-THREE MONTHS EARLIER-
Maybe… Maybe it wasn’t worth it after all…
Derrick’s hands were in his face, his eyes shut tight. It could be a dream. Yeah, that was it. A dream. There was no way one man could lose so much in one day… was there?
Derrick slowly looked up, his amber eyes meeting the blonde boy’s lilac ones.
“Would you like something to drink? We have quite the menu, we have-”
“A bottle of your most expensive whisky.”
The waiter paused, then nodded. “Right away.”
Derrick sighed as the young employee turned his back toward the kitchen. He thought back to being that young, when he had just started working through the ranks.
Back in those days, everything had been alright. Landing a job at the prestigious Rhodopis Corporation at the young age of 22 had truly been an honor; and for the next decade and a half, Derrick would climb his way up the ladder until he was at the very, very top, sitting at the Board of Directors, and earning more money in a month than he thought he’d ever had in his life.
Then it happened.
That scumbag, Henry Fullerton, had gotten the better of him. As soon as he had turned his back, as soon as he had trusted him… He had bought all of his shares of the company. And with it, Henry had bought Derrick’s entire reason to live. It didn’t matter to Derrick that he was in possession of more than enough money to make the entire rest of his life easy. In fact, this ‘early retirement’ was a great insult to him.
Derrick Strabo wanted nothing to do with money or fame; what he desired above all else was power. It was why he had run for school president in his teen years; why he had gotten a management job at Rhodopis to begin with. The thrill of climbing the ranks, of being above others, it was almost like a high. But now, everything he had built up for the past 16 years had been stolen from his hands.
But he still had one thing: money. And if he clung to that, he must still have power… As a great man once said, money was power… right?
Derrick grasped his short black hair in anger, muttering under his breath. “Then… then why does this power feel so empty?”
“Uh, sir, your drink?”
The waiter, carrying a bottle of something that appeared to be French, was back, and looked as if he was worried about his customer. Not only that, but looking around, Derrick could see a few of the other patrons whispering and staring. He stood, and pulled out his wallet.
“Give me the bottle.”
“The bottle. I’ll pay for it right now.” He took out a wad of cash. “This should cover it, keep the change.”
Derrick palmed him the money and swiped the bottle from his hand, leaving the waiter dumbfounded as he left the restaurant and returned to the cool, darkened street.
The crisp November wind hit his face like tiny icicles, forcing him to open his bottle and take a swig of the expensive liquid after walking a few blocks and making it to Birch Park. It slid down his throat and warmed his belly, causing an uplifting feeling course itself through his body.
“Enjoying yourself, Mr. Strabo?”
Derrick swiveled around, caught off-guard by the the sudden recognition. It was an old man who had spoken, at least 80 years of age. His dry, shriveled skin, large, hairy eyebrows and bow-legged stance made the feeling of warmth his vice had given him warp and churn into disgust. His outfit seemed ripped straight from the 1940’s, complete with a tacky green suit and bowler hat. He had his entire weight on wooden cane that seemed far too skinny to be propping up his body weight.
“What the hell do you want with me?” Derrick stated cockily, ever-so-slightly drunk. “Don’t think just because I lost everything means I’ll associate with common folk like you. You wouldn’t understand it, anyway. This.. this empty feeling.”
The old man simply smiled. “Oh, young man, I understand completely. You’ve lost purpose. The power hungry, such as yourself, often do.” He began to walk towards the bench adjacent to where Derrick was standing, and sat himself down. “Imagine; that perhaps, you succeed in your endeavors. That today never happened, that you re-obtain your position at Rhodopis, and continue climbing through the ranks.”
Derrick wanted to interject and ask the strange old man how in the hell he knew all this, but something held his tongue. There was something mystical about him; an almost alien quality that was truly captivating and made Derrick show respect, which did not come easy for him.
“The problem is, people like you don’t see the end,” the old man continued. “You rise up, take control, but for what?” He dug a hand in his pocket and pulled out a cigarette, using a lighter to give himself a fix. Derrick was surprised that the old geezer was alive at his age with a habit light that. “You see the immediate future, not the long-term effects. That’s your problem.”
The old man leaned backwards, propping his cane up on the bench and taking a long, hefty inhale of his chemical addiction, and began speaking once again. “Wouldn’t it be nice if you thought… oh, I don’t know... A little bigger?”
For all the things Derrick was, he had never been so taken in by a stranger in his life. Perhaps it was because he had just been through a massive loss and was susceptible to verbal witchcraft, but Derrick only wanted to understand this old man. He could almost feel that he could give him what he had been looking for his entire life. So, without hesitation, Derrick took a seat next his new found solace.
“What do you mean by ‘bigger’?
The old man grinned. It was a creepy and disconcerting look that caught Derrick off-guard. It was like someone had taken the Cheshire Cat’s grin from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and pasted onto the elderly man’s face, it seemed to not hold a place in this universe- no, this reality. This single smile seemed to bend the rules of physics to its whim, confirming to Derrick that this was not just an ordinary, rambling old man.
“Why, I mean this city.”
“What about it?”
“Let’s take it.”
Derrick narrowed his eyes. Take the city? That was insane. He couldn’t do that.
“I know your thoughts. I hear them. You think I’m crazy.”
“You’re dangerous, aren’t you?” As Derrick spoke those words, he wasn’t sure why he was saying them .They seemed to almost tumble out without much thought, as it was more of an obvious statement at this point. But he also didn’t move. Even though he knew by now that this old man was, perhaps, not even an old man at all, Derrick wasn’t trying to flee. He wasn’t even scared.
“You’re still here.”
“That I am.”
“You want to hear more, don’t you?”
Derrick didn’t respond.
The old man chuckled. “Very well. I know men like you aren’t interested in long-winded explanations, so I’ll make this brief. I can give you power. No, not the kind that you’re used to; REAL power. A power you have been linked to since birth; a cross-dimensional power, if you will. Armed with that, you’ll be like a god among the other humans, they won’t even be able to touch you. Not with their primitive weaponry, anyway.” The old man seemed to almost scoff as he said this. “You, my child, will rise above them all. Cold, calculating, lacking the remorse fit of a true leader.”
Derrick wanted to laugh at all of this, but his tone was serious. And there was something about his eyes…
Derrick shook it off. He wanted to do as this man said, but… to lack remorse? Even he, in his obsessive quest for power, felt comradery in his fellow man. Be it sadness or victory, he could empathize with people, he wasn’t a heartless monster.
The old man simply grinned again, flicking the lighter on. “Oh… but you will be.”
Suddenly, Derrick was surprised as the lighter’s flame grew bigger and hotter, aimed directly at him. Finally, Derrick was free of the old man’s spell, able to see how crazy it was of him to trust so easily… But as the flames engulfed him, he felt at peace. He wasn’t dying, rather, it was almost as if he was being reborn.
The flames seemed to shape him anew, his body changing. He was becoming smaller, daintier, but somehow he felt more powerful. It wasn’t long until he realized that the fat traveling to his chest and the strange tingling in his groin signified his entrance into womanhood, but he almost didn’t mind. It felt natural.
A black tattoo appeared on his back and a red dress formed around him, replacing his previous suit and coat. His hair even grew out, hovering in the flaming vortex.
Then, just like that, it was over. Derrick stood, gasping for air.
“Open your palm and concentrate on fire,” the old man commanded. Strangely enough, Derrick felt inclined to do as he was told, and when he did, he gasped. A small, golden ember shivered above his hand, dancing in the moonlight. And it was at that moment Derrick felt overwhelming power.
He threw his head back in laughter, a woman’s sultry voice now replacing his own. Every inkling of empathy, of resentment, of humanity, had been done away with in that vortex. The old man knew that, giddily getting to his feet to take control of his new toy.
“Kneel,” he commanded as he stepped in front of him.
Derrick felt a wave of obedience come over him as he did so, bowing with his utmost respect for the man. “Master, thank you for this gift, I-”
The old man’s arm seemed to have grown several pounds of muscle as he punched Derrick’s head into the pavement. Fear seemed to etch its way into the new woman’s features.
Grabbing Derrick’s hair, the old man angrily stared into his face. “Now that you work for me, you will obey my every command; and that includes only speaking when spoken to. Am I clear?”
“Good. Now, get up, Cinder.”
Cinder did as she was told, looking into her master’s face all the while.
“I want you to find a place for you to hide out with room for a few others. With power like yours, it will take some time for you to grow to your full potential. Kill if you like, but be discreet. Do whatever needs to be done to make money. You won’t see me for long periods of time, so do what you wish, just don’t make a scene.”
At that moment, a green portal seemed to open next to the man. He paused before stepping in, and turned to say: “Cinder. This city, this planet can be yours if you’re patient. Don’t do anything rash.”
And with that, he stepped through the portal, and disappeared.
Cinder smiled. She felt so much better now. Gone were those weak human emotions that Derrick had had. Now there was only a power-hungry blood lust that controlled her. The world was her oyster now. No one could stop her.
Who could possibly prevent her reign of terror?
-THREE MONTHS LATER-
The week-old female snorted awake from her naptime on the couch.
“There’s someone at the door for you! And how the hell did you figure out how to get someone to personally deliver cookies?!”
She got up, using her semblance to speed to the door, surprising a man holding a blue bag, as Ruby gave him exact change.
Maggie rolled her eyes as she shut the door beside her roommate. “Maybe hide your superhuman abilities, why don’t you?”
But Ruby was distracted, holding a cookie in her mouth. Something had made her stop and look out of her window and onto the jagged skyline of Forest City.
“Ruby? What’s wrong?”
She gulped down the cookie. “I dunno. Something feels… different.”
Maggie shrugged. “Eh, you get feelings like that sometimes, don’t worry about it!”
“Yeah… I hope you’re right.”