“Look, I know it might be tough, but the last thing we need to do right now is panic.”
Though there was some degree of confidence in Michael Kay’s words, his body language was anything but.
He twitched and fidgeted even in his sitting position on Rob’s five year old coffee colored couch.
Calvin chuckled as he sprawled back on the familiar loveseat, his tone beyond snide.
“Speak for yourself. I’m not the one about to bite his fingers off.”
Michael turned his head, glancing down at the nubs that he had now turned his fingernails into. Visual reminders of his sudden anxiety. which had started the minute Aeris told him that Kim was in some sort of trouble.
For the last few minutes, Aeris had remained silent after relaying the current situation on Kim to both Michael and Calvin.
It was Aeris who had called this emergency meeting at the Sound Loft, as calm as she could be, and it was Michael who was busy worrying over all and any potential consequences.
“I’m not really sure why this whole thing is really an issue in the first place.” Calvin began, leaning forward a bit as he tried to sound sincere.
“I mean, Kim’s a pretty volatile person as it is. If she wants to go out on her own and take revenge on whoever, then maybe we should stay out of it. Heck, maybe we’re better off without her.”
Aeris, hands clasped together as she had let Michael and Calvin talk, was clearly none too pleased at this particular line of thought.
“You know I brought you here to help, but keep talking like that and you’re welcome to leave. It’s really the last thing we need right now, Calvin.” she announced, but he remained unfazed.
The blond boy simply shrugged. “Hey, I’m just saying. Notice how much less anger is in the room now that Kim’s not here? Notice how I’m not getting kicked for every little remark I make?”
Aeris narrowed her eyes. “I’m sorry that you two don’t get along, but that’s really unimportant right now. You may not be worried about Kim, but we are.”
Calvin put his hands in his own clear defense of himself.
“If not for good ‘ol Kim, then maybe I would have met you guys without being knocked out first. Plus, clearly those two from Zero Beat are still looking for her. Is that really an association we want to ke-”
Michael’s hair just about split at the ends from those words. Finally, he could take no more as he cut Calvin’s words clean off.
“Hollywood Swinging, who cares!? Who cares if she’s got a bad attitude! Who cares if Zero Beat wants her! I don’t! She’s my friend. She’s an Audio Knight! Man, she’s the reason I’m still in one piece!”
His shrill declaration was enough to make both Aeris and Calvin silent. It was loud enough that most of the neighbors probably heard him, but at least he the attention of his fellow Audio Knights.
Michael allowed himself a weary breath before sitting back down, running his hand through his orb of hair as he continued.
“Look, this isn’t some big discussion. We’re not arguing over whether or not we find Kim. If not for her, and all those training sessions, my uncle would probably be in Japan, and I would be dead.”
Michael shook his head before allowing a smile to form on his face. Worry still gripped him, but he was trying his very best to make it seem otherwise.
“Look, I’m going to find her and make one hundred percent sure she’s okay. Whether or not anyone else wants to come along, that’s your choice.”
Aeris smiled in response to Michael’s words.
Seeing maturity in the afro-headed teen was certainly a nice thing. She could only wonder why Calvin was so much more selective on when he wanted to be serious.
“You already know my answer.” she reassured, much to Michael’s comfort.
The odd man out in the room was quick to realize that an answer had to be forthcoming.
He didn’t say anything at first, instead absorbing the concerned expression on Michael’s face and that look of anticipation from Aeris. Sure, he could disappoint Michael, and he certainly wouldn’t lose sleep over it.
But seeing that expression on Aeris’s face, and taking in her long blonde hair, angelic face, and perfect smile, Calvin knew to disappoint her would be a gigantic mistake.
So, despite the fact that he really did think they were better off without her, Calvin let out a sigh as he allowed his new concerned tone to take hold.
“Alright, alright, you guys win. You can count me in.”
He felt a black gloved hand on his own as Aeris smiled sweetly.
Calvin just laughed lightly as warmth quickly grew in his chest.
Any would-be tender moment he and Aeris might have had though was interrupted the moment Michael started thinking out loud.
“Okay, so first things first; we need a lead. We gotta figure out where Kim would go. It’s been, what, four days since anyone last talked to her?”
Aeris chimed in, quickly focusing back on the task at hand. “Four days since I faced Helia and Renaldo with her at the Dust Bowl. That’s the last time I saw her, and she hasn’t answered any texts or calls since.”
Michael swiveled towards Aeris, his mind working as best as it could to narrow down any hint to her location.
“Run by me again the whole thing with Seth.”
He gulped as Aeris began with what was clearly a very sensitive subject.
“All I know is that Seth Ramone is dead. He died in car crash in 2001. It was by Astroland, in Coney Island.”
“But what about this Ayla Syntara? Is that actually someone’s name?” Calvin added with jest, though unsure if he was even remembering it right.
“If she’s the one who really axed him, but everyone else thinks he died in a car crash, then that would mean…”
“…it would mean she has some kind of song effect that made him do it. Assuming that Renaldo wasn’t straight up lyin’ to us.” Aeris finished for him.
The blond rubbed her chin as she thought about it all.
“That thought crossed my mind. But we’re talking mind control or something similar to make him crash his own car.”
Michael put his hand on his forehead. The thought of possibly facing yet another dangerous Music Master was beginning to dawn on him.
“Mind control? I’m not gonna lie, that sounds pretty freaking dangerous.” Michael commented.
“Which is exactly why we need to make sure Kim has backup.” Aeris declared. “Ayla’s song effects, whatever they are, are probably the last thing on Kim’s mind right now.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll find her.” Michael assured, before taking a glance out of the tower windows behind him.
The city was noisy as usual, but the skyline seemed so picture perfect from this view.
He imagined Kim stomping through the streets, an anger-ridden look on her face. She was almost definitely on her own personal manhunt for whoever this Ayla Syntara person was.
Michael shuddered at the thought of being the object of Kim’s anger.
Whoever Ayla actually was, he’d really hate to be in her shoes right now.
For more than an hour, Kim Ramone hadn’t said a word as she stepped off the F train and onto the Coney Island platform.
All this time, Kim’s headphones had served as a barrier between the festering anger in her mind and the rest of the world.
As she made her way out of the underground and onto the street above, her thoughts focused on everything that had happened these last four days.
She bumped hard past other pedestrians without any thought of apology. Only a fiery hatred for her brother’s killer blazed in her mind.
Because after over ten years of desolation, she finally had a name to attach to Seth’s demise.
It sounded too fantastical, and probably made up, but it was all too good enough for her.
Kim’s fingernails dug into her palms as she followed her mental directions to Luna Park, formerly known as Astroland.
In the very same Village Voice article that detailed Seth Ramone’s passing, there was a seemingly innocuous article detailing the closing of a old sideshow troupe led by the aptly named Ayla Syntara herself.
Clearly there was some sort of connection between those two events, so naturally the former attractions Coney Island base of operations was the best place to start.
But as Kim passed by increasingly run-down streets, shady buildings, and more neglected parts of the city, all she could think about is what she would do once she was face to face with her brother’s killer.
A great many thoughts ran through her head as anger pulsed through Kim’s very being.
She imagined her fingers wrapping around Ayla’s neck and slowly crushing her windpipe.
She imagined holding her up with a dozen of Walking Disaster’s hydra-arms, only to mentally command them to tear her into pieces a moment later.
Kim could practically feel the slick of blood on her fingers as claws from Desolation Row slashed into Ayla’s jugular. She could hear the sound of crunching bone and body mass as Blitzkrieg Bop‘s skeletal Sentonal stomped her into oblivion.
Every satisfying death wish ran through Kim’s mind, despite her not having a face or a voice to apply to her target.
Just the thought of giving her brother’s killer what they deserved was more than enough to distract Kim from everything else.
Finally, after a good half hour of walking, she could see her destination in the distance.
Off an old boardwalk towards the beachside, Kim noted the sign for Astroland. As she approached the large overhanging metal entranceway, it was clear that this section of the former midway had been abandoned long ago.
A light sea breeze with a hint of cold pushed against Kim’s tangled mess of brown hair, but she ignored the cold despite its touch against her bare shoulders.
As Kim stepped onto the boardwalk, the entire structure seemed to shudder with loud creaking as if almost unable to support her weight. It was stable enough though, considering the myriad of old sideshow booths and other small stops built upon it.
Kim’s eyes scanned her surroundings as she continued on, but nothing of particular interest caught her attention. Her combat boots made audible noise with each purposeful step, and as far as she could tell, this entire subsection of Astroland was a ghost town.
She stopped for a moment, pulling out her music player as she scrolled through songs.
At a time like this, it was crucial that she listen only to songs that she could Harmonize with quickly. In particular, Blitzkrieg Bop, Walking Disaster and Desolation Row were at the very top of that list.
Stopping at Walking Disaster, Kim set the song on loop as she made her way down the boardwalk.
She didn’t necessarily think that finding Ayla here would be so simple, but if anything, she might eventually run into someone who might know something about her former sideshow.
But as Kim’s eyes continued to scan her surroundings for any sign of life, something to her left caught her attention.
It was enough to soften her disaffected stare, and enough to cause her to take a few shy steps in the its direction.
There was a glimmer of happiness in her eyes as she stared ahead at a disused, grimy claw machine no more than a few feet in front of her.
Inside of it was a number of pest-infested stuffed animals, and a single stuffed duck that sat at the very top.
It looks almost untouched by time, with yellow down that pierced Kim’s eyes like the light of the sun.
Kim put her hand against the glass, admiring the quaint little duck as a smile crept onto her face. She sniffled ever so slightly as pure memories of Seth, and the numerous times he had taken her to Coney Island, rang up in her mind.
Before she knew it, she found herself scrolling through her music player again.
This time, she found a particular song completely outside the punk rock genre. Kim looked at the tiny stuffed toy with longing as she allowed the disco tune to play in her ears.
This was certainly the last song in the world she needed anyone to know she liked, Michael especially.
But in this childish disco tune remained entwined the image of her brother’s grin, his ridiculous antics, and his unending love.
Though no one in the world knew about it but her, a similar stuffed duck named Albert remained in her closet back home. It was but a token of the childhood she so dearly missed.
But as Kim reminisced, a noise behind her snapped the girl back into reality.
She turned quickly, narrowing her eyes as she focused on the source of the sound.
Keeping her cool lest she accidentally Harmonize with this song, which she had never actually used in a fight, Kim could see a stranger some few feet away just below the boardwalk.
They were just barely visible through uneven wood planks, but they were wearing what appeared to be a hoodie as they made plenty of noise scratching and scrounging through what looked like a washed up trash can.
Kim made her way down with just a bit of caution, landing five feet down into the sand as she got a better look at the person in question.
They were hunched over, and upon closer inspection, the hoodie they were wearing looked more like a straitjacket. Or perhaps maybe it was a mix of both.
Kim approached from behind slowly. It could just be a hobo looking for food, but it could also be a would-be vagrant mugger or something similar.
But the closer Kim got, the more she noticed that this person acted less like a person and more like a dog. They dug at the sandy ground and through refuse in search of some prize. Their clothes were torn, dirty and just looked lived-in.
Still, they clearly couldn’t hear Kim’s music from this close, so at least that narrowed down that they weren’t a Music Master. And while they might not know anything about Ayla Syntara herself, they might have at least heard of what happened to her little sideshow all those years ago.
Kim was but three feet away when her boot crushed down onto a can of soda that had lay undisturbed in the sand. Her eyes widened as she silently cursed her stupidity.
But instead of turning around and asking who was there, like a human being might, the scavenger-man twitched his head.
He turned to one side, revealing the hoodie over his face that obscured any hint of his identity. All Kim could see was the glint of sharp, white teeth. Fangs shone as the being opened his mouth and let out a threatening growl.
Kim’s hand went for her music player, fast forwarding quickly as the thing in front of her turned on all fours.
She had found her song and pressed play, when it leapt into the air with frightening speed.
All she could do was let out a strained yelp as it pushed her down into the sand with its weight.
Holding back a fanged mouth that snapped its jaws at her exposed neck, Kim’s mind raced at the speed of light.
She wondered if today would be her last day on this Earth.
But most of all, she began to wonder if running off on her own to find Ayla wasn’t the smartest of decisions after all…