Author's Note: *stares at the New Story window, the tic he's developed going to town*

Brain: Come on.

*grudgingly puts his hand on his mouse and actually has to grip his wrist with his other hand to force the pointer towards the Publish New Story button*

Brain: Come ooonnnn…. You did it to me, and now it's your turn.

*growls lowly as he clicks his mouse*

Brain: There, see? Now that wasn't so har-

GrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH! *grabs keyboard and starts smashing it repeatedly over his head*


It weighed only a couple ounces more than pound when his fingers closed over the rectangular shape of the item. It was firm but gave slightly in his grip.

Tukson couldn't and wouldn't forget the feel of a perfectly good book.

Back in his village outside of the kingdom, books had been a cherished commodity. Though pushing past the age of thirty, he hadn't experienced the wartime era that Remnant had pulled itself out of nearly eighty years ago but his parents had passed down the tragedies and the wisdom that they and their parents had gone through and learned from during then. It had been an era where human and faunus fought amongst each other, when governments attempted to oppress and control both species, and during all that the Grimm had been lost in a frenzy as all the hatred and negativity served to rile them up and launch their own assaults, interfering and feasting on survivors of a battle between their most hated enemies or overwhelming entire villages that had been left to fend for themselves while the kingdoms warred against one another.

His village had been one of the luckier ones to not only make it out in one piece but thrive during and after the end of the great war. Over the years, refugees fleeing from the beleaguered kingdoms to escape the violence and the oppression would either take shelter in the scattered villages, create their own, or choose to lead the life of nomads who constantly traveled to avoid not only the Grimm but the mobilizing armies. While the advantage was more able bodies to work the fields and maintain the village, there was always the risk of stretching resources to feed and shelter them while those same refugees could attract the Grimm due to the trauma of their exodus that they carried with them, dooming everyone else.

But they persevered and survived - all of them. The population of his village in particular was a mix of faunus and humans. While racial conflict was an intricate part of history between them, when the entire world was going to Hell with both suffering for it, the need to endure tossed aside their previous grievances in order to help one another. That was probably one of the reasons that their village survived while others were never heard from again: their willingness to establish peace when everyone else was busy killing each other.

With all the dangers surrounding them and the struggle for a suitable supply of food and water being paramount, books and other material items should've been the least of their concerns. Yet many of the refugees who found a new home in the village had come with books, paintings, and other forms of art and expression that were heavily coveted. As was later known, one of the memorable aspects of the war was the attempted destruction of all forms of self-expression and individualism, something which people believed they were triumphing over by salvaging and guarding these artworks.

It was that lesson in particular that stuck with Tukson, his parents having encouraged him to read what they traded and borrowed so that he could see for himself the importance of the freedom of speech and literacy. It stayed with him when they were granted citizenship in Vale years later after the war was officially declared as over. While the kingdoms began reconnecting and even resupplying villages such as his with airdrops, there came the chance for those previously evicted from their homes to return and settle back down with village-born citizens soon being given the chance to become city residents.

Later, with the help of a certain faunus peace organization, this offer was extended to faunus villagers as well as humans.

Those were the grander days, long since passed.

Since then, Tukson had gone from the occasional book being passed around between his fellow villagers to the line of shelves that he now navigated through, stopping and pulling out one of the dozens of tomes that filled each one while he mentally crossed off a title that was on his invisible checklist. Some he selected were to fulfill orders that were to be picked up later in the day while others were just meant to fill some of the holes that had been made at the front of the book store.

His book store, a fact which he commemorated when he named it: Tukson's Book Trade.

It hadn't been that difficult to get it off the ground. With technology as it was, many nowadays had turned to screens and bytes of data instead of bound paper pages. A good portion of the books he acquired were from people who were all but giving them away for free, something which he had quietly lamented on even as his stockpile grew. A lot of the smaller book shops had closed down but he'd managed to keep his aloft with business that wasn't grand but was enough for a comfortable living while retaining his shop.

The store itself, and the rest of his books, he obtained through some help from the White Fang. The same group that gave his family a chance of a life in the city and it was that group that they had become a part of so that other faunus would be given the same chances that they had.

It was that group that he was a part of still...but not for long.

As he exited one row of shelves and began to enter another in his quest to finish the rest of his list, he happened to glance over and spot his desk in the corner. It was where he conducted most of his business, using the low-scale, flatscreen computer monitor and physical keyboard to keep up with his inventory, place orders, and other tasks of similar nature. Hanging on the wall above the desk was a small piece of blue cloth of which the design of a white wolf head had been made upon it.

Grander days indeed, he thought to himself.

His parents had passed away before the White Fang had changed more than just their symbol and Tukson had always taken relief in that but, at the same time, wondered if things would've turned out better had they been around to possibly dissuade him when he chose to stay. Without them, he only had their stories and the ones in his books that glorified the acts of going against oppression, even if that meant with violent means.

The ties that bound the war-weary generation of the great war became undone with the introduction of the next. Vale's doors had closed themselves off to outsiders - faunus outsiders in particular - while those who were already in had begun to take insults and threats from humans who were beginning to see their presence as a blemish on their otherwise perfect lives. While Tukson was a faunus who's traits weren't as visible - he was pretty sure most of his customers, even his regulars, didn't know about his heritage -, he had received death threats and demands to close down 'or else'. He knew that things were much, much worse for faunus throughout the rest of Remnant, especially those who worked in a more industrialized kingdom like Atlas.

So when the White Fang became increasingly ignored and they chose to use violence to get their demands across, Tukson went along with them.

He was no saint. He had blood on his hands. Being in the White Fang for this long and being in this deep, it was required for members to get a good, long soaking. His efforts, which had started off as providing shelter and relaying information, went high into the levels of brutality when the White Fang began gaining more power and prominence in Vale as time went on. He didn't take any pride in some of the things he'd done, but he considered them as necessary. As brutal as they became, there was still a measure of honor that the White Fang upheld. There was still sense to all of it.

But now? he questioned, pulling out another book and setting it on the growing pile in his one arm. Madness.

That was the only way to describe the situation now. Many had already chosen to back out because of it and why wouldn't they? The humans that they had chosen to fight against were now in control of their operations - at least in Vale but who's to say it wasn't the case elsewhere? It wasn't unheard of for agents to enlist the help of humans to get what they needed, usually with bribery and threats against their families. Valuable intel and resources could be gained through such methods but those were small, temporary arrangements.

But then there was this group of humans that somehow weaseled into their ranks. They brought weapons and other valuable equipment but it had gone beyond that. The faunus they'd been supplying they now commanded and Tukson had come face-to-face with them before and seen for himself just what kind of humans they were: disgusting, loathsome criminals that thought themselves above the animals that they'd associated with, the faunus able to sense the aura of arrogance and mockery that they gave off whenever they were around.

And faunus had died because of them. The ones who'd chosen to back out were eliminated whether at the hands of these humans or with orders that had come from them which their leaders then relayed to their own assassins without question. All for the sake of this plan that Tukson had managed to catch wind of...

It became too much. If what he heard and what he saw was true, then this was all only the beginning. Innocent faunus lives were to be sacrificed, all for a goal that he couldn't understand anymore. Worse yet, he didn't know who's goals they were anymore; theirs or these humans'.

Which was why he was leaving Vale. He already had his bags packed and a one-way ticket to Vacuo where the White Fang's influence hadn't reached. He recently finished secret negotiations with a buyer for his shop and today he would sell what he could to make the most of what he could. He could never escape from the sins he committed and he prayed fruitlessly every night since his decision for forgiveness but he could at least get away before the worst was to come.

It'll be over soon, he assured himself, trying to calm his nerves. When he found the last book he needed and created two separate towers to carry to the front of the store, he told himself that he just needed to get through this last day and he could leave it all behind. Once he left Vale, so too would he leave all this insanity and he could find a nice, quiet place to spend the rest of his years in peace.

When he began to hum a tune to himself, he found it working. Banishing the troubles from his mind and replacing them with the feel and smell of worn books, he started to relax. He just needed to focus on work and he'd be done in no time.

