Sitting around the fire, Vernal nursed her bruised jaw. She'd been one of the lucky one, having only taken a hit early in the fight before Coco and Neptune both rushed at her—with scroll numbers, rather than weapons. From there it had been politely deflecting their interest… then sucking up some of the flattery (a girl has needs!) until a very badly bruised Shay limped over to let them know the fight was over and also to go fuck herself for blowing it off.

What Vernal hadn't expected was that Greenie would get kidnapped by yet another faction while the… six or so of them already fighting over him brawled it out. Raven just threw up her hands and declared she was done with this, but Vernal had stayed with the group, mainly because she did enjoy the possibility of getting to know Coco and Neptune a little better. And hey, maybe now that everyone had a truce while they all hunted for their missing kidnappee, maybe she could come along and make the pitch that Greenie consider, well, pursuing his talents at banditry?

But a look around the fire told Vernal that she would not be a popular person with this bunch. As one of the Branwen bandits, she had, technically, been part of the whole "kidnapping Jaune" thing, and while she was probably more popular than the Atlesians, who were actually somehow less liked than she was. Whatever was going on with that, she didn't know, but while she wasn't liked at the fire, she was tolerated, while they kept to themselves at their own fire, shooting dark looks at the redheaded warrior girl who, frankly, Vernal was planning on keeping her distance from.

"So!" she began, trying to break the ice, "Gree- er, Jaune, what's his deal with you guys? That you'd track him over..."

Her voice trailed off as everyone looked at her with a reminder that she was, until a few hours ago, their enemy. And the reason they had to track him across an entire continent. So, yeah, she was not a popular person here.

"I mean, heh," she gave a weak chuckle, "does he have a girlfriend or-"

"I am his girlfriend," cut in the white-haired girl, the one who'd been fighting the Atlesian commander, probably related from the looks of things. And she continued, her voice crisp and her gaze severe, "And I would like to remind all of you that he is my boyfriend and while I have been very lenient with your suggestions of infidelity, it stopped being funny after his second kidnapping."

"Awww, Weiss," Yang said, her obvious sympathy in her voice paired with her equally obvious resemblance to Raven causing the sharpest, most incongruous juxtaposition Vernal had ever seen, "I really didn't mean to cause you any trouble with it, just tryin' to rile you up."

"Thanks, Yang," she replied softly, "It's been-"

"I- I don't!" the rabbit Faunus suddenly cut in, "Y-you might be his girlfriend, b-but this is- this is bigger than any of us! This is sacred business, a-and I have just as much claim to Jaune as any girl does!"

"Mmmmm," the redheaded warrior murmured, resting her head on her hands and staring into the fire, "Our Lord will choose who he will to be his blessed consort. Though if he chooses me..." she gave a dreamy sigh.

Seeing the redhead go from "angel of vengeance" to "lovesick teenager" was also in the running for sharpest, most incongruous juxtaposition for Vernal.

And Yang, of course, had to pick that moment to show she was Raven's daughter. "Well, if everyone else isn't backing out, then I'm in too. No way in hell is Jaune getting a harem when I'm not getting jack. I mean, come on!"

"It is the will of our Queen that he have multiple girlfriends," the dark-haired woman cut in, the real scary one who seemed to be able to read into Vernal's deepest secrets when she looked at her, "and as our duty to her, both Emerald and I will avail ourselves to Jaune's desires."

Emerald, presumably the green haired girl, seemed quite a bit less on board with this revelation, though her eyes certainly traced how her leader gestured to show off her curves... made Vernal wonder if she might have a chance with her, too. But Emerald wasn't the only one with objections.

"Oh, bullshit!" Coco cried, "It was cute when it started, but I am putting my foot down if Jaune is getting every hot girl we meet-"

"Hey, I'm not-" Vernal tried to interrupt in vain.

"Neptune!" Coco barked, "Back me up here, there is no way you're cool with Jaune getting dibs on everybody!"

But Neptune just shrugged.

"Hey, game respects game," he said, "And if Jaune's cleaning up, just a lesson that I gotta up my game to keep up. And, hey! I've never met this Jaune guy, maybe he's my type, too. Anyone know if he likes guys?"

"Jaune's bi," the orange haired girl with the grenade launcher answered, leaving the entire campfire silent for a moment. "I mean, I'm pretty sure he is. He just gives me that 'Keep a close eye on your Renny!' vibe, you know?"

Everyone just stared at her for another moment. Vernal was pretty sure this girl was one of the cultists, so she'd probably know, but it was also another weird detail to learn about the guy she'd kidnapped. Apparently, he was some kind of pansexual seduction machine, which… not how Vernal would describe him. Though, from the catgirl's nosebleed, not everyone was opposed to this version of him.

"So!" the squeaky voiced redheaded who was Raven's niece-ish clapped her hands together, "Now that we've moved on from that conversation-"

"Ruby's in love with Jaune, too, isn't she?" Yang cut in.

Ruby gave her a lethal glare. "I am not in love with Jaune!" she said, stamping her foot. Which… made it less effective of a denial than she probably planned. "I'm in love with P- I mean, Em- I mean, Ja- I'M NOT IN LOVE WITH ANYONE! So let's move on to another topic, okay!"

"Let's remember," Weiss cut in, "That none of you know that Jaune actually likes you, much less that he's okay with this… polyamory nonsense. So keep that in..."

Laughter interrupted her. Gentle, musical laughter that Vernal saw was coming from the… the redheaded warrior.

"Oh Weiss," she giggled with a cheerfulness and optimism that still sounded so utterly alien to Vernal, who had seen this girl single-handedly demolish a special forces unit, "You don't have to worry. When we rescue Jaune… you'll see what I only just realized. You'll see the caliber of man Jaune truly is…"

Vernal was really starting to get the sense that Greenie's cult was really… was really a cult. A cult-cult, with the creepy rituals and the brainwashed cultists and the…

Boy, Raven would be jealous if she knew Greenie commanded this much loyalty from his followers. She'd flirted with going from bandit queen to "mad witch of the woods," and Vernal had had quite a few talks about turning the Branwen Tribe into a cult. They were halfway there, with the Grimm Skulls and the magic powers, but frankly, they figured their margins were too tight to pull off the costs of the transition. Maybe Vernal should be getting in on this game of hearts going on here, "convince" Greenie that he wanted to live the life of freedom from civilization and law, to be a bandit of the woods, bringing his cult charisma and obvious strategic intelligence… Raven would surely be proud of Vernal if she could pull that off!

"Perhaps we should be discussing our plans?" asked the insanely tall student, bringing Vernal back from her daydreams, "We do not have any trace of where Jaune was taken to and we need to consider our next move. I would think it wisest to head to Haven and, perhaps, see if we might gain assistance from the Academy in finding our target."

"Would they help us?" the rabbit Faunus nervously asked.

"Do they get a choice?" the blind kid cut in, "There's, like, 20 of us now, and with Pyrrha, plus everyone else who's completely crazy, in our group… I think we might be the dominant military force on the continent." He shrugged, "Sorry for bringing this fact to Nora's attention."

"Nothing to apologize for!" the girl who was presumably Nora cheered, "Please, Pyrrha, can we pleeeeeeeease invade Haven? I promise I won't ask to name it after me! We can name it after Jaune-Jaune!"

"I'm gonna have to… ask you not to do that?"

Everyone turned to look at the Atlesian Specialist they hadn't realized was sitting with them at the fire. He was the dog Faunus who had gotten sucker punched by the silver haired jerk kid, though what he was doing with them instead of with his team was anyone's guess. Not that the question was going to be left unanswered.

"What are you doing here?" Coco asked, "And also, if you've learned anything about this group, telling us what we can't do is gonna backfire, hard."

With an awkward shrug that did not seem as casual as he clearly intended, he replied, "Well, uh, the Ace-Ops are still invested in retrieving Jaune Arc from captivity and I'm—I'm Specialist Amin, by the way, but you can call me Marrow—but I'm the only one of them who, uh, is willing to spend time with you guys after the whole... incident, so..."

