Michael couldn’t even begin to imagine what kind of pain his Sentonal was experiencing right now.
Could they even feel pain, he wondered. Did they even know what pain was?
These thoughts all quickly became unimportant though, as he soon found himself wondering if he’d even make it out of all of this alive.
Michael then canned his wandering thoughts away, directing the Big YMCA to continue its attack. Two of its arms had already been cleaved off, but thankfully there were still four left to keep fighting.
None of it seemed to phase Ollie, however, as he held the metal pole up like a giant baseball bat. Massive white fingers reached out to snap him up, only to be smacked aside under crushing strength. Ducking under a third arm, Ollie surged forward with blinding speed. More of a purple blur than a person running, the Big YMCA had no hope of keeping up as he speared it four times in quick succession.
The Sentonal made no noises that would indicate pain, but the digitized shearing that followed was more than enough for Michael. Standing stalwart behind his guardian, he directed it to grab at Ollie with two hands at once, hoping to grasp him if only for a second.
At least without a song effect, Michael hoped, Ollie wasn’t so capable to fight a towering Sentonal like this one. He’d have no choice but to surrender at that point.
The ground shook as kaiju-sized white sneakers stomped to and fro. Moving under its Music Master’s command, the Big YMCA grabbed for Ollie, intent on trapping him its grip and ending this fight in the process.
But it only became all the more clear how slow and ponderous in comparison to Ollie it really was. He easily dodged underneath both hands, arcing the huge piece of metal in the process.
With one smooth motion, he sliced through both crimson wrists, cutting the connected digits off completely in the process. Michael gasped now, trying to direct what was left of his massive Sentonal.
Unfortunately, Ollie was just about finished playing around. He forced his legs against the ground, jumping up high in a destructive leap as he landed hard on the surface of the Big YMCA’s M. One hard blow, and the Sentonal was plummeting downward into the ground.
Michael dove to one side, lest he be crushed by his song effect. Metal was crushed and the ground rumbled as the weight of the Big YMCA totaled the aged chain link fence below.
He looked up quickly though, only to hear more scrambled stabbing as Ollie plunged his makeshift weapon down again and again.
The remaining two white-gloved hands weakly moved in effort to stop their attacker, only to retract with each successive stab.
Horror drawn over his eyes, Michael stayed silent and unable to even think as Ollie relentlessly assaulted what was left of his Sentonal.
Finally, after another two stabs, there was loud, static-filled burst of noise, before the heavily damaged Big YMCA disintegrated into floating bits of nothingness. With it, the music that once permeated the air on Michael’s side practically faded away.
Shock washed over Michael Kay, and he went down on his knees as Ollie just stretched his shoulders slightly.
The Sentonal that he’d used to save Kim at the last minute, and to delay Nami and Arashi from taking Rob away, was clearly far from invincible.
Ollie’s steps echoed in the night as he approached the still stunned Michael, metal pole still in hand and its wicked sharp end prepared to skewer him completely.
All of Kim’s training felt suddenly pointless. Michael gulped as he put his hands up, his words a clear effort at distraction.
“I’m guessing that surrendering ain’t an option, huh?” Michael said with a chuckle, but Ollie didn’t respond.
Instead, he continued to walk forward slowly, and it was when he was three feet away that Michael took the opportunity.
His fingers were fast, clicking twice to rewind the current song effect.
Michael was already in the process of dodging even as the new song came through his ears. He could see the metallic glint of speeding metal in the air, prepared to behead him without prejudice.
Suddenly, there was silence. Dancing Machine was stopped in its tracks before it could even begin.
Michael’s eyes widened, and he noted a striking pain in his chest as the metal had cut through his tie dye shirt and just below the skin. Above that, his orange headphone wire hung uselessly in two halves.
A wet slick of blood began to stain the fabric of Michael’s shirt, and he felt lightheadedness coming on as Ollie grabbed him by the collar and hoisted him up hard against an undamaged section of the fence.
Michael struggled, kicking his feet, but all it took was one punch to the stomach to keep him under control.
Finally, through the haze of pain and suffering, he heard Ollie speak.
