Main RWBY: Before the Dawn

RWBY: Before the Dawn

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Year:
2020
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Scholastic
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english
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RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnant

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2020
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RWBY: Fairy Tales of Remnant

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2020
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CONTENTS

TITLE PAGE
PROLOGUE
CHAPTER ONE
CHAPTER TWO
CHAPTER THREE
CHAPTER FOUR
CHAPTER FIVE
CHAPTER SIX
CHAPTER SEVEN
CHAPTER EIGHT
CHAPTER NINE
CHAPTER TEN
CHAPTER ELEVEN
CHAPTER TWELVE
CHAPTER THIRTEEN
CHAPTER FOURTEEN
CHAPTER FIFTEEN
CHAPTER SIXTEEN
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
EPILOGUE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
TEASER FOR GENLOCK
COPYRIGHT

Sun Wukong had been back in Vacuo for a month already, but it was only
now that he felt like he was truly home.
It was nighttime in the city, and Sun was on a dark street facing off
against three goons who were up to no good. At least he’d assumed they
were up to no good when he spotted them stalking a woman out of some
new nightclub downtown. Sun had trailed after them silently, but they
somehow noticed him anyway and turned to confront him.
They were a strange trio. The woman on the left had spiky pink hair and
a loose black robe over a white tunic. The broad guy in the middle wore a
green muscle shirt, cargo shorts, and sandals. The lanky guy on the right
had a brown jumpsuit and combat boots, with a brown patterned bandanna
covering his hair and ears. The only things they had in common were
matching silver armbands around their right biceps and masks on their
faces.
At least they weren’t the creepy Grimm face masks that some members
of the White Fang wore. These were just average gas masks with large
eyepieces and big, round filters in the front resembling pig snouts. You
didn’t see people wearing masks in Vacuo every day, or any day really. Sun
bet they got pretty sweaty inside.
“Aren’t you out past your bedtime, kid?” said Pink.

“I’m kind of a night owl,” Sun said, yawning. A lot of people in Vacuo
were, simply because the desert cooled down in the evening and that was
when walking and breathing didn’t make you want to die. Until it got too
cold, like it was now, and you started to question whether it was a good idea
to go around with your shirt open all the time.
But this was late, even for Sun. It was a; lmost dawn, in fact, and he had
to get back to school. He didn’t want to make a bad impression his first
week at Shade. Or, rather, he didn’t want to make a bad first impression
even worse.
Well, this shouldn’t take long, he thought. Once they stopped their
verbal sparring and started the real fight, things would go pretty smoothly.
These clowns didn’t even have weapons.
“Night owl? Looks more like a monkey to me,” said Green.
“Why were you following us?” That was from Brown.
It was hard to tell because of the jumpsuit and bandanna, but Sun
thought Brown might be a Faunus. He carried himself like he was taking in
more of his environment and knew how to move within it. That was a trait
everyone had to learn in Vacuo at some point if they wanted to last there,
but it came more naturally to Faunus, like Sun. Part of it was their enhanced
animal senses; part of it was the fact that they had learned to be on guard
around humans and aware of their surroundings. If Brown was a Faunus,
that would explain how the group had detected Sun pursuing them.
“Why were you following that woman?” Sun countered. He glanced
behind them and was glad to see she’d gotten away while their attention
was on him.
Pink cracked her neck. “You’re about to find out.”
“Okay, go ahead and tell me. That’s why I asked.” Sun waited a beat.
“Oh, was that meant to be a threat? You should have followed it up with
something menacing, like shaking your fist angrily.” Sun demonstrated.
“Are you guys new at this?”
The group advanced toward him.

“Wait!” Sun held out his hands, and they hesitated. “I don’t want to hurt
you guys.”
They looked at one another and laughed.
“It’s three against one,” Pink said.
“Really? Count again.” Sun put his hands together. He closed his eyes.
And he focused. As always, he started with an image that centered him so
he could use his Semblance: a desert willow, green and flourishing with
white, rose, and violet flowers.

He had seen it once, when he was traveling with his clan across the vast
Vacuo desert looking for a new place to live for a while, when their
previous settlement had become too attractive to Grimm. Sun, only seven at
the time, had been frustrated.
“We should stay and fight,” he had said. “Why don’t we?”
“Not everyone here is as strong as us.” His older cousin Starr Sanzang
put a hand on his head and ruffled his spiky hair. “Or as hotheaded as you.
Ow!” She yanked her hand away and shook it, pretending to blow on it.
Despite himself, Sun grinned, but he wouldn’t be so easily distracted.
“I’m tired of running. We should pick a place and stay there. Keep the
Grimm out.”
“We’re on our own out here,” she said. “Most of our clan doesn’t know
how to fight, and they aren’t interested in learning. It’s not how we do
things.”
“Maybe if they had learned, my—” Sun swallowed. “More of them
would be alive.” He hated the way his voice trembled. Starr pretended not
to notice.
“One day what you want may come to pass. But not today. Try to get
some rest.”

He took her advice, the way he usually did, but just as he drifted off to
sleep he spotted the tree. Its leaves had a golden glow in the evening sun.
The sight had filled him with a strange peace, and a sense of purpose, that
he hadn’t felt in a long time.
That’s the perfect place to stop, he had thought. I would defend a place
like that to my death. Why are we still going?
He drifted off to sleep, and when he woke, he asked Starr about the tree.
She didn’t know what he was talking about. No one did. It seemed no one
else had seen it, either.
“You must have dreamed it,” she had said. “It sounds like a nice
dream.”
“I didn’t,” Sun insisted. “It was real.” But from that time on, the tree
had been his alone. He remembered every detail of it vividly, too vividly for
it to have come from his imagination. He remembered it better than he did
his parents’ faces. And whenever he pictured it, he felt that calm again, that
purpose. It had led him to discovering his Semblance, Via Sun.

Two glowing clones of Sun flared into existence, one facing Pink and the
second squaring off against Green. That left Brown—whom he figured was
both the leader of the group and the most dangerous. Why? Because he was
hiding the most.
Brown slashed a hand toward Sun. “Take him.”
“Which one?” Green asked.
“The real one,” Pink said. “These are just flashy illusions.”
Sun directed one of his clones to punch Pink in the face.
She blinked and looked more annoyed than hurt.
“That’s no illusion!” Green reached for clone Two.
Sun’s clones were physical manifestations of his Aura, every bit as
capable of inflicting damage as he was. But it could be difficult to control

them, especially while he was fighting. They were better suited to giving
him the element of surprise, extra pairs of hands, or emergency backup
when he needed it.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t sustain them long, and they couldn’t take
much damage, as they drew Aura from Sun himself. If he kept them going
too long, or tried to create too many clones, it usually weakened the Aura
shield protecting him. But he’d improved a lot with training, and his
Semblance was a lot stronger than it used to be.
Sun whipped out his gunchucks, Ruyi Bang and Jingu Bang, spinning
them as he and Brown circled each other slowly. At the same time, Sun was
fighting Pink and Green through his clones. Pink was some kind of boxer,
dancing around and jabbing with her fists, which One was managing to
block. Meanwhile, Green was trying to grab Two and wrestle him to the
ground.
Brown had some kind of martial arts training similar to Sun’s—but he
wasn’t nearly as good. Sun leaned back as Brown did a high roundhouse
kick; he felt a breeze as his opponent’s booted foot swept past his nose with
a lot of power behind it. Sun flicked his right gunchuck to loop it around
Brown’s ankle and pulled him out of his stance, hitting him with the closed
gunchuck in his left hand. The man took the full blow, but it didn’t even
faze him.
Sun continued to pull Brown by his leg, using the momentum to spin
him around in a circle. But the man quickly regained control and twisted in
the opposite direction, yanking Sun toward him. Brown grabbed Sun’s
shoulders and pushed him facedown into his knee. Sun saw a rainbow of
colors. Clones One and Two fizzled out.
Oh, that hurts.
Brown kicked Ruyi Bang out of Sun’s hand, and his partners closed in
on Sun. Sun used Jingu Bang to fire a Dust round at Pink, but the woman
went kind of blurry all around the edges and Sun’s shots went right through
her.

That’s a neat trick, Sun thought. He ran toward the wall of a building,
and as they turned to face him he flipped over their heads to land behind
them. He grabbed his fallen gunchuck and merged the two weapons
together into a staff. He twirled it lazily in front of him.
Sun went for Brown again, but this time, no matter what he did, he
couldn’t quite land a blow on him. His punches and kicks were practically
sliding past the guy, just a fraction of a second too late to make contact. It
was as if Sun were playing a video game with a busted controller.
The same held true for Brown’s attacks. Sun thought he was dodging
them, but again, just a moment too late. And the hits were adding up.
Pretty soon, Sun really was moving more slowly. His Aura was
creeping into the danger zone, and if he pushed it too hard it would break,
leaving him vulnerable to serious injury. He couldn’t take much more of
this.
Now Green stepped up. Sun used his staff to pole vault toward him,
landing his feet against the guy’s chest and springing backward. He swept
his staff toward Pink, making a solid hit that knocked her into Green. They
both went down.
Sun pivoted and swung toward Brown, who took the blow without even
trying to block it. But Sun felt the shock of the impact vibrate up the staff
and into his bones. Brown grabbed the end of Sun’s staff and pushed him
backward.
Sun fell but spun around on his back and scrambled to his feet. He
planted the staff in the ground, suddenly aware that he needed it to hold
himself up. He breathed heavily.
Oh crap, Sun thought. I’m losing. How am I actually losing?
“Is that all you’ve got?” Sun gasped. “I’ve fought stronger guys than
you.” They were nothing compared to the Atlesian Paladins at Beacon.
Idiot, don’t think about that, Sun thought.
Okay, the White Fang on Menagerie. Sun had taken on dozens of those
guys at once. Though these three had more impressive Semblances.

“Bigger opponents, too,” Sun said. There was that Sea Feilong, on a
freaking ocean no less. Yeah, his friend Blake Belladonna had helped him a
teeny bit, but he could have handled it on his own if he had to. Just like
now.
“I definitely haven’t fought anyone uglier than you, though, so you’ve
got me there,” Sun taunted. “I mean, I’m just assuming because of the
masks.”
“You talk too much,” Pink said.
“I get that a lot.”
“Enough!” Brown, Pink, and Green closed in.
Here we go. Sun dug his feet in and gripped his staff. No way he was
going to let these chumps take him down after everything he’d been
through. Not on his home turf. Though it could be their home turf, too.
He was starting to wish he’d brought some friends with him.
Suddenly Sun saw a flash of light, and a glowing trident landed in front
of Pink, Green, and Silver. They all stared at it for a moment in surprise,
then electric energy burst from it and shocked them, holding them
immobile.
Neptune? Sun thought, recognizing his friend’s weapon. But it was
made of hard-light energy, which meant that it was just a copy of Tri-Hard,
which meant …
Great. Team CFVY (coffee) was here.
The charge faded, along with the trident itself. Tendrils of electricity
crackled over the thugs. They shook it off.
“Seriously? How much can you take?” Sun said.
“More than you can dish out,” Pink said.
“That was just the appetizer,” someone called from above. Sun
recognized the voice, but he’d rarely heard her sound so confident. Defiant.
He glanced up and saw rabbit ears silhouetted against the bright, broken
moon.
Velvet Scarlatina leaped down from a low rooftop and landed lightly
next to Sun.

“Just wait until dessert!” Yatsuhashi Daichi rushed out of the shadows
and sent Brown flying into a wall. A spray of sand settled over the baddies.
Of course the big guy was there; wherever Velvet was, Yatsuhashi was close
behind.
“Hey, Sun,” Velvet said.
Sun smiled. “Nice entrance. Did you two rehearse that?” He couldn’t
remember the last time he’d heard Yatsuhashi say so many words at once.
“Later,” Yatsuhashi grunted.
That was more like it.
Velvet hefted her camera. “Need some backup?”
“Nah, I got it under control,” Sun said. “But since you’re already here,
if you wanna get in on this …” He gestured toward the three opponents.
“Knock yourself out. Better yet, knock them out.”
Yatsuhashi drew his greatsword, while Velvet summoned hard-light
copies of Scarlet David’s gun, Hook, and his cutlass, Darling. She was
favoring weapons from Team SSSN (sun) tonight, which Sun doubted was
a coincidence.
Velvet nodded toward the enemy, her ears dipping. “Time for a little
street cleaning.”
“Come on, you’ve been practicing quips, haven’t you?” Sun said.
The three students rushed toward the three bad guys. Sun once again
faced off against Brown, while Yatsuhashi took on Green and Velvet
sparred with Pink.
Sun had seen Velvet in combat only a few times. She was whipping out
a whole set of moves he didn’t know she had in her, some of them clearly
informed by Scarlet’s fighting style. However Pink’s Semblance worked, it
seemed she could only phase out against attacks briefly—Velvet was
managing to hit her over and over again with her hard-light sword. Even so,
Pink barely seemed hurt.
Meanwhile, Yatsuhashi had Green pressed below his massive blade, the
squat thug holding it inches away from his face with his bare hands. The
goon’s Aura should have been dropping fast, but he remained on his feet.

And Brown still seemed fresh for the battle, too. Sun had pushed him up
against a wall, giving him a beating, but Sun was going to wear himself out
before his foe did.
“Screw this,” Brown said. “Smoke them!”
“Uh. What’s—” Yatsuhashi started to speak but then he began
coughing. Sun saw smoke pouring out of Green’s skin, which reminded him
of the way Grimm disintegrated into black vapor. Then Sun smelled it.
“Ugh! That’s gross!” He began coughing, too, and his eyes teared up.
“You got lucky, monkeyboy,” Green said as he walked off, his
companions following him through the cloud of foul vapor. “This time.”
“No, you got lucky!” Sun choked.
Lucky more of my friends didn’t show up, he thought. Then he coughed
some more.
With Green and his awful stench gone, along with Pink and Brown, the
air soon cleared and they were able to breathe again.
“So that’s why they were wearing gas masks!” Sun gasped.
“Something else was strange about them,” Yatsuhashi noted. “As if they
were … invincible.”
“Right?” Sun said. “Glad it wasn’t just me.”
“But it was just you,” Velvet said softly. “Where’s your team?”
“Oh, you know, back at Shade. Sleeping or studying probably. Doing
something responsible.”
“Do they know where you are?” Velvet asked.
Sun stalked off, heading back toward Shade. “What is this? A therapy
session? A lecture? Where’s the rest of Team CFVY?”
Velvet and Yatsuhashi followed him.
“Coco and Fox are doing the same thing we were when we found you.
Patrolling the city,” Velvet said.
Sun bristled at the implication that Velvet and Yatsuhashi had rescued
him. Showing up those hotshots out in the desert had been one of the best
moments of his life. CFVY’s reputation had apparently preceded them to
Shade Academy, where they had relocated after their original school,

Beacon Academy, had fallen to Grimm over a year ago. In their first two
years at Beacon, they had stood out as the best of the best, but they had a lot
more competition in Vacuo, which hardened students into the toughest
Huntsmen and Huntresses—unless it broke them.
Arriving at Shade with Team CFVY, having helped them complete their
rescue mission, had immediately elevated Sun’s team—Team SSSN—to
lofty heights.
But now here was Team CFVY—half of it, anyway—bailing him out.
At least Velvet wasn’t the kind of person to rub it in. If Scarlet, Sage, and
Neptune heard about this, they’d never let him live it down. And his
teammates already had plenty to hold over his head.
He wondered when they were going to get over it. So what if Sun had
gone off to do his own thing for a while? That was just the kind of guy he
was; he had to go where he was needed. The gang had been back together
for weeks now, but it still hadn’t blown over. Scarlet was acting bossier than
usual, and Sage had been giving Sun the silent treatment. At least Neptune
always had his back, but something seemed to be off with him, too, no
matter how much he insisted that everything was fine.
“Want to tell me what you guys are doing out patrolling so late?” Sun
said.
Yatsuhashi looked around. “Not really.”
Velvet was a little more forthcoming. “We’re looking for the Crown.”
“The Crown?” Sun asked. “Is that what you’re calling them now?” It
was a lot better than Carmine and Bertilak’s mysterious employer, anyway.
“We’ve been hearing that name more and more,” Velvet said. “We think
that whoever they are, they’re the ones gathering people with powerful
Semblances. We’ve been digging for more information about them, and
keeping an eye out for Carmine and Bertilak.”
The rogue Huntsmen team of Carmine Esclados and Bertilak Celadon
had escaped from the authorities shortly after CFVY and SSSN had
delivered them to Coquina, one of the few settlements in Vacuo with a
prison and court.

Velvet was worried the duo would return to kidnap her friend Gus
Caspian, whose Semblance made it possible for him to bring down entire
settlements single-handedly. Gus could amplify negative emotions, and that
negativity summoned creatures of Grimm, the dark manifestations of evil
that roamed the world with the sole purpose of destroying humans and
Faunus.
“You know, you have a powerful Semblance, too,” Velvet pointed out.
“You shouldn’t be out here alone, Sun.”
Sun rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m used to it,” he said. “Besides, the
guys are still a little annoyed with me for ditching them.”
“To chase a girl,” Yatsuhashi added.
“It wasn’t like that.” Not entirely. “Blake needed a friend.”
“And your team needed you,” Velvet said firmly. “After everything we
saw at Beacon, with everything going on in Mistral—”
“They were fine.”
“But you’re their leader,” Yatsuhashi said.
“They’ll come around.”
“Maybe you would be able to regain their trust if you didn’t keep
running off without them,” Yatsuhashi added, sheathing his greatsword.
Sun narrowed his eyes. “I liked you better when you didn’t say much.”
He sighed. “You think they don’t trust me?”
Velvet looked at the ground. “What were you doing out here, anyway?”
“I saw those three following a woman. I thought she might need help.”
Yatsuhashi smirked.
“Really!” Sun said. “Since I’ve been back, I’ve been trying to reconnect
with some of my old friends. But a lot of them are … gone.”
“It’s Vacuo,” Yatsuhashi said. “Fox says people leave every day.”
Sun shook his head. “They didn’t leave. They just vanished.”
“Did they have strong Semblances?” Velvet asked.
“I don’t think so. They didn’t when I knew them,” Sun said. “You know
me—I’m not usually one to worry, but it bothers me that so many people
are missing and the police aren’t even looking for them.”

“It sounds like the police haven’t been all that reliable,” Velvet said.
“They probably couldn’t hold things together without Headmaster Theodore
and Huntsmen helping keep the peace.”
“Anyway, aren’t you supposed to survive on your own here?”
Yatsuhashi asked.
Sun was always explaining how things worked in Vacuo. “A lot of
people assume that. Yes, being able to survive on your own isn’t just a skill
here, it’s a necessity. But that doesn’t mean you turn away from helping
others if you can, or let your own people fend for themselves. Vacuans still
watch out for their tribe. At least they’re supposed to.” That’s why he’d
stepped in to help that woman.
“Speaking of survival skills, do you know where we’re going?”
Yatsuhashi asked.
“You don’t?” Sun asked.
Velvet and Yatsuhashi glanced at each other. Then they shook their
heads.
Sun laughed. “Thanks. That makes me feel better.”
“It’s dark … ,” Velvet said.
“You can see just as well as I can,” Sun said. Though it wasn’t true for
all Faunus, Velvet and Sun’s Faunus eyes gave them excellent night vision.
“And it’s a full moon.”
“This city seems like it’s all alleys. None of the streets make sense,”
Yatsuhashi said.
“That’s because it is all alleys.” It wasn’t like the city was planned out,
like Vale, or engineered, like Atlas. When he first came here, Sun had
learned that the city just kind of happened. People settled wherever they
stopped moving, and the city sprouted up gradually around Shade Academy
wherever houses and buildings fit, typically clustered around the small
oases and patches of greenery that were too stubborn to give in to the
desert.
The city of Vacuo had some order to it, with different districts for
residences and businesses, and a wide street down the center for the market.

But the outer edges of it were periodically wiped out, because of
sandstorms or sinkholes or earthquakes. Occasionally a big enough Grimm
burrowed under the wall, churned up the sand, and knocked everything
down. Or Ravagers would attack from above. A rare, heavy rainstorm
might last for days—a mixed blessing that both brought water and washed
shelters away. None of this was bad luck, it was just life—and death—in
Vacuo.
Luckily, it wasn’t too hard to get oriented right now. “To find Shade,
you literally just have to look up, and there it is,” Sun said.
Buildings in the city were usually no more than a few stories tall, which
gave you a clear view of the terraced fortress in the middle, the site of
Shade Academy and the Cross Continental Transmit (CCT) tower. It
loomed high over the desert, tall enough to be viewed for miles around.
During the day, wide awnings were extended from its walls on all sides,
providing broad coverage and relief from the harsh sun.
“Seeing it is one thing,” Yatsuhashi said. “Getting there is another.”
“You’ll be glad for it if the city is ever invaded,” Sun said.
“Who would invade the city of Vacuo?” Yatsuhashi asked in disbelief.
Sun snapped, “Who would invade Beacon? Or Haven?”
A dark look crossed Velvet’s face.
“Besides, people have attempted it before,” Sun said.
“Back when Vacuo had something valuable, like Dust,” Yatsuhashi said.
Sun whistled low. “Spoken like a true outsider. If you don’t want to turn
Vacuans against you, you’ll stop making comments like that.”
Yatsuhashi looked away.
“Anyway, whoever’s behind the attacks on the academies will get
around to us eventually, if Blake and her friends can’t stop them first.”
Sun’s money was on Team RWBY (ruby), or it would be if he had any
money. The last time he’d seen them, a few months ago, they were taking
the Argus Limited to Atlas. They were probably there now, living a life of
luxury.
“I hope they’re okay,” Velvet said. “Wherever they are.”

“They can take care of themselves, now that they’re back together,” Sun
reassured them.
But Velvet and Yatsuhashi had a point about Team SSSN. Sun had to
make sure his own team was okay, now that they were back together, too.
Since he’d been back with them, and hauled them halfway across Remnant
to Vacuo, he felt like he didn’t quite fit in anymore. It seemed like the team
had been just fine without him, and now he was messing everything up.
Okay, it was true he’d been keeping them at a distance. No wonder he
felt out of step with them. But was it more than that? he sometimes
wondered. Maybe what Team SSSN needed was something to bring them
back together.
“We’ll help you,” Sun said impulsively.
“We?” Yatsuhashi asked.
“Help us with what?” Velvet asked.
“We, Team SSSN, will help you hunt down the Crown. More people
looking means you’ll cover more ground. And besides, you need us.”
“How’s that?” Yatsuhashi asked skeptically.
“You don’t know this city the way I do. You’ve had a hard time getting
information because people don’t trust you. They don’t trust outsiders—
especially Huntsmen trainees from other schools who are only in Vacuo
because they have nowhere else to go.”
“Ouch,” Yatsuhashi said.
Velvet elbowed him. “We’d be glad for the help.”
“We would be,” Yatsuhashi began. “But you’ll have to convince Coco
first. And your teammates.”
“I’m their leader, aren’t I?” Sun asked.
Velvet and Yatsuhashi looked away.
“That wasn’t a rhetorical question. I am their leader.”
Yatsuhashi’s right eyebrow went up.
Sun stood taller and thrust out his chest, striding confidently in the
direction of Shade Academy. “I totally am.”

“You can stop laughing, Coco.” Sun sighed. “Anytime.”
“I’m not laughing,” Coco said, innocently sipping her coffee.
It was surprising when Team SSSN joined Team CFVY for breakfast in
the lower courtyard before class, but she was glad they had. Velvet told
everyone about their misadventures the night before, and Coco would not
have missed it for the world.
“Okay, stop smiling, then,” Sun said.
“I thought boys liked it when girls smiled.”
“For some reason when you do it, it isn’t friendly. It looks like a threat.”
Yatsuhashi nodded solemnly.
“You have to admit,” Neptune Vasilias told Sun, “you getting beat up by
three random thugs, on your own turf, is pretty funny. Wish I’d been there.”
From the hard edge in Neptune’s voice, Coco wondered if he meant he
wished he’d been there to watch more than help. But she doubted Sun had
the awareness to see that. And from the way Sun’s other teammate Sage
Ayana was glaring at him, she guessed that he understood where Neptune
was coming from. Last night wasn’t just about Sun being wacky old Sun—
it was another example of him putting himself before his team.

“I’m telling you: There was something really weird about those guys!”
Sun protested. “They were unbeatable.”
The news that Velvet and Yatsuhashi had saved Sun had pretty much
made Coco’s morning. It restored some of the balance that had been lost
since Team SSSN had come to Shade, gloating that they had rescued CFVY
on their mission last month.
“Rescued” was a strong word, Coco thought. They had certainly
assisted, and she was grateful. But SSSN’s bragging had not only taken the
shine off CFVY’s reputation—it had fed brewing resentment that Coco and
the others had been getting from some students at Shade. Despite CFVY’s
reputation and demonstrated awesomeness, the native Vacuans called them
weak for abandoning Beacon Academy. Now it felt like CFVY had to prove
themselves with every assignment, every mission, and SSSN didn’t make
that any easier.
Coco was more than a little hesitant to accept Sun’s offer to help them
track down the Crown. He had a habit of attaching himself to better teams,
like RWBY, to make up for the fact that he and his own team were mediocre
at best. They had potential, Coco thought, but they needed a strong leader—
and Sun wasn’t it. What kind of leader abandoned their team, especially
after what they’d been through at Beacon?
Sun was too unstable, too unreliable, for her to want to partner with him
and his team. She didn’t even like eating with SSSN, usually. Team CFVY
worked best on their own, because they trusted one another completely.
“Look, Sun, I’m sorry about your missing friends,” Coco said. “And I
appreciate your offer to team up. But the only help we need right now is
from Headmaster Theodore and Professor Rumpole.” She was certain that
was the best way to track down the Crown, if the two of them would ever
respond.
Unfortunately, Rumpole, Theodore’s right hand, had been brushing off
Team CFVY lately. After their mission debriefing last month, Coco had
requested a meeting with the headmaster to discuss the Crown, but they still
hadn’t heard anything. Either Rumpole hadn’t passed on the message or

Theodore didn’t think it was worth his time. Coco was trying to be patient,
but Team CFVY wasn’t waiting around.
Scarlet David lifted his head. He’d been listening, not saying much.
Coco got the feeling he wasn’t particularly enjoying being at Shade. Vacuo
was a bit of an acquired taste and took some getting used to, especially after
everything he’d been through—losing both Beacon and Haven to the same
people, whoever it was who had been working with the White Fang.
This enemy was a threat, clearly, but so was the Crown. Why couldn’t
Theodore see the urgency?
“Hold on,” Scarlet said. “Are you saying you don’t have permission to
investigate the Crown?”
“We don’t not have permission,” Fox Alistair said.
“We don’t have explicit orders to pursue the Crown, no,” Coco said.
“But I see this as an extension of our original mission to support the Schist
refugees. It’s unfinished business.” Carmine and Bertilak were still out
there, and the Crown—if that’s who they were working for—still posed a
danger.
Why did the Crown need so many people with powerful Semblances?
Coco wondered. She doubted the Crown was collecting them to perform
petty crimes. And it was taking away people who could become valuable
Huntsmen one day—people who might be needed if there was ever a fullon attack on Shade.
“But it is our business,” Coco added. “We don’t need you. No offense.”
Scarlet stood. “Why would I take offense?” he asked. “Just because you
think you’re too good for us.”
Coco glanced at her team. Velvet avoided looking at her, which meant
she wasn’t on the same page this time. Yatsuhashi looked uncomfortable,
but he kind of always did during personal conflicts. And Fox—
“It wouldn’t hurt to have some reinforcements,” Fox sent, using his
telepathic Semblance, presumably just to her.
“I don’t disagree,” Coco sent back. “If it was the right team.”

“That’s fine. We hadn’t even discussed this yet, since Sun only sprang
the idea on us this morning,” Scarlet said.
Coco blinked. Sometimes it took her a second to process things when
she was having a telepathic conversation with Fox in the middle of a regular
conversation with other people. Was Scarlet saying Team SSSN wasn’t
offering to help? Did SSSN even have a plan?
“We’ll let you know when we need backup,” Coco added. “This is a
major problem, and I don’t understand why Theodore and Rumpole don’t
see that finding the Crown should be Shade’s biggest priority right now.”
“Theo has a lot on his mind,” Sun announced.
“Theo?” Coco repeated incredulously.
“Headmaster Theodore,” Sun said.
“I know who you meant. I didn’t know that you were on such familiar
terms with him. You just got here.”
“And you’re not exactly the best and brightest student at Shade,” she
added silently.
“Harsh,” Fox sent.
Okay, so she hadn’t thought it silently enough.
“But fair,” Fox added.
“When we arrived, Theodore wanted an update on everything that went
down in Mistral,” Sun said. “He asked why we came to Shade instead of
waiting for Haven to reopen.”
“I’ve been wondering that myself,” Sage said quietly.
“Hey, I agreed to come because you talked up how much fun Vacuo is,”
Neptune said.
“Has Vacuo been fun so far?” Sage asked.
“Not really.” Neptune’s eyes widened. “Sun tricked me?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Scarlet said.
“Look, we need to get ready for whatever’s coming,” Sun said. “This is
the best place for that.” His tail swished angrily.
It pained Coco to admit it, but she agreed with Sun. Just this once.

“There’s a difference between the best place and the only place,” Scarlet
grumbled. “Beacon’s gone—”
“For now,” Velvet said.
Scarlet rolled his eyes—or at least, the one eye that wasn’t covered by
his red hair. “Sure. And with Atlas’s borders closed, Shade Academy is the
only place to train. I wouldn’t call that a choice.”
Sun rose from his seat and faced Scarlet. “You do have a choice. You
can stay or you can go.”
“I’m not the one who has a problem staying in one place,” Scarlet
retorted.
“Harsh,” Fox sent again. This time to Coco, Velvet, and Yatsuhashi.
“Come on, guys. Can we not do this?” Neptune said.
“At least not in front of other teams,” Sage muttered.
Yatsuhashi pushed his plate away, most of his breakfast still uneaten.
Velvet’s ears wilted, matching her downcast expression.
This was no good, Coco thought. Team SSSN’s dysfunction was
affecting her team’s morale.
“Can we get back to Theodore?” Coco said. “Sun, why do you think he
isn’t worried about the Crown?”
“He’s focused on the bigger picture. Shade could be attacked at any
moment.”
“Keeping us in the dark isn’t going to help anyone,” Coco said.
“You keep forgetting,” Scarlet scoffed. “We’re just students.”
“We’re already better than a lot of trained Huntsmen,” Coco said.
“But we still have a lot to learn. And we’ve already failed to defend one
school.”
Coco corrected him. “We were all taken by surprise. Haven fared
better.”
“Most of us weren’t even there, and I still wouldn’t call that a win,”
Scarlet replied.
Coco shook her head and repeated her point. “We need to see the
headmaster. He may be too preoccupied to look into the Crown, but he also

can’t ignore it. He just needs to take us seriously.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Sun said.
She threw up her hands. “I don’t want you to do anything!”
“Hey. I’m trying to help,” Sun said.
“You say Vacuans won’t trust us without you, but you’re wrong. When
we were out there in the desert—”
“City Vacuans are different from desert Vacuans,” Sun said. “Besides,
Slate vouched for you. That’s probably why people gave you a chance.”
“I thought it didn’t matter where you’re from as long as you can survive
in Vacuo,” Velvet said quietly.
Sun looked at her and his face softened. “That’s true—to an extent. But
resentment of the other kingdoms still runs deep here.”
Fox nodded. “That’s true,” he said aloud, for Team SSSN’s benefit.
“Beacon students may have been accepted, grudgingly, because Vale was
the only kingdom to side with Vacuo in the Great War. But Headmaster
Theodore’s decision to welcome us clearly wasn’t popular. Judging by the
reactions of some of our fellow students.”
“The Great War again.” Coco shook her head. “Ancient history. Let it
go.”
“Easy for you to say,” Sun said. “But have you let go of what happened
to Beacon?” He sat down and put his hands together. “You. Need. Us.”
“I agree with Sun,” Neptune said.
“Of course you do.” Scarlet crossed his arms.
Neptune’s face grew red. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Coco leaned back. “These guys think they can help us when they can’t
even help themselves?” she sent to the group.
“Maybe they need our help,” Yatsuhashi sent.
“They definitely do. Besides, you know Sun is going to get involved no
matter what you decide,” Fox said. “Just like you would.”
Coco pursed her lips. Her teammates knew how to get what they
wanted. But it wasn’t manipulation as long as she knew they were
manipulating her, right? Really, they were just saying things she already

knew, things she needed to hear, to come to a decision that was best for the
whole team. And for Shade Academy and Vacuo and anyone who might fall
prey to the Crown as well.
“What do you think, Velvet?” Coco sent.
Velvet was quiet for a while before she lifted her eyes and looked
directly at Coco. She smiled. “I like proving people wrong.”
“Me too,” Coco sent.
While they were having their private conversation, Sun, Scarlet, Sage,
and Neptune had reached a new level of anger.
“Just because Team CFVY wants to do something doesn’t make it
important,” Scarlet shouted.
Coco slowly rose from her seat, and the boys fell silent. She had to
admit she liked that. She had seen the kind of respect that leaders like Slate
commanded, and okay, this was probably more fear than respect, but still,
Coco would take it.
“Stopping the Crown is important because it will help people,” Coco
said. “That’s what we do. That’s what we’re training to do. And if we can’t
help others, whenever we can, however we can—then what are we here
for?”
“We should focus more on our training—becoming the best Huntsmen
we can,” Scarlet said. “Anything else is a distraction. And I don’t like going
behind Rumpole’s back.”
Sage nodded. “The best way to help Shade when they come after us is
to be prepared to defend it. Better than we were at Beacon.”
Coco took off her sunglasses. She looked around the table. She still had
to convince them.
“We need one another,” she said. “We’re among the few who know
what we’re up against, because we were there at Beacon, and we fought.
And we lost. You guys were at Haven. We know what’s …” She gestured
vaguely. “Out there. And how much it can threaten what we have here. We
have our history, too—but we also have one another.”

She put her sunglasses back on. Team SSSN really needed to get their
act together, but CFVY had been there once before, and she knew a little
about the challenge of winning back her team’s trust.
There was no denying that Sun had access to resources that would help
them track down the Crown. It made sense to combine their efforts—if only
to make sure Sun didn’t get in their way, or to make sure Scarlet didn’t rat
them out to Rumpole.
“We’re stronger together.” Coco smiled in what she hoped wasn’t a
creepy way. This whole “accepting help” thing wasn’t exactly her style.
Scarlet opened his mouth, but Coco held up a hand to stop him from
speaking. “And I will talk to Professor Rumpole after class to make sure
she’s on board. To make this an official assignment. Okay?”
Scarlet closed his mouth. He nodded.
Coco glanced at Sun, but he was pointedly looking away from Scarlet.
“Speaking of class,” Velvet said. “We’re late.”
“And those who miss history are doomed to repeat it,” Fox said.

Coco stifled a yawn and sat straighter in her seat, trying to make a good
impression on Professor Rumpole, even though it might already be too late
for that. When Team CFVY had walked in a few minutes late—heads still
held high—Rumpole merely shook her head and continued lecturing about
the origins of the Dust trade two hundred years ago. Some might have
called it grandstanding, which CFVY had been accused of before, but the
team had an image to maintain.
Coco had mastered the delicate art of balancing respect for authority
with a certain level of disdain for rules. Or, at least, she had at Beacon. She
hadn’t been Professor Glynda Goodwitch’s favorite student—if she even
played favorites—but at the same time, Goodwitch and Headmaster Ozpin

knew the team had talent. CFVY sometimes got a pass on breaking the
rules if things worked out in the end.
She’d had her share of disciplinary meetings, of course, but Coco had
actually appreciated the feedback. In retrospect, it had made her a better
Huntress and a better leader. If only she could have finished her training at
Beacon like she had always planned.
Here she was getting nothing. No one held your hand at Shade
Academy if you needed help, but they were quick to slap it if you fell out of
line. No one high-fived you for good work, either.
Maybe they expected that if you were doing well, you knew it, and that
was all you needed? Fox had tried explaining that in Vacuo, you didn’t do
things for praise—you did them to survive. Coco didn’t see why it couldn’t
be both.
“I don’t need praise,” Coco had retorted. But she did need something to
gauge her performance. A wink or a thumbs-up or a medal for exceptional
service. She wasn’t asking for much.
Fox had laughed out loud, startling students in the library who had no
idea they were carrying on a silent conversation. Fox’s telepathy came in
handy for more than coordinating fights with Grimm.
“You do need praise,” Fox had sent. “No one spends as much time in
front of a mirror as you do if they don’t care what people think of them.”
“You’re just jealous that you can’t see how awesome I am.”
“I don’t need eyesight to know you’re great, Coco. But maybe those
shades of yours have been distorting how you see things. Try taking them
off once in a while. You’d be surprised to learn there are lots of people
outside of our team worthy of praise.”
“Bzzt!” Fox’s voice jolted Coco awake. She had nodded off in class.
Too many late nights patrolling with nothing to show for it.
She glanced to her left, where he was sitting. “Thanks,” she sent. Velvet
choked back a giggle on her other side.
An 8 a.m. history class seemed unnecessarily cruel, but Rumpole
herself had never seemed cruel. Demanding, yes. Harsh, often. Stylish?

Definitely. She reminded Coco of herself, which was maybe why Coco
liked the professor despite her frustrations. Besides Goodwitch, she was the
only other Huntress that Coco wanted approval from, but in that way the
two women were similar: Showing approval wasn’t really their thing.
Coco considered what Fox had said. She pulled her glasses off and sat
forward, wondering if she would really see things differently without them.
On the edge of her vision she noticed Velvet casting a questioning look her
way.
No one knew where Professor Rumpole was originally from, but like
most people who lived in Vacuo—who didn’t use the right skin care—
Rumpole had a deep tan. It was hard to tell how old she was, but she
seemed young, first because she was short—about four feet tall—and also
because of her fine features and mischievous expression.
Her sandy brown hair reached her ankles, in a long braid bound by
golden cord. She had a wide, squarish frame that exaggerated her shortness,
and she wore brown pants with a loose, dark green tunic cinched with a
brown leather belt at her waist.
But Coco’s favorite part of Rumpole’s outfit was a sleeveless long coat,
dark brown and coarse on the outside with glittering flecks, like rock
infused with pyrite—or perhaps cloth studded with yellow Dust—and a
silky, gold lining. Coco had dreams about that coat; it must have cost a
fortune. It was both rustic and gaudy, but somehow Rumpole made it all
work.
Without her glasses, Coco saw the essence of Rumpole: Despite her
showiness, her style was functional, all business.
And she clearly loved history—enough that her enthusiasm for the topic
was almost infectious. Almost.
“And so, Vacuo was faced with a choice,” Rumpole said. “To sit out the
war and take its chances that the other kingdoms would leave it alone, or
side with their neighbor to the northeast—Vale.” She paused and added,
“We all know how that turned out.”

“But you’re going to tell us, anyway,” Fox sent. Coco didn’t even crack
a smile; she was so intent on looking interested.
“Why did they decide to ally themselves with Vale, who’d done nothing
but watch as mining companies from Atlas and Mistral drew resources out
of the ground, taking the Dust from Vacuo and leaving behind barren
sand?” Rumpole swiveled her head back and forth. She wasn’t looking for a
volunteer—there were several hands up already. She was looking for a
victim.
When she noticed Coco, Rumpole zeroed in on her. “Adel. What do you
think?”
Coco’s heart beat faster. No matter how many Grimm she fought,
nothing was quite so terrifying as being called on in class. (Aside from
dark, enclosed spaces—that was still top on her list.)
“Because no matter what their differences, Vale and Vacuo shared the
continent of Sanus,” Fox sent.
“I knew that,” Coco sent back. But she repeated what he had said, word
for word. She loved Fox’s Semblance. She also added a bit of her own:
“Our fates are linked.”
“ ‘Our,’” repeated Rumpole. “Are you speaking as someone from Vale
or someone living in Vacuo?” she asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Coco said firmly. “I’m from Vale, but as long as I
call Vacuo home, I’ll fight for it.”
Seemingly satisfied—and maybe even a little surprised—Rumpole
turned away.
Their conversation with SSSN this morning fresh in her mind, Coco
suddenly realized something. Since the news from Haven Academy had
arrived, Rumpole had switched her history lessons from the establishment
of Shade Academy to discussions of the Great War. That couldn’t be a
coincidence. Did Rumpole think a second war was coming?
Coco raised her hand, but she didn’t even wait for permission to speak.
“May I ask you a question, Professor?”
Rumpole turned back to her. She studied Coco’s face, then nodded.

“I’ve noticed you’ve switched to a different time period in your lectures
recently. Shouldn’t we be going through events chronologically, starting
with ancient history?”
Rumpole pressed her lips together. “When you tell a story, do you
always tell it in the order that things happened? Or do you start at the end to
entice the audience, and then back up to the beginning? Add little details
out of sequence as they occur to you?”
Coco waited. Was she supposed to answer? No, Rumpole had more to
say.
“Does that diminish the telling? I believe the best way to properly
consider the past is to provide the right context for it, and sometimes you
need to know how things ended up before you can consider why they turned
out that way.”
Rumpole hopped up and stood on her desk, which she often used as a
stage, or a soapbox. At Beacon, all the classrooms were lecture halls with
tiered seats, so the professors were always center stage. Here at Shade,
though, student desks were arranged in a circle around each teacher’s desk,
placing students and professors on the same level, and theoretically
facilitating discussion.
“But I’m also not sure what you mean by ‘ancient history,’” Rumpole
continued, now towering above her class. “That could be subjective. I am
sure that, to some of you, things that happened even fifty years ago might
feel like ancient history, while something more recent—say the Fall of
Beacon—doesn’t feel like the past at all.”
That was a cheap shot, Coco thought. From the way Velvet and some of
their classmates who had fought at the Battle of Beacon—Iris Marilla,
Reese Chloris, and Bolin Hori—shifted in their seats, she knew they felt
uncomfortable, too.
Vacuans, it seemed, cherished their history but kept their focus on their
future. It was one of the many contradictions that made it harder for Coco to
adapt to the culture.

“Pay attention to people’s reactions,” Coco sent to Fox, trusting him to
pass it on to Yatsuhashi and Velvet.
“It’s just that I’m curious what life was like in Vacuo before the war and
the Vytal Peace Accords,” Coco continued. “Before the Dust companies
destroyed it.”
She heard grumbling from some of her classmates, but Coco pressed on.
“What was it like when monarchies ruled the four kingdoms, when the
crown was the center of authority in Vacuo?”
Rumpole couldn’t have missed the significance of Coco’s question, but
she didn’t show it. “I see. This happens to be one of my particular areas of
interest, but I’m afraid much of that knowledge has been lost in Vacuo
thanks to conquest and war. We can only guess at what life was like for
those who lived in a paradise filled with verdant life, with a formalized
government and royalty. Few documented accounts or records remain from
that far back—though some families have claimed otherwise over the
years.”
After Rumpole dismissed class for the day, with an assignment to write
a lengthy essay on the causes of the Great War, Coco, Fox, Yatsuhashi, and
Velvet hung back. When the rest of the students had departed, Rumpole
addressed Team CFVY.
“I don’t have an answer to your real question, Adel,” she said. “I
haven’t even spoken to the headmaster about your request yet.”
Coco couldn’t believe it. “Why not?” she demanded. “The Crown is
important, and we’ve also been hearing about widespread disappearances
throughout the city.”
Rumpole hopped to her feet and hooked her thumbs over her belt. “It’s
up to me to determine if it’s important enough to bring to Theodore. He has
been preoccupied lately.”
“You mean with the attacks on the other academies? I understand his
concern, but does he really think anyone is going to attack Vacuo right
now? The kingdoms have already taken everything it has,” Coco said in
frustration.

Rumpole took a deep breath. “If you think Dust is all Vacuo has to offer,
then what are you doing here? After your response this morning, I had
hoped you thought better of your new home than that.”
Coco wasn’t about to back down on this one—it might be the last
chance she got to make her case. “I do think highly of Vacuo, and that’s
why I’m worried about what’s going on here. Right now. Instead of what
might happen tomorrow.”
“That’s a luxury you have as a Huntress in training. Theodore has to be
concerned with both today and tomorrow. And all the days that follow. It
falls to him to keep our academy and students safe above all else,” Rumpole
said flatly. “Which is why I’m investigating this ‘Crown’ personally, and
will report my findings and recommendations to him—in due time. Not
when it’s convenient for you.”
“You’ve been investigating the Crown?” Coco said. “We can help!”
Rumpole sighed. “Of course you can. It’s only because of your team
that we know about them at all, and if your suspicions are true, we will have
to deal with the situation sooner or later. But I can’t officially assign you to
the case without drawing undue attention to it, or running my few leads to
ground.”
She paused to let that sink in, then added a warning. “And if I ever find
out that you’ve been continuing to investigate the situation on your own, I
would have to report that to Theodore immediately. While he doesn’t
believe in coddling his students—”
Fox snickered.
Coco might have imagined it, but Rumpole’s mouth twitched in a half
smile. “He does intend to protect you all. Even teams as capable as CFVY.”
Wow, is she actually praising us? Coco thought.
“The headmasters of the other schools have been reckless, negligent, or
overprotective. Theo’s first priority will always be helping you reach your
full potential, making you strong enough to survive anything that comes
your way. He has your best interest in mind, no matter where you come

from or where you started your training. Who else can say that?” Rumpole
spread her hands. “Give us some time.”
Coco nodded. “Okay, that seems fair,” she conceded. “Until we start to
run out of time.” She put her sunglasses back on.
Rumpole drew her coat closed and looked at the door. “Now get out of
here before I give you extra homework for being late to class.”
Coco left the professor’s classroom knowing two things. One, she not
only admired Rumpole but trusted her. She hadn’t been sitting around
ignoring Team CFVY’s warnings—she had been out there taking quiet
action.
Which led to the second thing: Coco wanted Rumpole as a mentor. Just
think what she could learn before she graduated Shade!
“So I guess that’s it,” Yatsuhashi said, processing what they had learned.
“She’s onto us. We have to stop what we’re doing or she’s going to tell
Headmaster Theodore.”
“That’s not what I heard,” Fox sent.
“We can’t stop now!” Velvet said.
“We aren’t going to, and Rumpole doesn’t want us to,” Coco said. “She
told us she knows we can handle ourselves, but if we get too much attention
and she’s forced to act, she’ll have to report us to Theodore.”
“She basically told us to be careful,” Fox sent.
“Oh,” Yatsuhashi said. “Are you sure she said all that?”
“It’s Vacuo,” Coco said. “Nothing is ever what it seems.”

