Chapter 4: Infamy and Little Red Annoyances
Roman waited exactly one month before totally giving up on Cinder. No communications from her, no special deposits in any of his bank accounts or dead drops. Nothing. Which meant that he was free and clear as far as he could tell. To which he threw a party. A literal party, with streamers, cake, everything.
And so Roman returned to his criminal empire's roots, terrorizing Vale and Atlas with their well-crafted plans and near omnipotence.
After a year, he started to question why he ever listened to Cinder. After two years, he thought she might have been a stress-induced hallucination. Which was why he spent an entire year on vacation in Vacuo with Neo. And on that trip he learned that she had a taste for tall blondes with curves, which he couldn't say he expected but as long as she was happy he wasn't going to care what, or who, she did. So long as she was safe about it.
It was during his fourth year post-Cinder that things started to get a little dicey. The Vale police got a wave of new recruits and started to crack down on corruption in their ranks. Not a major headache, but still annoying. It only became worse for him when several of them turned state's-evidence and locked up some of his higher-level guys. So in a safe move, he had decided to hire some new guys from Xiong's kid, who had taken over the nightclub and changed it into one of those trendy places with live DJ's and electronic dance floors a few years back, much to Neo's delight.
Roman pushed open the doors to Junior's Nightclub, glad to see it was empty of people other than a single woman sitting at the far end of the bar.
"Junior, just the kid I was looking for!" He declared at the sight of the bearded twenty-something polishing glasses in the bartender uniform that Roman himself had once worn. He nodded at the twin ladies that Xiong let guard his place.
"Mister Torchwick, what brings you this time?" Junior professionally replied to the flamboyant criminal. Something to be expected from a lifelong member of their underground world.
"Looking for some muscle. Having a hard time since I got my uncle on my back." The orange-haired man replied in code, sliding an envelope across the stainless surface.
"Well, considering that's your mother sitting down there, I suggest you ask her." Junior replied, indicating the only other person in the nightclub. Roman squinted to get a better look at the woman before his blood turned cold. The same raven-black hair, same red dress, and the same aura of deadly beauty. He panicked when the woman turned towards him, a slight frown on her still beautiful face. Cinder's eyes promised him pain as she took a seat next to him.
"Dear Roman, did you forget what I told you before I left?" She inquired, a finger lazily circling on the countertop.
Roman was too stunned to come up with a response. Oh sweet fucking hell, I'm about to die.
When she didn't hear a response, she decided to speak for him. "Considering how long it's been, I'll give you a reminder. I ordered you to steal as much Dust as you could. So tell me, how's that going?"
"Lousy, the cops busted so many of my top guys that I've been forced to hire new people while sending the others into hiding." Roman half-lied, looking to Junior for support. But one look at the owner and current bartender told him he wasn't going to get it.
"Is that why you spent a year in Vacuo? Trying to let some of your work's heat blow over?" Roman didn't bite on her leading questions.
"Fine. You got me. I didn't think you were ever going to be back."
"I certainly hope it would take you less time to replace a woman in your heart." Roman choked, wondering what she could possibly mean by that.
"Oh poor, sweet Roman… did you think I didn't have you leashed?" Cinder gloated, a smirk on her face. "Ever since that first day you accepted my help." She held out a small device that Roman identified as a GPS locator. One that indicated a spot in Vale that he recognized as his home. Where Neo currently was.
Roman could barely grasp it. He'd been played. All those times that Cinder seemed to know exactly where he was. Knowing that he'd gone to Atlas to deal with Bellona. All of it because she'd had her doctor friend hide a tracker inside of Neo. His daughter, the one person he could never live without, was the bloody seal on his deal with the devil sitting in front of him.
"You bitch." Roman seethed, somehow restraining himself despite his desire to break her neck as fast as he could manage.
Cinder's eyes flared with destructive power before settling into a simmer. "Now, now my dear Roman. Don't tell me you wouldn't have done the same in my position?" He couldn't deny that. "Besides, if you don't keep a leash on your dog, how else will you stop it from running away?"
Roman ground his teeth to keep any more curses from escaping. He knew. He knew from the moment he had met her that she was a level of evil that he simply wasn't.
"Since my master needs to have this done, I'll be waiting for you back at your office to make sure you step up and prove your usefulness." Cinder told him, standing up and starting to leave the nightclub.
"Didn't know you were into BDSM." Roman swiftly muttered, trying to recover some of his wounded pride with his wit. The over the shoulder look and the glare she gave him told him he'd struck a successful blow. He heard the click of her new glass heels before the doors slammed shut.
"You should probably…" Xiong's son started to say before Roman stood up on his own.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Roman tipped his cap to his fellow denizen of the underworld before making his own way out of the club. But as he made it to the doors, he caught sight of a tall, curvy blonde making her way towards the bar. Neo's type and she isn't even here to hit on her.
For the next week, Cinder's slave-driving tactics taxed Roman's mental faculties to their limits. But he got his results. One of his warehouses was nearly full of Dust and he was currently in the market for a larger one near the pier.
He had Cinder hide a Bullhead near his next target: From Dust To Dawn. It was one of the largest independent stores and now he was going to use Junior's men to take it down. Once the men he hired arrived, Roman lit a cigar and led them to the store. The first thing he did was activate his semblance, noting that a scroll and music player were located in the back of the store before overloading the security system that he could sense.
"Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a Dust shop open this late?" He inquired, tapping some ash from his cigar onto the floor.
One of his men pointed a gun straight in the shopkeeper's face, risking giving the old man a heart attack. "Please, just take my lien and leave." The man was hskaing from head to toe, a clear danger to his health.
To stop that, Roman took on a calming tone. "Calm down, we're not here for your money." The man seemed to relax a little. "Grab the Dust." His order was met by a flurry of motion from the black-suited goons. They swept up the Dust crystals in the display and began emptying the powder from their tubes. He didn't really pay attention as one of his men went to clear the store.
But he noticed when the thug was sent flying into a small shelf of cans. He sensed a slight change in the position of the scroll and nodded his head to the nearest suited rent-a-muscle.
"Freeze!" He heard the thug order whoever it was. There was a momentary pause before the thug and his aggressor were thrown through the front plate-glass window.
Everyone other than the Dust shop's owner converged on the now-shattered window, wondering just what they were dealing with. Roman practically shouted his disbelief at the insane sight in front of him. A young black and red-themed girl, barely into her teens with a giant red mecha-shifting scythe was standing out in the streets looking at them with decidedly fearless silver eyes. She spun her weapon, which happened to be the size of her, around before planting its tip in the ground.
He could here whatever guitar-heavy music was pounding out of her headphones and found himself sincerely tempted to overload out of pure spite. But he managed to reign in the impulse. He was a master thief and professional criminal, not an outspoken bully and jackass. She thankfully turned it off, waiting for him to make a move of his own.
"Okay…." He tilted his head to signal the gathered thugs. "Get her."
He stood back to watch as his three remaining goons were systematically beaten down by the girl, even the one carrying the machine gun. Roman carefully stepped out of the store through the broken window and stood in the street, only mildly surprised when his last henchman landed at his feet.
"You were worth every cent. Truly you were." The orange-haired crime boss's unrestrained sarcasm was running rampant. "Well, Red I think we call all agree this has been an eventful evening." He dropped his cigar to his feet and crushed it with his cane. "And as much as much as I would like to stick around…" His cane came up and he flicked the small switch to uncover its barrel. "I'm afraid this…. is where we part ways." A quick pull of the trigger fired a flare right at the girl, forcing her to dodge. Roman used that moment to sprint across the street and start climbing a fire-escape ladder to the rendezvous point where Cinder would be waiting with the Bullhead. He had barely cleared the roof before he heard a gunshot behind him, telling the criminal that he had some unwanted company.
"Hey!" Red called out to him as he stood near the edge of the building, wondering what was taking Cinder so long. So help me woman if you sell me out now I'm turning every asset I have against you.
"Persistent." He was annoyed that he was now stuck waiting on the fiery bitch, but he had to give credit to Red for trying to give chase. When he heard the roar of the engines below him, he knew he was free.
Cinder maneuvered the Bullhead into an appropriate position before opening the automatic side door. He hopped up and into the air transport and grabbed a handhold before shouting out to his little pursuer.
"End of the line, Red!" He pulled one of the Burn Dust crystals he had just stolen out of a pocket and tossed it to approximately her feet before shooting it with his cane. A brilliant red fireball replaced the girl.
"Woohoo!" He shouted in joy, figuring that explosion had either killed her or tossed her from the building's roof. But as the smoke cleared, he caught sight a purple light glowing from the spot. When it had entirely dissipated, a blonde woman holding a riding crop of all things was standing there, looking quite prim.
Oh fuck. The thought ran straight through Roman's head. The woman swept her crop forward, launching several telekinetic blasts on the Bullhead. As Roman struggled to keep his balance on the pitching floor, he realized that for all of Cinder's power, she still couldn't fly like he could.
Making his way to the cockpit, he decided to let her know what he thought of their situation. "We've got a Huntress." Sometimes you need a problem to solve a bigger one. Cinder slid out of the pilot's seat and right by Roman, a very annoyed look on her face. And she's pissed, wonderful. He thought as he grabbed the control stick and took up his rightful seat.
Roman couldn't stop himself from sighing a bit when he noticed the sudden storm the Huntress had conjured. Today's just one of those days, isn't it?
Ice Dust-infused hail shards started to rain down, piercing the Bullhead and the even piercing the windshield. Ducking out of the way, Roman noticed one shard impaled in the seat not far from where his head had been. Not playing around. He watched as the Huntress and his boss dueled through the side windows, barely managing to react in time for an attack directed at crippling the Bullhead. Once Cinder had suitably distracted them, he flipped the switch on the door and began to fly away.
By the time that Roman was certain they were free from pursuit, Cinder had already slid into the copliot's chair.
"So how much Dust did you retrieve?" She questioned, still looking frustrated.
"A handful of crystals and several contained vials of the stuff." He explained, turning out the numerous and hidden pockets of his coat as proof. "Had to leave most of the haul along with the help behind."
Cinder took the news silently before standing and moving to stand directly behind Roman's seat. He became even more confused when she removed his ascot and bowler cap, tossing his accessories into her empty seat.
What the h—His thought was cut off by the feeling of her hands slipping down the back of his shirt, settling near the tips of his shoulder blades.
He didn't have time to react as the hands became blisteringly hot, instantly burning the skin and tissue underneath.
"God… fucking….!" He swore, doing everything he could to retain control over the aircraft and not succumb to the excruciating pain currently being inflicted on him.
"The faster you get back to headquarters, the sooner this stops." She calmly replied, as if telling him that his hat was askew.
He grunted his understanding and pushed the accelerator forward, not trusting himself to open his mouth without letting out a tortured scream. And he wasn't going to give the bitch that satisfaction.
By the time that they landed, Roman was certain most of his back was severely burned and he could smell the telltale smoke of his undershirt having been burned away too. When the Bullhead had come to a complete stop, Cinder took her hands away and casually walked out. Roman himself didn't have the strength to do more than grab his removed accessories and stumble into Perry's waiting arms.
Neo was surprised when her Papa returned for the first time in a week. He had left a message about needing to work constantly and thus left her to take care of herself. Something she could do now that she was 21. The first few nights, she had brought home girls that she had met at bars for one-night stands. But that had been too boring since none of them were really her preferred type. Blond, aggressive, and curvy was what she liked and Vale seemed to be lacking in that department. Unlike Vacuo.
But when she heard the front door slam open, she had skipped out to find her Uncle Perry supporting Papa as he carried his coat, ascot, and hat in his hands. His black undershirt had been partially seared off and Neo could see the serious burns that marred her father's back.
What=happened? She desperately signed, helping Uncle Perry stretch Papa out on the kitchen table, stomach down.
"Bad run-in with a Huntress and an armed bystander, Dearie. Nothing to worry about." Her dad explained, wincing as he turned his face towards her. "But you remember your Aunt Cinder right?"
She nodded, wondering what her missing relative had to do with anything.
"She's back in town and needs us to work for her again." He had an insincere smile on his face, but Neo couldn't figure out what he was trying to hide. "But since I'm going to be laid up with this injury for a while, I'm going to need you to take over until I'm all healed up. Think of it as training for when I retire."
Neo's pink-brown eyes changed to white, full of happiness. Her Papa had been training her to take over someday, but to think that he trusted her enough to not only make plans and keep everyone in line while he recovered was too much. She gave his head a gentle hug, simply enjoying the closeness with her only family.
"Now Uncle Perry and I have some things to discuss and you are gonna need a good night's rest for tomorrow." Papa told her, raising a hand to pet her head. She preened for a moment under his praise before skipping off. She had things to get ready and plans to formulate.
Once Roman was certain that Neo wasn't in earshot, he let out a pained moan. Cinder's hands had burned him down to the deep tissue, guaranteeing he was going to have some huge scars from this.
Wordlessly, Perry sprang into action. He started treating the edge burns, the ones where his nerves hadn't been destroyed and were currently protesting their survival. Roman nearly passed out towards the end when the Faunus started to bandage the afflictions.
"Is it really a good idea to let your daughter near her?" The yes-man questioned, knowing how much his employer loved the girl.
"I don't have much a choice." The orange-haired man explained, "Cinder has me stuck in her web and the only one I know she won't hurt is Neo. The moment she does, she loses the leash on me." Roman's eyes fell to the ground, finally letting the weight of his defeat at her hands claim him.
"Sir?" Perry questioned, having never seen that during his decade-long service.
"I need you to get in contact with some of your friends in the White Fang." Roman ordered his right-hand. "If this comes to a head, we're going to need an army."
The next morning Neo woke up especially early, unusually nervous about the sudden promotion from occasional tagalong and independent worker to head of a bi-continental crime syndicate. She ate a light breakfast, said goodbye to her Papa, who was lying prone on their couch, and went on her way.
She made it to the warehouse that operated as one of the syndicate's headquarters, and was happily greeted by several of the pickpockets that she normally spent her days with. She watched them leave for the day, and went into the main office. There she found notes and half-finished plans in Roman's handwriting. She started looking them over, trying to understand exactly what the overall scheme was.
"Oh my, Neo. I didn't expect to see you here." A female voice made Neo's head jerk up, her eyes both turning pink in surprise. Cinder stood in the doorway, a slight smile on her face.
Neo smiled at the sight of her god-aunt and mother of her cousins Mercury and Emerald. But she hadn't seen them in a long time. Since she remembered her aunt's preference, Neo whipped out her scroll and typed out a text faster than even the most tech-savvy teens.
Aunt Cinder, I missed you! But Papa got hurt on a job last night, so I'm taking over until he's healed. Cinder read the text, and gave a frown at the information.
"Is it a serious injury?" She questioned.
It's bad. Most of his back is burned. But how are Mercury and Emerald?
"They're doing quite fine and should be arriving soon."
That's great! Haven't seen them in a while. Sorry but I need to get to work. Like Papa says: if you don't crack the whip, you won't stay the master.
Cinder chuckled at the quote, giving Neo a sense of understanding. "He always had a smart line for everything."
Roman sprawled face-down on his couch, looking at his list of "employees" on his scroll. He figured that once the idiots heard he was injured, certain ones would try to take over. And fail miserably, considering he hadn't trained Neo for nothing.
He shifted slightly, wincing at the pulling of burnt issue along his back. Cinder was absolutely insane. No doubt about it. Who the hell burns the pilot of your airship while you're still flying?
Thinking about what he needed, he dialed an underground doctor on his payroll. "Get over here." He hung up, leaving no room for debate. "This is going to suck to escape from." In order to ease his anxiety, he focused on his memories of the trip to Vacuo.
Sunny beaches, bottles of expensive wine, and all the pretty women that were looking for a bad boy to call their own. Neo's own flings with several blondes that made it necessary for him to get a second apartment so they wouldn't disturb each other's fun. He couldn't stop a smile from crossing his face. Like father, like daughter.
The next few days tested Neo's semblance in ways she had never had to use it before. Creating 3-dimensional copies of her father and making them speak to keep up the illusion that he was actually fine was tough when she didn't really have any experience speaking, which led to more than a few confused responses to the illusion's orders. She shook her head as she ducked out of the office that she had sequestered herself in, and looked around to see a group of lower-ranked members talking amongst themselves. She snuck over, using the shadows and her natural grace to get close without being detected.
"I heard that the real Roman's dead, and his multicolored bitch is just pretending to be him to take over. Makes it prime to take over or go into business for ourselves." One of them said, looking into everyone's eyes.
"What the fuck is his relationship with her anyways? There's no way an old and flamboyant dick like him actually has a kid like that." Said another, making several emphatic gestures to accompany his rather perverse suggestion.
"Yeah, a piece of ass like that ain't coming from him. Must be riding him for his money." A third one said, nudging another member of the group. Before he could say a word, the distinct sound of a sword being drawn made them turn. Standing right behind him, her umbrella's sword unsheathed, was Neo with tears of rage in her eyes. She felt a malevolent smile cross her face when the blood drained from the faces of her soon-to-be victims. Her mismatching white-brown eyes found the perfect spot for her to stand. She casually walked into the heart of the group, her sword passing through the first man's neck while her illusions kept the others from noticing her casual murder of their comrade.
After tucking her umbrella-sheath under a dainty arm, she pulled out her scroll and typed out a short message into a speak-mimicking program.
"Disloyalty to my father is a death sentence." The scroll robotically stated, and Neo dropped her illusion. The utter shock and terror at the reveal made her only giddier to continue. The survivors started to panic, making a move to escape. With little more than a quick swipe of her sword, Neo removed the legs of the second and third men as the screams of their pain echoed through the warehouse. She could hear the murmur of more people coming to see what was going on, but the tri-colored girl was lost to her rage and bloodlust. The fourth member of the group sat frozen in shock, feeling a warm liquid puddling in his pants at the sight of Neo's doll-like face flecked with blood and the wide smile of a psychopath.
"Insulting my father in my presence is grounds for death." Another robotic message, another cut neck to silence the offender. The third man started to drag himself away by his arms, only to find them removed with an almost lazy swing of Neo's sword. A petite foot rolled him over and tilted his head up to ensure they made eye contact. Any pleas for mercy died in his whimpers as he caught sight of the horrific pain her eyes promised him.
"And treating me like some pathetic piece of meat for you to enjoy makes you my toy." The sword's point found its way into his appendix, extracting a wordless scream of pain. A momentary reprieve came as the sword left his body, only to plunge back into his left kidney. She dragged it upward, teasing it through his pancreas and nicking his stomach to drag out as many screams as she could without forcing it against the ribcage. By now she knew that the entirety of the warehouse's personnel had collected, and decided to finish up. She pulled out her sword and punctured his lungs. She watched as the combination of blood loss, internal acids eating away at vital organs, and the lack of air snuffed the life in his eyes. Waiting a few seconds to savor his terrified expression, she turned back to the fourth member of the group, who was still sitting in the same spot he had been in the entire time.
She walked over in front of him, blinking and switching her eyes to brown-pink and studying his frozen face. She flicked the blood off of her sword and sheathed it in front of his eyes before typing a final message into her scroll.
"Insubordination of any kind isn't tolerated in my Papa's syndicate, understood?" The device questioned the sole survivor. She watched as his jaw slowly unclenched to reply, resisting the desire to keep killing now that she had started.
"Of course, ma'am." He nodded, trying to retain some dignity. Once he replied, Neo gave a sincere smile and stood on her tiptoes to pat the top of his head. Before he could comprehend what had just happened, she skipped back into the office while twirling her umbrella, happy that they had all just learned their lessons.
Roman less than satisfied to find Perry waiting in his living room for the redhead to wake up from his nap. He had fallen into a routine of treating his wounds, taking his pain medication and then sleeping on the couch to ensure he wouldn't roll onto the tender and recovering flesh.
"Well, did you manage to get us the back-up?" The injured crime boss questioned, starting to push himself up with a wince as the muscles pulled.
"About that sir…" Perry started, fidgeting. "Apparently Cinder already secured their 'aid' for her own endeavors."
Instead of the expected rage, Perry only heard a discontented sigh from his boss. "Figures. The bitch has got some big plans then. Perry, we need to be ready to comply until the moment we can escape."
"Sir?" The Faunus's ears twitched, shocked.
"She's going to change the world with that master of hers. So we'll play along until we get out. Got it?"
"Of course, sir."
Since the last chapter was posted, Volume 3 finished and well… things happened, secrets were revealed, and our beloved duo were *spoilers* defeated atop a crashing Atlas airship with Roman eaten by a griffon.
What will happen from here on out in the story will change slightly from my original plan, but it will essentially continue to follow the original source material with my AU spin on the series.