AN: It's been a while, hasn't it? I could cite finals and schoolwork, I could cite a Dragon Ball Z fic I've been working on, even my beta work on This Bites!... but really, the reason is much more fundamental than that: I no longer want to write The Commission anymore. Every time I sit down to try and write it, now, it feels like a chore. The spark, the enthusiasm, is gone. And more, I'm unable to convince myself that it's a good story. So... you can all guess where this is going. Consider The Commission cancelled.

That said, I do have one last thing for you loyal readers. I've had half of Chapter 13 written and sitting on my hard drive, waiting for the second half. So, to soften the blow somewhat, I'll leave you with one last update. Enjoy!


Chapter 13

Yang basked in the cheers of the crowd, her arms spread wide and hands beckoning the roars onward.

"Well, I'd say we have our answer!" the blonde announced into her mic. "If anyone still has objections, speak now so I know where to aim, or do us all a favor by keeping your traps shut forever!"

At that, she glanced expectantly up at the broadcast booth, where Port was glaring daggers down at her. Oobleck was nowhere in sight, presumably having left to get more 'coffee', if the thick caffeine-laden petroleum he drank could be classified as such. The older professor finally reached over and grabbed Oobleck's mic.

"Unless Team JNPR objects, I see no reason to not agree," he announced through gritted teeth, as if each word caused him physical injury.

Yang grinned, and turned back to Team JNPR. "So, whaddya guys say?" she asked. "Go, or no go?"

Ren, Jaune, and Pyrrha glanced at each other before pulling into a huddle, presumably to decide whether to accept. Yang wasn't worried; between Weiss' visibility in the boxes and the Valkryrie girl's obvious enthusiasm, she was almost certain they'd accept.

Speaking of which…

Yang glanced over to Nora, and she let out a snort of suppressed laughter at the sight. The orange-haired girl seemed locked into a rigid board, a manic grin plastered on her face. Yesterday's insults might not have managed to induce tunnel-vision, but this turn of events clearly had.

Oh, this was going to be fun.

Yang turned her attention back to the rest of the team, idly noting that the crowd was starting to get restless. The students probably noticed that, as they broke the huddle a few seconds later.

"We'll do it," Jaune told her. To his credit, there was only the barest hint of trepidation in his voice.

"Well, there you have it folks!" Yang announced into the mic. "The super-final round of the Vytal Festival Tournament is a go!"

The crowd erupted, clapping and shouting and stamping their feet. More surprisingly, the terrain-shifting activated, cliffs and pillars of orangish sandstone rising all around them. Surprised, Yang threw a glance into the stands and caught a glimpse of Penny waving back to her from where she was sitting.

As the high-walled canyon finished rising up, Yang made a mental note to thank Penny at a later date. In the meantime, she had a fight to manage.

Smile still in place, Yang slid into her stance, her body presented sideways to her opponents with her right leg forward and her right hand held up and open in a claw, her left lower and also clawed. The mic, meanwhile, was slid into one of the loops of her belt.

"Awwww, no punchy-punch?" Nora whined, even as she readied her hammer.

"Sorry," Yang apologized lightly, though her grin and tone of voice screamed that she really wasn't. "But if I went with my usual style, this'd be over too quickly. Gotta put on a show, y'know?"

The students slid into their own ready stances, and silence fell over the stadium as everyone waited for the signal.

"Begin!"

"DORAAAAAAA!" Nora shouted as she sprang forward, leaping into the air to smash her hammer down on Yang's skull. The blonde's smile didn't shift in the least, even as the hammer screamed towards her.

It was barely inches from her head when Yang moved, her right hand reaching up and grabbing the shaft of the hammer. She yanked it towards her, and with Nora lacking any leverage she was brought along with it, the diminutive berserker hanging listlessly in front of her.

Nora's pupils promptly shrank back to more acceptable sizes as she realized that her momentum had been cancelled out. "... This is going to hurt, isn't it?"

"Ohohoh..." Yang chuckled darkly. "You have no idea."

And with that, her left hand shot up, latched itself to Nora's face, hauled back - wrenching her off of Magnhild's handle in the process - and flung her back at her teammates.

Jaune, who had been leading his teammates in a charge, was the unfortunate recipient of the impromptu missile. Unable to stop and brace himself, when Nora hit him square in chest she knocked him clean off his feet, sending the both flying back into one of the rock formations.

