Even Michael Kay, in all his obliviousness, knew a mistake had been made from the moment they had stepped foot within this ghastly hall of mirrors.
It was Aeris’s intention for them to stay together, hence their close, single file formation.
But it would all be for naught, for the three Audio Knights would make it no more than four steps before before the lights snapped off. In an instant, they were trapped in a void of cold , unwelcoming darkness.
“Okay, not cool, not cool!” Michael panicked, quite loudly, as his hands wildly searched for the tug of Aeris’s blazer or the smooth fabric of Calvin’s suit jacket.
But his fingers were met with empty air, and Michael had to abate his frantic movements lest he fall flat on his face in the pitch blackness.
Michael took a cautious step, and his chest relaxed once he felt his foot meet the ground. As he awkwardly walked forward, his voice came out loud.
He waited a few seconds, but no response came.
“Hello? Helloooooo?” he belted out, but all that he heard this time was a clear, resounding echo.
For this moment, it was just Michael and the dark.
In his nervousness, he even forgot about Canned Heat.
It was an extension of himself at this point, and he clenched his right hand, and in response, the glowing orange-red light flared up.
However, even as he remembered his active song effect, it only illuminated the darkness for a few seconds, before as quick as they were gone, the lights snapped back to life.
Michael almost jumped, but he had nothing to fear once he was met with the sight of his own afro-headed self, reflected in the mirrored wall of this space.
Looking back and forth, Aeris and Calvin were nowhere to be found. He was most definitely alone.
What’s more, it appeared than in the timespan that Michael had been trapped in cold darkness, the configuration of this place had been physically altered.
Various winding hallways now led out of the mirrored space, but even Michael knew that venturing down them without the others would most likely lead him to become hopelessly lost.
With Canned Heat slowly beginning to die out in his ears, Michael Kay put his non-burning hand on the mirrored wall in front of him, sighing deeply at his plight.
Without Aeris and Calvin, he had only his own reflection for comfort.
Crushed by the situation and the possibility of never finding Kim, Michael stared into his own eyes, searching for some sort of answer or solution.
Unfortunately, he was quite taken aback when the reflection of his eyes shifted before him, taking on a much more darkened expression.
“You’re such a moron. Who knows why the powers that be picked YOU to be a Music Master…”
The words echoed around him, and it was clearly his own voice, but Michael’s lips hadn’t moved an inch.
The boy craned his neck to see if there was anyone behind him, but more words were shot at him before he could take a glance.
“Hey, coward! Over here! I’m talking to you! I know you’re dumb but you can’t be deaf too!”
Michael’s eyes now remained forward, and he visibly gulped as he realized that the one addressing him was his own reflection.
But where Michael’s own expression was one of worry and confusion, his reflection seemed delightfully malignant. It sneered back at him, clearly happy to have now gotten his attention.
“Takes more than a few sentences to get through your thick skull, huh? You proud of yourself, Mikey?”
Michael didn’t immediately say anything in response, but his mind was already playing out his defense mechanism.
He’d seen this kind of thing before in countless movies, comics and television shows. As quick as he could, he turned away from his twisted reflection, arms crossed and a curt expression on his face.
“Yeah yeah, I’ve seen this trick before. Whatever this is, it isn’t the real deal. You’re not getting me.” he declared, making the best effort to hide the shakiness in his tone.
Unfortunately for the afro-headed teen, his doppleganger could taste his fear in the air as if it was a rich flavoring.
Borne as part of the massive Sentonal that made up The Greatest Show Unearthed, it was a simple matter for it reconfigure in order to better devour its prey.
It smiled in an way quite alien to how Michael’s face would normally do so.
“Oh sure, you can ignore me. But can you just as easily ignore…”
Without warning, it’s vocal range shifted entirely as it it hissed its next words to Michael.
“..dear uncle Rob?”
It paused, and it was at this point that Michael froze like a deer in headlights. The voice speaking now was all too familiar.
He didn’t want to fathom even turning around, but his legs moved out of his control.
Soon enough, he found himself facing the image of his uncle, perfectly cut into the reflective glass as he stared down at Michael with a clear height advantage.
