Chapter sixty-five

Old friends

Journal entry #231

"Well, team STRQ has settled into our dorm cave. Terra labeled team Stone our 'Tour Guides' while we're here. Apparently, these caves are super easy to get lost in. I wonder if there are any ghosts? Now, that's a spooky thought. Team Glimmer isn't here with us; they decided to go to Mistral for their final semester abroad. But, apparently, team Jasper led by stuffy James Ironwood is here. I'm surprised a man like him can tolerate the heat if I'm being honest. Either way, it's nice to see the friends that we've made from other kingdoms again."

Ebony had let Theodore lead Professor Ozpin and General Ironwood to Sunstone's office while she stayed behind briefly to tell Clara and her team to leave team CRDL's things where they had fallen and instead help either RWBY or team JNPR with their belongings.

The three Faunus had looked at each other and headed towards team RWBY. "Should've seen that coming," The Vice Headmistress thought, chuckling to herself as she walked away. "Those girls are going to be very surprised given what Clara's told me about her previous meetings with them."

She walked most of the way to Sunstone's office before pausing and then turning around. Oftentimes, she knew what Sunstone was going to ask or say before she did, and this felt like one of those times.

"It's been a long time since I've been here, I believe the last time was when you were still Headmaster, Theodore. That was…. my fourth year at Atlas if I remember correctly?" Ironwood mused as he walked next to the former Headmaster.

"Indeed, it is and team STRQ's fourth year at Beacon as well as team STNE's fourth year here." Theodore nodded as he walked. Memorization from taking these paths over and over again allowed him to focus on talking.

Ironwood and Ozpin's eyes both saddened as team STNE was mentioned. They had both heard pieces of the story about what had happened to Sunstone's teammates shortly after graduation; while Ironwood hadn't been particularly close to any of them, it was still a tragedy. While Ozpin had been the Vice-Headmaster so only knew them in passing, both had heard rumors over the years of Sunstone's sleeplessness around this time of year.

"Is she doing okay…? Theodore, you must know that there are rumors about her." Ozpin asked very carefully.

"She's fine. If she wasn't then Ebony or I would do something about it. That's why we're here," Theodore snapped angrily before he took a deep breath. "Sorry, Spirit… Spirit is fine."

Their conversation stopped after that and they came to Sunstone's office in silence. Theodore knocked heavily before stepping back for permission to enter which was given just a moment later.

Sunstone was sitting on her desk, her feet not touching the ground because of her short stature. The room was dimly lit with the only light being from the chandelier on the ceiling and a couple of old-fashioned lamps. "Professor Ozpin, General Ironwood, please take a seat," She waved a hand at the seating arrangements. "I'm about to make tea. Would you like any?"

"None for me, thank you," Ironwood respectfully declined.

"I wouldn't mind coffee if you have it," Ozpin said as he picked one of the battered chairs around an equally battered ottoman.

Sunstone nodded as she started making tea for herself, Theodore, and Ebony as well as coffee for Ozpin.

Ironwood glanced around the office. The walls were reminiscent of the Grimm with how dark they were. The chairs that were out were what he guessed passed for "formal" while Theodore was sitting on a sorry excuse for a blue couch that was in one of the corners of the room. The light from the chandelier and lamps did very little combat how oppressive the room felt.

The room was silent for an almost uncomfortable amount of time. As Ironwood was about to ask something, Sunstone's voice cut through the air like a bullet.

"Theodore, where is Ebony?"

"Not sure, she was talking to Team Night when the three of us left so she's probably on her way now."

Sunstone chuckled softly for a second before she turned around. "Well, no matter we can start without her."

Once everyone who wanted a beverage had one, she hopped back onto her desk and looked at the other two academy heads. "Now, I'm sure that one of you is eager to say something, so go ahead and say it."

"Was that… lesson really necessary? I'm sure you could've been less… hands-on with Mr. Winchester." Ozpin whispered softly.

"Maybe it wouldn't have been necessary if somebody hadn't coddled his bad behavior and let a bully into his school."

"Yes, Mr. Winchester is a bit of a work in progress but he has improved slightly-" Ozpin was saying before Sunstone cut him off.

"That's crap and you know it. He needs to understand that while that behavior may work at Beacon but it will not work at Shade. If I have to beat that lesson into him until it gets through his thick head then I will."

"Supposedly, the gods gifted us the gifts of Creation, Knowledge, Destruction, and Choice. Or have you forgotten that?" Ironwood interjected as he stared at her.

"I'm aware, I took the same mythology class that you did. I remember them quite well," Sunstone said testily.

"Then you should know that Mr. Winchester's choices, while not… appropriate are still his own. Free will is still a part of everyone, and stripping it away with might or coercion would make us slaves." Ironwood muttered.

Sunstone narrowed her eyes; her tone was acid. "I don't think you're in a position to talk about that, General. Considering how Faunus are treated in Atlas by the citizens, much less the SDC and Winchester Aerospace."

Ironwood crossed his arms defensively and it was Ozpin who broke the tension this time as he turned away. "Regardless of Atlas's… failings on that front and mostly noticeably among its upper classes, I still don't believe that a physical lesson of that nature was necessary."

"Perhaps not, but we are not in Vale anymore. While your students are in Vacuo, they are exchange students. Meaning they are my students, not yours. I will teach them, and if they step out of line they will be treated just as any student at my academy. I will disciple them as required and as I see fit, just as you would at your own academies. I trust I am clear? Sunstone replied with a light growl.

Several seconds passed before Ozpin nodded. He wasn't happy about the lesson, but Sunstone was correct. Each Headmaster had that right.

There was a knock on the door and Ebony entered. "Apologies for my tardiness. I had to talk to Team Night about something… as well as get someone."

Sunstone sighed as she grabbed the bridge of her nose. "I have a feeling I know who you're talking about. I had a feeling that this was going to be a very long meeting, so may as well bring him in."

Team RWBY wasn't expecting the Faunus trio that Cardin had upset to come over to them. "Vice-Headmistress Ebony told us not to help those jerks out. She gave us a choice between you or team JNPR, Clara picked you," The male bat Faunus told them as his female companions started to grab a few bags.

He had gloves on with a light grey shirt that had holes for his wings, gray pants, and brown boots. His brown hair was combed back and spiked upwards, his gray eyes were a stormy gray that were similar to Ruby's.

The spider Faunus was dressed very similarly to Yuma. Except her shirt was see-through, showing off her grey bra and black boots were on her feet instead of brown ones. Gray veins were visible all over her pale skin except on her hands, which were also gray and had her spinnerets located on them.

"Oh, that's fine with me. Does Headmistress Sunstone do that a lot? The hands-on lesson, I mean?" Ruby asked nervously, holding onto Blake's sleeve tightly.

"Not usually no. Usually the hands-on stuff is left to Vice-Headmaster Theodore or Vice-Headmaster Ebony. It depends on who wants to do it." He paused before sighing, "Right, I haven't introduced myself yet. I'm Yuma Vesper, a first-year here. I'm one of the members of Team Night or NIYT. I'm honestly surprised that Ms. Belladonna has not recognized me yet."

"Why would I recognize…" the question died in Blake's throat. "Oh, right… you must be one of the White Fang members that Sienna picked to come here."

"Ding ding, we've got a winner!" Yuma grinned slightly as the other two Faunus finished grabbing bags. The female spider Faunus handed a few to Yuma before slightly bowing to Blake.

"I'm Trifa Argiope, Yuma's partner in Team NIYT. It's an honor to meet you, at last, Ms. Belladonna." Trifa whispered quietly.

"Y-you don't have to call me that. Just Blake is fine, really," Blake stammered with a slightly embarrassed blush on her face.

Trifa looked confused but nodded. "A pleasure to meet you three as well. Ruby Rose, Weiss… Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long." She gave them bows as well.

"Nice to meet you both," The three said at once before Weiss looked at the silent wolf Faunus. "It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Clara."

The girl simply smiled as Yuma clapped his hands together. "I don't know about you guys, but I don't want to be out in the heat any more than you do. C'mon, we can talk once we're underground."

"Why underground?" Yang asked with a tilt of the head.

"It's because our dorms are underground, most of the facilities are. It's cooler underneath the surface," Trifa said, her voice was still quiet.

"Yeah, pretty much all of Vacuo is connected via an underground cave system. It's why it's unsafe to wander around without someone who knows where they're going. Just think of team NIYT as your tour guides while you're staying in Vacuo," Yuma informed them as Clara imitated blowing a whistle.

"Then lead the way team leader," He said with a nod of the head and Clara started to march forward.

"Wait…. NIYT doesn't have a C in it. how's Clara team leader then?" Weiss asked, confusion on her face.

"Our fourth member is waiting for us; we shall explain when we rendezvous with her," Trifa informed them.

Once the seven of them had descended underneath the surface of Vacuo, there were lanterns every few feet that gave off light and caused shadows on the walls. The ceilings were low but not uncomfortably so, Team RWBY wasn't sure how far they hadn't gone when Clara turned around and Yuma called out. "Okay, you can come out now."

One of the shadows thrown off by the lanterns moved towards them. The team from Vale watched with wary curiosity while team NIYT kept their relaxed stances.

"Hey, Blake. It's been a while," The shadow said as it started to change color. The voice and the figure's chest revealed it to be female, her skin began to change until it was a tan color though it had darker spots, her hair became brown as well, while her eyes became light gray.

"Ilia, you're here. You're the fourth member of Team NIYT?" Blake asked in disbelieving amazement.

"No need to sound so surprised about it... yeah, I'm her partner." Ilia motioned to Clara who smiled and nodded.

"Wait, Blake, who is this?" Yang asked, confusion now on her face while she looked Ilia up and down. She had on a black jacket with a gray crop top that exposed her midriff. Brown heeled boots completed the stylishly comfortable look.

"Ilia Amitola, she's well… she was my best friend in the White Fang," Blake said before she gave Ilia a big hug which caused her to turn a mix of yellow and orange. Ilia's skin soon settled on yellow as she hugged Blake back. "It's good to see you again."

"Yeah, you too," Ilia told her in return before the two separated.

"That still doesn't answer my question, though. CIYT is not the same as NIYT." Weiss grumbled.

Clara held up one finger before taking a slight breath in. She snapped her fingers before a sound reminiscent of glass shattering echoed.

"No way, what are you doing here?" all of team RWBY asked at once.

Ironwood glared at Sunstone; his eyes blazed with annoyance. "You have got to be kidding me. Please tell me this is your version of a joke?"

"Sunstone, some…enlightenment would be much appreciated." Ozpin nodded in agreement, confusion on his face.

"It's simple, he came with my niece. She vouched for him I gave him a chance." Sunstone shrugged as if it wasn't a big deal.

"A chance, he's a criminal! A wanted man in three kingdoms! He should be locked up!" Ironwood snapped.

"He's also standing right here if that means anything… to anyone," Roman Torchwick mumbled as he glanced at Ebony. "I told you this was a bad idea."

"She was going to tell them anyway, why else would I bring you?" Ebony told him.

Ironwood's eye twitched as Ozpin watched the scene unfold before taking a long sip of his coffee. "Mr. Torchwick, you know by appearing before us we have a right to take you back to our respective kingdoms and try you for your crimes correct?"

"You're not hauling one of my Huntsman to another kingdom for things that he committed to keep his cover." Sunstone stated plainly.

"Excuse me? What?" Ironwood and Ozpin were both taken aback by what she said.

"I don't believe I misspoke. I sent two operatives undercover to figure out if there was a plot and there was. Am I correct, Huntsman Torchwick?" Sunstone asked with the raise of an eyebrow.

Torchwick saluted before speaking. "Yes, ma'am, as I said in my report Cinder Fall was indeed behind the plot to destroy Beacon. While the secondary goal of apprehending her was unsuccessful, the primary one was a complete success."

"You are dismissed. Go see if NIYT has team RWBY settled in," Sunstone ordered, and he saluted again before leaving.

Once the door had shut, Ironwood's annoyance finally came out in full force. "You made a criminal a Huntsman… he's a thief, a conman, a swindler."

"As I just said, everything that he did was for one purpose. To make Cinder Fall trust him. He and my niece were on a long-term, deep cover operation and their mission was successful."

"Be that as it may, he still caused massive damages to the city as a whole. The highway fight put twenty-three people in the hospital and caused over four hundred thousand Lien in damages. Thankfully, no one was killed. The White Fang Rally and The Breech were both mostly instigated by him." Ozpin pointed out.

"As you said, no one was killed by the highway fight. Which not only exposed the fact that an Atlesian warmech had been stolen but a terrorist rally was recruiting. That event ended in arrests while The Breech exposed the fact Cinder was planning something big. Which you two are well aware of. Roman's methods may have been unorthodox, but they got results and exposed a plan that was unknown until that point. His mission was a success," Sunstone said dryly.

Ironwood snorted. "Even if I believe you, which I don't. Why didn't you tell us? We're supposed to be the protectors of Remnant. You can trust us."

"Oh, like you trusted us with creating an artificial girl? You manufactured a person and did it even occur to you to allow her to choose her destiny? Or perhaps you mean like how Ozpin trusted us to tell Amber was dying, only after she was on her deathbed?" Sunstone's eyes narrowed as she asked her rhetorical questions.

That shut Ironwood up, but Sunstone kept going. "What I do, I do because it keeps Vacuo safe. This is my first and highest priority. If Ebony and Theodore didn't think my niece could handle it, then they wouldn't have agreed to send her to Vale. The three of us have trained that girl since she was six years old; she is highly capable. We all have independent plans, and this was mine."

Neopolitan smiled at team RWBY and curtsied. [It's nice to see you all again. I'm happy it could happen under better circumstances.] Pink and blue illusionary letters appeared above her head as she activated her semblance.

It was the same girl that team RWBY had met two and a half years ago but she looked very different from how she had before. Her hair was a lot shorter, only to her shoulders and it was bone white. Neo's eyes were still pink, but a deeper, darker shade like pink wine. Also, much like Sunstone, her skin was nearly see-through.

Her outfit was probably the part of her that had changed the least in terms of style. A gray scarf rested around her neck and she was wearing a midriff exposing white button-up vest. Black, silk elbow-high gloves were on her arms and her feet were bare on the cave floor.

"Better circumstances? Like now that you're trying not to kill us?" Weiss asked and Neo nodded before shrugging.

[Technically, I wasn't trying to kill you. I was trying to keep my cover that's all.]

"Your cover?" Weiss's eyebrow rose and Neo nodded again.

[Yes, my mother, auntie, and uncle thought it would be best if I went to Vale to find out what Cinder was plotting.] Neo formed more illusionary writing, and what she 'said' only formed more questions in their minds.

"Hey, Neo do you mind if we take them to their dorm and we can continue there?" Trifa asked softly and Neo nodded.

She turned around and beckoned them to follow her before she walked off with her teammates.

"Wait, what do you mean?" Weiss called out as team RWBY followed behind them.

If it wasn't for the fact that Blake had sensitive cat ears, they would've gotten lost in the tangled web of caves that they would apparently be calling home for the next six months or so. Team NIYT didn't slow their pace down in any way as Blake's ears swiveled to keep track of where they were so she could lead her team to them.

Finally, they caught up to team NIYT who were waiting for them in front of a narrower tunnel. The roof slanted downwards slightly and there was more light that was thrown off by lanterns.

"Couldn't you have actually led us? If Blake wasn't a Faunus, we would've been lost completely," Weiss grumbled with very slight annoyance was in her tone.

"I thought it was fun, like a game of hide and seek almost," Ruby whispered and Yang nodded.

"I agree, it was fun, but notice would've been nice to have ya know? she pointed out.

"Apologies, I shall do my best to have my team inform you if they do something like this in the future. Please, forgive us." Trifa bowed a bit.

"You really don't need to apologize; Yang didn't mean it like that," Blake told her as the spider Faunus's brow furrowed in confusion.

"Anyway, I'm gonna head back to the dorm. Trifa, are you coming or staying?" Yuma asked his partner.

"I shall accompany you. Neo and Ilia can show them to their dormitory."

The two said their farewells before they left team RWBY in Neo and Ilia's care. Once they had departed Neo beckoned her former enemies into the passage. [You'll like your room, it's very nice. Small, but not claustrophobic.]

Ilia nodded in agreement. "They are quite nice. They're actually very warm at night which is nice."

The two led team RWBY to the room. Instead of a door, a thick curtain separated the chamber where they would be staying from the tunnel proper.

"Wow, I think I'm a fan." Yang breathed out and her teammates found themselves agreeing.

The room was smaller than the dorm rooms at Beacon but they used what space they had to great effect. The center of the room had a medium-sized area rug that was purple and red in color along with a few cushions that were around a tea set.

A few strategically placed lanterns in the room gave it enough light so that while it was dim it wasn't dark. Every corner of the room had light in it. On opposite sides of the chamber were hammocks that were presumably for sleeping and four small dressers rested against the wall that their quarters shared with the exterior cavern.

A small desk was in the center of the bedroom. It was no bigger than the one that every Beacon dorm room had.

The walls had quilts on them that Neo 'said' could be taken off and used as blankets if they were cold. [It's what they are there for so don't feel guilty about using them. We don't expect them to remain on the walls. Heck, the ones I use I've had since I was six years old.]

"Wait, Neo, you've been at Shade since you were six?" Blake asked and she nodded.

[Yeah, I've lived pretty much my entire life here. Uncle Theodore let me stay here since I didn't have anywhere else to go.]

"Your uncle is one of the Vice-Headmasters? Neo, how old are you?" Blake asked her again.

Neo held up two fingers. [Yes, Theodore is my uncle, Sunstone is my auntie and Ebony is my adopted mom. As for the second question, I am twenty-three years old.]

Team RWBY's jaws seemed to drop all at once. "You're twenty-three? Uh, you look like you're like… fourteen… max," Yang said before Weiss elbowed her. "No offense."

[None taken, you wouldn't believe how many times I heard that over the years.] Neo waved her hand and smiled to show she wasn't offended.

"We're going to let you settle all in okay," Ilia smiled softly at Blake before looking at the others.

[Yeah, we'll come to get you before lunchtime. See you four then.] Neo formed more illusions before she grabbed Ilia's wrist and dragged her out, much to the other girl's surprise.

"This is going to be an interesting semester," Yang said before she shook her head and chuckled.

Yup, Neo and Torchwick are back! This is where they've been since Vale.

Obviously, the roles of Yuma, Trifa, and Ilia are way different.

Until next chapter