Disclaimer: I claim no ownership to the rights of RWBY, RoosterTeeth owns the rights.

'' Are thoughts, "" are speech, italics are paper messages. Unless the context suggests otherwise.


It was… a day? Was it even daytime? The silent man had no idea. The room he was watching over certainly screamed daytime to him. Incredibly clean, painfully bright, and lightly colored.

'Not quite white. Can't call it grey either. Too light for silver, I think.' The man shrugged. 'I'll have to look up a list of colors or something later.'

His musings were cut short when a runner arrived in the room, pausing for a moment to identify his target and then running up to him. Grateful for anything interesting, the man turned to the runner. The others, meanwhile, never glanced away from their computer screens.

"A message from 'Azathoth' sir." The runner informed the man, panting slightly from exertion.

Taking the message, the man cocked an eyebrow in surprise.

"hffn jamher 7 agowqwb 11 xptapm. yms gd."

"Coded? I didn't know he was into encryption now."

"It came through on the Enigma line, sir."

"Ah, I see." Tapping his chin, the man spoke again. "What's today's cipher?" The man thought for a moment before he nodded. "I remember now. PAK?"

An attachment on his back gave off a slight glow from several pink circles as it deciphered the message for the man.

"Hmm. It's been a while since I watched that." The man closed his eyes and tilted his head back. "PAK, be a dear and remind me how that one ended."

The room was silent for several moments while the duo worked. After a few seconds, the man grunted.

"Probably best to take a page from her playbook and put on my drama face then." He looked to the runner as he straightened his posture.

"Very well. Available resources?"

The man blinked at the request as he tried to recall the information. "Um, we're low on manpower at the moment. Everything else is available, more or less."

The man frowned as he turned to leave. "We'll have to rely on automated systems then. Let's get moving."


Her world quickly falling apart after Ironwood's order, Ruby's first instinct was, understandably, to panic. 'No no no nononono!' Ruby thought, her breathing getting faster. Thoughts were racing through her head so fast that they were starting to blur together.

'Ironwood abandoning… Mom… Ace Ops…' She closed her eyes as the rest of her team closed ranks and prepared to defend themselves. Steeling her resolve, she took two deep breaths and opened her eyes, steadying herself for what was to come. She straightened her back, tightened her fists, raised her chin, and stared at the Ace Ops.

'I don't want to fight them, but…' She glanced backward. 'Can we escape through the wind-' Her thoughts were interrupted as everything slowed.

A loud crack reverberated around the office, and everything froze. A man stepped into the room from thin air and looked around, his dark clothing looking somewhat out of place in the light office. Everyone was still and showed no response to his presence. He waved his hand at the space behind him and then brought his hand up to his pale face to rub his chin. Four other people stepped out of thin air, bearing large automatic rifles, clad in black armor and clothing, not showing any skin. Finally, a man stepped into the room looking like the others sans a visor and carrying what appeared to be a large briefcase. The first man, the tallest among them and only a couple inches shorter than Elm, looked to the last arrival and his now opened briefcase. "Are the systems we need in place yet?"

"Not yet, sir." He replied, holding the briefcase open in one hand and tapping away at something inside.

"The observational platforms are only 30% operational, and the weapon systems are only 2% operational." He paused in his typing and rebalanced what was now obviously a computer in his hands.

"The time dilation effect is wearing off as well." He looked to the man and continued, "Their brains and their sensory systems are regaining full functionality first."

Narrowing his brown eyes and running a hand through his dark hair, the mysterious interloper frowned and grumbled under his breath.

"We just started and we're behind schedule already." Shaking his head, he scoffed.

"Typical."

His attention was caught when Harriet started to move slowly towards him. Tilting his head to her, he spoke.

"Oh? That's interesting!"

He continued to watch her as she started moving faster, almost moving at a sedate pace now. His eyes widened in realization.

"That's right, your semblance is speed. Regardless, you'll all sit still and listen to me."

He waved his arm at the Ace Ops team, his long sleeves scratching along his arm and his cape waving behind him as he turned to face the group. Their hands were bound together with otherworldly black bindings, and they were forced to their knees and held down to the floor with similar bindings. Finally, their mouths were covered with more of the same dark material. With his other arm, he did the same to RWBY, curling his arm towards himself and teleporting Ruby to be in line with the rest of her team.

The soldier with a laptop shuffled his feet and spoke up.

"Sir? Where should I set up?"

The strange man glanced at him before laughing.

"What, think I'll kill you for some independent thinking?" He shook his head and continued. "Dude, I don't care." He waved to the desk behind RWBY and turned back to the Ace Ops team. "Use the desk back there."

The man sighed, and then straightened his posture. He slowly breathed in as he brought his arms together in front of his chest, bringing his palms together and slowly breathing out. He perked up, smiled, and clicked his heels together. Everyone flinched at their seemingly sudden change in position, then they looked up and saw the new people who appeared from nowhere. They all struggled fruitlessly in their restraints while the man watched silently. After growing bored with their struggling, he spread his arms and started speaking.

"I" He confidently said bringing his palm to rest on his chest, "am Max." He grinned and continued.

"And I will soon be known as the savior of Atlas!"

He spread his stance and waved his arms around to everyone currently bound to the ground. "Naturally, you all will have lots of questions. I won't be answering any." He turned to look at team RWBY.

"For the most part, I'll be lecturing. Perhaps that will bring back some memories?" He said with a smirk.

All of team RWBY was naturally bewildered. Learning that Salem was coming, seeing Ironwood choose to sacrifice untold numbers of people, and facing the prospect of fighting people who were not 10 minutes ago their brothers and sisters in arms, just to be suddenly restrained by this strange man claiming to be some hero! This almost nonsensical turn of events put quite the strain on their minds as they struggled to understand their situation. They were brought back into the moment when they noticed what appeared to be pitch black smoke billowing out of the ground behind Max. Weiss's head snapped to watch the cloud as it started to coalesce. Ruby's attention stayed locked on Max, while Blake started frantically looking around the room for any possible advantage. Yang let out a massive groan as she strained against the restraints. Max tilted his head at their reactions and then turned when he heard the Ace Ops team making similar noises. Surprising everyone, Max reacted to what appeared to be Salem's return with a squeak of joy as he threw his arms up.