As if on cue, the bell at the front counter suddenly rang, signaling the arrival of a customer.

"Be right there!" Tukson called. Taking the two heavy stacks of books in his arms, he backed through the swinging door that separated the front from the backstock. His vision blocked, he nonetheless greeted his customers. "Welcome to Tukson's Book Trade: home to every book under the sun."

His heavy, gruff voice can be quite intimidating but when it came to dealing with customers for so long, he tamed it with enough confidence and friendliness that many of them admitted to being soothed by it. Setting the books at the end of the counter, he turned to continue welcoming his customer with a polite, "How may- uh..."

His breath briefly got caught in his throat when he sighted the girl who stood on the other side of the counter and one could blame it on her appearance. She had a thin, hourglass frame of brown skin which was plainly obvious due to how little she wore; a shallow-cut, olive undershirt that hid only what it was supposed to, leaving her flat stomach and curves of her waist totally exposed. The white top itself was just as revealing and exotic, open at the front to reveal the undershirt with a thin strip of fabric running beneath her chest while two thicker ones crisscrossed at her collar to circle around her neck. Similarly-white pants with brown chaps hugged her slender legs, ending at her calves, and a thick leather belt was wound twice around her hips, supporting a pair of holsters at her back where grips of what seemed to be two pistols protruded off to the sides. The weapons – or an armed teen in general - were not an unusual sight around Vale, what with the nearby Beacon Academy.

A friendly smile was on her smooth face, framed by mint-green hair that was chin-length save for the two long locks that hung down her back. As for her eyes, they were a startling color of dark, blood red.

Tukson only needed a second to recover and hoped that it was quick enough as he pleasantly asked, "How may I help you?"

"Just browsin'," came the reply, but not from the girl. Behind her, standing near the door with a book already in hand, was probably her companion: a boy about her age if not older - Tukson guessed they were on the cusp of adulthood -, although much paler. Tall, well-built, with slicked back silver-gray hair that was unkempt at the front. His eyes matched his hair as did one tone of the zip-up jacket and pants, the other tone being black. A bandana of some sort hung from his belt but Tukson couldn't make out the design that was on it. He didn't look armed but he was definitely armored, thin plates covering his arms and the back of his hands. Heavier, bulkier greaves covered his shins and the front of his boots.

"Actually, I was wondering..." the girl suddenly spoke, her voice light and pleasant. Leaning against the counter and better showing off the beads and armband that were around her left arm, she asked, "Do you have any copies of The Thief and The Butcher?"

The name came instantly to Tukson as well as its availability as he nodded. "Yes, we do."

"That's great." She said nothing more, fixing him with that smile that had the addition of pearly-white teeth.

"Would a copy?" Tukson asked after a few more moments of silence.

"No. Just wondering."

There came a slam from behind the girl, attracting her and Tukson's attention to the young man who had loudly closed a book which he was now returning to its place as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. Tukson took a moment to steady his heart that had jumped at the noise.

"Oh, oh!" Turning back around to face him, the girl asked, "What about Violet's Garden? In paperback."

A more classical piece of literature but before Tukson could reply, the boy lifted a book up. "He's got it. Hardback, too."

"Ooh, options are nice," she commented.

"Eh, no pictures." Closing the book with another, one-handed slam, he dropped it onto the table before swiveling to Tukson. "Hey, do you have any comics?"

"Near the front," Tukson informed, his store possessing its own section for 'visual novels'. There was still a decent demand for them, typically from collectors who found more value with physical copies.

"Oh! No, wait!" Drawing back to the girl, it was to see her leaning a bit more over the counter, her expression changing. Her smile had thinned, those red eyes narrowing intently - uncomfortably so - and her next words were equally intense and slow. "What about...Third Crusade?"

"Um..." Here Tukson paused and he witnessed the girl take note of it, her lips curving into another smile that was less pleasant and more victorious. At her back, the boy was giving them unique attention, standing still with another book in hand.

Tukson furrowed his brow, attempting to recollect whether he had it or not. The Third Crusade was a fictional recounting of one of the ancient conflicts, supposedly the conflict that led to the establishment of Mistral when humankind, after the construction of Vale and Vacuo on Vytal, attempted and succeeded in developing a kingdom in another of Remnant's continents, creating the Mistral Trade Route; an unobstructed sea lane between Mistral and Vacuo. The book itself had its own measure of infamy and criticism, particularly concerning the character of the human general who rallied the support needed for his campaign and, later, obtaining the help of various tribes of faunus natives who he stumbled upon shortly after landing.

The general got his victory, but as for the promises he made to the faunus...they did not turn out so well and the author had a rather controversial opinion concerning the faunus in general that was quite apparent in his writing.

That controversy was a reason why Tukson didn't have it...and he wondered if the girl knew that too. Admitting defeat, Tukson replied, "I...don't think we carry that one."

A third slam. "Oh," the boy echoed.

"What was this place called again?" the mintette questioned, her smile and voice no longer sweet, now tainted with a measure of familiar mocking.

Tukson didn't let it rattle him, evenly stating, "Tukson's Book Trade."

"'re Tukson?"

He nodded. "That's right."

"So then I take it that you're the one who came up with the catchphrase?"


"And what was it again?" the paler human queried.

Tukson sighed. He knew where this was going. "Tukson's Book Trade: home to every book under the sun."

"Except the Third Crusade," came the rude counter.

He shrugged. "It's just a catchphrase."

"It's false advertising!"

"You shouldn't make a promise you can't keep, Tukson." The girl's smile had completely vanished with that. Her brows lowered threateningly, those blood red eyes taking on a more menacing appearance. "I hear you're planning on leaving. Moving all the way to Vacuo..."

The lights suddenly dimmed and the suspicion that Tukson had developed when he noted how the boy hadn't moved an inch from the door proved to be valid. A suspicion of how it was a perfectly good spot to keep anyone from leaving - or entering - the store. It also kept him in reach of the light switches, his fingers passing over another so that another section of lighting went out.

It did horrible things to the girl's darkening expression. "Your brothers in the White Fang wouldn't be happy to hear that. And neither are we."

Her companion slid his fingers along the last switch, plunging the room into near-darkness. Enough for Tukson's night vision to compensate, letting him see the arrogant smirk of the girl as plain as day. "You know who we are, don't you?"

Tukson stood rigidly behind the counter. He knew who they were. He knew as soon as he laid his eyes on her. "Yes."

" know why we're here?"

"Yes," he confirmed quietly. He took a slow step backwards but knew it was useless. There was no back entrance - no other way out from the truth that had followed them as soon as they entered his shop:

He was about to die.

"So...are you going to fight back?"

Her silvery-haired partner had already moved further into the store, stopping only a few steps behind her to cover her back. He had that same look on his face as she did: that despicable, smug look that told him that they knew that it was pointless. That, to them, he was nothing more than a bug that needed to be exterminated like the several others that perished whether by their hands or commands. The only thing that he could do to make it easier for them was to roll over and die.

But he wasn't going to. Not to these humans!

"YES!" he snarled. His hands snapped at his sides, claws unsheathing before he was leaping onto the counter. A similar change happened in his mouth, teeth lengthening into fangs that he bared towards the two as he growled. To his pleasure, both stepped back at his show of his resistance and he leaped at the girl, intending to slash her face before she had a chance to go for her holstered weapons.

She ducked, his claws just missing her hair as he went over her. When he directed his gaze to the boy, it was to see that he had already recovered and, at this angle, Tukson could see what he hadn't seen before concerning his greaves: the line of shells that were loaded and roped around his ankles. He got an even closer look when the boy lifted his foot and aimed a kick right into the faunus when he was still in mid-air.

There was a loud, deafening bang and what felt like a sledgehammer slamming right into his face. The force carried him up, head smacking into the ceiling, and when he fell it was to get hit with another powerful blast into his chest that sent him back the way he came, knocking over the stacks of books he placed on the counter before dropping to the floor.