"If you think for one moment you can take him..." the redhead growled, shifting immediately from cheerful cultist to the terrifying warrior goddess Vernal had seen earlier that day.

But the Specialist threw out a hand to point at Vernal. "You- you're letting one of the bandits join you, is it really so weird that Atlas has an interest in this situation? And besides," he jabbed a thumb at the monkey Faunus, "this guy said I could tag along."

"No problem, bro," he replied while eating a banana, entirely oblivious to the discussion, "Anyways, you guys could totally invade Haven, cause we don't, y'know, really do Huntsman stuff in anything you'd call an organized way. Well, I mean, you might get Arslan to show up to stop you cause she's got that crush on Pyrrha-"

"It's a rivalry," the redhead, Pyrrha, cut in.

"Sure, sure," he shrugged, suggesting that it wasn't a rivalry in his eyes, "But the rest of Haven would be more... eh? To getting called up to stop an invading army? Like I said, we're kind of on our own with most things."

"Why we had to beat Sun's ass ourselves for desertion," Neptune chimed in.

Sun gave his teammate a look, "Not how I remember it, but, yeah, if we're invading Haven now, I'm down for it. There's this place that does these fried plantains you gotta check out, they're so good, seriously."

Ruby looked around the fire. "Ummmm… Sun, an invasion doesn't mean we visit Haven, it means we… conquer it. Y'know, the thing with the invading and tanks and occupying forces?"

"We so need a tank!" Nora cheered.

"Haven won't be much help," the cute catgirl chimed in, bringing them back to the main topic, "Sun is… correct that they're not exactly organized. The help we'd get would be more limited than just searching the surrounding area."

"We should go to Argus," Weiss cut in, "Atlas has a military base there, and that means my name will carry more weight. With SDC resources and the Atlesian military behind us-"

"I- I-" the Specialist sputtered, "You guys know that Atlesian military doesn't just answer to some-"

To no avail.

"-we'll be able to find Jaune, rescue him, and he can confirm that I am his girlfriend and while we've all had our fun joking about polyamory, the rest of you have not spent this entire journey fretting about your boyfriend's safety, so unless you want to tangle with the full might of the SDC, I recommend you back off!"

The group was quiet for a moment, letting her words sink in.

Which meant everyone heard Yang mutter, "I'm so gonna bang him."

There was always more work to do.

Their "Fellowship" had grown from twelve to… who knew how many would be tagging along now, between Cinder's group, Haven students, bandits, and Atlesian Specialists. And they were trying to trace a cold trail, without many leads other than whoever absconded with Jaune being good at covering their tracks. But no matter what the situation was, no matter the circumstances or the many, many dangers arrayed against them… Ren knew his duty. He would not fail his faith. He would not fail Jaune.

While the others were joking and quarreling, Ren was busy checking equipment, keeping inventory, and making plans. Doing the quiet, background work to ensure the success of a mission, that was where Ren's skills were best utilized.

He didn't begrudge them this—some might think he held a quiet resentment towards his peers having fun while he worked, but Ren understood that socializing was work too. Work Ren… wasn't the best at. Right now, Pyrrha had resolved the tension between their faction and Cinder, and now was making her feel like she had a place in Jaune's service. Nora was joking with Team RWBY, further disarming any of their anxieties towards Enlightenment. And they were both furthering their Goddess's command to assist Jaune's popularity with the opposite sex.

Speaking of, one "open question" in that department was heading his way right now.

"So, um," Emerald began, her approach uncertain, "I… figured I should stop by and, you know, share notes and..." she sighed, "Okay, I'm here because everyone at the campfire are being insufferable idiots and so I figured it'd be better to help out and… make sure things are cool between you guys and us after the whole, y'know..."

Ren nodded. That was the question, wasn't it? Not just calming tensions and working better together, were they, the two teams of Salem's will, not just cooperating, but actually good with each other? They had been enemies at the start of the melee, and Cinder's words against Tyrian still set off a pulse of anger in Ren's core, but Pyrrha was his commanding officer in this, and she had made the point that words said rashly in frustration should not be unforgivable, and that they had been tasked, all of them, to help Jaune succeed, a task Cinder took to with a newfound zeal.

"We're good," he said, knowing that even if he didn't feel it yet, it was the truth, "Though I suppose I should ask… are we good? With your group?"

Emerald paused. "Mercury's… less than enthused," she admitted "after Pyrrha kneed him the balls like that, but it's not like any of us have a say with what Cinder wants."

There was an unmistakable trace of bitterness in her voice. Ren could assume she probably didn't want to talk about it, and it would be easier for him to let it lie, but…

He was a man of the cloth, wasn't he?

"You seem troubled," he said, "Would you like to talk about it?"

A flash of anger crossed Emerald's face, but it broke as soon as it came, her shoulders slumping. "I'm not… It's not that I want to fight you guys, but… this sucks."

Ren's eyes went a bit wider to hear it. Emerald was a competent and level headed assistant to Cinder, more so, she clearly had feelings for her leader, so to hear her speaking her frustrations so freely was a surprise. But also a sign that there was some long-simmering issues here.

"Is this about the-"

"It's about a lot of things!" she cut him off, "I mean, it's kind of how all our plans just… just get jerked around all the time, and now… now Cinder's just letting it happen and now she's in love with Jaune, too? Out of nowhere? And I have to start dating him because..." she threw up her hands, "We used to have a plan! We used to be on top of things, and now, some guy shows up and everything's ruined and I thought I fixed things and, no, it's all even worse somehow because of some guy!"

She kicked the ground. "Sorry… I know he's your friend and… and more than that, but it's just kind of frustrating, you know? I'd never even heard of this guy and now Cinder's… just giving me to him like I don't..."

Like I don't matter to her.

Ren put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Hey. Things are… definitely weird right now, but I think you'll see stuff start to settle down from, you know, the fight. And once we find Jaune… I think a lot of people have been making some decisions and assumptions in his absence that aren't really grounded. And if we- once we get him back, he's going to help. A lot."

Emerald didn't look convinced.

"I don't know Jaune as well as I would like, but I have gotten to know him pretty well," he said.

That wasn't an idle boast. Between studying, sharing meals, meditating together, and just hanging out, Ren had spent a lot of time with Jaune. He'd heard his quiet fears and insecurities and shared his perspective in return. And through it all, he had found Jaune to be a man of many admirable qualities, even before considering that he was beloved by the Goddess, her Chosen upon this fallen world.

"And one thing I would remind our, perhaps, overeager friends is that no one has spoken to Jaune about these things. Particularly when it comes to his, ahem, love life. He's quite taken with Ms. Schnee and has never expressed anything but loyalty and affection for her. Even when I've encouraged him to consider it, I believe he knows who he wants."

Emerald rubbed her arm. "I mean, he is a guy..."

"But not an animal," Ren said with a nod, "I've found that Jaune is someone who cares deeply about his friends' well being and helping them achieve what they want in their lives. This… harem discussion… I think you'll find that Jaune's response to learning about it is not going to go in the direction his paramours think it will. And he most certainly not the kind of man to make you do anything that makes you unhappy. But once he's back... things will calm down, we'll talk some stuff out, and then, all of us who believe in Salem, we can work together to make sure all our goals are achieved. And that includes you too, Emerald—Jaune thinks of you as a friend, and I've never seen him let his friends down."

A smile, faint, but there, crossed Emerald's face. "Thanks, Ren."

Though Ren couldn't resist making use of his spiritual role as well,. "And as it is written in the Second Book of Blood," he said in his most sagacious tone, "'Let the source of division in the community be sought with patience and understanding, for neglect and shame only enable the division to grow, and only wisdom and compassion for your brother or sister in Salem can mend those rifts.' So as it is written… talk to Cinder. I think she'd also be more reasonable than you think, and just needs a reminder that her newfound enthusiasm isn't everyone's newfound enthusiasm."

"Thanks, pastor," she said with a teasing punch in the arm. "But really, that did help… maybe I should check out one of your services some time?"

