In just the span of a few days, Aeris Fairfield’s life had seemingly collapsed within one dark and destructive singularity.
The place that she’d been told was her room was more akin to a prison cell.
Since she’d headed upstairs for the night, Aeris had touched nothing. She’d been unable to truly sleep for days, her mind half on this plane and half relegated to some hidden and extradimensional place.
Aeris paced in her dark and heavy excuse for a room, black clothes constricting her body and feeling like their own prison altogether.
Surrender had appeared to be the only sensible option against the likes of Craven. He had her siblings in his demonic grasp, and could seemingly end their lives at any moment if she tried anything.
Now, he recently demanded that the Pop 5 finish what they started; a search and destroy of the remaining vestiges of the Audio Knights.
Clearly, it wasn’t bad enough that they all assumed Michael to be dead. Aeris herself would have no choice but to join them; to use her music-borne powers against the very friends she’d cultivated all of those months ago.
It took all of her willpower for her not to ball up and sob like a baby at the mere thought.
This was the doomsday scenario that once seemed like a nightmare, but now proved itself to be horribly real.
Minutes passed, and after so much time standing and pacing as if to avoid some pure evil drowning the room, Aeris finally sat down in the blackwood chair nearby.
She took a deep breath, mulling over the sheer hopelessness of the situation.
What could she possibly do to defeat Craven? If she tried to so much as get close and disable him, all it would take was the push of a button and he’d sentence her brothers to an early grave.
Crushing didn’t even begin to describe how that prospect felt, Aeris thought to herself.
She brushed her hair away from her eyes, trying to not to focus on the black dye that now stained her once sunny yellow bangs.
What weapon did she have to use against him, if her song effects proved ineffective?
Aeris looked up, noting the inlaid design of Cypress’s logo on her wall; a malicious, dead tree that seemed to have sensual, almost womanly curves.
Her eyes focused on the hint of hips and a bust. Craven’s horrid gaze entered her mind, forcing her to acknowledge the one route that might be her salvation.
Aeris puckered her lips at such a disturbing thought.
There was one thing that she might be able to use against the likes of Nicodemus Craven.
She’d known from the start, but it was beyond a detestable thought that Aeris wanted to stay as far away from as humanly possible.
Why else would he focus on her with beastly eyes and dress her up like some sort of harlot?
Aeris squeezed her fingers tightly. The longer she debated over this, the longer her brothers might suffer in whatever dark isolation Craven had sentenced them to.
Despite everything, she still had her song effects.
Whipping out her phone, Aeris noted the time.
Knowing Craven’s preference to the dark, there was little doubt he’d be awake right now.
Aeris’s heart just about rose to her throat.
What she was about to do might just be worse than any lethal song effect she could imagine.
She went down to slightly loosen her corset, and checked herself in the mirror.
In her eyes, she could see all of her resignation; it bled from heavy mascara and weighed her down immensely.
Just the way Craven liked it.
Denny Girelli couldn’t remember the last time she’d been this afraid.
There was a sense of unfamiliar, heavy darkness surrounding her, as she made cautious steps towards Craven’s private abode within the confines of his Greenwich Village mansion.
This would mark the very first time he’d called her to personally come see him here, far from the Zero Beat Symphon underneath 5 Records and far from any sense of safety.
It seemed even the sun itself was exiled from this place; the lighting was dim and ghoulish colors and lifeless decor made this place seem more like a mausoleum as opposed to anyone’s home.
Her black tap dancing shoes audibly hit the floor as Denny looked from side to side, biting her nails as she feared some monster or equally frightening character might ambush her at any corner.
But even that was far better than the fate that awaited her just to the right of the end of this hall.
Unfortunately for Denny, nothing detracted her from her path, and she was soon stuck staring at the ornate, arterial red door that stood guard as the entrance into Craven’s private office.
She gulped as he reached for the large vintage knocker, and swung twice.
Eyes closed, not wanting to see anything beyond her beloved Michael Kay, Denny waited for three seconds in silence.
Then, his dreaded voice surfaced.
“Is that Denny? Please, do come in.”
She opened the door, legs practically shaking as the darkness greeted her.
The light of Michael’s golden smile seemed farther away now more than ever.
Craven’s limbs stayed relaxed and calm, but his eyes moved with predatory speed as Denny entered his space.
She moved with all the fear and shakiness he’d expected from her by now.
But among all the times Craven asked to meet with her on a private occasion back in the Symphon, he scarcely recalled her being as afraid as she was right now.
Craven’s eyes thinned akin to a serpent’s.
Fear, of course, meant she was hiding something.
“I’m so glad you came on such short notice.” he began, seemingly genuinely grateful.
Denny nodded quickly. “Oh, of course!”
He put his hand out to motion that she take a seat, and the blond did.
Her words came out quickly and somewhat fumbled. “So what did you want to talk about today?”
All this time, Craven had been relatively stone-faced. He made no effort to drown her in fear, beyond the fear that she created for herself.
But when he smiled, his lips becoming wide and detestable, Denny’s expression visibly sank.
“Something I’ve been thinking about for quite awhile.”
Denny kept her voice low. “Okay.”
Craven stood up, hands behind his back as he slowly paced around his desk like some ghostly apparition. “You seem unsure lately. I can see it all over your face, in your gait, in your voice. Something is bothering you, clearly.”
Denny laughed, quite nervously. “I’m not sure what you mean, Lord Craven. I’ve been just peachy, honestly!”
His long fingers clamped own on her shoulders. Their radiating malignance seemed to seep right through her red jacket, making her skin clammy and uncomfortable.
“Please don’t lie to me.” Craven said, leaning down and whispering in Denny’s ear. “I very much despise being lied to.”
Denny’s mind was going a mile a minute now.
Did he know?
And if he did, why didn’t he just kill her already?
She gulped, using all of her willpower to remain as outwardly calm as she could.
Denny spoke softly, trying her best to channel all of her inner fear in the process.
Anything to distract Craven.
“I’ve never killed anyone before Michael. It sort of stayed with me.” she admitted, falsely of course.
Denny hung her head low, as Craven rose up and looked down upon her vulnerable form.
“I try to forget it, but I can’t.”
He almost licked his lips, face quivering at the sound of Denny’s words.
They were alone, and Craven’s fingers moved automatically as he felt the sudden and violent temptation to grab her by her long, blonde weakness that was her hair.
Inches away from touching her ponytail, Craven stopped himself.
He remembered that Denny was old news. A bygone distraction that had been successfully replaced.
If anything, he thought, it would be more appropriate to put those hands around her neck and end her existence right here and now.
Denny remained silent as Craven continued to debate said decision within the confines of his twisted mind.
A moment passed, and he unfurled his fingers and moved away from her.
His voice was oddly understanding.
“I see. Death is difficult to forget, especially if it involves someone you love.”
Denny’s vision froze. She mouthed words that failed to come out, staying still in her seat as Craven continued.
“I’m proud of you though. You overcame even that ghastly thing called love. Quite impressive.”
He stopped behind his desk. Scourge squawked on the bannister above, having been silent this entire time.
“You’re free to go, Denny. That’s all I wanted to say. I look forward to the upcoming operation.” Craven told her, and reluctantly, Denny got up from the seat, gave him one last passing glance, and then quickly made her leave.
Craven sat back down once she was gone, musing over the thought of killing her and wondering if it was smart to let such an opportunity to go.
One thing was sure; she was no more loyal to the Pop 5 than she was loyal to any musician who wasn’t named Michael Jackson.
For now though, she might have some use. Her talent was still something he could channel towards the cumbersome problem that was the remaining Audio Knights.
Craven smiled, his teeth glinting against the reflected light in his office.
And when it was finally time to get rid of her, he’d enjoy the sensations of her death like the sweetest piece of low-hanging fruit.
This time, when making her way to Craven’s private office, Aeris Fairfield showed not a hint of visible fear.
She kept confidence in her step, checking the halls but thankfully being reassured that they were alone in this corner of the mansion for the time being.
Aeris didn’t want to so much as glance in another mirror. The clothes she’d been forced to don still felt as constricting as ever.
Right now though, she didn’t dare think about changing out of these vestments.
Anything to distract his lascivious gaze.
Aeris soon reached the door into Craven’s first floor office, knocking twice as she announced herself.
“Master Craven?” she said, keeping her voice loud but controlled. “Are you there?”
The response was quick, and Craven’s tone, clearly ecstatic.
She didn’t even wait for the invitation, opening the door and carefully stepping into his darkened abode.
Behind his desk, Craven was smiling, his gaze scanning Aeris from top to bottom.
The cursed words she had long since been expecting spilled out of serpentine lips.
“What a surprise. You look quite delectable tonight.”
Internally, Aeris held back the urge to vomit.
Instead, she broke into a small smile, half-whispering as she struggled to say the following.
“Thank you. I know you picked this out just for me.”
Craven nodded approvingly. “That I did. No regrets here.”
His fingers reached for the familiar tiny remote nearby, instantly catching Aeris’s eye as they motioned towards the small play button.
“How about some music?” he said, not so much of a question but more a declaration. “I do hate silence.”
Craven pressed play, and a song began to hum in the air.
It was a more restrained, 50’s-styled number; a far cry from the heavy metal that Aeris had associated Craven with all this time.
As she walked around his desk, trying her best to ignore his gaze, Aeris listened closely to a verse that soon morphed into more sinister lyrics.
As she stopped in front of him, hands clasped at her waist, she wondered if this was all just a waiting song effect that he could unleash at any given moment.
“It’s quite late. Having trouble sleeping?”
Aeris nodded. “Yes. I keep trying and trying but it escapes me.”
Craven smiled sickly, despite his strange attempt at being reassuring. “Not to worry. Your siblings are still quite alive, I can promise you that.”
“It’s not about them.” Aeris countered, more serious now. “I can’t stop thinking about you.”
Craven leaned back in his chair, two fingers on his cheek as he mused over her statement.
“You really despise me that much, don’t you?”
Aeris said nothing at first.
Instead, she leaned over, wrapping her arms around Craven’s shoulders and fluttering her eyes just a bit.
She had to stare right into his ruby-red eyes and pretend that she was looking at Calvin.
When that became impossible, she just imagined she was looking past him, hoping that she could trick his gaze in the process.
“I’m…not sure, actually.
Her glove-wearing fingers tapped against his shoulders, somewhat caressing him as Aeris stared longingly into his eyes.
Craven sounded somewhat taken aback. “Well, if that’s the case, I’m almost a bit disappointed. Where’s the fun in all this?”
Aeris narrowed her eyes. This would be her one and only chance.
“Does this disappoint you?”
She cut him off from his next breath, locking her lips onto his and praying that she might be forgiven for this horrid act.
As she predicted, Craven wasted no time in breaking her boundaries, his hands grabbing roughly at her back as she pulled him close.
When his grip slackened just ever so slightly, Aeris’s movement shifted, and she pushed against him hard.
The chair he was sitting in fell back suddenly from the sheer change in weight, as Aeris’s forearm moved to lock around Craven’s long neck and keep him from struggling.
At first, he assumed this was some degree of physical love, but his surprise became clear when he violently pushed against her as the two of them writhed on the floor.
Aeris held on tight, resisting the scratching of his nails on her skin as she worked to cut off his air supply and knock him out.
He gasped, sputtered, and struggled, but Kim’s training appeared to be paying off.
No matter how much stronger he was than here physically, she’d won the moment she had the emotional advantage on him.
Aeris seemed seconds away from disabling him, when all of a sudden, Craven croaked out into laughter.
“…a good try. A very, very good try.” he said, initially confusing Aeris with his words until she realized that his neck was literally sliding right through her grasp.
His skin now pale green and covered in a sickly, molted sheen, Craven escaped her grip and moved to restrain Aeris, Down With The Sickness pumping through his ears and granting him a power that Aeris had so rightfully feared.
As he pushed her roughly against the wall, she watched as the bones on his neck had broke and twisted, having allowed his now unnatural anatomy to squirm out of her grip. A long tongue slithered out of his mouth and touched her cheek as he held her down against the wall.
The temptation to defile her was so incredibly strong in his eyes, and even stronger in his tone of voice.
“Still you continue to fight. I really do hope that fire in you never dies down. I don’t think I would be able to handle the sheer boredom.”
His tongue snaked down towards her neck, long and inhuman under the influence of this song effect. Aeris could only inch away, repulsed by its mere touch.
“But you trying to kill me is something I just can’t have. I’ve got so much in store for us. Whether you accept this or not, I will make you afraid of me. For your own good, Aeris.”
His hand moved towards Aeris’s throat. She didn’t even look to see where his other hand was going.
Somehow, he stopped himself, sensing her shaking fear.
“I know what you’re thinking.” he said out loud. “We won’t go there just yet. That’s something quite worth the wait.”
Craven’s grip slackened, allowing Aeris momentary freedom.
But judging by her now more sluggish movements, it seemed she was anything but free.
“Go see your little friends.” he told her, taking a seat back in his chair.
Scourge flapped his wings, flying a short distance until he rested comfortably on Craven’s lap. He made a low squawk as Craven rubbed his belly.
“Go see them while you can.” he continued. “You won’t have another chance after tomorrow.”
Aeris didn’t even nod.
Wordlessly, she left Craven to his dark devices, leaving his private office in a far worse state than before.
Aeris’s expression was nothing less than blank and defeated as she walked away from his door.
What was the point?
Craven could kill her at any point. He could do worse, if he wanted to.
Her spirit of will bled away as Aeris contemplated the only thing that mattered anymore.
As long as she stayed and listened to him, he would keep her brothers alive.
A depressing but necessary truth.
Aeris didn’t sigh, nor make the slightest smile.
She glanced at the tattoo on her forearm, and the state of her bangs, and more than ever, she felt like a bird trapped in the smallest and most horrible of cages.
This was certainly not the kind of fate that she imagined when she once she dreamed about the idea of being a Music Master.
But if she ever wanted to see her family in the light of day again, it was a fate that Aeris Fairfield would have to endure.