Hey everyone. This chapter is (very) late. I don't like to make excuses, but it boils down to how every time I'd planned to sit down and write, something would come up that resulted in my inability to do so.

I hope everyone enjoys. The next update will come sooner than this one, I can promise you that.

Oh, and life's been good! Later!

Beta: Knight of Cerberus

"Next battle (...) Everyone died. No damage dealt (...) Everyone."

Roman Torchwick drew in a long, relaxing breath through his smoldering cigar, and pulled it from his lips. He flicked the end of it with his thumb, then suffocated the dying flame with his gloved digit. The career criminal pocketed the remainder of his relief in his jacket, tugging his top tight around his shoulders.

His boss would be here any minute, though he loathed to refer to her as such. Cinder had long proven worthy of the title, but that didn't mean Roman gave it willingly.

"You gotta do what you gotta do." The words he'd expelled in smoke were a universal truth that crossed all boundaries and went beyond any law – though the man had long since ignored both.

Snorting to himself, the orange-haired man chuckled as his chair squeaked across the floor. Rising to his feet, he stepped towards the mirror stretching the length of the room, brushing the hair out of his eyes. Roman's vision narrowed as he scowled, seeing the sooty streak he left across his forehead taunting him.

The man wiped the mark away with the back of his glove before wheeling around and striding across the room. He lifted his hat from the coat rack by the door to his office and stepped out. The door closed behind him, latching with an echo that was nearly deafening in the relative silence.

The warehouse that had been home to racks filled with crates of Dust was empty. Even the tarp-covered Atlesian mechs that had dominated the floor in his most recent memory had been pulled out and sent away.

Beyond what had happened with the SDC cargo heist, preparations for their current phase went off without a hitch.

According to Neo, whom Roman had so reluctantly loaned to Cinder, grinding the Schnee twerp's wrist into dust had crippled her for the better part of the month. The man had no sympathy, especially since she and that blond bastard ruined a perfectly good streak of flawless heists.

Perhaps he should get back at Little Red too? Roman considered it for a moment, but shrugged it off as his feet clattered dully against the metal stairs. He didn't have the resources to track her down right now, and what she did interrupt was only a minor robbery in the grand scheme of things.

Revenge was petty. In the case of Ms. Schnee and one Mr. Arc, they at least would still pose a threat to operations while Cinder's team was at Beacon. That made his plans for dealing with them – and Neo's surveillance – completely necessary, though the man had to caution her many times of Beacon's headmaster.

That man was most certainly the wild card.

As Roman's shoes touched down on the concrete floor, the sound of a door squeaking open echoed across the empty warehouse's floor.

Roman secretly raised an eyebrow behind his hair as he rested his cane against the floor beside him, leaning on the support as Cinder closed the door behind her. The woman's heels clacked against the cement dully.

"You look good in that uniform." The criminal had to admit such, retrieving his half-spent cigar from his jacket pocket as he moved to meet the woman. As he flipped his lighter open and fixed to light his treat, the flame grew beyond what the man expected and Roman winced, seeing the very tips of his hair curl at the heat.

He drew a long breath in as he grumbled to himself, smoke filling his lungs. He reached up with a smile and rubbed the ends of burnt hair between his fingers, spreading the faint ash across his gloves as he blew smoke up into the air.

"I'm not here for your jokes, Roman."

"It was an honest compliment." Roman grumbled as the two stopped paces away from each other. "When have you ever come here for my jokes?"

"I've never seen a bald clown in a smoking bowler hat. It might be amusing."

The man raised both hands in surrender at the warning, cane hanging in the crook of his thumb. "Relax, Cindy. There's no one else around." He played it all off with a laugh, gesturing broadly as his voice echoed off the distant walls.

The glare Cinder turned on Roman nearly made the man bring an arm around to defend himself, before his current employer – and he used both those words loosely – took a breath and relaxed her shoulders a bit.

"Everything's shipped?" Despite how Cinder seemed to visually relax, her voice still carried the bitterly strict tone as her piercing eyes scanned the empty warehouse. It was a wonder she fit in with the kids at Beacon at all.

Roman nodded quickly, but took a moment to draw on his cigar before answering. "Yeah. Everyone's under strict orders to stay underground. There's no CCT connection down there either."

Cinder stared into Roman's eye, and Roman stared back. Her lips parted.

"The point of no return."

The criminal nodded again somberly. He cared not for anything except his own wellbeing, but crashing a Dust-loaded train full of heavily armed human-hating terrorists into the middle of Vale was better than a certain death – or worse.

