Chapter 15

The Magician Part III

Near the heart of Vale City in the borough of Westminster, a pair casually weaved through its bustling street. The first of the pair admired his surroundings, appreciating the architecture while reading out loud from a pamphlet. The other kept her silence, eyes straight, and face neutral to maintain an air of professionalism. However, the incessant commentary from her partner slowly eroded her patience.

"Hey Emerald," called out the young man with gray eyes and hair. "Did you know that Piccadilly Circus didn't always go by that name?" His partner didn't respond, but he pressed on. "So around like, three-hundred years ago, it used to be called Màrmore Street. You know why?" Silence was his answer. "Well, it's because the white marble was sourced from Màrmore in Vacuo."

"Wow – that sounds absolutely riveting Mercury," the woman replied dryly, not even bothering to look back. "Are you going to tell me even more interesting trivia?"

"Oh, uh – one sec." He quickly flipped through his tourist pamphlet. "Ok, ok, so – did you know that the name 'Piccadilly' originates from the stuff that they used to wear around their necks? You know, that frilly collar thing in the olden times?" He gestured with his hand around his neck. "Yeah well, apparently some tailoring guy was really famous for them and he had a shop here. Got super famous and all that, and so the name just sorta stuck, you know?"

His green haired partner glanced over her shoulder at him. "Are you seriously reading out from that tourist guide?"

"Uh – yeah?" Mercury replied quizzically.

Emerald barely held back her groan. "…Why?"

"Because it's actually pretty interesting?" He replied with an eyebrow raised.

"Why do I have a feeling that you were reading out loud just to annoy me?" Accused Emerald with a glare.

He rolled his eyes at her. "Hey, I'm enjoying my time as a tourist here, okay? Besides, if I wanted to really annoy you, I would be stopping at every other sandwich shop and order a bite. In fact," his voice trailed off as he squinted. "I think I spy with my little eye, a deli up ahead."

"No," she spun around on her heel and jabbed a finger into his chest. "We are not doing this again. Every single time when we're out on a job, you always get hungry out of nowhere and we have to stop at a place to eat so you're not bitch and moaning, 'Oh Emerald, I'm so hungry. Emerald, my tummy hurts because I haven't eaten anything in the past minute! Emerald, do you have any snacks on you?'"

"Hey," he swatted her hand away in offense. "I do not sound like that whatsoever. It's not my fault that my hunger can only be satiated by plenty of carbs and protein. Aaaand," he put a finger up. "I'll have you know we are technically not on a job currently. The big boss herself said to keep a low profile and do you know what I'm doing?" It was rhetorical. "That's right, keeping a low profile by being a tourist."

"You're really milking that tourist angle for all its worth huh?" She said in astoundment.

Mercury smirked as he reopened his pamphlet with some flare. "Hell yeah I am."

The dark-skinned woman pinched her eyebrows. "Whatever, this job is important."

"So important that it's gonna get us in trouble with the boss lady?"

"It is not going to get us in trouble." She replied, turning around and marching off ahead.

"Uh huh, yeah suuuure," he said sarcastically. "If I remember correctly, she distinctly told us not to do anything stupid, not to do any jobs, and more importantly, to not bring any attention to ourselves."

"Well, we wouldn't be here if it weren't for that idiot messing up at the port last night," reasoned Emerald. "So now, you and I have to tie up his loose ends before things get really out of hand."

"Riiiiiight," elongated Mercury. "So you totally aren't doing this to impress her by showing the boss lady everything's fine when she flies in."

"I am not!" she hissed defensively.

"Uh yeah, you totally are," he grinned.

"Am not!"

"Are too!"

"Am-" Her mouth shut with a click, her eyes squeezing tight. "No, no," she calmed her breathing. "I am not about to do this right now with you in public."

"You totally are, and you can't change my mind." He crossed his arms and chastised her with the pamphlet as his stick. "You do realize why she told us to chill and be cool, and not do any jobs, right?"

Emerald grounded her teeth together. "Don't you dare say it Mercury."

He ignored her and continued irregardless. "It's because she wants to spend some time smoochin' with her man."

"Uuuggh," she groaned loudly.

"Hey, if you ask me, they make a pretty cute couple," stated Mercury. "He's tall, blonde, and handsome. She's dark, mysterious, and gorgeous. It's like… he's the peanut butter to her jelly. The pastrami to the spicy brown mustard. The ham to her-"

"Oh my gosh, Mercury shut up with the stupid sandwich analogies," interrupted Emerald. "What is it with you and friggin' sandwich analogies?!"

"Because I could really go for a pastrami sandwich on rye right about now," he answered earnestly.

The green haired girl's patience wore thin when the topic somehow came back to food. However, a part of her was grateful since the conversation deviated from her boss' significant other. It was a largely sore subject for her.

"But yeah, I don't know what's the problem you have with the guy."

She gritted her teeth as Mercury annoyingly went back to the previous subject.

"He's pretty cool if you asked me."

"You only like him because he cooks you a ton of food whenever we hang out at her place," Emerald growled.

"Uh, no I don't?" He raised his hands in defense.

"Oh, really?" Emerald questioned as she placed a hand on her hip.

"Yeah! We read the same manga," began Mercury, snapping his finger. "We play the same video games. We go to the same dance class. We like to watch the same shows and talk about them. And uh," he snapped his fingers a couple of times to jog his memory, "we also like the same foods and drinks too! Which reminds me, he introduced me to this thing called boba the last time we hung out."

"Really?" She glanced back in disbelief. "You actually like that drink?"

"Uh, yeah? What's not to like?"

Dark-red eyes stared at him momentarily. "I seriously cannot picture you and him bonding over boba of all things."

"That's because you hate the guy."

"I do not."

"You do too."

"I do-" Emerald once again snapped her mouth shut. "Nope, not doing this again." She marched on to their destination and ignored the whisper he tossed off to the side saying that she did.

It wasn't long before they came across a small bookstore.

"Tukson's Book Trade," read aloud Mercury. "'Home to every book under the sun.' Huh… cool slogan, kinda like it."

"Let's go." Emerald called out.

"In and out, twenty-minute adventure, right?" Mercury cooly asked as he stretched his neck.

There were stacks of books piled high that framed his tall figure. Off to his side was a half-filled cardboard box filled with books. The black-haired man wore a short-sleeved black and burgundy shirt with noticeable sideburns.

"Yo!" Mercury greeted with a raised hand. "Do you have any stuff from Mistral?"

"Manga, manhwa, and manhua, over to your left near the front," he pointed over.

"Thanks! Yo Em, I'll be browsing in the meanwhile." Mercury tossed a halfhearted wave over his shoulder. "Holler if you need something, or don't, up to you."

The mint-green haired girl rolled her eyes and sauntered up to the counter.

"Hi! Looking for anything peculiar ma'am?" he asked patiently.

"I am," she looked at him squarely. "Do you happen to have the book 'The Hunt for the Blue October' in store?"

"Yeah, sure do. Any preference on paperback or hardcover?"

"Ooh?" She crossed her arms feigning interest. "Options do sound nice. Hmm," she hummed aloud. "What about… 'The Count of Monte Glenn'?"

"Yup, sure do! We have the special edition books with gold lining the pages, standard paperback, and hardback. Oh, we also have the sensitively edited abridged versions," he informed. "You uh, you seem to have a particular interest in betrayal and traitor stories."

Emerald shrugged her shoulders. "Just been on a binge lately. So anyways, what about… hmm," her eyes narrowed in thought before a wicked grin slowly grew. "Here's a tough one for you. Do you have 'The Iscariot Sin'?"

He opened his mouth before promptly closing it shut. "Hmm," his eyes danced around. "I uh… hmmm." Tukson clicked his tongue and rubbed his cheek. "I uh, I don't believe I have that particular book in stock currently."

That wicked grin grew predatory. "Oh?" Emerald unfolded her arms and leaned on the counter. "Say, you are… Tukson, right?" she pointed at him.

"Um, yeah?"

"Right, right," she nodded. "So, it's safe to assume that as the guy that named the bookstore after himself. You came up with the slogan, right?"

"R-Right…?" he said slowly, unsure where she was going with this.

"And your slogan is…?" she gestured with her hand for him to answer.

"'Tukson's Book Trade – Home to every book under the sun,'" he recited patiently with a puzzled gaze.

"And for some reason… you don't have 'The Iscariot Sin' even though your slogan is that you have every book under the sun. Isn't that," she made a popping noise with her lips, "false advertisement?" She asked innocently.

Tukson maintained a calm façade even in the face of ridicule. "Well, I move books between inventory and storage. Especially ones that aren't particularly…" He moved his jaw a bit to find the right word. "…popular at the moment. And if I don't have it, I'm happy to order it with priority shipping for you."

Emerald tutted. "You're very good at giving excuses aren't you."

His head slightly recoiled back at the sudden hostility, "Excuse me?"

"I said that you're very good at giving excuses," repeated Emerald. "After all, you must've had plenty of practice after you sold out your brothers and sisters in the White Fang."

"Ma'am," he smiled politely, "I'm not sure what you're talking about."

"No need to play dumb with me Tukson." His pale-yellow eyes glanced at the girl in front of him, then to the boy, and lastly the front of his shop. The window shades had been darkened along with the sign flipped on that the store was closed. "You can offer all the excuses you want. It won't do you any good here."

His features dropped and he leveled a steely expression at the dark-skinned girl. "Let me make this clear. I don't associate myself with the White Fang. In fact, I haven't spoken to any of their members in years. So, why don't you cut through the bullshit and tell me why you're here huh?"

"Oh?" She smiled like a cat that caught the canary. "That's so interesting because we found this." Emerald tossed two pieces of paper onto the counter. One was crumpled while the other was a printed out itinerary with a one-way ticket to Vacuo. "We stopped by your place earlier today. Looks like one of us has been telling lies."

He stared at the incriminating evidence in shock. "W-Wha-? How did you… where did you even-?!"

"There aren't that many people in the city that has old ties to the White Fang dating back years. After that little… debacle last night at the port. They sent out a short list of people to investigate," she told him as she took a step back. "We checked out all the others, they were clean. But you?" Emerald let out a laugh. "Haha, you were clean at first until Mercury over there spotted your ticket to Vacuo. That made us dig into your place a little more and that's when we found that crumpled up paper in the garbage."

His mouth went dry as he clenched and unclenched his hands repeatedly.

"They told us that you used to run with a crew before all of you went into hiding," informed Emerald. "Whose crew was it huh? Must've been a real good one if it allowed you to own all these bookstores across town and own a nice and quiet pad in the upper-west side near the coast."

Tukson kept his mouth shut.

"Either way, you failed to do your due diligence," she shrugged. "Retirement made you comfortable. It made you feel secure and safe. However, above all else, retirement made you arrogant," she sneered. "Even an amateur would at least try to burn the evidence. But you?" Emerald could only shake her head in disappointment. "You got sloppy."

The man exhaled out, dropping his shoulders in defeat.

"So, before we put you out to pasture. Care to share who sent you this information to pass it along to the boys and girls at the department?" she pressed for more information.

He looked back at the note and ticket then up at the girl.

The gig was up and his show was over.

His gaze rested on the paper still, looking at it despondently. Not because his end was nigh, but rather what it meant for the other person. There were so many questions he had that would go unanswered. Like what was his old friend doing getting himself mixed up with the White Fang? Why was he back after spending all these years in retirement? And why was he backstabbing the same group of people that he was colluding with?

Something big was going on if the White Fang were hiring and sending out cleaners in broad daylight.

Somehow, someway – Roman Torchwick once again found himself in the middle of this brewing storm. A memory flashed to the front of his mind. The last job they ever did.

The public and media called it, 'The Windsor Castle Heist.'

For their little circle, 'The Vanille Gambit.'

A job that entailed toppling a rival criminal empire, saving a little girl, and getting away with a fortune that would be told for generations. A small smile crept up at the memory. The smile on both Roman and the girl he saved. The last drink they shared was just before the crew was disbanded and they all went their separate ways.

"So?" The green-haired girl tapping her foot impatiently brought him out of the old memory.

Tukson closed his eyes and inhaled deeply before exhaling. "No – I don't think so."

"Tch," she frowned. "Then at least make this easy for us."

How long had it been since he had done any fighting? Years? Maybe even a decade? Whatever, it didn't matter at this point. He was under no illusion that he could win. The least he could do was ensure that when they went back that Roman knew he didn't rat his old friend out.

"Nah," he bared his claws. "You're gonna have to work for this kill."

The Director for the C.I.D. sipped his morning coffee in peace, nursing the cup as he sunk into his chair. His thumb idly rubbed circles while staring out the window onto the rising sun.

Despite the calm image he displayed, it contradicted that of the department. The events that occurred last night stirred everyone into a frenzy.

He barely even slept a wink before he was woken up by one of his subordinates in the middle of the night.

Just as he pulled his mug up to his lips, a soft chime rung out. Without even looking, he accepted the call, and turned to his holo-monitor.

"Old Man of the Clock Tower," tiredly groused Gun-hee.

"Oh?" An eyebrow rose. "We're doing this huh? Ahem," he coughed and sat up, "Old Man of the Temple." Ozpin affixed his features with a stern gaze.

A terse moment passed silently between the two as they leveled each other evenly. It wasn't long before the corners of Ozpin's lips twitched and the corners of Gun-hee's mouth curved upward.

"I see you're still fond of your theatrics."

"Of course, but not at this ungodly hour," he retorted. "Didn't expect you out of all people to pull something like this on me," mused Ozpin.

"When I get a chance to dog pile onto you, I take it," stated Gun-hee with a wry smile.

"And this is why I make sure you and Glynda stay far away from each other," dryly replied Ozpin. "Lord knows the havoc you two would do to my day."

"Someone has to put you in your place and if it can't be me then the duty falls onto Goodwitch," he intoned sagely. "As I've said, when-"

"Yes, yes, when you get a chance to dog pile, you take it." Ozpin grumbled, waving a hand in front of his face. "I get it, I get it."

Gun-hee's chest rumbled soon followed by Ozpin having a small chuckle even if it were at his own expense. "Good to see you Oz. It's been a while since you and I last chatted."

"What do you mean? We see each other at almost every meeting."

"Council meetings don't count, especially the one that we'll be having in about," he checked his watch. "One hour from now."

"Ha, true," nodded the other man. "It has been quite a while since I gathered the old gang together for a little soiree. When was the last time we all met up? Do you remember?"

"Can't recall," shrugged Gun-hee. "We've all been swamped with work ever since it was Vale's turn to host the festival. You've been busy mediating the council and coordinating your huntsmen and huntresses to thin out nearby grimm. And well, heh," he huffed, "I'm sure you already know what I've been dealing with on my plate."

"So, maybe a year ago?"

"That sounds about right to me."

"Hmm," hummed Ozpin. "Maybe I can pull a few strings prior to the opening ceremony for all of us. See if I can't work my magic and allow us some respite. I know some people back in the academy still talk about you."

"Let me guess… Peter?"

"Haha, you guessed right," he nodded in confirmation.

"That man," Gun-hee shook his head. "Ol' Pete still looking to even the score huh?"

"Oh, very much so. You know, funnily enough, I've received reports from my observers that the local Grimm population in the Emerald Forest has been fluctuating," informed Ozpin causing the director to quirk a brow. "Coincidentally, a certain Professor Peter Port has been taking nightly strolls to the Emerald Forest."

"It sounds like I should get out of my office more often then," he bemused. "Can't let Peter catch up and allow himself to get pigheaded about his strength again. Someone has to bring him back down to Remnant."

"Well, when we are all able to meet up again. Let's try to keep things a little reasonable. The last time you two started to try and out muscle each other. Glynda had to get involved to fix everything. And yet for some unforsaken reason, I somehow was still the one that got in trouble," groused Ozpin.

"That's because you and Bartholomew were egging us on from the sidelines, especially you," he leveled a flat stare at the other man.

"Why, I have never!" Ozpin gasped dramatically.

Gun-hee rolled his eyes as the two men shared a chuckle. They took the ensuing silence as a moment of reprieve to tend to their respective morning brew. He rolled around the dark liquid in his hand before speaking. "So Ozpin, what's the meaning of this private call? I'm sure it's not just to catch up and chat like old fish mongers."

"Aside from seeing how an old friend was holding up? Admittedly, I'm a little curious as to how one of my teams is doing within your department," answered the headmaster.

Gun-hee immediately registered who Ozpin was referring to. "Team SNPR."

A hand absentmindedly rubbed his beard. "I'm sure you know that our work-study program can be a little touch and go depending on the students. Most huntsmen-in-training find it difficult to… cross the boundary. A good majority tend to be surprised by the sheer bureaucracy, red tape, and paperwork that goes on behind the scene," he explained. "So, when I announced that I accepted another team for this round, a decent bit of folks balked at the idea. That is… until they found out just who was in that team."

"Miss Nikos."

The old director nodded. "It certainly got a lot of people talking at the prospect of seeing, let alone mentoring, a… huge celebrity. I had to make sure all the department heads cracked down on any favoritism or bias. Can't have them going easy on her team just because she was famous."

"Was that why Miss Cha was chosen?"

"Aside from the fact that she handles most of the communication between huntsmen and ourselves. Cha Hae-in tends to be the most level-headed and puts the general wellbeing of individuals first before anything else," expounded Gun-hee. "And considering Miss Nikos' fame, she was the best at making sure that their education and training went unimpeded. Although…" his voice trailed off as he parsed through the stacks of folders on his desk. "There was a certain individual that started to garner more attention as the work-study progressed."

"Oh? And who might that be?"

"The young man that leads the team – Emiya Shirou."

He plucked the file out and laid it bare in front of him. The contents contained the profiles of all four members detailing their backgrounds. Pyrrha Nikos held the most extensive file owing to her prolific career and stardom. Nora Valkyrie and Ren Lie came in second together, as their former association with the Xiong Family gave the department some cause for concern.

However – the three paled in comparison to their leader.

The folder containing all the information they had on him was so laughably small that they might as well have saved the paper and used a note card instead.

"What about Mister Emiya?" cautiously inquired Ozpin.

Gun-hee set aside his drink to closely read the paper. "He's quite the enigma, wouldn't you say?" The document was sparse and void of any real intelligence about his background. The only standout part about the young man was that he had a missing younger sibling. "I recall some months ago you requested our services in search of an individual to be done in private. An odd request, but seeing as how it came from you personally, I didn't put too much thought into it."

The other papers attached to his file were performance reviews from other department heads. All of them unanimous with glowing reviews of him and his team.

"It wasn't until Cha Hae-in began writing hers did I start paying more attention." Hae-in's reports were short and concise. While Pyrrha Nikos, Nora Valkyrie, and Ren Lie were written with appraise. Shirou Emiya's held a level of caution and concern.

For a supposed student who was just learning the ropes, it was noted that he seemed awfully familiar and experienced about their processes. A little too much that it caused Hae-in to look at Shirou Emiya more closely than the others. "He has a rather adept ability at blending in with his environment. Mister Emiya slipped into his role as a trainee so well that oftentimes others mistook him as an actual inspector rather than a work-study student."

Ozpin's features fell into contemplation. "Perhaps that's a sign that he's an exceptional learner? Like a duck to water maybe?"

"Ha," he huffed in amusement, "if only that were the case. No, it's more like…" He gestured with his hand to help run his thoughts. "He had always been among us. Mind you, he could have simply been faking and acting like he knew what he was doing. However, we have our ways of weeding out fakes by putting them in the field."

"And how did he do?" asked Ozpin.

"Frighteningly well," answered Gun-hee. "In her observation of him and his team, Cha Hae-in wrote Mister Emiya followed our procedures to the letter and then some. Asked witnesses questions that most trainees, and some inspectors, would never bother with. Made sure his team collected evidence that most tend to overlook. And above all else, was highly independent that required little to no directions on how to proceed with an investigation," he verbally surmised.

"Sounds very prodigious," offered Ozpin.

"Feh." He dropped the paper and laced his fingers. "That's not a prodigy. No, if you want a true prodigy then look no further to Pyrrha Nikos. In the mock exam, she scored the highest out of everyone in her team. If we placed her scores with the actual test, she would have scored the highest in the history of our department."

The old director leaned forward for effect. "That right there is a prodigy. But Emiya Shirou?" He leaned back and idly scratched at his beard. "What he displayed when they were out in the field was tried and true experience."

His office fell silent as Ozpin took a moment to digest the information as he fiddled with his drink. The cup of coffee that had been put aside had long gone cold. With a soft sigh, he downed the rest of the content before resuming.

"Say Oz."


"Where did you find him?"

"Would you believe me if I told you that he just appeared out of thin air?" stated Ozpin out of nowhere.

"Just like the Branwen twins?" he posited in return.

"Mmm, no," Ozpin shook his head, "when I say he appeared out of thin air. I meant it quite literally out of thin air."

Gun-hee blinked, then blinked again. "Oh…" The room went quiet again as it was his turn to digest that tidbit of information. The Headmaster of Beacon Academy never failed to turn his world upside down and with how calm he looked; the issue didn't seem that pressing to begin with. Just another drop in the bucket for Ozpin. "Who else knows?"

"You and Glynda."

"The others?"

Ozpin pursed his lips before speaking. "I'm keeping this one close to my chest from the others." He leveled a gaze at the director. "He's my… ace up the sleeve, if you will, with concerns to certain events that have been cropping up as of late. It goes without saying that I'm trusting you greatly with this Gun-hee."

The scarred-face man stood up, laid a hand over his heart, and bowed his head. "Of course, My Liege."

He heard chuckling from the other monitor. "There's no need for that old friend. I gave that up a long, long time ago in my previous life. I'm not asking as your former king, but simply as your close friend."

"The C.I.D. is at your beck and call." Gun-hee held his salute. "The years may go by, the people may have forgotten, but we at the department remember our vows when we were still known as the Knights of Razgriz."

A nostalgic smile tugged at Ozpin. "Thank you, my good friend."

Letting go of his salute, he settled back into his chair. "You know, even knowing this now, I would still like to go forward with a suggestion."

"Do tell."

"Shirou Emiya's capabilities are just what we need, especially at a time like this where we are looking at a shortage of manpower," he started off. "I was toying with the idea of extending out a… contract of sorts to your student and possibly his team as well."

"Contracting my students Gun-hee?" Ozpin quirked up an eyebrow with a grin. "They're not cheap and expendable labor you know."

"Haha," he let out a guttural laugh. "Nothing of that sort. Maybe contract was a bad way of describing it. More like… an advanced partnership between our institutions with Team SNPR as its first cooperative with one of our two-man cells."

"Gun-hee, that's an internship with extra steps," Ozpin flatly pointed out.

The man made a face and conceded. "So it is."

"Could have just led with that," bantered the headmaster. "But yes, I do recognize that you are short on men and Mister Emiya's display of skill makes him invaluable to you. I'll have Glynda draft up the paperwork and have it for you by the end of the meeting with the council. Speaking of which…" He checked the time. "I do believe that's in a handful of minutes."

Gun-hee checked his own watch. "Time sure does fly by when you're talking with an old friend."

"It does indeed."

"Very well, it was good catching up with you once again." He began straightening out his desk and stacking the files neatly. "I'll see you at the meeting, hopefully with a fresh," he checked the empty mug, "cup of coffee."

"Looking forward to getting raked over the coals like the V.P.D.?" teased Ozpin.

"Oh, don't worry," smirked Gun-hee. "Your ass will be getting roasted just like mine since your students were involved this time."

Ozpin's face fell at that fact. "Oh… joy. I think I should brew another pot as well in preparation."

"Ha – remember Oz! When I get-"

"Ahh-! Yes, yes!" Ozpin grumbled loudly in protest. "I get it already, when you get a chance to dog pile, you take it."

The headmaster immediately ended the call, the holo-monitor blinking out of existence.

The director simply laughed as he strolled out of his office.

I stared at my reflection in the mirror.

The water faucet running served as background noise while I attempted to come to terms with what I was seeing.

My hand reached up and pulled down my shirt collar further. Right below the collarbone, a dark splotch contrasted greatly with the fair skin around it. The area wasn't big, probably no larger than the size of an infant's finger, however, it was still noticeable to where it would be the first thing to catch someone's attention.

I gingerly poked at the spot and exhaled.

"It was going to happen sooner or later," I softly murmured.

The fight with Angelica accelerated the rebound effect causing whole parts of my arm and face to be darkened just like EMIYA's. The fringes of my hair had also probably whitened, but I wasn't able to tell at the time. Inspecting closer in the mirror, my hair still retained its red-auburn color so I was thankful that that hadn't turned yet. For a reason lost on me, my arrival to this world restored all the afflicted parts back to its natural state.

I stopped poking at the skin and buttoned my shirt back up. "This is going to be annoying to explain if anyone sees it," I mused before sighing. "Wonder how long I can keep this charade going…"

Putting it aside for now, I turned off the faucet, and switched off the light as I exited the bathroom.

"Heyo Shirou~!" Nora ambushed me with a two-finger salute. "About time you got out! I was waitin' forever here!"

I reeled back a bit. "Were you waiting there the whole time?" I questioned incredulously.


I blinked. "Did you… happen to hear anything?"

"Uh… no?" She stared at me. I shrugged and began to walk away. "Wait, wait, hold it mister." My orange-haired teammate grabbed my sleeve. "Were you…" She glanced over to the kitchen before leaning in close to my ear. "Were you doing the hanky-panky in there? Was that why the faucet was on?"

"Huh?" I expressed a baffled look.

"Hey-hey, I mean," she shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. "I don't blame ya, alright?" My mouth opened and shut without a word coming out – I was speechless. "Cause like, ya know, you're a pretty good lookin' guy and all. And ya know, like, Pyrrha's a really good lookin' girl. There is a pretty good reason why she was put on the cover of Huntress' Secret for like three years in a row so…" Nora's hushed tone trailed off with the implication hanging. "It's probably hard to find uh… um, alone time for yourself."

I palmed my face and dragged it down. Of all the times and places to have a conversation like this. It was in the middle of a hallway with the person in question not too far away. "Nora I-"

Nora then nudged me a couple times with a wink. "Aww, don't be like that! No need to be embarrassed!" she teased relentlessly. "Just means you're a healthy guy!" I felt a headache brewing as I tried tuning her out. "And you know, maybe you should like… oh I don't know? Talk to her and get to know her a little more? Cause like, from what I can tell, Pyrrha's pretty into you, ya know? And well, I'm sure she'd be super happy if you got to know her a little more uh… intimately."


"Plus, not to mention, I think you two would be really cute too," she gushed, ignoring me. "I'm sure you're probably all like, 'Oh no, I can't date my teammate and partner. Wouldn't that be taking advantage of her since I'm the leader? Wouldn't that be weird for the team?' And all that jazz. But, rest assured, you have the full support and backing from Ren and I. So, you know, if you were waiting for an opportunity to go for it then, by all means and-"

"Nora," I hissed.

"Oh, uh, yes Shirou?" the girl elicited a small meep.

"First of all, I was not doing anything like that in the bathroom," I stated with my eyes glaring daggers. "Second of all, I…" The words died in my throat as I glanced at Pyrrha.

The other redhead was talking animatedly with Ren. I wasn't sure what the conversation was about, but from how Ren presented various ingredients that were laid out on the countertop along with lots of containers. I assumed it was something about meal prep. When her eyes caught mine, Pyrrha flashed a smile while brushing her hair back behind her ear.

I froze at the sight, my mouth slightly ajar.

It was as if a memory overlaid itself in my vision of a time before everything came tumbling down. What triggered it I wondered. Was it the same way she brushed her hair? The soft smile as the person glowed when they saw me? All of it reminded me of a time where I shared a small piece of happiness with another person.

The image of Matou Sakura stared back at me.

Shy, meek, and demure were useful descriptors that helped build the image of her signature smile. There was a tinge of warmth behind it that would often leave my heart wriggling. It was something that she would only share with me and with no other person. A part of me selfishly coveted it to myself and took pride in being the one to be showered by her affection.

A blink and Sakura disappeared.

My eyes dulled a bit at the memory disappearing, but brightened back as Pyrrha still held her smile. Remembering that it was rude to stare. I smiled back like how I would back then to Sakura. If it were at all possible, Pyrrha beamed beatifically. A particular warmth filled the hollow cavity in my chest.

And then as quick as that warmth came, a frigid hand gripped my heart.

Would I be betraying Sakura if I pursued this? Especially when I had rejected her in favor of my sister?

The question whispered sinisterly in the background.


"-rou?" Someone poked my shoulder. "Hey, psst, Remnant to Shirou!"

My head shook as I snapped out of my trance. "Huh?"

Nora's grin wiped away the instant I turned to her. "H-Hey, you uh… you alright?" She asked considerately. "Sorry, it just sort of came out of nowhere and I couldn't help notice." She gulped. "You were really um, uh, melancholic there for a bit before uh, well… you had this really sad look. Like…" she pursed her lips. "Like you were looking at someone that you lost," her voice got quiet.

As bubbly and ditzy Nora tended to be, she was awfully perceptive.

I took a deep breath and exhaled out before turning to her with closed eyes and a smile. "I'm fine," I placated. "You don't have to worry about me. Everything's alright, just some old memories from… back then." I smiled as best I could, but I could tell she wasn't buying it.

Nora gave me a stern, but concerned glare as I struggled to hold the image. "Alright Mister," she grumbled softly. "I believe you," she stated unconvincingly, but was clear that she was giving me my space. "If you ever need an ear and a shoulder. You can come to me, ok?"

I acquiesced with a nod to the Mama Bear of the team. "Hah – thank you for understanding Nora."

"Ha," she shook her head and wrapped her arms around my ribs, squeezing hard. "You silly little goose!"

"Gahhh-!" I managed out with great effort. "N-Nora!" I could hardly breathe.

"Hehe," Nora let go with a chuckle. "Now, if you don't mind movin' aside," she gestured with her hand. "I really gotta pee and you were in there for like ever and I've been holdin' it in this entire time!"

"Right, right."

I moved over allowing Nora to hurriedly rush in with the door almost slamming shut.

For a bit, I rubbed an idle hand along my chin while tossing a glance at Pyrrha and Ren who were still chatting. The latter had brought out a baking tray and a pan, and was gesturing to different items. He provided examples of various ways to cook things with oven roasting and pan frying.

A quick look at the clock read that there was thirty-minutes before we had to leave for our final assessment.

"Let's go join those two and kill some time," I said to myself.

"Department One – Pass."

Pyrrha Nikos kept her features neutral even though a small part of her felt nervous. An uncommon feeling that she hadn't felt in a long time. Fighting in a venue featuring a crowd measuring in the tens of thousands? No problem. Shaking hands and signing autographs of hundreds of her fans? No sweat. However, standing in a conference hall with only a handful of people?

She clinched her hand behind her back to ease her nerves.

"Department Two – Pass."

Cha Hae-in's voice came in steady and measured

Their results were looking good so far. Over their month-long work-study, they went through all the departments that showed them the ropes. Although the assignment was labeled as work-study. It felt awfully more like work than study. Coupled with the development of Torchwick and revealing that he was in collaboration with the White Fang meant they were roped into doing live work.

"Departments Three and Four – Pass."

The redhead contained her smile as the good news kept rolling in.

She lost count of the number of sleepless nights they all shared. Especially the one individual that she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with. A quick glance to the side and she caught the sullen expression in his eyes as he stared off into space. It usually meant that he was deep in thought about something. Pyrrha wondered what he was thinking.

Was it because of all the work he put on himself? Or their recent failure of apprehending Roman when they had him practically in cuffs. Her eyes shifted downward, away from the panel that consisted of Go Gun-hee, Woo Jin-chul, Ozpin, and Glynda Goodwitch

No, she chided to herself internally. Shirou had been more concerned about their safety and well-being more than anything else. While he was a workaholic on the surface, he prioritized their lives more than anything else. After all, the only reason why their trap worked was because they had all expressed their desire to him to prove themselves.

What was it that was more pressing for Shirou than school or work?

Pyrrha blinked, her hand squeezed her other wrist. She wanted to smack herself in the forehead. How could she forget? He had a missing sister.

"Department Five – Pass."

Shirou wasn't one to talk much about her. All Pyrrha could recall was that her name was Miyu, she was quiet, loved to read, and was apparently adept at cooking. No mentions about her appearance or how they were separated. By how he tended to avoid the subject, it was likely traumatic and messy.

With that now in mind, it made some sense. The vast resources that the department commanded was enticing to someone like Shirou. He had the ability to look far and wide for anyone in the kingdom. Sadly, his current mood hinted that he had not been successful in that regard.

She inhaled and exhaled out slowly.

When they returned to Beacon, Pyrrha resolved to make a discrete trip to the Cross Continental Transmit System. There were some calls to make and some strings to pull.

"And finally, Department Six – Pass." Hae-in gently closed her folder and followed up with a nod to the director.

Go Gun-hee was the first to rise from his chair. As he strode around the table, he firmly clapped. "Well done Team SNPR." Behind, Jin-chul shadowed closely with a pack of folders tucked underneath his arm. "The four of you have certainly exceeded everyone's expectations here." He motioned to the others in the room. "Not many huntsmen-in-training can boast that they made an impression, but then again, not many are so driven and focused."

"It's often easy to get caught up in chasing contracts and bounties as well as the limelight," spoke Ozpin. "So often are Huntsmen and Huntresses placed upon a pedestal that we often forget why we are in this profession. We are not just monster hunters and bounty hunters, but peacekeepers as well."

"We are many things," continued Glynda. "We are mediators. We are the fair and neutral arbitrators that can freely travel between the kingdoms. We teach. We guide. And above all else, we protect our fellow man and faunus. At times from the Grimm… and at times from ourselves."

"That's what it means to be a well-rounded huntsman," stated Gun-hee. "And you four have only just begun on this journey. Even with this work-study completed, there is still much to learn. Much to experience. The moment you stagnate is the moment you set yourself in a bubble and begin to deteriorate."

"Broaden your horizons," succinctly chuckled Ozpin. "The worst cages are the ones you've built around yourself."

The old director was about to make a remark before Glynda politely coughed and he offered a sheepish smile. "Thusly," said the headmistress standing up, "the Criminal Investigation Department expressed a desire, to the Headmaster and I," she motioned between the two of them. "To extend your team's work-study program, expand it to a full-fledged internship."

"It is no secret that the four of you have done good work with us," expressed Gun-hee. "You have abilities that we feel that we can nurture and expand upon." He clapped his hands. "With that being said, we would like to have Team SNPR onboard with us if you all are feeling up to the task."

Pyrrha, Ren, and Nora turned to their leader.

"If you would have us," he bowed without missing a beat.

"Wonderful!" Gun-hee threw his hands up cheerfully. "With this, you'll be working along with us a lot more closely alongside a two-man cell of ours that will be acting as a liaison."

"So we won't be with Senior Inspector Cha anymore?" asked Nora.

"Technically, yes, but also no," said Hae-in.

"Wha-?" Nora quirked an eyebrow.

The blonde grinned in response. "While I handle almost all of the work-study programs. This is technically something that is a little… different, to say the least. Meaning, I'll still be handling your files and paperwork. However, you would be working with another department."

"Riiiight~!" elongated Nora before she quickly turned to Ren. "Yeah, no, I still don't get it," she whispered.

"What she means by that is she is no longer our primary supervisor," explained Ren. "She just handles all the paperwork to sign off on us while we're still with the C.I.D."

"Ohhh, okay, got it, got it," nodded Nora. "So same-same, but different, but still same."

It was Ren's turn to blink and look at the orange-haired girl with a bewildered face.


"N-Nothing," he looked away.

"Hey Mister!" she grounded out. "I know that look anywhere! You totally think I still don't understand, don't you?"


"Why the hesitation?"

Ren opened his mouth then closed it tight, shaking his head refusing to speak causing Nora to growl in return.

Pyrrha grinned at their exchange.

From the corner of her eye, Jin-chul came up to Gun-hee, and whispered something into his ear. A soft chuckle rumbled out of his chest along with a shake of his head.

"Speaking of the two-man team you'll be partnered with," he suddenly announced. "It seems like they've just arrived."

The doors swung open behind her. All the occupants in the room turned their attention to it as two tall males dressed in traditional department suits strode through. On the left was a handsome and muscular man with gray eyes, black hair, and sharp facial features. He had his hands in his pockets and carried a polite expression, one that seemed to brighten when he spotted Cha Hae-in.

However – for Pyrrha, it was the person next to him that left her gob smacked.

When was the last time she had seen him? He had changed so much that Pyrrha couldn't believe what she was seeing with her own eyes. She blinked, then blinked again, and then a couple more times. No longer did he have a messy mop of blonde hair. Rather, it was now short and cleanly cut. He also seemed to have grown an inch or two along with some added muscle.

"J-Jaune?!" she sputtered in disbelief.

Dark-blue met green eyes.

The former expanded in shock before turning fully into joy.

"Oh my gosh, Pyrrha?!" he smiled brightly. "Is that you?!"

As he rushed up to her with arms open wide. A single thought flew through her head as her old friend wrapped his arms around her in a tight bear hug.

What a small world.

"Park Royal Business Park," read aloud Mercury.

He turned his head around to take in the new area.

"Hey Mercury." Emerald slapped his shoulder. "Can you get a move on and stop gawking? This isn't even a tourist area. Gosh, I hate taking the subway," she griped. "So damn cramp and stuffy down there."

"What? Really?" He popped an eyebrow up. "I thought you liked public transportation?"

"No, I mean, I don't mind it, but being underground sucks. Nothing to see, cramped with a bunch of people, and did I mention it's underground?" she explained herself.

"But it's iconic though," rebutted Mercury.

"You know what else is iconic? The double-decker red buses you see everywhere."

"Ugh," he blanched making a face, "that thing's a tourist trap and you know it. Plus, I want to like, be one of the locals, you know?"

"Really?" she said exasperated. "Like one of the locals?"




Emerald rolled her eyes as they walked through the business park. "Oh my gosh, what is it with you and this stupid tourist act. It's actually getting on my nerves."

"Oh come on, one of us has to look the part. If you aren't going to have fun with it then I will. Besides, I've spotted a bunch of places that seem pretty cool to check out whenever Jaune's free to hang out." He swiped his hand at her dismissively. "Don't hate on me because I'm living life unlike you."

"Whatever," she shook her head and pulled out her scroll. "We should be getting close to the warehouse. A couple blocks down and we should be there."

"Mhm." He hummed noncommittally. "You know, business parks are kinda creepy at night. Don't you think so?" Mercury asked conversationally. It was almost midnight and the Royal Park area was practically devoid of life. Only the cleaning crews could be spotted going in and out, along with the night-time security.

"Can't you say the same thing about tourist spots?"

"Yeah, but all these big ol' complexes and offices being empty give me the heebie-jeebies," commented Mercury.

Emerald took the time to look around before turning to her partner and shrugging. "Not to me. Just looks like a bunch of easy marks to me. Basic security that's half-paying attention. Janitors that probably just want to get on with the cleaning and go home. Pretty ripe for the taking if there were anything worth stealing. And really Merc, you? Getting the heebie-jeebies? That's pretty funny."

"Hey-hey, just cause I'm a cleaner doesn't mean I don't get superstitious," he defended.

She rolled her eyes. "Oh~ you poor big baby. Want me to hold your hand? I promise you we are almost there," Emerald cooed sardonically.

"…Maybe." He replied after a while. "I'd feel a little safer to be honest."

"I refuse," she spat vehemently.

"Fine," he crossed his arms. "Be like that. I didn't want to hold your thieving hands anyways. I wanna keep my wallet where it is, thank you very much."

"You mean this thing?" She tossed him the leather object much to his dismay.

"What the shit? When?!" He cried out incredulously.

"When we were exiting the underground. Wanted to see if you were paying attention or if you were really playing the whole dumb tourist thing," she remarked with a smirk. "Turns out, you were definitely the dumb tourist Merc."

He stuffed his wallet into his back pocket before angrily stomping ahead.

"Aw, come on Merc, don't be a sore loser!" Emerald playfully chased after him. "I'll make it up to you by letting you hold my hand!" she teased. "Hey, slow down you big baby haha~!"

With the door shut and the blinds drawn, Roman Torchwick sat alone inside his office.

In his right hand, he played with a butane lighter. The soft clicks it made was rhythmic to Roman as he opened and closed it. In his other hand, he held a photograph of a red-haired boy taken from afar just as he left The Autumn and Spring. He scrutinized the photo, drawing it closer to his face as he gleaned for any other details he might have missed. A small frown found its way to his face.

"Who the hell are you, Shirou Emiya?" he murmured to himself.

Odd gut feelings often preceded bad omens which meant something was going to go sideways in the near future. He learned quickly over the years to follow his gut instinct when it came to tackling unknown problems. Often, it saved his ass more than he could recount.

Those golden-brown eyes emanated something wicked and foreboding. It was the same feeling he experienced when the lady in red first approached him before being forced out of retirement.

His hand twitched. He placed the photo down and instinctively reached for the cigar in his jacket's inner-breast pocket. Inspecting his vice, a nostalgic grin stretched across his face. A rare import from Menagerie that was highly regarded among both enthusiasts and collectors. He held it up to his nose and breathed in the aroma.

His lungs itched at the thought of returning to his old vice. When was the last time he smoked? He was unable to contemplate for long before the door to his office abruptly opened. A short pink and brown-haired girl stepped through.

She wore a tired expression as she tossed her umbrella off to the couch in the room. The girl quickly followed suit by throwing herself onto the cushions. Arms and legs sprawled out to relax.

"Everything running smoothly down there Neo?" He asked while discretely putting away the cigar and lighter.

The heterochromatic eyed girl turned over and gave him a bland stare.

"Giving you shit?" Guessed Roman suppressing a grimace.

She answered with a look that easily translated to, "What do you think?"

"All the shit then," he surmised while cleaning up his desk. "Well, that's to be expected. I botched the job and landed a good number of their comrades into the sweet and tender embrace of the C.I.D." Roman chuckled to himself. "As long as they're repacking the dust and smuggling it like how I showed them then they can be pissy all they want. Besides, I think after this job, we should be fulfilling our end of the bargain."

Neo flipped over and sat up. "Why take this job in first place?" she signed. "Caused us to break number one rule – don't mess with dust. Going to get a lot of shit from people. Making lot of enemies doing this," she remarked and stared up at the ceiling.

Roman's lips pressed into a thin line. He thanked his luck that Neo failed to catch the concern on his face as he stared at her. "Our… benefactor paid a fat sum of lien for this job," he explained smoothly. "And what can I say? Retirement was getting a little too boring for my tastes. Stealing from the banks and corpos wasn't going to do it for me. So, I figured, why not shoot for something big, you know? Cause a little… ruckus in the ecosystem. Rock the boat."

She turned her head back to him with a raised brow. "I don't know," she signed with a scrunched face. "You looked pretty annoyed when that lady in red kept bugging you. Pretty sure I remember at some point, you told her politely and eloquently to, 'Fuck off.'"

Roman smiled with his eyes closed. "Ah, you're right, but it seemed I was a bit too quick to turn her down." He felt beads of sweat roll down the back of his neck. "She ah… she put up a very convincing argument and offer when she came back around the third time."

She reeled her head back. "Must be something reeeaaal important and big to have convinced you then." Neo emphasized by signing with her arms spread far apart. "Like, really, really, stupidly important that we're willing to break the big rules."

The orange-haired man swallowed dryly. His nerves were really itching for a light. The one cigar in his pocket was not going to cut it. "Yeah," he smiled once again to ease her worries. "She made me quite the offer that I could not refuse."

He felt something grip his heart as his partner stared at him briefly. "What'd she offer?" she questioned.

Dark-green eyes lingered on the girl he rescued so long ago. A flood of memories washed over him suddenly and he was taken aback. He remembered a promise that he made. A promise made to someone that he grew to see as his very own.

"I'd sacrifice the world if it meant saving you."

A finger snapping in front of his face broke him out of the memory.

Neo was close, looking at him with concern. "Roman? You ok?"

"Of course," he tried laughing it off. "I was just remembering some old stuff that seemed to come back up."

"Like what?" she signed with her head tilted.

"Nothing important," he waved her off, "just uh, you know, getting on in my years. I'm not as spry and young as I used to be." Roman joked to deflect away from the subject. "All this running around, planning, stealing, and managing made me realize once again that retirement truly is the best."

She crossed her arms and jutted out her hip. "We done after this? For good? Go back to living fat and carefree?"


"Fine by me." Neo unfurled her arms and spotted the files on his desk. "What are you looking at anyways? Their profiles again?"

"Yeah," he exhaled in relief at avoiding that subject. He grabbed the red-haired boy's picture. "This guy, right here. He gave you a lot of trouble, didn't he?"

Her face grimaced at the sight of the boy. "Dangerous," she warned. "Very dangerous. Would rather fight four-time Mistral champ and be humiliated on live television than fight him again."

