This is probably one of the last few chapters. I'd predict one or two more at tops, and the last one likely being a time jump ahead to see some of the impacts and changes made. As I said before, this could go on forever but then so could any story, and I feel like it's dragging on already.
Cover Art: Serox
Menagerie was warm.
It was a stupid thought to have of an island known for its tropical climate but Jaune couldn't help thinking it as he stepped off the boat and was hit by a wave of hot air like he'd walked under a heating unit. It was the kind of hot, dry air that left your skin tingling and in desperate need of moisturiser, and something he knew he'd have to get used to. The air smelled of sea salt and the sun beat down on him. He brought a hand up to shield his eyes and take in the sights of Kuo Kuana, the capitol of Menagerie and seat of power. Power for whom, of course, was the question. Some might say it was the power of the Belladonna family and others would argue it was the White Fang's. According to the Albain brothers, who waited on the shore for him with wide smiles, a parasol and bottles of beer stuffed into a cooler filled with ice, it was to be the seat of his power.
"Welcome to Menagerie," one of the twins said. There wasn't all that much different between them at first glance but one had an inch or two above the other. Their hoods didn't help him differentiating. "It is an honour to meet you at last, Jaune Arc. You've done much for our cause."
"In Vale." said Jaune, shrugging one shoulder. "There's more to do."
Fennec's smile widened. "There is." He stepped aside so that the White Fang that had come with Jaune could access the cooler, which Yuma practically raced to. A bottle was pushed into Jaune's hand, ice cold and dripping with water. "It's a bit of a frat boy welcome, but I felt you'd appreciate it after a long trip." Fennec said.
He handed over a bottle opener that Jaune took and used then handed to Sienna. It made the rounds until everyone had a bottle, the Albain brothers included, and then they tapped them together before taking a long and welcome drink. Jaune had never truly liked beer as it was too bitter and tasted terrible, but it was cold and that was all that mattered.
"Tell us what is happening on the island," said Sienna after finishing half the bottle. "How are the people taking Jaune's revelation?"
"The mood is split," said Corsac. He made it clear it was not split to them by smiling Jaune's way. He'd heard how these two had once been enemies of Sienna but it looked like that had changed. "There are many who see it as a good thing. He is proof that humans and faunus can work together."
"This is an attitude we have encouraged." added Fennec.
"Yes," said Corsac. "But alas, there are many lost in the old ways of thinking. They hurt, they grieve, or perhaps they hate too much. To see a human leading faunus reminds them of all that they fought to prevent. They are not happy."
"Then there are those caught in the middle," said Fennec, "Who make up more than either of the other two camps. They are hopeful in some cases, cynical in others, but prepared to wait and see, and to judge you on your own merit."
"That's good." said Jaune. "I'll have to make sure I have a few."
Sienna laid a hand on his arm. "You'll do fine." To the brothers she said, "We'll have to remind people what the equality they believe they have fought for really means. They wish to see faunus above humans and believe is fair, but that's only reversing the status quo. It'll be the Great War all over again."
"There are many who believe we can win another war," said Corsac. "We won the last after all, only to be cheated on our victory. The purists are calling for faunus to rise up and claim what is ours."
Jaune let out a heavy sigh. "We've got out work cut out for us."
"It's not a popular point of view thankfully. The White Fang are, for the most part, tired. We've been fighting for years with no hope of victory in sight, and even those whose spirits burned with rage have been reduced to simmering ashes. There are many on the verge of giving up – not accepting the prejudice, but of giving up, cutting Menagerie off from the world and pretending that humans do not exist."
"Such is what the humans no doubt wanted as well," said Corsac. He looked as exhausted as his brother made the people out to be, and Jaune could tell they were honest with it. "It's easy, at times, to think that the world might be better if faunus and humans simply did not interact. If we split Remnant in two and hid away forever."
It probably was the easiest route and yet it sounded so sad to say it like that, such a miserable solution to a problem that didn't deserve to exist in the first place. Remnant had space aplenty and lacked only in manpower to push back the Grimm. You'd have thought that would be all the more reason to work together.
"What they need is someone to perk up their spirits and show them not all is lost." said Sienna, brushing against him in a way that left little confusion as to who she meant. That might have terrified Jaune once but he only chuckled now, more amused that she felt the need to make it clear than afraid.
"I know. I know." He smiled for her, and also for the sake of the Albain brothers. "Maybe a new path is just what they need to wake them up. It's easy to lose focus when you're doing the same thing over and over and it doesn't work. A fresh start can reinvigorate people. New hope. What we've done has worked in Vale and even had an impact in Atlas. It will work again here, and no one need die for the cause."
"Ah." Corsac had his eyes closed but shuddered visibly. His smile was wide enough to show teeth and creased up blissfully. "You don't know how good it is to hear that. The same words we have preached for… I don't know how long."
"What you preached for was Adam usurping my position." said Sienna.
"A change." Fennec pointed out. "We did not love Adam's plans nor his violent tendencies but we knew something had to change for your middle-ground approach was not working, Sienna." He smiled apologetically, spreading his arms as if to apologise for having to say it. "You can surely admit that now."
"I can. My approach was flawed…"
"My brother means no ill by it." said Corsac. "The White Fang would not be where it is today if not for you, but… well, it is in the past. You set the foundation but someone else was needed to drag us to an extreme. Adam or Jaune. I dare say we have made the better choice, and all the more pleasant for you having embraced the change and work with him. There are still many who are loyal to you, Sienna. They will rest easy knowing you support this new White Fang."
"Then we'd better make that clear," she said. "Let's greet them."
It had taken surprisingly little time to gather a good portion of Menagerie out on the beaches outside Kuo Kuana to listen to him. It was by invitation, so not everyone had shown, but most of the White Fang had, even those who disagreed with him or despised him, because even they knew they had to be here to hear what Jaune said, if only to topple him later. A wooden stage had been erected and Jaune stood in the centre of it with Sienna at his side and the Albain brothers a little to the right. Ilia, Yuma and Trifa were there with him as well, standing by the steps to cover and protect him from anyone who might get any ideas. The Albain brothers had provided a small number of trusted faunus to stand before the stage and protect him.
Jaune could recall the last time he had spoken like this and been shot by Atlas. It had been on Cinder's orders of course but that didn't fill him with confidence when he was facing another crowd of people, these ones consisting of a lot of former and current terrorists. He was wiser this time, keeping his aura up even though nothing has happened to suggest he might need it. The last case had taught him that by the time you realised you needed your aura, it was too damn late.
Many of the faces looking up at him were hopeful and pleased, but just as many were neutral – tired, as Corsac had said – and there were many more with dismissive curls to their lips and crossed arms who nudged one another and whispered under their breath. He had a reputation here, a presence, but they didn't know him and it felt like all his hard work in Vale had been reset. The faunus there knew and respected him but these people had only heard stories; they were too used to being let down.
"Afternoon." Jaune spoke. The microphone he'd been given made sure they could all hear him but didn't much change the poor start. Jaune grimaced and pushed on. "I'm aware that a lot of you don't know me. You know of me; you just don't know how much of that is true or exaggeration; you know I'm a human and you don't know what to think about the fact – or maybe you do and you hate me for it. I'm Jaune Arc. I led… I was forced to lead the Vale cell of the White Fang." He smiled in what he hoped was a disarming manner. "Not my first career choice. I can tell you that much."
A few titters here and there, each as nervous as he felt. It was a tough crowd.
"You may have heard of some of the things we achieved in Vale. The White Fang are no longer listed as a terrorist organisation there. The same is slowly taking place in Atlas. Public opinion is shifted, humans stand alongside faunus and protest at unfair treatment. It's not entirely peaceful protest," he added. "Nor is it entirely violent. Somewhere in the middle. The important part is that it's working. We've caused the resignation of Vale's mayor and one more friendly to faunus is running to replace him. We've been offered opportunities to stand out, rebrand ourselves and rebuild our future-"
"It's not your future." someone shouted. "Is it?"
"Isn't it?" Jaune opened his arms wide. "I'm here in front of you – unmasked and with my name known by all. I've been banished in all but name from Vale and Atlas, and I'll be known when I enter Mistral and Vacuo. Tell me how that doesn't tie my future directly to the White Fang's? Come on. Tell me."
There was silence for a while, until one brave soul piped up with, "You're not a faunus."
"I'm not," Jaune admitted. "But do you think that will matter to those who hate faunus? Do you think they will accept me just because I'm human, even though I've helped the White Fang destabilise one government already?" He let the words hang, but no one had an answer. Jaune's hands fell. "Of course they won't. You know that; the ones who hate me know I'm speaking the truth there as well; I only have one choice now, and that is to continue fighting with the White Fang for a better future."
"What I'm here to offer – with Sienna's support and assistance – is a new path for the White Fang." Jaune told them. "It's not a path that is entirely peaceful as I've said. We had to raid businesses, expose gangs and deal with armed people back in Vale. That's not going to be any different in Mistral and Vacuo. We need those who can fight. On the other hand, we also need those who can't or who don't want to, because while I fully admit that violence is a solution, it's not the only solution. We're going to use both. We'll peacefully protest and violently expose those who heap abuse on faunus and humans alike. The difference is that we'll be picking the right targets this time. Not normal people, not innocent people, but corporations and governments that abuse the rules and abuse their people. Things will be different," he promised them. "But they will also be better. Half the world is ready to stop seeing us as terrorists. Soon, the other half will have no choice but to follow suit."
"He'll take away our fangs!" someone shouted. "Take away our ability to fight!"
"There will be fighting aplenty. Fighting against the corrupt, against businesses exploiting people and even against Grimm. We rose to prominence in Vale by fighting against a criminal called Cinder Fall who would have destroyed Beacon, and who had originally tried to win the White Fang over to assist her."
"We should have attacked them!" another cried. There were several shouts of agreement. "If we destroyed Beacon, the world would have noticed us!"
"Listen to yourselves." Jaune didn't say it angrily, but with a resigned and sad air that sapped the words out of everyone and left the crowd silent. "You think you would have been noticed by attacking a school filled with innocent children? Children who are growing up to be huntsmen protecting human and faunus alike from the Grimm?" He let that sink in and people began to shuffle and look about awkwardly. "Where does that attitude stop? Should we raid an old people's home and kill its residents to be noticed? Should we ambush a shelter for dogs and slaughter the puppies to make headline news? Maybe you want to go into a maternity ward and bash the skulls of defenceless babies in to whet your appetite for violence. Is that it?"
There was no response. That didn't mean they were convinced.
"Let us assume that you did manage to attack Beacon," he said. "Let us imagine you somehow won – terrorists against huntsmen and huntresses. There's no real chance at all but let's imagine it somehow worked. What then? What do you think the result of faunus killing children and destroying a huntsman academy will be? Equality? Respect? Admiration?" Jaune snorted loudly. "You'd turn everyone in Vale against the faunus. Poor families who have nothing to do with you would be attacked by angry locals; children would be bullied or even hurt for your actions; you would cower back in Menagerie proclaiming victory while the world turns against the faunus."
"The world is already against us!"
"No." Jaune said. "The world is ambivalent. The world is on the fence. We proved that in Vale. You think the world is against you because it's not conforming to your ideas. You don't want equality – you want bloodshed. You don't want peace – you want war. Probably in the mistaken assumption that because the faunus won the last Great War, they will win this one as well. Let me point out the flaw there."
Jaune looked around. "Where are your anti-air defences?" There weren't any. "Where are your airfields?" There were none. "Where are your fighters, your battleships and your White Fang armada?"
Not here. They were terrorists relying on stolen and smuggled weaponry.
"The last war was fought on the ground and the faunus held their own, but technology has advanced and you would be fighting Atlas now. Tell me, then, how your bravery will hold up to battleships floating a mile above Menagerie raining fire down on you. What then? How will you fight that?"
Jaune pushed on before they could answer. "You can't. Those clamouring for war are living in the past; they are deluding themselves; they cling to past glories because they can't see a world in which new glories are made. Bring back the old days, they say, ignoring the fact that those days have come and gone, and that if you spend all your time looking backwards, you won't be able to make things better."
"No more!" Jaune shouted. "No more living in the past. A new White Fang, a new Menagerie, a new Kuo Kuana and a new future. New victories, new glory, new opportunities and – with the support of Vale – a new fifth Kingdom to step up onto the political stage." He rode the wave of gasps and awed expressions, the doubt even from the purists and the wild whispers. "That is our goal." He shouted over them. "Sienna and I will be working to found Menagerie as the fifth kingdom of Remnant, that will, in time, stand on the same level as any other. I don't ask you to lay down your arms or your lives; I only ask that you work with us – in whatever way you can. Those that can only fight will have a place. Those that want to build will have a place. Everyone will have their place."
Many among the crowd were caught up in the moment and roared their approval.
Not all, though.
"It was a good speech." Kali Belladonna was a polite, friendly, charming and downright terrifying woman. There was something about her, something about the way she smiled, that told him upsetting her would be a poor idea. She poured him, Sienna and herself some tea and took a seat. "Very passionate. My Ghira used to sound just like that, though of course his ambitions were never so high. Equality for the faunus was hard enough without wishing for a fifth kingdom."
"I figure it's best to dream big." said Jaune. He took the cup with a nod of thanks and sipped. It was warm but not hot and tasted clean and floral and just a little crisp. "That way, even if I fail to make Menagerie the fifth kingdom, I'll at least solve all the other issues."
"That reminds me of an old saying in Vacuo. May all your dreams but one come true." Kali smiled above her mug. "They believe that to be without a dream is to be empty; a person needs something to work towards or they lose ambition and passion; that is why it is a kindness to wish that at least one dream a person might have remain unfulfilled, so that they might chase it for the rest of their lives."
"We certainly have a lot to chase." said Sienna.
"Hmm. And you, my dear." Kali favoured Sienna with a sly smile. "You appear to have mellowed as well. Was I right after all?"
Heat crept up Sienna's neck and she balked into her tea. "I-It's not like that," she stammered. "I approve of our new methods. It's those that have mellowed me out, not having met a man. I may have called for more violent methods when I broke from you and Ghira, but I never claimed to enjoy them. I believed they were necessary at the time. My being single had nothing to do with it and my not being single now isn't the reason for my change of direction."
"Sienna is dedicated to the cause." Jaune added. "I think to suggest anything less would be an insult."
"I meant no harm." Kali giggled. "Merely a little teasing. Sienna was an old protégé of mine and even though I never agreed with her choices, I have never hated her. In fact, I'm quite happy to see she's found a happy middle ground."
"We're sorry about asking Ghira to stay in Vale."
"Don't be." Kali waved it off. "To hear him talk of the work to be done and the meetings he has had, you'd think him twenty years younger. He has his passion back." Her eyes sparkled. "I admit, I can't wait to see how passionate he is. Absence makes the heart grow fonder – and it often has a similar and altogether more exciting impact in the bedroom as well."
Sienna groaned. "You're terrible, Kali. We're seriously trying to change Menagerie here. Please keep your bedroom antics out of it."
"Of course. Of course. You have my support in this. Anything to turn the gaze of the world on us from fear and hate to trust has my support. I'll announce that tomorrow; it should afford you some trust from the locals who have lost theirs in Sienna and the White Fang before. The problem will remain those who are loyal to bloodshed."
"The puritans. I know. They're going to take time."
"They are the ones who will break the rules to force the issue." Kali told him. "You know that, however. They are the kind who will attack Atlas civilians to force their hand in retaliation, or stage false flag attacks on our own. They no longer care for the cause, as much as they claim otherwise, and only want war. As you said, it is a war we cannot win. Part of the reason the Great War went so well was because we were integrated into every kingdom. Our armies took half the military equipment, so we were on par with our enemies. That won't be the case here. Atlas will have airships, tanks and artillery and we shall have fishing trawlers, smuggled guns and bodies."
The plan to segregate faunus on Menagerie had done more than just distance them from the kingdoms – it had worked to weaken them. Jaune hadn't thought about it in the way Kali said, but she made a good point. Before Menagerie, the faunus must have lived in the kingdoms themselves, serving in the armies as well as other roles. Because about half the population was faunus, they'd taken half the equipment, but by expelling the rowdy ones to Menagerie, kingdoms like Atlas had essentially cleaned house.
It was annoying to think that now it would be their own people sabotaging their efforts but such was life. They believed they were in the right and wouldn't accept anyone else's point of view no matter how hard he tried. He still would, because he didn't want to emulate Atlas and push them away; that would just make them make another violent terrorist cell and drag the White Fang down with them.
"Can we get them arrested?"
"Not unless they break the law." Kali said. "Which, of course, they might be willing to do. Should they attack you or seek to harm anyone else, it might neatly solve the problem."
Jaune turned to Sienna. "Do you think they will?"
"They'll gather support first and act second." said Sienna. "But that might not be a bad thing. Better we catch all the extremists in one fell swoop and be rid of them than risk one undermining us later at a critical junction."
"You're talking about a civil war." Kali pointed out. "Not quite the peace I hoped for."
"Think of it more as cleaning shop. I don't think it'll turn to all-out war anyway." It was more likely they would try and assassinate him and Sienna, which was no less problematic but at least less destructive. "How likely are they to pull a coup off successfully?" he asked Sienna.
"Not at all." was her answer. "They talk a good fight but this is Menagerie. There are no humans to fight here and haven't been for years. They're old veterans who haven't seen combat for years and still think they're hot shit. They'd fold under a proper Atlas assault. Yuma, Trifa and Ilia have more experience than any of them. They might try and have Kali killed and blame that on us though."
"I will ensure my own protection." Kali said. "I trust those loyal to me."
"The White Fang will be working with you regardless." Jaune promised her. "The Albain brothers are ready to provide intelligence and they have spies in most of the camps. We won't move against the purists but we'll give them just enough rope to hang themselves with and move on from there."
"That's quite the decisive approach."
"We don't really have time to waste with these people," Jaune admitted. He looked to Sienna and said, "Not with all the work we need to do to make sure the work we accomplished in Vale is repeated in the other kingdoms. It's going to be bad enough fighting old habits without having to fight old faunus."
"The world will change." Sienna agreed. "Even if we have to drag it kicking and screaming."
One last plot for the last roots of resistance among their own organisation.
Next Chapter: 23rd August
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