At Roman's acceptance, the corner of Cinder's lips turned upwards into a vaguely cruel smile.

"You're a proud man, aren't you Roman?"

He didn't need to give Cinder an answer, but he did anyways.

"I'm the greatest criminal mastermind in the history of Remnant." He let out with a wry smile. "You already know why I'm doing this."

Cinder chuckled.

"You're also a very selfish man. Twisted."

Roman hated when he couldn't read the woman – which was frequently. It was best to wait for Cinder to explain herself in such a situation, but as the silence stretched, he was forced to prompt her. "Your point?"

"You're the greatest criminal mastermind in the history of Remnant." Cinder parroted, turning her back on the man. She looked over her shoulder. "You'll survive."

Something cold gripped Roman's heart as his boss began to head towards the exit. She waved her hand over her head, and the man's cigar was snuffed out.

"Perhaps you should use the long wait before the final phase to think about what comes next."

Roman growled, relighting his stubby cigar.

Perhaps it wasn't too late to steal a couple hundred boxes of his favorite. He had a feeling he was going to need them.

With a half-hearted sigh, Weiss drummed her fingers against her thigh. As she watched Pyrrha Nikos stride into the combat arena, the white-haired girl blew thin strands out from in front of her eyes, flexing the fingers of her still healing hand.

She'd finally been freed of her cast in the morning. Now, the girl's arm only had a simple brace that wasn't nearly as cumbersome. As Professor Peach had mentioned offhandedly, it wouldn't be nearly as jarring as wearing the cast to the dance.

Thinking yet again upon that remark, the girl bit her lower lip in frustration.

Why should she even go to the dance, she'd wondered then. The answer was simple, but it bothered her beyond belief.

She – Weiss Schnee, as heiress to the Schnee Dust Company – had quite obviously been walking around Beacon with her arm in a cast the whole while, and the implications hadn't occurred to her at all with her head buried in the sand. The fact she'd been injured, even if people didn't know the full story, was gossip that spread like fire among the foreign students.

So, what if she also was one of perhaps even just a few students who didn't make an appearance at the dance? Her, who'd practically never missed a social event in her life, always being forced along by her father? Weiss would love to say she didn't care about rumors, but the reality was she couldn't afford not to. Her reputation was more important to her than her comfort.

She was surprised her dad hadn't flown out to drag her back home after hearing about what happened. If she made things worse, he'd do so for certain.


The match below began, and Weiss blinked rapidly before realizing what she was watching.

It might not have been proper by any means, but the heiress felt antsy as she sat along with her team, watching the redheaded girl take a defensive stance before all four members of team CRDL.

"Is she seriously fighting all of them?" She whispered to herself.

It wasn't that Weiss didn't think the girl could do it, but what came to the front of the heiress' mind was a hunt for why this was permitted – or even why Professor Goodwitch approved of it. What did Beacon have to gain from showcasing its most skilled first-year beating down other first-years? In front of a room full of people from the other academies? Going into the Vytal Festival tournament with knowledge of your opponents was a huge boon, and yet here they were.

Even in the off chance CRDL won, what was the benefit? As Weiss pursed her lips and began to consider it more deeply, Ruby's excited voice broke through her trance.

"Emerald, who do you think will win?"

It must have been a time where Weiss hadn't been so wholly present, but Ruby had befriended another team from Haven, on top of getting friendly with the members of SSSN. As much as Ruby prodded and pestered Weiss to play nice, the heiress still refused to oblige.

Honestly, what made matters even worse was how Ruby's new friends seemed to have made friends with JNPR.

No, that was wrong. It was only one person, one member of their team.

Weiss glanced out of the corner of her eye, seeing the black-haired girl who was practically glued to Jaune's side. Yang was sitting behind them, leaning into the narrow gap between Jaune and Mint as she laughed.

After that short laugh, Yang turned her gaze back to Weiss, and offered a smile of apology that made Weiss' eyes narrow.

Jaune still hadn't talked to her about that day. About what he'd said, or what she'd done in turn. Everyone who knew something happened between them knew that. Though the last thing Weiss wanted to do was admit it, she hadn't exactly gone out of her way to talk to Jaune about what happened at all, either...

All words the two had exchanged over the last few days were greetings. It felt like Weiss' chest was about to explode when all Jaune would say to her was 'hi', and then nothing else. And with this Mint girl practically hanging off his arm? Weiss shook in her seat for a moment before taking a calming breath and turning her eyes back to the fight.

