The game center was filled with a plethora of curious onlookers. A woman who was far beyond the teenage years of the other patrons was dancing up a frenzy on the dance simulator. She had made short work of the beginner levels, but the twelfth level, the final in the game, was giving her nothing but trouble.
After stumbling once again on the final level, the woman drove her fist through the screen, rendering the game useless and shocking everyone who had been watching her. “I will not fail you, my queen,” whispered the woman.
At school, a group of girls had gathered around a bulletin board in the hallway. Jaycee and Aiko passed by and noticed their excitement.
“Hey, what’s going on?” asked Aiko.
“They’re holding a singing competition this weekend,” said one of the girls. “And the winner gets a chance to earn a recording contract.”
“Really? Jaycee, we have to enter this contest.”
“I can’t sing,” said Jaycee. “Even if I could, I couldn’t do it in front of other people.”
“What do you mean you can’t sing?” asked Aiko. “You have a great singing voice. I’ve heard it a bunch of times.”
“What? When have you ever heard me sing?”
“Lots of times. Like when you hum while you’re reading one of those poetry books of yours. Humming is just singing without words.”
“You can’t judge a person’s voice by their hum.”
“But you’d be so good,” said Aiko. “And a song is like poetry set to music. You get to express your feelings through the words you sing. Don’t you want people to know who you are? You can show them through song.”
“My feelings are private,” said Jaycee.
“Do you also want to keep those feelings hidden from that certain someone? Or would you rather he know how you really feel about him? The right song has been known to melt even the coldest of hearts. Try to keep that in mind, Jaycee.”
After school, Sage and Aiko visited the local music store. Aiko was looking for the perfect song for the competition, and there was no better place to find it than on the album of one of the many bright and shining stars of the music industry.
“I don’t know whether to go for something slow and soft or something fast and hard,” said Aiko, looking over the CD in her hand. “What do you think, Sage?” After not receiving a reply, Aiko discovered Sage had left her side and was now gazing longingly at a CD. “That had better not be who I think it is,” she said, snatching the CD.
“It’s not what you think,” said Sage.
“It’s that Rina girl again,” said Aiko. “What have I told you about her? I told you she was nothing but trouble and you should stay away from her.”
“You’re not my mother,” said Sage, trying to take the CD back from Aiko.
“When your real mother’s not around, I’m your mother,” said Aiko, pulling back on the CD. “Now hand over that CD, little boy.”
The sound of someone playing an electric guitar horribly out of tune began booming from the speakers in the store. It was so unbearable that it forced the other patrons to scurry out as fast as their feet could take them.
“Why would they play something like this?” asked Aiko, covering her ears.
“I don’t think the store had anything to do with it,” said Sage, whose attention was focused on the end of the aisle. Aiko turned in the same direction and found a woman holding an electric guitar. She was the same woman from the game center.
“Let me guess,” said Sage. “You were sent by Alenia.”
“You guessed right,” said the woman. “Now, if you’re through talking, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Hikaru.”
“Hey, we know a girl named Hikaru from school,” said Aiko.
“You do?” asked Hikaru. “That’s not good. Then I’ve changed my name to Ayumi. Do you already know a girl named Ayumi?”
“No, I can’t say that we do,” replied Aiko.
“Good, now get ready to die!”
Aiko immediately pulled a CD from the shelf and began pulling on the shrink wrap.
“What are you doing?” asked Sage.
“I’m trying to get the CD out so I can throw it at her.”
Sage took the CD away from her. “Stupid, just throw the whole thing,” he said. And with that, Sage hurled the CD at Ayumi, striking her in the face.
“Wow, you really nailed her,” said Aiko.
“You son of a bitch!” shouted Ayumi, holding her now throbbing cheek. “How dare you do that to me! Do you know how much those things hurt?”
“Couldn’t say,” replied Sage. “I’ve never been hit in the face with one.”
“Well, it probably feels like this,” said Ayumi before running her fingers across the chords of her guitar. The awful sound once again boomed from the speakers, forcing Aiko to cover her ears and fall to her knees. Sage, however, was more resistant and was able to summon the Sword of Heaven. He then began his charge.
“Not good enough?” asked Ayumi. “Then try this!” She then ran her fingers across the chords of her guitar numerous times, forcing Sage to his knees. “And now for the finale!” Ayumi lunged at her prey and broke her guitar over Sage’s head, knocking the young swordsman unconscious.
Unable to do anything due to the effects of the horrible sound, Aiko was forced to watch as Ayumi hoisted a motionless Sage off the floor and propped him up on her shoulder. “If you don’t mind,” she said, “I’ll be taking this one with me.” Ayumi then disappeared within a cloud of black smoke.
Knowing that things tended to shift to the rooftops of tall buildings, Aiko and Jaycee stood atop one near where Sage had been abducted. Little did the girls know that fate had led them to the roof of the fifth tallest building in the city.
“What makes you so sure we’re going to get our answers up here?” asked Jaycee.
Hearing Jaycee’s question prompted Aiko to squeeze both hands into fists. “Because this has to be part of some plan,” replied Aiko. “That woman didn’t just take Sage for the sake of taking him. There had to be a reason behind it.”
“Have you been waiting long?” asked Alenia, who appeared at the far end of the roof.
“Why did you take Sage?” Aiko demanded to know.
“What makes you think I had some kind of ulterior motive?” asked Alenia. “Can’t a demon just kidnap someone for the sake of kidnapping them?”
“I want the truth!” exclaimed Aiko.
“Very well. I did it to keep you from entering that singing competition. You see, I’m going to win. Not that either of you ever stood a chance against me. I merely wanted to increase my odds of winning.”
“You’re doing this because of the competition?” asked Jaycee.
“You girls should know by now. I am a very petty woman. If it meant taking out a whole city block just to put a smile on my face, I would do it. Kidnapping your boyfriend so I could win a singing competition should surprise nobody. Plus, I might become a star. Who could pass up an opportunity like that?”
“Where is he?” asked Aiko. “Where’s Sage?”
“You’ll find him on the biggest dance floor in the city,” said Alenia. “But you won’t find him today. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow. You know, the day of the competition. Now, I’m sure there’s no debating which is more important to you. I’m sure you would rather save your precious Sage than sing in some competition.”
“I hate to admit it, but your plan is pretty clever.”
“It is, isn’t it?” asked Alenia, floating into the sky. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have some practicing to do. See you girls in the winner’s circle.” And with that, Alenia spread her black wings and soared off into the night.
“We don’t have a choice,” said Jaycee. “We have to save Sage.”
“Right,” said Aiko. “And we’ll have to do it fast.”
“What?” gasped Jaycee.
“If that witch thinks we’re gonna miss out on our destiny, then she’s got another thing coming. We’re gonna rescue Sage and sing in that competition.”
The next day the convention center filled with hundreds of eager fans waiting to hear local talent showcase their voices. The backstage area was filled with a horde of young women perfecting their costumes and make up. Others were exercising their voices.
Alenia was one of the contestants waiting backstage. “I can already tell that none of these girls has what it takes to beat me,” she said. “Getting rid of those annoying little brats was one of the smartest thing I’ve ever done.”
Jaycee and Aiko entered a dance club that was known for having the largest dance floor in the city. It was also the only club with a stage for live performances, though neither the dance floor nor the stage could be seen very well in the dark.
“It’s a good thing there isn’t anyone here to check us out,” said Aiko. “You have to be at least eighteen to get in.”
“I just turned eighteen,” said Jaycee. “Remember? We had a party.”
“Please don’t bring up that party.”
The lights unexpectedly turned on, illuminating the colorful surroundings. Multi-colored spotlights then began shooting lights in every direction. The dance floor, which consisted of flashing squares, changed color with every blink. And different neon colors flashed on a large screen hanging above the stage.
“This place is so cool,” said Aiko, taking in the wonder around her.
“Aiko,” gasped Jaycee, pointing at the stage.
Ayumi was standing on stage. On her head was a wireless microphone. “Is everyone ready to dance?” she asked, voice booming from the speakers.
“Where’s Sage?” asked Aiko. “So help me if you did something to him.”
“Fear not,” said Ayumi. “Your boyfriend is resting comfortably backstage.”
“Give him back.”
“Why don’t you try to make me?”
Aiko began her march to the stage.
Ayumi began laughing, prompting Aiko to stop. “There’s no need to resort to violence,” she said. “I’ll give you a chance to win your boyfriend back.”
“Win?” asked Jaycee.
“That’s right. Seeing as you two can’t take part in the singing competition, my marvelous queen has decided you should take part in another. A dance competition. Now, doesn’t that sound like more fun than singing? And the prize is even better.”
“All we have to do is beat you in a dance competition and you’ll give us Sage?” asked Aiko. “This isn’t some kind of trick?”
“Of course not. It’s even going to be two against one. I don’t see how things could be more in your favor. So what do you say?”
“We don’t have a choice,” said Jaycee.
“Okay,” replied Aiko. “We accept your challenge.”
“This is going to be so much fun,” said Ayumi. “Now, there are going to be four lighted squares on the dance floor. You two will take your places on them.” After the words were spoken, four squares lit up a bright shade of pink. Jaycee took her place on two of them, while Aiko took her place on the other two. “The screen behind me will show a group of dancers. You are to follow their every move. Failure to do so will result in a penalty.”
A small but painful shock coursed through Aiko’s body. She immediately let out a yelp and jumped off the squares that had produced the unpleasant sensation.
“That might not have hurt much,” said Ayumi, “but miss enough steps and it’s really going to take its toll. But to be fair, the floor I’m standing on is rigged, as well. Not that I expect to have it used on me. After all, I’m the best dancer there is.”
“Why’d you shock me?” asked Aiko.
“What?” gasped Jaycee.
“Huh,” gasped Aiko. “I mean . . . never mind.”
“If you don’t mind,” said Ayumi. “I’d like to get things started now.”
The music began blaring from the speakers, and it was a song from an artist Aiko knew quite well. “It’s that Rina girl,” she said. “Things just keep getting worse.”
“Ready or not,” said Ayumi. The song hit its beat and the screen above the stage filled with three dancing girls, signaling the beginning of the competition.
The squares on the floor began lighting up various different colors. From side to side and back and forth, the girls moved furiously. Most people dancing with such passion would have had far more pleasant expressions than the angry ones on the girls’ faces.
Ayumi was having no difficulty keeping up with the lighted squares beneath her feet. She had been practicing her whole existence for this moment and would let nothing keep her from claiming victory for her queen.
Though the act of dancing was a matter of life and death, Jaycee and Aiko performed with flawless precision. They had spent countless hours on the dance simulator the dance steps were based on, making them just as competent as Ayumi.
“We’ll have to kick things up a notch,” said Ayumi. “Electric whip!” she shouted. Ayumi then pulled an imaginary whip from her hip and began twirling it around and performing various other acts with it. Jaycee and Aiko were up to the task of mimicking Ayumi’s every move while still keeping true to the steps on the floor.
As the competition waged on, Jaycee and Aiko made every arm gesture and movement of the head that Ayumi performed. So familiar with the routine were the girls that they could have done well without having to even look at her.
“It’s time to get serious,” said Ayumi. “Level twelve!” The squares on the floor began blinking at twice the speed.
Jaycee and Aiko missed not a single step of the level twelve challenge, but Ayumi was a different story. As hard as she had tried, she was never able to master the final level. The jolts of electricity for her mistakes quickly proved too much for her. She leaped off the stage and landed between the girls. They leaped out of the way just as more electricity shot into Ayumi.
“We won,” said Aiko. “So give Sage back to us now.”
“Turn off the penalties!” shouted Ayumi. The electricity that was shooting from the floor turned off, allowing Ayumi to stand safely on the blinking squares.
“It’s over,” said Jaycee.
“Things are far from over,” exclaimed Ayumi, lunging at Jaycee. Leaping out of harm’s way, Jaycee then summoned her staff. “It’s going to take more than some stick to stop me!” After those fateful words, Aiko delivered a thundering kick to the back of Ayumi’s head. This was followed by a strike to the face from Jaycee’s staff.
“Turn up the music!” screamed Ayumi. The music was immediately raised to a deafening level. “Bring these two to their knees!”
“I won’t let you keep me from Sage,” said Aiko, cringing from the music’s intensity.
Ayumi charged and delivered a barrage of attacks at Aiko. Even in her pained state, Aiko was able to block and avoid each strike.
Jaycee struck Ayumi in the back, momentarily stiffening up the demon. Aiko used this opportunity to strike Ayumi in the face and send her staggering back and into what looked like a mixing board. Streaks of electricity shot from the machine and wrapped around the demon, forcing a horrid scream to burst from her. Destroying the machine brought an immediate halt to the music, and shortly thereafter, Ayumi disappeared within a puff of black smoke.
“Sage,” gasped Aiko, who immediately ran backstage.
Sleeping soundly on a table was Sage. He was wearing a pair of headphones and looked to have been left unharmed.
“Sage, wake up,” pleaded Aiko, shaking him roughly.
“Aiko, that’s not working,” said Jaycee.
“Wait. This is just like Sleeping Beauty. I have to kiss my sleeping prince to awaken him.” Aiko then leaned in and pursed her lips.
As Aiko was about to live out her wildest fantasy, Jaycee was following a chord that led from the headphones on Sage’s head to a machine in the corner. Jaycee then pushed a red button labeled “power.” This immediately woke Sage from his slumber.
“Where am I?” asked Sage.
“What the?” asked Aiko, who then directed a glare at Jaycee. “Thanks a lot!”
“Sorry,” said Jaycee.
“Are you alright?” asked Aiko.
“I think so,” replied Sage, rubbing his still store head.
“Do you think you can stand and walk?” asked Aiko.
“Aiko,” said Jaycee. “Didn’t you tell me that Sage had a guitar broken over his head? He still needs more time to rest. You should let him be.”
“But we have to get to that competition. Don’t you see? This is what Alenia wanted. Even if we got through another battle, it didn’t matter. She just wanted to keep us busy. If we don’t get to that competition, Alenia wins.”
“You really want to win, don’t you?” asked Sage.
“It’s not just that,” said Aiko, looking at Jaycee.
“You’re right,” said Sage. “We’ve got a competition to win.”
Jaycee, Sage and Aiko arrived at the convention center just as the competition was about to begin. Fortunately, Jaycee and Aiko’s entry was allowed despite their not arriving on time like all the other girls had.
“Alright, Sage, you have to wait outside,” said Aiko.
“What?” asked Sage. “Why can’t I watch?”
“Jaycee’s gonna be nervous enough,” whispered Aiko. “Seeing someone she knows is only gonna make things worse.”
After ushering Sage out the back door, Aiko led Jaycee backstage. The two were immediately confronted by Alenia. “What the hell are you two doing here?” she asked.
“Didn’t think we’d win so quickly, did you?” asked Aiko. “Well, you should know by now not to take us so lightly.”
Alenia began laughing. “I didn’t come here to argue with you,” she said. “I came here to sing. But if you want to fight and get disqualified, then be my guest. You’ll only be making things easier for me. Not that I need anybody’s help.”
“She’s got a point,” said Aiko. “Come on, Jaycee, let’s get changed.”
The competition began a short time later and Alenia was the first to perform. “Listen and learn, girls,” she told the others. “Let me show you how a woman does things.”
Alenia took her place on stage and the music began. She moved her body in a slow, near hypnotic way, entrancing the males in the crowd. She then began to sing.
“Are you happy? Are you satisfied? This is not what I want to be. I thought I had found my light, but now I find it’s really in the dark.”
“Hey,” said Aiko. “She’s actually pretty good.”
When Alenia finished a short time later, the crowd erupted with cheers and applause. It was evident that Alenia was going to be difficult to beat.
Once returning backstage, Alenia stopped before Jaycee and Aiko. “Let’s see you beat that,” she said before departing.
“We’ll show her,” said Aiko. “Right, Jaycee.”
“Uh, right,” replied a slightly trembling Jaycee.
Aiko took to the stage after Alenia. When Aiko reached her spot, the music began to play and she began to sing.
“Love is on my mind. And you know it’ll getcha, and you know it’ll getcha. I’ve waited for so long, so baby get ready, oh, you’d better get ready. Drop your guard and let me in. ’Cause ready or not, here I come.”
Jaycee began backing away from the stage. “I can’t do this,” she said. “There’s no way I can face all those people. There’s just no way.” As Jaycee was backing away, she bumped into someone. She turned around and discovered James.
“Leaving already?” he asked, his icy glare only adding to Jaycee’s trepidation.
“I can’t sing in front of that many people. I thought I could, but I can’t.”
“Then by all means, run away. Let yourself wonder what could have been. That’s what people do, isn’t it? They run from things they don’t like. If they didn’t, they might make fools of themselves.” And with that, James walked away.
Aiko made her way to Jaycee after finishing. “How was I?” she asked. Saying not a word in response, Jaycee made her way to the stage. “Hey, how was I?”
Jaycee froze when she saw the audience. Her reaction came not only from its size, but of whom it consisted. “Most of these people are from our school,” she thought.
Much of the crowd looked stunned to find Jaycee participating in the competition. She was known to be an extremely shy girl, one who would never expose herself in such a way, nor to such a large gathering.
