We have some fresh new cover art for the story from Curbizzle. Might not load for a bit, but it's inspired by Godfather and fits well – a big thank you from meee!


Cover Art: Curbizzle

Chapter 43


Melanie hit the huntress before Jaune could suffocate. He dropped and fell onto one knee, clutching a hand to his throat. Miltia joined her sister, the two moving in perfect concert, a whirling dervish of red and white blades that would have cut anyone apart.

Anyone that wasn't an experienced huntress.

Meg moved like a surgeon, swaying past Melanie's foot, catching Miltia's claws on a knife and then flipping up and into the air. Her skirt, which was made of numerous plates of metal but also knives on wire, flared out and caught the two unawares. Miltia gasped as cuts dotted her dress, while Melanie tried to flip back only to be caught with a swift kick to the chest. She arched away off the edge of the docks and splashed into the water.

Alone, Miltia put up a valiant effort for all of the three seconds it took Meg to close the distance, catch her arm, hook her own around it and then drive the palm of her other into the elbow. Bone snapped like a dry twig and Miltia screamed at the top of her voice.

"Miltia!"

Pushing off the container, Jaune drew Crocea Mors and swung. He was careful to aim it at Meg and not catch Miltia, but that only gave the faunus room to dodge by swaying to the side. Miltia was released and then kicked swiftly away, and then the huntress was on him.

Jaune ducked under a swinging blade. It tore into and through the metal behind him with a sickening shriek. Though the arm continued, Meg's leg came around in a punishing kick. Not this time! He saw it coming and reinforced his arms with aura ready to catch it.

It never connected. At the last second, Meg checked her sweep and kicked up off the floor instead. Her leg arched above him, and her skirt flared, sending knives whistling at his back. They sliced through his coat and raked over his skin, tearing into his aura ruthlessly. As she completed the spin, she brought her foot around again and into he back of his head. Jaune sailed away, skidding and rolling across the floor.

"Boss!"

The men of the Xiong Clan rushed in with cleavers and batons swinging. They had to know their chances were slim, but loyalty or fear drove them regardless. Jaune tried to call out for them to stop but couldn't stop himself coughing.

It didn't matter anyway. Meg swayed and ducked between them like a boxer, keeping her arms up and her shoulders tight. A jab here, a haymaker there, a spin and the knives came up. Most of the frontline monsters in the Xiong Clan had aura, but there was a difference between having and knowing how to properly use it. Blood was spilled and they were scattered like chaff, leaving an open path for Meg to charge back at him again.

She only cares about me. Crazy bitch wants me dead!

Jaune pushed himself up and parried the first kick. Her knives swung up again, flaring out along her skirt. This time, he chopped at them with Crocea Mors, but the blade either wasn't sharp enough to cut through the wires or she'd prepared for it. They swung up and around, entangling his sword but also her skirt. They were locked together – Meg unable to spin and him unable to use his weapon.

Brute strength. He had the edge there – surely!

A quick fist struck his jaw. Jaune gasped but it didn't hurt as much as he expected it to. A feint of a jab. He was still green enough to reel back and bring his hands up to prevent another – just what she wanted. Ducking low, Meg slammed her fist into his side, aiming right for his kidneys. Jaune choked and brought his hands down to block that, which let her power an uppercut into his jaw.

The world exploded into stars. His vision swam and pinched in darkly at the edges. She hit him again, this time directly in his face. He felt himself stagger back and hit something, then felt her deliver another one-two into his stomach and buckle him over. He leaned forward, but she gripped his face with her left hand, pushed him back up straight and then smashed her right fist into his cheek. His head rocketed back into the metal container behind him, denting it and causing all sound to become muted and dull.

It was brutal. If she wanted to, she could have already, but she continued to beat on him. Jaune staggered forward when she released him. He brought his hands up to box and threw out a desperate straight. Meg swayed, ducked under and drove her knuckles into his throat. If he didn't have aura, his windpipe would have been crushed. He'd have died right there. As it was, he still choked and fell back struggling to breathe.

That would have killed anyone without aura…

Meg's brown eyes flashed viciously, and she swung in again, feinting left, swinging right. Jaune brought his arms up – another feint. Her right foot struck the inside of his knee. He buckled and dropped, only just having the presence of mind to get his arms up before his face when her knee rushed in. His aura crackled from the blow, then again as she pirouetted and brought a pinwheel of knives into him from the side. One full round of that – his aura draining fast – and she planted her foot on his crossed arms and pushed hard, sending Jaune rolling back.

"Hey! Bitch!"

