11 P.M., Saturday, November 6, 2117
Red Circle Nightclub
Usually, the entrance to the Red Circle was marked, by, well, a red circle. Specifically, a glowing red neon circle emblazoned with bright confidence above its wide, tinted glass doorway.
Whenever this circle lit red in the weekends, it promised a good time whether through night life partying or under the table illegal business deals.
Tonight, though, the red circle was lit wholly green. Even the red carpet leading into the nightclub had been replaced with an emerald green, gold tasseled carpet. A line of diverse people funneled out from the doors, waiting to step inside.
From an immediate glance, anyone could tell that everyone waiting in this line had blood on their hands. Many of them were dressed up in emerald themed suits and dresses, but beyond that finery, it was easy to tell from sharp, predatory gazes, visible scars, calloused hands, and weaponized cybernetics that everyone here knew what combat looked like.
On special occasions, the Red Circle held special events where it closed itself off from the general clubbing crowd and allowed invited members only to sit in and enjoy the finest foods, drinks, and company that Haven could offer.
This was the first special event in three months, and the villains here were eager and impatient to get in. For lower ranking villains that occupied the E, D, and C rank totem pole, the Red Circle was perhaps one of the best ways to get connected to better paying jobs and, potentially, work up to the B rank.
Just like how there was a massive difference between C rank heroes and B rank heroes, the same was true for villains. The amount of money and job security a B ranked villain received was incomparable to lesser ranked villains that often had to routinely risk their lives and freedom just to get by.
"What's taking so damn long?" said a Mutant category alter whose mutation had made him grow porcupine like quills instead of hair. He impatiently watched as people at the front of the line filed in one by one.
Almost immediately, a Red Circle staff member approached with a pleasant smile. Her eyes shone a striking violet as she reached a platter out with a full glass of champagne. "My deepest apologies, sir. As you are aware, tonight's event is in held of a new partner and investor who values security and privacy greatly. Security screenings are a little more thorough than they usually are."
The porcupine villain took the champagne glass and downed it in one shot with zero class. He heavily placed the glass back on the platter. "Well, hope this big shot investor believes in some good old trickle-down economics, cause' I'm itching for a new security job."
"Hah, like he'd hire you, Porcupine, you almost beat your last employer half to death!" said another villain.
"Shut up! The bastard decided he wouldn't pay me after I saved his ass! I gotta' feed myself too!"
"I do wish you the greatest of luck in that regard," said the staff member as she bowed and tended to other disgruntled villains.
At the head of the line, a tall, pale skinned, dark haired, black and red eyed woman smiled as she manned the front door with several Red Circle staff. Her prettiness was such that it was almost charming, and any man or even woman who gazed into those crimson eyes of hers long enough felt quite incentivized to do as she asked.
What she asked was very simple.
"Do you want to join this party?"
And of course, everyone would say yes, because why wouldn't they? This was what they were here for.
Each time a villain said yes, a staff member would wrap a green wristband around their wrists which would then manifest a shiny green sigil.
By midnight, forty-five villains had entered the Red Circle and bustled about on the dance floor. Inside, the lighting was again green. Dim enough to set a partying mood but bright enough for people to see each other and make conversation.
Glasses of wine, liquor, and champagne flowed like water as Red Circle servers worked efficiently and properly.
Music played in the background. Elegant instrumental and orchestral music that set quite the sophisticated tone.
This tone made the usually rough and rowdy crowd of villains behave at their utmost best, keeping from shouting or cursing or fighting.
The invitation they received said that a certain Mr. Bruce Vane, an incredibly wealthy man, had become a partner in the Red Circle and wanted to host a party not only to celebrate his partnership, but also to find talent to add to his security team.
Working as security for a rich man was an incredible opportunity for all the villains within. No longer would they have to risk their lives doing odd jobs and heists. Now, if they got lucky and made a good impression on Mr. Vane, they could sit back in a mansion while they guarded a rich man who paid them well.
On the second floor, VIP tables were set up on balconies overlooking the dance floor. In one of these tables sat a duo of men dressed in white and red suits. One of these men barely fit in his suit, his portly belly practically bulging out of his dress shirt buttons, but his incredibly muscled arms made it clear that his bulk was not all fat. His face was pudgy and disfigured with scars, his mouth torn to show off sharp, animal-like teeth.
This was the B rank villain known as the Butcher. Famous for the brutality of his kills and his expertise in torture. One of the Trident's most trusted associates in getting those unwilling to talk to talk.
Beside him sat a more presentable, normal looking man with a goatee, gel-spiked hair, and squinty red eyes that made it seem like he was suspicious of anything he looked at. This was the Butcher's Connector, basically his handler who waited impatiently to sign off on a few contracts for Butcher's service.
At other tables sat Seth Solar, his crew, and several members of Blackwater's A-class.
Notably, Mel Morales, current rank 1, was not there.
Everyone made small talk, but what they were really interested in was this new investor, this Bruce Vane who had managed to become a partner in the Red Circle, one of the more well knowns villain connecting establishments throughout the United States.
How many millions upon millions of credits had it taken?
And who were the lucky few in this room who he was going to hire?
The green lights in the room dimmed and the music stopped, making everyone go quiet. The performance stage at the head of the dance floor elevated with a mechanical whir before projecting the image of a green diadem.
Casimir stepped out from the backstage curtains with a flourish. When he reached the front of the stage, he bowed, and as if on cue, a panel opened up before him that retracted out a mic.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a night out in the Emerald City!" said Casimir. "Though unlike in Oz, the emeralds, the wealth you see, is very, very much real, no green goggles needed."
Casimir snapped his fingers into the mic, and several Red Circle servers dressed in green suits and dresses funneled into the dance floor, passing out expensive drinks and food platters.
A round of applause went around for Casimir as all the villains respected him. He had boosted many a villain from the lower ranks to high ranks, not to mention directly nurturing many hoodlums from the street into villains with enough professionalism to net clients regularly.
"But the fine spirits and aperitifs and hors d'oeuvres you enjoy now are not from me, no, they are served on order of my new partner, Mr. Bruce Vane. It is a funny thing, this partnership: I once thought I would never have one. Not that I was against the idea, mind you - I simply could not find a partner I could wholly trust in.
But Mr. Vane has met my expectations and much, much more. So without further ado, I will introduce you to the man of the hour: Bruce Vane!"
Casimir bowed out, and the performance stage dimmed.
Aldrich watched through the backstage curtains as the stage dimmed, awaiting his expected presence. He did not wear any equipment. Instead, he was in his suit. He did not need anything more for tonight. He took in a deep breath to calm himself even though his undead heart did not truly beat.
This was it.
This was the moment he was waiting for.
Aldrich looked at a counter in his status screen.
[Party Members: 57]
They had all given their consent to join this 'party', and their wristbands gleamed with the sigil that marked them out as Aldrich's party members.
45 villains. 10 A class Blackwater students. And the Butcher and his handler.
Everyone he wanted dead in one room.
Aldrich touched chest, feeling the hard surface of the phylactery beneath his suit. The Chrysalis by now had merged enough with the Phylactery that its dimensional space was the size of a small room. Easily enough to fit in Adam and Elaine for this final stretch.
It felt almost surreal. To have come this far in just one week. To have vengeance for the taking right before him.
He found himself second guessing. Had he planned everything out properly? Was this going to work?
He felt a hand squeeze his shoulder.
"Master," said Valera. She drew close to Aldrich, and in her glamorous black dress, she looked absolutely stunning. "Are you worried?"
"No. Just slightly overwhelmed. I always thought ahead, always planned, but I guess there was some part of me that never believed that I would make it this far," said Aldrich.
"Of course you would make it this far. You are my one and only master. The only man I have deemed worthy of serving for all eternity and beyond. If not you, then who else?
At the very least, I believed in you from the start with all my heart," said Valera.
"I know," said Aldrich. He looked into Valera's black and red eyes. "And thank you. Without you backing me, protecting me, I wouldn't be here."
"You should not thank me for performing my sworn duty as a knight." Valera patted out creases in Aldrich's suit and smiled at him. "You look wonderful, master. I am eager to see you bathe in carnage tonight."
She then looked directly at Aldrich, and he looked directly at her. Because she was so busy fixing his clothes, she had not noticed how close their faces were, their cold breath intertwining together. Valera's eyes widened, her body stiff and tense, waiting -
"Not now," said Aldrich as he drew back. "I still have to finish what I started."
"Of course, my master. I understand," said Valera. She smiled coyly. "Not now, is it? Then later?"
"Later." Aldrich smiled back at her before his expression set into seriousness. He materialized his [Phantasmal Mask] and put it on. Then, he stepped out of the curtains, and as he did so, green spotlights hit him, lighting his each and every step to the microphone.
Applause spread throughout the room as the mystery investor finally showed himself.
Aldrich looked down at the crowd of villains before him, seeing the desire in their eyes, at how they wanted his supposed credits. He looked up at the Butcher who picked his teeth with a claw-like nail, ignoring everything below. He met a glance with Seth Solar before Seth looked away, more interested in drinking more liquor and eyeing the small case of boost vials on his table.
Aldrich raised his hand, and the applause died down.
"First off, I want to thank all of you for making it here. You have no idea how thankful I am to see all of you gathered here like this," said Aldrich, his voice projecting throughout the room.
A smaller voice modulating mic hidden beneath Aldrich's mask changed his normally neutral pitched voice into one far deeper. "I don't intend to take you away from this party of mine for long. I just wanted to give a quick foreword before we began."
Aldrich reached into his coat pocket and materialized the Death Lord's Sign Stone. He held it up in the air, and everyone stared at it, wondering what it was.
"This…is a precious possession of mine," said Aldrich. "To me, it represents my hopes and dreams. A symbol of a trial to overcome and reach greatness."
Aldrich paused, and then his voice grew even deeper, gaining a sharp, threatening edge to it that made everyone in the room shiver.
"But to you, it represents your death. Your judgement."
Before confusion could hit, Aldrich activated the Sign Stone, and the light from it burst out. The wristbands around each villain started to glow, reacting to the Sign Stone, and before anyone could think about running, the green light engulfed everyone, leaving the once bustling dance floor completely and utterly empty.