Velvet was glad that Sun was helping them now, if only because it was
nice to have someone who knew how to get around the city. It kept
changing so much, it was difficult to map the streets on Scrolls, and she
kept getting lost on their nightly patrols. Like so much in Vacuo, you just
had to get used to it … or ask people for directions.
Only, nothing advertised you were an outsider more than asking for
directions. Sometimes people would point them the wrong way just to mess
with them.
Sun moved so quickly through the labyrinth of unpaved streets and
shadowed alleys that Velvet and the others had to hurry to keep up. At
night, those narrow passages were a nightmare to navigate, even dangerous
depending on who was lurking in them. Velvet preferred to travel across the
low rooftops whenever possible, which made it less likely that she would
get turned around.
But in the daytime, she saw that there was some order and reason to the
crowded buildings. Even though the brick and stone structures were usually
no more than a few stories tall, they cast shadows that helped cool you as
you traveled. It was a walking city, not that large from end to end but with a

lot packed in. The only quiet time was midday, when the sun was highest
and hottest and all the shops shut down for a couple of hours.
“You know this place so well. Did you grow up here?” Velvet asked Sun
as she followed him.
“My family and I moved around a lot,” he said. “My dad didn’t like the
city. I didn’t come here till I was older.”
Out in the desert, Velvet knew, clans rarely settled in one place for long
unless there was some reason to. A rare oasis, say, or a CCT relay—
something worth defending. A place to call home, until you were forced to
move on.
A lot of the philosophy of Vacuo focused on making the best of what
you had for as long as you could hold on to it. Velvet glanced back at Coco,
Yatsuhashi, and Fox.
“I don’t really like the city, either,” Sun said. “At least, not this one. It
cramps my style, literally.”
“He likes climbing things,” Neptune offered. “The city’s too small for
much climbing.” Velvet wondered how he could have forgiven Sun,
sticking by him like nothing had happened. Scarlet and Sage were trailing
behind the group as if trying to show they weren’t really with them.
“Didn’t you say your cousin’s dojo was around here?” Neptune asked.
Sun’s face paled.
“Ooh! Can we see it?” Velvet asked.
It was pretty clear Sun didn’t want to talk about it. “I’d rather not,” he
said. “It’s probably not even here anymore. I’m not sure I remember where
it used to be … the city changes so often.”
“You have family here and you haven’t told them you’re back?”
Yatsuhashi asked.
Scarlet laughed. “That’s Sun for you.”
Velvet puffed out her cheeks and sighed. She was grateful that Team
CFVY had worked out their past difficulties. She didn’t know what she
would do without her friends. They knew one another as well as Sun knew
the streets of this city.

Sun lowered his head, and his tail dragged behind him. Velvet decided
to rescue him—again.
“So you don’t like the city. Is that why you decided not to attend
Shade?” Velvet asked. She knew why Fox had left Vacuo for Beacon, but he
hadn’t lived here the way Sun had. For Velvet, going to her local academy
had made the most sense.
“No.” Sun cast a sidelong glance at her. “I left because I was tired of
looking at it.” He turned around and pointed. “Wherever you turn, there it
is!”
Velvet looked behind them. Sure enough, she spotted the top of Shade
Academy rising above the roofs, even though she could have sworn it was
west of them. She really had no sense of direction here.
Shade Academy was the exception to whatever building codes there
may once have existed in the city of Vacuo. As the tallest structure for
hundreds of miles around, it cast a long shadow, in more ways than one.
Right now its awnings were fully extended, shielding the citizens below
from the brutal sun.
The campus was surrounded by a low wall, which served mainly to
mark boundaries. And perhaps to send a message, just like Scarlet and Sage
were doing now: We’re a part of you, but we are separate.
Like the city itself, the academy packed in a lot—vertically—with
classrooms and academic spaces in three tiers, and Headmaster Theodore’s
office at the apex, which also housed the CCT transmitter. Shade Academy,
and Theodore himself, were the center of everything in Vacuo—holding it
all together.
“Remnant is a big place,” Sun went on. “I wanted to see more of it.”
“I spent a summer in Atlas once,” Velvet said. “Before I went to
Beacon. It was … overwhelming.” So overwhelming, she had spent most of
the time in her room or a community makerspace, though she did get to see
her father’s lab a few times.

“Atlas is pretty amazing, eh?” Velvet’s father said.
“Yeah,” Velvet said, not looking up from her Scroll.
“Especially that giant statue of Pumpkin Pete,” he said.
“Uh-huh.” Velvet swiped at her Scroll, sending the wire schematics on
the screen spinning around rapidly. She jabbed a finger to stop it, spread
two fingers to expand the diagram, and frowned as she peeled it away layer
by layer. Something about the projection system wasn’t quite …
“Wait, what?” Velvet lifted her head and turned from left to right,
peering around. She saw a lot of silver-and-glass skyscrapers, busy streets,
flying vehicles streaming through the skies, but no statue of a cartoon
rabbit. Because of course there wouldn’t be one, especially not here of all
places.
“Gotcha,” her father said. “I didn’t think you were listening.”
“So no Pumpkin Pete?” Velvet said.
“No.”
“Oh.”
He was quiet for a little while as they rode in the back of the Atlesian
transport taking them from the train station to his apartment. Had he been
hoping to impress her with that, show her what a big shot he was? That
would have had exactly the wrong effect on her. Velvet wasn’t interested in
spending a month with Will Scarlatina, Atlesian engineer—
Sorry, “tinkerer,” as he preferred to describe himself. She just wanted to
spend time with her father. The man who had helped her build her first
computer, and didn’t get angry when she stole his power tools, and made
the most amazing pancakes she had ever tasted.
On the other hand, could he have turned down the military escort if
he’d wanted to? Velvet’s mother said that his mind was too important—too
important to risk his personal safety on public transit. Too important for
him to return to Vale. Too important to be a good husband or father

anymore. As long as he was helping design new top secret technologies for
Atlas, that meant Velvet wasn’t important enough. She didn’t deserve his full
attention, so he hardly had room to complain that he didn’t have hers.
“Just another way I’ve disappointed you, huh?” he said.
“Dad. No!” Velvet paused. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but she
didn’t have much to follow that up with, nothing that would convince him,
anyway. It was hard to argue with the truth.
He chuckled harshly. “I thought so. I’ll talk to General Ironwood and
see if we can’t commission a rabbit statue before you leave.”
“I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t want that.” Velvet smiled. From what
she’d heard, the head of Atlas and its military didn’t have much of a sense
of humor. She was glad they hadn’t taken that from her father at least.
“I bet it would do wonders for the tourist business.” He laughed. “I’m
really glad you came to visit. We’re going to have a wonderful time.”
“Of course I came. This is the center of technology and innovation in
Remnant. I’ve been wanting to visit Atlas since I first picked up a soldering
iron.” Atlas was the birthplace of the CCT, Scrolls, artificial Dust types—
all the things that captured Velvet’s imagination and fueled her creativity.
She might have her mother’s ears, but she was her father’s daughter.
“You aren’t here because you miss me?”
“You know how you always told me there are no stupid questions?”
Velvet asked.
He nodded.
“You were wrong. Because that is a stupid question. Of course I miss
you.”
He smiled sadly. “I miss you, too. Every day.”
“So why don’t you come home, Dad?” she asked. A short-term military
contract had turned into a year, and whenever she’d asked her mother why,
her mother changed the subject—or left the room.
“Velvet.” Her father looked out the window. He pressed his fingers to
the glass. “Thing is, I don’t think I am. Your mother and I don’t see things

the same way anymore. Maybe we haven’t for a while and we just couldn’t
admit it to ourselves.” He looked at her. “Or to you.”
His decision to work for Atlas had gone over even less well with Meg
Scarlatina than it had with Velvet. Or maybe it was more the fact that he
hadn’t discussed it with his family first.
“But you can work it out, right? You always say you could fix anything
if you put your mind to it.”
He turned back and looked down at his hands. Opened and closed them.
“Machines are easier than people.”
Velvet glanced down at her Scroll. “No argument there.”
“Text from your friends?” he asked.
What friends? Velvet thought.
She’d never managed to find her place at Pharos Combat School. She
couldn’t wait until she got to Beacon Academy after the summer. It was
going to be a fresh start. She was going to try harder to be more outgoing,
meet more people. She just hoped she would end up with a good partner
and team. She was good at planning—she could see it all in her head
already. And her latest invention was going to help with all that. Which is
why it was so important she get it right.
“It’s a new weapon I’m working on,” Velvet said. “For school.”
“May I?” Her father reached out for her Scroll and she passed it over.
He put on his reading glasses and studied her designs. Suddenly Velvet felt
anxious.
“This captures images of other weapons … and then reproduces them in
hard light?” He looked up in wonder. “Velvet, this is … astonishing.”
Velvet blushed.
“Does it work?”
“I’ve built prototypes, but I don’t have enough hard-light Dust to test it
extensively.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. Once James hears about this, he’ll set
you up with all the Dust you need. At the military family discount.”
“James?” Velvet asked.

“Sorry. James Ironwood.” He went back to looking at her Scroll.
“You mean you really know the general?”
His face showed surprise. “Know him? I work with him. Well,
technically I work for him, but it’s basically the same thing. You thought I
was making that up?”
“Maybe exaggerating slightly. To impress me?”
“I see. Were you impressed?”
“I am now.”
“These projection relays are marvelous.” He pointed to one area of the
schematic. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“That part’s been giving me some trouble.”
“You’ll get it. You know, I miss working on stuff like this with you. We
could use you in our lab.”
Velvet wasn’t sure that would go over so well. “Mom would love that,”
she said sarcastically, blowing her bangs out of her eyes. “Home isn’t the
same without you. It doesn’t even feel like home.”
“I know. I’m sorry. But hey, you’ll be leaving soon, anyway. My
daughter, a Huntress at Beacon Academy. I’m so proud of you, V.”
“Thanks.”
Maybe that was all Velvet needed: a new place to call home.

“I’ve never been to Atlas,” Sun said.
“I hope you’ll be able to go sometime. When all this trouble dies
down,” Velvet replied.
Sun grinned. “Nah. I’m good. Too much technology there.”
“But also really tall buildings,” Neptune pointed out.
“There’s plenty to climb in Mistral,” Sun said. “More stuff like that.”
He pointed, and Velvet saw a natural rock formation springing from a plaza
on the outskirts of the city.

“That’s the Weeping Wall?” Coco asked. “I was expecting, I don’t know
… a wall?”
The mass was technically wall-like, Velvet thought, about ten feet long
and three feet thick and forty feet high. On the shady side of it, two kids had
set up an old wooden crate to sell misshapen clay models of the wall.
“It isn’t weeping, either,” Neptune said. “Those aren’t tears—they’re
sweat.” He wiped his brow for emphasis. Neptune was referring to a trickle
of water seeping out of the rock and running down in a narrow rivulet to
disappear into the crevice between the rock and pavement.
“Things aren’t named literally in Vacuo,” Sun said.
“How is it doing that?” Yatsuhashi asked as he caught up to them, the
others close behind him.
“What is it doing?” Velvet asked.
“Hard to know without digging it up and ruining it in the process,” Sun
said. “Which people in Vacuo are generally against, for obvious reasons.
But there must be some kind of underwater reservoir beneath the stone. The
rock is porous. It draws the water up and then it trickles down. Once in a
while after it rains, the stone will ‘weep’ for weeks afterward.”
“I’ve heard of this,” Fox said. “People sell vials of the water, don’t
they? ‘Vacuo’s Tears’ or some nonsense.”
“Why don’t they drink it instead?” Sage asked.
“Because then it would dry up and we would just have an ugly rock,”
Sun said. “Some of the water evaporates, of course, but a lot of it seeps into
the ground and makes its way back to the reservoir, and probably some of
the local oases. It’s as close as we have to a renewable resource around
here.”
“This is nice and all,” Coco said. Her tone suggested she meant the
exact opposite. “But why did you want to show it to us?”
“I think it’s truly breathtaking,” Fox said.
“Wait. Aren’t you blind?” Neptune asked.
Fox turned his head toward him and didn’t say anything.
“What’s he doing?” Neptune said nervously.

“That was the joke,” Yatsuhashi explained. “Sorry. Don’t be mean,
Fox.”
“Please stop staring at me,” Neptune said in a small voice. “I mean—”
He covered his eyes and turned away.
Fox grinned.
“Take a closer look,” Sun said. “Come on.”
The two teams gathered on the cooler side of the stone formation.
Velvet saw the base was cluttered with an assortment of stuffed animals,
bunches of desert flowers, shoes. Glasses filled with water and plates of
dried meat. After a moment she put it all together: This was a shrine.
Loops of thin wire were wrapped around the wall, with pictures and
posters pinned to them. Some of the pages were faded, nearly blank and in
tatters, while others had been freshly printed or handwritten. Many of them
had the same chilling word in block letters at the top: MISSING.
Velvet whispered a description of what they were seeing to Fox,
avoiding teamspeak for SSSN’s benefit. No one found out about Fox’s
Semblance until he trusted them enough to let them in on it.
“What is this?” Coco asked.
“These are the missing and lost of the city of Vacuo,” Sun said. “People
who have disappeared without a trace. Most of them in the last year.”
“Where’d they go?” Sage asked.
“They wouldn’t be missing if we knew where they are.” Scarlet patted
Sage on the arm.
“Oh, right.”
Velvet walked along the wall, taking in all the pictures. There were so
many. Children, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins. Husbands and wives,
boyfriends and girlfriends. These were people who had left someone behind
to miss them, to mourn. To wonder what had happened to them.
“I guess they’re a low priority for Headmaster Theodore, too,” Velvet
said.

“Even though people expect a lot from him, he doesn’t have complete
authority,” Fox said. “And we’re still in Vacuo. Resources are limited. The
Huntsmen he works with regularly have got to be stretched pretty thin
already, if Rumpole has them on the lookout for the Crown.”
Velvet tried to imagine what it was like for the people who only had the
resources to put pictures of their missing loved ones on a wall and hope
they would come home one day.
“These people could be in trouble,” Velvet said.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” Sun said. “I’ve gotta find them.”
“There you go being all noble and selfish again,” Scarlet said. “Both at
the same time.”
Sun didn’t rise to Scarlet’s bait, which was pretty strange. But it also
wasn’t his style to devote himself to a cause like this. He usually went
wherever his whims took him, whether that was across the sea to help a
friend or to get noodles at three in the morning. To pledge to fight a big
cause with no clear solution or end in sight? That really didn’t sound like
Sun. Maybe his time with Blake in Menagerie had changed him.
“We’ll help you,” Velvet said with conviction. “We’ll find them.”
Coco cleared her throat. “After we track down the Crown.”
Velvet walked around the wall to the other side, trailing her fingers over
the posters. There was a laughing boy balancing a plate on his head. A
smiling man holding a baby in his arms. A teenage girl with her head bent
over a Scroll.
Velvet froze, staring at a picture of a gawky teenager with short hair.
Velvet knew her.
“Guys!” she called. “Look at this!”
Yatsuhashi was the first one to reach her. Velvet pointed. “Look
familiar?”
Yatsuhashi squinted.
“What’s wrong?” Coco asked.
“I know this girl. We ran into her last night,” Yatsuhashi said.
Sun’s eyes widened when he saw the spiky pink hair. “Pink!”

“This was one of the three people in masks who we saved Sun from,”
Yatsuhashi said.
“Hey,” Sun muttered. “I had it under control.”
Coco leaned closer to the picture and lowered her sunglasses. “So
you’re saying this missing kid has a Semblance.”
“She seemed to be able to phase her body so physical objects could pass
through her.”
“That’s impressive,” Coco said. “The kind of person the Crown would
be interested in.”
“But she didn’t act like someone who’d been kidnapped,” Sun said.
“More like she was a kidnapper herself.”
“Like Carmine and Bertilak?” Coco asked.
“Oh, good point,” Sun said.
Coco smirked. “I know.”
Velvet used her Scroll to take a picture of the picture. The girl with pink
hair was named Rosa Schwein and lived in Gust Downs.
“Someone should go talk to her family, find out what they know,” Coco
said. “Maybe these missing people are connected somehow.”
“The boys and I will take care of it.” Sun gave her a thumbs-up. Scarlet
tossed up his arms in frustration. Sage sighed and Neptune shrugged.
Velvet started snapping pictures of wide sections of the wall with her
Scroll. Some of them were already fading, bleached by the sun. Soon they’d
be gone forever—a small tragedy that Velvet was all too familiar with. All
of them were potential leads, as long as they lasted.
She handed her Scroll to Yatsuhashi. While he got pictures of the ones
too high for her to reach, she went to the little souvenir table near the wall.
Velvet slipped the kids a Lien in exchange for one of their handmade
sculptures. She handled it carefully since it was still damp. It looked like it
had been made right here, from the wet clay at the base of the wall, but it
was actually a pretty decent likeness of the Weeping Wall, if you knew what
you were supposed to be looking at.

When Team SSSN and Team CFVY were nearly done photographing
everything on the wall, a girl about their age approached. Her curly brown
hair almost obscured perky mouse ears.
Neptune was friendly. “Hey,” he said. “How’s it going?”
The girl burst into tears and held up a flyer. “My older sister is
missing!”
Neptune froze, not knowing how to react.
“Here, let me help you with that,” Sun said. He took the flyer and
pinned it to an empty spot on the wire. There weren’t many empty spaces
left now.
Coco got right down to questioning. “When did she disappear?” she
asked brusquely.
“Two nights ago.” The girl looked around in confusion, suddenly aware
of teams CFVY and SSSN and the fact that they were all paying attention to
her. “Um. She went to a club or something to watch a fight.”
“Where was it?” Coco asked.
“Downtown. I don’t know. She had an address on a poster. She likes to
gamble, but only because she’s trying to make money so we can eat.” The
girl broke down crying before she could offer more detail. “I don’t know
what we’re going to do without her.”
Velvet snapped a photo of her flyer. The girl’s sister was named Lily,
and she looked like an older version of the girl.
“We’ll keep an eye out for her,” Velvet promised.
“Does she have a Semblance?” Coco wanted to know.
“Sure,” said the girl. “Nothing too useful, though. She can make things
sticky.”
“Uh, what?” Neptune asked.
“She can make things stick to each other. Little things, like rocks, or the
pages of a book. We used to make houses of cards together.” The girl wiped
her nose with the back of her hand. “But it doesn’t last long. A few minutes,
and then—” She splayed her fingers out. “Poof.”
“Okay,” Coco said. “That’s not gonna rock anyone’s world.”

The girl scowled. “She is my world.” In a huff, she walked away.
Coco’s face flushed. “I didn’t mean to upset her.”
“She was already upset,” Fox said.
Scarlet crossed his arms. “But you just made it worse.”
Coco was trying to piece together what they knew. “Well, I don’t know
if their situation fits,” she said. “That girl—”
“Lily,” Velvet supplied.
“Lily probably got in too deep with gambling debt and got into trouble,”
Coco suggested. “Or she was too embarrassed to go home to her family.”
“She wouldn’t have left her little sister alone,” Velvet said. “And it
sounds like her family would support her no matter what.”
Silence fell over the group.
“You’re right,” Coco finally said. “Because that’s what families do.
Even in Vacuo.”
“Especially in Vacuo,” Sun said.
“And speaking of families …” Velvet looked around at her teammates.
Coco and Yatsuhashi nodded. “Now it’s our turn to show you guys
something.”

That night, as Sun looked around the dorm common room at the other
students gathered there, he felt strangely disconnected from his body.
Unsettled.
“Hey, everyone,” Velvet began. “As you can see, we have a few new
faces here. Since we all voted to invite Team SSSN to these meetings, here
they are. Sun, Scarlet, Sage, Neptune—welcome to the Beacon Brigade.”
The group applauded softly. Neptune beamed, seemed to think better of
it, and his face went flat. Then his mouth stretched into a weird, wide grin
that Sun knew meant his friend was about to lock up.
“Um, thanks,” Sun said awkwardly. “I’m still not sure if we really
belong here, but …” He rubbed the back of his neck.
In the last few weeks, he had seen these kids in the classrooms and
hallways of Shade Academy—they were his new schoolmates. But they
weren’t exactly strangers. He had seen a number of them at Beacon. He had
fought against some of them in the Vytal Festival Tournament. He had
fought beside others at the Battle of Beacon.
And they had lost together, watching Beacon fall.
“Everyone here helped defend our home and school, even though they
didn’t have to,” Velvet said. “We’re grateful. As far as we’re concerned,
you’re all honorary Beacon students.”

Whatever that means anymore, Sun thought. Then he chided himself. To
the others here, it still meant a lot. Sun liked to move around so he didn’t
get too attached—to a place or the people there—but that’s not how other
people operated. Most people’s identities were built around where they
lived and trained. Their friends, their culture. That was the whole point of
the team system—to become part of something, to define yourself, to lose
yourself in it. A team made you someone new, someone better.
Sun hadn’t really been a big fan of that mentality, either, come to think
of it.
And now here they were, creating a new group named after a place that
didn’t even exist anymore. The Beacon Brigade. There was Team CFVY, of
course, but also Team ABRN (auburn), consisting of Arslan Altan, Bolin
Hori, Reese Chloris, and Nadir Shiko. They had gone back to Haven
Academy with Neptune, Scarlet, and Sage, where they watched the school
nearly fall to the White Fang. And like Team SSSN, they were one of the
few groups who had decided to pick up their training in Vacuo rather than
lose another semester. ABRN had beaten them to Vacuo by a couple of
weeks, though, since Sun had insisted on taking the scenic route—luckily
for Team CFVY.
Sun recognized a few other faces from Beacon, even if he only
remembered Iris Marilla’s name. But he was surprised to see Nolan
Porfirio, the only one here who was an original Shade Academy student.
Nolan had lost the rest of his team, BRNZ (bronze): Brawnz Ni, Roy
Stallion, and May Zedong. And it showed. He was even thinner than he’d
been last year at the Vytal Festival, and his rose-colored glasses couldn’t
hide the dark shadows under his eyes.
“Who wants to start?” Velvet asked. “What’s on your mind?”
Bolin raised his hand tentatively. “Is it just me, or does it seem like we
aren’t really wanted here?”
“It isn’t just you,” Nadir said. “Let’s just say some of the Vacuan
students here are giving a new meaning to ‘Shade’ Academy.” He looked
around. “Because they’ve been throwing a lot of shade at us?”

“We get it,” Fox said.
“It’s true that they have been giving us a hard time since we arrived,”
Arslan said. “They like to remind us of the fact that we have abandoned two
other academies now, as they put it. While I appreciate that they have their
own perspective, it is not a very productive attitude.”
After a brief pause, Yatsuhashi spoke up. “It’s tough here, but that helps
keep me focused. That, and meditation.”
Several heads nodded around the room. Sun had seen Yatsuhashi
leading meditation groups early in the mornings at Shade. They reminded
Sun of the exercises Starr had forced on him at the dojo when he was
young. For him, sitting in one place and doing absolutely nothing for long
stretches of time was the opposite of relaxing.
“It feels like a punishment,” a high voice said.
Sun winced and looked at Iris.
“Is that weird?” she went on. “I’m just being honest. It’s like, it’s so
hard here, I’m not sure I can make it, but the alternative …” She swallowed,
and her voice softened, but not enough. “I think I deserve it, you know?
Because I survived and some of—some people didn’t.”
“Thank you, Iris,” Velvet said. “Does anyone else feel that way?”
Some murmurs of assent.
“Sometimes I feel that way, too,” Velvet acknowledged.
“Really?” Sun said. He was surprised to hear that. Velvet had never
mentioned it.
“When we first got here, I hated Vacuo,” Velvet admitted. “But I also
know that this is the best place to get stronger. To learn what I’m really
capable of. And to realize that at Beacon I did my best, but my best can still
be better.”
“Yeah.” Iris drew in a shaky breath. “This week has been hard for me. It
would have been Castor’s birthday yesterday.”
“I’m sorry,” Velvet said.
“I miss him so much,” Iris said, wiping her eyes.
“We all do,” Yatsuhashi said, as if he’d been close with Castor, too.

