e.u.p.h.o.r.i.c

chapter eleven

skyscraper | evening | pov: mo

No going back on plans; today, we were going to dance it off, takin' suckers down in battle like clothes off a laundry line. I watched as a ton of people streamed into the huge building. As I observed closer, I saw a pendulum of two letter G's – one mirrored – hanging from above. I wondered what they stood for. The venue itself, from down here, looked impressive. In contrast to the night sky, the building was lit up by a thousand lights.

Glitch, on the other hand, was acting as nervous as a cornered rabbit in a fox den. His eyes were wider than ever and every now and then he'd bolt to one side and check it out before running back to stand next to me. I honestly felt the same way, but at least I didn't look like I was trying to be in two places at the same time.

We were waiting for the other crews. Not everyone here was a part of Dance Central. Of course, we had a wide network of individuals, which meant we were the most common here. 'Dance Centrians,' we were called sometimes. Problem was, I was called leader among us all more than once. That wasn't exactly true; then again, it didn't matter now.

After a while, Glitch ran up to me, dragging Bodie and Emilia along with him. There was this triumphant glow in his eyes that practically said, Look, I tracked them down and you didn't! as Bodie tried to slow Glitch down. The prodigy was all, 'Notice me!' until he stopped sprinting in front of me. Ignoring my protégé, I greeted Bodie with a thump on his back, and then murmured a quiet "Hi," to Emilia.

The Lu$h crew showed up a couple moments after. At least for once they weren't 'fashionably late' whatever that meant. Glitch appeared both relieved and glad that Angel would support him. Meanwhile, Aubrey commented on him being a 'cheap' dancer without proper training. I was stung by the remark as well, of course, but it could have been a lot worse. I was so thankful that Angel didn't mention Glitch being picked up from the streets.

Without having to wait much longer, I spotted a familiar face among the huge crowd. It was Taye. "Hey!" I called, but not too loudly. Miraculously, she heard me and turned around. By her side was a girl who I took for as her sister, Li'l T. She was pretty much a replica of her older sister. They looked alike. I wasn't surprised.

They were both wearing green. Taye's hair was in a mohawk while part of it was painted pink, as her sister's hair was tied up in two curly puffs. They both had this sassy attitude, which was evident in the way they dressed. Glitch perked up, obviously eager to meet – and maybe challenge – the new crew in front of us. Li'l T gave us the introduction by declaring, "Flash4wrd is in the house!"

"Skyscraper, more like," Bodie joked. He formally extended a hand to the crew and introduced himself. "Name's Bodie." Taye shook hands with him and, in return, said, "I'm Taye, and the overexcited little pipsqueak is T." The younger girl stuck her tongue at her older sister. From my point of view, I noticed Glitch stifle a laugh. Emilia and Taye high-fived energetically, and I smiled, knowing that they had been great friends even before the start of crews.

Angel, too, introduced himself – and an unappreciative Aubrey in the process – to Li'l T. For about five minutes everyone exchanged names, and then I heard a throat being cleared. All eight of us turned our heads around to see a female dancer with a glitter-themed outfit. "Are you from Dance Central?" she asked disconcertingly. I nodded. Her expression barely changed as she replied, "Good. The Glitterati – the owners of this tower – want to see you."

"Wait." I did a vague gesture that signaled for all four crews. "You mean all of us?" Behind me, I heard doubtful whispers. The woman nodded, and I looked back at the others, then to the crowd of waiting dancers. Bodie voiced his agreement. "I guess we'd better get in," he suggested. I wasn't really sure about where this was going, but we didn't come here just to wait outside while dance-offs were going on inside. So I told the sole dancer in front of us that we would be going.

In less than five minutes after, we were ushered into the building and were told to wait, then we were led to an elevator. The woman merely said, "Choose the top floor," and left us. I shrugged and did exactly what she told me to do. The door of the elevator openened, and we filled inside.

