August 12540 - a Sunday, the last of the month. 10 in the afternoon. A warm twilight sets over the capital. Typically, it’d be busier at this hour ; not today.
Glasses clink and stomachs growl all throughout the gigantic halls of the Grand Thursday Hotel. Families and groups are seated at round, clothed tables, drinking wine, munching on snacks from the buffet, chatting about this or that and contributing to the jovial cacophony of this celebratory evening ; the GHH's 110th anniversary.
Every year, the government dedicated some of its budget excedents to celebrating its heroes, by throwing a grand ceremony in the hotel ; a high-class dinner at a remarkably affordable price to anyone willing to endure sitting through the rather monotone awards show. (Needless to say, for good food, many people were). As per every year, the dining halls were filled to the brim with guests and chatter. Though GHH employees and their plus-ones were prioritised and given a discount, the celebration attracted a much larger public - journalists, physicists, undercover villains, artists, and then some ; a colourful array of faces eagerly awaiting the fabled dishes' arrival.
The location of choice was no coincidence ; the Thursday Hotel was not only a five-star establishment with a bright reputation, it had quite the prestigious history. It was built upon the rubble of a building destroyed during the 12430 coup, on a Thursday, and named after it - it was a representation of when the First Villain crisis had come to an end, and a new era begun for the country. The superpowered era, its heroes and icons. Symbolically, there was no better location in the entire capital to celebrate the GHH.
Amongst the dense echo emanating from the tens of dozens of tables, hid quite a few intriguing conversations. Though the celebration acted as GHH's annual pat on its own back, it was home to the schemings of a good amount of undercover villains, including its most wanted targets, who occasionally liked to play daredevil in that way. M. Tristan and Ms. Gwenevre Medus - better known by their aliases Ambrosia and Ms. R.T. - current heads of MSW, the most influential crime syndicate in the capital, which thrived on weapons dealing, casually - by mobster standards - discussed business with Alistair Nozhnitsy, the current head of a relatively young company specializing in new technologies, ability research and torture. Nozhnitsy T&I was a perfectly legal company, and rather famous ; it, however, was also, and had always been, the front for a rapidly growing criminal empire, which Alistair - calling themselves Lesion - also led. MSW was an old titan of the Underground ; born before the 12430 coup, and behind some of the most infamous attacks and incidents anyone had ever pulled off ; it was a solid family business, and every generation had brought terrific villains with unreasonable amounts of fans. And yet, under the direction of Alistair's predecessor, Nozhniysy's growth had been incredibly fast - so rapid, in fact, that in just two generations it had caught up with MSW's net worth and was now interested in buying them out. Admittedly, MSW had been slightly on the decline since Gwenevre’s takeover of the organisation ; but even then, the Medus weren't interested in selling out in the slightest. Even then, Alistair hadn't - and would not - give up. With MSW out of the way, Nozhnitsy would have an almost complete monopoly over all illegal weapons dealings within the capital ; a dreamlike situation, and an achievement that would get them the recognition they aspired towards.
So their back and forth continued, drowned amongst deafening echoes of other tables' chatter - though, even in that situation, the risk of being heard by a waiter or someone with a convenient ability was high ; so, humorously, the three criminal leaders spoke in riddles, metaphors, phrases, codenames, all improvised on the spot and that would have lost them any credibility within the Underground. They'd all agreed to keep the conversation hidden under tight wraps.
Just a few tables south of those colourful negotiations, sat six men and women, all dressed in varying blends of street-punk and business-casual clothes - generally, they were clad how a stereotypical undercover cop would be. A wrong assumption, however ; all six were fellow members of Basilisk.
Three types of groups populated the capital's Underground. The large monopolies, that held dominion over many smaller gangs, and manipulated most of the city’s going-ons from behind the shadow ; groups whose powers rivalled even the government’s. At this point, the only organisation to fit that description was MSW - though Nozhnitsy had gotten closer than any organisation ever had before.
Then, there were a seemingly unending amount of small, five-to-twelve people groups, many of which went forever unknown, merely used as the henchmen or minions of middle and larger sized syndicates - but a few had that corny, over-the-top sort of charm, or had done something of note - enough to have a few booklets and art magazines documenting them. A few that came to mind : the confusingly named Hero Club 3 - the first of its kind, and all but heroic - or the Haunted Parade - led by some lunatic high school girl claiming to be the Whimpering Railway Ghost, a popular urban legend. But even those never lasted long. The fate of small groups was always one of two ; die out, disband or get arrested in a matter of a few years, or, more rarely, grow into something larger.
And finally, the often overlooked mid-sized organisations. Not large enough to compete with the likes of MSW, but influential enough to stand their ground and claim some territory and smaller gangs as their own. Typically, these groups survived through being quieter, and very specialised ; filling an unexploited niche in the market and exploiting it for all its worth. Basilisk was one of those ; a secretive association of phantom thieves and spies who, for the most part, were categorised as vigilantes and not villains. Almost as old as MSW itself, they had sworn a profound hatred of the weapons dealing organisation, and often even cooperated with the GHH, all for the sake of bringing the group down a peg. Not that it had ever worked. It was clear to see why ; even now, they had no idea Ambrosia and Ms. RT sat just a few tables away.
Though naturally, most guests were just average civilians, including the parents of some GHH heroes. Fabrice and Brimmie Shaw attended every year ; Their son, however, or rather his hero persona Bolt, was on duty, surveying the ceremony along with dozens of his A and S ranking peers. The two were filled with immense amounts of pride, and they would oh-so-innocently brag about it to their tablemates, who weren't involved with the GHH at all, had only come for the food and pretended to care.
Just a few meters east sat Austin and Brooke Shards, along with their two youngest, two rugged, prepubescent redheads with freckles and bruises all over. The four of them hid amongst one of the larger, more crowded tables. Even with their daughter, Junie’s… incident, a few years back, they made a point to come here yearly. They felt they had to. Luckily, a reporter who’d come to film and document their farm a good decade ago and had remained a family friend ever since had offered them to sit amongst them and their journalist colleagues ; that way, the Shards could avoid anyone recognizing them as Justice’s Sword family.
As for Miles and Kate Yuu - they were busy that evening. No reason for them to attend anyway.
Suddenly, an electronic noise cut through the busy chattering of human voices ; an amateur tuning a microphone. The award ceremony was starting. Conversations quieted left and right as heads turned towards the stage - while lots of others found much more interest in glaring over towards the food trails replenishing the buffet. On the stage stood Late Bloomer. He wasn't a particularly high ranking hero, but he was relatively renowned for his ability and had a friendly face and good voice, so he'd nabbed the honourable chore of announcing the awards to the tipsy crowd that stood before him.
The award categories had remained the same for decades ; highest number of missions undertaken, highest number of successful arrests, least property damage induced, internal popularity vote, general popularity vote. Since the first three were purely statistical, every GHH forum under the sun had them figured out well before the ceremony. The last category was no less redundant ; most years, it was clear which hero had been the fan favourite, and most years, the fan favourites were a similar breed. The fourth category was at least somewhat relevant, since it gave the general public a glimpse of what GHH heroes thought of each other. That being, just a glimpse, since only the winner of the vote was announced, no runner ups or even by how many votes they won.
The awards were pointless ; they didn't grant the rewarded parties any more advantages either. It was just one of those things the GHH did that people raised an eyebrow at, but didn't protest against. It was all just a glorified excuse to slurp down food and let the GHH pat itself on the back.
Late Bloomer's mature, gentle tone began reading out a speech that felt like it'd been put together by a high schooler over a single evening. Most people didn't care enough to notice, so the heroes always got away with it. As Pando shuffled through his papers, he found himself in darkness. All the lights had gone out. "O-Oh. Well, then-"
And those were Late Bloomer, otherwise known as Dave Pando's last words - for someone offstage had blown out the poor man's brains, killing him with a single bullet to the temple before sliding into view themselves with no gun to be seen ; Alexander.
Alexander didn't have the ‘build’ of a deluded, murderous terrorist ; short, young, round. Toffee skin clad in a silver catsuit, with spiral stripes going up and down their costume. They wore a silver mask that obstructed most of their face, only showing their grey eyes, their mouth, and the tip of their nose. Their hair, a silver wig, feathered messily in all directions, akin to the explosions they were so fond of. In many regards, they looked like they were cosplaying someone else ; the costume just didn't really fit them.
Amongst the countless S-ranking, intimidating, mysterious villains that plagued the capital, Alexander still stood out - for one simple reason. Super-abilitied criminals were people. They had goals. Plans. Their crimes were just means to an end. Even show-offs like phantom thieves or Lesion achieved something whenever they appeared, even if their final goal was unclear. But Alexander only spread death. Grotesque murders left and right, bold and brutal displays of violence and cruelty, guts, heads, ribs, hands, all blown to pieces and splatter, crushed against the walls like tomatoes and porcelain mashed into one disgusting sauce. They'd made it clear themselves ; that was the sole point of their endeavour. Terror.
After so many horrendous crimes, the contrast between them and their getup was no longer comical - it was eerie. Off-putting, like their constant, toothy smile, stretching excitedly from ear to ear. Whoever was in that costume wasn't some otherworldly or prodigious force of nature ; it was an average person. It could be anyone. It was anyone.
The GHH had desperately tried to figure out their identity, but the three suspects they had just didn't match up. There was always a detail or two or three that invalidated them. There had to be some error. Some hijinks. Some form of a clue that pointed to one of them. But there wasn't. There wasn't any that they could figure out. Alexander had spawned out of thin air a few years back, and there wasn't anything they could do about it.
The silver figure tapped the microphone. The metallic noise echoed through the now silent hall. They grabbed it from its stand and began walking around the stage, pirouetting, dancing and hopping around, most likely to make themselves a harder target to hit in case any of the attendees slipped a gun past security. It seemed unlikely ; The security was plentiful. Top-notch. Many policemen in uniforms, and even more dressed as waiters and the like. Multiple mandatory controls and full-body patting. S and A ranks with synergic abilities who'd been put in charge of guarding every inch of the hotel strategically, and were ready to jump to action at the slightest alarm. However, Alexander had already put most of them out cold. The only ones left were the ones outside the building or in upper floors, who now heard the terrorist's speech through hidden speakers in the wall that were meant to relay the award ceremony.
"Right, right, heeeeeeello!" Alexander's voice changer, in addition to the microphone, gave everything they said an uncomfortable, ringing quality. Occasionally, their twirling around would tug on the microphone’s cable, causing further noise. “Have you all eaten weeeell?” That simple question spread like a silent shockwave through the audience. Was the food poisoned, somehow? Spiked with some anaesthetic or drug? Something worse, even? Human remains? Several tables began to empty their plates on the ground or in plant pots, more or less discreetly. One unfortunate guest gagged at the mere idea that it might’ve been compromised, to such an extent that they threw their salmon-capers snacks up and onto the floor in a gross-out, stinking mush.
Alexander quietly turned towards them. The man, in his mid-thirties perhaps, a dark-brunette with a silly moustache and tan skin, was struggling to get back onto his seat, still yet unaware of the terrorist’s gaze shooting through them with rage no normal person could’ve understood. And as he finally sat back up, vomit still pearling around his lips, it was too late.
Screams of pain shot through the neighbouring tables ; a broken off chair leg had fallen right on one of them and skewered through the side of their arm. Less notable debris and shards showered all around and lacerated people in a good ten-meter radius around the unfortunate throw-upper. Or at least, what remained of him ; charred bits of skin and bone, his twisting shape and bent articulations laying on the ground amongst his own blood and vomit. He wasn’t dead, no, not yet. But he was fractured in enough places that he would be before long. His chair had blown up under him.
Alexander’s glitching, excitable voice echoed through the hall again ; a silly, unstoppable giggle that rung wrong, contrasting the gore that lay upon the stage and down by the exploded chair. Clapping twice, Alexander brought the microphone right up to their mouth again, and screamed out, at last, the trick up their sleeve :
"See that? Every single seat here is set to detonate at a moment's notice!"