I made some lazy beef ramen yesterday but absolutely botched the recipe. I was making beef ramen and needed to buy beef stock cubes, but I accidentally bought beef demi glace and then used twice as much as was needed in the broth. Then cooked the actual beef in it as well. Now I enjoy myself some beef, don't get me wrong, but the sheer level of beef in that meal has me still tasting it a day later. My every burp is beef-flavoured.

Cover Art: Aristeo Storm

Chapter 25

Credit where credit was due, the fights got better as they went on. They didn't really pick up until the 2v2 stages, and Qrow equated that to less experience with team-wide battles. Class in most schools tended to be 1v1 bouts to the teacher could focus and offer advice without having to split attention between multiple fights, but that pigeonholed students into thinking every fight should be an honourable duel. Case in point, the 2v2 rounds were pretty much just two 1v1 one fights, but there was the odd bit of teamwork to spice things up.

"The problem is that the audience enjoys the 1v1 fights as well," Ozpin explained at the end of the day and after Qrow pointed it out. "And ultimately, the Vytal Festival is intended for them more than it is for us. The tournament is a good chance to test yourself against others, but its main purpose is to show off for people, remind them that we are here to protect them, and to reinforce that message."

"And to draw more people to apply to an academy," said Qrow.

"That certainly doesn't hurt. But most people watching this don't understand anything about real fighting and would complain of unfairness if a team ganged up on one member. It's silly, I know, but at the end of the day this isn't a life-or-death battle. We can afford to fight a little sub-optimally to entertain the masses."

"Laaame!" Raven felt the need to chip in. "Make them fight for real or get the fuck out."

That was a lot of complaining for someone who had literally been on the edge of her seat. Raven and Summer had loved the fights, but then they were still young and inexperienced enough to think life was a series of a1v1 bouts. In their defence, but not the students of the upper academies, they hadn't even been put on a team yet. Signal and the other pre-academies didn't do them.

Personally, Qrow thought it wrong not to teach teamwork that early, but he could see why they were reluctant to do so. Teams would be split up when applying for academies, with some not making it and some wanting to go to other places. At a young age, people were very fickle with their personalities as well and still growing into being a person, so it probably wasn't a great idea to lump them together for years when they might like one another when they were eleven but be hated enemies by sixteen.

Comparatively, your likes and personality didn't change that much from seventeen to twenty-one. You might be more mature, but you were roughly the same person. Seventeen-year-old Yang would have murdered her eleven-year-old self, especially with her princess, pony, and pigtails stage. Yang's bedroom had been an affront on the senses back then. So bright and… ugh. Pink.

"If it's a real fight you want then perhaps I can accommodate you," said Ozpin. "I could see to setting the three of you up in a practice match against one of our competing teams from Beacon. I'd ask them to take it easy on you—"

"No way. Tell them to try their hardest." Raven snorted arrogantly. "They'll need it."

No, they fucking wouldn't, and the sooner Raven stopped digging their graves the better. Qrow smacked her arm and said to Ozpin, "Ignore her. And what's the point? We'll get our shit pushed in."

"Nah," said Raven. "We'd win."

"Nah," he fired back. "We obviously wouldn't."

"When did my brother become a little bitch?"

"When we started talking about fighting a team good enough to be selected for the Vytal Tournament, Ray! This isn't gonna be some first-year morons who limped into Beacon. These guys will be one of the top ten teams there."

Ozpin smirked. "Not confident, Mr Branwen?"

"No. No, I'm bloody well not confident I can beat someone four or five years older than me who is one year away from becoming an official huntsman. Surprise-surprise!" The entire idea was downright stupid, and he wasn't sure what Ozpin wanted to test. Maybe how they reacted to a crushing loss? That'd be about the only thing he'd see. "Summer, back me up here."

"Summer, don't be a little bitch!" said Raven.

"I'm staying out of this."

"That's a bitch answer!"

"How is it!?" she cried. "If I'd sided with Qrow I'd be a bitch, and me staying out of it makes me a bitch. Is the only way to not be a little bitch to side with you!?"

Raven nodded. "Yes."

"That's completely unfair!"

Ozpin chuckled. "It would only be a friendly spar. A chance to test yourselves and to see that being involved in a team battle is a little more complex than watching from a distance and offering criticism."

"So, this is a way to punish Qrow?"

"It's not about punishing anyone, Miss Rose."

"It's about punishing me," said Qrow. "Ozpin is a cruel man. You'd best not pick that Arc guy, though. Raven still stays up late at night thinking about hi—" Qrow ducked the fist aimed at the back of his head.


