Flashes of red and black, waves of heat and cold, hair rising with electricity, skin burning with fever. Droplets of sweat, a flurry of hands. Soul leaving the body, feeling nothing and everything at once. Sight duplicating itself, overlapping like transparent film, disorienting, entrancing...
Sounds reverberating, repeating themselves, repeating, repeating, repeating,,,, stuttering like a broken LP, loud, louder, deafening. Feeling nothing. Feeling eternity. Turning inside out. Revealing all of himself, all of it.
DYING!!! I’M DYING!!!! WHERE AM I??? WHO THE FUCK AM I???!!!
A crimson body, glowing under the light, beckoning, calling, abducting him. Lashes, mouth, lips, teeth, tongue. Pierced tongue. Saliva, a grin. Fingers, curving, pushing... a body, pressing down, breathless, unbearable heat. Pain. Was that his scream? Who was crying? I hear nothing!!! Aaaahh, I‘m gonna go INSANE!!! I’M GONNA GO INSANE HAHAHHAHAHAHA AAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!!!!!!
Incessant time, it didn‘t stop, it didn‘t stop, why won‘t it stop, ehehehe, it won‘t stop. It won‘t ever stop, I‘m falling. LOOK AT ME!!! I EXIST!!! I‘M HERE!!!!! FUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKK!!!!!!!!!
With a bang, everything went dark.
Finally choking on the mouthful of snow, Xie Lian returned to reality with a painful jolt. Tearing open his eyes, all he saw was darkness, when he suddenly felt a pull at the back of his neck. Falling backwards, the darkness gave away to a dimly-lit scene.
As if zooming out, Xie Lian‘s confused gaze captured a low bluff of snow, in which he spotted a perfect print of his face. Head turning sideways, he saw Mu Qing‘s face fly past him as he fell, his eyes dark with fury. Finally, his butt reached the cold ground hard, breaking his fall while sending a bolt of pain through his spine.
Xie Lian‘s eyes were wide open with shock and confusion.
Slowly looking around and processing his situation, his gaze finally ended up on Mu Qing, who was staring down at him as if he had his child‘s murderer at his feet.
Touching his ice-cold face, Xie Lian could tell that Mu Qing had pressed his head into the snow until he was choked to consciousness.
„What‘s going on???“, Xie Lian blurted out anxiously, still sitting on the snow-covered ground. „What happened?? Did I pass out??“
„Pass out...??“, Mu Qing repeated, forcing the words out through clenched teeth. Suddenly, he exploded. „I WISH YOU DID, MOTHERFUCKER!!!! YOU‘RE FUCKING CRAZY!!!! SHIT, I WISH I NEVER PULLED YOU TO THE FRONT, YOU FUCKING LUNATIC!!!“
Hearing Mu Qing‘s shouts, Xie Lian‘s body went cold with fear. What did he do?? Shit, what the fuck did he do????
Then, the fact that they were outside suddenly registered within Xie Lian‘s muddled brain. Sure enough, daring to glance past Mu Qing, he saw that they were just outside the church, earning quite a few judgemental looks from security staff. But then... where was Shi Qingxuan? She would never watch quietly if something like this happened in front of her eyes. Xie Lian figured that she must have already succeeded with her infiltration.
Xie Lian thoughts bounced back to the matter at hand. But just as he wanted to start asking questions, Mu Qing seemed to be at the end of his patience, because he turned on his heel and walked back to the church‘s entrance.
Scrambling to his feet in a hurry and calling out the other‘s name, Xie Lian tried to catch up to him, but got shaken off in rejection. Coming to a standstill, Xie Lian helplessly watched Mu Qing storm inside the building by himself.
Only then did he notice that he wasn‘t alone; surrounding the entrance gate was a crowd of demonic-looking guests, sipping at their drinks and smoking cigarettes. Apparently, Mu Qing had dragged him outside during the halftime break, and so the people took the chance to catch fresh air.
Wait... it was halftime break already?? Hadn‘t the show just started?!
Scratching his head in utter confusion, Xie Lian stood in place, wondering if he should also head inside or go look for Shi Qingxuan.
What he didn‘t notice was a group of men, all wearing nothing more than leather pants and studded wests, glancing at his slender figure and staring at his accentuated waist. They stood in a circle with drinks in their hands, smirking at each other and raising eyebrows suggestively.
