"He who has friends is no failure." - i-R0K (Ready Player One)
The party, for all intents and purposes, started on the streets.
It was a cold evening even for New Year's Eve, and as the moon peered out from behind the white clouds up above, snow could be seen drifting softly down from the heavens. Indeed it was a cold night, and from the looks of things it was going to get even colder. Dwayne Kinsky lit a cigarette and popped the thing in his mouth, feeling his body instantly warm up from the heat. Dwayne, also known as 'The Sniper' in some small circles, was an African American special operative for the U.S. government who was surprised he was here. It was 10:00 PM. 10:00PM in New York City, Dwayne noted while glancing at his watch, and he found himself missing the war torn streets of Paris.
By this point the party in the building across the street had been raging for almost two hours and Dwayne had been standing across the street for even longer, trying to muster up the courage to head inside and watching with green jealousy as the rest of the party goers headed through the main entrance. Again, there was another name that Dwayne was known by in these parts. The last time he'd been in New York had been a few years ago and he'd left a mark. His killing spree had been long and glorious... and best of all, profitable. Now Dwayne fought the Nazis across the ocean, having been conscripted into the military from jail, and now Dwayne wished he'd never come to this stinking city.
The Sniper took another smoke and chuckled to himself as he leaned against the alley wall, amused by the cards that fate had dealt him. He looked at the bouncer guarding the front door to the party across the street, a small, ugly man dressed in a tuxedo who's eyes hadn't moved from Dwayne since he'd got there, and finally the Sniper had, had enough.
"Fine." He grumbled to himself before chucking his cigarette aside and beginning to walk across the street, feeling almost naked as he stepped out of the low shadows of the alley and moved under the warm intensity of the neighbor hood street lights. Dwayne adjusted the tie around his neck and felt an ever growing sense of unease as he noticed he look of amusement that spread across the bouncer's face as he drew ever nearer. There was a silence that filled the air. A silence that seemed unbearably loud.
"I'm here for the party." Dwayne said, almost muttering his sentence as the bouncer's eyes stared through his flesh.
"No you're not." The guard said, voice cruel and deep as he spoke in the deepest of tones. "Turn around and walk away, kid."
There had been a day where Dwayne would have killed this man for speaking to him in such a way. "You're being stupid." The Sniper thought to himself, fist twitching as he fought the urge to break this man's face. "You've fought Colonel Twilight and you're going to let this scum insult you?" That appeared to be the case. Feeling disgruntled by the experience, Dwayne began to turn to leave the area, only to stop when the heard the nearby sound of loud, thundering footsteps.
"This man is with me." A man wearing robes and golden armor stepped down the street, massive boots shaking the ground as he walked. "Either sand aside..." September Mourning, War-Lock of the Microverse warned. "Or be stood upon." He said while raising his boot to just above the bouncer's head.
Dwayne smiled as his friend stood beside him, an unlikely friendship that had been forged in the flames of battle and thus far seemed unbreakable.
"Mister Mourning!" The bouncer stammered as he quickly moved to open the door he'd been guarding so sharply, releasing a flow of orange light into the otherwise dark streets. The man looked at Dwayne and winced, regretful. "I... I,I was just about to invite him in!"
A low chuckle echoed from under September's helmet, a ghastly, jagged helm that seemed to mystically alter its shape whenever Dwayne's eyes wandered away.
"A likely story, boy." The warrior said while placing a hand the size of a car door upon Dwayne's shoulder. "Now stand aside." The bouncer quickly did as requested, and the two men, one from Earth and the other from elsewhere made their way into the building without further incident. "Scum." Mourning grumbled to himself as they stood waiting for the building's elevator to reach their floor. The Sniper felt himself begin to warm up under the heat of the building, and as the quiet seconds passed he found himself looking to the living golem standing by his side and posing a simple question.
"How've you been, Sep?" He asked as the elevator dinged ever closer, flashing lights moving down the hierarchy of floor numbers on display. "It's been awhile since I last saw you." Mourning's helm shifted into the form of a laughing goblin, and Dwayne could tell that the man was smiling under the helmet that he wore.
"Not too shabby, my friend." The man answered, ducking down to enter the elevator chamber as the doors opened up. "The Microverse is as beautiful as ever, and I would be lying if I said I didn't miss it more with every passing moment." Again, an empty, awkward silence filled the air as the elevator rushed up to its destination, the two men stood waiting within their metal carriage, surrounded by the twinkle of music as the seconds ticked by.
"I'm doing fine myself." The Sniper finally said in an attempt to break the evening chill in the air. "It's been ages since I was last in New York so I've-"
"Do you know which charity organized this event?" September asked, interrupting his companion as Dwayne realized the man hadn't been listening to a word he'd been saying. There was a soft, empty 'ding' that filled the air as the elevator drew to a sad halt. Dwayne felt his stomach shift in his chest and he felt the nerves from earlier begin to return.
"Guess we're about to find out..." He mumbled as the elevator doors opened and a warm, orange beam of light slid through the cracks revealing a mass grouping of men and women all wearing smartly polished tuxedos and formal wear. The room was circular, at least it appeared that way, and as the Sniper stepped out of the light he found himself catching the scents of champagne, shrimp and what smelled uncannily similar to vomit, and Dwayne Kinsky, former assassin and current special operative felt very much out of his element.
"See anyone you recognize?" September Mourning asked as he towered over the crowd, drawing a few eyes. Yet it seemed someone recognized them, as there was a cheer just behind the crowd and a split second later a black clad figure leaped over the crowd in a single bound before landing in front of the two new arrivals with a pair of perfectly balanced wine glasses in hand.
"Guys! You made it!" Domino Dan, Man of Manhattan yelled triumphantly as he practically forced one of the glasses into Dwayne's hand. Something stung inside the Sniper's mind that made him grit his teeth and almost crush the wine glass in his hand. He looked at the man stood before him, the one that September Mourning was currently shaking hands with, and every part of the Sniper's body desperately wanted to kill the man.
Domino Dan. The idiot in the one piece suit was the whole reason that Dwayne had been locked up and ended up being conscripted into the army, and now he was standing in front of Dwayne, chuckling away as if nothing had happened.
"@&%$ your wine." The Sniper grumbled as he tossed his glass' contents over the young vigilante's face, leaving smudge marks on the man's mask from where the wine had struck him. A hush fell over the crowd, one only broken by the sound of Dwayne's footsteps as he stormed away towards the nearby bar. A short moment passed as Domino watched his former enemy leave, where he then turned to September Mourning and asked:
"Was it something I said?" Sounding very confused.
By the bar Dwayne ordered a Vodka, ignoring the eyes staring into his back as he took a seat under one of the orange, beaming lights that somehow seemed ever present.
"Leave the bottle..." He muttered, already seeing an evening of depressed drinking in his near future. Somewhere nearby the elevator announced new arrivals entering the party, and the crowd cheered as the doors opened. Glancing over his shoulder Dwayne spotted the Dino-Men from the Amazon Rainforest joining in the festivities and tearing away at the buffet with an almost ravenous hunger, and Dwayne drank from his glass with an almost as ravenous thirst.
"Bit early for drinking isn't it?"
A gloved hand landed on Dwayne's shoulder, and the wound up soldier would have broken the owner's fingers if he hadn't first seen who the hand belonged to.
"Icarus." He grumbled, turning back to the bar where he poured himself a new drink. "Do me a favor and bug someone else." The winged man did no such thing. Instead he sat upon the seat next to his comrade in arms where he quickly ordered a club soda.
"Have to admit I didn't expect to see you here." Icarus said, dressed in the finest tuxedo that money could buy, with his flaming wings still sprouted from his back. "I thought you were still in Berlin."
"Nah." Dwayne grumbled. "I'm just stuck in enemy territory..." Looking around the room he saw all the men and women who'd never had to work a day in their lives, sprouted occasionally between them was a costumed weirdo drawing all the attention, but for the most part the party was filled with the true scum of the Earth. "Go talk to someone else."
"I'm not friends with 'someone else' Dwayne, I'm friends with you. And I need your help."
"What about the Ghoul?"
"He's in the men's."
Dwayne chuckled, and for a moment he cast his drink aside.
"What do you want?" He asked as Icarus finished the last of his drink. The glass slammed onto the table and a look of utter seriousness filled Icarus' face as leaned in close to the Sniper.
"Something's going to happen." The hero whispered with utter certainty. Dwayne just smiled and rolled his eyes at the strange world he found himself in. "Think about it. This is the biggest meeting of masked men since that nasty business last year. That makes this place a target, and I need people that I can trust."
Dwayne blinked. "And you trust me?" He asked, almost yelling as his voice rose ever so slightly. Icarus gave him a smile, one that he'd used countless times before to inspire loyalty whenever it was required.
"'Course I do." The hero said, chuckling. "There were plenty of times you could have betrayed me over in Europe, but you didn't. Now we've gotta save the world, and I need to know if you're with me."
A smile spread across the Sniper's face, the first one in awhile, and he nodded.
"Seriously though. We've got six or seven superheroes here." Dwayne pointed out as the sounds of thunder began to crackle in the sky behind. "Who's going to cause trouble here?"
A bolt of lightning provided an answer, dashing electric blue through the sky before passing harmlessly through the penthouse's glass windows and halting its journey upon the ground. The lightning flashed before vanishing, and in its place stood a man dressed in bright, blue spandex, a white cape shaped like a lightning bolt spreading out from his shoulders.
"Don't worry folks!" Mister Thunderbolt said with a dumb smile on his face as the crowd began to roar its approval. "Now the party can really start!"
Icarus and the Sniper glanced at each other, growing ever concerned by the stranger in their midst.
The 1944 New Year's Eve party had started in the streets. Very soon it was going to end in blood.