"Then are you thinking about Tai—" Qrow's eyes widened briefly. "Tell you what, Ozpin. Yeah. I'm down for this team sparring thing. But!" He stressed the word. "We need a fourth member to make it complete. I happen to know a guy who is a student of Sanctum that could take part."

Ozpin hummed. "I'm not against the idea. Would he be willing to join you?"

"I can ask." But for the chance to show off in front of Raven, he had the feeling Taiyang would come. "And it'll be a good opportunity for us to learn to adapt to new person. You know, teamwork and all that."

Summer smiled lopsidedly. "It's Taiyang. Isn't it?"

"For fuck's sake!" Raven groaned. "Why him? What is your obsession?" She eyed him strangely. "You know, if you're crushing on him then trying to force me to date him is the worst way to go about winning him over. Just be a fucking man and tell him you're into him."

"And steal my lovely sister's man?"

"Fuck off, Qrow. He's a dork. He's annoying." Raven whined the last word. "He tried to give me flowers. Like, who does that!?"

"A gentleman," said Ozpin.

"A lame loser," Raven countered. "What am I supposed to do with flowers? Eat them?"

"Ah…" Ozpin chuckled. "Young love."


Taiyang was rather predictably down for the chance to show off for Raven. So much so, in fact, that he didn't even bother listening to who they would be fighting – for if he had then he might have realised the only "showing" he'd be doing was how well he could break his own fall. But Taiyang was young, hormonal, brash, and all the other endearing terms one might use to describe a teenager trying to win the affections of the coolest girl he'd ever met.

He wasn't dumb, though, which was why when he saw their opponents he yanked Qrow aside by his collar. "We're fighting them!?"

Qrow glanced over at the Beacon team. They were around twenty years old, which put them four-to-five years above themselves. Worse yet, at least three of those years were at Beacon fighting actual Grimm and developing teamwork. He was confident Team STRQ would be better than them in time, but he also wasn't stupid enough to think their teamwork would be on that level when this was the first time Taiyang had ever fought with them.

But he couldn't bring himself to care.

Right here, in this moment, Team STRQ were together again.

And Qrow couldn't stop smiling.

"We're going to get creamed!" Taiyang hissed.

"Oh yes."

"They're going to slaughter us!"


"Why are you so happy!?"

"It's a good day." Qrow grinned at the aggravated blonde. "Just remember you have a chance to show off for Raven, man."

"Show off what? They're going to string me up by my underwear!"

Qrow slapped his back. "Then I hope you've worn your sexiest pair."

"Man…" Taiyang slumped. "I really want to fucking hate you, but you're just so nice." He sighed. "Any advice ahead of time?"

"You and me stick together. Our only shot in hell is going to be to two-on-one the weakest on their team and try to get an advantage there."

Taiyang nodded. He'd always been smart, but also humble. There was very little arrogance in the man. "Sounds about right. Shouldn't we be discussing this with Raven, though? And Summer, of course."

That's your future wife you're treating as an afterthought, bucko.

Well, one of his future wives anyway.

"Raven will 100% not listen to anything either of us say. Summer is best left on her own. She'll jump in to help Ray if we leave her. Raven doesn't accept help, but she accepts people following her orders, and she thinks Summer does that."

"Does she?"

"Nah. Summer just puts up with it because it's one of Ray's quirks. They're best friends. Raven just won't ever admit it out loud." Qrow elbowed Taiyang in the side. "Trust me, the more she rants about someone, the more she likes them. Yourself included."

Taiyang perked up. "Really…?"

"Definitely. Watch." Qrow pulled back. "Hey Raven! What do you think about our classmates back home?"

"What?" Raven scowled their way. "Who gives a shit?"

"See?" Qrow whispered. "Zero interest. They don't even register." He turned back and shouted, "What do you think about Taiyang here?"

Raven's scowl deepened. "Lame, weak, loser. Keep him away from me before I'm sick!"

"So much for the worst they can say is no," Taiyang whimpered.

"Nah, man. You're in. Look how much emotion she put into that. Raven actually bothered to remember your name and who you are when our own classmates don't get so much as a mention."

"To insult me."

"To care enough to insult you. To know enough about you to insult you." Qrow wriggled his eyebrows. "Who do you think she insults most in the world? Me. Do you think she hates my guts?"

"No…" Taiyang brightened. "Then she…?"

"She registers you. That's more than most guys after her attention get. Now go out there and show her why she should pay attention!"


"Go smash a huntsman in the face!"


"Let's do this!"


Over on the other side of the room, a twenty-year-old student turned to his combat instructor and said, "Are you sure we're now allowed to maim them? I feel like he deserves maiming for getting that poor kid's hopes up."

"I'd really rather you took it easy on them," said Ozpin, all smiles. "But if it helps then you can go least easy on young Qrow. He's a resilient young man and I'm sure he can take a beating."

"I heard that, you prick!" shouted the young man in question. "Stop trying to get me killed!"

"Hey, I recognise that voice," said another of the team. "Isn't this the little shit that was talking smack about everyone in the tournament? Saying how we're losers for not fighting as a team and using the arena and stuff?"

Qrow winced. "Fuck."

"It is! Oh, hell yeah! He called my girlfriend and her team pathetic!"

Taiyang took a nervous step away from him.

"Well maybe your girlfriend is pathetic," said Raven, helping in her own unique way. "I mean, she must be pretty pathetic to want to go out with a loser like you."

Summer raised her hand. "Is it too late for me to forfeit?"

Ozpin smiled and clapped his hands together. "Let's get this friendly spar on the road. Shall we?"


It might have seemed a little cruel to set up a young team for failure like this, but he really had asked the team to take it easy on them, and there was a lot you could learn from a loss. Most importantly, how to accept that you weren't always invincible, which was a lesson he felt Miss Branwen needed to learn as soon as humanly possible.

The inclusion of a fourth member was a surprise, but a welcome one. He'd been given Taiyang Xiao-Long's file from Leonardo after requesting it ahead of the spar, and everything within painted him as a talented but not overly special young man. Popular, hard-working, friendly, and with a large number of close friends.

He was by all accounts a very nice young man, and it was interesting to see Qrow connect with him so quickly and deeply. The boy was quite distant in Signal from what he'd heard, and yet he'd stuck to Taiyang like glue. Was that a factor of Qrow, or was Taiyang just more magnetic than he'd realised? It was hard to say, but Ozpin approved of Qrow having more friends.

It was also another point in the "not a spy" category. He didn't truly think the boy a spy for Salem, but he had to accept there was suspicious activity around him. It might just have been trauma from his cruel upbringing, but Ozpin had to be cautious. Seeing him befriend a boy like this and try to set him up with his sister for no reason other than – as far as Ozpin could tell – "shits and giggles" was a relief. Hearing that he went on a date with Willow Schnee was the same. It was all signs Qrow was settling in and finally acting his age to enjoy life.

And really, why would an agent of Salem do all this?

Bringing them to the Vytal Festival had been a resounding success.

As for the spar… well…

Qrow and Taiyang were showing surprising but ineffective teamwork. They were working together to try and isolate the smallest member of the older team, and while they weren't doing a great job of it, Ozpin could tell it was more because they weren't used to supporting one another than any failure in mentality. In fact, Qrow was doing a good job of staying out Taiyang's way and enabling him to strike at the short women they were facing, but Taiyang wasn't good enough to capitalise on it.

As for Qrow, he was fighting dirty indeed, going for the backs of the knee, ankles, groin, eyes and anywhere else he could reach. The blows weren't strong, but when they were being aimed for your crotch, you tended to overreact to try and defend anyway, which created more openings for Taiyang to take advantage of. His opponent was getting annoyed by it and speeding up quick, but Qrow was able to dodge every attack before they came close.

Qrow isn't faster than his foe. He moves before the attack comes. If anything, it's his instincts that are helping him more. Qrow is very good at telling where an attack is coming from and getting out the way.

Raven was much the same for speed but a little less on the instinctual side. She was holding her own with her sword against the team's leader, but only because the huntsman was matching his strength to hers, so he didn't just overwhelm her on the first blow. He was slowly ramping up his speed and strength and she'd lost control of that little duel soon.

Summer Rose was outmatched from the start, but it was something she'd known. Wise enough to know she'd be on the back foot, she'd taken to a fighting retreat in the hopes of dragging a mistake out her opponent. Ozpin doubted she'd be able to capitalise, but he approved of her intention regardless.

That left one member of Team MGRV left, who absolutely could have stepped in to peel Qrow off her teammate or joined to overwhelm, but she was standing on the outskirts watching. In a real fight, Ozpin knew she'd get involved but this was anything but and she was giving Taiyang and Qrow a chance to play with their gambit and see if they could best her teammate.

There's no doubting they're a good set of students but nothing here stands out as suspicious.

Qrow's viciousness was unusual in one his age, but it was mirrored in a way by Raven. While she didn't go for such dirty moves, she did swing every blow with lethal intent, fully wanting to cut through her opponent and cause terrible damage. It was behaviour he chalked up to having grown up among such a violent group of people, and while it was cause for concern and something to keep an eye on, his biggest worry was accidental injuries. Not intentional murder.

They had obviously parted with their criminal group on poor terms, and if they'd spent time in an orphanage around so many children without harming any, then he was sure they'd adapt well to Beacon. He'd just need to make sure their instructor, if it still wasn't him come the time, knew to pair them with the better students. Those that could take their viciousness and respond in kind.