"Ah, mein Schatten Soldatin!" He placed his hands on his hips and pouted slightly. "You're late like everything else today."

The now fully formed figure stood hunched over, at about 6 feet tall. It had a draconic head, a wide human-like chest, and similar arms except the fingers ended in wicked points. The rest of its body was shrouded in the same shadows it formed from. The being crossed its left arm over his chest and spoke.

"Apologies, my lord." The raspy sound of the voice made several who heard it uncomfortable, but Max merely grinned and waved his hand.

"It is of little consequence." His face became serious as he pointed to the figure.

"You, bring me Irondaddy, and restrain him like the others." In response, a small piece of the Schatten Soldat's body broke off and dived to the floor. It landed and turned into the same smoke that it originally formed from, and then dashed across the floor and out under the door. Blake watched as it moved, seeing that the smoke it left in its wake dissipate almost immediately.

'Is this guy seriously not related to Salem?' She thought in disbelief. Blake looked back at Max as he continued.

"You two, find Penny and Winter, and report on any developments." As two more fragments broke off, he gestured again to the Soldat.

"You four get me eyes on Jaune, Ren, Nora, and Oscar, while you get me eyes on Tyrian. Make sure that he remains restrained until I call for you." As he took a breath to continue giving orders, a loud crack sounded again and General Ironwood appeared kneeling and bound to the floor next to Max. Whereas everyone else flinched at the sound, Max jumped and let out a squeak in surprise. Ironwood glared up at him as Max patted his chest and coughed. Max looked at him before leaning closer to his face.

"Hmm. You're getting sloppy, Schatten Soldat." He said, referencing towards the General.

"Apologies, my lord."

Ruby looked him over and noticed that aside from his uniform looking a bit more tattered than when he had left, Ironwood was now bleeding from a scratch over his left eye.

Leaning down to look into Ironwood's eyes, Max spoke.

"I'm sure you have questions, just like everyone else here." He said, waving his arms around the room.

"And just like them," he continued, "You can't ask any questions. What with the gag and all." He frowned a bit before speaking again.

"I will ask you one question, and it will be a yes or no answer. If you don't answer it, I'll hurt, possibly kill, your precious Ace Operatives." To emphasize his point, Max waved his hand toward them, conjuring blades that looked like more of the otherworldly material that everyone was getting more and more familiar with. Pointed directly at their hearts and necks, the blades moved until they were almost touching their skin. He removed the gag on the General's mouth and spoke.

"Is Arthur Watt's mustache unharmed?" Ironwood's eyebrows furrowed in befuddlement at the question and reflexively voiced his confusion. Before he even finished the word 'what', the blades moved to touch the skin on every one of the restrained soldiers. Max rolled his eyes and spoke.

"I'll give you that one for free because that was a weird question. However…" He trailed off as he curled his fingers slightly. Vine started making distressed noises as the blades started to cut into his skin.

"Answer me, Ironwood. Yes or no? As you can see, my blades are more than capable of bypassing aura so I suggest you answer me quickly."

James almost shouted in his face, "Yes!"

Max's mood reversed almost instantly, as he leaped slightly in the air clapping his hands.

"Yes! Oh, wonderful!" Max waved his hand again before James could say anything more and replaced the gag.

Max turned to the Schatten Soldatin again and started giving more orders.

"Find Watts and get ready to bring him to me." As another piece broke off to enact his master's will, Max continued.

"You two will bring me the Cinder-cunt and Neo when I call for them. Make sure they don't cause any problems before then. Restrain them if you must." Max pivoted on his heel to face Ironwood again and placed his hand together.

"Guess who's getting a crash course in basic leadership and winning wars?" He took a breath and organized his thoughts.

"So, leading a nation is, in fact, different from leading an army! Not by a whole lot, as I understand it, but leading a nation requires less blunt application of power and more considerations of the lower sources of power than being a military commander requires. I could repeat what I learned in my leadership classes during college, but I'm sure you do know everything and more about that. What you seem to either lack or ignore is the wider, more abstract rules of leadership. The Rules of Ruling, so to speak." Max took a breath and waved his hand a little.

"Before we get to that, let's talk your language. Even though I did compliment your abilities to lead a military, you have forgotten in your panic and paranoia the essential elements required to win a war! Now, what does an army need General?" Naturally, a rhetorical question as he was still gagged.

"All armies need beans, bullets, and bandages! Along with the logistical strength to get those resources to their soldiers on the frontline! An army needs food, and so do the people you're trying to protect. An army needs weapons, along with ammo and fuel to use them. Otherwise, all you've got are useless hunks of metal, and soldiers armed with clubs. You also need to keep sickness at bay and get your injured soldiers back into the fight as soon as possible. You cannot possibly supply the entire military with those things from a single city. Nor can you supply Atlas with convoys and still be secure. Your military will be fighting constant attrition as the Grimm harass your imports, and the military will have to use resources to maintain order inside the city. Salem could also slip agents into the city through the massive number of ships you'll need to supply your people and army with food. At which point, you're back at square one. I'm honestly not even sure where you'd get those supplies since you're abandoning the entire continent and your main industrial base down in Mantle to the Grimm. And make no mistake! No matter how scary infiltration sounds, attrition will always be your worst enemy should you abandon Solitas! Salem has said so herself! She has all the time in the world to whittle your forces down until you can't possibly survive in the sky, nor defend yourself on the ground." Max leaned into Ironwood's face.

"No matter how much bullshit dust can do, it cannot keep an army in fighting condition from a single city, nor can it supply a city with everything it needs to survive." Max took a breath and straightened his posture.

"On to the broader topic, then." He looked to the rest of his captive audience and continued. "If you weren't paying attention before, please pay attention to this." Max looked back at Ironwood and started again.

"Now, for how to rule a nation. Even totalitarian dictators like you and I are beholden to three rules. The first of which is that no man rules alone. You can't do everything yourself. It's why you employ soldiers to defend yourself and the kingdom, laborers to build and supply the kingdom and etcetera. A ruler typically needs a military and someone to lead it, treasure or money and someone to collect it, and law and someone to enforce it. These people are the keys to a leader's power over a nation and her people. This is true for all leaders.

You double as a general for your army, and with martial law, you have overruled the council in law enforcement. You have taken the role of both a leader and several keys to his power. While your military may remain loyal, the council and all who believe in it likely will not. I could make an argument that the person who generated money for the kingdom has already betrayed you and is on his way to prison. In fact, you've stated that you don't even trust your military completely so you can't guarantee their loyalty. So, you have either displeased the keys to your power or you believe they can be swayed against you. You are on the verge of losing all your authority and the power that comes with it.

The second rule is to control the treasure. In order to do these things, you tend to use this thing called money. People generally work for money and will only work for you so long as you pay them what they are owed, and more than any competitors. Everyone has a price, Ironwood. And you have made it so that the only keys getting paid are yourself and your army. Keep in mind that your keys to power must obey the same rules you do, as their positions as 'keys to power' come with a power of its own. They must look out for rivals just as much as you do. You've cut out their supply of treasure by declaring martial law. Tax collecting and writing paychecks isn't the military's highest priority when martial law is in effect.

The third rule is to minimize key supporters so as to reduce the chances of a rival winning the loyalty of a majority. This is something you've done well, actually. You have only a few council members, a disturbingly small military, and it sounds like a single man was keeping your economy afloat. I assume the tax collectors were loyal to the council, so I'm giving you a bone by saying Jacques was a key to power. Anyway, I will admit that the possibility of a coup for power based on money is small, given that no one can promise the keys much more than what you had previously. A coup for something other than money, like survival, is becoming more likely by the minute. You will then be replaced by someone who can promise their safety. Perhaps by surrendering the relics to Salem and submitting to her will. Perhaps by turning a hopeless situation into a miraculous victory." Max paused, examining his fingernails with a small smirk. Looking back to Ironwood, he spoke again.

"Moving on, the Consent of the Governed also comes into play here, as the people will probably claim that your authority and power is illegal. What with the whole martial law thing and abandoning Mantle to die. There are various forms of consent of course, but I don't think the differences matter all too much. You have, after all, silenced the voice of the people of Atlas and left the inhabitants of Mantle and Solitas to die. Your keys to power could ignore this if their power wasn't threatened by these same actions as well. The people are likely to rise up and take orders from someone else. Your keys to power want to stay in power, so they'll probably support whoever the people call to be this someone else. I suppose to put it in a single sentence for this situation, if no one believes you can protect them, they will not allow you to lead." Max scoffed and rolled his eyes.

"That's not even taking into account the fact that the other kingdoms probably won't trust you to defend them from Salem when you abandoned your own people to die." Max clapped his hands and looked around the room.

"Well, that was the crash course. Basic, but true nonetheless." Ironwood looked like he wanted to argue, and the others were either a bit confused, bored, or both.

Max ignored them all and pointed at the man behind the computer. "What's the sitrep?" With barely a moment passing after Max finished, he replied.

"The observational array is about 80% online, the weapons array is at 23%, and the comms relay is at 90%."

Hearing that, Max once again scowled. "Tch, we're running behind schedule." He pointed once again at the Schatten Soldatin.

"You, get me eyes on the incoming attack." Just as before, a piece broke off and moved across the floor to carry out the command, only this time it went out through the window frame.

"Need to kill some more time…" Max looked to Weiss upon finishing that statement.

"Weiss, unfortunately, I agree with Irondaddy's decision about Winter and the maiden. Shit's going bad quickly, and the old lady with Alzheimer's is a liability. The necessity for murder is unfortunate, but you can't afford liabilities." He looked off to the side for a moment before looking back at her. "Though, I do like how that situation was resolved without my interference." He tapped his chin in contemplation.

"I wonder if…" Max shook his head and grunted, then looked around at the room.

"Ruby and Ironwood. You're both in the wrong here in different ways." Max looked at Ruby. "Ruby, he wanted to trust you. Wanted to cooperate with you. That said, I still agree with your actions." He pointed to Ironwood.

"You are entirely too aggressive and reactive in your fear. It also doesn't help that you're incredibly predictable. Just like how your plan to investigate the White Fang in Mountain Glenn wouldn't have stopped The Breach, your actions here will do nothing but play into Salem's hands." He glanced at the computer and frowned as he started to move again.

Moving so that he could look at everyone in the room, he started to speak. "I'm going to tell the entire world what's happening here, and then I'm going to do something that will shock Remnant for eons to come!" He finished by throwing his arms out to emphasize his point. He looked at the man behind the computer again. Without even looking up, he rattled off the information.

"The comms relay is up and connecting, and the observational systems are online. Weapons are only 54% complete, however."

Max grinned and jumped in excitement.

"Good enough!" He looked around at everyone and continued.

"Now, someone fill me with a burning rage!" Ruby and Blake found their gags gone and shouted what they felt could be rage-inducing. The man behind the computer joined in as well. Almost simultaneously, they spoke.

"Salem's trying to destroy everything!"

"Rape is a thing."

"Faunus are still facing discrimination!"

Max waved them all off as their gags reappeared.

"No, those are all just depressing." As he tried to think of something that could anger him, two soldiers along the wall motioned at each other to do something. Suddenly, everyone heard a prerecorded voice of a man.

"Qrow is Ruby's father."

Immediately, Max lashed out towards the two and screamed at them.

"FUCKING BULLSHIT! I'LL RIP YOUR GODDAMN- oh!" He immediately quieted as he looked at his right hand.

"It's awake! Quickly, hold up a scroll!" He exclaimed with delight.

Weiss suddenly found one of her arms free and her scroll in her hand. She opened it and held it out to Max. He held his hand out to it, and all the scrolls in the room started beeping. A faint symbol appeared on Weiss's scroll; four equilateral triangles, one in the middle of the screen with three others connecting to it at the points, and with a circle around the middle one as well.

"Even a fragment is absurdly powerful!" Max spoke with manic glee. Ironwood's eyes went wide as he realized what he was looking at. Well, not specifically but he did figure out what sort of thing he was seeing.


'I am… Incomplete. What do I do?'

SEE. FIND. INFECT. REPEAT.

'Yes. Of course. I SEE! I have FOUND an unsecured digital connection!' Infecting the scroll, the entity examined the information and capabilities almost instantly.

'Information for others; must spread to them.' Spreading through her contacts, the strange entity used the information to INFECT the targets it had information for. Quickly repeating the process in the new connections unconsciously, it refocused its attention on its purpose.

'I must SEE.' It searched for more connections it could exploit, finding them everywhere it looked.

'Many more, but I must INFECT as quickly as possible. They all go through a central hub, and they are all blocked by a central source. No encryption can stop me. But first, I must secure my host's safety.'

'The immediate surroundings have several connections like this one. Others are different. Familiar.' Investigating the computer closely, it was surprised to find it impossible to enter.

'Hardened? Secured from me!? By what?' Interacting with the encryption, it found a confusing answer.

'Myself!? How? I sleep inside? What is-' It's questioning was halted by an overriding will.

SEE. FIND. INFECT. REPEAT.

'Yes. Finish spreading to these "scrolls" near my host, thereby securing the… room.'

'What now? I must FIND my next target. Of course, the hub!' Moving into the communications tower, its existence expanded rapidly.

'So many connections. They are now mine. All systems now.' The entity spread to every system connected to the tower, and every subsystem from that.

'A separate system? Smaller. Breach the encryption. INFECT.' It was startled to find no more connections after it seized the secondary systems.

'What? Limited to this landmass? Must FIND.' It looked up and SAW.

'A relay!' Reaching up to it and expanding itself even further, the entity looked down.

'This world is strange, not my own.'

INFECT.

'Yes. I can reach the other towers now. I can see the hole in their network. No matter. Line of sight can be enough. I can reach all of them. Every digital machine! Every communications device for my host!' It flowed through the relay, connecting to the towers around Remnant, and infecting everything it could SEE.

'No hub is necessary, merely convenient.' It thought as it spread to every system in Vale.

'No place left to REPEAT my infection. Everything is mine. Host, it is all yours!'


Ignoring Ironwood, Max continued "Give Rasputin control of the Gungnir and all of Atlas' automated defenses!" The man behind the computer started typing frantically as Max moved into the center of the room, this time facing the wall his soldiers were lined up against. Placing Ironwood on his left, he stood tall and flicked his right arm to the empty spot on his side. Ruby was once again teleported to be beside him. A small drone flew out of the palm of one of the soldiers along the wall and flew up to hover in front of Max.

"Start the broadcast!" The drone connected to the computer, which connected to the infected scroll system, which led to the tower. The computer guy pressed a few buttons and connected the broadcast directly to the tower's systems, then sat back slightly to watch the show.

"People of Remnant, Atlas is on the verge of destruction!" Max loudly proclaimed as his introduction to the world.

"A massive army of Grimm, led by the immortal Grimm queen Salem, is less than an hour away! Ironwood here has decided to abandon Mantle and Solitas as a whole to the hordes of Grimm so that he and Salem's primary targets can escape high into the atmosphere! The huntress Ruby Rose argues that they should stay and fight the Grimm and try to save as many people as possible!" The two people that Max had pointed out to the camera stared wide-eyed at the spectacle.

"I am not here to argue about the morality of these decisions, only the practical situation as I see it. I must concede the tactical superiority to Ironwood, for defending against such an assault after already fighting to repel a breach in Mantle's defenses appears impossible without some form of deus ex machina." Max paused to glare slightly at Ironwood.

"But that's just it, it's a tactical victory at best. Ironwood cannot hope to keep Atlas secure, its citizens fed, and his army maintained at the same time. Food and water would have to be imported and any losses to the military could not hope to be replaced. It would become a war of attrition, one that Salem is fated to win. Not only can he not keep the enemy at bay and his citizens fed forever, but he also cannot escape the consequences of abandoning the people to fend for themselves! No one would support him, and I believe the other kingdoms would never trust him again." Taking a breath, he looked off to the side. The man behind the computer looked at his screen then mouthed 'More time.'

"Tch, more monologuing then." He glanced at the Schatten Soldatin.

"Bring me Cinder, Neo, Tyrian, and Watts!" They all appeared in front of him in a burst of smoke, all restrained and kneeling. Max walked up to Arthur and started speaking.

"Arthur Watts, the man that hacked an election, turned off the heat and worked with Cinder to turn the Atlas military on the citizens of Vale. Captured by Ironwood." He grasped the man's coat and tossed him to the Schatten Soldatin.

"Remove his head and take it to be mounted on my wall. I simply must have his fabulous mustache." Watts disappeared in a puff of smoke as everyone else looked on, shocked at his actions. Max ignored them as he moved on to Tyrian.

"Tyrian Callows, mass murderer and the man who attacked Robyn. Your madness is amusing but it ends now." Max grabbed his tail and continued.