Xie Lian only got torn out of his trance when he heard a loud whistle coming from his right. Turning his head in its direction, Xie Lian‘s sight fell onto the group of men who were jeering despicably, their naked bellies spilling out of their belted pants.
At this sight, Xie Lian felt a wave of disgust and shame crawl up his back. He quickly turned his head away and rushed inside the church, leaving their howls and whistling behind.
Inside the building, all the lights were turned on and people were standing in groups, chatting in excited voices, undoubtedly exchanging praises about the performance.
Xie Lian almost felt the need to listen in on their conversations, since everything that happened after his eyes met those of the singer‘s was an empty film, completely wiped from his memory. He couldn‘t recall a single thing from the first half of the performance, which made an unpleasant feeling spread in his stomach.
It wasn‘t the first time something like this happened. Together with Mu Qing‘s words, it made Xie Lian‘s skin go cold with anxiety.
He clenched his hands into fists, frustrated. Why didn‘t he have control over himself??
Before he even realized it, Xie Lian had already arrived at the bar‘s counter, where there were surprisingly no other customers for once. Everyone had already gotten their drinks and grouped themselves with their friends.
Xie Lian looked up at the young, lanky bartender, whose black hair hung over his face in spiky strands. Dark circles under his eyes made him look absolutely exhausted and overworked. Still, he managed to smile at Xie Lian, seeming to sense a kindred spirit.
„Welcome. Can I get you anything?“, he asked with hospitality.
Xie Lian stared at the colorful array of alcoholic drinks in the glass shelves behind him in a daze, considering his question. Against most expectations, Xie Lian was a strong drinker, holding his liquor well.
And after everything that happened in the past hour, he really felt like he needed a bit of intoxication.
„Could I get a Bloody Mary?“, he asked softly, then adding: „With an extra shot, please.“
„Sure thing“, the bartender answered, getting out a tall glass and a tray of ice cubes. While preparing the drink, he started chatting with Xie Lian in a soft voice.
„Excuse my asking, but you don‘t seem like the kind of person who would usually come to an event like this. What exactly brought you here?“
Finally settling down at the bar, Xie Lian was happy to chat with another being who seemed to at least be human. Smiling with reminiscence, he retold the story of how he found the cassette by chance and fell in love with CALAMITY‘s music, how he went on a search for information and finally found out the secret of the label. At this point of his tale, the bartender‘s ears perked up.
With an almost unnoticeable frown, he asked: „You had somebody tell you the secret? If you don‘t mind me asking, what is your name?“
Xie Lian looked at him in surprise, then couldn‘t help but tease: „Isn‘t it common manners to state yours first?“
Taken aback, the bartender lowered his head in embarrassment. „Of course, please excuse my rudeness. My name is Yin Yu, pleased to make your acquaintance.“, Yin Yu finally answered quietly.
Xie Lian smiled, sorry he had teased the poor overworked bartender.
„Nice to meet you, my name is Xie Lian.“
Immediately after he said his name, Yin Yu flinched and almost let Xie Lian‘s finished drink slip out of his pale fingers. Eyes open with shock, he stared at his customer, then choked out a stuttering question.
„Y-YOU’RE Xie Lian??? You???? Yo-you‘re here????? What about Hua Ch—-„ before Yin Yu could utter the rest of his sentence, he slapped his free hand in front of his mouth, sealing it within his throat, eyes widening even further.
Xie Lian‘s face was riddled with question marks. Why was this bartender so shocked, and why did it seem like he knew him, or at least his name?? Why did his presence cause such an extreme reaction within him??
Since the beginning of the night, all Xie Lian had gained was questions nobody gave him an answer to. He had enough.
„Excuse me, but what‘s going on? Do you know me??“, he asked, voice intense with fixation.
But Yin Yu seemed to be too overwhelmed with the current situation, his wavering eyes racing back and forth, gnawing at his lips. Out of the blue, he roughly put down the drink on the counter and bowed with urgency. „Please excuse me!!!!“, he shouted, before immediately turning around and rushing out of Xie Lian‘s sight through a narrow back door.
Xie Lian was left sitting at the bar dumbfounded, alone, once again without any answers or enlightenment.
