A/N: And the daily updates roll on!

EDIT: Really classy with the flames, people *SIGH*

As ever, reviews keep me writing. Every bit of feedback matters...even if people think it doesn't.

Just a head's up, this chapter's more of an episodic format than most. Getting my second Covid shot this week, that's not gonna be fun...pretty sure that's going to throw a wrench into my daily update schedule. Still, I'm going to try my best to keep updating everything as rapidly as I can.

Naturally, that includes An Untraveled Road -still gotta write the big scene between Naruto and Willow!- to say nothing of A Most Unlikely Berserker, which is nearing its conclusion.

Hope you like sass, sappiness, and silliness, because this chapter's all about that.

Now then, onto your questions!

Q: WHO WILL BE THE SUMMER MAIDEN?!

A: You'll see. Lets just say...its going to be a surprise. You'll never see it coming~!

Q: Where are those new stories you're working on?! We wanna see 'em!

A: You may, but significantly more people would rather I update my existing stories before I go on a new story spree. Thankfully, a good number are coming to their conclusion; many of which will be wrapped up by the end of this year, if not sooner.

Q: More timeskips?

A: Not in this chapter, unfortunately. As promised, we're moving forward a day. You'll soon see why.

Q: Can we expect to see more of Naruto just hanging out?

A: Now that he's had a chance to relax, Naruto's significantly more laid back. And why wouldn't he be? Hazel is dead. Tyrian and Lionheart are rotting in a cell. Cinder's skulking in the shadows, and Roman's tugging at his leash.

By contrast, Watts is the lucky one here. He hasn't had to deal with Naruto's unique brand of chaos.

And lets not forget the clones our boy sent after Salem.

You'll see them again in this very chapter!

Q: Waitaminute! Is Raven really...?!

A: SHHHHHHHHH!

Q: Glad to see Naruto relaxing...though I must ask for more romance.

A: Naruto, to quote a reader, is just trying to live his best life right now. He wants to kick back with friends and family, have fun, make a few memories, that sort of thing. After all, one never knows when the forces of evil might strike again...

Amber's got a full chapter dedicated to her and her alone coming up, for the record. Alas, that chapter is not this one.

Alright then, I think I've kept you all long enough. Forgive an old man and his rambling.

As ever, I own no quotes, no references, no themes, and certainly no memes.

They're used for entertainment purposes and laughter alone!

"There's always a diamond in the rough...

~?

I've Come to Bargain

"Salem! I've come to bargain!"

The Queen of the Grimm blinked. Once. Then thrice.

"Fool." her lips pinched into a scowl. "You've come to die. Begone."

A pale hand snapped up, cradling an ominous sphere of pure ebony within. "Naruto" stood his ground. He didn't run, didn't flee, didn't even beg for his life. He simply laughed. Laughed as he evaporated under a torrent of black light. And that, as they say, was that. Nothing remained. Naught but blackened stone. Salem lowered her open palm with a smile. Well. That was certainly one way to rid oneself of a nemesis. He had been a fool to come here to her domain, where she was most powerful. Now that he was dead-

Another "Naruto" waltzed around the corner.

"Hey, Salem." He smiled at her, "I've come to bargain...!"

"Fool." Her eyes narrowed. "You've come to...wait." Confusion reared it ugly head as her gaze roved about the empty room, struggling to comprehend what was happening. "Have we been here before? I feel like we've been here before. What is this? An illusion?"

"Nope." her guest leaned against a nearby wall and folded both arms before his chest. "This is real."

The witch raised both hands above her head and crossed her wrists.

"Good."

A second spell-bolt speared him in the chest, leaving naught but a gaping hole behind. Naruto pitched forward with a wordless croak and expired on the floor. But only for a moment. As she looked on, his body turned to so much smoke in the wind, smoke that blew away out a window.

Yet another waltzed through the archway.

"Hello again, Salem!" The thorn in her side spread its arms wide with a grin. "I've come to bargain!"

Salem looked left.

Salem looked right.

Left again. Right, one last time, just to be sure.

Madness. This was absolute madness. She was losing her mind. That, or she'd had too much wine this evening. Surely that was the case. There could be no other explanation. She must've imagined him. Yes, that made sense. How else could one man infiltrate her throne room? Alone, no less! She had legions of Grimm to command, to say nothing of her lieutenants! Were they truly so useless?!

"So?" Naruto beamed. "Whaddya say? Wanna sit down and talk this out?" he even had the gall to offer her his hand. "Lets be friends."

"No." Salem stabbed him through the heart and cast his corpse into a wall. Smoke spilled into the air anew.

"Salem!" It was still fading when another waded through the mist. "I've come to-

A spear of ice drilled him into a wall.

"Stop!" she howled!

A shadow moved.

"CEASE!"

She slew that one too. And another when it appeared. ANOTHER heralded the second. Smoke filled the room, obscuring her vision. A fourth and a fifth accosted her, only to die by her hand. Fury built behind her eyes, the frustration mounting like a living thing as she peered into the haze. In a fit of pique she unleashed the storm itself; let her magic surge throughout the room as she sought to silence him. Windows shattered. The great table and its accompanying chairs flew into the air. The floor created. High above the ceiling buckled as she strained her reserves, to no avail.

Laughter greeted her.

"What! Is! Happening?!"

A gust of wind blew the smokescreen away.

And she found herself standing before an army of many men with once face.

They filled the room, dozens strong, each looking upon her as though she were no more than a petulant child.

"Oh this? This is a jutsu." The leader of the horde smiled. "But you don't know what that is, do you? Just as you wield magic from your world, I brought some of mine. These are shadow clones." He raised his arms and the army mimicked him. "Endless. Looped. Shadow clones." they spoke with him, among him. They were him. A dozen voices speaking in unison. "For every one you kill, ten more will spawn. You can't kill us." a pause. "Well, you can, but the boss has chakra for days. We're a drop in the bucket for him-

Salem clapped her hands and flame blossomed, destroying them all.

"See?" Even more emerged from the heat haze. You're only making it worse on yourself."

She grabbed one of them by their chin and ripped them from the ground.

"You cannot do this forever!"

"Actually, I can." Naruto smiled down on her. "This is how things are now. You and me, trapped in this moment. Endlessly."

She smashed him into the ground and shattered his skull. "Then you will spend eternity dying!"

"Yes," a fresh shadow clone emerged and dusted one shoulder off, "But everyone on Remnant will be safe from you."

They would, too. Watts and Cinder weren't here. To say nothing of her...other allies. Without her their efforts would be crippled. Fragmented at best. The plan would continue to be sure, but if she was trapped her, locked in her castle, forced to fight her way through an endless wave of clones -who frankly seemed to be humoring her at this point!- it made so many of

"And yet you will suffer." her nails dug into his skin, trailing wisps of smoke. "The memories of your deaths will cripple the original!"

He lifted his chin in stoic defiance. "Pain's an old friend. We can handle a little mental fatigue. Can you?"

It was a race then, a chase to see who broke first. Her mind or his. She would not break. She would not cower. She was Salem! She was mighty! She was eternal! She was-

"Lady, that's a nice monologue and all, but we can hear everything you're saying."

Salem tore his head off. "End this!"

"Nope."

Furious, she brought the ceiling down on his head. "You will never win!"

"Maybe not," another doppelganger sauntered out of the rubble, "But I can lose, again and again, and again. Forever." his grin gained a manic edge. "And that makes you my prisoner."

In hindsight, he really had no way of knowing the switch he'd just flipped.

Prisoner. Captive. Hostage. Salem's very being recoiled at the word. A prisoner. Just as she'd been so long ago. First to the tower, then to the gods, now to time itself. No. Never again. Her fingers balled into fists at her sides. Not that. Sharp nails bit into her palms. Anything but that. Black blood sluiced down onto the floor. Just thinking of it threatened to drive her mad. She loathed it. Hate. Hate. HATE! She abhorred this! Hated him! Hated them all!

She skewered another clone on her arm and still, the rest made no move to attack. Hatred became a frothing rage.

"I'll get out of here! Just you wait!" she caught a clone by the leg and smashed it into three more, dispelling them in a wild plume of smoke. "I'll find the original and kill him!"

