Jaune stood completely still as his eyes darted between the presences in Headmaster Ozpin's office. He felt like even breathing too heavily would cause one of the two stoic men before him to snap their locked eyes and vaporize him with their very stares.

General Ironwood stood as rigid as his namesake. Jaune felt like the man hadn't moved since he took up what seemed like a permanent residence across from Ozpin's desk. Jaune even entertained the bizarre possibility that the man wasn't even human – that he had no need to breathe, for it seemed an eternity before he parted his lips, chest rising as he drew in a breath.

"The White Fang's Paladin was one of mine." He admitted. Jaune nodded along imperceptibly – or so he'd hoped. That had already been established.

"How did the White Fang come into possession of experimental – or at least early production – Atlesian military hardware?"

The general let out a weary sigh, clasping his hands behind his back. "The freighter carrying them was hijacked. We lost contact with the ship not even a week ago, and only recently found it beached along the coast."

A loud tick sounded from the gears above, causing Jaune to wince as the hour hand of the clocktower swung further along. Himself, General Ironwood, and Headmaster Ozpin all stood in silence until the next, softer click.

"So the White Fang took all of them?" Jaune offered uneasily, unable to keep his silence any longer with the two imposing men both seated and standing before him. "A literal boatload of Paladins?"

"And the weapons on board. Most of the other cargo was accounted for." The general's piercing gaze swept over Jaune for a moment. "Thirty Paladins, minus one. Something the White Fang might send their best out for."

"Therein lies the bigger problem. The White Fang – the higher-ups, no less – seem to be cooperating with this man, Roman Torchwick." Ozpin pointed out, flaying his fingers across the open air as the holographic display was swept aside, revealing the man's face and several stills taken from security footage. Though Jaune took a moment to look over the criminal mastermind's features, his eyes were drawn to the headmaster as he felt the man gaze upon him.

"A human. Your thoughts?"

Jaune forced himself to clear his throat. "There has to be something more going on behind the scenes, for the White Fang to cooperate with him. A common goal of some sort..."

Ozpin nodded, a slight hint of a smile appearing and disappearing from the man's visage in but an instant. "And what have you learned of team PBRL's involvement?"

The blond couldn't help but wince as the man brought that up, footage taken from a news chopper that had been overhead during Pyrrha's encounter with the mysterious girl with the multicolored hair playing on the display. "I didn't find anything related to this, before it happened. I should've dug deeper..."

Ozpin nodded yet again, and the barb dug into Jaune's skin. "You should've, but there's no changing that. What have you managed to learn, since?"

Jaune shook his head, deflating more. "I haven't had a chance to talk with any of them since what happened. It's not like me having a friendly chat has any priority over the police putting together their report."

"That's understandable, considering. To anyone else you're but a fellow student at the least and Miss Rose's cousin at the most. Fortunately, arrangements have been made for you to get that chance in a situation that likely won't cause any unwanted suspicion from your classmates. That, however, will have to wait."

"It helps that you were on scene and managed to support your classmates." Ironwood admitted. "It gives you enough cause to be present for their report to the headmaster, at the least."

Jaune nodded more resolutely, remembering the purpose of his visit to Ozpin's office just as the elevator rose to their floor. The doors parted, and Jaune let out a breath in preparation.

In strode the members of PBRL. Immediately, Jaune could tell they were bagged: Ruby didn't have the usual spring in her step, and Pyrrha's hair was sticking up in places – not to mention the bandages wrapped around her shoulder. Ren was dragging his feet – almost tripping over them – and Blake looked like she'd just missed two days of sleep. The room was silent as they lined up before the headmaster's desk, General Ironwood standing aside, opposite Jaune.

The silence stretched, as did the tension. Jaune could tell it was making the other students uncomfortable, Ruby more so than the others as she glanced towards him.

"I will say this," Ozpin's voice boomed out, the blond on the side noticing the way the four flinched and stood straighter, even at that. In their defense, the man's voice carried significant weight as it echoed off the walls of the wide office. "I am quite proud to have students who take the initiative in affairs such as this – especially you four – so I will say thank you for your efforts in protecting Vale."

Jaune watched with his lips pressed together as the four seemed to cheer up at that.

"However..." The headmaster laid his elbows on his desk, leaning forwards to rest his chin on clasped hands. Unlike with just himself and Ironwood in the room, Jaune noticed the man was trying to appear more relaxed before the members of PBRL, though he still hit each of them with a piercing stare in turn. "I suppose Doctor Oobleck hasn't taught you everything yet, has he?"

"Sir, Doctor Oobleck had nothing to do with it." Pyrrha spoke out, standing straight as she jumped to defend her team's mentor. "We never told him anything about our investigation, or-"

"Of course you didn't." Ozpin cut off, silencing the team's leader. "If you had, things wouldn't have turned out the way they did. A section of the city's highway wouldn't be torn up, we'd have several active White Fang members and a career thief in custody, and there wouldn't be a video of a rather one-sided fight between a well-known champion and a mysterious girl circling all of Remnant."

Pyrrha simply stood there with her mouth agape. Were it not for the severity of the situation at hand, Jaune probably wouldn't have been able to suppress a chuckle at her dumbfounded expression.

Ozpin's next words were flat.

"So then tell me, why did you not go to the authorities on this? Or at the very least, the professor that has nurtured you since you became students here at Beacon?" The man stood, and walked around the desk. "Do you not trust him?"

The man brought a hand up, immediately muting Blake's protest as the girl's breath left her lips voicelessly. He stood and moved before Ruby.

"Perhaps you are all too eager to prove yourselves, to leave your mark on the world." The tall man strode casually down the line of students, hands clasped behind his back as he passed Ren. "Perhaps you felt it was best to work alone, and not drag others into problems you believed were your own – that you could only solve on your own."

He stopped for a moment before Pyrrha, the girl shuffling uncomfortably as he continued on, before he turned before Blake.

"Or perhaps what was at stake was something more personal. If so, why not ensure the results are favorable, regardless of your personal feelings on the matter?"

The man turned and stepped back behind his desk, before facing team PBRL once more.

"Allow me to put it this way: let's say instead the four of you are out scouting beyond the valley. You find a veritable horde of Grimm, the scale beyond what you ever thought was possible, steadily marching towards the city. Do you face them alone, or do you return, gather forces, inform others of the threat, and prepare accordingly?"

Jaune frowned as he considered the headmaster's words, finding that something didn't quite fit right in what he was saying. The blond turned his thoughts inward, and shuffled as he realized the same applied to him.

He'd done what he could on the scene, getting that strange girl away from Pyrrha from such a distance, but the headmaster's words held true for him as well: prior to everything that happened, could he have used his knowledge to improve the situation beforehand? He was far from knowing everything, but even what he'd managed to piece together could've made a difference. What if he'd called for backup of some sort before he rushed to the scene instead?

"We are quite lucky Mr. Arc here was nearby, or I imagine things could've turned out a lot worse."

Feeling all six sets of eyes turn on him at once while he was lost in his thoughts made the blond freeze up momentarily, looking over to PBRL. Despite the tone of the headmaster's lecturing and her haggard appearance, Ruby smiled broadly.

"I knew it was you." She beamed cheerfully, Jaune returning her smile hesitantly even as Pyrrha looked between the two in confusion.

"But you... but I- What...?" The redheaded leader of PBRL tilted her head as Ruby turned.

"The ice dust." Ruby explained, as Jaune subtly patted Horizon at his back. A look of realization dawned on Pyrrha's face, as her shining green eyes met the blond's.

"Thank you."

The thanks and earnest smile from Pyrrha filled Jaune with warmth, and he nodded in response. "I only heard what sounded like a big fight and rushed to a rooftop." That much was true; he'd already been in the area shopping. If they'd taken the Atlesian mech out of commission anywhere else and had fought there instead, he might not have been able to assist.

Still, that girl...

He drew his lips in a tight line, and looked to both Atlas and Beacon academies' headmasters, though he asked the question of the room as a whole:

"Do we know anything about the girl who Pyrrha was fighting?"

The silence in response to Jaune's query settled a heavier weight on his shoulders. If only he hadn't missed.

Ozpin cleared his throat, looking over PBRL through his glasses as not one of them spoke up. "This was your first encounter with her? All of you?"

"That's right." Ren responded steadily, back straight. "Seems like she was working for Roman Torchwick, though."

"She seemed intent on taunting me throughout the fight." Pyrrha shifted her weight from foot to foot. "I... It got to my head a little."

"I see." Was the headmaster's succinct response. A moment's pause and a soft click of the clockwork above later, he sighed. "That's enough for this evening. The four of you are to report to Doctor Oobleck first thing tomorrow, as usual. I've already deferred to him as your mentor to instruct and advise you as he sees fit on this matter."

A beat passed, and the headmaster turned. "Unless the General has any questions for you four?"

Though it was the first time the man had been directly addressed since PBRL had entered the room, he shook his head simply. "I have no pressing questions."

"The four of you are dismissed, then. You will remain here, Jaune."

"Right." The boy shuffled as PBRL cast their gazes on him again. He really wished the headmaster would stop doing that to him. Steadily, they filed out, all four of them standing in the elevator as the doors closed.

The first thing Jaune wanted to do was let out a sigh in relief, but instead he looked to Ozpin. "You weren't going to pressure them for anything?"

"The Vale Police will hand everything from their reports up the ladder to me. They're my students after all, and they'd want to dump the responsibility for events on me as much as they can. More than anything, I would much rather PBRL learn from this, and not make the same mistakes again." Ozpin chuckled as he looked over to Ironwood. "No questions? Really James?"

"No questions they could answer for me." The man clenched his hands into fists, before sighing. "I'll continue to have my people look into this matter."

"Which reminds me." Ozpin sat in his chair, casually swiveling it back and forth. "Jaune, you and your team are required for an exercise tomorrow morning, long before dawn breaks."

"What?" The boy blinked rapidly, caught off-guard. "Err, what exercise? And when exactly?"

The man spun in his chair, staring at the giant hands of the clock tower. "Well, not so much required as... heavily suggested. I'd say five in the morning would be plenty safe. After all, this might just help us get some answers the team might not otherwise divulge."

The boy grumbled, even as the headmaster and general let out unexpected chuckles.

"I don't like the sound of this."

"Now then my precious pupils…" Doctor Oobleck stared at each of the members of PBRL one at a time, Pyrrha's back straightening as his eyes rested on hers at last. The glare of the lights above only provided her the ability to see one of the professor's spectacle-covered eyes, and it narrowed and bore through to her very heart.

The redheaded girl was certain the three beside her were hit with a similar pang of guilt. It had been the same in the headmaster's office, before they'd slept, but only then the man's cold eyes seemed to pick at their souls while time ticked away.

The Doctor let out an uncharacteristically drawn-out sigh, before shaking his head.

"I'm not about to lecture you four on what's right or wrong here."

The words shocked Pyrrha. She had already been about to protest on the behalf of her teammates, but the lanky man's admission only caused her mouth to hang open.

To Pyrrha's surprise, Ruby had recovered the fastest:

"But?" The quiet peep left the shorter girl with what sounded like a tinge of hesitation before she covered a silent yawn.

"But..." Doctor Oobleck carried on. "I am disappointed in how you four handled the situation. I am unsure what the Headmaster might have said in his office, but I have a good enough idea." The man nodded several times to himself in rapid succession. "Yes. You four don't need a lecture. You don't need me to regale you with the many times something similar has occurred here. As students of Beacon Academy, future huntsman and huntresses, and my pupils, you have my thanks for doing what you could to put a stop to the White Fang activity here in Vale."

The room was silent for a few strained moments, before Ruby cleared her throat.

"But...?" She offered again.

"I had hoped you four would've thought to come to me with the information." The man stood up from his desk, placing his hands on the surface of it as he leaned forwards. "I am a huntsman as much as I am your mentor and a professor of Beacon."

Pyrrha nodded in understanding, heart at ease. "Then... as our mentor, I have a question for you."

"Yes, what is it Ms. Nikos?"

"Well, we have a question for you. As a team." She'd been mulling the words over in her head – as well as airing her concerns – since her and the rest of PBRL had left the headmaster's office the night before. "We can trust you with anything?"

"Of course."

Pyrrha leaned forwards, looking down her team as they stood, lined up. Blake stepped forwards, removing the ribbon from her ears.

"Doctor Oobleck," the black-haired girl began, "I'm a faunus, and a former member of the White Fang. Or, I was a member longer-"

"Yes, yes of course." The man interrupted, "This is no surprise to me, nor something I find you need to think I need to be trustworthy to reveal."

Pyrrha watched as Blake blinked on. She went to open her mouth to speak, but was cut off once more.

"Your school files list you as a faunus, as well as your history of association with the White Fang believe it or not. But you're no longer a member, are you? And you certainly don't condone their recent actions and current ways." Pyrrha was unsure when nor where the man retrieved his thermos from, but he sipped from it noisily before continuing, not giving Blake any time to get a word in edgewise. "Your background gives you a wealth of knowledge and experience you might not wish you had, but that's exactly what it is: yours."

Blake shook her head. "That isn't exactly what this is about, Doctor. This entire operation was the result of a death. A close friend and former contact in the White Fang was murdered. And..."

The girl paused, Oobleck giving her time to draw in a breath. Pyrrha smiled and nodded reassuringly even though the girl's amber eyes never turned to her for support.

"I- no, we'd like to ask you for help. With our investigation."

That had been the unanimous decision of their team. What the headmaster had brought up about not trusting anyone else with this – only trying to solve their problems on their own – had really shook each member of the team in their own way. Pyrrha smiled proudly as Ren stepped forwards.

"We blew one of our biggest leads, but that's not why we're asking for your help." Blake continued. "We discussed what the best course of action was, and we think it's enlisting the assistance of someone with more experience than us in matters like this."

"Personally," Ruby piped up, "I just want to see what kind of badass weapon you have. Does it-"

Blake covered Ruby's mouth promptly, Pyrrha's cheeks growing a little red in embarrassment on behalf of the youngest member of PBRL as she squirmed out of Blake's grip.

"We still haven't seen you fight-" Ruby's mouth was recovered as Oobleck stood once more. The cloak-clad member of PBRL stopped squirming as Pyrrha turned to see the man holding out his thermos.

"This is my weapon." The man smiled.

Blake stared. "Coffee?"

The championship fighter's eyes widened as the travel-mug extended, a grip shooting out from its base. The man twirled it, before resting it over his shoulder. "I do indeed fight with coffee."

With a twist of the man's wrist, the end of his thermos was set alight in a burst of flame that threatened to scorch the ceiling, before the grip contracted and he caught the container in his hand.

He took a sip, sighing contentedly before smiling before the four.

"It's settled then. I'll be assisting with your investigation from here on out. I do still have my responsibilities as a Beacon professor, but I've already dedicated time to being your mentor. This'll just be another lesson for the four of you."

There was a collective sigh from PBRL, Pyrrha included.

"However, I did already have a simulation planned for you four today, considering recent events. It would be a shame to cancel the arrangements, so I'll just be asking for your best as always. Come along."

Arrangements? That had the leader of PBRL curious. The man stepped out from behind the desk, leaving his jacket behind. Pyrrha glanced at the others and they shrugged to her in return.

"Are we starting now, Doctor?" Pyrrha asked on behalf of her team, nearly jogging to keep up with the man as he pushed open the door.

"The simulation room is a brisk walk from the training arena." Doctor Oobleck smiled back over his shoulder as Pyrrha blanched. A brisk walk for Oobleck was practically a full sixty-second sprint all the way across Beacon's grounds. "Ms. Rose wished to see me fight, and we have plenty of time before the lesson."

"Wait, uh-"

"Cold feet, Ms. Rose?" The man grinned once more. "A good spar will get your blood flowing for later."

"Well, here we are." The Beacon professor's voice hit Ruby's ears with a tinge of static, his transparent body shining a bright blue as he stood between the members of PBRL and what looked like a city half-buried in sand.

"Doctor, I really don't think we should jump into a simulation again so soon..." Pyrrha cautioned from beside the scythe-wielding girl, a gust of wind nearly throwing her cloak into her leader's face before she was able to retain it, shielding her eyes from the hot grains.

"I'm well aware of your concerns, as well as how little rest the four of you have had since last night. I've already factored that and out earlier spars into your scoring for this as well as making this an assessment of how well your team performs under such strain."

Out of the corner of her eye, Ruby saw Pyrrha roll her shoulder – her recently injured shoulder, which appeared just fine here. She'd watched from the sidelines while the rest of them were knocked around by the Doctor, before entering the simulation room.

"You needn't worry, Ms. Nikos." Their mentor seemed to notice everything. "You won't reopen your wound as a result of anything in virtual reality." Doctor Oobleck smiled brightly, nodding. "What a marvel technology is."

"Right..." Pyrrha didn't sound nearly as certain. "Before we got in the pods, you said something about having this scheduled? Does that mean..."

The girl saw them, then, and reached out to Pyrrha. The redheaded leader of PBRL trailed off as Ruby brushed her forearm, pointing towards a nearby building.

"Ah, I see they've made themselves known already."

Ruby watched as four figures parted with the shadows of the ruined building's many floors, clad in outfits that kept the girl's eyes wandering. How they'd been able to hide while wearing such bright colors alluded to an amount of experience befitting only what she could've expected from-

"Huntsmen." Ren breathed out, two of them leaping down to land in the sand, scattering it only slightly with their landings. "Huntresses too."

As they approached, Ruby looked them over. If they were to be opponents of a sort, she needed to identify their weapons and physical builds immediately. If they were to cooperate, it would be nice to have an idea of who was backing them up.

Or rather, who they would be backing up.

Ruby felt her cheeks heat up as she realized she'd assumed they'd have been the ones leading full-fledged huntsmen and huntresses. She stifled another yawn.

The woman approaching them had piercing gold eyes that almost reminded her of Blake's. Her tighter outfit put her sharp physique on display, wrist resting in the crook of her hip, hand on a hilt of some sort. She glanced towards Oobleck's hologram before her eyes met Ruby's once more, a skull mask covering the bottom half of her face. A shiver ran through the younger girl's spine as she tossed her silver hair over a shoulder.

"So you're the problem children, huh?"

It was the man beside Ruby's focus who'd spoken first. The younger girl ignored his comment aside from the growl it drew from Blake. She felt a shiver as her eyes scanned every inch of his long rifle, and the blade that jutted out beneath its barrel. Conceptually, it reminded Ruby of an old schematic Jaune had worked on, but far more refined and simplistic by comparison.

After a moment, Ruby heard Blake sigh. The weapon fanatic tore her eyes away from the man's powerful-looking rifle just in time to see Ren pull his hand from the faunus girl's back.

After no one rose to his bait, the huntsman chuckled. He ran his fingers through dark locks, stubble framing his jaw. "Tough crowd."

The silver-haired woman stepped forwards, squatting a bit to look up at the members of PBRL. "Ignore him. He doesn't play well with others."

Before Ruby had realized it, the other two members had joined them. Like the first pair, her eyes immediately went to their weapons. One woman had a large blade at the end of a long shaft – easily the largest, simplest halberd Ruby had ever seen – while the other had an abundance of varying knives. The younger girl couldn't even count them all before she crossed her arms beneath her bust.

As the purple-haired woman flaunted her assets, Ruby's eyes even caught the hilt of another blade in her cleavage.

"Did the doctor... yet?" The woman with all the knives had an imperceptibly quiet voice, such that the wind muted her words.

"Not yet. I figured it would be good of you to introduce yourselves first." The holographic Oobleck responded, able to hear her fine.

"Of course..." She moved next to the team's sole male member, leaning on his shoulder. "Do you mean you didn't tell... about us? At all?"

The doctor's hologram actually seemed to shuffle nervously. "That's right."

The purple-haired girl with the knives seemed awfully excited as she strode forwards, while the grizzled looking male on the team stuffed his face in his hands with reproach.

"Well, where do I start?" The purple-haired girl seemed much giddier, and she was speaking louder and clearer than before "I'm Faux, and this is the rest of my team." She extended a finger towards the first girl, with the eyes like Blake's "The prissy one over there is Sable, the one with the big axe is Sierra, and this one right here-" she grabbed onto the arm of the rifle-bearing man, the only thing keeping his arm from being squished between her bust being the hilt of the dagger resting there.

She didn't continue, instead bursting into laughter as she buried her face in the man's shoulder to stifle it.

Scratching at his stubble, the man sighed. "I'm Roast. Please don't make fun of my name. Anyways-" The purple haired girl continued to laugh, stumbling back to the other members of the group, shaking with mirth. "Doctor Oobleck here told us what you need to know, so we'll just go with that: we're a fully qualified team that graduated from Shade a few years back, and we're working on contract as extra security for the students from Vacuo. We're not supposed to disclose our names, so the names that Faux here gave to you will have to suffice."

Ruby nodded along. "Like codenames!"

"Right. As for everyone's objective... Doctor, would you bring up the map for us?"

Doctor Oobleck faded away, a three-dimensional layout that wasn't unfamiliar to the members of PBRL appearing before them. Across the towering sand dunes were large buildings, sticking out like spires from the earth. The landscape was foreign to Ruby, but getting used to different terrain and such was part of their training.

A red dot blinked to life in a building far on the other side of the simulated area. Ruby's eyes traced a path to it from where their own green dots were blinking.

"A team of huntsmen were scouting the ruins but encountered an unidentified threat." The girl Faux had named as Sable strode forwards, circling the area around the building with the red dot. "They'd managed to send a distress call, but the transmission's audio was garbled and unintelligible – but it was sent priority one."

Pyrrha hummed aloud next to Ruby.

"The objective is to ensure the safety of the scouting party, and extract them," Sable continued, "if that proves impossible, retrieve any information they've gathered on their mission. Simple enough for some of Beacon's brightest?"

"Right." Ren confirmed. "We'll want to get eyes on that building as soon as possible then."

A gust of wind blew harshly, tossing sand their way as the holographic map shimmered.

"Whatever you four do, do not react to the sound of my voice."

The doctor's sudden interruption caused Ruby slight panic, and she covered it the only way she could.

The cloak-clad girl coughed and sputtered softly, wiping at her lips even as Oobleck's voice sounded out in her earpiece. "Bleh, I got some sand in my mouth..."

Faux giggled. "Perhaps you should use that curtain of yours to cover up."

Ruby brought her cloak before her, tossing it over her shoulder so it clung to the lower half of her face, glaring daggers at the dagger-wielding woman.

"There's information I'm only going to share with you four, so listen closely." The doctor's voice continued to ring true, even as Ruby watched Blake crouch, seeming to inspect the map with a close eye. "For the purposes of this mission, two of the four Vacuo graduates are rogue hunters. Imposters, if you will."

Ruby tensed up slightly, eyes widening.

"I will not tell you who. It is up to you to use that information, and to work under the scrutiny of those who would do you harm. After all, these simulations are intended to prepare you for what would be an unwelcome, disastrous scenario."

All Ruby could do was glance between the Vacuan huntsman and huntresses before her as they chatted amongst themselves.

"The traitors are unaware you know they're traitors, so use that to your advantage. That is all."

"We should split into teams." Pyrrha offered, drawing the attention of the experienced hunters the moment Oobleck finished. "An even split would be ideal, but considering we don't know the threat at hand, we might need to split unevenly to handle different ends of the job."

"How do you mean?" The soft-spoken halberdier tilted her head.

"Ren is right about getting eyes on that building, first off, but if a scouting party of fully-fledged huntsmen and huntresses went dark, we need to plan for any type of encounter."

Sable nodded along. "Until we reach our destination, we don't know what kind of enemy we might be up against. Why not travel as a group for now, and split off after scouting ahead?"

"While we might manage just fine doing that, we can already use the terrain to our advantage." Ruby spoke up, tugging her cloak down from her face slightly. She pointed to one of the taller buildings, with a clear line of sight to the target building. "The weather is fairly clear for now, so we should head here first, secure this building, and see if we can get a grasp of the situation from a distance."

"A sniper's instinct on that one, huh?" The girl looked up to see Roast smiling down at her, and she nodded.

She couldn't tell if it was a fake smile or not.

Pyrrha shook her head, tossing her braid over her shoulder, pursing her lips as she pondered whether pulling it loose and putting it back in a ponytail inside the simulation would feel any different, considering she'd still be wearing the tresses in her pod. No matter what she did, she couldn't scratch her shoulder's itch, either. Annoying.

Either way, she doubted anything she could do would relieve the tension in her neck, still nearly sweating over what Oobleck had informed them of prior to the mission's start.

Comfortable or not, she eyed the two girls standing next to her and Blake in the shadow of their objective, watching as Sable leaned around the corner of the building before waving everyone forwards. Sierra rounded the cracked concrete with her halberd at the ready.

Blake nodded to Pyrrha, and both took up positions on either side of the door.

"Still no movement on the rooftop." Ruby informed, likely keeping her scope trained on the access hatch they'd spotted.

"And nothing from the adjacent building. Faux, Ren, anything on the inside?"

Pyrrha bristled at Roast's voice, rifle at the ready as Blake tested the doorknob, before nodding.

"Found a 'huntsman', injured." Ren's voice crackled back. "I'll play his message over the feed."

The redheaded leader of PBRL wanted desperately to sigh but kept herself in check. A moment later, the nasally tinted voice of what was probably Remnant's oldest text-to-speech software came through.

"Please, you have to help the rest of my team. We were sent to scout the region, but we were beset by a large, worm-like Grimm. As we fled from it, we encountered a group of bandits and were assaulted. As I tried to send a distress call, my comms set was busted, and we were forced to scatter by an explosion."

Pyrrha frowned as she keyed the mic. They'd already identified signs that there'd been bandits present at a battle a short distance from the building where the transmission was sent from. "Proceed as planned but be prepared for a fight with whatever worm-like Grimm they'd engaged."

"You got it, boss-lady!" Faux's response had Pyrrha nearly nibbling on her lip.

She patted the steel door, pulled back from the wall with her rifle at the ready, and forced it open rather violently with her semblance. The room was loaded with large, wooden crates, and the girl's eyes darted towards the shadows at the corners of the boxes as Blake entered ahead of her, turning tightly around the corner.

Stepping inside, Pyrrha let out a breath. The room was empty, but more closed doors seemingly led further inside.

Now that she was sure the room was clear, Pyrrha reached out behind her, pushing the now-dented door closed from a distance. Blake turned to her quickly.

"Between Sierra and Sable, Sable has to be the traitor. I'm certain."

Pyrrha nodded along. "What makes you say that?"

"Sable's been watching us, constantly." Blake confirmed, checking over her weapon. "And Sierra seems awfully relaxed for someone who's supposed to be stabbing us in the back."

The leader of PBRL keyed her microphone once, before changing channels. "How are things on your guys' ends?"

"Roast's been asking a lot of questions, but really, it's just been friendly banter?" Ruby sounded almost confused. "He wanted to know about last night's operation more than anything."

"He could just be distracting you." Pyrrha heard Blake twice, once in the room and once again in her earpiece. "Ren?"

"Faux is a very good liar."

"You think she's a traitor?" Ruby quizzed, getting two clicks in return. Ren couldn't respond verbally, likely because he was with Faux again.

Pyrrha drew in a breath through her nose, and then pushed it past her lips. "Okay Ruby, it's time to do your thing."

"Got it."

Pyrrha nodded to Blake. She'd been the one to suggest the separate entry points for the objective building; to separate and communicate with their team in secret before acting.

What Ruby learned would determine their next course of action. Pyrrha tapped her foot in anticipation.

It probably wasn't the ideal way to handle their unique situation, but it was the best they were going to be able to manage. When they'd split into teams earlier, Roast had been oddly keen on sticking with Ruby, offering an excuse in how their similar weapon-types would allow them to engage foes from a distance. Faux offered to go with Ren to scout one of the larger surrounding buildings – but seemingly at random, and Pyrrha figured it was to get one of them alone.

Though, it was pretty suspicious how close Sierra had been hovering around Ren...

It was a heavy risk to send Ren on his own with one of the potential traitors, but they didn't really have a choice. If they'd objected in any way, the rogues would've immediately found that questionable.

"Roast's clean." Ruby confirmed. "I mean, for now I guess."

"Alright, we're leaving the building. Heading your way Ren." Pyrrha confirmed, pulling open their exit.

They needed to get to him, and fast. If Faux wasn't a traitor, they'd be able to regroup and-

Blake ran forth, Pyrrha's eyes widening as the sound of rapid gunfire hit her ears. Her feet pushed deep into loose sand, trying to keep up with her faunus teammate.

Out of the corner of her eye, Pyrrha noticed a streak of red racing towards them. Grains of sand scattered in a cloud as Ruby pulled alongside them, Crescent Rose behind her.

In seconds, the three girls crashed through the building's ruined front door, weapons raised. Faux was square in Pyrrha's sights.

The purple-haired girl turned, and even from a distance the leader of PBRL could see her eyes widen, dagger raised.

"Damn, you kids work fast!"

Ruby, Blake, and Pyrrha all fired as one, Faux barely managing to scramble for cover behind a wall as it was chewed apart.

"Ren!" Pyrrha called out, sights still trained on the wall, virtual dust from the bullet holes dissipating quickly.

"Here!" The building must've been modeled after an office complex of sorts, as Ren stood up from behind the reception desk. The boy held his weapons at the ready as he walked around the desk, back towards their team to face the wall Faux retreated behind.

"You alright?" Blake patted the boy's back, and he nodded.

"Yeah." He blew out his breath in a quick sigh. "We should take her out here before she can regroup with the other traitor."



The team slowly began to walk further into the lobby. Pyrrha kept her rifle up, eyes focused on where Faux retreated. As her and the rest of the team fanned out, she brought her shield up, weapon shifting as she spun it in her palm. From what Ruby said earlier, Faux's knives didn't seem like they were special at all. No dust, at least.

"Hallway." Blake crept up to a pillar, readying a length of ribbon. Pyrrha met her bright eyes, and slowly strafed over to her, grabbing an end of the ribbon itself.

A quick knot later, and it was secured to the grip of Akoúo̱.

With a wordless nod from Blake, Pyrrha tossed her shield, using her semblance to guide it in a curve around the wall, to hit at an angle. She heard it bounce several times, accompanied by the clanging of metal on metal.

Pyrrha focused her aura and pulled. Blake made an audible grunt as she yanked on her ribbon.

"Hey! Aww come on, that's not even fair! If only I didn't have like thirty more knives!"

As Blake pulled Akoúo back, it skittered across the floor with a pair of knives stuck to it with the glow of Pyrrha's aura.

"My turn!"

Pyrrha's eye widened as she heard similar, but lighter bounces compared to Akoúo̱'s. A knife soared out of a seemingly random angle, pinning Blake's ribbon to the ground. The faunus gave it a tug, struggling to pull it free.