Yin Yu crashed through the door to the backstage, and immediately stopped dead in his tracks with his breath stuck in his chest.
Entering the small room, he saw Bai Wuxian stand in the middle of its clustered interior with his expression slightly traced with worry, his muscular arms crossed in front of his chest. A figure with its upper body completely revealed sat in a chair in front of him, naked back slumped forward, supported by his elbows on his knees. Looking closely, Yin Yu saw that the figure‘s knuckles were torn open, making his blood run cold.
The tension in the air was tangible.
Ignoring Yin Yu‘s entrance, Bai Wuxian sighed and massaged his temples with closed eyes... he seemed tired.
„Hua Cheng, what a mess you‘ve made. It‘ll take a while to clean this one up... why did you do it? I know you, you wouldn‘t do something like this without a good reason. Don‘t you think you should at least give me an explanation?“
Bai Wuxian added with insistence: „After what happened during the show, did you go look for him? What did you see?“
Hua Cheng kept still in his slumped pose, face hidden from the light.
Bai Wuxian sighed again and approached him, but just then, Hua Cheng clenched his fists and started speaking, voice calm, but dark with fury.
„None of your business what they did, Bai Wuxian. Those repulsive motherfuckers got what they deserved, the whole lot of them. But I‘m confused...“
Finally, Hua Cheng looked up at Bai Wuxian, his overshadowed eyes bloodshot and wide with anger. He looked like a beast, instilling a freezing sense of danger within Yin Yu, who was still watching the scene wordlessly.
„...with our setup, the red cassette and everything, disgusting trash like that wasn‘t supposed to make it this far. Bai Wuxian, they‘re lucky I didn‘t kill them. Their sneers and whistles, god damn it, their fucking eyes on him... they‘re fucking lucky they‘re still alive, mark my words.“
During Hua Cheng‘s speech, Bai Wuxian kept sighing and shaking his head in resignation. He looked like a disappointed parent listening to an account of his teenager son‘s misdeeds, but he knew Hua Cheng was serious. When it came to that person, Hua Cheng‘s tolerance and leniency reached a value below zero.
They were lucky to still be alive.
Bai Wuxian finally let his arms fall to his side, helpless. „What can I say, it‘s clear you won‘t reflect, so it‘s pointless to talk about this any more. I‘ll take care of it somehow, after all, they were my esteemed guests. Well, not so esteemed any more, it seems.“ He finished with a deep breath, then set his face to a smile. „On to more important matters; how is your body feeling? Are you in any pain? That was quite the dramatic fall you had earlier.“
Hua Cheng‘s dangerous eyes shut at this question and he turned his head away.
„No pain. No problem.“, he answered curtly.
Bai Wuxian nodded, then spoke again with a flat tone.
„I don‘t think I need to tell you, but pull yourself together for the second set. He‘s already here, nothing can change that, he‘s already seen you. More than that, he... well, nevermind. You saw him and he‘s doing fine, so leave it at that. Focus on the show.“ He finally ended, with an almost inaudible warning tone creeping into his voice.
Hua Cheng was quiet, but didn‘t express any kind of refusal. Bai Wuxian accepted that as his agreeance and turned away, putting an end to the discussion.
What he faced next was a shabby couch, crammed into the corner of the small backstage room. Its cushions were covered by a bumpy sheet, moving unnoticeably up and down with a breathing motion. From underneath the sheet, raspy and shameless snoring sounds could be heard. Without even the slightest hesistation, Bai Wuxian grabbed a spare microphone stand, raised it over his shoulders and brought it down on the middle of the sheet like a sword, evoking a nasty, shrill scream from beneath and making the fabric ripple like a stormy ocean.
Aggressively digging itself out from underneath the cloth, a red-faced and dissheveled creature emerged from its depth, steaming with rage, shrieking with pain. „OWWWW, THAT HURT!!!! FUCK YOU, BAI WUXIAN!!! WHAT IN THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU YOU FUCKING PSYCHOPATH!!!!
