The diagnostics ran through her background process for the dozenth time. This was not the same operation as her system's maintenance and clocking algorithms, meant for general upkeep, but for a deep level and block chain analysis of her individual parts. The structure of her code, age of her individual parts, including servos, processing chips, synthetic skin, and fatigue life of the differing parts in comparison to her log of use.

It was to make sure she was at the highest possible level for operation conditions, and Penny was running the loop continuously. She was required to, as something was wrong, though she couldn't readily determine what. She could recognize a floating variable or undeclared condition; one she could readily call up and deliver a submission for.

CheckSystemStability == 0; Run DiagnosticFullScan;

So, she was running it, over and over, because she couldn't readily find the reason her system was unstable. Her parts were recently replaced and secured, her memory and RAM cards had been cleaned, her code checked, and her outfit 100% combat efficient and approved by her teammates, to their delight. But the feeling was not going away.

"Hey, you okay?" She looked up at the boy standing next to her, his mace held in 180° rotation to normal presentation, placing the distal head upon the ground. "You don't look good. Get a bad batch of oil?"

"Negative, Team Leader Cardin. I have not changed the lubrication for two cycles, and last maintenance found sufficient volumes to last up to 100,344 cycles across all mated servos." Her head tilted left and right. "I do however seem to have an inconsistency within my programming, but in an unrecognizable variable and function. Full diagnostics have not been able to identify the variable for me to eschew."

"O… kay…" Team Leader Cardin slowly let out. "Can you, like describe it?"

"Of course. I have a binary variable meant to run diagnostics on full operational efficiency of my systems. When the value is measured beneath an acceptable range, it returns a zero, or negative, as my current system stability, requiring a full diagnostic scan of my system. I have yet, however, despite twelve running operations, to be able to find the offending variable." She watched her team leader's head slowly nod.

"I think I got it. You mean something feels off, but you don't know what, right?"

"That is a very diluted formatting of my current state, but it does reach an acceptable criterion."

"Then I think I know what the problem is." He did? "Because I got the same feeling all during the last matchup with Russel and Dove. Hasn't changed much this time around, just didn't think you'd be getting the same butterflies in your gut."

"You are incorrect Team Leader Cardin. There are no butterflies, caterpillars, or any metamorphically appropriate processes occurring in my chassis. There are currently no alien materials within me." She was rather sure, as having something non-mechanical or Dust related in her body would subject her systems to a great amount of error, in the measurement of system weight, balance, and speed, easily verifiable and within the scope of her diagnostic scan.

"That's… okay, first of all, butterflies in your gut is a metaphor. You know, an expression?"

"I am aware of an expression and a metaphor." Expression, second definition: using words to describe a sense of being, action, or thought process through example non-directly related to the current event. Metaphor: comparing two things wit the words 'like' or 'as'. "You have used an expression, but I heard no metaphors. Do you mean a simile?"

She watched her Team Leader massage the bridge of his nose. Technically another expression, expressing discomfort or lack of patience. She was watching him through it.

"Like working with the computer in sixth grade… okay, a simile then," he started once more. "It just means you are nervous, and your body is reacting cause of it."

"That does not correlate to my current error." Penny was sure of it. "Nervousness is a relation of lack of stability in the nervous system, most commonly associated with sympathetic nervous system. I lack such a system."

"Yeah, sure, sure, but you do have Aura, right?"

"I do. What correlation does this have?"

"Just listen up. Your nervous cause we're about to fight. You've got Aura, which only comes from the soul. You got a soul in there somewhere, and I know it cause there's no way you can have an Aura otherwise."

"I have a high measured probability this conversation is far deeper metaphysically then intended."

"The point is that you've got your soul shaking, and that's got your systems rattled up." Penny tilted her head, trying to find a plausible correlation. "Look, it doesn't have to make perfect sense, just enough to satisfy that code you got running."


"Whatever it is." Penny watched as Team Leader Cardin ran his hand down his face. "Look, you just gotta realize you're nervous, and heck, I am, too. But we've got each other's back, we've gotten this far in the tournament, and after this, we're gonna be going to the final rounds." He lifted and dropped the head of his hammer, as if proof of it.

It was a sign of confidence, her records indicated, or a show of aggression. But with the variables of the member whom he was speaking to being her and the location of the action, it was most attributable to a positive sign.

So as a show of similar good faith, Penny smiled, bouncing on her heels to affirm back.

"I agree with 100% certainty!" She rounded up a score of 74%. "We will defeat the opponents set before us and progress towards the following round in the tournament." Friend Cardin's grin back was a good sight to see. She documented it into her records, one of a few dozen.

"Finally revved up?" The voice came from across the arena. "Just wanna make sure you to are set to go."

Penny looked across the arena, noting already that it was conformed to a wasteland of Vacou properties, noted primarily by the volcanic soil, super-heated geysers, and small demonstratable fissures. Not true fissures, as it was only a model of a true landscape. It suited her current purpose well enough, spying the pair of opponents across the ways.

A girl with a splash of hair that run over her shoulder, colored in tan and high-end clothing. By comparison along the CCTV shopping networks, a close estimation was of over 2000 Lien of merchandise eschewing the purse she held, already previously demonstrated to be a mini-gun of high projective volume.

The partner next to her was taller than Team Leader Cardin, and muscles in the same ration. Darker skinned with shorter hair, and carrying a longsword comparable in absolute length to Impa's Biggoron's sword. It reached the boy's lower thighs, and he was tall enough that should Cardin wear it in a matching fashion, it would drag on the ground.

Penny noted it… because it made her self-created 'vengeance' program allow her to focus more readily on him for it. The comparison was light… but likely enough.

"Opponent Coco Adel and Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi, team leader and team member of second year class Team CFVY. Most likely fighting styles include Mage/Shadow and Warrior. Likelihood of combat methods, 54% and 98%." Her assessment rolled out quickly as she eyed the pair of them.

Coco adjusted her glasses, overly tinted by Penny's observation given the nature of the fight and arena. However, the smile she wore was friendly, and reminded Penny this was not a fight, not a true fight. It was a duel.

"Here that Yatsu? Looks like the girl's been paying attention to us. Buuuuut it looks like she couldn't quite catch how I like to think." She winked, which Penny was unable to discern with full confidence the meaning of. "Suits me just fine. A girl's gotta have her secrets."

"I also identify as female, so I understand the sentiment well." Penny blinked, an exception declaration occurring in her response. "Except with my teammates and friends, like Team Leader and Friend Cardin Winchester!" She grinned up at her partner, who sighed. She was not sure why.

"Oh sweetie, he's one of the ones you gotta keep some secrets from." That was a direct contradiction.

"I do not understand. Why would I keep secrets from my team leader?"

"Because of the charm, the pizzazz." She held up her arm and snapped her finger. "Nothing gets a man's attention like a mystery, don't you agree Yatsu?" She looked up at her tall partner.

He sighed, in a motion that mirrored Cardin with almost 92% correlation. Given it was from another individual, whom she could not find a significant relation with, it was rather impressive.

"Aw, you know you love me." Penny was not sure how. "Besides, it sounds like you got the download on us."


"Then you're gonna have to let us figure out the two of you." She flicked her glasses, allowing Penny to hear the click of securing them. "Thing is, hands on data is so much easier to understand than words on paper."

"It is? I am unaware of this." She was under the assumption all data's worth was dependent on the situation. "If possible, Team Leader Cardin, I'd like to inquire with Opponent Coco Adel about her words after this. Would this be possible."

"Depends on how bad you kick her ass." The words made their opponent laugh.

"Oh yeah, I really like you, too." Her grin was sharp, or at least developing a deeper angle. "And not just cause you tried to act smart with Link when he showed up. That'd make this hard… if I didn't remember how you treated my bunny earlier this year, Cardin." The words made her Team Leader hiss, confusing Penny.

"Bunny? You offended her pet rabbit?" The question made all members of the stage barring herself look at her.

"NO!" "NO!" "No."

"Contestants ready?" Penny held up her hand.

"Affirmative!" She watched Coco say something. Her sensors disregarded the insult registered. "YEAH!"

The crowd developed a much higher noise rang as the affirmation was given, followed by the screen blinking with a count down. Penny synchronized it with her internal system. It was important to have good timing, especially in a match.

10… 9… 8… 7…

Team Leader Cardin lifted up his mace, with Opponent Coco Adel holding out her purse. The reasoning was obvious.

6… 5… 4… 3…

Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi pulled out his blade and held its width in front of him like a shield. Penny released two of her blades as well, preparing to defend Team Leader Cardin if necessary.

2… 1…


vvvrrRRRRRRRR- Penny's auditory sensors picked up on the sound as soon as it appeared. A short chain analysis notified her to what it was. It helped that they were planning for it.

"Team Leader Cardin-!" "I know! 6 O'clock Position!" Penny followed the command immediately.

She jumped behind Cardin, adjusting her chassis appropriately to be hidden by his larger frame. Her sensors picked up on him pulling out a large metallic rod from his leg pocket, hearing the locks unlatch and gears automatically turning.

BRONG! In no time, Team Leader Cardin Winchester was holding a modified Atlas prototype riot shield, provided courtesy of her request to General Ironwood… She was confident he would pose few reprimands.

"I'm going to court martial her."

"She did only say it was for protection."

"Don't play dumb."

"I'm not, as I don't believe the devil's advocate is necessarily a dumb position."

"Against me it is."


BRRRBRRBRRBRRBRRBRRBRBRR- The rattle of bullets began to fly.

DRRDRRDRRDRRDRRDRRDRRDRRDRR- Just as frequently the thundering of them slamming against Team Leader Cardin's shield. Penny could feel the vibration of the impacts through his frame as she held up against him. That, and more.

She was more than aware of the intensity of the storm as she had to dig her heels into the pseudo-charred ground to prevent Team Leader Cardin from sliding back further. She was aware as she twisted her servos to allow her to grip his arm and applying additive resistive force for him. She was aware when she heard him start to grunt through the barrage.

BRR-BRANG! And if her functions were theoretically unable to equate that to damage, then her auditory and ocular sensors could point out the damage to the riot shield as evidence.

"GAH! HNG!" That, and Team Leader Cardin grunting as he held up the shield. His strength was already beginning to fail.

"Team Leader Cardin! I can-"

"NO!" He shouted across the barrage of bullets still tearing into the shield. Unmodified, unlikely Dust-fused, as the cost would be extraordinary for a non-lethal fight. "I… Got… THIS!" With her body pressed up against his back, assisting him to hold the shield, Penny Polendina soon figured out how.

BONG! That being his Semblance activating, and the boy she was holding suddenly increasing in mass dramatically.

Team Leader Cardin was correct, he now had a suitably higher chance of enduring the barrage of bullets from Opponent Coco Adel. However, Penny was still worried about Friend Cardin Winchester. But not enough to voice it yet. They had already discussed the appropriateness of it.

But her functions relating to 'concerns for allies and colleagues' was still increasing in value by the nanosecond. That would not cease until the attack did.

RRRRRrrrrrrr- The drop in Coco's minigun was taken as a blessing on the battlefield, as General Ironwood had indicated it. That was not reason to stop or be thankful, though. Team Leader Cardin also knew that.

"Penny! Go!" He shouted, but she was already leaping over his shoulder.

Caught in mid-air for a brief moment, Penny was able to observe the situation. Opponent Coco Adel had her minigun slowly holstering, Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi was running forward with his weapon placed before him, and Team Leader Cardin Winchester was discarding his shield for his mace. She knew the appropriate actions to take.

Once her feet hit the ground, she ran for Opponent Coco Adel. It was the obvious choice for her to tackle.

"It appears that the young Penny is charging the team leader of CFVY!" The announcement as made as she passed Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi. "And with that level of passivity from the large Yatsu, it appears they are of the same mind!" That was a preferable outcome, and one she didn't have a desire to change.

Penny pulled out two of her swords, adhering to Instructor Link's suggestion. Save power, reserve strength, test opponents. It was what she was taught before, far back when she had first met him in the arena and without words.

And without his body. But with the body of a person she and her team were training to face again.

CLANG! That training was being tested as she brought her blades down on Opponent Coco Adel, and the opposing Team Leader was able to endure the strike, though not as well as Team Leader Cardin Winchester.

"W-WHOA! You got some meat on those bones." She laughed, even as her own legs buckled under the reinforced blow. "Pack more of a punch than I thought."

"I did not attempt to strike you with an enclosed fist." Penny corrected her opponent. "I am aiming to cleave you with a pair of reinforced blades. I apologize if you were under the wrong impression." Her opponent continued to laugh.

"Yup… that's my bad. Thought I could shoot some crap with you. Don't… worry… I got it covered." Penny's ocular sensors did not pick up what was coming, but her force sensors did.

They sensed a change in resistive force from the blades. A reasoning function deduced it was most likely because of a loss in balance, lowering of position, or submission. Personality judgement function reduced it to lowering of position with an expected error of 0.12%. Her system compensated appropriately.

Penny jumped, avoiding the sweeping blow Opponent Coco Adel made. CLANG! She similarly followed with raising blades before the next compressed minigun shaped as a purse hit her, compensating for the blow. Ding ding… but her auditory sensors heard something else.

She looked down in time for her ocular sensors to see, compute, and showcase it to be a flashbang.

Her ocular sensors immediately shut off to reduce the expected damage.

BANG! It worked, for both her systems preservation and Opponent Coco Adel's objective. Thankfully, Penny was able to recover quickly, opening her sensors after the harsh luminosity degraded.

WHAM! And then raise her opposing limbs to block the compact purse from hitting her. The density higher than that of her own limbs. Predictable and calculated.

"Your good," Opponent Coco Adel complimented. It was appropriate to respond in kind.

"I give you thanks, Opponent Coco Adel. By my assessment, you are also above average in combat ability for a huntress in training of your pedigree." The girl laughed. WHAM! Even as the girl threw the purse at her again. Penny easily resisted the blow, form taking the necessary stance to offset damage and reduce fatigue strength of her servos.

The purse was heavy, Opponent Coco Adel was skilled, but she was built with superior technology. The advantage was hers, but she had to maintain it.

"Penny and Coco appear to be facing one another off with the prestige and strength befitting their training!" Her auditory sensors filtered out the announcement. "And it appears that Cardin Winchester is proving to be a worthy match for Yatsuhashi!" Penny did not need to confirm further. She knew Team Leader Cardin had trained for his fight. "And after a simple stupendous display of tactical prowess, presuming the first method of attack from their opponents and readying themselves for it!"

"A good, smart, intelligent, thought-out, shrewd strategy. Necessary in fact. Minimize risk, raise reward, delicate to commit to, but executed in a brilliant manner." Penny stowed the praise in the appropriate logs for a later date. Her focus wasn't on the words.

WHAM! It was on Opponent Coco Adel, and her swinging purse.BAM! As well as her boots, as they raised to kick her. Penny's force gauges, though of lower sensitivity than she wished, could pick up the significant force behind it. Her functions drew an immediate conclusion from the weight she bore.

"You have weighed your boots, correct?" She questioned, even as he adjusted her servos to push the heel off of her. "The force behind the blow is higher than the acceleration would allow if you maintained your expected mass and density."

"Good choice of words," her opponent, oddly, spoke first. "Better than asking if I was getting large."

"I have observed no significant change in the size of your figure in contrast to the preceding two months."

"Also, good, and yeah, they're weighted." She tapped her heel on the charred floor beneath them, twice. "But if you wanna get technical, and I'm gonna guess you do." She did. "Then they're actually reinforced. Custom job, high price, but worth the effort."

Opponent Coco Adel demonstrated why she believed in such a conclusion, by spinning on one of her heels and letting her other leg rise up. It swung towards Penny, but with a clearly visible trajectory, making it simple for her to lean back and avoid the blow. The foot sailed over her head.

And the purse was coming down towards it a moment later. WHAM! Just as she expected. Predictable and calculated.

"Your weapon is heavy as well," Penny continued to offer compliments. "You demonstrate no fatigue while holding it either."

"That's cause a girl's gotta work to look this good." Penny, still closer to the ground, titled her head.

"I did not offer any words regarding your physical appearance, though you do have a color scheme and design that is complimentary to the eyes." That was a normal phrase for beautiful, her logs said so.

"You got a weird way of saying I look good." Penny double checked her logs. "Don't worry, I got something funny myself."

Rather than speak first, Opponent Coco Adel dragged her purse back, forcing Penny to release it. Her systems followed the command of her exterior sensors, both distance and acceleration. She jumped avoiding a speedy kick from the girl, before forcing her head forward, ducking another round-house heel from impacting the under chin of her chassis.

"May I inquire what this 'funny' object is?" She phrased, landing on her feet and approaching her opponent again. "I believe I may have an improper definition for the word."

But Opponent Coco Adel only maintained a grin, making lunging kicks at her with swings from her heavy purse. It was not immediately dangerous, as the blows were easy to predicate and avoid. What wasn't avoided by clever moment was easily trapped against her forearms and legs. Penny was capable of waiting this match out, as she had been told to do in training. But this was not training, and the longer she waited, the more harm Team Leader Cardin could be in.

WHAM! WHAM! BAM! The sounds of his fight with Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi also reached her sensors, but she did not look for him, sure that Opponent Coco Adel would take action if she did. She had with the flash bang.

The logical action then was to finish her match and assister her Team Leader. The most expedient method to that was to use her swords. Only enough, as was requested by her Team Leader.

BING! BING! The back of her chassis unlatched, and a pair of swords flew out from her. She gripped them, running calculations to know the proper distance to maintain with Opponent Coco Adel in order to make contact with them while avoiding her. It would be simple enough.

"I apologize for not hearing what is the 'funny' object, but please inform me after the match." Penny took charge, preparing to aim for her opponent's unguarded side. Three hits, once with a projectile in the air, and she could issue a ring-out. Predictable and calculated.

BING! Her blades met Opponent Coco Adel's side, with high enough force measured to push several tons of stone. The opponent's Aura would be able to diffuse the damage.

Until it didn't. It was something neither predictable nor calculated.


"H-Huh?" The question left her synthetic lips before her reaction routine had time to generate an appropriate response. Before… almost anything else in her processor.

Before Penny's chassis recognize the force of her back hitting the ground, before her energy levels started to drop, and before the control to her swords bottomed out without response. After all of that happened, sitting on the ground, Penny ran more code.

Run BasicDiagonstics; Return Values(Auralevels, SecondarySystemlevels, SystemCompromisation, SuggestedActions);

Auralevels = 67%

SecondarySystemlevels = 1%

SystemCompromisation = 0;

SuggestedActions = 4;

Penny recognized 4 as 'retreat and recharge power supply appropriately'. It was an action she could not take, as not only would retreating result in her team's disqualification, but it would also require acknowledgment of her android systems, which long-standing orders dictated could not be exposed to unauthorized members.

The conclusion, however, remained unchanged.

Her Aura levels were satisfactory, but there was no energy in her system to appropriately move any of her servo systems. Penny lacked the power to move.

All of it occurred within approximately 0.014 seconds, allowing Penny to understand exactly what happened… and for her to look up at Opponent Coco Adel with concern.

"This is unsatisfactory." Her response was quick and appropriate. "And it's funny."

"I'm surprised you're able to still talk," Opponent Coco adjusted her sunglasses, her mouth twisting with an expression that had 68% likelihood to be confusion. "Got that under Link's que to knock out anyone trying to get close to me. Good on things that ain't Grimm, ya know, like other competitors in an arena."

"I concur it is effective," Penny respond appropriately. "And I will repeat, this is not funny."

"It is for me, so sorry about that." Opponent Coco Adel was not sorry. Her smile was evidence of that. "Again, supposed to knock you out though. But you aren't that." She appeared confused. It was an understandable reaction, as Penny felt confused as well. "Well, I bet you're thinking 'the heck just happened to me?'"

"Using appropriate synonyms, yes."

"Well see, that's the funny thing." Opponent Coco Adel reached into the tope of her vest, and pulled out a device that Penny quickly scanned. Quickly, but with her reduced power, was not able to dedicate the appropriate bandwidth to analyze.

She only recognized it as a long thin sheet of metal, possessing a clear top indicating either an absorbent material full of saturation, or a force diffuser.

"Got this on discount when I upgraded my baby." She patted her purse, and Penny noted what she referred to the compact minigun as. "Quick drains any electrical charges that make contact with it. Supposed to be used for guarding against tasers and stuff like that, ya know, to keep a girl safe. Buuuuut, I kind did some work on it, made it extra dangerous."

"I do not understand… and it is still not funny."

"Don't sweat it. Long story short, and I mean like War and Peace long, it saps all the electrical current from whatever hits it." She pointed at Penny's blades. "Soon as those things hit me, sucked all the voltage right outa of you. It why I'm surprised you're still talking. Should have made your brain blink."

Even without access to the CCTV to check medical records and consequences of disruption to brain patterns, Penny could deduce it was not good. If her motherboard was power-cycled without protection for her ongoing processes… they could be heavily corrupted.

"That is not funny."

"And like I said, it is for me," Opponent Coco Adel shrugged. "Had to hit myself with it to make sure it wasn't gonna be damning or something like that. Trust me, I'm not gonna kill someone to win." "But you still able to talk is something I couldn't do. Heck, I was out for hours. Don't know if that's just cause you're thick in the skull, heavy at the waist, or just a flat-out tank."

"I can assure you I do not have the design of an All-Terrain Combat Vehicle or Thermite proof plating, though I was recommended such during initial designs." There were lots of it in her processors.

Just as her ocular sensors widened as she realized she was making notification of the design phase of her body, something that was not possible for normal humans. If Opponent Coco Adel was clever, she may be able to figure out something substantial.

"Designs… oh… okay, I gotcha now." The chances were increasing. "You got something up there, don't ya?"

Penny watched, prone on the ground, as Coco tapped her skull, just to the side of her occipital lobe. She had many things in her cranium frame, including her central processor and motherboard. Neither of which were something she could voice.

"Some work done from an injury? Maybe getting hit too hard when you were younger?"

"I have received many blows, and required a great amount of rework." Penny was attempting to run two forms of calibration now. One to increase power to her system and another to find out why her vocal sensor was voicing her recognition of past events. Logs did not require vocalization…

… until one of her reduction methods included removing lines of code designed for protection, focusing on recovery. Penny made a 'Upkeep' note for Papa Zepp to remove such a poor redundancy. She didn't have the time now.

"Wow, a lot more work than I thought." As a proof of the necessity of the action, an unauthorized huntress was about to ascertain her origins. "That might explain why you were able to take the blow."

"Why is that?" Despite her vocalization of the query, she did not wish to log the answer.

"Cause, you've got implants." That was a 50% correct response. "Must be hard growing up with those. Getting metal shoved in your skull to make up for missing parts." That was a 20% correct response.

"I have had many metal parts put in my chassis to circumvent damage taken. Mostly during trial phases." The wince Coco made moved the correct response gauge up 13.5%.

"Wow, that much? I'll have to take you out to town after this as an apology." Her response gauge was unchanged. "It'll be on me. You're still a young girl after all. Can't have ya thinking metal is all you are."

Opponent Coco winked at Penny, and her correct gauge fell to 0%. Her log of Coco added and addendum to her cleverness and suitability for mysteries. It would require further study.

"But before that, I'm gonna have to win." She lifted her purse bag into the air, having already demonstrated to be heavier than average. "Don't worry, it'll be a love tap." There was 92% likelihood that was incorrect.

Thankfully, Team Leader Cardin felt the same.

"Penny! 1 O'clock High!" It was given with a command, one her body followed.

Her arm reached up to the appropriate position, sensors measuring an approaching projectile. Long, weighed at the distal ends, and spinning with a high centrifugal force. High, but constant. Predicting the trajectory was easy.

WAP! As was catching the handle of Cardin's mace.

"Whoop." Maintaining her balance with a compromised system, however was not. Penny had no ability to slow the swing of Cardin's weapon.

WHAM! Resulting in the inevitable conclusion of it impacting the ground, generating a force great enough to rattle her modular-tarsal extremities.

"WHOA!" And have Opponent Coco Adel jump back. "Careful with that thing! You almost took my head off!"

"Apologies, Opponent Coco Adel, but I appear to lack coordination with this weapon." Given her currently depowered chassis, it was an insufficient weapon for her to wield. "But I will compensate for this with a request."

"And that is..."

