Hi guys and gals!

So, here I am again with my second attempt at a Characters Reading version of one of my stories. I just want to point out right now, to ANYONE who thinks I'm being narcissistic or self-centered, I'm doing this mainly because I'd like to give it a shot and because no one showed any genuine interest in doing it for me.

I honestly would've asked my friend Dylan Millwood to do it for me, but he's already doing two of my stories for me (Kouma and Devilish Maid).

So, let's get started, yeah?

Disclaimer: I, Raymond Smith, own nothing

It was another month before the Vytal Festival was set to begin. The city of Vale had been defended just a few days ago thanks to the efforts of Teams RWBY, JNPR, and CFVY. Currently though, the first two teams were inside of the office of their school's Headmaster, Ozpin.

"First off, I wanted to thank all of you for your efforts in protecting this city and its citizens from the Grimm," began the Headmaster, earning a few smiles from his students. "Now, I wanted to ask if your teams would be participating in the combat tournament?"

"You bet!" Ruby exclaimed, making her sister and Blake amused at her enthusiasm while Weiss held back a sigh at the immaturity before their Headmaster.

Jaune looked to his teammates and they nodded to him in agreement. "Yes, we will, sir."

"I see. Then allow me to repay you all for your actions by giving you the rest of this month off."

That caught the teenagers all by surprise. "Headmaster," Pyrrha began, "what about our studies? Wouldn't we be missing all of our classes?"

"The way I see it, the eight of you have shown yourselves to be outstanding Huntsmen in training. Therefore, I don't see the harm in letting you all relax before you're thrown back into combat; even if it isn't true combat." He then reached into his desk and pulled out a large book that held a red spiral eclipsing a a golden sun on its cover. "It will also give you all a chance to look this over. You see, I came across this when I encountered an odd individual in our city years ago. When he handed it to me, he only said to keep it safe and give it to those it concerns. Through the years, I tried to read it for myself, but only a few words were able to be seen on its pages through my eyes."

"And, those words were…?" Blake pressed when the man gave pause. As a fan of reading, she was already interested.

"They were names; more specifically, your names came up as well," answered the man. "It didn't make sense to me then, but it does now. Somehow, this book holds another manner in how you all have lived your tales, and I believe that the rest of its pages will be made legible if you were the ones to read it."

Yang scratched her head in confusion. "I don't know. Sounds kinda weird to me, sir."

"Yes, I can see why you would feel that way, Miss Xiao-Long. But, I'm not forcing you all to read it." He set the book down on his desk and pushed it towards them. "I'm simply giving you the option to. Take it or not, it does not matter to me. Enjoy your month's rest. You've all earned it."

The two teams regarded one another, wondering if they should take it before Blake decided to take the initiative. Stepping forward, she grabbed the book and held it close before nodding to Ozpin and leaving his office. Her teammates were quick to follow and Team JNPR did the same, leaving Ozpin alone in his office.

Later that day, both teams were seated in the library. They had requested a private room so that they could look over the book for themselves. While Ozpin gave them an odd reason for having it, they couldn't deny that their curiosity was getting the better of them.

"So…who wants to read first?" Nora asked, sitting close to her friend Ren.

"If we're going to read this, I'd suggest that we keep an open mind about everything," the pink-eyed male suggested. "After all, it is simply a book that the Headmaster said had our names in it. It doesn't mean that what's in there is real or is set to happen without fail."

The others nodded in agreement to his words. "I suppose I'll read first," Blake suggested. "I don't mind seeing what's in here."

"Alright then. Go ahead and start us off, partner," Yang stated as she got comfortable in her seat, prompting the others to do the same.

"Okay. The story is called Sackcloth and Ashes… And it's written by someone named Smith."

"Smith…?" Jaune asked, deadpanning at the simple name.

"It's a common name, so it'd be easy to keep themselves anonymous," Weiss deduced. "What I'm curious about is its title."

"Well, from what I've read, it's an old form of atonement," Ren explained. "It's also associated with mourning."

"That sounds…really messed up for a title," Yang commented.

"Who would be sad enough to have a story centered around mourning?" Ruby asked, looked down.

"We won't know until we read it for ourselves," Blake declared before she returned her attention to the book. "Chapter One: The Exile…"

The book flashed brightly before the large screen hanging on one of the walls came to life and displayed the book's title and first chapter's name.

"…Okay, that's awesome," Yang noted with a grin.

"So, we get to watch as it's read? Sweet!" Nora exclaimed excitedly.

"Nora," Pyrrha cut in calmly. "Perhaps we should let Blake continue?"

The hammer wielding teen rubbed the back of her head sheepishly and nodded, allowing for Blake to start the story.

"In other news, Huntsmen Scouts have returned from their recent excursion of the strange meteor impact last night and have submitted their reports to the higher authorities. Apparently, the failed attempt of Vale's expansion, Mountain Glenn, has seen a dramatic increase in Grimm activity within hours after the impact."

