Here we go


Cover Art: GWBrex

Chapter23


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New era of cooperation as Mistral aids Atlas in foiling White Fang plot against diplomatic delegation

Atlas Times

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Jaune Arc helps secure burgeoning alliance between Mistral and Atlas, but is this an insult to Vale?

Vale Daily Tribune

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Double whammy for Mistral as Vytal win secured alongside new trade agreement with Atlas. Council hails strong ties with northern kingdom.

The Mistral Review

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Mistral fends of terrorists during international visit; Gillian Asturias says Vacuo's former council failed their duty to do the same

Vacuo Today

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Atlas keeping secrets as successful ASSASSINATION of Weiss Schnee by White Fang kept under wraps

Kuo Kuana Express

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It was being announced that Mistral and Atlas foiled an assassination attempt by the White Fang. That was the official story because Atlas and Mistral had been making great headway with how the diplomatic visit had gone, and neither side wanted to cast an up and coming alliance into doubt by revealing news that Weiss Schnee had died. After all, she'd been seen again later so she couldn't be dead. Jaune hated it.

He hated it, but he understood it. The situation with Vacuo had left lingering feelings of unease between the kingdom and Atlas, and had even caused some kind of political shift in Vacuo that Jaune wasn't too interested in. Mistral didn't want the same to happen to them, and neither did Atlas or the trade deals would need to be renegotiated. It was all politics at the end of the day – and Jaune went with it partly because he was told to, but partly because he liked what General Ironwood had told him as they left Mistral.

"Deny the successful killing of Weiss and you deny the White Fang their glory."

The White Fang were a terrorist group who thrived on fear and reputation. He hadn't known so much about them before, them not being an issue in Ansel and him being too distracted on reaching Atlas. Now that they'd come for him and hurt Weiss, he'd started looking more into it. The Arc-Ops were happy to fill him in as well and help him understand certain aspects about how it all worked. Basically, the White Fang lived or died on their support, which was influenced by how well or how badly the White Fang were representing angry faunus sentiment.

Killing Weiss, who was hated by most faunus by her name, would be seen as a huge win for a lot of bitter faunus – even if she was brought back afterwards. It would get the angry and evil faunus who made the White Fang's ranks cheering. Their position would be strengthened.

That wouldn't do.

Play it instead as the White Fang bumbling around like idiots before being discovered and thwarted and sent packing with one of their own captured, and their supporters would be unimpressed. Better yet, they'd be angry at the White Fang for such a pathetic attempt. It was that fact which ultimately won him over, and Jacques Schnee had agreed on hearing Ironwood's reasoning. He didn't know Weiss' feelings because she'd rather understandably retreated from the festival and been shuttled back to Atlas early. It wasn't that anyone doubted his Semblance and more than she didn't want to be in Mistral anymore. He couldn't fault her.

The Vytal Festival was wrapped up soon after – without interruption – and most people left satisfied and happy as Mistral snatched the victory this year, and as the closing ceremony went on by. Life returned to normal in Atlas.

A week had passed since then.

It was oddly comforting, though not exactly fun. He went to the hospitals, he went home, he rested, he learned, he spoke with Weiss on his scroll at night – she was feeling better, though they'd apparently had to let a lot of faunus staff go at the manor because Weiss was panicking around them. No one was happy about that, not even Weiss.

It didn't bother him as much as he thought it would that they hadn't seen one another in person for a full week. He could see her face over the scroll when they talked, and a part of him would freely admit their dates weren't always the best. They just had different hobbies. Chatting on the scroll felt so much easier, and he always ended every conversation with a smile. Sometimes he'd talk with Pyrrha as well – though only through texts. He'd need to go to the CCT to connect a proper call with her that didn't have their images flickering and their words garbled. She was doing well; a little sad he and Weiss were gone, and a little lonely, but she was happy to have met them.

One change was that he finally allowed himself to return to Dr Seng's therapy sessions. He'd expected the man to be a little smug on welcoming him back, or to make a big deal of how Jaune hadn't come of his own volition earlier, or to say that all the problems he had could have been solved with a little help.

He didn't. Dr Seng simply opened the door, smiled, and beckoned him inside, and then they got to talking again. There was no "I told you so" and no "you should have come to me", and Jaune was grateful for the fact. Instead, they talked about Mistral, about the festival, about the media, about public perception, and even about why people were so obsessed with celebrities.