Pyrrha, for her part, practically came to a halt as she gawked at her leader and teammate flying past her. That said, she wasn't so distracted that she didn't notice Yang throwing Magnhild straight at her. The thrown hammer was hastily caught on her shield, but it had the desired effect of completely killing her momentum.

All of which left Ren charging head-on at one of the best hand-to-hand fighters on the planet.

To his credit, he didn't let that fact affect him in the least. Ducking under a grab, he transitioned into a low sweep kick, then a jumping palm uppercut when Yang hopped over his first attack. When that was dodged, too, he swept out his Stormflowers and dashed for his opponent immediately upon hitting the ground. The twin bladed SMGs lashed out, Yang evading the first three slashes. The fourth was not dodged. Instead, its point was caught in the general's palm. Her open, completely unarmored palm... and stopped dead.

"Oh what the hell," Ren summarized flatly.

Yang merely grinned cheekily in response. "I know I said no punchy-punch," she purred. "But I think I can mix it in a little."

She gripped the Stormflower in her palm, shifted her stance - and the brought her right fist down in a thundering smash that caught Ren right in the face and slammed him into the ground. The impact shook the stadium and cracked the stone underneath, and when she lifted her fist up Ren could do no more than lie there and bleed from the nose.

"Aw, shoot," Yang groaned. "I overdid it again." Without even looking up, she leaned back and used her palm to push Magnhild away from her.

"Wait, Nora, we need a plan of attack!" Yang heard Jaune yell as she dodged swing after swing.

"Yeah, I have a plan!" Nora shot back. "Attack!"

"I've heard better plans…" Yang pointed out, before punctuating the remark by grabbing Nora's arm as the hammer-wielder overextended again. "And coming from me that's saying something."

For a moment, Nora didn't realise what was going on, and then Yang's other hand gripped the front of her shirt. "Oh, fudgesicles…" she whimpered as Yang lifted her up and over her head before slamming her to the hard rock ground.

Unlike her partner, Nora stayed conscious, though from the moaning and rubbing of the back the throw had hurt. Yang had no time to capitalize on it, however, as Jaune and Pyrrha made their assault. And what an assault it was. Both were focusing on small attacks - short swings, stabs - that left her few openings for a grapple. And whenever she tried to go on the offensive one of them would pick up the pace, forcing her to defend again. Of course, there was one minor problem for the students.

They still hadn't landed a single solid blow.

"Not bad," Yang quipped as she flowed around Milo and Crocea Mors. "Not bad at all. I dare say most opponents would be in serious trouble."

Suddenly, she vanished, and her voice came from behind the two. "Sadly, I'm not most opponents. Now, enjoy your flight on the Nora Airlines!"

Jaune and Pyrrha started to whirl around-

*THWACK!*

Before Jaune staggered as Magnhild struck him right on the forehead. "Uh, oops?" Nora said sheepishly. "Wait, Jaune, behind you!"

"Too late!" Yang sing-songed as she wrapped her arms around Jaune's waist. "Take this!"

Throwing herself back, Yang slammed Jaune to the ground in a textbook Vacuan suplex. And yet, despite the third bone-crushing blow, Jaune began to pull himself to his feet.

"Sturdy one, ain'tcha?" Yang quipped, rearing back a fist. Her punch came down - and smashed into the stone two inches from Jaune's head.

Yang blinked, then stood up and glanced back at Pyrrha, whose hand was stretched out in her direction.

"You just vaulted to number one on the takedown list," Yang announced, jabbing a finger at the redhead. Crouching down, she dashed at Pyrrha, brought her fist back, and punched right at the center of the shield.

The metal rang like a gong, and the redhead was clearly wincing under the blow. Yang drew her fist back, only for Nora to interrupt.

"Hey! Remember me?!"

This time, Magnhild wasn't deflected or caught on the handle. No, this time Yang caught it straight on the head.

"You know what? You're right, we really should go to a one-on-one."

Nora let out a weak laugh before Yang swung her around and threw her at Jaune again, bowling both of them over. Again.

Unfortunately for Yang, that distraction cost her, as she turned to find a bronze shield up in her face and a spear stabbing into her thigh. The blonde countered with another punch to the shield, then another, the last visibly denting the metal and producing a very gratifying look of panic from Pyrrha. It also sent her skidding back and out of reach.