A woman, dressed in dark red with amber highlights to her dress, was tempted to roll her equally amber eyes at the obvious outcome of the failed expansion. She raised her cup of warm coffee to her lips and took a sip, but she had to bring it away when she heard the next part of the report.

"Okay…? Who the hell is that?" Yang asked, raising a brow at the woman onscreen.

"I'm getting a strange vibe from her," Jaune noted.

"Me too," Ruby agreed. "It's like…she's planning something."

"However, last evening's unexpected phenomenon is curiously making the Grimm, according to the Scouts, act in a strangely docile behavior. Even more concerning is how the reports state that they seem to be guarding something within the ruined city; most likely what had caused that impact yesterday. According to authorities, they plan to make another excursion with more seasoned Huntsmen soon, but it won't be for some time."

"Has anyone ever heard of anything like that?" Weiss asked.

"No, never," Pyrrha answered. "Grimm have always been aggressive around others except for their own kind. Even the older Grimm aren't docile."

"So then, what could make them act like that?" Ren asked aloud, hand cupping his chin.

The woman used a remote to shut off the newscast before leaning back in her seat, eyes closed as she hummed thoughtfully. For as long as anyone in Remnant could remember, the creatures of the Grimm have always been a dangerous sort, targeting anything created by man and anyone who exuded some form of negativity. For them to act docile and protective meant that whatever had crashed down on that failed expansion must've been incredibly "pure" to the point of the Grimm viewing it as worth such guardianship.

"Still though, it is strange that they would want to protect it," the woman murmured aloud, still deep in thought. "What could they be guarding?"

"It's gotta be something important to them, or something," Ruby guessed.

A knock at her door roused her from her thoughts and she allowed the knocker to enter. Stepping into her room was a darker skinned woman with minty green hair and red eyes. She was dressed in an intricate white top that had an olive undershirt and white pants with dark brown chaps. Her hair was cut short save for two long locks in the back that reached her lower back.

"Emerald," greeted the woman in red. "What is it?"

"I just saw an interesting newscast," answered the red-eyed girl, taking a seat across from her boss. Seeing the woman's look, Emerald continued, "I figured you saw it as well. Should we go investigate? Something like this is just…bizarre."

"True, occurrences like this are definitely far from the norm," agreed the woman, her amber eyes glowing for a split second. "I'm still debating whether or not we go and check it out. While I had plans to use Mountain Glenn, it's still a major hotspot for the Grimm; even if they're reportedly docile."

Emerald nodded in understanding. "So…keep the group small then?"

Amber eyes gleamed in approval. "That's what I was thinking. The two of us, plus Neo and Mercury will investigate. Roman will focus on gathering more Dust while Adam and his partner have plans to liberate a Schnee train."

Blake cringed at that, sending Weiss an apologetic look. "I…"

"Don't," cut off the heiress. "That was your old life. While I'm not happy about it, I promised that I'd give you a chance."

The Faunus girl nodded and gave a grateful look before continuing.

Nodding once again, the pickpocket stood up and headed for the door. "I'll go tell the others then."

"Meet at the bullhead. You all have a half hour."

"Yes, ma'am."

Soft breathing could be heard within a small cave-in on a mountainside. The breaths were soft enough to make one think the owner was sleeping, but they were in fact wide awake and staring at a small fire with empty blue eyes. The light of the fire gave some luminance to the figure, but it was only good enough to show a man that looked like he had just stepped out of hell itself.

His blonde hair seemed to droop in response to his depressing aura while his clothes, once a bright example of his personality, were torn, burnt, and cut into. The black and orange jacket was so damaged that it only had the left sleeve and upper back intact. Orange pants were sliced and torn in various places while the black sandals with protective padding looked ready to fall apart. Because the jacket had been so damaged, the young man's mesh undershirt was visible to the world and was more intact than the rest of his clothing.

"Dear Oum…" Pyrrha gasped out, covering her mouth with a hand at the damaged man onscreen.

To finish off his illuminated appearance were three things. The first were his birthmarks that were as visible as ever on his face in the form of three lines on each cheek; the lines themselves reminiscent of whiskers. Resting in his lap was a metal plate with a spiral symbol that had an arrow tip and thin tail; a leaf. The black cloth was just as damaged as the rest of his clothes and the metal plate had suffered some denting, scratches, and scuffing.

"I wonder what his insignia means," Ren mused. "Some mercenaries have personal signs that let people know who they are."

The final thing that was highlighted in the flame was the drying patch of blood directly beneath where his right arm should've been. The arm itself was missing from the elbow down, and the wound looked downright grizzly with blood caking it and scorch markings along the edges; showing that what had cut it off also slightly cauterized it.

"His… His arm…" choked out Ruby, unable to look away from how awful it looked at its stumped end.

"Damn," whispered Yang. "What could've done that?"

"I'd rather not know," Jaune commented, finding it hard not to imagine how painful it would be to lose a limb.

His breathing remained soft as he kept staring at the flames before him. Blue eyes that portrayed emptiness were in fact staring searchingly into the flames, as if hoping to discover something. In his depressed state, he saw faces of familiar people in the fire; people he had lost, people he had cherished…people he had failed.

"And that's where the title comes in," Blake noted before quickly resuming.

The man was Naruto Uzumaki, a man who had been displaced from his home to a place and time unknown to him. He and his comrades had just finished sealing the Mother of All Chakra, Kaguya Ōtsutsuki, for the second time in the woman's life. The end of the Fourth Great Ninja War looked to be within reach…but it was then pulled away from their grasp when Naruto's estranged friend, Sasuke Uchiha, decided to try and revolutionize the Shinobi World by killing the village leaders; the Five Kage.

Because Sasuke was needed to help Naruto free the world of the Infinite Tsukuyomi, the Uzumaki had no choice but to chase down the Uchiha and face him once more; but this time it was to be their final battle. Sasuke, holder of the Sage of Six Paths' Yin Mark, had to be stopped and Naruto planned to use everything – including his gifted Yang Mark – to do so.

"Hehe… I always knew I was marked for greatness," joked Yang, making her teammates groan at the horrible pun.

Unlike their previous clashes, this one proved to be far more destructive, each deadlock changing the very landscape of their battlefield. It had evolved from a clash between rivals to a battle of gods if one were to witness the fight.

As the fight drew to a close, Sasuke called on the last of his Yin Chakra while Naruto had the half of the Kyuubi, Kurama, that he carried help him strengthen his weakening Yang Chakra. Darkness and Light gathered their power, raising it to the highest points before their avatars charged for one final impact; one last clash to end it all.

And it did end…but it was not in the way one would hope.

Light did not conquer Darkness that day. Instead, the warring philosophies, the two ends of the Spectrum of Balance, ended up backfiring on their avatars in their impact. While Sasuke had been blown back by the backlash, Naruto had been forced into a rip in space and time just moments after witnessing his right arm and Sasuke's left arm get destroyed in their clash.

"Space and time?" Jaune asked.

"It's been a subject of discussion and controversy for decades, maybe even centuries," Weiss explained. "Some people think that, if one broke the fabric of space and time, then they could go to another world or even to the past or future. Of course, no one has been able to prove that theory to be possible."

"It's also a method of fantasy in lots of literature," Blake added, having read a few books that had space-time in them.

Thrown into the rip, and too weak to fight it, Naruto found himself flung through a void of distorted colors that soon began to merge into a swirl of Darkness and Light. Kurama, having bonded with Naruto and seeing him as an invaluable partner and friend, gave up the last of its chakra – its very core – to prevent Naruto from being ripped apart in the void.

The last thing Naruto saw of his partner was the vulpine grin that he had become so accustomed to fading away from his seal before he lost consciousness.

"So, did anyone understand all that stuff earlier about chakra and whatnot?" Nora asked, earning negative responses from her friends. "Good! Because I didn't either, and I didn't want to have to pretend I did!"

That caused the others to share a small laugh, which she immediately joined in on since she had made the joke.

He woke up in a ruined and abandoned city the day before, having just recently moved into the cave-in he resided in at the moment. He had spent the first day laying in the crater his impact made, still too weak at the time to do anything else. Strangely though, he had been visited by odd black creatures that had bone white masks on their faces.

"The Grimm…" the teens said in sync.

The creatures themselves took the form of animals, and he had mainly seen wolfish versions of them checking him out.

The weirdest part though was how they seemed to completely disregard him as any sort of threat. Part of him figured it was because he looked so wounded and weak, but another part felt that something else was at play. However, instead of viewing him as a threat, they looked almost…protective of his presence; as if they wished to shield him from further harm.

"So, does that mean that he's the reason they were acting so calm in that newscast?" Jaune asked.

"Most likely," Ren answered.

Once he had recovered enough strength, he forced himself to his feet and found his current residence before gathering the wood for his now dying fire. Within the dwindling flames, he saw the last group of faces that belonged to everyone he had failed to save. These faces consisted of his brother in pain, Gaara; the young woman who had declared her love for him, Hinata Hyuuga; his silver haired teacher, Kakashi Hatake; and finally his pinkette teammate who he had promised to bring Sasuke back to, Sakura Haruno.

The eight teens were given glimpses of the people mentioned. The saw a young man with red hair and green eyes, a beautiful young woman with violet hair and pale lavender eyes full of affection, a silver haired man who only had his right eye visible, and a pink haired young woman with bright green eyes.

"These must have been some of the more important people in his life," Pyrrha noted. "And he feels like he…failed them."

Yang saw the defeat in her fellow blonde's eyes, and it felt wrong seeing it on his face; even if he was just a character in a story. 'Why does it feel like he should be a carefree goof?'

Deep inside of his dead eyes, tears formed and rolled down his cheeks before his eyes clenched shut and he curled into himself. Through his choked sobs, the exiled shinobi whispered apology after apology to the dying fire as it slowly whittled away to mere embers.

Sympathy and pity reigned supreme in the private room, leaving the two teams of teenagers unable to comment.

From the bullhead that had landed a fair distance away from the abandoned city, four people stepped out. The first was Emerald Sustrai who was accompanied by her partner. Said partner wore a slate gray and black two-tone partial-zip jacket that covered his upper body, a single notched belt with a bandana marked with his personal emblem draped over it, and a pair of matching colored pants with black boots. The young man was named Mercury Black.

"Guy looks a little too cocky for my tastes," Yang commented.

"And you're not?" teased Ruby.

"Nope! I'm confident; not cocky! Can't be that way if you don't have-"

"Okay!" cut off Weiss, blushing at the obvious direction Yang was taking that joke. "Can we move one, please?!"

Third to step off of the bullhead was a rather short girl who had an intricately designed umbrella lazily hanging over her shoulder and open, covering her from the afternoon sunlight. The girl wore a white jacket with a pink interior, brown pants, and gray boots with very high heels. Under her jacket was a black corset, curved in the middle and at the bottom which exposed her hips. She also wore a multitude of necklaces, which hung haphazardly around her neck. Her hair was uniquely colored half pink and half brown, with white streaks in the pink half while her eyes were two separate colors; brown coloring the left and pink filling the right. She was known simply as Neopolitan; Neo for short.

"…Anyone else craving ice cream right now?" Ruby asked shyly, blushing slightly. To her surprise and relief, the others nodded in agreement; though she figured they were simply being nice for her sake.

Still, she appreciated it, nonetheless.

Lastly was their boss, who was still dressed in her regular attire. Said attire consisted of a dark-red, off-the-shoulders, V-neck mini-dress with yellow designs. There was a blue feather-like accessory on her right hip, at the top of an open portion of her dress and the dress itself ended in an upside-down triangular tail in the back, ending just above the knees. There was also a baseball diamond-shaped keyhole on the dress' upper back at the same height as her chest. The sleeves ended in a triangle shape, which are wrapped or tied around her middle finger, with the gold designs of the sleeve taking over at the wrists. Underneath the dress, she wore black shorts and her accessories consisted of a gold loop earring with a black gem dangling from it on her right ear, dark glass high-heeled shoes, and a jeweled anklet on her right leg. Finishing off her look was a symbol on her upper back, in the keyhole of her dress. It looked to be a black tattoo of a pair of high heel shoes placed sole to sole, both forming a combined heart shape inside.

"Talk about femme fatale," Yang said when they all got their first real look at the woman from before.

She was Cinder Fall, and she stared down at the ruined city with a small smirk as her amber eyes gave off a slight glow. "Well then, shall we get moving?" she suggested before taking point.

"Whatever you say, boss," Mercury replied as he followed her.

Emerald gave him a look at the slightly disrespectful tone, but she still answered her boss. "Yes, ma'am."

"Someone's devoted," Weiss commented. "It's like she hangs off of everything this Cinder woman says."

"We don't know what led her to that level of devotion," Blake commented, frowning slightly. "Many of the Faunus in the White Fang were devoted simply because they were given a real chance; even if it meant doing cruel things."

The others were silent at that, unable to deny the truth in that statement.

Neo simply smirked in response. She never spoke and the others assumed she was mute; even though Cinder knew better. She was fine with the short girl staying silent, so long as she remained a loyal and effective asset to her cause.

It took some time to reach the city, and the group of four had to handle some rather aggressive Grimm that attacked in packs. Most of them were of the Beowolf class, but there were a couple of Ursa class Grimm amongst them. It soon got to the point where Cinder wasted no time and used her Semblance to set them on fire whenever they made their presences known.

"Torching Grimm left and right… That is so hacks!" Ruby complained.

"I know, right?!" Yang agreed, and both sister pouted so similarly that the others couldn't hold back their amusement.

"What the hell could they be so hyped up about?" Mercury asked as the group walked through the city's center.

"Didn't you watch that newscast earlier?" Emerald asked him in response, earning a deadpan look from him. "Oh right, you're too good for news. Forgot about that."

Before Mercury could retort, Cinder spoke up. "The Huntsmen Scouts returned last night to Vale and they said that the Grimm are acting rather protective of whatever crashed into this place sometime ago. With no one else in the area, they also showed a strangely docile behavior, but obviously they're far more aggressive to anyone who shows up."

Neo listened to them in silence before her eyes turned to the mountainside. Her brows furrowed and she blinked, having both of her irises change to a bright pink as she searched for something. When she found it, she saw that it was a very faint light that was flickering from what looked to be a hole in the cliffs. Blinking again, her eyes returned to their previous coloration before she tapped Cinder's arm.

"I wonder what the changes in her eye colors represent," Pyrrha mused aloud, honestly curious about it.

"Me too," Ruby agreed. "I wonder if I can change my eye color too."

"Don't try it," deadpanned her three teammates, making her pout again.

"Yes, Neo?" asked the woman before her attention was directed to the cliffs by the ice cream themed girl. "You saw something, did you?" At Neo's nod, the group changed direction for the mountain. As they got closer, Cinder saw the dying light that Neo had seen earlier and smirked. "It appears that we're not the only ones here with these Grimm."

"Oh no! They found Naruto!" Ruby cried.

"Relax, sis. It's just a story."


"Besides, maybe they wanna help the poor guy out?" suggested the blonde young woman, making Ruby blink.

"…I didn't think about that."

"A straggler maybe?" Emerald guessed.

Mercury frowned. "That'd make sense, but why would they stay so close to these Grimm? And why haven't the Grimm hunted them down yet?"

Cinder resumed walking as she asked, "We won't know until we see them for ourselves now, will we?"

With that, the four carefully moved up the slope before they reached the entrance of the cave-in. What was interesting about it was how the walls looked like they had been bored into by a drilling force; but there weren't any tools or equipment in the area or even in the city. Looking further in, they saw that a small fire had been reduced to embers while a shadowed figure was curled into themselves against the rocky wall.

Producing a small flame to act as a torch, Cinder had it light up the cave so that they could get a better look at the figure. What they saw was a blonde young man, around their age at the least, curled up with his back to them. They saw that he wore predominantly orange and black clothes that were heavily damaged and worn out while a red spiraling symbol rested proudly on the back of his jacket. There was also a puddle of dried blood next to him; obviously from his injuries.

"I'll never get the image of his severed arm out of my mind," Pyrrha stated sadly, looking to the dried blood onscreen.

"…go away…" they heard a broken voice almost whisper to them from the now illuminated darkness. "…please, just leave me alone…"

Emerald and Mercury tensed themselves in preparation to act, but Cinder raised her free hand to stop them. Meanwhile, Neo boldly walked over to the huddled man, using her now closed umbrella to prod him. After a few moments of just poking him, she stopped and turned to Cinder with a shrug.

"Brave little thing, isn't she?" Weiss noted.

"You're not much taller than her, Short Stuff," teased Yang, being the tallest in Team RWBY.

"W-What?!" Weiss exclaimed, red in the face. She was cut off when Blake decided to move things along.

"Are you one of the Huntsmen that were scouting this area?" Cinder asked, not wasting any time.


His silence was her answer, which made her slender brows crease. She was not one to be ignored.

Stepping over to him, she moved around his huddled form and got a better look at his face. She saw his whisker marked cheeks, scuffed face, and empty blue eyes and she was able to personally confirm that he was emotionally broken; or at least very close to it. He looked like a man who had lost everything important to him, which meant that he no longer had anything to live for.

Her frown strangely softened at that, and it made her curious. Why did she feel a faint sense of pity for this man; a man that she had never once met or should even be concerned about? She gave a sideways glance to Neo, and her eyes were both a pale white which was rare to see on her face.

"Another color change," Pyrrha noted, pulling out a paper and pencil to write down the three colors, and all of the combinations they had.

"And you call me obsessive, Ren," Nora said with a short laugh while Ren sighed.

Turning back to the blonde, she crouched down, absently noting the worn headband with the metal plate lying beside him. "What's your name?"

"…Naruto," he murmured, eyes unfocused as he just stared at the wall in front of him. "Naruto Uzumaki…"

His name was rather odd to her, but she didn't comment on that. There was no need to at any rate since it wouldn't do anything for her. "You have the look of a man without a purpose. Why is that, Naruto?" she asked, mixing in some false sympathy in her tone. She was, after all, a mistress of manipulation, and this man looked so tempting to be manipulated.

"Aha! See?! She isn't gonna help him; she's gonna use him!" Ruby declared before glaring at the image of Cinder. "Stay away from him!"

The others, even Nora, sweatdropped at how into the story the youngest of the group was.


He was once again silent, but his eyes finally were pulled away from the wall when Neo moved over and grabbed the headband. She studied it for a moment before it was taken from her.

"Don't touch that," he said in a slightly stronger voice, much to Cinder's curiosity; though it was still incredibly broken.

"That must be very important to you. Is it related to your loss of purpose?" Cinder queried, hoping to take advantage of his brief emotional spark of life.

"…it's a symbol of my failure," he answered, his voice once again growing weaker. "I used to wear it proudly…but now I don't deserve it…"

"So, the others from before," Ren noted. "The people he saw in the fire… They must have worn similar headbands or markings as him."

Cinder briefly glanced at Emerald and Mercury, giving them a silent message to stand watch at the entrance while Neo took a seat in front of the blonde man. "Why do you feel that way, Naruto?" asked the amber-eyed woman, her tone deceptively soft.

"…because I failed them…"

"Who did you fail?" she pressed, reaching over to place her delicate hand on his shoulder. She had him talking, so now she just needed to press on.

"Everyone," he answered, eyes closing as a tear escaped. "I couldn't stop him…and they…" He trembled as he fought more tears.

She frowned at the vague answer. "Who couldn't you stop?"

Slowly, his eyes opened, and she saw life in them again; though it was an angry and betrayed source of life. "Sasuke…" he almost growled out. "He was supposed to help them… And I couldn't… I couldn't stop him…" The life began to die again. "They couldn't be saved… I failed them…"

"He sounds so…" Weiss began to say, but couldn't find the word.

"Defeated," Pyrrha and Blake finished for her at the same time. The two looked at one another, surprised at the similar responses they gave.

Getting the gist of it, Cinder kept her hand on his shoulder to show a sense of sympathetic support. Mentally though, she was going over what she figured out. Apparently, Naruto and this Sasuke person were meant to help an unknown group of people, but Sasuke refused to do so. Based on what Naruto said, he was unable to help them on his own and tried to stop Sasuke from leaving in some manner; but he failed to do so and the unknown group of people were unable to be saved as a consequence of that failure. Those people he failed were more than likely his purpose for living; people he cared for greatly. And now that he lost them, he no longer had anything to live for.

While tragic, it was still an opportunity for Cinder to take advantage of. The Grimm in this area were ignoring this man who had an incredible amount of negativity coming from him, which meant that he was practically invisible to them or seen as unthreatening. She could use that to her advantage in more Grimm infested locales.

All she had to do was convince Naruto to have a new purpose.

"Manipulative bitch, isn't she?" Yang asked, glaring at Cinder's image with now red eyes and ignoring her sister's shocked look at her language.

Hey, she couldn't help but feel for the blonde guy in the story. He lost everything, and he didn't need someone to use him when he only wanted to mourn.

Looking down at him, she focused on his missing arm. More than likely, he lost it while trying to stop whoever Sasuke was, which added onto that feeling of betrayal and failure. It would be easy to get him a replacement; but the problem there is getting him to want a replacement in the first place. Some veterans refused such prosthetics and lived the remainder of their lives proudly without them; seeing them as a crutch or a sign of weakness.

She'd have to try and get him to see that it wasn't a weakness when offering the replacement to him. But for now, she needed to get him out of his broken depression; a task that was much easier said than done. Whoever this man – she couldn't call him a child, even if he was still a teenager – was, he was an obvious soldier. Some soldiers never recovered after becoming so broken; so she had her work cut out for her.

Absently, she saw that Neo had also taken a slight interest in the blonde man. Her eyes were still that pale white and she had a hand rested on his head. A brow rose when she saw Neo gently run her hand through his hair, which made a small spark of life return to his eyes. Curious…

"It really is," Weiss said, agreeing with the story. "Why would simply rubbing him on the head bring some life back into him? It doesn't make sense…"

Blake frowned in thought, a possible answer coming to mind that she didn't want to say. She just hoped that she was wrong with her guess.

It was hard watching someone who was desperate for any kind of attention; even from cruel sources.

Standing up, Cinder spoke up, "Neo, we're leaving." The petite girl looked to her briefly before turn back to Naruto with a faint smirk. After she patted his head and made her way to the entrance, Cinder directed her voice to Naruto. "We'll be in the city until the morning, Naruto. If you want, we could offer you a purpose once more; but the choice is yours." Turning around, she made sure her voice was soft and sympathetic as she added, "Think about it…"

With her piece said, and her smirk hidden from his view, she made her way out of his personally made cave, leaving the broken man to his thoughts.

"I usually like to give people the benefit of the doubt," Pyrrha began with a frown, "but I don't like that woman. She's…cruel."

"Yeah, she is," Blake agreed, comparing Cinder and Naruto to Adam and herself.

"Do you think he'll come, Cinder?" asked Emerald as she sat on her bedroll. It was a few hours past midnight and the group was staying in a ruined, yet still stable, building close to Naruto's cave. "He seemed really depressed."

"Depression could be a great motivator," answered Cinder, smirking as she read from a worn out book she had found in the building. It was a simple fantasy novel, but it helped to pass time. "I have a feeling we'll be seeing Mr. Uzumaki before we leave."

"And…if we don't?" Mercury asked in response, dragging out the first word of his question.

"If we don't, then we continue as planned. After all, there isn't anything a man that broken could do to stop us." Looking up from her book, she saw Neo seated on some rubble, staring out of the broken window and towards the blonde's cave. "See anything, Neo?" The girl turned to Cinder and shook her head. "Keep a lookout, then."

"I hope he stays away," Ruby commented.

"He won't," Ren shot down, making the rose-themed girl turn to him. "He's lost and someone is offering him some comfort; even if it's not genuine. The temptation will be too great for him to ignore."

"Oh…" She looked sad at that, worried for Naruto even though she knew he was just a storybook character.

Mercury raised a curious brow. "You seem to be really interested in this guy, boss. Any reason why?"

Cinder regarded him, smirk still in place and her eyes glowing faintly. "There's something rather…peculiar about him that I find myself drawn to. If you think about it, the Grimm seem to be uncaring or even unaware of his presence; even through the obvious deluge of negativity coming from him. We could use that to our advantage when we move to more infested areas."

Emerald nodded in understanding while Mercury hummed thoughtfully. "I'm guessing you had plans already for tackling those places before we even met this guy?" Cinder nodded in response. "What's the real endgame you're going for, anyway?"

"You already know the answer to that," Cinder said dismissively.

"I know what you told me; not what you actually have planned," he shot back.

"Merc!" scolded Emerald. "Why are you questioning her when she hasn't done anything to make us mistrust her?"

"Because I like to know what I'm going for before I do anything so risky!"

"This coming from the man who killed his assassin of a father?" fired back Emerald, making Mercury growl.

"Damn! Tell him, girl!" cheered Yang, enjoying the hostile byplay between the two.

Hey, they were obvious bad guys. She could enjoy seeing them at each other's throats.

Cinder was about to step in, but a new voice caught her by surprise. "…Did I come at a bad time?"

"Naruto, no!" Ruby exclaimed.

"I told you," Ren stated, though he looked unhappy at being correct.

The four others all turned at once, seeing Naruto standing in the doorway of the large room they were staying in. His eyes looked tired and unsure, but Cinder still gave a smirk at seeing him. "Not at all, Naruto. Please, have a seat," she assured before offering him an old crate to sit on. Hesitantly, he took it and faced her, and she saw that he still had empty eyes, but they also held a level of anxiety in them.

Unknown to the four, due to leaving Naruto alone hours before, the Uzumaki had spent the time in resumed solitude thinking over his options; however limited they were. He was in an unknown place, and full of people who lacked chakra from what he could sense due to his years of training. He needed answers and, more importantly, he needed to see if there were ways for him to attempt a return trip back home.

So, with those needs in mind, he decided to take the offer from the woman in red. However, that didn't mean he planned on being tricked into doing something he didn't want to.

"Wait… So, he's aware that she plans to use him," Weiss began before yelling out the rest, "and he came to her anyway?!"

"Smart move," Blake praised, making the others turn to her. "If he's already aware that she's trying to use him, he could use that against her and turn the table on her; using her instead." She smirked at Naruto's image. "Shinobi is another word for ninja; the masters of deception. He's doing them proud."

Yang nudged her with waggling brows. "Sounds like Kitten likes Whiskers."

Her brow and cat ears twitched at that. "…Don't call me Kitten…"

"Not even gonna deny liking him then?" Yang teased again.

"…Shut up, Yang," Blake finally said with her cheeks dusted pink as she resumed reading.

Smiling, the woman started to speak. "I apologize for being rude earlier. You gave us your name, but we never gave you ours in return. My associates are Emerald Sustrai," he was waved at politely by her, "Mercury Black," he was given a short nod, "and Neopolitan, though we just call her Neo." She smirked at him, both eyes turning a bright pink. "As for myself, my name is Cinder Fall."

"Uh… Nice to meet you all, I guess," he replied, still feeling a bit awkward. "So…you said you could help me out." Cinder nodded in response. "How?"

"You lack a purpose, a reason to keep going, yes?" He nodded hesitantly. "I could give one to you. I could help you find something new to fight for, and all I would ask in return is that you help me with my own goals."

"And those goals are?"

Her smirk grew as she reached a hand over and patted his cheek in amusement. "You don't expect me to just reveal everything to you, do you?"

He felt something…strange when she made physical contact with him. It was surprisingly a good strange though, but it just made him more confused.

"She's playing a dangerous game…and so is he," Blake said with a frown.

"No, I guess not… Then what would I be helping you with?"

She removed her hand and leaned back in her seat, and he frowned when the warmth he felt left him. She seemed to notice this, for her eyes glowed faintly for a moment. "The Grimm seem to disregard you entirely, whether it's because they find you unthreatening or something else remains to be seen. My goals involve journeying to areas that are constantly visited by Grimm; some even being classified as infested."

"Grimm?" he asked, raising a brow. "What are Grimm?"

The others looked surprised at the total sincerity of his confusion.

"I would too if I didn't already know he was from a different world or time," Pyrrha admitted sheepishly, and the others agreed with her since the Grimm were common knowledge throughout the world of Remnant.

"You've never heard of Grimm? Y'know, those black creatures with glowing red eyes and white masks and stuff on them?" Emerald asked incredulously.

"Oh, that's what they're called? They came up to me after I crashed into this place, but they didn't attack me."

"They instead acted protective of you, right?" guessed Cinder, earning a confused nod. Her smirk returned. "Interesting… This means that the Grimm see you as something important and they naturally try to protect you from outside threats." She used air quotes for threats. "This makes you even more helpful to my goals."

He frowned at her, showing skepticism. "What would you have me do in these Grimm covered places? And what if whatever is happening between me and them suddenly runs out?"

"To answer your second question, I already had a different plan in place; just in case you didn't show up. If the Grimm start treating you like the rest of us, then I'll just go back to my original plans." She barely caught his wince, which made her mentally grin. On the outside, she reached over and patted his crippled arm gently. "Don't think that's all I wanted to ask your help for. It's my hope that you come to view us as…partners of sorts. We look after our own, and maybe you can become one of our own after some time." Her mental grin grew when she saw him looking away, averting his gaze from hers. She was wearing him down.

"Damn… She's good," Yang couldn't help but praise, even if she didn't like it.

"We could all watch each other's backs and keep each other safe. I will never betray you, Naruto. You have my word."

Moving her hand up, she placed it on his cheek and gently guided his gaze back to her own, making his blue orbs lock onto her amber ones. She gave him a smile and saw his resistance wearing down even further. A part of her wondered if he would deny her when he closed his eyes, hiding them from her own.

"…You promise?" he asked softly, trying to hide his anxiety.

"He's losing the fight," Pyrrha said, feeling concerned for Naruto.

"It's only the first of many," Blake retorted, still confident in the whiskered blonde.

Because he kept his eyes closed, he missed her eyes glow fully, showing her pleasure at winning him over. She gently rubbed her hand across his cheek, smile remaining as she answered, "I promise you, Naruto."

Her eyes lost their glow just in time as he opened his eyes. Locking them on hers for a few more moments, her smile grew when she saw him nod slowly. "…Alright then," he said. "I'll help you out, but only if you help me in return."

"Of course," she said assuringly, removing her hand from his face. "If it is within my power, then I'll do all I can to help you." She then stretched out her left arm, seeing as it was his sole arm at the present time. "Partners?"

He kept his gaze on her delicate hand while the others watched in silence. Emerald was hoping that her mistress's efforts wouldn't be wasted, and she kept herself tense in case the blonde denied her. Mercury just watched with an outward look of boredom while inwardly he wondered just what made the Uzumaki so worth Cinder's attention and interest. As for Neo, she kept her pink eyes locked on Naruto's. Ever since she had set her sights on his emotionally hurt, blue orbs, she felt herself drawn to them, and she wanted to know why.

"Ooh! Sounds like Lil Ice Cream's got a crush!" Yang noted, grinning widely. In the corner of her eye, she saw Blake and, surprisingly, Pyrrha furrow their brows faintly at that. 'Oho! And she's not the only one!'

Why did she feel a kinship to this man? Why did his pain call out to her own? Why did she feel this…desire to be closer to him?

Sighing, Naruto finally reached his arm over and shook hands with Cinder, making her smirk. "Partners…" he agreed before his thoughts turned inward. 'Everyone…I swear I'll try to get back home. Just please…hold on a little while longer.'

"Don't give up on them, Naruto!" cheered Ruby.

"Yeah!" Nora added on. "You can do it!"

Weiss palmed her face and groaned. 'I am surrounded by children…'

"W-What is this…?" a certain Uchiha gasped out in shock as the moon that held Kaguya started to crack. As it did, an immense pressure was felt throughout the world as storm clouds as dark as oblivion began forming. The moon kept cracking as more and more clouds formed before, with a massive shockwave, a part of the moon shattered and unleashed an invisible force of deep negativity upon the world.

"T-That's our…!" Jaune began to say before Ren finished for him.

"Moon…" he whispered in shock.

As it floated above in the night sky, its broken pieces being held close by because of the moon's gravity, the clouds began to rain thick, black globs. The black raindrops, once making impact with the earth, began to rise up and take the shape of black furred/skinned animals with menacing red eyes and bone white masks on their faces.

"The Grimm!" Ruby exclaimed, shock practically oozing from her.

From the biggest source of rainfall, the drops began to merge and grow before, with a roar that echoed across the country, a fierce dragon rose up from the darkness.

"…I wouldn't want to be in the way of that thing," Yang declared. "Any of you guys feel up to it?"

"No," was the unanimous reply.

"Good. Didn't want to be the only one."

Falling to his knees, Sasuke Uchiha knew he was still too weak to do anything as the dragon set its sights on his form. Never before had he felt his situation be so…grim. Before he became consumed by the dark beast, he only had one thought echo across his mind.

'Naruto… Forgive me…'

"You don't deserve his forgiveness," Blake practically hissed out as she marked the page and closed the book. "That's the first chapter."

"I have to say, I wasn't sure about reading this book at first," Weiss noted. "But now, I'm anxious to see what's next. Why don't we pick this up tomorrow afternoon?"

"Sounds good to me," Jaune agreed. "We can use the morning with our teams before meeting here to cool down and continue the book."

"Alright!" exclaimed Ruby, smiling brightly. "We'll meet back here tomorrow!"

Tada! First Reading chapter done!

So, how'd I do, guys? Were the comments made by the Readers believable? I need feedback on this so that I can improve for the next chapter!

Also, I need help finding a way to bring Naruto himself into this story so that he could read the book with the others. Any suggestions for how I can do that would be greatly appreciated!

As always, please review but PLEASE don't flame me. I promise you all, I'm not trying to be narcissistic, self-centered, or anything of a similar nature. I just want to try my hand at a Characters Reading story and felt most comfortable using one of my own to do so. I hope you all can understand and not judge me on it.

One last thing before I sign off, I made hints that I'd like to try either Naruto/Blake or Naruto/Pyrrha for this. If you'd like to see one of them, or if you think this story should NOT have a pairing, please let me know in your reviews or in a PM. Thank you all for your time.

Until next time!