Yesterday was meant to be a nice, relaxing day off for me aside from one lesson with a student. Alas, woken up at 6am by a call from my mother as her pond has drained and the fish are in a puddle at the bottom. Had to drive over and spend 3+ hours trying to fix the problems with the pumps and filter house. I'm not exactly a handy guy so a lot of that was me with a wrench in one hand and my iphone connected to a youtube channel in the other. At least Kali was happy since she got to spend the day with my mother, who she loves.
Anyway, fast forward to today and it's broken down again. Looks like my fix only slowed the problem down, so I'm back in there today after work. What that means is a delay here, but I'll do what I've had to do a few times this month anyway and write half today, half tomorrow. Better in my opinion than writing a short chapter and an apology.
The better part of half a week passed by without incident. Jaune worked the bar, kept an eye out for huntsmen and even managed to work a lunch date in with Tammy. With his own personal training and his studies into engineering and the topics Ruby had left him with, it was enough to keep busy and under the radar.
It had been almost two weeks now since the fall of the West Vale Collective. The other gangs had managed to keep themselves quiet and avoid detection thus far, and the huntsmen were starting to lean toward the White Fang – who had since claimed responsibility for the attack during the festival. Not that there'd been any doubt about that at the time, but publicly claiming responsibility was apparently a thing terrorists did.
Money was trickling back into the Xiong Clan too. Even if they couldn't afford to be active, the dealers on the streets weren't targets and addicts wouldn't wait for the heat to blow over. The cartel's price fixing was in effect and the four remaining gangs were sticking to it. There had been some chatter and communication between the cartel, but it had been unimportant enough for the twins to handle it. Mostly, that was agreements over sharing of busier areas for dealing – a lot of that in land up for grabs when Bruce and the West Vale Collective went down.
If there was one reason to be pleased for Qrow's interference it was that it kept a war starting up there – kind of important since he and Lisa lived there. Normally when a gang imploded like that, others would rush in to claim the space. That might not be a problem when it was a small gang with only a couple of streets to their name, but the WVC had been large and established, and the people living there were well-off. Neighbouring gangs would have clashed early to claim all the territory they could if they weren't afraid of being the next on the chopping block.
"We really need the White Fang to piss off or get caught," Miltia said. "Then Beacon and Atlas can chill the fuck out and let us get back to business."
Jaune couldn't believe that he agreed with her. This stalemate should have been what he wanted, but it was much more stressful than things had been before. At least they could fight against Kane and the Ravagers. They had no chance here.
"Something has to give." Tony said. "The gangs can't survive like this, but then neither can all those settlements outside the walls that these huntsmen ought to be off protecting."
"It's the White Fang and the festival. It's a recipe for disaster and they all know it. If the White Fang were gone, they wouldn't give a damn about us. As long as we keep our heads down."
"We all know that." Jaune said at the head of the table. He was still the fake, the figurehead, but the twins – particularly Miltia – had been a lot less antagonistic of late. They even listened a little now. "The problem is that the White Fang have the support of Roman and it's not easy rooting them out. We can't go against them either. They're Cinder's."
"That didn't stop you loosing those huntresses on 'em."
"Jaune's got teeth." Melanie said, flashing her own in a wicked smile. "That's how you know he's part of the Xiong Clan. There's a difference between plausible deniability and suicide, though."
"Exactly." Jaune said. "I don't mind acting out here and there if Cinder won't find out, but we can't go all-out against her. She'll kill us."
"Fucking huntresses and huntsmen!" Miltia raged. "Just, like, piss off and leave us normal people alone. Vale was running fine before they all stuck their heads in and now it's a mess!"
He couldn't disagree with her either, as much as he wanted to. The city may have had a rotten underbelly of gangs, extortion and drugs, but at least those groups kept to themselves and didn't actively go out their way to hurt people. It wasn't until people like Cinder, Roman and Qrow started duking it out – all huntsmen – that the city became that much more dangerous. Qrow got a pass because he was on the good side and only came as a reaction to the other two, but still! The point remained. Huntsmen caused problems.
At least here, he thought defensively. They're still heroes who save people from the Grimm. When they're facing Grimm. I still want to be one.
Maybe when he became one, he could try to be a little more understanding of the common people. He could start building bridges between civilian and huntsmen.
That was for the future, however. Dust was now.
"The EDC's shipment will be coming in tonight at 2200 hours." Tony explained. "We're going to be there waiting for it with six lorries. All our paperwork is legit, and we've booked our slot there under a front company, so we won't have to sneak in."
"Why not go as ourselves?" Jaune asked.
"Because there's no good reason people running a club should." Melanie answered.
"She's right." Tony said. "The EDC have done us a favour by smuggling this all in as legitimate goods but that could fall apart at any moment. That's why we're going to collect it straight away. Less chance for a nosey inspection officer to take a peek."
"Alright. Will the EDC be there?"
"A small number of them will be present to make sure the hand-off goes well. I wouldn't expect Bon-Hwa to make an appearance; this is a formality now. They're just going to make sure it's us who collect it and not someone else. Spare both our groups the embarrassment. They'll be posing as transport officials from a front business in Mistral," he added. "They'll be working on the ship and will help us shift the goods onto our vehicles. I have names."
"Once we have the vehicles loaded, the drivers know where to take them," he continued. "Two different warehouses – we're going to split for safety's sake. We'll have cars nearby ready to shadow them once they're on the roads, but there shouldn't be any problems. It'll be late at night, but even the worst of the gangs won't attack in public."
"White Fang might," he said.
"I know. They're the reason we're pulling out all the stops – but!" Tony stressed. "That's another reason we're shifting these goods fast and not waiting until morning. Less chance for those assholes to catch word, and that includes Roman."
"Torchwick's information network was always shit." Miltia said. "It's why he kept on good terms with Hei. He's really nothing more than a show-off huntsman desperate for attention."
That still made him dangerous. Arrogant or not, a huntsman was still a huntsman.
Jaune sat back and tugged his black coat tightly around him. The cabin of the truck he was in had its heaters blown up to max, but that still wasn't enough to ward off the chill at 2230 hours on a weekday night. It was dark out, but the roads were clearly lit, especially when they turned off the main highways and toward the docks, where every crane and tall structure had blinking red lights to ward off aircraft.
There were two huge cargo ships docked that dwarfed several others. Both were still and quiet, though one still had all its cargo containers on the decks, strapped down under rainproof matting. The truck ahead of them flashed its hazard lights and slowed down for a red and white crossed barrier by the chain-link fencing.
A man in a hard hat came out from a nearby booth and flashed his torch at them, then spoke to Tony who would have been in the lead vehicle. Explanations were given, timetables checked, and the dock worker walked back to his booth, raised the barriers and then waved them through with one hand. Jaune's lorry grumbled and bounced its way inside, the suspension protesting the sharp speed bumps at the entrance.
It was another few minutes for their vehicles to be led by a slow forklift away from the larger ships and toward another area where several medium-sized vessels were docked and bobbing in the water. There were fishing trawlers as well as the larger passenger and cargo ships, but one vessel was lit up with people moving about on its decking. The ship was painted green in the colours of the EDC, but they'd wisely chosen to do away with any dragon iconography. The workers on board were clearly from Mistral, their distinctive outfits and hairstyles making them look positively exotic compared to the rest of the city.
Parking was not a simple affair. The drivers had to pull by and then reverse the lorries into clearly marked bays with their backs towards the ship. The dockworkers waved them in with glowing sticks, while the EDC on the ship waited impatiently. Then, Tony had to get off and speak with the dockworker to discuss loading protocol and how to signal their time to leave. It took minutes. Minutes in which Jaune tapped his foot within the cabin, eyed the nearby ship and wished this would all go faster.
We're on the clock here. If Roman finds out, or worse Qrow…
It didn't bear thinking about.
Eventually – finally – the dockworkers were satisfied and head back to warmer rooms and hot coffee. The door to Jaune's cabin was opened and he hopped out, grateful for the fur-lined gloves and thick red scarf he wore over his black coat. He wasn't dressed as one might expect a person driving a lorry to be, but appearances remained important.
A man and a woman approached from the Mistral ship. The man was narrow-faced, gaunt with beady eyes and black hair tied back in a ponytail, while the woman was built like a wrestler – thick, muscular dark skin with numerous scars. Her hair was a bright blonde and shaved short to her scalp. Brawn and brains then. Or more likely brawn and diplomat.
"Xiong?" The man's accent was lilting, if at least a little deferential.
"That's me." Jaune stepped up. He didn't offer a hand, nor did the other man. "The EDC has our thanks for its efficiency tonight."
The woman chuckled. The man only smiled. "The praise will be passed onto them when we report back."
"You're not with them?"
"They are our branch office."
So, this was the mysterious organisation from Mistral that Bon-Hwa answered to. It made sense they'd be here since someone had to escort the goods from Mistral to Vale, and the EDC weren't actually present in their home country. It occurred to him he didn't have a name for the group behind the EDC, but if they hadn't offered one then perhaps that was intentional.
"I'll share our gratitude with Bon-Hwa in person then."
"Ha." The woman laughed once and whispered loudly into the man's ear. "He talks well, but he'd fold well enough. Weak."
Jaune stiffened. The woman noticed and smirked. It was a clear challenge and from what little he knew of Mistral's gangs and their brutality, he knew they couldn't afford to look weak. Heart in his throat, he stepped up. "You wouldn't be the first to believe that. I've had two attempts on my life in the last two months." He opened his arms wide. "I'm still here."
"You're right, Sanlan," the man said. "He does speak well."
They'd called his bluff. He should have expected it, and yet no one else bothered. Jaune frowned and met their gazes head on. Was he supposed to do something? Say something? They were here after making a deal, so he couldn't very well attack or insult them. They were on a time limit, too.
"This is a waste of our time." Jaune said instead. He motioned over his shoulder for his people to move up. "A deal was struck and paid. Do you have the dust or don't you?"
The woman, Sanlan, laughed. "So feisty!"
"We have the dust," the man said. He, too, made a hand motion and several people quickly roped down the exterior of the boat. They tugged open a hatch on the side, then drew out a slatted metal ramp that connected to the dock. Inside, Jaune could see several steel containers. "Six containers. Twelve tonnes. You are welcome to weigh them."
"We'll see to that ourselves. And contact Bon-Hwa if there is a discrepancy."
The man's eyes narrowed. "You would question our integrity?"
"I don't even know who you are, so yes." Jaune forced his steps forward, forced himself to walk right past the man and woman without raising his guard. "Yes, I would question the integrity of strangers. Tony!" he called. "Get this loaded up. I want us out of here before the huntsmen arrive."
"Huntsmen?" the man asked. "Here?"
Jaune looked back to see they were following him. Ugh. He'd hoped the conversation was over, but they were probably expected to talk while the rank and file did all the heavy lifting.
"Has Bon-Hwa not filled you in?"
"We know of the White Fang and its repercussions. The huntsmen are seeking them, no?"
"The huntsmen are seeking anyone they can get their hands on. Anyone at all. One gang already stuck their heads up and was destroyed in a night. They're not picking their targets. It's bad for business."
"But they do not seek you specifically?"
"No." Jaune uncrossed his arms and shoved his hands in his pockets against the cold. He turned to face the two, trying hard to keep his eyes on the man and not show how much Sanlan intimidated him. "But I'm of the opinion it's better to be safe than sorry. I won't have us becoming the next target."
"Huntsmen ever complicate matters. It is little different in Mistral, though the headmaster there… he knows it is in his best interests to turn a blind eye. We, the clans, are not without our fangs."
"I've killed a few myself." Sanlan said with a mighty laugh. Jaune wanted to challenge her on it, but she looked like she could be a huntress herself. Or trained as one. The journey from Mistral to here could have faced Grimm so it wasn't impossible to believe they'd send a huntress along.
"We're trying not to." Jaune said. "Killing them is only going to make things worse."
"Coward's talk," she spat. "You kill and you send a message. Better to brutalise one, torture them and hang their body up for all to see. Stops more being sent to their deaths. Stops them killing your own. One death to prevent many."
Jaune bit back a sneer. "I think our methods differ."
"That is why Vale will fall." Sanlan said. "Your people, your families, do not do what they need to. They hide in their riches and decadence and play their games, while we – Mistral does not play. We strike. Little wonder your city is being lost to us and Atlas."
"Come now, Sanlan," the man chided. He didn't look displeased, however. "It's not a simple matter for them I am certain. The festival brings more huntsmen, and then Atlas is here. Little Bon-Hwa has warned us of the complications."
"Hmph. I would have the matter resolved."
"You would have the rivers flowing with blood, my dear."
"And this headmaster would soon realise it is best to leave us be. Show him the bodies of some of his students and his confidence will wane."
Ruby. He immediately thought of Ruby.
"You'll not be killing anyone while you're here!" Jaune snapped. The woman's eyes rose, along with her lips. "The Xiong Clan and the East Dragon Company have made an agreement. That doesn't involve pointless slaughter on your end. Break that, and we may see fit to break out deal."
"It would not be wise to risk our ire," the man said.
Jaune leaned forward. "It wouldn't be wise to risk mine. This isn't Mistral. You're in our territory and you'll play by our rules. Otherwise, the deal is off." He locked their eyes to his. "Got it?"
Sanlan chuckled. "I'm sure we understand. By all means, show us how you'll deal with this."
Jaune noticed the woman pointing behind them and turned on his heel. There, coming out from between two warehouses, were around thirty people armed with bats, knives and guns. They were dressed in purple suits, their jackets open to expose black tank tops and their faces covered by masks. Not White Fang, however. These masks were stylised clown-like masks – the types with white faces, huge grins and a single purple teardrop beneath their left eyes.
"Boss." Tony called. He needn't have. "Looks like we have company."
Behind him, the wiry man chuckled. "Interlopers? The Shoryu-Nayuta look down on such, but I suppose Sanlan and I can stand back. We wouldn't want to upset you with our barbaric methods after all."
The beefy woman echoed her companion. "Show us how things are done in Vale, little pup. Baby Bon-Hwa speaks highly of you. Let us see if these weak Valeans haven't lowered his standards."
Half here, half tomorrow. I guess that means the chapter will be a little longer so that's a bonus. Also, this female character Sanlan is totally based off my new favourite animated character ever – Ambessa Medarda. Holy crap, she is such a badass. She's huge, built like a tank, ruthless and brutal but also such a sweet mother despite it all. Even as she is killing people. Yeah, she's from Arcane. I'm practically in love with that show now.
Great characters, great plot, great shipping – love it. I'd write some fanfic for it if I honestly felt it needed anything. It's just so jam packed with action and intrigue that I wouldn't know where to slot any in, though.
Next Chapter: 26th (and then 2nd December next week)
P a treon . com (slash) Coeur