“Off. That’s what you’re going to be soon.”
Responding to the voice command, his headphones muted themselves, instantly ending Stronger’s purple aura over him in the process.
Still, it made no difference. Michael had benefited from Kim’s training, that much was true, but it wasn’t about make up for the sheer strength difference between Ollie and him.
With pain clouding his senses further, Michael barely moved as Ollie put both of his large hands around Michael’s throat.
Flashbacks of facing Arashi hit him, and Michael’s knees began to shake as his air supply dwindled.
This close, Michael was able to take in Ollie’s full features. His cold, uncaring eyes. Brown skin that seemed to glint in the moonlight, and a chiseled face that made him seem mature beyond his years. And his backwards cap, framing his face like some twisted version of Rob’s preferred hat.
Michael’s hands went to grab at Ollie’s, moving against the crushing sensation on his neck, but it was a feeble effort.
He could only wonder why Ollie hadn’t just killed him with Stronger. With his previous strength, it would take just one quick contraction for it to all be over.
But Ollie was nothing if not a young man of foresight. He knew to pulverize bones like that would only draw suspicion in a coroner’s report later on when Michael’s body would be eventually found. The less hanging threads, and the cleaner he made this boy’s death, the better.
The moment had almost arrived, and for the first time in months, Michael Kay found himself wishing he’d never become a Music Master in the first place.
All the friends he’d met, the uncle he’d been reunited with, and the newfound song powers he’d discovered seemed like nothing in comparison to the terrible prospect of his premature death.
Finally, Michael closed his eyes, as what felt like his last breath was drawn from his lungs.
He could hear the chorus of angels already. The song belted through his ears, a female singer who sang with such melodic grace.
A powerful gust of wind hit Michael in full force, and the music only got louder as the hands once choking him were peeled right off.
If this was how people got to heaven, it was certainly not what he expected.
Two hands, delicate and gloved, grabbed onto Michael Kay’s shoulders as they brought him into the air. Michael looked around, his vision hazy as the distance between himself and the ground began to rapidly increase.
He saw pinpricks of city lights below, and heard audible noise of another approaching song.
His saviour dove to one side, just in time as Michael caught a glimpse of Ollie, rage in his eyes as he had leapt over a hundred feet into the air in an attempt to drag Michael back down to the surface.
He missed Michael’s hanging red sneaker by inches, cursing loudly before falling back in an arc towards the roof of a building below.
Michael didn’t see any other sign of Ollie, and instead looked up at the angel that clearly was bringing him to some sort of salvation.
He saw Aeris, a serious expression on her face as she held him in her arms. Sprouting from her back as a product of the song, two cold-blue eagle wings served to give Aeris the power of flight.
They beat back and forth with a majestic wingspan, and the song ringed in Michael’s ears.
He had one chance at a quick smile of relief, before finally, the pain caught up with him, and his mind went blank.
When Michael’s mind returned to a conscious state, he initially found himself feeling as if he was trapped in a constrictive sauna.
Or perhaps it more akin to a malfunctioning sauna; not an overpowering heat sensation, but a restrained one that covered his entire body and put his skin just on the edge of dripping beads of sweat.
Michael’s eyes creaked open, and he was greeted with a familiar sight.
Aeris was leaning over him, now incredibly focused as her hands hovered above his chest.
He could just barely make out the golden vines that enwrapped his form and bled warmth onto him in the process, but he could hear the accompanying music in the air loud and clear.
Behind her, the tall figure of Rob stood waiting, cap pulled down as his bad habit of hiding his emotions came through. In the loveseat just nearby, Kim had her hands clasped together, and there was visible worry written all over her face.
Michael was in the Sound Loft.
His nose sucked in the familiar smell of Rob’s coffee-colored couch.
He wasn’t dead. This wasn’t heaven.
He grinned, and laughed audibly in the process. Pain spiked right through his still-healing chest.
“Mike?” Rob said first, walking over in an instant at the sound of his nephew’s voice.
“The one and only.” Michael chortled, though the pain was obvious in his voice. He could still feel the stretched blade of pain that was the slash across his chest. It hurt to even speak.