For a while Tukson couldn't hear anything and his vision swam, refusing to center itself. His chest felt numb and his limbs weren't obeying him, leaving him partially slumped against the wall. Red began to slowly spread across his vision which finally stilled, letting him see that the color was due to a growing pool of blood that spread around his splayed legs. It was a struggle to keep his eyes open and he could barely breathe; nothing was coming through his nose and when he tried to breathe through his mouth he felt something sticky and wet blocking his airway.

When two pairs of feet came within sight, there was nothing he could do as he couldn't so much as lift his head. It took all he had just to stay awake. The only thing he could do was listen.

"A bit anti-climactic," he barely made out, the voice he heard male. "For all the fuss and how long it took to find this place, I was expecting him to be tougher."

"What did you expect?" came the other, the girl's. "Just another mutt like all the rest. Only good they are is to fight and die where we tell them to."

Even so far gone and in so much pain, the rage managed to break through at hearing the words. Yet no matter how much came to him, there was nowhere near enough for him to do anything. He still tried, attempting to push himself up while a wet, guttural noise that could barely be considered as a vengeful growl broke through.

"Doesn't even have the sense to know when he's already dead." A pause. "Well, this was your idea. Want to do the honors?"

"You can be such a gentleman when you try, Mercury."

"I'll try to do it less."

One of those pistols that the girl had been carrying came into view: an olive-colored revolver with a thick barrel. The added thickness turned out to be a folded blade which partially flipped and extended, gaining a sickle-like appearance. It was like a mantis's claw that was being prepped to take his head off.

"I'll be in the comics section when you're done," her companion spoke one last time, the armored greaves and boots stepping away, out of view.

"Won't take more than a second."

Not like...this, Tukson denied, his thoughts seemingly immersed in a drunken haze. He had sworn when he first took on the White Fang's cause that if he was to die it wasn't to be like this: at the feet of those who looked down upon his kind as these two did, waiting for slaughter. No matter how much he tried though, there was nothing he could do as that claw lifted and disappeared, his body unable to do anything but bleed out.

Not like-

When the claw came back down, it ended that thought and his life.

"Man, that's harsh," Neptune commented.

"So then we were fighting side-by-side, and she was super fast, and I threw a banana at a guy – which sounds gross – but was awesome!"

Trust his partner to get into trouble when left by himself. They had been informed since the beginning of the year that, with the coming of the Vytal Festival, teams from their school Haven Academy would be selected to take part in activities such as the tournament and even attending missions within the territory of Vale. The actual selection didn't come until near the end of the first semester, and Team SSSN had been one of the lucky ones chosen to go.

As was usually the case, Sun wasn't one for waiting. When you tell him that he's going to Vale, the part of 'within the next couple weeks' kind of flies right over his head. Which was why, when Scarlet and Sage came to him with an inquiry of Sun's whereabouts, Neptune knew that the monkey faunus was probably on the first boat out of Mistral as they spoke. There was nothing that they could really do except cover for him and wait until their assigned travel date on one of the vessels that Haven booked to transport their students.

Sure enough, after arriving at Vale's docks and traveling to the nearby skyport to take an airship to Beacon, Sun was waiting for them at the platform as soon as they disembarked and couldn't wait to drag Neptune away and regale him with retellings of his latest adventure while Scarlet and Sage were left to figure out their assigned lodging for the entirety of their stay.

And, Neptune had to admit, out of all the mischief that Sun had pulled off – some of which Neptune had been roped into as an accomplice -, this one took the cake. Faunus extremists, a high-profile criminal, attempted theft of crate-loads of Dust – all because of a girl who happened to catch his eye while fleeing from police after disembarking from a ship that, as Neptune predicted, Sun had stowed away on.

So there was nothing but admiration in his voice as he complimented, "Nice!"

"Right?" Grinning, Sun continued leading him through Beacon's courtyard with an excited spring to his step, having been supplementing his story with wild hand motions. "And the best is: she's a faunus!" A hand suddenly flew to his mouth, Sun's eyes going wide, and a second later he stressed, "But that's a secret, okay?"

"Got it," Neptune responded with a note of exasperation. This was far from the first time that Sun let him in on a secret, typically in this manner.

And Sun knew what usually happened afterwards. "And not a, 'I'm gonna tell Scarlet the second Sun turns his back' secret. I'm talking secret, secret."

"Woah, chill out, man, okay? I got it." He lifted his knuckles and lightly tapped his partner on the shoulder as he repeated, "I got it."

"You better."

Neptune snorted derisively.

"I just don't wanna screw this up, ya know? The people here are the coolest! No offence to you guys."

"None taken," Neptune assured, knowing how important this was to Sun. It had been the same when they started in Haven, Neptune having first met the faunus who would end up as his teammate and partner when Sun had only recently moved from Vacuo. Suffice to say, switching away from a desert kingdom had its own bumps with Sun's preference for lighter clothing that he left open like all his shirts being the least of his concerns. They were multiplied due to his heritage and being thrust into a combat school.

They got along well though; him and Sun and, later, Sage and Scarlet. Before that, there was that nervousness that Sun exuded now at finding himself in yet another new kingdom, in another new combat school, and another host of new faces that he wanted to make a good impression on. As excited as he was and how easygoing and confident he could appear, he was no more immune to first day jitters as anyone else.

And although he wasn't sure about how cool the people here were, Beacon was already proving to have a fair share of attractive-looking ladies and Neptune had his attention momentarily pulled away by a giggling pair who were passing them. Catching their eyes, he threw them a wink and his signature grin of sparkling white teeth and was satisfied when they returned it with embarrassed smiles of their own and slight duckings of their heads.

Yeah, he was liking it here already. It helped that Beacon uniforms were nearly identical to Haven ones, particularly when it came to skirt lengths. But then there were the bunch of killjoys with their trousers and jackets. Seriously, they weren't in Atlas anymore. Weren't they hot in those things?

"Okay, they're just in here," Sun said, pointing to the large double doors of the larger building that Neptune guessed was the cafeteria, Sun having mentioned that the friends he wanted to introduce him to should be at lunch by now. Sun stopped him before they ventured in. "I'm really excited for you to meet them so…be cool, okay? You're gonna be cool, right?"

Neptune quirked a brow. "Dude." What became a reflex, Neptune straightened into a posture that included arms crossed loosely over his chest and a slight angling of his head to better catch the sun so that his teeth could sparkle once more.

Sun nodded, convinced. "Good point."

He wasn't usually one for self-flattery but Neptune would be remiss if he didn't say that he had been writing the book on how to be cool since before Haven. Lesson one: girls were a lot less interested in the condensing of power sources and alternating energy currents to provide more cutting power to bladed weaponry – his weapon, obviously, being the prime example – as they were to upturned jacket collars, straps, and tinted goggles worn beneath undercut hair. Blue hair in his case which made it all the better.

Lots of hits and misses when it came to those learning experiences. He intended to be more on target with Beacon now that he learned from his previous mistakes.

Nothing that he learned could've prepared him for what awaited them when Sun opened the cafeteria doors and they stepped inside.


The call was taken up by a mass of fleeing students who rushed by them, forcing Neptune to step out of the way of some of them unless he be trampled. His partner wasn't disturbed in the least, standing where he was with students running past him, the largest grin he ever had on his face as he stared into the center of the cafeteria.

When the horde had emptied out of the building, Neptune was finally able to see what the commotion was about…and he had no idea as to what it was that he was seeing. What the…?

Blake couldn't even fathom how it came to this.

This: tables that had once been perfectly aligned and topped with food having been toppled, scattering their contents throughout what had become a battleground. What survivors that could have fled, clearing out to make way for the rise of the new ruler who claimed dominion over this swathe of territory within Beacon's grounds.

She was standing high upon her monument that signaled her conquest: a number of tables that had been repurposed for the construction of her makeshift castle that had her standing triumphantly above her conquest. With hands on her hips, chest jutting out, her victorious laughter carried as far as the walls would allow it. As did her declaration.

"I'm queen of the castle! I'm queen of the castle!"

