Each consecutive day of waking up in such a huge bed and in such an extravagant room continued to feel like some lucid dream to Calvin Altberg.
It was unbelievable to think that he’d forgotten a life like this, and that he’d lived like some rat for the last nine years of his time on this planet.
It was only today, at the end of first week of January, that the mood in his mind had finally changed.
After getting out bed and proceeding to play Regulus for a few minutes, Calvin Altberg finally acknowledged the reality of the whole situation.
This was his life now; one of unending luxury and comfort in the massive home that all the PureBeats knew as the Everclade.
It appeared that despite all of his sins of the past, the fates were now smiling upon Calvin.
And if he didn’t know any better, within the delicate oils of all those portraits hung throughout the Everclade, Calvin almost could feel his parents smiling down upon him as well.
Having woken up bright and early today, Calvin stood fully clothed in front of an eloquent, bronze-gilded mirror.
He fixed his collar as he checked himself from top to bottom.
True to Iberius’s word, the house tailor had pressed his clothes to perfection, with not a scuff or mark to be found anywhere on his person. Calvin didn’t remember the last time he’d looked this good.
The thought alone was more than enough to make him smile from ear to ear.
Since he’d started his new life at the Everclade, Calvin found himself more concerned with his appearance than ever before. Not that he’d ever come off as looking like a bum, but there was clearly a certain image to be maintained now that he was among the ranks of an Ensemble once headed by his parents.
As Calvin checked his clothes one final time, his eyes reflected back against the clarity of the mirror, casting fleeting images in the process.
For the briefest of moments, he almost thought he saw Aeris looking back at him. And no surprise, her expression was anything but happy.
And then there were hints of Kim’s venomous green eyes, and worst of all, the familiar black orb that was Michael’s afro.
In the trick of the moment, Calvin almost spotted a light red slick staining Michael’s thick curls. The image remained only in his mind, channeled from guilt, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying.
He widened his eyes in sudden fear, before finally turning away. Mirrors were not the gateway to grief he needed right now.
Calvin took a deep breath as he attempted to calm the violent beating against his chest.
These feelings would subside soon, he thought to himself.
It would take time, and it certainly wouldn’t be easy, but he could get through this. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to cut ties like this, so why was this any different? What made Michael, Aeris and Kim any special when compared to the dozens he’d befriended and abandoned in days past?
Calvin shook his head, not wanting to think on painful thoughts any longer.
For now, Sirenia waited for him, and together they would finally meet with the gathered PureBeats for the first time since he’d arrived at the Everclade.
If he was going to be an example to his Ensemble in any fashion, he’d have to stop being so paranoid.
His sister never seemed to worry about this kind of stuff, and he would do well to learn from her example.
Sirenia made it look so simple. One could almost mistaken her for an immaculate machine at times.
Calvin laughed at the thought. He couldn’t help but imagine her as some sort of killer android with but a single, deadly prime directive.
It was good to know that she was on his side.
“I almost forgot. I never did get around to apologizing about how you were brought here. Denny proved to be more excessive on you than I’d initially realized.” Calvin’s sister said, though it was clear through her tone that her mind was elsewhere.
Sirenia’s shoes tapped methodically throughout the recently polished hall as her younger brother walked alongside her.
In the forum hall up ahead, the entirety of the PureBeats leadership waited for their arrival. They were far from late, of course. Sirenia would never have that on her conscious.
Everyone else was just expected to be early, lest they be lectured once again on the importance of punctuality and the image they had to maintain as an Ensemble.
By this time, Calvin had become comfortable enough to be himself again, and his tone betrayed that completely.
“No worries, sis. Maybe for all I know, you thought I could put up a fight against one of the Pop 5. Kind of flattering, if you really think about it.”
Calvin laughed at the end, but Sirenia’s tone remained serious as they just about reached the door into the forum hall.
“You remember what I told you, correct?” she reminded him. After a week of time with her, he was still getting used to her crystal-clear attitude.
Calvin just nodded. “Say nothing. Just sit and look pretty. I completely understand.”
Sirenia looked back approvingly. “Good. I know you might feel useless at first, but your role is more important than you might realize.”
She stopped at the door, her hand on the knob as she continued her point.
“The Ensemble is full of upstarts, and their worst nightmare is knowing that mother and father’s son is actually alive and well. At the same time, they’ll be vying to gain your favor. You need to be aware of that and act accordingly.”
Calvin just about shrugged, another one-liner drifting out much to his sister’s chagrin. “Heh, it’s almost like I’m the center of attention or something.”
“Just stay silent, and grandfather will handle everything. If it makes you feel any better, I’ll be just as quiet as you.” Sirenia assured.
“I’ll tell you what, you do this for me, and maybe I’ll let you accompany me on my trip to Studio Q tomorrow. You’ll need the hands on experience anyway.” she added further, allowing a small smile to appear on her lips.
Calvin just nodded with continued understanding, slowly becoming anxious as the door remained the only thing between them and the rest of the PureBeats.
With that, Sirenia looked back at him one last time, focusing through her triangular glasses before finally turning the knob and pushing the door to the forum hall open.
A few voices rose at the sound of their entrance, but as he eyed Iberius, only one thought went through Calvin’s mind.
There was nothing to worry about. Not a single thing worth mentioning.
In fact, the only thing he had might even have to vaguely worry over was just how long and boring this meeting would be in the end.
He could already hear the nasally drone of discussion as Iberius glanced at him knowingly, smiling just so slightly through his large mustache.
Calvin shut off his complaints for the time being.
For now, it was better to just get through this and look forward to tomorrow, and whatever trip Sirenia had planned.
After all, what was the worst that could possibly happen?
“I’m sorry, Iberius, but do we have actual, conclusive DNA proof that this is indeed Nina’s son?”
The voice of this particular Ensemble officer never ceased to frustrate Iberius Altberg. It was only made so much worse by such a thoughtless and insensitive question.
He should have been prepared for this, but Iberius let his frustration out in full force, exactly to his granddaughter’s expectation.
“Excuse me?” he replied from the head of the table. He stared down from his standing position, holding himself up for once without the assistance of his cane.
“I’m sorry, but that’s hardly necessary. Can you not see my daughter’s eyes on his face?” he pointed out, but the Ensemble seemed less interested in his observations than they were in finding some crack in Calvin’s reveal.
Another voice, from an older woman in her 40’s, seemed to agree with the notion of doubt.
“We all see what we choose to see. But this is leadership over the entirety of the Ensemble we’re talking about. I don’t think proof of lineage is unreasonable to ask for. It was asked of all of us to become a part of the PureBeats in the first place, after all.” she explained, much to the continued murmuring of the Ensemble members around her.
For the last ten minutes, the only subject bouncing around the gigantic table that served over a dozen members of the PureBeats seemed to be Calvin’s proof of ancestry.
To Iberius’s quite candid horror, one of the various detractors even implied that his daughter might have had an affair, and that Calvin himself could be illegitimate.
It took all of Sirenia’s willpower to stay silent among the political piranhas that surrounded them, while her grandfather had been assailed on all sides in an attempt to defend his grandson’s place in the Everclade.
Having spent the last week with Iberius, and having grown quite comfortable in his presence, Calvin couldn’t help but want to speak out on his own behalf.
But then he remembered his sister’s words, and lips remained pursed.
So, Calvin dutifully kept his mouth shut and just hoped that this cumbersome series of arguments would end before long. He kept his attention elsewhere, noticing how nicely dressed all of these PureBeats were, and how their voices seemed to perfectly match their high-class and clearly superior attitudes.
But before another uproar of disagreement and accusations could star, Iberius slammed his hands down, his patience having run short ad his voice boomed with surprising volume.
“Everyone, please! I understand your concerns, but I assure you that every situation has been accounted for. My granddaughter has seen to Calvin’s identity personally, so if you doubt me, understand you are doubting her as well.”
His threat was only just so slightly veiled, but unfortunately, it was nowhere near enough to quiet their collective words.
Iberius straightened his posture, turning to eye Calvin sitting right next to him. He tried his best to smile underneath his large moustache, in hopes of reassuring the boy in some small way. He could only imagine the stress going through his grandson’s head.
It was something he couldn’t allow any longer. He was the retainer of the PureBeats, and lest he dishonor his daughter’s memory, these Music Masters needed to be reigned in.
Iberius Altberg loudly cleared his throat. He glanced towards the door as he continued.
Just where was Kogeshi with the wine to calm this herd already, he wondered to himself. But he pushed the thought away for now, continuing with the same impassioned voice as before.
“I hope you all realize that this is more a formality if anything. I want you all to be aware that I will be handing over leadership of the PureBeats to my grandson in its entirety, when he comes of age on his birthday. There is no one more appropriate to lead us to the future than my own blood; one of many pure Music Masters dating back to as long as our kind has existed on this good Earth.”
Calvin stayed silent as told, but even he couldn’t help but widen his eyes at his grandfather’s words.
Leading an entire Ensemble? Not something he expected to come so quickly.
As if trying to understand further, Calvin looked towards his sister, but she seemed deeply invested in his grandfather’s words. As he saw the pure focus in her eyes, Calvin wondered why someone like her hadn’t been chosen to lead the Ensemble all this time.
She had the intelligence and attention to detail for it, that was for sure.
Ready as ever to continue, Iberius took a deep breath, but as if right on cue, the door into the forum hall opened as a nicely dressed man entered with what appeared to be a large bottle of wine.
Iberius smiled with satisfaction, momentarily distracted as the person he’d been waiting had finally arrived.
He put his hand towards the gathered Ensemble in an effort to get their collective attention “Ah, Kogeshi is here. I had him bring us a particularly special claret for the occasion, if you’ll all allow us a moment’s reprieve…”
It was Sirenia who noticed it first, prompting her to speak for the first time in the entire night. She was so focused at her grandfather’s poisonous words that she almost hadn’t reacted within reason.
Her voice broke the mood like an obsidian hammer slamming against fragile china.
“Grandfather, that’s not Kogeshi!”
Iberius focused his ancient gaze in response, and sure enough, a bald, light-skinned fellow was present instead and wearing one of their butler’s familiar outfits. He looked as if he had not slept in weeks, his eyes bloodshot as he allowed the tray holding the wine to slip from his fingers once he realized the ruse was over. It shattered loudly, spilling expensive drink all over the floor in the process.
But that seemed to be the last thing on the bald man’s mind. His eyes bulged almost violently as he focused himself on the blond boy all the way on the other side of the room.
Chaos reigned as the forum hall erupted into noise and panic, much to the bald man’s pleasure as music began to pulse through the headphones in his ears. The sound of seemingly harmless guitars signaled his entrance, transitioning into angry singing that practically bled into reality around him.
He was leaping forward now, powered by the beat of the song as his entire body treated the world around it like it was nothing more than tissue. Matter itself melted before him, as his intangible body swam through the table and towards the target of his ire.
He was less than five feet away when Iberius Altberg realized what was happening. His decision was made in that instant, and even in his age his reaction speed was uncanny.
Everything went in slow motion as Calvin stared at the intruder clearly coming for him, but before he knew it, his vision was quickly blocked as his grandfather shielded him entirely with his very body.
There was a second of dull time in Calvin’s mind, before he saw pure pain draw out on his grandfather’s face, as the bald man’s hand phased completely through his left shoulder. One contraction, and it suddenly became slick with blood that stained his grandfather’s slate blue suit in the next instant.
Calvin could say nothing as he watched Iberius try to reach in vain for the would be assassin, even as the Ensemble members fled among the violence. His grip would catch nothing but air however, and the bald man just gave Calvin a knowing glance before fleeing back through the closed door, wood and alabaster not even so much as a hindrance to him.
When his music was gone, and Iberius was assured of Calvin’s safety, he finally allowed himself to collapse, as the tablecloth became stained with blood as fast the wine had been previously spilled all over the floor.
Sirenia was up in an instant, barking orders as Calvin could only watch in horror.
“Someone find Kogeshi! And get Ambrose here now! He’ll bleed out in minutes!”
There was a loud rip as Sirenia tore at the table, motioning to her brother in the process. Unable to say a single word further, Calvin just helped her apply pressure onto the wound. Calvin’s mind went in a hundred directions as he could feel the warmth of blood seeping through his fingers, and the clock above seemed to almost be mocking him in its horrid timekeeping.
What seemed like forever was only thirty seconds as the doors into the forum hall swung open again.
A nurse clad in the PureBeat colors of light blue and grey approached, as Calvin was left to wonder if perhaps the fates had not been smiling upon him this whole time after all.
His head hung low, he could do nothing as Iberius was prepared to be taken away. Ambrose was quick and precise, wrapping his wound as quick as she could as two maids helped her get Iberius onto a rolling stretcher.
As Calvin began to look away, his sister put a hand on his shoulder, trying her best to sound reassuring despite the severity of the situation.
“She’s one of our best.” Sirenia said, nodding silently at Ambrose as she took her grandfather away. “Let’s just be glad grandfather was here when it happened. His odds are good.”
Calvin’s voice was low, but at least responsive. “Okay.”
He had trouble understanding if that was his sister’s way of being optimistic. It was anything but to him.
Eventually, Sirenia spotted Kogeshi hustling in. He looked as if he’d just woken up, dressed in his underclothes and seemingly out of it and distracted.
As she mulled over the outcome of the last five minutes, Sirenia knew she’d have to give their family butler a most convincing dressing down for his apparent lack of responsibility and for allowing a most dangerous person inside the Everclade in the first place.
Of course, the truth of the situation was known only to her. Kogeshi would have to pay an unfair price to further serve her agenda, unfortunately.
A thousand scenarios then sifted through Sirenia’s mind, and her grandfather being so mortally injured was only one of many she had accounted for.
He would be fine, in the end. She would see to that.
But as she looked down at the somber person that was her younger brother right now, she wondered what it might have been like if one of those matter-eating fists had gone through his chest instead.
Would he still put on that sly smile of confidence even if he was bleeding to death? Somehow, she doubted that. He’d been unable to stand up against Zero Beat with his friends after all.
Because if he had, then circumstances wouldn’t have aligned for Sirenia to be able to get Calvin to the Everclade in the first place.
Still, she couldn’t help but imagine how things might turn out if he’d simply ended up dead on the floor. Her grandfather was made of sterner stuff in the end.
It was one of many possibilities, and little did Calvin know, one that his sister had been pleasantly prepared for.
For now though, the Ensemble would remain disappointed in knowing that Nina and Alexi’s son would live another day.