Eternal Crown has now been updated at roughly the same time as this. Basically, lost all internet yesterday at home, and I live in the middle of the countryside so even mobile coverage is poor. Had to wait for it to be fixed today and upload along with this chapter. It should be updated now or within the next 15 mins as per the site's servers.
Cover Art: Kirire
Jaune's sisters were among the wounded.
Blake didn't know if she should feel relieved or horrified about that. Not that she wanted them dead, as much as she hated them, but it would have been convenient if they could have been nowhere near the attack at all. On a flight back to Argus where they'd hear about a horrible terrorist attack in Vale and thank their lucky stars they hadn't been caught in it. Though the most ideal situation would have been for this to not happen in the first place, obviously.
Those damned fools...
In hindsight it had been a bad idea to just leave them be and assume the matter was dealt with, but neither of them had thought the anomalies could hit an airport. That was where security was naturally highest, and their anomalous bodies and forms should have made them stick out like sore thumbs. Mikael couldn't have slipped in there without people screaming and pointing, and she'd assumed the others were the same. As cruel as it sounded, those anomalies who looked close enough to human to pass as one probably weren't the downtrodden variety seeking to rebel against the established order. Those lucky anomalies were happy to just live here by the rules because they got the most out of Jaune's deal.
So, how had they smuggled bombs into an airport?
Human sympathisers? That was about all she could think of. They'd be digging into it, of course. Jaune was in an emergency call with his father right now, but the second that was over they were going to be looking into this. Blake just hoped it would be without the rest of ARC Corp coming on down to join in. The door clicked open and Jaune stepped out.
"Well?" she asked.
"The Director believes our claims that they may have been unintentional victims of a different attack."
Blake sagged. "Really?"
"In all fairness, there shouldn't be anyone left to hate us. The Schnee are gone, the SDC is under control, and there aren't – to his understanding – any anomalous groups around. It's much more reasonable to assume this is a White Fang plot to destabilise the government here, and the fact we recently fought with the White Fang only makes that more likely."
For once, Adam had worked in her favour. ARC Corp as a whole obviously knew of their little fight because Amber and Jaune had to report it, and she supposed that did make the idea of a follow-up attack more realistic. They might even suspect the White Fang wanted to get revenge on Jaune and Amber for what happened to Adam, hence the attack on them as they entered the airport.
"The real problem is going to be whether Amber or Saphron remember anything when they wake up," he said. "We don't know if the anomalies were seen or, worse, if they shouted anything before they did it. Or if this was a direct attack at all. They might have planted bombs in secrets which, and this sounds bad, would be best for us."
"Yeah. Hopefully they just went off and there weren't any anomalies there. Where are they being kept? Do we need to guard them?"
"They're already being prepped to be moved to a medical facility in Atlas by private flight." They'd be out of the city, then. That was a relief. "But that doesn't mean this is over. Whatever their reasoning, whatever their motives, they've crossed the line. Have..." He hesitated. "Have I been unfair...?"
It was a simple question.
Yet Blake knew it was heavier than it seemed.
These anomalies had done something unforgivable, and they would need to face consequences for it. Jaune wasn't asking about fairness in terms of assuaging his own guilt or asking for her to compliment him. He was asking her whether he'd given enough chances, and whether she felt those responsible should be held accountable for the full brunt of their actions. Their fates were very much in her hands.
It would be so easy to lie.
"I think you've done the best you could be expected to," she said, carefully. "You gave them the best life you could, and you set out the rules. Were they fair? Probably not, but there isn't much you could have done to make them any better. They were for their protection just as much as they were your own. And a whole host of anomalies have proven themselves more than able to abide by them." Blake licked her lips. "So, yes. I think you've been fair."
"Good." Jaune opened a cupboard, revealed a safe and typed in a quick number. He withdrew a sleek, black handgun in a holster, and strapped it over his shirt, with the grip under his left armpit. Blake sighed, and Jaune heard it. "I can go alone if you like," he offered.
"I'm coming with you."
It was only fair.
Alistair's bar was busy when they arrived. Tables were full, anomalies were chatting, and the bar had several people in front of it.
That all stopped when Jaune and Blake walked inside.
A pall fell over the entire room.
Everyone had seen the news.
Everyone knew what this was about.
Alistair picked up a remote and muted the television over the bar, then set the remote down and stepped back nervously. No one dared move, and as the silence stretched on, Jaune's even breathing was the only thing that could be heard. But he didn't speak. He let the silence build, until people were afraid to move for making sound, and until the bar was like a classroom. Then, Jaune took another step, and his heel clicked audibly on the floor. He walked into the centre of the bar, with Blake remaining by the door. Blocking off the only exit. No one misunderstood that.