At Nora's right hand and one level below her was Pyrrha, the champion of Mistral standing firm with arms crossed. Further down, Ren and Jaune guarded the base of their queen's domain upon pedestals of knocked over vending machines of Dr. Piper and People Like Grapes soda.

Their position seemed indomitable and succeeded in chasing away the minor rabble. One must wonder how this self-proclaimed queen and her soldiers could be overcome.

Ruby Rose was more than ready to try. Stomping her foot upon one of the few remaining benches left standing, the younger leader stabbed a finger towards the opposing team, a carton of Udder Satisfaction milk clutched in her hand as she promised, "Justice will be swift! Justice will be painful!" She crushed the carton, milk squirting between her clenched fingers. She held the remains up as a show of her defiance and finished, "It will be…DELICIOUS!"

The justice she called for was for the assault of one of her subjects: a one Weiss Schnee. A small skirmish between Nora and Yang – flinging and catching food with their mouths that they passed to one another – had unfortunately caught the innocent Weiss in the crossfire in time for her to get a face full of pie, thrown by none other than the mistress of Magnhild. As wars tended to go, one declaration of conflict led to another until the entirety of RWBY and JNPR had become involved.

So at her leader's call, what could Blake possibly do other than stand with the rest of her teammates, fists raised high in the air as they all shouted, "YEAH!"

Nora grinned maniacally at the opposition before she sent out her order of battle. "Off with their heads!" She jumped from her perch, hands clutching a table full of uncut watermelons, and with a heave she catapulted them all towards the forces of RWBY. Her subjects were quick to follow, retrieving and throwing their own fruity missiles to support the volley.

Ruby stared up at the incoming projectiles, undaunted as she ordered, "Yang, turkey!"

Her sister obeyed instantly, taking the lead as she rolled on the floor, shoving her hands into the abandoned poultry and coming back to her feet, smacking the fleshy gauntlets together as she took on the incoming attack. She punched one watermelon, the fruit disappearing in a spray of seeds and fruit juice, quickly followed by a second, and then she was charging and pushing on through as she intercepted and turned the following ones into pulp.

As her partner, Blake refused to leave Yang on her own. When there came a break after the first volley, she flipped over the blonde and landed in a crouch, seizing her own armaments. Normally, the baguettes would be highly outclassed in the face of watermelons but an extension of her Aura that encompassed and strengthened them turned them into weapons suitable for her purposes by the time the second volley came in. She lashed out with one in each hand, the long loaves of bread pulverizing the watermelons.

Yang returned the favor by similarly jumping over Blake and kicking the last. Their foes had run out of ammo by this point and Yang used the opening to fire a return barrage, a one-two punch to shoot her turkeys off her hands and towards the opposition. Pyrrha got out of the way but Jaune wasn't so lucky. One turkey struck him in the head, the other his stomach, and the J of JNPR was already out of the game as he flopped to the floor.

One down, three to go, Blake listed, already making a bid to stack the odds more in their favor as she rushed Pyrrha, hoping that the felling of the boy would distract her long enough for Blake to take her out in one sweep.

It wasn't long enough, the spartan hopping away to avoid impalement from Blake's grain-based swords and even arming herself with a loaf of her own. She came in with a heavy overhead strike, Blake blocking it, and the two glared at each other with gritted teeth, struggling to overpower the other with neither gaining ground. In the end, Pyrrha disengaged to perform a spinning swing that Blake avoided with her Semblance, a clone being left behind for the bread to cut through.

Unfortunately, Pyrrha had already become accustomed to it over the semester, easily spinning back around when the clone gave Blake the boost to flip over her and the redhead intercepted the flurry of blows that she performed. A second attempt of the maneuver with another clone proved just as ineffective when Blake went into the air again, this time throwing one of her swords, and Pyrrha jumped back to evade it before charging in with a powerful thrust – powerful enough to break her weapon against Blake when she landed and sending the faunus flying back.

Even when she hit the ground, Blake slid a good couple of meters on her back until she came to a rest. Whether it be a finely-crafted blade out from the forge or food out of the oven, Pyrrha Nikos lived up to her reputation it seemed, Blake taking a moment to recover while she watched the ongoing battle.

Yang fared little better, having fallen to accurate javelin-throwing that translated just as well when the javelins were more bread. With two of her teammates temporarily out of the fight from the same opponent, Ruby chose to personally engage Pyrrha herself, racing towards her with the help of a lunch tray that was not so much a weapon but an improvised surfboard that glided along the only intact row of tables. Bread shot past the younger girl, and a quick kick into the air got her into a position to use the tray to slap one loaf back towards Pyrrha.

She ducked under it but it left her open for when Ruby launched herself from the table and came down with a tray-assisted drop kick. Pyrrha held up her arms to stand against it and it lasted until another forceful push from Ruby's legs against the tray successfully overcame her defenses and sent her away.

At this point, the queen of the castle charged into the fray, Ren backing her up. Instead of going to meet them, Ruby retreated so that the one who had been slighted the most out of them all could finally get her shot in. Wielding her chosen of bottle of ketchup, Weiss stabbed the nozzle into the floor and squeezed, a jet of red sauce streaking across the floor and towards the NR duo. Ren was the unfortunate one to be tripped up, yelping as he fell, slid along the now very slick floor, and plowed into an assortment of discarded trays, tables, and all manner of food.

Nora, on the other hand, jumped clear over the disaster and did so high enough to grab and snap free a length of an overhanging pole. She stabbed one end into a surviving watermelon when she returned to the ground and, with her impromptu hammer, struck.

Her original target had been Weiss but a red blur suddenly appeared in front of her, materializing into Ruby. She took the blow meant for her partner when Nora smashed her weapon into the ground, the shockwave that was amplified by her Aura enough to hurl Ruby away, the cloaked girl's cries petering out before being silenced entirely.

The Schnee heiress tossed aside her bottle of ketchup, knowing it was inadequate, and traded it for an entire swordfish, the long bill that it derived its name from a perfect substitute for her rapier as her opening thrust drove Nora back. Momentarily anyway, as the melon hammer-wielder immediately sought to reengage, spinning the pole over her head while the fruity business end struck at Weiss again and again, the fish-fencer deflecting most of them.

One got through and Blake had to wince at the powerful swing that struck Weiss and propelled her across the entire expanse of the cafeteria, her flight ending when she collided with a pillar. The pillar itself cracked and broke, the top half separating and following after Weiss who was falling limply to the floor. Before Blake had a mind to save Weiss, that red blur returned, snatching the white-themed girl out from mid-air and to safety.

Ruby held Weiss tight against her as they rolled across the floor together, shielding her with her body. When she came to her knees, it was to look fearfully down to her partner while she shook her frantically. "Weiss. Weiss! Don't leave me!"

Weiss didn't respond, her eyes closed and lying almost lifelessly in Ruby's arms as the swordfish's tail slipped through her limp grip.

"Nooooo!" Ruby wailed.

Blake blew out a breath of exasperation. Alright, break's over.

With one half of RWBY incapacitated – one from crashing into masonry, the other through overblown grief -, it was up to the other half to recover from this setback. Yang was already running in, hands once again gloved with turkeys, and Ren was choosing to go against her by dual-wielding leeks. They met in the middle, issuing separate battle cries with Yang striking with a kick that Ren guarded against with his selected vegetables.

Being two martial artists, Blake had to admit that it was impressive to watch as they went at it. Kicking, punching, ducking – even when so close the two were maneuvering around each other's blows while unleashing their own. Sadly for Ren, it was Yang who had the power and the poultry to eventually break through his flimsier defenses, one turkey hitting him above and behind his head which positioned his chin too well for the uppercut that lifted him off his feet and high into the air. At the apex of his ascent, Ren managed to twist his body around to better throw the leeks down at Yang.

Yang sprung upwards, not only avoiding the leeks but coming up to Ren's level. Hanging in the air and unarmed, there was nothing for the boy to do except take another cooked bird to the face, sending him streaking right back down to the earth with the forceful collision creating a small crater. An attempt to get up and keep fighting ended in failure, Ren weakly pushing himself up an inch before his strength gave out.

Yang didn't have time to celebrate her victory. As soon as her feet were back on the ground, they were pushing her back in order for her to avoid a swinging watermelon. Nora pursued with another swing and, after avoiding that one, Yang stood her ground and threw one fist forward at the same time that Nora began to perform an underhand swing.

The extra reach that Nora was granted with the pole won out. The watermelon hit and shattered upon impact and Yang was tumbling end-over-end straight up, shouting all the while until she broke through the ceiling of the cafeteria and disappeared.

Blake had to somersault out of the way of the falling debris that resulted. The battle up to her, she snatched the next available weapon to her: a long rope of sausage links. Twirling them around her body, she built up the momentum to whip them towards Nora, slapping her into one of the previous vending machines. Soda cans spilled free and Nora used the idea they bred to pick up several, shake them hard, and start throwing them at Blake.

The faunus abandoned her sausages in favor of being able to flip away from the first can which exploded into a burst of grape-flavored, carbonated liquid. More followed but Blake easily dodged the individual cans…until Pyrrha came in. Before Blake knew it, after she completed another flip and prepared to dodge another, she found herself facing not one or two but an entire storm of cans with Pyrrha right in the heart of it. When she thrust her arms out towards her, Blake was given a full, horrifying example of what happened when one who controlled polarity had the right tools available.

She stood no chance. She was lucky enough to dodge the first half dozen but when one exploded too close and she got some of the soda in her eyes, she was at the mercy to the dozens more that took advantage to collectively overwhelm. Blake was thrown back against the wall and all she could do was cover her face as can after can hit and burst open, covering her from head to toe in sticky grape, orange, lemon-lime, and all other manner of beverages.

After what felt like the hundredth can, Blake fell to her knees, hair and uniform clinging to her like a second skin while her tongue was covered in a mixture of flavors where the word 'unpleasant' didn't even begin to describe the horrid taste. Then she dropped facedown, defeated.

When she dared to raise her head to get a look at the battlefield, it really looked as if any chance of victory had been dashed. Yang had yet to return from her trip through the cafeteria roof, Weiss still refused to get up, and Ruby…

Despite her losses, Ruby stood tall before Pyrrha and Nora, leaving her partner to rest on the floor. Blake couldn't see her leader's face but the tightly-clenched fists at her sides told the faunus enough to know that surrender or retreat was not on Ruby's mind. She was proven correct when Ruby dipped down into a running stance…and then she ran.

Pushing her Semblance to the max, an enormous tailwind was produced in Ruby's wake, the high winds overpowering Pyrrha's control over the remaining soda cans which followed after the red speedster…as well as everything else that was picked up to create a hurricane of food. She dashed past JNPR, including the recovering Jaune and Ren, and they were all lifted up and sucked into the vortex.

At the other end of the cafeteria, Ruby skidded to a halt while the opposing team flew over her head and became pinned against the wall. Then she was jumping up towards the ceiling, grabbing hold of the rafters to remain in place while leaving JNPR at ground zero to the wrath of the Lunch Gods with baguette strikes, soda shelling, cluster-bombing of a mix of table and silverware, and a whole list of other munitions whether they be grain, dairy, fruits, fish – everything that the food pyramid had to offer.

Even as the mixed flavors of soda stuck to her form, Blake had to admit that JNPR got it worse. By the time the hurricane winds had been dispersed to unveil the multi-colored canvas that had been painted and left behind, she couldn't make out any of the members…not until they peeled themselves off the wall and left their very obvious imprints behind before collapsing in a heap.

A moment later, Ruby dropped down and how she stood so tall and with a smile so bright, there was no one left to contest how victory had undoubtedly been attained for Team RWBY.

"I love these guys," Sun said.

Neptune just turned to glare at him, face, hair, and jacket stained with purple shrapnel of a too-near detonation of carbonated materials.

The double doors behind them flew open with enough force to bounce off the walls. When the two turned, it was to see an older woman striding in. Despite the librarian getup, the violent entrance, the fierce scowl on her face, and the low growl she made got the two partners to quickly edge out of her way so that she could pass by, a tattered cape trailing behind her.

She took one look around before making a motion with her hand towards an array of broken dishes, the shattered remains that were strewn about suddenly moving on their own. As if a puzzle solving itself, the pieces shifted before coming together, reforming into the plates with the cracks disappearing like magic. The blonde woman's riding crop came up next, waving in the air, and the entire cafeteria got up to follow her commands. The long serving table got up to retake its position at the end of the room with the remade plates floating over and neatly stacking themselves on top.

The rest of the tables fell into line – literally – as they mimicked the first by either floating or tumbling along to organize themselves into perfectly neat rows, benches sliding into place beneath them soon after. Vending machines turned themselves upright while unexploded soda cans were fed back in and dents buffed themselves out. Food that wasn't utterly demolished similarly recovered and resumed their proper places while the messes left behind by those that were were wiped away, including the giant, multi-colored smear on the wall that was the mark of the defeat for one warring teams. Trash cans and recycle bins stood dutifully to take in what couldn't be salvaged.

One final slamming gesture with her crop signaled the end when the last table was set into place and no longer did it look like an all-out war had taken place. She made one quick survey of her handiwork, fingers pushing her glasses up to the bridge of her nose, and then she was rounding on the perpetrators.

"Children, please," she said, that scowl firmly in place, "do not play with your food."

The seven students in question looked particularly chastised, their gazes turning to the floor or off to the side; anywhere but the irritated woman. That air was broken when one of them – a girl with short orange hair – belched loudly and grins were struggling to be hidden.


And then it all came apart when the girl who Neptune witnessed getting smashed through the ceiling came back through it, creating another hole as she fell to the floor with another pile of rubble. The grins immediately turned into laughter. The woman looked ready to snap at them until a hand was placed on her shoulder and Neptune recognized the new arrival immediately.

"Let it go," the headmaster of Beacon himself gently instructed. Neptune hadn't even noticed Ozpin's entrance, the man having entered so quietly that he was only aware of him when he passed him and Sun.

The woman, clearly another professor, turned and reluctantly followed, breathing out slowly as she forced herself to relax before looking to her laughing students. "They're supposed to be the defenders of the world."

"And they will be. But right now they're still just children. So why not let them play the part?" Removing his hand from her shoulder, he was already making his way to leave despite having only just arrived. He either didn't notice or didn't care about the two foreign students, not giving them so much as a glance as he passed them. "After all, it isn't a role they'll have forever."

Neptune watched the headmaster leave and, after taking a long look at her students, the woman was pivoting on her heel and doing the same.

Well, that was a bit of a downer, he mentally commented when the double doors settled closed again.

But, hey, attractive girls and a headmaster that lets his students get away with destroying a cafeteria? Sun was right: Beacon was shaping up to be a very interesting place.

Yang picked herself up from the floor, hands brushing the skirt of her uniform. Regarding her laughing teammates, a wide grin spread across her face and then she was giving them all a thumbs-up, initiating another round of laughter which she joined in on. Blake was quicker to regain control of herself, her laughs dwindling into giggles that she vainly attempted to muffle beneath her palms. Meanwhile, she observed her friends.

Weiss, having recovered from Nora's blow at this point, was brought low again when her own mirth forced her to drop onto a bench, failing worse than Blake at hiding it. Ruby had already taken a seat on top of the table but her sister's entrance and how she so easily brushed it off had her collapsing onto her back, hands clutching her sides. Unlike Weiss, she wasn't even trying to smother her laughter although she had to weakly fend off some of her seated partner's snow-white hair with how close she was.

Over at JNPR, Pyrrha and Jaune were also lost in hysterics, the leader himself so much so that he nearly tripped and fell over completely if not for the arm that Pyrrha managed to wind around his to keep him up. Nora was currently distracted by a syrup stain on her arm, lapping at it with her tongue. Ren, on a bench with a hand over his face, would appear exasperated if not for how his shoulders shook and Blake spotting the corners of his lips being so high up.

The last of her giggles died off but the smile remained beneath Blake's hands. A warmth settled and spread along her chest as she reveled in the sights and sounds. They were all completely filthy and the faunus wondered if Goodwitch had done it on purpose as a small form of punishment. None of them seemed to mind; all of them so happy and finding such amusement in the aftermath of a food fight between what should be future Huntsmen and Huntresses in the most prestigious combat school that was geared to teaching them how to fight and kill savage monsters.

Right now, they were acting like normal teenagers. Having fun, enjoying what they could…and Blake was one of them. A teammate and a friend with no degree of separation or strings attached with these people who accepted her for who she was. This was made all the more apparent by Yang who caught Blake at the corner of her eye. Still giggling, her partner gave her a very obvious wink.

Her partner and girlfriend. The wink and what it reminded influenced a faint blush that was something else that Blake tried to hide.

She never thought she'd be in a situation where she'd be blessed by such things. A few months ago, she came to this place as a stranger who was distrustful of all these people who she was laughing with. This included an heiress to one of the several human establishments that Blake had once protested and then violently fought against. Associated with killers for so long, Blake had thought herself as lost with all this happiness having served to cause her unimaginable levels of pain when she realized just how good the world and its people could be and how she ruined every chance of being a part of it.

But she was deep in it, deeper than she ever expected to be. And, for once in her life, she was well and truly happy.

Her assumptions on some of Goodwitch's motives with her cleaning, Blake knew that the gray notebook that was nearby and that cold dousing that subjugated her mood was not some nefarious scheme of her professor. It drew her away from her friends, their laughter quieting the further she drifted from them and the closer she got to the notebook. She flipped open the gray cover as soon as she got to it.

It was random but the wear that built up when one turned and left a page open in a book for so long and so many times made it accursedly easy to turn to it. The notes that Blake wrote indicated that she had been spending a lot of time and effort here. As did the doodles.

In the middle of one page within the center of her notes was a circle, inside of which was the drawing of a wolf head. There were noticeable fangs but they were close together, the fearsome animal passive and expressing no ill intent.

On the other page was a rose in full bloom and she had taken care when it came to the detail of each petal; delicate and beautiful. While Blake had a leader who possessed a name and a symbol of such a flower, it didn't possess the tall, thorny stem like this one did. Instead, it belonged to the man who had been drawn higher up, that same rose on the back of his trench coat partially obscured by the sheathed sword.

Whenever Blake had looked at him from the back, it was always hard to see the signs of his heritage amidst his spiky hair. It was the same when she drew him and she doubted anyone would identify the small signs that she made of the two horns except her.

An arm suddenly came around her shoulders, pulling her off to the side, and something wet slid along her cheek. Snapping the notebook shut, Blake whipped her head over to find the smiling face of Yang who was smacking her lips.

"Lemony with a hint of Blake," Yang identified brightly, that sunny smile that Blake had come to love open and warm.

The blush came back anew with added strength and Blake chose to bury her face into the crook of Yang's neck. Though her hair and skin was sticky and gross, the faunus didn't mind it in the least. The love and warmth that came with being so close to her girlfriend and the safety of being able to take shelter in it was indescribable.

"Whatcha doing?"

But it wasn't enough. Even with the comfort she derived from what of Yang she could get from the outside while she possessed a more internal and deeper connection within her heart, it wasn't enough to block out the weight of the notebook that had become unbelievably heavy in her hand as did the bow that was on the top of her head.

It was all too new and early. Incredible as all this was, it was not infallible – nothing was. Wherever there was light, there was always darkness to challenge it. As deep as she was in this happiness, it was nowhere near enough for her to forget that, beyond the walls of this building and that of Beacon, there were dark forces at play.

"Nothing," Blake replied, keeping the fear out of her voice and what was on her face hidden.

The fear that, when the time came, everything here would wilt away in the face of what their enemies were planning next.

The crate slid down the loading ramp of the Bullhead and a polished boot stretched out to stop it at the end of its journey. The curved handle of a cane wedged itself within the seam of the lid with the right amount of force being applied to pry it open, revealing the contents.

Six rifles were set securely in the grooves of the foam padding. There was another layer beneath them that held six more but those were hidden while these specimens were in plain view. Gunmetal gray with red highlights, adjustable stocks at the back, integrated sights at the top, and the muzzle of a barrel right at the end that was ready to be pointed at anyone that a user wanted dead.

And after picking one up, the White Fang member pointed it right at Roman's chest.

The criminal took no mind to it. With Melodic Cudgel back at his side after using it as a crowbar, he used the cane for its intended purpose to put his weight on it while he stared over the top of the rifle and right into the slits of the faunus's mask. "Satisfied?"

He expressed no worries, entirely at ease. And why wouldn't he be? The gun wasn't loaded. All the ammunition was in separate crates that were being unstrapped and getting ready to be sent down the ramp to be ferried off. This wasn't his first gun run. Besides, not only would the animal not shoot at him but, if he did decide to act on that rather insane impulse, Roman would make sure that he would regret it for the rest of his life. All three seconds of it.

Luckily, the faunus proved that there was some measure of a brain between those mouse ears. Or at least Roman assumed there were a set of ears to go with that thin, pink tail what with the hood. Either way, after setting the rifle back down, the faunus was assisted by another of his comrades to lift the case and set it on a dolly to wheel it off with the rest of the cargo. By then another crate was being prepared to be sent down the ramp and with more faunus coming to unload, Roman made himself scarce.

The warehouse was abuzz with such activity. While the Bullhead was being unloaded with a couple overseers directing the flow of traffic and cargo, more of the uniformed radicals were high overhead along the catwalks, carrying and wheeling around more equipment. This wasn't restricted to the latest weapon delivery from their sources from Atlas as they'd already been in the middle of storing and inventorying the latest spoils of the recent heists that they pulled off.

As a career criminal, Roman had been a part of big illegal operations in the past but this was a whole new level. The signs had been there earlier, specifically the pay that was being offered to him by his employer when she sought him out and brought him on board, the resources that were given to him without so much of a batting of an eye like newly minted Bullheads, and even more money that was all but thrown at him when he was told to use whatever amount he saw fit to hire what help he needed through his contacts in the criminal underworld. It started off small at first and Roman had wondered if he was being tested before it was to be decided whether or not he would be brought further into the fold.

Big rewards were to be had. That was what his gut told him but even he couldn't predict the situation he found himself in now: virtually at the head of a growing army.

He didn't favor himself as much of a military commander but the pin-up of a city map of Vale would say otherwise. Intricate knowledge of the city streets, the patrol patterns of local police – which areas they congregated at the most and which they didn't give a damn about -, and even some hidden avenues and retreats that were used by some of his compatriots of crime. Such inside information would be quite useful for, say, a hypothetical attack on Vale itself.

That was really all Roman had to work with: guesses and assumptions. While he had stood in front of the map as he did now with gaze sweeping over the written notes, it came to him that while he had given all the necessary information there was to provide just as many advantages for a battle that would take place in the city, he was missing a lot of relatively important pieces. For example, how was this proposed battle supposed to not only occur within Vale, but how were you supposed to get the equipment you needed to conduct an effective one into the city in the first place?

Smuggling contraband was in his resume so Roman knew what you could get away with and what you couldn't. A couple crates of rifles were no mean feat but you were going to need a lot more than that. Vale may not have a standing army but, while a good chunk of the police force consisted of dumb cops, they could provide a good measure of resistance made even more of a challenge when there were the elite Huntsmen and Huntresses of Beacon and he had firsthand experience at what a small number of them could do to a couple squads of armed White Fang personnel. Worse yet, the ones he witnessed had been children.

He had never been given answers, quite the opposite. When asked by his employer as to what he needed to complete his task, he had answered 'more men'. When he got that, he then said 'more equipment'. After that, more men and more equipment. All for one task: Dust. Always the Dust. This warehouse was filled nearly to the brim with huge cargo containers of the stuff but his orders had remained unchanged: steal more Dust.