Ren smiled. "I don't know if Mercury told you, but he actually attended one, and..." he noticed how Emerald paled at that. "Ah, yes, it was… the Feast of the Martyred Believers, so my oratory might have been a little… passionate."

She nodded, probably not a convert. But he could win her over yet.

"Anyways," she said, "I'll go talk to Cinder. I appreciate this, really."

With that, they parted, but as Emerald disappeared into the darkness, Ren could see someone else who was looking to speak with him.

Uncle Tyrian.

With Emerald gone, he crept forward, rubbing his arm and clearly uncertain what to say, and not at all sure how to start.

"That was… wow, that was some good pastoral advice!" he ventured.

"I learned from the best," Ren said in reply.

"That's… generous," he laughed, "I mostly do the whole, uh, 'screaming Salem's glory' approach to proselytizing."

"We all worship in our own ways."

Tyrian shook his head. "How did I ever raise two kids like you..." he sighed, looking away for a moment, then looking back, swallowing before he spoke.

"Ren..." he began, "I know that you and I aren't always… speaking the same language. And, yeah, it turns out, the parenting book I was using got banned after the author was caught doing illegal Grimm research. And ever since you turned ten, you were always the one warning me what things were impossible and which berries were poisonous…" he fidgeted as he spoke, clearly losing his direction.

Ren gave him a gentle smile. "You've always been… been a good father to us."

It was the truth. A truth he'd uttered in the heat of the moment, but it was the truth. Tyrian was his father, the man who'd raised him, cared for him, taught him the ways of Salemism… and gave him and Nora a home. A family.

It was strange to see Tyrian blush, but it was undeniable on his face. "You… you were really great kids. Really great. And… and I want you to know, Ren, for whatever I might not have been as the father you deserved… I have always been proud of you. Always."

Ren felt the sting of tears in his eyes. He kept his emotions close to his sleeve, but this… after their failure to protect Jaune, their failure to rescue him, he… he really needed this.

And Tyrian kept speaking, his voice hoarse with emotion, "When you called me your father, to Cinder, I… I was so happy to hear that you thought of me like that. You and Nora, you two are my greatest accomplishment, my pride and joy, and I- I tell Salem about you." Ren's breath caught in his throat. To- the Goddess knew of them? "And she… she's proud of you, of both of you. And when we get Jaune back, I'll be making sure that you two-"

Ren wasn't able to contain himself. He threw his arms around his foster father and held him tight. Tyrian, always unsure with physical affection, startled a bit, but after a moment, he hugged Ren back. He and Tyrian and Nora made a strange family. One not recognized by the law of any Kingdom, but in the eyes of their Goddess… they had made one that was theirs. And that was perfect for them.

There was a secret room in the Castle of Darkness where Salem wound her way to whenever she was in a mood like this. There were many secret rooms in this dark and forgotten place, rooms that stored great tomes of forgotten history, lost arts of forbidden magics, and various artifacts that, while not as great as the Relics, contained tremendous magical power that many would seek, if they were not held in the most foreboding place in all of Remnant.

But there was one room, an archive of precious secrets that Salem allowed none but herself to know of. An archive she went to now, as her mind was rocked by turmoil and uncertainty, whose shelves contained a great book, one of many volumes, that carried Salem's most hidden secrets.

Opening it, she looked upon its pages and saw the photographs placed within. A sea of smiling blonde faces, Arc faces, her family, and as she turned through the pages, she saw all of them in so many different ways. She saw the family photos, wedding photos, the brood of children and the proud parents, the graduations and birthday parties, the kids dressed up for their first camping trip or bundled up for the Valean snowfall. Precious, each and every one of them, just as every Arc was precious to her.

Particularly when she remembered them small. These volumes contained baby photos of every Arc born after the invention of the camera, and Salem needed baby photos right now. She was filled with worry for Jaune, and she needed something to take her mind off her fears, to steady her nerves, and to keep her fears in check. Baby photos were the best way to achieve it.

