Special thanks to Shotgun Steve for giving me the idea for this chapter. It's been… way too long honestly. Plus side, this story is picking up a following: Almost 1000 views, 20 followers, and 18 favorites. Color me impressed. Anyways, here's what you've been waiting for.
Chapter Three: Atlas Betrayed
If anyone asked Roman what his favorite number was, his answer would be "anything other than seven." Roman hated the number seven for a lot of reasons. Seven was the number of times he'd had to testify back during the psycho's trial, something that haunted his nightmares in a way nothing else ever could. Seven was how old Neo was when she had nearly died. Seven was how many days he spent in the hospital after an accident while training Neo had nearly cost him the ability to have his own biological kids. He wasn't a hundred percent certain but he was pretty sure he had met Cinder on the seventh of whatever month it had been. And it was seven years on the dot that all his hard work in Atlas went to complete shit.
"Why the fuck is it always the sevens?" Roman muttered into a glass of half-finished bourbon as he studied the reports from the latest strings of attempted robberies and other felonies. All had been colossal failures that had cost him time, money, and even some of the men sent out on the jobs. And it pissed him off to no end to think that a plan of his was flawed enough to fail.
"Perry, what do you make of these?" He questioned his right-hand Faunus. The yesman studied the reports, poring over them with a fervor that concerned Roman about the poor guy's mental health before he straightened up and looked to Roman.
"Either the police are developing psychic abilities to predict our movements or there is an intelligence leak somewhere in the Atlas branch." Perry told him as much determination and respectful meekness that he could muster. Roman nodded, then started to consider his options. And it looked like this was a problem that required a direct solution.
"Perry, if you could get a list of any remaining members of the old Atlesian syndicate that have access to job information, I would appreciate it. Also, see about booking a flight to Atlas for me in a few days. A private charter." Roman instructed his top henchman before leaving the Faunus to work. He had things to plan.
After arriving in Atlas with Neo and Perry in tow, Roman considered the dangers of not telling Cinder what was going on. Then he dismissed those thoughts before he could feel the imaginary fire searing him for his supposed incompetence. They set up their base of operations in a modest three-star hotel overlooking the capital's main market district. A perfect bird's-eye view for the crime boss and his two confidantes.
"Neo," Roman said, making her look up from a bowl of ice cream and nearly drop her spoon. Roman watched her fumble for the spoon with amusement before continuing, "I'm going to meet with our first possible backstabber. Make sure to do what Uncle Perry asks of you." Neo nodded, compliant with the normal request. She could do whatever she wanted with Uncle Perry around anyways.
"Sir, the file…" Perry handed Roman a manila folder, stuffed full of documents and pictures. Roman didn't know what kind of sources Perry had but the Faunus never failed him or left anything important out of his reports. Roman opened it and quickly leafed through the documents and pictures, absorbing the important details with a bored look on his face.
His target: Bellona Greyhide, a wolf Faunus that used to be the head of the old syndicate's long-term infiltrators. Currently he was the handler of the Atlesian dirty cops for Roman. Known connections to the White Fang, the SDC, and even the Atlesian military. What to expect: his semblance was the ability to sense other people's aura levels and their vulnerabilities. His primary weapon was a dagger that used Dust-infused poisons to incapacitate or overtly kill his opponents.
"Seems like he might have a decent reason enough to betray us." Roman muttered. Neo managed to hear it and instinctively tightened her grip on her parasol. Whenever anyone brought up the night she had been kidnapped by the syndicate in an attempt to force Roman to betray Cinder, all she could do was remember her vow to never be that weak again. Years of training in gymnastics, Roman's variation of cane fighting, and semblance practice had made her stronger but she had never had to fight someone seriously yet. And she was afraid she might not be strong enough, even now.
"Anyways, I'm off." Roman turned to leave, only to feel a small tug on his coat. He turned back and met Neo's white eyes. She wordlessly extended the hand that wasn't stuck in his coat to give him something. Recognizing the old teddy bear that he had first given to her, he took it with a smile and tucked it into an inner pocket of his coat. They shared a smile before Roman left the hotel room, knowing that he had every reason to come back alive.
Meeting in an alleyway that was far from any patrolling robots was an expected requirement of criminals in Atlas. So it didn't surprise Bellona that Roman wanted to meet in one. The crime boss stood waiting for him when he finally arrived, half shadowed by the lack of nearby lighting.
"Nice to see you, Fluffy. How are you doing?" Roman called out to the wolf-Faunus, knowing it would get a rise out of the proud man. But Bellona didn't fall for it, instead choosing to grit his teeth against the harsh words he wanted to say back. Though his ears flattened out of sheer annoyance at the crime boss's disrespect.
"Boss, it's been a while." He extended a hand that Roman took a second to look at before shaking "What brings you out here?"
"Rat-hunting." Bellona was too disciplined to show any reaction to the simple proclamation.
"Boss, I know we've had a bad string these past weeks but my guys on the inside couldn't do much with all the new rookies running around looking for their big breaks." Bellona said, looking Roman in the eyes. And neither of them were showing anything.
"I'm glad to hear that actually. Newbies are rather easy to manipulate for someone with your experience. But I'm wondering a few things. Would you indulge my ramblings?" The Faunus shook his head to acknowledge the request, knowing he was in it for the long haul now.
"Anything for the boss that managed the impossible."
Roman smiled at the platitude, but didn't let it stroke his ego unnecessarily. "You're referring to the first multi-kingdom crime syndicate? I guess you're right about that. But what I'm wondering is why you would stay to work for me? I mean I did promote you and turn this small-time racket into a multi-billion lien system, but come on, I killed your previous boss. And he was your godfather after all." Bellona flinched like Roman had struck him across the face.
Roman continued like nothing had happened, turning away and raising his arms like he was rallying a crowd. "So if you turned out to be the rat, it wouldn't really surprise me. But since I don't have any proof either way, I've decided to play a little game of chance. If you're the one betraying me, you have the perfect opportunity to try and kill me. And if you're not, now you know what to look out for and help me deal with. So you can call it an act of trust." Roman turned around, a smug grin on his face. The smile froze when the dagger from Bellona hit him between the ribs.
Bellona felt the blade pierce through Roman's aura at his weakest point. He smiled as the crime boss stumbled backwards off the blade, twisted and fell to the ground prone. Bellona didn't bother to look to make sure the crime boss was dead, since his dagger never failed to claim its victims.
"That was for him." Bellona whispered as he walked off, sheathing his dagger with the bittersweet taste of revenge filling his mouth. Now it was time for Phase 2 of his plan.
Neo felt a chill run down her spine as she sat in the hotel room watching TV. She looked over to see her Uncle Perry had passed out in a pile of paperwork, reminding her of all the trouble she had caused him as a child. Only the Faunus's great patience had kept Neo from ending up in more trouble than she normally did.
She heard someone knock on the door of the hotel room, snapping her out of the memories. Wondering if it was the room service she had ordered with her ice cream since Papa had a key to the room, Neo went to open the door.
When she opened the door, she was surprised to see a gray-colored boy and a girl with mint-green hair standing there. They looked to be about two or three years younger than her, but Neo could tell that they were cut from the same cloth as her. They were child criminals and there was nothing that could hide that. Despite being taller than her, which annoyed her to no end.
The girl was wearing a long-sleeved mint-green shirt that matched her hair and black running shorts. The boy's gray hair and eyes were as uniformly gray as his T-shirt and the dirt on his faded black jeans.
"Hi, we're looking for your dad. We know he works for Cinder." The girl said, her blood-red eyes meeting Neo's surprised pink and brown ones. She wasn't expecting Aunt Cinder to have her own kids. Papa always joked that Aunt Cinder was too old to have any.
She shook her head, not expecting them to know that she was mute, much less how to do sign language.
"So your dad isn't here?" The girl questioned, shooting the boy a look when he groaned with boredom.
"You're trying to talk to a mute? Are you stupid or something?" He complained, putting both of his hands behind his head to cradle it. The girl smacked him in the chest, making him lower his hands before smacking his head. Neo had a silent laugh at the display, almost wishing that she had a sibling to try that out on.
She ducked back into the room, quickly swiping a pen and a clean piece of paper from Uncle Perry's desk. She returned as the two kids started to bicker in the hallway. Getting their attention by thrusting her parasol between them, she drew a map to the meeting location so they could go there. If they were from Aunt Cinder then Papa would want to see them right away. She wondered if they would get there before Papa met up with that bad person he wanted to meet.
Roman groaned and pushed himself to his knees. He reached into his jacket, and after fingering the torn fabric, reached into the inner pocket for the item that had saved his life. He drew out Neo's teddy bear, stuffing falling out of the poor creature's punctured torso.
"Sorry about that old boy, but looks like you just got the sharp end of that deal." Roman mumbled to the child's toy in gratitude. Bellona might have been able to sense Roman's aura and known where to strike, but he wasn't able to anticipate the interference of Neo's favorite bear. Years of loving death-hugs had apparently toughened the bear to the point of being able to deflect a lethal blade.
"Don't worry though, I'll have you patched up and back to your dear little Neo before you know it." He rambled on, his tone soothing the bear's jittery nerves. Roman stopped talking to wonder why he was trying to comfort a toy, much less how he could think of the bear like that. He reached back into his jacket and touched the area where the dagger should have killed him. He felt something wet seeping into his gloves and drew out his hand.
"Whoa, he really did get me." Roman stared at his own blood, drying onto his gloves while the poison continued to course through him. "Dust, I should try and get some help." He pushed himself to his feet and staggered towards the entrance to the alley. He made it a few steps before he swayed too far in one direction and fell against the wall. As his eyesight started to fade, Roman could have sworn he saw two silhouettes making their way towards him.
When Roman next opened his eyes, all he could see was the ceiling of his hotel room. He knew it was his hotel room since a quick visual sweep of the room picked up his bags, Perry's collection of papers scattered on the courtesy desk, and Neo passed out at the end of the bed curled up like a kitten at his feet.
He made a move to sit up, forcing his aching muscles to push into a sitting position. The effort of it drained him and caused Neo to stir. She sat up and turned to him, red-rimmed white eyes looking sad enough to make even Roman consider shedding a few tears. She lunged at Roman, hugging him tightly while her silent sobs shook her body.
"Sorry to scare you Dearie." Roman petted Neo's hair, stroking it in the most soothing manner he could considering she had pinned one of his arms with her vice-like grip.
The sound of the room's door opening made Roman and Neo turn. A mystery duo were followed by an anxious-looking Perry. The girl of the duo looked at him with blood-red eyes while her gray male counterpart looked bored.
"It was very dangerous for you to go after Bellona alone, Mr. Torchwick. But Cinder was glad to see your initiative on dealing with the problem." She said, watching as Neo hopped off the bed to greet her new friend.
"And just who are you?" Roman asked, turning and finally realizing that he was bare-chested and bandaged.
The gray kid continued to look bored. "My name is Mercury and the one who saved your life is Emerald." He pointed to the mint-green girl that was chatting with a nodding Neo.
"And how did I survive? Bellona's poisons are famously impossible to counteract."
The boy…. Mercury, smiled wolfishly, "That's because most people don't cut out the infected tissue. You were lucky enough that we only needed to carve out a little."
Roman felt rather violated at the idea of two teenagers performing surgery on him while he was under the effects of the poison. Taking a second to actually look at the kids, he realized they were younger than Neo.
"So one quick question: Real or adopted?" The three blank looks told everything he needed to know. "Nevermind then."
Once Roman pulled himself together and was properly dressed, Emerald gave him a quick report of what had happened. After she and Mercury had been dispatched to watch and aid Roman's efforts, they had found his hotel room where Neo had given them the address of his meeting with Bellona. The two had arrived at the alley to find him completely delirious and dying from the poisoned wound on his chest. After spending two days ensuring that the poison hadn't left any permanent damage, they had been working with Perry to track down the traitor and they already had a lead.
"So where's he hiding?" Roman wanted to know.
"He's hiding in a White Fang meeting hall not far from here." Emerald told him. It had become clear to Roman that she was the one in charge out of the two.
"Okay then. Kids, time for a field trip."
The walk to the White Fang hideout was surprising uneventful for the five of them. They received more than a few confused looks at their irregular appearances but it wasn't something that people were going to report.
By the time they reached the abandoned building that the White Fang were using, Perry let his rabbit ears hang out, the obvious symbol of a Faunus to any scouts watching the outside.
When several members dressed in dark clothes and hoods came out, Perry quickly convinced them that Roman was a valuable friend who was pushing for Faunus equality. Roman wouldn't exactly go that far to embellish his personal stance on the situation, but he appreciated the boost to his reputation. He hired based off of skills, not personal bias.
"I still don't trust him." A gravelly, teenaged voice emanated from one of the hooded figures. Roman turned as the speaker pushed back their hood, revealing budding horns jutting out of red-brown hair and a judgmental look obscured by a small Grimm mask covering the speaker's face. It didn't take much for Roman to get a read on his naysayer.
"I'm guessing you've been burned by some previous contacts." Roman alleged of the teen boy, drawing a slight flinch from the otherwise agitated Faunus. He decided to smile before he continued, "And I respect that. Anyone can be a man of words." He flipped up his cane, depressing the small trigger to clear the hidden barrel's cover. By the time the White Fang members reacted to the concealed weapon, Roman had already done the unthinkable: let go of his weapon. He looked back at the boy, his own gaze feverishly intense, "But it takes something else to be a man of action."
The bull Faunus grunted, clearly annoyed but a slight nod was all Roman needed to see to know the kid was willing to listen. "Follow us."
Inside the building, White Fang banners adorned the walls alongside sappy slogans like "Work for Equality, not against Prejudice," or "Fight with Words, not Actions." Frankly this passive-aggressive bullshit was the type of thing Roman hated the most. But he managed to distract himself from it by looking at the actual members of the organization. Quietly talking in scattered groups, the Faunus were warily eyeing Roman and company, and doing their best to avoid his own gaze. Cowards.
After walking around several walls of crates, they arrived at the main meeting area, where they found a tall cat-Faunus and Bellona Greyhide standing on a small dais and rallying a large crowd of Faunus. Roman used this to his advantage, slipping in and out of gaps within the group to reach the front before Bellona noticed him.
"Pardon the intrusion!" Roman shouted, his voice carrying over the noise and drawing everyone's attention to him. Bellona's eyes turned towards the interruption and came close to exploding out of his head at the sight of a living, breathing Roman. "Now I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Bellona Greyhide is a traitor to both the White Fang and myself."
The crowd's focus shifted once again, waiting to hear Bellona refute the charges while more combative members reached for hidden weapons.
"Lies!" Bellona shouted back before pointing an accusatory finger at Roman. "Everyone, this man is the Will O' Wisp of Vale. The heartless killer and nightmare of the underworld!" Roman rolled his eyes at the declaration while anyone nearby stepped back in fear.
Raising his cane with his casual air, Roman prepared his verbal counterattack, "That might be true but anyone that knows me could argue that fact about me being heartless. All I've ever wanted to do is provide for myself and my daughter and then its people like you that make me get violent. You know, traitors not only to me but to everyone around them. Like you, Bellona." Roman let a feral smile cross his face before he continued. "Like the way you've betrayed the White Fang to the police countless times. I hired you to keep the cops off of us, but to shift the blame to a group that you supposedly sympathize with is too low, even for someone I work with."
Bellona flinched as the crowd's opinion of him started to sway in Roman's favor. A quick look at the White Fang leader's doubting face next to him and he knew he was finished. Looking to the sides of the crowd and took notice of Neo, Emerald, Mercury, and Perry waiting there with weapons drawn, He couldn't stop the gulp as he caught sight of Perry's two-handed serrated axe and something told him the rabbit was the hunter in this situation, not the wolf.
Roman knew that he had cornered the rat, now all he needed to do was exterminate it. He let his cane's barrel flip open and opened fire. Bellona dodged the attacks by jumping back, using the White Fang leader as a shield to block Roman's line of sight. Perry led the children in a charge towards the traitor, agile despite his frail appearance.
"This is the Grey Wolf, I need back-up!" Bellona hollered, one hand over his ear while using the other to draw a dagger. Explosions began to rock the warehouse, including one that tore through the wall behind Bellona. Atlas police and robots swarmed through the dust-filled opening, flashlights piercing the area before turning their weapons towards Roman and the crowd of White Fang.
"Told you." Roman declared before opening fire on the Atlesian cops. Taking this opportunity, the crowd members who had readied their weapons earlier joined in, gunning down a dozen robots in the first wave of attacks. Bellona quickly ducked out the escape route they had made for him while his police friends attacked right back. The scene dissolved into total chaos when the crowd surged forward, urged by fleeing members from other sections of the compound.
Using the confusion of the charging White Fang and Perry's apt leadership of the kids, Roman found himself in the warehouse's parking lot, beyond the still smoking wall in the wall with Neo. They caught sight of Bellona jumping through a window into another warehouse, and began to sprint after him.
"Where's Perry and the other two?" He questioned her on the fly, not wanting to let that filthy traitor escape. Neo pointed back the way they came with her parasol, taking two steps to match each of Roman's strides. Roman hazarded a look back and caught a flash of Perry cutting down an Atlesian robot in a single swing.
"Oh, he's destressing. No back-up for us then." He met Neo's playful smirk with one of his own. Perry needed a break like this occasionally.
When they made it to the window, Neo elegantly flipped through gap left by Bellona while Roman hurtled through it, throwing glass everywhere on his own landing. Neo blocked any fragments from hitting herself by opening her parasol and pointing it in the window's direction. When Roman had recovered enough to look at her, she gave him an eyeroll that said everything. 16 years old and sassy as him, that was his daughter Neo.
"Hey, we can't all be skilled gymnasts the size of a middle schooler." Roman expected his teasing to be met with a kick to the shin after this was all over. He could feel his calf throbbing from her tiny, steel-toed heels already.
A quick look around showed that Bellona had apparently been cut by the glass, leaving a small trail of blood. Roman signed his plan to Neo before following the blood trail, cane at the ready. Neo disappeared down another aisle, following his instructions to sneak up on Bellona if possible.
Roman followed the blood deeper into the warehouse, stepping over obstacles that had been hastily made by Bellona. Piles of items knocked over, shifted boxes, and the occasional fake hiding spot
"C'mon Fluffy, if you come out now, I'll make it painless. If I have to chase you down, I can't promise I won't torture you first." Roman called out as he reached an intersection. He caught sight of a shadow shifting, and quickly flipped his cane around. Bellona turned to run, only to hear the soft puff of air as Roman's cane handle flew out to grab him by the shoulder.
Bellona was pulled off his feet, but managed to swing his dagger through the cord binding the cane's handle to its proper body. He stood up and faced Roman, who looked plenty irritated.
"Do you have any idea how much it'll cost me to get that fixed?" Roman snarled, letting the cane's body slide in his hand to become an attack baton.
"Not much, considering I'll just kill you!" Bellona challenged, rushing at Roman in hopes of landing even a single blow. Roman swung his cane-baton, knocking the dagger away before trying to punch Bellona. The wolf Faunus dodged, ducking down another passage between crates before Roman could recover.
Roman pursued, getting angrier at this traitor's defiant attempts. He turned a corner, only to meet a steel pipe mid-swing. He raised his cane to try and block it, failing to prevent it from connecting with his shoulder.
"Son of a-" Roman started to curse, aiming a kick at Bellona's legs to force him back. Roman couldn't feel the associated arm, and gripped his cane tightly with his other arm to make sure he didn't lose it.
"Benefits of knowing where your aura is weak." Bellona reminded him, moving to attack Roman again. They clashed for a few minutes, knocking each other into the crates that made up the walls of the passage. Mid-clash, Roman felt feeling return to his arm, letting him lash out and catch Bellona's wrist, forcing him to drop his dagger. Bellona countered, twisting his body over Roman's arm to kick him in the side of the head. Roman's head snapped to the side and he broke through the crate wall to hit a set of metal shelves. He tried to recover as his eyesight blurred, signaling he had been concussed.
Fuck. Roman swore mentally feeling his feet go out from underneath him. In the second before he hit the ground, he heard the shelves start tip over. They landed on top of him, pinning his right arm and leg.
"So this is where the tale of the Will O' Wisp ends." Bellona's voice reached Roman's ears, and he tried to focus on a shadow hovering over him.
"Not likely." Roman retorted, a smile crossing his face despite his situation. His vision cleared up, revealing Bellona's dagger hovering not far from his face.
"And why's that?" Bellona questioned, flipping his retrieved dagger between his hands. He wanted to savor this kill, after all the misery Roman had put him through.
"Because you forgot about the other Wisp." Roman replied, his words met by the wet sound of steel piercing flesh. Bellona's pained gasp was music to Roman's ears as the shadow dropped away to reveal Neo, her parasol's hidden sword sticking out of Bellona's body. Roman could see Neo's eyes, watering despite the iron-clad determination in them. With a struggle, he freed himself from the shelf and made his way to his daughter. He pulled her sword free, cleaning it with a snap of his wrist. He put it back into its parasol sheath before pulling Neo into a hug.
"That's it Dearie. Don't ever get used to the feeling of what you did. You need to be better than your old man by doing that." Roman consoled her, memories of his own first kill giving him the words to speak.
Folded in her Papa's arms, Neo let loose a flood of tears. But they weren't just because she had killed her first person. No, they were because she had enjoyed it. Something deep within her had enjoyed the weight of the blow, the way his body had spasmed before falling. She was crying because she didn't want to enjoy it.
Roman and Neo made their way back to the White Fang's warehouse, glad to see Perry waiting outside with Emerald, Mercury, and the bull Faunus teen that had met them at the entrance.
"You were right. Anyone can be a man of words." The bull Faunus admitted, setting the tip of a sheathed katana at his feet.
Roman shrugged his shoulders, before responding, "Then become a man of action. You saw what happened today. Learn from this and take action."
The bull Faunus nodded before turning and heading back into the battlefield that remained of the warehouse.
"Sum up what we missed Perry." Roman requested of his right-hand man, knowing he needed to figure out their next step.
"I'll happily assume Bellona was eliminated." Perry said with a smile, "We drove off the Atlas authorities, but the White Fang has a lot of casualties. They aren't a violent or well-armed group."
"Maybe that'll change after all this." Roman considered, knowing that he'd already planted the seeds in that one kid's head.
"Anyways, sir, I think that it's best we leave Atlas for the time being." Perry mentioned, then looked at Emerald and Mercury.
"Oh don't worry about us," Emerald reassured them, "we've got our own way home. See you next time, Mr. Torchwick." Without a backwards glance, the two teens sprinted off, quickly disappearing into the myriad of alleys and buildings that made up this section of the city.
"Okay then," Roman stated, "let's go back to the hotel and then we're out of here."
After their flight landed in Vale, all the news could talk about was an apparently violent confrontation between the Atlas Police Department and the White Fang, which had left plenty dead on each side. Roman felt a flicker of guilt at the senseless deaths of the White Fang members, but it was covered by the anger he felt at the thought of Bellona.
When they returned to the hideout to drop off their work materials, the three of them were met with three unexpected guests: Cinder, Emerald, and Mercury.
"To what do I owe the pleasure this time, Cinder?" Roman wondered aloud, spreading his arms to signal his usual lack of restraint.
"I came to congratulate you on dealing with our Atlas problem so quickly." Cinder told him, strutting towards him on her glass heels. "Also, I'm going on a trip for a while. So I decided to deliver my last order for some time."
"Well have fun on vacation Cinder, see you the next time you feel the need to interfere." Roman dismissed her, stepping back as she drew closer.
"Is that really the last words you have for me?" Cinder's eyes glowed dangerously, reminded Roman of why he knew better than to mess with her.
"Don't let the port officials use the random strip search as an excuse to sneak a peek." Roman came up with on the spot, cheeky grin in place.
Cinder's eyes flared dangerously, making him internally flinch. "You are to start stealing Dust. And don't sell any of it. Keep it stored wherever you can hide it." She motioned to her own children, "Come you two. We have places to be." Cinder left, trailed by Emerald and Mercury.
"Later old man." Mercury quipped before following the two females out of the hideout.
Perry and Neo stood by, waiting to see Roman's reaction to his newest orders.
"I do an excellent job fixing a serious problem and she's the one that gets a vacation? Thieves' honor, my busted cane."
And with this the prequel arc will be coming to a close. Which means it's time for the canon storyline and events! But more seriously, here we see Neo's more "killer" instincts beginning to manifest, we see Adam's distrust of humans countered by Roman's example, and we even get a taste of why the White Fang got so bad.
See you in the next chapter! Please review, favorite, and follow since I can't guarantee when the next chapter will be released.