It had been a long while since Roman found himself as an underling rather than a mastermind and he'd been chafing the whole while. His gut assured him that this was all going to be worth it but that didn't mean he had to like it, especially when it came to who he had to work with.

Other than a dirty pack of faunus, there were two people in particular who proved to induce the worst of headaches and not seeing them around lately was not a good sign. True, he was always happy to limit his interactions with them to the bare minimum but when they were without supervision for too long…children were most certainly children.

So when he turned at their arrival to see them standing there and giving him looks of disdain, his number one priority was to find out just what they'd been up to.

"Oh look, she sent the kids again," he spoke with feigned sweetness, striding over to the pair. His arms came up, each slinging around a set of shoulders, and he fought down the urge to tighten as much as possible to come as close as he could to throttling them. "This is turning out just like the divorce."

"Ugh," Emerald gagged, performing a shudder before pulling off his arm, Mercury doing the same. She seemed to take no notice of the brush of Roman's hand along her pocket after freeing herself. "Spare us the thought of you procreating."

"That was a joke," Roman replied, dropping the act as he returned to the map. He held up his hand, revealing a slip of paper held between his fingers. "And this just might tell me where you two have been all day."

"What!?" Emerald gasped, looking to where it had been pocketed at her side a second ago.

"I'm a professional, sweetheart," Roman informed her, taking some delight in her shock. "Pay attention, maybe you'll learn something." Reading what was on the paper and finding a familiar address written down, that small victory immediately turned sour, Roman switching from it to the amateur with a frown. "Why do you have this address?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?"

"Yeah, I would." I asked, didn't I? Taking a couple threatening steps towards her, he held the paper in front of her face. "Now, where have you been all day?"

"Cleaning up your problems," Mercury cut in, stepping up to the challenge. "One of them, anyway."

Roman immediately fixed him with a glare. "I had that under control."

"Two packed bags and a ticket out of Vale said otherwise."

Since first meeting these two, Roman knew immediately that he was going to end up loathing them entirely. Their continued cooperation only proved him right as he quickly caught on as to who he was dealing with: the unwanted wastes of society. Orphans, thrown out into the streets for some reason or another and picking at what scraps they could in order to continue their miserable existence and not having the good sense to give up if they weren't going to take control of their lives. Roman had earned his spot, having begun at the bottom of the totem pole before making his way up by keeping his head on his shoulders while the competition lost theirs. Those who had gotten in his way had turned up dead whether by his hand personally or through careful trickery and bribery and since reaching the top he kept his powerbase strong unless he wished for the exact same thing to happen to him.

In contrast, these two had the dumb luck to come into the good graces of a patron who picked them up from their wretched lives. And, somehow, they came under the mistaken assumption that what power and command that that patron held was transferable to them. Most likely, had things turned out differently and they'd been left to their own devices, they would've ended up in a ditch somewhere, dead and forgotten; something that seemed to have been lost on them with how they held themselves so high.

Roman had entertained several fantasies of how to rid himself of them, permanently, while rehearsing what he would say to his employer. A mysterious explosion? I'm so sorry to hear that, I really am, but could you honestly say that you expected anything less from the White Fang? Transport the detonators, then assemble them. Why, that's a good way to ruin a perfectly normal flight by having them active and set at the right frequency where one chance broadcast can blow them all.

Some weren't as intricate, or convincing. I'm sorry, I thought you said have an airship ready for them at six in the afternoon, not in the morning. I hope they don't know enough that could possibly compromise us if they decide to let it slip to their detainers. Would you like me to go out and silence them just in case?

Deciding to divulge one such fantasy to them, Roman approached Mercury, hand tightening on Melodic Cudgel. "Listen you little punk, if it were up to me, I would take you and your little street-rat friend here and I would-"

"Do what, Roman?"

Roman froze at the voice that echoed down from above and the smirk that crept up on Mercury's face told him that he hadn't concealed what had become an instinctive attack of anxiety whenever he heard that voice as well as he hoped. He tilted his head up and felt her burning gaze before the platform began its descent, lowering her down from the catwalk to bring her to ground level.

The hem of that dark red minidress and the trailing tail fluttered with the descent, adding to the already significant exposure of long, slender legs to the point where Roman could make out the black shorts worn beneath it. It was those legs that immediately attracted Roman's attention when she had first sauntered into their meeting spot with the proposal that landed him here. Out of all the women he had the pleasure and displeasure of meeting throughout his life, she easily topped them.

A true beauty to be sure; flawless skin, the legs which he already mentioned, the curves that the dress accentuated beautifully, and that long ebony hair that was draped over one shoulder with a few locks hanging over her left eye, soft and inviting. He always did have more of a thing for brunettes. Sultry, and that had been the case when they met…before she knocked him down from the top of his totem pole. Hard.

Seeing her now, and having been caught threatening her subordinates, caused a ball of ice to form in the pit of his stomach. He chuckled nervously, that once alien feeling of being so intimidated by the presence of one person having become familiar to him again thanks to her. He wasn't even ashamed when he hesitantly corrected himself with, "I'd, uh…not kill them?"

The platform came to a rest and she walked forward, each clinking of those glass high-heels like picks jabbing at his frozen intestines, the slight jingling of the jeweled anklets no better. Not once did her eyes stray from him; those captivating yellow-orange orbs narrow and fiercely intelligent. It was another quality that had stood out attractively but had warped into something far more satanic. Everything about her radiated power and the confidence to wield it, whether it be her walk or the gold designs that curled and looped around the sleeve of her dress, crossed over her chest, and went down the other where it took over the fabric along the backs of her hands and the ties around her middle fingers.

Her arrival had the opposite effect on Emerald, the girl staring at her with utter devotion. "Cinder!"

Just missing the ears and the tail, Roman noted, the girl akin to a young pup coming to the feet of its master. You know what they say about the adopted ones: always the most loyal.

Cinder didn't even pause or offer a glance, stepping past the approaching Emerald and that young pup looked as if she had just been kicked. No satisfaction was to be felt with Roman who remained a target as Cinder drew ever closer, questioning, "I thought I made it clear that you were to eliminate the would-be runaway."

"I was going to…" he started off slowly, wanting to choose his words carefully as she stopped and waited for them.

"He was going to escape to Vacuo," Emerald interjected, seeking to curry favor. "Mercury and I decided to take it upon ourselves to kill the rat."

"I think he was some sort of cat, actually," her partner pointed out with a wry grin.

"What, like a puma?"

"Yeah, there ya go."

"Quiet," Cinder ordered, that cool, controlled voice rising by the barest of fractions which was more than enough to silence the two with even Mercury's cockiness caving instantly. "Did I not specifically instruct you two to keep your hands clean while in Vale?"

It was only due to Cinder's back being turned to him that Roman thought it safe enough to point accusingly at them, making it plain that he was enjoying this. He drew that same finger across his throat in a slitting motion.

Although Mercury gave him a quick and discreet scowl, Emerald was too busy mitigating what damage she could. "I just thought-"

"Don't think," came the miniscule stress of authority again. "Obey."

Emerald hung her head in submission with Mercury appearing as chastised. "Yes, ma'am. It won't happen again."

"And you…"

Roman swallowed thickly, all humor vanishing under the gaze of those flame-tempered irises.

"Why wasn't this job done sooner?"

It really said something where, despite his fear of this woman and the folly of doing what he was about to do, Roman gave her a look that challenged the intelligence of the question. "Uh…eh?" He motioned to his right where the entire side of the warehouse was blocked by the neatly-rowed cargo containers, stretching all the way to the ceiling. "Ehhh?" The same gesture to his left showed the same thing. "Ehhhhhhhh!?"

The last was punctuated with both his arms, raised high above his head and were nowhere close enough to taking in the sheer amount of loot that was piled – some scattered for there was no other place to put them – all across the warehouse. "Sorry if I've been a little busy stealing every spec of Dust in the kingdom!"

"You're an inspiration to every punk with a gun and a ski-mask," said Mercury, Emerald suppressing a giggle in response.

