I was playing Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs on the weekend. Absolutely fell in love with its music and did enjoy the story even if it felt really obvious from the start. I think that was more because the premise was so similar to the first game that you almost knew from the start what the twist would be. Not really a twist if it's done the same way in both games, is it?
Still, that music. Wow. "Mandus" is my favourite track by far.
Cover Art: Serox
Here he was, riding on Beacon's float like he was some kind of huntsman. It should have been everything he ever wanted, but instead he felt like an animal on display. You'd have thought everyone's attention would be on the floats themselves or the people cavorting around playing music on complicated instruments. News must have gotten out about him, however, because all eyes were locked up on him.
Jaune Arc, the leader of the White Fang.
He'd always wanted to be popular, but this was past a joke.
Did they have nothing better to stare at? What was he supposed to do? His first instinct was to wave back, but he knew most of them weren't happy to see him up there, and waving felt like such an arrogant move. That was reserved for politicians and celebrities so narcissistic that they believed everyone loved them.
Was it cynical of him to think that way? He didn't think so. It would be naïve to assume people would like a wanted criminal like him anyway, even if he was only a criminal by pure happenstance.
I wonder if mom and dad are watching this with the girls.
If so, he was dead. As if he wasn't already in for a grounding so long it might as well be a prison sentence. Juniper might let him out the house by the time was forty if he was on best behaviour. Right now, he'd have taken that over standing on a float in front of over a hundred thousand people and ten times that number over international television.
"No stranger to attention, hm?" Ozpin said. "You're handling the exposure very well. I've seen grown men shake under the pressure."
Is he teasing me, or does he actually believe that? The only reason I'm not shaking is because my nerves have gone so far past panic, they've had cardiac arrest and died.
"Ah…" Jaune said slowly. "I try to ignore it."
Try and fail, obviously, or he wouldn't be thinking about it so much.
"That's not a bad outlook. There are always those who will judge us, for good or for ill, and a life spent trying to win them over will only leave your own unfulfilled."
Jaune took the distraction for what it was. "Personal experience?"
"Oh yes. I've made plenty of mistakes in my time. One of the biggest was trying to please everyone. It simply can't be done. Similarly, you can't go through life trying not to offend or upset people; there will always be someone, somewhere, who finds your words offensive." Ozpin smiled. "Or your very existence. Spend too much time tyring to change yourself to fit their expectations and you'll only make yourself miserable."
Was he referring to Ironwood? The people? Sienna? The Radicals? Jaune was being dragged in so many different directions that he didn't know who he was meant to be appealing to. Is that the problem? Should I not be appealing to any of them at all and focusing on just results?
"Isn't that arrogant? It's like saying no one else's opinion matters."
"Should they matter to you, Mr Arc? Perhaps if they are close to you and you care for their feelings – a life partner, close friend or loved one – but there will always be those who hate you for reasons beyond your control."
Jaune sighed. "You're talking of racism?"
"Yes." Ozpin cocked his head. "Was that not obvious?"
Not with how much he had going on. "Are you telling me it's a waste of time trying to change people's opinions?"
If so, he could see the logic. The selfish logic. It was what he'd relied on for so long. Sure, the world could be cruel to faunus but as long as he didn't join in, he was doing his part.
As for the faunus, why not just ignore the racism? Why acknowledge it? To give them any attention was like responding to a troll, a fruitless waste of time. Better to carry on with life without a care and let them waste their time being hateful. If Ozpin posted the suggestion even two months back, he'd have agreed wholeheartedly.
"If it were as simple words and commentary then the faunus would ignore it. These aren't schoolyard bullies or idiots online, these are store managers, CEOs, police officers and more, and they do more than glare impotently or shove you on the playground. They belittle; they hurt; they sabotage; they abuse."
Jaune's eyes closed briefly as he remembered his own brief stint of that, the crippling fear as that woman came onto him. The fact he could have overpowered her didn't even register at the time. He'd felt so helpless.
"We've tried ignoring this." It hardly occurred to him that he said we when he wasn't even a faunus. "Ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away. It only emboldens those people and lets them get away with it. Maybe if you didn't ignore it or us, this wouldn't be happening."
Ozpin frowned. "I'm not ignoring the problems faunus face-"
"But you accept you can't please everyone, right?" Jaune threw the man's words back at him. "Faunus are the minority, at least when it comes to power or wealth. If you're going to ignore one demographic, it might as well be them. As long as you don't get to see the faunus model bleeding from her ravaged ears, I guess it's not a problem."