A lot of it was ranting on Jaune's part. The office was a safe place for him to get angry, shout, and call people what he really thought them. Scum, invasive, arrogant, selfish, jealous. He could throw out the insults left and right, and not have to worry about a headline the next morning condemning him as an entitled piece of shit.

"Entitlement is a common insult used by people," said Dr Seng. "I've often wondered why myself, and the conclusion I've come to is that it's a way of detracting from a person's accomplishments. Someone who has a high-paid job with cushy benefits has no doubt earned all of that. If they hadn't, then they wouldn't have the position in the first place. It's hard for people to accept that however, because it means they must accept that they have not earned it. Instead, they get angry. Call the person entitled. Cheer when they lose their jobs."

"Won't that person just get another equally well-paid job?"

"Almost certainly. The vindication people feel is fleeting, and the person they aim their hate at is rarely the root cause of their feelings. All they're looking for is a momentary distraction from their real problems, problems that they do not want to admit or face. They see you, assume you have no problems of your own, and they hate you for what they perceive as a sleight against their character."

"It's stupid."

"People are stupid, Jaune. You and I included. If humanity made more logical choices I dare say we wouldn't have things like inequality, crime, racism and all the consequences of such, like the White Fang. Alas, we're flawed and selfish beings."

Jaune laughed. "Shouldn't you be trying to prescribe me drugs?"

"I prescribe drugs to those who are sick. You're sick of people's constant invasions of your privacy, but that makes sense. I'd be worried you're some kind of exhibitionist otherwise." He chuckled. "And sadly, I don't have a pill that can make other people go away."

"It's the paparazzi that get me," admitted Jaune. "Things are okay up here on Atlas because they can't sprout wings and fly up here, but whenever I'm on Mantle they just follow me around and try to butt into every little thing I do. Isn't that illegal?"

"It's not. I've long joked that celebrities should band together and hire their own paparazzi to stalk the others and show them what it's like. If a little empathy won't make them realise, maybe having their own dirty laundry aired would."

"Is that legal?"

"Of course. They can't do one thing to you and not expect the same. I wouldn't try it though. While it might be fun, others would see it as you personally attacking the free press." He rolled his eyes and added, "Even if the newspapers don't actually hire the paparazzi. It's a grey area."

They talked a little longer, until Jaune was well and truly leaning back in his chair and they were chatting more akin to friends than therapist and patient. Dr Seng was just telling him about his niece, a nine-year-old girl who had just convinced her parents to pay for expensive piano lessons two weeks back and now wanted to quit, when there came a knock at the door. Dr Seng looked at his watch and whistled.

"Is that the time? It seems I've kept you over."

/-/

"How did she die?"

Jaune asked the question but didn't really listen to the answer given by the parents. Some accident of sorts, some scene that people would call "tragic" but which was really closer to negligent. It was always the same. While there were a lot of children who did die tragic deaths, like from cancer, he never got to see or help them. His Semblance would only bring them back to die from the same condition that killed them. I wish it could fix more than just the death, thought Jaune, as the parents talked and excused their actions. They deserve it more.

"You need to pay more attention n the future," he said, not-too-subtly chastising them. The mother looked mortified and truly sorry but the father looked angry.

"Do you think we don't know that? Every second we've hated ourselves-"

Jaune brushed past him, expended his aura and brought the girl back. It cut off the angry rant and reduced the three to joyful tears and reunions. He ignored it all, wiping his hands clean on a towel provided by a doctor and rolling his eyes. It really was the same all over again. Sudden deaths, accidents – often vehicular – and a whole lot of children that Atlas had decided to push to the top of the list.

"You looked annoyed," said Clover when the parents had gone.

"I am annoyed," replied Jaune. "So that tracks."

"Is it the people you're healing?"

"Kids are kids. I'm not going to blame them for their deaths." That sure as hell didn't mean he wasn't going to blame the parents. They had no such excuses. "It just drags on. It's not interesting."

"What counts as interesting to you?"

The attack on the Schnee manor, he wanted to say, and yet he didn't. It felt too much like wishing for terrorism and murder, and he couldn't do that. Words had power. His words had consequences too, and any doctor here could overhear and report them to the media.

