Happiness did not even begin to describe how Michael Kay was feeling right now.
Right now, in this moment, everything felt like a complete turnaround from the previous day of total failure and disappointment.
He had done the seemingly impossible, and found someone to teach him the ins and outs of this incredibly dangerous Music Master business.
Michael had barely been able to sleep last night, his hyperactive nature and huge grin making it obvious to everyone at school that he was clearly ecstatic about something.
He walked with pride in his gait as he approached Kim at lunch time. Without asking, he plopped down right in front of her, interrupting Kim just as she was about to take a bite out of a fresh grilled cheese sandwich.
“So…” he began, not even touching his food and his gaze solely on her.
“..when do we get started?”
Kim sighed heavily, the annoyance clear in her tone of voice.
“First of all, I’m eating, so try to exercise your right to shut up.”
She took a big bite of her sandwich, chewing quickly before gulping it down in a very unladylike manner.
“Second, we start when I feel like starting. And don’t you remember what I said before? I said I’d think about it. No guarantees, Michael.”
Michael’s expression dropped in an instant. His tone became loud enough that it drew attention from those nearby in the cafeteria without fail.
“Awwww, come on! I helped you! We beat them together! You really going to go and just mess with my hopes like tha-”
But Michael could say no more, as a strong hand clasped over his mouth and Kim’s face got uncomfortably close to his.
“SHUT UP, you idiot. Didn’t I tell you? No mention of any of this, whatsoever.”
Michael nodded quickly, her iron grip on the verge of crushing his jawline. Feeling satisfied, Kim let go, taking another bite out of her sandwich and commenting mid-chew.
“Oh, and another thing. Exactly who said you could just sit here? If you think we’re friends all of a sudden, I’m sorry for the newsflash, but we’re not.”
Michael, of course, just looked back and forth in the most conspicuous manner possibly. He gave Kim a thumbs up and winked. “Yeah sure, Kim. Whatever you say…”
She groaned at his stupidity, putting her sandwich down. Now she definitely had lost her appetite.
“You’re just not going to stop are you? Fine. Then we might as well start tonight; at midnight sharp in Central Park, by the largest rock formation.” she declared, and Michael ears perked up in an instant. Questions still rolled through his mind though, and they came out without him even thinking.
“Uh, won’t people see us? Don’t you remember how huge the Big YMCA was?” he asked, with Kim just raising a perturbed eyebrow.
“Big YMCA? Really?”
Michael smiled awkwardly in response. “Hey, I had to call it something.”
“Just trust me on this. No one’s going to see us. That, Afroboy, I can completely guarantee.”
“Okay, cool.” he replied, clearly ecstatic. “Man, this is gonna be so great.”
“Just do me a favor and don’t be late.” she said, trying for once to hold back the venom in her voice. “I’m wasting enough of my time with you as it is.”
Michael stood up, his food still untouched and the gleam in his eyes apparent.
“No worries, Kim! I won’t let you down!”
He spun around with glee, while Kim simply put her hand on her forehead and grumbled under her breath.
“Why am I starting to feel like this is all one huge mistake…” she asked herself, hoping that Michael’s incessant attitude wasn’t going to end up killing her in the night to come.
Michael would have been lying to himself if he thought Kim was being completely honest about meeting him in Central Park on this cold and lonesome night.
He stood alone, right at the base of the rocks they were supposed to meet at, hands stuffed into a tie dye hoodie as the chill air bit at his skin. He had barely curbed his excitement since lunchtime, and it took all of his willpower to not listen to any music up to this point.
But Michael had always been a trusting person, and despite his doubts, he continued to wait diligently for Kim to arrive. She didn’t hate him that much already, did she?
He shuddered at the thought. Or maybe that was just the cold.
Then, her familiar voice broke his focus on the unpleasant weather.
“Hopefully that hair is as warm as it looks. It has to be good for something after all.” she remarked, with snarkiness and what Michael thought sounded like a joke.
He turned and grinned, just in time to see that small smile on Kim’s face change back into her usual disaffected stare.