Completely unfazed by the profanities, Bai Wuxian set down the slightly bent mic stand as if nothing had happened. „Show‘s starting in a few minutes Qi Rong, get up. Where‘s He Xuan?“ Finally, he conveniently seemed to notice Yin Yu‘s presence and directed the question at him. But then, he frowned. „Yin Yu, why are you here? What about the bar?“
Yin Yu flinched as he was suddenly torn into the focus of the conversation. Realizing that he shouldn‘t have come backstage far too late, his chances of escape now were low. Breaking out in cold sweat, he frantically tried to make up an excuse. „A-ahh, n-nothing, nothing!! Don‘t worry, there are no customers, so I was just checking up on you guys. Don‘t mind me, I‘ll head back now, haha.“ With an unstable smile on his face, he turned around and was just about to exit the door he came in through, when a low voice made him immediately freeze in his step.
Hua Cheng. As if he had a spell cast on him, Yin Yu suddenly wasn‘t able to move even a single finger. Hearing the wolf-like voice, he was completely petrified.
From behind him, he heard a chair being pushed back. Immediately, his entire consciousness filled with bolts of panic. He heard steps coming closer, stopping just inches behind him. Soon after, Yin Yu felt hot breath fall on his ear, making his brows drip with sweat and his legs shake. He felt his eardrums reverberate as Hua cheng‘s deep voice entered them.
„Tell the truth.“
Feeling that he was just seconds away from a mental breakdown, Yin Yu‘s defense was crushed, trampled, destroyed beyond recovery. He could only stammer out what Hua Cheng wanted to hear to save his own poor heart from stopping in terror.
„H-h-he‘s s-sitting at the-the bar, al-lone, oh god...“ Yin Yu trailed off, since he ran out of breath hyperventilating. This was torture.
Hua Cheng was mute, waiting for him to continue.
„Wh-when I heard hi-his n-n-name, I remem-m-mbered.... I w-was worried, so I r-r-r-ran here...“
Finally, words escaped his breath, and he could only pray to god that he would leave this room alive.
After a while of complete silence, Hua Cheng‘s rumbling voice spoke again, no further away than before.
What he said was like a noose tightening.
„So, you just left him there all alone?“
Yin Yu‘s heart finally couldn‘t take it anymore. Eyes spinning back in their sockets, he collapsed into himself with foam bubbling out from his throat.
At this exact moment, the door opened and a slightly exerted looking He Xuan entered the room from behind Yin Yu‘s ragdoll body. Stopping her steps in confusion, she looked up at Hua Cheng who stood right in front of her, his expression seeming to reflect black thunderclouds.
Behind Hua Cheng, Bai Wuxian still stood idly in his position but tsked in a way that made it seem like he had encountered a small inconvenience.
„Ah, now you‘ve done it. Who‘s gonna be our bartender now?“
Hua Cheng: „....“
Qi Rong was cackling and jeering, poking at Yin Yu‘s lifeless body as if he were vermin.
He Xuan looked at Bai Wuxian with an unreadable expression as she slowly processed the situation.
Softly, she spoke: „I might have a solution for that.“
Bai Wuxian raised his eyebrow and wanted to ask what it was, but then raised his hand and waved. „Do what you will, I trust you. We don‘t have time for all this now. Hua Cheng, please at least put Yin Yu on the couch, and don‘t scare him so much next time? You know how weak-hearted he is. Have some pity.“
Hua Cheng scoffed in spite, then flexed his muscular back as he bent down, picked up Yin Yu with little care and dropped him onto the couch. He then slipped back into his leather harness, donning his demon wings.
He Xuan discreetly sighed with relief and secretly pushed her arm out the door, giving a signal. Then she also took off her coat, revealing her intricate leather stage outfit.
Qi Rong simply played around with his drumsticks, bored; he had never bothered to change.
Bai Wuxian slipped into a sleeveless shirt and put on a white mask he had specifically procured for this performance, confusing the other members, but giving no explanation as to why.
Although they seemed like a jumbled bunch, together, the members of CALAMITY made a charismatic and intimidating impression, very well defending their title of Death Metal band.
Walking onto the curtained stage as a unit, an invisible force seemed to surround them, making the air freeze and boil at the same time, electrifying all that saw them. On the stage, they got into position in absolute silence, sinking back into their zone, completely focused on the next part of their performance.
Then, the gong rang out and all the lights went out.
The second act of the night began.
—- TO BE CONTINUED—-