Miltia was back. Jaune's relief couldn't be measure in words alone. He slammed a hand down and fought to catch his breath, watching as the girl in red sliced both claws down Meg's back. The fact it connected was a miracle at all – she must have been tunnel-visioned on him. That didn't mean she caused any real damage, though. Meg grunted, stepped forward and turned to take the assault.

There was no doubting both women were stronger than he was. They moved at speeds he could hardly keep up with even with his training. Miltia was wild and feral, slashing and stabbing and goring – less technique, but always on the attack and forcing her opponent to defend. That must have always been enough for her because most people couldn't find an opening to go on the offensive.

Most people.

Catching Miltia's claws by sliding her own hand between the blades, Meg twisted her hand sharply, dragging Miltia's entire arm to the left. Her other hand came across and into Miltia's already damaged – possibly broken – arm, slamming into it sharply. Whatever pain Miltia had been hiding must have been monumental because she vibrated like a struck tuning fork, going stiff and shaking badly.

Meg took that chance to grab Miltia by the throat, haul her around and then throw her out of the way. Then, without even a second to make sure her opponent would stay down, she was chasing him down again. Jaune hadn't even moved, and his eyes bulged out as Meg came at him snarling like a Beowolf.

Everyone else was a second thought. Meg wanted him dead.

Not arrested. Not in prison. Not brought to justice.

Dead.

This huntress was going to kill him.

"I surren-"

An elbow into his stomach. Meg carried him with her, lifting him completely up off the floor and slamming his back into a container. Before his feet could even touch the ground, she drew back and punched his chest hard, right over his heart. Then a second and third time. Each blow carried enough power to break ribs, and his already flagging aura wasn't providing the protection it normally would have. That it was still lasting at all was a miracle. Another hammer-blow, a slap of his grappling hands away and a solid elbow strike to the bottom of his ribcage. His aura flashed again, tanking the hit.

"How much bloody aura do you have?" Meg snarled and drove her fist into his chest again. "Break already!"

Jaune could feel the blood bubbling in his mouth. He hoped it was from a loose tooth or torn lip and not something worse. "I give up!" he gargled. "Stop." His eyes watered as Meg delivered another spine-shaking blow. "P-Please…"

Growling, Meg stepped back and punched him three times in quick succession, then reached up to grab his hair and smash his face down against the concrete floor. Jaune's vision was blackened from nearly passing out, but he still felt her press down and grind his skin into the floor.

"I've surrendered," Jaune forced out. "Why are you still-" He groaned as a knee drove down into his spine. Meg's hands gripped his hair, pulled his face up and then smashed it down into the concrete again.

"You think you can just surrender after everything you did?" she hissed into his ear from behind. "You ruined my life. You've taken everything away from me." Her fingers tightened in his hair, making Jaune's eyes water. "I'm going to take everything away from you. Everything!"

Oh. Meg wasn't going to let him surrender. Meg wanted to kill him. No. Killing was self-defence. It could be explained away as necessary, or her killing him in the act of preventing a crime.

Meg was going to murder him.

Jaune thrust his elbow back into her chin. He heard her teeth click up and he slammed his hands down, knocking her off. He couldn't say if his second wind came from fear of death or raw fury. Whatever it was, he used it, kicking back to force her away and staggering to his feet.

His blood boiled. His eyes burned. This was a huntress? This!? He'd spent so long dreaming of becoming someone like her, of going to Beacon and becoming a hero, but if this was what came out of that then maybe he had it the wrong way.

Jaune roared and swung a fist at her. Meg caught it, twisted it to the side and made to snap it like she had Miltia. The pain was agonising – shooting up his elbow to his shoulder – but he was too angry to give into it. He brought his other arm around, forced her to block that, then, ignoring the pain, slammed his forehead into her nose.

It wasn't the best hit. Meg was fresh, her aura in place, but it staggered her and knocked her back. Made her release his arms. That would do. Jaune chased after her and tried to grab hold of her. Meg's arms came up and quickly knocked his away. Her knee came up between his legs. Jaune gritted his teeth and pushed through the nauseating pain, drove her back into a container with his body and rammed his shoulder into her chest.

"It's your fault!" he snarled. His first punch hit metal as she ducked and his second only barely glanced her shoulder. Meg snuck out agilely and turned the tables on him, pushing him back, but this time he wasn't prepared to take the torture laying down. He lashed out and clipped her head – Meg ducked, but that let him grasp one of her faunus ears.

Meg gasped and went rigid.

It was cruel he supposed, but he fisted her ear in his hand and drove his other into her face once, twice, three times. Meg struck back just as hard at his stomach and chest and arms, trying to outrace him in aura. Bad choice. Jaune tightened his hold on her ear and wrenched it to the side, forcing her to move or have it torn clear off. As she went with him, he planted his other hand on the back of her head and steered her like a bull directly into the side of a forklift.

The huntress hit it with a loud clang, gasped and bent over the metal bars it used to lift pallets. With a roar, Jaune brought her face up and down onto it, using his own weight to pull her down. It did mean her ear was ripped out his grip, but the sheer force of her face being driven into metal by his entire weight caused Meg to bounce off and stumble away. There was blood on her face, running from her nose and mouth.

They were both bloody now. Good.

"This wouldn't have happened…" Jaune gasped. "If you'd just done your fucking job. If you protected Hei like you were supposed to."

Hei would still be alive. Jaune would be a bartender. Meg wouldn't have been exposed. Neither of them would be out here fighting for their lives in the middle of the night.

"You drove my daughter away."

"You did that yourself! You did that the second you came to criminals to lie and cheat her father." Jaune swiped his hand across his mouth, shaking at the blood and gristle that came off on his hand. It ought to have hurt, but all he could feel was anger. "You made your choices, huntress. Now you have to live with them. It's not my fault and killing me won't fix shit."

"Killing you will make me feel better."

"Then you're fucked up!"

"Hah." Meg grinned bloodily. "Maybe I am. But who do you think they'll listen to when you're caught here? I'm a huntress. You're a gang leader. I could kill you here and no one would bat an eye. You're not worth anyone caring about!"

His family would care. Ruby would care. Tammy would care. Lisa, Oobleck and Qrow would care. Jaune got her point, though. Few others would. He'd be another headline, not unlike when Kane and the Ravagers were wiped out. People would shake their heads, comment on how tragic it was, then they'd carry on their days like nothing happened.

"You've got a lot of aura, but it won't hold forever."

And time wasn't on his side. It was the worst thing to both need to end this quickly and to be so severely outmatched. Jaune looked for Crocea Mors, but it was far away from the action. Not that it'd be much use anyway. Meanwhile, Miltia was trying to realign her arm against a container and break it back into place and Melanie was nowhere to be seen. He didn't believe she'd drowned, but the fall from the docks to the water's surface was a good two feet and she would need to swim around to find a ladder to climb out or swim all the way to shore.

"So…" Meg said, breathing heavily. "Give up and die already."

Give up? Jaune hawked and spat at her. Blood covered half the distance before splatting onto the concrete. He'd have liked to hit her with it, but the message was sent all the same. He followed it up with a "Fuck you" for good measure.

"Ha ha ha!" The booming laugh cut through the distant sirens. Meg stiffened and glanced to the side, as did Jaune, to see the hefty figure of Sanlan, the dark-skinned, muscular woman from the Mistral gang sauntering forward with her partner beside her. "I told you, didn't I? He speaks good. Talks the talk."

"Even if he cannot walk the walk," her companion said. He had a small, short blade in hand, sheathed in a mahogany scabbard.

"He's blooded. That's enough for me. Though I gots to say, they don't make huntresses like this back home." Sanlan leered at Meg. "Never seen one so brutal. You like killing, eh? I can see it in your eyes – the bloodlust. You won't hesitate to kill those beneath you. Woman like you could have done well with us."

"I am nothing like you scum." Meg snapped. "Consider yourself lucky my business is with him. If you leave now, you might be able to escape. I suggest you take that chance."

"A generous offer," the man said. "Alas, we have business with the Xiong Clan. The Shoryu-Nayuta does not give ground. Sanlan?"

The woman punched her fists together and jogged forward. "With pleasure."

Meg Scarlatina tutted and dipped low, detaching two knives from her skirt to wield them and rushing in. She was fast – too fast. Sanlan looked like she was moving in slow motion in comparison, a big, hulking, boulder of a woman about to be run down by a speeding bullet.

And then everything changed.

Sanlan accelerated at the last possible second. Her hands, which had before been wide and slow, snapped in and caught Meg's wrist. Her knee came up and drove into the huntress' stomach so hard she was lifted up off the floor and into the air. The hulking woman brought both hands high, linked them and dragged them crashing down onto Meg's back, slamming her into the ground in a cloud of dust.

Jaune stared. "W-What!?"

Before the dust settled, Sanlan reached down and picked Meg up by her hair. A knife flashed, cutting through it. Meg dropped and stabbed at the woman while she was left grasping at brown strands. The knife skittered off Scanlan's dark abs. Aura. Training.

She's a huntress as well!

The Shoryu-Nayuta had sent a huntress to make sure the delivery was handled properly. Possibly also to make sure Jaune didn't try and cheat them. The woman laughed and backhanded the knife away, grappled Meg by the throat and choke slammed her back down.

A twist of her legs had Meg's skirt flaring up and swinging for Sanlan's eyes. It forced the giant to hop back, which gave Meg chance to jump to her feet and charge in. This time, she was prepared. They clashed with swift blows, devastating punches that caused the air itself to distort, and blows that echoed like thunderclaps.

Meg drove Sanlan back into a wooden post and cut through it when the woman dodged. In turn, Sanlan drove a punch into the falling post, causing it to explode into splinters that fired out like a claymore from the point of impact. Meg swayed and shimmered through it, eyes fixed on her opponent and knives rushing for her face. Sanlan opened and closed her teeth on one, catching the blade between with a manic grin.

Is this what huntresses are really like? Jaune clutched his side and limped over to Crocea Mors. It was useless as anything but a walking stick at this point. No wonder the gangs are terrified. We couldn't hold off just one of them.

How one-sided would a fight between the Xiong Clan and Qrow be? Would it even be a fight? They'd be better off surrendering instantly and sparing everyone the pain.

At least Qrow would have let them surrender…

Blades, fists and streaks of light flashed from the deadly melee as Meg and Sanlan tore their way across the dock. Anything that got in their way became a weapon or was destroyed or became a weapon and then was destroyed. Sanlan's fist punched through a metal container and became lodged in it, and Meg darted up onto the limb, balancing agilely on it as she drove a knife into Sanlan's face. It almost hit her eye, skirting along bone and skin as Sanlan moved her head jerkily to the left.

As violent as it was, however. Sanlan was winning. Even Jaune could tell. The woman was fresher for one, and definitely more active. From what he knew, Meg had retired from active duty, whereas Sanlan was probably still cracking heads and acting as an enforcer for Bon-Hwa's parent gang. All of a sudden he believed her boast of having killed huntsmen in Mistral.

Meg knew it too. Her face hardened and she considered escape. With Sanlan trapped, it wouldn't have been hard. She jumped off her arm and rushed to the nearest exit, then paused.

Her eyes zeroed on him.

Was she serious!?

Apparently, yes.

With a furious snarl, Meg changed her target and ran him down. She wasn't going to fuck around this time. No beating him up to sate her own thirst for vengeance. She was going to kill him as quickly as she could. Jaune swore and drew Crocea Mors, throwing the sheathe aside and bringing it up in a clumsy guard. Every muscle in his body was already protesting, and he wasn't confident in his chances of surviving.

Fuck it. Now or never. Here we go…

Crocea Mors came up.

Meg went down.

Not from him, however. Jaune stood a good ten feet away from her still. Instead, it was a whirling silver object flipping end over end that had sliced through the back of her left leg with enough force to shatter what remained of her aura. The swirling sword continued to flip over and over, then, defying all laws of physics, flipped up and above, circling back through the air and whipping into the hand of the wiry man from Mistral, who caught it by the hilt without any struggle.

A Semblance. Which meant that he was a huntsman as well. The Shoryu-Nayuta had sent two huntsmen to deal with them. Jaune couldn't believe it. There weren't many gangs in Vale that could boast to having one, and this gang from Mistral had two to spare.

And he didn't act like it. Sanlan took all the attention and spoke out, so we'd all dismiss him as a businessman. Jaune swallowed, lowered Crocea Mors and took a staggering step back.

"Kuja!" Sanlan shouted unhappily. "She was mine!"

"You were taking your time, Sanlan." The man, Kuja, sheathed his weapon and strode forward. "And it would reflect on our masters poorly should Little Bon-Hwa's friend die here. Reparations would need to be paid, and it might be us paying them in blood."

"Tch." Sanlan cracked her shoulders and strode forward. She stooped and picked Meg Scarlatina up by what remained of her hair, dragging her up to her knees.

The woman was a mess. Her face was bloodied from him, and now her left leg was bleeding profusely, her tendons cut. Even so, she gritted her teeth and glared straight at Jaune as if to say it was all his fault.

"Let me just finish this one." Sanlan said, rearing her fist back.

Jaune's heart clenched. "Wait!"

The woman held back. Both she and Kuja turned to regard him, one calculating and one annoyed – only for a second. Sanlan's frown turned to a feral smile, and she forced Meg back down onto her knees.

"You know what, that was rude of me. Almost as rude as Kuja here. What was it you said? Oh yes, this isn't Mistral. We're in your territory and we have to play by your rules." The dark-skinned woman laughed. "So, show us, little man. Show us how the Valeans do business. We'll bring word of it back to the Shoryu-Nayuta. They might even be impressed."

The ball was in his court. Jaune panted for air and stared down at Meg. She was glaring back at him, baring her teeth and still struggling to stand up. The pain got the better of her and she fell to her knees again. The woman was mad, insane even, and she couldn't accept that she had any blame in her current situation. It was all his fault to her.

What was his fault was the state of his people. Melanie had finally managed to drag herself out the water. She looked exhausted and out of breath. Miltia, meanwhile, had managed to crack her arm back into place but was leaning heavily on a metal container, pressing her forehead against the cold metal as she fought not to scream or cry.

His men were no better off. They were all banged up, some of them clutching wounds where Meg's knives had cut into or through them. They looked frightened – and well they should. No one had warned them they might have to fight a huntress today, least of all a crazed and blood-thirsty one. At least Ringmaster and his `Circus` had fucked off. They'd taken the chance to flee when Meg attacked him.

The dust is out. It's mission success for us, isn't it? Cinder will be off our backs.

That was it, right? There was nothing more he needed to do. They just had to get out before the huntsmen arrived, and any time wasted was going to prove detrimental to that.

"We're done here." Jaune spoke loudly enough that everyone could hear. "Everyone get ready to go. We're not sticking around a second longer than we have to."

Sanlan snorted. "That's it? This one sought your death."

Jaune scowled at her. "I'm better than her."

"Fuck you!" Meg snapped. She fought against Sanlan's hold and gnashed her teeth at Jaune. "You're not better than me – you're nothing. No one! The world won't mourn your death. They'll rejoice when you're dragged into a dark hole never to be seen again."

"Yeah? Well, it won't be you who does it…"

"Ha! You think so?" Her smile was bloody. "I have proof now. I saw you. Ha, you're done." She threw back her head and laughed. "Once I tell them you did this, they'll find and bust you. Your whole worthless gang will be thrown behind bars and never seen again. You think you've won?" Another harsh bark of laughter. "You haven't. You've lost. All I need to do is tell Qrow what I saw here, show him who did this to me, and he'll realise his little friend from the city is actually a filthy fucking murderer!"

Jaune drew in a deep breath and let it go. Meg was right. Of course she was. It was dumb of him not to realise it and he blamed the pain and fatigue wracking his body. No wonder Sanlan and Kuja acted like he was an idiot for wanting to leave. He might as well sign his name and leave Qrow a postcard detailing his crimes.

Lost in thought, Jaune said, "I'm not a murderer. I haven't killed anyone…"

Not outside of self-defence, and no one could fault him that one time. Meg only laughed. "You think it matters?" she hissed. "I'm a huntress. You're a crook. No one will care to believe you. I'll make you a murderer."

If he left now, it was over. All of it. He'd be arrested, Melanie and Miltia would be as well, and the Xiong Clan would be destroyed. Worse, Cinder would want her dust. Not getting it, she might even turn on his family to try and find out where Jaune had hidden it. That they didn't know wouldn't save them. Cinder would kill them all to cover her tracks.

Sanlan looked at him meaningfully.

Jaune turned his back on her, looked up to the sky and clenched his eyes shut. His blood pounded in his hears, loud and obnoxious, not unlike the sirens coming closer spelling his doom. Without a second to think, before he could think, his fingers wrapped around the hilt of Crocea Mors.

"Yes," he told Meg. "You will."

The huntress made to reply.

Jaune turned around with a loud scream. "Rarghhhh!"

/-/

Qrow Branwen stood in the centre of the docks with red and blue lights reflecting off his face. He stared out over the water as teams bustled behind him, wrapping yellow and black tape to seal off the area.

"It's times like this I remember why I turned to drink," he said to no one in particular. "I told you to leave the case alone. Told you not to stick your head into this business."

His face scrunched up and he brought a hand up to run through his hair.

"The fuck am I going to tell your daughter now, Meg? The fuck am I going to say…?"

Meg Scarlatina didn't answer. Beneath a white sheet that covered her body, and another that covered her severed head, the huntress would never say another word again.


Rip.

I suppose there's a point in any story that's known as the "point of no return". I probably shouldn't need to say this is Jaune's. Meg couldn't be left alive. Even if you argued Qrow might not believe her because of her bias toward Jaune, she would have only ambushed and killed him in his home.

And no, he didn't "beat a huntress" here. He got his ass kicked badly by a retired huntress, had to be saved by new associates from Mistral, and delivered a decapitating blow to an opponent on their knees who didn't have any aura remaining. Please don't think he's suddenly become skilled enough to face Meg one on one.


Next Chapter: 9th December

P a treon . com (slash) Coeur