Another knife bounced around the corner, coming straight for Pyrrha. The girl smacked it aside deftly, before stepping forward. She stopped herself from rounding the corner, gesturing Ren forwards.

"You know the layout of this building better. You lead."

Ren winced to himself, but it was fully on display for his team's leader as he turned, pushing up against the wall Faux had fled behind. She'd likely retreated further down the hallway. Outnumbered, it would make sense.

However, she was already at a significant range disadvantage if throwing knives like that was all she had, huntress or not.

Ren rounded the corner, eyes forward. He saw the woman and fired a burst of rounds towards her, forcing her around another corner.

"Ruby." Ren could hear Pyrrha behind him. "You and Blake watch the other building from here."

The boy pushed the rest of the conversation from his mind, trying to focus on the threat before him. Faux's knife throwing at the forefront of his mind, he stuck to the wall opposite of the corner she ducked behind. That way, if she wanted to bounce any more knives his way, he'd have more time to react.

Though, if she wanted to round the corner and throw a knife straight, he'd be an open target. The boy blinked, and then slinked to the other wall, inching forward.

Pyrrha's shoulder pressed to Ren's back softly, as she tapped his. At the intersection ahead, she'd go left, and he'd go right.

Essentially, he was being used as bait. Again.

He took a breath and dashed forwards, pressed to the far wall of the intersection. He fired off a burst of rounds as he saw a flash of Faux's purple hair, Pyrrha sprinting past. The redheaded girl jumped, landing against the far wall of the next intersection, before springing off it to collide with the huntress shield-first.

Ren rounded the corner, and his eyes widened at the exchange. The edges of blades clashed, occasionally sparking with the impact, and a dagger glanced off rounded steel as Pyrrha pushed hard against Faux, backing her into a doorway where the sly girl ducked one of the redhead's swings, rolling backwards in an impressive display of control.

The sole male member of PBRL kicked a knife resting on the floor aside, weapons at the ready as each clash between his leader and the purple-haired girl left the latter weaponless, forced to draw another blade as Pyrrha used her semblance to repeatedly magnetize and disarm her opponent.

"Aww, poor defenseless me!"

Ren's eyes were expectedly drawn to the huntress' chest as she drew her last dagger from between her breasts, blade barely glinting in the low light. Both Faux and Pyrrha were panting, even as the redhead casually swung, making contact with the purple-haired girl's weapon.

Tongue teasingly pressed between her lips, Faux spun, retaining her weapon as she launched a kick into Pyrrha's midsection. PBRL's leader hit the wall next to the doorway Ren strode through. Pulling the triggers of his weapons only caused dull thuds as the huntress deflected the bullets fired towards her chest.

"It's not metal!" Ren adjusted one arm to aim for the woman's legs. As he fired, she closed the distance quickly seeming to dance around his bullets before throwing her knife at last. Ren was forced to block, but Pyrrha stepped in front of him to cut off the huntress' assault.

There was a heavy clang as Pyrrha was launched. Ren barely managed to catch her, sandwiched between his leader and the wall he'd barely managed to use to stop their momentum.

Pyrrha dodged to the side, and Ren ducked.

The concrete wall above and behind him cracked, pieces falling away from Faux's extended arm as Pyrrha shot her in the back. The purple-haired huntress squealed in pain as she rolled around the punch she'd thrown, running into the hallway.

"Don't let her get away-" Pyrrha's orders cut short as what almost sounded like cannon blasts echoed out from the hallway itself, Ren rising to follow.

Faux's avatar shimmered, and faded before Ren's eyes as Roast stood there in the hallway, long barrel of his rifle smoking as Ruby crouched on his flank, pulling back on her scythe's bolt.

Blake's ears twitched at the sound of footsteps, and she turned, seeing Ruby, Ren and Pyrrha – as well as Roast – returning from the hallway they'd pursued that weird purple-haired girl down. The faunus girl watched on as every one of them reloaded their weapons, Pyrrha patting Ruby on the shoulder.

"Nothing from the other building." Blake stated, glancing to Roast. "Haven't seen Sable nor Sierra since engaging Faux."

Roast sighed deeply, lacing his fingers behind his head. "I know this is a training exercise, but damn this is rough. She's absolutely going to make me pay for that later..."

Their 'plus one's comment went mostly ignored as Pyrrha stepped towards Blake, gesturing Ren and Ruby to come along.

"We've got Sable pegged for the other traitor, right?" Everyone nodded in response to their leader, Blake agreeing to the obvious.

"We can't just ignore the possibility that Roast is really good at this." Ren pointed out, and the whole team turned towards the fifth in the room. With his back turned to them, Blake had to admit she even felt more at ease than normal... and that alone was unsettling.

Pyrrha clicked her tongue softly. "Let's make for the other building. Sierra might already be in trouble. Every second we spend worrying about something we can't control is a second wasted."

Feet quickly went from springing against concrete to digging into the sand as the four members of PBRL made their way to the building where Blake and Pyrrha had previously split away from Sable and Sierra. Roast had agreed to watching the rooftop access they'd made note of before from the top floor of the office building, and had stayed behind. It would be a convenient excuse for the huntsman to give him ample opportunities to shoot them in the back, but when they wrapped around the building out of sight with no shots fired from behind, Blake felt relieved enough.

Everyone took up their positions at the large bay door, partners to each side. Pyrrha gave the signal, and the team peeled around the corners of the entryway, weapons trained high and low, on the edges of crates, doorways, and the catwalks above.

A full sweep of the room wasn't necessary, though. Sable and Sierra stood in the center of the large warehouse floor, light shining down on them through dusty windows as they stood with their weapons at the ready.

Sable turned her head, letting out a low growl that Blake's ears barely picked up. "See? I told you. They took out Faux and Roast, and now they're gonna take us out too."

"They can try..." Sierra brandished her large axe.

For a brief moment before the two older women charged towards them, Blake wondered if her team got it all wrong. Her heart leapt into her chest as she realized her team hadn't quite heard the same she did.

"Don't engage Sierra! Fall back!" She called out, keying her communication device. "Roast, you need to get down here, Sierra thinks we're traitors!"

"Aren't you?" The man's voice was eerily soft, and a shiver ran through Blake's spine.

"No..."Blake breathed out, ducking beneath the heavy swing of Sierra's axe, rolling through sand.

It was a nightmare.

A line of text rolled across the small screen on the inside of the simulation pod – a message from Doctor Oobleck confirming that team PBRL had left, door to the sim room locked closed behind them.

Jaune sighed, the pod hissing open. He pushed up the lid, swinging his legs out of the form-fitting gel that had supported him for far too long, testing the ground.

"I'm hungry!" Jaune mentally echoed Nora as she whined, stretching a bit before hopping to her feet. She put her hands on her hips as she turned to the neighboring pod. "Weiss, you tricked me!"

Weiss peeled herself from her pod's interior as well. "I'm sorry. Even doing my best, we were in there for far too long." The white-haired girl glared at Jaune. "You're not allowed to wake me any later than seven in the morning for anything. Ever."

As if from nowhere, Yang's face appeared before Jaune's and her forehead immediately collided with his. Soft enough that it wasn't jarring, but enough contact to make him wince as her eyes bored into his.

"Oh Jaune..." She let his name out in a singsong voice, breath warm against his face. "On a scale of one to ten, how good did it feel to shoot me? I'd hope it was maybe a three or a four at most, but you looked pretty happy doing it so..."

It was a nightmare.

"Now now, students!" Doctor Oobleck waved his arms frantically, "Before we get carried away, remember that this equipment is very expensive and fragile."

Yang pouted, twirling a bit to lean against Jaune's pod, the blond boy letting out a sigh of relief. He scratched his face where the now non-existent stubble had been.

"I've sent the simulation data to your scrolls, much like I do with my own team." Oobleck mentioned, sipping at a simple mug. "I must say, the four of you are decent actors. Especially you, Mr. Arc."

The blond's partner took the moment to elbow him in the ribs sharply, before leaning against his shoulder. The eccentric professor did something unexpected of Jaune, and sat on the edge of a table in the center of the room while setting his mug down next to him.

"I know it was a little harder for Ms. Valkyrie and Ms. Xiao Long, considering the matter of Ren and Ruby's participation, but the four of you have my thanks for the eye-opening experience you've given my students. Considering recent events, I plan on giving them a few days off as well." The doctor took a few moments, and drank deeply from his mug, before sighing. "Not solely as their mentor, but as a professor of Beacon, I'd like for them to be able to count on your support in the coming weeks. Being at the center of such a news-worthy event as they have been – especially with the Vytal festival approaching – would be exhausting for anyone. They'll be stressed, snappy, and likely hounded by all sorts of unwelcome attention, whether it be news crews, students from the other academies, or friends from here at Beacon."

Jaune nodded along. To him, it felt like the roles should've been reversed in the simulation: instead of being given time to relax and unwind, the situation PBRL were put in probably had them wound up tighter than ever.

In the back of his head, he wondered if that had been the point.

"Of course, we were gonna do that anyways." Yang confirmed stirring Jaune from his thoughts as she crossed her arms. "I've always got my sister's back. That might as well extend to her team as well."

As Jaune looked across the room, Nora and Weiss seemed awfully pensive, the latter nodding to herself. The boy nodded again. "We'll keep our eyes out for them where we can."

"My thanks. I'll have a few words with Professor Goodwitch about today. Good words, of course." The lanky professor stood, collecting his cup and making his way to the main terminal in the room. Jaune took that as dismissal, sighing.

"Now where were we?" Yang threatened.

"Expensive! Fragile!" Jaune repeated, slinking away. He kept Yang in front of him as he slowly shuffled backwards defensively. As much as he was backing away, he was eyeing Yang's stance for a counter. "Let's at least take this to the training room? It's right next door!"

"Can't you two relax for like, a couple seconds?" Nora, the voice of reason strangely enough. "I'm hungry. Hungry means I'd like to consume some food. Tasty. Delicious. Food. Weiss, give me another word for food."

"Sustenance? Nutrition? Dare I say chow?"

"Thank you, Weiss. Let's go get some grub." Nora laid a hand on Yang's shoulder, the blonde girl sighing before allowing herself to be pulled along. Jaune paced alongside both, stuffing his hands in his pockets as Weiss led the way out.

"Shooting you was maybe a two at most Yang."

"Why wasn't it a zero? Fight me right now."

Son of a...