"Apologies Opponent Coco Adel, but it is not for you." She focused some of her remaining power to her vocal processor. "Team Leader Cardin! Ram Charge, 8 O'clock!" The command was given as practiced. Penny did not focus on her sensors to see if it was being followed. She instead focused on her opponent.

Just per her team's training.

"Ram Charge… what are you… wait, YATSU!?" Coco yelled out, and took steps back, but Penny was not about to let her opponent escape. She compensated with lifting and tossing Cardin's mace appropriately with the power she had. The opposing team leader jumped to avoid it.

Low as her power was, it was well within her calculations.

GRIP! Just as her teammate grabbing her shoulder, pulling her back, and lunging forward, was also in her calculations.

WHAM! And the heavy near shockwave inducing force slamming into Opponent Coco Adel's stomach was well beyond her ability to endure. Perhaps normally, but not after Penny had faced her for 2.5433 minutes.

That, and with Team Leader Cardin Winchester using his Semblance behind his blow. The increased mass helped a great deal for delivering great blows.

Hard enough to make Opponent Coco Adel's glasses slip from her face, looking up from her hunched over position. A position held in the air by Cardin's fist and size.

"Heh… got me," Coco let out, held by Team Leader Cardin's fist. He didn't pull back. "Ain't half… bad."

"I'm better now," Team Leader Cardin affirmed correctly. "Still, sorry again 'bout before. I'll apologize to Velvet if you'll let me." Velvet… Velvet Scarlatina?

A light behind Penny's eyes blinked. Oh! That was the bunny, as she had the Faunus traits of a lapine animal.

"Yeah… you're a lot… better…" Opponent Coco laughed weakly, and Penny was measuring her Aura levels, rapidly dropping. "Good thing… hate to lose to… a jerk." Her head slumped forward, with Penny watching Aura levels stabilize… in the red.

"Coco Adel has been taken out of the competition! And with such a sure sign of teamwork between the pair of Cardin Winchester and Penny Polendina!" Professor Port spoke above the roar of the crowd. "And what a show that was, why I haven't seen such a finely-tuned level of teamwork since I stumbled across an old wolf and cub prancing about Grimm territory. AHA! Such a fine display!" Penny had no document records of wolves or cubs interacting with one another.

She disregarded the search, focusing more on the current match. Her special sensors were sending her many warnings, none of which her systems currently had the capabilities to respond to!

"Reverse! 5 High!" The command came out, and Team Leader Cardin reacted. Dropping Coco to the ground, spinning on his heel, and holding up the diaphysis of his mace.

BOOM! The impact Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi made against him resounded in both sound and force. A sound loud enough that required Penny's code to quickly lower the decibel range of her hearing for protection.

"Whoa!" And sent her metallic body rolling backwards, her 'strings still cut', as Team Leader Cardin had noted. Her orientation was maintained thanks to her internal gyroscope, but she was unable to effectively recover. Not until she finally stopped rolling, allowing her to straighten herself up. Her ocular sensors took quick and immediate surveillance of what was happening.

Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi was pushing Team Leader Cardin down, and easily over powering him. Team Leader Cardin was on one knee, holding his lance at both ends, and unable to fully resist Opponent Yatsu holding him there.

"You are strong, you are clever, you are trained." He spoke, staring down at her Team Leader. "Yet your semblance's weakness is known, and I will use it to hold victory." His fist raised itself in the air. Despite automatic responses attempting to fire, lashing out with a string sword to grab the hand, firing a laser, or many other functions, her sudden lack of significant strength left her unable to attack.

But Penny knew what was happening when Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi made his hand into a fist. WHAM! And slammed it against his own blade.

Another rush of air from the impact flooded the arena. Quick enough for Penny to register a non-insignificant drop in the temperature around her. The information was disregarded, in favor of the force Team Leader Cardin was enduring.

"GAH!" And not well.

"You cannot move when you are active," Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi spoke confidently. "An excellent wall, strong strikes, but no lift. Against attacks from above…" He lifted his hand again. "No defense."

WHAM! Another harsh blow hit Team Leader Cardin, and his knees made contact with the ground soon after. He grunted in pain. Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi did not let up on his assault. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! Penny was forced to watch.

"It appears that Cardin Winchester is pinned! An unfortunate position to be forced into, a necessity for his teammate, without question, but disappointing nonetheless."

"Disappointing, tragic, unfortunate, ill-fated, many others. Penny Polendina similarly indisposed, due to deeds, actions, efforts by Coco Adel." Penny knew they were correct, even as she tried to adjust her body. It was difficult.

WARNING! Critical Power!

WARNING! Critical Power!

WARNING! Critical Power!

Warnings flashed over her visual banks in mass, but they did not deter her actions. They couldn't as she was not allowed to take no action when there were people in danger.

Team Leader Cardin Winchester was in danger, and she did not want to see Friend Cardin Winchester hurt, especially by Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi. So, she had to take action… in some manner.

WHAM! WHAM! Her systems were on emergency funds, not allowing her motherboard to process with overclocking parameters. She could make out ideas of using her swords, but the critical power level left the option unavailable. WHAM! The idea of causing a verbal distraction was possible, but Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi was skilled and unlikely to cease his assault. WHAM! She could attempt to take no action and assume Team Leader Cardin Winchester would handle it. That option would not suffice either.

"GAH! UGH!" He was holding Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi alone, and for her sake. Therefore, she could not take no action.

WARNING! Critical Power!

WARNING! Critical Power!

Ignoring the commands, Penny pushed herself up. Pushed, with the slow rotation of her servos, depending more on raw strength than calibrated force. Her rear end, her feet, then her hands, then slowly, she ascended, until she stood on servo limbs that required over 45% of her processing power to maintain balance, over 300x higher than normal. It was not good, and it was log recorded appropriately.

"And Penny stands again! Will this mean trouble for the last CFVY member?" Penny hoped so.

She held one of her swords in her hand. Just one, she didn't have the power for more. Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi wasn't looking at her, focused on Team Leader Cardin. He was drawing an excessive amount of attention due to his Semblance. Penny shut off her log for it, regarding the notes of his Semblance. Questions that could be theorized later.

For now, she focused on what she could do. One swore, minimal power, and likely a good hit from Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi large sword to render her unable to fight. WHAM! WHAM! "GRAAAGH!" Team Leader Cardin was not far behind.

He had lost 48% of his Aura, and his Semblance was waning. Penny had lost less than 20%, but her power supply was less than 1%. Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi was at 87%. He was faring best. But she knew Team Leader Cardin had a suitable option available to him, should he act as necessary.

She ran the odds, and they were in her favor.

"Cardin!" Penny bellowed. "Chance, 12 O'clock!" Then she threw out her sword.

Neither Team Leader Cardin nor Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi looked at her, that was good. Her sword landed at the feet of Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi, that was good. She threw energy into it from the little power she had remaining.

WARNING! Critical Power! 0.5%

WARNING! Critical Power! 0.5%

Penny ignored the warnings, and pulled.

SHINGK! The line to her sword came alive, and went taught around Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi legs. His lower extremities were pulled together against his will, over powering his strength, and reducing his striking offensiveness, that was also good.

WUMP! What was better was when he fell. What was best was Team Leader Cardin falling on top of him.

"Got ya!" He cheered. She could hear the crowd in the stadium roar in approval as well. "And you're right, my Semblance does leave a bit of an open target. But the funny thing is, things under me don't do so hot." His mace was over Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi chest. "Wanna see why."

Penny felt the air shimmer. WUUUUUUUU Cardin's Semblance reached its peak.

Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi struggled underneath him, but was unable to get free. Chest pinned, weapon unable to lift due to restricted extremities, no supporting material to resist Team Leader Cardin's increasing density, Penny needed only to run a few calculations to know what would happen. She watched Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi Aura meter as it did.

80% - 75% - 71% - 64% -

It continued to decline, faster and faster, and she watched. WUMP! Before falling back, herself.

Penny knew it was concerning, and the warnings made it clear action had to be taken, but she did not wish to power down quite yet. Team Leader Cardin was nearly victorious, and she wished to see the match won.

DING! Then Penny's log confirmed the result as it appeared on the screen.

Opponent Yatsuhashi Daichi Aura = 10%, Critical Level

She and Team Leader Cardin Winchester were victorious.

"WHOOOOO!" "YEAAAAAAAGH!" The crowd in the stadium produced a copious amount of noise, comparable in her decibel range to that of Dust Engines without proper filters being applied to them. It added credibility to the many reports she was given regarding auditory damage to announcers and judges in such areas. It was a distant process her processors were conducting, however.

Primary was the log of the fight, history of choices made, consequences therefrom, and drawing suitable conclusions to draw and amend for future computation.

There was a lot.

"Hey… you okay?" Her auditory sensors picked up Team Leader Cardin, kneeling at her side. He was grinning broadly, which she was able to associate with positive imagery. Simply, Friend Cardin Winchester looked good smiling. "That was a heck of a match we just… pulled out of." It did assist the matter that he had much to smile about.

"We accomplished our primary objective of defeating Opponents Coco Adel and Yatsuhashi Daichi, but not with the speed or efficiency one of my training and design is meant for. I will further amend that I am offering no implication towards your combat abilities interfering with my own, as I will oppose that possibly developing idea-" likelihood 77% chance. "-with the observation that you compensated for my lack of proper action two times."

Penny was sure it was an undue combination of the roar of the crowds and her slowed system attempting to filter out their volume with Cardin's assumed words that left her unable to hear him. Assuming, as she did not believe her auditory sensors were damaged significantly in the match, and he was going to speak to her after such words. She spoke on in his absence.

"I am attempting to deduce if there is an error in my protocols and functions related to combat, resulting in me having insufficient benefit to the battlefield. As my main propagative is combat, a loss in combat capabilities would require immediate maintenance and observation."

"If you were slacking, I'd agree." Penny nodded with Team Leader Cardin. "But, and correct me if I'm wrong, for that ta happen, you need to know what's going on, right?"

"I do not understand."

"Uh… how do I say this. I mean you have to know what's coming." He snapped his fingers. "Yeah! Kinda like how you're not gonna be able to tell me a shot's coming unless you see the gun."

"I can assume the trajectory of a bullet by sound and previous volleys fired-"

"Okay, okay, but my point is that you need to know something." He was correct. "And Coco, bundle of joy that she is, was hiding that trump card on you, right?"


"Then you can't be mad you got hit by it." She was not upset. "Okay, you can't blame yourself for being hit by it. Half the reason we fight as a team is to make up for stuff like that. And sides, you're not thinking of what else it means."

"What input variable am I lacking?"

"Not lacking, least I hope not. More like you're not thinking about it." Team Leader Cardin extended his hand towards her. She could make out his lips were contracting to form a bright smile. He wore it well. "You messed up once, and now you're not gonna mess up the same way again."

"What data to you have to support this claim?" Penny had new protocols, he was correct, variables to check for in battle, but they were not a guarantee for safety.

"Cause I want you on my team, and you have to be the best." He motioned with his hand. "And you, Penny, you're one of the greatest."

Friend Cardin wore the smile very well.

"That is… a suitable response." Her hand reached dup with the little power she had remaining and grasped his hand.

Penny was heavy, she was aware, due to the combination of metal alloys and weighted sections of her frame for improving stability and attacks. But Friend Cardin was still able to pull her up to her feet with surprising ease. He was tall, strong, and supportive.

She leaned against his frame, thankful to be where she was.

Link watched the fight from beginning to end, and he loved every second of it. He watched Cardin shield Penny with his body, knowing he could do more in that situation than she could. He watched them use teamwork not only through stances and formations, but an exchange of weaponry. He watched Coco and Yatsu show a great amount of knowledge of how each other fought, but were out done by the careful planning and frequent training of the unlikely pair.

He watched when Penny beat Coco out of the ring with a heavy blow of Cardin's mace, then fired at Yatsu as the same boy held him down. No need to talk or confirm, just action that led to decisive victory. So different from the boy before, who threw himself at problems while his friend disagreed.

Now, he was putting an arm around the golem girl as they held one another up, grinning into the air as the large screen lit up with the announcement, and the stadium was met with the final decision.

"Winner by Ring out, representatives of Team CRDP, Cardin Winchester and Penny Polendina!"

Link started clapping while the crowd roared. Even if he didn't have sensitive ears, he was sure the volume of the cheers was immense.

"YEAAAAGH! GO PENNY!" His granddaughter adding into them.

It only made Link smile all the brighter, clapping his hands as everyone cheered and hollered. He looked down at the stadium ring, seeing Penny and Cardin waving as they walked away. The pride on their face was evident, just as much as relief. The same look he had seen many young soldiers and recruits wear during the training sessions and pseudo-tournaments back in Hyrule.

It was good to see it again. It was even better to know how far the pair of them had come, especially after what they had lost.

"That was amazing!" Ruby yelled out next to him, all but jumping her seat, hands grabbing at his arm even as he continued to clap. "Did you see how Penny did that? She was all swoosh-swoosh and grabbed Cardin's mace and BAM!"

"It was a loud smack, that I'll say," Yang added to her sister's words. Her grin was hardly any dimmer than Ruby's.

"YEAH! And I mean against Coco and Yatsu! Those two are huge! I mean… not huge, well Yatsu is, b-but not Coco!" Her sudden stammering made him stare, the crowd's volume dropping. "I mean she's not! Yang is taller, so she's not that big, physically. I mean Penny is heavier!"

"Be sure to tell her that Rubes. Say 'Penny, you're really heavy.'"

"I won't say that!" Ruby yelled back. "I'll… I'll talk about how awesome she fought instead." Shew as scrambling. "Like how even though Yatsu and Cardin are huge, she fought super smart against them! Yatsu is the big guy, like the biggest guy, but Cardin fought him one to one, and that's awesome! Penny was smart to keep Coco down, because she's got that awesome six-barreled DC geared motor minigun. That's huge."

"Fair, fair, just don't want you forgetting you said she and Yatsu were huge."

"I meant they were big like… like…" Link watched his grand daughter hold her hands above her head, bringing her palms closer together and farther apart, wearing an expression like a child being asked to explain the purpose of the world. It made him grin. "Like presence! Yeah! They got a big presence!"

"I bet that's what you were talking about," Yang grinned back. "You weren't at all talking about Coco having a big-"

"I wasn't!" Link didn't want to know, not really. "Besides Yang, aren't you going to talk about how awesome Penny was?"

"The girl was awesome," Yang nodded back. "Just not surprised is all. She was the super choice robo-girl for Atlas, basically wiped the floor with a lot of the other kids, and only got pegs knocked down cause of Link. Well, that and the Nightmare thing." Oh yeah, Ruby forgot she was there for it, too. "I just think you're forgetting about Cardin."

"I am?" She looked up at Link. "I'm forgetting about Cardin?" In a sense. He held up his hand and rotated it, making her silver eyes widen. "Oh shoot! I am!"

"Yeah, you're not giving the guy his dues," Yang kept going. "Sure, king of the jerks he used to be, he at least was cool enough to work with Penny now."

"Yeah! Yeah! He was awesome, too!" Ruby was hyped up again, to Link's amusement. "Did you see how he caught Yatsu's blade? That thing is huge and man, holding still while Penny fired at him? They really knew how to work together."

"And that's why they won," Yang tapped her on the head. "Which just means we gotta do the same thing when we go up, right?" Her grin was as sure as the fist she made.

"Of course we will! We're like super sisters!" Ruby, once more, almost jumped out of her seat. "And we even have Grandpa Link watching us. You will watch us, right?" He laughed, as if she had to ask.

"He wouldn't miss it for much. Cares more about you than the rest of the world." The mellowed voice dampened the mood. "Given the fool that he is, it makes sense."

"Wow, thanks for the insight Raven." Link was surprised Yang's eyes didn't roll out of their sockets. "Anything else you wanna tell us about? Maybe how many gatherings you missed? Least I can remember what Qrow looked like."

The dark-haired woman, the newer Forest Sage, bristled at her daughter's comment. Link watched her red eyes narrow, a snarl at her lips with crossed arms seemingly holding herself back. He knew how to look for signs of aggression, and her fingers were about to tear through her sleeves.

"Feh, glad you can." She threw back. "Get a good look at me then, cause until you're stronger, you aren't going to be seeing a lot of me." The scowl had the hints of a grin. "And chances say that'll never happen.

"Threaten me with a good time." Link wasn't sure what that comment meant. "Never have to see you again? Please, don't answer all my wishes at once."

"I wouldn't give you a damn thing even if you asked."

"Really? Let's see if we can prove that." Raven's face skewed as she glared at Yang. His blonde step-granddaughter grinned wickedly before responding. "Can you guess what I want most, right now?"

"A slap in the face?"

"Ruby hits harder when she's trying to get cookies." Link blinked, looking down at his granddaughter, only to see her head shaking back and forth fast enough her locks were almost whipping herself. "Nah, what I want most from you is something I know you can give."

"Oh yeah? What's that?" Raven played along. "Go ahead, tell me, just so I can tell you all the ways-"

"You to leave, and never come back."

Raven's mouth clamped up, but her eyes burned with the power embedded in her soul. Link's brow fell, focusing on the pair, even as the rest of the crowd cried and screamed for the competition below, finally winding down. A pity the tension between them was starting to become more intense.

"So, can you do it, Raven?" Yang asked, hands on her hips, and leaning forward with purpose. "Or are you gonna disappoint me again and stick around?"

"Yang… that's-"

"Quite Rubes, I wanna here what she has to say." Link knew what Ruby was going to say. It was the same concern that he had.

Raven Branwen was a thief, but she was Yang's mother.

What a pity it was this was how they were acting around one another. And here he had hoped that some kind of wall would have been broken, per his grand daughter's idea. Even more of a shame then that she adopted one more weakness of his.

Puzzles were easy. People were hard.

"And now, our next competitors!" The announcement began to roar, to the cheer of the crowd around them. Them, and to Link's unannounced relief. "From Atlas Academy we have the paired members of team FNKI, Neon Katt and Flynt Coal!"

"H-HEY! They pretty good, right Grandpa?" Link didn't have to wonder why Ruby was making a big fuss about their announcement. She was right though, that they had some talent to them, nodding in agreement.

The musical instrument Flynt played reminded him of Mikau's preferred method of combat, though clearly meant more for defensive or supporting roles. Neon, however, was almost animal like with how she fought, to the disagreement of Blake and Velvet. She was effective, though relying too much on instincts to avoid blows. Together, however, he could see how one could compensate for the other.

"And at their challenge, we have another team from Beacon Academy!" The announcement continued. "Up to represent the capital performance of our school, we have team RWBY's representatives, Ruby Rose and Yang Xiao Long!" Link could hear the sigh of relief from Ruby, even over the roar of the crowd.

"YES! YES! It's our time to go!" His grand daughter popped up, grabbing her sister's arm in the same motion, almost landing on the stairs. "C'mon Yang! We gotta get ready to kick butt!" She was already pulling her blonde sibling.

"I got it, I got it!" She yelled out, tripping over herself to follow. "Don't pull my arm off before we get in the ring. I'm gonna need that to spank a cat."

"But Blake is hanging out with-"

"Wrong cat!" Link regretted hearing that.

"Oh! Right, right. Oh OH!" Ruby double took as she looked to Link. "Be sure to watch, okay Grandpa? I'll show you just how amazing your lessons are, promise!" She held up her arm and flexed, flashing a smile he was sure only someone like her could give.

He smiled genuinely in return, waving and promising silently he would watch it. It was good enough for her.

"Cool. Kay! Let's go now Yang!"

"Hey, no wait, RUBES-!" But the inevitable happened.

FWOOSH! Ruby exploding into the Rose petals he could only assume she was named for, and vanishing down the nearby hall as swift as the wind. The smile on his face hardly shifted.

"Dang it Ruby! I'm supposed to be the fiery one!" Without a glance back, Yang ran up the stairs, charging down the hall and doubtlessly towards the arena locker rooms. It wouldn't be long until she was fighting now. And all Link had to do was wait.

Well… wait and talk with less than pleasant company.

"Bout time they got out of here. Another second with that brat and I'd have kicked her off the stadium's roof." Link looked to Raven, who still looked less than pleased to still be here. "I've seen dictators less hypocritical than her, telling me off and running away at the same time."

And Link knew he had seen rocks less dense, but he was not about to antagonize a sage. She was not nearly as capable as Saria, but she was still someone important, as emphasized by their companions.

"Don't look at me like that, I don't have nearly the same desire as you to be with the vermin." His blond brows narrowed, continuing to stare at her. "What? You think I'm going to take it back? I got a rat biting at my heel while you've got a puddle licking your feet for approval. Switch with me and then we'll see if you keep acting like I'm in the wrong here."

Despite it, the woman turned away, looking at the slowly clearing arena beneath them. Link did the same.

He watched as the volcanic floor disappeared, damage and all, sliding down a long shaft and out of sight into darkness. The bit of the forest that was there still was lowered all the same, the canopy of the trees vanishing into the darkness. Both were swiftly replaced with another rising floor, completely metal as the arena had been before. Something standard, he thought, but ultimately unimportant.

The lull of the crowd around them was appreciated and loathed to Link. If they were loud, he wouldn't have had to pay attention to the woman next to him. But again, she wasn't meant to be out of sight. Salem wanted her, or at least her lackeys did, and having her be lost wouldn't be good for anyone, no matter what Yang implied.

He'd give this to Raven, she understood that life wasn't fair.

"I bet their teammates talked to Tai about this, got promised to go somewhere else so I had to watch the pair of brats." Raven snarled again, even as her fingers wrapped down her arm. Link watched her, curious why his granddaughter, a squire and growing fighter, would need a guard. "Don't give me that look. You know why."

He honestly did not, a message given with a shake of his head. The dark-haired woman snarled at the motion.

"It's cause Tai, in all of his infinite lack of thought, had the hair brained idea that me spending time with Yang would be a good idea." Link was surprised her sleeves were still attached at this point. "Seriously, the man has no idea why I didn't ask him to follow me into the woods. Now he's trying to make do every little thing with him, using that brat as leverage on me."

Link wasn't sure if he was alright with Tai using Yang as a tool either, not without her permission at least.

"Wrong brat. I mean your brat." His eyes narrowed, but he still didn't know how Ruby was involved. "Your other other… screw it. Saria!" Ah, now he understood.

He kept his eyes narrowed at her, facing her completely with arms crossed himself now. Saria was the girl of the forest who raised him, and bore the strength of the woods, and wisdom to match. Not even as a joke was she a brat.

"You keep looking at me like that, I'll make you blind and mute." Her hand was itching for a blade.

Link reached back and double tapped the hilt of the Master Sword. Her eyes shifted, but looked undeterred.

"You forget I've seen that thing since I was my brat's age, maybe even younger." She scoffed. "Sides, not like Ozpin would let you swing it at me. That fool would probably ask you to die before anything happened to me." Link had heard that threat before, from barons and lords who visited Hyrule Castle, then spoke ill of his daughter before him.

They at least did so out of pride for themselves. Raven, however, never lost the look of anger on her face. He left it at that.

They were quiet for a moment longer, Link taking the calm in time to look over what he could.

The screen was flashing the images of the next fighters, the opposing team from Atlas and his granddaughters. All of them showing a full bar of health, their team's insignias between the respective partners, and many decals for the tournament emblazed about them.

The crowd was far less rowdy, likely because they were building themselves up again. Another fight was another chance to cheer, and he had yet to see anyone in the crowd be less than inspired from the fighting. He could understand, as he was witnessing the fruits of the labors, after having planted seeds months ago.

Now it was the time to harvest, and so far, none had disappointed.

"Hey. We need to talk." Raven grabbed his attention again with the command. "As in now."

He kept looking at her, silver eyes narrowed. She scowled deeper, taking a deep breath.

"It's not… I'm not gonna keep lashing you with the truth. I just gotta talk to you about something." It was too vague for his tastes. "If it helps, I didn't bring it up 'fore cause it involves the brats. They already hate me, and I can't have the punk actively trying to kill me."

That was curious. What would she possibly say that would make them want to kill her? Even her husband didn't want that, and he had been dismembered for her. To her credit, Raven winced at the mention of it.

"Don't… remind me of that." Her hair almost shook with the words. "Still can't stand being around him with that damn armor on… Just… just let me talk to you, okay?" She was certainly trying to.

But Link shook his head. His granddaughter was about to fight, and he had promised her that he was going to watch her. She had done well before, but this was where she was going to start to shine. Why wouldn't she want to watch her own daughter?

"Cause that child isn't my kid." Yes, she was. Tai Yang was sure of it, as was Yang, to her displeasure. "Not like… she's my kid cause she popped out of me, but I wasn't there for her, so I don't care what happens to her now." Her legs uncrossed, heels tapping on the ground with the statement. She was biting her lip.

Link waited, watching her and glancing at the arena. Ruby would come out soon, and he didn't want to miss it. He'd have a hard time forgiving the woman if he did.

"Have you seen Qrow recently?" The question came before he could face her fully. "Like today? Yesterday even?" Link shook his head, he had not. "Bet you think that's normal. The rugrats probably told you it was."

They had, and so had Tai. Ruby had said that her uncle often did things that involved him suddenly leaving and coming. Yang had said much the same, though asking to keep out for the stench of booze.

"Well he's not going to be coming back." Now Link faced her. "I can tell you why, but you've gotta follow me." She didn't wait for his response.

She stood up and walked up the same steps Ruby and Yang dashed across earlier. She didn't glance at him as she ascended, leaving him to watch her for a moment, thrown and confused. For a brief moment, he looked back down at the arena. Still metallic, still the same placid unmarred surface, and no fighters on it. Not Atlesian and not his granddaughters.

He swallowed, before getting up and following her. He rushed up to her, meeting her by the time they reached the hallway.

"Took you long enough to decide. Hope that's not the same reason why your ex is a demon reincarnate now." Link glowered at her, but her red eyes only bore back at him. "Whatever, just follow me. Gotta go somewhere quiet."

Why was there a reason to? Didn't she just want to avoid the noise of the fight?

"No more like I wan to avoid someone listening in." She cupped her ear. "Ears as long as yours, I'd figure you'd be smart enough to figure that one out." Link wasn't sure how the two were related. "Whatever, doesn't matter. The point is that I got something to say." She stopped for a moment, eyeing a darkened hall. "And here'll work."

Link followed after her, watching Raven's arms. She was a Sage, even if she called herself a Maiden. He had to be careful, or else she could surprise him. And as she had tried to converse with Ganondorf, even while the rest o the world feared him, told he much about her priorities.

"Good," Raven stopped, putting a hand to the wall. Her hand traced it once, pulling back with a harsh slide. "No echo, no traffic, good enough." She faced him again, ire in her eyes. Link matched it, staring back. "I'll just tell you then. Qrow is dead."

His gaze was the first to waver. Shake with his head, then utter a single obvious question.


"Qrow, Qrow Branwen, your tike's uncle. He's dead." Link didn't mishear her.

How… When?

"A couple of days ago." He hadn't been told for days? "And who, you're old friend." The fire burned behind her eyes. Link knew who.

Only Impa would kill someone like Qrow. Not Darmani, not Lana… only her.

Link's man swam, faster than Mikau ever could. Qrow was dead. He was the one who had trained his granddaughter. He was one of his Zelda's teammates. He was a knight who tried to protect his family… and he was dead, because of Salem. It had to be Salem. It had to be.

People were dying, again, because of her.

"You're getting mad, good." Raven looked at him, jaw set. "Get pissed, get half as angry as I am, and maybe then I'll buy that you didn't know anything about this." His silver eyes bore into her red, uncaring of the power that set behind them. "What? You think I'm gonna believe you didn't have a clue? You were literally mind-melded with that bitch, and you're gonna tell me you had no idea she'd ever do something like that? Better yet, why do you think I brought you here?"

Here, in this barren and unused part of the tournament hall, the floating Vytal Stadium.

"It's the best thing to a back alley, and I think you should at least see where Qrow was when he was killed." Her hand reached up, razors at her fingers, and drew across her throat. "Killed with people cheering and laughing a block away."

Link's fist clenched, staring at her harder. The sword at his back pulsed. Raven did not let up.

"That!" She suddenly pointed at him. "That is what I want you to feel. You feel pissed, angry, like it's time you just let loose and burned it all down!" She threw her arms out.

FWOOM! And wisps of winds and embers flew from her hands, smoldered the moment she clenched her fists. Link was not deterred; he did not flinch. But his hand gripped the hilt of his sword.

"Oh? Grabbing Summer's weapon now? Gonna use that on me?" Magic danced her eyes, and power flowed through Link's hand. "Go ahead, do it. Get it out and give me an excuse to leave. Just one. Just give me the opportunity to run the hell away from all of this crap." There was an answer he needed to hear.

Why? Why did she want to run again? Wasn't nearly dying before evidence enough she can't be alone? Was this why she was keeping Qrow's death from him?

That question made her body burn like her daughter's.

"Do not say that it was my idea!" She howled at him, voice vanishing into the empty hall. "I wanted to go down and hunt the vile bitch the moment I realized what had happened! Do you think I heard that recording and didn't want to do anything?!" Foam nearly fell from her lips. "No, those bastards thought it was a good idea to keep quiet. And that's why I want to leave. Because I've heard all of this shit before!"

She wanted to leave Beacon. She wanted to leave her family, again. But that wasn't even a thought to her. She was concerned about the man in charge, the headmaster, Ozpin. But why?

"Why? WHY?! Cause I've played that bastard's game long enough to know that the longer you keep something like this buried, the more its gonna cost when the bill comes in!" Raven howled at him. He didn't back down. "What? You wanted me to tell you while Yang and Ruby were there? I thought I told you that the half-pint would attack me then, or are you doubting that now?"

It didn't matter if she would have or wouldn't. She knew that Qrow was dead, had been dead, for a while and he hadn't been told. He was no long-time companion, he was no devout friend, but he was Ruby's family.

"And he was my brother!" Raven shouted.

GRIP! With hands on his collar, pushing him back what she could.

"I was the one who found him in that alley, and I was the one who had to listen to his final fucking breaths! You think I'm any better of right now because of that?!"

Link only continued to stare at Raven. Watching the hot pants of anger leave her snarling mouth, seeing the gold shimmer and swim through her red eyes, and watching the wafts of magic plum and fall through her hair.

But he didn't shiver, he didn't recoil. He stared at her, as she did to him.

"Go ahead and call me cold hearted. Call me inconsiderate. Call me a monster, I really don't care." She pulled him closer, or tried to. "But don't think that means for a second I want to see anyone I know die; let alone people I care about." He didn't say anything. "Qrow was a stupid, reckless, brash, drunk, idiot of a man, who put all his hope and faith into some faint bastard that used to matter to the world, but now stacks the deck to make sure he and Salem are all that hold this world up."

She wouldn't name him, but it was obvious who she meant. Raven panted; fingers still tight at the collar of his tunic.

"Get pissed. Get angry. Get whatever you want, but don't think I'm gonna sit over here and laugh about it." She rolled her jaw. "I'll do some vile things, I'll admit it. I'll let a village burn to let me escape and you already know what I did to my own family." Her fingers cracked she was holding him so tightly. "But the reason I do what I do is to keep Salem from grabbing that power, and definitely to keep Ozpin from doing the same."

Link didn't understand.

He understood about Salem, as he was already of the same mind that she could not have power, no more than she was already unduly given. But he didn't understand was Ozpin, and not just keeping power from him. He had seen men in power becoming corrupt. He had watched guards stumble across the remnants of Ganondorf's army and think themselves mad bandits for it.

But why… did he not want to tell him about Qrow?

"Because that's what he does!" Raven almost screamed in his face. This time pushing him off. "That bastard think of information like power. He's not wrong, but he thinks it's the only thing he's got going for him. So of course he keeps it all close to the chest. I mean… I'm willin' to bet that Tai wouldn't even have known that Summer was dead if he could help it!"

That was a dangerous accusation, and he said as much. The idea of his daughter's death being hidden did not favors for his mind, nor his heart. Raven didn't care for either.

"You might be able to believe that, but that's because you don't know him. All you've seen is that overly charming grin of his lead you down the rabbit hole that is this place, then make you think that he's the only way out." She tapped at her skull like her finger was a pickaxe. "I got lucky cause I left. You got lucky cause you happened to know more than him. At least with what lines up."

With what lined up?

"That doesn't matter, not to me at least," Raven continued to growl. "The point, and the reason, I wanted to talk with you is because, no matter how much I may hate this, you at least know what to do."

Link continued to stare at Raven. She waited a moment, then shaking her head spoke on.

"About this! About all of this!" Her arms practically spun around her as she spoke. "We all knew something was gonna happen, but we were waiting for something specific. We got it, but Ozpin in that infinitely blind wisdom of his, thought that you and your mini-brat deserved some peace of mind." She clicked her tongue. "Best words he had to say he wanted to handle it himself. Keep the power in his court."

It made sense, and he hated that it did. It didn't make sense to keep the words from him, but it did make sense someone like Ozpin might. Someone who was so old and so powerful would think it… and Link knew it because he knew of others who thought the same. He hated it, but he believed it.

"Good, believe and own it." She tapped on her chest. "Not just him, I'm the smart one in my group getting out of dodge when the getting was good. Your half-print brat, however, thought it was a good idea." How was Ruby involved now? Did she know her uncle was gone? "No, not her. The other one. The one you keep saying raised you."

… Link couldn't believe that. Saria would have told him.

"Right! Saria! Her!" Raven pointed at him. "And yes, yes she would, and do you wanna know why? Cause she said she's never seen you smile like you have been the past month. Probably cause you didn't have Summer. And Ruby… that brat looks like her." Her breathing was soft, and Link's was firm. He stared at her, and her eyes averted. "Look, I'm not going to do favors to anyone that Ozpin puts his trust in, but while I'm willing to bet Ozpin did it to keep the balls in his court, I have no idea why your half-pint did it."

Because she had done it before. Link knew it was the truth, and he hated it. The same way how when he first left the village, she wouldn't tell him who she really was. How she wouldn't tell him what was happening in the forest while he was gone. How she waited for him to fulfill his destiny… because she was too used to watching and waiting.

"Heh, guess she's got a few notes in common with Oz then, and beyond just color schemes." Raven cracked her knuckles. "I kept my mouth shut about this, I did. Tai convinced me, and I damn well wanted to do something about it, but my hands were tied. I can't go anywhere cause they all know I'm the Spring Maiden." Forest Sage. "And if I told anyone, they'd know it was me, or at least they'd think it was me. Who else but the woman who already went AWOL?!"

A fair question, but Link didn't care for it. Instead, he focused on what he knew, even as the woman stared at him.

Qrow Branwen was dead. Not a good man, not a great one, but an honest man. Someone who did good by the leadership of another. A man… much like any knight of Hyrule. A brother to his daughter, an uncle to his grandchild… and he was dead.

Ozpin and Saria had not told him either. He believed Raven for why Ozpin would not speak of it, not that he disliked it. He understood why Saria wouldn't, even if he felt the same about it. But there was one question he still had.

Why did Impa do it?

"Cause she wanted him out of the way." He raised a brow. "I'm not guessing. She told us." He raised both. "Oh yeah, Qrow, that dumb bastard, recorded it. Long story, basically summarized as the bastard made one last bet. Here's the payoff."

Raven pulled out her Scroll, fingers dancing across it. The message played shortly after.

Link listened to it without breath. He listened to every sound made. He bore the message like a riddle, listening to the exchange Qrow shared with his would-soon-to-be executioner, calm and at peace. It reminded him of the Gerudo in Hyrule, at peace when marching into the harshness of the desert.

And when the blade was struck, he shut his eyes and curled his hand. His eyes hurt.

"Be at peace in death, Qrow Branwen. You will not be alone for long."

Hearing Impa speak in such a calm manner… Link's breath shook. His jaw the same.

"Trust me, I didn't like hearing that again." Raven started out. "But I'm keeping this on me until-" He held up a hand, stopping her. "What? You want me to-?" He pushed at it again, staring at her.

He was listening the message like a riddle, and he had to think.

Impa was the Captain of the Royal Guard, eternally loyal to Salem. He knew why she was working with her. But she was just and loyal, genuinely wanting the squires to become knights. Even for her queen, she couldn't throw that away. Act against her wishes, but not change her opinion on them. She didn't' change her heart. And so, there was a warning in her message. A threat in her words.

Prosperity of another kingdom. Zant, Ghirahim, and Impa. Others glossed over. Those three, those three…. Why those three?

"You're thinking of something." Raven figured out. "What is it?" Link explained quickly. The names, the words, the purpose.

She was vague to avoid breaking her oath to Salem, as she would be asked. But she still told something important. He was trying to deduce what.

"We've already figured Cia's camping out in the woods, cause anything she does is going to cause attention." That was true. "But Ironwood's said nothing's missing from Atlas tech, we got all the relics covered, Maiden's too, least no report of them blowing up." That was what they knew of, but Ozpin would have thought of something if he was so old. "C'mon, think faster. That bitch Impa stole power form a kid and killed my brother. Tell me where that monster is so I can go-"

Link held up his hand, and clenched his fist.

"What? You threatening me?" Link wasn't even listening to her.

He was thinking of what Salem wanted… he was thinking… of Power.

Wisdom and Courage, hand in hand… and she needed Power to make it complete. He wouldn't give it before, but now… it was resting entombed in Ganondorf's shell. Ghirahim had taken what she needed, Cia prepared something necessary, and Zant… his plans were coming together.

Link looked up, silver eyes wide… and worried.

"What is it? What?" Raven implored again, fist against his tunic. "Speak up this time, I'm not gonna start guessing."

It wasn't about Beacon, or Vale. Not right now. Salem didn't want the city, she wanted what was in it.


But what was buried somewhere in this city, that same thing that Ozpin wouldn't tell them about, the relic that the sages could open the doors to, also existed elsewhere. It was nothing they could take without them knowing… and Salem wouldn't do so openly, not without a cover. Ganondorf waged war to have the Triforce, and Salem expanded Hyrule to grasp at his own.

They both wanted the same thing, and Salem was dedicated to what Wisdom told her.

And the wise decision, against him, against all of Beacon, and a man who witnessed the birth of the sages, had to be the one thing Wisdom could not grant alone. Power.

"No crap she wants power. What kind of pale-stained bitch doesn't?" He shook his head. She didn't understand. Not power, the description of force. Power, as in the tool itself. "Power? There ain't a relic of power, but if… oh… oh no…"

He watched the fire in her eyes burn to smoke, and the heat she gave off chill to a cold dread. Link nodded down at Raven. He didn't know how, when, or many of the details a leader would wish for, but the hero was aware of one thing. And now, Raven did, too.

"That monster isn't after the tournament… me… or that tike. She's… she's after Ganondorf."

"Ruby had better not let Yang do all the work. She's the team leader, so she has to show she deserves the position."

"If she is anything like her grandfather, I am sure she will succeed your expectations."

"I've only known about Link for the past few months and I can declaratively say that outside of that Master Sword of his, I cannot see the relation between the two."

"You are forgetting the color of their eyes, Weiss. Be observant of such matters."

"I-I am observant! I mean… I try to be, but Link didn't have silvery eyes before not until after the whole incident with Ganondorf!"

"True, and you've done well to remember that. But the point stands that they do both possess that rare x-factor, as General Ironwood has described to me."

"X… as in 'ex' tremely annoying?"

Winter's face fell flat as she looked at her younger sibling.

"Weiss…" She said her name once, and let the heiress to their family run through the implications. She watched the dawning realization of what she'd sed echo behind her blue eyes. The bit of horror there was easily identifiable.

"I… I'm sorry Winter," she bowed her head. "I don't know what came over me."

"For now, it's alright. We can blame it on the excitement in the arena." The air was tense with the waiting match.

"I would if I honestly could… but I'm starting to believe that it may be something else."

"Oh?" Winter blinked at her younger sibling. "And what may that be?"

"I think… I'm starting to spend too much time with Ruby." Weiss swallowed, as if trying to down a large pill of medicine. "She may be wearing off on me, like lint in the wash." Winter flinched. She wished to call her sister a bit paranoid, but her stomach didn't have the strength to lie. There was simply too much counter evidence.

"That… may be the case as well." The idea of the exuberant child slowly corrupting her younger sister wasn't a hard one. The innocent hunters were usually the most contagious in attitude. "Even worse, I believe there may be evidence beyond that slip?"

"What? What is it?"

"Her uncle, that drunkard."

"Her Uncle Qrow?" Winter nodded her head regretfully. "The one who…" Winter met her gaze, blue eyes mirroring one another with dawning realization. "Oh, that foul man."

"You are too kind to him," the Specialist honestly returned. "Foul is for those who act crass and rude, but then hovel off to sleep. He is a man who would bring booze to a children's academy, then drown the responsible adults with it as he plays."

In fact, that was exactly what he did.

"Perhaps… no, I know Ruby would not act that rashly." Weiss's voice found strength in that moment at least. "She may be overly indulgent and quick to force others to act, but not… something like that."

"Are you sure?"

"Winter, if I may offer an example, she turned down the taste of coffee in the morning because the taste was too bitter." That was solid evidence. "I cannot see Ruby drinking something as intoxicating and foul as alcohol without a serious illness taking hold of her." Winter nodded her head in understanding.

And sympathy.

"As your elder sister, Weiss, let me inform you a harsh truth." The heiress looked up as if the secretes of the Atlesian Military were about to spill out to her. "There is nothing more convincing than a bad decision in a stressful time, and as you grow older, those times only increase in number."

"I… think I… understand?" Winter was unconvinced.

"I met her uncle once when I was still in the Academy, when he was speaking to General Ironwood. From yards away I could still smell the stench of his cloak and I thought he had relieved himself… publicly." Weiss gagged, the same as her sister. "I swore to never consume anything that would make me smell or appear anything similar to that beast, especially one who wouldn't care for the formalities of speaking with a man like General Ironwood."

"Because of the way he smelled or… the way he acted?"

"You're as intelligent as I taught you to be. Which do you think?" Weiss didn't think long, to her credit.


"Very good." The harsh truth still lingered. "And yet, hardly a month went by before I doused my insides with more than a few glasses of Atlas's finest gin, enough to make my throat burn and insides rumble."

"That is… um…"

"You don't need to say anything, I certainly didn't."

"No! I…" Weiss held out her hand, and Winter eyed it, wondering what she was going to hold onto. The answer was to simply drop it, staring at it before speaking again. "I was curious about… why you did that?"

"Why?" Winter repeated. "I thought I had made it clear why. We were speaking of poor influences from the Rose family, or at least their relatives." The message clicked fast.

"Her Uncle Qrow forced you to drink?" The horror in her voice was genuine, as was the displeasure that Winter held.

"Yes, and it is one of many reasons why I still loathe the man, no matter what his allegiance or benefit to General Ironwood may be." She shut her eyes, doing her best to ignore the few people around them she could clearly tell were listening in. What civilian wouldn't? Listening to an elder sister, a Specialist from the Atlas Military, speaking of being drunk.

Well, she was sure there had to be rumors, and who would believe she was speaking now?

"My word, Winter. Forcing someone to drink like that must be a crime!" Weiss cried now. "If I had known he made you do something so vile I… well I'm not sure what I would do but-"

"Before I give an unjustly, though properly, poor opinion on the man, I'll amend my words to say that he didn't force me under threat of violence." The look of realization her youngers sister's eyes bore the truth of her thoughts. "No, he forced me the same way I am sure his niece has forced you to take to unorthodox methods of relaxation."

Rather than speaking, clearly at least, Winter only saw Wiess suck on and bite her lips with a bit of discomfort. Caught red-handed.

"As she did for you, Qrow did for me. How else was I to live through the day after watching him swinging off of General Ironwood's arm like a monkey? A crass, feces ridden monkey." And he smelled like it all the same.

"That… explains a great deal," Weiss slowly admitted. "And perhaps also why the General… General Ironwood is less than enthused to be near Qrow either."

"It's a necessity, as the General has referred to it, and it is the only reason why I can stand to be near the man." She leaned back and sucked in a large gulp of air, soured with the stench of sweat, crowded civilians all hampered into one place. "But as much as the man annoys me, I tolerate him all the same. For I am sure the same reasons you tolerate your team leader, and for more reason than she is the grandfather of perhaps one of the most capable men I've ever met, second to General Ironwood."

"And that is…" Winter finally was able to sport a smile as she looked at her sister.

"Can you not guess?" Weiss looked around, desperate for an answer. "Because Ruby Rose, much like Qrow Branwen, is more than merely capable in their craft." She looked back down at the arena, seeing the fighters finally starting to come out. "They excel."

"Excel?" Winter faced Weiss as she posed the question. "Forgive me, but… though I understand Ruby excels in many things, I'm not quite sure what you mean?"

"How so?"

"Excel as in… their faults are ignored for their gains?" Weiss attempted to answer. "I believe Ruby is worth more than her annoyances, but leagues and bonds, but she also hasn't done anything embarrassing to me… well…" she caught herself, back tracking.

"As Qrow forcing me to consume alcohol to such an incorrigible degree?" She watched her little sister almost shake, as if she'd plucked the thought from her mind. "It was what General Ironwood told me when he found me, and I believe it was also one of the many reasons he found me fit to be a Specialist underneath him." Her mouth floundered for words.

"Because… you…"

"Because I was someone who was also affected by Qrow Branwen's behavior, as he was as well. Perhaps he thought of us as birds of a feather for enduring the man, or more than likely, Qrow bragged about me to him." The thought was one she had stuffed into her head through the bottom of a bottle. "Gloating about making the previous heiress to the fortune drunk to ignore his banter."

"I… don't have words."

"None do." None ever did. "So, understand, Weiss, as another lesson, that when I say Qrow and his kin excel, I mean not only that they are capable in their field, but that they have traits no one can learn."

"Learn how to… drink?" Winter bore that one as her fault.

"No, as in connecting people." She let the thought drift through her mind for a moment, recounting the shear number of people who knew of Qrow, for better or worse.

The crowd was growing louder, and she knew that the next match was soon to begin. She could tell that the contestants were ready, and Weiss excited to see her teammates. It wouldn't be long before the teams fought, and Ruby Rose, the girl whose existence started this conversation, would fight. From far away, too far away to make out fine details, Winter watched the girl. Red hood, black hair, silver eyes, and a smile that was difficult to look away from.

"Connecting people, by attracting their attention then acting in a way that forces others nearby to interact." Winter continued on. "You recall those lessons father gave us, about the networking between other socialites?"

"To always keep eye contact, smile when spoken to, and to entertain even the oddest of thoughts, so best to endear them to you." Winter nodded her head, sympathetically. "Pay attention to people who are the center of attention, memorize their words, and act on them when opportunity arises."

"Word for word. Now, who can you name who does that?" She watched the dawning look of realization wash over her sister's face, as well as the smile to accompany it.

"Ruby… and Qrow, the little I've seen of him."

"Don't ask to see him anymore than you already have," Winter quickly intoned. "But you haven't given me a full answer."

"I… I apologize sister, but I believe I have." Winter held up her finger.

"No, you have not." Her lips pulled into a thin line as she spoke. "Think Weiss. You have given me correct answers, but not full answers. It's no different than killing the correct Grimm, but not all of them. You must give a complete correct answer to have fully answered the question. Who… are you forgetting?"

"Who am…" Weiss's mind worked fast, as Winter knew, so she was unsurprised to see the realization across her come quickly. "You mean Link?"

"I do." She smiled at her younger sibling. "Now, tell me why I refer to him. You said yourself we have known him for so little time."

"Yes, but he has earned not only our trust he has also given a fundamental level of learning and support to the student body of all the Kingdoms, a benefit to us congregating during the tournament and we-" She pursed her lips, stopping herself.

"Do you see it now?" Winter asked, earning a slow nod from Weiss. "Then explain it to me."

"He was able to earn not only the trust of Ruby, but also the Headmaster upon first meeting." She rolled her eyes for a moment. "Ruby is hardly surprising, the girl is his granddaughter, and I'm incline to believe that even without realizing it, they both trusted one another because of it."

"But the Headmaster is different." She stopped for a moment. "Different, because he, too, is able to gather a lot of allies. Correct?"

"Yes, because even if is an admittedly approachable man… he is very reclusive, as you have told me." Winter nodded.

"I'm glad you listen."

"I never ignore you." Winter believed her.

"Good, now what does that mean?"

"It means… means… It means that Link is also someone who excels… and it is likely why is was able to become so close to his queen… and why he was able to wed her." Pieces were falling in a row, and Winter watched them click. No different than when she listened to her younger sister's blade spin. "You believe… his masks, his friends."

"Yes," Winter went on. "I have seen Qrow Branwen makes allies out of people across nations, and because of it allow myself to become a Specialist under the General himself. You have told me of Ruby Rose making allies out of the oddest people, assisting Cardin Winchester with adopting Penny Polendina as a friend, and defending her teammates when the rest of the Academy would rightfully turn against them."

In that moment, she flashed her eyes about her.

The number of people who balked at her expression humbled her, but she kept her voice on it silent.

"And Link, he was able to earn the crowd's favor in defeat. I can hardly say that is nothing if not a show of his charisma."

"Yes… You are correct Winter." She knew she was.

"There was never any doubt. Now I believe the announcement is about to being."

Like the waving of a flag, the boom of the speakers followed her words. She cupped her ears as the tremors rolled through the stands, shaking their seats.

"Ladies and Gentleman, are you ready for the next fight to being!?"

The speakers shook the stands, but the crowd made them rumble.

She was so used to standing next to her General, it was almost an odd feeling. But she endured it, as her sister was next to her doing much the same.

Winter was hardly about to let Link spend time with his granddaughter and let herself be robbed of time with Weiss.

"Good, splendid, excellent, good fortune. Then the introduction, reshowing, of the participants will commence for the benefit of those too distant to allow their irises to adjust." The crowd cheered as Winter focused her gaze on the arena floor.

"Next in the semi-finals, we have another round of representatives from Beacon academy, this time challenging the illustrious members from Atlas!" General Ironwood was correct. Professor Port could talk. "Standing at the northern border, we have the sporting pair of instrument and dancer, the young man of impeccable tune and rhythm matched with a partner with a talent for finding her mark. Please welcome once more Flynt Coal and Neon Katt!"

"YEAAAAGH!" In time with it, the crowd roared around them. All while Winter held fingers to her head and watched the pair of young classmen walk out, waving hands in the air.

Weiss may have said something, but Winter couldn't hear it.

"And keeping good posture along the southern hemisphere of our magnificent arena, we have a pair of rambunctious but tightly nit sisters! Joining Beacon Academy at the same time and showing that a golden spirit can match well with a free spirit! Welcome once more to the ring Yang Xiao Long and Ruby Rose!"

"WHOOOAH!" The same as before, the crowd exploded. So far away and Winter could see the pair of siblings waving into the air. It wasn't hard, not when the youngest of the two was literally jumping around, waving her arms as she imagined a young child would, trying to get their fathers attention at a school event. Experience taught her that.

That, and she was seeing a bit more than 'incorrigibility' that Weiss spoke of.

"The contestants will now wait as the arena is set. Please, remain within the indicated lines per previous regulations." The roulette began to spin again, and the crowd died down as it spun. Winter took her hands off her ears.

"WINTER!" Only to shake as her younger sibling bore into her ear.

She faced her younger sibling with a swift scowl on her face, fists clenched. Weiss back downed immediately, cowed, and hands held up.

"Sorry! I-I apologize Winter, profusely." She held up a hand, pointing down. "B-But- Just… your scroll…" Winter looked down at her jacket pocket, seeing the faint light of her device thrumming. She hadn't even felt it.

Ah… it must have been the volume of the crowd. They were shaking the stadium with their cheering so much, she hardly even felt it shake. She shook off her embarrassment as she thumbed it open, the message on it flashing into existence.

Link suspects Patch Base Compromised

The message immediately unnerved the Specialist greatly. Her eyes read over it and the noise of the crowd died around her. She read it once, twice, then checked the incoming number. It was the same quadruple digit secure line all message she received from General Ironwood came from.

It was his text, towards her, about Link. No… about the state of Patch.

"… Winter?" The voice of her sister just barely scratched at her conscious. It was all she needed to push herself up.

"I have to go."

"What? Winter? Th-The match is just starting!" She could hear it now, but she didn't care.

"You stay here, watch it. Tell me who wins later." She'd find out later. She was already walking away.

"Tell-wait! Winter?" Weiss called after her, but Winter was already leaving.

She checked her weapon as she hurried down the hall, hearing the roar of the crowd behind her. She could tell Weiss was following her, but she didn't have time to turn and stop her. The General's message was clear and short, its meaning implicit and impossible to ignore.

What Link suspected about that place was not to be ignored. He wouldn't have informed her if it was something so simple as mere suspicion. Something must have come to his attention. Something… something was happening.

It could have been because she had fought with him in Monument Mine, it could have been because she fought against Ganondorf in front of Beacon, it could even just be because she had felt at peace for too long today. She didn't know what it was, but something was wrong.

Winter hoped it was Link. She hoped, almost prayed it was him. Link had to be wrong. He had to be.

They couldn't afford for him to be right.

Tap… Tap… Tap…

Her heels clicked down the halls of the base. A large, imposing, yet vastly barren place. Long stale halls devoid of color or life, both stolen of carvings or paintings, yet blessed with a lack of decay or rot. It was hardly surprising given the young age of the building, but also depressing nonetheless.

She had been walking down this same hall for minutes, and it was large and long enough to allow her to make such a trek. And yet, there was still nothing she could see that would earn the attention of her gaze. Plenty of doors, equivalent number of windows, but nothing else noteworthy or appealing to see.

It was a shame… but it was to be expected. The place was built in a hurry.

"Built for purpose over function, and lacking the sole of their heritage," the woman evenly spoke, taking a moment to look out the nearby window. Glass framed, more than three layers of the molten sand between her and the outside, but still clear enough for her to make out the land beyond, or what part of it could qualify as land.

Certainly, no hospitable land, not with the remnants of monsters frozen about. Enough to make a seasoned knight nervous, and plenty enough to stave off the wary of mind.

"Make it to keep out those who are foolish and untrained. Perhaps you don't need to be enriched to serve such a purpose." She took a long breath as she stared down the hallway. "Although it would have made the final moments easier to bear, if it had."

At the end of the hall, shuffling from a doorway, a figure emerged.

Gowned in a white attire, a heavy helm of matching color fastened to its head. A weapon hung at its side, the same gun that she had seen many of the warriors of this world yield. It swung about uselessly, not aiming at her nor being carried like the deadly tool it may be used as. The thing holding it shuffled towards her on unsteady feet.

Her eyes were cold as she watched it, marching forward and careless towards the figure. It moaned as she approached, a long guttural sound that echoed along the walls. Her teeth grit at the sound.

"If this is your vengeance for how you perished, then I'll accept it." She spoke lowly to the figure, walking past it with hardly a glance. "Your moans are more annoying than sand flung into my bed." Her staff tipped towards the figure.

BING! Its helm flew off with the motion, hitting the ground of the long hall and sliding still. It echoed on impact, but she cared not for it.

Her eyes were on the charred and wrinkled skin of the thing she unmasked. Its neck bent at an odd angle from the blow, mouth nearly falling off at its hinge. The bit of skin that held its mouth up stretched to the point of snapping. One of its eyes had already rolled out of its skull, hanging by a rotten cord.

Her lips turned up in disgust.

"Be grateful your reanimated corpse serves some purpose now." She spoke to the creature, ignorant of a response. "You embody the halls of this barren fort better than you did in life." Her staff tapped the ground twice, earning another low whine from the monster. "Pick up your helm and continue to march. It is all you are needed for now." She didn't turn to watch. She turned on her heel and continued on.

The redead wore the soldier's garb well enough. Well enough from a distance at least. Anyone who got close wouldn't have time to scream. Not before the monster did at least.

BING! "And hello dear Cia! It is a pleasure to see you again~!"

Unless, of course, said person was this beast.

"I was waiting so long to see you finished that I thought I could pop in to see if you needed any help. You know I do love to play dress up for the less proper of people." Ghirahim's gloved hand reached out towards the redead that Cia had scolded. With a snap of his fingers, the mask appeared back on the beast's head, a flurry of diamonds disappearing with the magic. "They're such unfortunate things, not being able to care for themselves properly."

"They aren't meant to be cared for," Cia scolded. "They are dead, reanimated by my craft. They will walk these halls until they rot or are torn apart. There is nothing else for them to do." Laughter was the immediate response.

"Hee hee hee, or dear witch, unfortunate lesser of the two evils. I wasn't referring to what it is now." The gray man waved his fingers in the air. "I was referring to what he was before."

His smile was as sharp as the swords and daggers he was sure to threaten her with. Or try to.

"Of course you were," Cia dropped. "Enough of the beast though. Why are you here? Are you prepared?"

"Am I prepared?" His long-gloved hand found perch on his chest, and complete with a scoff, balancing himself in mid-air. "I was ready for this dance to being ages ago. I was the one waiting for our majesty's orders for millennia it seems."

"You know what I mean."

"I do, but do you know what I mean?" Her scowl deepened at him, and his smug grin could only grow in size, if only to match the obnoxiousness of the cape he wore. "I certainly hope you do."

"If I did not, Salem would not have asked me to do this," Cia dismissed with a wave of her hand. "She trusts me, as if she does, then so should you."

"I trust her judgement, but I do not trust your character~." She scoffed.

"How amusing, we agree to something." Her words brought a long chorus of chuckles from the gray clown, debating about dancing in his boots as he stood before her. She did her utmost to not blast him with the infused staff she held. It would be so easy to…

"We agree to work, and I find that effort is necessary." BING! BING! The man popped into existence before her again, diamonds shimmering. "So please, feel free to work a bit harder. Perhaps then you may be able to accomplish what is needed~."

"Until you are able to decorate the halls with the disguised soldiers, do not talk to me about effort." She let her words hang, allowing the long moan from another redead to illustrate her point. "You can scurry off to laugh at whatever reflection you find, but I am working to accomplish what was asked."

"Indeed, you are and so much slower than I was expecting~." The twirl of his cape, coming as he spun on a heel, only aggravated the woman. "How fortunate then that her majesty at least sees where the benefit for your efforts lie, preventing you from mucking up an already diluted mess~."

"There is no mess," Cia quickly pushed back. "No mess that I am responsible for."

"Of course! Of course!" Ghirahim clapped his hands, laughing as he leaned back. "Blame the burned and revealed! I will admit that it is something worth doing. They were the ones who nearly tore our beloved monarch's plans to ruin, and all because they were a bit hungry~." Her ran his thumb over his teeth with the remark.

"It would have been a delay, and that is all," Cia corrected. "A delay that we have to make up for, and nothing more."

"You sound as if it is a lot more than that."

"Only because it keeps me here with you." Ghirahim put a hand to his heart, smile broad.

"Oh~! Being told that the foully of Zant's men tortures thine because though must suffer my presence." Her nose upturned beneath her long mask, the man's curtained hair flowing as he threw his head back in a laugh. "And I here I am sacrificing my time away from my mistress to be with you. I deserve compliments for keeping the air warm~."

"You cannot warm a thing. Any fire in you has long since died out." It was a fact, not an observation. "I am the only one who is alive in this fort. Do not pretend as if you are some exception."

"I thought I was the only one, as you whisked Zant's men away. He has that gamble of his, her majesty promised him, and I do hope we can return in time to see it. It is always a sight, watching the plans of men run against one another."

"Only so long as we get what we need, and that is up to me." She rolled her head, hoping that it would rid her of the man's words. There was no such luck. "Why don't you leave here? You said there was somewhere better for you to be, and I am the only one who is needed now.

"Surely not~. Of course not. It simply cannot be! Because after all, this isn't all about you~." His hand reached out, as if to touch her nose, but wisely backed off. Her staff hummed with a dark light emanating from it. The desire to incinerate him was far greater than before.

Instead of taking that action, she only continued to walk down the unassuming hall. He kept pace next to her, humming a tune she didn't care for, and listening to the moan of the disguised redeads along the way. There was truly nothing else for her to see yet, not when the same frozen monster decorated the land outside.

"I was wondering, just as a curiosity," Ghirahim began, to her utter despair. "Just a mild question, but something I am sure someone as… capable as you would be willing to answer."

"What is it?" She knew she'd regret the question.

"Just what happened to that sister of yours?"

FWOOM! Her staff pulsed with energy as she stuck it under Ghirahim's chin.

The pale skin of the gray clown glowed under it, neck craned back to avoid the jagged edges of the staff's core. The dark crystal that hugged the head of her staff, rings of gold, purple and blue set beneath it, and power dripping from it. The light was harsh enough to suck the brightness from the hall around them, and make even the dried husky redeads shuffle faster, confused and moaning with perpetual grief.

"My my, did I strike a nerve~?" Cia's teeth were set as she stared at the man, down her long raven mask. "It was only a question asked out of necessity, of course."

"What necessity is there for you to know about Lana?"

"So, Lana is her name? Lana because she has nothing on her mind." Cia pushed the staff closer, making him arch his neck a bit further.

"Do not think of me so simple. If you know of her you know of her name. You would not have asked me otherwise." Even with her tool at his throat, the pale man only grinned at her, single visible eye sharp as the jagged edges of her staff. "So, I ask again, Ghirahim. Just why must you know about Lana?"

"Aside from the most morbid of curiosities~?" She twisted her hand along the staff. "Then because I was entertained to see her assisting those children before, just before you popped in to save the pair of young knights from that treacherous guardian."

"… That thing was no guardian. The Shiekah would never make them so weak." The Shiekah were also not yet a race. Close, but not yet. The Twili had only just been birthed. "And what do you care? That foolish sibling of mine nearly turned to dust."

"And thus, I am curious how you are still around." He continued on, as if her weapon was not at his throat. "Come now, Cia. What good of a regent would I be to my majesty if I did not inquire about the powers she commands? Your sister has some magnificent art to her abilities, and I simply wish to know how that broken husk of a golem is doing."

This time, Cia pushed her staff into his throat, hoping to draw blood. Her tongue clicked when she only heard the scraping of steel.

Of course.

"Do not test me further, Ghirahim. If I so wished, I could send you forth through the portals of time or have beasts far older than even you swallow you whole." Her staff glowed with a deeper ominous shadow as she said it. Cia held up the jagged crystalline structure at the head of it, threatening the pale man. "You wish to know about my sister, and I wish to know about your first and true master. Perhaps I should inquire with Salem about him."


And just as she thought, no fewer than a dozen swords popped into existence about her, hanging in the air by his command alone.

"And do not forget me, Cia. I could skewer you faster than I did the guards some hours ago~. At least they had armor about them." His eyes leered at her, looking her up and down. "You are quite the catch, but I believe your worth for men is what you lack, then what you have."

Her grip tightened on the staff. It was tempting, oh so tempting.

… but she couldn't do it. Not when an upheld promise from the Queen of the Badlands was so much more appealing than the punishment of a wayward buffoon.

The light in her crystal dimmed, the luminosity of the nearby halls going up as a consequence. BANG! And all the swords about her vanishing with a display of diamonds, showering her in the transparent crystals, before vanishing from sight.

"… You did well to kill the men, but do not forget that I am the one who is keeping appearances what they are." She turned away from him as she spoke. "It would be too easy for any curious pilot to see the scarcity of men and become wary of this place. At least with my craft this base appears managed."

"Indeed, but you cannot ignore that I am the one who kept it from being exposed." He hovered over her head, mocking her stature, before settling into a calm silent walk next to her, towering over her still. "Before you helped slay those wayward knights, I had already taken the means of communication from them. No messages to fly or smoke to send thanks to me."

"You have purpose, congratulations." Her eyes never glanced at him. "Find meaning now and then perhaps you have something to compete with that masked fool of a man."

"What purpose is there above serving my Mistress, I wonder?" Ghirahim leaned down to question. "Do you have one on your mind? Cia?" She said no words, but in her mind flashed a great many of images.

Of a man who stood clothed in green, hat and tunic swaying in the wind. Defending her from the monsters of the desert, saving her younger sister from a life of torment, weeping over her, promising her that he would save her family.

"Oh~. I believe you do~." She shook her head.

"… What I wish for means I am more devoted to Salem for it," Cia argued. "Be it better than serving for nothing but faith. Your faith can end because you have nothing to strive for." Her heels clicked as she walked, and the mad man nearly tap danced beside her.

"Believe that if you will, but I have seen many men and women, far stronger in spirit than you, break their faith for their wants first. I have nothing in my heart but the desire of my queen, so how may I be of concern for deceit?" She did not glance at him, not even over the long nose of her mask.

"Because your faith can be easily converted." She spoke simply.

"Pray tell, why is that?"

"You serve Salem for she is of the darkness. What if she were to find her way back to light?" Cia kept her grin hidden. "Would you be like Impa, faithful to her no matter her ways? Or would you be like Link, dedicated to your own ideals?"

BING! The sound of an appearing blade reached her ears, but she did not need to look for it.

"Go ahead, clown. Strike me down and prove you care less for what Salem wishes." She held her head higher as she strode forward. "Let me gather the remnants of your pride, and deliver them on a silver platter to her, next to the prize she desires."

Nothing else was said. Nothing else was heard but the tapping of their feet and the low moans of redeads dotting the halls. High enough in number to carry the necessary illusion, but still only enough to be an annoyance. An annoyance like the blade that hovered out of her sight, no different than her smile.

Tap. She stopped with purpose before a set of double doors, though far larger and more imposing than the rest of the uninspired passage way. It lacked the architecture and beauty that many other bases or monumental buildings held, but it had the security to make up for it. Doors made of metal thicker than her arm and wearing bolts like the Gerudo Chief did jewelry. A harsh handle about it forbidding entry, aside from one of monstrous strength, and a pair of screens on either side, too far for any one alone to grab them.

"If you aim to strike me down, best do it soon," Cia spoke. "For we are here." Nothing else happened for a small amount of time.

BING! "Hmm, you are an annoying one. I can see why Watts avoided your company." Cia kept her pride as tall as the man next to her. "No need for two minds to meet, not when they are too similar to find attraction."

"And I can imagine why Tyrian seeks the Queen when you aren't present. It's difficult for a pair of dogs to lick at their master's heel." If he was going to act against her, Cia didn't give him time.

Ding-Ding… WHAM! Her staff sounded as she slammed on the ground.

And with a puff of air, a pair of gates flew off of her staff. The purple pair of gates flew out, spinning like the razors of the wind. They hit the joining point of the steel- BRRRRRRRRR . And tore into it with the ferocity of a Goron to a basted rock.

Sparks flew as her magic worked, light humming from her staff as the gates obeyed her command. The heavy steel turning a molten red, parts of it dripping down the floor, steam rising and choking the air. Cia looked on with an amused expression, and she heard Ghirahim hum beside her.

"It is quite loud," the clownish man admitted. "But I thought with all that vaunted strength of yours you may be a bit faster~."

"You do not rush to get what you want. It only ruins the joy of finding what you need." The smile of a man who held her in death filled her mind. "Patience is the greatest seasoning to effort, and one who lives only by faith and loyalty wouldn't know that."

"And someone who lives only for the gains of effort will never know the love of praise from on high." Cia's staff leaned forward.

BRRRRRRRRRRRR The intensity of the gates matched with it. RRRRRRRR-CHANG! Until they tore straight through.

With a loud bang, she heard her Guardian Gates fly through the chamber beyond, the hallow echoing of impact along a far wall hitting like a war drum. The doors she had torn through kept their red-hot color, smoldering still even with the gates having sheared through them. The hiss of heat filled the air, music to her ears.

"Aha! Perhaps a bit of encouragement was what you needed." Her expression as sour as she looked towards him. "What? I know you well enough to know there is no difference in your ears between praise and scolding. I am sure any who have seen to you at night know the same~." His grin was wide again, even as his tongue wet his lip, the slithering thing.

Without words spoken, Cia pulled back on her staff. To her silent command, the pair of Gates flew back towards her, spinning swiftly around her staff and settling back into place, glowing the same maelstrom dark as the crystal above it. Hers, protected… and its use served.

"Brava~. Brava~." The slow clap of the gray man was unappreciated.

"I've done my part, now you do yours." Cia brushed off.

"Have I not already?" The man danced before her, careless of the smoldered steel behind him. His boots danced upon the molten embers. "No conversation, no warning, and no distractions for you to work. What more can I do~?"

"Not make a fool of yourself, but I suppose asking for the impossible is too much." She watched through the hood of her long mask the man's fingers play with one another. "Speak ill of me and I'll speak truthful of you. They come to the same."

"Oh ho ho ho~. You do play dirty." His tongue licked at his lips, horns all but appearing through the steam of the fired metal behind him. "But don't worry. I'm hardly about to do nothing. Least you tell her majesty that I forsook my duty for play. I'd never do that, never~." He held up his hands.

SNAP! And in a moment, a diamond appeared between the doors.

BANG! BANG! And it grew. BANG! BANG! BANG! And it grew. BANG! BANG! Until it couldn't grow any larger.

"There. Done as the men of this fort~." SNAP! BING! The diamond disappeared in another shower of the man's power, billowing into the wind. He turned on his heel, tri-pronged cape spinning around him as he gazed past the now diamond shaped hole that was the doors. "And unlike that pesky hero, we didn't need a key to find the treasure in this fort~."

Cia rolled her jaw at the comment but said nothing. He could speak his words, useless as they were. The true object of purpose lay just behind him. The prize they had come to seek.

"Best do what is necessary then~." Ghirahim brushed off, rolling his hands before bowing deeply towards her. "I can move much with my magic, but this may be… requiring a heavier form of transportation~." She did not bite.

"Have your fun," Cia returned. "I will be the one who will be thanked for returning this to her majesty." She flung her staff forward again. Another gate flew from it.

This time, one wreathed in Gold.

The gate twirled into the room behind the doors, flying up and positioning itself near the ceiling. It held itself there like an ornament, a decadent thing the fortress as a whole so desperately needed. Such a shame then that it would be here for less time than even themselves. It began to spin, a speed lesser than the Guardian Gates before.

It did not burn any metal, but it gave off a light that showed off the room beneath it. The ethereal light of the Gate of Souls showing what lay within the sealed room of the barren fortress.

Specifically, the near gothic statue that held itself still in the center of the room.

The Golden Gate of Souls hung above the ominous statue, spinning with the hue of blue blooming at its center. Like a hallowed light, it lit up the small, yet guarded, room. It showed the damage the Guardian Gates had down when they had barreled in, and it showed the melted remains of the door from the inside.

And it showed the content figure of Ganondorf Dragmire, holding the monstrous mask of Majora.

Just before the gate descended, swallowing them both.

Then, like tossing toys into a bag, Cia pulled her staff back, dragging the Gate of Souls to her. It flew, flung, and caught itself, before adhering to the same magic as the rest of her staff. Fixated, and complete.

CLAP! "And there it is~!" The sudden cry from Ghirahim nearly made Cia jump. At the very least, her teeth grit to the point of cracking. "The ever so precious package for or eternally so beautiful queen. I am sure she will be thrilled to see her prize appear before her. Undamaged, unmarred, needing only the careful cracking of the rocky exterior~."

"She will be pleased. Exactly what she requested from us, without a step out of place." She leaned her head back and took a slow breath. "A pity then, as it won't be long now before the hero deduces something is wrong."

"And how do you know that~." Her eyes turned to the man, looking down her mask at his grin. Small, thin, but still very much a smile.

"You already know, Ghirahim." Cia answered with a turn of her heel, walking forward the few steps necessary to reach the hallway again. "You know for the same reason I do." She said nothing as he took march after her.

Her hand flung out, sending out the same gate once more. It spun and hung in the air, the blue aura of a portal glowing like the gates to heaven, spewing from the mouth of hell. She didn't slow as she approached it.

"Because it is his destiny."

Author's Note:

Well I can't say how many more chapters left, but this should be finished this year… hopefully. And probably not a moment too soon, seeing as reviews are still down and viewership with it. At least I grabbed the coveted title of the single most favorited story in the Zelda Crossover tab. If only I had that kind of traction on Ao3… Ah well, best be happy with the present than desiring for the future.

Anywhos, I think you all may guess where the plan is going, but rest assured there are a few more bumps. I TRIED to make everyone at last somewhat competent in this story, as I don't like Idiot Balls much myself, but there is a difference, I feel, between being stupid for stupid sakes and making a dumb decision for your in character reason.

Hence why Impa slaughtered Qrow, because she would. And why Ozpin wouldn't tell Link about Qrow… because he wouldn't.

That said, I think we have one, maybe two more chapters before the real crap hits the fan.

Stay tuned~.