Merry laughter slapped her threat down.

"You think that's the easy option, do ya?" he victim grinned as his ruined body slid off her arm. "No, no, no. The boss would slap you silly. Y'see," the shadow clone bantered on as another took its place, "He's gotten attached to this world. Same goes for us." he was still smiling, even when she ripped him in half. "We don't want to see it end." the severed halves stared back at her. "We have people to protect now. Didn't you feel the same once? What would your daughters think of you now?"

He knew?! Of course he did. The lamp!

"You were a good person, once upon a time." the clone spoke softly, his words shrouded in silence. "I think you can become that woman again."

Salem's world bled red. He dared. He DARED?! To see the ugly secrets of her past was one thing, but he knew everything.

"SILENCE!"

She flung herself at the horde. Time began to blur. She wasn't sure how long she spent tearing into them, only that she did. Seconds passed. Minutes. Hours. She killed them in every conceivable way she could; flung them outside the tower, fed them to Grimm, used magic to boil their very bodies from within. She gave herself to her instincts and raged mindlessly, centuries of hate and sorrow and spite surging to the fore. Rip and tear! Salt the earth and burn them down. Kill until there was nothing left. All the while, she screamed.

"What do you know?!"

And still they came for her.

"Nothing! Less than nothing!"

None of them fought back. Not a once.

"What I've fought! What I've lost! None of it!"

They only prevented her from escaping the room. And each time, they simply repeated that same infernal phrase. Over. And. Over.

"I've come to bargain."

Finally, she found fury spent. Her body could not die, but the same could not be said of her spirit. Her rage was not infinite; she could only thrash about for so long before the boiling cauldron of her emotions exhausted itself once and for all. Exhaustion wasn't a concept she understood, not physically, but the mental aspect still affected her all the same. Her arms were weak. Knees heavy. She felt sick to her stomach. Her once strong stride became a staggering limp. Still she forged on.

"You're just a boy!" She stormed forward, casting another close aside as she made for the exit. "A stupid, entitled boy who's known neither suffering nor hate, nor loneliness-

Her fist slammed into an open palm.

Cold blue eyes met hers.

"I," a different shadow clone growled, "Know more about those things than you can possibly imagine."

"Then I'll kill everything you love." she spat back, reveling in the way his right eye twitched. "All your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth."

...that was a mistake."

Here at last he struck back; a vicious twist of his wrist yanked her forward; from there, a single blow slammed into then through her torso and bent her double. Salem gasped. Rips creaked ominously as she folded over his limb like a limp rag. A starburst of pain burst through her world, taking any semblance of sense with it.

'He only hit me once...! How am I this damaged...?!'

"Look at you. You're just one big bundle of misdirected passion." his voice growled in her ear, cold and hard. "Such a waste. Reckless pride, limned by self righteousness." he tore his limb free, leaving her to pitch forward and clutch at the gaping hole in her stomach. "You are Queen of nothing. Just a child raging at what she's lost. Look at you!" he slammed a kick into her chin and sent her spinning to the floor. "You stand there because I allow it. Because I do not fear.

She grit her teeth and glared up at him. "I...cannot...die!"

"I'm well aware." Naruto dropped to his haunches before. "The lamp showed me everything. Tell me, do you still experience pain?"

Salem grit her teeth and refused to rise to his bait, weighty though it was. No. Nay! Never! She'd not give him the satisfaction!

The blond sighed. "Well, there's one way to find out."

Blue eyes flashed gold.

The gaping tear in Salem's torso was still closing when Naruto conjured a strange blue sphere to his palm. It spat and snarled within his open hand, rimmed by tiny blades of keening wind; as if it were shrieking in his fell grasp, aching to be unleashed. His arm cocked back, all of an instant from smashing a snarling blue sphere into her chest.

And yet he hesitated.

"This is a Rasenshuriken." he explained slowly, voice rising over the unholy shriek of his technique. "An attack that pierces its target on a cellular level and rips them to pieces. Now, I know you're immortal. But I can tell you here and now, you've never taken an attack like this before. This. Will. Hurt."

