Welp, I got bored waiting for two weeks to pass, and ended up writing and finishing chapter's 3 and 4 of PwBI in the last few days, so here's Chapter 2 a week early. Not sure this is going to be the usual schedule, or what the usual schedule is even going to be, but I suppose we'll figure that out within the coming weeks.

For now, without further ado…

Chapter 2

Cinder Fall had precious little good to say about Nora Valkyrie, but at the very least, she could respect someone who wasted no time.

Did that mean she'd intended to be speaking with Valkyrie's teammates not even twenty-four hours after she'd first met the girl? No. Not even partially. But given that she and her 'team' had been quietly sat eating breakfast by themselves at a table situated near the back of the cafeteria and had then been ambushed by a hyperactive she-demon and her three much-less-hyperactive teammates in what even she could admit was impressive fashion, she had a feeling Nora Valkyrie also wasn't the type of person used to being told 'no'.

That would have to be remedied in time. Still, they'd made a plan of action the day before on how to proceed. It simply seemed they'd be executing it a bit faster than Cinder had imagined.

"So!" Valkyrie exclaimed. "Introductions!"

Cinder exhaled wearily, earning an amused curl of Ren's lips as the boy nodded her way sympathetically.

"I am Cinder Fall." She decided some battles weren't worth fighting. "These are my teammates, Emerald Sustrai, Mercury Black, and Mint."

Each gave a simple wave or nod at their name.

"Uhm…" The blonde, likely 'Jauney', though she doubted that was the boy's real name, piped up. "J-Just Mint?"

'Mint' nodded her head up and down emphatically.

"There are some, usually those who come from outside the walls, that never knew their families, nor had any reason to adopt a familial last name." Lie Ren explained to his teammate, earning an appreciative nod from both Jaune and Neo, even if the name 'Neopolitan' likely was an alias of some sort. Cinder didn't particularly care if the girl had a real name. It wasn't like it mattered to her plans. "As for us, I am Lie Ren. My partner, Nora Valkyrie." He gestured to each of them as he spoke. "Then our team leader, Jaune Arc, and his partner, Pyrrha Nikos. Together, we form Team JNPR."

Cinder took the moment to inspect the two newest arrivals. Both drew her attention, though in almost paradoxical ways.

Pyrrha Nikos was the picture of strength. She practically radiated it, and Cinder could instantly tell that the woman's tournament victories had been earned through technique and skill alone. She was good, enough so that even at a glance, Cinder could tell she would be a match for either Emerald or Mercury in a one-on-one. She might not be able to beat either of them, but then again, she didn't think more than a few students in the cafeteria, aside from the occasional third or fourth year, could make such a claim at all.

The other… This Jaune Arc… Cinder could sense nothing.

No strength, no power, nothing radiated from him. Even someone as experienced as she was could not entirely feign weakness so easily. It was almost as if the boy before her was bereft of power entirely.

A clever ruse, but given he was in Beacon, and leading a team with Pyrrha Nikos on it, he was obviously skilled. That he could hide his power so effortlessly spoke of both strength and control to match it.

She would be keeping an eye on this one. There was something beneath that veneer of total and complete idiocy, she knew. He was no master, at the very least. After all, even she, with all her skill in espionage, did not try to show herself off as helpless, she would've looked all the more suspicious for it if she were to let her guard down for a single moment.

Even so, a part of her, one she thought she'd buried long ago, shivered as she forced herself to look away from this newly introduced danger.

She'd yet to meet one in this school quite as threatening as him.

Luckily, her 'teammates' picked up her momentary slack, the silver-haired assassin in her tenure leaning forward as he much more outwardly inspected the members of JNPR.

"Nikos, huh?" Mercury spoke up, tilting his head almost like a dog as he inspected the girl. "I've seen some of your fights. You're good."

"Thank you." The girl's smile was just a bit forced, just a bit strained.

Hm. Something about Mercury's statement bothered her.

Potentially useful information, but not automatically such. Plenty of people had completely meaningless vices. Perhaps Nikos was simply poor at taking compliments.

"Good!?" Nora Valkyrie scoffed, clearly putting it on. "Pyrrha's better than good! She's the best in our year by a long shot!"

Once more, the Nikos girl seemed uncomfortable about that. "I'd say it's too early to be certain of that, Nora. We've only been in Beacon for two weeks."

"Still, it's not like you've lost a fight," Nora shrugged. "Heck, you haven't even lost any 'aura', except against Ruby. Even that was just to close the distance."

Nikos rubbed her hand against the back of her neck, laughing awkwardly, and Cinder immediately categorized this girl as someone who both didn't want compliments, and didn't take them well.

Probably didn't get into fighting for the fame but ended up with it when she excelled.

"How do you train?" This time, it was Emerald that asked, trying to gleam information about the girl, and subtly nudge her in a certain direction. "Do you consistently spar against upper years, then? Or do you have some sort of routine yourself?"

It was an innocuous enough question, and Cinder would give her little minion credit. It was leading, without being obvious. The exact kind of question Cinder would've asked the girl herself.

"It is actually… difficult for me to find good sparring partners. Especially given that upper-year students often don't want to waste their time sparring with a first year, even with one of my… reputation?" The girl spoke the last word almost like a question. "They are busier than us, I understand, being given far more field missions and the like. As it is, I often run through simple drills more regularly than I would normally, and take advantage of the multiple training rooms and gyms that Beacon provides."

"Wouldn't your skills begin to slip, in that case?" Mercury came back, eyeing her with feigned curiosity. "I mean, if I didn't have people at my level to spar with, I know I'd lose my edge before too long."

They'd laid the bait…

"Ah, well…"

And now, they closed the trap.