“Well,” she began. “Let’s get his over with then. But if you fall and hurt yourself, it’s not on my conscious.”
Michael chuckled as he followed up towards the rock formation. “Relax. The rocks don’t look THAT high.”
Kim laughed, surprising Michael quite a bit, before sounding suddenly ominous.
“Who said I was talking about the rocks?”
Michael just chuckled nervously in response, and said nothing more as he followed Kim up the walkable side of the rocks. His afro swayed in the strong breeze the higher they got, but it was a relatively quiet night nonetheless. He could hear cars and honking in the distance, but otherwise the park was a tranquil as Michael remembered.
He almost dipped into memories of coming here with Rob, of a happier and simpler time, when Kim pulled him back into reality.
They had finally reached the summit, and Kim took a brief moment to take in the view before speaking.
“So before I even say anything, I’ll allow you one stupid question, because I know you’re going to ask it anyway.”
A light bulb popped in Michael Kay’s head. One question pushed out before the others.
“So what are Music Masters, anyway?”
Kim shrugged, somewhat surprised that it wasn’t as stupid as she had expected.
“Beats me. From what I heard, there have been Music Masters since Mozart or Beethoven apparently. But we don’t just listen to music; our music is lethal.”
Michael rubbed the back of his neck, feeling a bit more comfortable now. “Tell me about it. Half the time, I feel like I’ll kill myself if I listen to a new song.”
In response, Kim pulled up her headphones, now becoming more serious.
“Then we might as well start with the basics. First off, you need to know how to Harmonize. You were lucky once, but I doubt you’ll be that lucky twice.”
She searched for an appropriate song on her music player, unfazed by Michael’s expression of total laser focus.
“Even you should have realized this by now. You don’t just listen to music. You have to focus on it. You have to feel every bass strum, every guitar string, every chord and every verse. It sounds really freaking sappy, but if you want the song effect, you have to become one with the song.” she explained. Michael just slowly nodded in agreement.
She finally found the song she was looking for, and tapped play.
It was barely more than a second, and suddenly the air was filled with the sound of a very fast, very loud song. The singer belted out loudly as a crooning, bleated opening.
But it wasn’t the music that made Michael drop his jaw. As he watched with awe, he could see that behind Kim, who had her eyes closed and looked surprisingly calm, rose a gigantic being of monstrous proportions.
To the hyperactive tune of Blitzkrieg Bop, it glowed with sickly ethereal light. Manifesting into existence within a heartbeat, it soon became much clearer what this thing was exactly.
It stood just as tall as the Big YMCA, its thick gray smock of a shirt barely covering the skeletal ribs and spinal cord underneath.
One arm was a bony appendage that terminated in vicious claws, and the other was a literal tank cannon, seemingly pulled out of a WWII-era battlefield and grafted onto its shoulder as a permanent fixture.
Its head was an inhuman skull, with dagger-like teeth and glowing eldritch violet eyes. Somehow, a tall purple mohawk sprouted from its head.
Kim took a breath, finally. She looked back at her musical monstrosity, smiling with satisfaction.
“Unlike yours, my Sentonal is good enough without a nickname.” she remarked, as Michael got closer, still in disbelief at the monster before him.
“So that’s what they’re called, huh? Sentonals…” he said, before a grin emerged on his face. “Hollywood Swinging, this is so cool…”
“It’s pretty rad, I guess.” Kim replied, clearly a little proud of herself now. “I’ve had this one for two years now. It gets the job done.”
“Isn’t it a little risky having it out in the open here?” Michael remarked, suddenly realizing just how huge her Sentonal was as it towered over them.
Even in the cold, he could feel the slightest bead of sweat forming on his forehead as he realized just how intimidating this thing really was.
“Normal people can’t hear the music. And if they can’t hear the music, they can’t see what the song actually does. Still doesn’t mean you can’t hurt someone with them though, so don’t be an idiot.” she lectured, clearly serious about the last part.
“I know that’s particularly hard in your case.”
Michael ignored her insult, too worried instead about the prospect of being an actual Music Master now.
“You know,” Michael began, looking down at this music player as he spoke. “I think I’ve already figured out this Harmonizing stuff.”
He laughed. “And I lost yet another lava lamp from it. But I get it now, I think.”
“You say that now.” Kim exclaimed, pushing her mental muscles to cause her Sentonal to drop one massive clawed hand only a few feet from Michael. Kim couldn’t help but snicker to herself. She couldn’t let Michael get too comfortable, after all.
His blood ran cold at the sheer size of it and the mere sound of impact. He would never say it out loud, but the thought that Kim might have just lured him here to kill him zoomed through his head.
“But let me tell you something; another Music Master’s not going to care how long you take to sync up with your song. They’re just going to have their Sentonal rip your head off before you can even press play.”
Kim then looked straight at Michael, before pressing pause on her music player. In an instant, the monstrous military skeleton phased out of existence.
“And I’m sure figured this one out pretty quick from the fight with those Zero Beat losers. No headphones? No music. And no music, means no song effect.”
Michael nodded excitedly in response. The fear was gone, and he was now barely containing his eagerness to try out song. “Sure, sure, I totally understand. Now can I try one of these or what?”
Kim crossed her arms. This was the moment of truth, she thought to herself.
“Just please don’t be an idiot about this.”
Michael nodded in agreement, scrolling through the myriad of songs in this particular playlist.
He could still hardly fathom that each of these songs, whether they be funk, disco, or the occasional rock or reggae, now housed within them some fantastic and dangerous power. He debated on choosing a new song to try, but judging from the lack of confidence in Kim’s expression, Michael quickly realized it was probably not the best of ideas.
So with relative ease, he clicked his thumb over Canned Heat.
Acting by Kim’s example, Michael Kay closed his eyes and exhaled deeply as he allowed himself to travel to musical nirvana.
It was only about two seconds in real time, but for Michael, he was lost in a self-imposed funk odyssey for what felt like an eternity.
He allowed the heat to surge through him like it was a living thing, and he felt each high noted verse hit him with their simmering crescendos.
Each powerful bass strum was like a wave through his soul, and the jingling of the guitar riff complimented it with a sweet melody.
This was Harmonization. And when Michael really thought about it, it was just like second nature to him.
Kim squinted suddenly as a bright aura of red-orange light lit up the night like a beacon. It remained poised over Michael’s right hand and both of his heels, illuminating him in its warm glow.
Michael clenched his hand, watching the heat grow and contract to his will. He smiled with satisfaction as his music played in the air.
But Kim wasn’t impressed just yet. She cracked her knuckles, declaring a challenge to Michael in his newly powered state.
“Now let’s get down to business, Afroboy. I want to you tag me.” Kim began, pointing right at the middle of her chest.
There was an unnatural reverb in Michael’s voice from his active song effect, but he still sounded unsure.
“You serious, Kim? You know with this on, I could totally burn your shirt off…” he informed her, his eyes suddenly wandering as he found himself wondering the color of Kim’s underwear.
Kim laughed out loud in response though, breaking his train of thought. “Yeah, you wish. But if you’re so sure, then come on. Let’s see what you got.”
Clearly, she was serious now, as she took up a boxing stance. The situation was becoming all too familiar.
In response, Michael’s expression hardened, as he closed the hand exuding all the heat, and straightened his posture in anticipation.
But even with Canned Heat up and running, everything was becoming a repeat of past events. Weaving with peerless speed, Kim was upon Michael much quicker than he expected.
Instinctively, his hand went for the front of her purple top. Whether he was going to embarrass her or not, he wasn’t going down like a chump. His own reaction speed was quick, and in his mind, he could practically hear the sizzling noise of burnt clothing already.
But Michael, always quick to assume, felt his wrist being wrenched backwards quite painfully as Kim clasped onto it with one hand, pushing his deadly heat away with seemingly little effort.
Then came a hard knee to the stomach, and Michael was down on his knees, gasping for air like a landlocked fish.
“H-Hey!” he choked out. “That was a cheap shot!”
“Oh please! Don’t be such a baby.” Kim said, clearly mocking him now. “I know I didn’t hit you that hard.”
Michael gritted his teeth, now pissed, as the heat flared bright in his heels. He moved quickly, a mixture of adrenaline and anger fueling him.
In one swift, fluid motion, his legs went into a windmill, and before Kim knew it, she went from standing triumphant to flat on her butt and staring up at the night sky.
“Two can play at that game, Kim.” Michael declared with glee, as he basically straddled Kim, his heat-infused hand now hovering just a few feet above her chest.
Of course, it didn’t take long even for Michael to realize the awkwardness of the situation, and what followed was a few seconds of silence as Kim merely looked at him in disbelief and he debated actually burning off her shirt.
Finally, she got sick of all the waiting, ending the tension as she easily threw him off her. Michael couldn’t see it, but Kim was trying pretty hard to hide the pink flush that had permeated her cheeks.
Even she hadn’t expected him to get that close, but she hid it well in the tone of her voice.
“God, you’re such a coward. Well, whatever. At least you’re not a complete failure.” she slyly commented , causing Michael’s face to glow in self-satisfaction.
He never expected a compliment from Kim anytime in the next century, and he completely fell for the opportunity to bask in it.
“Well, it was nothing, rea-” he began, only to be jolted out of his words as Kim’s hand darted for his headphone wire. She jerked down hard as she grabbed hold of it, and both of Michael’s earbuds came plummeting down to the rocky ground.
The song stopped playing in the next instant, and Michael’s hand went cold in response. Too surprised by her trick to say anything, he barely struggled as Kim pushed him down, now putting him in the precarious position as she pinned her with all her strength.
“You really have a big mouth.” Kim said in a low voice, as she leaned down, her face now uncomfortably close to his. “And you let your guard down like no tomorrow. Now just imagine if I was using one of my song effects. Do you know how easy this would be?”
Michael said nothing in response, but the look of defeat on his face was obvious. Kim held him down for a few more seconds, oddly relishing the power drunk moment, before finally letting go and standing up.
“The point is: you fight like a blind monkey in a straitjacket. But luckily for you, I guess the time has come for me to be cursed with a charity case. Congratulations, Afroboy.”
Michael finally got himself back up, rotating his wrist as the previous pain subsided. “Thanks, Kim. Because that makes me feel soooooo much better.”
She bumped in the shoulder, though playfully. She actually smiled for once.
“Hey, be glad enough that I’m still even here. Amazing as it is, you might not be completely hopeless just yet.”
Thankfully, those words were more than enough to raise Michael’s spirits.
It was so strange to him, having heard so many bad things about Kim, having nearly been put in the hospital by her, and now here he was training with her.
It was like a change from night to day, but it was happening to him in Central Park on this lonely rock formation nevertheless.
Training together in the cold night air, here they were, side by side as Music Masters.
Though she would never admit it, it was just about now that Kim realized that she hadn’t been in a truly foul mood this whole time. In fact, she didn’t remember the last time she’d felt this calm, this relaxed, or if she dare said it, this carefree.
A fleeting memory of Seth entered her mind. His award-winning grin, his tall blue mohawk, his stupid colorful Hawaiian shirts, and his masterful guitar playing hit her with a wave of emotion.
She could almost see a fleeting vision of him as Michael laughed out loud. Kim shook it away though as they continued to train.
That was the last thing she needed to think about right now.
Down below, where the trail through Central Park winded away from the nearby street entrance, someone was busy watching the dancing lights and listening to the faint music up above.
Completely out of Michael and Kim’s sight, a tall, fair-skinned teenager with shaggy blond hair smiled to himself, hands in his pockets, as he seemed to wistfully observe the situation in front of him.
He could hear bits and pieces of their music, and the unnatural colored lights made it beyond obvious just what was going on high above above.
He said but a few words to himself under his breath, and his tone of voice was anything but honest.
“New blood in the neighborhood, huh?”
He laughed to himself, clearly satisfied.
“Heh. Just what I’ve been waiting for.”