"Maybe she should have ignored it and let them cut holes in her skin." Jaune turned away. "Maybe I should have ignored my feelings and let that person have their way with me."
Ozpin looked away, silent and visibly frustrated. Almost as much as Jaune was. He was sure Ozpin hadn't meant it that way, but it felt like he was creeping along the edges.
Why try and change things? Instead of lashing out at others, you should try to adapt to the way the world works. That was the kind of well-meaning but flawed logic people would propose. It was easier to try and fit in than make people change their minds.
What were you meant to do when fitting in meant letting people hurt you? On the playground, you could run to a teacher or your parents when someone bullied you. Who were people meant to run to when it was their boss, their neighbour or the police themselves who were doing it?
No one. You were meant to take it.
Wait. I'm not supposed to be thinking about this. I just want a way out. My job is to prove I'm innocent and leave the White Fang, not change the world. How can I even? I'm not a faunus.
"I'm sorry if I was rude." Jaune said.
"No." Ozpin interrupted. "My words were insensitive. I didn't mean them the way they came out, only that you shouldn't let the opinions of the people who say you shouldn't be here matter."
"Thanks. I appreciate that."
Ozpin smiled and nodded, relieved they were back on equal footing. "Even James is sympathetic to the plight of the faunus. He has brought one into his best military team. The problem is that Atlas was so badly harmed by the White Fang – by its more violent branches – that reconciliation is dangerous for him to show. People might see it as weakness from Atlas. He must maintain distance from you. I hope you understand."
"Sure." Jaune lied. "That makes sense."
"It's the same for you, I'm sure. Aren't there internal politics of your own within the White Fang?"
"Ugh. Don't remind me…"
"I see there is!" Ozpin laughed loudly. "Perhaps we're not as different as people would assume. That's an interesting lesson to learn."
Jaune laughed with him. "Yeah. Maybe so."
"It looks like they're getting on." Ilia said. She was in the warehouse with everyone else watching the ceremony on the television. Perry, Tukson and Deery were out there in person since they had valid disguises, but Yuma, Ilia and Trifa were forced to watch from the safety of their base.
The camera – probably operated by Lisa's team – managed to catch Ozpin and Jaune just as the two of them started laughing. Jaune cut a dashing figure in his new outfit, handsome, she supposed. It was always `supposed` for her since she was working off the fashion more than anything else.
Now that blonde teacher with the glasses on the other hand. Wow.
"They look pretty relaxed," Yuma said. "That's going to make waves, isn't it? I can see it now, Beacon's headmaster and White Fang leader hit it off."
"A forbidden romance between a terrorist leader and a headmaster threatens to throw the balance of power into disarray. Can the touch of a local teacher thaw the hardened terrorist's icy heart?" Trifa said. "Find out in cinemas next month."
Yuma turned to stare at her. "I didn't realise you were into that kind of thing…"
Trifa punched his arm. "I'm not! It was a joke, you dweeb."
I'd watch it, Ilia thought.
"This is good for us though, right?" Yuma asked seriously.
"Yes." Trifa said. "Something like this will help sell the idea that we are amicable to those who are the same to us. It will also go a long way to prove we're not always violent."
"You think the radicals will like it?"
"Probably not, but the fact he's blanking Atlas will help. They'll see this as Jaune trying to rob Atlas of an ally. I think that will be enough to keep them happy. How about Sienna?" Trifa asked Ilia. "You know her best."
"Sienna will be happy."
Everyone acted like Sienna was this impenetrable mystery of a leader, but she was an open book to Ilia, and not only because she liked to pore over the woman in her spare time. Anything that helped the White Fang and took work out of her already overly-taxed hands was something Sienna would approve of.
The camera panned from Ozpin and Jaune over to General Ironwood on his float. It caught a brief moment of a heated glare in Jaune's direction before Winter Schnee urgently tapped his arm. Instantly, Ironwood was all smiles and waving at the crowd, but by then the damage had been done.
"It doesn't seme everyone is as pleased with the new inclusion," Lisa Lavender said diplomatically. "Perhaps not all is well in paradise."
The White Fang "ooohed" dramatically, several slapping hands together. Lisa was on fire today.
"Savage!" Yuma cackled. "I love her!"
"Lisa is only in this for the story," Trifa warned. "Don't get too attached. I expect she'd betray us if she thought it would lead to an even bigger story. In fact, she might do that at the height of our power anyway. Nothing like a dramatic fall from grace to sell papers."
"Let's wait until we rise into grace first, yeah? Cut her some slack."
