Right now in this very span of time, everything was not good and brown.
A sunshine smile was the last thing on Michael Kay’s face as he stood by his uncle, who remained in agony, with only ten feet between him and the seemingly bloodthirsty Nagataki siblings.
As Rob struggled to regain control of his bodily functions, Michael threw out the only distraction he could think of.
“What the hell is wrong with you people? He’s minding his own business, and you guys just jump him like that? What did Rob ever do to you?” Michael declared, of course trying his best to believe his own words in order to make it all the more genuine.
Arashi scoffed in response. With this fight now clearly in the palm of their hands, and Nami ready at a moment’s notice, he doubted this boy would be much of a threat.
“Then you do not know him as well as you think. Did you know he is wanted by Zero Beat? Did you also know that he is wanted in over eight different countries?”
Michael didn’t say a word in response to that, instead looking back at his uncle. Rob’s chest was still heaving, but his body seemed to finally relax from the previous spasms.
Slowly, Rob’s weight fell back, until he was leaning against one of the larger racks as his lungs rasped for air.
There was still a world’s worth of information that Michael still didn’t know about when it came to his uncle.
For now though, that was unimportant.
Even though he couldn’t see the look in his eyes under his song effect-borne helmet, Michael could practically feel Arashi’s killing intent in the air.
Arashi took one step forward, Ultrasoul still active. Michael immediately went in front of his uncle, arms out in a protective stance. Michael winced slightly, now feeling warm blood dripping down from his right forearm where one of Nami’s killer arrows had hit home.
“I don’t care what you say. You’re not getting anywhere near him.” Michael stated in his most courageous tone of voice.
This time, Arashi didn’t react. He simply surveyed the situation, waiting to answer to the first move, if any.
But next to him, his sister simply chuckled under her breath.
Comebacks were such an alien concept to her, given how many people she’d demolished again and again in her precious rhythm games.
Nami could feel that wonderful rush of victory again, like some energizing electricity that washed over her.
Through all of this, Michael’s headphones remained in his ears, though Canned Heat was no longer active.
While Arashi debated his next course of action, and Rob continued to labor in his breathing, Michael knew he would have be quick about this next move for it to have even a chance at success.
Unfortunately, Nami seemed be reading his mind.
“Be smart about this, Afro-kun. Perhaps if you walk away, we don’t tell Zero Beat that you were even here. Don’t try to be the hero.” she suggested, though Michael couldn’t tell if she really meant her words.
“Not an option.” Arashi interjected, much to his sister’s surprise. “Unfortunately for you, you’re not coming back alive. Zero Beat was very specific on what they wanted for you.”
Slowly but surely, Michael’s left arm was lowering even as he kept his arms wide. With Arashi’s gaze focused on Rob, and Nami busy glowering in their victory, it would be in these next few seconds that Michael Kay would have his chance.
“You think that’s the first time I’ve heard that? Ha! Don’t make me laugh.” Michael shot back, with his best impersonation of Kim.
Three killer arrows remained hovering around Nami, ready to strike at her mental command. And in his Ultrasoul form, there was almost no way Michael would be able to dodge Arashi even with the extra speed from Canned Heat.
Holding back the urge to gulp, Michael looked up at he ceiling, trying to gauge the fifteen feet distance and wondering if it was enough. Finally, he exhaled, and quickly swiped his left arm down, finger snapping onto the fast forward button of his music player under his jean pocket.
When the music started, both Nagataki siblings were already on the attack.
Arashi was but a touch away when the booming guitar signaled the Sentonal’s entrance. Two massive gloved hands slapped him aside, while another blocked two of the killer arrows headed straight for Michael Kay.
The third one, however, hit home as it cut right across Michael’s right shoulder. He bit down on his lip as he tried to mentally will the pain away.
A number of loud crashes, snaps and booms accompanied the Big YMCA materializing in such a small space. Racks fell, instruments were pulverized, and all manner of records bit the dust as the gigantic being manifested into existence.
Down on what one might consider its knees, the Sentonal’s Y pushed against the ceiling as its arms held fast against the ground. Like some sort of huge roadblock it remained physically stuck in the majority of space that made up Semi-Sound’s first floor. The beady black eyes on each of its letters could only direct their attention at the two Music Masters now threatening their charge.
Unable to move anything beyond three of its arms in this state, it was nevertheless enough to annoy Nami, but worse yet, worry Arashi as he quickly composed himself from being flung back by such a blow.
As Michael stood behind his crippled Sentonal, bleeding profusely from his shoulder and arm now, he waited for the death blow to come.
An orange afterimage flashed by Nami as her brother rushed to strike. His roller blades sparked across the floor, and he dove underneath one of the Big YMCA’s clumsy arms with ease. He moved with unreal speed, because every second now mattered beyond what Nami could comprehend.
It wasn’t obvious with his visor, but Arashi’s eyes were wide, and his heart was racing as he closed the distance between himself and Michael Kay.
He was but a touch away, leg glowing with otherworldly force as before, when the unthinkable happened.
With all the chaos going on, no one had noticed a groggy but conscious Rob as he revealed his dusty, seventeen year old cassette player.
In those thirty seconds that Michael had distracted Nami and Arashi with the Big YMCA, Rob had managed to get his headphones on and Harmonize with the exact same song he had bested the Nagataki siblings with only fifteen minutes before.
It was Arashi who had realized the third song in the air, and it was why he had put all his energy into reaching the bass player and his nephew.
His hand still shook horribly from weakness, and his mind wandered on the edge of unconsciousness, but Rob grabbed onto Michael’s pant leg right as Arashi’s kick was just beginning to vaporize the air in front of his nephew’s tie dye shirt.
Time seemed to stop in that moment, until Arashi’s attack sliced into nothing but air. The shock wave from the force alone blew away every instrument and CD rack alike within a five foot radius.
Nami was speechless, for once, as her brother’s song effect finally ended.
All that was left of Rob and Michael were remnants of gold and green energy threads. And once they had completely faded away, so did the sound of Traveling Without Moving.
Once Ultrasoul had ended, and Arashi was back to his normal form, Nami could see the same blood still coming down from the gash on his brow. He stared into space, ignoring it even as it began to stain into his jacket.
Nami slowly approached her brother behind. Uncertainty in her eyes, she reached out to his shoulder with a comforting hand. He spoke when she was an inch away from touching him.
“Do you understand what this means?” he asked in Japanese now, quite calmly.
Nami didn’t want to answer. She already knew what was coming, and of course she didn’t want to acknowledge it.
After five seconds of silence, Arashi turned to face her. The blood still came down from his forehead, but it was so inconsequential compared to the expression of disappointment now on her brother’s face.
“It means we have nothing for Zero Beat now. It means we have no idea where they went. For all we know, he could have teleported to another country entirely.” he told her, not mincing a single word.
Nami could say nothing as Arashi continued to unload his anger upon her.
“But most importantly, it means that we failed. Our one chance to fix everything back home is gone. It’s gone because of you, because you’re always impatient.”
Arashi was unrelenting, even as tears began to well at the edge of Nami’s eyes.
“I knew I should have left you back home.”
With that final declaration, Arashi was silent.
But instead of the usual snide remark or angry declaration, Nami grimaced as tears began to stream down her cheeks. She narrowed her eyes before pushing her brother hard.
It wasn’t enough to knock him down, but it was enough to jar him in the least.
He had just enough time to see the pained expression on her face as she tried to wipe tears away, before Nami turned tail and bolted out of Semi-Sound.
Arashi could hear her faint steps in the back alley outside for a few seconds, before he was sure she was gone.
Surrounded by broken instruments, crushed records, shattered boxes, storage bins and racks alike, Arashi sat down. He finally put a hand to the gash on his head, but strangely enough, it hadn’t hurt all this time.
Arashi closed his eyes, acknowledging the situation and trying his best to pinpoint each and every mistake.
He would find Nami eventually. There was only one place she would end up going, after all.
But to find Rob Prototype? Now that would be another matter entirely.
It was only minutes before that Michael Kay assumed he’d been dead.
Between watching his Japanese opponent’s attack nearly phase through his body and then being thrust into a dimension of gold and green light that had practically overwhelmed his senses, it was a wonder that Michael was still sane when he finally came to.
When he shot up into wakefulness, Michael found himself somewhere unrecognizable.
Next to him was Rob, who was lightly breathing, but otherwise unconscious. He was lying on a long coffee-colored couch.
They found themselves in a spacious studio apartment, which was both impeccably clean and meticulously furnished and styled. As Michael tried to stand up to get a better look around, he felt the bleeding in both his shoulder and his arm.
With the knowledge that Rob seemed alright for now, Michael took off his shirt, only to yelp as he saw the full extent of his injuries.
Luckily they were relatively skin-deep wounds, but they bled and hurt nonetheless. Slowly, Michael sat back down on an empty loveseat, rubbing his knuckles as he debated what to do next.
If he wasn’t in pain and worried about being hunted by Japanese assassins, then Michael might have been able to enjoy the spectacular view of city from the tower windows leading out into the balcony of the apartment itself.
Wincing again as he got up, Michael took off Rob’s hat and placed it onto the small table nearby. Rob’s expression seemed serene now, devoid of all previous pain and anguish from before. He took his phone out of his pocket, truly debating the next course of action he was about to take.
Of all people to contact, this was the last person in the world he wanted to reach.
But even Michael wasn’t so dumb to not realize the severity of the situation. Sighing, he sent the text, and sat back down, waiting for the inevitable result.
In hindsight, waking up Kim in the dead of night might have been an easier choice.
Amazingly, Colleen had attended to Michael first without saying a word.
In the end, it turned out that this studio apartment, which was presumably Rob’s, was only a ten minute train ride from the hospital where Michael’s older sister worked.
Michael was diligent in staying still as Colleen disinfected and dressed both cuts. He stared forward into space, ignoring the pain of the rubbing alcohol, and instead trying to not to think about the fact he had been forced to call his sister in the aftermath of a fight with Music Masters.
It took about fifteen minutes in total, but when she was finally done, Michael prayed that Rob would wake up and say something.
Anything so that he wouldn’t have to explain himself.
Alas, Rob remained asleep on the couch, and Colleen stood up before clasping her travel first-aid kit shut.
“Okay. Now that you’re officially not in pieces, you want to tell me what’s going on, Mike?” she said quite directly.
The time for silence was over, and the time for excuses had come.
Michael’s lie was a half-truth at best.
“Some guys jumped Rob. I tried to stop them.”
Colleen looked over to her uncle now, noting his size. On top of his quick delivery, there was a logistical issue with Michael’s explanation.
“How did you know he had this place? I didn’t even know about it until you texted me the address. And on top of that, you expect me to believe that you carried him all the way here, bleeding like that?” Colleen pointed out, clearly having run out of patience at this point.
In the back of her mind, Colleen wanted to blame Rob for all of this. For all she knew, he could have been the reason behind Michael coming home so late, and the catalyst for his mysterious night activities that her brother always avoided talking about.
Michael’s answer was just as flat as his previous lie.
“It was only two blocks. Rob told me where to go.”
Colleen breathed in, her chest elevating from stress. She was about to press the subject further, when she spotted a hand reaching out from the corner of her eye.
That drew her and Michael’s attention to Rob, who seemed to be grasping for something unseen in the air. Words mumbled out of his mouth, but only a few were even decipherable.
“White…strings…Talulah?” he said with a gasp, before Rob winced loudly as his entire body stiffened.
Colleen was at his side in an instant. She tried her best to shush him, before putting a hand on his forehead and noting the growing heat.
It felt just like the ER for her again as she barked orders at her brother. “Grab me a towel and some ice from the fridge. Quickly, he’s going into shock.”
Fast on his feet as always, Michael was back with the ice, but unable to find a towel, he brought a comfy beige bathrobe instead.
He sat nearby as Colleen worked to cool down Rob’s body temperature, and Michael’s memory jolted him back to events from only an hour early.
Rob’s bass guitar was more than just the instrument he used as a musician. It was clearly some extension of himself, of his abilities as a Music Master.
And with it completely destroyed like this, there was the gnawing question in Michael’s mind if his uncle might ever actually recover.
As he shifted back and forth from nerves, Michael held back any attempt to explain all of this to Colleen.
Besides thinking he was absolutely bonkers, she would probably just get angry at him for lying again. So as she calmed his uncle down, Michael didn’t say a word.
Thoughts of the Nagataki siblings wandered into his mind. That Asian boy and his dead, uncaring stare, and his sister, with the gap in her teeth and that insufferably cocky attitude.
Though Rob had sufficiently calmed down now, Michael was beginning to realize that perhaps Kim’s training wasn’t enough.
Colleen must have been feeling bad about the whole situation, because she was more understanding in her next statement.
“Why don’t you go lay down for a bit? Looks like there’s a spare bedroom by the studio. I’ll keep watch here.” she suggested, feeling Rob’s temperature again with the palm of her hand. He was still warm, but at least he wasn’t thrashing.
“You sure? I mean, I’m fine.” Michael replied, and it was now that Colleen became serious again.
“Get it while you can. Because when this is all done, you’re going to tell me exactly what happened tonight, or you’re not leaving your room until the New Year.”
The threat was obvious, even for the normally dense Michael. He nodded.
“Yeah, sure Colleen.” he promised, before turning tail and leaving the living room.
When Michael was gone, Colleen simply rubbed her forehead with her fingers. She had close to no idea what was happening, and somehow, she still hadn’t throttled Michael yet.
She looked back at Rob, now more peaceful in his rest.
Maybe some of his infamous patience had rubbed off on her after all.
Michael Kay stood at the foot of this particular king-size bed for more than two minutes before he realized he wasn’t actually going to sleep.
Instead, he had wandered to the studio Colleen had mentioned as quietly as possible.
Wearing one of his old white t-shirts, since his tie dye one was stuck in the wash on account of blood, Michael found himself marveling at the large sound studio located behind what seemed like an innocuous door.
This place had everything. Soundproof panels to keep the noise in, instruments of every kind lining the walls from didgeridoos to sitars, and plenty of furnishings from the recording room to the lounge outside and beyond.
But what Michael was most interested in was the space. There was at least a good ten feet up to the ceiling, and the lounge area outside the recording space had a polished wood floor.
Michael kicked his shoes off, realizing with the bars nearby that someone had danced here once upon a time.
Stretching his arms, Michael felt the sting of pain from the wound in his shoulder in particular.
He ignored it though, as he scrolled through his music player.
If he wasn’t going to sleep, then he’d do something far more useful with his time.
It took a few minutes of deliberation, but Michael found the song of choice. Reflected back in his eyes was the image of five young brothers, with glowing teeth, pleasant features, and afros nearly identical to his own.
Michael closed his eyes and exhaled, allowing himself to Harmonize with this new song.
A few seconds later, and silver reflections of light bounced all across the darkness of the previously unlit sound studio.
It was like someone had shined a light through the surface of a disco ball itself. Michael’s skin illuminated the darkness with a metallic, turquoise sheen.
If he had a mouth anymore, he would have smiled.
Tonight was going to make dance club look like a walk in the park.
And the Nagataki siblings, if they showed their faces again, wouldn’t know what hit them.