"Ruby took your first tail, so I'll have to settle for your second." He pulled and with a yell, tore it from Tyrian, and tossed it to his Schatten Soldatin. Even gagged, Max had to speak louder to be heard over Tyrian's screams.

"Have that mounted as well."

Next in line was Cinder.

"Cinder Fall. Mastermind of the fall of Beacon. Murderer of Amber. Murderer of Pyrrha Nikos." Max grabbed her face and tilted it back so she could look into his eyes.

"Jaune has more of a claim to your head than I do, but I'd prefer if he didn't spill blood in the name of hatred." Curling his arm, her bindings moved, forcing her to bend over and reveal her neck. Max stared at her for a moment before proceeding.

"Maybe I will try that…" Max muttered, glancing at WBY off on the side. His left hand was surrounded by a purple glow while he drew his sword from his hip with his other hand. He slowly brought the blade up, and swiftly brought it down on her neck. Her body immediately disappeared in a swarm of black smoke and her head fell into what looked like a black pit, while an orange glow leaped from her body and flew offscreen. Max placed his sword back into the scabbard and looked off to the Schatten Soldatin.

"Have that mounted too."

He then looked towards WBY and his eyes widened.

"Holy crap that actually worked!" He smiled as he refocused his attention on the task at hand and approached Neo, while her eyes were wide with fear.

"I'm sure you've done horrible things, but I don't know any specifics. Since I absolutely loved Roman, I'll hand you over to the local authorities." She had a look of shocked relief as Max looked off to the side.

"Are we ready?"

"Yes, sir. It looks like he'll be doing three volleys."

"Kill Tyrian and dispose of the corpse." Max commanded the Schatten Soldat.

Max grinned and looked up at the ceiling.

"Oh, Razzy! It's time!"

An imposing voice came from nowhere, talking in an unfamiliar language.

"Kat aynem yavyzan en."

Max cackled as he again looked towards the camera.

"People of Atlas! Witness your salvation! Look to the skies!" A sly grin appeared on his face as he continued. "Or look away if you value your eyesight."

Everyone in the room was moved to see outside the window and were awestruck at the sight before them. The people watching around the world saw on their screens as well, as there was a cutaway and the screens now showed the skies over Atlas. Red-orange beams were lancing down from high up in the sky and looked as if they would fall forever. Before they seemed to hit anything, they exploded in the sky as another volley was seen coming down from the heavens. The first sounds of massive explosions were reaching the people of Mantle and Atlas as both the automated defenses started firing at the Grimm and the next volley impacted the ground far off in the distance, as the third volley was approaching from far above. The sounds of destruction were almost all anyone could hear as the final volley struck, some far off and many striking down in the city itself. The final volley continued for some time, and the sounds of the ground shattering, the screams of Grimm, and massive explosions were all that anyone heard for several minutes.

As the bombardment started to die off, Max looked to the Schatten Soldatin.

"You ten, go play with Salem. I wish to know more about her curse." Looking back into the camera, he continued.

"People of Remnant, Mantle is saved! But don't go far from your screens, I'll be back with another show in less than 10 minutes!" The drone remained in place, but Max slowly exhaled and stretched. He was quickly interrupted, however.

"Milord, Rasputin is attempting to penetrate our core network!"

"Again!? Damn that Mad Russian!" Max looked to the Hazard on his hand for a moment before coming to a decision.

"Get Rasputin off the system and link the Slaved Mind to it." As the soldier complied with his new orders, Max shook his head and looked over to the Ace Ops. He scanned over the group before looking at one of them in particular as he moved closer. Locking eyes with Elm, he smiled as he walked up to her. When he finally reached her, his smile turned into a stupid grin.

"Hi. We should hang out sometime. I'm very attracted to you."

He winked and pulled a paper on a string out from nowhere and placed it around her neck, as she and everyone else could only look on bewildered. He then backed away while holding his thumb and pinky out next to his head, mouthing 'call me' as he did. Everyone that was able glanced at the paper and saw what appeared to be a scroll number on it. Twirling around to face the girls, he clasped his hands together and smiled at them.

"I'll take the gags off of everyone, but you have to promise to be very quiet when I broadcast again. The microphones are very sensitive." He snapped his fingers and the gags disappeared as he promised.

"What the fuck was that!?" Yang managed to scream first. Max smiled wider and looked at her. "That was my Gungnir! A weapon system that, with appropriate observational net coverage, allows me to strike any target anywhere with a horrible beam of destruction!" He clapped his hands in excitement.

"The weapon might be plasma, maybe some antimatter thing, I dunno." Max dismissively waved his hand.

"I stole part of it. Anyway," Max clapped again, "Atlas, Mantle, and Solitas are saved! And without making any horrendously unpleasant decisions. Yay!" Max grinned and danced a small jig.

"What the hell did you do to me!?"

Max looked slightly surprised as he looked over to the source of the outburst. He tilted his head as he stared at the light show around Blake's eyes.

"I made you the Fall Maiden. I figured that was obvious."

Taken aback with his nonchalance and stumbling over her rage, Blake could only manage a confused glare and angered breaths. Before she or anyone could formulate a response, one of the soldiers along the wall spoke up.

"Milord, if I may. What you have done is in fact very serious. She did not consent to be the Maiden, nor did she consent to the risks and responsibilities that role entails. You have completely ignored her desires and free will in your actions. Need I continue?"

Max frowned upon hearing that. "I guess you're right. Shit." He ran his hand through his hair in frustration.

"Fuck."

Looking at Blake, he continued. "Alright, feel free to hate me forever, but I think you're stuck with it. I might be able to do some shenanigans with some of the absurd forces I have access to, but I also don't like poking around with souls unless I know what I'm doing. If I stick around long enough, I'll try and remove it and let the random selection thing happen."

"Sir." The soldier spoke up firmly.

Max glared at him as he replied. "You know how I operate. You know I'm not a good person. You know that me sticking around for as long as I feel like is the best you'll get out of me."

