What was most likely the case was that Pyrrha had been asked to remain quiet for security reasons, and General Ironwood would handle the situation when the time was right. But because he placed his feelings for Pyrrha before thinking things through, rather than being the supportive boyfriend he was supposed to be, he had made her cry.

'Some leader I'm turning out to be' he thought, cursing himself as he shut his eyes.

Indeed, that was the core of the issue. That morning, he wanted to be a good boyfriend rather than a good leader. And while he was striving for both, the latter was far more important at present; and when it mattered, he misjudged and chose the former, and paid for his error with her tears. What had he said to Ren weeks ago? That one of the jobs of a leader was making the right decisions at the right times? If what had happened that morning was proof that he was not at all behaving like a proper leader, then he wasn't sure what else would.

Jaune's eyes suddenly snapped open as he sensed someone moving behind him, and he looked over his shoulder, hoping to see Pyrrha. Instead, from the stairway appeared Team CFVY with an injured Coco, whose forehead and part of her face was bandaged.

"Coco!" called Ruby, getting the attention of the others. "How are you?"

"I certainly don't look stylish, but I'm alright" she replied, smiling despite her injuries.

"I told her she should be resting, but she wanted to watch the Singles Round in person" explained Yatsuhashi, clearly not pleased with his captain.

"I told you I'm fine, ya big lug!" she fired back, wrapping her knuckle across his chest plate. "Anyways, I wanted to cheer on whoever's going to kick that kid's ass."

"Em you mean" suspected Yang. "I doubt they'll send her to the Singles. It's probably gonna be Mercury."

"Whichever; I wanna see'em lose, either by you, Wukong, or Nikos" Coco dismissed with a wave, before looking at her underclassmen. "Speaking of which, where is the champ?"

Jaune could feel his teammates' eyes rest on him, causing his guts to twist with guilt.

"She's still getting ready" he lied quickly.

"Well, she better hurry up. It's the last day of the tournament, and they're gonna be selecting who's going first soon. Everyone's looking forward to seeing her fight" the older Beaconite lamented, before she and her team took their seats further down to the left.

"Where is she?" asked Ren, leaning towards the blond, starting to show his own worry about the redhead.

"Don't worry, she'll be here" Jaune replied, dodging the question. While he honestly did noy believe that Pyrrha would suddenly ditch the tournament, he also did not have much confidence in his ability to make accurate judgements.

"But the tournament is about to st–" chimed in Nora, visibly worried, but was cut off by their fears coming to life.

"Good afternoon one and all!" boomed Professor Port over the speakers of the Coliseum. "I am your commentator, Professor Peter Port, joined once again by my friend and colleague, Dr Bartholomew Oobleck, and we warmly welcome you to the final day of the Vytal Festival Tournament!" The crowd erupted in cheers and applause, clearly eager to see how the four-day competition would conclude. "My, aren't you all eager today. But before we begin, we must give everyone a quick recap. Over the course of the past three days, we've made our way through the Teams Round and the Doubles Round. Sixteen teams cut down to eight, and cut down again to four, where the remaining four combatants will fight one on one for three spots on the podium. However, due to the special nature of this year's tournament, we allowed the favoured competitors from Beacon and Shade to face some high-ranking special guests from Mistral. They all put on some incredible bouts, and despite the stacked odds, defeated their more experienced opponents, allowing them both to progress to the Singles Round. This has given us an odd number of combatants from all four Kingdoms. To balance this, more special Huntsmen-in-training from Haven Academy will be entering the Singles Round—with special pot bonuses as compensation."

'No, you won't' smirked Cinder villainously, gingerly cradling her tablet on her lap, having already set the matches so that their plan could go into effect smoothly.

"The combatants that survived the first two rounds are Pyrrha Nikos of Team JNPR and Yang Xiao Long of Team RWBY of Beacon, Sun Wukong of Team SSSN of Shade, Mercury Black of Team CLME of Haven, and Penny Polendina of Team PKTS of Ýdalir! But I will allow Bart to give you the skinny on how the Singles Round will progress!"

"Indeed, and thank you, Peter! The Singles Round is different than the previous two. Firstly, and most obviously, it shall consist of one-on-one matches between the remaining combatants—no ally support of any kind. Secondly, there will be no added biomes to affect the outcome of the matches—it's skill or nothing. Thirdly, to win the tournament, the combatants must win two matches—semi-finals and grand-finals. Fourthly, for this special case, new combatants from the aforementioned Teams RROI and LION will join the Singles bracket to even out the odd number of combatants. Fifthly, due to these modifications, all Huntmasters have agreed to add pot bonuses so that all finalists who made it on their own strength, will receive a cash prize—an apology for any and all inconveniences. And lastly, there will be no dividing of the Round—you must fight till there is a victor" explained Oobleck in a single breath without becoming winded.

The two professors continued to banter between one another, but Jaune was not paying attention. They would be selecting the first students to fight soon, and Pyrrha was still not here. What were they going to do if she was called? Was she actually not going to show?

'There's no damn way' he thought, fighting against the anxiety that was reaching a fever pitch.

"Good afternoon, everyone" came a soft voice behind him. His head once against snapped over his shoulder to see Pyrrha at last standing before him; a soft smile that stopped before her eyes.

"Pyrrha!" cried Ruby in relief.

"Where the f*ck have you been?" demanded Yang hotly. "They're about to announce the first match!"

"I'm sorry to make you all worry. I was just taking my time to collect my thoughts" she partially lied. "It just took longer than I expected."

The others looked at her suspiciously. This time it was far clearer that there was something wrong, but they were not sure of what it could be. They suspected that Jaune knew something, but he had been rather vague about the whole thing. The only one who had any form of inclination was Blake, who was still worried about Cinder and her team. Nevertheless, they all wanted to ask the redhead questions, but were also aware that there was no longer any time to do so.

Pyrrha silently sat next to Jaune, which caused the blond's chest to tighten as she had not even look at him. Was she angry at him for what happened that morning? The thought of her hating him for any reason was more painful than he could describe, and he desperately wanted to apologize and atone for his mistakes. He could not do so in front of everyone, not to mention he had proven that he was hopeless with getting his feelings across with words. Jaune moved his right hand slowly to take hers, hoping that how they had been communicating their feelings for one another through hand holding would convey how sorry he was. However, the moment his fingers touched the top of her hand, she recoiled. His heart instantly lodged itself in his throat, now fearing that he truly had angered her, and anxiety washed over him.

What he did not know, however, was that Pyrrha's recoil was not intentional. She desperately wanted to hold his hand, to be comforted by him, as she knew he was the only one who could. Pyrrha had just been taken by surprise, deep in her own thoughts, trying to both anticipate what would transpire, and to calm herself. When she looked over at the blond, she saw the pained expression on his face, which only appeared even more hurt by his saddened azure eyes. An arrow driven into her heart would have hurt less. More than ever she just wanted to confess everything; anything she could do to take away his pain, she would do in a heartbeat. But she knew she would be breaking her oath if she did, and now that today was the crucial moment of truth, she could not break it now. If words could not be spoken, then she would convey her emotions as she always had, for both their sakes.

Unfortunately, that chance had already passed them by.

"And the first match will be between Yang Xiao Long and Mercury Black!" announced Port.

Pyrrha looked to the holoscreens wide-eyed, as one of her fears had just become a reality.

"Alrighty! Let's do this thing!" grinned the blonde, rising to her feet excitedly.

"Good luck, sis!" cheered Ruby, earning a quick head rub.

"Keep a clear head out there" advised Weiss, knowing that was probably asking for too much.

"And be careful" added Blake.

"Don't worry, I got this" Yang assured, making her way towards the stairway.

"Avenge me!" Coco shouted.

"I'll kick him right in the head for ya!"

"Please be careful" Pyrrha managed, her tone causing the elder Xiao Long to halt. "Keep your hands up and don't over commit to attacks you aren't certain will land. And don't let him set the pace."

Yang eyed her friend for a moment before smirking in comprehension.

"Got it. Thanks, Pyrrha" she replied before continuing on her way.

Jaune looked at his lieutenant, noticing the tone in her voice had not been as steady as it normally was; as if there was some part of her pleading to Yang, rather than advising. Indeed, that was what Pyrrha was doing, as there was nothing else she could do. Her eyes rose to the private skybox that overlooked the arena, and saw the Huntmasters in their seats. She did not know what their plan was or when it would go into effect, but she knew that time had run out. It was now or never. She shut her eyes and began to pray, succumbing to the truth that it was out of her hands.

Below, Yang and Mercury entered the arena, both grinning eagerly.

"You better not go easy on me" she warned. "I need the warmup before I take on Pyrrha."

"You wish" laughed the kick-boxer, playing the part as best he could.

"Fighters ready?" Port boomed, causing them both to take stances. "Three...two...one...BEGIN!"

Yang immediately bolted at Mercury, reeling back her right fist before throwing a heavy punch at him. The crippled young man performed a spinning back kick to meet the blonde's attack, his boot connecting with her fist, causing a loud impact and shockwave. The force of the collision reverberated up Mercury's robotic leg and continued up his torso, going straight for his damaged ribs. He gritted his teeth as the pain rocked him, but he refused to give in. He only had to keep this up for a few minutes, just to give Emerald enough time to create her illusion.

In another part of the Coliseum, the girl in question was sitting amongst the crowd, watching the fight with care. She was sitting near one of the exits, knowing she would need a quick escape route to reach Mercury and continue the facade into the next phase of their plan. Until then, she knew that she would have to keep a very close eye on it in order to know when she could begin her part of the plan. Mercury had been right that if she messed things up, then the entire plan would collapse. She did not want to think of the consequences of failure, either what would happen to her or how Cinder would react. She wouldn't fail. No matter what happened, she would succeed. Taking a breath, she began to gather her Aura, and locked eyes with the arena, unblinking.

"I wouldn't try that if I were you" came a gruff voice behind her.

Emerald flinched in shock, and looked over her right shoulder to see Qrow sitting behind her with a stone-cold face. She then felt something just as cold touch her right arm. She looked to see that the older Huntsman was pressing the flat of an ornate dagger against the lower part of her bicep. She was too shocked by the situation to ask why he was using the dagger that way, instead of pressing the tip against her back, but she was able to feel him grip Thief's Respite and remove it from their holsters.

"Interesting situation we find ourselves in, Qrow Branwen" she managed to say, knowing she needed to buy time to think of a way out of this.

"Oh, you know who I am? I'm flattered" Qrow replied, his tone not quite matching his words, for it was cold and slightly venomous.

"You shouldn't be. Your reputation doesn't seem to precede you. What exactly do I need to be afraid of again? Ozpin's drunk bird."

"I don't think you know who I am then. That's fair. I don't exactly know who you are, other than your Semblance can create illusions, which is why I decided to pay you a visit."

'You son of a bitch' she cursed, biting her bottom lip. "So, what are you going to do? Kill me?"

"That's yet to be determined" Qrow admitted. "I'll leave that to you. Now, while we sit and watch the match, why don't I take a page out of my old profession and show you how you messed up. I used to be a teacher. Did you know that?"

"No thanks. I'm not much of a student" Emerald shot back, watching her window to cast her illusion slowly shrink.

"Too bad. So, your first mistake was not covering your tracks. You, a small-time thief, and that kid, the son of a top assassin; you should have covered your tracks before entering this tournament. Then again, gathering intel on you wasn't too hard given what we had at our disposal."

"Roman...that bastard" she realized aloud. 'Did you break, or did you sell us out?'

"No, actually," Qrow corrected, half-respectfully, "he never said a word. Jimmy's been working on him for weeks, and he never gave you up. We're kind of impressed by his toughness and loyalty. It's a shame he's a gangster cuz it's hard to find resolute men like that these days. Anyways, what I meant by intel was confirming that you and your team aren't from Haven. Other students have told us they don't know who you are, so we had to expand our search to get an ID on you. Black wasn't hard as I had a run-in with his old man years ago, and I can see the resemblance a mile off. You on the other hand came up in some police records—petty thievery and other small offenses. What an elite task force.

So, that was your first mistake. The second was that sh*t trojan you used. After your friend Cinder uploaded it the night of the Dance, Jimmy's and our cyber teams did a full scan of our networks and found it. Instead of taking it down, we decided to just watch it, see what you were up to, and just plan around it, letting you think you were still in control of the situation. Also, I'd hate to forget quoting the head of the cyber division telling us about it, where he said 'The f*ck is this? Amateur hour?'. He was actually annoyed. Your third mistake isn't technically your fault, as there was no way you could have known. But since they're working with you, I figured you should know. We knew that you teamed up with Taurus and his branch of the White Fang, and are planning to attack the city from the south with a large swarm of Grimm pincering from the north. Jimmy's been working on that along with the Valian Generals, which are no doubt laying waste as we speak. That's why we asked those nice kids from Haven to join the tournament; just to buy Jimmy's boys enough time to clean up the mess without the poor festivalgoers knowing. Am I missing anything? No, I think that's it."

Emerald sat there sweating, feeling her heart beating faster and faster as Qrow explained just how much hot water she was in. She watched the fight between Yang and Mercury continue without interruption, before her eyes moved to the crowd where she saw Cinder, completely unaware that her great plan was already dead. What was she supposed to do now?