A soft piano melody began playing. With body trembling, Jaycee began to sing.
“You left with only a quiet goodbye. At least for a moment, I knew I was on your mind. Even if someday everyone forgets about you, you can always come back to me. I will watch over you. So spread those dazzling wings and fly away.”
So entranced by Jaycee’s angelic voice was Aiko that she almost failed to notice James standing beside her. “James,” she gasped. “Isn’t Jaycee amazing?”
James gave Aiko no reply.
“It must make you feel pretty special to have someone like Jaycee sing about you,” said Aiko, who was unable to take her eyes off her best friend.
“I wouldn’t know,” said James, turning his back on the stage. “That song’s not about me.” And with that, he departed.
“What’s his problem?” thought Aiko.
After she had finished singing, Jaycee walked as quickly as her feet could take her off the stage and out the rear exit.
“Jaycee, wait,” said Aiko, who immediately gave chase. The eruption of cheers from the crowd prompted Aiko to stop. “Is that for Jaycee?” The passion with which the audience cheered was for more powerful than it had been for any other performer.
Sage was outside when Jaycee made her unexpected appearance. He watched as she rushed to the nearest shrub and began vomiting into it.
Aiko burst through the exit seconds after Jaycee. “Don’t just stand there,” she told Sage. “Hold Jaycee’s hair back!”
“Oh, right,” said Sage, who immediately went to Jaycee and held her hair back to prevent her from vomiting all over it. He turned his gaze away until after the act was over. “Are you alright?” he asked once he knew it was safe to look.
“Yeah,” said Jaycee, wiping her mouth.
“You were amazing,” said Aiko.
“No, I wasn’t,” replied Jaycee. “I was awful.”
“Are you kidding? The audience loved you.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“I’m not,” said Aiko. “The audience went crazy after you ran out.”
Jaycee blushed. “Really? Well, I guess I did do pretty well.”
“Do you want to go back inside and see the rest of the competition?” asked Aiko. “You never know, one of us might even win.”
“If it’s okay, I’d like to go home,” said Jaycee.
“Uh, sure,” said Aiko. “It’s just as well. These things are always rigged so some big-shot’s daughter wins. We won’t be missing out on anything.”
After the final contestant had performed, the judge stood on stage with first place trophy in hand. In his other hand was the ballot that would tell the world who the winner was.
“And the winner of the first annual talent showcase is . . .” said the judge, pausing to thicken the suspense. “Miss Jaycee Annadale!” The audience erupted in a boisterous cheer. It was clear that their choice matched the judge’s choice.
A woman arrived from backstage. “Miss Annadale isn’t here,” she told the judge. “I checked everywhere but couldn’t find her.”
“That certainly changes things,” said the judge. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, “it has come to my attention that Miss Annadale has already left, so it gives me great pleasure to give this award to the runner up, Miss Aiko Nakamura!”
Clearly dumbfounded by the turn of events, the crowd held their applause. Confused whispers then began to fill the building.
“Miss Nakamura left with Miss Annadale,” said the woman.
“I’ve had enough of this,” exclaimed Alenia, making her way to the stage. She then took hold of the trophy and attempted to take it from the judge. “This rightfully belongs to me and everyone knows it! So hand it over!”
With the help of the woman, the judge did his best to keep possession of the trophy. “This trophy goes to the person who won the competition!” he exclaimed.
“That’s me,” exclaimed Alenia. “I was better than those brats! To put them above me is the worst insult!” It was at that moment when everyone lost their grip on the trophy. There was a hush through the building as the trophy flipped end over end through the air. When it landed, it shattered into numerous pieces.
“No!” screamed Alenia, rushing to the shattered trophy. Her anger only intensified as she held the broken pieces of her prize. “They’ve made me look like a fool for the last time,” she said. “I’ll see to it that they pay for what they’ve done to me.”
The sun was setting as the trio made their way home.
“So, Jaycee, if that song wasn’t about James, who was it about?” asked Aiko.
“It was about someone very special to me,” said Jaycee.
“More special than James?” asked Aiko.
Sage cleared his throat to catch Aiko’s attention. When she looked at him, Sage looked to the sky. Aiko looked up, then shrugged her shoulders. Sage then looked up again. Aiko once again shrugged her shoulders. Sage could only shake his head.
“Well, I’m sure whoever that song was about, they’re very happy right now,” said Aiko. It was after Aiko had said that when the first star of the coming night began to twinkle.