Rob’s voice was almost the same, but it held a sinister undertone that Michael couldn’t shake off.
“You’re a failure to me.”
Michael shut his eyes, and immediately his hands went for his ears to try and block out the noise.
Unfortunately, being a Music Master made that very difficult.
“Colleen despises you. You’re a burden to her, and to all your little friends.”
The words were like icy spikes trying to drive into his mind, and Michael went for his music player in a vain attempt to drown them out.
“You want to know something? I never left to protect you and Colleen.”
Michael’s fingers were busy clicking through songs as the reflection of Rob continued its vocal onslaught.
“I left because I was sick of you. I left because of you.”
Finally, Michael found the song of choice, one that he had yet to Harmonize with it. Satisfied, he allowed a low, calming disco beat relax his nerves.
A few seconds later, and he stood up, a confident smile on his face as he stared straight back at his mirror-bound tormentor.
“I’m not sure what kind of song effect this is, but if you think words are gonna kill me, then you’re seriously buzzed out. You’re just a freaking reflection.” Michael said through a grin, chuckling to himself as the reflection of Rob remained blank-faced for the next few moments, as if pondering over that fact.
It didn’t take long, and the next response was chilling enough to stop Michael’s laughter in an instant.
“Very true. Thankfully, this mirror is hardly restraining.”
With an otherworldly, surging noise, one of Rob’s very real hands phased right through the supposed mirror before grabbing hard at Michael’s right shoulder.
Michael was quick to shuffle back before the imitation could get a grip on him. His heart skipped a beat as he realized how quickly the situation was changing,
In response, imitation Rob simply smiled, before stepping through the barrier that was supposed to be the mirror as easily as one would step into another room.
There was a low tap as nice black sneakers touched against the smooth floor.
Michael’s eyes widened as he backed away, free hand reaching back again for his music player as he mentally cursed himself for not having a song effect on standby.
But as he was busy panicking, the imitation Rob in front of him began to horribly shift like some overgrown amoeba.
It spoke now in a crackled, static-filled voice as it slowly approached Michael.
“You shouldn’t have come here. You should have stayed where you were safe and left little Kim Ramone to her fate.”
Michael was finally on Canned Heat, trying his best to focus his mind but too distracted by the sight of the monstrosity before him.
One half was clearly Rob, unmarred and wearing his usual favorite outfit. But the other half was only partially human, pocked with metallic patches of skin and myriad of artificial parts jutting out in all places. From his shoulder came the neck of his chrome-orange bass guitar, melded with his very being, and his right hand was now entirely composed of sharp, shining guitar strings.
Michael closed his eyes as the thing reached for his face, focusing with all his might on Harmonizing with Canned Heat.
He could practically feel the cold metal touch on his forehead just as he sensed the heat finally form on his right hand.
In a split second, Michael’s eyes jerked open, and he pointed straight at the half-instrument mockery this thing passed off as a face.
There was a high-pitched hum as the surging heat beam sliced right through its head like a hot knife through butter. There was no blood, just sizzling and a gap in the air where imitation’s Rob head once was.
Michael blinked, and for just the briefest of moments, the Rob-thing stood motionless, its sharp fingers just an inch away from his face. But without a head, it wasn’t standing for long.
Michael watched as it stumbled forward with all its weight, only to completely dissipate into nothingness before it even hit the ground.
Dumbfounded but relieved, the afro-headed teen stood up, Canned Heat still active in his right hand even though the danger appeared subsided.
But as he wondered how he would escape from this winding confusion of a place, Michael noticed the now gaping series of holes created from Canned Heat cutting through layers of mirrored glass.
Like a makeshift porthole, he peered through the closest one, feeling the night breeze coming through on the other side. Michael sighed in relief at the thought of the outdoors.
With a quick glance, Michael took the closest right hall, gulping as he hoped his instinct was correct.
The sooner he was out of this hall of freaks, the better.
He could only hope that Aeris and Calvin had already done the same.
Awkward tension would have been an understatement to describe the air between Calvin and Aeris in this very moment.