"That was a nice story" she said at last. "So, what happens now, Branwen? You going to arrest us? Toss us in prison and throw away the key?"

"No, that wouldn't work" Qrow replied. "Given that all of this is off the books, you and your friends are ours to deal with as we see fit. And since you've decided to work for Her, letting you live after nearly killing Amber is not in the cards."

"You don't scare me, Branwen. I don't care whose clan you're the heir to" Emerald hissed back, not wanting to back down. To her discomfort, Qrow merely laughed a slow and coarse three-pronged laugh that sounded even more sinister than Cinder's.

"You really don't know who I am, do you?" he stated more than asked. "Since your friends decided not to clue you in, I might as well tell you. I am indeed the heir to the Branwen clan, despite abandoning it nineteen years ago. I left with my sister—may she rest in peace—as we planned to leave our past behind, and try to live better lives. We changed our last name, of course, to make sure no one would figure out who we were. Nowadays, I've gone back to our real name. I wear it in the open like a brand, so that any and all who know of us will stay clear, or give me sh*t for any and all past sins we've committed. What a vile clan we are. Assassinating any and all for those who pay us enough coin, or whom we deem too dangerous to be left alive, and doing so for centuries. Lords, ladies, Knights, holy men, royalty, Huntsmen, men, women, children, babies in their cribs; it never mattered, for life is cheap when the bounty is high. To match our taste for death, we perfected our craft as apothecaries, developing poisons that only we could cure. So talented have we become, that our poisons can kill without leaving a trace, instead leaving a trail of death wherever we go. Mysterious deaths throughout history were blamed on us, whether we had anything to do with them or not, granting us a supernatural and unholy reputation. Our clan motto reflects that unholy union with death: Við ristum dauðann með eitruðu víni—We toast death with poisoned wine."

"H-Harbinger of Death..." breathed Emerald, growing more panic-stricken, and was now sweating profusely. As Qrow monologued, he spoke in a cold, ashen voice, in a way she had never heard anyone speak before. His voice made the young thief feel as if something dark was creeping up behind her, about to swallow her whole, plunging her into a vile abyss.

"Ah...so you have heard of me?" he remarked in a manner that caused the girl to shiver despite the heat of summer at noon. "Did you also know that while I walked away from my family, I haven't given up on the family trade? There's a particular co*cktail we like to use called Eitrun Höggormsins—Poison of the Sea Serpent. Its normal potency is so strong that in can kill in less than five minutes. It's not a fast five minutes by the way. It shuts down your motor functions so you can't run, nearly shuts down your entire respiratory system, making you feel as if you're drinking rather than breathing. You'll start going blind, you're unable to focus your Aura, and according to our records, it makes you feel as if all your organs are on fire; no doubt some ancestor of mine forced some poor test subject to describe what he was feeling as he died. If you lower the potency however, it becomes a useful subduement tool. It makes the poisoned individual lose motor functions and use of their Aura, but doesn't kill them; it just takes hours for it to pass through their system. So, the only question that you should be asking me is which recipe of Eitrun Höggormsins did I coat my dagger in?"

"You said I was just a petty thief" she said, her voice now coming out shakily. "And I'm just seventeen. You would really kill a minor?"

"I also said that we Branwens have no problem killing babies" he reminded emotionlessly. "What's a seventeen-year-old assassin?"

"I'm not an assassin!"

"Tell that to Amber."

"Cinder's the one that did that! I just created the illusion that let her get the jump on the Fall Maiden."

"I don't care" Qrow hissed, pressing the flat of his dagger harder against the fearful girl's arm. "You are working for Her. You came to my Kingdom to start a war to engulf the world and put innocent lives at risk. You attacked my friends. You are putting my family at risk. In fact, that's my niece your friend is fighting against—a fight that you were planning to interfere with. So let me ask you this, what are the chances that I chose the weaker version of that poison now?"

A world war? That was not what she was told was going to happen. She was just doing this because she owed Cinder for saving her from living on the streets. This was not what she signed up for. Her breathing was now coming in sporadically, as fear began to take full control.

"You have two options, kid" he said in a tone that indicated that he was done talking. "Surrender or die. Pick your poison."

Emerald looked back and forth between Cinder and Mercury, feeling torn between betraying them, and securing her own safety. But the cold and sickening reality was, there was no real option if she wanted to live. If she surrendered, then there was at least some chance that the crow that had caught her in his claws would not be her judge and executioner. It was over. She shut her eyes and dropped her head forward, acknowledging her defeat.

In the arena, Mercury was swearing up a storm in his mind. He was drenched in sweat, though not from exertion, but from having to deal with the growing pain emanating from his damaged ribs. He had been forced to draw out the fight for far longer than he had planned to, waiting for Emerald to give him the signal that she had begun her illusion. Why it had not come, he didn't know, and only now was he able to look into the stands where she was seated. At the current moment, she looked like she was just watching the fight, not bothering to do her part.

'What the Hell are you waiting fo–' he began to shout in his mind, when he saw her drop her head, revealing the grim-faced Huntsman that had stopped them from finishing off Amber.

He froze when he realized what was going on, as they both stood up and slowly began to walk to the exit, which even from that distance Mercury could see she had been disarmed. They had been discovered after all, and now he knew he would have to fight his way out.

"f*cking damn it!" he swore just as Yang charged at him twisting her body into a spinning back kick. Growling through the pain, Mercury performed the same motion, and would have landed his kick before hers, as he was taller, and thus had longer legs. Unfortunately for him, Yang fired Ember Celica behind her just as she was extending her right leg, giving her not only enough speed to land her attack first, but drastically increase the power. When her boot collided with Mercury's face, he did a full 270° back flip before crashing onto the tiles of the arena, unconscious before hitting the ground.

"Mercury Black has been knocked out by Yang Xiao Long!" announced Oobleck with gusto, knowing that the plan was now in motion. "The winner of the first match of the Singles Round is Yang Xiao Long of Team RWBY!"

The crowd cheered in approval whereas the Mistralese groaned as their last student had been knocked out of the tournament. The aforementioned blonde pumped her fists in triumph and held them to the sky, taking in the cheers of the spectators. Team RWBY jumped to their feet and cheered with glee, happy to see that their teammate would advance to the next match. Teams JNPR, SSSN, and CFVY were happy as well, with the exception of Pyrrha, who sat there stunned.

'She...won?' she thought, feeling a mix of emotions at this unexpected result.

She, of course, felt incredible relief that Yang had won without being injured by the imposter, as well as the fact that he was no longer in the tournament. However, what continued to feed her anxiety was the question of what was to come next. Come to think of it, what was the plan of Cinder and her assassins by entering the tournament? To distract or cause a disturbance, to hurt her friends, or was she their target? Did they know she was the next candidate to inherit the Fall Maiden's powers? Regardless, she was now wondering if the Order assumed that Yang was strong enough to defeat Mercury. With all due respect to her friend, she was certainly not disciplined enough as a fighter to defeat an enemy strong enough to face a Maiden. And yet, she had defeated him. Pyrrha was aware that he had been holding back when they had sparred, but perhaps he wasn't much stronger than she believed. There were many questions that needed answering, but the one that was still at the forefront of her mind, was what was the Order planning?

This strain of thought was not unique to the Mistralese champion, as on the other side of the Coliseum was a dumfounded Cinder Fall, staring in stunned fury as her defeated assassin was placed on a stretcher and carried out of the arena.

'What is going on?!' she screamed in her mind. 'Emerald!'

Her eyes flew to the spot where she knew her illusionist was seated, and nearly shrieked when she barely caught a glimpse of her being escorted by Qrow through the exit. She could not see what happened next, though it certainly would have infuriated her further. A pair of Atlassian soldiers lying in wait stunned and shackled the girl, before whisking her away into their custody as Qrow tapped the earpiece attached to his right ear.

"We got the green one" he announced. "You got eyes on Black Bishop?"

"Roger, sir" came a voice through the secured channel.

In a hidden spot atop the Coliseum, a White Army sniper was overlooking the entire arena, and began to swivel his scope away from the exit where Qrow had used, over to where Cinder had been.

The false-Maiden was now on her feet and storming away as she tapped her Scroll angrily, placing a call that connected near instantly.

"Neo! Forget the plan! Meet me at the east wing of the arena, now!" she hissed before ending the call and putting both her Scroll and her tablet away. The sniper had caught her halfway before she reached the exit, and called in she had begun to flee with her plans failing.

"Black Bishop is moving, I repeat, Black Bishop. Permission to engage?" he asked, his thumb resting on a switch to disengage his rifle's safety.

"f*ck no! We need her alive!" Qrow spat, sprinting through the halls of the Coliseum. "Your job is recon only; so, look out if she runs back out the exit. Hold her till I get there!"

As soon as Cinder entered the exit, she saw that the lights had been shut, so that only the sunlight from the exit itself illuminated the first dozen feet or so of the hall. What caused her to halt however, were the figures that emerged from the darkness of the four-way hall intersection. From the right came Robin, Ian, and Allen, and from the left came René, Pierre, and Ivoire.

"Cinder Fall" said Robin coolly, knocking an arrow into his bow as his teammates drew their polearms, while Team RROI leveled their rifles. "In the names of the Kingdom of Vale and the Kingdom of Mistral, you are under arrest for espionage, sabotage, impersonation, conspiring against a foreign Kingdom, treason, and undoubtedly many more charges. Surrender any and all weapons..."

Cinder was not going to sit there and listen to the bowman's monologue, and quickly turned for the exit, when something dropped from above and blocked her path. It was Diego, who had been camouflaged due to his attire, and now stood before her with his revolver drawn and his right hand resting on his parrying dagger.

"...for there is no escape" Robin finished.

"You've been outfoxed, chiquita" Diego remarked with a smirk.

Cinder looked at the smirking Fox Faunus with disgust, before turning to look at all the other senior Huntsmen-in-training.

"If you think that any of you can stop me–" she began to hiss.

"You've lost, bitch" came Qrow's rough voice from the darkness. His eyes glowed red, and remained so as he stepped into the light from behind the first six students, a sombre scowl on his face. "I'm not in the mood to explain again just how badly you f*cked up. Just know that we've been planning a counter-attack for weeks, and every step you took, we were watching and planning five steps ahead. The trojan, the Grimm, the White Fang, the CCT, everything. Make things easy for yourself and surrender."

Cinder stared at the Branwen heir with teeth bare and the fury of a thousand suns in her eyes. She had made the call to continue going forward with the plan, truly believing they were still operating undercover. She thought that Ozpin's bizarre inclusion of other Mistralese students was nothing more than his and Ironwood's hubris. The fact they had been aware of everything that she had spent months planning, and without her knowing, strategized around it, filled her with wroth. Cinder could hear the comments of her critics echo in her mind, warning her that she was over her head, and she would disappoint Her. If she did fail, the consequences were painfully easy to imagine; her Queen's face materializing in her mind, painted with disapproval and disappointment.

That realization caused Cinder to make her decision, clenching her hands into trembling fists. She had not come this far, crawling through years of pain, to be denied all the power she had been owed.

"No..." she growled, as fire began to burn from her left eye. Qrow instantly reached for Harbinger as Robin brought his bow to full draw. The others all took stances, ready to subdue her by any means necessary, though remembering that they had strict orders to capture her alive. "No, I won't surrender! If I can't bring about the fall of Albion and Beacon Academy by using your own men and weapons against you, then I shall do it myself." Fire began to form in her hands, and she spread her arms wide, almost in a taunting manner. "I will burn every man, woman, and child in this Coliseum, turning this place into the largest funeral pyre the world has ever seen. Then I will take the remaining half of the Fall Maiden's power, and burn this city to the grou–"

Suddenly, Cinder stopped speaking and began to choke, clutching at her throat and gasping for air. A green ball of Aura had materialized around her head, along with a complex green sigil below her feet, snuffing out the flames she had summoned. The Mistralese students were confused at what was happening, as they all knew that none of them were doing this. Qrow of course knew exactly what was going on, and relaxed his grip on his weapon, as he waited for the caster to make his appearance.

"You shall not harm a single soul in either this arena or the city..." a voice emerged from the darkness.

The senior students turned to look behind them as something green and glowing approached. They then realized that it was Grand Huntmaster Ozpin, walking steadily with his right hand outstretched and eyes glowing green, his face stony and cold. They began to part to allow him passage, while Qrow continued to watch the struggling false-Maiden, who was staring at the silver-haired Huntsman in fearful anger.

From her perspective, and possibly hers alone, Cinder could have sworn that she saw a figure standing behind and above the Huntmaster. It was faint, but she could make out the form of an armour-clad man, wearing a tattered monastic scapular, a longsword at his hip, and a torn cape around his shoulders. Was this his Semblance, or was it a hallucination brought on by the lack of oxygen? She would never find out the truth, as Ian took advantage of the situation by grabbing her with his right hand, and drove her back-first into the wall. He did so with such force that Cinder created a spider web crack that reached to both the ceiling and the floor. It did its job however, as she was unconscious upon impact, and fell to the ground in a heap.

"Hey, we need her alive, amigo" Diego remarked, noticing that the blow had caused her nose to bleed.

"You expected me to be delicate with her after she threatened children?" Ian shot back, obviously agitated by the imposter's comments.