Little Adrian, the newest Arc… oh, how thrilled she was when she learned that Terra was pregnant! And while the boy might not be an Arc by blood, Salem knew an Arc at heart when she saw one, and their child was one of hers. Looking through all the photos she had (and lamenting that she had so few of herself with the child… she never understood why children always wanted to move so far from home, lured to the big cities where her arrival was harder to conceal), Salem felt the warmth of family. It was the light in the long, endless darkness of time, her constant touchstone to life and the living.

If it wasn't for her family, Salem would have succumbed to nihilism long ago, finding no joy or purpose in her endless existence. What was the joy in conquering a world you did not care for, after all? They kept her life purposeful, gave her the love and support she needed when she felt drained by the endless war she waged against Ozma.

And that thought brought her fear back to the fore… she had a child now in Ozma's clutches. And not just any child. Jaune. Dearest of all her nephews and nieces, far from home and surrounded by her greatest enemies. That sudden worry for him pulsed in her core, a fear if… if he was safe. Not just from her enemies, but taking such a dangerous career, and she had to assume the cafeteria food was nothing like the Arc family cuisine her darling nephew had been raised on.

A wild urge to rush to Beacon came to her, conjuring visions of flying in on a great Grimm eagle or serpent or something newer and crazier than anything she'd ever summoned before! Something huge and imposing, blacking out the sky! But… that would be an invasion of Vale, and would ruin her nephew's school experience.

With a sigh, she closed the book and placed it back on the shelf. But before she parted, she turned back to the cabinet, to the shelf where she archived all her correspondence with the Arcs. She'd insisted on literacy in her family, even from a time when it was uncommon for all but scholars, because she needed these precious relics, magically preserved, of their past. She remembered each and every one of them through the generations, her beloved family that she watched over from a distance. She saw a parchment from Sir Cirsium Arc, the Knight Paramount, who stood for honor in a world bereft of it. His refusal to submit to King Osman, even against overwhelming odds, had made him a villain in history, but forever a hero in Salem's heart, and she remembered this letter, where he wrote to ask for her advice before he refused that wicked incarnation of Ozma. Or this, a ditty composed by little Nymphalidae Arc, gone too soon, the sweet girl who sang so beautifully in the meadows and sun-dappled groves of Vale. A silly song about the springtime, but looking upon it, Salem could remember her voice so clearly, and the pain she felt when she learned of her dear niece's passing.

Salem personally pulled every bone from the body of the bandit who had shot her before she allowed him to die.

Another dark thought, an inescapable return to the worry that clung to her like a winter's cloak. But she turned to this shelf for a reason, to find a more modern memento. A letter from little Jaune, written while he was at summer camp. The letters curled and looped around the page, no guidelines to keep them straight and too much enthusiasm to corral them. He was, her dear little nephew, learning so much about knots and swimming and camping and… and… and he wrote to her to say thank you. Because out in the woods, he remembered all the stories she had told him of his illustrious ancestors, and he felt, as he looked down from the peaks he was climbing, comparably small for Sanus, little more than an oversized hill really, but enormous to one so young, he felt that he was looking down and seeing the challenge of the man he could grow to be.

Salem clutched the letter to her breast. He did not know, none would ever know, why he was her favorite among all the many, many nieces and nephews she had had, but he was her sweet, darling boy. He was growing up to be exactly that man she hoped, a man with a kind and righteous heart, balancing both sides as he became the very image of a true Arc Knight.

And quite the ladykiller, too!

That was a happier thought. Cinder's last report had made it clear that Salem would soon have a new member of the family to meet. She was quite intrigued by the Schnee girl, a woman of wealth and sophistication. And the Belladonna girl, though not on the same economic level, was also a woman with family connections to power. Salem had thought her nephew would seek out a gentler girl, one more suited for a quiet, pastoral life raising their many children, but she had to remind herself—children always grew in their own direction. And if her nephew preferred the company of powerful women, well, he'd certainly grown up around headstrong women, herself included!

Ah, but she still had a quiet fantasy that he'd meet a nice girl at Beacon, someone who would appreciate his cooking. But he was young, and he could surely handle more than just two wives!