"I could spar with you if you'd like."

Pyrrha looked up at Cinder, with her eyes just a bit wider than normal. She was surprised, but Cinder had no issues reading the expression of a girl with her guard down.

There was a hopeful edge there, too.

"I… that would be grand." Pyrrha Nikos smiled now, before seeming to remember where they were, who she was surrounded by. "Oh, well, as long as that's okay, everyone. If you wanted to–"

"Don't worry about us, Pyrrha." Arc, the girl's partner, smiled her way. "I mean, from what they say, you'd start losing your skill if you didn't, right?"

"Well… not immediately, but–"

"Then how about we all go down to the training areas?" Cinder offered amicably, seeing as how each of them had long since finished their meals. "We can fit in a quick spar before our next lessons."

"I…" The Nikos girl once more looked to her teammates. "I suppose we have already eaten. Would that be alright with you all? if it's not–"

"Pfft, alright!?" Valkyrie snorted, before flinging herself out of her chair and landing with a small huff. "We're going to get to see a spar between you and someone from our home Village! I for one would pay to see that, Pyrrha, and it's comin' free!"

Arc seemed to catch what Cinder had been trying to keep quiet the entire conversation. "Oh, that's right! You guys were all from the same Village in Mistral, right?"

"Yes," Ren spoke calmly, though perhaps the adjective was unnecessary, given that 'calmly' seemed to be his default state of being. "It was destroyed a decade or so ago by the Grimm."

"Ah," The Arc boy winced. "S-Sorry."

"Don't be." Cinder waved away before the boy could distract from their real mission here. "But surely we can talk while we walk?" She suggested, standing from the table, and depositing her tray near the exit as her teammates followed.

JNPR came as well, walking a bit behind them so as to not congest the halls. Cinder's team didn't care so much for that, and the people who walked towards them could tell. They parted around each of them, like a school of fish around a shark.

The closest training room to them was around a minute or so's walk away, and that meant, unfortunately, that Cinder would likely have to answer a question or two on the way there…

Unless, of course, she could cut this off before it began.

"I know you all must be curious, but as things are, I'm afraid I remember very little of Kuroyuri. It's been a long time. But I've grown up, and I doubt I'm the only one." She gestured to the two she was claiming to share a former dwelling with. "Do not simply think of us as the victims of a tragedy. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we would prefer you look past that."

And that you don't ask any more questions about it, given I can't exactly answer them.

She'd done her best to give herself a small crash course about Kuroyuri the night before, but the frankly infinitesimal number of articles that had been released about the Village had all been about its destruction and subsequent abandonment. Even those had offered little information about the town, other than that the type of Grimm that had destroyed it was suspected to be a rare breed called a Nucklavee.

Useful, surely, if they asked her about what she remembered regarding the Village's destruction, but certainly not enough information to base her entire 'backstory' upon. It was best to avoid questions about it altogether. Or, to thrust them onto others.

"Cinder speaks the truth." Lie Ren agreed, following her lead, and smiling over at his teammate. "Surely, our home was destroyed, but Nora and I would prefer to focus on the future."

"Ah, yeah. Sorry, again, guys."

"You're fine, Jauney!" Valkyrie exclaimed, crushing the boy in a frankly brutal chokehold that Cinder was reasonably sure shouldn't have been labeled a 'hug'. "No one's blaming you. How else would you learn if you didn't ask?"

The boy looked away at that, mumbling something that Cinder didn't catch.

"We're here."

She mentally thanked Emerald for recapturing her attention as they entered into one of Beacon's many training rooms. The room was simple, a few benches surrounding a central arena. The arena itself was the same model as the one used for Goodwitch's class, although without the large screen hanging up on the wall to show off the fighter's aura levels.

The woman's name alone brought some odd reaction out of her, the picture of her face, of her platinum hair and her deep green eyes staring right at her in the depths of her mind.


Such thoughts were cast aside, however, as Nikos inserted her scroll into the machine, and gestured for her to do the same. It was clear the girl was excited from that alone, for she didn't at all seem the pushy type. Cinder followed suit as the barriers surrounding the arena lowered, and the two of them stepped inside.

"How would you like to do this?" Nikos asked, already getting in some preliminary stretches. "Should we go to ring-out, or–"

"The first to Yellow." Cinder interrupted her, doing a few light stretches herself. "After all, we both have classes soon after this, do we not? It would not do for either of us to work up a sweat."

Nikos was disappointed about that, Cinder could tell, but the girl appeared to accept the necessity of what Cinder had said regardless.

Originally she'd intended for Mercury to be the one to probe the girl. However, seeing as Cinder had already gone and made the mistake of sticking out, she might as well use that reputation to their benefit. It wasn't like she would be revealing anything, either, especially fighting with her fists.

"Ren, would you mind officiating?" Nikos asked of her friend, before seemingly remembering her presence. "Oh, of course, if that's alright with you."

"That will be fine." She replied, nodding her head towards the black-haired boy, who stepped out of the arena along with the rest of them, and synced his scroll to both of their aura's.

Cinder brought her mind back to their intentions here. They needed to parse out Pyrrha Nikos' strengths, weaknesses, and semblance.

But, well…

She cracked her neck idly, before letting her eyelids slide down.

After all, she was quite the skilled second year, wasn't she?

She might as well have a little fun with her 'reputation', too.

Pyrrha Nikos had gotten awfully good at winning.

It really hadn't been her intent, either. Well, initially, she'd joined the tournament scene of her own will, and surely enough, she hadn't joined it to lose. But the fame… well, it had gone to her families heads. Soon enough, sponsorship deals, merchandising… it had begun to build up behind them. She'd gone from a girl with a love for competition, to someone who'd almost detested it.

She'd gone from Pyrrha Nikos to the Invincible Girl.

It was hard, truly hard, for that tiny ember in the depths of her soul to grow alight these days. The last time she'd felt it had been in the finals of a tournament some two years ago, against an opponent who'd truly been her equal.

After she'd beaten him, and barely, her parents had put good money into seeing the boy buried in scandals and rumors of cheating, preventing him from so much as entering another tournament without being hounded at every step. The last she'd heard; he'd retired a few months after that.

When she'd asked her parents why… they'd simply told her that it wasn't for a Nikos to have competition. It wasn't for anyone to put up so much as a fight against her… Even if she'd been able to win.

Because there'd been the barest possibility she might not. And that was unacceptable.

Despite it all, Pyrrha didn't hate them. It was hard to hate one's parents, really, and she acknowledged that even with all of what they'd done, she was still incredibly lucky. But that event had only served to highlight that the things Pyrrha wanted, and the things that the Nikos family wanted, were different. It was the majority of the reason she'd chosen Beacon over Haven.

She was tired of being put on a pedestal. Tired of being seen as the Invincible girl, even by her own family. Even by the staff at Haven, by Leonardo Lionheart, who'd been 'honored' to have her among their students.

She hadn't wanted their honor. She'd wanted nothing from them but to be taught.

Luckily, things were great now. They really were. Her idea had proven correct. Surely, a good deal of people at Beacon cared about her name, they cared about her title, but there were just as many people like Jaune and Ren, who hadn't known about her fame at all and didn't particularly care, or Nora, who laughed off her skills, instead boasting that unless Pyrrha could beat her in a pancake eating contest, she wasn't impressed.

It was beautiful. Truly beautiful to have a group of people around her who liked her for her.

So, interacting with a few who did care about her fame was fine. This new team, CMME, seemed pretty okay with it, and it made sense. Adult huntsman had never really been all that impressed by her celebrity status, largely because she was fairly certain the majority could beat her into the ground whilst unarmed. She'd gotten a similar vibe from two members of that team. The first had been Mint, who'd stared at her like she was sizing her up, and completely unaffected by what she found.

The second had been Cinder Fall.

She'd seen those eyes before. Eyes that measured her worth, eyes that inspected every little inch of her. They weren't at all rare in the tournament scene. A lot of the more analytical fighters had them. But this… this was different somehow.

Pyrrha, she–


Any further thoughts were cut off as a fist rocketed towards her skull.

Instincts honed for nearly a decade had her head shooting to the right, allowing her to dodge the incoming attack by the barest of margins, and she felt how close the hit had come to striking her by the way her hair whooshed back.

Pyrrha grunted in pain as the woman assaulting her didn't pull back her fist, but instead slammed it down on Pyrrha's left shoulder, immediately trying to shut down her shield arm. It was a good strategy, and, if the woman truly intended to fight without any sort of weapon, then one she would have to employ.

Pyrrha decided that allowing her opponent to set the tempo wouldn't be good, and kicked up into a backflip, forcing Cinder to step back. She analyzed the way's her opponent could move in a fraction of a second as she changed her weapon from sword to rifle form midair, taking three shots that her opponent tanked upon her arms.

Cinder 'tsked', before launching herself forward. Once more, Pyrrha realized that given her inability to fight at range, she had no real option other than to close the distance.

Perhaps that's my window? She thought to herself. If I can keep her at a distance…

No. If she could tell it was her best move to make, then Cinder would be able to tell as well. She was someone who fought with her body, which meant she had to have some way to abuse those who'd fight at range.

Or more accurately, simply possessed a number of strategies to counter them.

And really, if all Pyrrha did to achieve victory here was prevent her opponent from ever getting near her, then what had been the point of this spar in the first place?

She hadn't come to Beacon Academy just to win. She'd come to grow. To learn. Both as a fighter, and as a person. She'd done a lot of the latter in these last couple weeks…

It was time for some of the former.

She blitzed in; and judging by the way the woman in front of her narrowed her eyes, she hadn't exactly been expecting that. Pyrrha took advantage of the small hesitation and tried to use Milo's spear form to poke out at her ribs. Cinder deftly evaded the contact and managed to trap the weapon against the side of her body, locking it in place and yanking Pyrrha forward.

Pyrrha let out a small yelp as she was given the choice to either abandon her weapon or allow herself to be pulled into the enemies range. The choice was easy, and she let go of Milo just in time to see her opponent smile victoriously.

She wondered what that was about for the barest moment, before her opponent pressed the shift button on the side of her weapon, transforming it into its rifle mode, and brought it up. Pyrrha scarcely had enough time to bring Akouo up and block the shot before she heard her opponent step forward, and bit down on the pain of Milo's blade form crashing into her right leg.

She lowered her shield in time to see Cinder Fall's eyes blazing as she prepared to swing Milo up at her face.

And then she watched those same eyes widen as the blade sailed just barely over her, as if its course had been altered ever so slightly.

And then Akouo crashed down on the woman's nose.

Without Aura, it certainly would've broken it, though it seemed Cinder had managed to get hers up in time, snarling both with pain and no small amount of anger. Pyrrha could understand. In the heat of combat, even those you liked could feel like bitter enemies, and as of yet, the two of them were at most acquaintances.

But still… seeing the way Cinder looked at her, feeling her heart beat inside her chest, feeling the blood pumping in her veins, the adrenaline coming in to numb the pain of the few blows she'd taken thus far… Something within her began to stir that hadn't in a very long time.


