Here we go. Rough day today at work but managed to get most of this written yesterday.

Cover Art: Curbizzle

Chapter 57

The Grimm were attacking a city or town, one without giant walls like Vale, and with a vast stretch of arid scrubland before it. Jaune stood amidst fallen Grimm with Crocea Mors in hand. Not far away, a woman blurred forward, a whip slicing down to nick and cut into a Beowolf, biting into its flesh while the wire wrapped around its leg. Electricity arched down the metal whip to burn it to death.

On his other side, a large and muscular man brought both hands down on the neck of another Beowolf, shattering its spine with incredible force before picking up its body and hurling it at a group of others.

Gunfire from behind them assisted in the effort, cutting through the gaps between them as a militia of sorts aided the huntsmen as best they could.

Except that they were not huntsmen.

Jaune realised it when the woman with the whip turned his way and a bone-white mask with red accents was revealed. White Fang. They all were. White Fang ahead, White Fang around him, and, further back, White Fang poised behind sandbags shooting at the oncoming horde.

"There!" shouted the woman, pointing at Jaune. Or through him. "A pocket has broken through! Stop them!"

"I'm on it!" a man snarled from behind.

A figure blurred backwards in a flash of black and red, chasing after an Ursa rampaging behind them toward the firing line. Screams rose up, matching the man's as he lunged at the Grimm and slashed down its back with a long, red sword. It cut through the Ursa's flesh with ease, forcing it to turn to him, where a second upward slash tore its head from its shoulders.

Not fast enough, though.

"Shit!" Adam cursed, pushing past the decomposing Grimm to check on the terrorist who had taken the brunt of the assault. "No, no, no. Can you hear me?" He knelt. "You're fine. You're going to be fine."

"I... I..." The faunus choked up blood. "I have a wife... a child..."

Adam trembled and clasped the man's hand. "What should I tell them?"

"I... I love..."

A rasp escaped him and he lay still, eyes rolling back as he slumped on the dusty ground. Adam trembled and reached down first to remove the mask, then to slide his hand over the man's face and close his eyes. When he stood, Jaune was there, his sword pointed at Adam's back. The man turned, noticed, and reached for his own weapon.

"What's the meaning of this?" Adam hissed. "We don't have time for your nonsense! Kuo Kuana needs us to..." His mask focused on Jaune fully. Adam's mouth opened in shock, then curled into an annoyed sneer. He sheathed his weapon and looked around. "None of this is real, is it? Just another nightmare."

Jaune kept Crocea Mors on him. "You know, then."

"Cinder warned us, of course, she had to. You may kill me if you wish, there's little I can do to stop you here. Don't bother interrogating me. I'll give nothing up and everyone in my camp is aware of you. If any of us die in our sleep, orders are to abandon the camp and move on."

The White Fang had specific counterplans for him. That ought to have been a compliment, even humbling, but it was instead more than a little worrying. Because if they had plans for how to not be harmed by him, then they almost certainly had considered the benefit to killing him entirely, of assassinating him in the middle of Beacon so he couldn't become a problem.

"You're awfully calm for someone in your position," Jaune said, buying time.

Snorting, Adam reached up and removed his mask, revealing the brutal brand across his left eye. Much of the text was too small, but the "SDC" was more than visible. Jaune didn't believe for a second Weiss knew, or that she'd be anything less than horrified if she did. He doubted even Jacques Schnee knew. This kind of monstrous behaviour wasn't something he'd bother with. He was too important to have a personal hand in abusing faunus, so this was likely some racist monster who'd worked their way up the SDC corporate ladder, and who was using their power to hide such crimes.

It didn't make it any better.

"Do you know how many times the average person blinks in a day?"

The question threw Jaune for a loop. "Uh. No."

"It's between 15,000 and 19,000 times a day. Every time I blink, I feel my warped eyelid scrape painfully across my burned retina. It's agonising. Others might be able to forget and move on from their ordeals, but I'm reminded of it almost 20,000 times a day." Adam snorted. "It makes forgive and forget more than a little difficult. I died the first time when they did this to me. And I died a second time when Blake looked at me as though I were a monster." He cocked his head toward Jaune's sword. "Do you really think I'm afraid of death?"


He wasn't. That was abundantly clear.

"Aren't you afraid of the loss to your cause?"

"My cause? The White Fang or petty revenge? The former will live on whether I live or die. I'm a useful tool, but hardly necessary. As for my revenge, well, I won't be alive to care about it, will I? Besides, it's not like the SDC hasn't made enough enemies. If not me, then someone else. The Schnee family will pay for its crimes eventually."

Jaune snapped out, "They're not all guilty of them!"

"Oh, of course." Adam rolled his eyes. It must have hurt. "You're no doubt infatuated with the one in your year. Weiss Schnee, isn't it? Pop idol, huntress, different from the rest." He snorted once more. "Yes, I'm sure she's so very different from the rest of her ilk. Tell me, how many times has she used her advantageous upbringing to help faunus? How many times has she stood on her stage in front of millions and asked for greater understanding?"

None. He knew that because she'd been against the White Fang and faunus before, and that it caused the rift between her and Blake.

"Weiss hasn't done anything wrong..."

"Perhaps not, but she's benefitted from the slavery and brutal treatment of my species, hasn't she? And has she ever apologised?"


"To whom? Blake? Then fine, let Blake forgive her. Has she apologised to me, to others?" The silence said it all. "Of course she hasn't. You talk of her being a good person but you forget one key factor. Good is not the absence of evil, but the presence of good. What good has she done to counteract the evil that bought her fame and riches?"

Jaune thought. "She's become a huntress."

Adam had an answer. "Nothing is set in stone yet. The Schnee has come to Beacon to learn to be a huntress but there's no telling how that will end. For all you know she may return to run her business after, and the title of huntress will simply be another feather in her cap. Did you know her mother is also a huntress?" He hadn't. "You wouldn't think it, seeing as how she has never fought in defence of anyone since graduating, and simply returned to Atlas to swan around and enjoy her wealth."

He wanted to say Weiss wouldn't do that, and yet he'd heard her say so many times that she was going to take over the business. She always said she'd change things for the better, and he trusted that she would try, but running a business wouldn't be possible while she was out being a huntress.

"Weiss is going to fix things for the better."

"I'll praise her as a saint if she does," said Adam. "But, until then, we faunus have heard too many empty promises from the Schnee. And there's no telling whether that will see any success. Will she personally visit every mine in her business? Will she monitor them all for abuses such as befell me? Will those responsible be held accountable, or will they be given a golden retirement package and asked to leave, their crimes swept under the rug to protect the SDC's brand image? Even if she wants to make things better, she won't have the power to change how the world works – and she will answer to a Board of Directors. She may find herself powerless in the end."

Jaune's teeth clenched tight.

"This is pointless anyway," said Adam. "Kill me or do not kill me. The choice is binary, and my reasons for what I am shouldn't matter. I'm your enemy, and I won't hesitate to kill you if I find you in the waking world. Or..." Adam tilted his head. "Is it that you've never killed a person before?"


"It's not so hard. You can even be creative. Rob me of oxygen, strap me to an electric chair, stop my heart with a thought. You can do it without the blood and gore if you want – and best practice now so you don't hesitate with Cinder, hmmm?"

"Are you... Are you goading me to do it?"

"I'd rather you get on with it, whatever you decide. Having you invade my life like this isn't pleasant."

"Afraid I'll see something you don't want me to?"

"Like what? Our old plans to attack Beacon during the Vytal Festival? You already know those. The fact I loved and worked with Blake? Known." Adam crossed his arms. "Though perhaps you'd like to see things about her. I'm afraid that, monster as I am, I'm not willing to abuse the trust she once placed in me by letting you see us make love."

"I don't need to see that!" Jaune snapped. "And don't involve Blake in this."

Adam smiled oddly. "Why...? Do you think she's innocent...?"

Jaune bit his lip. "I know she's not entirely innocent but she isn't like you."

"Really? Really now? That's amusing. You have control here but I wonder if I can show you things if I try hard enough?" He closed his eyes, strained, but the landscape outside of Menagerie didn't change. "I suppose not." He looked around. "I remember this moment. The Grimm are an ever present threat to Kuo Kuana – that's the name of Menagerie's capital, if you weren't aware. The White Fang has always been the first line of defence."

"Why not huntsmen?"

"I'd ask if you're stupid but I suppose you're just indoctrinated." Adam sighed. "The four great kingdoms house four academies. Beacon, Atlas, Haven and Shade. Each academy trains huntsmen that are supposed to defend humanity against the Grimm. However, each academy also acts as something of a mission control for huntsmen in the region. Leonardo Lionheart of Haven, for instance, helps coordinate huntsmen and huntresses in Mistral to where they are needed most. General Ironwood does the same in Atlas."

Jaune could see where this was going. Naturally, the academies would focus on the defence of their own land. In Ironwood's case, it might be because it was his dusty as a soldier to protect his people. In Ozpin's case, it might just be realistic convenience. Huntsmen couldn't quickly cross the channel to Mistral, and there were always enough problems that they'd be kept busy on their home turf.

It wasn't design that would see Menagerie abandoned, except maybe in Atlas, but geography and distance and, perhaps, a small bit of politics. The city was more important than far out towns and villages, and those villages would be more important than a foreign nation.

"Menagerie has a few faunus huntsmen who have retired or taken pity on us, but no academy." Adam continued. "We do the best we can but it's the courage of the average man and woman which holds the Grimm back. We may be terrorists in your eyes, but we became such to protect innocent faunus. Do you really think we'll abandon civilians to the Grimm?"

"No. I suppose you wouldn't."

"Blake fought with us in this as well," he said. "Though I always offered to deliver the news of the fallen in her place. Blake's heart was too big and it would break each time, so I spared her the pain." He glanced down at the body still laid there. "His daughter didn't take this one well. Little wonder this moment would be what haunts my sleep."

"I'd have expected your branding," said Jaune. "Or the moment Blake left you."

Adam chuckled. "The branding was long ago and I accept it as a part of me. As for Blake, you wouldn't be wrong, but I never blamed her for leaving the White Fang. If she believes so, then that's a mistake on her part. What I blame her for is leaving without talking to me, for judging me."

"Isn't that the same thing?"

Adam sighed and looked up toward the sky. "Are we really doing this? You're hardly one for me to confide in, Arc. Kill me or wake me up but spare me the `bro moment`. We're really not that close."

Jaune lowered his weapon. "Is it really so bad to want to understand you?"

"Hngh. Fine. Change this setting, then. You're the one in control. Imagine Atlas, at night, at an SDC mining compound in the wilderness."

"I've never known such a place."

"But I have and this is my subconscious you're invading. I'm sure you can draw from it if you try."

It was an interesting idea, and he wasn't going to get many other chances to practice on someone. With a little aura, Jaune thought of the words. He couldn't picture a place he'd never been to, so he pictured the idea of a Schnee mining camp instead and pushed that concept out into the dream.

To his surprise, the world shifted.

It was late at night and a chained fence lay down a hill, in a sunken quarry-like recess in the ground. Spotlights shone out from towers and the place was fully lit up, no doubt to catch any faunus out late at night. Even from half a kilometre away, Jaune could see the bunker-like buildings and the machinery.

"This is the place," Adam said. "Follow me. We will be preparing for our attack."

Curious, Jaune did as the man asked and walked with him through the trees. Adam couldn't hurt him here, and Jaune could kill him with ease. He kept his aura up just in case, but Adam would be a fool to push him. Murder might be beyond him, but he could absolutely kill Adam in self-defence. At least he was sure he could, if he had to. Soon, they entered a clearing, where a small campfire was surrounded by over a hundred masked faunus.

And, at the centre, Blake stood upon a raised box.

Wearing a mask and a black coat like Adam's.

"This is our moment!" she said, voice loud and filled with passion. "Down there, our brothers and sisters are beaten and starved, used for cheap labour in awful conditions. This camp has an accident rate five times the average, and they've lost entire mine shafts with miners trapped inside. Such crimes are swept under the rug, written off as simple tragedies for the people back in Atlas to shrug at, but we shall make the world see what goes on here!"

"I know you're nervous, but keep in mind they will be far worse!" she continued. "They aren't expecting us and they'll be scrambling for their weapons. Strike hard, strike fast, and we'll overrun them before they have a chance to fight back!"

"Hahhh!" shouted the group.

"Don't forget they're our enemies! They'll be trying to kill you so don't hesitate!" Blake raised Gambol Shroud. "They're less than human! Monsters! No better than the Grimm! Show them what we're made of and we'll make an example of these people." Blake snarled beneath her mask and spoke the dreaded words. "No prisoners!"

