Second half


Chapter 45.2


Their timing couldn't have been worse. Jaune swore under his breath, shouldered his way past the representatives from Mistral and stalked toward the clown-faced gangsters. Melanie and Miltia quickly fell in with and flanking him, while Tony instructed what men he could spare to fall in behind. The rest continued loading the dust onto the trucks, knowing that any action here would draw attention down on them. They needed to be out fast.

"Who the hell are these clowns?" Jaune whispered to Melanie.

"Nutcases from up north," she hissed back. "They're a small gang. Smaller than us."

That didn't help right now. Their numbers were about even. "Violent?"

"Very. They have a rep for being untrustworthy. Call themselves the Circus." Melanie rolled her eyes when he made an interested sound. "Fits their stupid clown-acrobats routine. They don't run drugs, brothels or anything. They just hold territory and tax everyone unfortunate enough to live in it."

It was looking less and less like they could get out of this without a fight. Jaune yanked his black coat shut against the cold and marched ahead of his boys with Melanie and Miltia. On the other side, a taller man strode out from the clown-faced ones. Unlike the others, he didn't wear a mask. What he'd done instead was paint his face bright white to represent one. He flipped a small knife in one hand, twisting and twirling it through his fingers.

"Ringmaster," Miltia drawled sarcastically.

"Ringmaster, I take it?" Jaune called out. The clown-faced man stopped and leaned on one leg. He grinned, tossed the knife up and caught it by the blade ready to throw.

"My reputation precedes me! Are you a fan of my shows?"

He'd honestly never heard of the guy, and that said a lot considering how he dressed. Jaune peered through the gloom toward the nearby warehouses. The dockworkers might have already noticed something was up, and these bastards weren't even subtle. No one saw clowns walking through their area and thought that perfectly normal.

"What are you doing here?" Jaune asked them. "Bringing so many men like that. We might get the wrong idea."

"Ahhh. So scary." The clown bent almost double leaning forward. "I could ask the same of you, hm? The Xiong seem to be doing well for themselves – moving all these goodies. Six truckloads of merchandise, huh? You wouldn't mind sharing a little with your old pals, yeah?"

Jaune scowled and crossed his arms. The clown's manner of speech was grating. "You're involving yourself in business that isn't your own. Leave."

Ringmaster smirked cockily. "What if we don't want to?"

The representatives were watching. Sanlan's eyes practically gleamed in the dark, and he knew which way her and her accomplice would handle things. Damn it. I wanted to avoid trouble. This is ridiculous timing.

"You realise the huntsmen are out looking to cause us all trouble, don't you? We start something here and we'll be swarmed with them before we can get away."

"I'm aware, Xiong."

"Do you really think you can take them?"

"Nope." The man stood up straight again, and past the cackling and stupid paint there was a flash of cunning. "But I don't think you can deal with them either." He spread his arms wide and sighed. "They've been bad for business like you say. The Circus is hungry and all kinds of sad. Our audiences are impatient but we can't hold any shows with the kind of attention they'll draw. I'll admit, we're a little desperate."

"Desperate enough to start shit now?"

"It's all or nothing, boyo. You either split those goods with us or we'll have ourselves a little show right here and now. We might not win," he admitted easily, "But we'll sure as hell hold on long enough for those uppity huntsmen to notice."

"Are they fucking serious!?" Miltia hissed.

They might be. Jaune's teeth ground together and he glared at the Ringmaster. It was a suicidal kind of attempt on their part. The huntsmen would put them down just as much as they would Jaune and the others. If the Circus were as hard off as they were saying though, it might not matter. They were screwed either way and were banking on the fact that the Xiong Clan, being stronger and more established, had far more to lose. That they'd recognise that and make a compromise. Give up half the dust for free because they wanted to avoid drawing the wrong kind of attention.

This is so stupid. They're school bullies demanding we share half our sweets or they'll tell the teacher on us. How are these losers a gang!?

Hilariously, this Circus lot might not even go down for much time. It would depend on their crimes and the courts would look a lot more favourably on a bunch of misplaced youths than an organised criminal syndicate like their own. The Xiong were bigger fish for the huntsmen after all. All those drugs and now this dust.

"We can't give this up!" Melanie hissed. "Cinder will have our heads!"

Bon-Hwa would lose his shit too. The EDC would see this as half their stock being stolen and go after the Circus, and they might well drag the Xiong Clan into it again. He'd already seen how the EDC handled their inter-gang disputes. They didn't need another massacre on the streets – not if his name was going to be attributed to it.

"This is stupid." Jaune said. "Even for idiots like you. We don't have the time so I'll make you a one-time deal." He brought out his wallet. "How much do I have to pay you all to fuck off?"

Several of the Xiong behind him laughed.

Ringmaster did too. "That's easy! Three containers ought to do it."

"That's not happening and you know it. This is our business. Do you even know what's in them?"

"Does it matter?" he asked, shrugging. "Has to be valuable. We want it." Ringmaster reached behind him and brought out a handgun. Jaune tensed, but the barrel rose into the air. "And unless you want this whole area crawling with huntsmen, you're going to play ball."

"Fuck's sake!" Jaune snarled. "Let's talk about this like adults. I can't give you half. One!" he said. "I'll give you one container."

"Three."

"One. It's full of dust! You can sell it-"

"We'd rather have three containers full of dust." Ringmaster curled his finger around the trigger and the hammer clicked back. "All or nothing, boyo. You don't want to see how desperate I am."

This idiot had no idea how desperate he was. Cinder was demanding this dust and Bon-Hwa would be out for blood. These arrogant morons weren't even proper gangsters – they were blackmailing the Xiong with the prospect of mutual destruction. Jaune eyed the transports. The last of the containers was being loaded up. Tony hadn't stopped to stare when these guys showed up. Some of the boys were already dragging the roller-shutter doors down, while others scurried toward the cabins. Beside him, Melanie nodded once and Miltia's claws clicked into place.

Fuck. They were really doing this.

Jaune glared at Ringmaster and said, "No deal."

CRACK!

The gunshot marked both the end of negotiations and the beginning of their countdown. Dockworkers shouted in the distance – and they weren't the only ones who would have heard. Calls would be made, police informed and huntsmen dispatched. They had minutes at best. Melanie and Miltia shot forward while Jaune twisted on his heel and shouted, "Get the trucks out! Go! Go! Go!"

Engines roared to life and tyres squealed. There was no time wasted asking what would happen to those left behind; Tony had the vehicles bouncing and rocking away, turning their back ends to the Circus as bullets pinged off the metal shutters.

And then the twins reached the clown-masked fools. Red and white blurs cut through them like they were nothing. The Xiong members that stayed behind charged forward as well, drawing red cleavers and batons. Battle was joined and the once-tranquil docks erupted into bloodshed.

Whether it was accident or some unspoken code, no one attacked Ringmaster and the clown-faced man charged Jaune down. The knife flipped and flicked out, whistling toward his head. Jaune's hand fell to Crocea Mors but he couldn't draw in time, let alone deflect. Instead, he flushed his body with aura and stepped back and around with his left foot to let the blade strike and ricochet off his left shoulder, then clatter to the ground behind.

Ringmaster used the distraction to close the distance and get right up in his guard. A painted hand slapped down on his own and sheathed Crocea Mors again. Another lanced toward his neck with a tiny blade clutched between thumb and fingers. Jaune let go of his sword and slapped his hand up to knock the attack aside. He stepped back for space, space the clown wouldn't allow. The extravagant fop chased him and refused him the room to draw his weapon and get into one of the stances Oobleck had taught him.

Another knife slashed at his eyes, parried by his arm as he flailed and lashed out with a punch of his own. The grinning loon evaded it like a snake, bending back acrobatically and swaying to the side. He moved like his spine was a suggestion and not a rule. Not, Jaune thought quickly, like a huntsman, however. This fight was nothing like what Oobleck and Dove had shown him. It was fast, dirty and amateur. Mad aggression and next to no defence.

Don't think like a mob boss. Think like a huntsman!

Jaune's eyes narrowed. The next blow came, another knife lunging under his ribcage. Rather than dodge it, Jaune pushed aura to his stomach and let it go. He dropped his guard completely and lunged for Ringmaster's brightly embroidered jacket. His fingers found the lapel and fisted in it just as a knife struck his stomach and another his left arm. Both skittered and bounced off with a flare of pale-white light, turning Ringmaster's victorious grin into one of shock.

Jaune snarled back and dragged the man forward by his chest, slammed his own forehead in and reinforced it with aura. The crack was sickening. Nauseating, even. Stars danced before his eyes but he managed to hold onto the slippery bastard. If it hurt for him, it must for the guy he butted. Jaune repeated it for good measure, groaning through gritted teeth as waves of pain shot through his head. Ringmaster came off far worse. Head split, blood running down his face, he slumped in Jaune's grip, knife clattering on the floor.

Not a huntsman. Not even one in training. Just an arrogant and psychotic asshole who thought he was hot shit for starting a gang. He hadn't been prepared for aura, nor for someone willing to take a knife to the gut.

Jaune panted and let the man drop. Ringmaster hit the concrete on his knees and fell to all fours, vomiting. Across the docks, the Xiong Clan were ripping through the Circus' members. Not without any losses. A few of his boys were cradling wounds and ducking out the fight, but there hadn't been any fatalities on their side yet. It was hard to say for the other. Melanie and Miltia were not known for their mercy. The trucks were already gone. Hopefully, they'd be barrelling down to the warehouses before anyone could think to intercept them.

"Wrap it up!" Jaune shouted over the fight. "We do not have time!"

Melanie and Miltia shouted back their approval and the rest of the gang hastened the beatdown. Those members of the Circus that fled were allowed to do so, limping away clutching their sides or left gasping and sobbing on the floor with broken bones. It was short, ruthless and bloody, but that was what it had to be. They didn't have the time to waste on-

"YOU!"

The scream came with raw hate and from his left. Jaune turned, eyes bulging out as a fist flying at what felt like a hundred miles an hour struck his face. If it wasn't for the aura he still had up from the short duel with Ringmaster, he would have died. The impact would have instantly caved his skull in and pulped his brain. He still felt it. The world flew away from him and his brain rattled in his skull. Metal broke his fall, denting inward. Air blasted from his lungs and Jaune dropped to all fours, mimicking Ringmaster's posture. Like the man, Jaune felt a little vomit and blood drip from his lips.

Unlike the man, Jaune received no mercy or reprieve.

A foot struck his side and launched him up and against the metal again. He bounced off and was caught by his neck. Fingers like iron spikes dug into his throat so hard he could feel fingernails grating against aura. His back slammed into metal again as he was driven backward and held up, choking for air.

"I knew you were involved!" his assailant hissed. "I knew it! You'll pay for everything you've done."

Jaune's feet kicked and his hands flailed helplessly against the arm holding him suspended. One hand with enough force to suspend a man over six foot off the floor. He traced it back, eyes widening as he met a snarling face and familiar brown eyes.

"I'll make you suffer just as much as you did me."

It was his worst nightmare. A huntress had found them.

Meg Scarlatina.


Uh-oh. Velvet's mom is out for revenge and now things are real.

Of course you're not as cool as Mel Medarda's mom, but who is really? Who is?


Next Chapter: 2nd December

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur