Of all the hazards that Kim Ramone expected to run into in Astroland, bloodthirsty vagrants were certainly not among them.
And yet here she was, pinned by the weight of something that seemed to to lack the majority of its humanity.
Sand particles began to embed into Kim’s shoulders the more she pushed to keep her attacker from ripping out her jugular. Dirt-caked fingernails swiped through the air, aching to cut into something like a butcher’s cleaver into fresh meat.
But despite her strength, she could only hold it back for so long, and Kim winced as her attacker finally hit home.
Fresh blood began to drip from a long scratch on her shoulder, but Kim took the opportunity to throw a well-timed punch right as the thing dove down for a hungry bite.
It appeared that whatever was within the darkness of its hood was still quite physical, as evidenced when Kim’s attacker violently reeled back from her punch.
“That taste good enough for you, asshole!?” Kim declared with confidence, grasping the advantage not a moment later.
With the shift in weight, Kim didn’t waste a second as she launched forward and pushed her own mass upon her downed opponent.
Claws scratched at the air as it attempted to get at her, but in response, Kim methodically delivered four hard blows to its presumed jaw.
The flailing stopped at the third, giving Kim a moment’s reprieve as her opponent finally seemed down for the count.
It took a few seconds for Kim to fully take in the situation.
Kim’s chest heaved slightly as her adrenaline was exhausted once her body realized its true state of fatigue.
With the situation now stabilized, her eyes scanned the downed man, or whatever it was, that had assaulted her with such savagery.
She couldn’t really pinpoint exactly what it was wearing, only that it looked like a purposeful cross between a straitjacket and a hoodie.
Clad in torn, dark gray jeans and shoes littered with rips and holes, Kim could only wonder exactly what this killer vagrant really was.
Kim wiped away some stray sweat from her forehead, and as she stood up, she debated removing the hood that seemed to conveniently obscure her opponent’s face.
But before she could even reach her hand out, her mind reminded her of the previous mistake.
Kim knew better than to underestimate her opponent a second time. So instead, she quickly turned around, out of habit as she focused on her music player.
It took a few seconds, but soon she was settled on Walking Disaster, turning back to face her former opponent as various violet arms slithered around her in search of something to grab at.
To their disappointment, the violent scavenger was gone.
Kim took a few cautious steps as she looked around, wondering if it was brazen enough to ambush her despite her active song effect.
Whatever it was, clearly it could move with little to no noise and with uncanny speed.
Fortunately, it quickly became apparent that Kim was safe for the time being. She leaned down, picking up a torn, beaten up shoe that remained as the only trace of its previous presence.
Kim scoffed under breath.
There was nothing to be gleaned from an old shoe, and Kim threw it aside into the sand as she recalled her reason for being here in the first place.
And yet even as she made her way back up to the boardwalk, song effect active and following her, she still had no idea what it was she had encountered.
It certainly wasn’t a Music Master, since it didn’t react to her music.
And if it was a Sentonal, its user didn’t even try to make itself known or put up much of a fight once she started fighting back.
Kim muddled through these thoughts as she ventured deeper into old Astroland. The boardwalk creaked from her steps as the midway seemed to only become more and more ancient the further along she traveled.
Kim stopped and focused on the view no more than thirty feet away. Towering over everything as a landmark of significance was a huge ferris wheel. Its once proud blue and yellow colors were now a rusted gray and brown, and she could only assume taking it for a ride would be a death wish.
But Kim was far from concerned with the old amusement park.
Ignoring the view and the sea beyond, her attention was now rather laser focused on an extravagant poster that had remained pasted on a booth wall even after all these years.
Kim stood in front of it, absorbing the image in her mind, hands in her pockets as she could feel the familiar emotion of rage welling up inside of her again.
Standing in front of a silhouette of a big top, was a pale-skinned woman with large eyes that were splattered with purple mascara. Her garb was that of a traditional circus ringmaster, though she was clearly fond of chemical green, crimson and purple. She smiled through unnaturally pointed teeth, arms wide as she welcomed all and anyone to Ayla Syntara’s aptly named “Greatest Show Unearthed”.
Clear as day, Kim finally had a face to apply to the source of all her anger.
Despite it all though, and despite the garbage-eating, sharp toothed grin on Ayla’s face, Kim remained composed as she continued to scan the old poster for any further clues or hints to Ayla’s location.
But as she mentally noted the dates of her shows from over a decade ago, Kim’s attention changed as the sound of foreign music suddenly invaded her ears.
She turned quickly, her hydra arms clawing at the air as if expecting an opponent to come bounding at her.
Kim’s eyes darted in every direction, looking for any sign of attack, as the music continued to play.
It had started as some sort of ghastly carnival theme, only to transition into a jolly rock song no less than thirty seconds in.
If there was a song effect coming for her, it sure was taking its sweet time.
The song continued to play in the air, having effectively taken Kim’s attention away from Ayla’s poster.
Coincidentally, in its lyrics was the same title for her show. Kim mulled over the connection until she finally shifted her gaze over to where once the old ferris wheel and amusement park around it stood.
Bright lights and noises burned through the approaching nightfall, as a massive and very much active carnival now existed in the previous one’s place.
Whether it was some gigantic illusion or something else entirely, Kim was immediately drawn into this lively atmosphere that presented itself to her.
The most grand of entrances laid before Kim, clad in pinstripes and every manner of mechanical deviances and whimsical oddities.
But the closer Kim got, and the more she observed, the more sinister everything quickly revealed itself to be.