"Looks like it's just you and me, eh, Red?" Yang drawled, starting to pace back and forth. "Now, you guys are good, very good. Really! It's just, well, nine years more training, nine years more experience… it adds up, y-"

Yang was cut off as her own hand slapped itself onto the center of her face. Pyrrha lowered her hand, waiting for the blonde to do something. Instead of an attack, though, she just got her opponent lowering her hand and sighing.

"Okay, I probably should have seen that coming," she said, reaching down to undo the metal bracelets on her wrists. "And y'know what? I probably should take you seriously."

Ember Celica's bifurcated halves thudded to the ground, and Yang brought up her fists into a boxing stance. "Let's do this."

Pyrrha felt her stomach drop several feet as she brought Akouo up defensively, trying in vain to pop the dent out of the shield with her Semblance. "Fuck."

~o~

While most of Vale was glued to their TV sets watching the surprise exhibition game of the Vytal festival, a good number of people had taken advantage of the lack of crowds to hit the dance clubs or do some late-night shopping.

Seven people were in the Brandywine Boutique when nearly ten thousand tons of train slammed into the rather thin layer of bedrock separating Vale from the Mountain Glenn tunnel system at close to a hundred miles per hour. The engine pretty much disintegrated on impact, but basically acted as ablative armor for the cars behind it. It was a rough stop, but only a handful of the passengers passed out.

The White Fang loaded within immediately began spilling out, most on foot and others in their Paladin mechs. They did not, however, immediately go for the hole in the tunnel. Instead, they lined up, waiting, for there was only one among them who had the privilege - and, spoken only in their heads, the ability - to be first out of the Breach.

They didn't have to wait long before Blake Belladonna strode up to the front of the crowd, flanked by Adam Taurus and the Lieutenant.

"Soldiers of the White Fang, I will keep this brief," she began. "Outside, stands your enemy. Outside, stands the boot that grinds on the neck of all faunuskind. Outside… is your first chance to truly strike back! You know your duties, and I know you will carry them out to the best of your ability! All you need to do is follow me into Vale!"

"HURRAH!" came the resounding cry from the soldiers.

Nodding, Blake blurred away and onto the pile of rubble overlooking the square. Hundreds of people were out on the streets, rubbernecking at the devastation, and so they all saw her. It was unclear who screamed first, but it the panic proved infectious. Within seconds the crowd had turned into a screaming mob, one running every which way.

Under her mask, Blake smiled, both at the chaos and at her troops fanning out like a well-oiled machine. The smile fell when two soldiers, who had pushed ahead to scout a bit, were thrown back, accompanied by the click-clack of high heels. And it turned into an outright scowl when she saw who was rounding the corner of one of the streets branching off from the square.

"Winter Schnee," she said frigidly.

"Belladonna," Winter replied in an only marginally warmer tone, resplendent in her old Atlas uniform. Behind her, a half-platoon of white-clad soldiers were fanning out in a firing line, aiming at the White Fang soldiers, who for their part split off a group of their own to match, the rest streaming into the city.

"What are you doing here?" Blake asked, hand drifting towards Gambol Shroud.

"Oh, you know how it is," Winter replied airily. "You come to Vale to finally put the finishing touches on the shiny new mercenary company you've put together, and then someone decides to launch a terrorist attack and provide a perfect opportunity to test them out."

"Enough of this," Adam suddenly growled. There was a bang, and Winter hastily drew her sword and batted aside the red blade as it rocketed towards her. Adam had already left Blake's side, leaping over Winter to grab his sword and swing it down at her. However, she smoothly turned around, facing Adam just as his swing started. Saber and katana met, and the red blade was turned aside.

As Adam came in for a landing, the Lieutenant sent a questioning glance to Blake. She glanced over at the white-clad soldiers, who hadn't moved, and nodded; Weiss' stories were handy, but she wanted to see Winter's skills for herself. But first, she relocated to the nearby rooftops as the last of her troops in the square started firing at the white-clad soldiers. Grimm were starting to spill out of the Breach, mostly lower-level ones, and while they avoided the fights in the square in favor of looking for easier prey, she did not want to waste Aura on killing them.

Not to mention, she was getting reports from squad leaders deeper about white-clad soldiers attempting to impede their advance. That was fine; the Grimm were supposed to do the main legwork anyway.

As for Winter's skills, they were formidable. Her assault against Adam, sword-to-sword, was fast and vicious, leaving him no option but to go entirely defensive. And she reacted perfectly to the Lieutenant's arrival, ducking down and swinging her heel into his jaw, and then transitioning seamlessly to further attacks against Adam while her summoned Grimm, a Beowolf Alpha in this case, fended off the Lieutenant.

Correction: a Beowolf Alpha that was outmatching the massive faunus. Blake glared down at the Schnee. Oh, she would definitely be a problem if she let her live. As Adam began his charged attack - and Blake knew it wouldn't work - she leaped into the air to join the fight herself.

As Winter leaped into the air herself, preparing to dive down on her subordinates' heads, Blake pressed a button in Gambol Shroud's handle, activating one of the assortment of Dust cartridges loaded in the magazine. Lightning Dust crackled, and she funneled the power, mixed with a fair amount of Aura, into her blade.

And then, at the apex of her leap, she unleashed it, a crackling crescent of energy that Winter only barely avoided and that carved through the street, several Grimm, and the building behind them.

Blake and Winter both landed at the same time, and she turned to her subordinates.

"Adam, Lieutenant, meet up with one of the squads," Blake ordered as she stepped towards Winter, her geta sandals clacking on the cobblestones. "You'll do more good out there than fighting her."

"Oh, really?" Winter drawled sarcastically. "And you're going to fight me, I assume?"

"No." More Dust energy flowed into her Aura, channeled not through her blade this time, but her Semblance. Clones of lightning, fire, shadow, rock, and ice sprang up around her, a veritable army of them. "I'm going to kill you."

Blake felt a twinge of satisfaction as Winter's eyes widened in shock, the Schnee hastily throwing up a veritable field of glyphs as the clones charged forward. Tiny spectral Nevermores collided with fire clones in pretty explosions. Ursae formed a living wall that dispersed lightning clones. And the ice, stone, and shadow clones were met with a wave of ice and an ethereal Beowolf Alpha.

As spectacular as it was, the clones were merely a distraction for Blake to get behind Winter. Charging up Gambol Shroud with as much Aura as she dared, she stabbed forward, only for Winter to spin around and catch the blade in her hand. The sword edge still cut up her hand, but that was it, and it expended the energy given in the process.

Blake quickly hopped back as Winter attempted to bring her saber down on the cat faunus' head, Gambol Shroud sliding out of the Schnee's hands. Winter capitalized on this, rushing towards Blake with her blades split, but the White Fang leader simply dashed off to the side. Winter attempted to follow, but by then Blake was already moving again. And again. And again.

Soon she was outright blurring around Winter. She had to admit, it was a heady feeling, and she couldn't resist a little taunt.

"What's wrong? Can't keep up?"

Of all the responses she had been expecting, a smirk wasn't one of them. "You know what they say about counting chickens, Belladonna," Winter shot back as a series of green, clock-like glyphs sprang up around her.

Blake's eyes widened. She recognized those glyphs, glyphs that had allowed Weiss to match Ruby in spars before.

Time dilation glyphs.

Time dilation was probably the most misunderstood of the Schnee abilities. Their mastery of dust, their platform glyphs, their summons - all were obvious, flashy, and easy to grasp. Time dilation? "Oh, you're just moving really fast, that's nothing special."

It wasn't just moving fast. It was thinking fast, reacting fast. And it was perfect for the current situation.

This time, it was Winter who was a blur when she attacked. Blake managed to hastily pull her head back, dumping as much Aura as she dared into speed. And yet, Winter still carved a chunk off the upper right side of the mask. And that was just the first blow. The rest had to be caught on her rapidly depleting Aura, knocking her about like a ragdoll.

Finally, the time dilation ended, allowing Blake to fall to her feet, sore and her Aura badly depleted - only to look up at the spectral Beowolf Alpha looming over her.

"Shit…" she muttered before the massive paw slammed down on her. And again. And again, and again, her Aura creaking and then shattering under the strain. Blake felt each blow more and more, skin tearing and bones creaking under each strike.

Finally, though, the onslaught stopped, leaving Blake lying in a small crater. She quickly did an assessment of her condition: upper kimono a tattered mess, the left side hanging over her shoulder and exposing her sarashi; the lower kimono torn all over; her mask in pieces on the ground; and a litany of bruise, cuts, and scrapes on her exposed skin. Oh, and barely any Aura left.

Still, nothing was broken, and there weren't any serious internal injuries. The conclusion was simple: she could still fight.

Planting her hands under her, and then her feet, Blake hauled herself upright, shooting a venomous glare at Winter, who was on her knees looking totally exhausted.

"You're going to wish you hadn't done that…" the cat faunus growled.

"I quite doubt that," a panting Winter retorted with clearly false bravado. "Not when you're that torn up."

Blake bared her teeth in a bestial imitation of a smile. "Oh, and you're in better shape? Can you even stand?"

Winter visibly flinched at that.

"I didn't think so. Face it, Schnee, you're done."

With that, Blake stepped forward, ever so slowly. To her surprise, Winter did manage to haul herself to her feet. Still, it didn't change anything. One stab, and a thorn in their sides would be gone.

And then the earth shuddered.

Blake, with her preternatural balance, barely even wobbled. But she knew what was going on; after all, it had emerged right in front of her, and the sound of bone-plating skittering on asphalt was quite distinctive.

"A Deathstalker just burst out of the street behind me, didn't it?"

Blake glanced at Winter, vaguely aware of her ears folding back against her scalp, and merely pointed behind the Schnee. Indeed, a massive scorpion-esque Grimm had burst out from the tunnels beneath the city, and was bearing down on the pair with a series of enraged clicks.

On the plus side, the naked shock on Winter's face was quite satisfying.

Still, it was clearly time to go. Though in better shape than Winter, she knew she wasn't in any shape for a sustained fight. Thanks to the naked terror of the city's citizens, more and more Grimm were being drawn to and pouring out of the Breach, and most of them were old enough to be eyeing the both of them with far too much intelligence for comfort.

"Well," Blake stated simply, sheathing Gambol Shroud. "I'd love to kill you right now, really I would, but seeing as I have a vested interest in staying alive, I'll just be going." She raised her hand in a mock salute. "Goodbye."

And with that, she hopped up onto the rooftops, leaving behind a clone to cover her retreat. Now, which way to the nearest safehouse?

~o~

Winter gritted her teeth as the clone she'd just stabbed dissipated. That damn bitch. She'd just left her here! And the worst part was, it wasn't even a bad decision! She was completely exhausted, and that was a lot of Grimm massing on the other side of the square, not to mention the Deathstalker bearing down on her.

Still, she was a Schnee. And if this was her day to die, she would go down on her feet and fighting.

Speaking of the Deathstalker, it was entirely too close. She could see the massive claws reaching for her-

CRASH!

Before it was promptly crushed by what must have been a multi-ton anchor dropping out of the sky and smashing it into the pavement. Not quite dead, the Grimm stirred and tried to lift itself out of the crater-

BOOM!

Until the cannon incorporated in the anchor's shank fired a blast of Dust energy clean through the creature, putting a definitive end to it.

Winter looked up to see a dark black Bullhead, a cartoon-like yellow tornado emblazoned on a large roundel on its side. It was also armed to the teeth, a turreted autocannon under the nose firing steadily into the swarm around the anchor and two winglets bristling with rockets and missiles. Standing in one of the bay doors was a young girl in a marine-colored sailor suit with dark brown hair tipped with white and two curving ram's horns on her head, and in her hand was a chain that led down to the anchor.

"If you're Winter Schnee, grab the fuck on!" the girl called out. "If you're not… well, hell, get on anyway unless you've got a death wish! But put your wallet on first if you do!"

"BO!" a voice shouted from inside the Bullhead.

"What!? Do you want to waste good money!?"

Winter sighed as this "Bo" and the man inside started bickering. At least the Grimm were keeping back. Their puny little brains likely couldn't comprehend what had happened to the Deathstalker beyond the fact that it had suddenly died. The autocannon probably helped, too. And the anchor chain was right there; no need to dive into the crowd to get to it. Only one problem...

"No way in hell I'm climbing this thing myself," she muttered as her arms shook. She glanced up to where "Bo" was still bickering with someone. "Excuse me?"

"Yes I did need that game console and no I do not buy too much!" the girl shot back acridly. "And furthermore- No, no you know what, Duke? Screw you for your high and mighty attitude and fuck you judging me! I swear, if you had half as much common fucking decency in your being as I have in my left pinky-!"

"Excuse me!" Winter repeated more firmly.

"Well, then maybe you'd be a quarter of a decent human being! As it is, though, you're more like those damn Grimm down there! All bad feelings with no heart, no decency, no-"

"OI!"

"WHAT!?" the girl shouted back out of habit before starting in realization, glancing down and promptly flushing in embarrassment as she saw Winter looking up expectantly from where she was standing on the anchor. "R-Right, sorry."

