Selena, had in fact, been wrong when she said that the set would be over soon.
It turned out they had another four songs to sit through before Seth and his band finally called it quits, making sure to ask for a rousing encore which was delivered in kind from the ecstatic crowd.
Horns and guitars blasted loudly throughout the club, forcing Reign and Selena to continue waiting it out.
And it was only after Seth himself jumped out to crowdsurf, eyes bright and tongue flapping, that the festivities finally drew to somewhat of a close.
It was obvious to anyone that he seemed like someone on top of everything, without a worry in the world and preferring to keep it that way.
Of course, winning a few million from Audio Supremacy could do that to a person, Selena thought.
But while Selena made her growing annoyance obvious, even among the jeers and fist pumps of the ska-loving crowd, Reign stayed remarkably patient.
He waited with hands in his pockets, even as Seth stumbled back to his feet and the crowd began to slowly disperse.
The masked rapper didn’t move a muscle as Seth finally made his way through the crowd and towards the one thing his eye had caught some time before.
He slicked his tall mohawk back and made a silly grin.
“Hey.” he chirped, eyes locked on Selena. “Like the show?”
Selena’s expression changed in an instant. Now was not the time to be difficult.
“Yeah. It was pretty sweet.”
She nudged Reign next to her, finally breaking him out of his concentrated stance. “What’d you think? Yay or nay?”
Reign took in an audible breath. “Ska music…it’s got that reggae beat underneath. I like that. Gives me that oldschool vibe.” Reign replied, before shifting his gaze down to Seth.
It was only now obvious that he had almost half a foot of height on the kid, mohawk included.
“But I’m more interested in you, to be honest. What do you say we talk the three of us, in private?”
Selena smiled, and she did nothing to hide the offer in her lips. “Backstage, maybe?”
To this, Seth did a quick double-take, then reached into his pocket in order to check the face of an over-sized wristwatch.
“Uh, sure. Don’t got pizza with Billy until ten thirty.” he said, turning on his heel and flashing a quick grin.
“I think I got time. Follow me, lads!”
It was definitely a huge breath of fresh air being around Seth Ramone, because he proved to be the complete opposite of Reign.
Talkative, vibrant, and most of all, optimistic about almost everything.
After fist bumping a few friends he spotted while they made their way backstage, Seth motioned for the two of them to follow them past a long stretch of torched wax sculptures in a clearly 1950’s style.
He jokingly pushed one in his way aside, commenting on how bad their old pyrotechnics guy had been. To this, neither Selena nor Reign made any comment, preferring to stay quiet until they finally reached a room that Seth found to his liking.
He was quick to motion for the two girls and guys already there to leave, and they were quick to oblige just as soon as they got a good look at Reign and Selena.
Seth offered them the orange flower-printed couch on one side of the room, though his grin noticeably began to shrink when he was sure it was just the three of them.
“So who are you supposed to be? Beachhead?” Seth remarked, his gaze focused on Reign.
That carefree grin was all but gone now, replaced by a more knowing smile as the boy reached down behind the seat he was leaning on and pulled up a cobalt blue guitar.
He set it up over his shoulder as if he was about to start playing on stage all over again, all while addressing his new guests.
“What, you think I’m that stupid?” Seth pushed, gaze back to Selena. “Everybody always thinks a pretty face and nice butt are my kryptonite. But let me tell you: that’s only kind of true.”
His fingers went just above the strings of his precious guitar, stopping as his next declaration came out.
“So who sent you? Blokes on Brainjuice? Altitude Seven? I told them all once, and I’ll tell them again, I’m not interested in their clubhouse meetups. No Ensembles for me, and that’s not gonna change.”
“Neither.” Reign said, keeping his composure even as Selena next to him had to work to hide her reaction to Seth’s barely veiled insults.
“What, Zero Beat again?” Seth asked next. “Third time’s the charm, right?”
Reign’s tone turned suddenly cold. “Never.”
“My name is Reign.” he said. “This is my associate, Selena. We’re part of a new group, seeking talent. I imagine you’ve got the kind of talent we’re looking for. The kind of talent DanceDown is looking for.”
Seth’s smile disappeared.
“…you mean like, disco DanceDown? What, you looking for a death wish or something?”
“Not gonna happen.” Reign assured. “Because once we’ve got some serious Music Masters on our side, then I promise you, justice will follow. We got big plans, and we need people who can be relied on. I’m thinking you might fit the bill. It’s not every day somebody wins Audio Supremacy.”
Seth rubbed his tongue against the back of his teeth, clearly debating options in his mind. He never once moved his free hand away from his guitar, and it was obvious he was still on guard.
Thankfully, Seth was quick to be frank.
“I gotta be honest man, but this sounds like a serious drag.”
He continued, shaking his head.
“I got a good life right now. I got a good girl, my own place, and cash that’ll last forever. But I guess I could join you. But then…things might get bad, and everything I got just goes right down the drain. And to me, that doesn’t sound like a smart move.” he pointed out, and it was after this statement that Selena finally offered her two cents.
“So you’re happy being a coward? Do you know what Zero Beat gets away with? Don’t be stupid!” she insisted, leaning forward on the couch just a bit too much as her energy got the best of her.
“Hey, watch it.” Seth warned, strumming on his guitar in response.
In response, his Synkronized instrument flashed a momentary song effect across him; the form of an anthropomorphic, cartoonish blue shark with oversized teeth. Another upbeat ska song played in the air around them, stopping only when Seth felt satisfied with his threat.
“I’m a lot of things, maybe a dork, maybe a sellout, but not a coward. So let’s be cool about this. I say no, and you guys go. Sound good?”
“You’re really serious, aren’t you? Let me tell you, you’re making a huge mistake. Think about this. DanceDown’s gonna change the world. You really want to get left behind?” Selena pushed again, but to this, Seth just laughed.
“Hey, the world’s gonna change whether or not I’m in it. As long as I got Billy and my little sis, I don’t need anything else.”
He turned to Reign. “Sorry to disappoint, Reign, but it’s going to be a no. Thanks for stopping by for the show though. You guys know the exit; I got a pizza date.”
Reign seemed remarkably calm, all things considered, as he put a reassuring hand on Selena’s shoulder, even as she prepared to argue their case further.
“Let’s go. We’re done here.”
Selena’s eyes said otherwise, but when she felt Reign’s fingers squeeze just a tiny bit, she knew he was trying his absolute best to hold in his own frustrations.
With nothing left to say, the two of them left, making their way out of the backstage and out of the Emerald Shark.
It was only when they were out of the club and on the streetside that Selena couldn’t keep it bottled up any longer.
“Okay, Reign, level with me here. What the hell was that?!” she practically shouted.
“Is it just me, or are we just never getting anyone else in DanceDown?”
Reign sighed. “Patience, Selena. We just gotta be patient. The kid’s young. He doesn’t know any better.”
“He’s stupid, that’s what he is. Little twerp doesn’t know what’s up or down. This was a complete waste of time.” she said, kicking a nearby can on the street in her continuing frustration.
She spoke under her breath. “I’m starting to think this whole DanceDown gig might be a waste of time…”
“Hey, don’t lose faith in me yet. I believe time is our ally.” Reign said, his gaze shifting to one of the buildings across the street. “As long as we stay out of the limelight, DanceDown lives. That’s all that matters right now.
His gaze was stuck now, and naturally, Selena’s eyes followed.
She stopped on a building across the street was still under construction, but from what she could spot, the sign had already been partially completed.
Despite this, Selena couldn’t get a good read on the sign. She squinted to try and get a better look, but to no avail.
“Yeah, so…what’s that place all about?” she inevitably asked, as Reign answered, calm and confident as always.
“New place opening up soon. Gothic music club. It’s called…The Straight Razor Cabaret.”
When Selena finally came home, she found instant comfort in checking in on little Colleen.
Perhaps part of her lack of stress was due to the fact that Rob had said nothing when he saw her come in, opting to pick up his guitar case and leave in haste. That was a half hour before. Colleen had only stirred awake mere minutes ago.
Not that she had very much to say to her brother before he left the apartment; their words would inevitably turn into some sort of petty argument, and that was in a best case scenario.
So she enjoyed the peace of being with her daughter, putting her down on a pillow on the couch as a pang of dehydration hit her.
After everything that happened at the Emerald Shark, the day had proven tiresome and drained her all of her energy.
So it was no surprise that Selena was more than preoccupied with the current situation, and that she assumed the person coming through the partially ajar door was just Rob forgetting something in the apartment.
Selena’s eyes went wide when she finally saw the figure who now stood in front of the apartment door.
It was a man she’d never seen before in her life, and he looked anything but friendly.
He was tall, broad-chested, and sporting long black hair. His black vest and ripped pants made him look like some sort of biker.
Music Master or not, Selena wasn’t about to take any chances.
The glass dropped and shattered as Selena moved forward, and Colleen began to cry.
But the intruder was fast, and frighteningly strong, as he grabbed her by the throat and quickly brought her off her feet.
She coughed and beat against him, but his muscles were akin to corded steel. It was like punching a wall.
“Can I ask you to be quiet? I don’t want to attract attention. I just want to talk.”
He threw her into the ground, and then turned his gaze towards the baby on the couch, who was still crying.
Selena gritted her teeth. “I swear to God, if you touch her, I wil-”
“I won’t.” he said, putting his hand up to silence her. “Just quiet her down.”
Selena sucked in a breath, then stood up and relented. She picked up Colleen in her arms, gently cooing her until she finally went from crying to light sniffling.
Once she was sure the girl was calm again, she turned her eyes up at the intruder.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
The biker man was surprisingly candid.
“You can call me Oswald. I’m with Obsinight. I’m sure you’ve heard of us.”
Obsinight: the name pinged in her mind in an instant.
The Ensemble of Music Masters most responsible to annihilating Highlord Funk and DanceDown at Gibb Stadium all those years ago.
It might have been Zero Beat’s operation in the end, but it was their patriarch Harvey Steel who dealt Highlord Funk the finishing blow, trading his own life in the process.
In short, not people one wanted to have on their back. Selena knew better.
She should have known this day was coming, from the very first day she pledged herself to Reign and his cause.
Despite the tension growing in the air, Selena’s gaze remained stalwart. She was calculating how quick she could get her music player out and get a song up, but the danger of Colleen getting hurt was too prevalent in her mind.
Instead, she barked again.
“I’ll say again: what do you want?”
Oswald cracked his neck, shoulders squared as he tried to appear as cordial as possible.
A difficult task, considering he looked as if he could easily bend iron with his bare hands.
“I just wanted to give you a warning. Personally, I don’t want any trouble, so I think you deserve a chance to know what you’re walking into. You deserve a chance to know that spending time with Reign may not be good for your family’s health.”
Selena kept her death gaze. Her tone became like venom.
“Who the hell are you to come in and threaten me and my family? You do know who my brother is, don’t you?”
“I do.” Oswald replied. “But he’s not with DanceDown. You are. And I want you to know that maybe it’s best you walk away. Think about your daughter.”
“She’s not involved in this.” Selena shot back. “You think I’m some pushover, don’t you? Come on! Let’s see how tough you are. Maybe I’ll wipe the floor with you.”
“I doubt it. But I have no interest in a fight tonight. And hopefully it won’t come to that.”
He turned around, pulling open the door. “I’ll say it again: one warning is all you get. Be smart about this. You run with DanceDown, and you’re against Obsinight. And when that happens, everyone gets involved. Family included.”
He held the door open as his steely gaze just about pierced through Selena’s soul. “You let that settle in, and let’s hope I don’t have to come back.”
Oswald passed through the door, and as quick as he came, he was gone.
All that was left was the sound of baby Colleen’s voice, and the dripping noise of the tap nearby.
All bravery left Selena as soon as she was sure the intruding Music Master was gone.
She shivered, sitting down on the couch as a stray tear spilled from her eye, as a rush of fear and panic coursed through her.
She picked up her infant daughter and hugged her tight.
For all her resentment and anger towards her older brother, in this one vulnerable moment, she found herself missing him and his judgmental gaze more than ever.