It had taken just about every ounce of his will for Michael to hold back how much of a blubbering mess he really was right now.
Between his nerves on the verge of exploding from facing the Nagataki siblings again, to his constant observation of Rob’s struggle to even just walk alongside him, Michael was almost beginning to wish he’d stayed back at Rob’s place.
Instead, they were now only two blocks away from Semi-Sound, where only hours before, Michael Kay had nearly met his maker.
“You think Colleen’s gonna really be alright back at the Sound Loft?” Michael asked, in an attempt to keep Rob’s mind off the walking itself.
His uncle’s pace remained unchanged, though he still felt spikes of pain shoot through his calves nevertheless.
“When this is is all over, it would probably best if you let me handle her. Better she kill me then kill you.” Rob suggested, only for his nephew to answer with his best attempt as a joke.
“Yeah, but not if those two kill us first!” Michael declared with a very forced laugh.
They both stopped as they finally reached the back alley leading into Semi-Sound’s back entrance. Behind them, as late night taxis honked and their lights flashed by, Rob simply shook his head at his nephew’s words.
“If it makes you feel any better, Mike, you’re already leagues better as a Music Master than I was at your age.”
Michael just gulped in response as they cautiously approached. Even having Rob here with him, he was beyond nervous. It seemed all of his previous elation from practicing his new song effect and avoiding Colleen’s lecture had finally ran out.
“That means a lot, Rob. You just being back with me, it means more than I could ever say. If anything happens, I just want you to kn-”
Rob cut him off as he grabbed onto the handle of the back door, which barely hung onto its hinges from Nami’s previous assault.
“Hey, don’t even start with that talk. Because when we walk out of here with that bass guitar, you’re going to remind me about everything I have to apologize for.”
In a rare moment, Rob allowed a semblance of sadness escape his normally stoic tone of voice. And that was exactly what Michael needed before he found himself hugging his uncle tightly.
As they stood silently in the cold breeze, Michael wished more than anything that these wouldn’t be the last moments he and Rob would have together, especially after only just having him come back.
Of course, Rob easily sensed all of his fear. He opened what was left of the door as he put a reassuring hand on Michael’s shoulder.
“Come on. Let’s just grab the bass and get back to Colleen.”
Rob had been on edge since they’d left the apartment, but it only became worse the moment he’d seen Semi-Sound’s ground floor suddenly clean and organized.
Most likely the work of a song effect, a majority of the previous damage and mayhem from the Big YMCA and Rob’s own battle with the Nagataki siblings had been all but mysteriously removed.
Now Rob found himself scaling a flight of stairs as his body ached for the touch of that white bass.
Michael waited at the ground floor, presumably to act as an early scout in case the Nagataki siblings returned. Rob had given specific instructions for him to stay there no matter what, and that once Rob had the bass guitar, he would teleport down and have them both back at the Sound Loft before they knew it.
But nothing could be further from the truth. As Rob stopped for a moment, sweat beginning to form on his his forearms as his body heaved against the effort, he replayed everything in his head.
One of those Japanese kids had taken the bass guitar, as it was curiously gone from the spot on the ground floor where Rob had left his bloody fingerprint upon it.
But Rob could feel an echo of it still inside the store. He’d felt that echo since they’d originally escaped, and it was the very same thing that drained his body of energy the longer he was away from it.
Having been Synkronized to his original bass for so many years, his body simply could no longer be without some iteration of the five-string instrument.
Thankfully, Rob could still feel its echo high above them, on the third floor of Semi-Sound.
Though his body was wracked with fatigue, Rob made his way through rooms of used instruments and speakers before reaching a spacious old karaoke room that had certainly seen better days. Through that, up one last flight of stairs, the elusive white bass awaited him.
When he closed the door behind him, he was met with the sight of third floor, which held the nicest and most expensive instruments within the store’s inventory. Rob smiled to himself as his eyes searched for the white bass.
It wasn’t a huge surprise that the pricey instruments had remained up here. Ricky never failed with his cheap nature, even when Zero Beat was footing the bill.
Though he looked for a good five minutes, Rob couldn’t see any sign of the white bass guitar anywhere.
As his body continued to weaken, and frustration began to build inside, Rob debated taking another guitar when the atmosphere around him began to change.
Music slowly increased in volume from behind him as Rob’s expectations came to fruition. The bass player fixed his cap, but didn’t turn around just yet.
“I understand you are looking for this.” Arashi Nagataki stated as he revealed himself.
“You got me. So let me guess, this is the part where you threaten my life, and expect me to beg? I think you’ll be walking out disappointed.” Rob answered in his most casual tone.
The echo of the bass was just behind him, resting in a pair of unusually strong hands.
Rob darted for his cassette player, only to feel the sensation of foreign fingers digging into his jacket pocket. He looked down, only to see a literal red heart, complete with thin arms and legs, holding his cassette player as if it was some prize.
Rob grabbed at it, but it scuttled away back to Arashi with the speed of a primate.
Turned around fully to face him, Rob was met with sight of the elder Nagataki, hands in his pockets as he was surrounded by a half dozen of these heart-shaped Sentonals. They made no noise, but moved erratically as if only held down by their Music Master’s sheer will. Concept of Love continued to play around them, as if contrasting their own silence.
One of them in particular held onto the white bass guitar with an iron hard grip.
“I would not worry about your life. Zero Beat needs you alive. But your nephew will not be so lucky.”
Rob could only lower the brim on his cap, hoping that he’d evened the odds for Michael by splitting them up like this. But Arashi seemed to read his mind before he could answer.
“I am sure Nami will keep him very busy. But you should focus on yourself. Because while I will not kill you…”
Rob could feel the tension snap in the air, and all at once, Arashi’s Sentonals jumped at him like a pack of hungry animals. They punched, kicked and clawed, quickly bringing him to the ground with their combined weight.
Rob fought back as best he could, but their numbers put them in clear advantage.
Arashi just casually walked in front of him as his Sentonals continued to lay down their beating. He looked down on Rob, lowering his sunglasses as he finished his statement.
“…you will not be delivered to Zero Beat unharmed.”
Without a bass guitar to fight with or music coursing in his ears, Rob could only thrash as much as possible as these heart-shaped beings assaulted him in silent fury.
As his body felt each blow from their tiny fists, and his mind struggled to stay conscious, he could only think of his nephew, even at a time like this.
He hoped that leaving Nami to Michael was the right choice.
It was at the ten minute mark of waiting for Rob that Michael began to start pacing.
He didn’t immediately panic, mostly because that was the last thing he wanted the Japanese siblings to see if they did happen to waltz in.
Instead, Michael plopped down behind the empty counter and stared at his phone, waiting for the signal from Rob that would surely come at any minute.
But after another three minutes, it was like waiting to hear from Calvin all over again.
Michael sighed as he understood the situation being forced upon him.
Whatever fear or apprehension he had would need to be silenced for the time being.
Knowing that time was of the essence now, Michael put on his headphones before dashing towards the stairwell door.
It would be two on two this time, at the very least.
But Michael could only hope that with Rob not having his bass, perhaps they would still have close to a fair fight.
Unlike his uncle, Michael had scaled the three floors of stairs with relative ease. Powered by a mixture of adrenaline and nerves, he soon found himself at an open door leading into a room of pure darkness.
Next to the door was an old, poorly written sign stating “Karaoke.” Underneath it was Japanese text, written in black felt marker, but of course it still remained completely alien to Michael.
Not wanting to waste a moment, Michael closed the door behind him as his eyes tried to adjust to the room. From what little he could see, it was large enough for at least a dozen people, and the floor was smooth enough to be danced upon comfortably.
The afro-headed teen was able to take but a few more steps forward before the light switch suddenly clicked on.
Leaning next to it, with a gap-toothed smile on her face and arms confidently crossed as she stood completely in Michael’s way, was none other than Nami Nagataki.
“Oh hallo, Afro-kun. Did you get my message?” she asked, her voice practically drowned in happiness.
Michael was already in fight or flight mode, fingers twitching as he wondered how quickly he could get to his music player.
“I, uh, can’t really read Japanese.” he replied, trying to sound just a little more unsure in an effort to buy time.
Nami walked towards him, basking in her confidence as her steps echoed throughout the karaoke room.
“It is very easy though…well, easy for me. Just like dancing.” she pointed out, her eyes scanning him up and down.
“I would like to dance with you very much, Afro-kun.”
Her words sounded inviting, but Michael knew better. That look in her eyes was anything but.
“Nami, right? Look, maybe I can take your offer from before. If you just let me walk right past you, I won’t be the hero here.” Michael offered as his solution, but his words were meaningless to her now.
Nami snorted loudly in response. “I have a better idea. Last one standing leaves. How does that sound?”
With that, Nami clicked on another switch next to the light. There was a light whirring noise as a disco ball began to spin above, the lights automatically dimming as its brilliant lights flashed across the entire karaoke room.
But what really caught Michael’s attention was the massive amp and sound system located to Nami’s far left. He noted the old style remote in her hands, and it took only a second for him to realize why her headphones being around her neck was so inconsequential.
“You’re really gonna do this, aren’t you?” Michael asked sincerely.
Nami’s expression only soured in response. “Yes, I am. I will do it for Nii-san, and I will do it so that you can understand how much of a loser you really are.”
Michael glanced behind him, realizing that there was no way out of this. If he was going to get to Rob, then he was going to have to take down a real Music Master all by himself.
There would be no Big YMCA to win the fight for him, since of course it wouldn’t fit.
No Kim to give him advice, and no Rob to jump in at the last moment.
It was just the two of them, here and now.
Michael accepted his fate, readying his stance as his free hand went for his music player.
“Then this is going to be your last dance, Nami.” he told her, the muscles in his legs raring to go.
“Okay, Afro-kun. Let us see who is the hero now.”
Her finger clicked on the remote in the instant that Michael pressed play on his own device. Michael began to run headlong at her, but Nami didn’t move an inch, even as Canned Heat emerged into the air and Michael’s heels began to literally burn up the dance floor.
The room’s speakers blasted out her music, four of her familiar killer arrows hovering above her as they manifested but a moment later.
Under her command, two of them launched forward towards Michael’s midsection, but he dove quickly, sliding on his heels as his heat-infused hand reached for Nami’s still unused headphones.
Michael seemed as if he was about to finish in his fingertips, when all of a sudden, Nami simply wasn’t there.
There was nothing superhuman about it. She simply flowed to one side, effortlessly dodging his heat in the process. And in that same motion, he felt the toe of one of her Gogo boots kick hard into his shin.
One second, he was diving at her, and before he knew it, he was rolling onto the floor as Nami laughed loudly.
Michael acted quickly, going into an L-kick as another three of Nami’s killer arrows nearly cut into his headphone wire. He jumped back on his feet, but before he could so much as try to hit her, Michael felt her knuckles crashing right into the bridge of his nose.
She wasn’t very strong, but it still hurt, and it still was enough to send Michael sliding back. As he shook his head, trying to recover, Nami was already sweeping her leg out.
Michael yelped as he felt himself flip over. His back hit the dance floor hard, and his head started to spin as the incredibly loud sound of Hyper Eurobeat seemed to only make everything worse.
“You are not very fast.” Nami mocked, as Michael just gasped in frustration.
If he could just get rid of the speakers, then at least Nami would have to go back to fragile headphones.
Unfortunately, he had little time to think, as the sound of sliced air signified the rain of her killer arrows coming down to claim his life.
Michael rolled sharply to one side, dodging each one by a sliver as Nami casually followed him, her hand swaying back and forth as she bobbed her head to the music. Each sharpened arrow made loud cracking noises as each punctured the wooden floor in succession.
Finally, it was the very last one that came down right into the fabric of Michael’s tie dye shirt. As he tried to move, he found himself very much stuck as the arrow’s point dug into both cotton and the wooden floor alike.
Michael could only look up as Nami stood above him, clearly relishing her superiority in this whole situation.
“Do you know Nii-san told me I have to kill you?” she asked the boy, who seemed out of options as five more of her killer arrows hovered above her shoulders.
“So what’s stopping you?” Michael pointed out, while Nami just smiled down at him in response.
“I wanted to see if you could dance first. But you are very disappointing to me.”
Michael frowned, and in response, Canned Heat began to flare up in his heels. Memories of fighting Kim rushed back to him, and before he knew it, his legs were spinning as he performed a windmill of rushing air and red-orange heat.
Nami’s smile vanished as she finally backed off.
It wasn’t so much that she couldn’t dodge his attack. She was faster than him, that much was certainly a fact.
But what was also a fact, was that those American dance moves of his were something she had continued to struggle with to this day. Nami fought to keep her apprehension off her face even as Michael was back up and ready to face her.
“Is that disappointing enough for you?” he asked with sarcasm and his own snide smile.
Nami shot back sharp, annoyed words. “Oh, shut up and die!”
More arrows surged at Michael, but he swayed his body to one side to just barely dodge them. Nami’s aggression only seemed to be mounting, and her fists battered at his stomach even as he craned his neck back to dodge yet another of her killer projectiles.
Michael let out a pained grunt even as he moved his limbs in the smoothest dance he could muster.
But Nami’s neon arrows of death came like endless rain, and it was only another twenty seconds of intense dance-dodging before Michael could begin to feel the lactic acid building in his limbs.
As three more came at him, he did a cartwheel backwards in order to create space between himself and Nami.
Unfortunately, Michael’s chest was heaving and his breath short as he tried to regain his posture.
He was only so fast, and in this human form, he only had so much energy.
He looked up, only to see Nami slowly approaching him, reveling in her supremacy.
If there was a time to use that song effect, then it was now or never. His finger went for his music player, though Nami seemed unafraid of his movements.
Still, she couldn’t get another insult in before Michael Kay pressed fast forward on his music player, closing his eyes as he began to Harmonize with the very same song he had practiced in the Sound Loft only hours before.
A sharp bass line punctured the air as another high-pitched voice surfaced as if to counter Hyper Eurobeat. She put her arm to her eyes as the light around Michael became all the more brilliant. Delicate, clinking sounds accompanied the process of each and every section of his skin transmuting into what seemed like metallic facets.
Another second passed, and Michael stood up, now staring down Nami Nagataki with neon green orbs. Where once he had a black haired afro, there was now a shimmering disco ball taking its place. His face had become robotic and featureless, save for his eyes and slightest ridge of his nose.
With no mouth to speak of now, Michael could no longer grin nor make any cheesy one-liners. But now was not the time for talk, as Nami had made it abundantly clear.
“Oh, so you are Mecha Afro-Kun now?” Nami asked in jest. “It makes no difference. I will break you like a toy anyway!”
As if responding to her growing annoyance, a dozen of her neon arrows of death manifested in the air above Nami.
When they surged forward, Michael neither blinked nor could he even let out a breath.
Instead, his robotic limbs moved with incalculable speed and rhythm as they dodged every single projectile that came his way. Some flew beneath his arms, other above his metal globe of hair, and even more came nowhere near close to even hitting him.
When they were all spent, Michael stood with shoulders locked, as Nami eyes widened.
He said nothing, instead beckoning her with a single finger.
Fortunately, she was more than happy to oblige, as more of her killer arrows flew out in a stream of destruction. His robotic form seemed unfazed, however, as he moonwalked back towards the towering speaker system as arrow after arrow crashed into old furniture, wall and floor alike.
Nami pushed her arms wildly, forcing all her strength into increasing the speed of her song effect projectiles. She gritted her teeth as she watched Michael continue to dodge each and every one with seemingly no effort.
Finally, Michael stopped in place, arms and legs spread out as his feet shimmied to the beat of the music. If he could smile right now, he would have.
Nami was losing her patience, and she was awful at hiding it.
Michael shrugged right in front of her, only to receive an angry declaration in return.
“You think you are good? Let us see you try without your stupid song!”
Of course, Michael just mechanically shook his head in response. Nami’s face scrunched up, and she pushed both of her arms out as the rest of her killer arrows flew forward with deadly intent.
Under the influence of Dancing Machine, everything around Michael moved as if underwater. He had more than enough time to arch is entire back into a perfect ninety degree angle, something his human form would have been previously incapable of.
With a quick limbo, Michael watched all nine of Nami’s arrows smash right into the same speaker system that fueled their power. Electricity sparked out as the speaker’s internal wires were cut apart, and when the damage was done, Nami was left standing alone as every last one of Hyper Eurobeat’s projectiles vanished from this plane of existence.
Still without a mouth, Michael put his index finger and thumb to his head in his best mocking gesture.
But even without a song effect active, Nami charged at him, death glare pasted on her face.
She threw a punch, but she might as well have been drunk to Michael. He dodged it easily with just one step, before quickly shifting onto the floor as he transitioned into a headspin.
One sneaker sole slapped against Nami’s cheek, and then another, and then two more as he began to increase speed. Going as fast as a top, Michael continued his assault until Nami finally slid back from all the force.
Her left cheek was red from the blows, but Nami wasn’t thinking about the pain.
Instead, her previous feelings of frustration began to resurface as she watched Michael switch from his headspin right into a handstand. He pushed off the ground with ease, back-flipping right into a standing position.
“Easy, easy, easy! I can do that too, and make it look better in every way!” Nami whined, even as she lifted her headphones up to now cover her ears.
Michael just held up one finger, taunting her as he shook it back and forth.
But if there was anything Nami had learned from years of playing at the arcade, it was that so-called saltiness would only cause victory to slip out of her grasp.
This time, Nami stood her ground as she allowed another song to take over, a smile slowly forming on her face.
Michael’s metallic face remained unchanged, but underneath all of the reflective facets that now made up his skin, he was beginning to feel that hint of nerves again.
As he heard Nami’s new song, Michael found himself almost wanting to hum along to the disco beat at the beginning.
But then when the singer began to belt out in Japanese, and Michael’s eyes spotted an array of colors flashing just behind Nami, did he remember that her song effect would be anything but friendly to him.
Realizing that Nami would be truly down for the count if he could just take out her headphones, the afro-headed robot teen dashed forward.
One silvery faceted hand reached out for the device over her ears, only to stop short as Michael felt a fist suddenly meet his mid-air.
Facets cracked as the being punched hard into Michael’s knuckles. He couldn’t yelp out from the horrible pain of his delicate form being harmed, but Michael retracted his hand nevertheless.
Formed from Sweet Survivor, Michael was now faced with the form of an iridescent and statuesque girl. She looked far more fragile than her punch had let on, clad in a futuristic dress and bearing completely pupil-less eyes. She didn’t stand in front of Nami, but rather floated just above the ground under her own power.
“Before, that was just level one. Are you ready for level two, Afro-Kun?”
Nami’s Sentonal slammed one hand into her other open fist in response. She moved forward in the air, afterimages following her with a flashy rainbow of color as she prepared to strike.
Michael expected one punch, but instead he was faced with fourteen in succession. All of a sudden, where the world had previously moved at a snail’s pace, everything felt real again.
Every one of Michael’s limbs worked in furious concert as even this robotic form struggled to dodge each punch.
“DANSUDANSUDANSUDANSUDANSU!” Nami’s Sentonal cried out triumphantly as it laid down its assault upon him, it’s voice speeding up to match the blows.
Meanwhile, Nami herself took her sweet time as she approached Michael from behind, all with the intention of removing his headphones quickly and quietly.
But even as Michael’s attention was on the punches assailing him, even he wasn’t so slow again to not react as Nami’s fingers almost brushed against the metal globe that had replaced his hair.
Michael slid down, sweeping his legs out as he knocked Nami off her feet.
Reacting in the same instant, her Sentonal shifted forward to catch her in its arms just before she would hit the ground. With this, Michael Kay had enough time to retreat back, if only for the moment.
He noted the rainbow silhouettes forming a trail behind Nami’s Sentonal, their brilliant colors lighting up the dim of the karaoke room. Some of them were quite close for comfort, but Michael didn’t think much of it.
It was only when Michael saw that gap-toothed grin on Nami’s face that he began to realize something was very wrong.
What appeared to be just afterimages around him proved to be otherwise, as more than one multi-colored punch suddenly came at him.
Dancing Machine allowed him to dodge the first, and then the second, but when the third and the fourth came, Michael found himself bouncing back and forth as the blows cracked more of the facets that made up his skin.
He couldn’t scream or cry out, and as the fifth hit his belly, he found that he couldn’t even exhale to stifle the pain.
Hunched over as all six of the afterimage copies hovered around him, Michael Kay could only weakly look up as she pointed his direction, still cradled in her original Sentonal’s arms.
“Behind you, Afro-kun.”