According to what Yang said, the girl was a mute and had trouble making friends. Jaune said she reminded him of his little sisters, only Mint wasn't nearly as loud, and that's how they kicked it off.

Of course, Yang had to go and make a dirty joke after that, though! As Pyrrha dashed between members of CRDL, falling back as they struck and pushing forward as they backed off, Weiss envisioned herself smacking four copies of the girl around the arena.

Perhaps this Mint girl really was just a mute who had trouble making friends. Considering it was Jaune, of course the boy was going to be nice to her.

It was just who he was, after all.

That certainly didn't stop Weiss from trying to bore holes into the harlot's skull with her eyes, though.

Even if Mint was the sweetest girl in the world, the heiress doubted she could forgive her for even unintentionally flaunting the closeness she currently had with Jaune. As Pyrrha's weapon clashed with Cardin's mace and her shield caught Dove's shortsword, Weiss felt her neck muscles tense.

"Are you alright, Weiss?"

The heiress whipped her head around, glaring at Blake before blinking and letting her mouth hang open for a moment. The black-haired girl put her hand on Weiss' shoulder.

"Y-yeah, I'm fine." Weiss lied, turning her gaze back to the match. Sky was knocked flying, but the heiress could hardly focus on the fight at all. "I think I was up too late."


It was obvious enough Blake didn't believe her, but neither did the girl pressure her any more. While Weiss had been down in the dumps, Ruby and Yang had always been supportive, to the point Weiss was beginning to think Blake hadn't really cared – but it was much the opposite of that.

If anything, Blake was the one who'd been the most understanding of her entire team. The black-haired girl had given her space when she needed it, or was a pillar at the best of times. It was such a strange thing to reflect on; however, that didn't mean the other two members of their team hadn't helped.

She was going to have to do something nice for all of them, once she felt up to it.

Pyrrha's impressive display of skill seemed to entrance the audience. Over time, even Weiss was wrapped up in the girl's fight. Her gaze followed Cardin as the boy swung his massive mace wildly, before choking up on it for a tighter, faster swing.

The impact of his weapon colliding with Pyrrha's shield shook the dust from the rafters.

"Cardin's really improved." Ruby pitched chipperly, to which Weiss nodded.

He still wasn't a match for Pyrrha, however, and neither were his friends. The bout ended with Cardin's team sprawled out across the arena and Pyrrha's spear at his neck. Weiss slid backwards a bit, literally having been on the edge of her seat as the overly large crowd applauded.

Pyrrha helped the leader of CRDL to his feet, and smacked the chest plate he wore reassuringly. The boy scowled and walked off, his team still scattered before they got to their feet and went after him.

Some things never changed. Weiss turned her eyes to Professor Goodwitch as the woman cleared her throat.

"Well done, Ms. Nikos. I doubt your team will have any difficulties moving through the tournament qualifiers." The blonde instructor nodded along as Pyrrha bowed softly, heading towards the edge of the arena.

Weiss watched on as the professor tapped at her scroll, before the woman's green eyes turned upwards towards her. A few seconds passed before Goodwitch turned her eyes back to her scroll with pursed lips.

It didn't take a genius to figure out what was on the instructor's mind. Weiss hadn't fought for weeks now. Aside from light exercising and the mock spars she'd done with Yang, she didn't feel like she was in fighting shape at all.

"We have time for one more match. Are there any volunteers?"

Weiss would've raised her hand, but all that would do is draw even more attention to herself. There was a slim-to-none chance Goodwitch would allow it either.

To Weiss' right, Ruby let out a quiet gasp that drew the heiress' attention.

"I'd like to fight, Professor."

The heiress looked the dark-skinned girl up and down as she proceeded down the stairs to the front of the viewing area. Her eyes traced the handguns that crisscrossed the Emerald's lower back, and hummed. Was she a ranged fighter foremost, or was there more to her than that?

"Ms. Sustrai, was it? Excellent. Always a pleasure to see others so invested in my class."

The green-haired Haven student nodded, and Weiss rested her chin in her hand, gritting her teeth just slightly.

"Now, who should be your opponent?" The instructor pursed her lips, finger tracing the screen of her scroll.

"Actually, I'd like to pick my opponent myself, if that's alright."

The murmur of the crowd matched Weiss' own curiosity. Who did Emerald want to fight?

Professor Goodwitch nodded curtly. "Of course."

Emerald jerked her thumb over her shoulder, holding it back. "The blond."

Yang sprung up to her feet immediately. "Oh hell yeah-"

"Sorry, not you. The other blond."


Weiss' eyes widened slightly as Jaune pointed to himself, the black-haired girl next to him looking over at Emerald with a head tilted in confusion. Emerald nodded, her red eyes peering at the boy as he shuffled uncomfortably.

"Mr. Arc, you haven't fought for a while. I approve of this challenge." Goodwitch stated almost proudly, putting a fist on her hip. "Your match starts in three minutes."

"Great." Weiss heard the boy bemoan, standing and grabbing his sword from where it laid at his side. He trudged off without even turning back.

He didn't even glance her way.

"Why hasn't she said anything?"

That sole thought plagued Jaune's mind as it parted his lips, sliding Crocea Mors out of its sheath slightly, before pushing it back in with a satisfying click. His mind was far from his impending match, and was focused instead on one of the spectators.

He stopped himself from casting his eyes upwards to where his team, RWBY, and Mint sat. The last thing he wanted to know before he fought is what kind of expression Weiss' face held.

"Just ignore it. You'll fix all this soon, don't worry."

The boy continued to mutter to himself, blinking his eyes towards his opponent – his challenger.

Though he considered it when she'd initially called him out, Jaune wasn't concerned with why Mint's teammate decided he was worthy of a fight. Maybe she was testing him, or something.

The boy's cheeks tinted a bit when he considered he might have just inserted himself in to some sort of lovers' quarrel. His rampant imagination made his eyebrow twitch, as he wondered what sort of mess he might have managed to make for himself.

He'd only led her to the bathroom that once, he swore it, but Emerald had been pestering him with the odd question about Mint every now and then. Almost like she was concerned.

That caused the boy to hum as he looked over to Goodwitch on the far side of the arena. She met his eyes, and it looked to the boy like the professor took a steadying breath.

Was she concerned?

"Are you ready, Mr. Arc?"

Jaune nodded, pulling his sheath from his belt and gripping it firmly.

'Come on, focus!'


The blond's eyes widened and his shield expanded before him, the first few rounds from Emerald's handguns forcing him to kneel and bring up his guard. He reached for the hilt of Crocea Mors and drew his blade, one knee extending as he began his dash forward. Shots rang out, one landing near his foot as he charged.

He glanced over his shield once he was much closer, seeing Emerald hop to his left. He ducked behind the steel as he flinched, a chain of sorts raking against the edge.

A blade nicked the boy's cheek, and he thrust his shield across his body. The edge caught chain, and he twisted, bringing his sword close to his torso.

Jaune's arms were tangled with the chain of Emerald's weapon, and his eyes darted back and forth. He spun on his back leg and pulled harder, hearing his opponent gasp as the tension disappeared.

Jaune fell back into a ready position, one of Emerald's revolvers on the arena floor as he took a step towards her. He shrugged his arm and the chain he'd caught fell from his shield.

The boy was forced to duck behind his shield as the girl brought her remaining gun up, firing quickly as she skirted the outside of the arena. When she lowered her gun to reload, Jaune lowered his shield and dashed forwards.

Without even hesitating, the girl brought her weapon up and pulled the trigger.

The bullet ricocheted off Jaune's shield, impacting against the arena floor.

She'd feigned a reload. Jaune drew in a breath, thankful he hadn't lowered his shield too much. As Emerald dashed away, the blond positioned himself between the girl and her lost weapon. With a flick of the girl's wrist, the cylinder popped out and it took her a but a moment to load in fresh rounds.

Jaune took a step back, kneeled, and sheathed Crocea Mors. Emerald fired, but the blond remained still as his shield caught the round, reaching.

Rising to his feet again, the boy stuffed Emerald's revolver in the back of his belt. He could almost picture Ren sighing, similarly to how he had in a different practice bout. It made the blond smile.

Maybe it was just Jaune, but it had been a lot harder to disarm his teammate than it had been for Emerald. Either way, he peeked over his shield, just in time for his eyes to widen and for the smile to disappear off his face.

The girl's blade raked through the air above Jaune's head as he ducked, and backed up. On his back foot, Jaune shifted his weight and drew his sword, intent on pushing his shield into Emerald's gut.

Within the next moment, Jaune had to push up against Emerald's weight as she hand-planted against the top of his shield, the barrel of her revolver in his face. The boy smacked it away with his sword the moment it fired, ears ringing at its report. When he backed away again, the girl brought both guns up, and fired again.

'When did she-'

After thirty more seconds of bullets ringing against his shield-arm, the girl growled and sprinted forwards. Jaune lowered his shield and brought Crocea Mors back. Emerald's arms were crossed before her, and she lashed out. The chains extended, and Jaune held out his shield arm.

