A FEW WEEKS AGO…
“I want him dead!”
Junior slammed his hands on the dark wood table to emphasize the point.
Roman rolled his eyes.
The room was dark, dim, theatre-esque lighting coming from consoles on the far side of the room, and from the wide window above those consoles that overlooked the sparse warehouse that was Roman’s current base of operations.
There were three other singular points of light from the white Dust crystals on the necklaces of Matriarch and her two attendants, the religious nut bag crime lords that Roman had had to learn to deal with over the years because no other groups in the Southskirts seemed able to usurp them. All three of them looked identical, long black dresses and hair bleached to stark whiteness, red makeup adding color to the contrast.
Across from Matriarch sat Junior, boss of Dancetown, the locals’ name for the clubbing district and its surroundings in downtown Vale City. The Malachite twins stood behind them, the one in red–Roman could never remember their first names for the life of him, much less which was which–had her arm in a sling and a nasty cut stitched up from her neck down to her collarbone. A result of an encounter the other night with the mysterious killer Junior was currently ranting about.
Once again Roman stewed a bit at how Junior had copied him in finding a killer teenage girl to be his muscle after Roman had acquired Neo’s services. It definitely felt weird telling a seventeen year old to break into high security locations and steal things or to disappear troublesome cops or overly inquisitive reporters, but since his wife had been killed, it was a weird feeling he had to learn to deal with. Like so much else in his life.
Briar, the beefy lieutenant from the White Fang that the Taurus boy had sent as a representative, sat further down the table on Junior’s side, looking impatient and angry. But he always looked angry. He also didn’t matter. Roman didn’t deal with lackeys, no matter how many muscles or chainsaws they carried around.
Across from Briar sat Slate. The accountant. Dark suit, button-down light grey undershirt, plain, black-and-white tile patterned tie, glasses covering narrow eyes under a slicked back black hairline. Roman liked Slate–always professional, all about the business, predictable and easy to manage. The suited man analyzed everything based on numbers and projected outcomes, and always chose the outcome with the greatest numerical benefit to him and his organization.
“Yes, you can keep saying that as much as you want, Junior,” Slate drawled. “It won’t make him any more or less dead.”
Junior slammed two meaty hands on the table and shot to his feet with a growl. “I bet you’d care more if it was your m–”
“Junior!” Roman barked, instantly quieting the blustering moron and drawing every eye in the room. “Sit the fuck down!”
He always hated having to do this. To be the hard ass. He enjoyed being his sarcastic, smarmy self–something Rhea had loved too. But sometimes these fuckers needed to be reminded that he was in charge. He was the crime lord of Vale City. And they were second.
Without Rhea, he wasn’t sure how long he would stay on top. She had been his loving wife and mother of his children at home, and his Beacon trained enforcer on the streets of Vale. And she was sorely missed on both fronts now.
Luckily, she and Roman had culled the city’s underworld to the point where the only ones of significant clout left, the three seated with him at the table, excluding the White Fang douche, weren’t likely to be ones to make a power grab from him. They’d killed the ambitious ones.p Slate liked the status quo he and Roman had struck. Matriarch was not interested in the inner city, content to keep the Southern ‘burbs in her vice grip of religious zealousy. And Junior… The idea of betraying Roman probably hadn’t even popped into his tiny brain, and if it had, he wouldn’t be able to orchestrate it.
The White Fang might become a problem, though they were in the mountains right now. Roman couldn’t imagine them making a play for the city, though. They had other agendas, like burning the city down.
He was stirred out of his musings when Junior fell back into his chair with a glare. The man’s heavy build made the chair screech backward, annoying the shit out of Roman and causing Slate to sneer in distaste. Roman kept his composure, though, and addressed Junior.
“You haven’t given us any workable intel to go off of, J. ‘Masked asshole with knives killing my guys at night’ is not much to go off of.”
In response, Junior turned to the white Malachite and jerked his head toward the table, a brutish order to speak.
The girl, for her part, acted far more authoritative than her boss. Chin high, eyes level and fearlessly meeting those of the other men and women at the table. Roman knew the poise was born of misguided arrogance–misguided because the twins were nowhere near as powerful and skilled as they thought they were. They’d gotten their asses handed to them by another teenage girl, some random big-boobed blonde that decided to walked in and trashed the twins and a ton of Junior’s men for whatever reason, only a few weeks ago. And the other night they apparently got much more than their asses handed to them… An ass and a half? Hm. Roman needed to figure out a good phrase for that.
The arrogant girl cleared her throat. “We know he’s white-skinned. Gray hair, long. The mask doesn’t cover much. He’s good with a blade, but not that good.” Roman raised an eyebrow at that. The scar on her sister was testament otherwise. She continued, “He’s better at throwing them. He’s got a powerful semblance, though. We thought it was just some sort of recall effect on his knives, calling them back to him, but when we put a few cuts on him, he… recalled himself?” She glanced at her sister, getting a nod of confirmation.
“We think he can rewind himself and objects he’s imbued with his aura in time. All of the damage we did to him was und–”
Roman waved a hand and cut her off. “Yes, yes. Fascinating. Utterly irrelevant, though. What we n–”
“Irrelevant?” the white Malachite cut in, expression haughty and offended.
“Did you just interrupt me?” Roman asked. He kept his tone even, almost friendly. He knew that scared people more than his ‘dark and dangerous’ voice. He wasn’t all that great at that.
Plus, the friendly tone made him come across a bit sociopathic. Which was all for the better, it kept people unsteady when dealing with him.
The Malachite girl flinched and broke his gaze, but just shifted her glare to the table.
Until a year ago his question would have been met with stammering and apologies. Roman knew what was missing–Rhea, and her two massively intimidating wolves. One of the wolves was still alive, though missing a leg and her master. Roman couldn’t keep Palatine behaved in a setting like this like Rhea had with her semblance, and the missing limb would be a poetic sign of weakness more than anything else.
His clock was ticking. He’d need to work out an exit plan soon.
“I do believe she did, Roman,” Slate said coldly, eyes piercing the girl in question.
She kept her gaze on the table.
“I’ll think of some suitable horror to inflict on her later,” Roman assured him. That made her eyes widen, and she chanced a glance at Roman. When she met nothing but impassiveness, she looked to her sister, who matched her fear, and then at Junior, who motioned her back.
Roman no longer cared enough to follow. “Map of the city,” he ordered the table at large. “Now.”
Slate immediately motioned to one of his men behind him who handed him a leather, string-bound binder. He ruffled through it for a moment, not because he needed to search for what he was looking for, but because the map he was looking for was tucked under other papers.
He laid the map out and pushed it to the middle of the table, giving a single twist of the wrist to align it properly with the edges. Vale City and the outer edges of the neighboring cities to the south and east were depicted on the white paper, the yellows and blues of roads criss-crossing the black outlines of major buildings. The ocean was depicted in a lighter blue to the west, Beacon Bridge and Beacon itself stretching up to the north.
Roman gave a nod to Slate. He pulled a pen from inside his coat and thumped it down in front of Junior. “Where?”
Roman rolled his eyes. Honestly, how a man this dense ever came to lead anything was astonishing to him.
“Where were the attacks, genius?”
Scowling, Junior grabbed the pen and made drew–almost chiseled, with how hard he pressed down–five large circles. They were too large and inaccurate to be all that useful if Roman needed to know the precise locations, but he didn’t, and this would be enough to illustrate his point.