"I underestimated him then," he murmured.

"We both did." She corrected him. "He doesn't look like much and looks unassuming, was very easy to underestimate him. Also has very weird abilities." Neo paused for a moment on the last point.

"Weird abilities?" he repeated. "I pulled what I could from the security's footage. Was kind of hard to figure out what was going on."

She nodded in confirmation. "Tried rushing him. He made arrows out of thin air. Don't ask me how, I don't know either. Anyways, arrows were easy to dodge at start. Got real close to him near the beginning. Ducked under a shot, but then couldn't move."

"Couldn't move? What do you mean by that? He froze you or something?" questioned Roman.

Neo made a face and shrugged. "Don't know, really, really freaky arrows. Looked more like… like rapiers or something. Stuck in my shadow. Couldn't move a muscle. Almost caught me."

"How'd you get out?"

"Got lucky. Cane was pointing in direction of light," she explained. "Gambled on shooting out light would free me. Could barely move my finger, but thankfully that hair-trigger came in handy. Had to retreat and rethink approach after that."

"The hell?" Roman rubbed at his chin, digesting the information. "That's… definitely weird."

She nodded along before continuing. "Had upper-hand for a bit afterwards. Chased after me. Played cat and mouse with him. Kept him distracted like you wanted. Was fun to see him frustrated. Tried to fish for more info about him. Knows how to keep his cards close to his chest. Didn't reveal much."

"Well, we know he can uh… materialize?" He tested the word. "Summoned?" He tried another. "Projected? Whatever," he waved, "one of those words. Basically, he can make weapons or something out of thin air. Sort of explains why we didn't see his huntsmen trick weapon. The guy doesn't have one because he can just make'em with his semblance," theorized Roman. "What else could you tell?"

"Tried making him dance like the others but… I think I pushed too many buttons at some point," she signed in contemplation. "Can tell he was only trying to subdue and arrest. Not go for anything serious or stuff like that. Thought he disarmed me at one point, he fell for the wire trick."

Roman smirked, huffing in amusement. Magician's wire never ceased to amaze him. That little trick always came in handy no matter the circumstance.

"Thought I'd push more of his buttons. Chastised him for thinking he could outsmart me. Fortunately, I outsmarted his outsmarting."

All he could offer was an exasperated expression.

She replied with a wide grin. "Was funny at first." Her face fell. "But then he got serious."

"Things went to shit?" Roman asked.

"It got fucked," she explicitly signed. "Almost lost my hand. He had glowing blue lines all of a sudden then just…" Neo's eyes narrowed, trying to find a way to describe it. "He just disappeared and reappeared in front of me. Barely managed to dodge. Weapon got damaged as a result. Thought I got out clean."

He glanced at a table in the room where a replica of his weapon laid. A decent sized chunk of the weapon had been sliced off. The front post sight, muzzle, and a bit of the barrel were gone.

She scowled for a moment.

"That… rapier thing he used." Her eyes glared at the mention of it. "Bypassed my Aura. Gave me a clean cut on my cheek." She planted both of her hands on his desk. Looking at him squarely in his eyes. "If we ever fight him again. Never fight alone. Fight together." She pointed at him and then her. "Together we can take him."

Roman worked his jaw before getting up. "Well, it's a good thing we won't be fighting him again any time soon. I know when to pick my fights and this is one I want to avoid entirely."

Never in his life had he heard of something ignoring a person's aura defenses. Break through? Yes. Get low and shatter? Also, yes. However, bypassing it completely? That was unheard of.

"Once all the dust in this damn warehouse has been accounted for and packed up. You and I, Neo? I think we're going to do a bit of vacationing over in Menagerie," he propositioned. "A sublime combo of white sand and warm azure ocean. Do a bit of snorkeling, maybe some card games in some shady gambling den, and enjoy some fantastic seafood. I hear they have great sea urchin ceviche. That sound good to you?"

She nodded enthusiastically with a smile. "Can't wait. This job can bite my ass."

As he got up to break out the drinks. A knock came from the door.

Roman raised his voice. "What is it?"

"Uh, sir, you have some visitors that want to see you?"

Roman and Neo looked at each other in confusion.

"Visitors?" he said, confused.

"Yeah, a guy and a girl," answered the man from the other side. "Go by the name Mercury and Emerald."

He audibly clicked his tongue in displeasure. "Tell the kids I'll be with them in a moment."

"Alright, but uh… just a heads up. They don't look too happy," he cautioned before stepping away.

Roman bit the inside of his cheek. No shit they didn't look too happy. Seems like the lady in red caught wind of what happened and sent her enforcers. And if her enforcers were here then that meant she wasn't too far behind.

"Want me to shadow like usual?" signed Neo.

"Yeah," he nodded. "Lay low and keep out of sight."

The pink and brown-haired girl curtsied playfully before striding out of the room with a jaunt step. When Roman felt that he was alone in the room. He tiredly picked up his bowler hat and fixed it atop his head. His hand tugged at the collar of his shirt.

"I've got a bad feeling about this…"

The floor of the warehouse was packed to the brim with people and machinery bustling.

Forklifts drove through marked lanes holding pallets of dust. White Fang members worked tirelessly going through hundreds of inventories marking each one to their assigned specifications. Some held scanners onto shipping containers and crates spoofing their shipping identification tags. Others relabeled their contents by handling the tagged paperwork.

Roman couldn't help but smile at the sight of a well-oiled machine. This was how an operation should go. Slow was smooth and smooth was fast.

As he walked down the stairs, his eyes spotted two individuals that stuck out like a sore thumb. A tall gray-haired boy had his hands in his pockets looking around non-chalantly, while the mint-green haired girl had her arms crossed appearing impatient.

He smirked; it was time to push some buttons.

"Bonjour monsieur et mademoiselle!" Roman sauntered down the stairs, twirling his cane. It had been a long while since he had spoken one of the Western Mistralian languages. So, he hoped his over the top accent covered his mistakes. "Qu'est-ce qui vous amene tous les deux ici en cette belle soiree?"

The paired look at each other confused.

"The hell?" Emerald turned to her partner. "What's he saying?"

Mercury leaned back slightly. "Hell if I know. Only language I know is Valean and bits of Eastern Mistralian. He's speaking in one of the Western ones. Do you know what he's saying?"

"No, if I did, I wouldn't be asking you in the first place Mercury!" she seethed.

Roman smiled, showing some teeth. "Que lest le probleme? Vous ne pouvez pas me comprendre?"

"I… I think he's talking shit to us in another language," Mercury suspected out loud.

"Vous etes un cretin," immediately replied Roman.

"Y-Yeah!" Mercury pointed an accusatory finger. "You're totally talking shit to us! I heard that word before! Cretin! You called us a cretin, didn't you?"

"Jamais!" Roman feigned offense with a hand on his chest, gasping. "Vous deux etes mes bons amis! Tu as du mal m'entendre!"

"Em." The gray-haired boy nudged his partner. "Back me up here. He was totally talkin' shit right?"

Emerald for her part only growled. "Ugh, cut the shit Roman! You know why we're here, don't you? So stop speaking that Western Mistral shit and go back to Valean already!"

"Aww," he cooed, walking around and up to them. His eyes roamed over their bodies and instantly spotted something sticking out of Emerald's left pocket. "Maybe if you two gave a damn. You too could be cultured and sophisticated like me. What kind of person only knows one language? Knuckleheads, that's who. Which," he wrapped his arms around their necks as a cover, "coincidentally, you both are!" he laughed boisterously.

"Agh, middle-aged man smell, get off me!" protested Mercury.

"Ew, ew, ew, I did not consent to this!" Emerald pulled his arm off her.

As they reeled back, Roman made his move and swiped at the object in one clean motion. With his back turned to the pair, he unfolded the paper, and froze.

203-206 Piccadilly, St. James's, Vale City W1J 9HD, Vale Kingdom.

He swallowed, schooled his features, and turned around. "What were you doing with this… address?" Roman's voice dipping low as he held the paper between his fingers.

"Hey! When did you-"

"Ah-ah-ah!" He interrupted, wagging his finger. "My question first honey. What were you two doing with this address? Hmm?" pressed Roman.

"Cleaning up your problems bub!" Mercury stepped forward. "Well, one of them at least. So a thank you would be very much appreciated."

"Problems?" He repeated. "That wasn't even a big problem in the first place. Besides, I had it perfectly under control. He was going to be dealt with and out of the picture. So, what did you two do exactly?"

"Like Merc said." Emerald snatched the paper back and stuffed it inside her pocket. "Cleaning up your problems Torchwick. Gosh, look at you! You're supposed to be some sort of legendary criminal mastermind and thief. And it's all going to shit because of you," she jabbed her finger at him. "And so, we're here on behalf of the boss to clean things up."

"Yeah," chimed back the silver-haired boy. "Did you know that little bookstore keeper had two packed bags and a ticket out of Vale?" Roman's lips remained sealed. "Yeah, I thought so. Didn't even know that the little rat was skipping out of town tonight." He shook his head in disappointment. "Oh, how the mighty have fallen," Mercury derisively commented.

Roman grounded his teeth, but refrained from lashing out. There was nothing that aggravated him more than two upstart cleaner punks talking down to him. They weren't like Xiong Hei's cleaners who were polite and professional. These two were running their mouths at him thinking they were the next big hot shots.

He flashed a dangerous smile. He took off his hat, swept back his hair, and calmly fitted it back onto his head. "Ever heard the saying, 'Courtesy costs nothing, but buys everything.' Hmm?" Roman let out a sigh. "Seems like you two have a lot to learn still."

"Heh," Mercury snorted. "As if we have anything to learn from a has-been from you."

"For someone who was known to be a world class thief. You are in very poor form Roman," taunted Emerald, holding up his wallet. "Don't think you're the only one that can pickpocket. I was born on the streets unlike you," she accused derisively. "You're just a fancy two-bit con-artist at the end of the day."

Roman, for his part, allowed cooler heads to prevail. Gripping his cane with both hands, he straightened his posture. Vengeance was a dish best served cold. "You know," he began, "how about I show you two a little magic trick. I promise you two that it would have both of you absolutely breathless," he said menacingly.

The two glared and tensed up.

"It would be-"

"It would be what, Mister Torchwick?"

A woman's voice emanated from the rafters causing all three to look up.

His eyes widened at the figure above. The white light fixtures behind her made it appear as if she had a heavenly glow. Her ashen-black hair flowed as she stepped forward onto the lift. The fair-skinned woman had a hand on her hip with a stoic expression as she looked down upon them. Roman was flabbergasted at the turn of events.

The lady in red was here.

With the way her hair shadowed over her face. It allowed her golden-brown eyes to practically glow in the dark. An ominous feeling permeated the area with her presence as she strode toward them. The cold night of fall suddenly felt hot.

For the second time, he felt a wave of déjà vu wash over him.

He blinked, controlling his look of shock, and immediately replaced it with a courteous and gentlemanly smile.

"Well hello Miss Fall," he greeted, "so nice of you to join us this lovely evening."



Roman quietly observed the situation.

He noticed that Mercury and Emerald fidgeted when the lady in red observed the two. The former stuffed his hands into his pockets and pursed his lips staying silent, while the dark-skinned girl averted her gaze, unable to look at her boss in her eye. The girl clammed up, grabbing her arm, and swaying ever so slightly.

As much as he enjoyed seeing them squirm under their boss's gaze. He knew he was also on the chopping black as evident when she faced him.

Roman simply kept his smile, however, he had an inkling that she knew how stiff he stood. His hands constantly squeezed the handle of his cane, ready for a fight. He knew, that she knew, his failure had pushed up her time-table.

Of which, he still had no clue what that woman was doing all the dust. Although, he also knew better than to needlessly ask dangerous questions. Sometimes, silence was golden.

When the silence began to turn unbearable, Cinder broke the silence. She inhaled deeply through her nose and exhaled out with her mouth. "For future reference," began Cinder, "please don't be so antagonistic with each other," she chastised calmly. "You are all working together under the same team. If you have grievances, please file them with me. Not with each other."

"But ma'am, he started by-" Emerald broke first, but was silenced under Cinder's gaze.

"Emerald," she said. "I was watching and listening the entire time."

"I-I… I apologize," Emerald bowed her head.

Then Cinder addressed all of them at once. "Just so we are all clear here and are on the same page. We are all equally at fault. No person here is blameless nor innocent."

"Wha-?" Mercury turned his head.

"Excuse me, ma'am? But you didn't do anything wrong here." Emerald furrowed her brows.

Roman for his part raised his brow, opting to remain silent. Cinder smiled mysteriously as a shiver shot down his spine.

The lady-in-red was undoubtedly gorgeous beyond all belief. Hell, gorgeous failed to do her justice if he were being honest. She was so immensely immaculate that he briefly wondered if there was a god out there that personally sculpted her themselves.

However, for all that beauty and splendor, a prevalent foreboding feeling emanated from her eyes.

To put it plainly, there was just something wrong about her.

"Indeed," she nodded, her voice calm, and smooth like silk. "I've largely had an off-hands approach with this operation of ours. Allowing you all to achieve my objectives how you saw fit. While that approach has its merits, I see that I've perhaps allowed a little… too much freedom." Golden-brown eyes glanced at his way causing him to swallow dryly. "To that end, I must apologize as well for being negligent and irresponsible."

She strode closer to them with her hands clasped behind her back.

"Going forward, I'll be assuming control of the operations from here on out," stated Cinder. "Let's all play nice, shall we?"

Emerald looked like she swallowed something bitter as she turned towards him. "S-Sorry," she managed out begrudgingly.

"Y-Yeah," quickly followed Mercury, "sorry about earlier for uh… all that stuff."

He played nice and flashed another smile. "Apologies for leading you two on earlier."

"Good, good," cheerfully grinned Cinder. "With that out of the way. How about we try to untangle ourselves from these… issues that we've found ourselves in. Emerald, Mercury?"

"Yes ma'am?"


"Did you two do your due diligence and hide the body?" she questioned.

"Of course," Emerald sharply nodded. "We dumped his body into the deepest part of the Thames. It'll be hard for any authorities to find his remains. We also made sure to leave no evidence of us being there."

"Yep," reassured Mercury. "We wiped the cameras, covered our footsteps and prints, and did the whole nine-yards. The cover up is squeaky clean."

It took all of Roman's willpower to restrain himself from showing any visible reaction. What was worse was knowing that he had been the cause of it.

While Roman didn't need the best, he needed someone reliable. Tukson was convenient as he was one of the few of the old crew that stayed in Vale. Roman had hoped that once this current job was over, they could catch up over some drinks and reminisce about the good old times. Laugh about the dumb things they got themselves into, and pour one out for the ones who didn't make it before departing ways once again.

Now it seemed that he would be pouring one out for his old friend.

"Mister Torchwick," called out Cinder. "Just so we're clear, you aren't in any trouble," she smiled serenely. "I understand you've been quite…" She peered all around the operation's floor. White Fang members busy with the work he assigned. Crates and containers stacked as high as the ceiling filled with dust and dust accessories. "Productive. Your skills with planning, managing, and logistics is stellar. You've exceeded my expectations."

He smiled politely in return. "Thank you, at least someone," he shot a glance at the other two, "appreciates the work that I've put into this whole thing. It cost a pretty lien to get this running. The investment you provided initially was thankfully enough to buy the place under a shell company. As far as anyone is concerned, this is simply a repacking warehouse for various goods brought in from the port."

"It's impressive," she complimented while taking another gander. "Although, due to that leak. You had a little… hiccup at the port. As far as I am aware, you lost all of the White Fang that went with you and were somehow able to still abscond with all the dust and yet… I don't see it." Cinder brought up calmly. "Would you care to share?"

Roman didn't miss a beat and displayed a dazzling showman's smile. "Would you like the long explanation or the short one?" he offered.

"Long, if you don't mind," she answered. "I'm quite curious."

"Long it is," he clapped his hands. "Prior to that night's operation. I and an associate of mine had already been making our rounds in the port the moment the dust shipment arrived. As you probably already know of my break-in to the distribution center. The dust wasn't the only thing I had stolen." He reached behind his back and Neo passed him the files he needed.

"This," presented Roman. "Is the shipping manifest stored from their servers. We made a copy of it so that we could track their next large shipment of dust as they would need to restock their hub." He tossed it away to a nearby table. "With the manifest in hand, all we had to do was wait for it to sit in inventory as they processed the bill of lading."

"Meaning it had to sit in port for a while," followed up Cinder.

"Exactly," he snapped his finger. "Now, the immediate idea would be to just simply steal it from there. However, how do you even go about stealing several hundred tons of dust? Think of the logistical demands that would be needed to transport dozens upon dozens of containers. Any shmuck can fly in, hook a container, and then fly off with it. But that's thinking small. So, I ask you, how do you transport all that dust in one go?"

He could see Cinder racking her brain of all the options. Her eyes looked away, squinting in thought. The girl's thumb idly traced underneath her lip. "Use their own logistic system."

"Right." He smiled, giving her a small fist pump. "But how?"

She contemplated again shortly before answering. "Falsifying the paperwork."

"Right again, but that's not all that needs to be done." He began pacing, getting into it as he explained more and more. "The manifest noted that the dust containers in this shipment would have no markings on the exterior. That way, it would blend in with the other foreign goods coming into the kingdom. Now, that's both a good and a bad thing. Good for us," he gestured towards himself, "because we can exploit that. Bad for them because now customs must ensure that every container is marked appropriately with a stamp."

"Using their bureaucracy and deception against them," she grinned.

"Good, good, you're keeping up with me," approved Roman. "Ok, now, so we know that the shipping containers look like the others. We'll be falsifying the paperwork so that the containers will be marked as other goods. Marked as what? We don't care, as long as it's not dust it could be potatoes and bananas for all I care. It just didn't have to be dust."

"Hmm," she hummed aloud, "wouldn't the containers contain an RFID tag?"

"You are right and they did. However, they are not foolproof." Roman produced a small little black box that Neo handed him stealthily. "The data stored on the RFID tag comes pre-programmed from the SDC. The ones on the container aren't physically secured so they can still be accessed. With the heist at their distribution hub, we knew what we needed to spoof and fake. From there, we simply reprogrammed what the container read."

"That way when any port employee comes to scan the container. They would be getting some other type of goods rather than dust," expounded Cinder.

"Now," he clapped his hands once again, "comes the hard part. These containers are placed in areas designated as fragile and hazardous. This means, it's still liable to be checked physically by a person. So, we need to move all those containers to another area and replace them. Now," he inhaled deeply to catch his breath before exhaling. "In the SDC's big thinking. They also sent empty containers with their own markings just to be sure. Paranoid little bastards, but smart. However, it was liable to be used against them."

"I see…" Cinder held her chin. "That's why on the news they reported that you stole the dust because they opened the ones you replaced which were empty." Realization fully dawned upon her as her eyes brightened. "They never left the port. It's still there just waiting to be shipped like you said."

"Yes," he threw his hands up. "Since the containers are in a low-priority zone. They won't bother with them because perishable goods have a best by date. Meaning they'll be cleared and sent on their way faster than dust since it requires an inspection, documentation, and to be stamped."

"Wow, I have to say." Mercury stood in wonderment. "That's actually seriously impressive. Like… geez man, that amount of planning, and all that stuff? Hot damn," he whistled. "This is the stuff you'd see in movies and here you are actually doing it."

"Yeah, that was… that was really good," begrudgingly admitted Emerald. "I guess you really are all that. No wonder you were hired."

Cinder clapped her hands. "You truly do live up to your reputation as a magician."

"Ah." Roman raised a finger and basked in the limelight. "The Magician."

"Of course, my mistake," she admitted. "However…" Her voice trailed off as she took note of some of the White Fang members that were nearby. "With that explanation in hand. I must ask, why did you bring our associates to the port knowing that there would be a significant chance that you could get caught?"

He turned his eyes to masked members working the floor. He licked his lips, took a deep breath, and exhaled. "I'm human," he bluntly answered. "I may be in charge for the brief time that I'm here. But I'm not them. I warned them that there would be a… very," he stressed, "high chance that things could go wrong. But what do I know, right?" he smiled sardonically. "And that's how you get over thirty members caught in one night."

"I see…" She kept her eyes trained on the White Fang. "Seems I underestimated their willingness to be fully compliant to you."

"It is what it is." Roman shrugged, not really caring. "But with that, I think I fulfilled our deal."

Golden-brown eyes lingered on him far longer than he would have liked.

"About that," her lips parted with words that Roman knew was trouble. "I would like for us to continue this… agreement."

He blinked. "Excuse me?"

"That's right," she simply nodded. "I'd like for you to still lead the operations in my place."

"I thought you said that you would be assuming control of operations," he narrowed his eyes.

"I am, but I would like for you to still be the leader of this group," clarified Cinder. "Executing orders with my authority. Keeping the White Fang in check. And ensure that we proceed smoothly into phase two of this operation."

"I- hmm," he grunted and huffed, trying to keep composed. "Ha, sorry, but that wasn't part of the deal. You said that if I helped you get the dust. I can fade away, back into retirement. That was our agreement."

She put up another beatific smile that made Roman's stomach churn. "I am altering the deal."

He glared at the lady in red.

"Don't be like that, Mister Torchwick," said Cinder. "Your services are simply invaluable to me. I can't be in two places at once like yourself." He gritted his teeth as he caught her glancing in the direction of Neo with a smirk. "I would like for us to continue this partnership of ours until the foreseeable future."

Roman's nostrils flared. "And if I declined?" he gulped.

The corners of her lips dropped. "That would be… ill-advised." She dropped all pretenses and closed the distance to whisper in his ear. "I know she's close by. If you cared about her. I would suggest that you accept."

She peeled away and the smile came right back.

He squeezed his cane causing it to buckle and racked his brain. Caught between a rock and a hard place, he was in the deep end now, and risking Neo's life was unacceptable. Fighting now would be certain death. It was best to live another day with his head bowed. "Fine," he spat the word out.

"A wise decision."

Roman turned his head away in disgust. Professionalism be damned, he felt that that was no longer applicable here. One way or another, he would find a way out of this chicanery with his and Neo's lives intact. First things first would be to know who Cinder Fall was and knowing was half the battle. From there he would have to plan, renew his connections with people in the city, and-

"Now that that unpleasantry is finished." Her voice brought him out of his thoughts. "There's just one more thing I would like to ask."

He brushed his hand down his jacket and straightened himself out. "Fire away."

"Would you happen to know who ambushed you at the port?"

"I do," he nodded. "There were five in total. One of them being Blake Belladonna, daughter of the former founder of the White Fang."

Mercury whistled loudly. "Hot damn, that must've been really messy."

"It was," he replied succinctly.

"The other four?" pressed Cinder.

"Nora Valkyrie and Lie Ren. Two individuals who immigrated from Mistral to Vale when they were kids. Used to work for Xiong Hei and Xiong Crime Family before they went legitimate to become huntsmen," informed Roman. "The third one being Pyrrha Nikos."

"Hold up." Interjected Emerald. "You're kiddin' right? Miss Invincible Girl herself was there?" she asked in disbelief.

"Holy shit," remarked the gray-haired boy. "Okay, yeah, I can see how everything went to shit with her there."

Roman huffed indignantly. "Ha, she wasn't even that much trouble to begin with. In fact, I would argue that she was probably the easiest to deal with. No," he shook his head, "it was their leader who was the most troublesome… and the most dangerous," he quickly added.

"Really?" Mercury's expressed skepticism. "That's the four-time undefeated champion we're talking about here. You know, ring a bell? The Greatest of All Time? The Chosen One? That Pyrrha Nikos?"

"No," he denied blandly. "A guy named Shirou Emiya was the one that capsized everything."

Golden-brown eyes snapped to him.

He felt his facial muscles twitch and he suppressed a gleeful smile at discovering something. "Name mean anything to you?" he asked innocently.

"No." She stared back with an impeccable poker face.

He put his hands up, showing he would not question any further.

"I think we're done here," stated Cinder, turning away. "We can discuss details about phase two later. For now, we'll be taking our leave."

"Later Roman," waved Mercury.

Emerald for her part didn't say anything, choosing to chase after Cinder.

For Roman, he was content with watching them exit the warehouse. While tonight had netted him a series of losses. Something unexpected had fallen into his lap. He wasn't sure where it would lead, but it wouldn't hurt to dig a little deeper and see what he could uncover.

Would it?

Author's Notes:

It's me again. Surprised? I am too.

This chapter marks the conclusion of Volume 1. If you haven't already noticed by now. I'm playing loose with a lot of things like some character's back stories. Before you ask, yes, I am well aware of the light novel "Roman Holiday" that shows us Roman and Neo's past. However, long before that LN came out. I had developed a different background story for the two of them. Some bits conveniently work with the "Roman Holiday" and others don't. So I would kindly advise leaving any pre-conceptions you would have of them at the door.

During writing, I approached Mercury and Emerald as squabbling siblings in mind. That's what I initially felt/interpreted from the web-series. Although I felt that there was something that was missing from the original series. Like a lack of camaraderie between the two. That even though they grinded each other's gears, they still had each other's backs and worked fairly well with one another.

For the longest time I've had Shirou's "rebound effect" shelved until I could properly set its progress. I've had some comments over the years asking about this, but I wanted something gradual to coincide with his time here in Remnant. In a way, I wanted to use it as a representation of a ticking time bomb. That eventually his secret is going to come out.

Romance and relationships is another thread in this story that's poked about a lot. I don't like to touch on this much because I find it hard to put into words my approach and thought process about romance between characters. With that being said, I am very aware of everyone's comments about who ends up with who. I appreciate your comments and hope you enjoy the ride.

Jaune makes his debut in the story. I had plans for him from the beginning, but had to wait until way later to introduce him. He'll be playing a pivotal role in the future as well as a bridge maker, mender, and mediator. A lot more will be revealed in the coming chapters about him.

Some of you were wondering how Roman got away with it. This was the companion chapter to Part II that was supposed to be released close to each other. But I'm sure you know me by now that I tend to do rewrites. The original draft was sort of drawn out and tiresome. It featured a magic trick, covered the concept of three-card monte, and some other showmanship things. However - I realized after like 5,000 words that this was all convoluted and stupid. So I scrapped it and reworked it with something more straight forward.

Part of it was inspired by GTA V heists that I used to play with friends. Other parts I derived inspiration from movies like the Reservoir Dogs, Ocean's Eleven, and Now You See Me.

Lastly, Cinder arrives at long last. Probably one of the most controversial character in RWBY. Unironically, I like her a lot, probably one of my favorites. What can I say? My favorite color is red. I'm looking forward to fleshing her character out in the coming chapters. I hope you'll enjoy my version, or take, of her character.

With all that said, I hope you enjoyed another update to the story. I appreciate every single person for taking the time of their day to read my story and sticking with me. If you are able to, please leave a review or comment about your thoughts on this chapter. I read through all of them and try to message back privately if I am able.

As always, peep my profile every so often for updates on the next chapter's progress.

Thank you and see you next time!

Word count before A/N: 14,472

Proofread/Edited by: Stiama