It was a wonder Nami Nagataki could stand the unbearable silence as she waited for Rob Prototype.
She did as instructed by her brother, taking position in a more obscured area of instrument racks about ten feet from the back entrance. Arashi himself stood straight in the path of said entranceway, with hands in his pockets, headphones around his neck and a completely blank look on his face.
To take down the bass player, he would be the anvil, and his sister the hammer. Their goal remained simple, as stated by Arashi only minutes before.
“We go for the guitar. Nothing complex, Nami.”
Impatience was written all over Nami’s face as she remained crouched down. Even with her own headphones on, she had been instructed to not play her intended song effect until the signal. It needed to be exactly perfect for them to have the jump on Rob, for however small of an advantage that might give them.
Nevertheless, the girl’s light fingers remained poised over her music player.
Nami’s eyebrows rose up in an instant at the sound of the back door into Semi-Sound creaking open. She looked for her brother, who kept his perfect posture as he waited patiently.
Footfalls echoed throughout the back of the store.
As Rob walked in, he didn’t say a word as he adjusted his cap.
Blocking his path into the store and standing as perfect as a member of military police, was a young Asian boy.
He was dressed in a bright yellow-orange jacket and maroon pants, eyes hidden behind thick black sunglasses.
Rob sized him up in an instant. In particular, he noted the large roller blades he was wearing.
Arashi, on the other hand, didn’t even give Rob a passing glance. If he did, Rob couldn’t tell underneath his shades.
Instead, the elder Nagataki burst forward with offense, scratching into the floor of the store with his wheels.
Though Arashi was nowhere near Rob’s size, the momentum from impact was still more than enough to knock him off his feet. Rob fell back onto the ground with the weight of his guitar case, struggling for the moment like a flipped turtle.
Arashi was far from finished though, launching a hard kick with one of his roller blades right at Rob’s face.
He missed, though barely, causing Rob’s cap to fly back in the process.
Multiple racks clanged onto the ground, and now the bass player found himself heaving his guitar case to one side just to keep Arashi off him.
His Japanese opponent slid back on his roller blades, but as Rob went to reach for the zipper to take out his guitar, there was a faint click.
Both Nami and Rob, with their enhanced hearing, could easily hear Arashi press down on such a tiny remote.
Up above, Semi-Sound’s speakers began to loudly play music in response. Booming horns and violins seemed to conquer the entire store as the music roared in the air.
Meanwhile, Nami smiled at the sound of signal, finally pressing play on her music player.
As Nami began to Harmonize, Arashi kept his position. With the loud classical piece playing, there might just be enough rampant noise to distract even a Music Master’s sensitive hearing. Anything to distract a Synkronized Music Master from playing their instrument effectively.
With Arashi seemingly letting up for the moment, Rob had the brief instant in which he could unfurl his chrome orange guitar from its case.
But those few seconds were all Nami needed, and before he could even go for a single pluck of the strings, Arashi was charging again. The store was but a flurry of movement as Arashi made Rob focus all his attention on him.
Slowly inching towards the fight from behind her hiding spot, Nami smiled through the gap in her teeth as Hyper Eurobeat manifested into existence. Four of her killer arrows already hovered around her, each one shaking in deadly anticipation.
But as her brother sped forward to face Rob, and Nami finally revealed her presence, the atmosphere suddenly changed. It was as if realization hit both Nagataki siblings at the same time, and the power discrepancy between both parties became truly apparent.
With but one hard swing, the flat end of Rob’s bass guitar hit a vicious home run.
There was a loud crack, and Nami gasped as she watched flecks of blood and black shards pass her in the air.
For her brother, everything moved akin to a slide show. He felt pain course through the left side of his face, the force of blow sending him flying across the room. When he landed, he was sprawled among used cymbals and old boxes of CDs.
The room spun like a turntable as Arashi’s vision waxed and waned.
Nami stood frozen at the sight of her brother laid low so easily. Gone was any cockiness in that single instant. Her song effect remained active however, but she seemed unable to make any move as Rob fixed his fallen cap onto his head.
Finally, Rob addressed both of the siblings, insult in his tone.
“Zero Beat really cherry-picked the losers this time, huh?”
Nami’s killer arrows remained near her, but it only took a second for her expression to shift to something far more awful. She knew what that English word meant, for sure.
“What did you just call me!?!”
Nami shrieked in Japanese rage as she came at the bass player, her killer arrows flying from all sides as they prepared to tear Rob asunder.
But unfortunately for her, she could only be so fast. The arrows hit nothing but air as Rob’s song effect began in the second that his fingers played upon strings. It was a chill club beat, but loud enough to conquer the previous classical music and thus all of Semi-Sound with its noise.
Nami blinked once she realized he was completely gone. All that was left of Rob’s previous existence were momentary threads of gold and green. They swayed from an unknown breeze before simply fading away.
Nami looked side to side, suddenly confused.
Rob’s voice seemed to be everywhere when he finally did speak to her.
“You two are a long way from home. I don’t know what Zero Beat promised you for me, but from my experience, they usually don’t deliver. Walk out with him while you still can.”
Like a bird of prey, her eyes scanned everywhere for any sign of him. He was but a disembodied voice now.
In sudden panic, Nami’s killer arrows flew out in all directions. They punctured drums, burst boxes, snapped wires and sliced up wood and plastic alike in their search for him.
Then came the strange, breezing sound from before. Nami was looking at Arashi for guidance, who was only now just getting up, when she felt Rob’s heavy shadow upon her.
Despite the pressure of the situation, Nami remained as fast always. She spun on one leg, dodging the neck of Rob’s bass as jabbed it forward like a makeshift lance.
The effort required to dodge cost her accuracy though, and the two killer arrows aimed for Rob’s shoulder flew harmlessly overhead instead.
In a moment of recklessness, Nami threw a punch at him. Still having been playing along to the song this whole time however, Rob just disappeared in a flash of light before Nami could so much as nudge him.
Once again, he was out of their sight. Arashi finally came to his sister’s aid, roller blades skidding the ground as he stopped in front of her. He had a song at the ready and headphones primed.
But upon closer inspection, Nami began to panic once she saw the large cut coming from Arashi’s brow where his glasses had cracked apart against his skin.
“You are bleeding, Nii-san. I thought this was supposed to be easy!” she complained in Japanese.
Without his glasses, Arashi’s every expression came to light. He narrowed his eyes accusingly at her.
“It could have been, if you would just be more patient. But that’s not important. We get our hands on his bass, and this is over.”
Travelling Without Moving continued to dominate the air as Rob’s voice addressed them once again. Clearly, they would have no respite against him.
“Just because I can’t understand you doesn’t mean I can’t read the both of you like liner notes. One more chance to walk out of here. Better take it now.”
Arashi stood by his sister, defiance in his eyes. This was the wrong time to show fear, despite the unfamiliar feeling of uneasiness growing in the pit of his stomach.
“No, you are coming back with us. I promise you that.”
Rob chuckled with his best attempt to scare them both. This was becoming more of an annoyance than a true fight at this point.
“Fine. Hopefully Zero Beat paid for body bags tonight.”
His teleportation happened in the blink of an eye, as Nami and Arashi both struck as fast they could. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near fast enough to catch him at this instantaneous speed.
With one elbow, Rob hit home right into Arashi’s open gash, causing the elder sibling to double back from a horrible spike of pain.
And with the bass itself, he slammed into Nami’s stomach. She coughed as the wind was sucked out of her lungs, and Nami flew back with such force that she tumbled through the open door and found herself in the cold back alley some six feet outside.
Despite the pain, Arashi still held his ground as Rob continued to strum on his bass, forever retaining the effect of Traveling Without Moving as long as he did so.
As he rushed to Harmonize with the familiar song in his ears, the elder Nagataki now could see why these Synkronized Music Masters were so feared. He was beginning to understand exactly why Zero Beat found this particular Trackmaster to be such a problem, and why so many had passed up on him.
It was bad enough that he had access to a song effect that allowed for instant translocation, but what made it worse is that Rob could play this song forever and still kill them both just as easily.
Arashi stood up, no longer reeling from the blow despite the warm blood still coming down from his brow. A moment later, and he closed his eyes as the otherworldly glow of his song effect came over him. Its comforting aura seemed to give him hope, if for but a moment.
This would take everything he had and more.
If Nami was to stay safe, then sacrifices would have to be made.
And Arashi had never been a stranger to sacrifice.
It took all of her reflexes for her to land back on her feet, but Nami was still breathing heavily as the situation dawned on her.
They were losing.
The word alone was like a deadly spike in her mind.
She took in each breath as if the next might be her last. Nami couldn’t remember the last time she’d ever felt this tired.
She lightly touched her stomach, feeling the large welt from being hit by cured mahogany.
They were losing, and nothing she was doing was helping even in the slightest.
At a moment like this, every one of Nami’s senses felt like they were on fire.
So when she heard Michael Kay hollering nearby, her eyes widened in shock even as she stared face down into the cement ground.
Nami’s fingers curled as the boy approached. Her lips thinned as she gritted her teeth in frustration.
“Rob! Hey Rooooob! You around?” Michael belted, clearly out of ideas once he’d found out that Semi-Sound was shuttered and closed. His best bet now was to hope he got lucky enough that Rob might still be in the neighborhood.
Nami’s ears perked up at the sound of their target’s name. Suddenly, a convenient bullseye for her frustration was about to show his face.
The noise of Michael’s sneakers padding the ground was closer now.
Michael entered the alley in the exact moment that Nami finally willed herself to stand back up.
She was met with the sight of this teenage boy, with dark tan skin and the largest orb of black hair she had ever seen in her life.
He looked beyond confused upon seeing her, but when she looked at him, all she could think of was a particularly annoying announcer straight from her favorite rhythm game.
“Uh, hey.” Michael said, unsure of what to think of the Japanese girl waiting in an alley like this.
“You haven’t seen a guy with a bass around here, have you?”
For a moment, Nami almost didn’t know what to say. She scanned Michael Kay up and down again, and the frustration seemed to just build inside her even more.
She didn’t let Michael get another word in.
“Get lost, loser. This store is closed.”
No matter how hard she tried to mask it, her accent couldn’t be hidden. Nami was clearly angry, but for some reason, Michael didn’t react the way she wanted.
Perhaps it was just such a long day that it had all finally got to him, but instead of reacting in fear, Michael let out a light laugh. There was something very ridiculous about running into some Asian girl in a back alley, and being told to get lost just like that.
Nami face almost cracked with rage in response.
Michael recovered himself quickly though, once he realized that he might have insulted her.
“Uh, sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. Do you work here? I’m looking for my uncle Rob.” he asked, trying to sound as courteous as possible now.
Nami looked back at the door leading into Semi-Sound, then back at the afro-headed teen. A devilish smile formed on her face once she realized the connection. Her free hand was already going for her music player.
“Oh? So he is your Oji-san? I wonder now, if you are a Music Master too.” Nami asked, fixing her headphones which had been bumped off from being thrown into the alley.
Michael put his hands up defensively, beginning to back away as he heard foreign music entering the air as she started up a song.
“Hey, I’m not here for trouble. I’m just looking for my uncle.” he assured, but unfortunately Nami wasn’t a complete idiot.
And to make things worse, she was clearly enjoying toying with him now.
“Then why so afraid?” she asked, approaching with slow steps. “I’m just listening to a song. Do you not like my music?”
Michael’s eyes widened as six of Nami’s killer arrows manifested around her. Hyper Eurobeat had invaded the air again, and at this point, Michael didn’t even try to pretend he couldn’t hear it. Instead, his muscles contracted with sudden anticipation.
Nami smiled wide in response.
“You are a Music Master! Good, I need the practice!”
Her arrows flew forth in the blink of an eye. Time almost halted for Michael Kay as he realized the event unfolding was a very real confrontation.
If it had been two months ago, then Michael might have been dead right then and there. He would have skewered like a kebab, and his story as a budding Music Master would have ended as quick as it began.
But this Michael Kay wasn’t the same one who’d nearly burned himself with Canned Heat outside of the Dust Bowl those two months ago.
He might have been scared, but at a time like this, it seemed his reflexes put him on autopilot. As the arrows came for him, each part of his body seemed to move independently.
His hips swayed, his legs buckled for a brief moment, and he craned his neck back as he dodged all six of her deadly projectiles as if moving to the groove.
When Michael’s body finally relaxed, the killer arrows had punched right into the brick wall behind him, creating small cracks as they remained stuck.
Nami could only look on with her mouth agape. She had seen break dancers in the past, but it pained her to think this was a dancing style that still remained alien to her.
Kim had certainly trained him well. Even during all that motion, he’d instinctively gone for his headphones and was already hearing his song of choice.
Canned Heat flared in his right hand and in his heels, and Michael Kay put on his best serious face as the words just rolled out.
“What do you want with Rob? Are you with Zero Beat? Answer quick, cause I’m not going to repeat myself!” he demanded, though he was clearly not as threatening as he sounded in his head.
Nami seemed to agree, as she snickered loudly. “You think I’m going to just tell you? Just like that? Hehe! You are funny, Afro-kun.”
Michael’s opened his right palm, the heat expanding as threat filled into his voice. “I’m warning you! If you hurt Rob, I swear…”
“You will do what?” she challenged, having already channeled more of her arrows. A veritable dozen of them appeared in the air around her, swarming like a furious horde of insects.
Michael’s heart was up in his throat, but he focused the heat into his heels as he prepared for her to strike.
Then his eyes went for the door behind her, and his ears perked up as he could the sound of clashing music coming from inside Semi-Sound.
It took a good second, but even Michael’s simple brain was able to connect the dots to exactly what was going on.
“Hey!” Nami shouted, breaking his concentration. “Don’t ignore me!”
Nami’s arms were poised at her sides, and her menagerie of arrows reminded Michael of what he had faced countless times in training against Kim’s Walking Disaster.
He had no time for a fight though, not when Rob could be in trouble or worse.
The afro-headed teen’s eyes scanned the alleyway, and though it might not be the smartest plan, it was the only one he had right now.
His timing had to be perfect for this.
Michael crouched down, trying to sound badass as he focused all of Canned Heat in his heels.
“Yeah, that’s what they all say. Do your worst!” he declared, and Nami just laughed out loud in response. There was no hesitation as her neon arrows of death spiraled towards him. But his distraction had given him the extra second he needed.
Michael grinned with satisfaction, and finally let loose his burst of speed.
He surged forward as Canned Heat carried him across the cement, easily melting the ground below. Focusing all his speed, he found himself skating on the side of the brick wall itself.
Nami’s wide eyes followed him as he scaled the vertical surface just two feet above her.
In all the chaos, Michael felt a painful nick in his right arm, but he ignored it as he pushed off the wall itself, jumped over Nami, and landed right in front of the back alley door into Semi-Sound.
Michael didn’t even let himself exhale. He spun around like a top, and was just fast enough to shut the door into the alley behind him, effectively cutting Nami off.
“Hey! Get back here!” she yelled loudly from the other side of the door.
Ignoring her and clicking the lock, Michael allowed himself to breathe for but a moment.
It was only when he heard multiple banging sounds against the other side of the door, and saw the tips of Nami’s song effect arrows just piercing through the metal, did he realize that now was not the time to be standing around.
Hoping the door would last more than a minute at least, Michael dashed inside the back of the store.
An entire drum set flew just above his head, and Michael put his arms up as the sound of crashing instruments and song effects dominated the air.
In front of him of was a fantastical scene. Rob strummed on his bass to the tune of his song, as Arashi was busy dueling with something that Michael could have sworn he remembered from an old cartoon growing up.
It in front of him was robot that towered over Rob, with a sleek, muscle-car frame and jointed legs like that of a jaguar. Instead of a right arm, it held a long cannon that seemed melded with a silver bass guitar.
It moved methodically, countering every one of Arashi’s blows with equal speed, as Rob continued to play the song powering it with perfect timing.
Michael almost didn’t know what to say as he watched two very real Music Masters duke it out. It was surreal, frightening and exciting all at once.
And Michael certainly wouldn’t have recognized Arashi Nagataki even if he had seen him before.
Where the serious elder Nagataki was before, there was now a confident Japanese super hero of sorts, clad in orange spandex and wearing a large styled visor to obscure his identity.
He still had the roller blades from before, as well as a flowing scarf that seemed perfectly wrapped around his neck and shoulder.
Using Ultrasoul, Arashi launched kicks and punches that would bend steel and break ribs alike, but Rob’s robotic Sentonal seemed to continue to block every single one.
It wouldn’t show on his face, but Arashi knew that no matter how good he was, there was no way he would be able to keep up with Rob’s bass playing for as long as he could maintain his own song effect.
“I’m coming, Rob!” Michael called out, dashing forward with Canned Heat in an attempt to help his uncle.
With so much happening all at once, Michael’s presence had been the very last thing Rob was expecting right now. His Sentonal continued to fight, but Rob was caught by a glimmer of distraction.
Arashi’s reaction speed was tenfold in this particular form. And now, he finally saw the golden opportunity in Michael Kay’s arrival.
Turning away from Rob Prototype, he instead went headlong for Michael.
Each punch could put a hole right through Rob’s nephew with little effort. Whether or not this was a bluff, Rob knew he couldn’t take the chance. Not after all this time spent away from everyone just to keep Zero Beat’s eye away.
They were but two feet away from each other when Rob rushed to act.
With the ability to switch songs in an instant with his bass, he was in front of Michael in the next second amid a gold and green flash of light.
With a free arm, he pushed his nephew to one side in an effort to protect him from the oncoming blow.
Under his visor, Arashi made a rare smile as the golden opportunity arrived.
With Rob now unprotected and unable to translocate faster than the elder Nagataki could react, Arashi focused all of the latent energy of his song effect into his right leg.
Rob was prepared for a lethal blow, but instead, he felt pounding force as Arashi’s foot smashed right into his bass guitar. A gust of wind accompanied the attack, and Rob’s pupils dilated as he felt his guitar shatter and splinter in slow motion.
Like a wrecking ball, his kick broke right through the fretboard, snapped the neck, cut the strings asunder, and destroyed any musical connection to this beloved instrument that Rob previously had after almost twenty years of use.
He didn’t scream, but Rob’s entire body shook in pain as his bass collapsed into pieces onto the floor.
It was like someone had chopped off a part of him, and the shock alone made him fall to his knees. Rob’s fingers twitched at his sides, reaching to touch familiar strings but finding nothing but air.
Standing above him with arms crossed and his scarf flowing in the breeze from the nearby back door, Arashi stood triumphant.
Nami had finally cut her way back inside, and she looked on in wonder as Rob continued to convulse in his kneeling position. The bass player seemed stuck staring upwards at the ceiling, as if experiencing some horrible seizure.
“You….you actually did it! We beat him! I knew it would be easy!” she asked, her voice slowly growing with excitement.
Her brother nodded, before turning to face Michael. The afro-headed teen stood his ground even as Arashi’s threat came.
“Of course. We’re almost done here, Nami. There’s just one last string to cut.”
Nami grinned wildly in response, but Michael didn’t care.
He couldn’t take his eyes of his uncle and whatever unbearable pain he was going through.
All Michael could do was look at the shards of Rob’s former bass guitar, and think back on Kim’s words from earlier today.
She was right about one thing.
All of this was now completely his fault.