"I'd feel like I was doing more if I brought back a police officer who died saving people, or a rescue worker who died to smoke inhalation going into a burning building one more time." He watched as Clover nodded, understanding, and then continued. "This is fine, I guess, but it doesn't feel like it's having an impact."

"These kids might go on to be important people."

Jaune shrugged. He didn't discount that. "It just doesn't feel like I'm changing anything. If I save someone who was murdered then that crime is stopped. If I save someone who can save others then they'll go do that. What am I doing here? Fixing a kid running out onto the road because she was angry her parents wouldn't let her watch her favourite cartoons."

"Or the boy who climbed out his window to play with his friends after his parents grounded him and fell to his death."

Jaune crossed his arms. That one almost had him questioning the ethics of refusing to bring someone back. "Or that. It's stupid. There should be… I don't know. Maybe a stupid death should get you pushed further down the list. Call it the idiot tax."

"I don't think that would be taken well."

Probably not, but there were times he was beyond caring. He'd really thought all that time off in Mistral would rejuvenate him and get him back to a state where he could work for the next year or two without issues. It hadn't. All it had really done was show him what it was like to have more free time and not have to spend so much of it in the hospital.

And he'd liked that.

He wanted more of it.

"Is this the last one?" asked Jaune. The doctor nearby nodded. "Nice. Are we good to go?"

The Arc-Ops nodded. It was Clover, Harriet and Vine today. The rest weren't needed. Outside the hospital, cameras flashed and people continued to ask questions. It had dimmed a little since his explosive interview with Lisa Lavender, but only a little. There were some who thought he might do another and wanted to be there to cash in on it. Then there were the usual cases of supporters and detractors, with a new bunch of the latter holding up signs saying it was unfair that he was paid so much by the council when schools were underfunded.

He wasn't sure what they expected him to do about that. Like, sure, schools probably should have more money, but he wasn't in charge of Atlas' budgetary decisions. He didn't get to decide that. He also expected that even if he wasn't here and wasn't being paid, that those schools still wouldn't be getting any extra money.

Once they were inside the APC and moving away, Clover spoke up again. "I can enquire about changing up your hospital rota a little. Maybe see if there aren't service men and women who could use your help. At the very least I can put out the idea that you would be happy to respond to emergency situations. Is that alright?"

"That sounds good." Jaune felt a rush of excitement, and then one of guilt. "I mean, it's not like I want there to be a burning building or a massacre or anything-"

"We get it. It's more fulfilling to help with a genuine crisis than fix stupid accidents." Clover was all smiles. "I imagine every doctor feels the same way when they're asked to deal with preventable diseases and illnesses. It doesn't mean they want people to be stabbed. Helping stop the White Fang was a big win for us as well."

"Yeah. If only he hadn't escaped…"

"There wasn't much chance of catching him," said Vine. "Maybe if we hadn't been cut off by the collapsed tunnel, but the Arc-Ops were all on the wrong side, and the security teams couldn't afford to give chase if it meant abandoning their posts."

"There could have been more terrorists who would target the stands," said Jaune. "I know. I know. I'm not saying I'm angry or anyone's at fault. I just wish we could have gotten him."

"There'll be another chance," said Clover. "Especially now that we have his accomplice. Sometimes catching a terrorist isn't worth it. They often go down fighting, and then they're proclaimed as martyrs. Having them fail is often more damaging to the organisation than being caught."

He liked that about Clover and the Arc-Ops. They explained things, and they tried to make sense, rather than just tell him he wouldn't understand and leave it at that. Jaune hadn't gotten it perfectly the first time, but Elm and Tortuga had gone over some examples with him until he understood just how much a terrorist group relied on public perception. It was weird to think that PR mattered to terrorists, but the truth was it mattered more than with an army, because an army could rely on a good salary, duty, medical and education benefits, funding and career opportunities to recruit more members while the White Fang had to convince people to risk their lives for an uncertain and illegal cause. Elm had told him that even disillusioned and very angry people would feel some resistance to the idea of breaking the law.

Not that it stopped everyone, but it stopped enough.

"Is there any risk of another attack here in Atlas?"

"There's always risk," said Clover. "It isn't a high risk. You'll be as safe as can be up on Atlas and we'll be here if anything happens down on Mantle. It's much harder for them to operate when we're aware of the intention." He smiled and said, "You're as safe here as you can be anywhere."

/-/

He'd expected that he would be going back to training or his room, but Elm met him at Atlas with what he'd call a constipated look on her face. "General Ironwood wants to see you."

Jaune stilled. "Is something wrong?"

"Not wrong per se." Elm placed a hand on his shoulder to steer him where she wanted him. "Nothing bad… well, maybe bad. Nothing bad-bad, like your sisters in danger or a paparazzi hiding under your bed. Annoying, maybe. Likely to make you angry. I can't say."

Confidential, then. Or just private. Jaune kind of wished she hadn't said anything at all because he spent the rest of the walk to Ironwood's office worrying about it. It couldn't have been anything about danger to his family or Weiss because she'd have been a lot more anxious about it. Sure enough, when he was let into Ironwood's office, the man looked more beleaguered and overworked than upset. He looked up, a firm word on his lips, then saw Jaune and sagged. "Come in. Come in. How was your session with Dr Seng?"

"Good," said Jaune. Even so, he didn't want to dwell on it. "Elm said you needed me."

"Take a seat."

Jaune did so nervously. His experience had always been that when someone offered a seat, it meant the news you were about to receive was less than good. He wasn't wrong this time ether, as General Ironwood pulled out a folder and slid a piece of paper out of it and to him. On it was a girl with long black hair, yellow eyes and feline ears.

"This is the girl we captured in Mistral. The Council of Mistral were more than happy to extradite her with us as we left, so that she could be tried as a criminal here in Atlas. Her name is Blake Belladonna."

"Should that ring any bells with me?"

"Perhaps not at your age. Kali and Ghira Belladonna are the founders of the original White Fang." The news had Jaune's face hardening. Great, so they had the daughter of the terrorists. He didn't see the problem. "You need to understand that the White Fang they founded was markedly different from what it is now. They were peaceful protestors, and though they faced no small amount of scorn, hatred and even attacks from people, they never turned to violence. Quite the opposite. They were as good as pacifists."

"Then why are the White Fang like they are now?"

"That's the work of Sienna Khan." Another picture, this one of a woman in the midst of combat. "She led a coup against the Belladonnas and usurped control of the group. She, with a disenfranchised faunus populace, decided that if we would not listen to peaceful protest then they would escalate to violence. In truth, Atlas and the kingdoms are a big part of why the White Fang are as they are today. I won't lie and claim otherwise."

"Alright," said Jaune. "That's nice and all, and if this was Kali or Ghira Belladonna then I'd shake their hands, but it's not. Is it?" Jaune tapped the picture of Blake on the desk. "This is their daughter who, unless you're about to tell was there by accident, tried to kill Weiss."

Ironwood nodded. "It is so. Still, I have had to make her parents aware as to her incarceration…" He winced, and Jaune felt himself tensing. "And they are asking for mercy on her behalf."

Jaune glared at the man. "Mercy. For killing Weiss."

"Technically speaking, Belladonna did not kill her."

"Because I brought her back!" shouted Jaune. "It was still murder!"

"Not that. I'd never suggest that. From Miss Schnee's garbled testimony we were able to discover that Adam Taurus initiated aggressive action and struck the final blow. This corroborates with what Belladonna has confessed. Both stories agree that Belladonna attempted to stop him. Or at least expressed reluctance. I won't argue she could have – or should have – done more, but it is what it is."

"They were there to kill me. Did she try and stop that?"

"She claims to have expressed reluctance on the plan but that Adam convinced her to do it against her wishes." Ironwood sighed. "In truth, she's been a treasure trove of information on Adam Taurus – one of the White Fang's most hated and wanted lieutenants, and a tipped successor to Sienna Khan. The girl has cooperated thus far and without any advanced interrogation. We've been able to identify two caches of weapons in Atlas from her testimony, and also locate the abode she and Taurus were staying at in Mistral and find further evidence there."

Yes. And? It was good and all that she was now doing the right thing, but that was only after being caught in the act of plotting his murder, and with the threat of prison at the end of it. If Ironwood was expecting him to feel sorry for her, he had another thing coming.

"I refuse," said Jaune. Of course he refused. "Why are we even having this conversation? She's a criminal, she was caught, and now her parents want her not to be punished. Since when does anyone care about the parents of criminals?"