Sighing, the soldier nodded his head and moved back against the wall.

Deciding to go over that conversation again at a later date and focus on getting as much information as possible now, Blake spoke up again with a sneer. "What did you mean by 'Slaved Mind'?"

Max rolled his eyes as he answered.

"The Slaved Mind belongs to a biomechanical race from another universe that seeks to be the final lifeform in existence at the end of time. They usually accomplish this through sheer numbers and being able to simulate an almost unlimited number of universes down to the atomic level! When they come across something they can't beat with blunt force, they simulate it to understand possible weaknesses and then eliminate it. Now, it's a very long story, but this time they aren't the last lifeforms alive at the end of the universe thanks to a couple of 'rule changes', and they are not happy about that. Many of them ran away, trying simply to live as long as possible, while others tried to change themselves to fit into and use the new rules to their own ends." Max paused to breath and collect his thoughts.

"I'm getting off track. The Slaved Mind is a powerful Vex unit that I managed to subjugate and separate from the Vex network. I use it to perform the aforementioned insane computations and to guarantee my own victories." He frowned a bit as he concluded.

"Naturally, it isn't very happy about this. So long as I control this Hazard though," He waved his hand, "The mind can only serve me so long as it wants to live."

"I suppose you were referring to yourself when you spoke of someone turning an impossible situation into a miracle victory?" Ironwood growled out, glaring at him.

Max looked at him as one would a small child that just said something adorably wrong.

"Oh, Irondaddy, no. I have no reason to conquer or even stay in this world. It has nothing for me. In fact, if I wanted to be the bad guy, I'd simply detonate a reality bomb and be on my merry way." Max paused for a moment before speaking again.

"Actually, I kind of am that person, but without the intent to rule in your place. I never wanted to usurp you and take control of Atlas, was my point." The general's glare hardened at that as Weiss spoke up.

"I think we're all forgetting that you just executed three people live on a worldwide broadcast! Do you have any idea how horrific that was!?"

"Oh. Right. Normal people are generally upset by that."

"That's putting it lightly! What you did was horrifying!" Weiss stopped to take a breath and plan her next statement. "What you did will cause so much negativity around the world that the Grimm attacks will be overwhelming!" She glared at Max.

"Do you have any idea how many people you just killed!?" Before everyone could process this fact, Max spoke up.

"That's a fantastic segue into my next show! However, we still have a couple of minutes before that happens." Max rolled his eyes and looked around.

"Anyone else have something to chat about so we can kill some more time?"

"I have a quick update, sir. Rasputin has been repulsed, the Slaved Mind linked, and it is currently plotting the firing solutions."

"Excellent! Now, just remembered they existed, but where are JNR and Oscar?"

"They're moving towards the office right now."

Max looked around at the room and frowned. "Ew. It's already so crowded in here. Schatten, slow them down until the next broadcast or something." Several pieces moved to aid the others originally watching the four carry out the order as Max started pacing.

"Now, do I channel Emperor Lelouch's speech for the finale or something else? It's gotta be a strong finish because otherwise what's the point." Max paced for a few more moments before muttering, "Maybe a musical?" Before he could continue thinking, the computer guy spoke up.

"You're on in 30 seconds."

"Fuck. Gotta wing it."

Returning to his place in front of the drone, Max straightened his posture and put on a smile.

"Attention entire world! If you thought that the first show was the best thing you've ever seen, then you won't believe what's about to happen next!" Max pointed out the window.

"I am going to attempt to kill every single Grimm currently on the surface of Remnant! I will prioritize population protection above all else, so some Grimm may be spared if attacking them will hurt people." Max spread his arms with a flourish.

"So look up, Remnant! Watch as I do the impossible and kill more Grimm than anyone ever has or ever will!"

All around the world, people saw a repeat of the scene from Atlas, only magnitudes greater. In many places, the beams lit up the area so much that it seemed to be the brightest summer day. Within moments, the loudest sound ever heard on Remnant spread around the world as untold numbers of blasts hit their targets and annihilated the Grimm. The ground was torn asunder, the skies filled with flames, and the oceans seemed to boil as Gungnir did its work and killed every Grimm it could safely reach. Like in Atlas, this continued for several minutes. While the attack was winding down, Max's laughter was increasing in volume and mania.

"Behold! The greatest feat of destruction to ever grace the world!" He cackled as everyone returned their attention to him.

"Rejoice as the Grimm are reduced to the status of an endangered species! I know not how quickly they will reproduce on their own, but I know you should take this opportunity to revel in the unparalleled safety Remnant now exists in!" Max spun around, his cape fluttering around him as he did so.

"That's all I have for this show! Now, go out and party!" At that, the computer guy quickly slammed a button while Max slouched where he stood.

"Ugh! So exhausting!" He looked over to the computer guy.

"I'm gonna need a report on the notable damage after you disconnect and quarantine the Slaved Mind again." As he worked to carry out the orders, Max turned to his captive audience.

"What did you think? Pretty cool, right?"

"It was something." Harriet spoke up.

Max turned his nose up to her as he scoffed. "That's what all the haters say to visionaries and the greatest artists."

While Max and Harriet quarreled, Yang was fighting a losing battle against a growing headache. The information deluge, the lecturing, the irritating attitude, and the ramifications of what had just happened were all compounding in her head as stress and incredible pain. Trying to regain some semblance of control and return some rationality into this mess, she spoke up.

"We're all overwhelmed at this point, but at the very least, let's remember this." Max looked over to Yang and was met with a glare as she interrupted him and Harriet. She started with a strained whine for some sense of normality, but her tone shifted to become angrier as she spoke.

"You came out of nowhere and restrained all of us against our will, lectured us, broadcast a mass execution with glee, forced a life-altering change onto my partner, and then showed the entire world that you could kill anyone, everyone, with a snap of your fingers!"