"An unprecedented attack has struck our city." Jaune's voice echoed. "A terrorist attack on Vale's airport which not only killed numerous innocent people, but which badly wounded two directors of ARC Corp."
Eyes, stalks, and other things that served as optical inputs for various creatures angled downwards.
"We have reason to believe this was a targeted attack," Jaune continued. "And that it was perpetrated by members of the anomalous community. A community, I will remind you, that should not exist at all. Because I should have hunted down and eradicated every single one of you. That is what would happen if any other member of ARC Corp were here other than me."
"But I have done my best to be fair to you all. I have done my best to help you, to preserve you, and I have lied to my family about your existence. I fund this bar," he added. "I keep this place running. I give you what I can, and I obviously wish I could give you more, but I can't. By all rights, all I should give any of you is a quick death, but I thought we could work together. I thought that over the course of my life, I might be able to hold you all up as proof that anomalies can be trusted, and that they can be reasoned with. I hoped you'd all become the reason why ARC Corp could change for the better." Jaune sighed heavily and shook his head. "But what has happened tonight has made that all but impossible."
"Like shit was ever going to change!"
There was bound to be one. Blake wasn't surprised. Jaune wasn't, either. He turned to the lizard-like creature. He was humanoid, but had skin covered in scales, which might have made him look like a faunus except for the fact he not only had a tail, but also webbed hands. Too many animal features to be a faunus. His eyes were oddly shaped as well. Jaune tilted his head, silently encouraging the anomaly to say his piece.
"You talk about acceptance and peace but all you ever do is threaten!" spat the creature. Those around him swiftly scraped their chairs away, not wanting to be close. He didn't seem to notice. "Stay hidden, don't cause trouble, better this than the alternative. Bah! You just want to keep us locked down in a prison of your making! I'm glad they took out your fucking sisters. Soon, your whole family will be—"
Jaune drew, aimed, squeezed and fired in one uninterrupted motion.
It was, Blake was forced to admit, a very practiced one. Jaune didn't have aura, but he did have a lot of training, and anomalies also couldn't have aura because two anomalies couldn't work on the same being. That meant every single person here was uniquely susceptible to small arms fire.
The bullet tore through the creature's head and sent him smacking back off his chair onto the ground, dead as a doornail.
Before anyone could move, Jaune spoke. "Blake. Kill anyone who tries to leave."
Blake drew Gambol Shroud. "Yes, Director."
Wisely, no one tested her. They stayed seated, though a whole lot tenser than they had been before.
"This was not what I wanted to have to do," said Jaune, still holding the smoking gun out. "I was quite happy with the peaceful coexistence we had worked out, and I was especially pleased with the fact it could survive while my sister was here. I was proud of what I felt we had accomplished, but I see now that there are those who would rather destroy it and try to create something new. This is what will happen to those people. I will kill them."
His voice was cold.
"I will hunt them down, and I will kill them as I am supposed to. And anyone who aids them will similarly be hunted down and killed. And if you should fight back and somehow manage to kill me, well, congratulations. Nicholas Arc will come and slaughter each and every one of you, whether you were innocent or no—"
Jaune's head jerked aside as a gun cracked. His arm moved, his body ducking low.
Another anomaly hit the floor, losing their own ramshackle handgun.
It skidded to the foot of another anomaly, who pointedly and slowly nudged it away with his foot, wanting nothing to do with it.
"Anyone else?" asked Jaune.
There was no one.
"Good. Here is how things are going to work. The Containments Office is going to hunt down and kill everyone involved in this little extremist group." He managed to sound unbothered by it, but Blake knew it upset him. The same as it did her. "Your options if you are in, or know someone in this group, are to leave Vale in exile and never return. Or die. That's obviously an option. But to everyone else here, even if you're innocent of all crimes, you're also going to be held responsible for reporting any and every instance of activity from these terrorists."
"S—Sir," stammered an anomaly that was half stone, half metal, and about three-feet tall. Its voice was like rocks falling onto a metal sheet. Clangy and loud. "W—With all due respect, sir, most of us haven't done anything wrong."