Salem shrank back at the sight of it.

"Ah. So you can feel pain still. Good to know."

"MAKE IT STOP!" Her frustrated shriek split the Grimmlands. "Set me free!"

"No," the clone shook his head. "We've come to bargain."

Salem surged up, grabbed him by the throat and rammed his back into a crumbling wall. Placid blue eyes met blazing red. No fear. Not even a glimmer of hesitation. She wasn't used to that. Did the original feel no fear as well? Something for her to investigate someday, perhaps. Provided she escaped this trap!

"What do you want?!

"To talk." his reply was instant, his resolve unfaltering. "Give you bit of advice, maybe even some counseling."

She scoffed. "I have no need of such things."

...see, I thought you might say that. Raven once told me there's more than one way to skin a deer." his eyes flashed with something dark indeed. "At the time, I didn't really understand what she meant. Now I do. For what it's worth, I'm sorry."

Then he reached up and rammed the jutsu into her chest.

The Queen of the Grimm barely had time to gasp.

Pain!

Salem felt her upper torso evaporate in a black mist. What remained of her crashed backward to the floor with a horrible splat. Her curse went to work at once, forcing her to regenerate. To relive the moment of her death as she regrew what had been lost. Gods...the agony. Even after healing she still felt it; a dull ache that permeated her very core. It felt like he'd stabbed her in her very soul. Would the pain ever go away? Would it fade? It had to. It must.

A blurry shape entered the corner of her mending vision as she lay there, wasted and gasping for air.

"I was content to talk," her tormentor rumbled, "but if you're going to be difficult, threaten everything I know and love...well. That changes things."

"No." she gasped the word out. "Don't do that again. I beg of you...anything but that...

"Great." through her regenerating eyes she saw his silhouette sigh. "Now I feel like a bully. I didn't come here for this. I came to talk.

"Are you happy now?" she spat at his feet. "You've proven your point. We're still at a stalemate, you and I."

"Not really. Y'see, happiness isn't in the having." Much to her dismay,Naruto dipped down and picked her up -the fiend!- pulling her body into his arms as though she were no more than a child. "Its in just being. In just saying it."

"Release me, you oaf!"

"Nope. I'll put you down in a second."

Salem kicked out against him to no avail, he lifted her with ease. He started towards one of of the few intact pieces of furniture that remained. She lacked the strength to fight him properly, even as he set her down on a torn couch. The very moment he did she slapped a this chest and thrust him away with a spellbolt.

The noise of consternation he made was music to her ears.

Another clone took his place, not missing a eat.

"Was that really necessary?"

"Yes." She glared bloody red daggers at him. "It absolutely was."

He planted a fist on his hip. "You gonna let me finish?"

A pale hand waved him on.

"I know how you see yourself Salem. The lamp was...thorough." she watched his brow pinch at some unseen memory. "Blasted thing stuffed your past in my head. Ozma's too. You're destructive and you're angry and you're broken." she looked away, even as his words stabbed into her. "You're a blunt instrument. You think hate and anger drives you. That's its all you are."

"Its not."

Her head snapped up.

"I think I understand you a little more, after seeing what you went through." he plonked down beside her, tucking both knees into his chest. "Everything you have ever done, has been for love." Still his eyes never left hers. "You wanted the gods to resurrect Ozma for love." A hand rose, fingers splayed as he began to count down. "You fought them for love. You raged at them for love. You killed Ozma that day for love; because you loved your children and didn't want to see them taken away."

Baffling man. She couldn't comprehend him.

"Why tell me this?" Aghast, she buried her head in her heads, hiding a brief moment of weakness within her palms. "Do you think you can sway me to your side? Convince me? Seduce me? Ha!" Bitter laughter tumbled forth from her lips. "You're too late. A thousand years too late. I am who I am. I cannot go back."

"Its never to late to talk." he beamed back. "Give it a try. You might surprise yourself."

Salem sank to her knees on the couch, wholly spent. "I don't understand you...

"Meh, most people don't. Doesn't really bother me. That said!" Naruto flashed her a fresh, cheery grin all his own and shifted a little closer. His hip brushed hers. "I think we both got off on the wrong foot, don't you? We could fight and squabble all day, fight each other to the undeath, or...

Once more, the blond offered her his hand in good faith

...we could just start over. Well? Whaddya say?"

Salem eyed his palm like a King Taijitu.

Her right hand twitched. Just little.

And the world changed.

As it did elsewhere.


(.0.0.0.)


The weapon was nearly complete.

Amber could see it in her mind's eye now; she knew the shape she wanted to forge the metal into; she merely needed to bring the rest of it out. It was merely a matter of will. Eyes blazing with flames, she sheathed her limbs in heat and pulled the red-hot metal from the forge. Using her semblance to lighten the weighty load, she took hold of it with a pair of tongs and set the mechanism into a barrel of water to cool.

Some might call such techniques crude, outdated even. Not she.

Naruto would appreciate this, she knew. He better bloody well be; she'd spent the better part of a day and a half working on this masterpiece.

Amber leaned back from the forge and admired her craftsmanship.

"Now that's a fine weapon."

A bead of sweat ran down her brow and she wiped it away as she watched the metal cool. It really was the perfect tool for him. Nothing too complicated, but just simple enough to work. It would suit him perfectly. Once she installed the mecha-shift function, it would be complete. But that would come later.

Naruto would drool over this. Her knees squirmed at the thought.

He was a close quarters fighter; at the end of the day he would always try to get up close and personal with his enemies. It was what defined him, his very way of life. He didn't need a sword to help him, or even a shield to keep him safe. If anything the latter would make inclined to use the blasted thing, which would in turn make him even more of a target in a fight. Just the thought of it made her shiver.

Nope. No fancy mechashift gun for him. He'd not use it.

No, she needed something of a more direct craft. A tool, a weapon he would be able to use with minimal training. She'd labored long into the night with that dire concept in mind. It would be a bit archaic perhaps, maybe even a bit brutish, but sometimes the best tools were the simple ones. And so from that, she crafted something extraordinary.

She was beginning to understand in other ways, too.

Others had his eyes, just as he did theirs. It wasn't his fault.

But blast it all, she would be the first to give him a meaningful gift, damnit!


(.0.0.0.)


Winter admired herself in the mirror.

She twirled once, twice, then thrice just to be sure.

"Hmm." she nodded to herself after a moment. This will do."

This would be date unlike any other. She would see to that herself.


(.0.0.0.)


Raven couldn't deny it any longer.

She wanted to, she wished she could, make no mistake. She simply couldn't. Her mood swings, strange cravings, and blasted morning sickness had driven the point home like any blade. The Gods were laughing at her, she just knew it. Karma had come to collect its debt and she was overdue for decades of it. Now it was time to pay her dues; the universe was keen to collect. S

And she had no one to blame but herself. She was the one to kidnap him, the one to seduce him, only to be seduced herself. This was her fault...and also his! Damn her for a fool and damn him for fucking her sideways!

She wasn't ready to be a mother again.

But she didn't have a choice.

Unbidden, her hand strayed to her stomach. Life. Such a little thing. Would she leave this one behind? As she'd left Yang? Would she let her new son or daughter languish in misery as she had? No. She already knew her answer. She was making amends for her mistakes. Come hell or high water, she would raise this one with care.

But first! She was going to have words with the man who knocked her up!

Thus, she did what any sensible woman would do.

She was going to hunt that boy down like a stag.


(.0.0.0.)


"You look like shit, Cinder."

There was not-so-distant time when Roman Torchwick wouldn't dare utter those words aloud. Not face to face and certainly no through a Scroll call. A time when he had feared Cinder Fall so much that he would not dare to speak ill of her, even in the privacy of his home.

But now? Why, he just couldn't help himself.

You see, Roman was having a good day. A very, very good day indeed. Such a good day in fact, that he was beginning to feel a bit rebellious. Mocking the once mighty Cinder Fall? Well, that was just icing on the cake. He knew she couldn't harm him now; not without risking her own interest in Vale. More than that, she was nowhere near him. Any retribution she attempted to visit upon him...

...well. Vacuo was a long way from Vale, wasn't it? Whatever was she doing over there? He had a suspicion of his own.

