Make A Mistake With Me - Chapter 4: Self-Blame, Interrupted - by MistakeAnon

“I still can’t believe old Grimey gave you a job here…” >You voice your disbelief as you exit the car with Adagio. >It’s now late afternoon. >Most of the school day went by in a blur, with no more groundbreaking events happening. >Well, you did keep an eye out for Sunset Shimmer, but like principal Celestia said, she didn’t show up. >So, after school, you gave the Dazzlings a ride to the town. >Sonata was still looking for a job, and after what happened last time, Aria wanted to be there to make sure nothing went wrong. >You still told them to stay out of any back alleys and head back to school before it got dark, just in case. >This left you with Adagio, and since you had nothing better to do, you figured you would see how she was handling her job at the record store. >Plus, it’s not like you and Grimey were total strangers. If that old coot was around, you might exchange a word or two. >It’s too bad that for some strange reason, Adagio seems to have taken you tagging along as a sign of challenge. >She flicks her hair and shoots you a competitive grin. >”Well, perhaps Mr. Grimey can spot talent better than some people, hmm?” “Yeah, yeah. Let’s just get in.” >You flash a tired smile at her. >Inside is a veritable paradise of old records. >Aisle after aisle, all packed together like sardines in a bad metaphor. >One small room leads to another in this record store built into an old bomb-shelter. >You had to admit, Ol’ Grimey had a sense of flair where it counted. >Even now, your hands get sweaty at the sight of all those old albums. >Shit. If only you had enough money… >Well, okay. Maybe you could leave Ted Nugent in the shelf. >You heard of that crap enough at your uncle’s scrapyard. >”Anonymous? Something wrong?” >Adagio is looking at you funny. >You shoo her away. “Just get to your job, already. I’ll take a look if I’ll find anything interesting.” >Adagio rolls her eyes. >”Don’t expect good customer service with an attitude like that.” >Her words are answered by a dry chuckle echoing from the other end of the room. >”That grouch doesn’t even deserve a smile. Keep that up, newbie.” >You both turn towards the voice. >There stands an old man in his late sixties, with slicked back grey hair and far too many tattoos. >For some reason, he’s wearing a leather vest and patched-up jeans. >Oh, and a Metallica shirt. >Jesus, how disgusting. >”Uh, Manager? What…” >Adagio looks confused. >You can’t help but to laugh as you walk over to the old man to shake his hand. “Would you look at that? The old fart is still alive and kickin’. I thought they did you in for being such an ass.” >”And I see the juvie didn’t hold you for long. I take it they couldn’t stand your attitude either?” >You’re both grinning like a couple of idiots. >It’s been, what, six years, but somehow it doesn’t feel like a day has passed. >Ol’ Grimey is just the senile fool he has always been. >”Wait. You two know each other?” >Adagio stares at you with crossed arms, a slightly worried look on her face. >That is, worried at the prospect she might be right. >”Sure we do, newbie. Anonymous here used to practically live up in my old shop in the east. Couldn’t get the kid to leave the records alone.” >Grimey pats you on the shoulder. >”Then one day he got the nerve to actually hold a concert with his band in that place. Sure enough, I had to relocate here.” “Oh shut up, you old fart. We played for a case of beer and a pack of cigarettes. You were using child-labor, plain and simple.” >Your good-natured ribbing does not seem to impress Adagio. >She raises her hand, palm facing you, to stop the two of you. >The way she rubs her temples signals an incoming migraine. >”Hold it right there. Not only do you two know each other, but you lived in the same city?” >Ol’ Grimey nods. >”That’s right. Hell, he lived down the street from my place.” >”And… Anonymous used to play in a *band*?” >Wait. >Shit. >Shit! >The conversation had taken a surprise-turn straight off the bridge. “W-well, not exactly. I mean, me and some other kids did play instruments but it wasn’t exactly a b—“ >”Wait, you haven’t heard, newbie? These guys were the indie darlings four years ago. Critics spouted about ‘return of true hard rock’ and all other crap.” >You’re sweating bullets of fear right about now. >Adagio’s staring at you like you had grown another head. >And that bastard, Ol’ Grimey, is none the wiser about how hard he just threw that shit into the fan. >”Really now?” >Adagio’s voice wavers somewhere between dry ice and sandpaper, and her left eyebrow is reaching all new heights. >”Couldn’t make it up if I tried. They toured ‘round the States, from roadside bar to another. Were damn popular with the right sorta folks. Weren’t too shabby at what they did, either.” >Grimey shoots a confused glance from you to Adagio. >”What? Anon here hadn’t told you?” >You feel a chill creep up your spine under Poof’s glare. >”No. No he hadn’t.” >”Well, I suppose I can sorta understand that. I mean, he’s here now, instead of playing on some big stage abroad.” >Your body freezes. >The protests you were about to say die in your throat. >He’s not gonna— >”Of course, that was all because Anon here decided it was good idea to get nine ways pealaid before hopping on the wh—“ “GRIMEY!” >Your sudden shout takes both the old man and Adagio by surprise. >You glare at Grimey, warning clear in your eyes. “… Shut up.” >Rubbing the back of his neck, Grimey lets out air between his teeth. >Seems he, too, realized what he was about to blurt out. >”Sorry ‘bout that. Misspoke a bit. Forget about it, newbie.” >Adagio’s expression is unreadable, but at least she nods. >Grimey looks awkwardly around the room, trying to figure out how to steer the conversation back on track. >Eventually, he settles on a completely new topic. >”So, how do you crazy kids even know each other?” “We go to the same school.” >You blurt that out a bit bluntly. >Adagio snorts. >”And he’s taken it upon himself to teach us about music. For *some* reason.” >You can feel the sting in her words. >Ol’ Grimey chuckles. >”Well, you can’t ask for a much better teacher. Gruff as he might be, Anon here knows enough about that subject to lead a marching band.” >The mental image is enough to make you shiver. >”So don’t go looking a gift horse in the mouth. It might just bite.” >Adagio’s smirk is not too encouraging. >”Oh, no need to worry about that. If