The unfolding scene was no doubt familiar in Nami Nagataki’s mind.
Once again, Nami stood beneath a massive spotlight, looking up at yet another amp-tower that served as a throne for the person speaking down to her.
The amphitheater in which she stood was a more muted array of colors though, compared to the sterile white that was a shared aspect of Zero Beat’s Symphons worldwide.
Thankfully, this particular spotlight wasn’t completely overpowering. Nami could see quite alright, but beyond the light, the amp-throne’s sole occupant was just barely visible.
This was now the third time Nami had met with him, and she still had no idea what he truly looked like.
From the small details she could glean, Nami noticed he was well-built, with a face guarded behind both a layer of fabric and the shadows beyond the spotlight.
Holding up a microphone in his hand, he spoke as if orating the mythology of music itself.
“So I understand you found him?”
Direct and to the point.
For Nami, he couldn’t be any more intimidating.
This is how things had been since Nami had begun her tenure as a member of this Ensemble.
She was the sixth and newest among multiple veterans; which included their stoic leader, an old-fashioned joker, fiery temptress, and picturesque twins who seemed to take particular interest in Nami ever since she first arrived.
But as Nami replied, her previous bravado, the same one she showed to the Fourth Beat in Japan, was all but gone.
“Well…how you say…not exactly.”
She flinched as if expecting a violent blow.
But the man couldn’t possibly strike her from his vantage point.
Instead, he leaned forward in his amp-throne. He was now only slightly more visible in the light, the neon green and yellow of his mask showing.
“But you have a lead?”
Nami nodded quickly. “Yes. His girlfriend. She is one of the Pop 5, and she can take us to him.”
The man rubbed his chin beneath the fabric. “Pop 5? Interesting.”
Nami bowed, her words coming out hastily.
“I can go find him now! I promise you, I will bring Afro-kun here no matter what!”
Staring at the floor, Nami felt just the slightest bit of sweat form at her brow.
In all her time as a Music Master, she seldom showed fear, nor did she ever feel frightened at the prospect of fighting any particular opponent.
It was only with this man; the leader of Neo-DanceDown, did Nami realize just how small of a microcosm she inhabited in the realm of Music Masters.
That older man’s words from Shori-Platinum echoed loudly in Nami Nagataki’s mind.
A big koi in a small pond.
Truthfully, he was like a shark that could gulp her down in one bite, and his associates were no different.
Nami shut her eyes, as if waiting for an inevitable hammer to fall.
But it seemed she would dodge the shadow of the mushroom cloud for now, as the man continued, voice now approving and even proud.
“Thank you, but you’ve done your part. Valero will handle the rest.”
To the leader’s right, another spotlight blared. This light, however, was sheathed in crisp orange-brown.
Nami could just about make out the silhouette of a tall, lanky man standing within.
He smiled through full teeth, his voice jubilant and full of life.
“It would be my absolute pleasure. I’ve heard quite the stories about this Michael fellow. But dating a member of the Pop 5? Talk about tragically romantic.”
Light burst forth from the left, clad in baby blue, as siblings familiar to Nami since her arrival answered in kind.
“Do control yourself, please, lest you scare the boy off.”
The speaker’s sister put a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to calm him.
“Do not judge him so harshly, brother. Valero is capable.”
To the left of the siblings, another spotlight, revealing the sensual outline of a older woman bathed in red.
“But can he dance? This is still DanceDown after all. We don’t have room for amateurs.”
Up above, the masked man addressed them all.
“He can. You’ve all seen the footage. The only question now is if he joins us willingly. Valero will see to that.”
Nami raised her voice as she got on one knee. The loyalty in her tone seemed unshakable.
“Whatever you ask, Reign-sama. It is is an honor to be here.”
The lights seemed bright enough to burn through Nami’s soul.
Underneath the mask that hid his identity from even his closest associates, Reign’s gaze seemed to do the same.
He answered Nami with enough volume to reach across a stadium. The microphone stayed off in his hands.
“Good. You’re with Neo-DanceDown now. And we wouldn’t have it any other way, Nami.”
For more than ten minutes, Michael left Denny and Kim to their own devices.
In an effort to clear his mind of the drama with Aeris and Calvin, Michael had run out to get a pizza from the corner, and enjoy some last choice moments before Rob buried him for ruining the apartment again.
In Rob’s living room, Kim Ramone and Denny Girelli sat on opposite ends on what was left of Rob’s loveseat and coffee-colored couch respectively.
But while Michael ran out to get food for the three of them, only Denny could conjure up a smile and try to be cordial.
Kim was anything but. It seemed she was going absolutely out of her way to pretend that Denny simply wasn’t there.
She sat with her head up, staring at the ceiling as the loud noise of her punk rock music blared in her ears.
And unfortunately, as a fellow Music Master, Denny could hear exactly what she was listening to.
Between curses and jeers not worth repeating, Denny listened to the same line uttered over and over again.
Get out of my face or else.
She gulped, but somehow kept that smile on her face.
Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly the most encouraging sound.
Yet Denny knew that she would forever regret it if she didn’t at least try to break the ice.
“So you’re Michael’s first friend?”
And perhaps, even gather a little information while she was at it.
Kim didn’t reply. Instead, her finger pushed up on the volume slider on her music player.
But Denny seemed hardly abated.
They were both Music Masters. Whether or not she wanted to actually listen, she could hear Denny as clear as day.
“It’s nice to finally meet you. I really didn’t think Michael had friends like you.”
Kim’s eyes widened with surprise.
That finally got her attention, Denny thought.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kim questioned.
Denny almost swallowed her tongue as she formulated a response. Then she laughed in an attempt to offset the sudden tension.
“Well, you know…you’re a girl.”
That was more than enough for Kim. She pulled her headphones off her ears and down onto her shoulders.
“And you’re Pop 5. Same guys who nearly killed us. Be glad I haven’t kicked your ass yet. So really, your point is?”
Denny laughed again. “I mean, it’s just that he already has me. He doesn’t need more girls in his life.”
Kim narrowed her eyes. Every second of listening to Denny’s bubbly voice became more and more infuriating.
“Then you tell him that.” Kim shot back, having heard enough as she pulled her headphones back up.
“Whatever you do: leave me the hell out of it. The sooner he wises up and sends you packing, the better.”
When her words finished, the music playing in Kim’s ears just grew louder.
Denny put a hand on her cheek, wondering if there was anything she could possibly to say to make things better.
She debated apologizing, and maybe even probing further.
If Kim was a threat to her love, she was doing an amazing job of hiding it.
But then Denny caught that toxic gleam in her eyes, and in that instant she knew now was the time to shut up and keep quiet.
At least, until Michael returned with that cheesy goodness.
There were many things Michael expected to see when he came back up the stairs, piping hot pizza box in hand, to the door of Rob’s apartment.
He expected to see said door hanging off its hinges, and Kim on a rampage accusing Denny of the same treachery she accused Aeris only a little while before.
Then he expected to see Kim leaving the both of them in the dust, too angry to see neither reason or compassion.
Michael even expected to run into his uncle Rob waiting at the door, baseball cap off and an expression of pure disappointment on his face.
But what Michael Kay didn’t expect, was the sight of a young girl, with black pigtails, a black and purple dress, and a look that could drag a circus clown to the deepest depths of sadness.
She stood by the front door, standing at only three and half feet tall and holding both a black teddy bear and a small brown envelope in her tiny hands.
Taking slow and somewhat cautious steps, a confused Michael called out to her.
“Uh, hello! Can I help you? Are you lost?”
As Michael got closer, he noticed the pair of headphones over her ears.
They were ornate, bronze constructs, gilded with black and purple coloration. His heart skipped a beat.
She was just a little girl, right? Could she mean him any harm?
It would be far from the craziest thing in this world of Music Masters, after all.
But when Michael was in fully view, it became apparent that she had been waiting for him.
The little girl’s eyes perked up as she looked at him from top to bottom.
But despite her newfound energy, not even a hint of a smile showed up on her dour face.
And now that Michael was close enough, he could hear the particular music playing in her ears. It was both dreary and divisive, sad and slightly mad.
“No. I’m fine.” the little girl finally answered
She stared up at him. Her eyes were huge, with purple pupils. She almost seemed excited, but at the same time, she looked as if she hadn’t slept in weeks.
Finally, the girl handed over the brown envelope in her hand.
“Mr. Kay? This is for you.”
Michael took it reluctantly. He didn’t know what to say in the slightest.
The girl seemed indifferent either way.
“Please consider it.” she informed him, before dashing past an unprepared Michael with sudden speed.
Michael turned as quick as he could, catching only a glimpse of her before she was down the stairs and completely out of sight.
Her music no longer became audible in the air, even as Michael called out to her.
“Consider it? Consider what?”
No answer from beyond the stairwell besides his echo.
He scratched his head, leaning over and looking down to catch a glimpse of anyone or anything.
Nothing. It was almost as if that little girl was a mere figment of his imagination.
If not for the brown envelope still in his hands, of course.
Reconvening back at the door, Michael stood there in silence before taking a deep breath.
Then he tore open the flap, pulling it out the document within and revealing it for the world to see.
It was just an address on a sheet of nice, folded paper.
It read “1975 E 12th Street, Manhattan NY 10007.”
Somewhere in the Village? Michael could only guess.
Either way, it was a meaningless address to Michael; a place he’d neither been to before nor planned on visiting.
But farther below, Michael spotted something that caused his eyes to go wide and his grip to tighten.
It was a teal stamp, fashioned from a logo whose name spoke volumes to Michael.
It was a name he’d heard more than once now. When Calvin had first said it, it rooted itself with infinite curiosity in the annals of Michael’s mind-space.
Truth be told, Michael didn’t think it would ever really be relevant. It was only a part of ancient Music Master history, after all.
But that disco ball on the logo’s right side couldn’t make things more obvious. In one more instant, this single logo became as important as all the music in his life.
Michael mouthed the name even as the door opened in front of him, and Denny smiled at the mere sight of him.
“Michael! You’re back! Um…why’s the pizza on the floor?”
He barely heard her.
The hot pizza box sat by the toe of his sneaker, as Michael spoke the forbidden yet fantastical.
GIVE LIFE BACK TO MUSIC: