Image by Steve Norris from Pixabay

We, “Beneath the Dawn”, sat in a meeting room in the morning with our manager, Bartlomiej Cyrek, discussing the first single for our next album. It had been three years since the last record, which topped the charts thanks to Andrey Paklatsky’s Fuzz Noise’s Best Guitarist award and our keyboardist composer, Valeriy Tsypkin, who had created such a work of art.

Now, we did something different and hoping to surpass the previous work. The sound had been evolved to a pure headbanging one with a futuristic feeling rather than a majestic symphonic sound while still maintaining our elegant signature element, and we, especially me or the singer, wished it could make everyone enjoy it more than ever.

None, I meant the fans, had yet to hear a snippet of our first portal to the new chapter, but they were getting closer to it.

“Those people said that kind of MV with you singing and them playing instruments has been to death,” Bartlomiej said. “Having a story and switching to you playing stuff like before aren’t that creative either.”

True, I thought.

“Any ideas from the creative team then?” I asked, glancing at Valeriy.

“No,” he answered. “They want you to come up with something, so it won’t be—forced.

A sudden silence fell on the room. I’d nothing in my head. The other band members kept glancing at each other and looking around like they’d no idea like me.

“Valeriy.” Bartlomiej broke the silence, leaning forward with his clenched hands on the table. “What’s the direction for this album again?”

Valeriy came to his senses while the rest was still muddled from what I could perceive. He then said, “Having fun with the dynamic immersion and be a part of our world.”

“What about an interactive MV?” Helmeri Karppinen, another guitarist in our band, asked. “The one with that kind of ‘be-a-part-of-our-world’ story like Valeriy just said. Since we go with a futuristic theme, we should have some state-of-the-art stuff.”

“Sound… cool,” Andrey added, eyes moving from left to right like lightning.

“And the character?” Pyotr Jakhontov, our drummer, asked.

I hope it’s not going to be me this time.

“Vendel, c—”

“I don’t want to do it,” I interrupted Valeriy.

“But—you’re the face—of our band.”

“Just hire some actors who can truly act. This is way too much for me. This interactive thing.” I gasped with irritation.

Valeriy sighed and shook his head. The manager did nothing but looking at us.

He just wants an answer, I believe.

“Vendel, he’s actually right,” the surface-hitting musician said, furrowing.

“Andrey too. After that award, he’s also the face like you,” Sigfrid Blomgren, the bassist, remarked.

I’m kind of sick that I’ve to pair myself with him for an eternity now. He must be sick of it too.

“Guys.” Andrey frowned. “I’m getting tired of being the front-runner most of the time now.”

“Me too. Don’t get me wrong. Singing is a part of my life, not acting. It takes like twenty takes for me to get it right in each scene for those old MVs with stories. I don’t wanna drag a filming crew down,” I added, wincing.

“I can get you a new acting coach,” Bartlomiej said after a long absence. “They’re ready to move you all to a whole new position after your hugely successful album. We need something with a bang.”

It’s always me.

“With respect, I don’t want another acting coach, Bartosz,” I said grimly but called the manager’s nickname instead of his real name to make this discussion sounded as nonaggressive as possible. “We are a band. It shouldn’t be just me and me all the time, okay?”

“I understand, but there’s one thing you should realize. It’s how the female-fronted metal bands are since forever, and you have been here for more than a decade already. People don’t really care about other actors. You’re the true star.”

Yeah… I always am.

“If you’re going to that route for real, please forget about me in the MV.” The award-winning guitarist slammed his back against the backrest.

“I won’t let you in there then,” the keyboardist composer said gravely. “I do have an idea. Our first single is called ‘The Everlasting Bond’. Although the song itself doesn’t mean a bond between us and our fans, we can still make it connect with them.”

“What do you mean exactly?” the bassist asked, tilting his head to the right.

“Let me guess,” Helmeri said interestedly, leaning forward and his eyes were shimmering. “You want them to be in the MV?”

That’s quite a relief.

“Yes.”

“Let me be honest, I like that idea.” Pyotr grinned.

“Be in the MV doing what?” I asked, scratching my head.

“Whatever they want,” Valeriy explained.

“Valerka,” I called his nickname, furrowing. “Can you be more specific?”

“First, Vendel, you must be in there, but you don’t have to sing or lip-sync in this one. Don’t worry, this isn’t hard. We’ll have one non-interactive version for broadcasts, and another version with the fans doing things according to the song like singing or playing instruments in the video with your shots playing along the way. The last one will have different scenes and endings that are depended on viewers’ choices.” He paused. “If viewers don’t choose it in time when they appear, it’ll be random. How does it sound?”

It sounds like Hell to me.

“Complicated.” Bartlomiej answered, arms crossed. “I don’t even know how the creative team will do this justice.”

“Easier said than done,” Helmeri commented.