She began to haul the anchor chain up, and soon Winter was well above the Grimm and could breathe a sigh of relief.

"Alright, VIP aboard!" the girl called into the cockpit as she helped haul Winter into the passenger bay. "Let's blow this popsicle stand!"

"You've got experience with that, don't you?"

"I SWEAR TO GOD, DUKE!"

The Bullhead began to steadily rise, and soon Winter could grasp the true scale of the carnage in Vale. Multiple plumes of smoke and outright flame were rising above various parts of the city. The sounds of gunfire, screaming, and jet engines blended into a cacophony of noise. And she could see men in four different uniforms in the streets shooting at each other and the Grimm.

"Yeah, situation's all kinds fucked up, isn't it?" the girl stated. "And a good part of that is your fault."

"My fault?!" Winter snapped. "I tried to stop this!"

"No, you're were carrying out a fucking vendetta against the White Fang!" the ram-horned girl fired back. "And the firefights your men are getting into with the Fang are hampering ours and Atlas' efforts! I mean, sure, I hate those scumbags as much as the next decent faunus, but at least I have the decency to keep my hateboner in my fucking pants, so thanks for nothing!"

"In my defense, this was the first time my men had all been gathered together," Winter protested, somewhat weakly.

The girl opened her mouth, and then closed it. "Okay, yeah, that's a good point," she conceded. "But that just makes you challenging Blake fucking Belladonna to a goddamn one-on-one honor duel even dumber! Control your damn troops next time, dammit!"

Winter sorely wanted to verbally demolish this little girl. She was already mentally preparing a long, well-reasoned retort. So exhausted was she, though, that the actual response was something along the lines of "Aren't you a little young to be a mercenary?"

"Yeah, well, aren't you supposed to be under house arrest on a two-acre beachfront property a continent away, you white-washed racist bi-MMPH!?" the girl screeched as a hand was clamped over her mouth.

"Excuse 'Little' Bo Blue," the other soldier in the Bullhead finally managed to cut in. "She's a goddamn prodigy, but she's also fifteen years old. Well, chronologically, at least. Physically and mentally, she's probably- YARGH! You bit me!"

"Mmm mm mmph!"

"Anyway…" the soldier ground out. "I'm Lieutenant Duke 'Crimson' Johnson, theoretically her partner, and really more her minder. Or babysitter, take your pick. Anyway, where do you want to be dropped off? We should probably be getting back into the fight."

Winter shook her head, trying to shake out the mental cobwebs. Dammit, she could pass out when she got to headquarters.

"Mobile base…" she muttered. "Fifth and Pine."

"You heard the lady!" she heard Duke call to the pilot as her consciousness began to slip away. "Fifth and Pine, and then we can get back to shooting things!"

~o~

Qrow was in hell. It was a hell of piercing vines and razor-edged leaves and thorns and rocks and sand. His precognition was of no use; there were simply too many threats coming from too many angles. His skill with his Aura, with his scythe, none of it mattered to the complete battlefield control Ruby possessed.

He could still see her, or rather, her distinctive red cloak, through the mass of greens and browns and tans. She was shrouded in nigh-impenetrable wood, and still had her scythe; he'd nearly impaled himself on it in one attempt to get at her.

Now, it was all he could do to defend. His scythe deflected some attacks; his rapidly fading Aura had to fend off the rest. At least, until a large vine slipped past his guard, slamming into his torso. He felt his Aura fail, along with three ribs, before slamming into a chunk of rock left over from the fight.

Through the haze of pain he could see Ruby using a vine to lift herself towards him. She clambered down onto the surface he was lying on, stopping so that he could only see her boots.

'How?!' he demanded internally. 'Miki might have been naive to hell and back and a bit of a bitch to boot, but she was as powerful as any Maiden! How could Ruby have gotten her powers?"

"Well, the fact that she hated me with a passion helped."

'Shit, I must've said that out loud.'

"Aaaand, of course, the fact that she barged her way through my front door and made herself an open target didn't help anyone but me. Apart from that... I don't know, youthful enthusiasm maybe? Plus, seeing how my troops are mostly men over the age of thirty, the donor list for people matching the word 'maiden' was slim to none. But hey, enough about that! Tell me, have you thought about bunnies recently?"

