It was strange for Kim to admit, but elation grew in the pit of her stomach the longer she and Aeris stared Helia and Renaldo down.
It was almost as if she was looking for an excuse for a fight now.
But unlike in their first encounter, it seemed the Zero Beat duo, Renaldo included, was far more confident in the outcome of this tussle.
In the most casual way possible, Helia held a very normal cigarette between her fingers, despite her partner’s music blasting in the air around her. She made no immediate effort to bring out The Cobra’s Hood, at least from what Kim could see.
“These are two you told us about, right?” Aeris asked just behind her, trying to refresh her own memory of anything Kim had mentioned of Helia and Renaldo.
“If I did, I’m surprised.” Kim replied, cracking her knuckles. “They’re not even worth mentioning.”
“Hey! We can hear that!” Renaldo shouted in response, his spindly bomb-headed Sentonal towering behind him. Its fingers move erratically, as if ready to react at a moment’s notice.
Kim just answered snidely. “Yeah, and I should care because?”
As if finally responding to Kim’s declaration, a new song emerged in the air. Originating from Helia’s headphones, it started from a harsh guitar twang only to erupt into rash, quick singing.
Helia smiled to herself in satisfaction as the song effect began to wrap around her. It manifested as white, crackling energy that leaked from her eyes, ears and mouth alike.
Even as Kim and Aeris were already rushing forward, Helia’s entire body was overloaded to the brim.
In one swift motion, she rushed right back at them, hitting the girls with a harsh clothesline that knocked them both right off their feet.
“You should care, Kimberley. After the stunt your little afro-headed friend pulled, you and your friends should care very much.” Helia began, her pitch drastically changed from the active effect.
Kim was quick to react from the fall, rolling to one side quickly even as Helia’s fingers clawed at her headphones.
Meanwhile, Aeris put a hand to her forehead, dazed by such a quick, hard blow. She blinked more than once, willing her body to get back up before things became worse.
When she was on her feet again, Aeris was met with the sight of a gigantic, grinning blue bomb, belonging to a Sentonal that would fit better in a 1920’s era cartoon than anywhere else.
“Best stay down, if you don’t want to get hurt.” Renaldo advised, just behind his Sentonal and clearly in the advantageous position.
Behind her, Kim was busy dueling Helia, just barely outpacing her now that she was under the effect of Overloaded. If not for Desolation Row and its dark purple energy shroud, Kim would have been downed and beaten no less than two minutes ago.
Even still, it was taking everything she had just to keep Helia from grabbing her headphones and snapping them in half.
Despite the pain still throbbing in her forehead, Aeris forced herself to move quickly as she was assaulted, just barely dodging a swipe from a huge white-gloved hand.
And as she put further distance between her and Renaldo, her fingers were already working to set up her desired song effect.
The fruits of her labor from coming to Kim’s sessions made themselves apparent, as Aeris was Harmonized with This Fragile Breath in the span of just two seconds.
The blond poised her right hand in front of her, clearly displaying the new threat of blue electrical sparks that bounced around her fingers.
Undeterred, Renaldo’s Sentonal took a step forward. Behind it, Renaldo fixed his glasses and simply held his ground.
Too focused on her own battle, Aeris didn’t even notice Kim’s loud grunt as Helia slammed her hard into the concrete wall of a half-pipe.
The First Beat stared Kim down with vicious intensity, her eyes stark white from the brilliant energy leaking out.
Kim could only push back so much, as Desolation Row only gave her just enough strength so as to avoid being squashed. As if her song didn’t point out more than once by now, Helia was clearly overloaded in more ways than one.
“How does it feel, Kimberly? To be overpowered…to be completely and utterly helpless.” Helia taunted, as she pushed her arm into Kim’s chest with even more force.
But this wasn’t Kim’s first fight, and it certainly wouldn’t be her last.
She growled back in response, her own voice deeper and just as threatening under the influence of Desolation Row.
“You call this overpowering? Feels like a cheap massage.”
Perhaps part of it was the energy that overtaken Helia’s body, or perhaps it was simply arrogance, but something caused Helia to dig painfully deep with her next words.
“From what I hear, sounds like you know the feeling all too well. I wonder if you brother felt the same…right before he got his canned burial.”
The snicker in Helia’s voice was all too clear for Kim Ramone. In but an instant, any shred of calm she might had left shattered like glass.
Her eyes widened as the words replayed a second later, and her jaw tightened as the anger inside her shot up like hot magma.
Kim said nothing as she pushed back against Helia with all her rage, one of her darkforce claws cutting deep into Helia’s forearm in the process as she threw the girl aside like a ragdoll.
Helia tumbled back in surprise, hitting the concrete ground hard as Renaldo saw her plight from afar.
“Oh not this again!” he protested, turning his attention away from Aeris at a pivotal moment.
His Sentonal was already striding towards Kim and Helia, but Renaldo himself only made it three steps on foot before he felt two black-gloved hands clasp down on his shoulders.
Standing right in front of him, Aeris looked back with sorrow in her eyes as she mouthed the words in a low voice.
Her fingers dug into his shoulders as she let loose her the power of This Fragile Breath on a living person for the first time in years.
Blue electricity crackled through Renaldo’s body as he screamed at the top of his lungs. The pain was beyond unbearable, and his headphones sparked and burned as their electronics were shorted out. He shook violently in those horrible seconds that felt akin to an eternity.
Thankfully for him, Aeris had some degree of control on the lethality of her lightning, finally letting up and catching him in her arms as he completely passed out.
She set him down slowly, her nose twitching as she picked up the harsh burning smell that emanated from his now scorched headphones.
Turning quickly, she could see that the Big Bomb Balladeer was gone the moment his headphones had been destroyed.
Aeris instead was greeted by the sight of Kim, who now had Helia pinned below her.
A wet smack followed each punch delivered, and it was obvious that Kim had cut her headphone wire at this point.
Aeris approached slowly, debating what to say as Kim let loose another punch with zero restraint.
Her darkforce claws were curled into fists, but underneath the glowing energy, Aeris could see the slick, red color of blood coating her knuckles. Aeris gulped as she began to realize how dangerously close those claws might be to slashing Helia apart.
When the blond Music Master was just a few feet away, Kim stopped hitting Helia, thus allowing her a moment’s reprieve. Her voice was still changed under Desolation Row, and Kim practically roared down at her in threat.
“Go ahead, you piece of meat. Mock my brother again. I dare you.”
Helia coughed in response, only to laugh in a low voice under her breath. Her words came out somewhat muddy through the blood dripping from her nose.
“Looks like we finally found your sore spot. But I guess if a Music Master killed my brother…maybe I’d turn into a crazy bitch too.”
Kim’s response came as another hard punch into Helia’s face. Aeris visibly flinched in response, but Kim’s liche purple eyes only glowed with anger as the song effect slowly grasped her with its malign influence more and more.
It was when she raised her bloodied fist yet again that Aeris finally found the courage to speak.
Helia answered her instead, her voice strained despite the snide tone she tried to convey.
“Yeah, wait. It was actually a car accident that got him, right? Ha, A car accident! That’s rich…”
Maybe it was the stress of the whole situation, but Aeris could have sworn that Kim’s song had suddenly gotten louder around them.
Another punch hit Helia’s cheek without abandon, and then another as Kim remained unsatisfied by the pain being dished out.
From what Aeris could see, Helia’s left eye was bruised, and her lip was clearly split.
But despite the damage, Kim seemed far from ready to let up.
As Desolation Row held its grip over her emotions, she found herself holding her clawed right hand up in the air.
She spoke in an oddly calm, but clearly demanding tone.
With all the anger rolling inside her, it was becoming increasingly obvious to Aeris that Kim was no longer fully in control.
“I’ll make this easy.”
Her energy-borne claws stretched out in response. Their glinting tips could easily cut Helia’s throat with little effort.
“You tell me who it was, and you live.”
Aeris put a hand over her mouth, holding in her fear as she debated what to do.
“You don’t, I rip out your throat.”
Helia’s eyes finally widened with some modicum of fear as she saw those claws poised to claim her life.
The words Kim wanted to hear formed in Helia’s mind, but a mixture of pain and fear stopped them from coming out as intended.
Unfortunately, Helia could only manage a strained exhale, which of course, only fueled Kim’s already prevalent rage.
Thankfully for her, Aeris had made up her mind on intervening, taking a step towards Kim as lightning started to arc from her fingers again.
But before she could reach her, and before Kim could even strike, Renaldo’s voice suddenly broke the tension.
His cry was clearly forced, plagued with exhaustion and pain alike, but he finished his words nevertheless.
“It’s Ayla. Ayla…Syntara.”
Glancing behind her, Aeris could see Renaldo, who had just barely held himself up off the dirty ground to say his piece.
Once he was sure Kim might have heard him and stayed his partner’s execution, he went limp as his body betrayed him.
Meanwhile, Helia gave Kim one last glance once Kim’s reason returned as she ended her song effect, and ceased pinning her to the ground.
“Guess he’s not useless after all…” Helia said with a laugh, before her mind went black as she finally passed out into the realm of exhaustion.
Kim didn’t immediately know what to say, and simply looked around her and drank in the current situation.
Helia lay right beside her, out cold and blood staining her nose, chin and the neck of her undershirt. Only about ten feet away was Renaldo, his headphones destroyed by electricity as he remained unconscious from the pain of 60,000 volts. It must have taken some willpower to fight that pain even just to say those few words.
So where there was once a fight, all that was left was two members of Zero Beat quite badly beaten in both mind and body.
Aeris was already on her knees as she inspected Helia’s condition in particular. Scanning from her face down to the deep cut on her arm, she winced visibly at the amount of blood Kim had forced out from all her punches.
“What are you doing?” Kim said, clearly annoyed that Aeris would even show them a hint of mercy.
Aeris made no effort to hide the accusing look now in her blue eyes. “Making sure she’s not dead. Do you know the meaning of the word restraint, or do you just not care?”
“Hey, they came at us. I’m not responsible for someone who gets hurt after they come looking for trouble like that.”
Kim’s arms remained crossed as Aeris scrolled through her music player for the song she needed. It was something she had hoped to never have to bring out, but in Helia’s case, it was better to err on the safe side.
A calm melody began in the air as the slow country beat enveloped the immediate space with its mood. Aeris closed her eyes as a glowing gold light shined through the middle of her white shirt.
She focused herself, and the same gold light shifted through her veins, right down her arms and then into the tips of her fingers. With those same fingers poised right over Helia’s ravaged face, Aeris touched down slowly. Neil Young’s Heart of Gold played unopposed as he worked.
As Kim watched nearby, she could see the shapes of tiny, golden vines that danced around Helia’s cheeks and nose. Slowly but surely, they bathed over her scratches and bleeding cuts.
Even as Aeris’s shining energy constructs mended Helia’s wounds, Kim still felt the need to make her intentions clear.
“You know I would have beaten the answer out of her if her flunkie didn’t say it first.”
Aeris didn’t look away as she replied. “You would have done more than that. I’m just glad I was here.”
That reply, of course, just pissed Kim off. She looked down at the unconscious Helia as Aeris continued to work.
Kim’s words were just as venomous at the blond expected.
“Oh really? And what, you think you would have stopped me? What are you, my handler now?”
Aeris didn’t reply, trying her best to focus on the healing process. Dried blood still remained on Helia’s face and shirt, but the bruises and cuts were just about healed.
Kim simply continued despite Aeris’s silence. “Afroboy must be the damn ringmaster in this ridiculous circus. I’ll be so sure to not step out of line, or he might lock me up in a cage.”
Finally, the song’s job was finished, and Aeris turned it off as she headed over to inspect Renaldo.
Turning him onto his back, it was clear that his headphones were heavily damaged, but beyond some burn marks on his clothes from where Aeris made contact, he seemed unharmed. She checked his breathing before finally turning her attention back to Kim.
“I hope you don’t forget that these are still people.” Aeris declared, unafraid even as Kim glared back at her.
“They might be Music Masters, they might have come at you first, and they even might have insulted the fact that your brother is dead, but that doesn’t mean they’re suddenly less than human. It doesn’t give you the right to justify taking a life.”
Kim scoffed back in response. “Save it. I don’t need the lecture. After all, I’m the one who’s been training you morons in the first place.”
Kim shook her head, finally fed up with just about everything.
“I’m outta here. Way to waste my time.” she said out loud.
Turning on one heel, Kim’s goodbye was just as forced and nasty as her motion to push aside the nearby wire fence entrance.
“Hope you enjoy playing nurse. I imagine they’ll be a lot of that knowing Afroboy and your con artist boyfriend.”
Kim’s steps echoed in her ears as Aeris waited for her to leave.
There would have been nothing she could further say to improve the situation.
Knowing what she knew, Aeris had to give Kim some leeway considering the ten years of pain she’d been going through all this time. It was certainly the perfect explanation for all her anger and toxicity.
She could only hope that Kim would calm down sooner rather than later. Once she was normalized, then maybe she could get Michael and Calvin involved to perhaps cheer her up.
But when Aeris looked back at Renaldo, she remembered what the boy had told her. The name replayed in her mind.
It almost sounded a bit made up, but Aeris knew it was worth remembering.
She glanced back, seeing that Kim was gone and she was now alone in the deserted skate park, with just the two knocked out First Beats to keep her company.
The name repeated in her mind again.
She could only imagine how many times Kim had played those same words back in her head.
And after discovering Seth Ramone’s fate all those years ago, Aeris could only hope that it really was just the song effect that was but seconds away from ripping Helia asunder.
Because if not, then this so-called Ayla Syntara was in for quite the wakeup call.