Of all the myriad kinds of music that existed, to this day, it was classical music that Michael Kay still failed to appreciate, let alone understand.
There was something about it so alien and unfamiliar to him, akin to some siren song from beyond the stars.
So when Lucas and Lisa’s chosen song came into being, all Michael could do was shoot Denny a nod of acknowledgement, before preparing himself for whatever it was their song effect would birth.
With mathematic clarity, as if born from the dust of a dying star, the product of their song effect soon became clear.
As if responding to subconscious imagery of the void and starry glimpses beyond, both of their outfits shifted, far away from their baby blue coloration and to a more spatial mixture of blacks, purples and dots of white.
Neither Neilcroft twin seemed particularly surprised by the changes though, instead dancing in perfect synchronization and with surprising speed towards Michael.
Valero certainly hadn’t minced words when he’d described dance-fighting.
For all the time Michael had seen people do the waltz, never had he thought it could be done with such speed and martial expertise.
Clearly, there was a world of dancing far above the microcosm of his perspective.
And unfortunately for Michael, there was little time to think on it further.
Two hands struck, aiming for Michael’s mid-section. He dodged as best he could despite his exhaustion, just barely avoiding the blows as Denny came to his aide from Lucas’s left side.
Joining her was the undead werewolf she had named Price, who bounded alongside her with hunger in his eyes.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller served to power the two of them as they tried to stop another oncoming attack, but to no avail.
Another flurry of blows came, and this time, Michael couldn’t dodge them all.
One was a hard slap on the side of his forehead that sent him reeling, and another, a sharp kick to his shin that just about knocked him off his feet.
Michael backed away, sliding and burning on the floor as Canned Heat offered him brief reprieve from the twins assault.
Then, his head became dizzy, and he could feel the strangest tingling sensation erupting where Lucas and Lisa had hit him.
He focused up ahead, watching as Denny and Price fought to hit the twins even once.
It seemed like fighting a ghost might be an easier prospect. Every claw swipe, every punch and kick, every bite and every feint completely missed the twins entirely.
They flowed like mercury, ducking and diving, twisting and turning, holding each other close when a blow might come and try to separate them. The beauty of their dance-fighting could not be more obvious, as Lucas held his sister aloft, just as easily dodging a leaping Price in the process.
He was careful to touch the beast on his belly, as Lisa grabbed Denny by the face and pushed her away just as easily.
Cogs spun in Michael’s head. Foremost priority of all: separating the two of them.
Maybe it wouldn’t change anything, but it was better than nothing.
“Hey!” Michael called out, in an effort to distract the twins and aid Denny at the same time.
Right on cue, both Lucas and Lisa turned to attention, as he lifted his hand up, and the threat of Canned Heat pulsed ominously in front of them.
“Fancy feet. I’ll give you that. But you two really think you can dodge this?” he proposed.
Their audience, DanceDown and Nami included, had remained curiously silent this entire time.
Lucas smirked, as his sister’s expression became somewhat somber.
He held up a single gloved hand as he made his next declaration loud and clear.
“Almost definitely. But thankfully, we don’t need to.”
Even as Denny charged like an angry bull, and Price came from the other side with equal vigor, the Neilcroft siblings seemed content as ever.
From the sidelines, Nami grinned through her gap, knowing exactly what was coming next.
Lucas then snapped his fingers, and the true power of their song effect responded in an instant.
“Hey! Hey, hey, hey, what is this!?!” Denny went on, as she drifted upwards and a howling Price followed suit.
It was as if someone had tied loose ropes to every one of Michael’s limbs, as gravity became meaningless and he began to float up into the air. He kicked and struggled, trying to fight it, but the lack of ground and gravitational force made his efforts meaningless.
So, with frantic eyes, he watched Denny and her Sentonal continue to flail as Lucas and Lisa’s song effect forced them all off the ground and into a world of complete disorientation.
Depth and weight became meaningless, as Michael Kay found out what it was like to be an astronaut in the most literal sense.
In his panic and struggling, bursts of Canned Heat launched from his palm, but none of them came even close to hitting the Neilcroft twins.
Almost comically, Valero stepped aside to dodge one that burned itself into the marley floor below.
But without the ground to anchor him, Michael continued to float up, trying to turn around in place but to no avail.
Things seemed quite hopeless, if not for Denny’s energetic words to stir Michael out of defeat.
“Michael! Just swim over here and take my hand!” Denny called out to him, unseen out of his peripheral view.
No longer under any earthly sense of weight, Michael could just barely turn to acknowledge her.
By now though, he’d gotten high enough that he reached the apex of one of the speaker-towers; in particular, the one occupied by that woman who reminded him so strongly of his older sister.
“Ok! Just…just give me a second!” he replied, as his words became low and he spoke under his breath.
“Man, I didn’t think about something like this…”
Michael forced his body to swivel, turning on its axis as he tried to get use to this feeling of weightlessness.
From up here, the ground was at least thirty feet away. The mere sight made him gulp, and he wondered if the twins could deactivate this ability at any moment.
His wandering and possibly panicking thoughts were soon cut off though, as a mature, somewhat sarcastic voice answered him.
“You didn’t think of it? What, did you expect every song effect to just be a big monster or flashy weapon? Some song effects are difficult to spot. It’s what makes them so deadly.”
Michael looked forward, spotting the sight of the woman from before.
This close, he had a much better view of her, one in which he could see the tan of her skin, the black of her silky hair, and the low cut of her shirt that made him once again avert his gaze.
“Hey, it caught me off guard!” he said sheepishly.
The woman laughed. “Did it? That’s too bad. The question now is…what are you going to do about it?”
Michael narrowed his eyes. “I…I don’t know, okay? And who are you, anyway?”
He craned his neck. Denny was trying to swim towards him, but to no avail.
All she really succeeded in doing was making herself look completely ridiculous.
“Someone who’s trying to help you out here. And I really, really don’t like amateurs, so that should tell you enough.”
She leaned back in her throne, crossing her arms as she looked back at him with a knowing smirk.
“Think, Michael. If only you had some way to counteract the anti-gravity…”
It seemed Selena’s words reached him just in time, as Michael scrambled for his music player and switched to the only song that could possibly save him and Denny now.
It manifested quickly, forcing his floating body into an upright position upon a massive turquoise CD.
Starlight thrummed in the air, as Michael shot Selena a thankful glance and forced his momentum forward.
The speed was faster than he remembered, yet his sense of control was seamless.
He caught Denny in his arms without even blinking, air rushing past the both of the them as Michael turned the disc on its axis and began to come around towards Lucas and Lisa below.
“So!” Denny said, yelling over the windforce. “What’s the plan?”
Michael glanced ahead, seeing her Sentonal out of commission and still floating aimlessly under the power of The Blue Danube.
“The plan? Uh, I don’t really have one.”
He turned to Denny, relaxing his expression in an attempt to reassure her.
“You’re still under zero g’s, so I need you to jump. You’ll be like a torpedo, and then maybe we can separate them.”
Denny raised an eyebrow. They were seconds away now.
“Separate them? What are you talking about?”
Michael shook his head. “No time to explain. Just go!”
With all his might, Michael tossed Denny forward and out of his grasp.
With the added momentum of Starlight, and her own awareness of his plan, she flew like a red missile towards Lucas and Lisa, who found themselves moving with intensity as they dodged her body and the impact that would come with it.
Diving right underneath their extended arms, Denny slowed down a few seconds later, still floating in the air and disappointed to see the two of them still intact, hand in hand as they held an eloquent pose.
Nami had held her collective breath, but only for a moment. Valero shook his head, clearly let down.
Meanwhile, Lucas just scoffed.
“And you call yourself Pop 5. I am sorely disappointed. Is that it?”
But a shout came from above before he could say anymore, forcing his sister to look up first.
Everyone else in attendance followed soon after, just in time for Michael to belt out his words.
“Nah, man! This is!”
He gathered just enough speed coming around again, and put his plan into action.
As if riding a skateboard, Michael turned the CD vertically in mid-air, before letting go at the very last second as the CD continued to spiral forward under its own momentum.
Still under the Blue Danube Waltz, Michael stayed floating, as the Neilcroft twins had little time to react before the gigantic CD came plummeting down towards them like some runaway saw blade.
