A commotion rose through the emptied-out dance floor from the Red Circle's many servers. They were standing in the sidelines, in the shadows, waiting for Bruce Vane's speech to end, but now, everyone had disappeared.
Casimir took the steps up to the performance stage, getting back to the mic. Spotlights tracked his movements.
When he looked down, he saw not the faces of the villains he had served throughout the years, but his precious staff, all those he had taken from the streets, from brothels, from dens of addiction, from pits of debt, and given them training and purpose.
They looked up at him for answers, for to them, he was their guiding light in a criminal underworld where darkness snuffed out even the smallest flickers of hope.
"I regret deeply that I did not inform all of you of this turn of events beforehand," said Casimir. "It is not that I did not trust you all, my dear, most valued staff. I simply wished to keep all knowledge of this surprise to a minimum for assurance purposes."
"Was this the right choice, Casimir?" said Hirondelle. She unpinned mauve hair she usually kept up tied in a professional bun, letting long, curled locks spill down to her shoulders, framing her striking, glowing bright violet eyes. "With this, you have made yourself an enemy of every syndicate.
You will be a target - we will all be targets."
"I have always said I do not take risks. For the first time in my life, I have taken one.
I must say, it feels…thrilling.
I can understand why those I thought once as impulsive and foolish act the way they do, throwing themselves into the pit of risk for that precious glimmer of reward." Casimir's emote face smiled. "But I understand not all of you are here to fall into these pits of risk with me. And that is why I am giving all of you the option to terminate your employment to me.
You will no longer be affiliated with the Red Circle and I shall see to it that your safety is guaranteed.
You need not walk through the valley of the shadow of death with me, for unlike an omnipotent deity, I cannot guarantee you will fear no evil."
"Casimir." Walter's stern, guttural voice rang through the floor, projecting with powerful lungs that made it seem as if he was on mic.
"Yes, dear Walters?" said Casimir.
"Are you making this decision with your own mind?" said Walters.
"Shall I be honest? At first, no."
A murmur ran through his staff.
"But I have warmed to Mr. Vane's new and radical ideas. His desire to bring opportunity to those who have none," said Casimir. "It touched upon what started me on this path.
I began the Red Circle first as a means of dragging myself out from the streets. And when I was uplifted, when I looked back to see how many like me were still mired in the streets, waist deep in the mud of despair, poverty, and hopelessness, I reached out and pulled many out."
Casimir gestured towards all his servers. "And now, when I look upon what I have accomplished, I may see piles of credits and gold and jewels, but what shines to me brightest is all of you, my dears. My treasures. My flock of street crows turned to beautiful songbirds.
But there is a time to let caged birds fly. I am giving you that opportunity now.
Disassociate yourselves from me now, or I cannot guarantee it will be safe later."
"So long as you made this choice yourself, I will stand by you," said Walters.
"We are not caged birds, Casimir, we are free, freer than we ever have been," said Hirondelle. "And we choose to fly by your side."
All the servers of the Red Circle bowed their heads to Casimir, and a single tear trickled out from under Casimir's mask. "Wonderful, my dears," he said, his voice quivering.
Then, his voice immediately turned stern and serious. Almost militaristic in its efficiency. "And now, we must prepare for war. Until Mr. Vane emerges from wherever he has gone, we must fend against any potential retaliation.
Walters, engage Defense Alert Level 5."
"Understood." Walters talked into a hand radio. "Initiate DA5."
Almost immediately, the lights in the Red Circle turned red, not the festive, sultry shade of red that it shone during clubbing nights, but a bright, alarm-inducing red that incited not a dance, but a call to action.
The Red Circle shook as emergency generators booted up and powered a building wide forcefield.
In immediate and trained fashion, the staff of the Red Circle began to mobilize. Many of them rolled up their sleeves, revealing cybernetically implanted blades and firearms.
"Tech team, engage drones," said Walters. "Secure the perimeter."
Several fleets of drones from the club's tech team started to circle around the building, the barrels of energy weapons and guns gleaming and rotating about, finding potential targets.
"Strike squad, assist in securing the perimeter with aerial support."
"It will be my pleasure," said Hirondelle. Her entire body glowed violet, changing her into pure purple energy and burning off her uniform. Her energy form then shaped into the form of a large, man-sized swallow made of pure glowing violet light.
In this form, her voice projected in echoing waves. "Strike squad, with me."
Several staff members morphed into flight capable forms, turning into mutants wholesale or growing wings. Some attached mechanical wings or thrusters to themselves. Others floated in the air with the power of their minds.
Hirondelle flew out with the airborne strike squad.
"Elite security squads 1 and 2, with me. We protect the head. The rest of you, snipers, infantry, supply chain - take your trained positions. Any threats that approach, eliminate with extreme prejudice," said Walters. His appearance then began to morph as he tore through his suit, becoming a monstrous half man, half lizard creature with spined tail, curved white claws, and rocky green scales.
He made one giant leap to Casimir's side, and within a minute, twenty-four staff members formed a tight formation around Casimir. Some of them were armed with incredibly futuristic, glowing energy weapons and combat suits. Others crackled electricity from their hands, some fire, some swirls of water.
Valera appeared from backstage and stood with Casimir. "Mr. Vane has request I assist in your defense tonight."
"I am eternally grateful," said Casimir with a short bow.
"You have no powers," said Walters with a distorted, inhuman voice. He looked down at her with gleaming yellow reptilian eyes. "You'll slow us down."
"Punch me," said Valera.
"What?" A skin flap blinked over Walters' eyes in confusion.
"I said punch me. Was that so hard to understand?"
Walters grunted before throwing out a sudden, heavy and powerful punch at Valera.
Valera stopped Walters' enormous fist in her palm. The impact of the blow sounded like concrete shattering, but Valera stood there unfazed and smiling, holding back Walters' might.
"Need I say any more?" said Valera.
Walters withdrew his punch and nodded his lizard head. "No."
"To my office, then," said Casimir. He looked up at the blaring red alert lights above and smiled. "The night has just begun."
"What the fuck!? Where are we!?"
"What is this place!?"
"I can't see sh*t here! Someone get a light!"
Angry and surprised shouts rang throughout the cold darkness in the crypts of the Necropolis. Several glasses and plates held in villain hands dropped in surprise and shattered on the floor.
Several villains that could generate some form of light lit up the space. The villains looked around to see themselves now in a cold, clammy underground space with a low ceiling of dull grey rock. Dust rose up with every step they took on the cold, cracked stone floor.
Everywhere they looked around, they simply saw a vast expanse of tombs and gravestones packed together like lost and forgotten things.
"Huh? What kind of joke is this?"
"Is this some VR sh*t? Is Bruce Vane showcasing some new tech to us?"
It was a testament to the wariness of even low tier villains that even though they did not fully know what was going on, they all universally geared up to fight. They had been stripped of their villain costumes and gear, but they still had their natural powers.
Mutant category Alters morphed into their mutant forms unless they had permanent mutations. Blaster type Alters prepared a buildup of energy to shoot out at any potential threats. Augmenters strengthened their bodies.
"Fuck! I don't have any of my drones! Goddamn security check!" said a techno Alter.
"Relax, we still don't know what's happening. Like someone else said, this might be a VR demo." The villain who said this shouted. "Hey! Mr. Vane! Your sh*t's real cool and realistic, but it's about time you stopped this!"
In response to this sudden noise, the tombstones began to tremble and shudder. They slid open. The graves parted. Rotted, dried corpses, almost skeletons, emerged, groaning in hunger for warm, living flesh.
"Damn, look at the textures and graphics on this zombie! This sh*t really is realistic," said a villain as he walked up to a crowd of zombies. One of the zombies lunged and bit him on his arm. He yelled in pain. "Sh*t!"
"Fucking dumbass." Another villain, his partner, presumably, pushed him aside and shot out a gust of slicing wind that severed the crowd of zombies in half. But these severed halves still kept crawling towards them.
"Look! Look at my arm!" The villain bit by the zombie showcased his arm where around indented teeth marks, the flesh turned black and rotted.
"You stupid sh*ts!" roared Seth Solar, still dressed in a green and gold suit. He floated forwards and fired a blast of solar energy from his eyes, completely engulfing over thirty zombies in blinding orange light, utterly reducing them to ash. Where his beams traveled, the ground smoldered, gleaming orange with molten heat.
But by now, there were zombies and skeletons emerging from everywhere, quickly growing into a mass of shambling walking corpses that which at first seemed like a joke was now starting to becoming a serious threat through sheer numbers alone.
"Technos! Stop sitting on your asses! You have cybernetics in your eyes to analyze tech! Is this VR or not!?" said Seth Solar.
"No tech," said Evan Harker as his mechanical green eye clicked. "Can't get any connection either. No GPS. We've been completely isolated. Seems like a Flux category power. One that warped us to a different location. Where, I have no idea."
"Hear that!? Now start fighting back, you stupid fucks!" Seth Solar waved his gang forward. He attempted to punch the ceiling of the crypt, trying to smash through it, but it was indestructible. He immediately adjusted his strategy. "A-class and anyone that wants to get out of this, stay with me!
Any of you sh*tty D-listers fall behind even a single inch, and I am leaving your asses to rot.
If you hold me back, I swear I will laser your head off myself!"
Roused by Seth Solar's commanding presence, the crowd of villains started to fight against the zombies. Various elements shot out. Mutant Alters morphed into monstrous forms and started beating zombies with their claws and fangs.
"Wait, don't leave us!" shouted one of the villains as they saw Seth Solar and 10 members of the Blackwater A-class easily smash through the weak zombies at far greater speeds than them.
The A-class did not even spare the weaker villains a single sympathetic glance as they continued forwards.
"Hmm. Does Casimir truly think he can do this to us with impunity? Has he lost his mind? Tsk tsk," said Valus, the Butcher's handler and Connector. "Butcher, clear a path.
When we're done with this amateur attempt at eliminating us and reach an area with a signal, you'll be carving up both this idiotic Mr. Vane and Casimir."
"Kill! Carve! Tear!" Butcher roared in glee as he used his immense bulk to shoulder charge his way straight through a dense crowd of zombies, plowing through like a bowling ball smashing through pins. On his way forward, he trampled and killed a few villains as well.
Behind this cleared path, Valus flew forwards with his hands behind his back. Occasionally, when a zombie leaped up at him, they would disintegrate into piles of dust.
"A path! Quick!" Some of the lesser villains saw the path the Butcher and the Blackwater students made and followed through. These were the lucky ones. The path quickly sealed up as the number of zombies exponentially swelled as time passed.
This left approximately half the main crowd of villains, all of them comprising of the weakest E and D rankers, stranded and unable to break through a mass amount of ever growing zombies.
After all, the entire objective of the Necropolis crypt levels were to find the nearest exit, not to waste time fighting an infinite horde of undead.
But it was not like the villains knew this.
Aldrich observed everything that happened with his [Grave Ward] while hidden inside an underground tomb.
The moment he had materialized into the Necropolis, he had used his [Phantasmal Mask] to render himself invisible and phase below while everyone was distracted, keeping him from any harm or from anyone detecting him.
On top of this, he had made sure to have Casimir make sure that anyone that came to the Red Circle tonight did not have detection-based powers that could potentially scope him out.
Getting Casimir loyal to him was also not that difficult.
Aldrich had Fler'Gan look into Casimir's mind and find out what the man valued the most.
This way, Aldrich could map out a path to making Casimir devoted to Aldrich's cause with the least amount of mind control needed.
This involved tapping into Casimir's deep desire to see the world under a new order where people did not have to suffer like him.
Casimir thought that heroes and the government had done nothing for him, after all, they had left him to die on the streets as they did with many others.
Thus, he had joined the ranks of villainy where he had found far more success. And with the profits from his villainy, he tried to give back to those that had started out with nothing like him.
Aldrich saw that desire and played to it.
Now, Casimir was fully in Aldrich's hands.
As for what Aldrich needed to do now, well, he just had to do one thing -
Wait until the time was right.