In Other Words: Part Three
Chai stepped off the plane shakily. The bent and crumpled letters were in his hands as he made his way down the small flight of stairs; he had gathered them quickly off the floor once the Virtu-flyer had landed. Rayze held his bag for him silently at his side, while Sed helped a flight attendant unload the belly of the carrier which was filled with their instruments and Chai’s microphone stand.
“Thank Zo we’re back home,” the Darigan Zafara muttered, slipping into his habit of using local slang with every new venue.
“Well, we need to get ready for the sound check in an hour,” Rayze said, stepping to the brown grass. His tone was casual yet cautious, as if he was unsure of his friend’s state of mind.
“Yeah, I know.” Chai glanced upwards at the straggly clouds. “Thank Zo.”
The best thing about playing in the Haunted Woods, besides the fact that it was home for all three Stut band members, had to be the Arena. Off beyond the trampled trails that most tourists took and between sporadic rows of gnarled trees was a great old circular coliseum. Built of crumbling stone and overcome by twisting vines, it was the number one place to hear the best rock music in all of the Haunted Woods.
And Stut was honored to be playing there.
“Look at this,” Sed mumbled, standing up on the stage in awe as techies ran around attaching wires to Virtupets-imported speakers. “All the greats played here before becoming totally famous. Isn’t it awesome?”
“You said it.” Chai nodded, adjusting his microphone stand to the perfect height. All of his fears from earlier had slowly drained out of him once he had entered the Arena, leaving him cool, calm, and collected. He had already slipped into show time routine. Just another gig, his subconscious cooed. Everything is fine.
“And,” the Speckled Bori continued, flipping his drumsticks nimbly between his fingers, “there’s a rumor going around that there’s a music executive coming tonight. How sick would it be if we got signed?”
Chai’s stomach lurched, but then suddenly steadied. True, this could be the gig that could change their lives forever, but at least it wasn’t a few hundred thousand feet in the air.
“Hey, who are we playing for, by the way?”
“Some weird collab group,” Rayze answered, plucking the strings of his guitar with practiced ease, grinning as the hardcore rock-sounding notes thundered in the Arena. “I think it’s like ‘Lupes and Chias Forever’, or something. They’re trying to break the stereotype that Lupes and Chias hate each other by hosting random activities together.”
“That actually sounds pretty cool.” Chai nodded, his crimson eyes flicking out to the rest of the Arena. It was a massive bit of architecture, dotted with hundreds of seats on the ground level and even more from the intricate balconies overhead. And it what the manager said, they were expecting a full house.
Chai grinned. Things were looking up; he could feel it. For some reason, he felt as if they got through the night in one piece, everything would just fall into place, as easily as a slice of pizza finding itself inside of Sed’s stomach. There were no more Virtu-flyers to worry about, just a music executive and a few thousand fans. “Come, guys,” he said, his claw gripping the top of the mic stand. “Let’s get this sound check over with.”
Before long, night overcame the Haunted Woods. The path to the Arena, lit with hundreds of ghostly floating lanterns, led the way through the arched entrance where a mass of Lupe and Chias excitedly entered. A poster on the outside of the Arena that read “Stut” was covered over with a yellow “SOLD OUT” sticker, and the starlight from above twinkled into the stadium from overhead.
“Alright guys, let’s do this.” Chai grinned, his teeth sparkling in the dim light.
The three of them were backstage, going through their pre-show ritual. They had already changed into their best gear and looked fit to rock the stage. Chai was decked in a dark jacket with black cuffs circling his wrists. There were two vertical slits in the back that exposed his leathery wings, and although he hadn’t flown in over three months, it still added to his overall appearance. Rayze meanwhile sported a navy vest that complimented his charcoal fur and fiery hair nicely, and Sed’s shirt was filled with random phrases in gibberish that added to his fun personality. Physically, they were prepared, and they were mentally ready as well.
“Two minutes to show time!” the stage manager whispered, sticking his head into the back room. He was a short Wocky with a headset on and a clipboard in his paws. “Ready, Stut?”