anyone is gonna bite, it’ll be me.” >Shit, things just keep on getting better. >Grimey, though, seems unaware of how strained the atmosphere has become. >”Well, I’ve got some stuff I need to unpack in the back. I’ll just leave you lovebirds here to do what you need to do.” >Wait, what!? >”We’re not in a relationship.” ”We’re not in a relationship.” >Your united front is enough to drive the still-cackling Grimey out of the room. >But the damage is already done. >And here you thought things couldn’t get any worse. >Heaving a big sigh, you sit down on a nearby chair. >Adagio watches you coolly. >”So?” >She finally opens her mouth. >”When were you going to come clean about that?” >You grunt. “About what? That I was in a band? I don’t see how that’s any of your business.” >Crap. Wrong choice words. >Poof looks just about ready to fume. >”None of our business? Considering you’re currently doing your best to get us back into music, I’d say it very much is!” >Walking around the counter, Adagio plants her feet right in front of you. >You look up at her, into her angry eyes. >”You do realize that this puts your motivations in rather questionable light, right?” >You can’t help but to sigh again, and scratch your head. “Yeah… Yeah, I know. I know it looks like I’m just looking for a replacement to what I had.” >You avert your gaze from her. “I ain’t got anything I prove otherwise but… Just so you know, that’s not it. When I got to CHS, the last thing on my mind was starting another band.” >”Then why?” “Like I told you three before: I saw just how big part music was in your lives. And that you still longed for it, despite what happened. I thought… I thought I could show you that it wasn’t music’s fault what happened. That you could still enjoy it despite everything.” >You lean back, against the cool surface of the concrete wall. “Things just happened this way. And that’s life, I guess.” >It’s a long, silent ten minutes. >Well, it’s probably just a few seconds. >But to you, it feels much longer that. >”Honestly…” >Finally, Adagio lets out a sound much like a deflating balloon. >”If that was it, you could have told us, you know? There was no need to hide something like this.” >You look at Adagio, and to your surprise, a slightly amused smirk plays on her lips. >”Then again, I suppose we hid our true nature from you, so I guess we can call it even?” >Chuckling, she extends her tiny hand to you. >It feels even smaller when you wrap your own around it. >But its grip… >It’s pure steel. Firm and sure. “Even?” >Adagio grins. >”Even.” >Feeling a great relief wash over you, you let out a tired chuckle. >Sometimes it feels like your life is walking on coals or broken glass. >Every misstep is going to cost you. >Still, it’s good to know that some stuff can be fixed with just talking it out. >… Speaking of which. >You needed to talk with Adagio. >Both Sonata and Strangelove had suggested you’d tell her about your problem. >The anger you felt, and how it sometimes ruled you. >According to those two, Adagio could understand you. >She could, perhaps, help you. >But that meant you’d have to open up to her. >Not like this, when someone else blurted out your secrets before you could stop them. >This time you’d have to speak first. >On your own. >You’d have to— >”So? Was Grimey right?” >You shake off your thoughts and look at Adagio, confused. “Huh? What?” >”That you were an indie darling back in the day? Were you really that good?” >You grimace a bit. >You weren’t really a one to flaunt your skills. >The few that you had. >Still, that fiery look in Poof’s eyes… she wasn’t about to let it go. “Well, I’m not sure about an ‘indie darling’, but at least I knew my way around a guitar. I suppose I could play well-enough to entertain a decent crowd of people.” >Adagio is wearing that grin again, and she pushes her face closer. >”Then show me.” “What!?” >”I’ve only heard bits and pieces while you’ve been teaching Sonata. But I want to hear you actually play something.” >You jerk back, for various reason. “H-Hold on just a minute! I don’t even have a guitar here, I can’t just—“ >”Oh? Here you go.” >Like a magician, Adagio reaches behind the counter and pulls out an old, beaten up acoustic guitar which she shoves into your hands. >Begrudgingly you take it, giving the instrument a scrutinizing glance. >Looks to be in working order. >You can’t just say it’s too busted to play anything properly. >Plus you know that Grimey has a bunch of guitars in the back. And so must Adagio. >She’d just get one of those. >”Well? This is a rare chance, and I’m not about to let it go.” >Her cocked eyebrow seems to challenge you. >Grumbling underneath your breath, you start tuning the guitar. >It took a couple of minutes, but eventually you were ready. >With Adagio sitting on the counter, legs crossed like some sort of queen, you felt like a criminal being judged. >And in a way, you sort of were. >Half-way through tuning the guitar, you realized that this might’ve been Adagio’s revenge on hiding the ‘band’ thing from her. >And looking at that merciless smirk, you knew you had hit the bullseye. >Still, you couldn’t come up with a reason to not play, so you took a better hold of the instrument. >After a moment’s hesitation, your fingers fumbled for the B-string. >Then, as your experience took over, the wavering sounds were woven into a strong melody. >[Embed: Carlos Santana - Europa (Acoustic Ver.)] >Europa. >It had been quite a while since you had heard this one. >Or played it, for that matter. >To be honest, last time it had been closer to The Mushroom Lady’s Coming to Town. >But now, after all these years… >After how much you had grown… >Perhaps, just like the song, you had evolved into something better than that. >Lift from A to G, G to B. >As your fingers carve through that snowed-in path from your past, your mind loses itself in the music. >Your music, your band, your past… >In the end, they’re one and the same thing. >All of them you left behind. >Or, you tried to. >Now they’re back here again, one way or another. Even if you tried to distance yourself from it. >You found your music again. You found another band. And your past… >No matter how hard you try, it seems to catch up to you. >Your car, Uncle Bobby, Ol’ Grimey... >Hell, even this melody. >You were just retreading the same paths you had made all those years ago. >You even took up the mantle of a villain, willingly, just on the minimal chance that your crazy plan would work. >What was that if not repeating all the mistakes from before? “Ah.” >Your fingers strike a chord little too hard, and Adagio winces. >You’re angry at yourself. >Not because you made a mistake in playing, but for thinking like you just did. >So what if the path is the same? >This time, you’re going to choose a different direction. >Things won’t end up like they did the last time. >Just like with this song, you have the experience gained form your past mistakes. >And while you might do new ones with the Dazzlings, you sure as hell ain’t gonna screw things up in the same way. >With new conviction in your heart, you let the melody of Santana fade away. >Your fingers stop plucking, leaving the strings to quiver to the final note. >Letting air out of your lungs, you raise your head to look at Adagio. >To your surprise, Poof has yet to comment on your playing. >Instead, you find her staring at you with slightly open mouth, eyes quite wide. >As if from surprise. >The silence stretches longer and longer, to the point you feel uncomfortable. >You’re also trying your damnedest not to blush. >”Anonymous, that was…” “Was what?” >Your grumpy question elicits an amazed response. >”Simply beautiful.” >Goddammit. >Now you really have to look away. >Like hell are you gonna let her see your cheeks all red. >Chuckling at your plight, Adagio softly pries the guitar off your hands. >To your surprise, she leans against your turned back as she begins to carefully pluck various notes here and there. >”Well, that makes things all the better, I suppose.” >You snort. “Better how?” >You can almost see Adagio feign surprise. >”Why, to be better than you, of course. There’d be no point if I proved my superiority if you were only subpar when it comes to playing a guitar.” >You feel like she just sucker-punched you. >You can’t even bother to voice your flabbergasted amazement. >Instead, you just sit there like an idiot, feeling the soft touch of her magnificent hair as it rubs against your neck. >Eventually, you find the only possible reaction. >It starts from deep within you. >Finally it erupts as a laughter that shakes your body. >That sound is soon joined by Adagio’s cackle. >For a moment, the two of you just sit there, back to back, laughing like a couple of idiots. >It’s a refreshing feeling, all things considered. >And though you would never admit it, you aren’t against it. >Instead, the weight of Adagio against your back feels only natural. >Almost as if— “Well. I’ll be looking forward to it, then.” >You glance over your shoulder, barely seeing her face through that Poof. >”Just wait. Come Winter Formal, I’ll have left you in the dust.” >Thus, your words and laughter fade away. >But your grins don’t. >Right now, both of you are content just being there, supporting each other and enjoying the silence that follows music. >And as that moment grows longer, it finally dawns upon you. >Just what Sonata meant when she said you and Adagio were equal. >You can’t imagine acting this way with either of the other two. >In Sonata’s case, it’d probably be you supporting her. >And Aria would most likely overpower you completely. >But with Adagio, there’s just the right balance. Whatever you throw at her, she can retaliate in kind. >It’s similarity that goes beyond outward appearances. >You might look like a Lynyrd Skynyrd roadie… >And she might look like an overgrown cheese puff… >But damn if you weren’t similar. Like birds of a feather. “Hey? Adagio?” >And that’s when you make the decision. >”Mm?” >Right here, right now… it might be okay for you to open up. “I needed to talk with you about something.” >Her hair rustles as she turns to look at you. >”You mean what happened at the school, don’t you?” “Hah. Read like a book.” >”You talk as if you’re a complicated box of secrets. Let me assure you, Anon, you’re a very Simple Man.” >You both chuckle at that stupid joke. >But then, the atmosphere turns a bit more serious. >”You’re angry, aren’t you? Because of what’s happened… and what’s happening. How people act and how people treat us.” >You grimace. “Sometimes it feels like I’m angry all the time. It just keeps gathering inside me until the famous final straw that breaks my back.” >Adagio doesn’t answer immediately. >Instead, you feel her hand on your shoulder. >”It’s like an acid that eats you alive, and you have to pour it somewhere eventually?” “I guess that’s a good way to put it.” >The small hand squeezes you strongly. >”And while you don’t want to harm anyone, sometimes you just can’t help it?” >Your answer is just a nod this time. >There are some things that are hard to admit with words. >”Anonymous... Anger isn’t something we can just wish away. Once it infects us, it’s there to stay. I know it all too well. When we lost the Battle of the Bands and our powers were taken from us… I was blind with fury. Sometimes I still am. That feeling churns my stomach whenever I see the Rainbooms.” >You can hear the contained emotion behind those words. >”Everyone feels angry at some point. Trust me, I have enough experience in manipulating emotions to know that much. It’s an emotion that’s part of any creature, human or siren. There’s no getting away from it.” >The more she speaks, the more hopeless a picture she paints. >It’s like she’s confirming your fears, one-by-one. >To always remains a person who can’t control their emotions. >To always be prone to attack someone who’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. >It’s a shame that strangles you even when you just think about it. >Anger has brought you this far, helped you survive this far, and yet you want nothing to do with it. >It’s a source of strength, and at the same time, an acid. >An acid that burns you from the inside, just like Adagio said. >”But.” >Letting go of the guitar, Adagio turns completely around. >Before you can react, she takes your left hand and presses something into it. >A paper slip. >A flier? >It looks old and crumbled, like something that’s been stored in her pocket for a long time. >But the strength with which she puts it into your hand tells it’s important. >”While we can never get rid of our anger, we can learn to control it. We can learn when to release it so that no one has to get hurt… unless you want them to.” >Adagio’s wearing an expression you’ve never seen on her face before. >A reassuring smile. >Just like you, she’s baring something she doesn’t show to others. >”After we lost, I was searching for an outlet for my own fury… and this is the place I found. A friend of mine works there, and if you mention my name, I’m sure she’ll help you, too.” >Before you can stop yourself, you cock an eyebrow. “Wait. A friend?” >Adagio rolls her eyes. >”An acquaintance. You know very well the only friends I have are Aria, Sonata and you.” “… Yeah.” >To hear her admit it so casually is slightly jarring. >Friends. >You know the four of you are that, but to put it in words is a different thing. >Not bad. Just… different. >”So drop by there tonight. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn the same as I did.” >Adagio nudges you with her elbow, as if urging you to go. “Oh? And what’s that?” >A devilish grin spreads on her face. >”How to rein in your anger and use it as a weapon.” >It’s a contagious grin to be sure. >After all, you’re now wearing one just like it. “Sounds good. Should be of use when we start our villainy.” >Adagio cackles in an exaggerated manner. >”Exactly! Even a proper villain needs to train themselves for what’s to come.” “Just don’t force me into a cheesy 80’s sports movie montage.” >”I make no promises.” >As the two of you laugh once more, you look at the flier she handed to you. >It’s written with white letters on faded brown paper, but the text is still legible. >Before you spreads images of rings, gloves, sandbags and punches. >There’s an address written on the lower-left corner. >Around the central picture there’s grand-sounding words advertising what can be found there. >But what draws your attention is the name at the very top. >Written in big, bold letters. >’RUGGIERO GYM’ >Below it, there’s a picture of a head of some weird-looking creature. >Possibly a logo of some sort. >Committing the name and the address to your memory, you pocket the flier and turn to look at Adagio. >She looks like she’s waiting for something. >And you have a pretty good guess what. “Alright. I think I need to get going, then.” >”I can’t promise it’ll work for you. But at least give it a try.” >You nod. “Sure. Can’t demand more than that.” >With the conversation ended, you rise from your chair, a bit sad that the warmth of Adagio’s body is now gone. >Hastily you shoo such thoughts away from your mind. >This ain’t a time to get distracted. >Especially by something like that. “…” >But even you don’t want to be a total jackass. “And Adagio? Thanks.” >You look at her one last time. >She’s leaning against the table, and gives you a soft wink. >”Anytime, Anonymous. Now get going.” >Having said your goodbyes, you head to the door. >There’s still some time before it gets dark. >Time to see if this gym is as helpful as Adagio promised. >It’s gotten completely dark by the time you make it to the Ruggiero Gym. >But that’s just natural. >It’s winter, after all. >There’s still boatloads of people milling about, going everywhere. >Not exactly an atmosphere for a weird wheelchair-bound alleyway monster to strike. >Shaking those unpleasant thoughts from your head, you exit the Buick. >The parking lot of the gym can be barely called such. >It’s just a patch of concrete sandwiched between two larger buildings. >Other seems to be a warehouse of some sort, most likely used by top men. >Who? >*Top Men* >The other is, of course, Ruggiero Gym itself. >And while you persistently call it that, it’s just another warehouse, only repurposed. >At least you hope so. >The flier given to you by Adagio seems to indicate it has a ring and everything inside, but you’re not sure… >Outside, it looks only worth using for the storage of fish. >The only thing that even vaguely hints at the place being anything other than forgotten den of modern-day smugglers is the banner. >Strewn above the large, bolted-shut steel doors is a large brown cloth banner. >On it, huge letters have been painted in white. >’RUGGIERO GYM’ >And at the end, there’s that same strange logo that was in the flier. >Some sort of strange bird with a lion’s mane or something. >Weird. >Then again, you had seen weirder. >You had once gone to this Hit Pit Gym where the trainer was an old, grizzled dude who did nothing but scowl and snarl and chew that damn cigar of his. >And his eyes were squinted so hard you swore he never actually saw anything. >By comparison, this Ruggiero Gym seemed almost normal. >… You just hoped that feeling would carry on all the way in. >After all, it was Adagio who had directed you here. >She was your friend, but she wasn’t above dirty tricks. >Sending you to some madhouse disguised as a boxing gym was just her style. >Steeling yourself, you head on in. >Well, almost. >You decide to light up a cigarette before you plunge into the tiger’s den. >Who knows what’ll happen there. >Best be completely relaxed. >As you stand there, leaning on the side of the building next to the side-entrance-promoted-to-main-entrance, you direct your gaze up. >What you see is inky blackness, quietly reflecting the dirty yellow of the city lights. >Man. >Back home, or out on the road, you used to see plenty of stars. >Sure, nothing compared to say, Mojave, but still, you had always seen one or two bright spots up there. >Now though? Nothing but black. >Almost as if, instead of being drowned by the light pollution of the city, the stars were just… gone. >Completely erased. >Or hidden. >With a veil of jet black midnight covering them from your sight. >A shield to protect them... or to trap you. “Eesh.” >As you take another drag from your cigarette, you shiver a bit. >It has nothing to do with the cold. >For some reason, you find yourself now firmly staring at the asphalt. >That midnight sky without stars is just giving you the creeps. Like a kid who’s told not to look directly into the sun, you want to sneak a peek. >But you don’t dare. >Because if you do, maybe, just maybe, you’ll find out that— “Alright! We’ll see you later, Big G!” >The door to your right swings open, and out walk two girls, interrupting your thoughts. >You nearly swallow your cigarette out of surprise. >Hastily, you cover that by inhaling and exhaling deep, releasing a cloud of smoke that almost covers your face. >Smoke screen, activated. >Your plan seems to work, as immediately, the two girls begin coughing and move further away. >”Ugh, what’s the big idea!?” >The shorter of the two is about to complain some more, but upon seeing you, her mouth clamps shut. >You know exactly why. >Standing in shadow, wreathed in smoke… you’re the spitting image of stranger danger. >Don’t go out at night, kids. >”C-come