A/N: Miss me?

Shorter than I'd like, but hey, work calls.

Been a bit, but now September's here and so am I, as promised.

I said I'd be updating my RWBY stuff come September, and here we are.

Once more, we're sticking with the "Embers" rule for this story...and others. Meaning folks don't like this, it won't be continued, and will likely be put on hiatus. I'm busting my butt working two jobs with ever increasing hours so I barely have time to write; as such, I cannot afford to write something folks don't enjoy. So by all means, speak up! Your voice matters! Make yourself heard! As ever, reviews are the fuel that sustain me. Without them I cannot write a single word.

Simple as that.

Now for your questions, comments, and concerns. We'll keep it brief this time since its been a bit.

Q:...I'm getting Knight of Salem vibes from Salem in this. Someone's a fan~!

A: Ayup. As I've said time and again, Coeur's a bloody legend; he's the one that lit the RWBY flame in me way back. Wish I was half as talented as him.

Granted, this iteration of Salem is a touch more serious in some ways...and less so in others. This one's slightly less parody-esque.

Q: What's to stop a war from breaking out?

A: What indeed? With Salem's curse broken, the Grimm are unchained and lashing out. Mindless beasts are just as dangerous as clever ones. And we've Ozma lurking around in the background, still convinced she's a threat...

Q: Full reunion when?!

A: Its a coming.

Alright then.

I think I've kept you long enough.

As ever, I own no references, quotes, themes or memes. Not a wit or one~! They're merely tributes.

"If they think you a god...

...perhaps its time to start acting like one.

"You cannot be serious. No way that'll work...right?"

~?

Reasons to Rise (Interlude)

A ruler needed to rule properly.

God, king, headmaster, no matter what your role; one must lead, and lead properly. Half-assing it only led to disaster. Salem understood this crucial facet of leadership better than most; she was royalty herself, after all. During her time with Ozma, despite the awful ending of their relationship, she'd learned her much. Millennia of immortality had taught her more still. Trying to be a good leader wasn't simply necessary but essential. Good, as they said, was not good enough. One could not just strive. They should thrive.

Weak leaders begot weak leadership, and weak leadership, failure. She'd seen such things firsthand.

One must be firm with one's subordinates and subjects, but not so firm that those working under you feel the need to rebel. By the same logic you must be kind, yet no so naive as to be taken advantage of. Your people should love you, but they must also fear you. It required a delicate balance. One must focus on one task at a time. Too many cooks spoiled the broth and all that.

Was that the saying? Hmm. She wasn't sure. This era was strange.

Still, the fact remained that Naruto needed aid, and given her talents she was uniquely suited to render said aid. It was with this very mindset that she'd -reluctantly!- taken up the position as Headmistress of Beacon. None challenged her. And why not? The last headmaster had been outed with the Council during the now infamous Mountain Glenn scandal and the deputy left in their place was a weak sort. What where they going to do? Tell her no? Ha! See how well that went with the Grimm at their gates.

Hunters were needed now, more than ever. Without her to hold them in check; the Grimm had gone feral; indeed, she couldn't control them even if she wished to.

Which, wouldn't you know it, made the protection of a "God" all the more valuable. Just thinking of it made her smirk.

The months that followed had led to something of an boom in Vale, industrial and otherwise.

herself to helping Naruto and Maria rule the city of Vale.

New buildings were constructed, new laws introduced.

In the future, they would be called the Golden Reforms. Faunus would be fond of them, if nothing else.

Naruto had done more than break her curse; he'd given her a life again. He would've been well within his rights to kill her once her immortality was stripped away. Instead he'd taken responsibility. It amused her that many still thought of him as the God of Light -how that horned bastard must be seething!- and perhaps he was by their reckoning, but it served them well to maintain the facade. She would not allow any to harm him. She'd failed her first family once. She would not do so with the second. And if the Brother Gods had a problem with that, they could go bugger off.

"What does bugger off mean, mother?"

"Hweh?" Salem shot up in her chair with a squeak, realizing she'd spoken that last bit aloud. "Nothing! It means nothing at all!"

"Really?" Little Glynda peered over her desk with a quizzical expression. "If you say so...

Her heart kicked against her chest. Aiiiieeee! Precious child! Must protect!

Glynda tilted her head. "Mother?"

"Its nothing, sweeting." he patted her lap. "Come here. And tell me about your lessons."

Glynda scurried over and hopped on up. Salem nearly fainted on the spot.

She loved the children Naruto had taken in, truly she did, but Glynda had a place near and dear to her heart.

Although come to think of it, young Summer and Tai would make for a fine match. She couldn't understand why Naruto and Maria were so indefatigably twitchy about that. In her day, such arranged marriages were quite common, even among the common folk. And she did so love playing matchmaker. Summer was practically a princess, given her "father's" lofty status, but it was not unheard of such a princess to follow her heart, and she did seem quite fond of that boy...

They'd make beautiful children together someday. Wait. Would that make her a grandmother?

Tock would be a more difficult match, and Glynda worse still. She'd yet to show interest in anyone outside the family.

And speaking of family, a child of her and Naruto would be lovely indeed. Such would never replace her girls of course...but she liked the sound of that. Yes, she liked it very much.

"Mother?" a hand tugged at her sleeve. You're drooling."

"Ahem!" Salem coughed into her fist in a vain attempt to hide her now-near-atomic-blush.

At least Naruto wasn't here to see her in such a state. Thank dust for small mercies.

"Think naught of it, dear girl. Here, let me brush your hair...


(.0.0.0.)


Running an embassy was a proper pain in the ass, Maria found.

Chaos always seemed to crop up at the worst of times. Be it one thing or another, there was always a problem to deal with. Either someone had a bone to pick, supplies were being snatched by fools who thought they were going to starve, folks thought they were greater than one another, or they just wanted to purge the nonbelievers.

She loved it.

Kept her busy, you know? Her skills sharp. She wouldn't be getting rusty anytime soon.

Winchester and Valkyrie put in good work, and though they could only be in so many places at once, she would always count on them to help her crack heads. They did damn good work. Really, things had been shaping up quite nicely in these last six months. Salem had tight control of Beacon, Naruto both inspired and protected the people while she...

.

..

...well, she was called the Grimm Reaper for a reason. She wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty.

A paper fluttered of her desk, flying past silver eyes. She caught it.

Frowned now, as she read its contents.

"Oh. He'll want to see this...


(.0.0.0.)


"How are you still sane?"

"This again?!" Naruto felt heat sear up the back of his neck; it was all he could do to keep his eyes fixed forward. "You're teasing me, aren't yo."

Kakashi's shadow clone tittered a little, granting him smile behind his mask. "Maybe."

The garden was a fine place for a chat, he found; even if he wasn't used to such scenery. A fountain burbled pleasantly in the background as he lowered himself onto a stone bench, the trees above providing ample shade from searing summer sunlight. It also kept prying eyes away. Anyone foolish enough to spy on the two of them...well. Best not.

"I keep telling you," he waved a hand, "We're not really married. Things are...well, they're good between me and Maria."

"And Salem?"

He pinched the pd

His old sensei took the hint and claimed the bench opposite. "You say, that but I see the way they look at you. They're smitten. They'd probably say yes if you asked...

Naruto could feel his face burning now. "Worry about your own love life first."

...I suppose you're right."

Salem would be the sort to propose -she was certainly brash enough!- but she just as well might expect him to do the same. Maria...well. He liked things the way they were between them right now. Why complicate it all with rings and vows and things? Let people talk. He didn't care. Life here was, well, it was a bit crazy, but it was his life.

"So," he began apropos of nothing, "What're you up to?"

"I'd tell you," the doppelganger of his mentor shrugged, "But that would ruin the surprise."

Oh, dear. Kakashi's surprises were seldom pleasant. He'd been on the receiving end of a few-no, more than a few, more than he cared to count. If the wily old jonin was planning something now...well. He wasn't sure he wanted to be a part of it. By rights he should bow out here and now.

Curiosity nagged at him.

His eyes narrowed. "Good or bad?"

"Mostly good for you." Kakashi's visible eye creased in a smile. "Not so your enemies."

...he wasn't going to question that. He didn't need anymore Zealots running about after they'd caught the last batch. The city was heaving with people these days; many of which wanted to see him. Some even thought he could grant wishes. What was he, a damn genie or something? If only!

Still, the odd batch of crazies aside, he was looking forward to the impending visit from Atlas. Chatting with his old mentor was nice and all, but he had to be careful around this clone for fear of dispelling him. He'd already kept him supplied with chakra, just to make certain he wouldn't...vanish when he wasn't looking, ya know?

"Fine." he leaned back with a shrug. "Any chance you could maybe move that visit of yours up a bit earlier? The real you, I mean. This is nice and all, but...

The shadow clone made a show of clutching a hand to their heart and swooning. "You wound me, Naruto. Am I not enough for you?"

"You know what I meant. I'd rather see you in the flesh. You won't have to say hidden, then."

Vale couldn't know Kakashi was here. Not yet. It would ruin the plans they'd made.

Kakashi's shadow clone quirked a brow. "Its already been six months."

He flung up his arms! "And I don't think I'm gonna last another three!"

"Not keen on leaving, are we? I thought you of all people would be eager to go home."

His brow furrowed, stung by the gentle jab. "Where did that come from?"

"Its a fair question." Kakashi said. "You're happy here, aren't you?"

Naruto opened his mouth to refute that. Closed it.

He was, actually. No, more than that.

'I've gotten attached.'