"Ghira and Kali Belladonna are the current rulers of Menagerie. Though they were deposed within the White Fang, they are still popular and beloved figures on the island. They serve as its rulers right now. Elected, sort of." He shrugged as if to say it was too complicated to get into now. "What we essentially have is the daughter of a head of state. That complicates matters."

"You mean, the law is different because she's suddenly important," said Jaune. Ironwood didn't deny it. "What do you want me to say?"

Ironwood sighed. "It's not a case of my wanting you to say or do anything. Simply put, the girl attempted to commit a crime and was caught in the act. We can get her for conspiracy to commit murder and that's it."

"That'd still be years in jail."

At this point he wasn't against that idea. The girl had killed Weiss, or had a hand in it, and he wasn't feeling all too forgiving over the fact.

"Yes. But they would be mitigated by things such as how much she has cooperated, her age, the fact she was an accomplice. Much more. It would still be prison time for sure but reduced. In the end she would come out despising Atlas and likely go right back to the White Fang. Alternatively, we can strike a plea deal with her over the information she has – much of it being far more valuable than a single, misguided faunus like herself – and then show mercy, giving a strong sign to the White Fang and the faunus that we do not despise them. That," said Ironwood, "is something I think could be useful for yourself, as I fear the White Fang have essentially declared war on you."

"I gathered that when they tried to kill me. Is this about me healing the SDC Board of Directors?"

"Blake Belladonna believes it to be so, but she's also implied that in Menagerie you're seen as being… anti-faunus. Racist."

"What!?" cried Jaune. "That's bullshit!"

"It's also bullshit that you're entitled and lazy," pointed out Ironwood, using his own words against him, "but that didn't stop the story running here. You've seen already how little people's opinions need to be based in reality. Stories are told, exaggerated, and by the time they reach Menagerie you are seen different. I wish we could stop that but we can't."

It always came back to how people saw him, didn't it? Jaune swore angrily. He could see where this was going.

"You think that if I forgive her for trying to kill me and let her go that it'll be proof I'm not racist." He frowned, and added, "Even though I shouldn't need to prove something I'm not in the first place. Isn't my trying to prove it an admission of guilt?"

"The Belladonna family have offered to throw their weight behind you in Menagerie. They are willing to take an opposing stance to the White Fang and proclaim you a friend of the faunus. Even to come to Atlas and meet you." Ironwood smiled briefly, and added, "And to have firm words with their daughter who they are not happy with right now. I have spoken with Ghira Belladonna. In my opinion, he is honest, and he despises Adam Taurus. Partly for what he is and what he espouses, but also for leading their daughter astray."

It all sounded so reasonable. So logical. So easy. Jaune felt an ugly feeling rise in his stomach and threaten to gag him. He swallowed it back down and met Ironwood's eyes head on. "Tell me this," he said. "If she was any other person, if she wasn't the child of famous or powerful parents, would she be getting this deal? If she was some no-name faunus who tried to kill me and was caught in the act, would we be even having this conversation?"

General Ironwood looked back at him.

And slowly closed his eyes.

"No. We would not."

He'd known it. Jaune laughed. It was bitter. "I guess it's true what they say, isn't it? The rich and the powerful get away with everything – including murder. Fine. Let her go. I agree. If my agreement even matters. Let her run back to the White Fang."

"It won't be like that. There will be conditions…"

"What kinds of conditions?"

"For one, she will not be allowed to return to Menagerie where the White Fang are active. Blake Belladonna will be required to stay here in Atlas where we can keep an eye on her. In a sense, she'll still be a prisoner, and we'll be ready to step in at any moment if she does anything wrong. The only difference will be how officially known that sentence is."

So, she wouldn't entirely get away with it. That helped a bit.

Only a bit.

"It doesn't feel right she gets off without being punished."

"The purpose of a prison sentence isn't supposed to be to punish, Jaune. That angle is dangerous. Prisons that seek to punish inmates often drive them to crime in the future. The purpose of a prison is to protect the innocent by keeping dangerous people away from them. That's why we minimum security prisons for crimes like tax fraud. Right now, as she is, the girl is not entirely dangerous. Throwing her in a maximum security prison will ensure she comes out of it as Adam Taurus two-point-zero. It would serve no purpose."

"It would make me feel better."

"Would it? Would you really go there to watch her suffer?"

Jaune scowled and looked away. He wouldn't. Right now, he was angry, and it would please him to know she was paying for her crimes, but he supposed it would make no difference in a week. "You're saying she'll still be punished."

"Absolutely. Blake Belladonna will not have the freedom to make her own choices. That is what a prison sentence is supposed to represent – lack of freedom. The abuse and inhumanity so often heaped on inmates was never part of the system's design. It's a terrible consequence of authority, mistreatment and poor regulation. It's something I've tried to change numerous times to no avail. The public often see attempts to improve the lives of prisoners as soft or unfair. They don't see the bigger picture and just want what they believe to be bad people to suffer."

Like he had. Jaune winced at the unsubtle criticism.

"I'm not asking you to like or forgive her," said Ironwood. "And the choice is ultimately yours. I believe that releasing one terrified girl is worth it to have two of the most influential faunus on Remnant in your corner. You are free to disagree."

Jaune laughed. "The law really doesn't apply to the rich, famous or powerful. Does it?"

"That's all too often the case, I'm afraid. Laws are made to keep order. We punish those who break them to send a message to others that they should stay within the lines. Ultimately, however, our ability to enforce laws depends on the notion that we have more power than the accused. Power enough to take their liberties away. Sometimes, that's not the case. Sometimes, they have more power. Or more value."

Life had been so much easier back home in Ansel before his Semblance. Wake up, play, beg his dad for training, try to talk to girls, watch TV and go to bed. There hadn't been any big money, any paparazzi, any attention and certainly not any political power. And now I have the future of someone I don't even know in my hand, and part of me still wants to send her to jail for what she did to Weiss. I don't want to deal with her.

"I'll agree on one condition," said Jaune.

Ironwood hummed. "And that is?"

"I don't want her in Atlas."

"What?"

"You say she's safe and will be watched, but I don't trust her – and I won't accept letting her go free if she can get to Weiss." He crossed his arms. "I agree you can't send her back to Menagerie but send her somewhere else. Mistral or Vale." He perked up. "Actually, yeah. Vale has been looking for ways to earn my favour and get back into good diplomatic relations, haven't they?" He waited for Ironwood's nod. "Tell them this is the first step. They're to keep and monitor her and make sure she doesn't escape back to the White Fang."

"It'll be harder to ensure she doesn't escape," warned Ironwood. "I can guarantee she won't under my eyes, but I can't make that promise of other people."

"Then she escapes somewhere where she can't harm me, my family of Weiss. And if that Adam guy comes back for her then he doesn't have access to us either. That's my condition. I'll accept her being free if I never have to see her again."

General Ironwood leaned back. "It's doable. I can speak with Ozpin. He should be able to pull some strings and, as you say, the Council of Vale is desperate to open good communications with us. I'll see if they accept. If they do not, I will try Mistral. Either way, I'm sure Kali and Ghira will accept and be grateful."

Jaune scoffed. "They don't have much of a choice."

"They are good people," said Ironwood. "Their daughter, I cannot say, but please be polite when you meet with them, Jaune. They represent a better time, before things between humanity and faunus descended to the level it's at today."

"They get to have their kid not put into jail when anyone else on Remnant would be. That's not fair." Jaune stood, scraping his chair back. "And I understand the reasons and the advantages, but that doesn't mean I have to like them. Are we done? I think I want to go home and rest."

"We're done. I'm sorry you had to deal with this, Jaune. This… politicking…"

"Yeah." Jaune stood and walked for the door. "Me too."


So, Blake gets away with her crimes.

Which, you know, is pretty much exactly canon. We know Blake had a crisis of conscience on the train but she directly references some of the things the White Fang did before that she might not have had a direct hand in, but obviously did support – i.e. killing of SDC Board members, and I think Weiss even mentions the death of family members at one point. Her getting away with her crimes and being allowed to join Beacon because she's regretful is literal canon.

And hey, you can't say I'm bashing when she's one of my favourite characters.

Ofc, in the show she gets away with it because she's a main character and thus plot armour, but here I went with the idea that she gets away with it because her parents are influential – which, to be fair, if they can stamp down on the Kuo Kuana Express (and the other media outlets in Menagerie that are probably also pro-White Fang) then that's a good thing for Jaune. Much more valuable than one silly girl in prison.


Next Chapter: 1st December

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