“I know,” Valeriy said. “Vendel will be playing with props and green screens. I want glowing butterflies to represent our affinity between the fans and the character in the song.”

At least I’m alone, but the crew will probably get mad at me.

“I’ve to do a screen test, try those clothes on and makeup will take forever… again,” I added, pursing my lips.

“You’ve to go through that, whether you like it or not, Princess Vendel.” Andrey giggled.

Not gonna lie that he’s like my prince now.

“Hmmmm.” Bartlomiej was giving a thoughtful look, looking up while scratching his bearded chin. “Well, we’re in the age of interactivity. I’m pretty sure the creative team will appreciate your idea, Valeriy. I do have a question though.”

“What is it?”

“How long will the interactive one be?”

“Pretty much the same if not the same. The video should be played continuously. When the choice bars appear, it should continue. I hope you’ll find the right director for this one because the non-interactive version will be hard to pay off.”

“I think you forget something, Valerka,” Sigfrid remarked.

I looked at Sigfrid, thinking about something big.

“Huh?” Valeriy raised his eyebrows. “What is it then?”

“There’s a possibility that the song will leak.

Oh, right.

“Contracts with all the participants will be made. Don’t worry about it. You’ll probably get more money when some folk break it.” The manager smiled, adding a demonic atmosphere.

“You know that it can end up as destroying our image, right?” I asked, voice solemn.

The members nodded except the controller.

“No, you all remain the same because it’s not—your—fault.”

I shook my head.

“It’s not our fault, yes, but some will probably blame us, especially me.” I gasped, arms crossed then slammed against the backrest.

“Vendel,” Bartlomiej said, giving me a confident face. “If the leak truly happens, the team and I’ll deal with it. Don’t worry. You better worry about the MV.”

I shrugged and sighed simultaneously.

“Our princess is not pleased, and you better calm her down now, Andrey,” Helmeri remarked, laughing.

I really want to slap Heimer or Helmeri in the face sometimes.

I turned my head and glared at him. “Do you want this princess to lock you up, Heimer?”

Meanwhile, Andrey was chuckling with a bent down head. The others were trying not to laugh.

“I think… I’ll disturb you no more.” Bartlomiej stood up, looking around with chaotic eyes like it was not his place anymore. “Have a great day.” He smiled then exit the room of agony.

After the door had been shut, everyone burst into laughter while I was giving them a stony face: the visage of doom.

“I’m the ruler here, you peasants, except you, Prince Andrey,” I said with a deadpan voice.

Then the sound from the deadliest human’s instruments grew fuzzier. Andrey made a heart sign for me with his hands.

I took it then crushed it with simulated outrage, and he pretended to be dead on his seat.

What a morning.

***

Two days later, the bond of trust was ready to be tested. We had a look at one of them on a projection screen in the agonizing room again.

“So,” Bartlomiej said, pointing at the presentation, “what do you think?”

“That violation part sounds like a nightmare,” Pyotr remarked while squinting. “He or she may end up selling stuff in their home with that.” He furrowed.

I nodded, worrying that it might happen.

“Yeah, do you really have to go with that?” Sigfrid asked, voice grave.

“It should be like this or they’ll leak it,’ Bartlomiej answered. “In this age, anything can happen, you know.”

“Now I wish the bond between our fans won’t be broken by it then,” Valeriy said, stretching his arms and yawning.

Andrey and Helmeri remained silent, looking down.

“Valeriy,” the ruler said, “as I mentioned before, don’t worry. You too, Wendela.”

My real name now? This is getting more serious for sure.

“Sometimes, People need to learn it the—hard—way,” he continued.

“I agree,” Andrey said, nodding.

The rest were nodding as well while I was expressing the emotionless face—again.

“Vendel,” Valeriy said, looking at me, “wake up.”

I already am.

“Now, please listen carefully.” Bartlomiej eyed me. “This thing is a push. The push that’s also a trade-off between you and them. Helmeri’s and Valeriy’s ideas are great. We’re doing it for real. It’s time to step up your game with this, and it’s now or never.” He gestured at the destructive part and peering at us. “So, anyone want to change or decrease this fine?”

No one reacted to that question except looking at Bartlomiej.

I believed I could hear them saying “no” in their minds.

I…” I groaned. “I don’t want see any of them getting sued by it, but I have no solution for it either.”

“Vendel,” Pyotr stared at me. “You have to get over it already.”

I’m trying.

“The sooner the better,” Sigfrid added, meeting my eyes for a few seconds.

“Let me sum this up so you can work on other things real fast.” Bartlomiej clapped his hands, eyeing at me. “This is the time to test how trustworthy your fans are and go to a new stage before those competitors do it first. There’s plenty out there.” He paused and cleared his throat. “Is it clear enough now?”

You’ve just punched me in the face to accept this but whatever.

“It is.” I put a smile on my face. “I’m okay with it.”

The lord eyed me again. His whole body was fixed on the floor, still as a statue.

“Wendela, as I’ve known you for a very long time,” he said, “I know you’re not wholly okay with your answer, but I do know one thing, you’ll finally move on.” He turned the projector off. “The form will be posted today on the website in the evening. We’ll start shooting the video next week. Have a good day.” He smiled then exited the former Hell.

“That’s not how to start a good day,” Helmeri remarked, trying not to laugh.

“And it’s the definitive version of it for sure,” Andrey added, smiling wryly—at me.

Valeriy smacked the infernal table. “You two.” He paused, glancing at us comedically. “Go have dinner together already or I’ll lock you in a room and play ‘The Everlasting Bond’ til you both—DIE—together!”

I giggled while shaking my head. My prince did almost the same thing. Our composer knew how to light me up.

“Just leave them here, guys,” Pyotr said.

I saw Valeriy pursing his lips, bobbing his head left and right with comedian eyes saying those tired-of-being-near-the-two-lovers jokes to me.

“Yep.” Sigfrid stood up. “Not my business anymore.”

They then all piled out, leaving me and Andrey—alone.

“Wanna go to the park?” he asked, resting his head on his folded arms on the narrowed wooden island with curious eyes.

“Why not?” I answered, leaning against the backrest. “I need some fresh air anyway.”

“Cool. Let’s go then.”

***

The natural light source was bright. The land of cloud was clear. The greenery was releasing expensive perfume.

This is what I call “Heaven”.

Ambling around here with Andrey felt great. We were inhaling the verdure aroma and exhaling the bodily exhaust.

Unsurprisingly, we met our fans at the solacing place. They asked for photos and signatures.

We did it wholeheartedly, sharing the (everlasting) bond between us and them.

How could we be careless of the patrons anyway? They had been forging us since the beginning after all.

I wished they already knew about the incoming participation and how the song sounded though. We went through the sessions awhile while strolling along the peaceful ground.

After the unofficial events, we sat back on a bench by the lush green scenery. The space before us was a delight to look at.

“How’s it going between you and Heimer?” I asked, looking at him.

He winced as if I just stabbed him in the heart. “I still feel like I shine much brighter than him after that award, but since I’ve been in this band for several years, it’s confirmation that having two guitarists bring more balance than those former bands with just me as their guitarist.” He paused, scratching his light-brown grassland peak. “I thought I had to leave the band to remain as Heimer’s friend, but I was entirely wrong. I’ve been teaching him guitar stuff for years. We’re like buddies. I don’t wanna say something like I’m a teacher while I’m his personal teacher for now.” He chuckled. “You know, without someone who can take some of my spotlights away, I could face those shining-alone moments ago. I’m sick of it. I also hope he gets some awards sometime. He’s great. What about you now then?” He smiled warmly at me.

“I do share your old moments. A singer’s always the face of every band. News is mostly about me. Most published photos are mostly my shots. You guys don’t get that much public attention, and you deserve it, especially Valeriy.” I sighed, and I hoped that name didn’t tear him apart.

He nodded. “Without him, we can’t be ‘Beneath the Dawn’, and without you, the dawn cannot—start.”

I laughed out loud, covering my mouth with my hands. “Where did you get that last part from, Dyukha?” I asked with his nickname.

“From my riffing heart.” He placed his right hand on the left of his chest.

The riff from my mouth roared even higher. Some people who didn’t recognize us were peering at me while they were passing by like I was a mad clown until I stopped.

“Guess you can’t control yourself, princess.” He chuckled, looking away.

“I can control my voice,” I said, smiling, “like you control the guitar.”

“Controlling your body can’t be compared to instruments. Still, both need to be practiced.”

Not gonna deny that.

“I’m still nervous about that agreement.” I furrowed, eyeing him. “Please tell me that you aren’t gonna blame Heimer when it goes out of control. He started that idea.”

“I won’t.” He winced. “It’s not his or our fault. Perhaps we’ve to pray about it. Leaks often happen. You know what it’s like in the digital world, but the chance is low now because of that agreement.”

High winds were blowing us. Flat hands from the trees were swirling.

I feel like it’s a bad sign or maybe it’s just me.

“I know what you’re thinking, Vendel,” he said, looking up at the sky. “Sometimes, we’ve to risk everything or almost everything for something better.” He bobbed his head down and gazing at me with frigid eyes. “I risked myself by joining your band, hoping for something different. You knew what it was like for me when those audiences only cared about me, not the whole bands. Valerka wanted an additional guitarist when you guys weren’t even this big and money wasn’t my problem back then, so I decided to go on with this path. It’s turned out great after all.”

I smiled faintly. “It was seven years ago. Almost a decade. We didn’t even expect ourselves to be this big with fan clubs all over the world. Not that huge like those pop stars, but it still surpassed our goal.” My faint smile was turning into a beam.

“Time flies.” He acted happily now. “I wonder what we will be like in the future.”

What we?

“I suppose you mean all of us, right?”

He blushed with a beam. “O—of course.”

“Stop flirting with me and get serious, Andrey.”

He tittered and patted his knees. “Alright, Princess Vendel. I’ve been playing with you on stages for a long time.” He paused. “Will you be my girlfriend then?”

Just easy like that? Okay, Prince Andrey.

“Sure. I do like you anyway. It’s just weird that we… ended up talking about this instead of being more serious with document.” I leaned forward.

“Come on.” He chuckled. “You need a break. I need it too. This fresh air and space are what we need.”

“Yeah, you’re—”

“Are you two from Beneath the Dawn?” a middle-aged man from nowhere asked.

He wasn’t just a man. He was either a monk or a priest, judging from his black robe.

This had never ever happened to us until this moment.

Absolutely unexpected moment.

“Yes, we are,” Andrey answered. “Are you…” He trailed off with a bemused face.

“I’m a monk, yes. I’m sure you didn’t expect a metalhead monk as your fan.” He laughed.

“How could we see this coming, right?” I giggled, glancing at my boyfriend and the cleric’s smiling face. “So, how long have you been listening to us, Father?”

“Since your debut from fifteen years ago. I love your symphonic sound.” He paused, looking at Andrey. “You’re a great addition to the band, Andrey. And you’re a great singer, Wendela. Where are the other members?” He furrowed with arms akimbo.

I wonder how he’ll feel about us with our new sound.

“They went somewhere else,” I answered. “Andrey asked me to be here.”

“I see.” His arms and eyebrow loosened. He then grabbed his phone from a pocket. “Can I take a photo with you two?”

I wonder where he’ll post that.

“Sure thing, Father,” Andrey said.

“Just a moment.”

He walked to a someone who wore a blue overcoat who seemed like his friend then talked to him and handed his phone on the man’s hand. They both came to us… strangely. That man didn’t even smile or anything. I could only see the emptiness on his face.

The time was wrong, maybe.

The monk, somehow, was the only one who had such an opposite manner. He was unlike those monks or priests who always acted formally.

I wondered how their bond was like. Probably not an ordinary parishioner.

But how could the man of the cloth end up listening to our music?

“Sorry, he’s having a bad day,” the cleric said, lounging on the bench with us. “Ready?” he asked the phone-holding man.

“I am,” his companion answered with stony eyes and a stony voice.

Then the clergyman did a metal hand sign with a bright beam on his face.

We did it likewise, and it was followed by a shutter sound.

I hope he won’t get defrocked by doing the two-horn sign.

“Thank you very much!” He got up, shaking our hands. “Looking forward to your next album!”

“Thank you!” I said, beaming at him. “It’ll be released soon. I promise!”

“I’m not sure how long is this soon, Father.” Andrey giggled.

“It doesn’t really matter, honestly.” He glanced at another robed man. “Well, time to go. Wishing you a great day.”

“You too,” Andrey and I said at the same time.

They both left, leaving me confused with my life again.

“See how far the bond goes,” Andrey said. “Even the man of God can’t even resist us.” He giggled again.

“Music is a universal language anyway,” I added, “but I’ve to admit that I was astonished.”

The celebrated guitarist didn’t say anything but gazing at the sky like my words somehow pierced his heart. I saw tears welled up in his fragile and brave blue eyes.

The mood transition was so fast that I couldn’t almost believe what I was witnessing.

Did he drink something that just overly affected his emotions?

“What’s wrong, Dyukha?” I asked, furrowing and patting his left knee.

“I wish the language could’ve brought my friends back.” He blinked back tears, rubbing the graceful orbs. “For years, I’ve been trying to get them back, but I only have Heimer who can stay with me.”

God. That word just hit him real hard.

“Hey.” I moved closer to him. “Not everyone can stay with you forever. You may have to let them go.”

He looked at me with tears in his eyes. “I want to erase everything I’ve done to them.”

I shook my head. “You can’t.”

“What about you then?” he asked.

I winced. “They all are gone since a long time ago.” A gusty wind was blowing my hair. “There were some people who I really liked, but it all ended like we didn’t know each other at all, and you knew that I’ve some jealous people.” I paused, gazing at him. “I can’t let myself focus on that. I’ve to move on and let it go.”

“I see.” He nodded. “You aren’t… like me.” He pointed at his chest while he was saying it. “You can break away from people like it’s nothing.” He paused, scratching his head, but his tears were still there. “Don’t you find it ironic when we compare it with our single?”

That’s quite an insane question.

“It’s ironic, I admit, but it’s our work. It’s our artistic product. It isn’t like the actual bonds between us and the people around us. You’ve to separate it. I didn’t even want to say that.”

Andrey shook his head like a tornado. “Vendel, we can’t keep producing lies. It’s like we are fooling our fans.”

I face-palmed and sighed with frustration. “Separate our fans from those people who you want to get them back first, Andrey.” I eyed him again. “What Valeriy’s been always doing is inspiring people. We don’t feed them lies. His songwriting is fiction. I feel like you’re too overwhelmed with the past right now.”

He narrowed his eyes. “I hope you’re not saying that I’m narrow-minded.”

He’s way too overwhelmed with it for sure.

“No! Of course not!” I said while shaking my head. “I think you need something to drink. Want a cup of coffee?” I stood up.

He gave me a tight smile, and the tears were fading away. “Men buy stuff for women. Let m—”

“Enough with that gender role preaching, Dyukha. We aren’t in the Middle Ages.” I shrugged. “You want something or not?”

“Strawberry mocha.” He avoided eye contact.

His strawberry addiction is so hard to understand.

***

Next Monday, I was surrounded by blue screens instead of the green screens with many large cameras pointing at me, and a hubbub filled the studio of imagination.

What about those guys in the band?

Well, they lounged in armchairs, watching me rehearsing again and again.

I wished I could transfer my makeup onto their faces with the same length that they’d been torturing on the star of my body, not to mention this velvet white gown that was wholly covering my feet.

This sacrifice was for our “fans.”

The rest sacrificed themselves too, but they were more like behind-the-scene workers because when it came to a video, people thought about a person in it, not them.

And here I was, everyone’s princess who had to live in Hell for an eternity. Those devotees would suffer like me too. They couldn’t just shoot it. A plan was always an essential one.

“Vendel,” the director, Danila Patrai, called me while I was drinking water. I turned to face him. “Next time, while you’re kneeling down, smile like the most beautiful butterfly ever is walking on the back of your hand. We’ll shoot this close-up shot for fifteen seconds straight.”

“God.” I face-palmed and let out a weary sigh.

“I’m tired too. The last time we did this was four years ago. Anyway, this time, aside from this and the usual editing, we also have to select fans’ footage. The editing team will be like ‘This is my over ten hours of a nightmare.’”

Yeah, it’s everyone’s nightmare.

“And you have to be with the team too, right?” I gulped the water, looking at him.

“Correct.” He sighed likewise.

“I feel like I’m the only one who’s slowing everything down, Dani.” My head slumped.

“Don’t worry about it that much. Acting isn’t your full-time job, yet you actually get better and better each year.”

My eyes widened owing to the unusual compliment.

He tittered, covering his mouth. “I think you don’t see that because you don’t pay attention to it.” He was still tittering. “But as a director, I look at everything. Your body movements, facial expressions and countless things. I’ll let you talk with your acting coach a bit.” He turned around then called, “Sasha!”

My new mahogany-haired acting teacher trotted to the behind-the-camera mastermind. Her long hair was bobbing up and down like my life right now. They talked a bit then Danila left, leaving me with her—alone. The noise was still dominating this place.

Meanwhile, I was glancing at the band members, and no one was paying attention to me except Andrey. He smiled at me like a sign of encouragement.

I then fixed my eyes at Sasha who was shaking her energy drink bottle.

“Guess what he told me,” she said, still shaking the drink.

“Think about the most happiness moment of my life?” I furrowed.

“No, you need to imagine your happiness around you.”

Not—again.

“I’ve heard that kind of advice for a million times already.”

“It’s normal for actors.” She paused, drinking the energizing water. After that, she asked, if not pleaded, “Could you please give me your brightest smile ever?”

For real?

I obeyed as if I was the stupidest person ever, and I couldn’t make my eyes sparkle like the mouth.

Meanwhile, she was tilting her head from left to right with raised eyebrows. Her eyes were staring at me as a part of examination, of course.

“You’re straining for the emotion way too much,” she commented, still staring at me. “Try freeing yourself from the direction. It doesn’t have to be one hundred percent true to it. I know it’s hard for you because there’s no singing this time.”

I tried it once more with giggles, adding a child-like element into my acting.

“That’s a good improvisation. Now try strolling around with a smile or a beam on your face.”

I obeyed again. Strolling around like an innocent child with a less dynamic manner but a graceful one.

“You’re getting into it,” she complimented. “This time, imagine that a butterfly or butterflies are on your arm or the back of your hand. Either side is fine.”

I moved my right arm upward, smiling brightly at the invisible creatures with giggles and eyes of elation.

“Now don’t just stand still. Move—and improvise.”

I lowered my arm, looking around, strolling along the practice ground, kneeling at some points and standing up again with the raised arm then looked forward as if it was flying away.

“BRAVO!” Valeriy shouted, clapping.

The others?

They… I didn’t know how to describe them for real. They were like those people who were waiting for this torture to wrap up.

“See?” Sasha said, drinking that thing again. “When you released yourself from the chain, it went much smoother.”

“I think.” The director came out of nowhere. “You better be back at the scene now, Vendel.” He gestured toward the magical, blue Hell. “That improvement was faster than light, whereas it mostly had nothing to do with the next scene.”

The acting coach nodded. “I agree with her improvement.”

It’s time for another suffering—again.

“Thank you.” I smiled grimly.

I strode to the danger zone while glancing at Andrey who was now napping with his arms on his face.

How could he nap here with the racket, seriously?

“Vendel, kneel down!” Danila shouted.

I obeyed as always.

“Cameras start rolling in three… two… one!”

A clapboard clapped, and then the shooting went as bright as a shooting star… perhaps.

***

On Thursday, we sat here again in the meeting room with our manager, and the screen was playing a rough cut of the music video. We shot the whole thing for ten hours straight. The visual effects were still unfinished. The fans’ footage wasn’t there yet too.

I was covering my face. I didn’t want to see it, even just a second of it would have me on fire.

“See?” the principal said. “The new acting coach was good for you there, Vendel.”

I shook my head, still covering my face.

“Hey,” Andrey said with a soothing voice. “Don’t be so shy.” He was taking my hands off from the face.

I refused.

“Dyukha,” Valeriy called. “Just leave her alone. She’s always like that.”

“Okay.” He stopped the rescue operation.

I could only hear the single and some compliments on my performance, yet I couldn’t remember them at all.

My mind was wandering.

I was wondering what other bands will think about all of this.

Could we end up as the attention-seeking band?

Maybe.

Could we be the one who lead a new era of the metal scene?

Maybe.

I only feared that the first one might be true.

Anyhow, we all had been competing against each other for more than a decade.

I couldn’t deny Bartosz’s idea of us stepping up, and at the same time, our next-level bond with the supporters was going to be tough like the filming.

I looked happy in the video. I had seen it after we completed each scene on the filming day.

But it all was acting. It got harder and harder for me to give a look of joy after each take and each cut, although I did it just fine.

Could our fans be possibly thinking about my hardened inner side during that time of frustration?

I didn’t think so.

Could they end up tearing me down when they find the gospel truth?

I thought so.

It was always like that. The world had been proving it for thousands of years. You could have a great relationship, and then they would end like it was nothing with just a little mistake.

Now, the show stopped.

I let go of my hands, opened my eyes.

Everyone was giving me genuine smiles, but the side within me was crying, somehow.

I still felt like I was faking everything, and yes, I put a smile on my face for them—again.

“I guess you need ten glasses of champagne today, Vendel,” Sigfrid said, leaning forward.

“You can give her twenty now then forty after the video is officially released.” Pyotr leaned backward.

“What about strawberry champagne?” Andrey giggled.

“Stop—that—strawberry—stuff, Andrey.” I glared at him, but it was just a fake one.

And he giggled again.

Helmeri, Valeriy and Bartlomiej were the only people who didn’t make jokes.

I felt uncomfortable with that manner.

“Do you want to watch this rough cut privately, Vendel?” Bartlomiej asked then gasped with a feeling that I couldn’t recognize.

“N—no.” I shook my head, looking down.

“With a different manager, I think you’ll die after that answer,” he continued. “Would you guys want to call it a day?”

Hell yes.

“Who wouldn’t want that?” Valeriy asked.

Yes, who wouldn’t want it?

“The video will be finished by next Friday. So, see you next Friday then unless you have something to talk to me.” He left, leaving us alone in the former chamber.

“We’re like people who having nothing to do in our lives,” Helmeri finally said something. “He’s to be at the office til the evening.”

“We—just—did—on—Monday,” I said while slightly hitting my forehead on the table with each word.

“That was more like your work, not ours. Besides, we work differently, but whenever it’s time for us, it sure is like Hell,” Valeriy added.

“Right…” I answered. My face was still on the wooden island.

“Do you need some help, Vendel?” Sigfrid asked, voice serious. “You look much worse than the shooting day.”

“No, I just need to be at the park—again.” I slumped my head against the backrest.

“Just call us whenever you want if you need anything.” Valeriy stood up.

And all, except Andrey and I, exited silently.

“I think you need more than that fresh air,” Andrey said.

“Your strawberry mocha might heal me.”

“Didn’t you just command me to stop the strawberry stuff?”

I frowned and rolled my eyes. “Hearing you saying it and drinking it are completely different things.”

He nodded. “True.” He paused, bobbing his head up and down. “Want to be at that café this time or just another bench like the last time?”

What kind of question is this? God…

“Are you drunk?” I frowned.

He frowned too. “No.”

“A bench. We can’t sit at the café and talk about our stuff. Just go there. I’ll buy you a cup.”

“You’ve to give me a chance to pay you back.”

“Stop that. You buy lots of things. I barely have anything in my house. I’m not a collector like you.”

He bowed before me like I was a queen instead now.

***

Not the same bench, but it didn’t matter. The selfsame tranquility was soothing my soul, and so was his bizarre, favorite coffee. The qualities between ingredients were significantly different, yet they mixed so well that I couldn’t even imagine.

“On that filming day,” I said, looking at him. “I wanted to give up. Did you notice how I look like after each take?”

His irises went up, and so was his face while drinking the aromatic water. He then faced me. “You looked the same to my eyes.”

How come?

I swigged the mocha. “Seriously? And you knew me for years, not to mention that you’re my boyfriend now.”

“Sorry,” he said with a monotone, staring at the gray ground.

“It’s fine. Have you ever thought about how an outcome will be when someone find the behind-the-scene truth?”

He faced me again with widened eyes. “No, but it’s an interesting one. Why?”

“Nowadays, anything can be leaked so easily. One of the crew might had been secretly filming me and release it, you know.” I shook the cup slightly.

“You’re worrying about it too much. You didn’t even curse or do anything that will destroy your career. You better be worried about your manner when someone interviews you.”

He’s a good point.

“Unless I blurt some stuff out, and they keep it.” I took the caffeinated drink.

“You can sue them when they release it.” He sipped it.

“But my image will get destroyed first. More like the whole band, actually.”

The prince was moving his eyes like crazy for a few seconds then said, “I didn’t come up with that at all. You’re right about it.”

“What can we do after that? I believe some will boycott us with just a little mistake. The point of this is to show you that the whole kingdom can be destroyed.” I paused, gulping the coffee. “It’s always hard to get someone back or make people stick with our band, but it’s super easy to lose people from our lives.”

He nodded with solemn eyes. “Back then when I was with ‘Darkest Light’, it took us four albums to get enough fans for medium-sized concert venues. We tried very hard to achieve the right sound. The fourth album finally got the right one. A flood of fans came to us and stuck with us since that record.”

“It took us two before you’re with us, then we went booming after the award.”

He flinched, glaring at me “I really don’t want to hear about it today after seeing you like this, but… it’s okay.”

“Your eyes are not okay.”

“Sorry.” He stopped glaring.

“You know, a lyrics video isn’t good for a launch, yet I want all of our singles to release in that way or just official audio videos. I’m tired of acting, faking myself.”

“Pretending to be someone else is always hard.” He knocked it back. “At least you’re still you outside the scene. It’s why our fans love you so much.”

“Pure singing and having you guys playing stuff videos are much easier to do, but Bartosz is right about how boring they are.”

“Remember this. Without him saying that to us, we go nowhere.”

Right.

“And you need to give Heimer a gift for his idea,” he continued. “Maybe a new guitar.” He grinned at me.

I chuckled. “I’ll bang it on his head.”

He tittered. “You’re such a cruel princess.” He paused. “How’s the coffee, by the way?”

“I never thought your favorite weird coffee can be this glorious.” I gulped it down.

“They blend in perfect harmony like music.

“Except those messed up ones.”

He gave me a face that almost ended up bursting out laughing “We have some, don’t we?” he asked, still having that almost uncontrollable look.

“Yes, at least one track for each album,” I said, restraining myself from making him laugh. “They all sound good when we finish them, and then we find out how bad or mediocre they are after we release albums. Those critics help us finding it out too.”

He finally burst out laughing, although I tried my best to sound serious. Some people at the green theater glanced at the musician joker. He accidentally became the joy, shock, surprise and bewilderment giver.

“Stop it, Dyukha.” I pinched his left thigh.

He gradually ceased laughing, and everything slowly came back to its normal state.

“Sorry, the ‘critics’ part totally owned me,” he said. “Well, we’ve to be thankful for their constructive reviews or we’ll sound the same with no improvement. The first Darkest Light’s album is mediocre at best. We were like ‘What the hell?!’ After that, we improved.”

“Speaking of the critics.” I furrowed. “I’m still worrying about our new sound.” I turned to face him. “Valerka told me that it’ll be fine, but it still feels like an experiment. If it fails, we’ll be doomed and lose almost everything, if not everything.”

He shook his head and made a huge no sign with his hands. “It isn’t, trust me. He’s given his all. He’d been trying to find the right sound for this album for years. Our first single will be a blast, I’m sure. However, you might lose some, and you may gain some or many more. Next Friday is our Judgment Day—in a good way.” He gave me the thumbs up.

“I hope so.” I ultimately drank the well-blended mocha up then stretched. “I’m going home. Thank you for the drink although I paid for you too.”

He chuckled, smiling warmly at me. “You sound like you want me to pay you back.”

“Not necessary.” I smiled back at him. “You already paid me by hearing my words here. I feel so MUCH better now. Lots of things had been torturing me til I let it all out.”

“With pleasure.” He placed his right hand on his heart then bowed before me like I’m an actual princess or a queen now. “I’ll hang around here a bit.”

“See you later then.” I stood up, waved at him then left the comfort scene.

***

The Judgement Day had finally arrived. We did it in an unorthodox way: we watched the premiere launched online at 08.00 p.m. with live comments and reactions in the torment room—again.

Now, I didn’t deny to see it. I watched it along with all everyone. We didn’t interact with the presentation. We let it flow and randomize itself.

It was beautiful, no doubt. My shots were fine, but the fan’s footage was so full of real emotions, even though some didn’t include their faces.

I could see it from years of experience. They did it wholeheartedly unlike me.

For sure, it was ironic. I accepted the guilt: the guilt of not giving them enough actual connection between us and them while the video was so glorious to look at.

On the bright side, thanks to our creative team, the blend was spectacularly made.

I could feel it all. The perfect harmony like the coffee itself.

I was glad that live comments were mostly positive for both of the song and the interactive video, although they went through different routes because of the choices.

“Thank you for the idea, Heimer,” I said, smiling at him after it ended.

“Don’t mention it.” He smiled faintly at me. “I only offered the idea. I’ve no part in the video.”

“I guess everyone’s happy now, correct?” Bartlomiej asked, turning side to side with open hands hovering before his chest.

“I do.” Valeriy nodded.

“Me too,” Sigfrid added.

“Same.” Pyotr nodded too.

“Just like everyone,” Helmeri said with a broader smile.

“I’m delighted.” Andrey went beyond every single person here and giving me the thumbs up with a grin.

I blushed, face-palmed and slammed the backrest.

“What about you, Vendel?” Bartlomiej asked again, eyeing me with an eager face.

He totally ignored the slight romance in plain sight.

“It’s better than what I’d expected,” I said. “It’s beautiful and smooth. I like that ending with me standing on the cliff, witnessing the endless sky and ocean with butterflies flying around me. Those fans’ clips are great, especially ones with the lyrics and when they play instruments on the screen. The bright color grading and the vivid tone really shines too, Bartosz.” I smiled warmly at the manager.

“I wonder,” Bartlomiej said. “How many views can we get tonight?”

“It’s potential to surpass all our old videos, I think,” Valeriy answered. “We may get more than three hundred thousand within four hours.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Pyotr added, nodding.

“It sounds too high for me, but we’ll see,” Sigfrid remarked, furrowing and his fingers were dancing on the wooden stage.

“Anyway, we’ve safely and successfully accomplished all the goals,” Helmeri commented while leaning forward. “No song leaking and they love our song and the video. It’s safe to say that our next two headbanging singles will perform well. The ties between us and the fans are still strong like before. It might even soar, bringing many more new fans to us.”

I nodded, and they all nodded too except the deadpan manager who was watching us like the monarchy’s guard.

“The next singles act as our next chapters,” Valeriy said with a hand bearing his chin. “This one is just the beginning.

“And I changed my singing style under your direction for the next singles too, Valerka,” I added, leaning forward with clasped hands resting on the solid surface.

“More like for almost the whole album, but it all will turn out well like Heimer said. Don’t worry.” Andrey tried to lift my spirit, smiling at me again.

“Regardless of that, this album will define your future works,” Bartlomiej said after stood guarding the dynasty. “Everyone’s counting on you. I’m leaving now as there’s nothing more to discuss. Thanks for your hard work. Go celebrate it somewhere.” He beamed at us, waved and left.

I only want to sleep.

We went to an upscale restaurant. Eating and talking with bliss while some and I kept refreshing the video page to see the view numbers, and Valeriy was right and wrong because it got over three hundred thousand views in just three hours.

I believed they all, if not all of them, couldn’t imagine the breathtaking pain within me when we were capturing the new path of our journey. All they could witness was the happiness of me having the best time ever due to those artificial signs of euphoria.

The “euphoria” could be even our single for a new album after the current one.

Why?

Because the feeling usually lasted for a short time.

Would someone notice the duration part?

I guessed not. Not even a single person.

Luckily, this place had that weird-blended drink: the (in)famous strawberry-flavored vodka.

Prince Andrey and I drank it like crazy.

For me, I drank it to relieve the feeling of not wholeheartedly sacrificed myself for the band contributors.

I guessed when I ultimately perish, someone would reveal my both sides and shock everyone.

How did I know that?

Movies about bands or singers who no longer working for whatever reason were frequently made to widen everyone’s eyes in horror.

But until that time, I wished my genuine emotions on stages would maintain the sturdily forged bond, which had been robust for more than a decade.

I loved singing on those platforms, seeing an audience face-to-face, having extraordinary moments together and trading invisible gifts in conjunction with them.

Humans depended on each other. They depended on me, and I depended on them too.

But how long will it last?

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