Five circles, four of which were in Dancetown and at the edge of Dancetown and the Docks, Roman’s own territory. It had been Junior’s men that had been attacked there, though, trucking a shipment of cocaine and flake to the docks that was supposed to be boated over to Vacuo.
Roman had been pissed to lose that shipment. It cost him a lot of cred with the Sand Kings, and they were a lucrative business partner.
He twirled his cane at his side. “Now, Junior, let’s do some brainy analysis here. What do you see here?”
“That the fucker likes to pick on me and mine.”
Roman exhaled slowly through his nose. “Yes, and why would that likely be?”
Junior shrugged insolently. “Dunno. Maybe I fucked his mom.”
‘Don’t shoot him, Roman. Don’t shoot him.’
Roman’s silence told Junior he should keep guessing. “Maybe he decided he doesn’t like the smell of flake. I dunno. That shit smells funny. I dunno.”
“Say ‘I dunno’ one more time and I’ll have Matriarch rip your spine out through your throat.”
“I d–uh, I’m not sure boss… why would… what was the question?”
Roman sighed again. He couldn’t felt Junior for losing his train of thought–if it could be called that–now. Fear tended to do that.
“He’s targeting drug deals and a sweatshop in this county–your territory. One case for this could be, as you said, he’s got a grudge against you.”
“For fucking his mom.”
“… Yes, Junior, for fucking his mom.”
“And now he wants to take over my business for revenge.” Junior nodded like he’d happened upon some grand epiphany. “Makes sense.”
“Junior, on all of these attacks, after he killed your men, what did he do with the product?”
“Burned it, why?”
“If he wanted to take over your business, why would he burn perfectly good product instead of selling it?”
Junior blinked. “I dunno, ‘cause he’s a moron?”
‘Someone in this scenario certainly is.’
“Shall I rip his spine out now, Lord Roman?” Matriarch asked in her stilted, overly formal, overly weird cadence.
“Oh, he did say ‘I dunno’ again, didn’t he?”
“What?! No, I didn-no! Wait, boss I d–”
“Shut up, Junior.” Roman turned to Matriarch, facing her fully and meeting her eyes to address her like he knew she expected. “Hold off for now. I think I’m about to get through to him.”
She dipped her chin in a nod.
He turned back to the oaf. “Junior, he’s burning drugs because he doesn’t like drugs.”
“Then what’s he want my business for?” \
“He doesn’t, you idiot! He’s a fucking vigilante!” Junior blinked uncomprehendingly at him. “He’s trying to rid Dancetown of your men and your drugs. Why?”
“Uh… ‘cause he hasn’t had a taste that would change his mind?”
Roman pushed out his lower lip in acquiescence and tilted his head side to side. “Sure, maybe. But the reason he’s doing it here–” he jabbed the circled areas on the map with a finger “–is probably because he fucking lives there.”
Roman glanced at the other people seated at the table. Briar was completely uninterested in the current conversation. His hands were clasped in front of him as he leaned on and looked down at the tabletop. Roman was fairly certain he was watching himself flex. But maybe that was just his bias against muscled brutes. Slate and Matriarch were both attentive. Slate gave Roman a nod, while Matriarch stared coolly at Junior, making little effort to hide her disdain for the man.
Junior wasn’t paying attention to her anyway.
“How does that help me?” he asked.
Resisting the urge to swing his cane full force into the man’s lower jaw, Roman growled, “Because, nimrod, it means you can find him. If he lives in Dancetown, he lives in an apartment. Have some of your mooks posted outside the complexes–there’s only five or six of them–and have them wait to see if he shows up. You can also scatter some guys along the roofs in your territory, have them watch to see if they can spot him moving around the city at night. If you can attack him when he’s not expecting it, you should be able to take him. Your two circus acrobats apparently cut him, so I imagine it can’t be that hard.”
The two twins bristled at the comment. The red one opened her mouth to say something, but when Roman narrowed his eyes at her she immediately clamped it shut.
“Now, enough of your idiocy. Matriarch,” he turned, bowing his head respectfully (even though he didn’t have much respect for her creepy ass, but this was how to work her), “have you anything to report for the week?”
Matriarch inclined her head. “Nothing negative. We’ve acquired a new recruit, sent from the Branwen Tribe in Mistral. Seer–” she gestured to one of her two attendants “–has confirmed there will not be anything of import for our congregation in the next week. The Councilman of Business will be leaving the city within three days, moving north.”
‘Seer’ nodded. “Most likely.”
Interesting. Roman would need to look into that. Whatever deals Carson Winchester was looking to make in Atlas would likely have at least some impact on their operations, particularly Slate’s.
“The Councilwoman of Civil Service will be subject to some sort of violence later in the week. A mugging, perhaps, or an assassination attempt. We’ll know more particulars when we get closer to the day. She will come out relatively fine, though.”
That might be an issue. Neither Roman nor any of the parties here would be launching an attack on a councilwoman, so it was a third party. Hopefully nothing more than an opportunist mugger, but if there was organization behind it, Roman would need to figure out where it was coming from.
The likely security crackdown that would result from the attack would be a nuisance for a few weeks, though.
Roman nodded back. “Any luck on getting Seer to meet Ozpin face to face? Or Rustheart, or that sword-scythe fucker?” It would be nice to know when and where those three would be days early.
Matriarch shook her head. “Unfortunately, no. We do not know how to find this…” she waved a hand, “‘sword-scythe’ man. And the other two are mostly holed up in Beacon, as far as we can tell.”
“Maybe we can manufacture some sort of crisis that they’ll need to respond to, draw them out, let Seer see them?”
“Perhaps that could work,” Matriarch replied. “It would have to be a significant crisis to ensure the response of such individuals.”
At that, Briar loudly cleared his throat and looked pointedly at Roman.
Roman rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, Mountain Glenn. I know.”
Briar straightened up. “Taurus believes this venture can be mutually beneficial. We can supply vast amounts of money and chaos in exchange for your men and resources.”
“I’m sure it would be mutually beneficial.”
“Then why are you dragging your feet?” The question came out as a growl that made Roman and Slate both raise their eyebrows.
“Because, Briar, as I’ve told you before, if Taurus wants to talk business with me, he needs to do it himself, face to face.”
The beefcake scowled. “You can communicate just as effectively through me. Or a scroll.”
“It’s not about communication, it’s about respect.”
Roman noticed Briar bite back a retort. Interesting. The terrorist asshole likely didn’t respect Roman, probably saw him as just a petty criminal. No matter. The feeling was mutual. Anarchists like the White Fang were more detrimental than anything else, though the chaos they created might be channeled to help Roman’s business, if handled correctly.
“When Taurus decides he’s not too busy for a four hour trip into the city to meet, I’ll be happy to discuss his operation with him.”
Roman turned away, content to dismiss the man to put him in his place. “Anything else, Matriarch?”
She shook her head. “No, Lord Roman.”
The True were weird as fuck, Matriarch was extra weird, but damn did he enjoy being called ‘Lord Roman’.
“And you, Slate?”
This was what he’d been waiting for. Every week, in every one of these meetings, Roman had a coiled anticipation that Slate might finally have some news.
“Good news on many fronts, Roman.”
‘Does that mean…?’
“We’ve located both the persons of interest you and Junior have been looking for.”
“You found him? You found my son?” Roman’s excitement peaked, and Junior also sat up straighter, eager for his own information.
Slate smiled, an expression that didn’t quite reach his cold eyes. “We did. Or rather, we found where he will be in a few weeks.”
“How do you mean?”
“We’ve not been able to locate where he’s being kept now, but we’ve confirmed he’s now officially enrolled in Beacon, under your late wife’s maiden name.”
Roman fell into a coughing fit. “W–kkkeh!–what? Ozpin’s training him?”
“Indeed. It seems young Remus will be a huntsman.”
‘What the fuck?’ Rhea had trained at Beacon, graduated, and then gone rogue and ended up as one of the two leaders of Vale City’s criminal underground–she’d liked to joke that she was the ‘top dog’. And now Ozpin was going to be training her son? Was he an idiot?
“Okay. Okay okay okay. So we know where he’ll be. So we just need to break him out once he’s there.”
Slate raised an eyebrow. “You want to break him out of Beacon?”
Roman blinked. “Well, duh. I want my son back.”
To that, Slate made an expression of acceptance. “Their classes begin on the twelfth. We were not able to confirm exactly when or where he will be staying within the university, but he will certainly be on the grounds on and after the twelfth.”
With a sigh, Roman leaned back in his chair, a tangled knot of a thousand emotions that had been tied up for a year and a half finally loosening. He knew where his son would be. Soon, Roman and Romulus would go rescue Remus, and all the Torchwicks would be together again. All the ones that were left.
“And my info?” Junior butted in.
“Ah yes, the teenage girl with the fiery fists and killer cleavage,” Slate said dryly.
Junior nodded, not realizing he was being mocked.
“We got images of her outside your club and ran them by my contacts in the VPD. Her name is Yang Xiao-Long. Also a soon-to-be student at Beacon Academy.”
Junior nodded again, staring off into space. Likely imagining some horrific revenge for his embarrassment that he’d never be able to enact. The boobed bitch already proved she can level Junior’s men and his want-to-be huntress-level rogues.
If he wanted, Roman supposed he could allow Junior to employ Neo’s services for a hit. He didn’t want to, though. Openly assaulting and possibly murdering was a good way to get all the police and huntsmen in the city on their asses.
“Junior, what exactly do you want to do with this girl?”
“Teach her not to fucking mess with me,” the man answered darkly.
“Yes, yes, but how? You gonna kill her?”
“If that’s what it takes for her to learn her lesson.”
Roman wanted to point out that if she was dead, her learning the lesson would be irrelevant, but it didn’t matter. And it would still set an example for others. And…
“Very well. Keep me updated of everything you do about it. I might be able to provide assistance, and I want to know what’s going on with that either way.”
“Okay,” Junior answered. No questions, no suspicions of Roman’s motivations.
“That’ll be it for now, then. See you all next week. Matriarch, please stay a moment.”
She raised an eyebrow in response and glanced at Junior, staying seated.
Junior stood, leaving the room after clapping Roman’s shoulder and saying, “See ya, boss.”
Yeah, Roman had no worries of betrayal from him.
The Malachite twins skulked after their boss, giving Roman insolent glares in the process. They were irrelevant, though, so it mattered little.
Slate stood from his chair and gave Roman a nod. “Roman.”
Roman nodded back. “Slate. Always a pleasure. Your payment for the information will be in your account by midnight tonight.”
The man smiled. “Glad to hear it. If you need assistance with obtaining locations or schedules for your boy, you need only ask. See you next week.”
Roman knew that wasn’t strictly true. He’d need to ask and pay. But that was par for the course in this line of work, and it was a price he’d be happy to pay if it turned out he needed the help.
Briar stayed seated as Slate and his men filed out. The brute’s arms were crossed, and he glared at Roman.
“The White Fang still has business to discuss with you.”
Roman’s lips curled up, but it was more a barring of fangs than a smile. “Then tell Adam Taurus I’ll be happy to discuss it with him when he arrives.”
After a long, pointless stare down in which Roman knew Briar was vainly trying to establish himself as the alpha, the man stood with a grunt and stalked out, pushing his chair in with a violent shove before he left.
It was just Roman and the True left now.
“Animals,” muttered the one who hadn’t spoken yet tonight, Chorus.
Matriarch raised a hand to silence the woman while Roman bristled. Matriarch… Roman knew she felt the same about faunus, but she also knew Roman didn’t. He’d married one. Somehow their two boys had ended up entirely human, however the hells that worked, but he’d never had issue with faunus. He’d grown up in the slums with them. Many of his friends had been part animal of one kind or another, back when he could still have friends.
Roman decided to let it go. Nothing about the True’s views would change from his protests, and all three of them could kill him in horrible ways if they so chose. Well, maybe not Seer. But Chorus could have him screaming incoherently for hours and Matriarch could kill him with his own semblance, so it was best to just leave it be.
“You want to use the girl as the crisis,” Matriarch said, reading into what Roman had been contemplating.
“I do. Surely Ozpin and his crew of assholes will find one of their students getting attacked in the streets reason enough to come out of their castle.”
Matriarch nodded. “It likely would. And that would mean the end of Junior. They and the police would not take the death of one of their ‘child heroes’ lightly.”
Roman shrugged. “If it gets us a bead on Ozpin and Rustheart and sword-scythe asshole, then that would be worth it.”
That got a raised eyebrow from the coveness. “You would sacrifice your most loyal, though admittedly inept, servants to get a chance at a path to revenge?”
Roman kept his expression impassive. “Yes.”
“Very well. Inform us when Junior makes his play. We will have Seer wait in Dancetown once he does.”
“I will. Lastly, what’s in store for me this week?” Their meetings always ended this way, Roman asking for the precognitives impressions for him. Seer never gave him much that wasn’t direct threats to his life, as he might change his actions based on other information and therefore make what she’d seen incorrect, but it still helped to know the general feelings he could expect.
Seer stepped forward. “I could not see very far past today–”
“Do I die?!”
Seer and Matriarch both smiled. “No, Lord Roman,” Seer answered. “You will just experience a lot in the coming hours, and periods of intense action and emotion limit the depth to which I can see.”
“Oh. Right, you’ve mentioned that.”
“So what happens tonight.”
“Conflict. Violence. You will be stressed, then relieved, then frightened, all in quick succession. I imagine it has something to do with what you’re going to do with the information Mister Slate has just provided.”
Roman raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What am I going to do with it?”
Seer spread her hands out, palms up, a nonverbal ‘I don’t know.’ “Something in the inner city, and I sense a familial bond and contentment from you beforehand.”
So he’d bring Romulus. Yeah, that made sense.
“Okay, well does what I’m doing turn out okay?”
“Presumably. You will fall asleep tonight with a feeling of determination and conviction.”
Seer shook her head. “Nothing else of consequence within the next fifty to sixty hours. Beyond that I cannot see.”
Roman nodded. “Your insights are appreciated, as always, Seer.”
She gave him a curtsy as Matriarch stood to leave.
“Until next time, Lord Roman.”
Now he was alone. He sat in silence for a few long minutes, continuously following trails of hopeful thoughts but cutting them off before they could reach a conclusion.
He knew where Remus would be. Beacon. Only a few miles and weeks from here and now, he’d have both of his twins again, and then they could figure out a way to leave this city behind and sta–
‘No, Roman. You don’t have him yet.’
Getting his hopes up was foolish. He needed to stay focused on getting Remus back, not on what life would be like after. If he allowed himself to daydream about being a happy family again, there was a good chance he’d lose it completely.
And soon, vengeance. He’d put the sword-scythe asshole that killed his wife into the ground, and the ‘hero of Molvane’ that helped him do it. Then, if he could pull it off, he’d kill the asshole that sent them, too. That was reaching a little far, though, most likely. Ozpin wouldn’t be where he was today if he was a pushover, and he likely wouldn’t venture into the city to deal with Junior himself.
One step at a time, though.
He pulled out his scroll and called Romulus. Three rings later, the dial noise cut off.
“Hey Pops, what’s up?”
Roman smiled. “Found your brother.”
“Oh shit, really? Where is he? Do we need to set up a prison break?”
“No, Rommy. Chill. He’s going to Beacon in a few weeks.”
“… What, like Mom did?”
“Yeah, like Mom did.” It hurt to think about, that Remus would be walking those same halls Rhea had spent four years of her life in. It was a connection to his wife that Roman would never get to have.
“Okay… So are we breaking him out? Or do we just let him graduate like Mom did and then he’ll come back? Orrr…”
“No, Rommy. We’re gonna go fucking get him.”
Roman smiled. “Call Neo. W–”
Roman rolled his eyes. He knew his son had the hots for Neo. Understandable–she was attractive and his age… and incredibly flexible. Roman wanted to admonish the boy, warn him that killer femme fatales are girls to stay away from, but… Roman had married one. It would be the pot calling the kettle black.
“We need her to pick up something from City Hall for us. Tell her to meet us there.”
“What are we getting?”
Roman’s eyes drifted over to the map still on the table, to the little island just north of the city proper.
“Blueprints of Beacon.”
Roman drummed his fingers on the steering wheel while he watched the front entrance of City Hall. It was late evening, the sun disappearing behind the skyline to the west. Early enough that City Hall was still open, but late enough that their getaway would likely have the cover of night.
Romulus hummed excitedly in the seat next to him, tossing a hand gun back and forth between his hands. Like his twin brother, he had his father’s read hair and green eyes, but his mother’s darker complexion. Unlike his brother, he was bulky, muscular where Remus was thin. He was also confident and brash, where Remus had always been shy and scared.
Roman wondered if Remus had changed at all in the past eighteen months, then hated that he had to wonder that about his own son.
‘They’ll pay for this.’
One of the back doors of the nondescript sedan they’d stolen from a few streets over popped open and Neo slipped into the back seat.
Rommy turned to smile at her. “Sup, cutie?”
She winked at him with a teasing smile so perfect she had to practice that shit in front of a mirror all day, then turned to Roman questioningly.
“Alright, Neo. We need you to go in there, work some magic, and come out with the blueprints of Beacon.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“I know, there are a lot of buildings in Beacon, but grab as many as you can. Focus first on any living quarters–dorm buildings or team houses or whatever the fuck they live in there.” Rhea had told him stories of Beacon, but he forgot the details. He just remembered that she’d lived with her team, which she’d hated, and that there were other people nearby a lot to play pranks on.
“We’ll wait for you here. Once you get back to the car, if you’re being pursued, we’ll run speed like a bat out of hells this way–” he pointed to the side street to their right that they were parked next to “–and I’ll trigger the bombs to block off the road so we can make a clean getaway. We’ll head under Tombstone Bridge, dump the car in the river, and slip into the service tunnels for the subway. Cool?”
Romulus grinned widely. “Cool!”
Neo just nodded, once. Quick, professional.
Roman liked her.
“Try to be fast.”
She rolled her eyes and slipped back out of the car.
A silence filled the car. It might have felt normal in other circumstances, but the strange car and tense circumstances made Roman feel anxious. He had no doubts they’d succeed here, but he still got an antsy feeling crawling over his skin whenever he was out in the open breaking the law.
Not that he’d ever let that show. No sir, Roman Torchwick had developed a persona as the sassy, swaggy, overconfident crime lord of Vale, and he intended to keep that going, even with his son.
“Ten bucks she gets in by hitting on some dude,” he teased Rommy with a grin.
Romulus just raised an eyebrow. “What makes you think it has to be a dude?”
“Oh, does she–ya think?”
Rommy shrugged. “She’s almost got the bisexual anime girl haircut. I could see it.”
“Huh. Well, fine then. Ten bucks she gets in by hitting on some dude or dudette.”
Rommy tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Seems like a pretty easy way for me to lose ten bucks. Not sure why I’d take that bet.”
Well, at least he knew she was a manipulative flirt.
“What do you think Remus is up to right now?” Romulus asked, changing the discussion with a question he’d been asking his dad at least once a day for the past eighteen months.
For once, Roman finally had some sort of basis of information to give an answer.
“Well, he’s getting ready to go to Beacon. So probably prepping a weapon of some sort.”
“You think he’s got some goofy ‘Aha! My sharp stick is also a gun!’ weapon now?”
Roman chuckled at that. “Dunno. Can’t really see Remus competing with other huntsmen in a sharp stick fight, you?”
With a shake of his head, Rommy came to his brother’s defence. “No, but in a gun fight he’d wreck ‘em all!”
That was true. Rhea had trained them both since they were old enough to stand, and the two and displayed very different skill sets. Romulus was strong, a powerful melee fighter, but Remus, while technically skilled, never matched him. He never had that viciousness needed to actually hit his opponent–he’d always hold back, always soften his blows. Always. He was a softy. But he was also an incredible shot. He could shatter beer bottles from the other side of the junkyard from when he was twelve years old.
“Damn straight,” Roman agreed proudly, putting his knuckles out for his son to bump.
“I wonder if there’s any hot girls at Beacon for him to hang with,” Romulus wondered. Typical Romulus, that that was where his brain immediately went.
“Well Mom was the hottest, and she went to Beacon, so I’d imagine they have good taste.”
“You can’t call Mom hot! That’s gross!”
Roman rolled his eyes. “You’re right. I married the ugliest woman ever. Explains why you look the way you do.”
Roman smiled past the ache in his heart, ignoring the Rhea-sized hole in it. “So, thoughts on how to rescue Remus?” he asked his son.
“What do you mean?”
“We’ll need to stake the place out, probably. I have no idea what the security measures are outside the school. But they’re probably tight, so we’ll probably need to go in guns blazing, bust into the dorms, pull him out and scram before they can do anything.”
He knew the leader of the Branwen tribe was a Beacon graduate. He could have Matriarch reach out, get details about the security. But it would probably be outdated information. After that crazy candy shop owner attacked the school a couple years ago and tried to kill Ozpin, they’d probably beefed up the security.
Neo could probably get in and spy around. She could probably get in and sneak Remus out, but… no. No, Roman wanted to be the one to show up and save his boy. And getting to blow up some of Ozpin’s stuff would be a big plus.
“You still want to do that job grabbing the new Atlas super mechs when they come in November?” Rommy asked, now playing a game on his scroll. That ridiculous Grimm Crush game Roman had never understood.
“The Paladins? Yeah, why?”
Rommy shrugged. “Maybe we wait for that, get ourselves a super mech, and then bust in during winter break? Less kids around to get hurt, and maybe some of the professors will be gone too.”
Hm. A good idea. A part of Roman wanted the professors to be there, two in particular, but he didn’t harbor any delusions that he’d be able to kill Rustheart or Ozpin even with a ‘super mech’. Maybe if he made use of those plans that Atlesian scientist Watts had sold to him, the advanced Dust weaponry. Maybe Slate could figure out how to put those weapons on the Paladins they were going to steal.
“I’m not sure I want to wait that long,” he answered his son.
Rommy gave him a knowing, empathetic smile. “I know, Dad. But we’re probably only gonna have one shot at this. We need to make sure it works. And we get the added bonus of blowing shit up with Atlas tech!”
“Hm… When did you get so wise?”
“About seventeen and a half years ago.”
“Ya don’t say? Hm. Wonder why I’m just noticing now.”
His son narrowed his eyes at him. “You know, if I asked Neo to kick your ass, she probably would.”
Roman smiled. “Ah, but could she?”
“Yeah! She kicks all the ass!”
Roman inspected his fingernails. “But my semblance, though.”
They continued to banter back and forth while they waited for Neo to come back out. Roman enjoyed these moments, chatting with his son like a friend instead of a father. He much preferred it to having to be a father figure. Plus, it helped ease the tension in his shoulders, that unshakable worry that this would finally be the day he got caught and thrown into a hole in Faulksen Penitentiary. ‘The Dungeon’.
Hiss own father had died in those halls, and he had little doubt he’d suffer the same fate if he were locked up. There were a lot of inmates that were where they were because Roman had sold out, baited, or backstabbed them on his way to the top.
He was pulled from his thoughts by the sound of gunshots.
They were coming from inside City Hall. Single shots, high pitched. Pistols. Likely security guards.
Neo had been caught.
‘Shit shit shit shit shit.’
“Dad!” Romulus slapped his arm, then point up to the roof of the building they were watching. Neo’s silhouette raced across the rooftop, her weird, somehow pseudo-indestructible umbrella open and spinning behind her, shielding her from the gunfire from the two guards that Roman could barely see at the entrance to the stairwell.
He put the car into gear and drove toward the building, their escape route now behind them. The T-juncture in front of City Hall was too trafficked for him to get in front of the building, so he stopped right at the intersection and jerked into the parallel parking spot next to them.
“Open the door,” he ordered Romulus.
No details, but his son knew what he meant. The boy turned and reached into the back seat, pulling the back door handle and shoving the door open with an awkward, twisted shove.
Above them, Neo spotted the car. With a running leap she dove off the two story roof, parasol above her to catch the wind like that one weird magic nanny from that one movie. It wasn’t that effective at slowing her decent–because physics–but it helped a bit. She hit the ground and tumbled into a graceful roll, pink aura flickering around her from the impact. With a flourish, she transitioned into an arrogant strut, twirling her umbrella on her shoulder as she walked across the street, stopping traffic as drivers attempted not to hit her, slamming their horns in the process.
The guards that were shooting at her on the roof disappeared from Roman’s sight, the angle not letting him see where they went. Probably rushing back downstairs to pursue.
As Neo walked up to the car, Roman was finally able to notice the long plastic tube that was strapped over her shoulder.
‘She got ‘em.’
She gave him a please smirk, stopping by the passenger door and leaning forward to look at Roman, consequently giving Rommy an ample view of her cleavage.
The boy mumbled something that Roman couldn’t quite make out, but it sounded suspiciously like “So sexy”.
Then the sirens sounded in the distance.
Neo immediately jerked up and looked off to the east.
“Get in the car, Neo!” Roman hollered, shifting the car back into drive.
She dove into the backseat and slammed the door closed, pulling her umbrella shut in the same motion.
“A little less showboating, please?” Roman grumbled, knowing full well he was a massive hypocrite for saying that.
The raised eyebrow he got from Neo and the snort from his son helped confirm that.
Whatever, they needed to move.
Tires screeching, he threw them into a u-turn, almost crashing into two different cars in the process. He turned into the side road down which they’d planted the earth Dust bomb just as a patrol car rounded the corner at the far end of the main street, lights flashing and siren blaring.
Roman focused on driving. This was a two lane road with medium traffic, meaning he had to do a lot of swerving and passing to maintain any sort of pace.
Pedestrians honked constantly as they passed, and Romulus was diligent in making sure each and every one of them got the finger.
“Grab the detonator!” Roman shouted to his son. They were coming up on the one-way little side alley where they’d set up the bomb. It was made for delivery trucks to bring in shit for the stores on either side of it, but it would serve to help their getaway h–
The sound of a constant, distant thunder approached, getting louder by the second.
What the fuck? What the Crucible was this response time?
No matter. The bomb would still block off car pursuers. They just wouldn’t be able to make it to the river in the car without the airship cutting them off. They’d need to improvise, lose the Falcon in this block. It should be doable–there were tight alleys and overhanging fire escapes criss-crossing the buildings. They could slip out of the Falcon’s sight and sneak the rest of the way to the subway service tunnels on foot.
As he came to the decision, the Falcon came into view, banking over a building on their left and blasting them with the brightest flood light any man or faunice had ever seen. Like, holy shit, it was bright.
Roman instinctively raised an arm to shield his eyes, Romulus doing the same beside him with a surprised “Agh!” It was hard to see anything beyond the windshield like this, all color and contrast washed away.
He was pretty sure that vaguely darker blur on the right was the entrance to the service road. He jerked the steering wheel one handed, and sped right into–
Welp. He’d misjudged that.
The car erupted through floor to ceiling windows that made up the outer facing wall of whatever building Roman had just driven them into. Roman slammed the breaks, but he’d been going to fast. Tires screeched, and they slammed into a wall of some sort hard enough that the front of the car crumpled, the air bags deploying with a hsss-whoosh! and punching Roman in the face hard enough that his head slammed back into the headrest and he was sure his neck would be stuck sideways for a week.
He’d forgotten to turn his aura on before the crash, so it hurt. A consequence of not having the years of training Rhea had had, training she’d imparted to Romulus, at least. She’d taught Roman, too, but his aura hadn’t even even been unlocked until he met her at twenty-two, and by then it was a little late to learn how to keep his defenses up as instinctually as breathing the way huntsmen did.
He heard groaning and doors opening to his right.
He needed to make sure his son was okay. With a grunt of exertion that pained his ringing head, he shoved the airbag, collapsing the thick fabric. He stumbled out of the car. Struggling to keep his feet, he was once again blinded by the flood light from the Falcon, and now he could make out the sounds of screaming and running civilians, though they sounded muted to his ears.
‘Fuck, my head.’
They were in a store, a coffee shop of the fancy, pretentious teen variety. The hood of the car had crumpled into the stone fixture that was the drink bar. A barista was cowering back away from Roman behind it, screaming. Near Roman’s feet was another person, a teenage guy with round mouse ears, sprawled out on the floor in a way that made Roman think… no.
Had he hit them? Had he killed them? That would be bad. He’d killed before, but they’d all been other criminals, and he’d never done it in front of civilian witnesses. Execute a local gang leader in front of his men to make a point? Sure. It was business, and the cops didn’t care too much. But vehicular manslaughter on a kid during a high speed pursuit?
“Dad!” someone screamed in his ear.
Right. Romulus was here.
“Dad!” he screamed again. “Come on, we gotta go!”
He was pulled along behind his son, once again shielding his eyes from the glaring flood lights, around the car and towards the back of the shop. Two cop cars screeched to a stop outside, and the abject fear that filled Roman was enough to push him past his head pain and into functionality again.
Neo was holding the door to the restaurant’s back room open. Roman and Romulus rushed through, followed closely by gun shots. Neo opened her umbrella and blocked the shots, though.
Roman took the lead, still having to hold his head with one hand while whipping his cane out to steady himself with the other. “Out the back, go!” he shouted, the noise creating a spike of pain he pushed aside.
The three of them burst out the back door, into the side road Roman had meant to turn into. There was a dumpster a few feet further down into the alley where they’d stashed the earth Dust explosive. Good, they could still block off the cops and get away. Nothing had changed other than they were on foot a lot earlier than they’d planned to be.
Rommy and Neo, Roman noted, seemed perfectly fine. The benefits of aura protection.
They ran together down the narrow alley.
“You grab the deton–”
They passed the dumpster as the door they’d just come out of slammed open again. A cop, gun out.
Neo turned and backpedaled, giving them cover with her umbrella.
“Do it, Rom!”
The rumbling thrum of earth Dust activating vibrated the ground beneath their feet, and a fractal explosion of stone erupted from the left side of the alley across to the right, a jagged twelve foot tall barrier that blocked off their pursuers.
Well, most of them.
The Falcon hovered into view between the two buildings to their sides and above the wall they’d created, its blinding light flooding the alleyway. It sped forward and past them, stopping and turning to face them when it reached the far end of the alley. Now, if they wanted to run, they’d have to run toward the airship.
“Freeze!” came a voice from a speaker. “Get down on your knees and put your hands on your heads or we will shoot!”
Roman eyed the two miniguns on the wings of the Falcon, or at least what he could see of them with a white Dust powered sun burning holes in his retinas. Those things would rip him apart in a second, and Romulus and Neo wouldn’t last much longer.
He needed to get rid of that floodlight. The problem was that, looking into it as he was right now, he couldn’t really make it out against the sheer whiteness of everything.
They needed outs. He glanced to either side.
A path, a space between two buildings, about fifteen feet ahead of them to their left. It would take them out into the public streets again, but they could run down the street and duck back into the alley, as long as the Falcon lost track of them.
He thanked his lucky stars he’d loaded the air-and-earth Dust round into his cane instead of the fire round he’d always used to carry. He had a couple extras of each in his coat, of course, but if he went to load them now he’d get riddled with bullet holes before he could get one into the chamber of his cane.
His heart was slamming in his chest now, the fear that had been locking up his shoulders now driving him to act.
He brought his cane up, not making too much of an effort to aim because that would require blinding himself, and pulled the trigger that was subtly hidden in his ‘weapon’.
With a thoomp like a grenade launcher, the air-earth round–more a shell, really, because Roman’s cane shot bullets big enough they were like canisters–arched away, the heavy weight of it causing it to dip sharply.
Roman was lucky as fuck, though, because it hit pretty much right where he’d wanted it to.
On impact, the shell exploded into a massive dust cloud on the airship’s windshield, obscuring the pilot’s view. Enough of the dirt showered down that a curtain hung in front of the light hanging off the underside of the craft, diluting the beam enough for them to see the ship clearly.
“Shoot the light!” he yelled at Romulus, already moving toward the path he’d noticed.
Romulus wasn’t the marksman his brother was, and it took him three shots before the lens of the light shattered, the alley subsequently covered in darkness. After the loud, echoing gunshots, the quiet that followed felt thick.
Behind the stone wall came shouting voices. The cops were probably reacting to the gunshots.
Roman rounded the corner.
‘Shit shit shit shit shit!’
There was a fence.
Beyond the fence, Roman could see the traffic and bustle of everyday drivers and pedestrians. People were moving curiously down the street, toward the corner where the three of them had crashed into the coffee shop. Some people further down the street in the other direction would likely be looking at the Falcon hovering above the buildings.
Something tugged him backwards. “What–”
Neo pushed him against the wall with her folded parasol, then grabbed Romulus’ wrist and pulled him against it as well.
“Neo,” Roman started, “what are y–”
She flashed her eyes at him.
Damn it, the whole mute thing really sucked right now.
She pointed at her heart.
‘Heart? What? Aura? OH!’
Her fucking semblance. Roman was an idiot.
He gave her a nod.
“Neo, Dad, what–”
With a loud rumble that shook the air, the Falcon moved to get out of the dirt cloud, coming back to hover over the stone wall and look down the alley again. A few seconds passed, seconds that Roman held his breath for. Whatever Neo was doing, the pilot didn’t seem to notice them.
Then a high pitched squeal filled the air, the miniguns spinning up, rotating so fast they just looked like a metal blur.
‘We’re fucking dead.’
Bullets started flying, the fire rate so fast it sounded more like a droning hum than a series of individual shots.
Flinching and squeezing his eyes shut, more out of instinct than any actual belief that that would save him, it took Roman a long moment to realize that was not, in fact, dead.
The sound of bullets chipping into a hard surface finally registered to him, a sharp tchk tchk tchk tchk! Roman opened his eyes slowly.
The airship was shooting the shit out of the stone wall.
Roman took the momentary reprieve to look around. Soon alley would be full of policemen–from the sound of the sirens, there were definitely more than two or three officers now.
A bunch of tiny exits, passages formed by the spaces between the brick buildings, a constructional oversight that screamed that this was an old neighborhood. New shopping strips were all one interconnected building, no sketchy side alleys for illicit activities.
They wouldn’t be much help now anyway. They could try to make a run for it, but the airship would surely see the movement, even without the flood light. And they needed to get half a mile down the road to reach the river and the tunnels that would lead to safety.
Running wasn’t an option. So they could fight or they could hide. Fighting… they could probably take the cops on foot, between Neo and Romulus. Roman could maybe take the airship with a couple blasts of fire dust, maybe. But it would take time, and the longer they fought the more reinforcements would come.
Hiding… Neo made hiding easy, if just became a question of how long. How long would the cops stay in the area trying to find them? They’d probably set up a grid, officers up and down the streets and at each corner, make it impossible for them to make it to the river, but eventually the net would have to thin. Neo could probably disguise them through at that point–she’d have to, as Roman’s face was one every pig in Vale had been made to memorize.
Speaking of which…
“Neo, what are you making us look like right now?” he whispered to his minion.
She smirked at him, then looked pointedly off to the side. Roman followed her sight line to… a trash can?
“What?! You turned Roman-fucking-Torchwick into a trash can?”
She smirked again. Behind her, Romulus wrinkled his nose.
Neo rolled her eyes.
A sudden crack rang out, drawing their attention, and the airship’s machine guns ceased firing, slowly winding down. A thin ‘doorway’ had been carved down the middle of the earth Dust wall, the crack that rang out signaling the collapse of that section.
Men in blue marched through the breach, guns raised as they fanned out. Flashlights on their guns or in their off hands sent cutting beams of white through the shaded evening gloom. Neo pushed a little hard against Roman, tensing.
Roman was nervous too.
One of the cops passed close to them, fifteen feet away… ten feet away… five feet away.
Never once did they get anything more than a passing glance.
Eight men, total, and the Falcon that was once again hovering above. They called out directions to each other, checking corners as they moved down the narrow street in formation.
One of them, a captain by the looks of his uniform, though it was hard to tell in this light, spoke into their walkie-talkie: “No visual on them. Leaving three to guard the service road, moving to sweep River Creek Apartments.”
“Roger, setting up a grid to your west,” came the staticy reply.
“Good.” The captain removed his hand from the walkie. “Simmons, Solis, Verdis, stay here and keep checking. Rest of you, with me.”
The man broke into a jog, heading further south down the service road, four of the others following. One of the three that was left grumbled something under his breath.
“Chill, Simmons,” one of the others said in a low voice. “You don’t want to get anymore on his bad side than you already are.”
The one who had grumbled, Simons, presumably, fired back, “It’s not my fault! She didn’t tell me she was the captain’s daughter!”
The one that had told him to chill snorted, and Roman struggled not to do the same. Neo’s illusions did nothing to mask sound.
Only three cops here, an easy number to take. After that, they could follow after the other five, take them from behind, and then make a break for the river? And hope that Roman’s two fire Dust shots would be enough to deal with the airship.
Above them, the Falcon circled. It had followed the other five cops a bit down the street, then stopped to turn and look back at the three in front of them. It made passes up and down the street, nose angled down as the pilot helped to look for the fugitives.
“Neo,” Roman whispered, a careful eye on the blueshirts in front of them to watch for any sign they could hear him. “If we take these three out, can you make us look like them and make them disappear?”
Neo nodded, then made a point of touching his arm, then held out a hand, palm outwards like she was miming ‘stop’.
Roman got the message. She could do it, but only if she could touch them or if they stayed still. Well the pilot would certainly find it strange if the officers below him all started holding hands…
“Okay. We’ll stand still long enough for him to make a pass, then run after the others.”
Neo nodded. Romulus quickly followed.
“I’ll use my semblance. Quick and quiet.” Roman held out his hand for the other two to touch so they’d be immune to his power.
The three cops were all facing different directions, and none of them were towards Roman and his two companions. They were talking, though it didn’t seem to have anything to do with what was going on. Making fun of Simmons for boning his captain’s daughter, it sounded like.
‘Alright. Breathe, Roman. Clear head. No emotion, get rid of that panic.’
He didn’t have much aura, which consequently meant he couldn’t use his semblance for very long, but it was a strong power regardless.
He waiting until the airship passed overhead and was heading south again, the back turned towards them. Frowning at the uncomfortableness, Roman ‘reached inside’ like Rhea had taught him, for that weird bubble he needed to burst to have the power of his semblance pour out.
Poke. Poke. Pooooke–
His aura crashed out of him, the feeling making him instantly woozy, like he’d just lifted a lot of weights–not that he ever would lift weights. The aura pooled out and spread, passing harmlessly around Neo and Romulus because he was touching them. The pale green light circled out, and Roman willed it to move towards the cops. The first was about ten feet away, and the three were arranged in a triangle all roughly five feet from each other, each watching different shadows.
‘Just a little furtherrrrr,’ Roman told himself, fighting that weird haze of mental exhaustion that came from spending aura.
One of the cops casually turned his head to inspect something and saw the light.
He turned and pointed his gun at the ground just as it reached his feet.
Immediately the man sagged a bit, arms dropping and head hanging as the energy from his muscles and brain leaked away. The green light spread over him quickly.
Entropy. That’s what Rhea had told him his semblance was. He created an area within which people tired incredibly quickly, and it worked almost instantaneously on people that didn’t have aura protecting them, which was most.
Including this cop, apparently.
The other two reacted as Cop One collapsed, falling to his knees. Roman consciously poured a little more of his aura into it, willing it to spread to the other two faster. He caught one, the Simons guy, before he could get away. The green light on the ground touched his foott, and the man teetered to the side as the light climbed over his shoe and up his calf, put off balance as the strength left one of his legs. He fell onto his face awkwardly, and the light of Roman’s aura crawled over him like a swarm of ants or something.
Cop One fell to the side, now unconscious.
Cop Three, however, got back before Roman’s light could reach him, raising his gun and tracing it toward its source. He’d just see a trash can, but…
The gunshot that rang out had Roman convinced he was dead. He squeezed his eyes shut, and the blackness only reaffirmed for him that he was dead.
‘This is it. This is how I go out. Shot by some rando in a back alley for nobody but Neo and Romulus to remember, and Neo can’t even tell my story. Now for an eternity of nothingness.’
A weight was removed from his chest, and his knees buckled a bit.
He fell to his knees, his hand slipping from… wait, he was just holding one hand. Where was the other?
He tried to open his eyes…. and found that he could!
‘Oh shit, I’m not dead!’
Neo had rushed forward and was currently beating the crap out of Cop Three, her protective aura mitigating the effect of Roman’s entropy field. That was the weight that had left his chest–she’d stopped pressing him against the wall.
“Dad, turn off your semblance!”
That’s why his knees were buckling. He was tiring himself out from using his semblance to the point he might as well be entropy-ing himself. He cut off his aura, pulling what was left back into that weird little bubble in his heart, and the green light immediately disappeared.
Neo knocked out Cop Three, but Simmons was still conscious, and he started pushing himself to up as soon as Roman’s semblance stopped affecting him. Romulus rushed up and gave the man swift kick in the head.
Yep, now he was out.
Roman staggered to his feet as he registered the loudening sound of the airship’s engines. He looked up and–
The Falcon’s pilot had heard the gunshot and turned the ship around. The machine guns were whirring up.
A cruel twist, this, for Roman to think he was dead, realize he wasn’t, and then immediately die anyway.
“FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!” Romulus bellowed, throwing himself to the side to try to get cover behind the building to their left. Neo opened up her umbrella and crouched behind it, bracing herself. That ‘weapon’ was freakishly durable, but there was no way it could withstand this.
They were fucked.
The sound of glass shattering filled the air. Roman glanced back up at the Falcon…
The windshield of the cockpit had been completely obliterated of all glass, dozens of the shards impaling the pilot, who was slumped to the side and leaking blood like a fountain.
The Falcon tipped sideways and fell, crashing deafeningly into a building on the far side of the alley. The wall of the building folded like paper, and the grav Dust engines sent pieces of bricks pelting around the area. Roman raised his arms to shield his face.
It took a couple seconds before the damage to the airship was extensive enough that the machinery cut off. The engines died with a whine, and the alley went quiet.
After a moment, Roman noticed that the glass shards from the cockpit were still up in the air, some dripping the pilot’s blood down to the ground thirty feet below. As one, all the shard quickly darted through the air towards the roof of the building that Roman had just been leaning against.
‘… the fuck?’
Roman stumbled back, trying to get a view of whatever was on top of the roof…
A woman. A silhouette of a woman stood up on the roof, the glass shards circling her like she was the center of her own silicon hurricane. She was looking down at Roman as well, though he couldn’t see much of her face. All he could really tell was she had a nice body…
The woman spread her hands out by her sides and the glass shards gathered around them, coalescing on her arm like a pair of gauntlets. Once that was done, she stepped forward off the roof.
Roman twitched instinctually, taking a step forward and reaching out to catch her, but she didn’t fall. She floated down, her arms still out wide, and it took a moment for Roman to realize she was using her weird glass-o-kinesis to control her fall.
‘What the fuck?’
Moving over to Cop One’s sprawled form, Roman picked up the guy’s flashlight. He considered picking up the gun, too, but decided against it. Rommy had one already, and this lady could probably skewer him with the glass before he got a shot off.
He pointed the flashlight’s beam up to the woman.
She was hot.
Not that that was important. Roman wouldn’t let that effect anything, but it might distract Romulus.
Pale skin, long black hair, golden brown eyes. Young, definitely leaning more towards girl than woman, maybe eighteen or nineteen. She had a tattered coat over what looked like an equally tattered black dress, both looking so rough Roman thought she might have run through a forest or two or twenty in them before she got here. Her boots reflected that wear and tear, muddy and scuff.
And despite all that, she was still very clearly gorgeous.
The girl squinted in the face of the light, but didn’t seem to care otherwise. Landed with a soft step in front of Roman, and Romulus and Neo walked up to his either side of him, both looking as confused and intimidated as he felt.
“Are you Roman Torchwick?” the girl asked over him, her voice a liquid honey that would make bank on the sex phone lines.
“I am,” he answered slowly, drawing out the last word with a hesitation he definitely shouldn’t be showing, considering he was the crime lord of this city. “And you are…?”
The girl’s eyes darted between the three people in front of her. She was tense, fists clenched at her side, the glass ‘gauntlets’ coming apart as individual shards broke away from her arms and spun restlessly nearby.
“My name is Cinder. I… I was told to come to you for transport to the Crucible.”
“The Crucible?” Roman repeated. “Why would I want to go there? Why would you?”
Cinder shook her head. “You don’t need to go. I just need a ride, a boat or airship.”
“Why?” Roman repeated.
Cinder shifted nervously, untrustingly. “My reasons are my own.”
“Must be pretty batshit crazy reasons to make you want to go there,” Romulus muttered.
The glare Cinder shot him was hot as fire.
Time for a change of subject.
“Who told you to come to me for this?”
Her eyes danced restlessly again. “Does… does the name Salem mean anything to you?”
She frowned at that. An awkward silence settled as neither of them knew what to say.
Off to their right, shouts sounded out. The cops were coming back, gunshots and explosions having caught their attention.
He turned back to Cinder. “You got money?”
“N-no.” Roman sighed, and she noticed and pressed on. “But I have power! It’s… new to me, but I’m strong… She says I’m strong.”
She? This Salem lady? It was pretty clear that this girl was strong.
The shouts were getting louder.
Shit, there was no time for this.
“If you can help us get out of here, we can talk. We’re gonna be doing some hits on local businesses ‘cause we’re gonna need Dust soon. If you can be some extra muscle for me for a bit, I’ll see about getting you a ride.”
Cinder frowned, and instead of answering, looked down at her hands. Between them, she called several shards of glass together to form a makeshift window, bits of it still smeared with blood. She stared at–or maybe into?–her little window for a long couple of seconds before nodding to herself.
“Okay,” she said quietly.
Roman glanced at Romulus, who gave him a big shrug, then at Neo, who just raised her eyebrows.
“Okay,” Roman repeated, sticking out his hand to shake.
Cinder flinched away, morphing her shards into glass daggers she gripped tightly. A bright red light from her palms showed her aura keeping her from getting cut by her own weapons.
Roman quickly pulled his hand back and raised them both in surrender as Neo and Romulus both reacted, dropping into fighting stances. “Relax! I just m… It’s a deal, okay?”
Cinder nodded quickly and lowered her hands, the glass daggers releasing back into their individual pieces. “Sorry,” she said quietly. “Just… don’t touch me.”
‘Okay. Some issues there.’
“Can do, missy. So… let’s get the fuck out of here, yeah?”
To his right, the shouting cops grew noticeably louder, and Roman turned to find that they’d rounded the corner they’d turned around earlier, a couple hundred feet away.
Gunshots, and bullets immediately started whizzing by them. Neo used her umbrella-shield again, stepping in front of Roman and Romulus.
Cinder waved her hand, almost dismissively, and the shards of glass flowed with the movement, rocketing out towards the advancing cops.
A couple seconds later, all five of them dropped to the ground.
More sirens blared in the distance, getting closer, but Roman barely heard them. He stared at Cinder with a mix of awe and horror.
“Yeah… yeah, I think we can help each other.” He smiled. “Come on!”
They ran together, towards the bodies of the cops that had just been murdered in a blink. The glass shards came back to Cinder as they ran, each one of them now slick with red.
“You got a place to stay?” Roman huffed to her.
When she shook her head, he wasn’t surprised. Her clothing said as much.
“Where you from, Cinder?”
It took her a little bit before she decided to share. “Mistral. I was part of a tribe of bandits there.”
“The Branwen Tribe?”
“Shit, are you Matriarch’s new recruit? I don’t want to fuck with her.”
Cinder frowned as she ran. “I… yes, that’s how I got here. They provided transport to Vale City for me. But they… they want to fuck with my head. I don’t want any part of that.”
“Oh, you met Chorus?”
This was bad. If the True found out he was smuggling their recruit out of the city…
“Shit,” he said again. “We’ll figure it out.”
On his other side, Romulus spoke up. “Daaaad,” he said admonishingly. “What are we doing? You always told me not to fuck with the True…”
He had. And he had no idea how much of this was shit the Matriarch already knew about. Seer had told him he’d succeed today, which he was technically about to, considering he was getting away and Neo had the blueprints they’d come for. But did she see this?
Probably not this, specifically. That wasn’t how her power worked. But if she’d met Cinder, then she’d…
“Did you meet Seer?” he asked the girl beside him, having to gasp for breath pretty embarrassingly as he did. He wasn’t in the greatest shape.
“Who?” Cinder responded.
Good. Hopefully that meant Seer hadn’t sensed Cinder in Roman’s vicinity.
They ran a long way in silence, not running into any more cops on the way to the river. When they reached the bridge, Roman half run and half tumbled down the cement bank that lined the waterway, trying to stay low so passing cars wouldn’t spot him. He stopped under the bridge, in front of the door that lead to the service tunnels, and leaned forward panting, hands on his knees.
Romulus, Neo, and Cinder weren’t nearly as out of breath.
Romulus watched him with an amused smirk, stealing quick glances at the attractive new addition to their troupe. Neo focused solely on Cinder, watching her suspiciously.
Cinder just watched Roman, impassive, waiting for him to speak.
When he could finally pull an actual breath into his lungs–and then another, and another–Roman straighten up. His sides were cramping, but he ignored it.
“Alright, Cinder. You can stay with us tonight–”
Rommy shot him a pleased grin that he pointedly ignored, and Neo’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“–and we can talk about jobs in the morning. You look like you could use a bath and a good night’s sleep right now.”
Cinder’s eyes glinted, almost watery. “Yes, please,” she whispered.
Roman nodded. Good. Get her to appreciate him, get her indebted. If she was saying ‘please’ to him for things this early, that automatically made their relationship one of giving and taking, and it wasn’t a far step from there to subservience.
“If you help us get the Dust we need for our big job in December and help us pull that off, I’ll get you a boat or an airship or whatever you need so you can make your weird journey to hell-on-Remnant, ‘kay?”
“December?” she asked, frowning again.
“Yeah, that an issue?”
“Sh-she…” Cinder recreated her mirror in her hands and looked down at it, but that lack of lighting under the bridge and the fact that the shards were covered in blood, even after their run, meant she had to squint and turn it constantly to try to… find whatever it was she was looking for.
Apparently she failed, because she looked back at him answerless and unsure.
“She told me to get to her as soon as possible. C-can I give you an answer in the morning?”
‘Get to her in the Crucible? Who the fuck lives there?’
Romulus voiced his thoughts without any compunctions. “Nobody lives on the Crucible, babe. The Grimm kill everyone, everybody knows that.”
Cinder just shook her head.
“… Okayyyy,” Roman intoned. “Sure, you can give an answer in the morning. Come on.”
If she wanted to go get herself killed in that no-man’s-land, that was fine with Roman. He would get some value out of her before then, though.
“Neo, let me see those blueprints real quick.” He wanted to see what she’d gotten.
He pulled them out of the plastic tube and unfurled them. There was a brief moment of annoyance where he tried to keep the pages from rolling back together with one hand and shine the flashlight on it with the other.
“Gimme that,” Rommy told him, already reaching out to snatch the flashlight from him.
Two handed, he was able to hold the maps open, and he pinned them up to the wall for him and Romulus to inspect.
Dorm A, Dorm D, Cafeteria, Dorm C. He flipped through all the pages Neo had managed to get.
He raised an eyebrow, taking his time to inspect this one….
There. ‘Headmaster’s Office’. A floor above that was ‘Headmaster’s Quarters’, and the eight rows below it were all labeled ‘Professor’s Quarters.’ He looked at Rommy, who grinned maliciously back and nodded.
“Oh yeah, we’re gonna need a loooot of Dust.”