Michael didn’t even have the strength to turn as an indigo fist smashed right into the left side of his face. Finally, he could feel a scream of pain coming out, as his right ear bud was violently knocked out in the process.
Michael slammed down onto the wooden floor, his breath catching up to him as he felt pain aching from his entire body. He stared down at the floor, trying to recuperate even as he realized Dancing Machine had been interrupted.
His hand went to pop his ear bud back in, but instead Michael choked out a gasp as Nami’s boot slammed into his midsection and sent him tumbling backwards into the broken speaker.
The world spun as Michael Kay bumped the back of his head hard.
His vision started to fluctuate as his ears tried to focus on each decisive step, while Nami approached with her Sentonal in tow.
He was clearly outnumbered, and though Dancing Machine would allow him to dodge her attacks, he still couldn’t predict the actions of seven different Sentonals at once.
Michael could feel pain in one knee and a throbbing ache coming from the left side of his face. Nami was standing over him now, her Sentonal aggressively behind her and prepared to strike him down if need be.
“The stage is over, Afro-kun. And looks like I got the high score.” Nami rubbed in, but Michael was far more concerned with pain and fatigue than her insults.
Nami leaned down, her eyes becoming serious as their faces became uncomfortably close.
“Now you are going to tell me that you lost, and that I won. You are going to tell me how much of a better dancer than you I am, and you are going to beg me to teach you.” she explained, clearly not expecting Michael to have any other options.
“And maybe if you do that, then I will tell Nii-san that you died like a hero, and you get the chance to walk away.”
It was hard to say if Michael legitimately thought about taking her offer. Nami waited to hear his response nevertheless, intending to end their fight one way or another.
A rush of emotions swirled through Michael at a time like this, but out of everything he could have said to her, it seemed he decided to choose his words poorly.
“You can’t break dance, can you?”
Nami’s expression just about cracked. Her smile shifted to a pout as she glared back at him.
“I can not…what?”
Michael didn’t relent though, even as he readied his right hand to move when the time was right.
“You heard me. You can’t break dance. You must love those rhythm games, right? Sounds like it doesn’t take a real dancer to be any good at them.”
Nami’s eyes almost popped out of her head as she shrieked back at him.
“Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up!”
Michael raised a knowing eyebrow in response. “Or what?”
In response, her Sentonal’s fist hovered just in front of his face, ready to clobber him at any moment.
“If I wanted to, I could learn your stupid dance moves so easy. I just…”
Her voice trailed off, as uncertainty in her words become beyond obvious.
“…you’re just not good enough? It’s okay, we all start somewhere.” Michael finished her sentence for her.
Who knew that Kim’s brand of insults would be the one thing that might save him from doom? Michael would have chuckled if Nami wasn’t about to bash his teeth in.
Finally though, Nami’s demeanor broke, and her Sentonal’s fist went straight for Michael’s face.
All of the energy stored up from not moving during this exchange finally became of use, with Michael barely ducking as the yellow-green fist smashed right into the speaker behind him.
Her anger so focused on Michael, all of Sweet Survivor’s afterimages had combined into the original form for this one blow. Because of this, Nami now found her Sentonal unable to immediately pull back from the tangle of plastic and wires it had broken through.
Michael acted quickly in response. With one hand, he popped in his remaining headphone, while his legs shifted into his familiar windmill maneuver.
Canned Heat was already flaring in his right hand as his legs battered into Nami’s knees, sending her flat onto her back and staring up at the ceiling.
She was quick though as she sat up, but in this moment, Michael was quicker where it counted.
From another of his practiced handstands, he flipped high up into the air, landing on his feet right behind her.
As five sets of fists all went for him, Michael closed his eyes and focused all of Canned Heat’s energy not in his heels, but in his previously cold left hand.
There was a light crackle, and before Nami’s Sentonals could beat Michael asunder, he had completely vaporized her headphones in one precise motion.
Michael stood up, and finally, his limbs relaxed. He looked to both sides, and Nami’s Sentonals were gone in the same moment her music had been cut off.
Nami herself, meanwhile, didn’t even turn around. Instead, she stared forward before pulling her legs in and burying her face in her knees.
Michael didn’t know what to say, but his eyes went towards the door out of the karaoke room once he was sure the fight was over.
It was when he grabbed the doorknob that Nami spoke, albeit in a tone drained of all her previous cockiness.
“How did you know I could not do any of that?” Nami asked, and Michael expression softened once he heard the sniffle of tears.
“You’re…not good at hiding it. You know, if your brother wasn’t so crazy about nabbing my uncle, maybe we wouldn’t have had to do this.”
Michael didn’t turn, but he also felt something stopping him from opening the door to freedom as Nami continued.
“How can you do all of that? How can you make it look so easy? Since I was a little girl, I could never dance like that.” she asked, searching for some reassurance, if any.
Michael sighed before he replied.
“I can’t really explain. Dancing is sort of my thing, you know?”
He turned ever so slightly, smiling with sincerity for the first time in their whole encounter.
“It’s the only thing I’m good at.”
Nami didn’t respond, and Michael left it at that. He shut the karaoke room door behind him, rushing up the last flight towards the room where he could clearly hear a struggle between two Music Masters.
When he was finally gone, Nami could only look up at the ceiling, no longer crying but her tone of voice defeated nonetheless.
“It is supposed to be my thing, Afro-kun. And if you take it, what do I have left?”
Even as Michael unexpectedly rushed into the third floor instrument room, Arashi was only so caught off-guard.
As Rob weakly reached out from the floor, Michael only had a moment to react as more than one of his heart-shaped Sentonals jumped at him like rabid monkeys.
With Canned Heat still active, Michael waved his right hand in an arc, and four of them were bisected in mid-air as he let loose its destructive heat.
Michael’s eyes spotted the white bass guitar, his heels flaring up as he prepared to make a run for it.
Unfortunately for Michael, Arashi was already switching to Ultrasoul right as he was only two feet away from the guitar itself.
Orange energy and his flowing scarf followed the elder Nagataki’s quick response, and Michael could only gasp as he felt a gloved hand roughly grab him by the throat.
Michael’s heated hand instinctively went for his wrist, but in this form, Arashi just ignored the sizzle as he spoke to Michael with threat in his voice.
“How did you get past Nami?”
“I…I beat her.” Michael could barely choke out as a response.
Arashi’s eyes narrowed underneath the visor of his helmet.
“What? This must be a joke.”
“Why don’t you ask her…yourself?” Michael recommended, but it only earned him a tighter squeeze in response.
“Once we are finished here, I will. But I assure you, this will not be quick.” Arashi promised, beginning to squeeze with every intention of crushing Michael’s vertebrae slowly.
Everything that had happened to Michael Kay in these last two months flashed in front of his eyes, with his only solace being that Rob might have time to escape in these moments that Arashi was focused on him.
He was on the edge of what felt like his last breath when Arashi’s grip slackened, and he dropped Michael in response.
The afro-headed teen shook his head and focused on the scene in front of him, as Rob had grabbed Arashi from behind in an attempt to restrain him in some fashion.
It took every ounce of strength he had to even put up some sort of fight, but Rob remained steadfast as he shouted to his nephew.
“Mike! The bass!”
Michael’s eyes darted back to the white instrument right nearby. At first, he thought Rob wanted it passed over to him, until he reached for it and remembered Canned Heat still shrouded over his right hand.
Michael’s gaze went back to Rob and Arashi, watching as the elder Nagataki finally pulled Rob off and threw him with unreal strength towards the wall of delicate instruments. Rob groaned as he made impact, all manner of guitars, standing keyboards and percussion falling around him.
There was no time left, as Arashi came for him, his own fist lit up with orange light and with the intent to put a bloody hole right through Michael.
With his heat-infused hand, Michael grabbed the neck of the bass, and for no more than a second, he focused all of his energy into it.
But instead of vaporizing, it radiated with the same orange-red aura Michael had seen that very first time he used Canned Heat at the Dust Bowl.
With Arashi now right in front of him, Michael threw the instrument headlong, as it burned like a fiery lance.
All it took was one swift kick for Arashi to blow it apart, and it seemed all was lost.
What he didn’t count on, however, was the radiating heat packed inside, which exploded outward in violent display once its vessel was destroyed.
And though Arashi didn’t feel it even at this close of a range, his defenseless headphones were disintegrated in but an instant, leaving him unprotected as his music stopped and UItrasoul deactivated in response.
Michael watched as Arashi tumbled backwards into a drum set, knocking over cymbals before he landed propped up against the center drum.
He touched his head, realizing his headphones were no more.
Then he touched his stomach, and both Michael and Rob looked on at the red splotch that was beginning to expand underneath his undershirt. A shard of the broken white bass jutted out painfully from the spot, and the shock of it hit Arashi all at once.
He went to fix his sunglasses, and perhaps to say something, when the sheer pain became too much. Arashi’s mind went black as he quickly passed out.
Of course, there was no way Michael could tell the difference. He found himself approaching the downed Japanese teen with sudden sympathy, only to be stopped as Rob put a firm hand on his shoulder to stop him.
Michael’s eyes tracked down to the extravagant, colorful bass now slung over his shoulder. He wanted to say something, anything to his uncle, but clearly now was not the time.
With his cassette player back in his pocket, and music back in his ears, Rob held onto his nephew as Traveling Without Moving played in the air once again.
The next second, and both Music Masters vanished, replaced by familiar green and gold threads, which faded away some moments later.
The music stopped in response, and silence reigned as Arashi laid defeated and still bleeding among the instruments.
Arashi had initially wondered if he was dead when he finally came to, and if the warm female presence holding his head up was the mother he only so vaguely remembered from his childhood.
If he had the strength, he might have laughed in the irony, considering everything he’d done.
Even if it was all for Nami’s sake.
But as his vision became clearer, the elder Nagataki realized that he was sprawled out on the floor of Semi-Sound, and a burning pain reminded him he was still very much bleeding from a stomach wound.
“I’m here, Nii-san.” Nami assured, though her eyes wandered towards his wound as debated what to do next.
Arashi weakly looked to one side, and both Michael Kay and Rob Prototype were nowhere to be seen. Shards of what remained of the white bass guitar littered the floor.
Now they had truly failed. If his sunglasses weren’t still on, then Nami might have been able to notice the growing sorrow in his eyes. The realization that his sister’s life and most likely his own, was now forfeit, began to hit him in full force.
“You lost.” he stated, but for once, his Nami was far more concerned with his well-being than his insulting observation.
Her expression changed though, as a strange look of elation replaced her previous worries. Michael’s dancing flashed in her mind, only for her to force herself back to reality a second later.
“For now.” she replied, her fingers now reaching for the shard of wood embedded in his stomach.
Arashi didn’t have to say a word as she went for it.
There was a sound of suction, before his loud groan of pain echoed throughout the entire third floor.
Nami tossed the bloody shard aside, as she applied pressure on the wound with Arashi’s jacket.
It was then that the door leading back into the stairwell opened, and both siblings looked up to see two foreigners walk into their midst.
Nami narrowed her eyes, preparing to stand up and face them, when the red-haired girl wearing the leather vest put her hands up in assurance.
“Relax, sushi roll. We’re not here to start a fight. Zero Beat sent us.”
Arashi’s raised his voice as best he could, while Nami remained poised to react nonetheless.
“We failed. Is it not obvious?”
He winced as his wound continued to bleed, with Nami focusing again on applying pressure as before.
Helia smiled snidely in response.
“Actually, you two just did us all a pretty huge favor. So I wouldn’t say you failed. And trust me, Renaldo here knows quite a bit about actual failure.”
Both siblings said nothing in response as the glasses-wearing boy next to Helia was already scrolling through his music player. Renaldo himself just tried his best to ignore Helia, but she was already insistent.
“Hurry up.” she demanded, as he played the song of choice. “They might actually kill us this time if we don’t get these two back to Tokyo in one piece.”
Renaldo said nothing, instead leaning down as he began to focus the chosen song effect into the palms of his hands and onto Arashi’s still bleeding wound.
Helia, meanwhile, had already taken out a cigarette.
She took a long, slow smoke as she looked wistfully at both Nagataki siblings in their current state. She badgered Nami in particular, who showed none of her previous cockiness given the situation.
“Why the long face? You and your brother might just be the luckiest bunch in the land of the rising sun.”
Helia exhaled a gray cloud of nicotine as she smiled through her teeth, clearly peppier than usual while Renaldo continued his work.
“Just be happy we got here when we did.”