Glitch, impatient, clicked his heels against the floor of the elevator. It took us a while to get to the top of this giant skyscraper, of course, and I began to feel a bit uncomfortable. Even as it was widely spaced and had air conditioning, the place was swamped in awkward silence. No one spoke, and not even my energized protégé wanted to break the ice. He stopped moving, and then leaned on one end of the railing that was mounted on a wall.

Obviously, it would have been a short time if we were having a conversation. It felt like the seconds were taking much longer, so I spent a bit of my time looking around. The elevator was made up of glass over shining iron bars bent into the shapes of the letter G – for Glitterati, I soon realized. Everything glittered and shone with a seemingly unnatural, sickly light. Silver dots danced about as shadows played across the place. Everyone else showed signs of disorientation; this place was different from the other venues. It didn't have the casualties of Riptide beach, Bodie finally said, and we all nodded. And not even Lu$h's yacht was as fancy as this. It was a different kind of fancy, Aubrey had said, and I quietly agreed.

The double doors opened and revealed a large open space. We were at the top of the 'scraper. My feet clacked on wooden slats. My heart leapt to my mouth as the pendulum, larger than expected, swung a distance away, along with a great whoosh of air. Li'l T jumped back in surprise at the same moment. Glass windows and yet more decorative iron bars could be seen from here, but hadn't been visible from the foot of the tower. More people were scattered around the area, but few of them were actually dancing at the moment.

And then the Glitterati themselves, I assumed, would be waiting. Two figures, almost exactly alike to each other, wearing argentum clothing and as they turned to show face, makeup that gave them an eerie first impression. Both had platinum blond hair and their skin were deathly pale. As they approached us, I got a closer look and noticed that, apparently, one of the dancers was a male. By the look on Glitch's face, the fact shocked him enough for him to almost laugh, but thank goodness, he held it. This wasn't exactly the time to giggle, judging by the dark, calculating atmosphere.

If I were to describe them, their shared name, the Glitterati, would have said enough, but still. The female dancer had eyes with a stone-cold gaze that, in my opinion, could compare to Medusa. She wore matching black boots and a vest, her top was asymmetrical, and she wore an elbow-length glove that was cut in a spiral way, just like the left side of her leather pants. As for the male, well, he was a poor-quality copy of his partner. And yet there was something about him that told me, Don't laugh or I'll cut your head off, right here, right now. Talk about a dancing business through intimidation.

Before any of us – us of Dance Central, I meant – could say anything, the male gave us a not-too poetic intro. "Well, well. So you're the troop they call Dance Central, aren't you?" His voice was apparently... normal, in contrast to the way he dressed. Personally, I would have expected him to speak in a more squeaky tone, much like that of a girl's. "We've heard about your so-called skill. Be aware that you aren't the only ones who can dance. We, the Glitterati, would like to challenge you to a dance-off – with each and every one of your crews."

A deep chuckle rumbled in his throat. His companion took the conversation. "Of course, something will be at stake in this competition. If we are beaten by two dancers of the same crew, we will never bother you again and hail you as the best dancers we know of. If you lose, however – you are to let us join you, as the top crew of Dance Central." Her tone, like her brother's, wasn't predictable. It was high-pitched and spooky, sending a shiver down my spine.

Glitch tapped on my shoulder. Everyone else had their eyes on me; they thought of me as a leader, still. I almost wanted to slap each and every one of them for making it obvious that I was the one for the Glitterati to talk to. They, noticing this, walked up and spoke directly to me. "Do we have a deal?" The female dancer asked. I could see no way out of it. They definitely wouldn't let us out again from their turf. I glanced at each crew, and they all nodded, accepting the challenge. "Very well." I kept my voice low and added a hint of commandment. She – the female dancer – smiled, malevolence and everything, and she looked at her brother. "Kerith, brother dear, I suppose we have it set."

'Kerith,' as she had addressed him, replied. "We do, don't we, Jaryn?" I recognized the way they introduced themselves indirectly. And then I noticed how alike they were... twins, perhaps, but I definitely wasn't going to ask them out loud. Not yet, anyway. Jaryn lifted her chin to indicate Riptide. "Well now, are you going to go first?"

Emilia walked up to face her. "I was born ready, bring it on, freak!" she challenged. Jaryn, taken aback by the remark, flicked it back by replying in a confident way. "Very well, then, we'll begin with you." Kerith, too, smoothly added, "And little Blondie, too?" His taunting voice had Bodie gritting his teeth. I silently wished for him to hold himself and not bring a fist to Kerith's face, no matter how he spoke. Whoosh, howled the air as the pendulum took another swing.

Their venue was wide, and so the four dancers moved over to a space where everyone else could see them. For a second, silence prevailed, and I thought I saw Glitch quail beside me. Jaryn smirked, and then clarified, "I will challenge one dancer alone, and then Kerith will go against the other. Am I clear? That way, you can be judged by your own crew partner." No one protested, so Jaryn and Emilia took their places, as if there was mocking telepathy going between them. Then the song played: Just Dance by Lady Gaga.

Whoosh, whoosh. The pendulum took another violent swing, emphasizing the music, and then Emilia and Jaryn were going against each other. The brunette was already fired up, but the excessive energy was giving her a bit of difficulty. Jaryn, however, knew each move and executed them with deadly precision. Her perfectionism was actually impressing me. Emilia wasn't the one who danced badly; it was Jaryn who was just too exceeding. But competition went near and as the chorus came, Emilia was gaining the upper hand.

Synchronization with the music was essential, and for a brief moment I thought I saw both dancers stumble as they spun, but Emilia regained her balance quicker. Still, it wouldn't be enough to make up for her earlier troubles. I caught myself biting my lip as I anxiously watched. I tried to tell myself, Hey, they're just two clowns against four professional crews. Even a fool could see who'd win. If Riptide lost, we'd still have three crews. But doubt was still lingering. What were the Glitterati hoping to gain by joining Dance Central? Fame, that was definite, but why Dance Central? There were a lot of successful dance groups out there, some even better than us.

I wasn't really watching until Glitch pulled at my sleeve, just as the ladies were going to dance their freestyle. This was usually the most important part of a dance. Both dancers were doing well, but then Emilia turned the tables with an impressive three-sixty degree backflip. However, it had its cost, and as she recovered from the move Jaryn took the advantage by topping it up by spins, even doing a version of Kick Drop & Clap that would've broken her ankles, but somehow she held on. She was driving Emilia back step by step, too, and if she fell it'd be the end of her.

But both dancers froze in their finishing move before anything could happen. Some of the people who had been watching behind us, clapped and whistled. Most of them vouched for Jaryn, and Emilia lost a bit of her self-confidence among the cheers and Bodie, being the faithfully loyal friend – am I exaggerating? – looked angry at the group for dissing his crew partner.

No time was wasted afterwards as Kerith and Bodie took their places and this time, the song was DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love by Usher. It was a Riptide song; Bodie couldn't have had a better advantage. As I looked on, Bodie was already dancing better than Kerith. His moves, slick and smooth, while Kerith was a bit more stiff.

Jaryn watched with an eagle eye that sent a shudder though me. She scrutinized her brother, and for a moment I saw them share eye contact, then Kerith began to step up on his dancing. This time Bodie was already trying to do better, but Kerith beat him to the Kick Drop & Clap move, and Bodie slipped.

He managed to catch himself with one hand, but it took a toll from him, and Kerith was definitely winning. During freestyle, too, Bodie's missteps screwed the dance up, somehow. Even though the rest of his dance was flawless, it couldn't make up for the earlier debts.

Sighing deeply, Bodie walked briskly over to Emilia, who was a little way away from me. "Let's be honest, B," Emilia was saying, "but don't worry; it'll be OK. Besides, it isn't your fault that you made a bit of a mistake. It'll be forgotten. And even if they won, we can still grab the throne back whenever we want." She turned to me. "Can't we, Mo?" she added, obviously hoping that I could comfort Bodie for her. I nodded vaguely.

Flash4wrd were next, pointed the Glitterati. I wondered what Li'l T would take beating an older, taller dancer for; it wouldn't be easy, and Glitch would have to face the same thing eventually. I didn't like to think about it, but the girl was first up, and even though Taye's face told me that she would have loved to argue, she didn't have a choice.

The song was Evacuate The Dancefloor by Cascada. It was a style that would have matched both Li'l T and her contender, Kerith, I had to say. The dance was probably the easiest, which would have proved good for Kerith after doing such a legit dance minutes ago.

And so it began again. The moves were easy, it was basically snapping fingers and gliding, put together into something that would have been for a fitness program instead of a dance. I watched as both of them moved from side to side without a single blunder. Even freestyle was done easy and quickly. Along with a number of hip movements and arm spinning, I could barely remember why they made the choreo for this song so easy. Like, too easy. It was for someone to practice at home or do in a Kinect game like this thing called Just Dance that Glitch wanted me to buy. It wasn't even a real dance to me.

Li'l T's face screamed, 'challenge accepted!' and it was reflected in her dance, too. She was doing so well that I almost forgot that if Taye did as good as her, we'd be winning. Perhaps I wouldn't even need to go up front this time.

Glide, snap, spin, twist; glide, snap, spin, twist. Somehow, she was able to drive Kerith backwards, one step at a time. He was backing away subconsciously, and at one point nearly lost his balance. It was all the same, repeated again and again until the music ended. Kerith had a surprised look on his face to have been so closely matched by a girl at least five years younger than him. The crowd who were granted access to the tower floor already began to comment about how near a defeat it was for both dancers. One also said that it would be a draw. Some said that T would have had the win as she was simply younger but could do just as good; better even. A quarrel rose and Jaryn practically yelled, "Silence!" before they stopped.

For a moment I saw a shade of fear darken her eyes, something similar to the sun being blocked out by rainclouds. But then I squinted a little bit more and saw that it wasn't fear... it was a threat. Jaryn was set out to win, and her poisonous glare must have infected her brother, because Kerith, too, had venom in his orbs. It was a little odd, in my point of view, to see these two dancers, so keen on winning a game that could've been so easy to forgive and forget. Li'l T was the first dancer who had actually launched a success.

It would be Taye's turn now. If only she could win this one, but I was getting more and more unsure by the second. Glitch looked at me, and I knew what he was thinking as it was gnawing at me all the same. If Flash4wrd lost, we'd have to win, or they'd be the winners, and I couldn't have that... for some reason, just by looking at their attitude, it was evident that we'd have a hard time making friends with the two.

Jaryn and Taye walked up to start their dance. Their song was Get Ur Freak On and honestly, I barely heard it over the thumping of my heart. The dancers were evenly matched; the odds would be an even fifty to fifty. I had no idea why the Glitterati managed to gain the better of all of us now.

Most of my thoughts were centered around how the Glitterati could become such great dancers. Sure, they had skill, but there seemed to be something else in this. It wasn't cheating; I could figure out that much on my own, of course, but it was just illogical that they managed to win every single round. If only they had placed the rules differently, and two dancers of different crews could still win. Besides, we wouldn't gain much from winning. It was an unmatched fight.

So far so good, though, as Taye was already gaining advantage as freestyle was on. Jaryn didn't back off, though, and by doing a complicated spin she had Taye step back with a few seconds of being out if sync with the music. Not only that but the Flash4wrd dancer had a hard time getting back into the music. And I wasn't sure about it, but I thought I saw Jaryn attempt to sweep her leg and get Taye to trip on it. Of course, that wasn't allowed, but as she did it she made it look like part of the move. Her undertake didn't meet a success, but somehow I knew that she would try it again.

Displeasing groans from the crowd made me realize that Jaryn had this on again. I took in a deep breath and sighed. This wasn't going very well, and I supposed that u would have to go up soon. The leadership of Dance Central was at stake. With what was happening, I began to feel the actual pressure weighing down on me as the chances were getting smaller.

Lu$h dancer Aubrey went against Jaryn, and they danced to the song titled Satellite. It was an easy win for Jaryn, one that would be painful to even describe. All I could say was that Miss Aubrey had tried her best, but Jaryn was just so hard to defeat. It was like taking down the final boss of some game.

Misfortune was hitting us as Angel couldn't go against Kerith as the Lu$h crew had already lost anyway. Kerith was already having an evil smile on his face that would have given little girls nightmares.

Again, we lost. Jaryn smirked again, and I shook my head. It was my turn now, and if I had it I'd win for sure. This time, it was Kerith who challenged me. Strangely, I was to go first and Glitch would go after me. I realized something. The Glitterati planned this well; they'd expect him to lose, after all, and they would have the pleasure of beating every crew after going against almost each and every dancer. Glitch was small and definitely not all that sturdy, but in his hands were the means and in his heart was the will. I had to hang on to that belief. And if we lost, we'd be training the heck out of us, and I wouldn't look forward to that, actually.

This time I had to dance to Scenario, and I was instantly shocked by how good Jaryn was at this dance. Her moves were as swift and as well-timed as mine so that it was hard not to keep my jaw from dropping. The song was a long and difficult one, but it was a Hi-Def song and it once took me weeks to master it, no kidding, so I knew I gotta pull it together. I was already beginning to lose to Jaryn, but then freestyle was launched and at the same time, so was my frustration.

I let myself get lost in the music and let myself do what I had to. I could've done a backflip, but it wouldn't do me much good and would give Jaryn a loophole. Instead I did what I always did – breakdance. I was already spinning and the next second I was doing a sturdy handstand. Jaryn wasn't accustomed to these moves, I could tell that much at least, and she realized her mistake in choosing this song. Her moves quickened, but were becoming repetitive. She was running out of moves to try, but seconds later the freestyle time ended and we had to do the normal routine.

Oh, it was a pleasure to finally stop breakdancing because at that moment my limbs almost ached as I did my finishing move. Jaryn didn't look pleased at all. Her eyes were filled with contempt; it was practically coming off in waves, radiating her fury. And her face was beetroot red; she gritted her teeth and it became easy to imagine her holding a knife or a match. I quickly shooed the image from my head and walked back to Glitch, who was increasing in anxiety. And yet as usual, when I approached him that anxiety deformed and turned into excitement and he was brimming with pride at my accomplishment. And then that too was swallowed by the pressure he was under, and he gulped nervously.

From foot to foot he was bouncing, that nervousness biting at him, accompanied by a wistful glow in the nephrite jade orbs. He actually reminded me of myself as a young'in, unable to contain any energy, feeling the need to unleash it. I smiled and then gently nudged him over to the dance floor while the Glitterati weren't looking. They had their backs turned to us as if they were discussing something important. They were hesitant to lose, that was clear enough.

Within the next few minutes Kerith turned around and faced Glitch. I had to hide a chuckle as I realized that it was Kerith who had to go against both younger dancers. He was probably unhappy about his previous failure against T and would want to own it up by taking Glitch down.

Dancing to Sexy Chick would be easy as ever for Glitch, and that made my heart leap as I recognized the song. It was a good thing, as Glitch had been practicing all those moves for as long as I could remember. It was simply another do-over for him, I hoped. Suddenly my mind transported me back to the day I first picked him up from the alleyways, and introducing myself as Mo from Dance Central, and that pearlescent glow in his eyes, uttering those words, I've always wanted t' be a dancer. The line between dreams and reality blurred, and I blinked slowly. Imagining him now, confident and brave, instead of the little helpless, homeless, beat-up teen who crashed into me near the subways. Then the beat of the music took me back to the present, and I could only hope that Glitch would win.

One, two, three, four, elbow up, down, up, down, I kept relaying those words in my head. Glitch kept up perfectly, each move flawless. His structure was firm during the right time, then he became flexible enough for moves such as Push Me, and he wasn't nearly as haughty as when he had first begun to dance to this. He froze at the right time, then continued with the next moves. Kerith wasn't nearly as good as him, in my opinion, but I vowed to myself not to judge so simply.

Even as the freestyle was turned up, Glitch was, too. He was dancing furiously, and Kerith would have been surprised enough to stop, but he kept going on. As Glitch kept moving to the beat and shouts of approval came from the audience, I thought I saw him burst with happiness, but the challenge wasn't over yet. The moon would still be shining down on us, like a spotlight, so Glitch would better make the best of it. Kerith was slowly getting driven back, but with one look from Jaryn he smiled, and his dazzling glitter top spun as he did, and at that same moment he did a difficult move. It was hard to see it as they covered it up, but the move was enough to throw Glitch off course as a leg brushed only millimeters past his nose – and he fell sprawling. The Glitterati had done this on purpose. It was almost like they had tripped him, hideously.

The dream was again blocked by clouds.

Jaryn's laughter rang out and the music was abruptly cut off. Kerith sprung up to his feet and they surrounded Glitch, one dancer on the protégé's left and the other on the right. Then Glitch almost quailed again. I was about to protest, and my lips formed the word 'but,' and yet no sound came out. I stopped myself – it was a childish word. Besides, this happened occasionally. They cheated, but that was actually normal. However that didn't change things for the better.

"So, the deal was sealed. That means we get what we wanted: leadership." Jaryn turned to Kerith. "Don't you think so, dear brother?" her voice no different from her maniacal laughter before – like the cackles of a witch. Kerith nodded. "And so, the Glitterati are now the top Dance Central crew. Do you have anything to say?" he asked, to all of us, even though I was the center of his attention. I kept my head low. Glitch looked like he would have loved a strong protest, but he kept himself silent, for which I was thankful for. "No," I replied clearly. The other dancers didn't have any more to say. Some of the crowd voiced their opinions but the Glitterati paid them to attention, leaving one of their backup dancers to lead us back down the elevator.

We were thrown out like filthy rats minutes afterwards.

It was hard to explain what happened next. Glitch was outraged, indignant, angry, frustrated, to the point that he demanded to go home to punch a pillow and waste his fury on it. The other crews didn't blame me, but instead were displeased with themselves. Only a few of them – Bodie, Aubrey, Li'l T and Taye – noticed Kerith's move on Glitch that would have been against the rules. And, after they voiced it in, everyone else became as angry. I sighed. "Well, everyone, there's someone new at the top of the food chain, and frankly, I'll have to say that, for once, I'm feeling like a sore loser."

They all felt the same as me. I felt bad for T in particular; her first meeting with the crews, and now this had happened. And I cursed the Glitterati for this, and swore that I would get back at them, but I knew that I couldn't just challenge them whenever I want. It wouldn't be easy to counterattack, so I sighed and hoped that, maybe with a couple new Dance Central recruits we could knock them off.

We parted ways not long after, and with Glitch back in the seat of the cab, his head titled to one side, his eyes closed and his hair falling down, I couldn't imagine anything cuter than having a little brother like this. He was already drifting in and out of sleep, barely conscious, that I doubted that he would release his anger later at home. Even though he woke up five minutes before the cab reached home, he was so profoundly exhausted that I had to shake his shoulders again to get him to stand up fully alert.

Today must have been a hard day for him, after so much training in the morning and losing in the end. He wasn't happy with what happened, and neither was I, but we'd get our own way someday, with the help of the other crews. They looked to me now. Not me, us. Hi-Def. We were a crew together, we were a team. We weren't just mentor and protégé anymore, we were brothers; family.

And I couldn't help thinking as I left him in his room alone, that I would help him achieve his dreams and highest goals, not only because they were linked to my own, but because I just wanted to. I wanted to help him, so that he would know the true meaning of living life to its fullest, and not spending it like you were a bubble just floating about, idly waiting for its end.

We were going to get back at the Glitterati, but who knew what else happened before that?