There was a reason Denny only used Scream in situations that demanded her utmost attention and focus.
The song effect changed more than just her appearance; it changed her voice, and it shifted the nerves that made up her very brain tissue in the process. She became composed, and all thoughts that pertained to anything beyond the task at hand were locked away within a mental dungeon in her mindspace.
But with this newfound focus, came the loss of the majority of Denny’s emotions. Only anger could break through Scream’s mask, and only against something serious enough to truly ignite her rage.
Denny mulled over the recent use of this song effect, as she sat in an unfamiliar office across from the same woman she’d spoken to on the phone sometime before.
Their discussion had only truly begun once Calvin Altberg was in their possession. All Denny knew was that this Calvin was related to the PureBeats, and she had no idea what they wanted with him.
Frankly though, she didn’t really care. She managed to get him to the drop-off point with the help of Thriller, and that meant her end of the bargain was done.
What mattered to her now was what she was promised in return for bringing the PureBeats this supposedly missing person.
Sirenia’s hands were clasped together as she analyzed Denny’s words in her mind. It was obvious by her tone that she didn’t completely believe in what Denny had asked her.
“So let me just make sure I understand correctly here. You’re asking me to have the Ensemble eventually make a move on one of the most dangerous Music Masters in the city?”
Denny shook her head in frustration.
This woman either wasn’t listening, or she was searching to find out more than Denny would give. Whatever the case, she had no desire to play games like this.
“No, no, no! I want you to just look like you’re casing him. I need you to make Zero Beat think that he’s on someone else’s radar. It’s called a distraction!” Denny explained, quite loudly, as she fidgeted slightly in her white chair in the process.
Sirenia’s office was impeccable, but for Denny, it was almost restraining at the same time. On top of that, it didn’t help to have to listen to her Sentonals continuously typing on either side of her all this time. The constant noise was beginning to become maddening.
Sirenia looked to one side as she pondered over this request.
What was being asked of her was the exact thing her grandfather had continually refused to do. Once before, they had meddled in the affairs of dangerous Music Masters. And because of that, Nina and Alexi Altberg, her parents, had paid a most terrible price.
“There is something off here. I looked into Zero Beat’s recent issue with the disco boy, and from what I understand, he’s dead.” Sirenia stated, staring right into Denny to the point where it almost felt like she could read the girl’s mind.
“In fact, didn’t you kill him yourself? Something like that spreads around to dissuade further upstarting Music Masters.” Sirenia continued, finally reaching her point as Denny remained silent. “If he’s dead, then his infamous uncle should either be your next target, or none of your concern.”
“Which begs the question…why are you so interested in suddenly protecting the boy’s uncle? What do you have to gain from this, as one of the Pop 5?”
Her question was like an icy sword that nearly chopped Denny’s brain in half. In response, the girl sputtered her next words, trying to deflect and explain in the same sentence.
“What does it matter!? I got your guy for you, so just do it! Or maybe…maybe you’d rather I just tell Zero Beat that I know where one of the Audio Knights is being harbored!”
Denny was breathing somewhat heavily now, and Sirenia looked back at her with a token of disbelief.
The girl’s impatience was beyond obvious now, but Sirenia wasn’t any less careful with her words.
“Is that a threat?” she asked in a louder tone, tension suddenly increasing in the air as a result.
Denny just stared back at her with equal intensity. Finally, she had gotten Sirenia’s attention. “No, that’s a promise. If you know that Michael is dead, then you also know that Calvin was part of his group. Which means that Zero Beat will think he’s a loose end.”
Denny further drove her points home. “Remember what happened to DanceDown? Zero Beat doesn’t like loose ends. Everybody knows that.”
“So think about what’ll happen once they know where he is. You do want to keep your brother alive, right?”
Sirenia sucked in air through her nose, clearly caught in a corner. She debated options in her mind, but it quickly became obvious that Denny had miraculously chosen her words wisely.
Finally, the platinum blonde-haired woman relented. It would be a waste of time and effort to do otherwise.
“Understood. I’ll have a few associates on it within the next week. Consider it as a debt repaid from the PureBeats.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it.” Denny said, smiling in the process.
Sirenia kept the same blank face, but the girl didn’t let it bother her. From her first minute in here, Denny quickly understood that this Sirenia Altberg had little to no sense of humor. At least, not one that Denny could understand.
“If you’ll excuse me then.” Sirenia then said, motioning as if to shoo Denny away. “I have Ensemble matters to attend to. Kogeshi will see you to the front.”
Denny nodded, making her leave through the front door of the office. Once the door was closed behind her, Sirenia was left with only the company of her typing Sentonals, and the song that birthed them still playing on the speakers and in the air.
In a rare moment, she leaned back, removing one of the chopsticks keeping her hair together and thus allowing it to fall to one side.
In the comfort of her chair, she wondered over the brazen threat that could only come from a member of the Pop 5. In the back of her mind, Sirenia doubted that the girl would go that far.
Something was hidden under the veil of the disco boy’s death, something that Denny of the Pop 5 clearly didn’t want to go into detail about. For the time being, Calvin’s position would remain known to the PureBeats and Denny alone, lest further unrest be caused within Zero Beat and all of the Tri-State area in the process.
So in the end, sending a few associates to monitor Rob Prototype’s activity would be a meager payment in exchange for Denny having brought in Sirenia’s final piece of the puzzle.
Her brother had spent time with these so-called Audio Knights, that much was true, and from information gleaned from her contacts in Zero Beat, he may have even counted himself among them.
But now that he was back in the Everclade, that hardly mattered.
As the heir to everything that was the PureBeats, Calvin’s presence was exactly the leverage Sirenia needed.
After years of keeping tabs of him, only to lose track of him within the last two years, Sirenia knew that she would have to keep her brother particularly close this time.
She took another of the chopsticks out of her hair. It billowed out, reaching down to her shoulders as she stared up at the ceiling. Next to her, the beautiful music of her Sentonals continued as they typed the remaining reports of the day away.
Slowly but surely, a small smile formed on Sirenia Altberg’s face.
She would see Calvin soon, and she would make him understand. Once he realized he was home, he would surely be more distracted in the luxury of his new life as opposed to any cumbersome Ensemble politics.
Her eyes drifted up towards the portrait of their family. Her mother and father’s eyes looked down on her as if coming from heaven itself.
With her direction and intelligence, she would finally make the PureBeats into definable, mathematical perfection.
No one; not her grandfather, not the board of the Ensemble, and especially not her younger brother, would get in the way of that.
The first thing to drip into the pool of Calvin’s consciousness was the comfortable scent that now hung in his nostrils.
Slowly but surely, his body restarted as his mind rebooted.
Soft darkness greeted Calvin at first, and he rolled to one side only to realize that he had woken in up in a most unfamiliar bed.
His eyes creaked open, noting the soft light blue covers and the sheer size of the bed he’d been placed in.
As the blond-haired boy sat up, he found himself going from remarking over the bed to remarking over this very room in its entirety.
A master bedroom of impeccable quality laid before Calvin Altberg, and he rubbed his eyes, at first convinced this was all a pleasant dream.
But then the film of grogginess melted away, and as he stared at the picturesque desk in the far corner, the towering black dresser on the other side, and the overall geometric perfection of the room, it became apparent that this was all quite real. Just near the dresser and by the window, a large and expensive-looking grand piano appeared to be just waiting to be played upon.
Calvin moved slightly in this huge bed, and it was now that he finally realized he was no longer dressed in his favorite dark blue suit-jacket and pants. A set of baby blue pajamas now adorned his figures and though he looked all around for them, his former clothes were nowhere to be found.
Calvin was just about to jump out of the bed and search in the dresser nearby, when the door into his room opened.
His eyes widened with suspense as his heart thumped into his chest and he waited to see the worst that Zero Beat had to offer.
But instead of some dark assassin like the girl who had attacked him before, Calvin was greeted by a lanky, Asian butler who approached him with a perfect gait and an even more approving smile.
“Master Altberg!” he said, quite jovially. “Good to see you finally awake. My apologies, I heard you had quite the troublesome night.”
Calvin didn’t say anything first, but he somewhat understood once the butler laid out a tray containing a tall glass of water and two white pills inlaid on a napkin.
“If you have any sort of headache still, please.” he encouraged, and Calvin took the medicine in his hand before slowly downing it under a sip of water.
In the back of his mind, he wondered if he’d just ingested poison.