A low growl rang through the Scroll, little more than a whispery rasp, a shadow of its former self.

"Do not test me, Torchwick."

Don't test her? Ha! All the testing.

He'd seen her face. It had only been for a moment before she'd covered the Scroll's camera, but it was enough. She'd gotten sloppy. The once fiery femme fatale was little more than a shell of her former self now, scarred and ruined after not one but two ignominious defeats. First in Vale, and then again in Atlas at the hands of the former Winter Maiden. Freya hadn't gone quietly into that good night.

Listening to her now, his grin gained an edge.

"Ooh, you don't sound too good there, boss. Might wanna take a cough drop."

"Roman!" The scroll in his hand trembled with rage. "One more word and I will end you!"

"Suuure you will. Quaking in my boots here, Cindy."

An unintelligible snarl answered.

"Right, right." Best not push her too far. "Don't worry about the dust." he talked over her before her rant could truly take off. "We're a bit behind schedule." Due in no small part to the arrival of bloody Winter Schnee and her forces besides! "I'll handle it." And he would. But his way, not hers, and she'd have to deal with the fallout. "Don't worry your pretty little head."

"See that you do." she rasped. "Once I've recovered, I will return to Vale to see you in person."

One last jab. "Enjoy the desert, boss. And try not to get burned...again."

"RAAARGH!"

An angry crunch heralded the end of her call.

"Hook line and sinker."

Fetching a cigar from his jacket, he flicked it to life and leaned back in his chair to savor his victory. Was it wrong that he took some perverse pleasure in her suffering? Maybe so. She'd certainly made him and Neo suffer before that blond bumbled along. Bloody worth it, that. Once upon a time, she would have massacred him for daring to talk back. Or sent her kids after him at the very least. But she didn't, and she couldn't. You see, Cinder needed him now. He was her eyes and ears here in Vale, and unlike her, not suicidal enough to cross blades with a Maiden.

Oh yes, he knew Fall's dirty little secret; Neo's subterfuge in Beacon had paid dividends on that front.

Cinder had lost to only a single Maiden with backup. No way in hell was she getting past three...not when those three were aligned with Vale. Somehow, he doubted she even knew the Schnee was one. Best keep that little secret to himself. Psycopaths got funny ideas in their heads when they were offered power on a silver platter.

And there was still one more to be had.

Summer.

Whoever had the power of the Fourth Maiden, well that was a fine bargaining chip there. They could change the game.

For now, the plan continued. But it would be his plan from here on out. Done his way. Not hers.

No sir, there were far bigger players out there now, bigger than little 'ol Cinder Fall.

Neo was well on her way to turning one of them even now...

And it was time to bargain.


(.0.0.0.)


Vernal ate dirt.

Her body struck the ground with aplomb and bounced once, twice, then thrice. Each time her face met the ground mud shot up her nose, leaving her retching. Finally, momentum took pity upon the poor girl's body and left her sullen form skidding away in defeat. Her face burned with shame as she thumped a fist against the ground.

"Well," a familiar voice sighed. "That's another lose for you."

"No fair! Why are you so strong?!"

"Pushups, situps, and plenty of juice." Naruto gazed back at her serenely. "Care to try again? I'm sure Neo's got a few more tricks she could demonstrate."

Beside him, the little helion unfurled her parasol and sketched a deep, sweeping bow.

Vernal hacked and coughed into the much then flung herself up with a snarl.

"Again!"

Her mentor quirked an eyebrow. "You sure? We've been at this for hours. You're gonna break."

She growled. "Again."

"Alright, have it your own way." the blond shrugged. "Neo, two or three more."

The petite mute tilted head as if to repeat the question.

"Yup. Two or three more."

She smiled.

It was not a pleasant smile.

Vernal barely saw her move; by some miracle she managed to get her hooked blades up in time, but even then it was only just. The second broke her guard. The third forced her weapons up and out of her hands, then sent her sprawling much as before. The little mute planted a heel on her back and walked right over her, just as she had before.

"Look," Naruto sighed. "I keep telling you, don't just guard. You have to take a risk once in a while."

Vernal growled into the dirt, but didn't complain. No. She did not dare. As far as training went this might seem ruthless; if only because she'd demanded that they be. She needed ruthless. She needed aggression, to be pressured as she had never been before. She had to unlock her Semblance. She wanted to be useful. She needed to prove her worth. Everyone was off training, growing ever stronger, widening the gap.

Blasted Maidens. It wasn't fair.

Raven, she could understand; the former Chief could thrash her arse with both hands tied behind her back. Probably a leg, too.

Amber had held her power for years. Only made sense that she was strong, and growing stronger still.

By contrast the stupid Schnee was new to her powers and thus weaker for it, but she was training every day. Soon enough she'd close the gap with her Sister Maidens. And she would be left even further in the dust than before. Even Jinn was faring better than her! She'd unlocked both her Semblance and Aura! In one day! To say nothing of that blasted bloody mute. What was she compared to that? Neo was playing with her.

Naruto could make mincemeat of them both. So what did that make her?

Weak.

Weakling.

Weaker than all of them.

No! She refused. She wouldn't be left behind. Not after she'd come this far. She was meant for more than this. She had a destiny!

With the last of her strength, she pushed herself up with trembling limbs. "I need...to be stronger...

Naruto sighed. "Alright. Neo. Run it back."

Vernal granted him a flimsy grin as she retrieved her weapons.

Once more, she surpassed her limits and climbed up on shaky knees. Naruto waited for her. Then he waded in, rolling his shoulder. Her weapons snapped up to meet him. Blue eyes burned gold in response, and there was not so much as an iota of mercy in them. Good! Mercy made men weak. She wanted to be strong. Even if it meant a few bruises and broken bones along the way.

He was her teacher. She had to make him proud.

She'd show him she was worth something.

Vernal would show them all.

A/N: PLEASE. READ. THIS. NOTE.

First, flames can sod right off. Second, looking forward to your feedback and chatting with you all. Really makes me day after work.

Salem stole the show this time around; before I knew it, more than half the chapter was written for her. Amber and the rest of the main cast get their chance to shine next chapter, and then some. Cogs are turning, gears are spinning, and we're creeping closer to the events of RWBY...

Time will tell if poor Salem's redeemed. She needs a lot of therapy.

Next Time: Forging a Future.

Well, that's all I have to say this time around.

So in the Immortal Words of Atlas...

...Review, Would You Kindly?

And enjoy the previews~!

Speakin' a which...

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

PLOT DETAILS AHOY!

(Previews)

"I'm here to relieve you of your burden.

Whether that includes your own lives as well...is up to you."


Uptown Vale wasn't really the place one considered for a date.

It was certainly posh enough, make no mistake, but it lacked a certain element that made it feel human.

The morrow had come before he knew it and he found himself face to face with his destiny. But was it really destiny if he chose to face it head on? This was just a simple date. Testing the waters, they were. It didn't have to mean anything.

No. Certainly not.

So why had Winter sent a limo to pick him up?!

Not for the first time he was glad Amber was still downtown working on his weapon; she'd have an absolute fit if she saw him gawping like this.

"How do I look?" she did a little twirl. "Is it too much...?"

Winter looked...good. Really good.

Clad in a sinful snow-white gown that hugged her curves, hinting at what lay beneath without being too overt, she was every bit a beauty. She cleaned up well out of uniform.

Naruto's jaw clicked open.

"No, its fine...


Amber leaned back with a sigh.

"See, now this is nice...ah! That's the spot...


"I'm sorry, did that hut? It looked like it did-ack?!"

Clenched knuckles slammed into their face, obliterated their right eye, and sent them sprawling to the floor. Even as they fell a smoking fist found them, caught them by the collar and reeled them back in.

"Sorry." Naruto sang back. "Does it hurt? Looks like it does.


"Halt! Come any closer and we will show no mercy!"

"I'm the one who'll be showing no mercy." Naruto cracked his neck as his eyes began to glow. "Sorry," a wide grin tore across his face, "But I'm going to take out my rage on all of you."

A lone hand rose. "Ever seen a Rasenshuriken before?

R&R~!