"-and that is why the Vytal Festival stands for peace." Ozpin concluded his speech. "It is a reminder of the tragedies of the past, in the hopes that we shall not blindly walk into a tragedy of our own making. That we may remember we are the same, brothers and sisters despite nationality, despite culture, age, race and anything else, and band together against the one true threat – the Grimm. Beacon stands as a bastion of that ideal, and I hope that Vale – no, all of Remnant – will one day join us in that."
He finished with a stamp of his cane and the crowd cheered, clapped and sounded horns in agreement. Empty agreement. How many of them would actually put the effort into doing even one bit of what Ozpin said? How many cared past the chance to eat, drink and make merry around the festival?
When had he become so cynical?
Waiting for the applause to die out, Ozpin faced the cameras once more, but this time held his free arm out. Jaune stiffened, a chill running down his body and making him go rigid.
"And with that in mind, I invite old enemies to speak, that we might talk as the adults we are and no longer do war. Jaune Arc, of the White Fang." Before he could finish, people were booing. Jeering.
And distantly, distantly, Jaune noted those who remained silent.
"Mr Arc." Ozpin said politely, moving aside from the microphone. "If you would like to say a few words."
A few words. So simple. He couldn't begin to imagine what Adam might do with this opportunity, what rage and hatred would spill from his lips. How much of it might be justified. Swallowing, Jaune stepped up, looking out over the masses and wondering once again why he was the one here doing it.
Either way, Lisa had helped some up with his speech.
"Faunus." he began, reciting. "Humans. The two are not so different. We share the same cities, the same homes, the same culture, the same hopes and dreams and the same air we breathe. In every way, we are as human as each and every person here, and yet despite all of that, we do not share the same fears. We do not share the same opportunities."
The words tumbled out of him, memorised and recited. As he did, his eyes roamed over the crowds and picked out the same tired faces. The same disinterested expressions. Most of them weren't cruel people, merely assured of their innocence in this. He felt like a teacher trying to explain the downsides of drugs to a class of students turning their noses up because they thought it didn't apply to them.
Because no one down there was racist, or so they would say. They didn't discriminate against faunus. They were great people – they even knew some faunus. Not close friends, but people from school or work. People trodden and shy and doing their best to fit in with the humans.
"-laws are made to protect people, to protect faunus, and yet laws can only go so far," he continued. "We should not need laws that dictate how faunus should be treated fairly, for that should never be an issue in the first place. We should all be working together toward equality-"
People were nodding. Yawning. Talking to one another. Checking their scrolls. Laughing. Sharing pictures. Buying hot dogs from vendors. They were doing a whole lot of things. None of them listening.
Jaune bit his lip so hard it bled a little.
I'm trying my best. The least you can do is listen to me. Does all of this mean so little to you? You came out here, can't you spare me even five minutes of your time? Minutes of your attention?
Adam had died for this. Jaune had killed for it. They had all risked their lives to see it happen, and all they were getting was empty promises and automatic nods from people who'd rather look at their scrolls instead. His head pounded, and for a second he swore he could hear Adam's voice speaking to him in the waking day.
"Show them." Adam whispered. "Show them what they are."
Jaune's blood dripped onto the microphone with a loud and echoing pop. His patience burst with it, like a balloon expanded much too far.
"But you won't!" he whispered to them all.
The sudden dry quality of his voice made Ozpin flinch and the audience go silent. Faces looked back up, surprised, shocked and even offended. Jaune's eyes caught Lisa Lavender behind her camera, the woman panicked and subtly shaking her head.
No. The speech was pointless. No one was listening.
"You won't!" Jaune said. Louder. Angry. "You won't because you've convinced yourself you've done enough. You look at yourself and say `but that doesn't apply to me, I'm a great person` and you pat yourself on the back and walk away leaving the faunus to be beaten and broken by someone else!"
Voices rose up in anger. This wasn't what they expected; this wasn't what they'd come for. They were here to watch pretty floats, hear how great they were and roll their eyes at the mistakes made by silly ancestors who really ought to have known better. They weren't here to learn anything.
"Look at you now!" he said, pointing out over them. "You're angry at me. Why? Because of what I am? Who I am? No! You're angry because I've dared to challenge you on how perfect you are! That's the only thing that matters to you; not equality, not fairness, not morality, but how good you feel at being able to pretend any of that matters in the first place. That self-absorbed arrogance doesn't help anyone. It doesn't change anything. Instead of spending time patting yourself on the back for not committing evil, how about you go out there and commit some good!"
Jaws hung open. Faces had gone slack. People looked left and right as though to ask if he was talking to their neighbour and not them – because of course he couldn't mean them.
It pissed him off! It pissed him off because here he was risking his life to try and become one of them again, and that thought made him feel ill. And the nausea burned and turned to anger in his stomach, rising up to spill past his lips. The anger was real, but half of it was aimed inward. Adam was in his head, egging him on, raging and howling and fuelling Jaune's anger.
"It sickens me!" he shouted. All planning with Lisa had gone out the window and he didn't care to pull it back. "Do you think I wanted to be here? Do you think I wanted to have to do this? No! I'm here because I don't have a choice! You do! You could go to your bosses and criticise them for mistreating faunus. You could refuse to buy fashion from companies abusing faunus." His shoulders heaved. "You may not be a part of the problem, but you're not a part of the solution either, and you let the problem persist as long as it doesn't affect you. You're bystanders! That's all you are! Apathetic bystanders."
"Mr Arc-" Ozpin tried to interrupt.
"You talk of peace and not making the same mistakes yet all I see is a Kingdom sleepwalking into another Great War!" He saw Ozpin pale drastically beside him. "It's happened once. Faunus against humans. What happened in that one? Oh yeah, the faunus won! They won and they wanted peace, so they disarmed on the promise of fair treatment. Fair treatment that never came." Jaune gasped for air, face burning red. "I wonder if that'll happen the next time," he whispered. The microphone caught it all. "Or if the faunus won't decide that it'd be easier to finish things once and for all."
Silence. Complete and utter silence. As the adrenaline and the rage burned away, Jaune's mind came back down to Remnant. For a moment, he regained himself. Not an impassioned terrorist, not a faunus, but a human in it by accident who was supposed to be proving he wasn't a threat.
What the hell did I just say? Oh shit, I've ruined everything…
All of Lisa's preparation. His chance to show he was an amicable and nice guy who'd never be a threat. The way everyone was looking at him now, they wouldn't have been surprised if he set off a bomb. Awkwardly, he leaned into the microphone.
"That's all. Have a nice festival."
Ruby watched in shock and distress as the White Fang leader finished his speech and stepped away from the microphone. He had to walk through them to leave and she went stiff as he came close to her. She wasn't sure what she expected, but he looked tired. Annoyed.
"Sorry," he muttered. "Can I get by?"
"Y-Yeah." Ruby dodged aside. "S-Sorry."
"Thanks…" He walked quickly by, leaving Ozpin to dash to the microphone and try to calm down the audience. She didn't think this whole thing had gone quite as anyone expected it to.
"What crawled up his ass and died?" Yang asked indignantly. "Is he saying we're not doing the right thing? Hell yeah we are, we were there to bust the fashion company. We made sure that witch from the lumber camp got put away. Where does he get off acting like we're not good guys?"
"Maybe he's saying we are," Weiss said. "He only meant that most people don't. We know we do enough-"
"Do we?" The words slipped out of Ruby before she could stop them.
Yang heard them. "What? Sis, of course we do!" she laughed. "I mean, look at all the stuff we done to help in the recent weeks. We're practically your friendly neighbourhood Team RWBY."
"Are we doing that because we want to help, though? Or because Ozpin made us?"
Yang didn't have an answer. Ruby wished she did because she desperately wanted to be proven wrong right now. Because, as far as she could tell, the only reason they were doing all these good things was for PR. Ozpin even called them the PR squad!
"What are you saying, Rubes?"
"We didn't help at the fashion show because we cared about people being abused, Yang. We didn't go to the lumber camp because there were rumours of sexual assault. We went because the White Fang were there, and we were trying to stop them getting too much good attention. That's the only reason we cared…"
Yang looked dismayed. "We still helped people!"
"Through luck," Weiss muttered, looking down angrily. "Ruby's right. We only cared to do all this because it was a punishment for interfering at the docks. If it wasn't for that, we'd be sat at Beacon focusing on lessons, homework and being good enough for the tournament."
"What's wrong with that?" Yang asked. "We're students. We're meant to focus on stuff like that. Plus, we're going to be huntresses. Studying now will pay off with saved lives later. It's not like we're being selfish about things."
"That's his point. If no one does anything because everyone thinks someone else should do it, then who does?" Ruby bit her lip, kneading it between her teeth. "Do we even care about the faunus?"
"Don't listen to him." Blake said. "You've been wonderful to me."
That was because they knew Blake as a friend before they knew her as a faunus. It wasn't the same. And besides, being friends with one faunus didn't mean they'd done anything to help them all. It only meant they weren't bad people. We're not a part of the problem but we're not part of the solution either.