on. Let’s go.” >The girl with her hair slicked back tugs the sleeve of her friend. >She seems to agree, as she’s trying her damnedest not to make an eye-contact with you. >They powerwalk out of the parking lot like a pair of Santino Marellas. >The only thing you see now is the back of that Andy Warhol hair of hers. >Jesus. Something that gaudy should be outlawed. >Not that it’s any of your concern. You doubt you’ll be seeing much of them anymore. >You hope. >And perhaps that’s why… perhaps that’s the reason… >Yes. It must be the reason. >There’s no other explanation. >After all, why would you otherwise feel a sudden lurch in your stomach when those indigo eyes of the shorter girl stole one more glance at you? >And just like that, they’re gone. >Turning around the corner, they disappear from your sight and fade into the depths of the city. >You’re left alone once more. >Much chillier than you were before. >Even the burning tip of the cigarette on your lips isn’t enough to keep you warm. >Instead, it’s like an eye of a rattlesnake, silently laughing at you and your paranoia. >Mind can play dirty tricks to one distracted by the night. >Even an experienced traveler has to stay on his toes. >On a cool, stagnant night such as this, the danger is even greater. >You know what lurks out there. >You and Sonata experienced it first-hand. >And now the sky and that girl… >Everywhere you look, there’s a new thing to be wary of. >Since when did your life get this messed up? “Ugh. Disgusting.” >You throw your half-smoked cigarette to the asphalt and stomp it. >Sticking your hands in your pockets, you stomp over to the door and pull it open. >The faster you can get out of this night, the better. >It’s clearly not doing any favors to your thoughts. >Even the dimly lit emptiness of the boxing gym is a welcome change. >The gym is just about what you expected from the outside. >Floor is grey concrete, just like the walls. Cracked pillars try their best to hold up the metallic ceiling. >Sandbags have been lined up here and there at the walls, to stave off the impression of empty space. >A couple of speed bags hang from iron staves that cut through the pillars, emerging from both sides, along with a maize bag. >Pitiful-looking slam mans are propped against the corner, looking like they were ready for early retirement. >Hell, one of them is missing a head. >The back wall, save for a door leading to what you can only assume is the dressing room, is covered with a huge industrial-size mirror. >Next to it, there’s a couple of cardboard boxes filled with focus mitts, jump ropes, gloves and assorted paraphernalia >Of course, most of the space in the gym was taken up by the ring. >The damn thing looks almost ancient. >You could swear you had seen some photos from the 60’s where boxers stood in rings just like that. >The padding, if you could call it that, was thin as a breath. >The turnbuckles were nothing but metal poles. >Thankfully, at least the ropes seemed rather new. Somebody had had the common sense to keep those in good shape. >All this is illuminated by three light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. >Not exactly mood lighting. >Taking in the atmosphere and the smell of sweat, leather and bruises, you step inside, closing the door behind you. >Immediately, you are seized by a rough voice calling out to you from the shadows. >”Huh? Whaddya want, dweeb? We’re closed for the night.” >You stare at the figure sitting on an overturned sandbag. “… Whoah.” >That’s gotta be the first time you’ve seen a bomber jacket with a fur collar as overcompensating as, well… your own. >Her white, purple-edged hair stands up like a crest of a bird of prey. >Her amber eyes stare at you, suspicion clear in them. >She’s currently taking off her hand wraps, and smoking while she does. >Shit. >Wears a leather jacket, smokes, looks pretty darn ripped for a girl… >You’d be feeling pretty uncomfortable in your jeans right about now if it weren’t for that weird-ass experience you had just outside. >While you stand there and stare like an idiot, this rough-looking beauty throws away the wraps and takes a drag off her cigarette. >She glares at you. >”Well? Cat got your tongue?” >You shook your head, dispelling any fantasies that had begun to crop up. “Right. Sorry. Err… I’m Anonymous.” >”And I’m Gilda. So, how’s about you get lost? Like I said, we’re closing.” >You grimace. Her confrontational tone hasn’t settled in the least. “I would, it’s just that… well, I was told to come here. By a friend. Apparently you know her, too. One Adagio Dazzle.” >For a moment, Gilda’s eyes light up. >”Ah, you know Dagi? Dude, why didn’t you say so? I was about to boot your ass outside in five seconds if you didn’t leave willingly.” >You had no problems in believing it would have been one hell of a fight if you had tried to resist. >This girl here looks like a pure-bred boxing monster in all the right places. >”So, what? You’re Dagi’s new lay? Man, was about time she got those problems out of her system.” >While she laughs crudely, you make a sour face. “Why does everyone keep insinuating that…?” >”Hey, it isn’t my business what goes on under your sheets.” “You’re damn right it’s not. There’s nothing there but an occasional bottle of whiskey and one very lonely hand that doesn’t get to hold it.” >Gilda cackles with a crude grin. >”That bad, huh? Well, I can just imagine. Ain’t one of those girls a picture of mental health.” >Now there’s something you can both agree in. >You sit down on an old cardboard box, right across from Gilda. >She eyes you up and down as she finishes her cigarette. >Girl even has one of those fancy-ass cylinder-shaped ashtrays you can carry around with you. >A dame after your own heart. >”So? If Dagi sent you here, I bet she had a reason. What’s up, dweeb?” >Gilda stares at you with a cocked eyebrow. >No use beating around the bush. “She told me you had helped her overcome her anger issues. I… I need the same advice.” >Blurting it out like that felt surprisingly refreshing. >The more you tried to keep it a secret, the more heavily it weighed upon your heart. >But if you just accepted it and were able to talk about it, things were different. >”Ah. Gotcha. You got a flaring temper too, huh? Well, leave it up to Dagi to find someone like her.” >Gilda nods in understanding. >”Unfortunately, dweeb, I ain’t got a miracle cure or anything like that. There isn’t a pep-rally or some mushy friendship stuff that can help you if you just feel bleedin’ mad. You just gotta grin and bear it.” “So she told me. But apparently, you had some way to… tame that problem. Bring it under control.” >Snickering, she brings another cigarette to her lips and lights it up. >”Did she now? Well, I suppose I have learned a trick or two in the ring.” >Hearing those words, you let your eyes wander around the match posters strewn across the wall. >About half of them do indeed have the name ‘G. Griffon’ on them, along with a picture of a familiar girl. >No, scratch that. >Some of them have “Gallant” Gilda Griffon written. >The rest of the posters seem at least a few decades old, featuring one name in particular. >”Glorious” Gruff Griffon. >Huh. Runs in the blood, apparently. >”Just so you know, this ain’t a miracle cure either. Either you learn it, or you don’t. But, since Dagi told you to come here, I suppose she thinks you’ll get what I’m about to teach you.” “I’ll try not to prove her wrong.” >You give Gilda a lopsided smirk, which she returns. >”Okay, listen up then, dweeb. First things first: anger’s not some kinda curse that affects people, making them act against their will. It’s in us all. It’s not some great enemy or a dark secret to harbor. It’s a damn emotion and that’s that. Don’t glorify it.” >You have to admit, the way she start makes you raise your eyebrows. >”So don’t whine about it like I’m pretty damn sure you’re about to. You’re not the only one with problems managing their emotions. Some people get horny at the drop of a dime, others can’t stop stuffing their fat faces. Life’s like that, get over it.” “Wow. You’re… really not good at this whole ‘helping’ thing, are you?” >She snorts derisively. >”I’m not trying to help you, I’m trying to train you.” “Fair enough. Feel free to continue.” >After taking a drag from cigarette, she does just that. >”People tend to think anger as a separate vice in itself, but there, they’re mistaken. Anger, like all extremes, is just raw emotion. It’s pure, in a destructive way. And like all damn extremes, it’s bad for you.” >Raising her left hand, Gilda brings it up to your eye-level with the back facing you. >”It’s lack of control and restraint, lack of thought and rationality. In other words, it’s the lack of all things that are needed to make you effective. But on the other hand, it makes you strong. Stronger than you normally are. It’s a spark that sets you in a blaze that’ll burn every dweeb who wronged you.” >You know that much. >You still remember how easy it was to pick that boy by his throat and slam him against the locker. >You didn’t even think about his weight back then. >You just squeezed, lifted and slammed. >That was all. >”So hell no, nobody should get rid of their anger. Without it we’d be dickless losers apologizing for everything we do.” >After taking another drag from her cigarette, Gilda continues. >She raises her right hand the same way as before. >”In the other corner, you’ve got focus, control, whatever you want to call it. It’s that little, annoying voice in your brain that tells you the stuff you *should* be doing instead of what you actually are. It’s your brains being all Vulcan and logical, making sure you aren’t pissing on your own feet. Simple stuff, really.” >For a moment, her eyes narrow. >”Except it ain’t. Focus is something people need to learn and practice, and some people take it to an extreme as well. They never get passionate or excited about anything, choosing to instead to try and think it out. Screw them. If people thought out everything, we’d have one hell of a boring world in our hands.” >Chewing the filter of her cigarette, Gilda lifts both of her hands a little. >”So there you have it. Anger and focus. People think they’re two emotions on their own, but they really ain’t. Anger’s just lack of focus. Focus’ just lack of anger. Two sides of the same coin, two forms of one existence. You see two, but there’s only one. And the further they got from each other, the more of an identity they have on their own. Get it?” >You nod, but you’re not totally sure. >The way she treats emotions is almost akin to disdain. >”Conversely, the closer they get to each other, the more they lose their identity. They become a muddled mess of something-or-other, and eventually, people can’t separate one from the other.” >Slowly, she brings her hands together and intertwines her fingers. >What you see now is a fist of two hands. >A hammer. >Or a prayer. >”That’s what you need to find. The equilibrium. Keep your damn anger, increase your focus, then mix them together until you can’t tell which is which.” >With her amber eyes glowing softly in the dimly lit gym, Gilda locks her gaze at you. >”That’s your strength.” >”Anger is a spark. Rage is an indiscriminate inferno.” >Gilda lowers her hands. >”Focus is metal. Obsession is a cold slab of ore.” >She grins as she finishes her second cigarette. >”Together, in the right balance, they make for a damn fine weapon.” >You look down at your own hands. >They’re big and rough. >Your skin is thick on fingertips thanks to the guitar, and your palms are coarse. >But maybe, just maybe… you could put them to a good use once more. >God knows you’ve punched people who didn’t deserve it in the past. >Now, you might punch with actual purpose. >Instead of a teenager’s aimless wrath. “Heh. Doesn’t sound too bad.” >You look up at Gilda, who’s already standing. >Hands on her hips, she’s grinning down at you. >”Ready to give it a try?” >You grin back. “Hell yeah.” >Leading you away from the corner, Gilda walks up to one of the metal poles sticking out from a pillar. >She lifts off the sandbag hanging on it with just one arm, demonstrating those muscles aren’t just for show. >As she heads to get another one, she throws you a roll of tape. >You shed off your jacket and start wrapping your hands. >”Uh, dude?” >Returning with a sandbag thrown over her shoulder, Gilda cocks an eyebrow at you. >”The hell’s wrong with your right arm?” >Ah, that’s right. >Now that you’re down to your T-shirt, she can see it clearly. >That tiger-stripe pattern of old wounds. >You shrug your shoulders. “I was in a car crash once.” >Not much of an explanation, but she seems to accept it. >While you finish up taping your hands, she sets up the new sandbag. >This one’s a bit bigger than the previous one, and it has strange targets all over it. >The kind that you’d see on a shooting range. >Patting the sandbag, Gilda steps away and lets you approach it. >You trace the leather surface with your bare fingers, getting a feel to it. >It’s been a while, after all. >”You remember the basics?” >Gilda folds her arms, sizing you up. “Yeah. I’m fine.” >”Good. This won’t take as long to set up as with Dagi, then.” >Nodding towards the sandbag, she continues. >”Alright. See those targets around the bag? I want you to hit them. Just them, nothing else. Keep your strike-zone in the dead center of them, and you’re golden.” >You make a slow, testing jab towards one target at your chest-level. >”And while you do, I want you to work yourself bleedin’ furious. I don’t care how, just keep building that anger. Think of all the dweebs who’ve been making your life miserable, think of all the trouble you’re going through since you’re pals with Dagi, think of what a hellhole of a gym you’re in… I don’t care, think of *something*. Anything that gets you going.” >You’re a bit surprised. >So she’s aware of Adagio’s reputation at CHS? >”And once you’re seeing red? Take it all out on the bag. But remember: hit only the targets. Miss one, and you’re back to the beginning. No matter how much rage you got built up, don’t let a punch land outside those damn circles.” >She nods encouragingly. >”Associate your fury with the focus needed to strike the right spot. Go all Pavlov’s dog on its ass. And then just repeat, repeat, repeat and repeat. Don’t stop for a second.” >There’s an odd spark in Gilda’s eyes now. >Like even she’s getting a bit excited. >”Condition your focus to work with your anger. It’s not rocket science, dweeb. It’s just basic behavior. And once you’ve got it down, you’ve got your weapon.” >She chuckles. >”Hell, if Dagi can do it, I’m betting you can.” >You size up the sandbag and take a few steps back. >You place your left foot and side forward, and raise your hands. >Like riding a bike, bits and pieces do come back to you. “Get mad, punch the bag, keep it inside the circles… Gotcha. Can’t be that hard.” >Gilda smirks in a knowing way. >”Oh, just wait and see. Once you’re in the proper mood, you’ll get furious just because you can’t do it. Frustration is the keyword here.” “Yeah, I can imagine.” >You test a few light jabs at the bag to check your distance. >Seems like you’ve got the position down right. >Now all you’ve got to do is start the show. >”Alright. If you’re all set here, I’m gonna head out.” >Surprised, you look at Gilda who swings her gym bag over her shoulder. “Wait, you’re not staying? I thought—“ >”Sorry, dude, I gotta run. There’s some stuff I need to get done before midnight.” >Shrugging her shoulders somewhat apologetically, she heads for the door. >Looking at her go, you can’t help but to feel a little admiration for the girl. >She’s strong, a looker, has a tough personality and seems to be way wiser than she initially lets on. >No wonder she was able to help Adagio. >And no wonder Poof considers her ‘an acquaintance.’ Before you showed up, that was probably the closest she had let people other than Aria and Sonata. >Even if this training doesn’t work out, you’re glad you were able to meet Gilda. >As stated: a girl after your own heart. >Actually, now that you think about it… “Hey, Gilda? Which high school do you go to?” >She turns around, looking a bit confused. >”I dropped out, so none. I got too busy with boxing. How come?” “Well, Adagio and I are in a middle of this… a project’s a good name for it, I guess. And we’re gonna need a couple of outsiders. Interested?” >She tilts her head. >”Outsiders?” “Yeah, it’s a… well, I can’t really explain it well yet. It’s a project I’m doing with the Dazzlings though. And it’s got a lot to do with CHS. Let’s just say I’m in it for their sake.” >That seems to be the magic word. >A sly grin spreads to Gilda’s face. >”What, so you insist on not being Dagi’s lay, yet you’re doing some big project for her? Suspicious, dude.” >The frown on your face is for naught. >She just laughs. >”Anyways, sure, why not? I mean, I’m pretty free these days. Just gimme a call or drop by here when you have more info.” >And that’s one down. >Ore or two more should be enough. >After that, you can set your plan in motion at CHS. >If you can find people for those roles this week, you have more than enough time for everything. >Somehow, things are starting to look up. >”Oh, actually, speaking of projects…” >Gilda’s words cut your thoughts short. >She’s giving you a sideways glance, ready to head out of the door. >”You know anything about ‘Montauk Project’, dude?” >The name means absolutely nothing to you. >You try to remember if you’ve even heard it mentioned before, but nothing comes to mind. >All you can do is shrug. “Sorry. Never heard of it before.” >”Oh, that’s cool. Just thought I’d check.” >Gilda seems to accept your answer with relative ease. >But on the other hand, her tensed shoulders also seem to relax. >What’s up with that? >The hell was Montauk Project, anyhow? >”Well, anyways, I’ve gotta go. I’m running late anyhow. Lock the place up after you leave.” >With a small nod, Gilda marches over to the door. As she opens it, you catch once more a sight of the night outside. >A bit of cold wind sweeps in. >Before she disappears on the other side, however, Gilda throws you a one last smile. >”I’ll see you later, hoss.” >And with that, she’s gone, the door closing behind her. >That odd boxer with advice for both you and Adagio. >And your partner-in-crime from now on. >Huh. >At least you had, apparently, graduated from ‘dweeb’ to ‘hoss.’ >That was something, at the very least. >You turn your attention back to the sandbag, and raise your hands. >It’s a strange feeling. >What you’re about to hit isn’t anything living. >Not like previous times you’ve gotten angry. >But you know you should treat is as such, because otherwise there’s no point to this exercise. >You ease your breathing, relax your legs and bring a little bounce to your stance. >The dim lights up above cast large shadows, enveloping you and the sandbag. >You hear nothing but the distant noise of the city outside. >Even when you move, there’s only a dull crunch. >The floor’s concrete, so your shoes don’t make that typical sound. >But you can still hear it. >That mandatory squeak against linoleum. >Your muscles tense momentarily. >It’s a starting pistol in your mind. “Let’s get angry then.” >And then, you begin. >Signals fire up from your brain and travel down your body. >Instantly, your left hand extends and rams straight into one of the targets, causing the bag to jerk backwards. >You follow it by stepping inwards and delivering a right hook, lifting the sandbag few inches into the air. >Swaying to the side, you take a step backwards. >Two more hooks. >Right and left. >You advance, torso hugging the bag as you follow its movement. >Your right hand delivers more strikes to the gut area, hitting a target again and again. >Retreating once more, you follow it up with two straights. >The target is right where a man’s head should be. >You hear the satisfying sound of chains rattling as the sandbag is put to a spin. >But this isn’t enough. >It’s not enough to just get into it physically. >You need to do as Gilda told you, and rouse your anger. >Therefore, you cast away your bodily control to your instincts. >Instead, you delve into your memories. >There, you’re sure to find what you need. >Thoughts to make you furious. >It’s that fire burning inside you, after all. Acid, as Adagio called it. >And you need to face it now to tame it. >Your mind is the pile of smoldering embers. >Digging deep into it, you search for a rush of air to make it burn bright again. >As your body starts to sweat and your muscles warm up, you fan the flames of your anger. >Scenes, people, memories and thoughts all float into your mind. >Even ones that you shouldn’t see. >Ones that you should have no way to know about. >For example… >In the darkness, a scientist. >Her face lit up by multiple computers screens as her hands type on different keyboards, never stopping. >Her glasses reflect a 3D-model of two cities slowly superimposing on each other. >Slowly, a smile creeps to her lips. “Ha, ha—!” >One-two. >Once again, flesh meets the leather with a battering force. >Inside your mind, another thought pops up. >For example… >Riding a motorcycle, a boxer. >Cones of light from the street lamps zoom past her as she drives down the street. >From somewhere in the darkness, she hears a faint sound of a woman screaming. >Twisting the throttle, she makes a sharp turn and accelerates. “Haa…!” >Your right hook hits the target and sends the sandbag flying. >Yanking the chains, it bounces back and forth. >Inside your mind, another thought pops up. >For example… >Standing on a rooftop, an athlete. >Eyes glued to the skies, she watches the lazy march of the black clouds across the starless sky. >In the distance, she hears the faint rumble of thunder. > Her whole body shivers a little in anticipation. “Shit!” >Your upper body is now covered in sweat. >As your left straight buries itself in the bag, you can feel the burn on your skin. >Your knuckles are gonna be open once this is over. >Inside your mind, another thought pops up. >For example… >Out at night, two young girls. >Laughing haughtily at each other’s jokes, their eyes scan the streets for any new prey they could find. >Their faces are cold masks, just like their smiles. >But in their eyes, a familiar fire burns. “Come on, come on!” >You give no rest to your body. >Instead, you accelerate your movement and strike even harder. >Like the bag was a symbol of all that’s been against you lately. >And yet, you do not miss a single target with your punches. >Inside your mind, another thought pops up. >For example… >In a closed school, six students. >One of them spreads a map on a table, inviting the rest of them to look at it with a simple nod. >Once gathered, they all stare down at it, and the red circle that’s been drawn on the courtyard shown. >Only one of them stays separate, eyeing the group with narrowed eyes. “Ha! Haa-!” >Your knuckles hurt. >Your wrists hurt. >Your hands hurt. >Your arms hurt. >But you don’t let that stop you. >Like a man possessed, you keep striking the bag with everything you’ve got. >Inside your mind, another thought pops up. >For example… >On a back alley, two figures. >Wearing hoodies, one blue and one purple, they make sure that they are truly alone. >With a wicked grin, the purple one draws something from her pocket, and hands it to the blue one. >She accepts it with a similar expression. “—!” >One of your punches sends the bag into a wild flurry of movement. >You take a step back, eyeing up the targets like they’re attacking you. >When the momentum shifts once more, you press on. >Like a piston, your right arm hammers at the lower targets with hooks. >As your emotions slowly but surely churn, your breathing turns ragged from the exertion. >Inside your mind, another thought pops up. >For example… >In a band room, three sirens. >Despite it being very late, they still diligently hold on to their instruments, practicing without saying a word. >They’ve all come to an agreement without you knowing. They cannot just sit and watch as you struggle forth. >And they’re about to do their part in your plan, with or without your permission. “Ah.” >Your mind comes to a halt, but your punches don’t. >Your left straight makes the bag jerk violently, and you follow it with your right arm. >Punching against the momentum makes your muscles scream. >But it’s a good pain. >It’s the pain of physical movement. >Right now, right here, you know you’re doing something. >Something that should pay off, one way or another. >So even if sweat is dripping from your brows and covering your eyes, you don’t even try to wipe it out. >You can still hit the targets. >And that’s what you do. >Inside your mind, another thought pops up. >For example… >In a dark room, a single girl. >Depression gnawing her mind, she curls up under her blanket, trying not to think about what happened. >She feels like the room is spinning, even if she stays still. >And in truth, she is afraid of the consequences, of what will happen when she returns. “That’s it. That’s the ticket!” >You’ve finally found it. >You feel the shape of the trigger in your mind, and you pull it. >That red haze returns once more. >You feel frustration and anger boil in your mind. >You just needed the right thought. >And now you’ve got a face and a name for what pisses you off the most. >Grinning like an idiot, you let your emotions run rampant. >Your fists pummel at the sandbag without mercy. >The strikes waver. >Their aim shifts. >But even if your rage clouds your mind, you keep your focus. >You have to keep your focus. >That’s what you’re conditioning yourself for. >To turn this anger from something that is your greatest shame… “Come on!” >… Into something that you can use as a weapon. >Screaming incoherently, you strike the bag with all your strength. >Here starts the hard part.