She played on the offensive, trying to abuse the momentum she'd gained from stunning her opponent. Cinder recovered far faster than she'd expected, however, and attacked her with a fury of blows that only experience allowed her to combat. She took hits regardless, two along her ribs, and one to her right shoulder, which slowed down her own reactions by a hair, allowing Cinder to wind back and plant her foot into Pyrrha's face with enough force to send her spiraling back.


She rolled as she landed, transforming Milo into its rifle form, and firing off shots as Cinder charged forward. She aimed not for the woman's body, but for her legs, trying to cause her to stumble and fall. It seemed Cinder had expected that, however, for she bobbed and weaved in a tight zigzag patten as she closed the distance.

Pyrrha wouldn't have enough time. She wouldn't be able to shift Milo back without Cinder getting a hit in…

And for some reason, that had her grinning like a schoolgirl.


Instead of trying to run back, she threw Akouo at her opponent's head, forcing the woman to slide underneath it, her legs skidding somewhat against the arena beneath them. Pyrrha had a shot there, aiming a few bullets at Cinder's head. Even then, she only managed to land a single one before Cinder placed her hands on the floor, and, like a break-dancer executing a particularly difficult routine, shot herself forward from off of them.

Cinder's legs rocketed towards Pyrrha's head, but she mirrored the woman's earlier move, forcing herself to bend backwards at an angle that likely would've broken a civilians back. Still, Cinder didn't waste the moment where Pyrrha couldn't attack her, and, as she flew overhead, she managed to land a weak punch to Pyrrha's face. It wasn't much, but she felt it.

Still, this was it! She had the woman! She was in the middle of the air, still flying over, which meant that–

"The match is over! Cinder is the victor!"

What!? When had–

Every muscle in her body untensed at once, and Pyrrha suddenly paid attention to just how raggedly she was breathing. She forced herself to look away from her opponent as Cinder landed a way's away, and instead glance down at her scroll.

Sure enough, that last hit, the tiniest of blows, had knocked her aura down into the yellow.

There were voices in her head, then, disappointed in her that she'd managed to lose, even in a competition as meaningless as this. But those went ignored. Instead, she focused more on the feeling coursing through her, on the way her muscles tensed, how her blood felt blazing hot, on how her breaths came out quick and harsh…

That… that had been…

The wide smile that appeared on Pyrrha's face a moment later was one of purest bliss.

Cinder let out a breath between her teeth as she allowed herself to relax somewhat. The battle she'd taken part in hadn't been difficult, but then again, it hadn't been easy, either. She'd have compared it to facing both Emerald and Mercury, if not a touch less taxing than that. Still, it had certainly made her try more than her spar with that Adel girl the other day.

"I…" Nikos was still down on the ground on her knees, smiling like an idiot as she looked up at Cinder, before standing and offering out a hand to her. "Thank you! Truly, that… that was the most fun I've had in a spar in… I can't remember how long."

Cinder shook it, feigning her own excitement. "You're rather skilled yourself. I suppose what they say about you isn't too far from the truth."

She watched once more as the woman's smile faltered, and idly she noted that it seemed mentions of the girls fame and reputation might also be causing the adverse reactions, not necessarily just compliments.

Some of the others began exchanging words between themselves, Mercury talking with Arc and Ren, whilst Emerald did her best to engage Valkyrie in conversation without wanting to shoot herself in the head. For some reason, Mint was nodding her head at everything the Nora girl said, as if enraptured by her words, despite Cinder knowing she was likely completely tuning her out. Such was impressive, given the girl was…


'Making Cinder want to strangle her' was another way of putting it.

The worst part about it was that she assumed Valkyrie wasn't exactly going to abruptly leave them alone just because Cinder and her followers had accomplished what they'd set out to do. Worse, with how positively thrilled Cinder had seemed to hang out with the girl and her team in front of Goodwitch, it'd only be odd if she were to suddenly not want to interact with them all of a sudden.

That might draw attention, which was exactly the opposite of what they wanted.

Which meant they were likely stuck interacting with JNPR. If that were to be the case, then surely Cinder might as well have an excuse to break away from the hyperactive nutcase whenever she desired, no?

"How about you and I make this a regular event?"

"You…" Pyrrha Nikos seemed almost flabbergasted at the concept, before she shook off the surprise, and earnestly beamed at her. "I-I would love that! Are you sure, I wouldn't want to intrude…?"

It was clear that Pyrrha Nikos wanted nothing more than to intrude, but Cinder didn't say anything about that. Instead, she gave what she intended to be a genial expression. "Certainly. I imagine sparring with you will keep my own muscles in good shape, too. And who knows, perhaps in a full spar, the result would be different?"

It wouldn't be, but none of them missed how Nikos stood quite a bit taller at that, before the bell for their lunch period rang, signaling that they only had a few minutes to make it to their next classes.

"Ah, it seems we must all be off." Cinder gave another smile to the girl, stepping down and out of the arena.

"Yeah, last time we were late for Oobleck's class by thirty seconds, and he made us all write a thousand words on the historical context of the years leading up to the Faunus Wars, compared with today's White Fang." Jaune Arc shivered at the very thought. "I don't want to go through that again."

"Thank you again, all of you." Nikos bowed their way as she joined her team.

"Bye bye, Cindy!" Valkyrie shouted, using the same nickname Roman of all people had for her, and she had to force the kind smile to stay on her face as Team JNPR made their way into the halls outside. "I'll text you tonight, so you don't get lonely! Oh! And message me the rest of your team's numbers! We should all hang out again sometime!"

Cinder's right eye twitched.

"I'm sure we'd all love that, Nora."

Lie Ren mouthed 'sorry' as he escorted his partner out of the room, and then shut the door behind them.

"Huh." Mercury spoke up. "She's… friendly."

"Yes." Cinder murmured under her breath, trying to calm the raging vein along her forehead.


It was rather late in the day that 'Team Chamomile' went over their findings. Or, well, the remaining members. 'Mint' was… out.

Cinder didn't really know where. Nor did she particularly care.

"You're saying that you had the same phenomenon happen, then, ma'am?"

"Indeed." Cinder spoke as she looked at a news article in front of her. It was dated four years back and had been nothing more than a small interview with a fighter in a Mistralian tournament who placed second, behind one Pyrrha Nikos, of course.

Despite that it was a loser's interview, often a formality and not paid much attention in the first place, it had been inordinately difficult to find a surviving copy of. After all, the Nikos scion had paid an awful lot of money to see this particular interview, and the fighter who'd spoken out in it, buried under threat of legal action.

Defamation, he'd called it.

Fear. Cinder saw it for what it was.

"I don't know." The disgruntled fighter, fresh off his defeat, had spoken into a microphone in front of only a few reporters, most too busy covering Nikos' meteoric victory to care. "It's just… when I went to stab at her with my spear, I couldn't hit her. But it wasn't… listen, I've trained for over a decade. I know what it's like when I miss, what it feels like. It wasn't like that. It was like…

Like my blows curved."

"He's not the only one who said that." Emerald looked up from her own scroll. "According to some fighters who faced off against her, they said their weapons would miss when they didn't think they had. Just by a hair, an inch, but it was enough for Nikos to gain the upper hand. The first time it happens, it's worth note, right? But the fifth? The tenth? Eventually, people stopped complaining. After all, if it happens to everyone…"

"Then Pyrrha Nikos is just that good, right?" Cinder smirked. "I see. Covered not through stealth, but from a boisterous lack of it."

"And you're saying it didn't happen the whole time?"

"No… it didn't. At least, not until I utilized the girl's own weapon against her, tried to strike a blow against her skull… and then it shifted just a bit. Not much, but enough for her to avoid my attack, and land a counter."

"When she shield-bashed you?" Mercury asked.

"Mm." She hummed affirmatively. "It isn't manipulation of the body, then, or something that allowed her to redirect hits… Tell me, did any hand-to-hand combatants ever report these strange happenings?"

Emerald went silent for a moment as she checked over her list. "No ma'am."

She let out a quiet laugh, then, as the truth of the matter became evident. Pyrrha Nikos couldn't make you miss…

But she could make your weapon curve.

Ah, so that would be why the Nikos family had gone out of its way to bury the article. Because the man who'd spoken so soon after his defeat had been on the right track. Because if he'd gotten any more people talking about it…

Then their golden goose may've been figured out.

"Polarity." Cinder elucidated for the other two, watching as they nodded their heads. "Hah. How amusing. I suppose that would aid rather handsomely in appearing invincible in a world where most utilize metal weaponry."

Still, the discovery of that particular tidbit changed some things. She'd originally intended for Mercury to face off against potential maiden candidates, in order to force Ozpin's hand in selecting them, but for once, she actually found herself doubting that Mercury could beat Pyrrha Nikos if it came to that.

It would be close in a spar, certainly, but if the girl's life were threatened, she had the ace in the hole of her semblance. She could quite literally rip Mercury's legs out from under him. And Emerald, as useful as she was, wasn't a fighter in the traditional sense. Good, but no better than the average second or third year.

So, if it came to it, it would likely be Cinder herself against the Nikos girl.

If she could learn the girl's patterns, get used to her movements, and teach the girl some incorrect methodologies against her by fighting with her fists and not her blades, if they ever came to real battle one day, Cinder could likely effortlessly dispatch her.

She could likely do so even without the training, but then, one did not become as adept as Cinder without being cautious to match.

And besides, Nikos would keep her muscles in shape. She was good, that wasn't an exaggeration. In a few years' time, this girl could likely catch up to where Cinder stood now. Of course, Cinder herself wasn't planning on idling away. She, too, would grow…

And this girl, well… if she took what Cinder desired as she thought she may…

She would not get the chance to grow at all.

Her morbid line of thinking was interrupted by a knock at their door. Emerald and Mercury both turned to her, looking for guidance. Cinder nodded their way, telling them to prepare themselves just in case.

She stood and stepped towards the door with some small caution. There was a decent chance nothing would come of this, or that it was simply Valkyrie, come to bother her for the eighteenth time in twenty-four hours.

She wasn't exactly expecting Glynda Goodwitch to be standing there in front of her when the door opened, but she wasn't diss…

…what had she been about to think?

"Ah, Miss Fall. I hope I'm not bothering you or your team?"

"No, no, of course not, Ms. Goodwitch." Cinder nodded her head towards the woman and raised her voice enough so that the other two heard her and knew who'd come to visit. "Was there something you needed?"

"Not as such," The blonde admitted, seemingly, for once, to be unsure of something, if the way that her posture shifted every so often was being read correctly. "I merely wanted to ask if you would accompany me to my office. There was something I wanted to discuss with you. It shouldn't take terribly long, and you're free to decline if you so desire."


She looked back towards her teammates and shot the both of them a curt nod. They looked almost puzzled as they regarded her before each of them nodded back.

"I would be glad too, Ms. Goodwitch." Cinder smiled disarmingly at the woman as she stepped out of her room and closed the door behind her.

"Ah, well, I'm glad you're available." The Professor, too, seemed surprised by something. "It wasn't exactly essential, so I wasn't sure you'd be interested."