"I fully understand your feelings, Mister Oak" Ozpin said calmly as he knelt beside Cinder, and passed his hand over her, green runes emerging from it before vanishing into the air. "However, as much as she deserves death for her crimes, we need her alive to answer for them."

Suddenly, all present turned around to see a mortified Neo staring at them. Before anyone could speak, she opened her parasol and jumped backwards.

"Stop her!" shouted Qrow, causing the others to raise their weapons. However, Neo then stumbled and began to fall, but was stopped from hitting the ground by a tall man everyone recognized, accompanied by two White Army soldiers.

"I see that you have ended the party before I could attend" he said with a smirk.

"Fantastic timing, Olivier!" chimed Allen.

"Is she the last of them?" the captain of Team RROI asked.

"Within the Coliseum, yes. The rest shall be dealt with by Huntmaster-General Ironwood. You two" Ozpin said to the soldiers "take the girl into your custody. Qrow and I shall take Cinder Fall. The rest of you, get to your positions."

All complied and set about their tasks as Qrow grabbed the now unconscious Cinder, and threw her over his shoulder, before tapping his earpiece.

"Black Bishop and Torchwick's second in command are down. Operation Rat Hunt is complete. Ball's in your court, Jimmy" he said.

In the private skybox, the General, strangely still seated next to Ozpin, pressed his own earpiece closer to muffle the sound of the crowd, and nodded in approval.

"Roger that and well done" he replied before pressing a button to switch channels. "Major Schnee."

"Yes, sir!" Winter replied on the other end.

"You have permission to commence Operation Fox Hunt. May the Gods be with you."

"Yes, sir. Over and out."

At the other side of the city, Winter was standing before a battalion of four hundred Atlassian soldiers, all armed to the teeth and ready for combat.

"Soldiers! On your feet!" she bellowed, causing them all to snap to attention and perfectly form into ranks. "Our mission is now in motion! Are you ready to fight against the vile hordes that slew our brothers and countrymen?"

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am!" they replied.

"East Battalion, sound off!" she ordered into her earpiece.

"Captain Derfflinger, ready."

"South Battalion!"

"Captain Seydlitz, ready."

"West Battalion!"

"Captain Karl, ready."

"Advance onto the target!" Winter ordered. "For the glory of Atlas!"

With pride and determination, the soldiers of the White Army marched towards where the White Fang forces were located, planning to surround them and achieve total victory.

"Shame we couldn't bring the Wolf Pack with us on this mission, eh Major?" asked a soldier just behind Winter. "Given the mission is called 'Fox Hunt' and all."

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Winter laughed.

"Indeed. Ulfhi would have loved to join us on this hunt" she replied. "Let us bring them plenty of White Fang pelts as souvenirs from Vale, men!"

The soldiers under her command responded with one united shout of approval, more than willing to adhere to their Major's suggestion, for their mission was more than just defending Albion and the millions that lived there. It was more than subduing a wanted terrorist that wished to repeat his crimes in another Kingdom. It was a deep-rooted desire to right the wrongs done upon the innocent; a righting that had been so long overdue. To avenge the fallen at Mantle, they would crush Adam Taurus, once and for all.

λΛλ

Aboard the Atlassian flagship, the KAAS Veðrfölnir, Roman Torchwick sat in his cell within the brig. All things considered, he rather enjoyed his near daily chats with the General, playing the game of debate with him. He had not revealed a single detail about Cinder's plans, nor her true identity or that of the others. He was doing his part, of course, which was to wait until the overall plan went into motion, to which he would then get to work on the task he was given. He knew that today was that day, and waited for the signal. However, it was taking longer than he knew it should, and he could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. He began to tap his foot, trying to calm himself, knowing that panicking would do nothing but make the situation worse. Nevertheless, he knew what was at stake, and what he could lose if the plan failed.

'Neo...' he thought forlornly, his hands balling into tightly clenched fists.

λΛλ

In the reserved seating of the Coliseum, Yang returned triumphant once again.

"Now that was a good fight!" she sang, grinning from ear to ear.

"You were great!" cheered Ruby, hugging her big sister proudly.

"Yes, you did quite well" acknowledged Weiss, nodding slowly.

"Good job" added Blake with a small smirk.

"Thanks for the advice by the way, Pyrrha" the blonde noted, punching the redhead lightly on her right shoulder.

That tap pulled Pyrrha out from her thoughts, and helped her manage a small smile.

"Happy to help. Congratulations" she said genuinely.

"So..." continued Yang, sitting down with her team, "who's next?"

"We don't know yet, but they should announce it now" answered Sun eagerly.

As if on cue, Professor Port began to speak to the crowd.

"Let's begin the selection for the second match of the day!" he announced, as the digital roulette wheel spun. After a few seconds, the wheel landed on its two combatants. "And it shall be between Pyrrha Nikos of Beacon and Penny Polendina of Ýdalir!"

The crowd began to cheer excitedly as Pyrrha took a deep breath, before rising to her feet.

"Good luck, Pyrrha!" said Nora with a toothy grin.

"Do your best out there" added Ren, also smiling.

The others gave her their best wishes as her eyes finally met Jaune's.

"Good luck..." he said quietly, only getting a nod from the redhead before she walked away.

Everyone looked at the blond captain in confusion, noticing just how off things were between the normally romantic couple.

"OK, what the Hell was that?" asked Yang. "What's up with you two?"

"Did you two have a fight?" asked Ren more quietly, so that only Jaune could hear him.

"It's..." he began, not even certain where he could begin to explain, "I don't know."

There was a moment of silence before Ren looked at his friend with serious eyes.

"Go after her" he advised soundly.

Jaune looked at him with uncertainty, remembering what happened the last time he had done that, and it was now causing him to hesitate.

"I..."

"Jaune" said Nora, looking at him with the most serious expression that he had ever seen her make. "Go."

The captain swallowed nervously before at last getting to his feet, and sprinted after Pyrrha.

λΛλ

Pyrrha stood with hesitation at the entrance to the arena, doing her best to steady herself before the match. She had to keep calm and let the Order do what they must. While she had been obsessed with the match, fearing for Yang, she had managed to notice that the entirety of Team CLME had vanished from the stands. It was unsettling not knowing where they were, but she hoped it meant that the Order had finally taken action and arrested them. This, of course was the case, though she did not know it, but nevertheless forced herself to accept it as the truth for the time being. If anything were to change, no doubt she would be informed, therefore, her entire focus should be on the match and nothing else. However, that final interaction with Jaune had caused another wave of guilt to wash over her. To quash it, she swore to herself that she would tell him everything when the tournament concluded, and she would pressure the Order to give her permission.

While nowhere near calm enough for her liking, Pyrrha nevertheless forced herself to enter the arena, and was about to step forward, when she heard someone enter the waiting area.

"Pyrrha!" Jaune breathed, his face filled with worry.

"Jaune..." she whispered, the guilt she had managed to tamp down, albeit slightly, returning in full force. 'Please...not before the match. I can't bear to fight with you again...'

The blond looked at her with clear torment in his eyes. He wanted to drop to his knees and beg for her forgiveness, take her into his arms and embrace her, and demand to know the truth, all at the same time. And yet, the words were lodging themselves into his throat, leaving him mute. He would have remained there silent for far longer, when he saw the panic in her eyes, which gave him the kick in the pants that he needed. He walked up to her, which caused Pyrrha to take a half step back, as she did not know what he was going to do. He placed his hands on her shoulders, though far more gently than he had that morning, and kissed her on her right cheek.

She looked at him stunned as he pulled away, blushing deeply.

"F-For luck" he stammered. They locked eyes in complete silence for a moment, before he continued, no longer able to contain his feelings. "I-I'm sorry for this morning. I should've been more patient and waited for you to tell me what's wrong without being forceful. I didn't have enough information and just acted on instinct, and I made you cry because of it. I just couldn't stand seeing you so stressed and scared. I'm sorry for how I acted, but I meant what I said about being here for you no matter what. Whenever you want to talk about it, I'll be right here. I just hope you aren't mad at me or hate me for how I acted–"

Pyrrha cut his rambling off by jumping into his arms, and wrapping hers tightly around his neck. He instinctively hugged her back, it feeling more right than anything he had ever experienced before. She pulled away slightly and kissed both his cheeks, before touching his right with her hand. He was stunned by her sudden show of affection, and was about to speak, but when he saw her warm genuine smile, his breath was taken away.

"Thank you, Jaune" she said softly, feeling the anxiety in her chest being lifted. "That means the world to me."

"Y-You're not mad at me?" he asked, taken aback.

"I could never be mad at you—if anything, I was mad at myself for how I acted" Pyrrha replied. "Did I hurt you?"

"Not much more than you usually do when we train. I'd rather the bruises than seeing you cry like that, so don't hate yourself for what happened. It was an accident."

"Alright. And I meant that I would tell you everything when the tournament is over. You have my word."

The blond gazed into her emerald eyes, and saw the fear that clouded them was no longer there.

"I guess it's my turn to wait, huh?" he sighed with a small smirk.

The redhead giggled, causing her captain's heart to beat, realizing just how much he missed her laughter.

"It looks that way" she said playfully. "Will you cheer me on?"

"Of course. I'm your biggest fan, after all."

"You better be!" she laughed, hugging him again. "I have to go."

"I know" Jaune sighed sadly, wanting this moment to last forever. "Give it all you've got out there."

"I will" Pyrrha promised, pulling away and allowing him to reluctantly walk back to the entrance to the locker area. She watched him go, and maintained her gaze to the doorway, feeling the happiest she'd been in what felt like ages. "Se agapó (I love you)" she said quietly, praying for the tournament to come to an end, so she could say it to him directly. Taking one final breath to steady herself, she touched the golden chain that hung around her neck, her fingers resting on the pendant of a bursting star encircled with a laurel wreath. "Se aftó to simádi tha kataláveis (In this sign thou shall conquer)" she vowed before removing it, and stepped into the sunlight.

As Pyrrha walked up the path that led to the arena, she saw that Penny was already standing in her starting position. The ginger robot stood patiently with a pleasant smile on her face, when she suddenly heard a voice in her head.

"Penny."

'Yes, sir?' she replied in her mind.

"I am aware that you've been looking forward to this match, but I think you should take it a little easy today" Ironwood advised.

'Is this for the success of the mission?' she asked.

"It is."

Penny remained silent for a moment before replying. 'Understood, sir.'

"Is everything alright?"

'Oh, yes! It is simply...Miss Pyrrha Nikos is Miss Ruby's friend, and I don't want to hurt Miss Ruby's friends, but I want to fight her to test my abilities, and I must fight her as it is my duty as a soldier of Atlas...' Penny expressed. '...I feel...conflicted, sir.'

Ironwood chuckled. "I know, but Miss Nikos is involved with this mission, and she must move on through the tournament. Your original purpose for entering has been fulfilled, so now we're simply modifying the objective. I'm sure that we can arrange a private match between the both of you after we complete the mission."

'I would like that very much!' Penny chimed happily. 'I will not fail, sir!'

"Atta girl" the Atlassian Huntmaster encouraged. "Have fun and good luck."

They concluded their call just as Pyrrha arrived at her starting position.

"Good afternoon and salutations, Pyrrha Nikos!" Penny greeted with a right-handed salute.

The redhead smiled humorously at the ginger. She was certainly an odd girl, but she obviously was a good person at heart.

"Good afternoon, Penny" she returned politely. "You seem eager for today's match."

"Of course! I finally get to have a proper challenge" she said honestly, her smile then fading slightly. "Although, I am not so eager to fight a friend of Miss Ruby."

Pyrrha nodded. "I understand fully. I don't want to hurt any of my friends or the friends of my friends. However, this is a tournament after all, and I wouldn't want to disrespect you by not treating you as a serious opponent."

Penny's smile then returned in full.

"Then we have come to a mutual understanding and compromise."

In the reserved seating, Jaune returned at last and took his spot next to Ren and Nora.

"Is everything OK?" they asked in unison.

"Yeah" he replied softly, smiling honestly. "We cleared things up and we're good now."

"Did you give her a good make-up kiss?" asked Coco.

"Yeah" Jaune replied, but instantly realized what he had said as everyone's eyebrows lifted. "O-On the cheek! For luck, ya know?"

"Are they seriously still at that stage?" the injured captain asked the others.

"Embarrassing, isn't it?" remarked Yang.

"It's beyond me why they're taking so long" added Nora.

"I kinda respect it—ya know, the childlike innocence of it" smirked Sun.

"Alright! Will all of you just shut up and watch the match?" snapped the blond, folding his arms and leaning back in his seat, as the others laughed at his expense with his cheeks burning.

"Fighters ready?" announced Oobleck, causing Pyrrha to draw Akoúo and Miló, and Penny to take a fighting stance. "Three...two...one...BEGIN!"

λΛλ

In an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the Industrial District, members of the White Fang were moving about at a steady pace. A command post had been established to direct their forces within the city as well as abroad, and were now tying any and all loose ends before they received the signal to launch their assault. A high-ranking member of the revolutionary group was leaning over a C2 station beside the designated watchstander, coordinating with their signallers. Behind them, sitting on a steel crate, was a tall Bull Faunus at 6'4", wearing an asymmetrical black, long-sleeved, double-breasted stylized high-collared blazer with slit sleeves, along with red thorn sigils adorned with a white crest that lined up on his left shoulder. His suit jacket had crimson lining atop his red shirt, with red thorn sigils atop a black flap attached to the bottom of the left hem. A wilting rose emblem was on the back, set over an emblazoned white sigil resembling the curved stems and flower of the Atropa belladonna plant; commonly known as deadly nightshade. His blazer was half-buttoned, exposing a red shirt with a black line running parallel to his collar under it. On his face was a modified White Fang Grimm mask with red symbols that sat below a pair of black and red horns, surrounded by spiking auburn hair. He wore long black dress pants and black shoes, with matching black gloves with red Omega sigils sown into them.

He was leaning over a long red sword, an elongated chokutō, running the edge of the blade on a whetstone with long slow strokes; making sure that it was razor sharp, for he planned to use it well. With every stroke, he felt his own focus sharpening; the image of a young girl materializing in his mind. Before it was complete, he heard commotion coming from the C2 stations, and he turned his head slowly to look at them.

"Report" he ordered in a steady but commanding voice.

The high-ranking White Fang member turned to look at his commander with a venomous expression, frustration clearly visible in his amber eyes, as his pupils were black vertical slits. He was tall, even more so than the Bull Faunus, but much thinner, with shoulder length white hair and a pale complexion.

"We're getting reports that the Grimm in the north are being engaged by Valian and Atlassian forces" he hissed.

"How many?"

"Six brigades between the two Kingdoms—estimations of thirty thousand men" he answered, twitching at the final word before pushing away from the station and walked towards his commander. "Either they redirected troops from Albion, or they deployed more troops from Atlas directly. But if that was the case, they would have been attacked by the Grimm hordes!"

"There aren't even a thousand soldiers apiece stationed at the capital, and no reinforcements have been ordered" the Bull Faunus pointed out, continuing to examine the condition of his sword. "There's normally only a single border brigade defending the northern coastal border of Vale. Reinforcing their guard with two more as opposed to their city defences is suspicious enough as it is, but six, with half coming from Atlas..."

"Commander Taurus! Vice-Commander Sterling!" shouted one of the watchstanders. "Reports are coming in of two tank battalions emerging from the forest! They and the soldiers are being supported by field artillery—between twenty and forty batteries!"

"What?" hissed Sterling. "Have they fully mobilized for war?"

"The Atlassian armour have specific designated markings. We're cross referencing them now" the watchstander informed, typing into a terminal as he repeated what he was being described through his headset. "A Hagalaz H-rune on the forehead of a white wolf with a spear in its mouth."

Sterling leaned back wide-eyed. "The Ghost Division..."

"Well, well. What an honour" smirked Adam. "Atlas' most elite armoured division."

"How could they have all mobilized without us knowing?" demanded the taller Faunus.

"They must have crossed the Sea of Souls and deployed near the border of Vale and Vacuo" Adam mused, turning the blade over slowly. "There they would have moved east-southeast until they cleared the mountains before heading north."

"Such a detour would be hundreds if not thousands of miles long. Through such dense forests no less. That just isn't feasible, my lord."

"It is very much feasible, as it falls completely in line with their past achievements" the amber-haired man reminded. "Over two hundred miles before twilight would take them a week at most using that route. The weather reports indicated thick cloud cover—the very cover we were planning to utilize today. Of course, the weather reports did not hold for us, as the uninterrupted sunshine proves. Such poor luck."

"A Carrier Air Wing has been spotted in the southern Vytal Sea!" reported another watchstander.

"The Jörmungandr..." sneered the Vice-Commander. "It's supposed to be patrolling in the north. It doesn't matter. Even if it gets close, it can't support them unless–"

"There are an unknown number of fighter jets on the carrier! Several groups— possibly a full wing!"

"Fully mobilized indeed" remarked Adam. "Terrible luck."

"We still have our objective within the city" Sterling reminded. "Contact Fall and demand to know what is going on!"

"We have White Army soldiers advancing on our position!" cried a scout from above, standing on one of the catwalks near the roof of the warehouse.

"What?!"

"How many?" Adam asked calmly.

"Four battalions led by Major Winter Schnee" said a White Fang member in a raspy voice, who bore a Beowolf Grimm mask, standing in the doorway of one of the warehouse entrances. "They were made aware of our relocating and moved into position during the night."

"And how do you know all of this?"

"I was the one that told them."

Everyone present looked at the one Faunus, frozen in shock.

"And for what reason have you committed this act of treason?" Adam asked slowly.

The traitorous Faunus had only one answer, and it was not the one Adam wanted to hear.

"Long live Commander Belladonna" he said, his voice now clear and deep.

Adam instantly flicked his sword and sent a thin crescent projectile of Aura at the traitor, who barely avoided it, allowing it to pass him and cut through the metal stairs and half of the warehouse wall.

"After him!" ordered Sterling.

"Belay that" countered Adam, attaching his scabbard to his left hip. "We have more pressing issues at hand."

"That was–" he began, but immediately shrunk at Adam's knowing look, and bowed apologetically. "Of course, my Lord. Do we engage the White Army?"

"No" the Commander said flatly, sheathing his weapon. "Order a full retreat."

"My Lord?"

"Enough Faunus blood has been spilt for this frivolous campaign. I will not waste any more. We are leaving, now."

The taller Faunus nodded and signaled to the others to bug out. As they began to move, Adam started walking slowly towards the other end of the warehouse, with Sterling walking in step to his right.

"What an unbridled disaster" hissed Sterling.

"Yes. I am sorry for all of this" Adam apologized, taking his second-in-command by surprise.

"My Lord! This isn't your doing! It is those vile Humans who have failed us."

"There is no denying that. However, I failed in not arguing more effectively the issues with the overall plan" the Bull Faunus said regrettably. "I warned Lady Salem that Fall was too green, and lacked the experience to handle such a mission. Honestly, utilizing unknown brats and a local gangster as one's cohorts. Humans can be so foolish. Perhaps Lady Salem will listen to me now."

"This will no doubt get back to High Leader Khan" Sterling lamented. "She will not be pleased with any of this. And then there is Belladonna..."

"You leave Sienna to me. After all, this whole venture was in preparation to our overthrowing of her. As for Ghira, he is too busy playing statesman to do anything, getting too comfortable and lazy in Menagerie. Regardless, with the bumbling of Fall and Torchwick, and the tactical prowess of General Ironwood, it will not be difficult to argue my case until the right time to begin our coup arises."

Sterling eyed him carefully. "You sound almost respectful of the White Army General."

Adam chuckled heartily, and he plucked a rose from a bush he had been trimming as he passed it.

"My dear Saphed, of course I respect him. He may be a conceded, wretched Human, but he is still the youngest Field Marshal in Atlassian history. Grand Huntmaster-General James Tiberius Ironwood; a brilliant tactician with a lengthy list of achievements over his near twenty yearlong military career. Killing him will add a tremendous feather to my cap."

Saphed paused for a moment before cautiously asking a question that he knew needed to be asked, but wasn't certain of what reaction it would invoke.

"And what of Lady Blake, my Lord?"

Adam examined the rose in his right hand and sighed.

"Unfortunately, that will have to wait for another time." He turned the rose over, carefully avoiding its thorns, before bringing it to his nose to take its scent. "My love, our fated reunion must tragically be postponed. But have no fear..."

He threw the rose high into the air, where it hung for a moment before it began to drop. Just before that return to earth, the rose was cut just below the sepals, separating the flower from the hip and stem. This caused the red pedals to disperse in all directions, and gently float down. They all suddenly then became sliced to ribbons, before at last being left alone to float to the cold ground of the warehouse.

"...there is nothing in this world that can keep you from me."

At the other end of the warehouse was a recently constructed tunnel. Their current location was their fallback position that they had been working on for the past half year. The tunnel connected to the Vimy River, the river that divided the upper and lower half of the city of Albion where one end reached the academy, and the other fed into the Sea of Souls. This would be their escape route, as they had built a secret submarine dock at the other end of the tunnel. They were using it far sooner than they had planned, but it would be used, nonetheless.

Suddenly, before them opened a red and black portal, ten feet across and ten feet high. From it emerged an individual standing at 5'9", dawning a red and black duster coat, as well as armour, and an imposing black metal plague mask helmet that enclosed the head. The first half of the beak was blood red, as were the rings around the glass eyeholes, which were pitch black, making it impossible to see the eyes. Above them was a human skull, drip painted in the same shade of red, with a pair of Perthro runes facing one another in the centre of the forehead. Lastly, raven feathers poured out the back of the helmet, joining to form a mantle on the warrior's shoulders. A long odachi was attached to the left hip, covered in a black metal scabbard with thin red claw marks down the sides.

While the figure would appear horrifying to the average person, Adam merely smiled in amusem*nt.

"Well, well. The red-carpet treatment" he remarked. "I'm flattered."

"Get in" the macabre person spoke in a distorted voice, folding its arms to reveal their clawed black gauntlets.

"Certainly. Take enough with you to get all the equipment aboard and man the sub, then set sail immediately to our main base" Adam ordered his men. "The rest of you use the portal."

The White Fang members followed their orders immediately, with a smaller group of them descending through the tunnel entrance carrying the C2 stations, maps, and other equipment, and the remaining group entering the portal. Adam and Saphed did not leave just yet, as the shorter Faunus walked towards his "saviour", maintaining his amused smirk.

"And what do I owe this wonderful and most generous gesture, Lady Branwen?"

"These are Lady Salem's orders" she answered coldly. "And cut the false pleasantries. If it were me, I would leave you to die, brat."

Adam chuckled, moving even closer to her.

"Yes, you certainly would. And leave my body to be feasted on by crows, no doubt. How many have you killed today, eh? How many left to die slowly as carrion birds circle above, waiting for them to expire?" As he spoke, he drew ever nearer, leaning forward so that the slit eyeholes of his mask lined up with the dark pits of hers. "And you Humans call me a monster."

"Get in" she repeated venomously, but calmly. "I will not tell you again."

The Bull Faunus held his position for a moment longer, before smiling a little wider and bowing to her courteously.

"A pleasure talking to you as always, Raven. Till the next" he said finally, before standing straight and walking into the portal.

Saphed took a single step forward before looking at Raven, towering over her by well over a foot, and opening his jaws wide, revealing a pair of inch long metal fangs. He emitted a menacing hiss, as a long, forked tongue flicked out at her, his eyes becoming very narrow slits. After his point had been made, he closed his jaws and followed his commander, disappearing through the portal.

Allowing her arms to drop to her sides, Raven entered the portal herself, leaving the Kingdom of Vale behind.

Author's Note:

One of my favourite moments of this entire story happened in this chapter. I wonder if you can guess which one it is.

Well now, that was different, was it not? I suppose you have some questions. Allow me to answer them without spoiling things. Let us begin.

Pyrrha's Panic

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (46)

The original scene where Pyrrha pushes Jaune away was never one that made sense to me. Unlike my version, the stakes were not properly explained, other than the invented "threat" that Pyrrha could "lose herself" by accepting to become the new Fall Maiden. And while the fear of such a thing happening is understandable (if you buy it), Pyrrha's reaction to Jaune was not. I should quickly remind everyone that the emotional stakes that CRWBY are trying to bank on, were severely weakened by them retconning Pyrrha's confession, and not building upon it by strengthening Jaune and Pyrrha's relationship—perhaps with the promise of going on a date after the tournament? This is why, for as sweet as Pyrrha resting her head on Jaune's shoulder saying that she is already helping her was, the lead up to it was not good enough for the payoff. What payoff was even worse, however, was what Pyrrha did next.

Dreams Do Come True - DragonoftheEastblue (47)

Pyrrha using Polarity to pin Jaune to the pilaster with such force that it shatters—along with his spine if superhuman rules are not in play—is a sudden and massive escalation. She has never done anything like this previously, and given that it is so out of character for her, it is painfully clear that it was done to poorly justify her tearing Penny apart later on. What makes this situation even worse, is that Cinder and her cohorts must know that Pyrrha is now mentally and emotionally unstable...somehow. I say this because they clearly capitalize on it by scaring her with a Saturday morning cartoon level illusion, thus causing Pyrrha to tear Penny (a robot) apart.

If you think that this plan of Cinder's is bloody stupid, you would be correct, hence why I have been poking holes in it throughout this story.

But wait, there is more, for if Pyrrha had gone against a Human or a Faunus instead, the result of her tearing them apart, which she clearly can, given the amount of force she displayed, and Polarity is able to effect nonmagnetic metals, the results would have been far more gruesome, and therefore, more effective to cause negative emotions. So, why did that not occur? The obvious reason why CRWBY did not go this route is due to their unwillingness to commit to the story they are trying to tell, affectively avoiding the consequences of their actions. Now, do I want for that to happen to one of our heroes, for Sun would have been Pyrrha's opponent if not Penny, and by latching onto his gauntlets would have ripped his arms off? Absolutely not, but if CRWBY want to turn this show from a lighthearted one to a brutal one, then either push the control stick forward and commit to the dive, or keep cruising at your initial flight level. And since the rest of the show has continued with this limp-wristed, chickensh*t approach, never showing the carnage o