No, he thought. If Zero Beat wanted him dead, they wouldn’t do it in such a arbitrary way. He would have been long dead by now for sure.
Calvin took a long gulp as the aspirin passed down his throat and into his stomach. He stared forward, now wondering on the identity of this man and this place.
“I don’t know who you’re with, but let’s not play games here. What is all this?” Calvin finally said in response, as forthcoming as he could be.
The butler smiled somewhat awkwardly, but kept himself poised and polite nevertheless. “Oh, no games, Master Altberg. I would never.”
“I’ll have you know that you’re in the Everclade, home of the PureBeats. We’ve been waiting for you for quite some time.” he then said, a hint of excitement in his voice.
Calvin shifted among the covers as he leaned forward. These new pajamas fit him way better than they should.
“And who are you? Are you with Zero Beat?”
The butler shook his head, quickly putting up white-gloved hands in an effort to make himself appear less threatening.
He should have realized that Calvin would have not been immediately accepting of his surroundings, considering the circumstances.
“Oh no, not at all! I apologize, Master Altberg. This all must be quite a lot to put upon you.”
Calvin stayed in place. He couldn’t be sure if this was all an act, but without his headphones, there was little he could do anyway if it was.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Kogeshi. I have humbly served the Altberg Family and all other inhabitants of the Everclade for the last ten years.” he explained, bowing in the process.
“I am here to tend to your each and every need, now that you have finally returned to us.”
Calvin thought on a number of particular words.
Unfortunately, they all just served to create further urgent questions in his mind.
Calvin leaned over, his head still thumping as the aspirin hadn’t yet kicked in. These words all seemed so familiar, but no applicable memory would show up in his mind no matter how hard he searched.
All he could vaguely remember was puzzle pieces of a person that he once knew, with her platinum blond hair and triangular glasses, and nothing else.
As Calvin mulled over it all, he turned his eyes back to the room, and finally noticed the most grand object that had missed his attention minutes before.
Up above, he spotted a massive portrait that hung upon the crest of the room’s wall like some silent guardian. In it where the painted likenesses of three people. A beautiful woman with platinum blonde hair, who smiled just so slightly. A tall, statuesque man whose more yellow blonde hair was almost exactly like Calvin’s if only slightly longer. Between them, a child that looked no older than thirteen, both parents hands on her shoulders as she kept a serene, calm expression framed behind the triangular glasses on her face.
A moment later, Calvin noticed the fourth person, just a baby bundled in the arms of the woman. He noted the locks of blonde hair that matched his own, and eyes that he’d seen in the mirror time and time again.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Kogeshi said, hands behind his back as he marveled at the portrait of the Altberg family as well. “We had one of the finest painters in Europe make it. Through the beauty of his song effect, we now have eleven recreations that shine throughout all of the Everclade. It is a combined effort of vision and sound, one could almost say.”
Calvin’s eyes scanned the painting at least six or seven times in succession. Its meaning became clear in his head, and his next question was only further proof of that.
“Where are they? Can I…can I see them?”
It was with this question that Kogeshi’s upbeat manner broke, and a drawn out, nervous expression came upon him.
He bowed as he attempted to apologize. “I’m sorry, Master Altberg, but I regret to inform you tha-“
Then, without prior warning, the door into the master bedroom was slightly opened, and Kogeshi’s coming words were interrupted in the process.
Like a loyal hound, his ears perked up as he noticed the humble, steady form of Iberius Altberg making his way inside.
He didn’t close the door immediately, but nodded before addressing Kogeshi.
“I see. He’s awake. Thank you for looking after him.”
Iberius then turned his gaze away now from Calvin on the bed, his voice kind but somewhat demanding.
“I’d appreciate if you give us some privacy. I’ll call for you if we need anything.”
Kogeshi bowed quickly, his voice somewhat frantic as if he’d made some sort of grave error.
“Of course! I’ll make myself quite scarce!”
He gave Calvin one last passing glance, before taking his leave from the room and quietly closing the door behind him.
There was relative silence now, save for the light tapping of Iberius’s cane as he made his way towards Calvin. It took him a few minutes, but he was able to pull a nearby chair to the side of the boy’s bed.
With a deep breath, Iberius sat down, letting his cane prop up against the bed siding as he leaned forward and stared right at Calvin.
The blond boy had stayed quiet this entire time, and amazingly, he didn’t flinch when this complete stranger put a hand on his cheek as he inspected the very features on his face.
“You have your mother’s eyes.”
His fingers moved to rustle Calvin’s shaggy blond locks.
“And your father’s hair. Oh, what I would give for them to able to see you now.”
Calvin opened his mouth now to say something, but he was cut off completely as the old man embraced him a quick and tight hug.
He didn’t fight it, nor did he tense up, while tears streamed down from Iberius Altberg’s face as more than a decade of pent up emotion came out all at once. Calvin was at worst confused, but there was nevertheless a strange sense of comfort and elation in this man’s presence.
A far flung memory of this feeling of being with him rung in Calvin’s mind. It was enough to convince him he was no longer in danger, at least for now.
Calvin’s parents continued to look down upon him from the hanging portrait, as his grandfather wiped away tears once he’d finally let go.
When all seemed calm again, and Iberius seemed content and composed, the blond boy finally found his voice.
“I feel like I know you.” he admitted, and Iberius just smiled through his bushy grey mustache.
He put a hand on the boy’s shoulder and looked back at him with more wizened, but still blue eyes.
“I know you. You are my grandson; the son of Nina and Alexi Altberg. You are the heir of the Everclade, of the PureBeats. You’re finally home, Calvin.”
“Seriously?” Calvin said, now actually caught off-guard.
He was convinced by now that this wasn’t some sort of crazy Zero Beat setup, and perhaps he was even convinced that his mother and father were the ones in that portrait, but the rest of his supposed grandfather’s words sounded far too good to be true.
“I can understand if it’s a lot to take in.” Iberius explained, as if perfectly reading his mind. “But I am your grandfather, Iberius Altberg. You carry my lineage from my father before me, and his father before him. It is the legacy of the Altberg name that has stretched back to the very beginning of the Classical Period.”
Calvin seemed to understand, but as he organized it all in his mind, the first and most important question popped into his head.
“Where have you been all this time? Would have been nice to have a bed like this sooner…” he joked, but Iberius’s next words were quite serious in comparison.
“Whatever you’ve been through, I cannot begin to express myself on how I was unable to be there for you. If I had known where you were, what you were going through, you would have been with us in the Everclade in a heartbeat.”
“What about them?” Calvin said, nodding up towards the portrait of his family. “When can I meet them?”
Iberius turned his head away, as if trying to silently atone for yet another failure.
“Your sister should be here soon. As for your parents…”
He wanted to badly to not say the next cursed words, but if Calvin was to stay with them from now on, the truth was unavoidable.
“…they’re no longer with us. I’ve mourned for my daughter and my son for the last four years.”
Calvin said nothing further, instead looking down as he pondered over everything.
Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t truly sad at this news. These were people he’d never known.
To hear that they were gone was disappointing, but since he’d never known them in the first place, it was hardly tragic.
It’s not like they were friends that he’d so easily betrayed, after all. The wandering thoughts of his former comrades in the Audio Knights were unfortunately coming back to him, and Calvin’s eyes drifted towards the grand piano in effort to distract himself from such painful thoughts.
His fingers moved methodically even as they gripped the bed covers, which Iberius noticed immediately.
“Ah, I see that Regulus has caught your eye.” Iberius exclaimed, trying of course to move on from the subject of his dead daughter and son-in-law. “I’ll have you know that piano has been with our family for almost forty years.”
Calvin’s eyebrows raised at that declaration, and his mind already began to wonder as to what sort of marvelous sounds it might make. His body practically moved automatically as he began to get out of bed.
“Really?” he said, now clearly interested. “Would it be alright if I…?”
Iberius nodded. “Of course. This room belongs to you now. That piano is yours to use as much as you please.”
Calvin’s expression lit up as he got out of bed. His bare feet hit the dark carpet underneath as he approached the piano, and it almost tricked him into believing he was back in the Sound Loft all over again.
Slowly, he sat before it, lifting the fallboard off with careful deftness. Beneath it, a multitude of black and white keys appeared to be just waiting for fingers to trod upon them. With a wide smile and even wider eyes, Calvin cracked his fingers before his hands descended and began to work.
Of all the songs he’d learned to play, one in particular seemed to stand out in a moment like this.
It was something Michael had been playing in the Sound Loft, a song passed on to him by his uncle Rob, and coincidentally, passed down to Calvin in turn.
It represented both sadness in what he’d lost in his former friends, and happiness in what life had suddenly appeared to have given him in return. The song twinkled in its smooth jazz melody, as Iberius watched from afar.
He was not at all familiar with more modern compositions, but it still remained beautiful to listen to nonetheless. It was of no great surprise that the son of his virtuoso daughter had been gifted with similar talents, and this immaculate playing was proof of that.
But more than anything, it was the sight of his grandson, only a few feet away and finally where he belonged, that would become the most beautiful memory in his mind.
Relaxed and confident, Calvin continued to play for another few minutes.
Iberius had only listened this whole time, and just as the song ended, the door into the room opened once again.
Both Iberius and Calvin turned to face the newcomer, who stepped in carefully and with little noise to mark her arrival.
Fixing her glasses, and with her phone in one hand, Sirenia Altberg looked upon her younger brother for the second time now since he’d arrived.
She smiled, though it was small and certainly a bit restrained.
“Good to see that thing finally get some semblance of use.” she remarked, as Calvin’s expression shifted. “I detest wasted space.”
His eyes widened at her arrival, and his face glowed when the puzzle pieces in his mind formed together into the cohesive image that was her.
After years of seeing her, but not knowing her, the object of his lost memories gleamed like some sort of treasure that had been unearthed after thousands of years.
Calvin could say nothing at first, as Sirenia approached him at the grand piano.
Her grandfather just stayed in his seat, keen to see the first interaction between siblings after more than fifteen years of them being apart. He didn’t know what to expect from a sibling who had thought the other missing or worse during all that time.
“It’s you.” Calvin said, not at all controlling his words as her face replayed again and again in his mind. “I…I remember you.”
Sirenia’s expression almost broke from its mathematical clarity at the sound of his words, but she managed to keep her cool in her grandfather’s presence.
“You very well should, Calvin. You’re quite important to me, after all.” she replied, before uncharacteristically rubbing his shaggy blond hair in the most playful way she could muster.
“You’ve been away a long time. My name is Sirenia, if you still remember that. It’s good to see you looking so well.” she further stated, hoping to dissuade his thoughts away from anymore troublesome observations.
For him to remember her in any way was a problem in and of itself, proof of a job only half-completed at best.
That very notion would infuriate her, so right now, subtle coincidences were far more pleasant to wonder on than any untapped memories of his subconscious.
“You too.” Calvin said, genuinely now, before remembering his current state of being.
“Hey, where are all my clothes? I appreciate the room service and all, but I don’t remember having any pajamas like this…”
Iberius laughed in response through his mustache. Alexi was remembered for a similar sense of humor. It was part of what won his daughter’s heart, after all.
“I wouldn’t worry yourself. The house tailor should be working on them as we speak. Once he’s finished, I will have them fetched for you. You’ll find that your every need will be attended to here.”
There was clear twinkle in Iberius’s eyes now. “You will want for nothing anymore, Calvin. I can promise you that.”
“Sounds promising. I have to say, if this is home, I can’t wait to see the rest. The Everclade, you said it was all called?” Calvin observed, and Sirenia nodded as she tipped her glasses up.
“I’ll give you a personal tour, if you’d like. You are now within our main headquarters; the eternal home of the PureBeats.”
“That’s our Ensemble.” Sirenia continued, as Iberius had finally gotten up from his seat where he could stand boldly besides his granddaughter. “And in part, it’s your Ensemble.”
“Welcome home, Calvin.” Iberius declared, as the former Audio Knight could only fathom it all in awe. “It has been far too long.”
Of course, he was so distracted in taking in the whole situation, that he never would have suspected anything but genuine kindness coming from his older sister.
But deep within the recesses of her calculating mind, a green shade of corrosive jealousy just begged to be set free.
Before her, her younger brother represented everything that stood in the way of her attaining the legacy that her parents had left behind for her.
Calvin was gone when she wanted him gone, and now he was back because she wanted him back.
She was the one in control. Not Iberius, not any upstarting members of the Ensemble, and certainly not some unaware little brother.
And if Sirenia had her way, he would soon drown in enjoyment and luxury, as he handed over the true prize that was the entire Ensemble right back to her on a silver platter.