Still a bit sick but back at work and back working on this as well.
Last chapter and it'll be a bit before the story that replaces this because of my event next week pushing Raise back, and then I always have a single week of no update so I can plan for and write a chapter or two of the story that will replace it. That means you won't get the new story until 11th October. Just a heads up on that. At least this story ends on a good chapter number. Sixty-nine. Nice.
Cover Art: Serox
He did not have a plan.
That was a bitter pill to swallow but it was the truth, and he didn't think Sienna had one either. The Neo-White Fang were, essentially, violent extremists, and extremists were by their very nature difficult to convince when it came to changing their views. He couldn't talk them down, nor could he win them over with fancy speeches or even pure fact. They lived in their own little world, their own little bubble, and could – and would – refuse to hear or acknowledge anything that contradicted their views of the world.
"I hate extremism," said Jaune.
"Hm?" Sienna glanced over. "Terrorism…?"
"Every brand of extremism, legal or not. Extreme pacifist, extreme racist, every political direction. All of them. I hate the idea that people will ascribe to one and one thing only and refuse to even listen to differing ideas. It's pathetic."
"People like to belong to groups," said Sienna. "Tribes. And once they're in them, they like to listen to people who validate and agree with their choices. It becomes an echo chamber, and that isn't limited to one ideology or the next. All sides have them."
"I know. I just… Wouldn't it make more sense for people to hedge their bets and sit in the middle, then decide which way to favour based on arguments, fact and what each side promises? Why limit yourself by saying `this side and only this side`? Even the word extreme means too much. The clue is in the name. No one should willingly pick extremism. It's ridiculous."
"People are ridiculous."
"That isn't helping, Sienna."
"Then what answer do you want?"
"Do you think they can be reasoned with? Ever? I mean, hypothetically, is there ever a world in which I or you can peacefully convince them to lay down their arms and change their minds?"
Sienna pondered the question, and he was pleased she was taking it so seriously. Eventually, she shook her head. "No. I don't think there is. Not without years and years of slowly breaking them down and deradicalizing them."
It was what he felt, and what he feared; the Albain brothers had been right to come up with a contingency, and it was a simple, if horrible, solution to just let them all drown or wash ashore after their ships sank in the ocean. Too horrible. He wasn't sure he could handle that or sit back silently and let them get on those sabotaged ships.
"How did you control them before?" asked Jaune. "You were always moderate from what I can tell. You must have had people like Adam or the puritans demanding you show more aggression."
"I beat them down."
Jaune laughed. "That's it…?"
"Their arguments are based on strength. We, the faunus, are strong enough to take on the human kingdoms; we're powerful and brave and alpha – whatever that's supposed to mean in that context. Whenever they started acting up, I'd just wade in and start cracking heads. Make it clear I'm more powerful and much stronger. They'll deny reality as much as they like, but their stupidity couldn't spread when I was proving them wrong at every opportunity."
Jaune came to a sudden stop, so sudden that Sienna kept going for a few paces before noticing and turning back. "Are you serious?" he asked. "That's what you did? Beat them up and tell them to suck it up?"
"Ah. Well." Sienna cringed and flicked some of her hair back. "It sounds totalitarian, I know, but the White Fang was never a proper democracy and I was making things up as I went. It wasn't like I had a formal review or disciplinary process I could rely-"
"Would it work again?"
Sienna blinked. "You're not disturbed?"
"Oh, I'm very disturbed," admitted Jaune, "but less disturbed than I am at the thought of the Neo-White Fang running rampant across the Kingdoms and undoing everything we've accomplished. So, I ask you again: would smashing the teeth out of the psychos who make up the faction convince them to stay?"
"I mean… convince is a strong word. Force, maybe?" Sienna shrugged. "It'd take the wind out their sails and convince a lot of people on the fence that it's not a good idea to side with them. That's for sure…" Sienna paused, then said, "Jaune, no."
"Today, brothers and sisters, today marks the dawn of a new era – a new time for faunus everywhere." The man, six foot tall, muscular and holding a sword high above him basked in the frantic and wild applause. "We will show the world what the true race can do. We are the next step in evolution, human 2.0 and we are better in every way. We will come down upon the savages and show them what happens to those who try to ignore reality."
The crowd, some hundred strong, banged their hands on anything solid that would make a sound, while some whooped and others waved little flags with their new symbol on, the old White Fang logo on a splash of red blood.
"I ask you now, from one faunus to another, to stand by me, to fight by me, and to go with me across the ocean to deliver our demands to the kingdoms. Yield or face the true wrath of the faunus race." More cheering, angry and violent. "This is our destiny – our manifest destiny! This is-"
The electric, tinny beep echoed around the inside of the large tent, stunning many to silence. It repeated.
"It's the doorbell," said a faunus.
"This is a tent, you idiot. It doesn't have a doorbell."
Ding-Dong Ding-Dong Ding-Dong
"Well, someone has to go and answer it," said one. He didn't make to stand, however, and it was another that sighed the sigh of someone too used to being nominated, stood and approached the tent flap. He opened it up to reveal a faunus in a bright red tee shirt and shorts.
The faunus blinked, leaned back into the tent and asked, "Did anyone order pizza?"
"You idiot!" shouted the one in charge. "This is a secret meeting!"
"I mean, it's not very secret when hundreds of you gather in one place," said the pizza delivery boy, flipping off her red cap to reveal Yuma. He struck, kicking the man in the gut and bending him double, then caught the pizza box, opened it up, took a slice and bit into it before saying, mouth full, "Oh, by the way. You're all under arrest."
The leader laughed. "On who's authority!?"
"Jaune Arc and Sienna Khan's."
"We don't accept their authority!" shouted one of them.
"Yeah, well, the thing about being in charge is that it doesn't actually matter if you accept it or not. It doesn't change the fact you're surrounded." He grinned as they tensed, and as panic began to spread. "Oh, this is your chance to surrender by the way. The White Fang isn't so bad. We have pizza."
"This is injustice!"
"You mean incrustice." Despite the moment, despite the danger, there were several groans. "What? No good? I thought it was pretty funny."
"Too cheesy," said one.
"Don't encourage him."
"Meh." Yuma shrugged. "I guess you're all laughtose intolerant. Won't change much. Are you surrendering peacefully or not?"
The leader stood boldly. "The Neo-White Fang will never-"
A whip snuck past Yuma with a crack, coiled around the man's neck and yanked him off the stand. Sienna came rocketing in, arm out, and caught him in the throat with a violent clothesline, whipping his feet off the ground and sending him tumbling ass over end until he crashed down at the feet of Jaune Arc, who walked in flanked by Ilia and Trifa like some crazed warlord. There were ranks of masked men and women behind him, all faunus, all agreeing to come and watch.
"W-What is the meaning of this?" stammered one of the puritans. "You – You would attack your own? We're doing nothing wrong. This is just a meeting-"
"Oh, we know." said Jaune. "And this isn't an attack. Consider it a… exercise. Yeah, let's go with that." His smile was entirely too innocent. "You all want to go off and fighting the good fight against the kingdoms, right? Well, this is what it'll be like. Or what, did you think Atlas would just let you muck around on their territory? You want to fight. Well. Let's see it." He spread his arms. "Let's fight."
No one moved.
"W-What are you waiting for?" demanded the faunus on the ground. "K-Kill him."
"B-But he has aura," said a brave woman in the back. "And Sienna…"
"I do have aura," said Jaune. "Do you know who else does? Huntsmen and huntresses who, by the way, will be sent after you and were regularly sent after us. We had to deal with them and Atlas' military at the same time. We did." Jaune crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying you can't even stand up to us? That's worrying. You'll be facing many times our numbers and quality if you continue the path you're on."
"We can take them!" shouted a faunus at the back. "We won the war. We can-"
"Then prove it. Fight me. Beat me. If you can take us out then I'll let you get on those ships and go."
"You can't stop us anyway!"
"Sure I can. Trifa?"
"Who is in charge here?"
"Right. I thought so. And if I, hypothetically speaking, were to order those ships to be scuppered and sunk. What would happen?"
"They'd be sunk, sir."
"I thought so. I thought so." Jaune made a show of tapping a finger against his jaw. He turned back to the crowd. "Well, it looks like I can actually stop you, and I could do so remarkably easily. Glad we figured that one out."
"That's not fair!"
"Fair!?" Jaune gasped. "Oh no, it's not fair – whatever shall I? Oh wait, you're terrorists. You want to be active and violent terrorists. Well, let me explain something because you apparently don't understand. There is no such thing as fairness where terrorists are concerned. Atlas will come after you and kill you without asking questions. The other kingdoms will do their best to expel you. Hell, we'll probably come after you as well. You want to ruin all our hard work and drag us into a war after all, so let me make that clear. You set off and you won't have to worry about reaching Mistral. You'll have to worry about us catching up."