Who’s Castor? Sun thought. One of Iris’s teammates? Her boyfriend?
Both?
His thoughts were interrupted by another student. “I should have died
there,” Nolan said flatly.
At that, a silence fell over the group.
“I thought I was going to. I was afraid …” Nolan scanned the room,
looking for support, though not everyone met his gaze. “But I didn’t.” His
voice shook, but the set of his jaw was determined. “We didn’t die. There’s
a reason for that.”
Yeah. Because you ran away, Sun thought, unable to stop himself, even
though this was the exact thing the other Shade students were thinking of
the Beacon and Haven survivors. No wonder Nolan was here—he was
probably getting criticized worse than anyone, because Shade students were
supposed to be stronger than everyone else.
“I’m going to make my life count,” Nolan said. “I’m not going to waste
this chance.”
That’s more like it, Sun thought. But he’d believe it when he saw it. It
was easy to talk about doing something, and another thing to follow through
on it. Maybe that was what he didn’t like about this group. So far it was all
just sitting around and talking. They should be focused on moving on—
channeling their strength toward protecting their new home, their new
friends.
“I think we all feel that way,” Velvet said. “Thank you for sharing,
Nolan.”
Sun couldn’t contain himself; he rolled his eyes. This therapy thing felt
weird, like a shirt that didn’t quite fit. It had its own language, and everyone
was so careful about how they phrased things. It ran counter to everything
he was.
“You have something to contribute, Sun?” Coco asked.
“I don’t think so,” Sun said. “I’m sorry. I don’t think this is for me.”
He stood up. Neptune jumped to his feet, too, and then they stood there
awkwardly, unsure of what they were doing.

“You don’t have to stay, of course,” Coco said. “Maybe you’re not
ready for this.”
Sun scowled. There was an implication there he didn’t like. “That’s not
what I meant. But I don’t have anything to say that I think you’d want to
hear. So I’m just gonna go.”
Velvet stood up and put an arm out to stop him “Don’t. This is a safe
space, Sun. It’s like a family. And whatever you’re thinking, I think we’ve
all been there. I think we all need to hear it from each other.”
Sun hesitated.
“Go on.” Scarlet tapped his foot. “Don’t keep us waiting. Again.”
Sun narrowed his eyes. “Look, I understand why you’ve started this
little group, but I think it’s a mistake. For a lot of reasons.” Now everyone
was staring at him, their eyes burning as hot as Vacuo’s noontime sun.
“You’ve only been here for ten minutes, and you’ve figured us all out?”
Nolan said, incredulous.
Sun shook his head and started to leave. “Come on, Neptune.”
But his teammate didn’t move. Neptune glanced at Sun and then at the
group and then back. Finally he sat down. “I’d kind of like to hear what you
have to say.”
Sun was exasperated. “Okay, for one, Theo really wouldn’t like this,” he
burst out. Sun circled his hand in the air, indicating the whole room. “This
is why Vacuans won’t trust you. Because you’re holding on to who you
were and where you came from instead of focusing on where you are.”
He caught his breath and continued. “I get it. Beacon was your home.
But it belongs to the Grimm now. We all survived, but it’s like you haven’t
left Beacon at all. And if you don’t leave it, that darkness is going to eat you
alive.”
“That’s not what this group is about,” Velvet told him. “We’ve all lived
through something that no one else can understand.”
Sun laughed. “You don’t think Vacuans understand what you’ve been
through? People stay in Vacuo because it’s our home, no matter what. We’re
making up for our failure every day, punishing ourselves with the heat and

the hunger and the thirst. Because we deserve it, and because we don’t want
to forget.”
Scarlet stood. “You mean like you didn’t forget about us? Like you
didn’t leave us the first chance you got to chase after someone you barely
knew who didn’t want your help? You didn’t even stay in Vacuo for school
—you chose Haven.” Scarlet flipped his bangs away from his face and
glared at Sun. “You wouldn’t know anything about loss, Sun. You never
stay in one place long enough to learn.”
The room was quiet. Sun’s face was flushed. “You all belong in Vacuo
more than you think,” he snapped.
“Thank you, Sun.” Velvet’s voice shook. She looked resolute and
genuinely appreciative, but Sun couldn’t stay there any longer, not with
Scarlet airing Team SSSN’s dirty laundry for everyone to see. Sun pushed
his way through the common room doors a little more roughly than he
needed to. He stalked down the hall and out into the cool night air.
He still couldn’t figure out what was going on with Scarlet. Yeah, Sun
had left his team to support Blake, because she needed a friend and her
mission was way more important than just settling back in at Haven and
picking up his studies. And he still didn’t regret leaving—without him, who
knows what would’ve happened with the White Fang on Menagerie or
Haven. Blake may not have needed or wanted him, but there was no doubt
in his mind that he had helped.
The doors opened again a moment later, and Velvet emerged. “Sun, you
don’t have to—”
“I’m sorry about that. This just isn’t my thing.”
“It doesn’t have to be. It’s helpful to everyone in there, and that’s all
that matters. You’ll find your own way to work through it.”
There’s nothing to work through, Sun thought. We just need to move on.
But Sun just smiled at Velvet. “I’ll see you guys for patrol later.”

Fox crouched on the low rooftop beside Coco, thinking there were better
things he could be doing than staking out a gambling house, thinking there
were better people for the job than the blind guy. But Coco had insisted, and
Fox trusted her instincts. Coco knew what Fox was capable of and how
boring this assignment would be for him, so she must have had a good
reason for dragging him along.
Unless he’d done something to get on her bad side.
“Did I do something to annoy you?” Fox sent. “Lately?”
“No. Why do you ask?” Coco sent back.
“Team SSSN just joined us, and now they get to do all the fun stuff,”
Fox sent.
With Team SSSN joining Team CFVY for the first time on one of their
nocturnal patrols of the city, Coco had changed up their strategy a bit. There
was a little debate from Sun and Scarlet, but as usual Coco got her way.
And so Sun and Neptune were making the rounds of the downtown hot
spots, which was a generous description for the clubs and restaurants that
entertained the locals at night. That had been Fox’s favorite beat, because it
kept him moving. Not sitting around, waiting for something to happen.
“Sun knows this city better than anyone,” Coco sent. “He’s the best
person for the job.”
“I could have gone with him instead of Neptune.”

“You looking for some quality time with Sun?” Coco asked.
“No, but I’d rather be doing something, and someone needs to keep an
eye on him. So to speak.”
“But then who would watch Neptune?” Coco asked.
“You’ve got me there. I wouldn’t want that job,” Fox had to admit.
“So … you don’t trust Sun?” Coco asked.
Fox wasn’t sure where he stood on that question. “I don’t know Sun yet.
Not really. I guess I don’t trust Team SSSN to not mess things up for us.
They’re sloppy and off-balance right now.”
Coco sighed. “I agree with you there. They have some stuff to work
through. But then again, most teams do. Anyway, we’ll see how it goes
tonight,” she sent.
“You didn’t split up Scarlet and Sage, either,” Fox observed.
The other half of Team SSSN was guarding the wall that separated the
rest of the city from Shade’s campus. Scarlet had insisted that if the Crown
was going after people with powerful Semblances, they would eventually
be moving on the academy—which had the highest concentration of people
with powerful Semblances for miles around. Though Scarlet didn’t venture
to guess as to whether it would be little disappearances spread out over time
or one big, coordinated attack.
The tension in Coco’s voice told Fox she was scowling.
“It’s what Scarlet wanted. He’s determined to protect Shade Academy—
maybe a little too zealous about it. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. If we
don’t want them to get in our way, or worse, raise a big enough stink that
we can’t continue our investigation, it’s better to keep them involved in a
limited capacity. Plus, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put Scarlet anywhere
near Sun right now … not after that scene they made earlier.”
“Fair. And conveniently enough, this way you don’t have to break up
our team, or mix them and us.”
“If you already know all the answers, why do you bother asking?”
“To pass the time. So why are Velvet and Yatsuhashi on Grimm watch?”
Fox sent. “Did they do something to annoy you?”

Grimm watch was the duty of the low-rent Huntsmen who worked
loosely with local law enforcement to help keep the peace.
“There’s been a rise in incidents of Grimm wandering into the city
lately,” Coco sent. “Nothing that isn’t handled quickly before the attacks
escalate, but more than usual.”
“How do you know that?” Fox asked. He hadn’t heard a word about it.
“Professor Rumpole requested reports from the sheriff on recent police
and Huntsmen activity.”
“So how do you know that?” Fox asked.
Coco laughed. “I snuck into her office.”
“Coco!” Fox said.
“Don’t lecture me, Fox.”
Fox smiled. “How dare you do that without inviting me,” he sent.
“What were you looking for?”
“Anything she had dug up on the Crown,” Coco explained. “I didn’t
find anything, but she had left the report on Grimm activity out on her desk,
plus a list of missing person cases linked to a club in the Pits.”
It was kind of odd for a nightclub to pop up in the old district locals
referred to as the Pits—because of all the sandpits and traps that could grab
someone who didn’t watch where they were going.
“That girl at the wall mentioned a club,” Fox said. “I don’t get why
you’re worried about Grimm, though.”
“Because either there have been too many for the regular Huntsmen to
handle or the Huntsmen aren’t doing their jobs. Something’s changed in the
last few months. And—hold on. Someone’s coming out.”
The door of the gambling house opened and the raucous sounds of
laughter invaded the quiet night.
“Two people are leaving, a Faunus male and a woman wearing a truly
horrific ensemble,” Coco sent.
“—not your night,” Fox overheard the woman say. “Better luck next
time.”

“But how’m I gonna eat?” the man responded as they moved out of
earshot. Nothing about them seemed suspicious.
“You were saying?” Fox asked. “About why Velvet and Yatsuhashi are
watching for Grimm.”
“Right. They aren’t only watching for Grimm. I’ve been thinking—”
“Always dangerous,” Fox interrupted.
“Ha ha. I’ve been thinking that the Crown may not be operating in the
city itself. It would make sense to set up their base of operations nearby, but
not directly under the nose of Headmaster Theodore.”
“That’s not an idea. It’s a guess,” Fox noted.
“When you don’t have enough information, a guess is the best you’ve
got, and I’m rarely wrong.”
“Which brings me back to why we’re here and why me in particular—”
Fox began. If the others were watching for the Crown, why was he stuck
here?
“Because you’re a great conversationalist, when you don’t want to
make any noise,” Coco sent. “This would be way more boring for me if I
didn’t have someone to talk to. And we’re here because if the Huntsmen
aren’t watching for Grimm, then what are they doing?”
“Gambling.” Fox nodded to the club.
Nothing much happened in Vacuo, and when there was an argument or a
crime, people tended to sort things out on their own—with their fists. But
when it came to Grimm, Vacuans depended on Huntsmen to fight their
battles for them.
Any large gathering of people—whether a temporary settlement like
most of the ones in Vacuo, or a village, or a major city—naturally drew
Grimm on a regular basis. But between Shade’s students on training
missions and the hired Huntsmen on guard duty, it was rare for a Grimm to
cross into the city—almost as rare as Coco’s instincts being wrong.
“So that’s why Theodore’s been sending more students out lately,
clearing the immediate area of Grimm,” Fox sent. “Maybe the Huntsmen
are getting lazy.”

The door below them opened again. Coco and Fox stilled, listening.
“Don’t you worry. We’ll get you home,” a man said in a deep voice.
“We’re trained Huntsmen. The best in the city,” came a second man.
“I don’t know,” a third man said. “I think I can manage on my own. I
always have before.”
“I’d be careful if I were you,” the first speaker noted. “A number of
people watched you leave with your winnings, and sometimes bad things
happen on the way home.”
“I’d sure feel better seeing you there safely. And you can certainly
afford our reasonable rates tonight,” the second male said.
“Well … okay.” The third man gave up and went with them.
“Three males. One short with a green tank top and cargo shorts. His
partner is taller, a Faunus with pig ears,” she sent.
Fox was glad they were using teamspeak. With ears like that, a Faunus
would definitely have heard them whispering.
“So there are our Huntsmen,” she went on. “The person they’re
protecting is average height, definitely not a fighter. Vacuan head covering
and loose clothes, no weapon I can see. A merchant, maybe.”
“This doesn’t feel right,” Fox sent.
“Agreed. These Huntsmen are already paid to protect the city from
Grimm, not escort private citizens home with their winnings. So … let’s
follow them.”
Coco and Fox waited until there was some distance between them and
the group, then dropped down silently to the sand. They crept after the trio.
“Should I update the others?” Fox sent.
“Not until we have a situation.”
They followed quietly, Coco in the lead. Fox concentrated on the group
they were following and drew in a sharp breath.
Coco elbowed him. “Shhh. What?”
“Two of these guys have a lot of Aura,” Fox sent. “Basically off the
charts.”
“The Huntsmen, I bet,” Coco said. “Flanking the guy in the middle?”

“Right. Their Auras are weird, so vivid I can see them. And they’re the
same color.”
“Is that unusual?” Coco asked.
“Auras are usually more unique, but these seem identical.”
Fox and Coco continued to tail the two Huntsmen and their charge.
“Wait, this isn’t the way to my house,” the merchant said. “We should
have turned left back there.”
“This is a shortcut,” the tall Huntsman said.
“No, it isn’t,” the merchant said nervously. “Thank you, but no thank
you. Here’s some Lien for your trouble, but I can take things from here.”
“Not so fast,” the tall Huntsman said. “We don’t want your money.”
“What do you think you’re—” Fox heard them struggling. “Get off me!
Let me go!” The merchant was fighting them off.
“You’re coming with us,” the short Huntsman said after a scuffle.
“I’ll pay you more if you want. Here, take everything!” the merchant
insisted.
“We don’t want your money. We want you,” the tall man said.
“Now we have a situation,” Coco sent, rushing ahead of Fox. “Alert
the others. Call in Sun and Neptune.”
Fox wasn’t sure Velvet, Yatsuhashi, Scarlet, and Sage were in range of
his teamspeak, but he broadcast wide to everyone, anyway.
“We have a situation,” Fox sent.
“What was that?” Sun sent back. “Uh, hello?”
“It sounded like Fox,” Neptune returned loudly. “What are you doing in
my head?”
“Calm down, it’s just teamspeak,” Fox sent.
“Since when can you do that?” Sun asked.
Velvet jumped in. “It’s Fox’s Semblance. He’s telepathic. And he likes
surprising people with it.”
“We don’t have time for this,” Fox sent. “A couple of Huntsmen are
abducting someone. Sun, Neptune, get to the Pits district. Scarlet and Sage,

you, too, if you can hear me. Velvet, Yatsuhashi, hold your position in case
they get away and try to flee the city.”
“On our way,” Sun sent.
Fox ran toward Coco’s location. She was trying to intervene, and the tall
Huntsman wasn’t taking her seriously.
“Go on home, sweetheart,” he sneered. “This doesn’t involve you.”
Oh, that was definitely going to annoy her.
“I’m involving me,” Coco retorted. “What are you doing? You’re a
Huntsman; you’re supposed to be fighting Grimm, not kidnapping helpless
people.”
“I’m not helpless!” the merchant said.
Fox could only imagine the expression on Coco’s face. “Oh, all right,
then, tough guy,” she said. “If you think you can handle this, I’ll just go—”
“No! Please!” the man begged.
Coco had a real sadistic streak sometimes. Just one of the reasons she
and Fox made great partners.
His head was full of Team SSSN now.
“Man, I used to think that guy never talked. Has he been using
telepathy all along?” Sun sent.
“I bet he’s been talking about us, right in front of our faces,” Neptune
sent.
“It’s kind of cool, though, right?” Sun said.
“I can still hear you,” Fox sent. He drew his tonfas and took up a
defensive position beside Coco.
“Great, another one,” the short guy said darkly.
Sun and Neptune were quiet for a while.
“How does this work?” Sun asked.
“I’ll explain it later. Just get over here,” Fox sent.
“We’re here!” Sun shouted, and Fox heard his actual voice, then a soft
thud as Sun landed in front of him and Coco. Neptune rushed over just
behind him.
“Oh, come on!” the tall guy said.

At the exact same time, Sun said, “You again!” sounding surprised.
“You know these guys?” Coco asked him.
“Yeah, we fought a few nights ago, only they were all covered up,” Sun
said. “Two against four this time.”
“We can still take you,” the tall guy said.
“How about two against six?” Scarlet called from above before landing
softly next to Fox.
The short guy sighed. “These kids are becoming a real problem. Let’s
get out of here.”
“Not with that guy, you don’t,” Coco warned.
“She won’t be happy if we come back empty-handed again,” the short
guy said to his partner.
“Shut up,” the tall guy shouted.
“Drop him, or else!” Sun demanded.
Something crashed into the ground and the two Huntsmen took off.
“Drop him?” groaned the merchant.
“Fox, if you can track those Huntsmen by their Auras, go after them,”
Coco sent. “Find out where they came from.”
“On it,” Fox sent. He sped off after the two bright Auras, plugging his
earbuds in and tapping the Scroll in his belt to turn on ADA, his
Accessibility Dialog Assistant. She immediately started feeding him
information on his surroundings so he didn’t run into a wall or fall into a
hole while pursuing the would-be kidnappers.
They seemed to be heading out of town.
“Velvet, Yatsuhashi, I think these guys are heading your way. You’ll
recognize them from the other night—you fought them with Sun.”
“You mean the ones we rescued Sun from?” Velvet asked.
“Come on!” Sun sent.
“We’ll be ready,” Yatsuhashi confirmed.
Fox let the Huntsmen get farther ahead of him so they wouldn’t realize
they were being followed. He had a good lock on their Auras now, so he
wouldn’t have had any trouble finding them again. Just before they hit the

northern border of the city, they stopped. Fox crept to their coordinates and
listened. It was quiet.
“ADA, what’s in front of me?” Fox whispered.
“One kilometer north there is a five-story building constructed of steel
and concrete, rectangular in shape.”
“That’s pretty tall for Vacuo, and it’s made of concrete?” Fox said.
“What building is it?”
“It is currently abandoned.”
“It isn’t abandoned now. Someone just went inside.”
“It has no designated purpose on public record at this time.”
“What used to be there?” Fox asked.
“The Mistral Trading Company owned and operated it as a Dust
refinery.”
“That would have been before the war.”
“Correct.”
Fox relayed the info to Velvet and Yatsuhashi.
“They’re inside now,” Fox sent, concentrating his Semblance. “I can’t
pick them out because there are a lot of people inside and a lot of their
Auras seem the same.”
Velvet and Yatsuhashi soon joined Fox. “We happened to be nearby,”
Velvet said, relieved. “Glad we could get here.”
“So … how do you want to play this?” Yatsuhashi asked.
“I want to know what’s in there. Who’s in there,” Fox said. He had a bad
feeling about this.
“So let’s open it up,” Yatsuhashi said. He stepped forward and Fox
heard him grunt with exertion. “I can’t … budge this door.” Yatsuhashi
drew his sword, and a moment later Fox heard a massive clang of metal on
metal.
“Ow,” Yatsuhashi said.
On the other side of the door, Fox heard shouting and clapping, then
banging. Yatsuhashi hadn’t broken the door down, but it was okay. Now
someone was opening it to them.

A metal bolt slid on the other side of the door and a woman’s voice
asked, “What do we fight for?” Was she looking for a password?
“Um. Fortune and glory?” Fox said.
The door slammed shut. “I guess that was the wrong answer,” he said.
Fox knocked on the door and tried to get her attention again. “How
many guesses do I get?”
“Maybe we should go,” Velvet said.
“ADA, mark this loc—” Fox faltered. He was scanning everyone in the
building with his Semblance, noting the variations in Aura and trying to
pick their Huntsmen out of the crowd. There had to be around fifty people
in there, but at least one of their Auras was familiar.
“Fox?” Velvet asked. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Fox said. He could hardly believe what he was about to say.
“But I’m pretty sure Professor Rumpole is inside.”
“In there?”
Fox nodded.
“Then we’re gonna bust in.” Yatsuhashi reached for his greatsword.
“Hold on, Yatsu,” Velvet said. “Fox, is she in trouble?”
“There’s no way to know from out here,” Fox said. But he was worried.
Just then his Scroll vibrated. “Coco Adel,” ADA announced.
Quickly, Fox answered and put Coco on speaker. “Status,” Coco asked.
“Confused.” Fox hung up and switched them all to teamspeak, updating
Coco on how they’d come to the supposedly abandoned Dust refinery and
the fact that Professor Rumpole seemed to be inside.
“If the professor is in there, I’m almost certain it’s because she wants to
be. Her own investigation must have brought her there. We shouldn’t
interfere,” Coco sent.
“Are you sure?” Scarlet asked suspiciously. “Or are you saying that
because you don’t want us to get caught? Because if something happens—”
Coco shut the idea down quickly. “If we interfere in her investigation
and blow whatever she’s doing, we’ll get worse than detention. She’ll

probably kick us out of Shade. And we’ll have ruined the usefulness of the
information she’s gathering. I say we give her time to do her thing.”
“What about the guy they were trying to abduct?” Fox asked. “What
have you found out about him? Does he have a Semblance?”
“He says he doesn’t,” Coco returned. “He was kind of rude about it,
too.”
“He threatened to report us to the headmaster, once he found out we’re
only students, not licensed Huntsmen,” Scarlet said.
“Students from Beacon and Haven,” Sage pointed out. “He cared more
about where we came from, I think.”
Coco sounded smug, like a decision had been validated. “He refused to
talk to anyone but Sun once the danger was over.”
Sun laughed nervously. “For what good it did us. He didn’t tell us
much, just that he’d never figured out his Semblance—”
“Were those two who were following him really Huntsmen?” Fox asked.
“The owner of the club said they are. He likes that they hang around his
club, in fact, because they make him feel safer. Plus, their presence
discourages people from cheating. Usually,” Coco sent.
“They didn’t want his money,” Velvet sent. “But if they were working
for the Crown, why would the Crown be interested in people without
Semblances, like this guy and that woman the other night?”
“Well, this has been a good night so far. We have two new leads,” Coco
sent.
“What’s that?” Velvet asked.
“That Dust refinery, for one. We know it was harboring at least two
criminals.”
“And the other lead?” Neptune asked.
“Professor Rumpole,” Coco sent. “Tomorrow, I’ll go to her office—”
“And snoop around some more?” Fox asked.
“No,” Coco said. “I’m going to ask her some questions.”

Yatsuhashi shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he waited with
all the other Shade Academy students in the Meeting Grounds, the wideopen area on the highest level of Shade Academy where school assemblies
were usually held. Yatsuhashi loved it up here.
It was early morning, so the temperature was as pleasant as it ever got
in Vacuo, as the sun began to warm the night-chilled desert. Among the
green spaces scattered throughout the city, this was the most lush: an
artificial oasis meant to evoke Vacuo’s former splendor, dense with trees
and flowering plants. It was as much a statement for those who gazed up at
the academy as a pleasure for the students and their headmaster. The
Meeting Grounds remin