Emerald had her entire body's weight behind her as she yanked. Jaune held onto his shield with all his strength, before grinning.

He collapsed his shield with a metallic slide, and Emerald stumbled back. Jaune ran forwards, swinging.

The two clashed again and again. The fight drew out, and Jaune had to flick the sweat off his brow as he stared the red-eyed girl down, panting. He glanced to the monitors on the far side of the room.

They were still well into the green, both of them.

Weiss' fingers bunched up in her skirt as she let out a slightly labored breath, eyes darting between the two participants in a fight she'd hardly expected to get herself so riled up for.

The match itself put one of her smallest concerns to rest, at least, seeing the blond trading blows with his opponent. He certainly hadn't stopped training as hard as he had been, back when they were still together.


The heiress grumbled to herself, watching as Jaune brought his shield around after Emerald kicked off of it, flipping and whipping at the boy with her bladed chains. She stumbled as she landed – just a bit – and Weiss could tell the length of their fight was really wearing down on both combatants.

The girl glanced up at the board, seeing Jaune and Emerald in near identical positions to where they were ten minutes ago: still in the green, but bordering on dropping into the yellow. Their fight had been going on for almost sixteen minutes, well past the end of class. A handful of students had left, but Professor Goodwitch had made no move to stop them. That just proved even more how spectacular a fight the ones who remained were experiencing, that so many had stayed.

Ruby had to stop Yang from going around and collecting bets.

If Ruby hadn't stopped her buxom teammate, Weiss would've been half-tempted to put some pocket change on Emerald, and certainly not because the girl was the better fighter. If she'd bet on Emerald and Emerald won, then Weiss would win. If Weiss bet on Emerald and Jaune won instead, well...

She smiled as Emerald's chains clattered against Jaune's shield.

Weiss would still consider herself a winner, in that regard.

"It's hard to believe he's holding his own so well. She out-speeds him and she has a huge range advantage."

Weiss curled in on herself in pride, hearing an unfamiliar voice singing Jaune's praises. When Emerald ran forwards and had to hop back out of a swipe of the blond's sword, the heiress found herself grinning even wider.

If this had been an actual tournament bout with a roaring crowd, Weiss would've been cheering alongside them. Instead, she held it in lest she garner stares. That, and the last thing she wanted to do was be a distraction for Jaune and cost him the match. She was forced to let her outbursts stew inside her, and so she gripped her skirt tighter.

The two clashed once more, before separating and standing on opposite sides of arena, neither lowering their weapons until Jaune cast his glance to the screen.

"Draw?" He offered, and it echoed off the walls of the arena before the crowd began to murmur.

Emerald lowered her weapons as well. "Draw." She agreed.

The crowd began to clap, and Weiss was instantly reminded of her inability to do so with any reasonable enthusiasm. Jaune looked up to the crowd, but his gaze never turned to their side of the arena.

Yang groaned from Weiss' left, deflating. "Ruby, we would have made so much lien!"

As Ruby consoled her big sister, Weiss hummed, seeing Goodwitch converse with both Jaune and his opponent. The blond looked to Emerald, and she offered him a smile and a shrug. Whatever exchange was occurring on the floor, it was far out of Weiss' earshot.

As far as Emerald's teammates reactions – at least the two that were present – Mint was clapping excitedly, while Mercury seemed to be resting his chin in hand, leaning forwards in what Weiss assumed was thought. There were murmurs and hushed speaking from JNPR as well.

Weiss eyes remained on Jaune as he climbed up the steps to the viewing area, Goodwitch dismissing the rest of the class, as well as thanking them for staying late.

The boy's blue eyes finally met Weiss', and she smiled to him. He gave a ghost of a smile in return, then immediately turned and went over to his teammates. The heiress watched on as Ren shook his head, Pyrrha patting Jaune on the back.

The white-haired girl drew in a breath, before letting it out in a half-delighted, half-frustrated sigh. On one hand, the boy smiled back to her, which was better than a lot of their recent failed interactions. On the other, they still hadn't spoken.

It wasn't good enough. And with the dance only days away… wait.

'The dance...'

Could she do something about it then? The way they were now, there was no way she could casually walk up and ask him what his plans were. Could she? But if Jaune was going to the dance without a partner and Weiss was going to be there too, also without a partner, then wouldn't that be the perfect opportunity for them to speak?

As the heiress stared down at her slung arm, she nodded resolutely. She stood and quickly strode over to Yang. The blonde looked up to her with a grin that faded.

"Wh-what's with that face?"

There was one thing that still heavily embarrassed Weiss, almost more than anything else she'd ever brought up to anyone – and she was almost afraid to admit it. The only reason she'd resolved to speak of it now was the simple urgency of the situation.

Despite all of the many suitcases she'd packed and brought from home, it had never occurred to her that she might have been missing something.

"I need to go dress shopping."

The girl's fading grin grew wide, and the blonde hopped up, eyes alight.

"What are we standing around for? Let's get going."

"I still really wanted to fight that Nikos chick. Maybe we could've figured out what it is that makes her so damn good."

"I'm sure it's just skill." Emerald let out with a sigh, popping open the cylinders of her guns and letting the spent casings fall out in the trash can of their immaculate dorm room. "Besides, Neo was the one who wanted me to fight the simpleton. She's been tailing him this whole time, so I assume there was a reason for it."

Mercury dropped into his bed, stretching his shoulders. "Cinder's gonna want a report from today."

The girl scowled, reminiscing. "That boy's probably the weakest member of their team, but he's a pain in the ass to fight."

The grey-haired boy sat up with a tilted eyebrow. "Really? It didn't look too bad to me. You had it handled."

The girl had to give it to Mercury. She certainly had it handled, but that wasn't the issue. "For me it was a struggle, at the most. Even if I'd gone all out, the fight would've still lasted as long. His Aura's stupid." Emerald set her weapons on the dorm's desk, caressing the grip of one of them. "If things go wrong and we can't rig the tournament, running into that team is going to be troublesome no matter what round we're up against them."

"Then we'll just have to hope things go well on the weekend." Mercury pointed out, Emerald forced to sigh in acceptance.

Emerald sauntered over to the window, pulling the curtain aside a bit. "At least we always have our backup plans. If it weren't for those, I'd be a lot more nervous."

"C'mon Em, you think an operation of this size wouldn't have that much thought put into it?" Mercury chuckled. "Do I have to say something to Cinder about how you don't have faith in her part of the plan?"

Though the girl immediately recognized the boy's taunting, joking tone, cold fear still gripped her heart. "Don't you dare." She barked back.

"Testy." Mercury sat up, dangling his legs over the side of the bed. "Back on topic, did you learn anything about the boy's semblance? Anything we can exploit?"

"That's another concern. There wasn't any visual cue that he was using a semblance at all."

"Unless it's something like yours."

Mercury's comment made Emerald's muscles tense as she let the let the curtain fall back into place. "Or it's not something combat oriented."

"Possible." Was her partner's dry response.

"Regardless, if we fight in the four-on-four rounds, one of us is going to have to run double duty." Emerald started, sitting on her own bed. "It might take two, or even three of us to run that Nikos girl down. That blond would try to stop us from doing that."

"Unless you used your semblance to keep him separated from the others."

Emerald shook her head. "I'm supposed to use it sparingly, in case people start to catch on."

"Do you think I could take that blond easily?"

"Better than I could."

The door to the dorm room clicked open, and Emerald's back straightened reflexively. Cinder's bright eyes peered into the room, staring at Mercury, then in turn Emerald's own eyes.

"Things went well today?" The woman's voice always held a tone that was hard for Emerald to decipher exactly what her mood was, but as she strode in and sat next to Emerald – surprising the girl entirely – the green-haired girl let out a breath.

Mercury leaned back, glancing back and forth between Emerald and their boss. "We haven't blown our cover at all, so things are still running smoothly. Neo's still stalking that blond from that Nikos girl's team, and Emerald tested him out today."

The girl almost wanted to glare at the boy when he brought it up, but feeling Cinder's eyes on her prompted her to speak. She turned, lowering her head just a bit. "He won't be much of a concern, but fighting him gave me a better idea of how they'd possibly act in a four-on-four match."

Cinder nodded softly. "We won't have to worry about them in the first round of the tournament. Pyrrha Nikos will probably be their singles-round competitor. Did you not learn anything about her?"

Emerald winced, but Mercury spoke up quickly. "She single-handedly demolished one of Beacon's other first-year teams. We'll keep a closer eye on her coming up. They'll be in the tournament for sure."

Cinder leaned back for a moment, and Emerald watched for the woman's reaction. When she rose and stood from the bed, skirting around to the other side of the room, Emerald looked to Mercury, who looked back in return.

"Nothing changes." She finally spoke again. "The plan remains the same."