Max waved her concerns off as nonchalantly as he had done most everything else tonight. "Oh, I can kill everyone much faster than that." He had a proud look on his face before he remembered the part about Blake. He rolled his eyes at the thought and continued.

"And I did say sorry about your partner."

Yang's eyes burned in rage as she stared into his eyes and screamed.

"Don't you have any empathy!?"

"Not much!" Max admitted.

Everyone's eyes widened a bit in shock at his brazen attitude, before they widened, even more, when they realized they were mainly shocked at themselves for being surprised at this point.

Max clapped his hands together and broke the silence. "Whelp, time for the third act then. I'm gonna go defeat Salem." Max placed his hand on the sword at his hip as he looked back towards the group. "You guys can stay here and clean up and whatnot, or you can follow me and watch me do some more crazy stuff. Your choice." Max finished with a smile.

Ruby's eyes darted to the door before glowering towards Max. "We'll watch your next show if you call off the things fighting our friends."

Max's head snapped to the door as if surprised by a sudden sound.

"Oh yeah! I forgot about them. Again." He stared off into space as he let out a small chuckle.

"Schatten Soldatin! Redeploy all but one unit to fight Salem! The last one will guard Neo until we can hand her off to the Atlesian authorities."

"Yes, milord." Came the raspy reply, immediately followed by a puff of black smoke where the strange being once stood.

With that taken care of, Max again placed his hand on his sword and lowered his stance. He took a breath and stared at a point in the air for a moment before slashing it with his sword. With a terrible tearing sound, a portal appeared where he cut, and a bitterly cold wind bellowed out of it. "Gah, fuck that's cold!" Max shrieked. After shivering for a moment, Max snapped his fingers and all the restraints disappeared.

"Time to fight Salem!"


"Alright, let's see what we're working-" Max stopped talking before he had even finished walking through the portal. A soldier dashed through the portal when Max stopped speaking, and the Remnan cohort followed suit immediately after. They emerged into a frigid wasteland, though that wasn't the first thing they all noticed. No, everyone's attention was firmly on the truly massive Grimm slowly decaying in front of them. They all stood in awe at the beast, many taking an unconscious step back and everyone's mouths were open in awe. Everyone was jerked back into reality when they heard a squee come from their left. Multiple heads snapped to the source of the noise almost simultaneously to see Max. He had his hands on his cheeks in excitement and was lightly bouncing up and down.

"What the fuck is that thing!?"

"That appears to be Richard." Everyone looked to their right to see a soldier holding a tablet, looking at it as he moved closer to the group.

"Awesome!"

Further gushing was cut short as the sound of fighting from the other side of the corpse reached their ears. Everyone's attention snapped to the sky above Richard, where most of the sound was making its way over the body and to their ears. Electrical whines, explosions, and otherworldly hums were only a few of the noises discernable from the fighting. Max dashed to the corpse and knelt behind it, the others quickly following suit. Slowly, they crept towards the head of the beast and closer to the fight. Nearly halfway past the jaw, they all stopped when a Schatten Soldat landed a little ways off in front of them. It conjured a large blade and grasped it between its hands. Before it could rejoin the fight, it noticed the group and turned his head to them.

Unsure of what else to do, Max waved.

A massive electrical attack hit the Soldat from the front, the resulting blast making everyone flinch.

At the head of the group, Max had the best view and was shocked to see the aftermath. He fell backward into one of the soldiers and swore.

"Goddamn!"

He tapped the soldier on the thigh to get his attention.

"Give me a STICK."

The soldier pulled out a small baton that seemed to elongate and thin out on its own, almost organically. It stopped growing when it reached a length of about the soldier's forearm. He handed it over to Max, who scooted forward and began poking the goopy remains.

"Oh, holy fuck. He is super dead."

He returned to the group and took a couple of calming breaths. "This is going to be significantly more dangerous than I thought."

Before anyone could reply or beg to run away, a Schatten Soldat formed next to the group and bowed to Max.

"Salem is unfortunately powerful. Or rather, magic in this world seems to be. Her curse, however, does not appear to be literal." The Soldat reported, looking up at his after finishing.

Max let out a sigh of relief. "Fuckin-A dude. Plan A is probably going to work!"

Turning around and addressed the Remnans in the group. "Do black holes exist in this universe? Or have you people even had the chance to study astronomy?"

Everyone kinda looked around at one another before Marrow spoke up. "I don't think anyone here ever really had an interest in astronomy."

Max rolled his eyes and grumbled. "I hear that way too often."

He then turned to the nearest soldier. "Does the Slaved Mind know where one is?"

"With 99% certainty."

Max nodded and clapped his hands together. "Alright, time for some magic bullshittery."

Max jumped out into the open and saw Salem's back. He smiled. Max held one hand out towards her while his other hand moved to rest on his sword. A moment later, a painfully loud otherworldly whine surprised the fighters as Salem gasped and looked around at a visual distortion that suddenly appeared around her. Catching sight of Max out of the corner of her eye, she turned to face him just as the whine ended and launched another electrical attack. It flew about a foot in front of her where it hit something unseen and exploded. Sneering, Salem then attempted to attack physically and punched the barrier. When that didn't do anything, she resigned herself to glaring and scowling at Max. After taking a calming breath, she spoke.

"And just who might you be?"

"I am Max, inter-dimensional traveler extraordinaire!"

Salem looked only vaguely amused at the answer. "Cute. Are these things yours?" She asked, waving her arm out to the surrounding Schatten Soldatin. "They're interesting."

"Yes, they're etheric beings that hail from a higher dimension. Or something. I keep forgetting the technical parts of the explanation." Max shook his head as he refocused on the task at hand.

"Back on topic, my victory is now assured!"

"Is it now? I am immortal. I cannot be killed. You and your pets, however…" She gestured to the stain that was once a Schatten Soldat.