Qrow hastily got his hands under him and shoved, only just managing to roll out of the way of the bullet Ruby put where his head had been laying. Ignoring the throbbing in his ribs and back, he began sprinting… away. Anywhere but near his niece.

'She can't have gone all-out, it's the only explanation. We'd have known if she'd gone all-out. And even then it can't have been easy for Ruby. Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. She must have been holding back, probably to satisfy that stupid need for fairness. She always did like acting all prim and proper.'

~o~

"Stand still so I can break your knees you fucking cunt!"

"Language, young lady!" Ruby admonished as she weaved in and out of the rock shards and thorny vines her opponent was throwing at her. "What would your parents say if they heard you using that kind of language? I mean, before they dropped you off on your head at the orphanage."

"GRAAAAAHHH!"

Another wave of stone finished demolishing the warehouse that was supposed to be her headquarters. The small part of her not paying attention to the fight lamented that this was going to set them back by years in Mistral. The rest was busy trying to decipher the problem in front of her while fighting to keep herself alive.

'I can't keep this up forever,' she mentally grumbled. 'And this brat just keeps going. Careless, barely any aim or control…'

She winced as thorn the size of her head cut through her cloak.

'But then again, so are shotguns. This is way too effective for comfort.'

Defense would just see her whittled down by inches. She needed to go on the offensive. And… there. The opening she was waiting for. Landing on one of the vines that now comprised the battlefield, she planted her feet and pushed.

Ruby shot forward, breaking the sound barrier in under a second and leaving shredded vegetation in her wake. In front of her, she had the satisfaction of seeing Miki's eyes widen before the leading edge of Ruby's mach cone slammed into her.

Vines shredded, rock shattered, and the wannabe magical girl went flying, slamming into the ground with a sickening crack. Ruby skidded to a halt herself shortly after, immediately unslinging Crescent Rose and aiming the muzzle at the fallen Maiden.

And then towering pillars of sand burst out from beneath the pavement, coming within inches of grinding Ruby into dust.

"That's it," Haruko Miki growled as she hauled herself to her feet. "Screw Ozpin, screw holding back for the sake of the surroundings, and especially SCREW YOU!"

Ruby took a nervous step back as a pit of sand began to spread around the Haruko, then jumped back as it surged for her. Raising Crescent Rose, she quickly fired off three shots at the Maiden, only for a wall of sand to interpose itself in front of the bullets and stop them cold.

"Fucking really?" Ruby groaned, then promptly had to dodge again as another column of sand smashed into the ground where she'd been standing. Unfortunately, when she went to push off the rooftop she hopped onto, her foot slipped on unseen sand grains, and she found herself without solid footing as another column of sand dove after her.

Ruby winced. 'Oh, this is going to hurt.'

Instead of slamming into her, though, it slammed into a white glyph bearing a very familiar sigil.

"Ruby, what in the world is going on here?" Weiss Schnee asked as she strutted towards Ruby, Myrtenaster pointed at Haruko Miki. "One moment I'm preparing for a very important meeting in my regional headquarters downtown, then next-!"

"Blood-Snow Reaper," Ruby hastily cut her off, her tone brooking no argument as she all but ripped Crescent Rose's current magazine out and rammed in the highest-power ammunition she had on hand.

Weiss took a moment to glance at her friend in shock before hastily pulling Myrtenaster into a ready position and spinning its cylinder to load up her good stock. "Right. Go in three, two..." As Weiss spoke, she spun up a large Glyph beneath both their feet.

Haruko blinked in shock as she tried to process the nonsensical turn of events that had just occurred. She had just enough time to notice that the magic-spinny thing looked kind of like a clock and get out a dumbfounded "Wha-?" before the world devolved into a blur of red-white-and-PAIN.

Ruby and Weiss tapped down on either side of her, Haruko hanging in the air for a brief moment before falling to the ground, bleeding profusely from her... well, everywhere. The two stood, looked to each other, and nodded, before jumping down off the building they were on to where the Maiden was lying on the ground, bleeding out. Even with her injuries, she was still trying to fight, propping herself up on her forearms with a bloody snarl on her face. "Y-you... fucking-!"

CRACK!

"ARGH!" Haruko shrieked, collapsing as Weiss's heel lashed out and cleanly snapped her ulna.

"So..." the mega-CEO mused as she held Myrtenaster's tip against the girl's jugular, the threat clear and evident. "Who would this vile strumpet be?"

Ruby glanced at Weiss with a cocked eyebrow even as she pressed Crescent Rose's glowing muzzle into the pseudo-magical girl's temple. "Strumpet? Really?"

"What? It's a perfectly valid insult!"

"Yeah, if you're an eighty-a-genarian!"

"First, you mean 'octogenarian'. Second it is a timeless and quite classical insult, and third-!"

"STOP IGNORING ME!" Haruko Miki shrieked, trying to push herself up on her relatively unmutilated right arm. All she managed to achieve for her troubles was getting her hand simultaneously crushed to a bloody pulp by two separate heels, which dragged a new scream out of her.

"Third," Weiss continued frigidly. "The question still stands. Who is she, and how did she do... all of this?" She gestured helplessly at the general surroundings.

Ruby shook her head silently as she kneeled down to get more on the level with the girl, her weapon's barrel never shifting. "Her name's Haruko Miki; other than that, I don't have the slightest idea, but that's alright. We'll just make her tell us..."

"Like hell I wi-!" Haruko started to shriek, before Ruby's hand suddenly shot out and grabbed ahold of her jaw, forcing her to stare up into her eyes. Her cold-cold-cold eyes.

"She'll tell us all she knows," Ruby repeated venomously. "Before we make her regret every single second of her existence on this miserable planet."

And thus did Haruko Miki know true fear.

~o~

As he ran, Qrow noted with increasing worry that the vines that covered the cavern weren't just going after him. They were drilling into the ground, cracking open the ceiling. What purpose that served, he didn't know, but it couldn't be anything good.

"Uncle…" he heard Ruby say behind him. "Do you believe in fairy tales?" She snorted. "Of course you do, you recognized the Maiden power as soon as you saw it."

The train tunnel came into view - as well as the gnarled tree covering the entrance. Qrow spun on his heel, trying to find another way out. There had to be one. How would the White Fang have gotten in otherwise?

"But the Maidens are just one story, one legend," Ruby continued, started to emanate green light like a verdant sun. "Let me show you another."

The vines on the floor and ceiling struck, surging into the cracks they'd made. Qrow suddenly had to add falling rocks to the list of hazards to avoid, but without Ruby actively attacking him it was a fairly easy task.

And then the ground exploded.

It was a tree, Qrow dimly recognized. A tree of immense size, composed of a myriad of thorn-gorged-vines growing at a completely unnatural rate and shattering the mountain underfoot. The veteran Huntsman found himself being carried up by the expanding trunk, and within seconds he could see the city of Vale in the distance.

And he could also see a disturbance below.

"No…" he breathed, eyes wide.

"Yes…" Ruby hissed from a branch above him. "Uncle Qrow, allow me to introduce you..."

"SKREEEEEONK!"

"To the Dragon of the Zodiac Grimm."

A massive black form, with red, bat-like wings, a lizard-like snout, two clawed feet, and a long tail studded with white thagomizers, soared into the air, screeching at the top of its lungs. It paused, seemed to sniff the air, and then zeroed in on Vale.

~o~

Ozpin gritted his teeth as he watched the images of downtown Vale on his monitors. Faunus in the masks of the White Fang shooting at well-equipped soldiers in white combat gear. Dueling paladins in an intersection, one dull-grey and the other shining white, each step crushing a car underfoot. More soldiers in the blue and grey of Atlas and the black and yellow of the Dust Devils holding off the Grimm as panicking civilians streamed past them.

He knew he should be committing something, anything, to the fighting going on in the city. But two things stayed his hand. First, the forces in the city seemed to have things mostly under control. Second, and more importantly, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was going to happen either here at Beacon or in the Coliseum. It was irrational, a gut feeling - and yet, he trusted that feeling, for it hadn't led him astray yet.

Suddenly, the school shook. Or rather, the ground shook, carrying the school with it. He tore his gaze from the monitors and to the massive bay windows looking out over the Emerald Forest. In the distance, he could plainly see a colossal tree growing out of the ground.

And, less than a minute later, an all-too-familiar shape.

"No…" he breathed, hastily reaching over and activating his intercom. "Glynda! Prepare for an attack!"

In his peripheral vision, he could see the Dragon wheel towards Beacon. And below, the tell-tale signs of a mass march of Grimm.

~o~

In her box in the Amity Coliseum, Weiss tilted her head up as she heard a sound. A faint one, some sort of reptilian roar.

"Finally…" she said softly to herself, a genuine smile creeping over her face. "Something goes according to plan."