Having braved their own crafted fears in Ayla’s madhouse of mirrors, the two Music Masters had met up safely only minutes before just outside.
And with their escape, all that was left was to journey towards the big top ahead, where they hoped Kim might still be alive and waiting.
Unfortunately, there remained the matter of Michael, who even after a good ten minutes they still hadn’t seen or heard any sign of.
Calvin could see Aeris’s fingers contracting and her posture tightening as she debated going back inside.
He thought of saying something, but he was already somewhat drained from his previous predicament, and clearly neither of them wanted to speak of it.
“Okay.” the blond girl finally said, rolling up her sleeves as she began to walk back towards the dingy back entrance. “I can’t take this. I’m going back in for Michael.”
Right on cue, just as Aeris was about to pull open the back door, Michael strolled into view, arms out as he grinned from ear to ear.
“You rang?” he replied, but all it earned him was a hard smack to the head as Aeris’s sense of humor had clearly run dry.
“Are you kidding me, Michael?! Don’t do that! We’re worried enough about Kim as it is!” she scolded, and it was at this point that Calvin skillfully followed suit.
“Yeah man, not good. I was seriously concerned.” he added as he lightly shook his head.
Michael rubbed the back of his head, wincing just a bit from the stinging pain. “Alright, alright. At least we’re all in one piece.”
“For now.” Aeris was quick to point out. “But I think that was the easy part.”
She then actually pointed at the destination up ahead, nothing less than a towering big top tent clad in white and chemical crimson stripes.
“I’m going to take a wild guess and say that’s where Ayla Syntara is? ” Calvin asked, rubbing his chin in debate, though quick to realize there was little choice in this upcoming matter.
“And Kim.” Michael added, his voice low.
Aeris had her back to them, taking in the football field of distance between them and the big top where Kim might be fighting for her life.
Just beyond that, the toxic colors of the ferris wheel and the rest of this insane carnival splattered right through the blackness of the night.
“Could be.” Aeris said, mostly to herself before her tone got louder.
Aeris pulled back her black fingerless gloves, headphones and music player both primed and ready.
“Only one way to find out.”
Once she’d practically slaughtered those imitations of her brother, Kim found no other resistance on her walk towards Ayla’s big top.
Even when she found herself only a few meters from the curtained entranceway, there were no bloodthirsty vagrants or carnival horrors to further impede her progress.
So, with hands in her pockets and headphones cupped over her ears, Kim Ramone stomped through the entrance and into the malign lighting of the tent’s interior. Sand brushed against her boots and empty seats lined all around her.
The space itself was gigantic, and beyond the seating, the place was unused save for a singular throne, which was crafted into a saw-shaped seat bearing the colors of arterial purple and toxic green.
Kim had already stopped in her tracks when she heard the slow, mocking claps that congratulated her arrival.
Her eyes shifted forward, focusing on none other than the infamous Ayla Syntara.
Dressed in the same horrible ringmaster’s outfit from the poster, she leaned back with one leg over the right armrest of her throne, continuing to clap as she smiled sickly.
All around her, at least seven of the same Beautiful People that Kim had encountered back on the boardwalk prowled about on all fours like hunting dogs. They made low growling noises, but otherwise made no direct threat towards Kim’s presence.
Kim let out a heavy breath once Ayla’s mocking claps finally ceased. Her body and mind was prepared for the worst even as her lips launched venom.
“So you’re the bitch, huh?”
Ayla sat up in response, replying with an insane giggle in her voice.
“And you’re Seth Ramone’s little bitty sister. I have to say, I’m super impressed you made it this far. Nice to finally meet you in the flesh.”
Her teeth shined under the lighting, their points sharp enough to make a mako shark jealous.
Kim’s expression remained stone-faced, the anger furrowing her brow as she cracked her knuckles.
She continued, approaching with decisive steps.
“Listen, you smile while you can. Grin while you can. Use that mouth of yours while you can.”
A song effect was already coursing through Kim’s ears. She could feel the noisy guitar as Walking Disaster resurfaced, ready to violently rip and tear at the object of her rage.
“Because after tonight, you’re not gonna have any teeth left.”