The realization startled him. He didn't want to leave Vale anytime soon if he could help things; no, he feared what would happen to these people if he left them to their own devices. War. Famine. Disease. But he missed his friends. Kakashi was great and all, really he was, but he was worried about Sasuke and Sakura...

"They don't hate you, Naruto." leave it to the wily louse to read him like a book. "They're just busy."

He looked away with a sigh, feeling childish. "And you're not?"

"I am," the clone shrugged, "But I've always been good at multitasking and shadow clones. They aren't. And besides, Sakura isn't exactly...fit to travel at the moment."

Kurama perked up in the seal. "Oh?"

That drew a blink from Naruto.

"You haven't heard?" Kakashi barreled on, annihilating any doubt he might've had. "She's pregnant."

Naruto's jaw clicked open. He forced it shut with a supreme effort of will.

Kakashi saw it. "You didn't know." It wasn't a question.

"I do now. That's...nice, I guess?" His lips pursed into a thin line. "Sasuke and Sakura, huh? Good for them. Guess Sasuke wants to revive his clan...

Why did that sting a little? He shoved the ugly thought away into the darkest recesses of his mind. He shouldn't feel this way, he knew, but there was still a small part of him that was stung by it all. They hadn't even tried to find him, and he'd had his people searching all this time.

"Don't dwell on it." Hatake gave him a nudge. "They'll come around, sooner or later. And you've found happiness of your own, haven't you?"

Maria's startled squawk echoed from the castle. "Summer! Tock! Put that down!"

Giggling echoed it. "You'll never take us alive!"

The tiniest of smiles touched the corner of his mouth. "Yeah. Guess I did. Thanks."

Kakashi clapped him on the shoulder. "What're friends for?"

Companionable silence stretched between them. He knew it couldn't last. "You know, it might not be possible find our way back home in the first place.

...I'm in no hurry myself." Kakashi's clone looked away with a rueful laugh. "I've got two munchkins of my own to look after...and one trying to woo me," he added in a muttered aside. "I dread to imagine what Willow will be like once she's of age...

Naruto heard it and quirked a blond brow. "Oh? I'm sensing a story there."

Kakashi winced. "Really, its complicated."

His eyebrow kept right on climbing.

"It is! Seriously!"

Higher, now.

Kakashi blanched, realizing too late his intent. "...you're not going to let me weasel my way out of this are you?"

Naruto grinned. "Not a chance. You already know my story. I wanna hear what you've been up to.

He tapped the bench with one finger.

"Get to talking."

A/N: Bit of a happier chapter before we fling ourselves into the next arc.

Totally not a play on words there. Nope *whistles innocently*

There we go.

As ever, the Embers rule remains.

If folks don't like this story...well, that'll make me sad, and I'll not continue it. So by all means, speak up! Every bit of feedback matters here! Truly, it does! That's no joke! I really don't have much time to write these days and feedback is the wind beneath my wings. Silence is a lead weight that just drags me down.

As ever, reviews/feedback keep me writing them. Without them, I lose all hope, creativity and imagination.

Next time: Reasons to Rebel. Nope. Not ominous at all...

So...in the Immortal Words of Atlas...

...Review...Would You Kindly!

SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

PLOT DETAILS AHOY!

YE BE WARNED!

(POTENTIAL PREVIEWS. Be sure and vote for what you want to see~!)

Taiyang considered himself a lucky lad.

He'd gone for a servant to living in the lap of luxury. He got to fight and eat every day, and he was growing strong.

And besides, Summer was nice. Really nice. What more could a boy want?


Atlas arrived with no small amount of fanfare.

Battleships aside, they'd certainly brought no small amount of men.

Salem tutted. "And they call me arrogant...


The children stared one another down.

Summer tilted her head. "Who're you?"

Cinder stomped a little foot. "I asked you first!"

"Honesty, both of you!

"Behave!"

Willow took Cinder aside, while Glynda, Tock and Tai did the same to Summer.


Maria plonked down beside him. "Children are hell."

"This from the woman who chose to teach?"

One more word and I will BITE you."

"Promises, promises!"


Naruto slapped a hand to his forehead. "I can't take you anywhere nice."

Salem regarded the smoldering crater with a wince. "To be fair, I wasn't trying to do that. I meant to turn them into a dog."

"Why a dog?!"


Long live Ozma! Lord of Vacuo!


"Push, Sakura!"

"You're right on one account. It does make things more difficult...

"Ha! I knew it! Hear that, boys? He's scared!"

...to decide if any of you live."

"Traitor!"

"Traitor, you said?" he walked through the flames. "Me? The same as you?" A hand cupped his face, unscathed by fire. "Ha!" He threw his head back and cackled. "I can't stop laughing at your words! You're callin' me a traitor 'cuz I didn't live up to the ideal you set for me? That's hilarious!

"You intend to battle me, then?"

"Battle you, beat you, and spit on your grave."

STAY TUNED! R&R! =D