"There!" cried one. "He said it! You heard it! He wants to push us down!"
More joined in, throwing accusations and stamping their feet like drug-fuelled teenagers in a mosh pit. Jaune wrung a finger in his ear, yawned, then said. "Sure. What of it?"
They were stunned.
"Y-You're trying to push us down!" said one.
"You're trying to erase out identities."
"As the Neo-White Fang? I sure am. No questions asked."
"It's our choice though…"
"Yes," said Jaune. "And you've made it. Congratulations – here are the consequences. Submit or be beaten down, arrested and forced through radicalisation programs until you stop trying to drag us into war."
"He's trying to intimidate us!"
"Well, yeah." Jaune stood there, confused. "Haven't I made that obvious?"
"I think they're surprised," said Ilia. "Most of the time they end up being ignored and framed as idiots no one listens to. Also, they like claiming they're fighting against the man or that the system is unfairly aligned against them. It's their little power fantasy."
"Well, the system is aligned against them now. Shouldn't they be happy about that?"
"I think they liked the idea of fighting the system more than the reality."
Ah, that old chestnut. Jaune looked back out over them and could see the anger and the nervousness mixing together. He'd honestly expected a lot more fighting and an immediate attack by them, but it looked like the group were paralysed by indecision. Many of them talked the talk and might have thought they were ready to walk the walk, but they had no idea what that actually meant. They just showed up to rallies, cheered, shouted and made noise. They were idiots, not psychos, and faced with the reality of what was being asked of them, he could see that many were hesitant.
"This is an offer of amnesty," said Jaune. "Those of you who are thinking twice and don't like the idea of fighting us should get up and leave. This is what he's asking of you. He wants you to fight Atlas and the Kingdoms, who are more numerous, better trained and much less merciful than we are. They will kill you. If you can't stomach facing us then you're not going to be able to stomach killing or being killed by them." He stood aside and motioned to the door. "Leave now and I'll forget your faces."
More than a few people stood. He hadn't expected any to, and not to do it so quickly, and yet at least twenty-five faunus hurriedly jumped to their feet and scurried out, their heads down. He kept his promise and didn't pay them much attention, even if he knew and anticipated a list on his desk courtesy of the Albain brothers. These people would need to be watched to make sure they didn't go back to this again, but he could pretend to ignore them if they stayed legit.
I guess Ilia was right, thought Jaune. They liked the idea of fighting against injustice and the kingdoms, but their courage collapsed faced by the reality of a fight. He couldn't blame them either, since they were just regular people and Sienna and the rest were… well, they weren't huntsman level or even close, but the gap between a civilian and a huntsman was vast enough that someone in the middle might as well seem superhuman.
"Cowards!" roared the leader. "Traitors! Scum!"
Sienna stamped on his head. "Enough of that. You should be pleased we did this for you. Or would you rather find out they don't have what it takes in a key moment when everyone's lives are on the line?" She addressed the rest of the audience. "Because that's the reality of it. I'm sure he hasn't filled you in on that. The idiot probably doesn't even realise. Out there, it's kill or be killed. You won't be welcome anywhere, so you'll be camping out with the Grimm. How many of you have even seen a Grimm, let alone fought one?"
A few hands. Jaune snorted at the thought of this being a classroom. Sienna made for a good teacher, especially with her disappointed scowl.
"That's it? Seriously? Huntsmen and Huntresses face their first Grimm when they're eleven, and here you all are, two or three times that age, and you haven't even seen one. How do you expect to go and kill huntsmen like that?"
"We weren't going to kill huntsmen…"
"Of course you were!" Sienna spoke over the person who dared interrupt. "We had to fight huntsmen and we were being peaceful. What do you think will happen when your Neo-White Fang shows up and starts threatening to kill people and kick off the next war? You think the huntsmen are going to let that slide? Don't be stupid! We are damn serious right now. You want to found your little group and destroy everything we've accomplished? Fine, but you'll need to prove you have what it takes first. Fight us, beat us, or Jaune and I will single-handedly ensure your adventure doesn't make it past Menagerie's shores."
"For your own good," said Jaune. "Because if you can't beat us then you won't do a thing to Atlas."