In the end, the final teammate stepped in to peel Taiyang off her friend and draw him away, leaving Qrow's opponent to finally engage in the 1v1 duel he was looking for – and the method of combat that Qrow had been quite adamant against. It was good to see a young person who appreciated the value of teamwork over brute strength, but how would Qrow fair when the option was taken away from him?


Well, this was unfortunate.

Not in the slightest bit unexpected if Qrow were being honest. There was something so unbearably painful about knowing you had been faster and stronger, and then being forced to be so slow and weak. This must have been what it felt like for people who got injured and had to go through physiotherapy to recover their strength. The constant burning frustration as his body failed to keep up with that his mind expected of it.

And no matter how hard he pushed it, he couldn't even outpace a freaking brat not out of Beacon. He was a huntsman, damn it! He was one of the best huntsmen in the damned kingdom!

Lunging forward, Qrow roared on the attack and watched the huntsman bring his own sword up and around to deflect his and give himself the inside path. At the last second, he twisted his wrist down so much it hurt, feinting and sliding under the blade before nudging it aside with his shoulder. He was on the inside and brought his weapon back up and toward the man's flank.

Too slow. Too damn slow. The guy recovered and blocked it with his other hand, losing a bit of aura but not much. He even grabbed Qrow's training sword and held onto it, kicking him once in the gut and then a second time for good luck.

"You gonna wrap this up or not? We've dealt with the others."

The guy let go of Qrow's sword and let him stumble away nursing his stomach. Sure enough, Raven, Taiyang and Summer were out for the count. Raven looked incredibly sulky about it, pouting at him with crossed arms as if saying it was all his fault.

"I'm trying to give him a sporting chance," said his opponent. "What's the point in kicking his ass in five minutes?"

"It's been ten."

It sure felt like it. Qrow would have honestly prefer the fucker end it early and save him the pain. This was what he got for opening his mouth and insulting the guy's girlfriend, he supposed. Not that he'd known at the time.

Not that he'd have done any different if he had.

One good hit, thought Qrow. I know I can't beat him, but if I can just get one good hit in then I'll consider this my win.

It would improve his mood if nothing else and wipe the smug look off the prick's face. Qrow Branwen hadn't been through hell and become the best huntsman in Vale just so some brat not even out of Beacon could look down on him.

This called for a suicidal attack, sadly.

In real combat, they were last resort cases, to kill a Grimm when your aura was so low it was you or them. In spars, they were frowned upon, but if his only goal was to lose having taken a chunk from this guy's aura then he'd take it. Qrow brought his sword up over his shoulder, widened his stance and aimed the tip at him. Typical longsword stance, nothing special. Not even that useful for a huntsman since such a style was designed on the basis that one good lunge to the neck would fatally deal with your opponent.

Which wasn't true whether you were fighting other huntsmen or Grimm.

There was a reason a style like Ruby's with such wild swings and spinning attacks was viable. It was because precise cuts and slashes were meaningless, and because your best bet for taking a Grimm out of a fight was to cut it in half or tear off a limb. It'd still come after you with that wound, but it'd be less of a threat.

But it was good for getting one hit in.

Qrow kicked off and dashed in.

"Seriously?" asked his opponent, flicking his complex mechashift weapon forward to shoot. "You can do better than attack straight from the front."

He pulled the trigger.


The nasty sound from deep within the weapon's mechanism heralded the trigger slipping out and falling to the floor, followed by the dust round tumbling out the barrel of the gun. The firing mechanism had failed, broken even, and the huntsman-in-training stood there dumbly, his weapon shifted to gun form and completely unable to do anything as Qrow lunged.


His training sword tore across the man's throat with a sparkle of aura, drawing a pained grunt and then a vicious knee to the stomach. Qrow folded over it, then grunted as the man grabbed his head and slammed his face down onto the mat.

"The match is over!" Ozpin called. "Team MGRV is victorious."

"Of course we are," one of the girls laughed, "but you actually got hit by one of them! Bwahaha! I'm never letting you live this down!"

"Oh, piss off," the man holding Qrow down said. "Like I expected my weapon to break on me!"

"Better here in training than in the tournament," said another. "You've got time to get it fixed, and maybe this'll be a reminder to take maintenance seriously."

"I did! You really think I'd slack off when we're fighting in the Vytal Tournament? All the parts were new and looked after." He let go of Qrow, stood and picked up the trigger that has fallen out the machinery. "Seriously, though. What are the odds?"

"It's just bad luck," said the girl.

It sure was.

Qrow cursed furiously into the mat.

His Semblance had returned.

Next Chapter: 13th April

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