“Careful.” Aeris told him, still keeping her hands poised as she worked to heal him. “These injuries are serious. It’ll be another hour at least before he’s good to move.”
“Mike, what were you thinking?” Rob began, his voice showing just the slightest tone of anger. “Taking on one of the Pop 5 on your own? Do you understand how stupid that was? And going to 5 Records like that? You might as well just ring Zero Beat’s doorbell!”
Michael opened his mouth to respond, to defend himself in any way, but Kim quickly beat him to it.
“Let him be. He got ambushed. Nothing he could do about that. He’s still here, that’s what’s important.” she assured, leaning back on her seat before making a small smile.
Knowing now that Michael was okay, and that with Aeris healing him he would make it through the night, made her the happiest she’d been all day.
“Heard you put up some fight though. Nice work, Michael.” she complimented.
“Let’s all just be glad Aeris saw him when she did.” Kim further added.
Thankfully, her words were enough to get Rob to stop for the time being. He sat down on the remaining seat, thinking over everything as Aeris leaned over and continued to bathe the afro-headed teen in healing energy.
Michael couldn’t sit up, but his eyes wandered the room.
He instantly noticed the missing element, and Kim was quick to catch the look in his eyes as the words escaped his lips.
Even in his drowsy state, Michael could easily see the change in Aeris’s eyes at the sound of that name. She spoke quickly and with clear intent to deflect.
“Michael, please, just relax. If you fidget or move anything, it’ll just take longer, and I might miss something.”
However, in her seat nearby, Kim seemed far from ready to let the issue go.
“It’s a fair question, Aeris. He’s asking where the scum of the earth has up and gone to. We owe him an explanation.” she pointed out, perhaps a little too gladly.
Rob just stayed out of it, his cap obscuring his eyes as he mulled over the whole situation. When Michael was up and able, they would talk. Zero Beat sending the Pop 5 in was a bigger move than any of them could fathom.
In the meantime, he stood up, intent on making his leave. The last thing he needed to was give Michael a heart attack, especially in his current state.
“I’ll leave you three to it. We’ll talk later, Mike. I need to make some calls.”
Within a few minutes, he was inside the sound studio, where the soundproof walls would mask his words for the time being. The door closed, giving Rob his privacy as he left the remaining three Audio Knights alone with each other.
Back in the living room, Michael’s previous question still hung uncomfortably in the air.
“I need you to just forget about Calvin for now, Michael.” Aeris finally said, as if welling up courage from some hidden place. “Right now, I need you to focus on resting, so your body can keep up with the mending. I don’t want to risk bringing it up to speed too quickly.”
The frustration from that answer was easily apparent on Kim’s face. She got up this time, stepping over towards Michael and leaning down close to him.
He could see the details in her eyes, and piercing toxic green that bled disappointment in her accompanying words.
“Calvin sold you out. He was gone when we got back here, and I say good freaking riddance.”
She stood up straight, and Aeris shook her head at Kim’s declaration.
“Kim, this isn’t what Michael needs right now! Go away and let me work!” the blond demanded. Her light blue eyes were squarely focused on the radiating golden vines that wrapped around Michael’s body, slowly but surely healing his grievous injuries in the process.
Satisfied now, Kim went back to her seat. Her words remained as honest and unmerciful as always.
“I should have listened to my gut. I should have kicked his ass the minute he weaseled his way back to us, but I didn’t. If I had, none of this would have happened.”
Kim crossed her arms, legs together as her body felt stiff.
After their battle with Lily in the subway tunnel, Aeris’s healing had indeed worked wonders. But the side effects, an aching pulse that persisted in her healed limbs, seemed like it would take some time to subside.
“We’ve all made our mistakes, Kim. Right now, let’s focus on Michael.” Aeris reassured, and this was Kim’s cue to finally shut up.
Unable to say much of anything, Michael just took a breath as he allowed his body to relax.
A singular line of thought ran through his mind as his mind lulled to sleep.
Calvin sold him out.
Calvin betrayed him.
Calvin lied to him.
He tried to be in shock, but then even Michael knew better.
He should have known this might happen from day one. All the signs had been there.
Was it really so hard to believe?
Some few hours later, Michael Kay’s eyes snapped open with sudden wakefulness.
He remained in his previous position, lying down on the coffee-colored couch, covered in a large blanket taken from Rob’s master bedroom.
Slowly, Michael sat up, and he could feel the same aching pulse that Kim had felt some time before. He could almost hear his limbs creak from the psychological rust, but when he checked himself, his various cuts and bruises were gone.
Now wearing one of Rob’s oversized white shirts, he touched his chest. His skin was soft and unmarred, and all hint of the previous chest wound had vanished.
The apartment was silent, and outside, the moon streamed in past buildings through the massive tower windows. Michael could only assume that Kim and Aeris, if they were still here, were fast asleep.
But more pressing thoughts were on Michael’s mind. He went to his phone, and three messages were waiting for him.
As he swiped to unlock it, he could see all three were from Denny.
They all said the exact same thing.
– Hey you okay? Let me know if you wanna talk –
Michael debated texting her back considering one was only sent two hours ago, but seeing at it was almost 2 AM already, he left them on read for now.
He wondered if she had any idea that her leader had just so nearly strangled him to death.
As Michael scanned through his contacts, he stopped at Calvin’s name.
His finger hovered, and the debate rolled through his mind of whether or not to text him.
Ultimately, Michael decided against it. He placed his phone on the small table nearby, and rolled back on the couch.
With so much on his mind, he had a bad feeling he wasn’t getting much sleep tonight.
If Calvin could so easily betray him, who’s to say Denny wasn’t capable of the same thing?
Michael didn’t want to think about. She didn’t seem capable. He didn’t want her to be capable.
He just wanted to sleep, to forget it all, and to wake up tomorrow with only a broken lava lamp and a burnt desk to worry about.
Michael closed his eyes, and just wished for a simpler time without Music Masters.
Just a mere half-hour after being left on the floor in the Sound Loft, Calvin Altberg found himself sitting alone in the sound studio.
His upper right eye still hurt from Aeris’s punch, but it was miniscule in comparison to the heavy weight in his chest. He sensed it would be some days before he could truly relax again. The pained expression on her face still sat clearly at the forefront of his thoughts.
For the last ten minutes, Calvin had been sitting in front of Rob Prototype’s incredibly expensive 1973 Fender Rhodes keyboard. His hands had remained on his lap, unmoving despite the temptation to try such a masterpiece of piano out.
But guilt was a powerful force, and even for someone so used to scamming Music Masters and normal people alike, Calvin couldn’t touch it.
His phone remained silent in his pocket.
Once Kim and Aeris found Michael, and word got out, he expected to never hear from the three of them ever again.
And that was considering that they got to Michael before the Pop 5 did.
Calvin sighed deeply, ignoring his guilt for a moment as his fingers finally came down on the piano keys. He casually moved from B to C flat, his ears listening intently to the unique and beautiful sound that only a Rhodes piano produced.
He would have liked to have had more time to sit and play this piano.
Perhaps if things had been different, if he had been braver, then he’d be with Michael right now, and they’d stand a chance of making it out of all this.
But the brave always ended up in the annals of history; remembered, and quite dead. Highlord Funk was living evidence of that, and Calvin wasn’t about to join them.
He stood up, delicately moving past the piano and taking one last look at the sound studio.
It was spotless, and all the instruments looked as new as the day they were bought.
He then closed the door, making his leave from the Sound Loft entirely as regret began to come over him.
It would be painful, but this had to be done. With Zero Beat and the Pop 5 coming for Michael, at least by cutting ties like this, Calvin would live another day.
As he left, even with all sorts of opportunities abound, the only thing that Calvin had on his person was his phone, his neon yellow music player, and his wireless headphones.
Michael’s face flashed through his mind. His golden smile, and his huge orb of hair.
Then Kim’s serious pupils and her toxic smirk.
Finally, he saw a flash of Aeris’s heavenly expression, and those undeniable bright eyes.
Calvin sighed as the thoughts settled in his mind.
There was no backup music player, and there never had been.
And now, there would be no Audio Knights.