Roman was very, very tempted to attempt the classic, 'I'm sorry, I didn't know my cane was loaded!' plan. Instead, he shot back with, "Look around, kid; I've got this town running scared. Police camping out at every corner, Dust prices through the roof, and we're sitting pretty in an old warehouse with more Dust crystals, vials, and rounds than we know what to do with! Speaking of which…"

He would always try now and again, usually when he listed off his rather significant contributions such as here to cajole a bit more information out of Cinder – to be let in just a bit more into the grand scheme that she had in the works. It wasn't a need to know for the sake of knowing that convinced him to try or to obtain some form of a bargaining chip over her as he knew to even attempt such a thing would result in a rather violent expulsion from their ranks. No, to be a bit more informed was to be granted a peace of mind with the knowledge that he was being allowed to know more because they still had a use for him and didn't have any motive to terminate his contract – and him – for the foreseeable future.

"If you guys wouldn't mind filling me in on your grand-master plan," he began, cloaking his unease with a dusting of agitation, "it might actually make my next string of robberies go a little smoother!"

It was here that there came a break in Cinder's intense countenance. Reverting back to that sultry woman who he first met, she stepped closer with an added sway to her hip that lifted that hem of her dress a breath higher, and she all but purred, "Oh, Roman…have a little faith." She reached up, fingers stroking along his chin. "You'll know what you need when you need to know."

The image she presented didn't last. Soon, her eyes, the designs on her dress, even the loop earrings in her lobes began to glow. The change was immediate: from a display of sympathy and camaraderie, to an aura of menace. That reassuring smile became predatory, the nails at his chin bent as if preparing to be painted in a different shade of red, and the temperature rose noticeably where she touched his skin.

It was the change that made the facts clear. The facts that she had forcefully laid down when they struck their deal and what she was reminding him of: she was the one in charge. She may've come and offered him a place at her side, one higher than most, but she could easily remove him from it and find a replacement if he proved to be more trouble than he was worth.

Don't think, he could read in her expression. Obey.

And what could he do but submit, lowering his gaze to break away from the infernal pit of fire and brimstone that burned within her eyes?

The hand fell away and the glow receded, the temperature returning to normal. When he looked back, it was to see her smiling, satisfied, as she said, "Besides, we're done with Dust."

He stared at her, needing a second to be sure that he heard right. "O…kay. Then what now?"

"We're moving." Turning her back to him, she began to move. "Have the White Fang clear out this building. I'll send you details and coordinates tonight."

His brows lowered in confusion. "Coordinates?"

The smile she tossed back to him was ominous. "We're proceeding to phase two."

Mercury and Emerald followed her lead, leaving Roman to stand there while the full meaning of what just happened sunk in. Cinder had given him what he wanted: an indication that, for a little longer at least, he was still useful to her. That minor victory was worth a cigar in his mind, already producing one from the inside of his suit and sticking it between his teeth. When he went to the pocket that usually held his lighter, he found it empty and he started patting himself down to look for it. Where…?

A recognizable click drew his attention up to see Emerald standing with a lighter in hand, a flame already burning. She made sure to have the face of the jack-'o-lantern directed towards him to let him know that it was his without a doubt. She stuck her tongue out towards him and then a flick of her wrist snapped it shut, snuffing out the flame.

Author's Note: *lays head amongst the shattered remains of his keyboard* Kill me.

Tumor: Later.

...Who was that?

Brain: ...Nobody. Don't worry about it.

Ooookay... *sighs* So, here I am...again. Honestly didn't think I'd be doing it again. Volume 2 started off great, I was excited, things were going along awesomely...and, well, I've visited enough forums and seen enough tumblr posts where many lengthy discussions had taken place concerning some of the shortcomings of Volume 2 that people took umbrage with. I tried soooo hard to fight off the urge but...

Brain: I'm very persistent.

Indeed. Now, what do I plan to do this time? When I did Soulbound, it was to make up for the lack of development concerning Team RWBY by expanding certain scenes or altering them entirely with the focus being on Weiss and Blake and their budding relationships with their partners and overcoming their racial conflicts in a more...realistic and dramatic way, all the while throwing in my own concepts such as Aura bonding. My mission is largely the same here as I will be expanding and altering scenes that focus on the still-growing relationships between our favorite pairings. This won't be strictly RWBY though since, as you've seen, I went to a couple different POVs in this chapter such as Tukson, Roman, and a tiny bit of Neptune's (although I think this'll be the only time I go into Neptune until near the end so for those who hold a particular grudge against him, don't worry). Throughout this fic I plan to go into POVs of various characters, most of them obvious such as Ozpin and a little bit of Glynda while others won't be so obvious. I might even surprise you with a couple.

Whereas in Soulbound I better addressed the human/faunus/Schnee/White Fang issue, for Reflection I'm going to try to better setup the fact that stuff's ready to go down and enemies really are gathering. At the end you had RWBY patting themselves on the back and all seems well except for some kingdom politics...yeah, no. The train and the breach was just the beginning and I'll make sure to drive that home rather than just having Cinder go "Nah, it's kewl". In particular, Blake will get it the most. I'm sorry Blake, you're just too easy to torment and that's what makes the Bumblebee sweeter. I mean, the fact that the White Fang and the demons she's left behind have followed her to Vale and are setting up for something truly diabolical that could potentially ruin the new life she's found...yeah, she's gonna get more than just an insomnia episode. There's one original scene of my own making that'll remind her about her old partner and how he may be closer than she likes to think. I know I'm gonna surprise people with it.

Now to address some concerns and questions you may have. First being the White Rose ship. While it'll still be remaining at the docks, I do plan to do plenty of shipbuilding. Just not enough to warrant an official pairing tag as I know some people were a bit disappointed that that ship didn't sail off into the horizon in Soulbound (I swear that I meant to do it when I first began it, it just didn't turn out that way). Another thing I'll be doing is cutting out a lot of the stuff that was just unnecessary or we were better off without. This'll mostly be no Cinder and the gang being smug for no reason in their rooms and no Jaune chasing after Weiss.

On that note, I'm sure there's two episodes in particular that you're aaaaaalllllll wondering about. Yeah, the dance is going to get a bit of an overhaul. The only other thing I'll be majorly changing is the final battle; gonna do a lot of expansion on that one to make it feel more like a final battle. Otherwise, I'm going to be throwing in a lot of my ideas and fan lore building - my favorite thing to do - as I did with Tukson, trying to make them as believable as possible based on what little we've learned to make up for the lack of universe info that was kind of missed out on. This will include borrowing one or two creations from other RWBY fans and implementing them here.

Alright, there we go. I know that this first chapter was probably a bit boring to people, specifically with the food fight, but this was mostly meant as a warm-up for me to get my head back in the game. Next chapter...not completely sure what I'm gonna do until I write it as there will be things I wanna sort out like what I wanna keep (the card game), what I wanna remove (Ozpin's talk with Blake), and what I'll change (the discussion that leads RWBY to taking on Torchwick and the Fang). It might turn out to be boring again, might be a bit short, but I promise that after that the ball will get rolling as my ideas are vast and extend throughout the rest of the Volume. Like I said, I thought Volume 2 started off great - it was mostly the middle and onwards that we started running into problems.

As a final note: I know what it is that I'm doing and hold no delusions. This is just a fanfic meant to cater to the fans and my own desires concerning the RWBYverse. I'm a simple writer who's only limited to a screen, a keyboard, and his own imaginations while it is Monty - may he rest in peace -, Miles, Kerry, Gray, the various voice actors/actresses, and the numerous animators and other personnel who put the real work into this series and who created this universe that we love so much to this day. RWBY is the rightful property of the great Monty Oum and RoosterTeeth and I just enjoy playing around with it.

Yep, long A/N. Can't promise that there won't be any more like it as I will be using them to express my opinions and thoughts on certain episodes after reading and listening to so many other fans since the end of the Volume about theirs but I highly doubt you'll read one this long again. See ya at the next chapter.