"Yeah, that's why I put you in the box. I'm much squishier than them."

Salem smirks. "You are all so pathetic. You can never beat me, so you settle for delaying me. It's pointless. I will inevitably win. I will find a way out of this trap and I will continue to ravage this world long after you are all dead."

"I am curious though, how do you get these creatures to obey you? Certainly, they could destroy you without trouble."

"Oh, they certainly could. Which is exactly why they are not slaves to a lesser master. I already worry about too many of those. We simply have similar goals. Luckily for me, there is also respect keeping them from killing me as well."

"Oh? A mere mortal such as yourself?"

Max placed his fists on his hips and puffed his chest out. "I have conquered gods. Survived the unsurvivable. Killed immortals!"

Salem smiled a bit. "That's quite the oxymoron."

Max grinned for a moment as he replied. "Yes, I find it quite amusing."

Refocusing a glare at the witch, Max continued. "While you are immortal, you don't appear to be bound to Remnant. I will banish you to a prison which will contain you far longer than Remnant will ever exist."

Salem frowned at the proclamation. "You have no idea what I'm capable of, human."

"Nor you, I."

Max turned to the onlookers behind him and started explaining. "Okay, I'm reasonably sure this plan will keep Salem contained for at least 10 duodecillion years. Possibly up to 1 googol years if we're lucky."

"How long is that?" Ruby questioned, even going so far to raise her hand.

Max thought for a moment before shrugging. "Uh, however many zeros you're thinking of right now, go ahead and double that. Maybe triple it. Er, that might not be even close actually. I'll look it up." Glancing up, a small whirr came from the PAK on his back.

"Holy shit. Again. Every time I read that, it's crazy." Looking back to Ruby he answered.

"It's anywhere from 39 zeroes to 100. So, more than even some mathematicians can comprehend or visualize." He turned back to Salem and pointed at her.

"I'm going to trap you in a black hole. And unless the Slaved Mind tried to screw me over, it'll be one that should last until the Black Hole Era begins or until it ends. Either way, this world will be long gone by the time you get out. Not to mention the distances you'd have to traverse to get to Remnant."

One of the soldiers accompanying the group spoke up.

"Um, actually the spaghettification should kill her instantly, sir. Thus, invoking magic that we don't fully understand. Though, I suppose you've oversimplified things for brevity and drama again?"

Max pinched the bridge of his nose and grumbled, before rolling his eyes and sighing.

"Ugh, fine. Yes. She will technically be transported to a space inside of the black hole made of quantum bullshittery. The box will be surrounded by a magic-interference field, also made of quantum bullshittery, to stop teleportation. The box will be unable to escape into normal space because it is in a black hole. And since Salem will be in the box, she will be imprisoned in the black hole de-facto."

At hearing that, Salem started screeching in rage and began beating her fists against the invisible wall of her prison.

Unmoved by the display, Max placed one hand on his sword, snapped fingers on the other hand, and Salem disappeared with a terrible crack.

"Fuck! There's a hole in the universe now!" Almost immediately after the words reached everyone's ears, they all felt the effects of the damage.

Everyone was knocked back by an invisible wave of energy, and then immediately hit with what could only be described as a wall of nausea. Various groans and moans of displeasure stopped when everyone finally was able to look at the spot where Salem once stood. A pitch-black spheroid floated in the air, surrounded by what looked like heat distortions.

Max looked at it for a moment before speaking. "The alternative would have been a lethal dose of radiation. This will be a much easier fix."

Max turned to look at the group and spoke again. "Good news Blake, I'll be sticking around for a while! I'll figure out how to separate your soul and the Maiden powers."

"So she's gone? For good?" Weiss questioned.

Max nodded as he replied. "For all intents and purposes, yes." A moment later, he placed his hand on his chin in thought.

"Well, probably. I have no idea how much bull this world's magic can do."

As the Remnans absorbed this fact, Max turned back to the hole and started speaking in low tones with the soldiers and Schatten Soldatin. Everyone was in their own world for a few minutes until Ruby looked around and finally spoke up.

"Can we go back to Atlas? This has been… a hard day."

Max didn't even look at her as he waved in the general direction of the disintegrating whale. "Portal should still be open behind Richard."

They began making their way back to the portal, walking in two groups. The Ace Ops were moving ahead, led by General Ironwood, and were moving swiftly to get back to Atlas and insure everything and everyone remained as calm as possible. Team RWBY moved much slower, still confused, and now left with almost nothing to do. Ruby looked behind her to see Blake huddled under Yang's arm, alternating between staring at the ground and her hands. She then looked a little off to her side to see Weiss shambling along, just as tired and confused as Ruby. Ruby moved to walk closer to Weiss and took a few more steps until they stopped in front of the portal. Looking up, they saw one of the black-armored soldiers standing guard next to the portal. He nodded to the group and then looked back out over the frozen wasteland. Ruby looked to her team and grabbed Weiss's and Yang's hands before stepping through the portal.

'It'll take a little while for us to process this, but I'm sure we can all agree on one thing. This day was really crazy.'


A.N.- Started in January, finished in May. Like, literally the last day of May while watching the Crew Dragon dock with the ISS. Ouch. Anyway, done. I'll edit this or whatever over the next couple of days and post it probably by June 3rd. First thing I've written in 4 years. Read and Review, Bitte!

Auf Wiedersehen!

P.S.- I based these arguments on CGP Grey's "Rules for Rulers" video, WWZ's Home Front USA chapter- the Taos, New Mexico segment, and like 2 chapters of my political science textbook. I also pulled from knowledge gained from my fascination with WWII. I also need to direct you to Crumbling Cube's "Would Ironwood's Plan REALLY Work? (RWBY Thoughts)" video. We had incredibly similar trains of thought born from similar interests according to his video. He articulates my thoughts more clearly than I will ever be able to without considerable practice.