…Now that Cinder thought about it, why had she agreed to accompany the woman so quickly? She would've at the very least gotten an explanation normally, and yet here she was, following along behind her like a dog on a leash at the simplest offer.

No wonder Emerald and Mercury had stared at her like she'd grown a third leg. That was the second time she'd acted like some imbecile in just a few days. Third, if they were to count coming here far ahead of schedule.

That feeling… that… whatever it was when she met Goodwitch's eyes, and the woman curled her lips down at her in a way that forced her to break their gaze…

What on Remnant is this…?

She'd have to search for answers later. For the moment, once more, it was time to perform before an audience.

Cinder wasn't at all surprised to find that Glynda Goodwitch's office reflected the woman's more… obvious tendencies.

The room wasn't exactly bare, but then again, there was little in it that Cinder thought had been added by the woman herself. It was a largely utilitarian space. Not terribly big, though easily double the size of Cinder's tiny apartment that she'd been staying in while in Vale.

It seemed being a Professor at Beacon was not something that came without perks. Perhaps that should've been obvious, given that only the best of the best (and, apparently, Professor Peter Port, whose existence was an enigma to Cinder) made up its staff. If they were catered well to, then they were more likely to stick around.

Off to Cinder's right was a small kitchenette area, with some high shelves that likely housed glassware and the like. To her left was a hall that led off to what seemed to be a bedroom, with a separate door that appeared to lead to a bathroom around halfway down the corridor.

In the center of room was a living area, complete with a couch that looked unused, and a coffee table that seemed more so. The only thing in the room that did seem to see frequent wear and tear was the desk in the corner, a large, wooden, L-shaped unit that had clearly seen better days. At a glance, it was at least five years old, if not older, and had rather visibly been at Beacon for as long as Glynda Goodwitch herself.

Sat upon it were numerous papers, and a number of pens of varying colors. A red one was opened, and still sitting, ready for use, on the right side of her desk.

She hummed as she stored away the trivial knowledge she'd gained here. Perhaps something could be of use at a later date, though she had nothing to do with it in the meantime.

If anything, it seemed that Glynda Goodwitch simply found little use for the more… pedestrian sections of the room and only really used the space at all when she was sat at the desk at the back corner of the room.

She must've used the bedroom as well, though Cinder somehow doubted she'd ever get a look at that.

"Pardon my mess," Goodwitch spoke with a small hint of embarrassment, though Cinder would've been lying if she said she could even tell what said mess was supposed to be. "I'm afraid inviting you here was a rather spur of the moment decision."

"Oh?" She found herself smiling, almost against her will. She fought to keep herself under control as she rounded coolly on the woman. "And why did you invite me here in the first place, Ms. Goodwitch?"

"Rather simply, to check in with you and your team." The woman spoke as she stepped into the kitchen area. "It's nothing too major, like I said. Please, have a seat," she gestured to the unused couch in the center of the room. "Would you like a glass of something? I have some herbal teas if you'd like."

Cinder didn't particularly desire anything, but she supposed it wouldn't hurt to please the woman; nor to be served a drink. "Tea would be fine for me, thank you."

Glynda Goodwitch hummed as she made them a quick blend of something that smelled nondescript enough to be any flavor. Perhaps a blend. When she'd finished, she pulled the chair she seemed to normally sit at from her desk and drew it up on the other side of the coffee table, so that the two of them sat opposite one another. She placed the steaming cups in front of her, sliding one closer to Cinder.

She took a drink of it and wasn't at all surprised to find it didn't particularly suit her palette. Still, she had been forced to accept far sicker things in the past than a tea she did not especially care for, so it would not hurt her to pretend.

"I suppose I should begin by saying that you're free to not answer any questions you do not wish to. I'm not here to interrogate you."

She hadn't suspected the woman of such, but really, why hadn't she? Intellectually, she perhaps should've been expecting that. It would make some sense for the right hand of Ozpin to be investigating her and given she and her team made for an oddity at best, it wouldn't have been odd for them to be under scrutiny.

Still, for some reason, she couldn't find it in herself to suspect the woman in front of her of that. Why? …Once more, Cinder Fall failed to come up with an answer. Perhaps it was simply that she couldn't see a woman as 'good' as Glynda Goodwitch doing such a thing, but even that shouldn't have been enough.

Cinder had been wronged before. Hell, she'd been wronged almost all her life. What was one more occasion?

Instead of simply accepting the woman's words for what they were, she resolved herself to at the very least be on the lookout for potential trap questions. Blind trust was for the foolish and idiotic. Cinder Fall was neither.

"Of course." She smiled, betraying none of her true thoughts on the matter. "As for my team… we're settling in well, I suppose. It's only been a few days, as you know, so I suppose that could change. Emerald and Mercury are at each other's throats as usual, and Mint is… well, she's being herself."

A tiny grin blossomed onto Goodwitch's face at that. "Oh?"

"Mint is a troublemaker at the best of times. She's…" Cinder remembered back to what they'd written on the girl's own transcripts, but very little of it would help to explain Neo's… personality. "I suppose I should just preemptively apologize for any trouble she causes you and the rest of the staff."

Against her expectations, the woman opposite her gave a quiet chuckle. "I'm sure she's not quite as bad as you're letting on."

You say that now. Cinder thought but didn't say.

"And what about yourself?"

"Me?" Cinder was almost surprised by the question, despite knowing she shouldn't have been. "It's the same story. I've been settling in fine, but it hasn't been that long."

"Well, that's good, at least." Glynda Goodwitch spoke. "I'm glad you're all doing well."

"Did you expect us not to be?"

"No, no!" Goodwitch rushed to reassure her, even as Cinder smirked amusedly at seeing the woman before her seem so… awkward. "It's more… never mind. I hope you'll forgive me if I've upset you."

"You've not upset me." Cinder said, and she wasn't at all lying about that. "If anything, I'm simply intrigued. You can't have invited me back to your office just to check in on our team."

Once more, her more cunning side took over, forcing her to question just what reason the woman could possibly have for doing what she'd done.

"Ah, well…" The professor seemed, for once, at a loss for words. Or it was more that she was unsure of quite what to say.

And then Glynda Goodwitch surprised her.

"Your transcripts didn't tell the whole truth about you, did they, Ms. Fall?"

Instincts that she'd allowed to slip in the comfort of the woman's room slammed back into place, and one of her palms had already begun to heat thanks to her semblance, prepared to summon Midnight at the slightest sign of combat.

"I've no idea what you mean."

And then, yet again, Glynda Goodwitch surprised her.

She reached across, and placed her hand on Cinder's own, her expression laced with concern.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

Her eyes widened. "What do you–"

"You looked like you were ready to fight your way out of my room just now." The words had Cinder's throat barren, and she had to physically force the hand not being held by Goodwitch to cool, to let the heat she'd been building there dissipate. "It was not my intention to make you feel cornered. I apologize. I promise you, I've no intent to harm you. I can see your past is perhaps not… not something you'd like to talk about."


What could Cinder say that wouldn't incriminate her in some way? What she'd written on her transcripts had been a lie, of course it had. She'd been from an orphanage in Mistral, then she'd been taken to act as an 'employee' at The Glass Unicorn in Atlas, before finally she'd been picked up by Salem while running away from… everything.

Her transcripts, on the other hand, said that she'd been young, perhaps ten or eleven when her Village, Kuroyuri, had been hit by the Grimm. She'd survived by being picked up by a huntsman who happened to be nearby at the time and roamed around with him for a while. Once he'd died, Cinder had traveled on her own. She'd picked up Emerald and Mercury, and then headed to Haven Academy at the age of nineteen. From then, she'd had a completely normal first year, and then come to Beacon when Haven's own staff had been running conspicuously low.

She hadn't at all anticipated Goodwitch asking about her like this. Hadn't anticipated the questions, or the intrigue. If she had, she would've created a few fake stories about parents, or about this 'huntsman' who'd picked her up out of the destroyed rubble of her Village.

…She could… No. It wasn't like she could simply tell Goodwitch about Rhodes. She imagined the death of a huntsman wasn't exactly a secret, and even years later, she doubted they'd simply let her walk away scot-free. At the very least, they'd suspect her of murdering the man, and the fact that four bodies had been found at the scene, and that the mystery as to who had killed them still went on to this day…

…Wait, why had she even considered being honest with the woman!? What reason would there be to tell her of what went on between her and Rhodes? Of what had happened at the Glass Unicorn so very long ago?

Cinder shook her head, clenching her teeth as she dismissed the near mistake as best she could.

Something about this woman was tricking her into letting her guard down. The sooner she found out just what that was, the better.

For the time being, she needed to be more aware. More skeptical. This woman was probing. She was trying to find out information about Cinder. For what reason… that could be a question for later. For right now, she needed to deflect.

And for once, honesty would serve her best.

"No. It isn't."

Glynda Goodwitch just nodded her head.

"Then again, I apologize. I shouldn't have asked so abruptly."

"No, it's…"

The professor didn't say anything, and Cinder realized that she was waiting for her to answer. Which was a problem, given that she didn't actually have one.

What was she supposed to say? For what felt like the millionth time, that question rang out in her mind. Only this time… this time, she didn't really have an out, did she. No… no, she did. She just… she just had to say that she didn't want to say anything. That was something a teenager would do, right? That wasn't overwhelmingly suspicious, nor did it cast her in a negative light.

…On its own.

But if something were to occur later down the line, if some part of their plans were to hit a snag, and evidence came out, then Cinder might be in the firing line if she was in any way a suspect. Making herself seem guilty of something now…

Cinder held her breath.

"…My past–"

A knock at the door had Cinder jumping, though she sighed in relief a moment later. Whomever had come by to interrupt this had her thanks.

Goodwitch excused herself, before standing and walking calmly to the door. She opened it just wide enough that Cinder could lean back on the couch and let her head hang off of it to see who was there.

Though she was rather surprised when she saw Emerald.

"Ah, you're one of Ms. Fall's teammates, correct?"

"I'm sorry, Ms. Goodwitch." Emerald bowed her head. "I was just checking up on Cinder. It's been about half an hour. We weren't sure how long you two were going to be, so I figured I could come see how you were doing."

Though the words were innocuous enough on their own, Cinder could hear the hidden meaning within them. Their leader had been gone long enough without any word that her underlings had decided to come here to see if something had happened. Emerald had even come with her weapons in tow, her twin sickles lodged in their sheathes on her lower back. She'd thought something may've gone wrong, that she might have to bust Cinder out on her own…

The problem now, of course, was that Goodwitch might say more than she wanted her to reveal to Emerald.

"Actually, I believe we were just finishing up." The professor smiled back at her. "The two of us were merely discussing the last few days, seeing if you'd all settled in alright, and making sure nothing about Beacon was too overwhelming for any of you."

…Part of that was the truth, so it wasn't like the woman was lying, but she was certainly omitting some parts of the story.

Was Glynda Goodwitch… covering for her?

How odd. It would almost be embarrassing, were Cinder someone capable of feeling such an emotion. Instead, she looked away from the professor's face as she stood up and walked to the door herself, trying to think of what to say.

"My apologies, Ms. Goodwitch. I did not mean–"

"Don't apologize, Ms. Fall." The woman interrupted, "If anything, I should apologize to you again for eating up so much of your evening. I suppose I simply lost track of time. For now, I'll allow your teammate to escort you back to your room."

Emerald and Mercury… neither of them knew a thing about her. Neither of them knew anything at all, really. They knew that Cinder served an ambiguous master, and that they would be bringing Beacon Academy to heel to find the Maiden and, if they could, some mysterious 'relic' beneath the school, but other than that, the two were in the dark.

Cinder preferred to keep them that way.

And it seemed like Glynda Goodwitch, rather unintentionally, had aided in that effort. She intended to keep Cinder's distaste for her past a secret.

"Well then, have a good night, you two. Don't shirk on your homework."

Cinder looked back at the woman as she shut the door behind them, and found herself feeling almost…


She shook away the feeling in the next moment, moving to walk in front of Emerald as they made their way back to their room. She watched out of the corner of her eye as the thief kept glancing at her, so Cinder wasn't really surprised when she finally asked, "Ma'am, is everything alright?"


"Are… you sure?"


"S-Sorry, ma'am." Emerald finally looked away as Cinder turned to face her, and they made their way back to their shared dorm in silence.

When they arrived, Cinder wasted no time in taking to her bed and wrapping herself in the cheap blankets the school had provided. They served her fine. It was far better than she'd had for the majority of her life.

Cinder was asleep within a minute.

A good hour or so after Cinder herself had fallen asleep; Emerald was still awake in her own bed. The night's events hadn't exactly been earthshattering, but for Emerald, they just added another piece to what was rapidly becoming a bewildering puzzle.

Emerald had come to check on Cinder, fearing that somehow, they'd been compromised. Even if Cinder had seemed remarkably relaxed, going with that female professor with barely a question as to the woman's intent, she'd known that must've simply been false bravado.

And when Emerald arrived to make sure nothing was amiss, when the door had opened, she'd found Glynda Goodwitch and Cinder Fall just… talking.

Emerald knew that in terms of reading people, Cinder was likely a lot better at it than she was. But Emerald had learned those skills on the streets; it was good to be able to recognize if someone intended to kick your teeth in before they'd so much as raised their foot.

So, when she'd seen Glynda Goodwitch cover for Cinder… that had been weird.

But when Cinder had looked away, embarrassed – and hell, blushing!? Like the honest to gods schoolgirl that the ruthless murderer known as Cinder Fall was currently pretending to be…

Emerald knew.

Their early arrival at Beacon Academy, she'd let go. Cinder's odd behavior in combat class that got her pulled aside by Goodwitch, she'd let go. Hell, it had seemed like everything was working out, too, with how her mistress had managed to spin that so that they interacted with Nikos' team and found out her weaknesses.

But this confirmed it.

Something was off with the person she l– trusted. It was clear Mercury hadn't caught it, or, well, he may've suspected something, but he didn't know Cinder like she did. Didn't have her experience with the woman. Which meant that it was up to her.

Something was wrong with Cinder…

And Emerald was going to find out what.

Glynda Goodwitch sighed into her hands as she ran them up and down her face.

The paper in front of her on team tactics had gone a good twenty minutes without her correcting a single mistake, which was a marvel, given how Cardin Winchester had somehow thought that the right answer to 'How do you keep your teammates focused and on task in the field' was 'Tell them to stay focused and on task', but no, remarkably, she'd not yet found fault with that.

Because her mind was too focused on something else to notice.

Too focused on Cinder Fall.

She kept thinking about the little 'chat' she'd had with the woman earlier that night. It hadn't exactly been as impromptu as she'd let on, but then again, it wasn't like she'd been scheming for weeks and weeks either. She'd truly intended to simply chat with the woman about how she was doing and see if she could get some inkling into just what had caused the look behind the woman's eyes.

She'd certainly not intended to take a veritable sledgehammer to the woman's emotional walls, but regardless of her intent, she'd gone and done it.

It had been a mistake, but just because she admitted that didn't mean she could magically take it back. Glynda had pushed too hard, gone too far, and Cinder Fall's guard had come up with enough speed that it was a wonder she hadn't been snapped up too.

She could still picture the look the girl had given her, like a cornered animal ready to scratch and claw and bite its way out.

Glynda had given up on her task for the night then and there. She'd tried to go on damage control, to make the woman at least feel a little better. But then the knock at the door had interrupted that, too.

She'd seen the way that Cinder had been uncomfortable when her teammate came to check up on her. It pained her to see the girl like that, so afraid of her own past coming out that she hid it, seemingly, even from those closest to her.

And so, Glynda had done the best she could to make it up to the woman, not revealing anything about their meeting that Cinder might not want known. The relief had been obvious on the woman's features, but that only served to make Glynda feel worse.

Because the girl was hurting. Or, at the very least, she'd been hurt. That much was clear to her. But the way she clammed up at Glynda trying to get information out of her about her past was…

Well, it wasn't something she was currently equipped to challenge.

Still, Glynda wasn't about to give up just yet.

Maybe she could take some time in the coming days to seek out and talk to the woman's teammates. At the very least, that would accomplish the mission Ozpin had given her. But more importantly…

Perhaps they would have some idea on how to help their leader.

End Chapter 2

Not much to say at the end here. Most of it's setup for the next few chapters, although we get a peek inside Emerald's head this chapter. I'm excited to write Emerald's arc in this, she's a favorite character of mine.

Alright, for now, I'm going to say I'll put the next chapter up… sometime next week? Within like 10ish days. It may very well be sooner than that, but since I'm going with my family to the Beach soon, it could take longer as well. Will have to see.

Anyways, see you all then!