Jaune stared at her in absolute shock.

"To be fair," Adam said, interrupting as Blake and the faunus rushed off to begin the attack. "This was her first real brush with death. After, she was shaken by the bloodshed and needed me to comfort her. It's easy to call for the death of people when they're faceless enemies."

It surprised him Adam was defending her. "Why show me this?"

"You wanted to understand, didn't you?" Adam walked close to the campfire, imagining he could feel the heat. "This was the first moment I knew Blake's conviction wasn't as strong as she believed it to be. I never faulted her for that. Blake thought she could do this, and she tried, and that's more respectable than refusing to try at all. Had she come to me and asked to leave the White Fang, I'd have accepted it."

"What did she do?"

"She asked to step down and let me lead, that she would fight but not command. I allowed it, of course. Blake and I were partners, lovers, and we did everything together. It was easier for a while and, of course, I did my best to spare her being involved in things I knew she wouldn't like."

"That's... surprisingly understanding of you..."

"It isn't. You're just underestimating what goes into terrorism. We still have to manage our people. Leadership to us involves the same things it does for you with your team, including knowing who is and who isn't comfortable with particular jobs."

He supposed so. Adam was a leader in the White Fang, and leadership itself wasn't going to change much. Same jobs, same difficulties, same responsibilities. Come to think of it, there must have been a lot more to the White Fang than just the fighting.

Logistics, supply, intelligence, recruitment, even human – or faunus – resources. It wasn't like every single member was going to be frontline. They'd have their doctors and their admin and their members who never saw combat, so it wasn't too hard to imagine Blake being given a lot of that work.

"After this, Blake's greatest efforts were in recruitment," he said. "She had a way with people I lacked. I'm good at firing angry people up, but that's not always helpful. Blake inherited her father's skill for reaching out to their hearts." Adam chuckled. "You wouldn't believe how many young people are in the White Fang even now because of her, or how many people she drew to us with her passion and promises, only to abandon later. Some of them still wonder why she betrayed them. I know of one young woman in particular who idolised Blake, and only joined because Blake convinced her to. Blake didn't bother to reach out and tell Ilia she was leaving, or to convince her to do the same. Instead, Blake selfishly left on her own, leaving every person she held some responsibility over for me to deal with."

"That's not... You can't lay all of that on her."

"Maybe not. It's been difficult but I hardly hate her for it." Adam uncrossed his arms and faced Jaune head on. "But what I do fault her on is the hypocrisy. The way she looked at me on the train, as if I were the only monster there, ignoring all the bloodshed she has caused. Directly here, but indirectly though the people she convinced to join us. And really, to act as if I wouldn't even listen to her point of view. We were on a mission, and Blake knew there would be people on that train, and yet she acted as though there was time to sit down and discuss the morality of it. That conversation should have happened before the mission began, and yet she held back to the last possible second."

"You still made the wrong one."

"I had no time!" Adam spat. "Had she brought it up before, the plan could have been adapted or we could have called the whole damn thing off, but she waits until the last second? She damn well knew we were bringing bombs on that train."

"Maybe she didn't trust you."

"Maybe she didn't," he admitted. "But that's her problem, isn't it? Blake and I joined at the same time, together, and I shouldered the burden of being the monster because she couldn't stomach it. Blake asked me to do that, so, in a sense, she has a hand in having made me what I am today. The least she could have done was talk to me beforehand and ask me to stop. Instead, she decided she was too good for me, that I was the monster and she the victim, never mind the blood on her hands, and that she deserves redemption where I do not."

Jaune bit the inside of his cheek. He wanted to defend Blake, and there was a lot to defend. Blake genuinely felt bad and she was always trying to atone in her own way, and yet...

Adam didn't feel needlessly evil either.

No one ever really was.

They were all people at the end of the day, with their various flaws and issues and backgrounds and mistakes. Adam had undoubtedly made many, and Jaune wasn't naïve enough to think the man wasn't cherry picking his information here. Of course Adam was going to make himself feel the victim. But, by that same logic, Jaune had only ever heard it from Blake's side before, and of course she was going to make herself feel the victim as well.

It was just how people were. They felt things more keenly around themselves.