They knew in an instant that they had only one option before them, unless they wanted to lose their extended forearms.
Unfortunately, that very same move put them into Michael’s checkmate.
Still, they separated, causing the CD to miss as it crashed into the ground and tore up the marley floor in the process.
Nami flinched as it stopped just a few feet away from her, as Valero, Reign and even the quiet Selena looked on, each of them impressed in a different way.
And just as Michael had initially guessed, the song effect keeping them floating ended the minute Lucas and Lisa separated.
He’d fallen a painful ten feet down onto his bottom, but the trade-off was that Denny and Price were free to corner the now separated Neilcroft twins.
With a snarling monster now up in his face, Lucas just smiled.
“Well then. You figured it out. You surprise me, Michael. I hope you continue to surprise me even more.”
Wincing just a little from the fall, Michael offered a grateful smile as he approached the two twins, with Denny calling back her Sentonal and deactivating the song effect a moment later.
“I must admit, I am also curious. How did you realize it?” Lisa asked, helping her brother up now that threat was gone.
“I mean, you don’t usually see songs that affect two people at once.” Michael explained, his mind dialing back to when he was subject to Move Your Feet and the fusion that followed.
“It was kind of a big gamble. I figured that gravity stuff wouldn’t work if you weren’t together. Guess I was right.”
“Nice work, Michael. I knew I could count on you.” Denny said, coming up next to him and nuzzling up on his shoulder.
He could only laugh out loud in response, as Valero in particular stroked his goatee in excitement and gave his usual two cents.
“Yes, quite scary, isn’t it? A dual song effect, made only stronger by the art of dance.”
“One of only many things we can teach you here.” Lucas added after his piratical ally. “And you’ve passed with flying colors; the both of you.”
Valero nodded in agreement. “Marvelous show, if I may say so.”
Selena shrugged from atop her throne. “Not perfect, but it’s anything but amateur.”
Seeing his fellow DanceDown in agreement, Lucas looked up.
There was, of course, one last person to impress.
“Reign? Is this satisfactory?”
Once again, the leader of DanceDown stirred.
This time though, he came out of the light, showing that he was wearing a white tank top, long cargo pants, and a detailed mask that covered his true face to all who knew him.
This was how it had been for years, since DanceDown had first been reformed. But despite not knowing what he looked like, his fellow DanceDown still trusted him like no one else.
“Nothing left to say. We know what we saw. And what is was, was good.” Reign declared, with powerful timbre in tone.
Michael’s face glowed, as Denny jumped for joy next to him.
Only Nami seemed somewhat perturbed, but she kept it inside as Reign said those mystical and long awaited words.
“It’s official. Today, we grow by two. Now we can do it like we used to do.”
There was a part of Michael that almost didn’t want to believe the events of today.
What started with a surprise invitation, turned into grueling trials, plenty of new faces, and then finally entrance into the fabled Ensemble that Calvin Altberg had first mentioned to Michael all those many months ago.
It was fantastical to think about, but it was no dream.
Michael had been laying back on the bed of their guest room this whole time, staring up at the ceiling with a satisfied expression on his face. This rest was well-deserved, he thought.
And, if anything, their success with DanceDown would at least distract him from the problems of the present: the excising of their fellow Audio Knights, Kim’s anger towards him, Colleen’s worries, and his uncle’s warnings time and time again.
Drenched in sweat and no doubt smelling up a storm, the thought of taking a shower went through Michael’s mind, until he listened closely to the sound of running water and bad singing in the adjoining bathroom.
He’d let Denny take a shower first, and tried his very best not to let his mind go to unscrupulous places in the process.
It was not often that he had to shoo a girl into another room lest she disrobe right in front of him.
Even he wasn’t that oblivious to not realize what she’d been trying to do.
Michael just about swallowed his tongue.
All this did was remind him of the awkward question that was sharing a room with Denny like this, since Reign insisted they not leave the DownLow for another day while they made preparations.
Which meant he’d essentially be sharing a room with a girl who so clearly was in love with him.
And of course, he still didn’t know how he felt about that.
As if things weren’t awkward enough.
It was a question that would have to be dealt with later, Michael thought. He had too many things on his mind as it was.
Grabbing his phone nearby, he scrolled through old messages and wondered over calling Kim.
She’d made him painfully clear that she wanted nothing to do with this DanceDown business, but that didn’t mean Michael could at least reassure her that he and Denny were okay.
But then again, would she even care? Kim was never good at hiding her anger, and there was no doubt she was still pissed.
Now a bit frustrated at the mere thought, Michael put his phone aside.
For now, perhaps he could hold off reaching Kim. And per Reign’s instruction, that included Rob as well.
Everything had to be discrete, according to Reign. Even though he seemed cool with Rob, even he couldn’t know. And for as welcoming as DanceDown had been, Michael felt he at least owed this much to them.
When everything was settled, Michael would break the news of this, whether Rob liked it or not.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door, prompting Michael to look up and get right on his feet.
He opened it a moment later, revealing the mysterious woman in red from before.
Taller than him, she looked down with a wistful smile, listening in to the noise of the shower and taking in the unpleasant smell of sweat in the air.
That shifting look in her eyes told Michael exactly what she was thinking in an instant.
“Hello. I’m not interrupting anything…am I?”
Michael laughed right through his nerves. “What? No! Of course not! Come in, come in.”
She strode in, observing her surroundings despite this being a place she’d been to many times before.
Eventually, she took a seat at the small table near the corner of the room, as Michael plopped on the bed and tried his best to be cordial.
“Selena, right? I don’t know if I really introduced myself. I’m Michael.”
He put his hand out, which Selena didn’t shake. Feeling weird, Michael put it back down as he tried to salvage the situation.
“Thanks for the save back there. I feel dumb for not thinking quicker…”
“It’s no problem. I guess I was feeling a little merciful tonight.” Selena admitted, crossing her legs.
Once again, that feeling of discomfort crawled up Michael’s spine as he looked back at this woman, who was clearly in her 40’s, but had the air of a much younger person.
Thankfully, she seemed to sense his unease.
“You’re Rob’s nephew, right? Tell me, how is he these days?”
“Uh, he’s good.” Michael replied, caught just slightly off-guard. “I haven’t talked to him in a few. He’s probably ready to kill me honestly.”
He looked up, curiosity in his eyes. “You know him?”
Selena nodded. “I do. We go back. I’m not sure he wants to see me, but I can’t blame him.”
Michael took in a deep breath. The question he’d been avoiding had come out before he could stop it.
“I’m sorry, but you…you remind me of someone.”
He grinned, scratching the back of his head as he realized how dumb that sounded. “I mean…well, you sort of remind me of my sister. You look like her. Weird, isn’t it?”
Selena gave him a warm smile, standing up as she did.
“No, it’s not weird. Familiar things are good, especially when you’re in a new place. But still, it’s a small world.”
She then ruffled his afro, in a playful way that Michael didn’t expect.
But where he had felt uncomfortable before, there was a strange sense of warmth, of belonging, that he hadn’t felt since Rob had come back to him so many months ago.
“When you’re all cleaned up, Reign wants to speak to you in private.”
“Okay.” Michael said with a nod.
Selena smiled. “We’re glad to have you, Michael. Don’t let me down.”
Michael grinned, and the sound of the shower being turned off signified Denny was finally done.
With that, Selena took her leave, shutting the door to their guest room behind her, and leaving Michael to his lovestruck friend.
Selena didn’t up and leave immediately. There was a sense of shock she had to overcome first.
She instead took a brief moment to herself, leaning against the door as a warmth unfamiliar to her began to creep up her spine.
This was the truth she’d been avoiding all this time, since Reign had presented the first footage of Michael in all his dancing, disco-loving glory.
She could still hear the echoes of her younger brother, calling her selfish and greedy and so many other things not worth repeating.
She could still see the face of her only daughter, confused that their mother would walk away from their lives as she’d done all those years ago.
And now, the face of her only son, had come back to haunt her and remind her just how much of a failure she was.
It was all Selena could do to keep herself from breaking into tears, as she made the long walk back to her living space in the DownLow.
Like walking through the shadow of the valley of death, as Reign had reminded them time and time again.