He waited, absolutely certain that the crowd would rush him once they'd gathered their nerve. They had been so gung-ho about starting a war, so some of them had to have the right mindset. It only made sense that now the uncertain ones were out, those remaining would find their nerve. He waited. And waited. And waited.
"No…?" He didn't mean to, but he couldn't quite hide his surprise. "Nothing? Seriously?"
It was honestly a bit of a let-down.
"You get this worked up, you gather this many people, you commit to travel across the sea and begin a reign of terror…" He let that sink in. "And you don't have the guts to even try and rush us?"
"What's the point?" asked one of them. "There are too many of you."
Jaune turned and counted. "-three, four, five. Five." He turned back, eyebrows raised. "There are five of us. You are, like, eighty people stood against five and that's too many? Are you for real? Huntsmen come in teams of four and they're probably four times stronger than us as well." At least. The good ones were probably ten times stronger. "Come on," said Jaune, waving a hand. "At least give it a go. I had to psyche myself up for this. We won't even kill you; just rough you up and make a point. Come on. Go for it."
No one moved.
"You might even win. I mean, there's a chance, right? Lucky shot, latent talent…" He trailed off as not a single person made a move. Jaune pointed to a big and burly man. "You." The man shied away, shrinking back behind his allies. "Oi, no, I'm not singling you out. I'm just saying you could- No? Okay, fine, how about…" As his finger moved from left to right, people shied out the way of it as if he were wielding a gun. He was left pointing at an empty chasm in their ranks every time. Jaune let his hand fall. "Are you serious…?"
"They're serious," said Yuma. "Serious cowards when it comes down to it. Man, I can't believe I dressed up for this." He gnawed on his pizza. "I wanted a slice of the action."
"I'll cut your throat if those puns become a regular thing," snarled Trifa. "How about that?"
"He'll get over it," said Ilia. "Here today, gone tomato-" She ducked, evading Trifa's fist by a hair's breadth.
Even his own people couldn't take this seriously, and Jaune was beginning to see why. He let out a heavy sigh and stepped away from the open doorway. "Just… Just go. Just go home." His voice was filled with disappointment, and more than a few of the violent, brave and strong faunus who would have founded the Neo-White Fang ducked their heads. They scurried out like children who had been found nose deep in the adult section of a magazine rack.
They wouldn't have any easier a time of it once they got home. Part two of his evil plan had been to find and contact any family members they had, fill them in on what their children, siblings or family members were up to, and then ask them to have a word with them when they got home. There would be many an intervention tonight, and he imagined more than a few would end with much shouting and name-calling.
Better that than drowning in the ocean.
"I am thoroughly disappointed," said Jaune once they were gone. "I had to mentally prepare myself for a fight."
"This is how it always goes," said Sienna, pinning the leader down and wrapping her whip about his arms as makeshift cuffs. "Big talk, bigger boats and plenty of stick waving. Then when it comes to it, they can never muster the guts to go through with it. If they could have then someone would have ousted me years ago. I'm not omniscient and the Albain brothers never liked me. If there had been anyone with the balls and the spirit, they'd have helped them replace me."
"It would have been me," said Adam. "And it would have been a disaster for the cause."
He didn't even sound surprised at how easy this went. Jaune asked him why in his head.
"Because those who truly had the guts to fight fought. They joined the White Fang, left and risked their lives with me or you. People like Yuma, Trifa and Ilia. Those that remain on Menagerie can be put into two camps: the wounded or untrained, who are recovering or preparing to join their fellows in combat, or the meek and afraid – who were always fit enough, who talked the loudest, but who never followed through on their grandiose words." He snorted. "People like this."
Those that remained on Menagerie were either there because of circumstance or because they didn't want to leave. He wouldn't fault those who didn't want to risk their lives, or who had found happiness and wanted to keep it, but he understood what Adam was saying – that they weren't proper warriors like all those who had left to fight. It was like comparing people who had gone to war and those who stayed behind and acted like they, too, were as brave as the soldiers risking their lives.
"Take him and hand him to the police," Sienna said to Yuma and Trifa. "Ilia, tell the Albain brothers we've dealt with the issue but that they should watch the ships all the same. Forget the original plan. Arrest anyone who tries to board them in any number."
"You can't beat people down like this," yelled the leader. "You'll see, Arc. Just want and see. The Neo-White Fang will rise again. We will not be silence. We will not be-" Yuma shoved a slice of pizza into the man's mouth, effectively silencing him. He was dragged away before he could chew his way out, and by then it was too late to hear him.
"I'm still disappointed," said Jaune.
"It is what it is. If everyone on Remnant had the courage to follow through on their words then the world would be a different place. The Kingdoms would be united, the Grimm would be pushed back and equality would have been achieved years ago. The cold reality is that few people do. Talk is easy. Always has been, always will be. People like us…" Sienna shrugged. "I won't say we rose up or that we're different. Most of us are forced to get up and do something because it feels like no one else will. I never wanted to be the face of the White Fang. I just wanted to live a normal life."
"Same. I wanted to be a huntsman. Yet here I am."
"Here we are," said Sienna, taking his hand. He met her eyes, twinkling brightly, and felt himself relax just a little.
"Here we are," he agreed. "And heavens help us, but these lot are just the first of a long bunch of idiots we're going to have to deal with. Aren't they?"
"More extremists within the White Fang, then anti-faunus sentiment in Atlas and Mistral. I hear there's a slave trade for faunus in Vacuo, though it's considered illegal. And then there's the fact that even though Ironwood and Ozpin agreed, some in Vale and Atlas will try and go against what that. Saboteurs too, on our side and on theirs."
"Is that all?"
"Not even close. Grimm, mercenaries, the SDC and assassins in our own midst. I expect we'll have our work cut out for us. It'll only get worse if we actually do try and make Menagerie into the fifth kingdom. We'll need a new democratic system, elections and then I guarantee there will be foreign interference. Probably some Schnee-friendly faunus backed by SDC money trying to get us to agree to unfavourable deals and sign our rights away. It's going to be a mess."
It sounded like it. Jaune let out a heavy sigh and asked, "Why are we doing this again?"
"Because no one else will if we don't. History will probably remember us as tyrants too."
"I know." Sienna sighed dramatically. "It's a poor job and an uncertain future, but let the future bring what it will bring. We'll face it down because we must, and because no one else will."
"Do we get paid for it?"
"Our rewards are the good feelings all of this brings inside us."
Jaune looked at the abandoned tent and considered the work ahead. "I don't feel any of that."
Sienna slipped up behind him, wrapped her hands around his waist and breathed hot and wet air against the back of his neck. Jaune shivered, though a certain part of him stiffened. "Then I guess we'll just have to make our own good feelings, hm?"
"Yeah," purred Sienna. "I've always wanted to claim ultimate victory by defiling a place my enemy's hold sacred. This isn't exactly what I had in mind, but there's a perfectly serviceable table over there and it has their battle plans on it. I think we should... desecrate them a little. What say you?"
Her eyes met his.
Her catlike smile grew.
"Has the issue been dealt with?" asked Kali Belladonna.
"It has, my lady," said Fennec. He bowed from the waist, far more respectful than he often had been before. Kali withheld a snort, amused by how quick their tune changed. She wouldn't complain since it was in the best interests of Menagerie for them to be on the side of peace. "The Neo-White Fang has been dismantled for now. I expect they will return, but the ringleader has been arrested and the spine of the insurrection has been broken."
"Flowerful speech as always, Fennec."
He smiled. "I am a poet at heart."
"I'm sure. And where are Sienna and Jaune, hm? I'd like to have words with them."
Fennec paused. "They are… indisposed."
"Indisposed? Were they injured in the fighting?"
"There was no fighting as I understand it. The confidence of the aggressors did not match up to their boasting, and they surrendered without a fight."
This time Kali did snort. "Typical."
"I agree. Few are those who can match up to their words."
"Then what are those two busy with?"
"That would be…" A cry pierced through the air, silencing Fennec and making a few nearby White Fang members chuckled in embarrassment. The younger ones ducked their heads and blushed, while the older members just exchanged lien. Fennec sighed. "They are imposed with, or perhaps within, one another."
"Oh my." Kali covered her smile with her fingers. "Well, I'd hate to interrupt, wouldn't I?" Her eyes said the exact opposite, but Fennec was at least loyal enough to step before the tent flap and bar her path. Kali glowered at him. "I'll just be on my way then. Do tell them to pay a visit when they are not quite so-" She paused, waited, and another cry echoed. Fennec sighed and Kali giggled. "-occupied."
"I will pass the message on." He tilted his head, winced, and added, "It might be a while."
Next Story: 11th October (5 weeks)
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