Hunting or Bust: The Journey Continues

Dust 16: The Triumph

Another April, and we're closing out the Volume too! Man…kinda bittersweet.

I mean I look forward to the future but…damn.

((((((((Hunting))))))))

It was hard for anyone present to understand what they just saw.

One moment, Adam cackling and howling with his victory, a fleet of White Fang ships coming to support him in his greatest hour.

Then they vanished, a young man standing right beside Adam and knocking him on his ass with a well-placed punch.

Blake and many others were shocked to see Sasuke standing there after appearing out of thin air. Tenten's breath hitched and she nearly cried seeing her partner again after so long.

With a snarl, Adam rubbed his chin and stood up, "You have a lot of nerve coming to face us, Sasuke Uchiha."

"Well, it wasn't that hard to figure out your next move." Sasuke said, "You're a sadistic bastard who revels in victory and causing others pain. Pretty clear you were going to aim at this school next."

"And you thought you'd show up here and take a stand? Ahahaha!" A boisterous, mocking laugh tore from Adam's throat as he shook his head, "Look around you, Uchiha. We might be fighting, but I doubt there's anyone here who would stand by your side. You're a blight on this world. A mistake in the poisoned bloodline that's overstayed its welcome. You've inherited more hatred, blood, and enemies than anyone else in this world." Adam raised his blade at Sasuke, "You might call me a bastard, but I'd be considered a hero erasing you from this world."

Blake looked at Sasuke's unwavering back, waiting for some response from her friend. All he did was give a slight nod, "I suppose you're right. I can hardly refute just what it is the Uchiha have been a part of for so many years. Which makes it all the more impressive, Taurus."

"What does?"

"I've got generations of bad blood to deal with. But you?" Sasuke glared at the masked man, "You've made all these enemies yourself."

A rush of wind blew through the courtyard of the school. Adam looked back half-expecting a fleet of Airships to finally arrive with his reinforcements. But instead, he saw something that made the fires of victory and assurance in his chest wither.

On one side, two glowing figures covered in Aura stood in front of a huge group of people. One was covered in green Aura and floating off the ground while the other was covered in purple and had knives sticking out from his elbows and knees. Between them was another black-haired man with eyes that matched the red of Sasuke's.

A cry of distress alerted Adam to the other side of the courtyard. He turned and saw some of his men getting beaten back by a second approaching horde. Several people dressed in similar garments and with familiar characteristics stood in front of more than a dozen armed warriors.

"Y-You," Adam glared at Sasuke, "What did you-"

"ADAM!" The bull Faunus froze in shock before whipping around to the source of the yell. Standing by the blue Aura-clad body of Yugito Nii was Sienna Khan, her chained weapon in hand as she glared at her former subordinate with vicious intent, "I warned you about being too reckless that you make mistakes. I guess I've still got to teach you a few lessons."

"Sienna? How-"

"ATTENTION, MASKED ASSHOLES!" From the top of one of the buildings, a booming voice carried over that Blake, Tenten, and Sun immediately recognized. People looked up and saw a man standing on the edge of a building looking down at everyone, "AS YOU CAN SEE YOU ARE SURROUNDED, OUTNUMBERED, AND OUTCLASSED! DROP YOUR WEAPONS OR WE WILL BE FORCED TO KICK YOUR ASSES!"

Kiba drew his tonfa, spun them in his hands before cracking them together, "So please, give us a reason to fight."

"I have to hand it to you, Taurus, you did the impossible." Sasuke said, "You made it so that even Faunus, strangers, and former enemies of mine would be willing to work with me here. All to stop you and your comrades' madness. I guess you did cause that revolution after-"

Adam blurred forward, drawing his sword and taking a swing at Sasuke's unguarded neck while he was looking away. As the red blade drew closer, Sasuke started to lean down before it could cleave his head off. And a shadow rushed in over his back to smack Adam's sword away.

Blake vaulted over Sasuke's back and parried Adam's sword. The Uchiha quickly changed his stance, drawing his katana and passing by Blake's side to slash at Adam. The bull Faunus suddenly found himself facing an onslaught of attacks as Blake and Sasuke acted in perfect tandem to push him back. Each time one reeled back before an attack, the other would step in and strike at Adam. The masked terrorist found himself assailed and unable to retaliate before he jumped back to gain some distance.

As the new army of people joined the Menagerie forces to subdue the White Fang, Blake and Sasuke stood side-by-side against Adam. She spared her friend a look and smiled, "Glad to see you again."

"You too. Hey, what name did Ruby give us for our attack again?"

She turned to Adam and raised her blades as Sasuke's eyes turned red…

"Moon's Shadow."

They blurred forward as Adam roared and charged to meet them head-on.

((((((((Hunting))))))))

"AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!"

"NARUTO!"

The shriek of pain from Naruto and Oscar's panicked yell drew everyone's attention. They watched where Naruto was being bearhugged and crushed against Hazel's gigantic frame as he thrashed and struggled in his hold.

"NO!"

"STOP IT-"

Before anyone could rush over and assist him, their enemies stood in their way. Dosu released an ultrasonic wave and nearly deafened Ren and Nora after they had just recovered from Hazel's earlier outburst. The Glyph Weiss was forming was destroyed by Vernal before it could solidify while Mercury kicked Yang in the ribs when she tried to rush over. Qrow wanted to help but his blade was crossed with Raven's and he knew the moment he let away she'd make a move. And finally, Ruby and Jaune picked themselves up and wanted to run over but with Emerald catching them in her sights and Cinder raising a fence of fire in front of them there was no easy way forward.

So Oscar was on his own watching Naruto get squeezed to death in front of him. He lunged forward with a thrust, "Let him go!" But the moment his cane came into contact with Hazel's knee, a shock ran through his weapon and up his arm, "AH!"

"You try to touch me and you'll just be shocked!" The furious giant yelled, spittle flying off his lips as the lightning Dust ran through his veins. He paid no mind to the screaming blond trying to slip out of his grasp, "This ends one of two ways; either you drop your weapon and accept your punishment or there's another dead student on your conscience!"

"I-I-"

"O-Oscar!" The farm boy flinched when Naruto screamed his name amid his painful hollering. The blond cried out, his hand coated in Free Reign as he started punching Hazel's face to little effect, "D-Don't listen to - AH - DON'T DO IT! DON'T GIVE THIS FUCK WHAT HE WANTS!" Naruto slammed his hands into Hazel's face, squeezing and trying to poke his eyes out as the pain grew worse, "H-HE'LL JUST KILL YOU AND THEN THE REST OF US!"

Hazel lifted his head so Naruto's thumbs couldn't reach his eyes, "I'm not like Ozpin. I won't drag anyone else into this after I'm done with him."

"O-Oh yeah?" Naruto's teeth chattered as he weathered the electric shock through his body. His eyes twitched as he glared directly into Hazel's eyes, "I-I bet if your sister were still a-alive, s-she'd spit in your face. Disgusted by - by the monster you've become-"

"WRRAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!"

"AAAAAHHHHHH!" The scream of pain that shot out from Naruto grew more and more bone-chilling as Hazel's grip intensified. The blond Faunus couldn't handle the crushing force anymore and went limp in Hazel's arms.

"N-NARUTO!" Oscar cried out with tears filling his eyes.

Hazel stopped squeezing, catching his breath as his blind rage started to subside. He looked down at the blond in his grasp pitiably, a conflicted expression crossing his face for a moment before shaking his head. His eyes turned down to Oscar, "You still refuse to come out? And you wonder why I'm coming after you." He looked back down at Naruto, "Another casualty brought about by your failure to act. His blood is on both our hands-"

Before Hazel could finish speaking, Naruto's hands snapped up and grabbed the Dust protruding from his shoulders. The bearded giant looked down in shock as the blond seemed to snap back to life, eyes suddenly filled with vigor as lightning started to arch off the crystals he was trying to tear out of Hazel's arms. The two men struggled and gritted their teeth before an explosion of electricity knocked them apart.

Hazel hit the ground but quickly picked himself up. He looked down at his shoulders and saw the Dust crystals had broken off leaving nothing but the dull edges still lodged in his muscles. He snarled as he saw the whiskered Faunus pick himself up.

Electricity crackled up his arms, his Aura taking on the properties of the Dust until it looked like he was wearing gauntlets of lightning. Naruto gritted his teeth as the shocks of electricity caused jitters to run through his body. He panted heavily and glared at Hazel before he stood back up, arcs of lightning jumping off his arms.

"Naruto?" Oscar took a breath of relief as he saw his friend back on his feet, "I-I'm so glad-"

"Stay back!"

Oscar flinched back at the strained tone Naruto used, "What's wrong?"

"Oscar, look."

With Ozpin's guidance, Oscar spotted a line of Aura starting to stretch up from the Free Reign coating his legs. It ran up his hips and along his ribs, climbing higher and higher up his body. Did he even realize he was doing it? The Aura stretched and connected with the lightning covering his arms-

Oscar saw his friend get consumed by a flash of yellow before he disappeared.

Hazel's head flew back, a knee striking him under the chin as Naruto went sailing past and skidding along the ground. The blond gasped for air, trying to calm down after suddenly bursting forward like a missile and hitting Hazel along the way. His eyes narrowed on the giant and he launched himself again.

A yellow blur slammed into Hazel's shoulder and sent him spinning as Naruto impacted the wall and cratered it. He pulled himself out with a roar, flashing forward and hitting Hazel along the way as he went even further along until he ran into someone else.

Nora and Ren covered their ears against Dosu's auditory assault as the bandaged assassin prepared to land the finishing blows on them. He walked in closer before a yellow blur tackled him straight into the wall. A pained gasp slipped out of Dosu in shock before he suddenly felt his arm get pinned to his side as his gauntlet was shattered, "W-Wha-"

"I'm sick of that noise."

When Dosu looked up it was in time to see a dozen punches pummel his face into the plastering faster than he could blink. The blows landed again and again before his body flickered with light as his Aura reached its breaking point. With one last devastating punch, Dosu's eyes rolled back in his head and he toppled over unconscious by Naruto's feet. The whiskered man looked at the assassin with disdain, his whole body shaking and jittery with shocks before he turned around. His eyes narrowed with contempt before he moved.

Weiss yelped when a blur rushed past and knocked Vernal off her feet. She and Yang looked over as the blond blitzed again and nicked Mercury along the way. In a blinding rush he charged at Raven, the bandit leader just barely raising her katana to ward off his speedy strike. Emerald screamed as she was blown back and Cinder unleashed a wave of fire that forced him to jump over her attack. With his mind running rampant, Naruto turned his attention to the greatest threat and charged forward.

Hazel was sent stumbling as the speedy fox landed a glancing blow when he passed by. And another. And another. The giant bruiser was knocked around as Naruto relentlessly assaulted him from each angle. He charged, tackled, collided, and repeated the process all in the span of a few seconds. A furious scream echoed through the hall as Naruto aimed to break down the giant man once and for all-

Only for Hazel's massive hand to grab him by the chest and slam him into the ground hard enough to crack it. As Naruto gagged and tried to catch his breath, a shadow was cast over him as Hazel looked down, "You're fast, but moving in a straight line doesn't make it that hard to predict where you'll go next." Wiping his chin he looked down at the glaring blond, "Do yourself a favor, kid, and stay down. If you get in my way-"

A strike to the chin sent Hazel reeling, stepping back and clutching his jaw before he looked down at his assailant. He saw Oscar with his cane held up defensively, but the way he looked and carried himself was different from the cowering boy a moment ago. Hazel immediately realized, "You!"

"That's enough, Hazel," Ozpin spoke sternly with Oscar's voice, taking a stance with his cane. Naruto groaned as he slowly picked up himself and stood up by Ozpin's side, "I won't let you hurt my students any further."

"Oh, now you decide to stand in their defense?" He growled as he stomped forward only to be blindsided by a grenade engulfing him in a pink explosion. He stumbled back from the surprise attack as Nora continued to lay down a surprising fire while Ren rushed over and rapidly shot at the giant. The partners rushed over to join the fight before Ozpin held out his cane and ordered them to stop. They watched the cloud of pink smoke and waited for some kind of reaction from the giant.

They saw something flickering through the smoke-

"MOVE!" Ozpin yelled as they all jumped aside to avoid the giant flaming boulder that came flying through the smoke. As it ricocheted off the ground and shattered part of the wall, Ozpin turned and raised his weapon, "He would never go down that easily."

The ground shook as Hazel stomped out of the smoke, fire, and rock Dust crystals shoved into his arms as their power rushed through his body. He clenched his fists, ignited them in fire, and with a roar charged forward to attack the others.

Cinder spared a look over at the hulking berserker and watched his rampage escalate. She shrugged, "Well, as good a chance as any." She created a dozen obsidian weapons and launched them at Jaune and Ruby. As he guarded against the flying projectiles, she used her Semblance to weave through them and reach Cinder on the other side. But with a glow of her eyes, Cinder made the weapons burn and explode in a series of violent eruptions. As the two were engulfed in the fire, Cinder glared at Emerald, "Hold them all back for me." The thief gave a sharp nod before Cinder started walking, "Leo! Get over here now!" The frightened headmaster poked his head out of his hiding spot and followed her, "Raven! We're moving!"

"Sorry, Qrow," Raven pushed her brother back before turning and swinging her sheath into his ribs. Qrow clutched his side and Raven landed a mule kick into his sternum to send him flying, "Vernal! Come!" They joined Cinder's side in front of the giant statue as Leo grabbed his watch and started fiddling with the mechanism.

"No!"

"Stop them!"

"We won't let you!"

Weiss, Yang, and Ruby immediately moved to cut them off. Cinder scoffed and yelled, "HAZEL!"

The three girls looked over in time to see the hulking giant throw his arms out and knock the others away. He raised his arms and with a spittle-filled roar brought his fists down to the ground in a titanic explosion.

((((((((Hunting))))))))

A massive explosion rocked the ground and caused all the glass in Haven's central tower to shatter and rain down over the courtyard.

The sparks between the three katanas reflected in the falling glass raining over them. Sasuke and Blake kept pushing forward, getting parried and riposted by Adam in the heat of battle. The shotgun pressed into Blake's face and she used Shadow to vault over it before it could fire. Sasuke slid in through the smoke and exchanged a fierce clash of blows with Adam. Both men felt energy fill their bodies as their hair started to glow. The power they were building up with Moonslice was reaching a peak and ready to explode.

Adam growled as he pushed back against Sasuke's blade, "That's my Semblance!"

"And yours was the first one I ever copied," Sasuke smirked, "Feels nostalgic getting to use it again!"

"Shut your mouth!" Adam pushed him back before swinging at the human with blinding speed. However, Sasuke mirrored his every move and perfectly met the raging Faunus' attacks with matching speed and intensity. Every angle and strike was parried perfectly and sent the bull into an even greater rage, so much that he didn't even see Blake rushing at his side and shoulder-slamming him to the ground, "GAH!" He hit the floor and immediately scrambled to his feet, "Dammit, Blake, don't you see this is-"

"This isn't the solution, and it isn't your victory." She cut him off before he could justify anything. Adam looked up at her, Blake's expression nothing more than pitiable with the Uchiha by her side, "This is just your crusade dragging everyone and everything down with you. And I won't let you hurt this Kingdom like you did the last one." She shook her head, "It's over, Adam."

"O-Over?" He spat out, "You said it's over?" With a sharp exhale his shoulders started to shake, reaching into his back pocket and retrieving the detonator. Sasuke immediately prepared to attack, "This isn't over, Blake! Not until the world sees just what the White Fang is doing!"

Adam pressed the button and sent the signal out to all the bombs.

And Blake…just continued to look at him sadly.

There was no response. No series of explosions or toppling buildings.

Adam gasped and looked down at the detonator as he pressed the button again but got no response. His shoulders sagged, "Did – did you-"

"Ilia cut the wires while we were talking to you. You aren't getting what you want today, Adam."

"There! Did you see that?!" Through the surrounding sound of other fights around them, Sienna yelled at the top of her lungs. She pointed in their direction, "It was Taurus! He tried to blow the bombs with everyone here!"

Some of his people looked back at him in shock. The detonator fell from his hand, an excuse begging to come out but unable to form on his lips as he looked in every direction. Everyone - human, Faunus, and White Fang alike - was looking at him in shock after his desperate move that would have endangered all of them. A move that didn't work.

"It's over now, Adam." Blake said solemnly, "Now everyone sees you for who you are…and they'll never follow you again."

"WRAAAHHHH!"

Adam wailed, drawing his sword and bringing it down with Moonslice to release a massive burst of power that shattered the courtyard. Blake and Sasuke jumped back before they could be swallowed up in the destruction that erupted with him in the center. And as the burst of red energy swelled and reached its apex, it suddenly vanished without a trace.

The smoke and dust settled to reveal that Adam was nowhere in sight. The two black-haired Hunters lowered their weapons, "He's gone?" Sasuke looked around, "Just like that?"

"He realized this was no longer a situation he could win. So he turned and fled."

"Leaving all his people behind?"

Blake looked around and spared a glance to the misguided White Fang still fighting back their forces, "They saw him try to detonate the bomb and started to question him. In his eyes that means they were no longer worth keeping around."

"If Sienna gets what she wants, he won't have anyone left to turn to."

Sasuke said, "Should we go after him?"

"No, he's cornered and that'll make him all the more dangerous. And there are more important things to take care of." She stepped aside and looked at the school, "I heard screaming and the sounds of fighting in the school. I need to check it out. But we-"

"Go," Sasuke nodded, "We can handle the stragglers and meet you inside if you need any help." He assured her…and got a blank look of surprise in return, "What?"

"Heh, nothing," Blake giggled, "It's just good to see you again."

"Ditto. And I want to go over everything with you and Tenten, but after we've settled this."

"Deal."

The two separated and ran to their battles that needed their attention.

((((((((Hunting))))))))

The three women paid no attention to the explosions over their heads as the elevator took them down to their destination. It all proceeded in silence before they finally arrived…

It almost seemed like a page pulled out of a storybook. In a dark cavern far below the school, a single pathway illuminated by bright blue glass marked their way to the end of the stony addition. On either side, was a chasm that was swallowed up by darkness and looked to go on forever.

But the most mystifying part was the giant, intricate door with circular outlines over its front. There was no seam for entry or handle to open it, and it seemed to only be a frame. Behind it was a giant tree with beautiful glowing orange petals that separated and floated down every few seconds.

"W-Wow," Vernal couldn't help but marvel at the sight in front of her. She gulped and stepped forward, following after Cinder who brazenly walked forward without pausing to even admire the glory of Haven's vault, "So, what do I need to do?"

"The door is connected to the Spring Maiden's power. If you go up to it, it should react to you." Cinder answered, "Although what it will do after that is up in the air. Leo only knows what Ozpin told him."

"You don't have experience for yourself? I would have thought you secured Beacon's vault already."

"As you might expect, Ozpin was more careful about his belongings than others." The scarred woman shrugged, "It doesn't matter. He isn't as clever as he thinks and it's only a matter of time before we find it. But right now…" Cinder turned back to Vernal and waved her arm out, "The stage is yours."

Vernal spared Raven a glance and the bandit leader nodded. The young woman stepped up, walked past Cinder, and headed straight for the door. Cinder watched her intensely while Raven situated herself a few feet behind them.

Raven was behind her and Vernal was in the front. All they would need was the right moment to act. Raven's hand slowly trailed up the handle of her blade as Vernal reached her hand out for the door, a plan to turn and grab her weapon in her mind. She reached forward-

"You know…I suppose it was always just going to be who had the quicker draw."

Cinder twisted around, creating serval dozen obsidian blades and sending them flying at Raven. The bandit leader cut them down and tried to dodge them before they started to glow and exploded in a fiery eruption around her.

Vernal turned and tried to draw her weapons before she was slammed into the door, pressure on her neck as something struck her Aura under her ribs. She opened her eyes and saw Cinder's vicious smirk right in front of her face, a twisted black arm tightening around her neck as a burning knife pressed into her chest, "It was quite a fight for you upstairs, wasn't it? Your Aura must be waning." The knife became white hot and pressed even harder, "Just a little more and-"

Vernal's Aura broke and the burning knife pierced into her.

"AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!"

"Yes!" Cinder smiled viciously, her Grimm hand snagging Vernal's throat mid-scream and tightening around it, "Now, the Spring Maiden's power will be mine! And I…can…" Her eye widened as she applied more pressure but wasn't receiving the flow of magic like she had with the Fall Maiden, "What is this? W-Where's the power?! Where is it?!" She turned the burning knife in Vernal's chest and the bandit let out an anguished scream, "Where are you hiding it?! Give me…your…"

She slowly looked back, seeing the cloud of dust and smoke she kicked up vanishing with an unnatural rush of wind. In the center of the cloud, Raven stood with her katana still drawn at her side. The mask the bandit leader adorned had shattered and fallen by her feet and she slowly raised her head to glare at Cinder.

The flickering glow of magic was evident around her eyes.

"Oh," Cinder nodded, "I guess I was the one that got played." Vernal burst into flames in her gasp and the dying bandit let out one more bloody shriek before her voice faded away, "I guess this is useless." She tossed the burning corpse to the ground and Raven looked furious at the sight of her fallen subordinate, "Oh, don't tell me you cared about her. Or are you just upset at losing such a useful pawn?"

"You'd know something about pawns; being one yourself."

"Oh, that stings," Cinder said facetiously, obsidian blades forming in her hands. Her eye burned with her magic, "I'm devastated."

"You'll be dead in a moment."

((((((((Hunting))))))))

Every time Hazel swung his fists plumes of fire rushed out. From his side, Emerald continued to rapidly fire shots at them as Mercury kicked and did the same. Dosu was still unconscious and Leonardo had retreated several feet back as the fighting ramped up.

Jaune and Ren were forced to guard and retreat before they were overwhelmed by all the attacks. Ruby, Yang, Weiss, and Qrow took advantage of their inherently greater mobility to dodge the attacks and rush in to reach their opposing forces. But as Emerald and Mercury retreated aside, Hazel simply roared and met them head-on.

Ozpin looked back, "Ms. Valkyrie, are you almost ready?"

"Just a little longer!" Nora called out, face pinched as she felt the rush of electricity through her system, "Are you feeling better?"

"Yeah," Naruto said as he continued to hold her hand and channel the lighting around his Aura into her, "Don't feel as jittery as I did before. Are you sure you can handle this much power?"

"Well, haven't toppled over yet and we need every bit we can spare," Nora said as pink lightning started running through her body from where Naruto's hand held hers. After a few more moments she let go, her eyes glowing and power filling every inch of her body, "Ready!"

With the electricity no longer coursing through her body, Naruto punched his fists into the ground and expanded his Aura. With a yell, he pulled up and dislodged a giant hunk of concrete slab directly in front of her.

"NOW!"

With a scream, Nora swung her hammer and sent the stone slab flying across the room. Everyone jumped aside as the giant flying slab headed straight toward Hazel and exploded against him. The hulking man stumbled back after the impact before he stomped his foot and roared.

A roar that followed with the entire school shaking on its foundations. Everyone - even Hazel - found their footing suddenly uneasy beneath them. The way the walls and ceiling of the building creaked from the stress alarmed all of them.

None more than Ozpin, "Oh no." He looked towards the opening where the elevator traveled down to the vault, "Qrow! We need to get down there now!"

"Great plan Oz, except we got two brats and a freak of nature standing in our way!"

Naruto spun around and extended his Aura, Nora reaching out to take his hand as she got swept off her feet. They roared and Naruto flung Nora across the room, the orange-haired heavyweight spinning with her hammer out as she came down on Hazel with her full power.

The bearded man roared and met her attack with a punch of his own. The resulting impact nearly deafened everyone as they struggled against each other for a moment. Finally, with a roar, Nora followed through with her swing and sent Hazel flying into one of the staircases leading to the upper floor. Nora fell out of the air and hit the ground hard, a weak groan coming out of the powerhouse as her Aura flickered and broke.

"Now!"

With everyone trying to recover from the exchange Qrow made his move, holstering his weapon and quickly rushing by to jump down the elevator chute.

Ruby smiled, "Yes, he made it!"

"But he's down there by himself!" Yang yelled, "We can't leave him to handle two Maidens and Raven on his own!"

"Then let's get down there!" Weiss announced, summoning her knight behind as it marched forward towards the elevator shaft. Emerald and Mercury groggily shook their heads, saw the incoming summon, and quickly retreated before they could get caught in its path. The members of Team RWBY rushed towards the opening while Naruto and Ozpin followed after-

"WRAAAHHH!"

A burst of fire devastated the knight and the girls had to cover their heads as the broken pieces rained over them. Ruby looked up and saw Hazel charging towards them. She quickly reacted by grabbing her teammates and rushing away with her Semblance before they could be crushed, "Let us through!"

"I can't do that." Hazel growled, "If you don't want to fight anymore, then stay down or stay out of our way."

"Or just hold still for a little while longer." Ruby looked up and saw a shadow dropping down towards her. She gagged when Yang grabbed her hood and pulled her back before Mercury's boot could land on the spot she'd been just moments ago. Yang fired a shot and the silver-haired traitor flipped to avoid it before landing on his foot again, "We'd be more than happy to put you out of the fight for good."

"That creepy scorpion couldn't do the job of bringing you in." Emerald walked up to his side, sickles primed at her sides as Yang defensively held her arm up in front of her sister, "I guess we'll just have to pick up the pace."

"Like hell!"

Naruto and the others yelled as they rushed over to help. Hazel's eyes narrowed with ferocity as he raised his fists to bring them down like hammers. Weiss summoned a Glyph to protect them as Mercury and Emerald prepared to follow up the attack-

But several rapid-fire shots that impacted Hazel's face and neck before bursting into ice stopped his attack in their tracks. They looked back at the source of their sudden assistance…

At the other side of the lobby, Blake lowered her pistol and caught her breath. She wasn't sure what was happening here but the moment she saw her friends rushing to protect her team from that giant she knew what to do. Her team was still okay…

And her eyes met with Yang's across the room, shock and awe in both of their expressions.

"Yang!" The blonde was shocked out of her stupor by Ruby who cocked her rifle and raised her gun, "Get down there now!"

The hesitation quickly left Yang's thoughts as she immediately acted on her sister's orders. Weiss created a line of Glyphs towards the elevator shaft that allowed Yang to slide along the floor as quickly as possible. Emerald and Mercury tried to chase after her but Ruby fired shots to keep them at bay.

Hazel shattered the ice around him, turning and rushing after Yang. Only for Naruto's Aura to stretch out and pin him to the wall long enough for Yang's slide to carry her over the edge and down the shaft entirely.

As Hazel shirked Naruto's Aura off his body, the bearded giant huffed and rolled his shoulders. Emerald and Mercury quickly recovered and joined his side to face down the aspiring Hunters.

Blake sprinted over, coming to a stop beside her teammates and Naruto as Jaune and the others surrounded Nora while she recovered. Taking a moment to look around at the bizarre situation, Blake held up her swords, "I didn't think I'd find all of you fighting in here now of all times." A faint smile came to her face, "But I shouldn't be surprised."

"And you come in just in the nick of time like usual." Ruby grinned by her side, Crescent Rose cocked at the ready, "It's like magic."

"Yes, that's all well and good." Weiss groused summoning a Queen Lancer overhead in preparation for the next fight, "But how about we shelf the reunion and talking until after the fight?"

"Right!"

"You've got it."

"Uh, Blake," Naruto quietly mumbled by her side, "Are you - um - forgetting something?" He tried not to take his eyes off Hazel and the others while motioning to his entire body, "Aren't you surprised to see me? Surprised to see me back from the dead? Nothing to say about-"

"I already found out you were alive."

"YOU WHAT?!"

"FOCUS!" Weiss yelled as Hazel charged with a roar.

((((((((Hunting))))))))

As Yang fell down the shaft, she fired shots under her to slow down her fall before it could hit terminal velocity. Grabbing the sides of the shaft sometimes to control her plummet before dropping back down. It was a long drop before she saw the platform and knew she had reached the end. She fired one more shot to slow herself down and prepared to charge as her feet touched-

Yang was tackled to the ground by Qrow and before she could say anything a wave of heat and smoke rushed over them. The two had to brace themselves against the explosions and shockwaves that caused the entire cavern to shake. Yang braced herself against the rush of noise and forced her eyes open to look up. In time to see the form of her mother surrounded by lightning and wind fly forward and collide with the fiery wave of power around Cinder. The moment they impacted, another shockwave rocked the entire cave.

This was beyond anything she had ever seen. She had been in more fights than most people and had seen her fair share of brawls, but this wasn't a fight. It was like watching a tornado clash with a forest fire. Like two forces of nature colliding against each other to decide which one would get to devastate the land.

This must have been a battle between Maidens. She was confident she, Naruto, and Weiss working together could handle most foes…but in hindsight, this might have been a little more than they could chew.

Cinder yelled as her Grimm hand stretched out and grabbed a chunk of falling rock, sending it flying at Raven. The boulder was destroyed with a bolt of lightning but the scarred woman used that chance to get behind Raven and blindside her.

The bandit summoned blades of ice and spun around, warding off the Fall Maiden's surprise attack and cutting across the palm of her Grimm hand. Cinder's eye widened but she powered through the pain and released a giant fireball instead.

Yang looked up at the explosions of elements above them and felt Qrow's arms tighten around her, "We gotta stay down! We don't wanna get caught up in their fight!"

"I-I don't get it! How did Mom become the Maiden?! Did Vernal give her the power or-"

Yang spared a look over and gasped when she saw the charred corpse on the other side of the platform.

"I'm pretty sure Raven played all of us. Sounds like something she'd do."

The two centers of the turbulent rush of power collided and crashed against each other, shaking the cavern and dislodging giant chunks of rock from the top. The two Maidens flew around the falling debris, attacking each other in the blink of an eye, and shattered the falling rocks to pebbles in an instant. It was too fast to see and too ferocious to examine. The bursts of magic twisted in the air before slamming into the bridge while more slabs rained down from over them.

"Ha!" Cinder's maniacal laughter could be heard through the smoke as the ember-eyed psychopath had Raven pinned under her, the Grimm hand tightened around the bandit's throat as the light of her magic traveled up the inky black flesh. She bared her teeth as her eye smoldered with flame, "I'm taking it. That power is mine and always has been. Kiss it goodbye, you bandit bitch! Because it-" A blast of kinetic power hit the back of Cinder's shoulder and nearly took her Grimm arm off, "AAAHHHHH!"

Cinder looked back with a snap and saw Yang with her fist outstretched. The blonde cocked her fists and rushed forward. With a yell, Cinder threw back her other hand and released a plume of flames that Yang dodged by jumping over.

From behind her, Qrow rushed across the bridge and fired several shots at Cinder. The Fall Maiden tried to ward them off with a wave of fire but the two Hunters barreled through it and tried to get closer. They were about to swarm the scar-faced woman-

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!"

Cinder screamed, a shockwave shaking the entire cavern on its foundation. It blasted Yang and Qrow back as well before they could reach her. The instant they hit the ground, an inferno gathered in Cinder's hand as she prepared to turn them to ash, "I'LL MAKE SURE THAT LITTLE SILVER-EYED TRAMP SEES YOUR ASHES TOO-"

A sharp, fierce pain shot up Cinder's Grimm arm as her wrist was squeezed and broken. The searing pain made the Fall Maiden flinch before she turned and looked down at Raven still pinned under her.

And when she turned it was in time to see a blue flash by the side of her face.

Cinder was blasted off Raven's body by a punch coated in lightning, a thunderous shock running through the entire cavern as the red-clad killer was sent flying into the wall just above the chasm. In a crater formed around her body, Cinder gagged and felt her head swim in a haze of pain from the punch. She tried to pull herself out of the indent her body formed in the wall but was basked in another blue light before she could pull herself out.

She looked up…and saw the spiteful glare of Raven's face before another lightning bolt shot from her hand.

The entire mountain shook as Raven's bolt slammed into Cinder and destroyed the wall she was embedded in. Yang and Qrow had to protect themselves as bolts of electricity arced off in every direction before Raven finally stopped.

When the bolt of lightning died it left behind a scorch mark along the side of the cavern. It started to break apart and fall into the deep, endless chasm below the bridge. And if there was any sign left that Cinder was still alive…they couldn't see it.

Raven made her way across the bridge, moving a slab of rock out of the way as she reclaimed her katana and sheathed it. She stopped by Vernal's charred body and looked down sadly at her trusted right hand. There was nothing left that would even help identify her if someone came down and saw her. She'd given her name, her identity, and her life for the sake of the tribe – for Raven. Now it was her job to make sure that sacrifice wasn't in vain.

Raven walked up to the base of the tree and stared at the door connected to nothing. She slowly raised her hand and pressed her palm into the intricate design on its surface. And the moment she did she watched as the fan design started to close itself upwards and finally open the path.

"Are you going to pretend like we're not here?"

"I taking this lamp." Raven said without turning to her brother and daughter, her eyes focused on the floating blue Relic in the giant expanse of desert that stretched through the doorway, "Don't try to stop me."

"So that was the plan?" Qrow snarled as he stomped closer to his sister, "Come here, risk Mistral's safety, shack up with Salem's forces, and throw us under the bus just to get the chance?! This opportunity to grab the lamp for yourself?!"

"We have to take chances if we want to secure victories like this, Qrow. And you all still made it out the other side. You're more resilient than you give yourself credit."

"Don't! Don't pretend you were banking on us making it out of this alive! Which was pretty good in your favor considering we just helped save your ass!"

"I was just a moment away from finishing it before you came in. She was unbearably overconfident and sloppy. One more moment of her lowered guard-"

"Shut up!" He couldn't stand listening to her make excuses and justifications for what she was doing. His hands opened and closed into fists at his side before he spotted Vernal's corpse, "There's no way you could have been this adept in just a few minutes of having the Maiden's power. So…how long have you been lying about this?"

"You all couldn't give that poor girl any true guidance before she ran away. When I found her I saw the mess you had all let her become. That…it was a kindness."

"You're sick." Qrow spat, "Raven, you-"

"Enough." Her voice was punctuated with a sudden wind as her eyes glowed with her magic. She narrowed her eyes and silenced Qrow in an instant, "I'm taking the lamp, Qrow, and you can't stop me."

Qrow glared at his sister before sparing a look back at the Relic inside the doorway. Now that it was opened isn't wasn't going to close again. Which meant either he took it or Raven would. Even knowing now that she was a Maiden he reached for Harbinger again. Raven shook her head and prepared to attack-

But they both stopped as Yang boldly stepped forward, walking past Qrow and facing Raven instead, "Move."

"What?"

"Get out of the way. We're taking the lamp and getting out of here."

"I'm the one who fought for it. You think you can just walk in and take it?"

"What are you going to do with it?"

Raven spared a look back at the Relic, "I'll take it and strike a deal. Ensure the safety of the tribe and myself when Salem comes razing everything else. In the end, we'll survive."

"And that's why we're going to take it." Yang groused, glaring at her mother spitefully, "Because you know she isn't going to strike a deal. It wasn't bad enough that you joined forces with them and then betrayed them – you took out their Maiden too!" Yang pointed towards the giant scorch mark and crater in the cavern wall, "That makes you an enemy! A threat! You think even if you get her attention, she'll just let you walk around after doing something like this? No, she's going to hunt down the Relic and kill anyone who gets in her way. Which is why you're going to let us take it. Let her focus on us while you can run away. Seems like the thing you're best at."

Qrow and Raven looked at her in surprise before the bandit shook her head, "A-Are you stupid?! You're going to willingly make yourself a target?"

"Works out better for you, right?" Yang shrugged, "Naruto said you were a coward, even when you are so strong. We thought it was just normal risk but it's about her, isn't it? You don't want to fight her? Do you want to do everything you can to avoid her? Then just turn and run the other way while we get her attention." Yang walked past her, "Works out for you."

"Yang!" Desperation came up in Raven's voice as she blocked her daughter's path, "Picking a fight with Salem isn't brave or smart! Ozpin has been waging a war with her for - for longer than any of us have been alive - and he's failed! She can't be beaten!"

"We just have to keep trying-"

"You think that's a solution?!" Raven barked, panic in her face as she tried to reason with her daughter, "Pushing on and hoping for the best is going to get you killed! You can't just expect things to work out for you! That's-" Raven bit her lip, "That's what that damn idiot did, and she never came back!"

The cavern went quiet after her desperate proclamation echoed across the walls. Yang and Qrow looked at her with wide eyes, Raven looking between them and thinking she was starting to reach them. She shook her head, "Fighting Salem…is throwing away your life."

"Maybe…" Yang whispered…before her eyes hardened, "But I'd rather give my life fighting for them… than turn my back like you did."

Yang walked past her stunned mother and entered the doorway to the Relic. She walked through the vast unending desert and reached up, taking the ring of the lamp in her hand and lifting the blue item into her field of view.

She heard a soft sniffle behind her…and a quiet apology…before the flapping of wings grew ever further.

Yang turned around and saw Qrow walking up into the doorway to join her. He looked down at the Relic with a nod, "You did it."

"Yeah, I guess I did." Yang nodded, "We - uh - we can't let this stay here, right? We gotta take it with us." Qrow nodded, "Okay, then let's go. Can't stay here. Have things to take care of. We-"

His hand held her shoulder before she could walk away. Yang looked up at him and saw his solemn gaze, "It's okay, Firecracker. You don't have to hold it in."

"I'm not holding anything in. We have to go!" She stressed with a frown, "Everyone is still upstairs and we have to hide this! I-It doesn't matter that-"

A sob broke through her rambling and Yang suddenly couldn't fight it. She covered her mouth and sobbed as she nearly fell to her knees. Qrow caught her arm before she dropped, slowly lowering her to the sand and going down by her side to hug her. As his niece whimpered and cried, Qrow spared a look at the lone black feather still sitting on the bridge before it was blown off to drift into the chasm.

((((((((Hunting))))))))

Naruto flew back and hit the wall with a thud, "GAH!" He slumped to the ground, catching his breath as his body flickered orange before his Aura finally broke, "S-Shit."

JNPR were on their last legs and trying to catch their breath. Ozpin looked about ready to drop in Oscar's body. His Aura had broken while Ruby, Weiss, and Blake looked exhausted.

Emerald and Mercury had toppled over exhausted…but Hazel still stood. All of their combos and attacks had done little to stop the hulking powerhouse. And now those three were the only ones who could do something.

"Naruto, did your Aura break?"

"Y-Yeah, but just give me a minute to-"

"No, stay down!" They ordered while keeping their eyes on Hazel, "You'd just be risking yourself jumping in right now!"

They were right but it still pissed him off. Naruto tried to think of what he could do before his ears picked up something from the side. He looked up and spotted Leonardo slinking away from the fight while they were all distracted, "HEY!"

Leonardo gasped before scrambling up the stairs and running further into the school to escape the battle.

"Oh no you don't!" Naruto was immediately on his feet, jumping up the wall to grab the corner of the stairs and lift himself. He chased after the cowardly headmaster, "Get back here, traitor!"

"Naruto, don't go!" Blake clicked her teeth, "Dammit."

"W-Where the hell is he going?!" Mercury groused, "Did that prick just ditch us?!"

"Forget about him." Hazel looked down at the RWBY members as they raised their weapons to keep fighting. He shook his head, "You're running on fumes and there's nothing more you can do to me." He stepped forward boldly and they retreated, "Get out of my way before-"

Hazel suddenly felt something strike the back of his knee to topple him over. He hit the ground and immediately tried to stand back up before a shadow jumped over him and wrapped a chain around his throat. It tightened as hard as it could before a second shadow dropped into view.

His hair glowed purple before he drew his sword and landed a powerful slash against Hazel that sent him flying back.

As he hit the ground, the new trio looked back at Ruby, Weiss, and Blake, "We just got here, but that was the right move, right?

"K-Kiba! Tenten! Sasuke!" Ruby beamed with joy seeing her friends suddenly arrive to their aid, "What are you doing here?"

"Helping you guys by the looks of it."

"I knew we were going to face foes here in Mistral, but I didn't think you'd be starting before we arrived."

"You came in just a few minutes before us." Tenten scoffed back at Blake, "We take our eyes off you for a second."

Blake giggled while Ruby and Weiss still looked flabbergasted, "Don't know what to tell you."

"Are you kidding?!" Mercury balked as he stared at their new opponents, "How many more of these guys are going to come?!"

Kiba grinned, "Oh bud, if you don't like seeing us you're gonna hate the literal two armies outside kicking your backup's ass."

"Alright, that's it." The assassin shook his head before looking between Emerald and Hazel, "We need to run!"

Emerald glared, "We can't do that! Cinder is still down there!"

"So?! The White Fang failed! Lionheart ditched us! And we're surrounded!"

"We wait for Cinder!"

"Em-"

"We wait for her!" Emerald refused, grabbing her weapons and standing up with complete trust that their mentor would return with the Relic and help them, "We just have to hold out! The moment she has it, she'll come up here and-"

She was cut off by the straining echo of the elevator climbing back up the shaft. They all waited in tense silence to see what would be arriving to join their fight. Emerald perked up, a hopeful smile on her face-

That immediately dropped when she saw Qrow and Yang on the elevator with a blue lamp in hand. The answer became clear in an instant and Emerald fell to her knees in despair.

Cinder lost. She was gone. The only person who had ever cared about her was gone…and she was left alone again.

No. Not like this. What was going to happen to them? Were they going to lose and be taken away? Was Salem going to kill them for their failure?

The fear…the thought of what the pallid monster would do to them struck a cold fear into Emerald's heart. She shuddered…

She cried…

She screamed at the top of her lungs…

And imprinted the image of Salem's fury into the air for all to see.

((((((((Hunting))))))))

("Ma'am, please! I won't fail you again! J-Just give me another chance!")

Salem paid no mind to the desperate pleas from Leonardo on the other side of the Seer as her Grimm dealt with the cowardly traitor. His screams and cries for mercy went completely unheeded.

Salem rolled her eyes as the Seer did her bidding, stabbing down into the body of the traitorous headmaster as his last weak cries and begs whimpered out before he went completely silent.

The pale woman sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose as the failure of Mistral started to settle on her. Leonardo said the White Fang had failed in their mission and Cinder hadn't returned with the lamp. She'd made a deal with the Branwen leader and now there was nothing to show for it. This was…going to take some time to fix.

Salem heard the pained cry of her Seer on the other side of the line as the visual she received dropped to the ground. The queen of the Grimm raised her head as she saw a foot stop just in front of the downed Seer and speak, ("O-Oh fuck. W-What is this thing? What the hell did it do? He's…oh shit.")

"Well, he was quite useless even as a turncoat, so I wouldn't bother mourning him if I were you."

The young man on the other side of the call carefully picked up the Seer and looked into it. Salem saw his young, tired face freeze for a moment as he got a good look at her. His whiskered cheeks stilled as his animal ears twitched uncertainly atop his head. But after a moment he composed himself and narrowed his eyes, ("You're her, aren't you? The one they told us about.")

"I am Salem." She introduced herself to the startled young man. Salem stared at him intently, something about his features stirring a faint sense of nostalgia in her. But she quickly quelled those feelings before speaking again, "I understand the fight there isn't exactly in our favor?"

("Well, that big fucker is a pain in two asses to try and put down. But the rest we're managing pretty well. I think I can say that we won this match, not you.")

"I suppose so." She rested her cheek against her fist, "I suppose congratulations are in order."

("Are - do you even care that you've lost? Your people have lost. You killed your inside man. Just a little more and we'll be winning-")

"If you think one setback like this is enough to call the whole fight, then you sorely underestimate the scale of the battle you've joined, young man. If we've lost the lamp then that's that. But there's still so much more to do…and so many more fights to come." She gave a faint smile at his stiff expression, "If you manage to survive, I'm sure we'll meet again someday."

("Oh, we definitely will.") The blond man nodded defiantly, ("And I suggest you remember the name Naruto Uzumaki…because that's the name that's going to kill you. Bet on that.")

The dying Seer was dropped to the ground and crushed under his foot as the connection died entirely. The smoke inside her Seer settled and Salem was left staring at her reflection for a moment.

"If everyone who has said that to me had followed through…this would have been settled eons ago."

((((((((Hunting))))))))

It took a moment for everyone to catch their breath and calm down after seeing the terrifying image of the lanky pale banshee that screamed at them until they were swallowed by darkness. And once the illusion was gone everyone looked around in surprise.

Hazel, Mercury, and Emerald had disappeared through a giant hole in the lobby after the vision was gone.

"W-What the fuck?" Kiba cursed, looking around sporadically, "What the hell was that?!"

"U-Um," Ruby fell to her knees to catch her breath, "It's gonna take a long time for us to explain everything. J-Just give us a sec."

Weiss and Blake quickly dropped down to her side as Yang handed Qrow the lamp and jumped down to check on her sister. As Kiba watched them and looked around, his shoulders eased as he realized the fight was over, "So who was that guy?" He asked Sasuke and Tenten, "Because that kinda combo was enough to floor that big Noble Guard but it didn't do anything to him."

"I don't know." Tenten looked back at the hole in the school, "Should we go after them?"

Sasuke looked around at how exhausted everyone was, "I don't think we're in a state to be continuing a fight like that right now. We'll let the police and Kingdom know they're on the run."

"Well, what do we do now?" Kiba asked, "If the fight's over should we- GAACK!"

"KIBA!" Nora blitzed into Kiba's ribs and tackled him to the ground. The orange-haired girl looked up at her friend, tears brimming in her eyes as she sniffled and laughed, "You made it! I can't believe you're here! And just when we need you too! Talk about perfect timing! If I didn't know you better I'd think you were waiting to jump in! Oh, look at that beard! You look like you just came down from living on a mountain for 5 years!"

Kiba groaned before he chuckled and hugged her, "Glad to see you're still the same."

Ren and Jaune quickly came over to join them. A content look of relief showed on Ren's face as he moved towards Sasuke. The Uchiha smiled as well and embraced his taciturn friend.

Jaune stared at Tenten in silent disbelief. Standing before him was the girl who had hugged and grieved with him before having to make her way back home. And for Tenten, this was the first time she'd seen him after his shell-shocked reaction to losing Pyrrha. The ponytailed girl showed a frail smile and Jaune's eyes started tearing up before they stepped in and hugged each other.

Blake looked back at the reunion between the members of JNPR and NKTS. She looked past them towards the other side of the room to see Sun, Minato, Kushina, Ilia, her parents, and the people Sasuke had come with peeking in to check what had happened. There was a lot she had to tell them-

"Hey Blake," Her ears flinched and she turned back around to see Ruby smiling towards her, "I didn't think you'd show up now of all times."

"Y-Yeah, well, I came to stop another thing," She scratched her cheek, "But I'm glad I was here anyway. And I can't believe you guys were here too."

"You can't? Us being in the center of a big crazy fight with the Kingdom at stake?"

"Heh, okay, I should have figured." Blake giggled before looking over at Weiss, "I didn't think you'd have made it here too."

"Well, that's another long story we'll have to go through," Weiss said exhaustively with a roll of her eyes as Ruby laughed. The Schnee girl looked at her Faunus teammate with a smile, "I knew you'd come back but I didn't think it'd be this soon."

"You knew?"

"Of course we did." Weiss looked across from her, "I don't think any of us believed you wouldn't come back."

She was afraid. She was scared to look at her side even though it was where her eyes lingered every few seconds. But swallowing down her fear, and remembering just what she'd been through until now, Blake turned and looked to her silent partner.

Yang didn't look at her. She didn't look at any of them. Her gaze was low and focused on the ground as if lost in her thoughts. But when Ruby's hand fell on her knee and gently squeezed it, it stirred the blonde to finally react. She looked up and stared at Blake, the Faunus' breath catching in her throat as her partner didn't say a word.

"You…you're staying, right?"

She said it in a much quieter and melancholy tone than Blake expected, but it was still Yang through and through. Catching her breath she smiled, "I'm not going anywhere."

"Good." Yang sniffled, a faint smile coming to her face as she dried her eyes, "That's good."

Ruby pulled her sister in and Blake felt Weiss do the same for her. Team RWBY leaned in with their arms around each other, embracing as they finally reunited after all this time.

The others watched with fond smiles and relief seeing their friends reunite after all this time. Jaune ended up sniffling with Nora and Ren quickly by his side before he could get overwhelmed by the joy of the moment. Tenten couldn't help but smile as she looked down at Blake and was proud to see her finally moving on from the dark place she found her months ago.

"This feels like a miracle," Sasuke said.

"I know. All these happy reunions in one night after a crazy goddamn battle." Kiba agreed…before he saw Tenten's knowing smirk, "What?" He and Sasuke looked over and saw a similar expression on JNPR's faces as well, "What?"

"Guys! Are you okay?!" Naruto called out as he ran up to the balcony overhead, "Is the fight over?! Hey, you won't believe what just happened! I was just after Lionheart and I heard a scream so I…"

He quickly shut up when he spotted not just RWBY huddled together or Qrow with a mysterious lamp in hand…but his teammates standing by the rest of his friends and looking up at him.

Naruto quickly jumped down to the ground level and stared in shock at their sudden appearance. Sasuke and Kiba looked at him in utter disbelief as Tenten just seemed to grin and pull them along.

They approached as she quickly stepped forward to hug her leader with a huge smile, "I'm so glad you're okay!"

"Y-You're here." He weakly chuckled as he hugged her back, "You were gone for so long I thought something happened."

"Something did happen." She pulled with a grin, "Tell you later." With a laugh, she pulled him in toward her other teammates, "Look who's back."

Sasuke and Kiba weren't so quick to react. They were still staring at him in shock. His face. His whiskers. His ears. They were all the same. But this was their friend, partner, and leader who had supposedly died saving the survivors of Beacon all those months ago. This should have been impossible…

Sasuke stepped forward, staring at the figure of his best friend as if expecting him to vanish any moment, "Are…you're real, right?"

"Yeah," He smiled, "I'm real. I'm here."

"How? How is this possible?"

"It's-"

"Long story. We get it." Kiba cut off, stepping up to stare at his partner as well. After a moment a tired chuckle slipped, "I-I don't know whether to give you a hug or smack you for making us worry like that."

"Well, if I'm getting that kinda reaction then you know I'm the real me." They shared a strained laugh. The overwhelming emotions of the moment make it hard for them to know how to act. But Naruto smiled, "I guess we finally managed to keep that promise of meeting back up after Beacon, right?"

"Yeah."

"I guess so."

"You assholes." The boys looked to Tenten as tears started filling her eyes and she shook her head, "If we don't hug this out I swear I'm gonna kick all your asses!"

That was all they needed to hear to make them act. Team NKTS rounded together and hugged each other as tightly as they could. Tears started building up in their eyes but they tried to hold them in as they smiled and laughed in relief.

Glad to have their team back and full again after all this time.

After a few moments of hugging and trying to collect themselves, Tenten grabbed Naruto's arm and pulled him aside. Once he was separated she pointed to the other side of the room where a group of people were watching them…

He immediately spotted the heads of yellow and red hair among the crowd and rushed over.

They ran ahead so they could meet him as well.

Naruto stopped and stared at his parents in shock. Not only his father who he hadn't seen since the night Vale was attacked…but his mother…who he hadn't seen in years. He tried to say something but his mind blanked as a mumble of words slipped out instead.

Kushina scoffed and giggled, stepping up and cupping his cheeks in her hands before he went silent. His eyes trembled and watered as he realized it was truly her in front of him. He gasped and laughed as tears spilled from both their eyes before they hugged. Naruto nearly lifted Kushina off her feet before putting her back down.

Minato stepped up next, looking at his son with pride and love after believing for so long that he had lost him. He looked leaner, and he seemed to have grown a few inches to nearly stand the same height as him. It had been weeks since learning of Naruto's survival…but it still made his heart swell seeing his son in front of him again.

Minato reached back to draw the kodachi and its sheath from his belt. He held it out and Naruto took Squall back with a look of surprise. He never thought he'd be holding his weapon again after all the things that had happened. He looked up at both his parents as they smiled, "Welcome back."

Naruto sniffled and dried his eyes, "We made it."

((((((((Epilogue))))))))

Salem was found still sitting in her chair staring ahead in silence when her cabal and guests entered the room. Tyrian anxiously stepped forward, "Your Grace, I'm sorry for their failure at not being able to secure your prize. Their weakness must - it must be culled and punished!"

"I apologize for Dosu's inability to follow through." Orochimaru stepped forward and bowed his head, "He was meant to keep tabs on Lionheart and make sure he didn't disappoint. I didn't think he'd fail."

Watts scoffed, "I think it's clear who failed here. Cinder bit off more than she could chew and so it came back to bite her. I warned her against being reckless but she couldn't help herself."

"Then you should have tried harder!" Tyrian snapped at the mustache man, "Your inherent need to stroke your ego cost our goddess her victory!"

"It was Cinder's ego that robbed us of victory, not mine. Don't get it twisted."

As the arguments continued to grow and devolve, Nagato stepped around the table and stood by his mistress' side, "Milady, is there anything you need us to do?"

Salem continued to stare ahead, paying no heed to Tyrian and Watts' argument while the rest of Orochimaru's top people poked their heads in to watch. Her eyes caught with Kimimaro as the stone-faced man simply watched with passive disinterest.

Oh…that reminded her…

Salem stood up from her chair and everything went silent when she did. She walked around the table, stepped past her subordinates, and walked out of the room without saying a word. They quickly followed behind her, not questioning anything as she stepped out of the castle and made her way into the Grimm-infested dead lands surrounding them.

Salem stopped by one of the black pools and stared down at it intensely. Everyone watching flinched when her arm suddenly extended and dipped into the pool without flinching. It was one of the pools they watched birth Grimm day in and day out from the safety of the castle. And she reached in without a care.

She pulled her arm back and dragged something out of the pool. Pulling it onto solid land she let it drag closer before finally letting go. The lump of goo seemed to settle on the ground before it shifted and jostled around. Something from within the goo slowly picked itself up, the black ooze dripping off of it until the thing inside was more visible.

A tall male with pale white skin and mixed black and white hair. As he settled on his knees, his black eyes opened and closed in delirious confusion before he looked up at everyone staring at him.

"JŪGO!" Kimimaro instantly recognized his friend despite the change in appearance. He pushed through the stunned crowd and passed by Salem unflinchingly as he slid to the naked man's side, "Jūgo, is - is it really you?! Do you remember me?!"

"K…Kimi…" His voice slowly eked out of his throat before he clutched his head in pain, "I-I…I was…what happened?" Despite how groggy he was, Jūgo's voice came out much clearer and focused as he looked around, "I was…looking in this pool…then I…"

He stopped, his eyes widened before he reached up and touched his face. When he felt around his chin and couldn't feel any of the misshapen bone armor or blackened flesh that marred his skin, he gasped, "H-How-"

"Mistral was a failure. Haven was a failure. Cinder was a failure. But there's nothing we can change about that." Salem turned away from the recovering man and looked at the shocked crowd behind her, "All we can do now is press on…"

She walked forward, the crowd splitting in her way as Kimimaro joyously embraced Jūgo after his return, "And continue with our next course of action."

((((((((Hunting))))))))

Done

Man, kinda bittersweet to finally finish Volume 5 with all the news that came out.

But I'm hopeful. I believe one day we'll see RWBY continue on and finish the story they were trying to tell. And if they can't…well I'll always remember the fun times this series has given me.

But I won't stop writing this story. I'll keep going and do what I can. And if there is no continuation, I'll just write a conclusion for this story my own way if I have to.

I love RWBY too much to just say goodbye without trying something.

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Thank You and Bye