Putting the letter back, Salem found her mood rejuvenated. Yes, her nephew was in a dangerous place, but he also had protection, not only with her agents there, but also, in his own talents and abilities. She could rest easy and, instead, focus on acquiring the power of the Maidens and the Relics. Cinder would appreciate that, and she had snapped at the girl, perhaps a little more forcefully than intended. Yes she could just focus on… on her regular work and not... fret about Jaune. In Ozma's clutches, surrounded by cruel and dangerous-

"HAZEL!" she yelled as she entered the throne room, her voice booming loud enough to shatter the glass of the hall, "HAZEL GET IN HERE RIGHT NOW!"

It turned out he was already there, staggering from the volume of her shout. "M-my Queen," he groaned, probably slightly deafened, "What is it you need?"

"Jaune!" she snapped, "I wish for an immediate situation report. Is he safe? You trained his bodyguard, is she up for the task? Do I need to invade Vale and turn Beacon to rubble for-"

"I can assure you," Hazel said, his palms raised, "that Pyrrha, young though she is, is the finest warrior I have ever met, and a devoted servant to your cause. She would not let your nephew down, even at the cost of her life."

Salem stared at him, looking for any sign of lying on his face. But she saw none, and soon, she realized that she was doing exactly what she was trying not to do and falling prey to her paranoia. But it was heartening to hear Hazel's confidence in his protege. He was not a man who gave praise lightly, and his confidence in her ability told Salem that she would not fail. It was also a heartening moment to hear him speak of her. For all his appearances of propriety and quietude, Hazel could be as vain as Tyrian when it came to his student.

Taking a deep breath, Salem magically repaired the windows and reminded herself that she needed to calm down and let things happen. It was so much easier with Arcs who were content to stay at home—Beryl and Chrysanthemum never gave her a quarter of the stress Jaune and Saphron did! Oh, every report she got from Mistral was another heart attack as-

"Oh… and before I forget," she said, her memory jogged, "what was it that fool Lionheart wanted to discuss that was apparently so urgent he had to call me?"

Hazel merely shook his head. "Nothing you need bother yourself with. You know how he is, always jumping at rumor and shadows… though, as I have your attention," Salem raised an eyebrow to hear Hazel being so forward, "I would like to ask for your approval on a matter… You see, I know Pyrrha rather well, as a teacher knows a student, and I know that she would-"

"I do not have time for indirectness, Hazel," Salem interrupted. There was no need to be rude, but she was still a bit… jumpy when it came to things.

"I ask for your blessing that she," he passed her a photograph of a redheaded athlete in warrior's garb, "might court your nephew."

At once, Salem's eyes narrowed, scrutinizing this "Pyrrha's" appearance. She was no doubt quite beautiful, but a beautiful face could hide a deceitful heart. And yet, her features conveyed a soft humility and gentleness that Salem found quite appealing for her nephew. And... she was one of her cultists, and though Salem never really paid attention to what her cult believed of her, she would think most highly of Jaune for being of Salem's own blood. And the girl was already Jaune's bodyguard, and imagining the devotion this girl must feel towards her charge… ohhh, Salem could almost swoon at how romantic it was! Yes, this Pyrrha did indeed have Salem's approval, and she couldn't wait for Jaune to introduce his girlfriends to her… ideally, with a hard date for their nuptials!

"I… she has told me," Hazel said, causing Salem to look up in curiosity, "that she rather enjoys your nephew's cooking, which, as I understand-"

A wide grin came to Salem's face. "Yes," she said, hearing the joyful clang of wedding bells, "Yes, she has my enthusiastic blessing."

Thanks to Renarde for feedback on this chapter!

A chapter with a lot of discussion on harems and Ren brings up the important question: has anyone actually listened to what Jaune has to say about his interests? But we're also seeing more of the Salemist family, whether it's Tyrian's genuine love for his adopted children or Salem with the Arcs, where her love can mean terrifying vengeance. Ah, well, we'll see more of that with the next chapter, where Jaune finally reunites with his group, possibly more married than before, and, thanks to the many amazing answers I got for Willow/Tyrian shipnames, I will find a way to bring the group to Mantle. Til next time!