"Isn't there a way to stop this?" asked Jaune. "You and Blake could reconnect, maybe not as lovers but—"

Adam shook his head. "I have blood on my hands and, unlike her, I am prepared to accept that. I've led people, Arc, and they have died on my word. Brave men and women gave their lives, entrusting to me their final wishes to bring the world to justice for its crimes against us. I believe they watch over me even now, and I won't spit on their sacrifices by changing sides now." He smiled. "Even if I wanted to, even if I were to regret everything, even if I were to realise how much a monster I am... I won't betray them. I knelt by their sides as they died, took their last wishes, delivered them to their families, bore the brunt of their anger. I carry with my every member of the White Fang who has died on this crusade, and I will go to them with my head held high, telling them I fought to the last. No matter what end that may be."

"Your death, Adam."

He inclined his head. "Most likely. But Blake will die as well, eventually, be it nor or of old age. And what will she face when she does? What will she say when the faces of those she convinced to join the White Fang line up against her and ask why she tricked them into a cause that cost their life, all so she could run away and play the hero? What will she say, Arc? That she's sorry? That she didn't mean to? That it was their own faults for believing her in the first place? That she realised they were all in the wrong but saved her own skin instead of thinking about them?"

Any of them. All of them. Jaune felt dizzy. There were faunus who had died because of Blake recruiting them, and there were more that were still alive. Did Blake remember them? Think of them? He wanted to say yes, because she was always lost in her own head and always so wracked with guilt. Some of that, surely was over those people that she'd misled. But all the pain in the world wouldn't make it up to the dead, nor to the families of those who had died because of what she did.

Sometimes, there were no good answers.

None at all.

Blake had chosen to accept her mistakes and try to fix them, and, in doing so, had left many people behind. Adam accepted he may have made mistakes but refused to abandon those he held responsibility for, and so he would knowingly make more mistakes out of loyalty to the fallen.

Both felt wrong.

Both felt right.

Blake was doing the right thing. Adam was doing the wrong thing.

Blake had abandoned her friends to die. Adam would stand by them to the end.

Blake was a hypocrite. Adam was a monster.

In truth, both probably deserved jail, but with differing sentences. Less for Blake, due to her contrition and good behaviour, and more for Adam because he was unrepentant. Instead, Blake would go free and was allowed to become a huntress while Adam was going to die, if not to him here tonight then potentially to Blake in the future.

And he got the feeling Adam didn't care about that.

"So," Adam said, as the carnage sounded below. As Blake led the White Fang group in massacring SDC security teams. "Are you going to kill me here and now, Arc? You'd be sparing Blake the pain of having to do so. It won't change anything, of course. I have a second in command and my death has contingencies. However, it'd remove me as a threat in an eventual attack on Beacon. I am very strong. It would be wise to kill me here where I can't fight back."

Jaune shook his head. "I can't."

Adam sighed. "That's a mistake on your part. You have a responsibility to your team, any of which I might end up fighting against. Are you sure you won't regret this decision down the line?"

"I might... but I can't..."

"Hm. You're like Blake, then. All talk, all wishes, no action." Adam sounded tired. He set his mask back on over his face, over his scar. "I detest your sort in truth, the faunus like Ghira and Kali who wish for a better world and hope that humanity will give it to them if they're good enough, or if they protest enough, or if they just try hard enough. Leading means making difficult decisions. That's something for you to remember as well, Arc. The correct decision here is to kill me and shoulder the guilt so that your teammates don't have to."

"That's the decision you made with Blake and it backfired on you, Adam."

"True, but the alternative was to force Blake to further dirty her hands, and to destroy her, to turn her into another me." Adam paused, half turned away. "Do you think that is what I should have done to her?"


There'd been no right answer.

Only two crummy ones.

"Farewell, Arc."

Adam turned his back, allowing Jaune an easy chance to kill him if he could but muster the courage. Adam was right here. He should kill him. It would haunt him, true, but it would save lives. A huntsman should be prepared to take on scars to protect the innocent. This would be just another scar, on the soul instead of the body, but one taken to protect the innocent.

And yet Jaune couldn't move.

"Let us hope this decision does not come back to haunt you."

No, this isn't an "Adam apology". It's a "everyone is the hero to the people around them" sort of deal. Adam is a monster in Blake's eyes but a hero to those who fight beside him.

Next Chapter: 20th June

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