“Ready as we’ll ever be.” Chai stood up, feeling the thrum of nerves beneath his skin. He brushed himself off and patted his comrades on the back. “Let’s do this.”
Sed plucked his drumsticks off a side table in the lounge, and Rayze slung his electric guitar around his neck. Then, they filed out of the lounge to their spots behind the curtain. The stage was dark, but they assumed their positions: Chai and Rayze splitting center with Sed seated at his drum set in the back. They could hear the muffled sounds of the audience in the distance, and they waited, energy building deep inside their cores.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen!” a voice boomed, echoing throughout the Arena. “Tonight, be prepared to witness an upcoming band hailing from right here in the Haunted Woods! These three guys have been making a giant splash in the rock community worldwide, and we at the Arena are psyched to be having them here to perform for you guys tonight! Now, without further ado, the one, the only.... STUT!”
The stage manager off to the side yanked on the curtain, and with a whoosh the dark fabric slid to the side. Bright lights hit Chai’s eyes, blinding him for a moment, but when the spots over his vision cleared, his heart skipped a beat. The audience was packed. Lupes and Chias of almost every shape, size, and color were there, cheering “Stut! Stut!” at the top of their lungs from their spots.
Chai glanced over at Rayze and Sed. The Fire Kyrii and Speckled Bori nodded back at him, and the Darigan Zafara gripped the mic, leaning in towards it.
“Hello, Haunted Woods!” he crooned into the Virtu-mic, his voice reverberating nicely in the spacious Arena. His scarlet eyes ran over the darkened audience hanging on his every word. “The name’s Chai. The Kyrii to my left is Rayze on guitar, while Sed is our resident psychotic drummer.” He grinned. All of his nerves from earlier had completely vanished. The stage was his home, and he was totally relaxed.
“So anyway, enough of introductions. Let’s start this,” he exclaimed, glancing towards Sed. The Speckled Bori grinned manically back at him, his earring glinting in the light, and then he tapped his drumsticks together in quick succession. 1, 2, 3, 4...
Rayze started up a nice riff as Sed beat on his drums, building up the intro. The audience was already into it, paws clapping, fists raised in the air, and shouts echoing throughout the Arena.
And then, right at the perfect moment, Chai joined in.
He opened his mouth and words poured out, lyrics he had written long ago along with their distinctive melodies. There was a power in his words, and whenever he sat down to write a song, it was almost as if he was compelled to do so. It was just like when he was compelled to write letters to his mother when he was nervous or scared, except a hundred times more enjoyable.
And the best thing was, he was good. The words came to him easily, and they always fit exactly into place. They always meant something to him, whether happiness, or anger, or sadness, or something completely different, and he had the ability to transfer his feelings to someone else. And that was increasingly evident that night; Chai doubted any of the audience had ever heard of Stut before arriving there, but by time the chorus repeated, everyone had already seemed to pick up on the words.
The Darigan Zafara grinned, ruffling his hair with a claw as he continued to sing away. From one song to the next, the band performed brilliantly. Sed’s rhythms stayed interesting and true the entire night, Rayze dazzled the audience with his string of complex riffs and a guitar solo in their second number, and everyone loved the catchy lyrics that Chai kept belting into the night.
Everything was going perfectly.
Record deal, here we come! Chai thought triumphantly as they finished up another song. He gasped for breath as the audience cheered, giving his friends an encouraging grin. Rayze looked purple under the blend of colorful lights, while Sed’s forehead was glinting with sweat from an exhausting drum finale. But they both looked ready to play the rest of the set.
That is, until there was a loud scream from the audience.
Throughout the night there had been whoops and cheers and shouts of all sorts, but the scream sent a shiver down Chai’s spine. It was high and shrill, and it cut through the air as easily as a sword through jelly.
Chai tried to shield the bright lights out of his eyes with his hands, but the audience was so dim he could barely make out what the commotion was.