Beyond this entrance was some sort of fantastical place, but Kim quickly began to realize it was more akin to some nightmare than any person’s wishful dream.
The punk rock girl noted the dark purple and arterial red colour scheme of the decor, and the song itself served as a sort of maniacal ambiance to the scene before her.
Kim stood in place, and her hydra arms swayed only ever so slightly as she exerted her mental control to stop them from lashing out.
This newfound carnival clearly some sort of trap. It was a series of convenient coincidences at this point to be anything otherwise.
But beyond this song-effect borne place was the object of all of Kim’s hatred. Behind this makeshift shield was Seth’s killer, practically ripe for the taking.
Kim didn’t even sigh, instead taking one last long glance at the entrance, which she finally realized was modeled after the gaping mouth of a huge, demonic clown.
She took two steps forward, before the metallic mouth of the entrance shut with such deadly speed that it would have easily bisected her if she had been close enough.
In response, Kim was about ready to command her song effect to tear the entire structure apart, when a nearby receptacle dinged as a small gold coin dropped down.
Without any hesitation, Kim picked it up between her fingers.
Emblazoned on it was none other than Ayla’s face, with the words “Admit One” just underneath.
It took Kim just a moment before she slipped the coin into the slot for admittance, causing the huge clown-shaped door to open back up and reveal its carnival of horrors to her again.
Kim looked behind her to the empty boardwalk, as she prepared to step into the unknown depths of madness beyond.
On some level, she wanted to see Michael running up behind her.
She wanted him to try and stop her, to beg her that she didn’t have to enact her bloody vengeance on Ayla.
She envisioned Aeris or even Calvin tagging along, and she could hear herself arguing with them.
But more than any of her fellow Audio Knights, she imagined her brother.
She wished he could just reappear, grin, say a few words, and proceed to drag her away from it all.
Kim waited for more than five seconds, and of course, Seth didn’t come.
Her expression sank, and she turned back towards the entrance.
Seth wasn’t here, and that was never going to change.
But Kim could at least take comfort in the fact that soon enough, Ayla Syntara would soon be joining him six feet deep in the earth.
More than a mile away from the entrance, within the depths of a black and purple big top tent, a lone Music Master waited.
She sat atop a throne of her own design, surrounded by a half dozen of crawling, growling beings that seemed to lack individual identity all together.
Within the dark interior of her personal big top, Ayla Syntara waited patiently, the same sharp-toothed grin from the poster pasted on her face.
It had been more than a decade since her Greatest Show Unearthed had closed down in an official sense, but time had been kind to her appearance.
With a pair of headphones in her ears, the ten hour extended version of her current song effect of the same name ensured that it wouldn’t be running out on Ayla anytime soon.
In the darkness of the big top, like a loyal hound, the same hoodie-wearing creature that had attacked Kim earlier approached Ayla in her throne, eager to report.
“There, there.” she cooed. “You’ve done very well, my wonderful little pet.”
The thing bowed to her with respect, as Ayla put her hand on the fabric of the hoodie covering its presumed head. With a surge, she could see its memories as easily as someone would watch television.
Ayla exhaled as the information settled in her mind. She mentally dismantled it, piece by piece.
Interrupting her thought process, a strained breath could be heard a few feet away, and Ayla’s gaze turned to the odd one out among her menagerie.
Guarded like a piece of meat between two of her Ensemble’s members was an old man who they had caught digging for food beneath the old midway boardwalk. He shivered with fright as they circled him, all while Ayla simply cackled at his current plight.
Finally, she shook her head before beckoning him in her direction.
“Okay, enough fun with today’s catch. Bring him here.” she demanded, though in truth she really didn’t have to say a word.
The mental command zapped right through the brains of her loyalists in the instant she asked it, and before he knew it, the old beggar was being dragged by fangs and claws as the two bestial things forced him over to Ayla.
They threw him to her like a prisoner to the lions, and he could only stare up at the Ayla’s horrible visage.
Wide eyes, a gaunt face, and her teeth still filed in the fashion of a shark, Ayla had long since given up sizing any new potentials.
Instead, she gave him the most fake, yet gleeful reassurance she could muster.
“Don’t you worry.” she said, her voice slick with madness.
His expression softened, but it was gone the moment Ayla put a rough hand on his forehead to keep him still. Her eyes were inches away from his, and he could very clearly see the pure insanity within their bloodshot surface.
“It’s exactly as bad as you think!” she declared with a joyous shrill, and the old beggar could only feel the sharp pain in his neck as she stuck him with the glowing green syringe that had been in her other hand this whole time.
He heard nothing, and saw nothing, as the sickening process overtook him.
As a non-Music Master, the low, garbled singing and hard guitar was inaudible to him as his body no longer became his, and his vision dimmed into a dark, bloody purple haze.
It took but a mere thirty seconds until the previous man was truly gone.
In his place, a ravening lunatic, clad in the same hoodie-straitjacket as its fellows, was born.
Ayla pushed him towards the others, laughing as they growled apprehensively at the new arrival and most willing member of Ripsaw.
With the deed finished, her mind perked up, and the memories of Kim Ramone coming this way made themselves known again.
Somehow, Seth Ramone’s little sister had found her way to Ripsaw’s homeland.
But thanks to her most beautiful people, Ayla would have more than enough time to entertain herself with Kim before the boredom inevitably set in.
Ayla smiled wide through her sharp teeth, relishing the thought of the violence and mayhem to come.
If only Seth could be here to see it all.