"I understand that. I do." Jaune didn't point the gun at the frightened thing. "But that won't matter if the rest of ARC Corp learns about this and hunts everyone down. We'll die, too. Blake and I. This group may have promised the world, but their only real plan is to expose the anomalous parts of it and demand a reaction from ARC Corp. They're angry, bitter, and they want everyone to die. They may claim otherwise, but that's the only result that will exist. I'd like for us to keep living in peace. I know the life I've given you isn't ideal, but I don't profit from it. I lose out from looking after you all. It's extra stress and extra work, and the nanosecond my family finds out, they'll execute me in the most gruesome way they can think of."
"He called this a prison," he said, pointing to the first dead anomaly. "And he wasn't wrong. In a sense, I am a prison warden. Sure, it's a prison without walls and where you have the freedom to go and live your lives however you wish, but it's still a prison of a sort. I wish it could be otherwise, but I think most of you understand why it can't be. We're all making the most out of the shitty hands we were given, but that isn't enough for some of you. You want more. That's understandable. Really, it is. But my response to you is this. If you want more, go and try to win it outside of Vale."
There was stunned silence.
"Seriously," said Jaune, raising his hands up. "I don't even care if you wage war on ARC Corp. I really don't. Go take a crack at Mistral, Atlas or Vacuo. Go wage war on my father. Fight for your rights. Do what you like. But do it elsewhere. Don't do it here in the one place that innocent and peaceful anomalies are trying to make a home for themselves. Don't drag them into your shit. I trust my words will make it back to the people involved, since I know some of you here tonight will be friends with them." Several anomalies shifted. They weren't guilty themselves, but this was a community who all knew one another by necessity. "Make sure they are told. I will give them 24 hours to leave the city and take their war where it won't harm more innocents. Anyone who stays longer than that will be considered an active target. Anyone who makes a move on my office will be considered a combatant."
Jaune holstered his gun, withdrew his wallet, and tossed a wad of lien at Alistair.
"To clean up the body, and to buy everyone a drink." He turned his back on the stunned audience, and yet not a one of them dared make an aggressive move toward him. "They look like they could all use a stiff one."
Jaune walked to the door, which Blake held open for him, and then out. She stood, stared deep and hard at everyone within to remind them there were two people, and that she could be even more dangerous than him, and then she left as well.
Outside, Jaune kept his head high and continued walking. Blake did the same beside him, the two marching away in silence until they were well and truly out of range.
Only then did Jaune let his shoulders sag.
His head fell into his hands.
"You did the best you could," she told him. "You were reasonable. Fair."
"I terrified them. I've spent years trying to open up peaceful relations and now this." He wasn't crying, but his voice was hoarse. He was shaking, too. "All that effort, all that hope, down the drain in one motion."
Was this how her parents had felt when the White Fang turned violent?
Blake didn't want to know.
"It's not your fault, Jaune. You did your best. There will always be some bad eggs. Threatening them will spread the message faster. It's cruel, but sometimes you need to be cruel to spare more people. They'll understand that."
"But they'll never forget this."
Jaune had done his best to be the affable and friendly warden in this open-air, no-wall prison, and while it had worked for years, one prison gang gad gone and ruined it and forced him to become the bastard. Now, the rest would forever remember that, and things would never be the same no matter how friendly he tried to be.
But it had to be done.
"Let's go home," said Blake, placing a hand on his back. "You need sleep."
They didn't come under attack during the night despite their warning to the extremist anomalies. It would have taken time for that message to reach them, and then they'd be arguing over it. Some of them would probably take Jaune's offer and leave the city, while others would be cowed into compliance and stop what they were doing.
Only some, though.
Most would probably stay. They'd gotten this far and gotten this deep, and Blake wouldn't have been – and hadn't been – scared out of the White Fang whenever Atlas tried something similar. Threats on your freedom and your life only extended so far. For some anomalies that simply had no hope of ever living peacefully thanks to their physiology, they might as well fight and die. Or so they'd tell themselves. And the others would whip them into a frenzy. A group like this, ruled by passion and anger, would only be as smart as its dumbest member.
Coda called after she had woken up to give what limited information she could. It wasn't much, but she'd managed to hack some messenger services of members of the group. They weren't officially using anything since they knew of Coda, but you could always trust a few members to ignore the rules and chat openly between themselves. It had been the same with the White Fang, and she imagined even Atlas' own military had similar problems.
You could tell your people to keep something quiet, but there'd always be at least one idiot who wanted to boast about it to a friend online. Coda had found the few people still doing just that, and it was clear Jaune's warning had them worried. It was all they were talking about, with genuine doubts over the group's ability to fight back.
Sadly, no mentions of a leader or organisational structure.
But they had many sources now.
Jaune's office-mounted phone wouldn't stop going off, and neither would his scroll. Blake had to help him take calls from anomalies ratting one another out. The methodology may have been cruel, but it was hard to argue with effectiveness because they were each building up pages of names and suspected locations of sympathising anomalies. All from those who wanted to live peacefully. Traitors and cowards, Blake would have called them while she was still in the White Fang, but nowadays she realised they were just law-abiding citizens who didn't want to be dragged into conflict by the people hiding amongst them.
"—free to leave the city. You won't be stopped." Jaune was dealing with a soon-to-be former member of the group that wanted out. "—as long as you realise you won't be welcome back. Where? You can try your luck anywhere, just remember that causing problems will bring ARC Corp down on you."
Blake clued back into her own call when the female anomaly asked a question. "Yes, I have all that. Thank you for letting us know and I can assure you we won't be coming after you or any law-abiding anomalies. Thank you for your help keeping everyone safe. You did the right thing bringing this to our attention."
Blake hung up and jotted down the fresh notes.
Another suspect, another location, another anomaly to check up on. The 24-hour grace period wasn't over yet, so they couldn't – or shouldn't – go out and start threatening right now. It was all but a guarantee they'd have to visit each and every person on these lists, however. It was going to take a whole lot of work.
It's a shame we can't invite Ruby to ease the work, but I don't think asking her to visit and potentially kill anomalies if they get violent would be fair. Or safe. Ruby might be huntress-trained, but she really didn't want that on her head.
Another call came before she could even gather her thoughts.
"ARC Corp here. Thank you for—"
"This is Mikael. Is that Belladonna?"
"It is, yes. How are you doing, Mikael? I haven't seen you since our little spar in Alistair's bar."
Blake waved over to Jaune and then clicked speaker on the desk-phone, letting him listen in. Jaune quickly ended his call and came over, though he kept quiet so the anomaly wouldn't know he was talking to two people.
"Been better. Look, I've received your boss' little warning and I want out. There's no way I can hold up against you. I saw that when you took me down. I'm willing to turn on the resistance and sell them out if I get to stay in Vale. Slate wiped clean."
Jaune scribbled something down on a piece of paper and slid it over to her.
"OBVIOUS TRAP", he'd written. "AGREE ANYWAY."
Her thoughts exactly.
While it was possible Mikael had a change of heart after being beaten by her, she really doubted it. One didn't go from so violent that you'd attack someone in a bar to contrite in a matter of days. It was too drastic a change to be believable, and he could just as easily have given up on his extremism without offering to sell his friends out.
"That's great, Mikael." Blake held her thumb up and nodded. "We're obviously happy to accept that. You made a mistake and you're learning from it. That's good." Over the line, she could almost hear him grinding his teeth together.
"Yeah. Yeah, I made a mistake. I was dumb. But I'm ready to make amends. Put them down for good."
"TRYING TOO HARD", Jaune wrote.
It was obvious.
And yet, was it unreasonable for him to be this unsubtle? Anomalies weren't born and didn't have parents. They were just thrust into existence and forced to cope. Unless Mikael was a human-to-anomaly transformation, which he probably would have said at the time, then he didn't have much social experience. People learned to lie early on when they inevitably lied to their parents as children, and later to their teachers, to their friends, and to people online. Humans lied. That was a real facet of social interaction. And, over the years and with plenty of experience, they learned to get better at it.
Mikael might have only existed for a few years. He could be as young as a year old for all she knew. Just "poofed" into existence twelve months ago and was struggling to learn how to act human. And being taught by the other anomalies in the community. Put like that, it was easy to imagine new and naïve anomalies being snapped up by this group and groomed into hating Jaune and the peaceful arrangement he'd made with the rest. It was like what the White Fang did to indoctrinate impressionable faunus on Menagerie, and it was no different than what Atlas did to drill "patriotism" into its people and have them ready to fight and die for their country.
"I'm here," she said. "I'm just taking notes. You're doing the right thing, Mikael. There are a lot of anomalies who just want to live their lives, and you're helping protect all of them. So, what do you have to tell us?"
"Not over a line. I want to meet in person. There's no telling who's listening."
Of course he did. Blake rolled her eyes along with Jaune.
"That's fine. Where would you like to meet?"
"Somewhere quiet where we won't be seen or heard. I don't want to frighten people with my appearance."
"How very conscientious of you."
"Yeah. That's me. And it needs to be far enough away from the rest that they can't interfere, too. I don't want to be found out by my brothers and sisters for betraying them. They'd hunt me down and kill me."
"Brothers and sisters? Is that what they call you?"
"Yeah. We're a family. Uh. Were a family. I'm not now I'm a traitor, obviously."
"Obviously. Do you have somewhere in mind for us to meet? I agree it should be a quiet place where no one can hear or see us." Jaune was already scribbling something down. Blake leaned over to look. "How about outside the walls?" she read. "That way there's definitely no way anyone in the city would see us."
"No. No, not outside the walls. I want to stay in Vale."
"You could always come to our office."
"No. They would see me going. I know a warehouse that's empty. We can meet there. It's in the industrial quarter, so it'll be quiet late at night."
"Yeah. Best time. Less people to overhear us."
"It sure is." It felt like she was talking to a child in some ways. Subtly encouraging him, having to pretend to be nice, talking slowly. It would make what was to come a lot harder. "Do you have the address?"
"Yeah. I can forward it to you. Just give me your scroll number and I'll message you it. We can meet there tonight. Midnight. I'll come alone, and you two... you two come. I'll not be armed. Promise. I want to get out, and I want to help you put them down for good. Stop them before they make things worse for all the cowards in the city."
Blake pretended she hadn't heard that last bit. "Perfect. I'm going to give you my scroll number now. Take it down and send me the address." Blake listed her number off and waited for him to say he had it. "Thank you for getting in touch, Mikael. We'll put a stop to all this bloodshed with your help."
The call ended with a click. Almost aggressively on his part.
"Well, that was blatant," she said.
"Sounds about right." Jaune was sitting on his new desk. "They don't know how to be subtle. I guarantee this whole scheme is just ripped from the White Fang, and not even because they looked very deeply into it. They'll just have searched online for something like freedom fighters and then mimicked the things they've done."
"Are they really that stupid?"
"Stupidity implies they don't have the capacity to learn. It's more like... they're disadvantaged. They never had access to the education we take for granted. A lot of anomalies can't even read, and why should they be expected to be able to? They've never had anyone to teach them. Alistair and the others do their best."
"I didn't realise we funded him."
"I kept it secret before. A portion of our budget goes his way, and it's not just for running the bar. It helps him and a select group of other anomalies offer education and online courses. How to read, how to fit into society, things like that. Again, not ideal, I know, but it's about all I can do."
It was more than anyone else would do. "Do you think Ozpin knows about this?" she asked.
"Why? You think he's involved?"
"No." Ozpin was too intelligent to be controlling this. "But I can't help but wonder if he'd like this or not. He rebelled against ARC Corp before, and he knows about the community here. It makes me wonder if he'd subtly support it."
Jaune considered that.
"He would probably agree with their ideas, but I don't think he'd support them bombing an airport or hurting people. He's a parasite that isn't human, but he likes to portray himself as such. The wise old man look. That wouldn't hold much water if he was funding terrorism on the side."
"I mean, he all but abandoned you to die before when I went to him for help."
"Oh, he won't shed a tear if we die here. Don't make any mistake there. He would gladly stand by and do nothing if we were bleeding out and asking for help, but he won't go out his way to poke some extra holes in us. And Qrow wouldn't back him if he did. Innocent people died because of this. Beacon will not, and cannot, be support that." Jaune sounded certain. "If anything, I think he'd hope we deal with this quickly. Part of the reason why Ozpin and I aren't at constant war is that for all our dislike of one another, he does support my idea for peaceful coexistence of anomalies and humans. He wouldn't want for anomalies to be discovered as being responsible for this attack any more than I would, because it'd mean ARC Corp has more ammunition to call for their extinction."
"Fair enough." Blake trusted his opinion, and it did make sense. Ozpin didn't like them, but they were on the same page when it came to keeping the anomalous presence in Vale secret from the rest of Jaune's family. "So, springing this obvious trap. I guess I'm going in alone since I have aura and the place is probably either rigged to blow or surrounded by armed anomalies who are going to rush in the second we head in. It'd be stupid for you to enter without aura."
Jaune set his jaw stubbornly.
Blake's eyes narrowed.
"I'm your boss!"
"I am, though—"
Yesterday's internet outage was fun! It was meant to happen on Wednesday, so I was warned, and maybe it did happen then. It was 9-5, and I went to work that day so I don't know if it happened or not. But yesterday's outage was not warned on, so I'm assuming something went wrong. I use satellite internet because I live in a place that doesn't have lines strong enough for fibre. Basically, I get like 0.05mb/s if I use traditional internet, and it cuts out every ten seconds or so. I used to watch RWBY by starting an episode loading in the morning, going to work, and then coming back to find a single episode loaded for me to watch.
Next Chapter: 4th December
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