“Hey, stage manager!” Rayze hissed backstage as the crowd started to murmur frantically. “Put a spotlight over the crowd.”
A moment later, the Kyrii’s wish was granted. Light flooded the audience, revealing hundreds of startled Lupe and Chias gazing upwards, their eyes wide and filled with fright. Chai followed their line of sight and nearly fell over.
A young Spotted Lupe was dangling by a single paw from the balcony, gripping the stone railing for dear life, refusing to fall fifty feet to the ground. His mother, a pink Lupe, was shrieking as she reached frantically for her son, but her arms were too short. Her neighbors tried to reach for the boy too, but no one, not a single Chia or Lupe, could manage to reach the young lad.
“Some one needs to get to him,” Chai said, turning towards Rayze and Sed who were both staring upwards in horror. “Is there a ladder behind stage or something?”
“I don’t think it’d be able to reach,” Rayze said hopelessly, but suddenly, the Fire Kyrii turned towards Chai, his brown eyes blazing. “Wait a minute. You can fly.”
It took a full moment for the words to sink in. “Wait--What?”
“Chai, you can fly. You’re painted Darigan for Zo’s sake! You have to go out and save him!”
“Me? But I... I...” Chai trailed off pathetically, turning towards the lit up audience. He scanned the frantic crowd, trying to see if there was anyone else, but he realized with a start that he was the only one in the entire Arena with wings.
Chai felt his heart speed up in his chest. He hadn’t flown in so long, ever since his mom’s accident, and he was terrified. Cautiously, he attempted to flap one of his wings, and it shifted roughly. It hadn’t been used in three months, and it felt like a foreign part of him. But then he heard the Pink Lupe’s shrill scream, and he knew he was running out of time.
Chai closed his eyes. Mom, he thought silently, please help me.
And then, taking a deep breath, he jumped off the stage.
For a moment, he was falling, and the audience members beneath him let out a shriek. But then his wings reacted, half memory, half instinct. The red and black leather spread outwards, catching the air, and suddenly he was flying.
Chai felt his heart hammering in his throat, and was completely aware of how vulnerable he felt up in the air. But he shoved the feeling to the side. He had a job to do.
He glanced at the Pink Lupe as he drew nearer, her horrified expression clearly visible along with the glittering tearstains on her face. “Don’t worry,” he mumbled too quietly for her to hear, “I’m not going to let you down too.”
But then the young Spotted Lupe let out a small cry and his grip slipped.
Suddenly the cub was spiraling downwards, an expression of terror on his young face. His mother let out a howl, and the crowd gasped. And Chai flew. His fears were forgotten for a brief moment, and he beat his wings with all his might, reaching outwards...
The Lupe landed safely in his arms.
The audience erupted into cheers, the sound echoing throughout the Arena. Chai hovered in the air, glancing at the cub in his arms. He was just a young lad, and the Lupe’s small face looked positively relieved. In thanks, the young neopet gently nuzzled his head to the singer’s chest, a smile playing on his face.
Chai smiled back, but a moment later he sensed that something was still wrong. He glanced around the Arena. Everything looked perfectly normal. Rayze and Sed were grinning at him from the stage, the Lupe’s mother was sobbing with joy up on the balcony, the audience was cheering from below... And then his realized what it was. His wings, which had frantically been beating only moments before, were suddenly becoming harder and harder to flap. As his adrenaline died down, so did their movements, and they seemed to grow heavier and heavier with each passing second. They had been out of practice too long. He was going to fall.
There was only one thing to do.
Trying to stay brave, Chai cradled the Lupe tightly to his chest and attempted to slowly lower himself to the ground. However, they were still several feet above the hard ground when his wings suddenly gave out.
The crowd erupted in a scream as the Darigan Zafara fell, but Chai could do nothing except try to shield the young Lupe as best he could. A moment later, Chai hit the ground with a thud, his head slamming into something hard. Pain rippled through his body, and he let out a strangled yelp.
Then everything went black.
To be continued...