"This is going to blow up in his face." Blake said. "He's shown his true colours now. Ozpin invited him here in peace and he spat on that and insulted everyone. People are going to rip him apart."
Ruby wasn't so sure. And to her, it looked like no one wanted to rip him apart more than he did himself. Anxiously, she bit on her thumb, wishing she could do something, anything, to fix it all.
Why couldn't she?
She was no helpless child; she was a huntress in training. If she wanted something to be done, why wait for someone else to do it? Silver eyes glinting, Ruby slipped away from her team.
"I chucked it. I chucked my chance!" Jaune wanted to scream. "My chance to fix everything gone. Because of what? Anger? At whom?"
At them? At Adam? At himself? At Ozpin? At Ironwood? At Vale?
The answer didn't matter. He felt like a man who'd lost his mind and he was sure Ilia would agree as he trudged back to the warehouse and pushed open the door. The empty streets offered few witnesses, and those that were didn't pay the lone man any heed.
Lisa Lavender was already there. There with the others, and they all turned to stare at him when he pushed through that door.
"You're okay!" Ilia gasped, rushing over. "For the love of – Jaune, we didn't know where you'd gone or what happened! Where have you been? It's been four hours!"
Where had he been? Around, he supposed. Avoiding them. Avoiding anyone. It wasn't so much from dark thoughts or anything like that, more the thought of them raging at him for throwing their chance away. That and a desperate effort to figure out why he did it in the first place.
"I'm sorry," he rasped.
"It's fine. As long as you're okay. I thought Ironwood had you or something."
"Not that," he said. "I'm sorry for losing my cool. I… I lashed out. Damn it," he swore. "I've ruined everything, haven't I? I… I went off script. Badly. What's the fallout?" he asked. "How bad is-?"
A body crashed into his.
He'd maybe expected a punch but not for Lisa Lavender to throw herself at him. He caught her awkwardly, fell and landed on his back with the older woman squashing him flat. Was she that angry he'd runed her moment? He closed his eyes in preparation for a beating.
Warm lips pushed down on his instead.
Jaune's eyes snapped open.
"Mwah!" Lisa sounded as she pulled her face back. "My hero!"
His brain failed to compute. "Wha…?"
"That speech!" she cried. "That anger, the words, the passion – it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it! Do you have any idea what you've done? Do you have any idea!?"
"I… I made things worse…"
"You've lit a spark!" Lisa squealed, straddling him and not even caring how it looked. "The looks on their faces, the realisation, the silence and the arguments. And I was there!" she whispered. "I caught it all. Lisa Lavender, at the heart of the greatest moment in faunus history!"
"Haven't you looked at the responses?" Ilia asked excitedly. "Your speech is trending all over the world. Look at this!"
She pushed her scroll into his face. On it, the video was on the thumbnail, showing him leaning forward with both hands planted on the stand. He looked angry – genuinely angry – with his mouth wide open and eyes narrowed. The title read `White Fang confronts the world` and the view count was in the millions.
"I bet the comments are horrible," Jaune said. "And the like to dislike ration is fifty-fifty. I could have done better. Should have…"
"Are you kidding!?" Lisa argued. "Do you know what happens to disliked videos? They get negative bombed out of existence and forgotten. Same for liked ones. The fact this is so close shows it's contentious. It shows that for everyone thousand people who call you a monster there's a thousand arguing your side of the story!"
"People are doing something." Trifa said. "These comments; a lot of them are bad, some pure racist, but instead of ignoring the issue the other commentators are arguing. They're not ignoring it and pretending it doesn't exist. They're fighting back."
"It's not only them." Lisa said. "I had an interview after where a politician tried to explain away your words as violent ranting and his colleague stood up and called him a part of the problem. They argued on live TV in front of me and they screamed until their voices were hoarse."
Why did she look so happy about that? How was that a good thing?
"I don't want to start a war…"
"Oh, but you do. You do!" she enthused. "Not physical, not with guns and bombs, but with words and spirit. And you can't have war without battle, Jaune. You can't. Change can come at more than the barrel of a gun, but you still have to fight for it all the same. And they're fighting," she whispered in elation. "Humans and faunus, young and old, employed and unemployed, they're all wading into the ring to offer their opinion. And you, the one who started it all, have already struck the first blow…"
Jaune stared up at her, silent, and it was Yuma who finally put his thoughts to words, saying what Jaune could not.
"You're kind of a scary bitch, Lisa…"
This chapter wasn't much of a comedy one I freely admit. Kind of an important plot part that had to be given some seriousness for the story to really work. Besides, some things don't really deserve to be made fun of.
Next Chapter: 2nd March
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur