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Rock Dog: The Songs We Sing

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All Bodi could hear were the deafening screams and shouts of his audience as he took one more breath on the stage of his band’s concert. Taking one glimpse at his parents cheering him on, then his band members, his mentor Angus (adjusting the chords of his guitar), his new girlfriend Darma (glancing at Bodi as she gestured him to hurry on), drummer Grem (drumming a bit, drumsticks on his paws) and rebel turned ally Trey (also waiting to perform the final song). The mastiff felt he needed time, but he knew they were one song away from completing the concert.

 

Two years after he left the village to become a rock star (because his father banned music in the village), he found a new purpose in moving to Mengcheng. If not for barging into Darma, Grem and Trey at the park, if not for trespassing into Angus’s mansion, and if not for them to come together to defeat the wolves as they were about to conquer Bodi’s old village, the mastiff and his band members would not be where they were today.

 

Closing his eyes once more, he remembered making a visit back to the village once more, this time taking a moment to touch an urn that contained the ashes belonging to Uncle Fleetwood. He shed a small tear and wiped it off, realising he truly missed Uncle Fleetwood Yak.

 

It was about time as he let his lips vibrate the microphone stand. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is our final song for the night. This one’s dedicated to not just those in the Mengcheng Indoor Stadium but for those that impacted our lives. Ian Rashford, our agent who’s backstage, my parents Khampa and Karli, those from the village that came from the village and to those watching wherever you are. This song… is for all of us. I hope you enjoyed and once again, thank you Mengcheng!!!”

 

As the crowd cheered, he nodded to the rest of the band, ready to perform the final song of the evening. No time to waste, then.

 

(Song: “Army of Us” by Andreas Johnson)

 

Close your eyes and count to ten

Better days will come again

We're wild roses in the dark

I can hear your beating heart

 

We live for the night

We live for the day

When all lights have faded

We're building an army of us

So trust we're driven by lust

When all lights have faded

We're building an army of us

 

Do we dream too much?

We're building an army of us

 

Do we dream too much?

When it doesn’t seem enough

Do we dream too much?

We're building an army of us

 

Bodi’s paw started to pulsate as he built up your “Fire” within, the lights spotlighting, and he brought his energy out. That would not have been possible if not for his father, thinking back to days Khampa taught him on utilising his “Fire”. You moved on to your second verse

 

What we built is meant to last

One step forward, no step back

We're not broken, we're just bent

Close your eyes and count to ten

 

We live for the night

We live for the day

When all lights have faded

We're building an army of us

So trust we’re driven by lust

When all lights have faded

We’re building an army of us

 

Do we dream too much?

When it doesn’t seem enough

Do we dream too much?

We're building an army of us

 

(Ooh, ooh)

(Ooh, ooh)

Army of us

(Ooh, ooh)

 

This love, this love is bigger

This love, this love is bigger

This love, this love is bigger

 

His guitar glowed blue once again as he knew he had built up enough energy to unleash it. Bodi smiled and strum his next note, allowing the energy from his guitar to burst forward, creating a wave of blue energy across the stadium.

 

The crowd cheered and screamed in excitement at the sight of his signature weapon.

 

It was time to finish it off with a bang.

 

Do we dream too much?

When it doesn’t seem enough

Do we dream too much?

We’re building an army of us

(This love, this love is bigger)

We’re building an army of us

(This love, this love is bigger)

We’re building an army of us

 

He stopped strumming, his bandmates stopped playing and the only noise Bodi heard are the loud cheering from the fans rippling across the stadium. He put away his guitar pluck and into the right pocket it goes. He looked around to find everyone screaming at your final performance of the night.

 

He took a deep breath before announcing to everyone “Ladies and gentlemen, we are Rock Dog and we will see you soon. Thank you, Mengcheng, and good night!”

 

There was no mirror ahead, but he imagined one parallel to where you are standing. He smiled at your imaginary self-reflection. He knew who he was. ‘You are a Tibetan Mastiff from a village high on Snow Mountain. Your name was Bodi Lang, a villager who came to Mengcheng in search of success but more importantly, in search of the one you loved.’ That was what flowed through his mind.

 

And now, two years of pursuing his dreams came to this. Finally, he arrived… as the frontman of Rock Dog.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

The bus ride back to the village, on board a London double-decker Routemaster, no less, was one full of relief. Bodi looked out of the window as he witnessed the city lights of the city of Mengcheng fading into the distance. He was wearing the same clothes he wore at the concert but he was looking forward to taking a hot shower and changing to the clothes he wore in the village.

 

As per usual, Angus drove the bus home, his shades obstructing the blue eyes he possessed. He, too, was looking forward to heading home to his mansion, or he should mention the band’s mansion. Grem, on the other hand, was snoring away, still not realising he was the sleepiest member of the band. Trey was not at the lower deck unlike the rest of the passengers, instead looking out front the front of the upper deck.

 

His parents are on board the bus too, planning to stay over for the night before heading back to the village tomorrow. Karli, his mother, rubbed her paws at the large stomach she was having. She was seven months’ pregnant and she was expecting a baby boy. Arm over her shoulder, Khampa looked to his son and nodded to him. Bodi muttered a word of “Thanks” for allowing him to leave the village two years ago.

 

He looked to his fox girlfriend Darma next to him, her head resting on his right shoulder. They have dated for a few months now, but one thing was for certain: the amount of time dating has given him the confidence to communicate considering his Savant syndrome, which a psychologist officially diagnosed him 21 years too late.

 

He patted his paw at Darma as the bus reached its destination.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Bodi took a nice hot shower inside the en-suite bathroom inside his bedroom, the first thing he did once everyone arrived at Angus’s large mansion. Washing the shampoo and soap off his body, he felt some warmth and comfort over taking a hot shower, something he did not appreciate as back in the village, he only did cold showers because there was simply no heater at the house.

 

Drying himself after the 5-minute shower, he wore the clothes that he was familiar with: a traditional blue tunic-like shirt and brown pants. He took a moment to look at his green beanie, before going against wearing it as his messy hair was not dry yet.

 

Bodi re-entered his bedroom; nothing has changed since he and his other bandmates moved into the mansion two years ago. The bed that was too large for him, the computer, the printer and everything else, they remained at the same spot. He promised Darma to meet outside, at the stairs leading to the back entrance of the mansion, after he took a shower. Grabbing his phone and pocketing it inside his pants, he heads out to find his girlfriend.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Darma waited for the Mastiff outside the mansion, waiting for him as she spotted him carrying two mugs of camomile tea, one belonging to her and the other his. Being careful not to step on the booby-trapped “Welcome” mat at the doorstep (Angus had promised the band he will disable that trap someday), Bodi approached the fox, making sure not to spill their tea.

 

Bodi sat down next to her, watching Angus’s mechanised mice navigating the garden maze, making sure no trespasser enters the compound undetected. The night was full of stars and a crescent-shaped moon being the centre of the universe. She was reading a book titled ‘Look to the Stars’ by Alan Conway.

 

(Song: “Tu Cancion (Your Song)” by Amaia and Alfred)

 

“Hey, sweetheart,” Bodi sat beside Darma, tea in his paw.

 

Darma felt annoyed being called ‘sweetheart’ as she put her book down. “Bodi, just call me by my real name, please.”

 

“Ok, Darma. Did I rock the stadium?”

 

“Or should I say, ‘we’? We totally killed it!”

 

“Yeah, I agree. We did.” Bodi took a moment to observe the sky as Darma touched his shoulder.

 

The fox sat upright and looked at her boyfriend. “You know, she started, “You didn’t know how to communicate with ordinary folk like us, right? You came from a village an hour away, having suffered from Savant syndrome and there you are, two years later, becoming famous and being able to communicate properly.”

 

That confused Bodi. “Wait, communicate?”

 

“It means to talk to other people.”

 

Bodi felt ashamed. He should have brushed up his English vocabulary sometimes. “I did not take part in the national exams. Dad home-schooled me all my life…”

 

Darma chuckled a bit but assured Bodi, “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”

 

Darma showed Bodi her novel. “Have you read this before? ‘Look to the Stars’?

 

Bodi may not have been a reader, but he remembered he read it as a birthday gift from his late uncle. “Yeah, that novel about an astronaut who did not leave the ground? I read that before!”

 

“Me too! During secondary school.”

 

It really took him back. “Remember the part what the astronaut told his daughter the day before he went to space?”

“I do.”

 

Darma stood up and quoted the line, as she attempted to imitate that voice, “Don’t worry my child, the next time you see me, I will be the biggest star in the sky you will ever see. Just remember to look up when Daddy touches the moon.

 

Bodi did not laugh. He appreciated his girlfriend’s attempt. “Somewhere along that. I know that line was cheesy, but do you want to know why I am referring to this quote?”

 

Bodi pointed at the largest, brightest star in the sky.

 

“That is the Sirius star. My late uncle told me about the star one day when I was young. He told me it was the biggest star you can see in the sky. However, that to me was not the biggest star in the sky.”

 

“Then, what, or who is the biggest star?”

 

Bodi pointed his finger at his girlfriend. “You.”

 

Darma blushed over the statement. She admitted that she was caught off guard. “Oh, Bodi, you shouldn’t have.”

 

“Or yes, I should. Remember the kiss at the bridge two years ago?”

 

Darma remembered their first kiss. “I do. I kissed you at the bridge.”

Bodi stood up and smiled at the fox. “Now, I think it’s about time to return the favour.”

 

At that moment, Bodi slowly leaned his head towards Darma. Foxes like Darma have a snout, unlike dogs, but that did not matter, because he kissed Darma at her lips. It did not take long before they held on to each other as the stars witnessed a dog and a fox kissing from a distance.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

(Opening Theme Song: “Wasted Nights” by One Ok Rock)

 

(Starting Title Card - Summit Entertainment Presents)

 

Must be something in the water

Feel like I can take the world

 

(A Huayi Brothers Media Corp. and Mandoo Pictures Production)

 

Throw the weight up on my shoulders

Cause I won't even feel the burn

 

(In Association with Huayi Tencent Entertainment Company, Eracme Entertainment and Dream Factory Group)

 

Don't be afraid to dive

Be afraid that you didn't try

 

(And in Collaboration with Illumination Entertainment, AIC Studios and Assemblage Entertainment)

 

These moments remind us why

We're here, we're so alive

 

(Ending Title Card - Rock Dog: The Songs We Sing)

 

Let's live like we're immortal

Maybe just for tonight

We'll think about tomorrow, yeah

When the sun comes up

Cause by this time tomorrow

We'll be talking 'bout tonight

Keep doing what we want, we want, we want

No more wasted nights

 

The record spinning, we don't notice

Fill this room with memories

Everybody's chasing something

But we got everything we need

 

Don't be afraid to dive

Be afraid that you didn't try

These moments remind us why

We're here, we're so alive

 

Let's live like we're immortal

Maybe just for tonight

We'll think about tomorrow, yeah

When the sun comes up

Cause by this time tomorrow

We'll be talking 'bout tonight

Keep doing what we want, we want, we want

No more wasted nights

 

I don't wanna wa- I don't wanna waste a night

I don't wanna wa- I don't wanna waste a night

I don't wanna wa- I don't wanna waste a night

I don't wanna wa- I don't wanna waste a night

 

Let's live like we're immortal

Maybe just for tonight

We'll think about tomorrow, yeah

When the sun comes up

Cause by this time tomorrow

We'll be talking 'bout tonight

Keep doing what we want, we want, we want

No more wasted nights

 

I don't wanna wa- I don't wanna waste a night

I don't wanna wa-, no more wasted nights

Chapter Text

A few months later…

 

Somewhere at a warehouse in Mengcheng, Bodi was setting up for another take of a music video. This time, he wore his village clothes including his iconic beanie (because manager Ian felt Bodi must wear something iconic). The backstage crew has already reset the music video set. Besides, it is a one-take music video they were filming.

 

Bodi strapped on his iconic blue guitar as everyone got into position. The lights dimmed for the start of another take of Rock Dog’s newest music video.

 

(Song: “On My Way” by Sheppard”)

 

“And… action!”

 

The spotlight started to light up Bodi as the crew played a backing track of the band’s newest single. On cue, Bodi, with his guitar strapped to his back, started singing at the camera.

 

Your heart is beating beside me

It's trying to ignite

It gives off the heat of a sunbeam

Even on the coldest night

 

It's like I'm burning from inside out and I

I think I know who to blame

We are the fever that's wild and dangerous

And I wanna dance in the flame

 

On cue, the rest of Bodis bandmates joined behind him as the background behind them showed shadows of various iconic world monuments. Angus, Darma and Trey had guitars strapped behind their backs with Grem holding on to his drumsticks.

 

On cue, they started lip-syncing to the backing track alongside Bodi.

 

So I'm on my way, on my way, my darling

I'm on my way, on my way, oh

I'm on my way, on my way, my darling

I'm on my way, on my way

 

So-oh-oh, our love is on fire, it's on fire, yeah

Oh-oh-oh, our love is on fire, we're on fire now

 

Bodi and his band walked forward towards a nearby container, customised for the music video, while singing the rest of the chorus.

 

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh

 

The opening to the container closes, shutting the band inside the container. This gave the backstage crew ample time to change the setting of the warehouse for the next set as Bodi and the rest of his band continued lip-syncing inside the container, the container itself lighted up as they sang the next verse.

 

You're like a slo-mo explosion

That you can see from space

You melt the sky to the ocean

And everything's that's in your way

 

It's like I'm burning from inside out and I

I think I know who to blame

We are the fever that's wild and dangerous

And I wanna dance in the flame

 

Just then, the container opened again on cue, showing a brand-new background: a vibrant city that resembled Mengcheng itself. At the centre was a circular stage where the crew wheeled in, along with Grem’s drumkit.

 

The band sang the second chorus.

 

So I'm on my way, on my way, my darling

I'm on my way, on my way, oh

I'm on my way, on my way, my darling

I'm on my way, on my way

 

At that moment, the band walked towards the stage, flanked by the mammals throwing petals into the air. Ian chuckled from behind the set as it was his idea to throw fake rose petals in the air.

 

So-oh-oh, our love is on fire, it's on fire, yeah

Oh-oh-oh, our love is on fire, we're on fire now

 

Ooh, I'm on my way, on my way

Ooh, I'm on my way, on my way

Ooh, I'm on my way, on my way

Ooh, I'm on my way, on my way

 

The band made their way up on the circular stage and everyone got into their usual band playing position. Bodi, Angus, Darma and Trey hold on to their guitars while Grem sat down on his stool as a crowd of extras form around the stage.

 

The band started playing their instruments and ‘performed’ around the crowd.

 

So-oh-oh, our love is on fire, it's on fire, yeah

Oh-oh-oh, our love is on fire, we're on fire now

Oh-oh-oh, our love is on fire, it's on fire, yeah

Oh-oh-oh, our love is on fire, we're on fire now

 

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh (I'm on my way, on my way)

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh (I'm on my way, on my way)

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh (I'm on my way, on my way)

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh (I'm on my way, on my way)

 

“And… cut! That’s a good take, everyone,” the music video director called out. “Well done, everyone, that’s all for today.”

 

As the ‘crowd’ dispersed, the band members got off the stage, escorted by the backstage crew to the temporary staff lounge near the warehouse entrance. They were glad they got the music video filming done for today.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Rock Dog had risen to become one of the most popular rock bands in Mengguo, the island country in the Asia Pacific. It is one of the smaller Asia countries, with a population of only 3 million mammals residing in the island. Still, when one visits Mengguo, the tourist would not be surprised to find out Rock Dog music being almost everywhere as their music became popular among teenagers.

 

The band took a break near the front entrance of the filming warehouse, where there was a high tea spread for the staff to munch on. However, they went straight for the warm black tea (with them adding sugar of their desired amounts) before gathering at one of the many tables set up by the backstage crew.

 

“Ah, I’m exhausted!” Grem, the band’s lazy goat drummer proclaimed. He slouched on his chair, his drumsticks on the table. “Glad this is over!”

 

“Me too,” Trey the Aussie cheetah agreed. He was itching for a pint of beer, even though it was only 5pm.

 

Sipping his cup of tea, Bodi’s mentor Angus did not say a word, instead appreciating his own cup. He looked up to the band and told everyone “Now that we finished recording the music video, we should be free for the rest of the day.” Angus turned to Bodi and asked, “You got anything on, Bodi?”

 

The young mastiff replied, “As a matter of fact, Darma and I had to set off for the village. Family dinner.”

 

Angus nodded. “I see. Are you going now?”

 

“Not yet,” Bodi replied. “I need to finish my tea, you know!”

 

The band chuckled at Bodi’s unintentional comedy. It was a long day recording and for the first time, they felt relaxed.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Bodi and Darma waved goodbye to the rest of the band as they head out into the cold Mengcheng winter. The forecast, according to Bodi’s mobile phone, suggested a temperature of 4 degrees Celsius with no chance of heavy snow.

 

They hopped into Bodi’s new sedan, bought by Angus as a gift after Bodi passed his driving test a few months ago. It was a modest five-seater with the essentials of a car and more importantly, a proper infotainment system so that they can they can play music on the car.

 

Darma helped install probation plates at the front and the end of the car, showing that Bodi was a first-year driver and he would be under probation during his first year of obtaining his licence.

 

“Ready to drive, Bodi?” Darma got back to the front seat and asked Bodi, who was checking his car one last time.

 

Bodi nodded his head “All set! I hope I remember how these things work.” He pressed the ‘engine start/stop’ button and they drove off from the warehouse. Bodi could not wait to miss out of the family dinner for a second more.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

“I’m just happy that we get to eat dinner together,” Bodi’s father Khampa patted his son’s shoulder. “It’s so great to bring your girlfriend in, even though she’s not a Mastiff herself.”

 

“It’s totally fine, Uncle,” Darma replied. “Besides, the government had legalised cross-species marriage already.”

 

Bodi and Darma were inside what was formerly Bodi’s house at the village in Xueshan Mountain (Or Snow Mountain, as the family preferred to call it), having finished up dinner with Bodi’s family. Bodi’s Mum Karli had just cleared everyone’s plate and was now making a fruit platter for everyone present.

 

The bespectacled Khampa had been lenient since the day Bodi and his band quelled Linnux and his wolf gang from the village. Not only has he lifted the ban on music inside the village, he even tried to listen and appreciate music himself. In the end, the only genre he could tolerate is classic Chinese songs over a radio and it was not just any other radio.

 

“Nowadays,” Khampa continued where he left off, “I listened to music from this good old radio. Fleetwood left this to Bodi after he passed away, but Bodi already has music on his phone, so…”

 

“Yeah, Dad…” Bodi muttered under his breath. Bodi gave the radio away to his parents as a gift. At that point, Karli got out of the kitchen and served the small group a cut fruit platter with forks for everyone. A slightly old yak took dips on a sliced apple and gobbled it up. Billy Yak was Uncle Fleetwood’s first son, so when he received the news regarding his father’s death. Now, Billy became the lamb guardian and has returned to the village since.

 

“I’m sure my father had helped you along the way,” Billy told Bodi. “Just like him, if you need any help and advice, I’m always welcome.”

 

A grateful Bodi thanked Billy as the group continued consuming their fruit. At that moment, Karli joined in, holding on to a baby mastiff.

“Aw, so cute,” Darma complimented the baby’s looks.

 

“Do you like him? He’s only five months in. This is Junxiong, the family’s newest member of the family.”

 

Junxiong resembled Bodi, but what stood out was that he has a sight but visible mark on the left cheek. Bodi realised it was similar to one he had when Linnux ‘scarred’ him at the same position when he and his wolf gang invaded the village. However, Bodi’s scars healed up quickly due to the power of his “Fire”.

 

Bodi could not take his eyes off his baby brother, who squealed in joy at the sight of his elder brother. Bodi remarked, “At least he will learn to use his “Fire” someday.”

 

“Don’t worry about that,” Khampa assured his son. “I will see to it once he’s old enough.”

 

Billy chuckled, just like how Uncle Fleetwood does when he was alive. At least Bodi has Fleetwood’s son for well-thought advice when he needs it.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Lying on the grass plains just outside of Bodi’s house, Bodi took a moment to gaze at the lamb village. By then, he would have guessed the lambs are preparing for their slumber.

 

He took one moment to appreciate the village he grew up at and sighed in relief that he managed to get out of his boring village life. Still, his heart messaged to him that he felt lonely now that he exchanged his village life for a chaotic city life that led him to what he was today.

 

Strapping his guitar on his body, he strummed and sang a song about his village. While the song was not in English or Mandarin, two languages he was proficient at, the Welsh lyrics felt relatable to how he describes his village.

 

(Song: “Perta (Beautiful)” by Manw, song translated to English from Welsh)

 

The sea is in danger, will we ever change our ways?

The air is so pure and so fresh but for how long will this last?

 

She's the most beautiful,

She's the most beautiful,

She's the most beautiful.

This planet's my home.

 

Tomorrow is ours for the taking and the fate of the Earth's in our hands.

We must realise that some things are more important than our selfish desires.

 

She's the most beautiful,

She's the most beautiful,

She's the most beautiful.

This planet's my home.

 

There'll come a day when the winds will change,

Will actions speak louder than words?

Will we all smile?

 

She's the most beautiful,

She's the most beautiful,

She's the most beautiful.

This planet's my home.

 

Bodi took one last moment at the sky, the clouds gathering and blocking the stars from shining the village, before he went back inside to join his girlfriend and his family.

Chapter Text

Bodi drove his car back to Angus’s mansion in silence as Darma took one look at his expressionless face. He did not play any music on his car on the journey back as the car continued their way on the highway.

 

For some reason, Bodi was feeling a sense of doubt as he concentrated driving home. “You know how much I missed my family, Darma?” Bodi asked Darma without looking at the fox.

 

“A lot, I believe. It’s been more than two years since you left,” Darma responded to her boyfriend.

 

“I don’t know why, but for some reason, I’m starting to doubt myself. I don’t feel like myself when playing music.”

 

Darma started to realise what Bodi was saying. She turned her head to Bodi, his face language confirming what she had suspected.

 

“Musicians will face doubt about their musical abilities at some point in life,” Darma explained. “It’s natural if you feel you need some time off from music. I’ll tell Angus about it. He went through this before.”

 

Bodi calmed himself as they are nearing the Mengcheng toll plaza. “Thanks, Darma. I need it.”

 

“Speaking of help, I’m meeting with someone tomorrow for lunch. He’s also a musician and I think you’ll find some similarities between each other. He’s a fox and one of the most popular YouTubers in Mengguo.”

 

“You mean, another red fox like you?”

 

Darma shook her head. “Not exactly, Bodi. He’s an arctic fox, so his fur colour is different from mine.”

 

“I see. From Beidongshan, I guess?”

 

Beidongshan, the third-largest city in Mengguo, located at the north-east side of the country. It is also the coldest city in Mengguo, going as low as negative 4 degrees Celsius during winter. Bodi knew this because he remembered from reading the Mengguo travel guide that arctic animals are native to Beidongshan.

 

“You got it right, Bodi! And get your toll card ready to tap it into the reader,” Darma reminded his boyfriend. They have arrived at the toll plaza.

 

Bodi smiled as he fished out for the card and tap it into the reader. The tailgate opened and soon enough, Bodi drove the car back to Mengcheng.

 

As he continued driving, Bodi asked Darma why she arranged for the arctic fox to meet up with him tomorrow.

 

“You’ll see, Bodi. Besides, I believed getting another mentor would help you lift your spirits.”

 

Bodi focused on his driving. He hoped that mentor to be a good one.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

The mansion gates opened and Bodi parked his car right next to Angus’s iconic red double decker. He and Darma got out of the car and as they do so, they spotted a pair of wolves patrolling around the mansion., they recognised who they are.

 

“Riff! Skozz!” Bodi waved at the pair. The two wolves ran towards Bodi and Darma. They were wearing suits, just like back when they were part of Linnux’s gang, but this time the short Riff has a badge that reads “Head of Security” while Skozz was just a “Vice Head of Security”

 

“What’s up, Bodi?” Riff greeted Bodi informaly before he gave Bodi a hug. Bodi gave Skozz a bro-fist after that. The two wolves turned a new leaf  since the last encounter and received an earlier release on counts of good behaviour.

 

“We’re just getting inside the mansion. Just wanted to say hi,”

 

Riff smiled and chuckled. “Just doing our job, you two.”

 

Skozz cut in, having gotten rid of his long-term speech impediment. “Just get some sleep. It’s getting late,” Skozz reminded the mastiff and the fox.

 

“Good night, you two!” Bodi waved goodbye to the two guards before Bodi and Darma head for the front door.

 

Riff turned to his partner, his eyes looking stern. “How many times do I have to tell you, I’ll do the talking?”

 

“Sorry, Riff. Just couldn’t help myself,” Skozz apologised.

 

“Whatever, Skozz. Let’s get back to what we’re doing,” the short wolf told his partner off before they resumed guarding the mansion for the rest of the night.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Bodi stared outside the window of Darma’s favourite poke café, waiting for his order to arrive. He was still not feeling better after yesterday’s visit to his village. Being winter, he wore a white windbreaker, a grey sweater in lieu of his blue tunic shirt and a pair of thick jeans. Listening to his band’s songs, the music spreading his ears, did not help either.

 

Darma came to Bodi with two bowls of poke: a creamy mentaiko salmon poke for Bodi and a spicy tuna poke for Darma. Along with their bowls come two warm mugs of tea, served on the house because of the cold weather.

 

“I’ve checked. He’ll be here shortly,” Darma told Bodi regarding the friend she mentioned during the car trip home. Bodi imagined being another nobody joins them at the table, but he remembered that the friend is also a musician. Maybe they could inspire him further?

 

Just then, Bodi heard gasps surrounding the café as someone entered the café. Bodi had a hunch that this was the friend Darma mentioned yesterday. Darma turned to that friend and told Bodi, “Yup, there he is.”

 

(Song: “Bassa Sababa” by Netta)

 

Bodi noticed the arctic fox entering the café, wearing a faux fur coat, a green cotton shirt, brown trousers and black toeless straps. He resembled a white version of Darma, except everything around him, felt cooler than her: there was a sense of flair surrounding him as he queued for his poke order.

 

“One spicy tuna poke, the usual toppings, please,” Bodi overheard a rough but dashing voice coming from the arctic fox. From the looks of him, he must be in his mid-twenties. Once he paid, he got to the table where Bodi and Darma are occupying. Removing his fur coat, he sat down next to Bodi.

 

“Sup,” Swifty greeted Bodi with a swagger. Bodi gave a small smirk: that arctic fox was something else.

 

“Swifty, do you have to do this all the time? Making an entrance like this is so outdated,” Darma asked the white fox, her eyes rolling.

 

The arctic fox responded, “I have to, Darma. I’m very famous, you know, like more than your band! Do I have to remind you how many subscribers I have on our YouTube channel? Two million, honey!”

 

Darma sighed over the arctic fox’s over-exaggeration as he turned to Bodi and offered his paw to the mastiff. “James Swift, also known as Swifty. Nice to meet you.”

 

Bodi shook his paw before asking “Do I know you, James?”

 

“You don’t know me, but I know you, Bodi Lang. And please, call me ‘Swifty’. All my friends call me that,” Swifty answered back.

 

“And when you mentioned ‘our YouTube channel’, you mean you have a team?” Bodi asked Swifty.

 

Swifty chuckled. “Ah, how amusing, Bodi. Yes, we’re six strong and our main channel ‘SwiftyTV’ has currently 1.2 million subscribers, so we speak. However, I do have my VEVO channel to showcase my music. 800K subscribers, if you’re asking. And no, before you ask, I’m not Darma’s crush; I have a girlfriend similar to Darma.”

 

“See, Bodi, he s like you. I hope he’ll give you some inspiration,” Damra assured Bodi.

 

“Wait, I have to collect my order,” Swifty announced to them as he got off to get his poke bowl. He returned with his spicy tuna poke bowl and a free mug of tea. “Please,” Swifty offered both to eat their bowls first, to which they did.

 

“I’ll leave you two to chat,” Darma excused herself, moving to another table, leaving Bodi and Swifty at the table., Bodi felt uncomfortable conversing with someone more famous than him as Swifty barged in.

 

The mastiff took a deep breath, in anticipation for what the arctic fox planned to say.

 

Swifty munched on his poke, keeping eye contact with Bodi. “So… Darma mentioned how similar Bodi and I are, in terms of how we became who we are, right? I wasn’t a YouTuber in the first place, I was a musician.”

 

That aroused Bodi’s curiosity. “At what age?”

 

“Nine.” Swifty took a big bite of a tuna chunk as Bodi’s eyes widened.

 

“It was a heartbreak song. I performed it during the primary school fundraising concert.”

 

“And what was it called?”

 

“‘Not with Me’. It’s part of my debut album, released last year.”

 

Darma whispered to Bodi that he released his debut album ‘Crazy Like a Fox’ last October, since she knew Bodi would not have read the charts.

 

Bodi returned to Swifty.  “And when did you become a YouTuber?”

 

“Secondary school, so 4 years after my first song.”

 

Just from that few minutes, Bodi noticed a pattern in Swifty’s behaviour. Similar to Angus, he came across as arrogant because he was still wearing his shades. However, he could not be that sure judging by how ordinary he wears. More importantly, he felt a tinge of tension just by his presence.

 

Bodi ignored those signs and returned the favour with “Wow… you became a singer and YouTuber for a while. I only started music 2 years ago.”

 

Swifty moved his body towards Bodi as if he was intimidating the mastiff. “And what’s your story?”

 

Bodi would go on to explain his story from the beginning, from the time his father banned music in the village a long time ago, to re-discovering music thanks to his late uncle. That inspired him to travel to Mengcheng to become a musician.

“An underdog story, right?” Swifty leaned back and drank his tea. He ordered oolong but took no interest in its fragrance. “Everyone likes an underdog story.”

 

“Is that a bit too cliché?” Even Bodi understood what a cliché is.

 

Swifty laughed at Bodi’s question, which aroused the café crowd. “Everything about life is a cliché, Bodi. You just can’t get away with it. It always will happen, whether we like it or not.”

 

By then, Darma finished her poke and joined the two boys, just as Swifty was about to finish his. “So, any future plans you have?” the arctic fox asked Bodi once more.

 

“I heard we’re going to perform outside of Mengguo for the first time. Ian mentioned that he’s getting a concert spot in America.”

 

“America? Wow, congratulations. We got a movie to release.”

 

Bodi and Darma’s jaws were rolling on the floor. The gag of it all! Swifty made a movie?

 

“Wait, you did a movie?” Bodi’s wagged his tail without realising.

 

“My whole crew did. It’s called ‘Arctic Dogs’ and it’s a film that we did during our final year at the Mengcheng University of Science and Technology. And by us, you mean SwiftyTV.”

 

“SwiftyTV? I’ll check it out if I have time.”

 

“Great! Subscribe to us if you can!”

 

Swifty checked his mobile phone for the weather forecast. All three had finished their bowls and their drinks by then.

 

“It’s snowing outside, so I thought it would be great if I drive you and Darma home. What d'you say?”

 

Bodi looked out of the window. It was snowing outside. “You know what? Sure!”

 

“Well then, let’s go!”

 

 

The trio made their exit from the café. At least Bodi and Darma travelled to the café by public bus.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Bodi and Darma tagged along with Swifty as they head out of the café towards the nearby multi-storey carpark. In spite of the freezing temperatures (the forecast did not joke about the minus 1 degree Celsius part), the trio felt a sharp coldness, having gotten used to the winter climate of Mengguo.

 

At last, they arrived at Swifty’s car and once they saw the car, Bodi’s jaw was on the floor.

 

“Wait, that’s your car?” Bodi asked in shock. What he witnessed was Swifty owning a black sports sedan, European made, and 100% luxurious.

 

“Yup, that’s my car. I bought it using my own money,” Swifty answered. He pressed a key on the car remote to unlock the car doors.

“Get in,” Swifty told Bodi and Darma.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Bodi and Darma did not complain about their ride home even though Swifty’s car felt a bit too opulent (he bought the luxury car with his hard-earned money). In their minds were full of praises for Swifty’s car, but they did not bother thinking that much because the car’s rear seat massaging system and the internal car heater did the work for them.

 

Swifty used the car’s sophisticated navigation system to drive around the city, heading for Angus’s mansion. After only ten minutes inside, they reached the front gates. They had to admit, they would like five minutes more.

 

Angus was waiting at the front door as Swifty dropped Bodi and Darma off, who went straight inside the mansion.

 

“Thanks for bringing them home, Swifty,” Angus thanked the arctic fox.

 

“No problem, Angus. I have something to ask you,” Swifty continued. “Mind dropping by for a party? I’m inviting your band for it.”

 

Angus waved his paw. “No thank you, Swifty. We got important stuff to do.”

 

Swifty looked surprised by Angus’s rejection. “No.  Seriously, I know you got the next album going, but this is a proper party we’re talking and more importantly, I took some measures to prevent this party from going out of hand.”

 

“And what’s going to convince me to accept the invitation?”

 

Swifty turned down the front seat window shade and faced the shade-wearing cat. “Believe me, I’m dying to invite your band. It’s good publicity, Angus. Trust me, if you think this was going to be a PR stunt to boost the band’s popularity, let me ask you this: when was the last time I do fake?”

 

Angus sighed. This arctic fox was hard to convince otherwise. “Fine, Swifty. Send me the details.”

 

Swifty thanked Angus with “I’ll send you. See you next Saturday.”

 

Swifty drove off the mansion as Angus returned to his mansion.

 

That cheeky fox, Angus muttered under his breath. He knew that fox was trouble for the band.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Back inside his bedroom, Bodi took some of his night time researching on Swifty himself. He needs to understand what he was up against.

 

With a pen and notebook at his right next to the computer mouse, Bodi typed ‘James Swifty Swift’ on the search engine and at once, he found himself bombarded with search results that have the keywords.

Bodi clicked on a Wikipedia page about Swifty:

 

James ‘Swifty’ Swift

 

James Swift (born 14 April 1994), also known as ‘Swifty’, is a YouTuber and indie musician from the state of Beidongshan, Mengguo. He is among the top 10 most popular YouTubers in Mengguo, with about 1.2 million subscribers on SwiftyTV…

 

Bodi understood enough about Swifty. He found a hyperlink on the term ‘SwiftyTV’. He clicked on the link and found the following:

 

SwiftyTV

 

SwiftyTV (formerly ‘Walter’s Kids) is a YouTube channel that currently holds about 1.2 million subscribers. First started as a viral video channel created by brothers James ‘Swifty’ Swift and his adopted brother Perry Baxter Swift, the channel’s main videos include funny sketch videos and real-life vlogs highlighting the lives of the SwiftyTV members.

 

Bodi scrolled down the page to find the following members of this SwiftyTV channel:

 

Members

 

James ‘Swifty’ Swift, 24, Arctic Fox from Beidongshan, Mengguo, leader and director of SwiftyTV

Perry Baxter ‘PB’ Swift, 25, Polar Bear from Beidongshan, Mengguo, gaming streamer

Jade Xia, 24, Red Fox from Singapore, main producer and social media director, as well as Swifty’s current girlfriend

Lemmy Tong, 25, Albatross from Beidongshan, Mengguo, music producer of James Swift’s music

Leopold Franklin, 25, Otter from Montreal, Canada, main cameraman and video editor as well as twin brother to Bertha Franklin

Bertha Franklin, 25, Otter from Montreal, Canada, visual effects editor and secondary cameraman as well as twin sister to Leopold Franklin

 

Above the list of members is what looks to be a selfie of them on a recent video. He pointed to the red fox next to Swifty and admitted that she looked like Darma. It could have been a coincidence that both he and Swifty have a red fox girlfriend.

 

He opened up the web browser and searched for ‘SwiftyTV’ on YouTube and found three channels owned by Swifty. His main channel ‘SwiftyTV’ contains the group’s signature comedy sketches (such as “Ten Types of People at Dinner Parties”, “Asian Boyfriend vs American Boyfriend, Ten Differences”, “How Commercials Lied to Viewers” and others) as well as their daily vlogs. Bodi also found their other videos in their second channel ‘SwiftyTwo’.

 

Rather than watching the SwiftyTV videos, he checked Swifty’s VEVO channel ‘James Swift’ to listen to his music. Popping his headphones, he clicked on the official audio of his latest single.

 

(Song: “Hello” by Mohombi)

 

I try to find you in all the fairytales that I read

I want that perfect kiss from that famous movie scene

If I could break the walls between my reality and my dream

Every day I would wake up to see you smiling back at me

 

Ooh! Had my palm read a million times before

Ask myself when you'll come and knock on my door

Ain't no crystal ball to show me where you are

Wonder where is that love that starts with hello

 

Hello, hello, hello, hello

Where is that love that starts with hello??

Hello, hello, hello, hello

Wish love could be just that simple

 

Without realising, Bodi had his fingers tapping on the table. It may have been a pop song but Bodi felt the slight impact of Swifty’s swagger with this song. Could it be something Bodi was missing? He kept listening to the rest of the song.

 

What's the point building a kingdom if there is no queen?

I'm screaming from the top of my lungs right now

Can you hear me calling?

One day my mama told me you'd come and I've been waiting

For the day when I'll wake up and see you smiling back at me

 

Had my palm read a million times before

Wonder where is that love that starts with hello

 

Hello, hello, hello, hello

Where is that love that starts with hello?

Hello, hello, hello, hello

Wish love could be just that simple

 

I know I'll love every inch of your body, baby

Already see our future in your eyes, baby

Oh, I miss you

 

Had my palm read a million times before

Wonder where is that love that starts with hello

 

Hello, hello, hello, hello

Where is that love that starts with hello?

Hello, hello, hello, hello

Where is that love?

Let’s starts with hello

 

Bodi removed his headphones after he finished listening. He got up from his computer chair and lie on his own bed. Darma was right, after all, he was missing something, and he needed to find it real quick. He wondered what would be missing from his musical style.

 

He checked his phone to find a message from Angus, asking the whole band whether they would like to attend Swifty’s party, held in two weeks.

 

Suddenly, he stood up from his bed. It was the golden opportunity to discover the key to take his music to the next level.

Chapter Text

(Song: “Tempo” by Margaret)

 

Grem ran on the treadmill during the morning of the party. Keeping track of his weight is difficult alone, but he had someone tracking his progress.

 

Listening to music on his wireless earbuds, Grem tracked his progress. 14 minutes on the treadmill at 8 kilometres per hour, 1-minute remaining. The goat pushed on, increasing the speed to 9 kilometres an hour for one last minute.

 

Eventually, he finished his run and his partner pressed the ‘stop’ button. Grem panted and was in need for water. He looked up at the view of the mansion’s garden maze, covered by white pristine snow.

 

“Here, Grem, fancy a drink and a break?” Grem’s partner and third electric guitarist Trey asked, handing him his bottle. Trey worked out with Grem during the gym session, so Trey got to help his bandmate out.

 

They sat down at a bench drinking. They may not have most of the spotlight among the members of Rock Dog, but that does not make them obsolete.

 

Grem squirted water into his mouth before asking the cheetah, “How much weight have I lost so far?”

Trey checked his mobile phone. Earlier on, Grem stepped on the weighing scale and Trey recorded his new weight. “So far, mate, about 4 kilograms for the past two months. I’ll call this a massive improvement.”

 

Grem heaved a sigh of relief. At least there was some progress. “Thanks, Trey. I should thank you for making sure I don’t put on weight further.”

Trey gave a thumbs up. “No problem, Grem! After all, I had to give something back after causing discord between you and Darma.”

 

Grem asked, “Just a weird question, Trey. Have you seen how down Bodi looked for the past few weeks?”

 

Trey sighed, a rarity considering his showboating. “Yeah, it was weird. Bodi doesn’t feel like himself, but I’m sure he thinks of something, and fast.”

 

Trey showed his rare humble side.

 

“Maybe the party Swifty invited all of us to could be the key?” Grem asked once more. They remembered getting invites for Swifty’s party a day after he dropped by the mansion.

 

“Not so sure, but you never know.”

 

Grem and Trey took their sips of water. They felt thirsty all of a sudden.

 

“How did you get into music, by the way?”

 

While it was a question Grem would never dare to ask, Trey decided to answer anyway. “I don’t know, but I feel I was born to become a rock star, like maybe Slash from Guns and Roses? I played a lot of Guitar Hero before I gave it a go after clearing the hardest song in the game. So, I got some guitar lessons and I love it so much I decided to become an electric guitarist.”

 

The cheetah would also explain his childhood, growing up in Melbourne, Australia before moving to Mengcheng as his father got promoted to a managerial position in the company’s Mengcheng office.

 

Grem exclaimed, “But you’ll the show-off of the band!”

 

“Admittedly,” Trey replied, placing his paw on Grem’s shoulder. “But Bodi showed me the way. Maybe showing restraint instead of showboating is the right way to go. What about you?”

 

Grem took his time into explaining a bit of his background.

 

“Before I moved into Mengcheng, music was everyway in Mumbai. I took up drums since primary school and I found myself falling in love with it. You could say I found my calling in playing the drums.”

 

Trey choked on his water and spit out upon hearing his story. “Sorry, Grem, that was unintentional. I thought that was funny, mate!”

 

“It’s ok, I’ve been playing drums ever since. Shall we get back to working out?”

 

Trey agreed. “Let’s.

 

Grem and Trey got up and returned to their gym session together.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Despite Bodi dressing up in club-style clothes for the party, he looks disinterested as he looked out of the window of the MPV, driven by the head of security Riff. Joining them are the rest of Bodi’s band and Skozz, sitting next to his partner. They are all heading to Swifty’s party together and while Bodi noticed the rest of his bandmates (Grem and Trey conversed in excitement about it nonstop), he was not in a party mood altogether.

 

“We’re here,” Riff announced to everyone and Bodi looked up to find what looks to be a mansion and Bodi’s eyes opened: it looked larger than Angus’s. It was white, just like the cat rockstar’s, but something about it feels large and vibrant for a successful YouTuber like Swifty.

 

Driving along the front porch, complete with a man-made fountain that looked timeless, everyone disembarked at the front doors of Swifty’s mansion. The band and the two bodyguards agreed beforehand that Riff and Skozz will fetch them three hours later, so they dropped the band at a designated drop-off area, before driving back to the mansion.

 

Angus passed the invitation cards the band received two days ago to the front staff, before they allowed the band access to the mansion. “Shall we?” Angus gestured to the rest of the band before they entered the mansion.

 

(Song: “Light Me Up” by Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer)

 

The first thing they heard was club music coming from outside of the mansion and it was live. However, everyone focused their attention at the civilised manner of the party, people dressing in more casual clothing and sipping their drinks, conversing about their real and virtual lives. Bodi lightened his mood up, hoping to have a good time.

 

“Let’s split up, as what horror movie heroes said,” Angus joked to everyone before they split up. Angus head straight to the outdoor area behind the mansion, Grem and Trey joining Angus with him and Riff and Skozz going to the left bar area (‘Noise Club’ as signposted). That leaves Bodi and Darma alone.

 

“Shall we?” Darma asked her boyfriend before holding their paws as they entered one of the bar areas on the right.

 

Titled ‘Quiet Room’, Bodi and Darma found the name to be fitting because inside, soft piano music played by the stage pianist resulted in what seems a calm atmosphere. The guests occupied some tall tables, engaging in their small talk while enjoying the free-flow drinks and canapes. Bodi and Darma occupied one of the un-occupied tables and at once, a server came with two glasses of sparkling grape juice. Both knew alcohol will be served at the two temporary bars inside the mansion, so they settled on non-alcoholic fare first.

 

“I have to admit, this party’s underwhelming so far; however, I do think red suits you, Darma,” Bodi made his first comment, noting his red fox going for a red dress with matching ruby earrings.

“Thanks for the compliments, Bodi. However, you looked more stunning in blue than me,” Drma returned the favour. Bodi dressed in a blue Italian suit Angus hand-picked for the mastiff.

 

“As what Swifty mentioned at the café, everything’s cliché,” they both muttered under the same breath. If only there was something that would break the ice…

 

“Bodi! Darma!” someone waved to them and they looked to find Swifty joining them. Unlike them, he went for a white V-neck shirt with brown trousers. He wore a dri-fit windbreaker to match the smart-casual feel. “How is it so far?”

 

“The party?” Bodi replied. “We only went to this room so far!”

 

“May I?” Swifty asked Darma before he French-kissed her. Considering Darma was used to French kisses, she did not mind that. “My girlfriend should be coming real soon… Oh, there she is!”

 

Bodi found another red fox walking to them, her pearl white dress making Darma’s red look pale in comparison. Her face looked similar to his girlfriend’s and it was easy to mistake them as twins.

 

Bodi’s jaw was on the floor. She was very dashing indeed.

 

“Hi,” Swifty’s girlfriend introduced herself, extending her paw to Bodi. “Sorry that I’m late. Jade Xia, nice to meet both of you.”

 

“So, that’s your girlfriend, Swifty?” Bodi asked the arctic fox.

 

Swifty nodded before replying, “That’s right! We’ve been dating since freshmen year at university, which means… About six years, I guess?”

 

“Around there,” his girlfriend added on.

 

“Swifty, I heard there’s a lot going on today. Why not give us a tour around?” Darma suggests to Swifty.

 

Swifty thought so too. He answered, “You know what, Darma? I think you’re right. Besides, this would give you two an opportunity to meet the rest of my SwiftyTV crew.”

 

The four of them set off and exited the ‘Quiet Room’, heading off to find the rest of Swifty’s YouTube family.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

“That was my grandpa’s mansion, by the way,” Swifty told Bodi and Darma as Bodi, Darma, Swifty and Jade walked to the louder bar of the two. “PB and I lived here since starting secondary school and only moved out just because of our freshmen year.”

 

They entered the second bar “Intensity”, and in comes the intense club music.

 

(Song: “Runaway (U and I)” by Galantis)

 

The partygoers were having a ball at that bar, as compared to the one Bodi and Darma visited first. There were strobing lights, reminiscent of a regular rave club. Bodi eyed on the crowd and found Grem and Trey both having fun and bouncing to the high energy song. The mastiff knew both of them were a great combination ever since Trey joined Rock Dog after his defeat to Bodi two years ago.

 

Indeed, “Intensity” was a fitting name for the club they entered.

 

Rather than joining with the crowd, Swifty and Jade ushered Bodi and Darma to a bar at the other side of the club where five bartenders served up alcoholic and non-alcoholic concoctions. Once they settled down, two otter barmen approached the group. The male otter is shorter and fatter than the female other and Bodi found odd similarities between them and their two wolf bodyguards.

 

“Bodi, Darma, I would like to introduce to you, my video editor specialists, Leopold and Bertha.”

 

They both bowed to Bodi and Darma with unison. “Good evening, may we take your order?” they greeted in a slightly evident Canadian accent, the male otter having a more French-like accent.

 

“They’re twins from Canada,” Jade added on.

 

Bodi and Darma could not decide what to order. After all, this was the first time they are having the bar experience. Swifty stepped in and requested them for four mojitos.

 

“Right away, Swifty,” Leopold nodded. He and Bertha proceeded to prepare the drinks for them.

 

As they prepared, Swifty explained that his group all studied at the Mengcheng University of Science and Technology, one of the top universities in Asia. They also started “SwiftyTV” together, which got them famous in not just their university, but also Mengcheng.

 

“As I mentioned, Leopold and Bertha are my video editor specialists. Leopold worked more on editing our videos while Bertha specialised on visual effects.”

 

“So, bread and butter, I guess?” Bodi made an intelligent guess.

 

“Very similar to that,” Swifty corrected Bodi. “I called them the group’s ‘mechanics’. they are very hardworking otters.”

 

The two barmen returned with their prepared lime juice and vodka cocktail to everyone. Swifty decided to be cheeky and left some coins for Leopold, which annoyed Leopold a bit.

 

“Seriously, Swifty? You’re leaving a tip for both of us?” A confused Leopold asked the arctic fox.

 

“Come on, Leopold, I’m just giving some respect to you for the service,” Swifty retorted.

 

Leopold sighed and pocketed the coins himself.

 

Bodi took one sip of his drink and immediately gagged at the vodka added his drink. Alcohol is something he was unfamiliar with. However, the other three drank their mojitos well. “Don’t worry, Bodi, you’ll get used to it,” Darma made the assurance to her boyfriend.

 

Soon, Bodi started to get used to drinking alcohol. It’s not bad, but I have to get used to it, Bodi made an observation.

 

“Shall we get going?” Swifty gestured the group and they got up, heading to the next location. The bar was starting to get too noisy and crowd, anyway.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

The group head upstairs to the security room, where Swifty hired a security service to track and monitor any suspicious mammals or activity. There were a team of 8 plus one more polar bear, not part of the service crew because he was not wearing a suit and tie unlike the security team, instead opting for a windbreaker, a black shirt and jeans. He was the largest mammal and instead of tracking anyone, he was playing a video game on his PC. He was a huge polar bear, close to 1.9 metres in height, much taller than Swifty.

 

“Who’s that?” Bodi asked pointing at that polar bear not doing his job.

 

Swifty noted what Bodi was asking. He replied, “We’ll about to find out, but first…”

 

Swifty patted his shoulder, but the polar bear did not bulge. He was about to win the game by destroying the enemy team’s base and win the game. The bear noticed their presence and took off his headset to find the group behind him.

 

The polar bear sighed at Swifty. “You should have informed me we have guests coming here…”

 

Swifty and the polar bear gave each other a brofist. “This is my adopted brother, PB, real name Perry Baxter Swift.” The arctic fox realised the pun. “‘PB’, ‘Polar Bear’, that pun works! He enjoyed working behind the scenes especially at his computer, rather than on-site, so…”

 

PB interrupted his brother and pointed his finger at the door, instructing them, “Leave this room, please. I’m heading back to the game and watching the guests at the same time, so if you want me to do a good job, leave. Me. Alone.”

 

Bodi and Darma waved goodbye to PB as everyone left PB and his security team to watch everyone. As they left, Swifty informed Bodi PB lost his parents when he was young, so Swifty’s mother took pity at him and decided to adopt him, hence becoming a dear brother to the arctic fox.

 

“However, he has been a great brother,” Swifty continued his introduction about his adopted brother. “He might be serious most of the time, but trust me, he worked the hardest among all of us. The backbone of our team, if you can say that.”

 

Bodi, Darma, Swifty and Jade head downstairs to the pool area where the main attraction is taking place.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

They ventured to the pool deck whether another party was taking place. This time, a real DJ was playing music as everyone, whether around the pool or inside the pool, were raving to the music. His music was louder than the indoor club they went to earlier.

 

The DJ was an albatross named Lemmy, and he’s the music director of SwiftyTV. In spite of being not as bright as the rest of the crew one thing he excels at was producing music for Swifty. That alone was why Swifty decided on going indie for his music career.

 

In fact, Lemmy was so carried away playing songs for the pool crowd that he failed to notice Swifty and Jade introducing Bodi and Darma to the albatross. It was only when Swifty tapped his right wing that he realised what was going on. “What are you doing? I’m playing some music, Swifty!” Lemmy shouted at Swifty as the music was too loud for them to communicate. Bodi and Darma were still holding on to their mojitos but they were about to finish their mocktails.

 

“That’s Lemmy, my music producer,” Swifty introduced the albatross to Bodi and Darma. Lemmy suddenly recognised both of them. “From Rock Dog? Oh my goodness!”

 

“Yes, Lemmy. We’re from Rock Dog,” Bodi introduced him and Darma.

 

“I saw Angus in the middle of the crowd. He’s jumping up and down like hyperactive monkeys,” the Albatross noted, pointing at the tall cat being part of the crowd. Bodi realised that birds such as Lemmy have hands underneath their wings, not paws.

 

Darma made a request to Lemmy. “If you don’t mind, Lemmy, how about playing to one of Swifty’s songs, like ‘Superman?’”

 

An idea sprang Swifty’s mind. “You know what, that’s a great idea, Darma! Why don’t you join the rest of the pool crowd while I get Lemmy to play the song?”

 

“Sounds great,” Bodi agreed with Swifty’s suggestion. He needed some music to energise himself.

 

Bodi and Darma excused themselves and head downstairs from Lemmy’s DJ stage, joining Angus with the party. At the same time, the trio witnessed Grem and Trey squeezing past the crowd and joining them with the action too.

 

“Bodi! Darma! Where have you guys been?” Angus asked Bodi and Darma as they joined in.

 

Bodi explained the tour Swifty and Jade provided them with.

 

“I see,” Angus nodded. “Is he great?”

 

“He’s much more successful than me, or us for that matter. Hopefully, I get to learn more from him,” Bodi commented on the arctic fox who was preparing for his song along with Lemmy. They will play the song Darma requested next, but first…

 

“Hey everyone! Are you ready for the next song?” Swifty shouted from the distance and everyone cheered.

 

“Alright,” Swifty told Lemmy. Hit it!

 

And so, Swifty prepared to sing one of his hit songs as the crowd cheered louder. It was similar to the Rock Dog concert a few months ago before the band sang the final song.

 

(Song: “Superman” by Darude featuring Sebastian Rejman)

 

The music began to play with Swifty providing the live vocals of his song.

 

Oh God I'm terrified when I'm not with you

No matter how I tried, I was feeling blue

 

You walked into my life, showed me something new

Oh baby when you're gone I don't know what I should do

 

'Cause only you can make me fly like I'm Superman

How you make feel like this, hard to understand

 

When I need a hero, you'll be my hero

When I feel the darkness, you'll be the light

 

'Cause only you can make me fly like I'm Superman

Like a Superman

 

The crowd raved to Swifty’s song as he realised his “Fire” started to glow at his heart area. He smiled at it as he and the rest of the Rock Dog band found themselves enjoying the song together as Swifty continued with the second verse to much cheering.

 

When all my hope is gone and I'm caving in

When I can see the light from the dark within

 

You walked into my life, showed me something new

Oh baby when you're gone I don't know what I should do

 

'Cause only you can make me fly like I'm Superman

How you make feel like this, hard to understand

 

When I need a hero, you'll be my hero

When I feel the darkness, you'll be the light

 

'Cause only you can make me fly like I'm Superman

Like a Superman

 

A pulsating wave of Bodi’s “Fire” occurred, although he concealed it at around the band members because of how weak it was. Still, Bodi felt himself enjoying and smiling more to the track.

 

When you're around, I can reach for the sky

I won't look down, going high at night

 

When you're around, I'm above all the clouds

You don't let me down

 

'Cause only you can make me fly like I'm Superman

How you make feel like this, hard to understand

 

When I need a hero, you'll be my hero

When I feel the darkness, you'll be the light

 

'Cause only you can make me fly like I'm Superman

Like a Superman

 

The crowd cheered and applauded at Swifty and Lemmy as Bodi found the spark he was looking for.

 

For the first time in a long while, Angus, Darma, Grem and Trey noticed Bodi smiling and bobbing his head to the club song as the mastiff re-discovered why he loved music so much.

 

Bodi looked up to Swifty and admitted that he has a lot to learn from Swifty to survive in the music industry. Time to get back to business, Bodi muttered under his breath as he and the rest of the band enjoyed their evening at Swifty’s party.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 – Again

 

The morning after the party, Swifty floated, face side up, on the pool of his mansion hours after the party at his mansion has ended. Ditching the windbreaker for oddly, a pair of white outdoor socks, he waded around the pool alone; it has been a known secret that Swifty’s best method of relieving his stress was floating himself on top of water with clothes and white socks. After all, organising the party with his team made him exhausted, but relieved at the same time.

 

He ignored the sun rays covering his face as Jade found him in the pool. The red fox sighed and got to the pool, bending down to her floating arctic fox boyfriend. “Seriously, Swifty, the least you could do was to wash up after cleaning up,” Jade told Swifty, handing over a small tub of salted caramel ice-cream.

 

“Ooh, ice-cream!” Swifty got excited and got out of the pool, grabbing his ice-cream tub and ice-cream spoon before relaxing at a lounger next to Jade. Him and his SwiftyTV crew spent the entire morning cleaning up the mess left behind by the party crowd after everything was over and he disappeared when everyone completed cleaning up his grandfather’s mansion.

 

“What an amazing party, Swifty,” Jade made a compliment before admitting that, “But I think you should scale down the winter party for next year. I mean, who on earth hosted a party in winter?”

 

“It’s not that cold,” Swifty fought back, ignoring how much water his clothes and socks have absorbed. “I can handle it, even if I was swimming around just now.”

Jade sighed. “Swifty, you’re an arctic fox, of course you can handle cold conditions like this,” she added on. “More importantly, I need to talk about the movie we worked on.”

 

Jade was referring to SwiftyTV’s feature film ‘Arctic Dogs’. They were planning a world premiere of the movie at the St Jupiter Film Festival held in three months’ time. St Jupiter was at the state of California in the United States, located at the coast three hours away from Los Angeles.

 

“Are you sure you want to release the movie?” Jade asked.

 

“Absolutely! We got nothing to lose on this one. Besides, someone will leak the movie out, anyway.”

 

“I agree, Swifty. Better late than never.” Jade agreed, before taking out her mobile phone and showed an interesting post to Swifty, adding “And we’re not the only ones heading to St Jupiter.”

 

Swifty saw the post and found Rock Dog’s official Twitter account posting a teaser poster for their first concert in America. Coincidentally, it would be held a week after the world premiere of “Arctic Dogs” at the festival.

 

“And the Moon Theatre as well!” Swifty exclaimed, noting that Rock Dog will perform at the rebuilt Moon Theatre. “This will be interesting, Jade.”

 

Swifty finished his ice-cream and stood up.

 

“I need to wash up,” Swifty told Jade before running back inside the mansion for a hot shower, his wet clothes leaving behind several puddles of water.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

The next Thursday, the Rock Dog SUV made its way to the smaller and more private Mengcheng Central airport (despite being at the southern part of Mengcheng, it’s the airport closet to the city’s central business district). A fifteen-minute drive south of Angus’s mansion leads to the private airport that caters private jet flights.

 

Heads of Security Riff and Skozz dropped the whole band off, wishing them bon voyage as the band checked in, before the wolf pair drove their car back. The band went straight to their already prepared private jet, a ten-year-old retrofitted private jet Angus owned. He recently got his private plane refurbished and its worn parts replaced, making it as good as new.

 

The Rock Dog band are heading to the port city of Beidongshan, Swifty’s hometown, but more specifically the mountainous area of Dongshanding. They planned to ski there for four days.

 

The plane took off and will take about 90 minutes to arrive at the Dongshanding Resort Airport, located five minutes away from the resort itself.

 

(Song: “Norrsken (Northern Lights) by Jon Henrik Fjallgren)

 

Bodi was excited to ski at Dongshanding. He remembered skiing with his father as a child. “I can’t wait to return there!” Bodi exclaimed, which was a relief after the band got worried over Bodi’s disinterest in music. Partying at Swifty’s mansion worked a treat, but he knew he has a long way to go.

 

“And so do I!” Trey agreed with the mastiff. It would also not be the first time he skied there. Unlike the rest of the band, he would be on a snowboard. “And I am certain there is one member not looking forward to it.”

 

Cue awkward silence as he pointed at Grem snoring away.. He does not enjoy the idea of skiing as Trey had to drag Grem out of the mansion.

 

The rest of the band chuckled as the plane fly past major cities of Mengguo before the pilot announced that they were about to reach Beidongshan. Right after the announcement, Angus told everyone as they buckled their seatbelts, “Now that we got our concert in America coming our way, let’s take a moment to ski down the mountains before we start preparing for the concert!”

 

Everyone lightened their mood with Angus’s words as Bodi looked out of the window of the spacious jet to find snow and mountains surrounding the airport as the plane descends to Dongshanding Resort Airport. For the next four days, Rock Dog will call the resort home as the plane touched down on the runaway.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Bodi took a moment to view the entire landscape on top of beginner course, spotting Swifty’s hometown of Beidongshan from the distance. It was large but does not have as much skyscrapers as Mengcheng. There are more residential houses than the densely populated capital of the country and there it was, at the right side, the Port of Beidongshan. Being close to both Japan and South Korea, many cruise ships dock there to explore the seaside of the Beidongshan coast.

 

While he would not get a chance to visit the town for his four-day vacation at the resort, at least he got a glimpse of where Swifty came from.

 

“You’re still appreciating the view?” Trey asked, standing next to Bodi. He was not on his snowboard yet, and neither was Bodi on his newly owned skis.

 

After checking into the resort, the Rock Band crew spent the rest of the day at the ski resort, learning how to ski. Being first-time skiers, Darma and Grem stayed at the foot of the resort to continue mastering their basics, while Bodi and Trey having prior experience, ski down the beginner courses to get familiar with the courses.

 

“Just give me a moment. I need to soak that in,” Bodi turned to Trey. The cheetah put his paw on Bodi’s shoulder as Trey reflected the first few times he encountered Bodi.

 

“I always doubt you the first time you came to Mengcheng,” Trey explained. “Back then, I didn’t know you got the skills to survive in the city, but… after the rematch, I realised that I was missing something.”

 

“A good friend?” Bodi answered. Trey shook his head.

 

“Not just a good friend, a good friend that can push me to become someone better,” Trey replied, getting on his snowboard, noting the change in his attitude from their first time meeting each other at the park to now.

 

“You ready, Bodi?” Trey asked Bodi. While Bodi did not reply at first, he got his feet on his skis. “Ready where you are, Trey! First to the bottom!”

 

Suddenly, Bodi skied off before Trey reacted. Trey could only smirk as he race Bodi to the finish line.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

After the sky went dark, the band members returned to the ski lodge-inspired resort where they went back to their rooms to change up. As requested, Bodi and Darma got their room together with two super single beds; Bodi took a hot shower as Darma was sitting at her bed waiting for the mastiff to finish showering.

 

Bodi settled on a faux fur coat, a pair of jeans and a thick wool shirt for dinner. He decided not to wear his beanie this time.

 

“Shall we?” Bodi got out of the bathroom and asking Darma.

 

“Let’s go!” Darma gestured to their door as they head out, Darma holding on to the room keycard.

 

They took an elevator down to the main lobby and as they navigate their way, they spotted a familiar duet relaxing at the hotel lobby. Swifty and Jade were at the hotel too!

 

“Hey!” Bodi ran to Swifty as they met each other again. “What are you doing here, Swifty?”

 

The arctic fox smiled upon meeting with Bodi again. Swifty replied, “Seems it’s just fate that we meet each other again! I just came to get some fresh air and returned to my hometown for a while.”

 

Bodi explained that the band members were there to ski to take a break before starting their concert preparations. Swifty and Jade were excited over that development.

 

Jade made her comment. “Amazing that you get to perform in America! Speaking of, it’s such a coincidence that we will be in America too!”

 

“What for?” Darma asked Jade.

 

“We are in talks to have a world premiere at the St Jupiter Film Festival are around the same time.”

 

“Wait, your movie ‘Arctic Dogs will be shown there?” Bodi’s eyes widened.

 

Swifty got excited over the mention of the movie that his tail started to wag. “That’s right!” he exclaimed, “We’re getting our movie released!”

 

“Congratulations, Swifty!” Bodi congratulated his new friend. By then, they were conversing for about ten minutes, before Angus sent a text to Bodi asking them where they were right now.

 

“We need to go. Great to see you again, Swifty!” Bodi waved goodbye as he and Darma head down to find the rest of their band. He wished he could get a tour of the heart of Beidongshan some day.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Later that night, Swifty took one last look at the shadow of his hometown and realised how far he had come. Looking back, he admitted that he had a similar backstory to Bodi, but unlike the mastiff, his story started long before Bodi’s.

 

Nowadays, Swifty and his crew were celebrities in Swifty’s hometown, considering his rising popularity in the entertainment industry had also reflected on the spike in visitors to Beidongshan over the past two years.

Staring from the SwiftyTV crew's suite, Swifty returned to business and approached Leopold, who was about to finish editing a new video, both being the only mammals inside.

 

“Is it done, Leopold?” Swifty asked his otter editor, clicking and typing away from his laptop.

 

“Almost…” his heavy French accent made notice to Swifty. He just needed to check whether the video is ready to go.

 

“Done! It’s ready,” Leopold looked back and told Swifty the good news. His sister, along with the rest of the crew, were already in the karaoke room singing the night away and he and Swifty cannot wait any longer to miss out on that.

 

Leopold pressed ‘play’ on his video editing software as they watched the music video Swifty and Jade came up with for Swifty’s next EP.

 

(Song: “Again” by Rakel and Arnar)

 

The video is a music video telling a moving story about Swifty and Jade climbing up one of the Beidongshan mountains together. It would be Jade’s first time singing, but Swifty felt his girlfriend did a valiant effort considering it was her first time.

 

Colours of my dreams have faded

Memories of you fill my mind

Nothing will be the same

I’m lost in this game without you

 

I can still hear your laughter

In my heart you will always stay

Like a song, you and I

Our names written in the sky

 

While my heart beats I will remember

Every day, every night of our time

Wake me up, please take my hand

I wish I could hold you again

 

Looking for the right path to find you

Maybe if I try hard enough

Then tomorrow will bring

A new song to sing to you

 

While my heart beats I will remember

Every day, every night of our time

Wake me up, please take my hand

I wish I could hold you again

 

I’m dreaming of our time

But we can keep dancing in our minds

 

I wish I could hold you again

 

While my heart beats I will remember

Every day, every night of our time

Wake me up, please take my hand

 

(While my heart beats I will remember) Oh…

Every day, every night of our time

(Wake me up, please) Take my hand

I wish I could hold you again

 

“What do you think, Swifty?” Leopold asked once the video has stopped.

 

Swifty nodded. “It’s good, but we need to discuss with the rest of them tomorrow. Alright, save it and shut it down, we’re going.”

 

Leopold saved the work on his laptop before shutting his laptop. Swifty and Leopold would worry about this tomorrow as they leave the suite and join the others in singing their troubles away.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 – Soldi

 

“Woohoo!” Bodi cheered as he, Darma, Grem and Trey skied down the course in excitement. Skiing took him back to his childhood when he sleds down the small hills surrounding the village. After feeling down for a few days due to struggling with his music identity, he felt his energy re-kindling his body again.

 

With Trey ahead of him on his snowboard, Bodi found an opening just ahead and overtook him to finish the course first. He lifted his ski sticks in the air in jubilation as they got to the end.

 

“Damn it!” Trey cursed himself as Bodi beat him. However, he got out of his snowboard and hugged Bodi. “Well played, Bodi!” he congratulated the young mastiff as Darma and Grem joined in.

 

“Such a shame Angus isn’t with us today…” Grem lamented, making a fact that Angus was meeting up with their agent Ian today to finalise the St Jupiter concert plans.

 

“We’ve been skiing in the beginner course for about an hour,” Darma noted as she checked the watch and it was 11 in the morning. “Let’s ski on the intermediate course,” Darma suggested.

 

They all agreed and hop onto the ski lift towards the intermediate course.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

The yellow-marked intermediate course is a longer and slightly difficult course. It has much tighter turns, which means controlling one’s speed when going downhill is essential.

 

They arrived at the start of the course, getting ready to race down a new course together. A year and a half had occurred since they and Angus formed a band and they admitted that, considering Trey was not part of the band in the first place deu to his behaviour not in line with the others, they enjoyed themselves.

 

“You ready?” Trey asked the rest of the gang as they made their way to the start line.

 

“Let’s go!” Bodi and the rest of the band agreed, and they start skiing down.

 

The thrill of skiing down a Dongshanding mountain, the speed his skis are gaining, the cold of the wind as everyone ski downwards and the excitement Bodi and his friends were expressing. However, when it comes to safety, that takes priority.

 

Trey was riding too fast on his snowboard.

 

It was because of the earlier skiing that Trey was serious in beating Bodi, but that was not important: they were approaching a tight bend in the course.

 

“Watch out!” Bodi shouted to the Aussie cheetah, but Trey was turning at the bend, and then he stumbled and rolled forward to a stop, stopping at the plastic barrier. Hearing a loud thump, Bodi, Darma and Grem stopped and slowly approached Trey. It seem his right arm looked dislocated, but he did not feel it.

 

“I’m ok, guys,” Trey assured everyone, even though it was not. He landed on his right arm, meaning it looked disjointed and out of place. Bodi thought Trey was used to these kinds of injuries, considering he was enduring a lot of pain. Just then, as if by coincidence, Swifty’s girlfriend Jade joined in. She has a first-aid bag on her waist and joined in.

 

“May I?” Jade asked Trey, still on the ground.

 

“Just get it done!” Trey told her and she obliged.

 

Jade realised Trey suffered a right arm fracture and proceed to dress and bandage the fracture. She also got Bodi to call for medical services since the Dongshanding hospital is only ten minutes away from their current location while she addressed the fracture. After Bodi made the call, Bodi asked if Jade knew how to do first-aid, to which her response was “I’m from a humanitarian background. First aid is essential to help those in need!”

 

Eventually, one of the medical workers arrived in a snowmobile and transported an injured Trey, his bandaged arm on a temporary cast, downhill towards the medical centre. The rest of them followed suit and head to the hospital.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Angus rushed into the ward to find everyone else in the band and Jade inside the room. The efficient medical staff at Dongshanding Hospital removed and re-bandaged Trey’s fractured arm, so his arm is now in a proper cast. Jade told Angus that the doctors came to tell them that it was not serious. However, Jade also told him the bad news: Trey would have to sit out of the concert because they estimated it would take two months for the fracture to heal up.

 

Disappointed, Angus got outside of the ward, his paws on his head. At least he’s ok, Angus assured himself as he sat on one of the seats. The disappointment and frustration on his face was obvious to those inside the ward as Bodi stepped out of the room while the rest watched on.

 

Bodi sat down with Angus and observed Angus’s worried face. “You ok, Angus?”

 

“At least the rest of you are fine,” Angus replied.

 

“It’s not that serious. Trey misjudged his speed, that’s all.”

 

“I know,” Angus interrupted Bodi. He received a call from Jade over Trey’s injury moments after she arrived to the rescue. “Jade told me that. But how are we going to get a replacement?”

 

Bodi felt confused. There were three electric guitar players: him, Angus and Trey.

 

However, Angus knew what Bodi would say. “It’s not enough, Bodi. We needed him.”

 

Bodi realised what Angus meant. In terms of pure skill, Trey would be more skilful than them.

 

Bodi slumped to his chair. “Yeah. He’s the energy source of our band.”

 

Angus took off his shades. “See? That’s why I needed him. Thank goodness it’s not serious anyway.”

 

At least Trey would be alright, considering the injury was not too serious. Bodi stood up.

 

“Are you heading back to ski?” Angus asked.

 

Bodi shook his head. “No way, Angus. We’re more worried about him.”

 

Bodi returned to Trey’s ward as Angus continuing sitting at where he was, worried that Trey’s injury would affect the overall quality of the concert.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

After spending the whole afternoon with the rest of the band, Bodi soaked in the hot spring water at the hotel’s private hot spring. The Japanese-inspired Onsen with windowed views of the mountains was what he needed after a stressful day. Thanks to Jade’s quick reaction and first-aid skills, Trey would be alright.

 

He started to reflect on that morning and had regretted wasting time to warn Trey to slow down as they approached the bed. Being his rival before Trey joined the band, Bodi admitted that in spite of his selfishness and showboating, he was a good mammal and to see him hurt is detrimental to his emotional strength. As such, he really needed the hot water cleansing his entire body.

 

As he was appreciating the outdoor landscape, he heard someone entering the Onsen. He turned around to find Swifty joining in. The two sat alone inside the Onsen as the arctic fox took his time to get used to the hot temperature of the spring water. In spite of both of them being completely naked, Bodi was fine with the situation.

 

“Sup,” Swifty made his entrance as he soaked his body inside the pool.

 

“Hey, Swifty.”

 

The arctic fox got straight to the chase. “Sorry about what happened to Trey. Heard he broke his arm.”

 

“Yeah, he did. Thank goodness Jade was there to get him to the hospital. Could have been worse.”

Swifty agreed. “It could have.” He let out a relaxing sigh before continuing, “So, down to four members for the concert?”

 

“Most likely.”

 

Swifty let about a sigh in disappointment. “What a shame. I thought he’s electric guitar playing is very strong.”

 

“Yeah, he’s the show-off of our band. You heard his many solos on our songs.”

 

Swifty took a moment to dunk his head into the Onsen before coming back up. Being in his hometown felt more comfortable to him than ever before. Swifty shook his head to clear any excess water in his fur.

 

“The first time we met,” Swifty continued the conversation, “You mentioned about your life before you got your big break in Mengcheng. As a matter of fact, we haven’t talked about my story.”

 

Bodi felt a sudden urge of interest to understand more about Swifty’s personal journey. “Go ahead, I want to hear.”

 

“I’ll make sure to keep it brief and not to bore you with the details.” He took a deep breath to calm himself.

 

Swifty pointed at the snowy cascade of Beidongshan, his hometown, before telling Bodi, “As I mentioned, I came from Beidongshan. I grew up there from birth to primary school. I had a rough childhood because of my abusive father. He disagreed with me becoming a singer, so he beat up both me and my mum to exert his dominance. In the end, my parents divorced when I was nine, two weeks after I performed my debut song at the school concert.

 

Three years later, the Great Beidongshan Flood occurred. My mum and I survived, but PB’s parents didn’t, so my mum adopted him. After graduating from primary school with high marks, we moved to Mengcheng to attend a prestigious secondary school and lived at my grandfather’s mansion…”

 

Bodi stopped him for a moment. “You mean, Walter’s mansion.” Bodi remembered the name of the mansion, having saw that name on the entrance to Swifty’s mansion. Or SwiftyTV’s mansion, since they all lived there.

 

“Yes, that’s my grandfather’s mansion.” Swifty chuckled for a bit. “Anyway, we, along with my childhood friend Duke, started our YouTube channel and became a small celebrity in the YouTube community. We continued it when we entered polytechnic and after becoming famous, we ended up in the Mengcheng University of Science and Technology. PB, Duke and I reunited with another childhood friend, our musically talented Lemmy, who was in the same primary school as the three of us. Together with Canadian twins Leopold and Bertha and my girlfriend Jade, we changed to SwiftyTV and have been popular ever since.”

 

Bodi had his head spinning on the information overload. “That’s… a lot to take in.”

 

“My life’s a bit complicated. I did my best.”

 

“Can I ask you something About your music?”

 

Swifty gave the mastiff permission to give his opinion on Swifty’s music.

 

“Yours is… totally not mainstream…” Bodi realised Swifty’s songs were not as mainstream as other songs Bodi heard a few thousand times.

 

Swifty explained, “Unlike your band, I am not part of a music label. You could say I’m one of the top indie musicians in Mengcheng if I decided on just pursuing my music career instead of branching out.”

 

“I heard your songs before, I did some background research on you. I remembered one that was super popular, and it was about your father.”

 

The statement caused Swifty to pause for a bit, as if it shaken him. Bodi noticed a brief shivering from the arctic fox, even though they were inside a hot Onsen pool.

 

The arctic fox lamented, “Dad was never a good person. During my senior year, Lemmy and I composed and released a single that went on to become viral. In fact, my wireless speaker and phone are inside my locker. Do you mind if I get it?”

 

“Sure, I don’t mind. Even if was to see your naked body.”

 

Laughing at Bodi’s sarcasm, Swifty obliged.

 

Bodi closed his eyes as Swifty got out of the Onsen pool, him getting out of the pool covering his privates with a small towel. Opening his eyes for a brief moment, Bodi noticed visible straight-line scars on his back and, when he returned with his mobile phone and a water-resistant Bluetooth speaker, there were more scars at the front complete with, strangely enough, a buffed six-pack. Strange for a small arctic fox like him.

 

The mastiff pondered whether Swifty had a rough childhood, but instead his mind focused on Swifty selecting his hit single and playing it on his speaker, the one about his resentment towards his father.

 

(Song: “Soldi (Money)” by Mahmood, translated to English from Italian and Arabic)

 

It's very hot down in the suburbs,

Stay calm, Mom - I'll be home soon.

You will be upset by a liar.

You thought it was love, but it was something else.

 

He drinks champagne during Ramadan.

On TV, they’re airing Jackie Chan.

Smoking shisha, he asks me how it's going.

 

He asks me how it's going, how it's going, how it's going,

He already knows how it goes, how it goes, how it goes.

I think it's faster for me to figure out if tomorrow you'll screw me over.

I don't have time to clear things up because now I know what you are.

It hurts to be alive,

When you lose all your pride.

You just left home one day.

Now you tell me.

 

Did you only think about money, money?

As if I ever knew about money, money.

Tell me if you miss me or you don't give a f**k, give a f**k.

 You would ask me how things are, how things are, how things are,

Now you know how things are, how things are how things are.

 

You didn't say what you should have said.

Betrayal is a bullet in your chest.

 Take back all your charity,

You lie at home, but she already knows.

Sitting on the couch, she'll ask me.

 

She'll ask me how's it going, how's it going, how's it going?

She already knows how it goes, how it goes, how it goes.

I think it's faster for me to figure out if tomorrow you'll screw me over.

I don't have time to clear up because now I know what you are.

It hurts to be alive,

When you lose all your pride.

It only took me a second to know that all you wanted from me,

 

You only wanted money, money.

As if I knew about money, money.

You used to talk to me until late, late.

 You would ask me how's it going, how's it going, how's it going,

You know how it goes, how it goes, how it goes.

 

My son, my son, my love, come here.

You would play with me, looking so proud.

My son, my son, I thought it was real,

That you wanted to see, to see, things as was before.

 

I never asked for money…

It hurts to be alive,

When you lose all your pride.

You just left home one day,

 Now you tell me

 

Do you only want money, money?

As if I had any money, money.

 

You left the city, nobody knew.

Yesterday you were here, but Dad, where are you?

You ask me how it's going, how it's going, how it's going,

You already know how it goes, how it goes, how it goes.

 

Throughout the song, Bodi was closing his eyes and felt Swifty’s tension and emphasis on the lyrics. In spite of the song being in Italian, with some lines in Arabic, he understood what the song was all about.

 

“That’s a great song, Swifty,” the mastiff complimented the arctic fox’s musical talent.

 

“I’m sure this song would inspire you for your next few songs,” Swifty replied. “One more thing, considering you’re performing in St Jupiter, I suggested another YouTuber to join you, in fact two of them. They got a decent reputation, and I feel if you can get those two to replace your injured guitarist, the concert would be even better!”

 

“And those two are?” Bodi asked. Swifty whispered the names to Bodi and the mastiff nodded.

 

“Thanks, Swifty. You really are a life saver,” Bodi thanked Swifty.

 

As they continued gazing at the night sky of the mountains, they agreed on one thing. Swifty has his movie premiere and Bodi has his concert, both at the same month, in the same city.

 

The only way they could make it happen was to look forward.

 

(To be continued)

 

(Episode ending theme song: “Jet Fuel Heart” by Miracle of Sound)

 

Giving up on a dream you know

That ain't no way to live

I don't wanna be ordinary

Got too much to give

 

Refill my reason

And wipe off the dust

My heart is jet fuel

It's time to combust

 

Full speed and fire up the engines

A supernova ascending

Nothing's gonna slow me down

No time to rest on the failures

Each one a lesson for later

Nothing's gonna slow me down

 

And it ain't easy alone a helping

Hand is hard to find

You never dwell on the defects now

When you're two of a kind

 

Blitzing and bolting

To desperate frontiers

Clear out the waste

Jam a wrench in the gears

 

Full speed and fire up the engines

A supernova ascending

Nothing's gonna slow me down

No time to rest on the failures

Each one a lesson for later

Nothing's gonna slow me down

 

Yeah, you and me

We're gonna light up the sky

(Light up the sky)

 

Refill our reason

And wipe off the dust

Our hearts are jet fuel

It's time to combust

 

Full speed and fire up the engines

A supernova ascending

Nothing's gonna slow me down

No time to rest on the failures

Each one a lesson for later

Nothing's gonna slow me down

 

(Humming)

 

My jet fuel heart…

 

(More humming)

Chapter Text

Angus’s private jet glided in the sky as the Rock Dog crew are heading home to Mengcheng. However, instead of getting excited over preparing for their first ever concert outside of the city they were in, they were busy in their thoughts.

 

Trey, his right arm bandaged and cast on a sling, were switching channels for some entertainment, him not bothering the fact that he fractured his arm while going down the slope too fast. After all, this is, to him, a ‘minor problem’ even though that ruled him out of the concert. Grem, the goat drummer, were sleeping on Trey’s lap, as per usual.

 

Angus sat far away towards the back of the plane as he was chatting with the band’s agent Ian over Skype. As always, he was the de facto leader of the band, even though Bodi was the lead, due to the mastiff’s inexperience in management. The cat and the agent were finalising the concert plans, anyway.

 

Bodi, on the other hand, was still in his realm of thoughts, writing away on his notebook. His girlfriend, Darma, was reading Alan Conway’s “Look to the Stars”. She planned to finish up the writer’s famous Atticus Pund series after that.

 

However, the most dominant sound came from the scribbling and the crossing of Bodi’s pen. He still could not get his head straight. Eventually, he gave up and closed his notebook and looked outside. He tried forming up the shapes of the clouds in his head, but that was not good enough to reduce the amount of doubt he was having.

Bodi remembered the advice he received from Swifty a few days ago at the hot spring and decided to raise the issue to Darma.

 

“Darma,” Bodi gestured to his fox girlfriend.

 

Darma bookmarked the page she stopped reading and looked up. “Problem, Bodi?”

 

“It’s just that… I still have that sense of doubt inside me…”

 

Darma noticed Bodi’s notebook. “Mind if I see it?”

 

“Are you sure? It’s just work-in-progress…”

 

“I insist,” Darma stick out her paw and gestured him to pass her the notebook. Darma took a read at some songs Bodi was writing on it before handing back to the mastiff.

 

“It’s fine,” Darma responded.

 

“Really, Darma?” Bodi’s eyes widened.

 

“I mean, they still need some refinements, but I’m totally fine with what you’re writing. What’s not is your attitude. You’re not confident.”

 

Darma sat up and explained the amount of doubt and second-guessing Bodi was having for the past two weeks. She meant every word of it.

 

“You should take a break from song-writing and focused on de-stressing yourself. Like reading, for instance!”

 

Darma got up and fished for another book, passing it to Bodi.

 

Sing to the Dawn by Minfong Ho?” Bodi read out the title of the book.

 

“I’m raised in Singapore, so I read some local literature during my childhood. This… is my personal favourite.”

 

Bodi opened the first page of the book. “Thanks for caring me, Darma.”

 

“Your welcome. In fact, everyone else cared for you.”

 

Bodi looked down and start reading the first page of the book. He did not stop until the plane lands onto Mengcheng Central Airport.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

After being chauffeured home by Chief of Security Riff (his partner Skozz stayed to guard the mansion), Bodi returned straight to his room and start unpacking. What he really needed after he unpacked his clothes and other stuff is a warm shower and dinner, cooked and served by Angus’s staff.

 

He head to the shower and, after removing his clothes, turned on the shower heater. He was already used to hot showers.

 

As the warm water came showering down upon him, he remembered about the book Darma lend to him on the plane back. What was the title? Sing to the Dawn?

 

That book depicts a Thai girl in a village deciding over whether to take up a scholarship she earned and moved away to the city. It was a great perspective on females from rural areas receiving education. However, it was not the story that engrossed him.

 

It was the writing.

 

Applying shampoo and soap on his body, he realised that the writing felt familiar. Like someone with the experience of writing, it hooked him after the first few pages. He turned on the shower again and his mind bolted onto something. The cause of his doubt.

 

He knew what he had to do, but first he needed to go through his shower.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Putting on a new set of clothes, he decided to ditch his signature beanie (it needed some washing anyway), he informed Angus and Darma he needed some fresh air before heading out.

 

Bodi popped on his earphones and took down his newly bought phone, which was more advanced and more essential for his needs. He listened to the band’s first album (which sent waves across Asia for all the right reasons) and made his way to Rock-and-roll Park (it was formerly called by its official name ‘Mengcheng West Park’, but after the rise in popularity of aspiring rock bands performing at the open space and that there was a new part opening at the west side of Mengcheng, the government decided to approve the name change). He needed some needed change. And fast.

 

Bodi removed his earphones to soak in the atmosphere and the sounds of the rock music from up-and-coming rock bands, hoping to follow in Rock Dog’s footsteps to become the next big thing. Two or so years have passed since Bodi first stepped foot inside the park.

 

Hard rock, metal, rock ballad, industrial rock… how Bodi missed those clashes of exciting rock music. And then, he heard someone playing a keyboard.

 

He looked to the right and found himself with a band of identical beavers. He recognised the band. Recently, a new band ‘Musica’ had entered the battlefield and had been gaining popularity. They are beavers from Italy, specialising in soft rock and jazz. Their incorporation of jazz as part of creating a new hybrid of rock.

 

The first lines of the song they were playing immediately captivated the experienced mastiff rocker. All Bodi had to do was to close his eyes and listen.

 

(Song: “I Tuoi Particolari (Details of You)” by Ultimo, translated to English from Italian)

 

It's been some time since

I hear your voice in the morning screaming "boo"

It made me wake up feeling nervous

But now I wake up and I

I miss all those details of yours

When you said to me

You are always tired because you are off the clock

 

It's been some time since I cook

And I always put a dish on the table for you

I am always the one who is closed off inside

That laughs to hide when it rains

I miss all those details of yours

When you said to me

You feel alone because you are not as you appear

 

Oh, it hurts to tell you this right now

But I don't know what I feel anymore

If only God would come up with new words, I could tell you that

We are just luggages

We travel in scattered orders

If only God would come up with new words

I could write new songs full of love for you

And sing them here

 

The heartfelt lyrics and sombre piano tones, complete with the precision of the drums, entranced Bodi as he stood still and had his feet tapped to the beat.

 

It's been some time since I walk and

I always feel steps behind me

Then I turn around thinking it's you

But then, I realize that I don't know what is there apart from me

I miss all those details of yours

When you said to me

You are always tired because you are off the clock

 

Oh, it hurts to tell you this right now

But I don't know what I feel anymore

If only God would come up with new words

I could tell you that

We are just luggages

We travel in scattered orders

If only God would come up with

new words

I could write new songs full of love for you and sing them here

 

All those details of yours

I could sing them here

If only God would come up with new words

I could tell you that

We are just luggages

We travel in scattered orders

If only God would come up with

new words

I could write new songs full of love for you and sing them here

Between your details and mine

I could sing them here

 

The song had opened another path for Bodi as the mastiff opened his eyes. He realised what was missing.

 

More often than not, Rock Dog had released songs that were more on the hardcore, energetic side. In addition, the lyrics of the songs were akin to motivation speech during an independence protest. However, they lack in depth and emotion, which was what was hindering Bodi’s thought process on his song-writing in the first place.

 

It was something Bodi had never thought before. The songs that captured one’s heart. The songs that comforted you like a bowl of warm and comforting chicken soup. The songs that touched hearts.

 

A bolt flashed Bodi’s mind. He nodded at the band and ran straight home. He knew what he was missing out and he cannot missed it again.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

St Jupiter, California, United States of America

 

At the same time, at the other side of the globe, another mammal was also looking up to the day ahead.

 

It was the end of winter and the start of spring. The small town of St Jupiter starts to awaken. The revving of the cars’ engines and the breeze woke up the residents for another typical day. In a small garage in the middle of the town, a gorilla opened its shutters.

 

Looking in his early twenty’s, he took one big sniff of the morning breeze and exhaled. This was going to be another great day and thank goodness he need not turn on the custom-built heater for the next eight months.

 

He returned inside the garage and prepared his, a cup of pressed coffee and two slices of toast (brown, never burnt, spread with his favourite peanut butter), whistling away as he got his hands dirty.

 

The garage used to belong to his father and his gang, but after their arrest, the gorilla converted it to his new home. He hoped his father would come back, but due to the notoriety of the robberies his father committed, it would take another two years before he can finally be released.

 

Until then, he got the garage to his own, filled with a kitchenette and dining table, an L-shaped sofa with a new television set and cable service, two parking spaces for his car and more importantly… his music garage.

 

Johnny smiled at the piano and the recording equipment sponsored to him but the theatre owner of the newly rebuilt Moon Theatre and looked back to the events that led him to there.

 

He grabbed his coffee-filled mug and his plate of toast, settling down at the cheap but well-built table before turning on his phone and start a video on the song he played two weeks ago before tucking in to the most important meal of the day. It was his new single.

 

(Song: “Don’t Come Easy” by Isaiah Firebrace)

 

I can tell by your eyes you want more than this

But can we be much more beyond these sheets?

No I don't, don't wanna mess with your head

But my love, it's hard to love again

 

It don't come easy and it don't come cheap

Been burned too many times to love easily

Don't mistake me, my love runs deep

But it don't come easy, it don't come cheap

No, not with me

 

I used to move in fast to erase my past

But it never works, no, it never lasts, no

In my mind I gotta get things right

Take it slow before I jump this time

 

No, it don't come easy, no, it don't come cheap

Been burned too many times to love easily

Don't mistake me, my love runs deep

But it don't come easy, it don't come cheap

No, not with me

 

And if you think I've got a heart of stone

You couldn't be more wrong, oh...

You might think I've been afraid too long

Afraid of love

 

But it don't come easy

Been burned too many times to love easily

Don't mistake me, my love runs deep

But it don't come easy, it don't come cheap

 

No, not with me

Oh... no, not with me

Oh... don't mistake me, my love runs deep

But it don't come easy, it don't come cheap

No, not with me

 

That video is getting close to 100,000 views on YouTube and there it was, his real name as the name of his channel.

 

Johnny Boyd, 120K subscribers.

 

Not a bad start to spring, Johnny thought in his head as he sipped his coffee.

Chapter Text

About Three Years Ago

Johnny felt good vibes walking on the stage of the Moon Theatre. It was his first time stepping foot and like everyone else, he was here to audition for a singing competition.

 

Of course, he decided against informing his Dad about him auditioning. He wanted this to be a surprise.

 

Johnny introduced himself to Buster and his secretary Mrs Crawley, her one glass eye staring at him. Johnny noticed that Buster screened him like typical music competition judges, indicating Buster knew what he was doing. However, Johnny was not here to sing.

 

He was here to win.

 

“So,” Buster asked Johnny, “What song are you going to sing?”

 

Johnny replied with confidence. “I’m going to sing Sam Smith’s ‘Stay with Me’”.

 

“Best of luck, Johnny!” was what Johnny heard from the koala before Johnny got to his position. Having rehearsed the song beforehand, all Johnny had to do was to belt out what he could.

 

The track plays and all Johnny could do was to open his mouth to the beat of the song.

 

(Song: “Stay with Me” by Sam Smith)

 

Guess it's true, I'm not good at a one-night stand

But I still need love 'cause I'm just a man

These nights never seem to go to plan

I don't want you to leave, will you hold my hand?

 

Oh, won't you stay with me?

'Cause you're all I need

This ain't love, it's clear to see

But, darling, stay with me

 

Taking one glance at Buster and Mrs Crawley feeling emotional at the tone of the song, Johnny took advantage and belt out the full extent of his soulful voice.

 

Why am I so emotional?

No, it's not a good look, gain some self-control

And deep down I know this never works

But you can lay with me so it doesn't hurt

 

Oh, won't you stay with me?

'Cause you're all I need

This ain't love, it's clear to see

But, darling, stay with me

 

By then, he heard the rest of the contenders humming to the song backstage, imitating the backing vocals of the song. It seems his performance had captivated everyone in the theatre and proceed to finish the job with one final chorus.

 

Oh, won't you stay with me?

'Cause you're all I need

This ain't love, it's clear to see

But, darling, stay with me

 

Oh, won't you stay with me?

'Cause you're all I need

This ain't love, it's clear to see

But, darling, stay with me

 

By the end of the song, everyone, Buster and Mrs Crawley was giving him a standing ovation over his performance. Johnny breathed a sigh of relief, knowing he did more than enough to secure a spot in the competition.

 

All he had to do was to prevent his Dad from finding out.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

After washing and drying the cutlery he used for breakfast, it was time to head out. Johnny took his time to put on a pair of socks and his sneakers before grabbing whatever he could. Ever since his father’s arrest, he swapped the old car for one that suited his current needs.

 

It was an ordinary sedan, but one with a better spec engine and a great infotainment system. After all, being the main getaway driver for his father’s gang had other advantages too, besides getting paid well.

 

After opening up an app to activate his involvement as a private hire driver, he pressed a button from a remote button in the glove-box of the car to open up the garage doors. Scanning around to ensure all the lights and the air-conditioning has switched off, he drove off to start driving around.

 

(Song: “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons)

 

For the rest of the morning, Johnny routinely answered the call of many users of the private hire app and drive them to their destination. Humming the sounds of Imagine Dragons’s “Thunder”, Johnny felt in his inner peace through driving. Just like BoJack Horseman as he drove around Hollywoo, he felt free driving.

 

There are some occasions where passengers who recognised him or subscribed to his channel would sometimes request him to sing, to which Johnny happily obliged, which turn an ordinary private car experience to a ‘carpool karaoke’.

 

Johnny enjoyed and soak in every moment of his driving. He might be a private hire driver, but at the end of the day, music was still in his heart.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Five hours and close to $600 later, Johnny had to complete one more journey. He set the coordinates for a university town in St Jupiter and made his way.

 

Johnny navigated his way to a college town, the town filled with college students heading back to their dorms after morning lessons were over. It was Friday, so he knew what that means…

 

He stopped by at a pickup point of a school and right on cue, the car doors opened, and in comes Ash. She tossed her bag at the back of the car before joining him at the front of the car.

 

“The garage, right?” Johnny asked.

 

“You know where to go.” Was what his porcupine girlfriend told him.

 

Johnny drove off from the college car, destination: back to Johnny’s music garage and his home.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Over bentos and cans of diet soda, Johnny and Ash spent some quiet time in Johnny's garage-home-music studio his father used to own. Being a Friday and that Ash does not have any activities that day, they spent their afternoons conceptualising and writing more songs for the YouTube channel. Usually.

 

Ash took down her song-writing book and passed on to Johnny. She recently came up with a song of her own.

 

I Will Believe?” Johnny recited the song title.

 

“Just a ballad I thought of during a lecture.”

 

“Mm,” Johnny glanced at the lyrics with excitement. Being strong at ballads, it was within his wheelhouse.

 

“Mind if I give some suggestions?”  Johnny asked.

 

Ash nodded, giving permission for the gorilla to write some suggestions on improving the song. He made sure to use a pencil for corrections.

 

As he was busy with the changes, he heard the vibration of his mobile phone and checked for any new messages. His face lit up.

 

“Buster and the gang are coming!” was Johnny's response to the message.

 

Ash stood up. “They’re coming?”

 

“Buster has some news. We need to get ready.”

 

Johnny passed Ash her song-book back and at once, they went straight with boiling water to brew some tea for Buster and whoever else was coming.

 

Tidying up the entire garage was simple due to the lack of furniture (the sofa inside the garage can convert to a bed for Johnny to sleep on) and that they only arrive a good twenty minutes later. By the time Buster knocked on the door, Johnny and Ash were already prepared.

 

Ash greeted them. “Hey, guys!”

 

Buster, Eddie, Rosita and Meena were at the door. Immediately, Meena hugged Ash (watching out for Ash’s quills, of course).

 

Meena: “We all missed you, Ash!”

 

“Nah, don’t sweat it, I was just too busy with my college stuff. By the way, where’s Gunther?”

 

Rosita explained that Gunther had yoga class, so he could not make it.

 

“Great! Why don’t you all come in? Johnny and I had brewed some oriental green tea for you. Helps to detoxify.”

At the word ‘tea’, the groups got inside and settled down at a table where cups of tea were already on the table, background Lo-Fi music to complement the relaxing atmosphere.

 

Ever since the singing competition organised by Buster resulted in the final getting headlines across America and even the world, it changed most lives of those involved, although not as successful as Johnny and Ash.

 

Rather than pursuing her music dream, Rosita chose to stay as a housewife, but that did not stop her from gaining popularity among aunties her age. Rumour has it that she's the karaoke queen of St Jupiter, having dominated most karaoke sessions she attended. More importantly, her husband had a change of heart and decided to help out babysitting their many kids. At times, when both were not free, Gunther would volunteer to help out and he was popular among the kids.

 

Feeling motivated by the events at the grand final of the competition, Eddie took up a degree in business management at a private college and assisted Buster in the daily operations of the theatre. Meanwhile, his mother Nana welcomed him back as part of the family, now that he was starting to become a useful asset. More importantly, however,, Johnny had noticed Eddie dressed in such a way he looked as professional as Buster.

 

An excited Ash asked Meena, “What about you Meena? What are you doing now?”

 

“Well, I’m in a musical for the school.”

“Wow, that’s amazing!”

 

“Yeah… That experience had opened up to new possibilities, as cliché as it sounds. I got one of the female leads of the musical and it would have been difficult if not for you and my family’s support. I’m no longer a scared elephant, everyone!”

 

Johnny could not wait any longer for the announcement. He immediately cut in. “Buster, is that any news so far?”

 

“Ah yes, Johnny,” Buster smiled. “I just got a call from Ian.”

 

“Wait, hold up, hold up. You mean… That Ian Rashford? Rock Dog’s agent?”

 

“I was getting to that. Anyway, he contacted me just yesterday and asked me whether the Moon Theatre would be able to accommodate a rock concert…”

 

Johnny stood up, knowing what Buster was going to say. “Are they coming? Please, tell me you say yes.”

 

Buster smiled once more. “Yes, I did.”

 

Johnny punched his fist into the air, screaming, “They’re coming!!!”

 

The gorilla stopped celebrating and composed himself. “Sorry about that, but I’m a huge Rock Dog fan!”

 

“He couldn’t stop explaining about them,” Ash added on. “They’re one of his idols. He couldn’t stop fanboying about them.”

 

“There’s a catch, however. You won’t be spectating.”

 

Johnny’s face froze. “What do you mean?”

 

“You see, Trey got injured in a skiing accident a week ago and he couldn’t perform. That’s why Ian made a requested for two temporary members to fill in: an electric guitarist to replace Trey for that concert and a keyboard/pianist plater.”

 

Johnny and Ash started to realise what that means. “So, Mr Moon… Ian wants the two of us?”

 

“Of course, Ash. He wanted you two in.”

 

At that announcement, everyone applauded at the exciting announcement. All Johnny and Ash could do was high-five each other in celebration of the news. However…

 

“Wait, Mr Moon, when’s the concert?”

 

“Don’t worry, Ash. I’ve checked the college you’re at. It’s going to be held two weeks after your final exams, so you should be able to make it.”

 

“Thank goodness, Mr Moon. I needed to catch up on my studies!”

 

“And that also add in more publicity across the town,” Eddie added. “This concert will bring in millions for the theatre! We’ll market, promote and sell the tickets across the whole country. The world will be buzzing about our town hosting Rock Dog’s first overseas concert!”

 

Buster: “I think this calls for a toast. We got our tea, so…”

 

The group raised their cups of tea in the air.

 

Buster declared, “To toast the welcoming of Rock Dog to our little town of St Jupiter and the concert.”

 

Their cups clinked at each other. “Cheers!”

Chapter Text

Bodi

After yet another exhausting day of rehearsals, Bodi returned to his room to rest. Sipping a glass of high quality still water was what he needed as the mastiff still thought about the time he listened to Musica's rock ballads (they posted their songs on SoundCloud) on his phone. He pondered how he could make his songs feel to the listener.

 

After thirty minutes of frustrated thinking, he gave up and head out of his oversized room. A long stroll around the mansion should clear his head.

 

He heads straight to the kitchen to find the kitchen staff finishing baking a new batch of chocolate chip cookies, Bodi's new favourite snack after Kaya toast (Kaya jam was hard to find in Mengcheng).

 

Sneaking one cookie and munching it down, he next head to the basement level and as he was exploring, he heard music from the studio. Curious, he peered through the gap to find Angus strumming a song.

 

He entered the studio in silence to witness his mentor/instructor/rock legend covering Queen. Drunk.

 

(Song: “You’re My Best Friend” by Queen)

 

Ooh, you make me live

Whenever this world is cruel to me

I got you to help me forgive

Ooh, you make me live now honey

Ooh, you make me live

 

Angus suddenly collapsed onto the group to alcohol overdose, his robot butler Ozzy looking on. The cat felt nauseous and started puking, prompting Ozzy to approach him and mop up the floor.

 

“Angus!” Bodi called Angus as he tried to lift the rock legend up.

 

Angus waved his paw away. “Go away!”

 

“Come on, there's no reason to be drunk!”

 

“Oh shut up, you nutter! I can't do this!”

 

Bodi reassured Angus, “At least you have me. Shall I get a chair for you?”

 

“You know what? That would be lovely.”

 

After Bodi dragged Angus to a nearby chair, he left and returned with a glass of cold water, which would reduce the side effects of Angus's hangover. Angus accepts and down the glass in one swift action.

 

“That’s much better, Bodi.”

 

“Your very welcome. You should be lucky you have the rest of us to carry you.”

 

“Why the sudden change in attitude?”

 

“Cos I care about you!” Bodi was suddenly shouting without realising. “Why are you drunk in the first place?”

 

Angus sat upwards. “I feel sick being alone inside the mansion. After the band split up some years ago because we all plan to retire. I fly off from London and ended up here. There's a mansion that belongs to a wealthy owner that recently passed away, so when the property agents recognised who I was, we struck a deal to sell that mansion to me. I have forgotten who they are, but who cares!”

 

Angus stood up. He gave a huge rant about himself.

 

“IF THERE'S ANYTHING ABOUT ME, I'M ALWAYS THE LONE WOLF! SCREW THE BAND! SCREW THE FANS! SCREW THOSE THAT REFUSED TO BELIEVE IN ME!!!”

 

Angus stopped ranting before he collapsed onto the chair and started crying, tears flowing like a waterfall.

 

Bodi sighed and tapped his paw on Angus's right shoulder. “Hey, Angus. You know what I do when I feel like the world is weighing me down? Talk to someone who cared about you. Express what's inside your head and they will listen. We're a band. We help each other in our darkest moments.”

 

Angus smiled for the first time in the drunk state. “Thanks, Bodi. I thought you're a huge nutter but at least you have empathy.”

 

Bodi smiled back. “Right. Now, speak what's on your mind. We'll sort it out together.

 

Johnny

Johnny tested out a demonstration piece on his keyboard and experimented the timing and pitch of the sound. He needed to get the piece correct in tune with the lyrics Ash wrote.

 

Ash would come later, so he was inside the garage he called home all morning. Home was a playground for Johnny to explore, but he felt lonely without someone.

 

Suddenly, he heard one wrong note he played and smashed the keys in frustration. Even though he was all alone, concentrating on his music was already an uphill challenge. Johnny took a heavy breath. Composing one song is difficult, let alone five of them (all went on to be successes on YouTube).

 

Johnny got up. Checking his watch, he knew where to go.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

(Song: “Making Your Mind Up” by Bucks Fizz)

 

Johnny selected the song as he warned up the engine. He needed to visit someone and he was unwilling to waste a minute of procrastination to do so. The garage doors opened, and Johnny stepped on the gas pedal. Within seconds, the car roared to life and Johnny set off for the destination, the song in the background.

 

You gotta speed it up

And then you gotta slow it down

'Cause if you believe that our love can hit the top

You gotta play around

But soon you will find that there comes a time

For making your mind up

 

You gotta turn it on

And then you gotta put it out

You gotta be sure that it's something

Everybody's gonna talk about

Before you decide that the times arrived

For making your mind up

 

Don't let your indecision

Take you from behind

Trust your inner vision

Don't let others change your mind

 

And then you really gotta burn it up

And make another fly by night

Get a run for your money and take a chance

And it'll turn out right

And when you can see how it's gotta be

You're making your mind up

 

Johnny stopped at the red light. It felt similar to the time his father and the gang got arrested because of one of the rehearsals Johnny was forced to attend. He checked his watch to find out visitation hours for the morning was about to lapse, so Johnny sped past the traffic light changing from yellow to red.

 

And try to look as if you don't care less

But if you want to see some more

Bending the rules of the game will let you find

The one you're looking for

And then you can show that you think you know

You're making your mind up

 

Don't let your indecision

Take you from behind

Trust your inner vision

Don't let others change your mind

 

And now you really gotta speed it up (speed it up)

And then you gotta slow it down (slow it down)

'Cause if you believe that our love can hit the top

You gotta play around

But soon you will find that there comes a time

For making your mind up

And now you really gotta speed it up (speed it up)

And then you gotta slow it down (slow it down)

'Cause if you believe that our love can hit the top

You gotta play around

But soon you will find that there comes a time

For making your mind up

 

For making your mind up

For making your mind up

For making your mind up

 

Johnny stopped and parked at a designated carpark next to the prison, with more than enough time to spare. Johnny turned off the car and head to the security post for a visitor pass.

 

He need to see his father again.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

“I missed you, Dad.” Was the first sentence Johnny made to Dad, barricaded by a glass screen.

 

“I missed you too, though it feels I feel at home here.”

 

It would take another year for Marcus (the actual name of Johnny’s Dad) to be released, but until then, Johnny would have to make regular, inconvenient visits to the prison if he wanted to see Dad since the day of the grand final, after Johnny’s performance. After feedback from previous visitors, the prison staff had built up private visiting areas so that individual prisoners can communicate with their loved ones without their privacy invaded by others.

 

“Did you get into a fight, Dad?” Johnny spotted some cuts and bruises across his face and paws.

 

Johnny’s Dad showed a surprise “Nah, just a scuffle I had to deal with. Stuck in a crossfire, but I was able to hold on before the guards intervene.” Dad sat upright without bothering to cover any of his injuries. “So, what brings you here, besides meeting me?”

 

Johnny took down his phone and showed his Dad lyrics to a song.

 

“I’m not good at songs, Johnny. Can you recite it for me?”

 

Johnny sang a sample of the song and only stopped at the signal of his Dad raising his paw.

 

“You’re lacking something.” The first words coming out of his Dad’s mouth.

“Ah, I know, Dad. Feelings.”

 

“No, Johnny. Not feelings, you invoke strong feelings. I’m talking about a companion. The song felt incomplete if you sing this alone.”

 

Dad pointed at Johnny’s heart. “Your Mum mentioned that.”

 

Only a minute to go before the guards take Marcus back to his cell. Johnny had to get the message then.

 

“Ash. My girlfriend.”

 

Dad smiled. “If you two can harmonise each other, for sure the song will be complete.”

 

Johnny heard his Dad’s advice with great respect. He asked, “You think Mum would be proud of what I’ve become?”

 

Dad shed a tear before responding, “If she was alive on the day of the final, she would.”

 

Johnny held his emotions as tightly as possible just as the guards approached. “Thanks, Dad. I love you!”

 

Dad gave his son a tearful thumbs-up as the guards ushered him out of the area.

 

Johnny stood up and take his leave from the area, keeping his Dad’s advice with him.

 

Swifty

 

Swifty heard digital sounds of guns firing, NPCs shouting and around him, loud mouse clicking and keyboard smashing. Still, his eyes focused at the computer screen. For his brother PB, this was his world.

 

Swifty was playing as the jungle with his brother in his favourite position: mid lane.

 

“How’s your situation, Swifty?” PB communicated through the voice comm.

 

“Jungle camps cleared. Seriously, why am I playing with you?”

 

PB explained, “You need to relax, Swifty. All the time conceptualising and recording videos for our channel. That’s why I brought you to a PC Bang. Right, Duke?”

 

“I’m focusing on my bottom lane, PB. Just give me some time to scale, ok?” Was what Swifty heard from his childhood friend and current Mengcheng Football League top scorer. Besides playing football (or soccer, as what Americans and Australians said), he enjoyed playing video games and hanging out with Swifty. Duke shouted, “And would you please focus on the game and not me, Dakota?”

 

Duke’s sister and civil rights lawyer Dakota was playing support. “Sorry, Dukey. I’ll concentrate on setting up for you.”

 

Duke sighed. His sister can be annoying sometimes.

 

“Ok, team, no more fighting,” ordered Dusty (not his actual name, his actual name is Damien), top lane, captain of a professional Esports team and PB’s teammate back when PB was part of the university’s Esports team. “Let’s get back in line and focus on what we need to do.”

 

“On!” the rest of the team responded to the order. While Swifty focused on clearing the jungle camps to level up, he wondered why his brother insisted on bringing him to playing video games.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Four hours of playing and one hour of drinking at a nearby bar later, Swifty and PB took a long walk home. The mansion was just ten minutes away and they were not too drunk to take a cab home anyway.

 

Swifty understood why his brother had to bring him out. He remembered how much he burns out from recording new videos as well living as a successful YouTuber and millionaire. Still, he would prefer to be with Jade, so why did it have to be his brother.

 

(Song: “City Lights” by Blanche)

 

“Hey, Swifty. You enjoyed your job, right?” PB asked his foster brother.

 

“Of course, PB! How could I hate being YouTube famous? I’ve worked hard to get there!”

 

“Even if that means not regarding the rest of us?”

 

Swifty stopped in his tracks. “Wait, what?”

 

PB explained, “You can’t just throw in parties, buy expensive goodies and have constant house tours on YouTube. Look at how much we’re spending for the past few months!”

 

“Come on, PB! We grew up rich ever since we moved into that mansion! Our Grandfather’s mansion!”

 

“Which is ours now. He left behind that mansion with you.”

 

Swifty and PB faced each other. Sometimes, they tend to fight, just like typical siblings. PB unleashed a side of him that most mammals would never see in the team’s YouTube channel.

 

“Everyone, and I mean me, Lemmy, Leopold, Bertha and your girlfriend, everyone knew you’re cutting off some slack. That’s why I brought you to a PC Bang to prove how your lack of clear communication and your laziness nearly cost us some wins!”

 

PB stomped his foot as he approached his brother, “You’re not showing the true side of yours, the one that everyone enjoys. You’re too serious at everything as if it’s all about you.”

 

Swifty took the message of his brother’s rant seriously. However, he was hailing for a cab ride home and one stopped by for him. “Hey, what about me?” Swifty cried out to his brother

 

“Walk home, Swifty. That should be more than enough time for you to reflect,” PB replied back as the cab took off.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

9pm in Mengcheng

12 noon in St Jupiter

 

At that moment, Bodi, Johnny and Swifty were at different places. Bodi was at his room inside Angus’s mansion, ready to tuck in for the night. Johnny sat inside own car. Swifty found a nearby bench to sit, also trying to understand the words of his brother before he got onto a cab.

 

One had to console the distress of his mentor.

 

One processed about his father’s words during the time in prison.

 

One struggled to get into grip with his brother’s rants.

 

However, by pure coincidence, as if by magic, they were singing the same song hoping to sing their troubles away at the same time.

 

(Song: “After the Fire” by Nai Br.XX and Celeina Ann (From the anime “Carole and Tuesday”)

 

(Bodi’s Verse)

No one touch paper

Your sparks fly all around

Out of control and

You burn me to the ground

 

(Johnny and Swifty joined in)

Where you go, I'm turning

You're the one who's burning

This is the beginning

Don't give up

 

(All three)

'Cause after the fire, new maps are drawn

Nothing to cry for, new dreams are born

Out of the ruins, flowers will grow

People rebuilding, stone by stone

After the fire, fire, fire

After the fire, fire, fire

 

(Johnny’s Verse)

Drawn to danger

I blew my own house down

The ashes blowing

Away over the town

 

(Bodi and Swifty join in)

Wash away my mad way

Purify my body

Wanna feel that heat rush

Over me

 

(All three)

'Cause after the fire, new maps are drawn

Nothing to cry for, new dreams are born

Out of the ruins, flowers will grow

People rebuilding, stone by stone

After the fire, fire, fire

After the fire, fire, fire

 

(Swifty’s Verse)

The sky is glowing

Above the ruins

The walls are falling

A new beginning, beginning

 

(All three)

After the fire, new maps are drawn

Nothing to cry for, new dreams are born

Out of the ruins, flowers will grow

People rebuilding, stone by stone

 

'Cause after the fire, new maps are drawn (The sky is glowing)

Nothing to cry for, new dreams are born (Above the ruins)

Out of the ruins, flowers will grow (The walls are falling)

People rebuilding, stone by stone (A new beginning)

After the fire, fire, fire (The sky is glowing)

After the fire, fire, fire (A new beginning)

 

At the end of the singing, all three understood where they stand since they still had a long way to go before achieving their aspirations. Bodi need to become the support for his band. Johnny had to synergize with Ash. Swifty had to loosen up and be more tact to his team.

 

They made up their mind and proceed to finish the rest of the day. The world could not wait for the regrets the three mammals shared.

Chapter Text

Johnny took a moment to explore the new Moon Theatre, rebuilt from the ground up. It was a day he and Ash would record a new single and Buster suggested them to perform on stage for a deeper atmosphere.

 

Johnny admitted he felt grateful Buster indirectly caused the destruction of the old theatre his father owned. Installing a backdrop of the squids was never going to be a fantastic idea, especially given the theatre’s weakened structure. He would have died of drowning when all the water came crashing down on everyone, but Meena was in a bigger danger of drowning than him. Saving her was a moment of pure instinct.

 

Still, the new theatre might have cost a ton, but the money and funds flowing to Buster after the grand final of the competition was more than enough to cover the construction costs. Buster’s life had changed for the better and most productions coming to the theatre after the reopening brought in more profits.

 

Climbing up the stairs to the stage where the concert would take place, he scanned his surroundings. The new theatre had customisable theatre seating arrangements that can be modified depending on the type of event held. The new stage is larger and the lighting is much better and modernised.

 

More importantly, the theatre can hold a larger audience, 60% more than the old one, it has a capacity to hold about 6,400 spectators. Johnny closed his eyes and envisioned him on stage to the cheers of his fans.

 

“Hey, Johnny, snap out of it!” A voice came shouting at him.

 

Johnny forgot Mike was sitting on Johnny’s left shoulder. The mouse returned to St Jupiter just to coach Johnny. “You ready to kill this?”

 

Johnny clenched his fist and shouted, “Bring it on!”

 

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Two Days Ago

Johnny returned home from another day of work. Opening up the garage doors, he head in to find the lights to the kitchenette on. Johnny swore he switched on all the lights before he head out.

 

The gorilla locked up his car and head straight to the kitchenette to find a smartly looking mouse munching on a stole piece of cheese. Johnny recognised who he was.

 

“Whatcha staring at me like?” Mike stared and shouted at him. Typical Mike, Johnny thought. He had not changed his attitude ever since the grand final.

 

“Mike! How the hell?”

 

“Trust me, Johnny, mice know how to find their entry and exit routes.”

 

A confused Johnny asked Mike the reason he came to Johnny's garage. “Oh, Johnny, I heard the great news, but if you want to be at the same level as that band, you have to step up!”

 

“But how? I already have Ash and Buster for help!”

 

Mike saw a window of opportunity and climbed up Johnny's arm towards one of his ears. “Not vocal help. I can.”

 

Johnny sighed, but Mike made a good point. He has been a busker for 20 years before he auditioned for the competition, just like Johnny. He found Nancy, his newlywed, but pissed a few gangsters along the way. Mike and Nancy disappeared after the final, but it was only until Mike sent Buster a photo that showed him and Nancy together. They found solace in Malibu, which has one of the best mice residential systems in California.

 

Johnny was determined. He only has two days before he and Ash record the music video for their new song. Mike’s coaching would boost his capabilities.

 

“But I can assure you, two days will be tough. I'll push. I'll break you. But that's all for your good.”

 

Mike climbed down to the gorilla's right paw, grabbing his pinkie. He asked, “You in?”

 

Johnny stretched out his pinkie and 'pinkie swear' Mike. “Let’s do this!” Johnny promised.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

As Mike get Johnny to rehearse his part of the song, Ash and Meena were having their moment together.

 

With only Ash inside her dorm, she called Meena to check whether she would be that afternoon, to which Meena was free after the end of school. They met up at Meena's house as the rest of Meena's family were not in. Over coffee and Meena's freshly baked quiche, they rehearsed Ash's part for her song together.

 

For Ash, rock is her speciality but for once, she felt at home performing ballads, Johnny’s speciality. Meena also sang ballads before, but she told Ash she enjoyed uplifting songs more.

 

As they continued rehearsing, Ash coughed all of a sudden. The rehearsing had taken a toll on her vocal cords.

 

“You need a break, Ash?” Meena asked.

 

Ash shook her head. “I’m fine, Meena. No need for that.”

 

“I can make you some honey lemon tea if you want.” Before Ash declined, Meena got up and prepared the tea, anyway.

 

While Meena was making tea, Ash checked the messaging app on her phone to message Johnny, who was also having a break from singing.

 

Ash: Hey, Johnny. Having a break?

Johnny: Just fine. Mike’s coaching me well. How’s Meena?

Ash: She’s caring for me well. She’s making tea for me.

Johnny: At least you got someone hospitable. You know how Mike behaves. *Shy emoji*

Ash: LOL

Johnny: That song I wrote. ‘Say Something’? I sang one verse to my Dad in prison and he advised me to harmonise my vocals with you.

Ash: That’s what Meena told me too!

Johnny: Anyway, when you come to the theatre, we’ll make sure to support each other.

Ash: Got it, Johnny. Oh, here comes Meena with my tea. Catch you later!

Johnny: SYL, Ash!

 

“Was that Johnny?” Meena asked Ash as she served the porcupine a warm cup of red tea, mixed with honey and lemon juice.

 

“Yup,” Ash responded, sipping her tea. “Just right for me, Meena!”

 

Meena smiled back. “Your welcome, Ash! We’ll get back to rehearsing, then head over to the theatre. If we can finish at least half of the quiche.”

 

The pair returned to singing the lines for the song, hoping to impress YouTube.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Nighttime comes at the Moon Theatre and Johnny and Ash were on stage doing their final rehearsals before they changed to more suitable clothes for the performance. Buster, Eddie, Meena and Mike were in attendance for the recording since they need to set up for the recording.

 

Eddie and Meena set up the cameras while Buster and Mike worked to get the lighting correct. They intended for the performance to be as intimate as possible with a good number of close-ups, matching the song’s sombre tones of the song.

 

Once they are ready to film, Johnny and Ash entered the stage in formal wear. They questioned Buster over the choice of attire, but the koala assured them they fit the theme of the song.

 

Johnny made his way to the piano that Buster and Eddie wheeled in, while Ash strapped on an acoustic guitar. She admitted the feel was different to her electric guitar, but she did not mind the change. This was only a music video, after all.

 

With everyone in their positions (Mike and Meena taking their seats at the front row with Eddie behind the camera and Buster at the black box, the lighting system within his control), Eddie gave both Johnny and Ash a signal they were ready to shoot.

 

“Just do it, guys,” was what Johnny told Eddie.

 

Eddie gave Buster a thumbs-up, signalling they were ready to film.

 

Eddie gave the command. “Ready… and action!”

 

(Song: “Say Something” by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera)

 

(Johnny’s Verse)

Say something, I'm giving up on you

I'll be the one, if you want me to

Anywhere, I would've followed you

Say something, I'm giving up on you

 

(Both Sing)

And I am feeling so small

It was over my head

I know nothing at all

And I will stumble and fall

I'm still learning to love

Just starting to crawl

 

Say something, I'm giving up on you

I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you

Anywhere, I would've followed you

Say something, I'm giving up on you

 

(Ash’s Verse)

And I will swallow my pride

You're the one that I love

And I'm saying goodbye

 

(Both sing)

Say something, I'm giving up on you

And I'm sorry that I couldn't get to you

And anywhere, I would have followed you

Oh, oh, oh, oh say something, I'm giving up on you

 

Say something, I'm giving up on you

Say something

 

“And… cut!” Eddie called out. Johnny and Ash smiled back at each other as they knew it was a good take. Just then, they heard a loud applause from everyone. Even Mike, who was despising Meena during the competition, could only climbed up to Meena’s paw and fist-bumped her.

Everyone knew they got a hit on their hands.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

A few minutes later, Buster invited Johnny and Ash to his new office, a larger, air-conditioned space for Buster and Eddie. Mrs Crawley had retired as Buster’s secretary a year ago, which explained why Eddie took over as Buster’s secretary.

 

Buster made his compliments to both. “You two performed so amazing! It’s no wonder this music video and the song will be overnight sensations!”

 

“Don’t sweat it, Mr Moon–”

 

“Buster. You can call me Buster.”

 

“I mean, Buster, we wrote the song together.”

 

Ash agreed. “We wrote it at the garage because I wanted something that’s not a rock song. Thankfully, with my song-writing skills and Johnny’s great read on composition, we made a great duo!”

 

“I sure do!” Buster nodded. “You two get some rest. Tomorrow, I’ll send you a copy of the music video so that you can upload onto your channel!”

 

“Well, in that case, Buster. We’ll be off, then.” Johnny and Ash made their leave. “Good night, Buster!”

 

“Good night, and safe travels!” Buster bade farewell to them for the day.

 

As Johnny and Ash exited from the exit, they found someone they recognised. “Johnny, I think you should head home first. I’ll take a cab back to the college.”

 

“Alright, Ash. Good night!” Johnny waved goodbye as he made his way to the parking space occupied by his car.

 

With Ash alone, she called out that mammal. “Lance,” she started.

 

Lance appeared alone. His girlfriend (the one he dumped Ash for) was not around.

 

Ash held back her emotion as she toughens up. “Why are you here?”

 

“I just want to see you one more time, Ash.” Ash’s ex replied.

 

“Bullshit, Lance! You dumped me for your new partner. I can’t forgive you for this!”

 

Lance went down to his knees. “Listen, Ash. I’m also here to say goodbye.”

(Song: “Leaving Home” by Nicke Borg)

 

“What?”

 

“We’re going on a tour. I’m leaving this town for good.”

 

So, Lance and his girlfriend will be leaving for good. Ash felt a sense of relief she does not have to see his sorry face again.

 

“Where’re you going, Lance?”

 

“We’re leaving for Anaheim tomorrow. The first bus out. That’s why I wanted to do one last thing.”

 

Ash sighed. She let Lance do his last request.

 

Lance continued with his request and apology, even crying and begging to convince her. “Ash, I’m sorry for what I did to you. That competition, that breakup, everything. You have your gorilla boyfriend to deal with, so I feel I need to say this. Will you forgive me? Just forget about me, please?”

 

Ash walked towards Lance and told him this, “Take care, Lance.”

 

Ash walked past her ex and moved on as Lance was still on his knees The female porcupine flagged for a taxi home, not feeling sorry for dumping her ex once and for all.

Chapter Text

While most citizens of Mengcheng recognised Angus’s mansion which housed him and the members of Rock Dog, many failed to realise there was another building next to the mansion. High-rise and equally spacious, the building housed many staff that worked inside the mansion. Maids, chefs, nannies and security guards, you name it.

 

Residing at the top floor of the staff’s quarters is two of the most important members of the security team. Both the chief and vice-chief of Security stayed in the same unit. More than enough space for each other, two bedrooms (though they sleep at the same room now), a large living room and a full-sized kitchen with, most importantly, a coffee machine. They are all essential for both residents because they prefer their mornings together.

 

A pair of wolves and proclaimed ‘brothers’ since growing up in an orphanage? Formerly part of a notorious gang who invaded Bodi’s village so that they can eat lamb, but ended up getting locked up in jail, before they got released on good behaviour and ended up working for the son of the mastiff the gang planned to kill? Now that’s a story.

 

If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking to you. Yes, it’s Jeryl, the writer of the story. I know breaking the fourth wall is a bad sign a novel is terrible, but hear me out of it! Some of my readers enjoy my shipping of Riff and Skozz, the two wolf bodyguards from the “Rock Dog” movie and some also welcomed me adding a stuttering voice to Skozz. In fact, I checked the polls. They’re more popular than Bodi now.

 

So, by popular demand, here’s a chapter starting them! Ok, I’ll stop talking now. Back to the story!

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

6 a.m.

Riff got up with a loud yawn that echoed across the house. Another day of security work for him and his ‘brother’. This time, it would be different. The entire band would be heading to Jungle Law Studios (the studio that signed the band) to record their new songs as well as preparing for the concert. They and the rest of the security team will be guarding the mansion for the day.

 

After the routine brushing of his teeth (including his hidden fangs) and washing his face, he heads to the kitchen and start brewing the coffee. He enjoyed his job as the security chief, but he enjoyed being with Skozz better.

 

As he waited for their coffee to brew, he returned to the bedroom and start kissing his tall partner at the cheek. At that sensation, he woke up and gave out a loud yawn. “Morning, Riff,” Skozz yawned.

 

Riff, the short wolf, responded, “Morning, Skozz. Breakfast?”

 

“I love too, Riff! Good sleep?”

 

“Yup, especially when we sleep together.”

 

Skozz got out of the bed. “I’ll see you in a bit, Riff,” he told his partner as he heads to the bathroom.

 

Two half-naked wolves enjoying breakfast together. Neat. Let’s fast forward to 8 am to skip out the boring details.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

8 a.m.

With the rest of the security team briefed on their task at hand, Riff and Skozz prepared the band’s SUV for their journey to the studio. They scanned through every part of the vehicle to ensure there was no security breach inside and outside of the vehicle.

 

“Riff, I found something!” Skozz called out.

 

Riff approached his partner to discover Bodi’s beanie. Apparently, he forgot to take it home.

 

“There it was. Under the back of the SUV,” Riff mumbled. Bodi messaged them a day before that. “Just how on earth it got there?”

 

Skozz commented, “Never mind, at least we found it! To be fair, I prefer him without that beanie, especially since he cut it short weeks ago.”

 

Riff slapped Skozz behind his back. “Forget about it and just pass it back to him before we set off!”

 

“Fine…” was Skozz’s disinterested reply.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

8.45 a.m.

As the SUV nears its destination, Angus briefed Riff and Skozz on their schedule form the back of the vehicle.

 

“Alright, you two, here’s our schedule,” Angus read out from his notebook. “We plan to finish our recording at about 5pm so you two should be at the studio by then, ok?”

 

“Yes, sir!” Riff and Skozz adhere to Angus’s request just as they arrived. Everyone got off from the SUV as the two wolves brought out the guitar cases belonging to Bodi, Angus, Darma and Trey (Grem would be using the drums inside the studio while Trey insisted on bringing in his guitar to practice in spite of his broken arm). As they brought everything out, Riff passed Bodi his beanie back.

 

“Thanks, Riff! You two are the best!” Bodi thanked the two.

 

“Our pleasure. Fighting!”

 

“Fighting!” Bodi replied back, giving Riff and Skozz a brofist each.

 

Once everyone heads inside, the studio, Riff and Skozz returned to the SUV and drove off, doing what they enjoyed best: Listening to rap.

As expected, they enjoyed singing very loudly. And very badly. The other drivers can hear bits of them singing from next to them. Riff and Skozz did not mind the negative perception. They loved it too much.

 

(Song: “Keep Up” by KSI featuring JME)

 

Keep up, can you, can you keep up?

Keep up, can you, can you keep up?

Keep up, can you, can you keep up?

All we really wanna know is can you keep up?

 

They sang all the way until they arrived back at the mansion.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

12.30 p.m.

Lunch time and it was a tradition for the security team to sit around at one large table at the canteen inside the staff quarters. They enjoy keeping each other company; in fact, it’s the one way to keep the camaraderie of the whole squad.

 

As per usual, they chat about current updates regarding the band, their upcoming tasks and other issues. It was the only way for everyone in the security team to converse as they are very serious about guarding the entire mansion. In fact, they introduced the tradition in the first place so that Skozz had someone to talk to, since he did not have any friends back when the duo were part of Linnux’s wolf-only gang.

 

Meals finished, talk completed, it was time for the team to head back to let the second team have their own break.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

1.30 p.m.

Riff and Skozz approached the garden maze at the back of the mansion, watching over the streets as they scanned the whole area.

 

“Sigh, only two hours and thirty minutes to go,” Skozz complained.

 

“Well, time flies really fast, so…” Riff replied.

 

“I mean, at least we don’t have night duty for today. I was hoping we could cuddle again…”

 

That alarmed Riff, because they tend to have a bad habit of cuddling. After all, they both are grey timber wolves. However, Riff believed that would be inappropriate.

 

“You got to be kidding me, Skozz. You want to do it again?”

 

“Oh, come on, Riff! I want to!” Skozz complained.

 

Just then, they heard the leaves in the bushes ruffled.

 

“What was that?” Skozz asked.

 

“Let’s find out,” Riff replied. They dashed towards the bushes for any intruder.

 

And out comes a cat!

 

The tiny cat leapt out of the bushes and forced the two wolves to give chase. The cat entered the maze and Riff and Skozz followed suit. Unfortunately, there was a problem: the two large robot mice that were supposed to chase after the cat? They were re-charging, so they were not activated to chase down the cat.

 

The cat sprinted around the maze to annoy the two wolves, but they had a better plan. They split up to corner the cat and after ten minutes of countless running, they caught up with the cat and grabbed him.

 

“Aargh, get off me!” The cat screamed. Riff and Skozz stopped holding the cat down because they recognised who he was.

 

“Cody?!” Riff and Skozz shouted in unison.

 

The young cat sneered in retaliation. The wolf guards never expected Cody to trespass the mansion.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Hold up, hold up. Another word from me before we moved on.

 

If you have read my previous novel “Rock Dog: The Retold Story”, the one that precedes this novel, you have read about Cody Cat from chapter 12. He was an original character from a lost novella I did for Nanowrimo Young Writers Program 2013, aka the Dunk Tank Cat (I still don’t know why most of my stories feature dunk tanks, even though dunk tanks are rare in Singapore carnivals).

 

You will also recognise Cody was a huge Rock Dog fan and Darma’s classmate back in high school. So, yeah, nothing else to say.

 

Anyway, back to the story.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

2 p.m.

After some questioning inside the living room of the mansion, Riff and Skozz understood why Cody trespassed the mansion.

 

Cody somehow deduced how Bodi was able to trespass into Angus’s mansion for the first time. To be honest, he was at Rock-and-roll Park on the afternoon Bodi climbed past the gates with that ladder.

 

Since Cody was a cat, he had better agility than Tibetan Mastiffs like Bodi, but back then, he decided against it.

 

It was when his sister Cecelia was at work at he made his way to Rock-and-roll Park and found a nearby tree. Using his agility, he climbed up the tree and leap pass the fences, landing on the bushes. That was how he was able to trespass the mansion.

 

“Ah, now that’s why. You made it past because you’re a cat,” Riff commented. “But, why did you do so?”

 

Cody shouted at them. “I want to see them! There’s no good view from outside the mansion and your security team electrified the entire area! I almost got caught by the fences!”

 

Riff and Skozz stared at each other. They might need to considering cutting down the trees which can provide an avenue to go across the fence.

 

“Well, they’re not here,” Skozz explained. “They’re at a studio outside of the mansion to record new songs.”

 

“If that’s the case, I have one request. One only.”

 

Riff raised his eyebrows. “What would that be?”

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

2.30 p.m.

Skozz knew it was a bad idea.

 

He watched Cody swimming in the mansion’s private pool. Cody was a cat, but he never fears the water. After all, he was a part-time dunk tank clown, he enjoyed the water so much.

 

Skozz, however, felt confused. Wearing socks as a dunk tank clown? You only wear socks at home! Even worse, Cody was swimming in his clothes and socks. The wolf could only cover his eyes in confusion.

 

While his partner led the rest of the team in scanning the entire mansion for any more intruders, Skozz had to become the lifeguard for Cody. He was twenty years old but had a mind of a twelfth year old. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. Hence, he had to sit nearby as he watched Cody swimming.

 

Skozz fished for his mobile phone and started playing a song, in line with the atmosphere of the scene.

 

“Whatcha listening, Mr Skozz?” Cody asked. Cody came out of the pool and lie on the lounger next to the wolf, not caring that he got soaked. He brought a new set of clothes to change to.

 

“Does that matter?” Skozz replied, not caring about the cat who trespass Angus’s mansion. “But if you insist, I can replay it for you. Before that, why water? I thought cats hate being wet!”

 

The cat raised his shoulders and gave a ‘I don’t know’ expression. “Maybe I loved it.”

 

Skozz restart the song anyway and put the rap number on full volume.

 

(Song: “Rik (Rich)” by Albin and Matthias, song translated to English from Swedish)

 

They can take everything I own, it doesn't matter.

As long as I have you by my side, I feel rich.

 

Always on the hunt for more

Never satisfied, always too little

 

Hunted for happiness never had it

Cared too much about people and the criticism.

 

Always on the run, always restless

seconds away from dying from stress

 

Can money and status make me feel nice

Lost as hell feeling disturbed

 

Always up to something new

changing my residence acquire new job

 

Nothing I do matters

Never normal because then you are like the others

 

When you came around everything changed

No more chaos no more hunting

 

You fill up the hole in which I always fell

and hold me tight when I'm doomed

 

They can take every penny I ever earned

They can take everything I own, it doesn't matter.

They can pretend that I don't exist.

As long as I have you by my side, I feel rich.

 

They can take every penny I ever earned

They can take everything I own, it doesn't matter.

They can pretend that I don't exist.

As long as I have you by my side, I feel rich.

 

Skozz found Cody enjoying the song, in spite of the lyrics being Swedish. He jumped back to the swimming pool, splashing water to the tune of the song.

 

Tried almost everything but never turn out well

had vacations and partied but always feel weird

 

Soon I've had round-trips around the whole world

wherever I go it's the same

 

I want to stay for a month but then leave

dreamt of finding tranquillity someday

 

seen everything through broken glass

so it took me a while to see everything clearly

 

Always up to something new

changing my residence acquire new job

 

Nothing I do matters

Never normal because then you are like the others

 

When you came around everything changed

No more chaos no more hunting

 

You fill up the hole in which I always fell

and hold me tight when I'm doomed

 

They can take every penny I ever earned

They can take everything I own, it doesn't matter.

They can pretend that I don't exist.

As long as I have you by my side, I feel rich.

 

And when you're tumbling down

I'm here for you until you get whole again

They can take everything I own, it doesn't matter.

As long as I have you by my side, I feel rich.

 

Skozz mustered a sheepish smile. He, too, was enjoying the song too. Riff selected the song as he understood the meaning behind the lyrics (after he used the internet to translate the song to English). Riff told him that song embodied their relationship from the time they grew up in an orphanage. They had each other and that was what mattered the most.

 

Tried to find myself everywhere I go

London, Paris, Copenhagen

 

It has lead me nowhere

always on the same hunt

 

I always wonder what we really are searching for

because we get owned by everything we buy

 

Your love is everything I need

Baby hear me

 

They can take every penny I ever earned

They can take everything I own, it doesn't matter.

They can pretend that I don't exist.

As long as I have you by my side, I feel rich.

 

They can take every penny I ever earned

They can take everything I own, it doesn't matter.

They can pretend that I don't exist.

As long as I have you by my side, I feel rich.

 

And when you're tumbling down

I'm here for you until you get whole again

They can take everything I own, it doesn't matter.

As long as I have you by my side, I feel rich.

 

Just as the song ends, he received a phone call and Skozz picked it up.

 

“Riff?” Skozz knew who called him.

 

“Cecelia will be here soon. Tell Cody to get out and shower.”

 

“Noted.”

 

Skozz hang up the call and got Cody to get out of the pool.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

3.30 p.m.

“Cecelia!” Cody cried as he hugged his sister. Cecelia got on the taxi after the end of her working shift. The two cats hugged out for a while.

 

Cecelia felt grateful for the two wolves. “Thank you for taking good care of my precious Cody. I didn’t know Cody tried to break into the mansion.”

 

“Our pleasure. We’re doing our job,” was Riff’s proud reply. Riff and his team did a good job protecting the mansion while Skozz babysits Cody.

 

“Mind if we take a selfie?” Cody asked.

 

Cecelia shook her head. “But Cody, you have a selfie with Rock Dog before. Remember the concert?”

 

“But I haven’t taken one with their trusted bodyguards!”

 

“Sigh… fine, just this once. They helped the band, after all…”

 

Cody took out his phone and take a quick selfie with Riff and Skozz.

 

“Smile at the camera, Riff and Skozz! Cheese!”

 

*Click*

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

5 p.m.

Outside of Jungle Law Studios, Riff and Skozz helped the band in carrying the equipment to the SUV, as scheduled. They admitted working for the band would be tough, but if that means keeping their distance from Linnux, then so be it.

 

“How’s your day, you two?” Bodi was eager to ask their day.

 

A tired Riff told the mastiff the entire story about Cody.

 

“Wow! Cody did what I did?” Bodi’s eyes widened. He felt excited over the incident.

 

“Skozz had to babysit him while I secured the area. You know what’s the worst part? Cody used the swimming pool!”

 

“Ah, typical Cody,” Bodi commented. “He enjoyed the water.”

 

Everyone got on and Riff drove the vehicle back to the mansion. As they stopped at a traffic light...

 

“Yo, check this out, everyone!” Grem cried out. “Cody just posted another picture. He was at that mansion!”

 

Riff and Skozz gulped. They expected the worst.

 

“And was that him with Riff and Skozz?”

 

The two wolf bodyguards could only stare at each other, while Angus crossed his arms in frustration. Riff and Skozz realised their biggest mistake: not reporting to the police about Cody breaking into the mansion.

 

They knew they had some explaining to do.

Chapter Text

Swifty

12pm, Mengcheng

 

Swifty checked his list one more time, making sure he bought the right items for his crew. Feeling assured he completed his task, he left the shopping centre and brought the items to the back of his car.

 

PB’s words a week ago stung him a bit, but he admitted: his brother was right that he was acting selfishly to some members of the crew. He had the money, but not the empathy and tact his brother possessed.

 

After all, it was thanks to his crew that he was a YouTuber with two million or so subscribers, a millionaire and a director of a movie. I owe them for once, Swifty reflected on his past actions as he got inside the car.

 

5pm, Swifty’s Mansion

“I brought you something, Leopold,” Swifty told the otter, handing him a ‘gift’. A curious Leopold unwrapped the ‘gift’ to… tomato sauce.

 

“Sacré bleu!!!” Leopold shouted at him before smashing the bottle to the ground and left frustrated. Swifty could only shrug over that incident.

 

“And… cut!” Leopold’s sister Bertha gave the order. “We’re done, right?”

 

“The last part for ‘8 Gifts You Should Never Give to a Frenchman’? That’s it. We’re done, everyone!”

 

Leopold returned to the scene and grabbed the arctic fox by the collar. “You do realise I hate ketchup, right? RIGHT???”

 

“I know, Leopold. That’s why I did it!”

 

“Hmph!” Leopold indeed has a short temper. “That thing’s a monstrosity, Swifty. We French banned ketchup in schools…”

 

“Canadian. You and Bertha were Canadian…”

 

Leopold’s eyes turn red with anger. He corrected Swifty, “Canadian, but with a French father and a German mother, then they got married and migrated to Canada and gave birth to twins, i.e. me and Bertha. Get. You. Facts. Right!” Leopold was tempted to slap Swifty, just like in previous times.

 

Swifty, however, composed himself throughout the retaliation. “You do know it’s you and Bertha’s birthday, right?”

 

Leopold became calm all of a sudden over that reminder. “Oui, it’s our birthday today. Bertha’s cooking coq au vin today.” He could smell the chicken stew braising from downstairs.

 

Swifty touched the short otter’s shoulder to calm him down further. “Alright, Leopold. You head down. I’ll clean up this mess.”

 

Leopold and the rest of Swifty’s crew head downstairs while he started on wiping tomato sauce off the floor.

 

7.30 pm

“Happy birthday, Leopold and Bertha!” The SwiftyTV crew cheered as the otter twins both blow out the candles at the same time, resulting in a lot of clapping.

 

Jade hugged her female friend. “Happy birthday, Bertha!” She turned to Leopold, not forgetting him. “And you too, Leopold!”

 

“Yeah, happy birthday, which means more booze, right?” Lemmy asked. The narrow-minded albatross could only think of three things all his life: composing music, weed (he smuggled some to Mengcheng) and most important of all: alcohol.

 

“Jesus, Lemmy, can you think of something else?” Swifty made a comment, prompting chuckles from most of the crew.

 

“Anyway, I brought you some gifts!” Swifty declared.

 

Leopold: “For just the two of us?”

 

“Nah, considering I had to return the favour, I got everyone a gift!” Swifty replied and he brought out a large bag full of everyone’s gifts.

 

“I believe this one’s for you, Leopold. Sorry about that ketchup.” Swifty passed Leopold two boxes. He opened the first box to find…

 

“Cognac!” Leopold declared. “Merci, Swifty! I loved cognac!”

 

“If you loved that, you’ll love the second box more,” Swifty assured the male otter. Unwrapping the second box revealed…

 

“A complete cocktail shaker set!” Leopold’s eyes widened. “You shouldn’t have, Swifty…”

 

“We all call you the master of bartending. You deserve to use it!”

 

An emotional Leopold hugged Swifty. “All is forgiven, Swifty…”

 

“Your welcome, Leopold. And I got some more gifts to give out!”

 

Five minutes later, Swifty brought out two different-sized frying pans for Bertha (the old frying pans have charred out), Lemmy a new pair of studio headphones (Lemmy was complaining about how his current headphones start to make endless static noises) and his brother PB a new gaming keyboard (in case his current one broke).

 

Last, but not least, for his girlfriend, Jade…

 

“It’s not much, but I hope you enjoy it, Jade.”

 

Swifty received a cheek kiss from his girlfriend. “Anything you give, I’ll take it, Swifty. Anything.” She unwrapped the present and gasped. It was a series of books, but she recognised what that was.

 

“‘The Complete Notes from Singapore’ by Neil Humphreys, autographed and a DVD copy of ‘Ilo Ilo’? Swifty…”

 

“What? I understand you enjoyed the stuff of your Singaporean childhood.”

 

“Swifty, that was nice, but there’s another present inside?” Jade asked as she found another unwrapped gift within the books and the DVD.

 

“Jade… Your mother was born on the same day as Leopold and Bertha. I checked their birthdays beforehand,” Swifty explained. “Open it, you’ll enjoy it.”

 

The red fox hurried to unwrap the final gift and found a mint condition CD of Arvingarna.

 

Jade started to tear up over the CD. “That’s… my mum’s favourite…”

 

“I know, Jade. I want you to have something you cherish. Your late Mum’s Swedish. You and your parents were involved in the rescue mission during the Great Beidongshan Flood. I have not repaid you for providing relief to everyone during that moment, so…”

 

“Thanks, Swifty,” Jade commented. “Mum passed away a long time ago, but least she got to see you.”

 

Swifty also shed a tear. “Your welcome, Jade. Happy birthday to your Mum.”

 

Jade approached the arctic fox and smooched him. The familiar sensation was enough for the arctic fox to follow up with an even bigger kiss, witnessed by the rest of his crew.

 

PB coughed to give them attention. “The food?” PB remarked.

 

“Oh yes, the food,” Swifty forgot about the food. “Enjoy your dinner. Help yourselves!”

 

The SwiftyTV crew all joined in to finish up the birthday feast. Swifty smiled as he grabbed his food, knowing he did his job. He looked to PB, who gave him a nod of approval. Swifty, however, also realise he needs to do more of it, especially to Jade.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Bodi

8.30pm, Rock Dog Mansion

 

Bodi crumpled another sheet of paper and throw it straight to the trash bin. There was no creativity in him, and Bodi found himself in his cloud of doubt. Even having Savant Syndrome, which should have heightened his song-writing and composing abilities, he found it tough to work long-term as a rock star.

 

Bodi hung his head down in frustration. He needed some inspiration for a song, and fast.

 

Bodi heard the knock of the door and opened up to find his fox girlfriend Darma, in her streetwear. She just returned from an evening jog.

 

“Hey Darma,” Bodi started with a hint of tiredness as he tried his best to open his eyes for longer.

 

“Mind if I come in for a while? Ten minutes, perhaps?”

 

Bodi sighed. “Sure.”

 

Darma entered Bodi’s bedroom and found the trash bin filled with crumpled paper. “Are you writing a song again?” Darma asked.

 

Bodi nodded.

 

“You needed something rock, but a rock ballad type?

 

Bodi nodded again.

 

“I see,” Darma took note and opened up the crumpled papers, reading the rejected lyrics. Suddenly, an idea sparked her mind.

 

“Have you considered about writing a song in Mandarin?”

 

“Mandarin? I never thought of that.”

 

“Mandopop has some great rock ballads. Wang Feng, Zheng Jun, Mayday, for instance. They sang great rock ballads.”

 

Bodi only recognised Mayday, the legendary Taiwanese band.

 

“Maybe I heard some Mayday songs before. Would that help?”

 

“That, and one more thing. I’ll be right back.”

 

Darma head out of Bodi’s bedroom. Two minutes, she returned with a large book filled with Mandarin characters.

 

“Is that your Mandarin dictionary?”

 

“Yup!” Darma replied. “This was a lifesaver for me!”

 

Bodi glanced through the page of the dictionary. While most of the words are in Mandarin, he felt relieved to find English transaction of the Chinese characters and phrases. While Bodi understood Mandarin, he needed some time to write words in Mandarin Chinese.

 

“Thanks, Darma!”

 

“Your welcome, Bodi! Good night!”

 

“Good night, Darma!” Darma made her exit from the room.

 

Bodi tore out another sheet of paper and start writing down lyrics in Mandarin. At least Johnny and Ash will arrive the next evening to help the band out.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Johnny

6am, Johnny’s Garage

Johnny was the first to wake up. He was already sleeping in his shirt, jeans and socks, what he planned to wear for the flight to Mengcheng (excluding his sneakers). He researched a day before to find the citizens of Mengguo (the Asian country of which Mengcheng, where he and Ash will be flying off to, is the capital).

 

Ash was still sleeping (spring break means she got to the garage to sleep over so that they can take the bus to LAX), but he knew she will wake up soon. He slipped on a pair of comfortable slippers and head to the bathroom (which Johnny requested to increase the size of the bathroom so that he can install a shower) to take a pee, before brushing his teeth and washing his face there. Sticking to the routine, he brewed the coffee and prepare breakfast; this time he fancied scrambled eggs with chicken bacon (chicken is the only ‘legal’ meat in the world to prohibit cannibalism). Even Johnny questioned the use of brackets that explained additional information from the writer (which he will complain to Jeryl, the author, later).

 

Johnny settled down on the table with both he and Ash’s food, just as day breaks and Ash opened her eyes. She rose from the bed Johnny usually sleeps in, but he let her sleep on the bed for the night. Johnny slept on the floor in a sleeping bed and a spare pillow.

 

“Morning, Johnny,” Ash greeted her boyfriend. She felt at home inside Johnny’s garage that was also his home. She grabbed a spare mug and poured her coffee.

 

“It’s gonna be a long day, Ash,” Johnny remarked. “A 13-hour flight from LAX to Mengcheng.”

 

Ash nodded. “I know, Buster already briefed on the details. By the way, how’s our new music video going?”

 

Johnny checked his phone and tap on the YouTube app.

 

“It just hit one million.”

 

Ash’s eyes widened. “What???”

 

Ash grabbed Johnny’s phone and checked the views. 1.1 million viewers and about a 98% like rate. She swiped down for the comments and found many compliments for the music video. And then.

 

“Johnny! Guess who commented!”

 

Johnny was sipping his coffee. “Who?”

 

“It’s the official Rock Dog channel! They complimented us. They typed ‘A perfect marriage of music! Congratulations, Johnny and Ash!’”

 

Johnny nearly dropped his mug. Rock Dog just approved that song!

 

8.30am, St Jupiter Bus Terminal

Johnny and Ash waited for the 8.45am bus to Los Angeles Airport, the start of their journey to Mengcheng. They were in their travel clothes, they brought along their passports, printed boarding passes and Visa documentation. Their wheeled luggage was with them and they themselves were ready to take on the world.

 

(Song: “What Do You See?” by Electrico)

 

There’s a jewel on the ocean,

a gem upon the sea

Where the future is an open book

A land of destiny

 

We could set our sights into the wind and sail the seven seas

or climb the highest mountain top as long as we believe

What do you see? What do you see?

 

See the moon and the stars, look how far we have come

Look around at our faces, they shine brightly in the sun

With our hopes and dreams, imagine what tomorrow it may bring

What do you see? What do you see?

 

Johnny and Ash heard the call and bringing everything with them, they head straight to the bus and brought their checked luggage inside the bus. They just received a message from Buster and it mentioned ‘Bon voyage, you two!’

 

Now the time has come to reach out,

To open up to see

That we stand together in this land

Cos we are family

 

As thoughts of reaching to the sky are carried on a dream

With hearts and minds united, our dreams we will achieve

What do you see? What do you see?

 

See the moon and the stars, look how far we have come

Look around at our faces, they shine brightly in the sun

With our hopes and dreams, imagine what tomorrow it may bring

What do you see?

 

They showed the bus captain their bus tickets before climbing up the double-decker travel bus. Arranged in a 1-2 forward facing layout, they sat at their recliner seats together as they waited for the bus to set off.

 

What do you see when life makes you take on a mountain?

You’ll see that nothing’s gonna stand in your way

 

Together we can share

The strength of a million

and the courage of a million more

 

The bus starts to reverse out of the terminal as Johnny and Ash held their paws together. It would their first-time leaving St Jupiter, but they can not wait to explore the rest of the world together.

 

“You ready, Ash?”

 

“Ready where I am, Johnny!”

 

See the moon and the stars, look how far we have come

Look around at our faces, they shine brightly in the sun

With our hopes and dreams, imagine what tomorrow it may bring

Cos the sky’s the only limit when you’re not afraid to dream

What do you see?

What do you see…

 

The bus entered the freeway as St Jupiter looked smaller and smaller the further the bus travel. However, for Johnny and Ash, only one thing was on their mind.

 

Next stop, Mengcheng, capital of Mengguo!

 

(To be continued)

Chapter Text

“Bodi!” Angus called the mastiff out as he rushed to the mansion’s basement studio. Angus called for an emergency meeting at the studio.

 

“Coming!” Bodi shouted, running as fast as he could. He made it inside and found the rest of the band inside. If Angus need to make an announcement, it must be something important.

 

Angus grabbed everyone’s attention. “Alright, everyone. Tomorrow’s gonna be a big day because Johnny and Ash will be coming over as temporary replacements for Trye, who broke his arm.” Trey, the show-off cheetah, only sighed, disappointed he would be unable to perform for the St Jupiter concert. “By the way, how’s your arm?”

 

Trey pointed as his bandaged arm. “At least I’m feeling much better. The doctor told me the cast should be off in a month, but he recommended not to perform for the next two months.”

 

“Bummer,” Grem muttered. The goat drummer enjoyed Trey’s solo guitar skills.

 

“At least we have Ash to replace Trey,” Darma added on. “Maybe Trey can also help her integrate into our way of life.”

 

Angus agreed. “Exactly! Which was why we’re going to welcome them in style.”

 

“And what would it be?” Bodi asked. He could not wait to perform alongside Johnny.

 

Angus provided the big announcement. The cat smiled and answered, “We got a prime spot at Rock-and-roll park for tomorrow’s performance. Most of the rock bands will be performing tomorrow, including us!”

 

Bodi wagged his tail in excitement. It had been a long time since they last performed at that park. All he could do was to leap into the air.

 

“Well, I’m sure Bodi’s raring to go!” Grem commented.

 

“A long time coming,” commented Bodi. “It has been a damn long time! I know how we can prepare for this…”

 

Angus knew what the mastiff was going to ask. “More rehearsals?”

 

“You bet! Let’s get this going!”

 

Everyone huddled forward and (apart from Trey due to his broken arm) stretched out their paws before lifting into the air.

 

“Rock Dog!”

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Los Angeles, California, 3 hours on the bus. With only Johnny and Ash on the upper deck of the bus as it heads to LAX, the bus pulled to a stop at a nearby rest park for refuelling before the final leg of the bus leg.

 

Johnny and Ash got out and head to the restroom before convening at the store. They needed to grab some last-minute supplies at the convenience store before their flight to Mengcheng.

 

“Anything else? I think we got what we needed for the flight,” Ash asked Johnny, carrying the stuff to the cashier.

 

“Just one more thing. Ah!” Johnny found what he needed.

 

“Breath mints?” Ash felt curious at the weird choice.

 

“Buster and Eddie had been complaining about my bad breath. Can’t blame them, I’m a gorilla!”

 

“I don’t think your mouth smell that bad…”

 

“You never know,” Johnny assured Ash, passing the mints to Ash for payment. Supplies bought, they carried the two bags of plastic filled with the items and returned to the bus.

 

As the bus heads off for LAX, Johnny and Ash could not help but notice the skyscrapers Los Angeles has to offer. They had seen pictures of LA but admitted Mengcheng might offer a better landscape. They looked to each other as the bus returned on the freeway, as a song on the radio begins to play.

 

(Song: “Samen (Together)” by Max and Anne, song translated to English from Dutch)

 

When I think about you, the

grey sky suddenly turns blue again

I act like you are standing next to me

And talking to me again for a while

 

I close my eyes and it seems

like you are simply here again

Far away but also close,

That way you are with me after all

 

We are together, always together

Wherever you go, wherever you are

We'll be together, always forever

Whatever distance, you are my friend

 

Sometimes it's hard to act

like I don't miss you at all

I swallow my tears

And make a new start

 

I feel lonely when I see

friends laughing with each other

Then I think about the time with you

And how much I love you

 

Together, always together

Wherever you go, wherever you are

We'll be together, always forever

Whatever distance, you are my friend

 

And when it's dark (when it's dark)

And I miss you again (and I miss you again)

Thinking of the memories that we share

 

The bus made an exit as it approaches Los Angeles Airport, their flight to Mengcheng flying in a few hours. Johnny and Ash made their final preparations and re-packed their carry-on bags. They could not wait any longer.

 

Together, always together

Wherever you go, wherever you are

 

Together, always together

Wherever we go, wherever we are

(Wherever we are)

Together, always forever

Whatever distance, you are my friend

You are my friend

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Johnny and Ash wheeled in their luggage and carried their bags to the check-in counter. They had completed the pre-departure check-in prior to their arrival at LAX, so they only had to print out their boarding passes and head straight to immigration. Except there was one other element.

 

They should have two economy class seats for the flight, but…

 

“It seems you got upgraded to business class,” the cheerful counter staff told them.

 

“Wait, business class? Come on, we’re definitely not business class,” Johnny negotiated with the staff. He and Ash could not afford those business class fares. His phone vibrated and found out Buster was calling him.

 

“Hello, Buster?”

 

“Why hello, Johnny! You’re at the airport?”

 

“We’re at check-in. There seems to be a problem. We got upgraded to business class.”

 

“No worries, Johnny. I upgraded your seats.”

 

That alarmed Johnny. He did not want Buster to spend that much trouble upgrading their seats for them. “But we don’t need those.”

 

“Don’t worry, Johnny. You can repay me when you delivered during the concert. Eddie and I are now setting up the stage in time for the concert. Safe travels!”

 

Buster hang up the phone. At least he decided to help them for the long flight.

 

Johnny looked to Ash. “Just take those tickets. We can worry about those later.”

 

Ash took note and Johnny thanked the staff, taking the business class tickets with them, but not before checking in their large luggages. Tey head off to the immigration section for their departure.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Fifteen minutes later, Johnny and Ash arrived at the business class lounge to take a break. With two hours to go before they board the plane, they head straight to the dining area of the lounge for lunch.

 

“Table service or buffet?” Johnny questioned what to decide for lunch. There was a lunch buffet as well as an à la carte service. Ash glanced at the menu and found one interesting item.

 

“Laksa?” Ash called out the name of a dish. She had never heard of the noodles dish before. Johnny explained that laksa is a Southeast Asian noodles dish, comprising of thick rice noodles in a spicy broth, along with other toppings. The version served at the lounge is the more familiar Singaporean version.

 

“Spicy coconut milk-based broth, thick rice noodles, puffed tofu, fish cakes, bean sprouts, prawns and cockles,” Johnny explained the ingredients of the dish. They had ordered two bowls of it by now.

 

“How did you know all of this?” Ash asked.

 

Johnny provided Ash with a piece of his childhood. “When I was young, while my mother was alive, we had a family meal at an Asian restaurant. I ordered a bowl of Singapore laksa… it was the most comforting dish of my life. My parents only tasted the broth and they found it spicy, but warm and soothing. It’s such a shame nowadays, you can’t find laksa in St Jupiter, let alone good bowls of it.”

 

Right on cue, a waitress served them two identical bowls of white noodles soaking in a red-and-white broth, filled with all the goodies. “Try the broth first,” Johnny advised Ash. “It’s good broth. It’s gravy but everyone finished that part, too.”

 

Ash sampled the broth and closed her eyes. The warm and spicy broth caused an impact on her taste buds She felt cosy with just the sip of the warm broth.

 

“Johnny,” Ash responded. “This taste like home.”

 

“As in, Seattle type of home?”

 

Ash nodded. “I wish I could return to Seattle to see them. The café they owned should be very busy now.” Ash’s parents had their café, but the porcupine had to move to St Jupiter so that she can attend college. She missed the chowder they served.

 

Johnny gestured they should start eating, so they took some time to finish up their bowls before their flight.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Johnny and Ash held their paws together once again as the plane took off for Mengcheng. They had not felt air pressure in a long time and yet, they felt at home in the much more comfortable business class seats. Los Angeles soon disappeared from their sight and all they were seeing were white, fluffy clouds. They finally did it. They are flying away from America.

 

Soon, the seatbelt sign is turned off, prompting Johnny and Ash to head to the lavatory and switched to their pyjamas and slippers (Ash got one that is quill-resistant). The dark grey pyjamas with matching slippers were comfortable for them.

 

“Ready for it, Ash?”

 

“I’m up for anything!”

 

The flight might be 13 hours long but being in business class for the first time could have been much better for them. They explored the various seating options, including an option to convert the seat into a fully flat bed. Only a few passengers, including them, were flying on the same class, hence they can do whatever they want to the seating positions.

 

Once they sat comfortable, Johnny decided it was time to write some more songs. But, as soon as he takes out that song-writing notebook, Ash stopped him. “Let’s not be too serious about it. After all, we can do so when we land.”

 

“Yeah, let’s,” Johnny agreed. He plugged the noise-cancelling headphones provided into the inflight entertainment system and start playing a song that felt appropriate for where they were.

 

(Song: “Jet Lag” by Simple Plan featuring Natasha Bedingfield)

 

What time is it where you are?

I miss you more than anything

And back at home you feel so far

Waitin' for the phone to ring

It's gettin' lonely livin' upside down

I don't even wanna be in this town

Trying to figure out the time zones makin' me crazy

 

You say good morning

When it's midnight

Going out of my head

Alone in this bed

I wake up to your sunset

And it's driving me mad

I miss you so bad

And my heart, heart, heart is so jet-lagged

Heart, heart, heart is so jet-lagged

Heart, heart, heart is so jet-lagged, is so jet-lagged

Woah…

 

Ash watched a movie as she ate dinner onboard the flight. She admitted, both her and Johnny felt pampered being served four courses. The grilled vegetable medley for the main course was what she needed. She skipped the wine as she noticed Johnny having his main with a glass of red.

 

What time is it where you are?

Five more days and I'll be home

I keep your picture in my car

I hate the thought of you alone

I've been keepin' busy all the time

Just to try to keep you off my mind

Trying to figure out the time zones makin' me crazy

 

You say good morning

When it's midnight

Going out of my head

Alone in this bed

I wake up to your sunset

And it's drivin' me mad

I miss you so bad

And my heart, heart, heart is so jet-lagged

Heart, heart, heart is so jet-lagged

Heart, heart, heart is so jet-lagged, is so jet lagged

 

By nighttime, the lights dimmed so that the passengers can have some sleep. Johnny and Ash converted their seats into their beds before the helpful cabin crew did the rest. In minutes, their seats turned into beds similar to the ones on the ground.

 

As they needed sleep for a long day tomorrow they tucked in. One last peck to Ash’s cheek from Johnny and it was time to sleep.

 

“Good night, Ash.”

 

“Sweet dreams, Johnny.”

 

Soon, they were sound asleep as the plane flew west towards Asia and eventually, Mengguo.

 

Woah…

Woah…

I miss you so bad [x5]

I wanna share your horizon

I miss you so bad

And see the same sun rising

I miss you so bad

And turn the hour hand back to when you were holding me

 

You say good morning

When it's midnight

Going out of my head

Alone in this bed

I wake up to your sunset

And it's drivin' me mad

I miss when you say good morning

But it's midnight

Going out of my head

Alone in this bed

I wake up to your sunset

And it's drivin' me mad

I miss you so bad

And my heart, heart, heart is so jet-lagged

Heart, heart, heart is so jet-lagged

Heart, heart, heart is so jet-lagged, is so jet-lagged

Woah…

Is so jet-lagged

Chapter Text

After 16 hours or so, Johnny and Ash finally arrived in Mengcheng!

 

Mengcheng International Airport was cleaner, more organised and beautiful than LAX, a clear sign they transported into a different world altogether.

 

Signs in English, Mandarin and other languages guide the arrivals to the arrival immigration and the pair followed suit. They received a message before arriving at Mengcheng that a pair of wolves (with their names) will fetch them. But first, they proceed to go through arrival immigration.

 

They passed the immigration officer at the counter their passports, visa documentation and immigration cards. The panda checked everything.

 

“Johnny Boyd?”

 

Johnny raised his paw.

 

“Ash Strider?”

 

“Here,” Ash replied.

 

The panda officer got them to look to the camera at the counter so that he can take a facial snapshot of both of them. They then pressed their thumbs against the machine. The facial recognition and fingerprint scanning are recently implemented technologies.

 

“You can use the auto-gates upon departure,” the officer explained. “The system will have copies of your face and your thumbprints. Also, are you two wearing shoes?”

 

Johnny and Ash nodded.

 

“Please follow the signs to the Shoe Removal area on your right after you pass through the passports to remove your shoes. Mengguo is a mainly shoe-free country.”

 

Apparently, the citizens of Mengguo (and the rest of Asia) prefer to walk barefooted. That was different from America, where everyone will be walking on shoes. The officer stamped on their passports and returned all the documents to them.

 

“Welcome to Mengcheng,” the officer smiled at them.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

After removing their shoes, storing them inside the disposable shoe bags provided as well as washing and drying their feet, Johnny and Ash collected their luggage and made their way outside of the restricted area of the arrival hall. At long last, they stepped foot into Mengcheng.

 

They spot out two wolves wearing shades with their names attached to it. At once, Riff and Skozz moved towards them and they shook paws.

 

After making brief introductions, the group head to the nearest carpark (Riff and Skozz volunteered to wheeled Johnny and Ash’s luggage) where the wolf guards parked the SUV. At least Johnny trust the message from Buster regarding the helpfulness of the band’s chief and vice-chief of security.

 

Finally, they set off from the airport. It will take about thirty minutes to reach the mansion.

 

“So, how’s the flight?” Riff turned to Johnny and Ash. He was driving, as per usual.

 

“It went smoothly, must be the business class upgrade,” Johnny commented. He still could not forget the experience.

 

“So, how long until we arrive?” Ash asked.

 

“Based on the current traffic,” Skozz replied, checking the traffic feed on his phone. “Forty minutes.”

 

“Great!” Johnny declared. “I can’t wait to explore the city.”

 

The uneventful ride to the mansion begins when the SUV entered the freeway. Currently, they were at the southern part of Mengcheng, where a large artificial island housed the airport. The mansion’s in the city area, but getting to the central part of the capital would be long enough.

 

Johnny and Ash could only doze off as Riff navigate towards the mansion.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

“We’re here!” Riff shook Johnny’s shoulder. The gorilla opened his eyes to find themselves at the front of Rock Dog’s mansion. He found Ash sleeping on his shoulder.

 

“Wake up, Ash. We’re home.”

 

Ash struggled to get her eyes awake. “We’re here?”

 

By that moment, Riff and Skozz were already bringing out all the luggage. As they brought everything in, Riff turned and told Johnny this. “Bodi and the rest are at the park.”

 

“Which park?”

 

“They’re at Rock-and-roll park. Just follow the signs.”

 

“Right…” Johnny took note of the message.

 

“And by the way, Ash, they requested you bring along his guitar,” Riff continued, passing Ash her guitar case. “We’ll bring the rest to your rooms.”

 

“Thank you,” Ash thanked Riff and Skozz as they head inside with their luggage.

 

As obliged, Johnny and Ash head out for the park.

 

“So, Johnny,” Ash catches up to Johnny with her case. “I wonder what’s in store.”

 

Johnny looked at where he was going, walking along barefooted. “It feels strange to walk barefooted. I’ve never done so in my life.”

 

“Neither do I. That makes two of us.”

 

Johnny chuckled. “Well, we better get going.”

 

Johnny and Ash followed the signs to the park and as they do so, they heard some rock music. Not just any other music…

 

“I know where this was coming from!” they both shouted in unison and they hurried towards the source in excitement. They recognised the song and where it came from, so it was easy for them to track down the location.

 

And there it was, the open space where various rock bands played their hearts out, except there was only one band playing in spite of the sheer number of rock bands who convened. Because Bodi and the rest of Rock Dog own the park with their inspired rock music.

 

Johnny and Ash witnessed their most favourite Rock Dog song being played by the band to the cheers of the other rock bands.

 

(Song: “To the End” by Yohio)

 

To the end of the world

To the end of the universe

You will be loved, will be loved

 

To the end of the road

In a place where the stars don't shine

You will be loved, will be loved

 

Can you see me?

Can you feel me?

Can you hear me?

I'm screaming for you

My head hurts

and my mind's a blur

but I know that you'll always be here

 

Johnny noticed Bodi’s paw and guitar beginning to glow. There was a hidden source the lead of Rock Dog always show. When the song energises him, he unleashed a rippling wave of energy across the area.

 

Bodi was about to unleash his ‘Fire’.

 

To the end of the world

To a place where the stars don't shine

You will be loved, will be loved

 

With the next strum, Bodi unleashed his ‘Fire’ across the park and beyond. Everyone, including Johnny and Ash, roared in unison as Bodi, Angus, Darma and Grem performed the final chorus.

 

To the end of the world

To the end of the universe

To the end of the road

To a place where the stars

don't shine

 

Oho

You will be loved, will be loved

Be loved

Be loved…

 

Everyone cheered and applauded the band for another awesome performance. At that moment, Bodi heard someone shouting “Johnny and Ash are here!”

 

Almost everyone let out a loud gasp over the bombshell. All eyes were on the gorilla and the porcupine, prompting the pair to barge their way to the front of the crowd. Soon, they found themselves within touching distance of the band.

 

“Welcome to Rock Dog,” Bodi welcomed Johnny and Ash.

 

“You recognised us?” Johnny asked.

 

“Of course! How could I ever not be able to recognise you two? You’re famous on YouTube!”

 

Johnny and Ash realised he was talking about their ‘Say Something’ music video.

 

“Alright, give it up for Johnny and Ash from America!” Bodi announced to the entire crowd. More cheers and claps.

 

“Hey, Johnny, you mind playing your song? Your keyboard’s waiting for you.” And there it was, as what Bodi told Johnny, the band had set up a keyboard with a stool for Johnny.

 

Johnny rolled his sleeves as he took his seat at the keyboard. “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

 

Meanwhile, Angus whispered to Ash to get off backstage to get ready because she would perform next. Ash watched on as Johnny prepared to show what he could do.

 

After stretching his fingers, Johnny got his fingers to the starting position on the keyboard. He was ready, and raring, to get the show on the road.

 

(Song: “I’m Still Standing” by Taron Egerton (Cover of Elton John, From the “Sing” soundtrack))

 

Johnny let his fingers dance around the keyboard with precision as he let out his improved keyboard/piano skills. He only grew stronger even after the competition has ended. The endless amount of practice on the keyboard and the piano back in his garage paid off for him.

 

You could never know what it's like

Your blood like winter freezes just like ice

And there's a cold lonely light that shines from you

You'll wind up like the wreck you hide behind that mask you use

 

And did you think this fool could never win?

Well look at me, I'm coming back again

I got a taste of love in a simple way

And if you need to know while I'm still standing you just fade away

 

Don't you know I'm still standing better than I ever did

Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid

I'm still standing after all this time

Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind

 

I'm still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah

I'm still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah

 

The song provided the perfect canvas for the crowd to clap along to the beat, providing another element of his performance. His vocals matched the energy of the Elton John classic. The rest of the band watched from backstage moving to the beat too.

 

Once I never could hope to win

You starting down the road leaving me again

The threats you made were meant to cut me down

And if our love was just a circus, you'd be a clown by now

 

Don't you know I'm still standing better than I ever did

Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid

I'm still standing after all this time

Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind

 

I'm still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah

I'm still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah

 

Johnny shouted, “Sing it!” as the crowd hyped up for the final chorus. Everyone sang with Johnny together.

 

Don't you know I'm still standing better than I ever did

Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid

I'm still standing after all this time

Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind

 

I'm still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah

I'm still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah

I'm still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah

I'm still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah

 

“Yeah!!!” Johnny cheered as he finished his performance, prompting a huge arousal of cheers and applause.

 

“Thank you so much, Mengcheng!” Johnny thanked the crowd. “As most of you will know, I currently have a girlfriend and she was able to come onto the stage, so give it up for Ash Strider!”

 

Everyone gave a round of applause as Ash and the rest of Rock Dog came forward. As Johnny and Ash went pass each other, Johnny told her, “Make it rain, Ash!”

 

“I will, Johnny!” Ash assured Johnny as she heads out with her guitar strapped to her.

 

Ash stepped onto the stage, ready to do her own song. Before she does so, she introduced herself. “What’s up, Mengcheng!”

 

The crowd cheered once more.

 

“Trust me, if you continued to cheer, don’t blame for drying your throats out.” That joke made the crowd laugh for a brief moment.

 

“As what Johnny said, I’m his girlfriend. I used to have another, but he dumped me during the singing competition…”

 

She heard some boos in disapproval over Lance breaking up with her.

 

“But that’s ok, because I have Johnny here, so life’s good, you know. Anyway, I think the rest of Rock Dog is ready. I WANT TO HEAR YOU SCREAM!!!”

 

The Rock-and-roll park screamed for Ash. The porcupine turned to the rest of the band and signalled she was ready to rock the park down. Looking back to her look during the competition, she felt relieved she did not look as hideous as the previous time.

 

(Song: “Set It All Free” by Scarlett Johansson (From the “Sing” soundtrack))

 

Listening to the beat from Grem’s drums, Ash started singing her own song.

 

I followed my heart into the fire

Got burned, got broken down by desire

I tried, I tried but the smoke in my eyes

Left me blurry, blurry and blind

I picked all the pieces up off the ground

I've burned all my fingers but that's gone now

Got the glue in my hands I'm stickin' to the plan

Stickin' to the plan that says "I can"

 

Ash brought out her guitar and started strumming in the build-up to the chorus.

 

Do anything at all

I can do anything at all

 

This is my kiss goodbye

You can stand alone and watch me fly

'Cause nothing's keeping me down gonna let it all up

Come on and say right now, right now, right now

This is my big hello

'Cause I'm giving, never letting go

I can finally see, it's not just a dream

When you set it all free, all free, all free

You set it all free

 

(Oh…)

(Oh…)

 (Oh…)

 

 

Ash heard the crowd screaming for more as Bodi, Angus and Darma supported her. What felt great was that the main emphasis was on Ash and not the rest of the band.

 

She smiled with confidence and continued with the second verse.

 

I was a girl caught under your thumb

But my star's gonna shine brighter than your sun

And I will reach so high,

Shoot so far

Gonna hit, gonna hit, hit every target

 

Make it count this time

I will make it count this time

 

This is my kiss goodbye

You can stand alone and watch me fly

'Cause nothing's keeping me down

I'm gonna let it all out

Come on and say right now, right now, right now

This is my big hello

'Cause I'm here and never letting go

I can finally see,

It's not just a dream

When you set it all free, all free, all free

 

You set it all free (Oh…)

You set it all free (Oh…)

You set it all free (Oh…)

 

 

It was time for Ash to bring her solo-riffing skills to the test as she let out an amazing solo. Her right paw strum repeatedly with ratcheting pace that showcase her solo-riffing that could rival Trey’s legendary solo-riffing. The cheetah, watching along with Johnny backstage, nodded and muttered, “All hail Queen Ash.”

 

Ash proceed with the final part of her song.

 

This is my kiss goodbye

You can stand alone and watch me fly

'Cause nothing's keeping me down

I'm gonna let it all out

Come on and say right now, right now, right now

 

This is my big "hello"

'Cause I'm here and never letting go

I can finally see,

It's not just a dream

When you set it all free, all free, all free

 

You set it all free (Oh…)

You set it all free (Oh…)

You set it all free (Oh…)

You set it all free (Oh…)

 

You set it all free

 

All Ash heard after that were the screaming fans. She put every rock band in attendance to shame as Ash give out a sheepish smile.

 

Johnny joined the rest of the band as Bodi took over from there.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming to the park! And please welcome our two temporary inductees, Johnny and Ash!”

 

Johnny and Ash felt welcomed to the band. Already on their first day, Johnny and Ash were loving their vacation in Mengcheng.

 

“Well, then, let us tell you what we’re going to do after this. We’re currently in the second week of April. The next May, we’ll have our first international concert at where Johnny and Ash came from. We’ll be performing in the Moon Theatre at St Jupiter!”

 

The crowd cheered once more. Seriously, how deep are their lungs? They can shout for much longer than a regular mammal could.

 

“Anyway,” Bodi continued. “We have one more song for you. DO you guys want to hear it?”

 

As predicted, the crowd cheered once more. Bodi, Johnny, Ash and everyone else got ready to perform the final number together.

 

(Song: “We Are” by One Ok Rock)

 

With Mengcheng at a standstill, Rock Dog, together with Johnny and Ash, played one of Rock Dog’s most iconic songs, not as a band, but as a team.

 

They think that we're no one

We're nothing, not sorry

They push us

It’s too late, it’s too late

Not going back

 

They think we are made up

Of all of our failures

They think we are foolish

And that’s how the story goes

 

They stand for nothing

They’re lifeless and cold

Anything they say

Will never break our hearts of gold

 

When you’re standing on the edge

So young and hopeless

Got demons in your head

We are, we are

No ground beneath your feet

Not here to hold you

Cause we are, we are

The colours in the dark

 

Bodi rocked out with Ash, Angus and Darma support the duo, Grem provided the timing on the drums and Johnny round everything off on the keyboard, it created a harmonious version of the song. Bodi got excited and start building up his ‘Fire’ once more.

 

Now covered in madness

But they just can’t hurt us

They tell us we're nothing

Keep walking and let it go

 

They are the weakest

And don’t even know

Anything they say

Will never break our hearts of gold

 

When you’re standing on the edge

So young and hopeless

Got demons in your head

We are, we are

No ground beneath your feet

Not here to hold you

Cause we are, we are

The colours in the dark

 

“Mengcheng, are we ready to sing along together?” Bodi hyped the crowd once more as the band sang the bridge together with the ever-growing crowd of Rock-and-roll park.

 

Never tell yourself

You should be someone else

Stand up tall and say

I’m not afraid, I’m not afraid

So never tell yourself

You should be someone else

Stand up tall and say

I’m not afraid, I’m not afraid

 

Bodi unleashed his signature ‘Fire’ once more and the rest of the band followed his lead. The mastiff has grown from a shy and reserved dog to becoming the future face of Asian rock music. Everyone who attended Rock Dog’s performance knew this was a fact. Forget about Freddie Mercury, Bodi Lang was the real deal.

 

When you’re standing on the edge

So young and hopeless

Got demons in your head

We are, we are

No ground beneath your feet

Not here to hold you

Cause we are, we are

The colours in the dark

 

The crowd gave a standing ovation (even though everyone was standing) as Rock Dog concluded their impromptu concert. It was already close to midnight, but the crowd felt they needed more. It was time to finish it off, however. The crowd had their morning stuff to acomplish tomorrow.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are Rock Dog! And thank you for coming down to Rock-and-roll park! Good night!”

 

It might be the end of the free Rock Dog concert, but one thing was for sure: the whole band had gotten stronger with the inclusion of one Johnny Boyd and one Ash Strider.

 

As the band made their bows, the crowd only gets louder and louder. Rock Dog and the rest of Rock-and-roll Park will not go quietly into the night. Because for the band, they had only just begun.

Chapter Text

 Johnny checked his social media feed on his phone the next morning, the first thing he had to do upon waking up. He and Ash were sleeping in one of the guest rooms the mansion has to offer and similar to the rest of the band members… They found it too large for their liking, but considering the sheer opulence of the mansion, what was there to complain?

 

They slept in separate queen-sized beds (Angus insisted on them not sleeping together just before they head to bed last night) and Johnny was the first to open his eyes, as per usual. Checking through the social feed, he found that Rock Dog’s impromptu performance at Rock-and-roll Park the day earlier had turned heads across not just Mengcheng, but across Mengguo and across the rest of Southeast Asia. Hong Kong and even China (when the app Johnny was using got banned in China) also joined in on the action.

 

More importantly, a lot of the mammals who came to the performance had posted Johnny and Ash’s individual performances on the various social media websites, increasing the number of views on their “Say Something” music video to close to a million.

 

It’s just the beginning, Johnny motivated himself not to be complacent. Just the beginning. The sun has yet to risen and he needed to get some early coffee before starting another day, this time in a different world.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

After breakfast together with the rest of the band, Johnny, Ash and the entire Rock Dog band (except for Trey, who returned to his room to recuperate) head down to the basement studio where the band rehearsed their performances and record their songs. Johnny’s jaw dropped upon entering the studio.

 

“What. The. Hell?” Johnny felt jealous upon seeing Rock Dog’s studio.

 

The ‘studio’ in Johnny’s home/garage, comprising of his keyboard, a partition that separate his studio from his residential space, a professional computer and sound system and a drum kit, was no match for the technologically advanced studio (including Angus’s endless collection of his guitars towards the back of the studio).

 

“If you’re impressed, Johnny,” Bodi responded, “Wait till you see what we have!”

 

As Bodi assured, Johnny almost tripped on the studio’s elevated stage area, along with portable LED screens at the back of the stage where the band can test out various backdrops for their live performances. Rock Dog’s studio has the complete package.

 

Bodi got everyone to gather around on the stage. The brief 5-minute meeting included Johnny and Ash formally introducing themselves to the band before Bodi laid out the plan for today.

 

“We’re gonna rehearse the concert from the top. Overall, we’re planning to perform 9 songs for the St Jupiter concert and we finished six. Ash, I heard you have written some songs, right?”

 

Ash showed Bodi her song-writing book. “All inside!”

 

“Great! We’ll rehearse the six songs for today. We finished recording those a few weeks ago, so we can go straight performing those out. You ready, everyone?”

 

Everyone gave a thumbs-up to the mastiff.

 

“Alright, then let’s get this going!”

 

The band members diverged to perform their part of the performance. Johnny will be doing his piece alone while Ash joined Bodi and Angus, with Darma and Grem forming the final group.

 

There was no going back. This was a real test now.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

After an entire day rehearsing, not to mention lunch and dinner, everyone made their exit from the studio for the day.

 

A relieved Johnny and Ash returned straight to their room, tired after 8 hours of rehearsals, but that was how tough being a rock star is. Ash volunteered to take a shower first and took five minutes. Johnny was next and he took ten due to his size.

 

Back to more casual nightwear, Johnny and Ash reunite at the large study table. “Ready to continue?”

 

Ash took out her book and a pen. “Ready where you are!”

 

Johnny and Ash continued to improve on the songs they wrote after receiving constructive advice from Bodi and Angus. It was as if the professionals were providing them free sound advice, something that was absent from their time at St Jupiter.

 

Ten minutes in, they recite the modified lyrics to ensure the smooth flow of the lyrics. As they recite, someone knocked on their door.

 

“Who’s there?” Johnny shouted from the table.

 

“It’s Bodi and Darma. Mind if we come in?”

 

Ash got out and opened the door for the mastiff and the red fox to enter. Darma focused on Johnny and that song-book.

 

“Is that Ash’s iconic song-book?” Darma asked the porcupine.

 

“Yup, it’s MY book!” Ash replied with confidence.

 

After getting permission from her, Darma took a moment to read out some lyrics. “You wrote those yourself?”

 

“Only some. There are some songs written by me and Johnny.”

 

The red fox nodded. “I see. You enjoy writing songs?”

 

“Since I was young, yes. Back when I grew up in Seattle.”

 

Ash explained how she got into song-writing while living in a small apartment in Seattle, Washington. Her parents just started on a music café where mammals mingled with coffee and music tracks curated by her parents. It was the music that inspired her to write her own lyrics from elementary school and had written songs on a regular basis.

 

Johnny made a compliment. “Wow, Ash. I never realise you wrote songs for quite some time. No wonder your songs are pretty polished.”

 

Bodi also noticed the changes made to the songs he critiqued from the rehearsals. “Have you decided on the three song for the concert?”

 

Ash shrugged. “I’m still not so sure what to choose. All are great…”

 

Bodi gave Ash some sound advice. “Here’s what I think you should do. Compile all the songs and compared them side by side. Envision the rhythm and flow each song possess and decide on what flowed with the other songs better. There’s another way of thinking this.”

 

“And what’s that?” Johnny asked.

 

Bodi took out his phone and played a certain song. For some strange reason, he started to sing and groove to the beat of the song.

 

(Song: “That’s How You Write a Song” by Alexander Rybak)

 

If you got a minute

Get down your idea

It might do wonders

Maybe disappear

Who knows? Just get it down

And nothing can go wrong

Go find your rhythm

That’s how you write a song

 

Enjoy the small things

With time they will get big

Gotta find your mission

A mission to pursue

You know you got a talent

Whatever it may be

So work your magic

And sing along with me

 

Step one: believe in it

And sing it all day long

Step two: just roll with it

That’s how you write a song

 

Bodi gestured Johnny and Ash to dance along as Darma sat down and watched her boyfriend swaying to the beat. Johnny and Ash mustered their courage and joined in as Bodi sang the rest of the song.

 

Sing shoobie doobie dat dat (shoobie doobie dat dat)

Shaba daba hey (shaba daba hey)

Say all day long (all day long)

And that’s how you write a song

 

I say skoobiedoobiedobuppa (skoobiedoobiedobuppa)

Boogie boogie woogie (boogie boogie woogie)

Say all day long (all day long)

See that’s how you write a song

 

Step one: believe in it

And sing it all day long

Step two: just roll with it

That’s how you write a song

 

Step one: believe in it

And sing it all day long

Step two: just roll with it

That’s how you write a song

Suddenly, Bodi played an air violin as the violin notes played. Darma chuckled but held her laugh at how ridiculous he was portraying the lyrics of the song. She found the song to be hilarious.

 

Johnny and Ash did not bother Darma’s chuckle. They joined Bodi in doing the same actions.

 

Step one: believe in it

And sing it all day long

Step two: just roll with it

That's how you write a song

 

Step one: believe in it

And sing it all day long

Step two: just roll with it

That's how you write a song

 

Step one: believe in it

And sing it all day long

Step two: just roll with it

And that's how you write a song

See that's how you write a song

And that's how you write a song

 

At long last, according to Darma, Bodi ended the song, standing with both Johnny and Ash inside the guest bedroom. It seems the trio enjoyed dancing around like monkeys.

 

“You do know it's Bodi's, right?” Darma told Johnny and Ash.

 

“WHAT???” Johnny and Ash gasped at the revelation. Bodi, of all mammals, had written that song?

 

Bodi's ears drooped in embarrassment as the mastiff sweated a bit. “Alright, I wrote it.”

 

Johnny gave Bodi his thumbs-up of approval over Bodi’s pop song. “Nah, don’t be embarrassed, Bodi. That’s a great song!”

 

“But it's a terrible song!” Bodi argued back.

 

“See,” Darma added the fuel to Bodi's flame. “He admitted it!”

 

“Let’s not argue further,” Ash put a stop to the bombshell. She felt it was time Bodi explained why he wrote a song.

 

“Alright, you want to know why I wrote it? I wanted to try something different from my typical music style, so I went pop and write a song about song-writing. I called it highly inspirational!”

 

Johnny agreed. “Indeed, Bodi. Changing up your style for once is not offensive, as long as you capture the spirit of what you wanted to sing.”

 

“Thank you, Johnny. Also, this was just a recording. I haven't published it yet.”

 

“Maybe you can get advice from Angus and even Ian. They're the professionals. They'll give you sensible advice.”

 

The mastiff patted the gorilla on the shoulder. He found it difficult considering Johnny's large body. “It’s getting late, you two. Get some rest. Darma, let's go to bed!”

 

“Right with you, Bodi,” concurred Darma as she and Bodi exited from the guest bedroom. “Good night!”

 

Once again, Johnny and Ash were left alone.

 

“You know what, Johnny? You're right about something, about changing your style for once,” was Ash's first words after Bodi and Darma left. Ash retrieved her song-writing book and asked Johnny, “Shall we continue?”

 

The gorilla could only give a tired but reassuring smile. “I thought exactly that, Ash!”

 

The pair returned to modify their songs for a short while before calling it a day, ending their first actual day living with Rock Dog. 

Chapter Text

A barrage of electric guitar riffs could be overheard even from outside Rock Dog’s mansion as Ash practised her solo-riffing inside Trey’s messed up room. She questioned whether performing at a room surrounded by three beer cans was sensible, but the cheetah wanted a private session on her riffing. They were waiting for the band to finish rehearsing for a lunch break.

 

The cheetah listened to her solo-riffing with detail to attention. He just got his sling removed at a hospital the day before, the doctors noting his fractured arm had healed at a faster rate than they anticipated. They removed the sling for him,  the cast that held his arm in shape remains.

 

“Stop,” the Australian cheetah commanded the porcupine. “You can get some rest now.”

 

Ash panted after two straight minutes of riffing. It was all she needed. She spotted Trey giving out a small smile.

 

“You know what I liked about you?” Trey explained his thoughts, “In all my years performing on the streets of both Melbourne and Mengcheng, I never thought anyone would get close to my level.”

 

The cheetah stood up and patted Ash on her shoulder. “There are two mammals that could beat me in a riff-off. The first was Bodi, which was why I was here. He recommended me to be part of the band.”

 

“And the second was me?” Ash tried to figure out what Trey would say.

 

“Even better, Ash. You’re much better than Bodi.”

 

Ash did not react to Trey’s comment, perhaps knowing this herself.

 

“Is your arm’s ok?”

 

“Yeah,” Trey lamented, looking out of the window and away from Ash. “It should be healed up for one more month.”

 

Trey stood up and grabbed Ash’s arm. “Come, Ash. Let’s see how the rest were doing.”

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

At the same time, Johnny was adjusting the keyboard provided by the band, ensuring that the sounds made from the keys were in tune with the song. He practiced his part of the song before making further adjustments. Meanwhile, Angus approached the gorilla and told him, “No pressure, Johnny. It’s just a regular recording, alright?”

 

Johnny nodded. After all, it was going to another song recording, not different from the ones he did in his garage. Bodi, Angus, Darma and Trey were also about to finishing adjusting for the song. This time, Bodi and Johnny will be leading the song together.

 

Just then, Ash and Trey entered the studio and spot the rest of the band just about to get ready on the elevated stage. Ash gave Johnny a thumbs-up from the distance as Ian got everyone to quiet down.

 

“Alright, everyone,” were the first words from the agent of Jungle Law Studios. “Is everyone ready?”

 

Bodi and Johnny gave the agent two thumbs-up.

 

“Ok, standby. And… action!”

 

(Song: “Tomorrow’s Here Today” by 53A)

 

Angus, Darma and Grem provided the backing vocals as Bodi started the song out with the first verse.

 

Raise your head to the skies, this is how we all begin

See the fire in your eyes, feel the yearning deep within

Take a leap and you will fly with all the wishes that you own

Make your dreams light up the sky, home is where you're not alone

 

Johnny joined in the singing, making sure not to miss out on any note.

 

And our hearts will beat together, echoing what dreams may come

Walking tall in any weather, time has come bang the drum

'Cause tomorrow's here today

 

Dream away, take the world by the hand

Cause tomorrow's here today

Dream away, come let's go right away

Cause tomorrow's here today

 

Ash dig that song. It was a happy-go-lucky song missing from him. He needed a change from his usual soul ballad fare. The gorilla felt excited over the recording, as he was in tune with the rest of the band.

 

Johnny started the second verse of the song.

 

Step into a brand-new day, tomorrow's calling out your name

When you know just who you are, you can't stop you are on fire

Looking up beyond the stars, fly the flag and raise it higher

 

The rest of the band joined in.

 

And our hearts will beat together, echoing what dreams may come

Walking tall in any weather, time has come bang the drum

'Cause tomorrow's here today

 

Dream away, take the world by the hand

Cause tomorrow's here today

Dream away, come let's go right away

Cause tomorrow's here today

 

The band finished off with the final parts of the song.

 

When we run along and we're standing tall

When we sing our song, no way that we can fall

Be what we want to be, when we make our way

Till it's plain to see, tomorrow's here today

 

Yeah! Take the world by the hand

'Cause tomorrow's here today

Yeah! Come let's go right away

'Cause tomorrow's here today

 

Bodi, Johnny and the rest of Rock Dog finished up the rest of the song, the distant rhythm of the guitars, drums and keyboard harmonising into one smooth flow. It was only a recording, but the rest of the band were having a lot of fun recording.

 

“And… cut!” Ian shouted from the studio booth. “Great job, everyone!”

 

Bodi removed his guitar and gave Grem a brofist, before giving the rest to Angus and his girlfriend.

 

“You killed it, Johnny!” Bodi made his compliments. “That keyboard movement is awesome!”

 

“Nah, Bodi,” Johnny find it hard to accept the compliment without giving his own. “That song was a killer!”

 

“To be honest, Johnny, you’re right about changing my style for once. This was a much-needed fresh air from my usual rock fare!”

 

Johnny bent down and patted the mastiff on the shoulder. “Your very welcome, Bodi. I wouldn’t have given you that advice if not for Swifty.”

 

Bodi’s eyes widened over that name. “Wait, you got inspired by Swifty?”

 

“Yup, I heard you two had a long talk at the hot spring. He tweeted it on his Twitter last month, everyone knows.”

 

The gorilla also added this. “Of course, I subscribed to his channel. To be fair, he’s a funny fox, I give him that. He and his crew had produced some of my favourite YouTube sketches!”

 

Angus interrupted the conversation and made the announcement. “Everyone, let’s head upstairs for lunch! By the way, Darma ordered seafood jajangmyeon for everyone!”

 

Everyone cheered. The band loved the Korean noodle treat.

 

“Shall we?” Bodi invited Johnny to have lunch with everyone.

 

“You know what? Let’s.”

 

Everyone left the studio to enjoy their bowls of jajangmeyon.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Evening comes and Johnny came out of the shower. He had decided on a black denim jacket, grey round-neck shirt and matching black jeans, achieving a near stealth-black look. He still needed Ash for a comment.

 

“Not bad, Johnny,” Ash made her comment. She wore a grey V-neck shirt and three-quarter jeans, blue. As she missed wearing sneakers, she wore grey toeless straps. They were ready to head out.

 

They grabbed their valuables and head downstairs. The rest of the band were already at the front porch of the mansion, waiting for Johnny and Ash to come down with their outdoor clothes.

 

“Let’s go!” Bodi got everyone to head to their respective vehicles. Angus, Grem and Trey will be inside Riff and Skozz’s SUV while Johnny and Ash join Bodi and Darma in Bodi’s car.

 

“You can drive?” Johnny asked Bodi before he got inside.

 

“Yes, I can drive! I just got my driving licence a few months ago.”

 

“Maybe it’s time I drive for you, Bodi. Just to repay for the song we recorded this morning. Anyway, I got an international driver’s licence, so driving should be natural for me.”

 

Bodi agreed. He deserved a break from driving.

 

“Right, Johnny,” Bodi told Johnny as he joined Darma at the back of the sedan. “Let’s drive!”

 

Johnny got to the driver’s seat. Unlike in America, the driver’s seat is at the right side and he had to drive on the left side. However, Johnny knew this beforehand and before long, the two vehicles left the mansion for the destination.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Johnny and Ash were enjoying themselves at the night market. They had their own private time exploring the Asian-style night market, soaking in the atmosphere as they searched through countless food and games stores. They had just got off the Ferris wheel and found rows of street food, serving easy-to-eat fare from across the world.

 

“Gosh, that smells like Seattle,” Ash commented, looking at the chicken yakitori store. “It feels like home.”

 

Johnny replied, getting distracted by the fragrance of the various food items around them. “I mean, compare to St Jupiter, this city never sleeps! Wait, is that takoyaki? I love those things!”

 

Ten minutes, they carefully chow down on the hot octopus takoyaki with glee. It was pipping hot, but very satisfying for a cool spring night. Walking through the crowded night market, they found the game stalls… and the rest of the band.

 

Bodi was enjoying grilled squid on a stick, Angus and Darma were drinking bubble tea and Trey had Malaysia-style curry puffs. However…

 

“Grem…”  Johnny spotted Grem with a lot of food.

 

“What? I was hungry!” Grem retorted. He was munching on fish balls on a stick… if you ignore him carrying egg tarts, muah chee (glutinous rice balls tossed in either peanuts or black sesame), tea-braised eggs, Taiwanese chicken sausage and siew mai on a stick. Trey facepalmed using his broken right arm; at least he did not feel any pain doing so.

 

“Right, anyone wants to play games?” Ash broke the awkwardness.

 

Bodi found something familiar. “I think we got what we needed…”

 

They head to the dunk tank and found you know who…

 

“Cody!” Bodi exclaimed. The young cat was on the tank once again.

 

Unfortunately, there was a long line for the mammals to try dunking Cody into the tank. “Let’s see how long this line goes,” Johnny suggested and the whole band queued from the back.

 

*Twenty minutes later*

 

The band finally got to the front of the stand (some mammals recognised the band as they queued for their turn) and spot Cecelia taking charge of the stand. “Hey, Rock Dog!” Cecelia greeted the band. “Is that Johnny and Ash with you?”

 

Johnny and Ash signalled their presence to Cecelia.

 

“Oh, great! Three attempts, as per usual?”

 

Bodi foot down a two-dollar bill. “Yes, please!”

 

A crowd started to form around the band and the dunk tank stand as the band got to dunk Cody (blue shirt, blue shorts and white socks) into the cold-water tank.

 

“I’ll go first,” Trey raised his left arm. That shocked the band.

 

“You’re sure you want to do this, dude?” Grem asked the cheetah.

 

“If I can do this with my left arm, I can do anything!” As Trey grabbed one of the baseballs, Grem helped Trey along. “Want to do this together?”

 

“You bet! Batter up!” The excited cheetah lifted the ball together with Grem. With him providing the power and Grem the aim, they threw the ball and hit the target!

 

“Splash!” Grem and Trey dunked the poor cat into the water as the crowd cheered. Trye felt glad he and Grem did that together. Trey turned to the rest of the band and asked who would like to go next, as Cecelia reset the hot seat to its position.

 

Bodi grabbed the ball and gestured Johnny and Ash to come forward. Cody struggled to get back onto the seat, so Cecelia helped to lift him back up.

 

“You have dunk tanks in America, right?”

 

“We rarely have carnivals in St Jupiter,” Johnny explained. “But there’s always one dunk tank stand.”

 

As a seasoned regular at Cody’s Dunk Tank Stand, Bodi demonstrated on throwing the ball. “You ready, Cody?”

 

“Ready where you are!” Cody shouted back from the dunk tank.

 

Johnny and Ash watched on as the mastiff swiftly throw the ball and as expected…

 

“Ding!” Cody fell into the water again!

 

“See?” Bodi proved to them as he joined the rest of the band. “Just one more thing, if you can hit the target, we get a big prize!”

 

Before Johnny grabbed the ball, Ash took it away. “Let me try, Johnny! You had done much for today.”

 

Johnny shrugged, but let his girlfriend try it out, anyway. Cody was back on his seat, but not for long. Johnny spotted Ash’s eyes burning with fiery passion as she aimed for the red-and-white target.

 

“This is for dumping me, Lance!!!” Ash shouted as she let loose on the baseball and let it fly towards the target…

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Fifteen minutes later…

 

Ash hugged her newly acquired teddy bear as the group watched some live performance. Musica, the Italian band that made Bodi rethink his music, were performing on stage with their classic Italian rock.

 

“You still haven’t settled about Lance, right?” Johnny turned to Ash, still hugging the teddy bear.

 

“After throwing that ball to the target, I feel I’m done with him for good.”

 

“I’m very proud of you, Ash.”

 

Just then, Musica then performed a brand-new Italian rock song and that caused a stir among the crowd. While they were well known for being a slow Italian rock band, their next one was anything but.

 

They hyped up the night market crowd as they performed their brand new song.

 

(Song: “Pachidermi e Pappagalli” (Pachyderms and Parrots) by Francesco Gabbani)

 

You already know that the whole world

Is framed in a display

Human DNA

Comes from far away

 

You catch your breath three times, and that causes two glaciers to melt

We're spied on the phone

It' the CIA

Silence is golden

 

You already know that Ghandi belonged to the Freemasonry

The Beatles never really existed

Adolph survived

The Titanic never sank

 

Natural catastrophes?

It's the Templars' fault

Chemtrails and Martians

Reptilians!

 

O my darling

I'm all alone in the world while you're speaking to me

And I'm trying to focus

O my darling

Luckily we got firm steady reference points

Pachyderms and parrots

 

O ma- oh my darling

Pachyderms and parrots

O ma- oh my darling

 

The crowd cheered Musica over the change in their typical music choice as everyone in the group stood up and enjoyed the performance as one.

 

You already know that the Earth is flat and is being ruled

By gay lobbies

By Jew bankers

One and only éminence grise

 

Marylin and Elvis live in Hawaii

They've set up a cafe

Called 'Star'

They're doing a roaring trade

 

Humans have already been cloned,

Torn apart, revived

You could get by just on hay

Milk is worse than poison itself

 

There's no evidence at all

Of Moon landing

Egyptian pyramids

Are a work of the Martians!

 

O my darling

I'm all alone in the world while you're speaking to me

And I'm trying to focus

O my darling

Luckily we got firm steady reference points

Pachyderms and parrots

 

O ma- oh my darling

Pachyderms and parrots

O ma- oh my darling

 

And one day we're gonna try to find

A name for this new religion of ours

For this huge chanting with the lights out

Where everything is eternal and lasts for a little longer than never

 

The members of Musica blared out the following piece as if it came out of a news outlet:

 

Unbelievable statement:

The Earth is flat and is being ruled by gay lobbies at one with the Martians...

... seems likely to be alive...

Marylin and Elvis live in Hawaii...

Shocking statement: humans have officially been cloned

 

The band returned to singing the final chorus together as the hyped crowd joined in with the singing.

 

O my darling

I'm all alone in the world while you're speaking to me

And I'm trying to focus

O my darling

Luckily we got firm steady reference points

Pachyderms and parrots

 

O ma- oh my darling

Pachyderms and parrots

O ma- oh my darling

 

Johnny and Ash cheered for Musica as their song ends, bringing an energetic close to another day in Mengcheng.

 

The standing ovation alone was not enough to capture the spirit of Mengcheng, as Johnny and Ash observed; it’s the memories they shared with Rock Dog that matters.

 

Johnny and Ash took that moment to kiss each other. After spending a few days adapting to the bustling city life of Mengcheng, they deserved to kiss each other for once. 

Chapter Text

5 Years Ago, in 2014

Swifty let Jade rest on his shoulder as the film was about to close its final act. The maid and the family arrived at the airport as the maid was able to fly back to The Philippines. The family could no longer afford to hire her.

 

“This is so sad,” Swifty remarked. “She and the boy had to go their separate ways.”

 

Jade could only watch as the maid entered the airport. It was time to go. Jade shed a single tear as the movie reached close to its end.

 

Ten minutes later, the credits rolled and everyone except for the pair left the theatre. It was only after ushers told them the movie was over that they left.

 

As they head back to their university dorm for the night, Swifty found Jade holding on to his paw as they navigate their way.

 

“Doesn’t that feel too cliché already, Jade?” Swifty asked.

 

“Honestly, every love is a cliché,” Jade provided the perfect response to Swifty’s query. It was the re-screening of Ilo Ilo, one of Jade’s most favourite movies of all time and Swifty only agreed to watch with her because football (or ‘soccer’) practice was cancelled for the day.

 

They crossed the road. Only about six minutes before they arrived at the dormitories and Swifty’s heart rate reduced to a normal level. He felt nervous over going out with the red fox at first, but he felt comfortable after the screening.

 

“I’m scared of one thing, Jade,” Swifty tried to confess something.

 

“What would that be?” Jade turned to Swifty.

 

The arctic fox gulped but was able to mask his nervousness. “Losing you in that flood. I still have nightmares over it.”

 

Jade clasped his paw further. “To be honest, I’m glad we’re able to rescue you and your mum. I don’t want to lose an innocent arctic fox to the flood.”

 

Swifty started to smile. Maybe she really thought of him, for once.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Present Day, Spring 2019

As PB, Lemmy and Leopold were setting the scene for a surprise, Swifty took a seat at where he and Jade were seated on the day of that screening. He had paid out a sum to rent out the theatre for the day because it was the anniversary of that screening.

 

It has been a good five years, but finally, he had the courage to propose to her to become his engaged. Five damn good years.

 

“You need anything, Swifty?” PB asked to Swifty, still seated at that exact place. His foster brother was equally concerned over ignoring his advice from a few weeks back.

 

“Nah, I’m good,” Swifty told his brother as he stood up. “Let’s finish this up.”

 

Swifty and PB joined the others in setting up his engagement proposal.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

A Long Time Ago, Beidongshan, Mengguo

Swifty’s mum drove around the streets of the quaint port city of Beidongshan. Spring had arrived and with that, fresh catch of the day as some types of seafood was in season.

 

Swifty was twelve at that time and was reading his favourite novel when the car stopped at a traffic light. He found the seafood and vegetables surrounding the back of the car to be slightly overbearing.

 

His cheerful mum looked at the time. It was nearing noon and she planned to cook Swifty’s favourite spicy seafood stew.

 

“Mum,” A young Swifty asked. “I was wondering, why that amount of seafood? I thought you’re cooking for just the two of us?”

 

“Well, Swifty, my dear,” his Mum explained. She called him by his nickname and not his actual name (‘James’) because she found that nickname to be catchier. “I’m inviting PB, Lemmy, Duke and Dakota over. I’m sure you enjoyed being in their company, right?”

 

Swifty got excited over meeting with his friends. “I’m so excited, Mum! But, will Duke and Dakota come? I mean, they’re pretty rich and their Dad might not allow them to come to my place…”

 

“Don’t worry, I’ve convinced Aaron to let them come.” Aaron was Duke and Dakota’s Dad. He was a high-ranking politician in Beidongshan. “But we are comfortable with each other, right? We’re not that poor.”

 

Swifty found something. It has been a few minutes, but the traffic light has not changed colour. By then, a train had formed behind the car. Swifty’s Mum received a call and fished out an old-fashioned mobile phone, a first-generation model.

 

“Hello?” She answered.

 

“Penny? It’s Aaron Wilson. Listen to me ‘cos there’s no time to explain but, there’s going to be a tsunami!”

 

“What? A tsunami? Like, now?”

 

“Yes, now! Where are you?”

 

Swifty’s Mum told Aaron where they were.

 

“Right, listen to me, the next few minutes will be crucial. I need you to warn the drivers behind you that a tsunami is coming, and they need to climb up to the roof of their cars. Hurry!”


She hangs up the phone and told Swifty to grab whatever he can and abandon the groceries inside the car. She had an emergency backpack inside the boot.

 

“Hurry!” She shouted to Swifty as she ran behind to warn the others.

 

Swifty immediately grabbed his valuables and backpack, then stretched his paw at the driver’s seat for a switch to open the boot. It opened and Swifty ran outside to grab a backpack labelled “Penny’s Emergency Backpack” and carried it on the roof of their car.

 

By that time, she returned to the car as everyone scrambled to find high ground over her warning. “Where’s the backpack?”

 

Swifty pointed at the roof of the car. “You got everything with you?”

 

The young arctic fox nodded as they witnessed a large current water coming their way. She carried Swifty by her back and climbed up to the roof, in time to witness a violent wave of water that came crashing towards them. The mother and son will have to abandon their car for good, but when life and death are on the life, what choice do they have?

 

“Hold on!” She shouted back as they held as long as they, along with the citizens of Beidongshan, let the cold water hit them hard.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

After a day preparing for the surprise the next day, Swifty found himself at the pool deck, as per usual, enjoying glancing at the flowing water that shadowed the mansion passed to him. It took him five years but now, he got a window of opportunity to propose to her.

 

The arctic fox sighed, downing a glass of high-quality sparkling water. There were specks of brown fur across his body as his fur changes colour depending on the season, but he did not care one bit. All he cared was making sure tomorrow went to plan.

 

For him, nothing must be out of place, but maybe it was due to his aggressive attitude and passion for filmmaking that moulded him to who he has become. He had a rough childhood, he admitted, but at least he had friends along the way, who followed him on the same journey with him, from Beidongshan to Mengcheng.

 

Swifty breathe in a large portion of air before exhaling. Tomorrow, he assured himself he will do it. He played a song from his mobile phone.

 

(Song: “Hold You” by Liamoo and Hanna Ferm)

 

Wherever you go, I will follow

Wherever you go, I will follow

 

Somewhere far behind the scenes

Two thousand and seventeen

The start of a story

Rumors about you and me

Talking 'bout our chemistry

But no need to hurry

 

'Cause I will light up your heaven tonight

Light up your whole world

Just for you

Just for you

 

Wherever you go, I will follow

Whenever you’re low, just let me hold you

Let me hold you

Don’t be afraid, I will show you

I’ll make it okay, just let me hold you

Let me hold you

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

When Swifty opened his eyes again after the tsunami hits, he and his Mum found themselves stranded, on the roof of their car.

 

They found themselves in the middle of the current, sweeping whatever debris it could collect. The torrential winds and water drenched them from head to toe, but that did not matter; what mattered was that they survived.

 

Baby, I want you just that way

I'm not gonna leave, I'm here to stay

'Cause I ain't nobody if I ain't got you (Ooh)

Even if time will fly away

We will be hotter than a flame

'Cause I ain't nobody if I ain't got you

No, if I ain't got you

 

Around them, relief workers on boats start to rescue those stranded in the middle of nowhere. How long has it been? Five? Ten? Twenty? It does not matter at all, as long there are those that were here for help.

 

Swifty and his Mum has to wait an additional ten minutes before another boat comes along. There came two red foxes, a male fox and what looked like his daughter. They were the only ones on that boat as they made their approach near what used to be the car belonging to Swifty’s Mum.

 

Wherever you go, I will follow

Whenever you're low, just let me hold you

Let me hold you

Don't be afraid, I will show you

I'll make it okay, just let me hold you

Let me hold you

 

Baby, don't let me down

Don't let me, don't let me, don't let me down

Without you, I'm frozen

Without you, I'm frozen

Hey

 

The red fox helped to grab both of them onto the boat. Swifty forgot the conversation between the adult red fox and his Mum, but he remembered the young female red fox, who resembled her father that rescued both.

 

“Hi there, my name is Jade. What’s your name?”

 

Swifty struggled to answer. It was his first time interacting with another female fox of a different species. He took a deep breath before introducing himself.

 

“James, but people call me Swifty. Nice to meet you too.”

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Swifty held his breath at the back of the theatre. They planned for the act to be a coordinated sequence, hence why he was at the backstage, out of sight from the moviegoers, who were actually his loyal subscribers and fans. There were two seats empty for Jade and Bertha. PB, Lemmy and Leopold were in their respective positions inside the theatre.

 

She could be arriving at the theatre at any time, Swifty believed. Any time. The arctic fox could only stay put and not expose himself.

 

He received a message from PB that Jade and Bertha had arrived just outside of the theatre and are now getting inside.

 

The red fox and the female otter entered the hall and are now seated at their respective seats, as stipulated on the schedule. There was no going back for Swifty.

 

One attempt could make a break the act. All he had to do was wait for his cue.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

A ten-minute montage of Jade working with the SwiftyTV crew played out, complete with commentary from a well-known newsreader (who had ties with Swifty before), mentioning about the reasons everyone enjoyed Jade as the scriptwriter and screenwriter for most of the SwiftyTV’s videos. It also shows footage of her providing aid to those in aid and her commitment as a relief worker, both in the past and the present.

 

It was almost time for Swifty to come on stage, but before he does so, a song played out.

 

(Song: “Eloise” by Arvingarna, song translated to English from Swedish)

 

I'm Gathering my thoughts all by myself before I go out

I thought I was smart when I broke up, ah...

I'm longing for you and now I'm standing outside your door

When I ring the bell, will you open?

Or do you want to go away?

So, I'm begging you, please come out

 

Eloise, are we more than just friends?

So show what you feel and then let the feelings decide

Eloise, even the winds can change, for me you are the only one

Our love is worth a higher price, Eloise

 

It helped that Swifty was playing the chords on an acoustic guitar and resembling what the Swedish band Arvingarna plays. Only Jade would have such a music taste, a trait she acquired from her late Swedish mother.

 

It's not easy when you can't realise your faults

I'm like a ball in a pinball machine, ah...

I'm longing for you and now I'm standing outside your door

When I ring the bell, will you open?

Or do you want to go away?

So, I'm begging you, please come out

 

At that moment, Swifty came on stage and continue strumming on his guitar, singing in Swedish to a roaring crowd. He witnessed Jade getting excited over seeing him wearing like the members of Arvingarna. That gave a positive impact to his performance, in spite of him butchering some Swedish words.

 

Whoa... Eloise, are we more than just friends?

So show what you feel and then let the feelings decide

Eloise, even the winds can change, for me you are the only one

Our love is worth a higher price, Eloise

 

I'm waiting, hoping and longing, so tell me...

 

Eloise, even the winds can change, for me you are the only one

Our love is worth a higher price, Eloise

 

Everyone, including Jade, roared over the near-flawless performance from the arctic fox as Swifty took a moment to bow to the audience. Even though it was over-exaggerated, Jade believed Swifty was doing this for real.

 

“Thank you, thank you!” Swifty thanked the audience. “Of course, we all know why we’re here, so here on stage, Jade Xia!”

 

Jade ran onto the stage and hugged the arctic fox. The crowd cheered once more.

 

“Alright, Jade, you can stop hugging now.”

 

Jade stopped grabbing onto him as he continued what he had to say. “I know I have never done this before, even a few years after we went out, so let’s not beat around the bush for one more second..”

 

Swifty went down on one knee and revealed a case. He opened it up to find…

 

“My previous engagement ring!” Jade shrieked. It was the ring Swifty was supposed to give to during the pre-graduation prom. “How did you know where it was?”

 

Swifty explained, “I regretted not giving it to you because you had a very important emergency to attend to. I had to wait five years to grab the opportunity I will never refuse.”

 

It was time as Swifty asked the following question, “Jade Xia, will you marry me?”

 

Jade did not hesitate as she failed to realise her tears streaming with joy. “Of course, Swifty! How could I not refuse?”

 

Wherever you go, I will follow, yeah

Don't be afraid, I will show you

 

 

“She said ‘yes’!” Leopold shouted as he, PB and Lemmy witnessed the proposal backstage. The crowd gave Swifty and Jade a standing ovation as Swifty got up and slot the ring to Jade’s ring finger.

 

“Better late than never,” Swifty muttered and he kissed Jade. Jade embraced the kiss and kissed back to the arctic fox. The crowd gave out congratulatory calls as the final chorus of “Hold You” played over the sound system.

 

 

Wherever you go, I will follow

Whenever you're low, just let me hold you

Let me hold you (Let me, let me hold you)

Don't be afraid, I will show you

I'll make it okay, just let me hold you

Let me hold you

 

Baby, don't let me down

Don't let me, don't let me, don't let me down

Without you, I'm frozen

Without you, I'm frozen

Don't let me down

Don't let me, don't let me, don't let me down

Without you, I'm frozen

Without you, I'm frozen, hey

Chapter Text

Two days before Rock Dog, Johnny and Ash fly to St Jupiter, there was one last thing they had to do.

 

Everyone made their approach towards Uncle Fleetwood’s grave because Bodi’s village invited them to the village at Snow Mountain. It was Qingming (or tomb-sweeping) day, so Bodi must return to the village. And that means everyone has to come along.

 

After everyone in the village finished the processions, everyone head back to the village, except for Bodi who needed some time to ‘talk’ to his dead uncle.

 

“Hey, Uncle Fleetwood,” Bodi muttered. “I know that sounds too cliché, but I just want to say this: I missed you.”

 

He took a step back and kneeled before his uncle’s grave.

 

“Remember when you brought a radio home and we listened to music without Dad knowing? Yeah, thanks for that, I’m already a rock star. But Uncle Fleetwood, why? Why now than later?”

 

Bodi cried for the first time in a long while. He had never felt so much tears leaving his eyes in a very long time. He could not hold on as he could not accept the loss.

 

“Why, Uncle? Why???”

 

The mastiff’s cries grabbed Johnny’s attention as the gorilla ran towards the mastiff. “Bodi!”

 

Bodi stopped crying. Johnny made his way to find Bodi for lunch.

 

“Why are you staying here? Everyone’s worried about you!”

 

“Johnny,” Bodi stopped crying. “Why did you come?”

 

“I’m just getting you to join the rest. They’re having lunch now.”

 

Bodi stood up and explained to him about Uncle Fleetwood and why he cared about the old yak a lot. Johnny listened attentively, knowing he had a similar experience.

 

“You lost someone, right? I’ve been there before.” Johnny paused a moment. “My Mum died when I was young. Cervical cancer.”

 

“I’m so sorry for your lost, too.”

 

Bodi got his paws on Bodi’s shoulders. “You need to move on, Bodi. What happens in the past stays in the past. If you don’t let go, they’ll come back to haunt you.”

 

Bodi wiped his tears off. He felt better.

 

“Right. I’m hungry, Johnny,” was Bodi’s first words after he felt fine.

 

With that, the two returned to the village for lunch, leaving the past behind.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Meanwhile, in St Jupiter, Buster and Eddie saw through the final stages of the stage modification as all they had to do was to test out the stage.

 

Discussing the final arrangements with a tender, they played the backdrops on the LED screen for the Rock Dog concert and made further adjustments when necessary. Due to the design of the theatre and for safety reasons, the tender could not provide any pyrotechnics for the stage but were happy to provide a smoke machine as the only form of pyrotechnics.

 

They called the previous auditionees of the singing competition Buster organised a few years back and some were willing to help them do the stand-in rehearsals for the concert. Everything was going to plan.

 

Evening comes, and Buster had to take a leave. “You can handle the rest, right?”

 

“You got it, Buster! Anything I would do for you,” Eddie responded.

 

“Great, then I should take my leave! Meena’s waiting for me.”

 

Buster exited from the theatre. He recently bought a small but functional car, all of it from his own earnings. Getting in, he typed the coordinates for the high school Meena was in and set off. He had an important event to attend to.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

It would be only a few hours before they set off for St Jupiter, but Johnny and Ash felt so restless they finished packing their stuff before everyone else had woken. They did not bring a lot of stuff inside their luggage, but still.

 

In fact, they decided to clean up their guest bedroom even though Angus had hired maids to do that job and that took about thirty minutes to do so, in spite of the size of their room.

 

“Ready to head home?” The gorilla asked Ash as he got his jacket on.

 

“Ready!” She called back as she zipped up the last remaining luggage.

 

Johnny was checking his social media feed and spot something. “I think I need to text Buster now.”

 

Ash gave Johnny the go-ahead and he texted Buster.

 

Johnny: Buster? You’re in Meena’s concert?

Buster: How did you know?

Johnny: You posted it on Twitter. I recognised Meena’s family inside the image.

Buster: She’s performing a musical, celebrating women’s rights.

Johnny: Is she singing? That’s the most important question.

Buster: She’s acting right now. It seems she got it under control.

Johnny: She let go of her fears?

Buster: Most of them. She still fears mice. Typical elephants.

Johnny: And Mike?

Buster: He’s the only mouse Meena was not afraid of.

Johnny: Thank goodness, cos we’re flying back later.

Buster: I think her song is coming up now. Catch you later!

Johnny: See you, Buster! Catch you in a few hours!

 

“Meena’s in a musical?” Ash asked, having seen the chat.

 

Johnny nodded. “Yup! She got her own song, too!”

 

Both had placed their luggage beside the door. They were raring to fly back.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Buster was with Meena’s ever-supporting family and a few fans who supported her journey after the competition. She came a long way from the introvert everyone knew.

 

She was about to sing, and everyone knew that was the main attraction they were looking forward to. Meena, accompanied by three backing female singers,  unleashed her vocals in full force.

 

(Song: “Speak Up” by Isabella Clarke)

 

Speak up, I will

Speak up, I will

Speak up, I will

(I need you to know)

 

Speak up, I will

Speak up, I will

(Speak up, I will)

(I’m coming back for more)

 

I’ve, always known I’m a girl that can never stay quiet

I, I can be soft as a song, can be strong as a lion

When I hear ’em tell us to take it, we just stand united

‘Cause I can speak up, yeah I can speak up

 

Don’t blame it on my youth, I’m gonna speak the truth

Tell you, tell you, what’s inside me, what defines me

Could lay in bed all day, still stuck in yesterday

No way, no way, come stand beside me

 

Speak up, I’m gonna say it

Now speed up, I’m coming back for more

(I’m coming back for more)

Keep up, keep up, keep up, keep up now

 

Speak up, I’m gonna say it

Don’t need much, I just need you to know

(I need you to know)

Keep up, keep up, keep up, keep up now

 

Everyone in the audience clapped to the rhythm of Meena’s song. They were feeling the energy after all.

 

Stay, true to me, ’cause I know what it’s like when I hide it

Oh wait, I’mma make my mistakes but just let me decide them

Oh yeah, give me your worst and I know I’ll survive it

‘Cause I’mma speak up, yeah I’mma speak up.

 

Don’t blame it on my youth, I’m gonna speak the truth

Tell you, tell you, what’s inside me, what defines me

Could lay in bed all day, still stuck in yesterday

No way, no way, come stand beside me

 

Speak up, I’m gonna say it

Now speed up, I’m coming back for more

(I’m coming back for more)

Keep up, keep up, keep up, keep up now

 

Speak up, I’m gonna say it

Don’t need much, I just need you to know

(I need you to know)

Keep up, keep up, keep up, keep up now

 

Speak up, I will

Speak up, I will

Speak up, I will

Oh…

 

Meena let out a very high note.

 

Speak up, I’m gonna say it

Now speed up, I’m coming back for more

(I’m coming back for more)

Keep up, keep up, keep up, keep up now

 

Speak up, I’m gonna say it

Don’t need much, I just need you to know

(I need you to know)

Keep up, keep up, keep up, keep up now.

 

Speak up, I’m gonna say it

Now speed up, I’m coming back for more

 

Everyone, including Meena’s family, gave a rousing round of applause to the performance as Meena spotted Buster clapping for putting out a great show. The female elephant could only smiled back. She had done her job for the performance. Now, she reset for the next act as the musical made a curtain call for an intermission.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Together with the rest of the band, Johnny and Ash found themselves in a different part of Mengcheng. Mengcheng has two airports: the main airport at the south side and the more private Mengcheng Central Airport. Instead of flying back home the regular way, Angus decided on using his private plane take could handle long-distance flights.

 

As the airport and cabin crew made the final checks on Angus’s personal plane, everyone relaxed at the premium airport lounge. Bodi and Darma used the message chairs, Angus read a book and Grem, as per usual, were eating food from the buffet (much to Trey’s dismay, who decided to tag alone in spite of his broken arm). Johnny and Ash, on the other hand, listened to their tracks together, buying some time before they board Angus’s private plane. The cabin crew had brought their luggage inside the plane in the meantime.

 

Agent Ian also arrived with his luggage and Angus came to meet him up. “I didn’t expect you to come with us,” Angus started.

 

Ian laughed for a moment. “If it’s regarding one of the best bands in the business, of course I need to have a piece of that pie!”

 

As Ian checked in and passed his luggage to the airport staff, Johnny discovered someone familiar. “Is that…”

 

Johnny did not finish his sentence to realise Swifty and his crew were also at the lounge. The arctic fox was staring at him, or should because he was wearing shades.

 

Swifty sat down as he told Jade and rest to spend some time relaxing at the lounge. “It must be fate me, you and Bodi were at the same place, right?”

 

“Would you mind taking these off, Swifty?” Johnny asked, referring to the shades.

 

“Oh, sorry,” the arctic fox realised and took off the shades. “Why were you here?”

 

“We’re flying off to St Jupiter today,” Johnny explained the destination they were heading to. “And please, stop giving me that ‘I know what you’re doing’ face. It’s annoying.”

 

A waiter passed by and asked Swifty his drink order. He requested a mojito, his favourite cocktail. “Sorry about my rudeness, but breaking news: we’re heading there too.”

 

By then, Bodi saw Swifty after he finished using the massage chair. He, too, was shocked to find him and his crew inside the lounge. “Mind if I join in, too?” the mastiff asked.

 

“Why not? The more, the merrier,” Johnny made a sarcastic remark. He got Ash to leave the table so that all three are at one table.

 

Swifty received his drink and took a sip. “First of all, I never expected you two to join forces, but here we are. Small world, it seems.”

 

“I just would like to thank you for checking Johnny’s YouTube channel,” Bodi replied to the arctic fox. “If not for him, I would still be having second thoughts or worry about the concert too much.”

 

“Your very welcome, Bodi. I supposed you didn’t know we’re frenemies, right?”

 

Bodi did not realise that. He never expected two mammals from different sides of the globe to love and hate each other. Swifty got close to Johnny, but the gorilla allowed it. Bodi just heard Swifty muttering on Johnny’s bad breath.

 

“Not again…” Johnny sighed as he popped another breath mint into his mouth. “But yeah, we’re friends on Twitter for a little below a year.”

 

Swifty then added, “You should see us fighting back on Twitter. It’s hilarious!”

 

Bodi checked Swifty’s Twitter account to find countless instance of Johnny talking back to him on his posts. He admitted that was funny too.

 

“Seriosuly, Swifty,” Bodi asked, “Why are you flying to the same destination as us?”

 

Swifty explained his movie “Arctic Dogs” got selected as part of the line-up for the St Jupiter Film Festival, held a week before the concert. The other two had never watched the movie, but have heard of it before.

 

“Everyone’s calling it ‘The Room’ of Mengcheng, but the truth is, I just called it the crew’s passion project.”

 

“Good luck, Swifty. You better need it,” Bodi commented on the news.

 

Just then, an announcement called out for two planes that will be departing soon. One was Rock Dog’s plane to St Jupiter and the other…

 

“That’s my plane!” Swifty cried. “I need to gather the others. See you in St Jupiter!”

 

Swifty ran off and got his crew to board the plane.

 

“Well, Bodi, shall we fly to my home?” Johnny asked Bodi. The mastiff nodded before they got up and joined the others.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

(Song: “I’ll Reach You” by Auryn (From the “Capture the Flag” soundtrack))

 

Somewhere up there you've always guided me

Rising and falling the tide of my heart

 

I feel you shinning down on my dreams

Set on this journey with me

 

The entire Rock Dog band, Johnny and Ash exited from the lounge and followed the directions to their plane, fuelled for the flight to St Jupiter. After enjoying business class, Johnny and Ash would enjoy an even higher class on the private jet.

 

I'll reach you

I'll reach you

Come what may

I'll reach you

 

The band climbed up to their plane, decked out with the finest of details. It was fit for a legend (the plane belonged to Angus, after all) as Johnny and Ash took their seats.

 

A short five minutes later, they felt the plane reversing and taxiing to the nearby runway, ready for take-off.

 

No one will stop me

No one will stop me now

 

No one will stop me

No one will stop me now

 

Ahead of Rock Dog’s private jet, Swifty and his gang were onboard their own private jet as they will be the first to take-off. The arctic fox looked out of the window, saw the other plane behind them and waved back. He was looking forward to seeing them upon touching the ground at St Jupiter Airport.

 

Somewhere in here I've always sensed you

You make things bright in the dark, in the dark

 

I see you shinning down on my dreams

Share all of this glory with me

 

Jade held Swifty’s arm, her right paw with the engagement ring. They were looking forward to planning their wedding, but their movie premiere will go first. They felt the air pressure as the SwiftyTV plane lift off and fly off to the sky.

 

I'll reach you

I'll reach the moon for you

 

I'll reach you

No one will stop me

No one will stop me now

 

No one will stop me now

No one will stop me now

 

(Now, now, now, now)

(Now, now)

No one will stop me now

 

(Now, now, now, now)

(Now, now)

No one will stop me now

 

With Swifty and his gang flying off into the distance, it was time for Rock Dog’s plane to take off. Bodi and the rest of the band sat upright, in anticipation of their take-off.

 

Oh…

Oh...

I'll reach you

(10, 9, 8, 7)

I'll reach you

(6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1)

 No one will stop me

(Lift-off!)

No one will stop me now

 

The plane start moving, then its speed accelerated. Bodi, Angus, Darma, Grem, Trey, Ian, Johnny and Ash held on as the plane made its lift-off. The landscape of central Mengcheng shrink as the plane went higher and higher. Everyone knew where their minds were at.

 

(Now, now, now, now)

(Now, now)

No one will stop me now

 

(Now, now, now, now)

(Now, now)

No one will stop me now

 

(Now, now, now, now)

(Now, now)

No one will stop me now

 

(Now, now, now, now)

(Now, now)

No one will stop me now

 

The clouds surround the plane as the private jet set east towards North America. Rock Dog knew where they will be heading next. It will be a long flight, but knowing how fast time goes, it will only be a matter of time.

 

Next stop, America!

 

(Now, now, now, now)

(Now, now)

I’ll Reach You

 

(To be continued)

Chapter Text

Thirty thousand feet into the air, everyone inside the private jet felt a bit restless, but they knew they had to wait an additional 90 minutes before they arrived at the small St Jupiter Airport, west of the actual town by thirty-minutes away from the actual town. Johnny and Ash could smell it: they would be home by then.

 

Rock Dog’s very own music played in the background and the passengers were in their own routines: Grem and Trey were sleeping on their own seats, Bodi looked out of the window, Darma was still about to finish the sixth Atticus Pund novel while Angus and Ian engaged in their private conversation while communicating with Riff and Skozz, who stayed behind to guard the mansion, over the computer.

 

Johnny and Ash just finished modifying the lyrics to the songs they would perform at the concert, knowing Ian granted them their own performance during the concert.

 

“How is it?” Ash asked Johnny after they gave the final touches.

 

The gorilla recited the modified verse one more time. “Much better, Ash. It feels so complete.”

 

“I’m glad we’re going home. Spring break’s gonna be over this weekend,” Ash felt relieved over the news. She could not wait to finish her finals before the concert. In fact, she performed decently during her freshman year at college and contributed to the college’s music club.

 

The duo anticipated for the pilot to announce everyone to head to their seats for landing in the airport. Johnny finished the last of his banana smoothie and found Angus coming to them. “Listen, you two, when we arrive, as requested, we’ll go our separate ways. You two head back to the garage while we’ll check-in at the hotel. We’ll come over for dinner at your garage, right?”

 

Johnny nodded. “Rosita’s cooking for all of you. She’s bringing her children, too. Some are big fans of the band.”

 

“Great! We’re looking forward to attending the party,” the cat joyfully replied before the captain’s announcement. It was time to descend to St Jupiter. At long last, Johnny and Ash returned home.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

After going through immigration (the immigrations entered the plane and checked everyone in for immigration clearance), they received clearance to leave the plane. They found two vehicles: a larger limousine and a smaller sedan waiting for them. The sedan will bring Johnny and Ash to Johnny’s garage while Rock Dog will ride on the limousine to their pre-booked hotel.

 

“See you at the other side!” Johnny and Ash bade farewell to the band as they hopped on to the sedan.

 

The band could not wait to head there. Their first time performing outside of Mengcheng, but it will be an exciting one. Everything was set: their time at St Jupiter begins.

 

(Song: “Take Heart” by The Sam Willows)

 

The limousine sets off and hits the road leading to the town. Bodi looked out from the window andwitnessed a different world as the car radio played a song.

 

Take heart, this world is ours

Run high and fast now they're coming for us

Take heart, we'll fight the hours

Fall back in light running through the forest.

 

Oh you're everything to me

Loved you ever since the day we parted

Oh you're all that I can see

Don't you ever leave me broken-hearted

Oh, oh, oh

 

But she didn't know, she wasn't told

This life is just too old

People walk and come and go

They don't know you they're so cold

 

Why, why, bring me down

I owe nothing to your frown

You're just a kid, this ain't your town

Take that walk and turn

 

She didn't know, she wasn't told

This life is just too old

People walk and come and go

They don't know you they're so cold

 

Why, why, bring me down

I owe nothing to your frown

You're just a kid, this ain't your town

Take that walk and turn around.

 

Everyone inside the limousine conversed in excitement over-performing at a new town, Bodi included. Angus and Ian find it difficult to talk in private, so they gave up and allowed the other band members to speak freely.

 

Take heart, this world is ours

Run high and fast now they're coming for us

Take heart, we'll fight the hours

Fall back in light running through the forest.

 

Oh, you're everything to me

Loved you ever since the day we parted

Oh, you're all that I can see

Don't you ever leave me broken-hearted

 

But she didn't know, she wasn't told

This life is just too old

People walk and come and go

They don't know you they're so cold

 

Why, why, bring me down

I owe nothing to your frown

You're just a kid, this ain't your town

Take that walk and turn around

 

(Take that walk and turn around)

 

Oh, you're everything to me

Loved you ever since the day we parted

Oh, you're all that I can see

Don't you ever leave me broken-hearted

 

Soon, the next sign mentioned the exit to St Jupiter, state of California. The limousine entered the town and unlike the bustling Mengcheng, it felt so peaceful. St Jupiter was indeed a quaint town with not much going on.

 

Oh, oh, oh

 

But she didn't know, she wasn't told

This life is just too old

People walk and come and go

They don't know you they're so cold

 

Why, why, bring me down

I owe nothing to your frown

You're just a kid, this ain't your town

Take that walk and turn around

 

Oh you're everything to me

Loved you ever since the day we parted

Oh you're all that I can see

Don't you ever leave me broken-hearted

 

The limousine made the final turns before approaching the hotel, recently built and opened the previous year. Angus specifically chose to book the hotel as the suites were large enough to sleep everyone inside. Angus took out the reservation papers as the limousine made a stop at the drop-off point.

 

Everyone alighted as the bellboys helped wheeled the luggage into the hotel. Angus and Ian head to the reception desk for check-in to collect their hotel key cards. Upon receiving the key cards, Angus gathered everyone and head to the elevators after ten minutes.

 

Oh, oh, oh

Oh, oh, oh

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

The suite was large enough to fill in four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a living area, a kitchenette and a large living balcony that overlook the town, not to mention free breakfast buffet for everyone during their stay. Needless to say, Angus had chosen the right accommodation.

 

After deciding who gets to sleep in what room, everyone head inside their own rooms to unpack. Grem and Trey shared their own room, Angus and Ian shared theirs and since the cat insisted Bodi cannot sleep with Darma (again), they have the remaining two bedrooms for each of them.

 

Bodi sat down on his bed after he finished unpacking, trying to take in the shock he was in a culturally different world. He did not mind being away from his real family at the village, but he did mind that he was not in Mengcheng, the city where he became a bona fide Rock Star, along with the friends he made and the mentor he looked up to.

 

Still, he made up his mind. There was no turning back. Bodi noticed everyone in the band decided not to wear shoes (even though most mammals in St Jupiter wear those) but decided against raising that issue. The mastiff got up and head out of the room, his own key card in one paw. He heard the knock of the door and found someone he did not expect. By pure coincidence, he found the arctic fox, white with some specks of brown and black, standing. He was in a new set of outdoor clothes and just like the mastiff, he and the rest of the SwiftyTV did not wear shoes.

 

“You got to be kidding me,” Bodi lamented.

 

“Why, hello again, Bodi! The friendly neighbour next door!” Swifty greeted the mastiff. He felt excited about meeting the lead singer of Rock Dog again. The SwiftyTV crew booked the same suite just a few rooms down.

 

“We’re heading out to explore the city,” Swifty explained why he was just outside. “Want to join us?”

 

Bodi shook his head. “We got dinner plans, Swifty. You can go ahead.”

 

Swifty let out a disappointed face. “Alright, Bodi. Catch you later!”

 

Finally, the arctic fox and his crew made their move.

 

Bodi sighed. To see him once again in an attempt to annoy the mastiff, it felt like a sitcom gag gone awry as he closed the door. He and the rest of the band had dinner plans to attend to, anyway.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

The Rock Dog members followed the directions to Johnny’s garage (sent to everyone’s mobile phone by Johnny, who along with the rest of the original Sing crew, just finished preparations for the mini-party) on foot. The route should take no more than fifteen minutes.

 

They took in the sights of St Jupiter, a quiet town that did not offer anything exciting. That was, until a few years ago, where Buster’s singing competition had turned heads for the $100,000 US dollar prize that was all due to a typo error (or two). Since then, it attracted some tourists from outer towns to explore the town, but other than that, it felt unimpressive.

 

Still, it also means navigating was easier. St Jupiter has a small population and town area, meaning it did not take much effort to walk around. It also means unlike Mengcheng, the only public transport is the public bus; subways are non-existent there.

 

At last, they set foot just outside Johnny’s large garage home, converted from the hideout belonging to his Dad. They could not wait what was in store.

 

Bodi opened the door and found the Sing crew pouncing a “Surprise!”

 

Johnny, Ash and the Sing crew (minus Mike, who stayed in Malibu and decided it was inconvenient not to come), including some of Rosita’s children gave Rock Dog a special surprise.

 

“Welcome to St Jupiter,” Buster welcomed the crew to the town. “And welcome, Rock Dog!”

 

Everyone gave the band a round of applause to celebrate their arrival.

 

“Now, we got the food and drinks ready, but we got a surprise just for you,” Johnny continued where Buster left off. “Some of us are Rock Dog fans since your songs appeared on the international charts. It is an honour to invite all of you to our small town, although considering Buster hosted a singing competition that went viral…”

 

Everyone chuckled at Johnny’s comedy. Even the gorilla had some comedic chops in spite of being a serious mammal. “Anyway, we requested you all to perform ‘Glorious’ to kick us off! Don’t worry, we got some spare guitars at the studio, so why not grab some!”

 

Everyone cheered for the band who were in a crossroad over performing without their own instruments. Bodi turned to the band and encourage them, “Look, it’s our first day and we haven’t done music in between our flight. Why don’t we show them a taste?”

 

Angus agreed on Bodi’s suggestion. “We can’t disappoint them. Let’s put on a good show!”

 

The band’s agent Ian and Trey (with a nearly healed arm) watched on as the rest of the band grabbed whatever equipment they could find. Before they performed, Ash came forward and lend Bodi her acoustic guitar. “All the best, Bodi!”

 

“Thanks, Ash! You rock!”

 

“By the way, this is such a small space, so don’t use your own ‘Fire’ or whatever you call.”

 

“Noted, Ash!” Bodi took notice of Ash’s warning. The place is too small that using the ‘Fire’ in full force will not be ideal. He adjusted the guitar and got his fingers to the correct starting chord. The band was ready.

 

“Before we start,” Bodi started, “I just want to make this one request. ARE YOU READY FOR ROCK DOG???”

 

The small crowd cheered in the loudest. They were ready.

 

Bodi started the song off with the starting chords before he added in the lyrics.

 

(Song: “Glorious” by Adam Friedman, from the Rock Dog soundtrack)

 

After searching trying to find ya

I thought I'd lost my luck

But I'd never thought in a million years that

You would just walk right up

 

Now that I found your love

I could never let you down

Even when the times get rough

Nothing's gonna stop us now

 

Bodi controlled his ‘Fire’ as noted, making sure it does not go haywire as the first chorus kicked in.

 

We'll grow old

And we'll never be alone

And no matter where we roam

We'll be glorious

We'll be glorious, and you know it's true

 

The small crowded sang along to the lyrics as he saw Angus, Darma and Grem supporting his every note. Bodi smiled back and continued the rest of the song while controlling his ‘Fire’.

 

Now we're glowing

Like a fire

Illuminating from within, hey!

So we keep on

Climbing higher

To the sky, we're going where we've never been

 

Now that we've set us free, hey!

Nothing's going to hold us down, hey!

Even when the time gets rough, hey!

We'll never lose the fight in us

 

We'll grow old

And we'll never be alone

And no matter where we roam

We'll be glorious, hey!

We'll grow old

And we'll never be alone

And no matter where we roam

We'll be glorious

We'll be glorious and you know it's true

 

The song reminded him of the first recording of the song with the original four members of Rock Dog and looking back, he was glad he took the leap of faith with them. This was his second family and he realised that. So does the rest of the mammals inside.

 

You and I we're never gonna rest

Keep up the dream

Like it's life or death

And you and I we're never giving in

Never giving in

Never giving in

 

And you and I we're never gonna rest

Keep up the dream

Like it's life or death

And you and I, we're never giving in

Never giving in

We're never giving never giving

 

Bodi unleashed a small burst of his accumulated ‘Fire’, ensuring that he did not destroy any part of the garage. The mastiff felt excited to finish the rest of the song with his band together.

 

We'll grow old

And we'll never be alone

And no matter where we roam

We'll be glorious, hey!

We'll grow old

And we'll never be alone

And no matter where we roam

We'll be glorious

We'll be glorious and you know it's true

 

All Bodi could hear next was everyone cheering and shouting and clapping. Bodi heaved a sigh of relief, now that they completed the performance.

 

Angus, Darma and Grem came forward and the four original members took a bow. It was a call-back to the first day of Johnny and Ash in Mengcheng.

 

This was it, Bodi thought. Let’s make every day leading to the concert worthwhile!

Chapter Text

 Bodi and the rest of Rock Dog stepped out of their limousine, the morning after they had their buffet at the hotel’s restaurant. The rebuilt Moon Theatre looked similar to the previous Moon Theatre but modernised with 21st century technology.

 

They had their equipment with them as they waited for Buster and Eddie to arrive. Bodi, Angus, Darma, Grem and Ian were waiting outside. Trey went to the hospital to get one final check at his right arm, hence his absence.

 

“I wonder where they are,” Angus started to feel impatient. “They were supposed to be here now!”

 

The cat did not have to wait any second longer as Buster, Eddie, Johnny and Ash made their way to the theatre. They had to clean up the garage after yesterday’s party before they ventured to the theatre, but better late than never, the band guessed.

 

“Sorry, everyone,” the koala made an apology before getting the keys out. “I suppose everyone’s here, I guess.”

 

Buster slotted the keys and turned clockwise twice. “Come in, everyone! You gonna love what we did to the theatre!”

 

Everyone entered the theatre to find themselves inside the waiting area. A set of stairs and elevators lead to the second level of seating and at the centre of the lounge, there was another door. Buster slotted in another set of keys and unlocked the doors. “Enter,” the koala gestured everyone to get inside.

 

Buster and Eddie had spent the last three weeks along with the rest of their friends to modify the theatre to cater to the rock concert. A quarter of the lower level area had been converted to a standing mosh pit, as what the band requested prior to their arrival. More importantly, on stage, there was a full-size LED screen at the back for the backdrops.

 

“Unfortunately, we could not fit in the pyrotechnics and the firework machines, but we managed to bring in the wind machine and a smoke machine,” Eddie added, noting their disappointment when the duo found out installing the firework machines will most likely burn the theatre.

 

As the stage was empty, everyone hurried to set up their equipment. Grem set up his drum while Johnny and the rest wheeled in his keyboard. There were amps for Bodi, Angus, Darma and Ash to plug their guitars in. Within twenty minutes of getting onto the stage, they were ready for their first day of rehearsals.

 

“By the way, apart from Johnny and Ash, you guys are not wearing shoes. Why?” Buster made a question.

 

“Just force of habit,” Bodi replied. The guys from Mengcheng were used to walking on barefoot, anyway.

 

Buster took note of the comment and added, “Well then, Eddie will get the sound system ready so that we can play the backing tracks. Meanwhile, just test out your equipment to see if they need adjustments.”

 

As Eddie check the sound system to ensure everyone could hear the individual instruments, Bodi go through all the nine songs they will perform at the concert. While the concert will not be broadcast on the television, it will be broadcast over some streaming services, including YouTube. Tickets are nearly sold out for the one-night only concert.

 

“I’m ready,” Eddie called everyone out. “You can start rehearsing.”

 

“Thank you, Mr Noodleman,” Bodi called out to Eddie. “Ready, everyone?”

 

“Ready!” the rest of the members replied.

 

“Then, let’s get this started!”

 

With that, the band start rehearsing their songs.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Meanwhile, inside a mansion resides Eddie’s mother, Nana Noodleman. Sitting at her own throne, she was so bored out of death, she started swiping down her social feed for the latest updates. She knew her son is now working for Buster and he was still studying for a private degree. But a rock concert? She sighed.

 

Her penguin butler knocked on the door.

 

“Come in,” she told her butler. He came in.

 

“I need to report on this matter, Madam Noodleman. Your son was in the Moon Theatre.”

 

“I know. And?”

 

“Rock Dog’s rehearsing.”

 

Nana immediately stood up. “Was Angus rehearsing, too?”

 

“Yes, Madam. He’s rehearsing too.”

 

Nana could not wait any longer. She had to witness him for herself.

 

“Well then, get them to bring in the car. I’m coming.”

 

“Yes, Madam.” The butler made his leave.

 

(Song: “Allez Leur Dire (Go and Tell Them)” by Silvan Areg)

 

Nana decided she had to present herself with elegance. She was still in her nightgown, so she heads to the bathroom to change.

 

Go tell them, go tell them

Go tell them, go tell them

 

Go tell them that I don't give a damn

I'm not up for it, I'm not a part of it

I want to leave, have a bit on the side

I want to see the country, get out of this void

 

I just want to raise hell

Come with me, we'll take a leap of faith

We've got nothing to lose, we are young and crazy

The world is reaching out for us, that's all I say

 

That's all I say, that's all I say

 

Nana had trouble deciding what to wear. Should she wear this, or should she wear that? She fumbled through her own clothes to find the perfect fit while her chauffeur prepares her car.

 

For a long time I've wanted to leave

This small village where I grew up

I know the road, the chimneys

Every corner

 

There's nothing left that holds me back

Besides my mate Lucien

We've known each other since that time

Since sandbox days, with runny noses

 Marbles hidden in our schoolbags

In the schoolyard we drove the girls round the bend

Even more, I count the hours

I was kept in after school

 

Of course, I made my mother cry

My father, my aunt and my grandmother

I am what I am, a little rascal

Who likes to keep his head in the air

 Go tell them that I don't give a damn

I'm not up for it, I'm not a part of it

I want to leave, have a bit on the side

I want to see the country, get out of this void

 

She finally decided on her elegant purple dress (she knew purple was Angus’s lucky colour) with matching heels. She was ready to go.

 

Go tell them that I don't give a damn

I'm not up for it, I'm not a part of it

I want to leave, have a bit on the side

I want to see the country, get out of this void

 

I just want to raise hell

Come with me, we'll take a leap of faith

We've got nothing to lose, we are young and crazy

The world is reaching out for us, that's all I say

 

That's all I say, that's all I say

 

She climbed down the marbled staircase to the ground level. Eddie complained of how over exaggerated she looked, but she did not care a bit. This was her style. Her butler was waiting for her. “Your ride’s here,” he announced.

 

“Good, and don’t tell anyone I’ll be at the theatre,” Nana requested the butler as she entered the back of her car.

 

We've been a band for two or three weeks

With our mates we'd like to make waves

But, well, for the moment there's nothing, we're practising

In the garage – the neighbours think we're fools

 

You want to know our style

It's a blend of pop, reggae, show tunes

With a dash of hip hop, winter and summer

We're just a couple of mates

And believe me, it's for certain that we're going to make history

 

You've got to understand that I can't stay stuck here

If you want to grow, you have to find your ground

Right now, I admit it to you, I've only got a plan A

But who knows, tomorrow I might have a plan B

 

Go tell them that I don't give a damn

I'm not up for it, I'm not a part of it

I want to leave, have a bit on the side

I want to see the country, get out of this void

 

The car exited from the mansion and headed towards the theatre.

 

Go tell them that I don't give a damn

I'm not up for it, I'm not a part of it

I want to leave, have a bit on the side

I want to see the country, get out of this void

 

I just want to raise hell

Come with me, we'll take a leap of faith

We've got nothing to lose, we are young and crazy

The world is reaching out for us, that's all I say

 

Her car made the final approach towards outside the Moon Theatre. She had performed at that old theatre numerous times, but she wished it was not destroyed by the flooding. Then again, knowing Buster was mainly at fault, she could not blame him either.

Go tell them, go tell them

Go tell them, go tell them

Go tell them, go tell them

We've got nothing to lose, we are young and crazy

The world is reaching out for us, that's all I say

 

Typically, she would be walking her way there on a rolling carpet, but she felt it would reveal her presence too early. She insisted on entering alone, so off she went into the Moon Theatre.

 

Go tell them that I don’t give a damn

I’m not up for it, I’m not a part of it

I want to leave, have a bit on the side

I want to see the country, get out of this void

 

I just want to raise hell

Come with me, we’ll take a leap of faith

We’ve got nothing to lose, we are young and crazy

The world is reaching out for us, that’s all I say

 

Everyone stopped playing the moment Nana entered the theatre. Her presence alone sent shockwaves across the new Moon Theatre as she made her way to the front and found Angus on stage.

 

“Nana Noodleman?” Angus cried out her name.

 

“It has been a very long time, Mr Scattergood,” Nana called out to the cat. She quickly got onto the stage. “I suppose you missed Liverpool?”

 

The cat smiled once more, taking off his iconic shades. “Not so much, I’m afraid.”

 

Nana French-kissed Angus as everyone surrounding them made their approach to them. Then, they kissed for a good two minutes as their lips caressed each other.

 

“Angus, what’s going on?” Bodi asked his mentor, but Angus was feeling Nana’s kisses. Angus eventually breaks the kiss got out before explaining, “We’re actually kissed each other before.”

 

“WHAT?” everyone in the theatre exclaimed.

 

Nana stops French-kissing Angus and told everyone, “Sorry about the news, love. Angus and I went back quite a long way. You see, I was the first mammal to kiss him.”

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

A Very Long Time Ago, New York City

After Nana’s performance in New York City, a dinner party was held that hosted some of the biggest personalities in the music world.

 

Nana had her second glass of champagne. She had too much caviar and lobster for the evening and needed some fresh air. Being was spring, the air felt cooler, but not too cold to be unbearable. And there he was, still in his performance outfit. A neatly ironed suit with a pair of shades. He, too, was enjoying his champagne.

 

Nana stood next to Angus. She recognised him before. “Sorry to bother your evening, Mr Scattergood.”

 

The young and fiery cat turned his head towards Nana. “No worries, a little company was just what I needed, Miss Noodleman.”

 

“Oh, bollocks. You’re the type of mammal that preferred to be alone. Where’s the rest of the Top Cats?”

 

“They must be inside, probably pissing over the other single ladies.”

 

That made Nana chuckle. “What brings you here in New York?”

 

The cat sighed and sipped his sixth glass of champagne. “Nothing interesting. Every city we went is the same.”

 

Nana understood what he meant. “You’re upset.”

 

“No, I’m not! Well, actually…”

 

“You don’t need to tell me. I just want to ask you one question.”

 

That was Nana’s signature line. She used her ‘one question’ quote when she was able to kiss someone. Nana made an unexpected kiss on Angus’s cheek.

 

“How does that feel, Mr Scattergood?”

 

The cat felt a tingling sensation. He had never been kissed in his entire life. “Jesus, you loved men.”

 

“I always do, Mr Scattergood.”

 

Angus kissed Nana back. “And now?”

 

Nana smiled back to the cat. “Much better.”

 

They went on to kiss each other for a good few minutes by the doorway without realising they dropped their glasses of champagne on the floor, nor the shattering sound they caused by the dropped glasses.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

“I suppose now that I’m inside, I think a little performance would lighten up the mood. What’s you call, Mr Scattergood?” Nana asked.

 

“I love to hear you sing,” was the cat’s reply.

 

Nana turns to Johnny. “You know the composition of ‘Rosa Himmel’, right?”

 

The gorilla nodded. He played the song a few times before.

 

“Great, I want everyone except for Johnny off the stage.”

 

Everyone, except for Johnny, got off the stage and stood at the mosh pit. They were about to hear Nana’s singing.

 

“Eddie, dim the lights, will you?” She called out to her son. Soon, the spotlights dimmed.

 

“Play it!” She called to Johnny and he started playing the song. Everyone listened to Nana’s angelic voice as she sang the first lines.

 

(Song: “Rosa Himmel (Pink Sky)” by Molly Sanden (Cover of Jonathan Johansson, from the Swedish Netflix drama “Quicksand”)

 

Pink sky over penthouse millions

Pink sky again

Pink sky and the black SUVs

Have double parked half the town

 

The feed full of LA palm trees

Laptops drinks, hits in panic

I take another year on the subway

Someone has to stay, I mean please

 

Her heartfelt voice echoed over the theatre. She felt every word of the song, despite the song being in Swedish, a completely different language from the usual English. The sombre tones were the perfect fit for Nana’s voice to shine through.

 

Pink sky and the bridges, the water

Bull City butter again

Pink sky and the students are freaking out

Pumping house from the truck beds

 

Nana let out a very long falsetto note that showcased her wide vocal range. Bodi stick his paw to Darma and they held paws together. Angus shed a tear over her. He clearly had missed her after the kiss in New York.

 

Johnny, on stage, watched Nana as she let her emotions out, as if she made the song just for Angus. He focused on his keyboard and finished playing the final verse.

 

No clouds, just air balloons

Seventeen, I swear

Pink sky and I screenshot the color

Half the picture and the advertisement

Even though it was a very small crowd, everyone gave a standing ovation over Nana’s performance. Nana could only walk to the front and took a bow. She got Johnny to come over and bowed too.

 

Nana turned to Angus and Buster. “Thank you. I’ll take my leave now. Angus, Buster and Eddie, you two, follow me.”

 

Nana, Angus, Buster and Eddie made their way out of the theatre as the rest got up to the stage to continue rehearsing their performance.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Nana rarely hug her son, but knowing he was on the right path, she hugged him as they walked out. “Eddie, when you graduate from your course, give me a call. I’ll come for the ceremony.”

 

“Thanks, Mum. I really appreciate it.” Eddie thanked his Mum.

 

Nana kissed Angus one more time. “Until we meet again, Angus. And stay alive, will you?”

 

It was the first time Nana called him by his first name. Angus composed himself. “I will, Nana.”

 

Nana turned to Buster as she got inside the car. “Please, don’t destroy the theatre, ok? I spent most of my money sponsoring the rebuilding.”

 

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” the koala assured Nana.

 

Nana told the chauffeur to start driving, and off she went, returning home to her opulent mansion.

 

“Well, that was a turn of events,” Angus started off. “We should head back.”

 

“I agree,” Buster responded. “This should inspire the rest of them to commit on the performance.”

 

The trio returned inside the Moon Theatre where they spent the rest of the day watching over the rehearsal.

Chapter Text

A week has passed since Rock Dog and SwiftyTV made their presence in a small town called St Jupiter in the State of California, the United States of America. Rock Dog will hold their first concert outside of Mengcheng one week after the inaugural St Jupiter International Film Festival where Swifty and his gang will debut their “Arctic Dogs” movie to the town.

 

Not since the singing competition three years ago had there been a growing buzz about the town. Everyone residing there were only talking about those two parties, evidenced by the fact that the opening night for “Arctic Dogs” had been sold out and so does the one-night-only Rock Dog concert.

 

Buster and Eddie had tracked the number of tourists booking hotels at the quiet town risen exponentially. The Moon Theatre had earned more than enough revenue to cost the costs of modifying the theatre.

 

“You ready for another day of rehearsals?” The koala asked, shutting down the computer.

 

“You bet! Let’s open it up!”

 

Buster and Eddie head out. The Rock Dog members, along with Johnny and Ash, should be outside waiting by then.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

After another exhausting day of rehearsals, the original Rock Dog members head back to the hotel, close to midnight. Fortunately, tomorrow will be a rest day, so they do not need to return to the theatre for one day.

 

All of them went straight to the suite, but Bodi decided to stay behind. He just received a call from Swifty. The arctic fox had gone upstairs to the rooftop bar because he needed another drink.

 

Bodi told everyone where he would be heading before taking the elevator up. The first thing he witnessed was that a rave party was taking place, and everyone were screaming and shouting to their hearts’ content.

 

(Song: “Humble (Skrillex Remix)” by Skrillex featuring Kendrick Lamar)

 

Bodi pushed aside the partygoers in search for the arctic fox and had a glimpse of him sipping his drink. Going past the glass doors was the rooftop pool deck where Swifty was lounging. He noticed Swifty had ordered another drink: a non-alcoholic apple spritzer for the mastiff, served with an apple slice.

 

He sat down next to Swifty and took his drink.

 

“I’m here, Swifty,” Bodi turned to the arctic fox, him lost in a sea of thoughts.

 

Swifty took a moment to sit upright. “How’s the rehearsals?”

 

“Nothing much, just the typical stuff. It seems our presence had caused a frenzy.”

 

Swifty gulped his mojito. “As usual. It seems that everywhere we go, our fans follow. I wonder why there has been a sudden influx in tourists.”

 

The two took a moment to look to the water patterns of the swimming pool they were facing.

 

“Yeah, I agree, Swifty. When I started, all I wanted to do was to make music, not become a full-fledged rock star.”

 

“Me too. I just want to be a YouTuber, not a celebrity.”

 

Both sighed in unison and took sips of their drink.

 

Swifty turned to Bodi and commented, “You know, we both shared similarities, Bodi. We have a crew, we have a red fox girlfriend, we’re successful, and more importantly, we don’t like being too popular.”

 

Bodi added, “It’s all going to be over. Once you finished your premiere and I finished the concert, we can go home.”

 

Swifty agreed. “The premiere is next week, and your concert the week after. We need a distraction to get away from this chaos.”

 

Bodi searched for any tourist attractions in St Jupiter and spot something both parties will enjoy.

 

“I think I know where we should go…”

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

The next day, as Swifty and his team had no plans too, both Rock Dog and SwiftyTV decided, during breakfast, that they needed to find a distraction while waiting for their involvement in their respective events to begin.

 

After thirty minutes, they decided on a location and an hour later, they were eager to head out for a day of fun. After all, Bodi came up with the idea in the first place.

 

Inside the SUVs, Bodi told the driver on where to go and Rock Dog set out first, with SwiftyTV following behind. They plan to stay at that location for the entire day and they found a place for that.

 

A recently opened shopping complex has housed a brand-new indoor ski resort, the destination. The thing is, it was close to an hour away from St Jupiter, but everyone did not mind travelling that far. It was their break day, after all.

 

At long last, the two vehicles pulled over to another town where the ski resort was located. Swifty complained about missing winter for the next nine months, so that would be the perfect remedy. While it was not real snow, it was better than nothing.

 

Everyone got off and made their way upstairs to the entrance of the indoor ski resort. After putting on their ski gear (excluding boots, since all opted not too), it was time to enter the ski resort.

 

They stumbled upon a large ski resort and more importantly, not a lot of mammals (apart from the staff managing the resort) inside. It was an off-peak hour, after all.

 

“This reminds me of home,” Swifty muttered under his breath. He and his crew remembered their production of the movie.

 

“I haven’t seen your movie, Swifty, but at least it’s a similar place,” Bodi added on. He suggested heading to the ski resort in the first place.

 

Swifty smiled for the first time in that day as the cold atmosphere reminded him of the winters of Beidongshan, the best time to visit that place all year. What he failed to notice was a snowball hitting him in the face.

 

“Alright, who did that?” Swifty cried out. He found PB making another snowball.

 

“Sorry, Swifty. Can’t help it, brother,” his foster brother explained. He threw another one at the arctic fox, only for him to dodge and throw a sneaky one at him, taunting, “That’s what happen what the cold brew hits!”

 

Everyone knew what they had to do.

 

“Snowball fight!!!” Everyone cheered as they suddenly throw snowballs in an attempt to hit at least one of them.

 

Angus, Trey and Lemmy ran away as they escaped the ensuring snowball fight between the teams of Rock Dog and SwiftyTV.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

(Song: “Running on Air” by Nathan Trent)

 

An Hour Later

At a nearby café that provided the perfect view of the ski resort, Angus and Trey enjoyed a mug of hot chocolate. Angus hated being in the cold while Trey, in spite of his right arm healed up, decided against joining them. He cannot risk injuring his arm again.

 

PB and Lemmy, on the other hand, made their own snowman but there was a slight problem. “Lemmy, are you sure it’s at the right place?”

 

Lemmy retorted, “I’m sure I did, PB! Just have a look!”

 

The polar bear took one look and facepalmed immediately. The arms at not level, the eyes not attached properly, and the carrot nose inverted.

 

“How much weed did you smoke today, Lemmy?” Lemmy, as per usual, had no idea what he was doing.

 

Jade nudged PB’s paw. “That’s a snowman?” The red fox asked.

 

“Look at what we did, everyone!” Darma called both PB and Lemmy out, revealing their five-tier snowman with prestige. Not only did they placed the right parts at the right places, there was…

 

“Wait a second, Bodi’s beanie?” PB recognised the hat the two red foxes included.

 

“I had to ask him to lend his beanie,” Darma explained as Jade gather Grem, Leopold and Bertha, riding down on their sleds from nearby. “Of course, how could he refuse?”

 

“Ooh la la!” Leopold shrieked at the snowman upon witnessing it. “That’s one beautiful snowman, Jade!”

 

“Thanks, Leopold,” Jade replied back. She returned with Bertha and Grem joining everyone else. “We did that work together.”

 

“Seriosuly, I wonder where Bodi and Swifty went,” Grem made a point, noting both were nowhere to be found.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

While everyone else critiqued on the two snowmen, Bodi and Swifty had a score to settle. The indoor ski resort had four downhill courses to choose from and they can choose to ride down on either skis or snowboards.

 

Bodi checked his skis to ensure his feet were properly secured on the skis. “Are you sure about this, Swifty? You want to race down with me?”

 

The arctic fox also checked on his snowboard, being trained to ride on a snowboard from a very young age. “Of course, I’m sure. I’m James ‘Swifty’ Swift! I’m a very swift fox!”

 

“How many puns do you have in your brain?” The mastiff muttered. Swifty insisted on having a race ‘as a way to let out some steam’, he mentioned.

 

“Right, ready?”

 

“I’m always ready, Bodi!”

 

At once, they ski their way down, looking at the course ahead while trying to outdo each other.

 

(Song: “Voyage” by Leningrad, song translated to English from Russian)

 

All your girlfriends, those cunts,

Often go abroad

To post, as they say,

Piccies on Facebook,

Their mugs that have slimmed down

Find their f**king way to Instagram!

You and I will go as well,

On a last-minute offer!

 

We'll take a selfie on an iPhone

Against the Eiffel Tower!

Why the f**k else

Would we make our

Voyage!

 

We'll take a selfie on an iPhone

Against the Eiffel Tower!

Why the f**k else

Would we make our

Voyage!

 

Both crossed the finish line, Swifty finishing half a second faster.

 

“Damn it, Swifty!” Bodi cried out as they pulled to a stop. “One more time, Swifty!”

 

“You sure, Bodi?” Swifty sighed. “Fine, then. We had all day to settle.”

 

Bodi and Swifty got onto the ski-lift for round 2. They put on their weapon of choice before skiing down again.

 

We'll have a f**king big trip, not worse

Than those bitches of yours.

We'll feed our faces with oysters for dinner

In a restaurant, from dishes!

We'll go by plane,

We'll buy drinks in a duty-free shop!

It's like, you're not the only f**king ones

To have drinks like discounted gin and tonic!

 

We'll take a selfie on an iPhone

Against the Eiffel Tower!

Why the f**k else

Would we make our

Voyage!

 

We'll take a selfie on an iPhone

Against the Eiffel Tower!

Why the f**k else

Would we make our

Voyage!

 

This time, Bodi made his way down faster than Swifty. Once they pulled to a stop, Swifty pointed his finger at Bodi, crossed that he got beaten. “I want another one!”

 

The mastiff took a moment to taunt the arctic fox. “You surely look like you want a fight.”

 

“I DON’T CARE!!! ONE MORE TIME!!!” Swifty shouted again.

 

They both got up again and eventually, they would ski down eight more times, each time more tense than the last.

 

"F**k, Seryoga, you're a really

F**king awesome man!

Now you take your babes to Van Gogh exhibitions,

Then you take them to Gelendzhik!

And now I feel

I'm in for trouble with Paris

Because I can't take my chick anywhere

Except maybe Yevpatoriy!

 

She scrolls through the same feed,

The noose on my neck gets tighter

Because now she needs a dinner

At that place called the Eiffel Tower.

Oysters, wine, seriously?

She wants some f**king jam on it?

For f**k's sake, Seryozha,

Keep a simpler face and don't release songs so often!"

 

We'll take a selfie on an iPhone

Against the Eiffel Tower!

Why the f**k else

Would we make our

Voyage!

 

Voyage!

 

By the tenth time, they felt exhausted skiing down the slopes again and again and again. They were now tied 5-5. However, they dared not to quit.

 

“One more time!” They pointed fingers at each other. They were enjoying competing against each other on the slopes.

 

On the eleventh and final time, they put on their equipment on and get ready to race down one last time.

 

On a signal, they leaned forward and ride their way down. The thrill of the ride, the cold air blowing on to their faces and the burning desire to beat each other. It was neck-and-neck towards the finish line.

 

I'll (voyage!) take a loan for the summer!

I have to pull off the trip!

(Voyage!) We're chilling out! Why the f**k not, it's summer!

Get hats from Sveta!

(Voyage!) Mom will look after the cat!

We're going to our bloody enemies' place!

Hey (voyage!), let's sit down for a minute before the trip!

We're heading to Paris, like in 1945!

 

We'll take a selfie on an iPhone

Against the Eiffel Tower!

Why the f**k else

Would we make our

Voyage!

 

We'll take a selfie on an iPhone

Against the Eiffel Tower!

Why the f**k else

Would we make our

Voyage!

 

Voyage!

 

This time, they crossed the finish line at the same time and pulled to a stop. They felt tired, but satisfied they put up a good fight.

 

Bodi detached his feet from his skis and approached the arctic fox, holding on to his snowboard. “That was a good fight,” the mastiff complimented Swifty.

 

“Nah, it was thanks to you that you recommend that place. It was fun!”

 

It seems the arctic fox found himself satisfied at last.

 

“It was the best place for a distraction, Swifty. And damn, we’re knackered!”

 

Feeling exhausted, Bodi and Swifty lied on the bed of fake snow. They did not give a damn about anything else. Only they turned their heads against each other with satisfaction.

 

“We’re still even, right?” the mastiff asked Swifty.

 

“Damn right, Bodi,” Swifty replied, trying to catch his breath. “We still got 2 days before the premiere.”

 

Bodi remembered that “Arctic Dogs” will be screening on that film festival. However, the band planned to rehearse once more, so they would not be able to come for the premiere.

 

“Good luck Swifty. You’re gonna need it.”

 

Swifty got up and brushed off the snow. “I don’t need any luck.”

 

Just then, they heard the rest of the two crews waving towards them. They had to head back. Bodi got on his feet before they carried their equipment.

 

“Shall we?” Bodi gestured Swifty. The arctic fox nodded before they joined the others for one more quick selfie.

Chapter Text

Swifty adjusted his dinner jacket one more time, making sure it stays aligned with his pressed business shirt. Being the day of the premiere, he needed to ensure he looked presentable for the cameras. Even though the St Jupiter International Film Festival was a small event, the presence of SwiftyTV turned heads across the small town.

 

“Swifty! Are you done yet?” Jade knocked on the door. They shared the master bedroom in the SwiftyTV suite. She had done putting on a light purple satin gown to match Swifty’s purple shirt.

 

“Almost ready!” The arctic fox replied back, adjusting his bow. He smiled with confidence, knowing that he was ready to put on a good show. After all, “Arctic Dogs” is the opening movie to start of the festival.

 

The arctic fox looked at the mirror inside the en suite bathroom. It had taken him and his crew 5 years, ever since they were at the same dorm house of the university they attended. Five years to get to where they were now.

 

Swifty, however, could not go through all these without his mother. Her divorce with his despised father was a moment of resilience, a moment of standing on her own two feet. She took great care of him, then PB when she adopted him, and now, everyone in the SwiftyTV family.

 

He still remembered the final day of filming the movie…

 

Two Years Ago, Swifty and PB’s home, Beidongshan Coast, the final day of filming

 

(Song: “Every Single Day” by Felix Sandman, the male lead for the Swedish Netflix Drama “Quicksand”)

 

It was snowing two days before Christmas. Morning comes at the Nordic-inspired houses along Beidongshan coast, over-looking the South China Sea. Far north will be Hong Kong and the rest of China.

 

PB had already set off for the film set on the morning of the final day (he needed to get the actors and the extras ready for filming the final scenes). This means Swifty woke up alone while his mother was downstairs in the kitchen.

 

Swifty brushed his teeth and his face after a long shower before putting on a white wool shirt and his own jacket and trousers. He planned to head to the set on his feet before putting on his boots upon arrival. His boots were at the doorstep, anyway.

 

As he ran downstairs, he found a familiar plate of stew waiting for him.

 

“Morning, my dear. I made you breakfast,” Swifty’s mother called out. She was in the kitchen. She selected some soft music to play in the background.

 

Swifty sat down on the dining table with a bowl of red, spicy stew filled with various in-season seafood (prawns, mussels, clams, squid, sea bass), as well as a bowl of rice.

 

“Mum, the stew’s for lunch,” Swifty told his mother.

 

“I know, Swifty. But since you’ll be on set the whole day, I might as well cooked for both of you. Perry had finished his portion, by the way.”

 

Perry. She’s referring to PB by his first name.

 

Swifty thanked his mother and wolfed down the stew. It was his favourite childhood stew, after all. She only cooked it during special occasions, and she had cooked for the whole crew on the days she had no work to do. It was supposed to be a peak period for the audit firm, but the engagement partner felt so touched by her desire to help the filming crew that he granted her paid leave, a once in a blue moon event.

 

“Mum, thanks for the stew. That takes me back.”

 

She came to the dining table and sat with her biological son. “I never changed the recipe, you know.”

 

“I know, Mum. Thank you.”

 

“To be fair, I earned quite a lot working at the audit firm, so I was able to provide you and Perry with all I could. You two had grown to be resilient mammals, you know.”

 

“I know, Mum. Thank goodness you divorced Dad. He had no business with us.”

 

“Considering the circumstances leading to the divorce, I’m glad I did.”

 

Swifty finished his stew. He had to be at the set soon. Just one more day and the crew will finish their filming.

 

“I’ll clean up, Swifty. You go ahead.”

 

“Alright Mum, see you on set!” Swifty got up from the dining table. He grabbed his bag and his boots and head out, walking his way to the film set where everyone was waiting for him, fifteen minutes west of their house.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

“You’re thinking of your Mum, right?”

 

The whole crew were on the SUV, on the way to another theatre (different from the Moon Theatre where the concert will be held a week later). They were in their formal clothes and were looking forward to having the photos taken by the press. For sure they would appear in the news the next day.

 

Jade asked Swifty the question as he thought about the happy moments he had. He closed his eyes for a brief moment before nodding his head. “Yeah, it’s as if she was with us, even though she’s still probably in Beidongshan, finishing the audit engagements for all the clients she was assigned to.”

 

Swifty looked out of the window as they were nearing the venue. At least he had a caring mother, after all.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

The SwiftyTV crew got out of the car and made the way to the theatre on the red carpet, a barrage of cameramen flanking both sides of the carpet. They took pictures, flashy pictures, with the crew as they took a moment to smile at the camera. They truly deserved it.

 

After five minutes, they were in. The moviegoers will arrive in thirty minutes and the crew head backstage. Swifty will have to provide a short speech before the start of the movie.

 

“You got your lines, right?” His foster brother asked Swifty. He had rehearsed the lines weeks before the premiere.

 

“Of course, PB. I got this!”

 

“Your arrogance is showing again…” PB sighed, knowing Swifty’s true weakness.

 

“Actually, I enjoyed it.”

 

The group turned their heads back. None said that line.

 

“Who was that?” Bertha started asking.

 

“Even I wouldn’t say that, drunk or stoned,” Lemmy added.

 

“So, who did?” Jade asked.

 

Out came an older arctic fox, specks of brown fur and an elegant sequin dress. Immediately, Swifty and PB knew who that was.

 

“Mum!” They cried out and went to hug their mother.

 

“Sorry, I didn’t inform you in advance, you two.”

 

The rest of the crew joined in and hug Swifty and PB’s mum. They all had her in company during the filming. Swifty felt emotional seeing his mum out of nowhere.

 

“Why are you here? I thought you got work!”

 

Swifty’s Mum explained that her audit engagement team were in Los Angeles to audit an American firm. Coincidentally, they had a break day on the day of the premiere, so she rented a car and drove her way to the premiere.

 

“I’m here for a day and I booked a room at the same hotel you were in. We can talk through after the premiere.”

 

Swifty’s Mum took her leave. “Good luck, SwiftyTV. Fighting!”

 

“Thank you, Mrs Swift!” the rest of the crew thanked her.

 

Swifty wiped his tears off. He had his speech to do and there was an hour to go.

 

“Alright, everyone. You know what to do. LET’S KIKK THIS THING!” Swifty got everyone into his rallying cry. They were ready to open the festival on a bang.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

(Song: “I’ve Been Waiting for This Night” by Donny Montell)

 

Soon, it was time. Everyone got on stage as the cinema hall, full of moviegoers, gave a round of applause. They stopped clapping once Swifty was at his microphone as a song in the background played in low volume.

 

“What’s up, St Jupiter!!!”

 

Everyone cheered. They must have bought enough air in the lungs for that.

 

“I’m just cut to the chase so that we can all enjoy the movie. If you have been a fan of our channel, we’re the guys of SwiftyTV. You recognise all of us, right?”

 

Swifty heard chants of his name the most, followed by Jade and PB. He also heard some shouts for Lemmy, Leopold and Bertha. Most of the moviegoers were SwiftyTV fans.

 

“I feel like this feels more of my project than a team project. However, it was a student film we did back when we were at our final year at university. We took part in a filmmaking competition, requiring us to do a feature film of anything. Of course, we go for what we did best: an ill-advised arctic movie with a global warming message.”

 

Some chuckles were heard from the audience.

 

“Mammals who seen the movie have called it ‘The Room’ of modern times, even though it was only made in, what, 2003? Anyway, the point is, it has become a ‘So Bad, it’s amazing’ movie that we made a recent deal to publish it here on a limited release, so that’s the start… and the end of our filmmaking career. We’ll must stick to becoming YouTube famous.”

 

Even louder laughs came from the audience.

 

“Anyway, my Mum is in the audience tonight…”

 

Swifty’s Mum, seated at the front row, gave a thumbs-up.

 

“We could not have done it without her. Seriously. She took leave from her audit work just to make sure everyone on set gets taken care of. She and her army of aunties treat us like babies, so it would have been possible without them.”

 

The audience gave a round of applause to Swifty’s Mum, who responded by waving at the rest of the moviegoers.

 

“And finally, before we start, I would like to announce one more thing. Some might have seen our YouTube video about the engagement. Well, I’m excited to announce that we have decided on the date, the venue and most importantly, who will be there. Everything's settled!”

 

The crowd cheered upon the announcement. As cliché as it could be, Swifty and Jade briefly kissed each other.

 

“Enjoy the movie! Thank you!” The whole crew got off the stage and into their reserved seats. As they seated, Jade told him, “That went very well, Swifty.”

 

“I know, Jade. I can’t wait to see your wedding dress.”

 

“That, and the cake. Oh, I can’t wait to choose the cake!”

 

Swifty and Jade looked at each other one more time before the film rolled the start of the movie. After the premiere, they could not wait any longer for them to be married. As the lights dimmed, it reminded Swifty of a song he heard of before. It felt too appropriate considering how far they had come:

 

For a thousand years through a million tears

With a hungry heart, every day apart

I've been waiting for this night, I've been waiting for this night

 

When I see your smile and your beautiful eyes

I get lost in time, now I know that I've

I've been waiting for this night, I've been waiting for this night

 

Here we are together you and I

Chapter Text

 The day before the concert, Bodi was in the living room of Rock Dog’s suite in St Jupiter, rehearsing his parts for the concert one more time. Everyone else was already asleep, despite the time being only 10pm. Angus got everyone to sleep early, but Bodi insisted on staying up late. Perfection means taking sacrifices in sleep time, it seems.

 

As Bodi sang the parts, he heard the knock of the door. He peered out of the door hole to find Swifty knocking. The arctic fox needed some company.

 

“Hey, Swifty,” Bodi greeted Swifty upon opening.

 

“Listen, you bastard,” Swifty pointed his finger at the mastiff, as if he was threatening. “I’m still not done with what happened at the ski resort. I want to challenge you again!”

 

Bodi sighed. Swifty meant business. He let the arctic fox in, but not without reminding him not to make much noise.

 

“Everyone else in my suite decided to head to bed, but I told Jade I needed some fresh air,” Swifty explained why he was outside their suite. “I planned to return to the bar, but then I went past your suite.”

 

Bodi stopped Swifty from explaining further. “I had another place where we could battle. Are you good at bowling?”

 

“Yeah, I played bowling with the gang most of the time. Why?”

 

“I heard down the streets there’s a bowling alley that offers glow bowling at night. And it opens until 2 in the morning.”

 

Swifty agreed on the idea. “Sweet! That’s what I needed. Just the two of us?”

 

“No, I thought of bringing in Johnny in. Apparently, he’s inside the alley right now. At least that’s what I saw in his Twitter.”

 

Swifty stood up. They knew where they would be going. “Let’s go! There’s no time to lose!”

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Johnny was bowling alone as Ash wanted to get some more sleep after a week of finishing her finals. She slept inside Johnny’s garage while the gorilla bowled in his own lane. So far, the scores indicate he was doing just fine.

 

Just then, he found Bodi and Swifty just entering the glow-themed alley. They went straight to the shoes rental to rent bowling shoes (even though they wear barefoot) and spotting the gorilla, they head straight to him.

 

Johnny sighed. “You should have asked.”

 

“It came out of a blue, but Swifty and I had a settle to score.”

 

“And that score was?”

 

Swifty intervened. “Never mind that, we just want to bowl. Anyway, you’re paying for it, right?”

 

The gorilla sighed once more. There was no way he could refuse them. “Alright, just bring your bowling balls and let’s play.”

 

Getting excited, Bodi and Swifty ran off to bring in their bowling balls.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

(Song: “Patrick Swayze” by Sigrid Bernson)

 

Over peppy pop music and glowing lights across the alley, the trio bowled a few games of bowling to pass the time. They intend to bowl until closing time, after all.

 

*Crash!*

 

*Smash!*

 

*Bam!*

 

Bodi, Swifty and Johnny traded blow for blow as just like Bodi and Swifty’s duel at the ski resort, as they bowled to score more than each other. Even though Bodi and Johnny do not have a competitive mindset unlike Swifty’s, they give it their all to upstage one another. They played five rounds, with Swifty and Johnny winning twice and Bodi once (although he came close twice).

 

By the end of the fifth round, they all agree for a break, and over vegetarian chili fries with their drink of choice (Bodi went for orange juice, Johnny a root beer float and Swifty a cold can of beer), they sat down at the restaurant inside the alley to take a break.

 

“I never thought Bodi would be that hot-headed over a game of bowling,” Johnny started the conversation. Indeed, he was not into battles.

 

“To be honest, during the ski resort duel, Bodi was much better on his skis than I think,” Swifty remarked over the mastiff’s skiing ability. “At least, that’s what I thought.”

 

“I had to,” Bodi explained his recent change in attitude. “Otherwise, Swifty wouldn’t think I was serious. It was self-defence.”

 

Swifty laughed as he down his can. He got up and order one more. Johnny whispered to Bodi, “A word of advice on Swifty, when he’s drinking, watch his limit. He has a tendency to drink a lot when not at work.”

 

Bodi gave an ‘ok’ sign as they watched Swifty swiftly finished his second can of beer. “Right, you two, let’s continue,” the arctic fox started to slur.

 

Bodi looked at the arctic fox, trying to keep his balance. He was keeping it alright.

 

Eventually, by the eighth game, Bodi took advantage of Swifty’s drunkenness and started to pull away from him and Johnny. He won the sixth and the seventh and was about to win the eighth. It also helped Swifty threw in consecutive gutter-balls.

 

By the tenth frame, Bodi got up and threw a strike. Instead of celebrating, he looked behind to find Swifty on his sixth can as Johnny gestured Bodi to finish bowling two more times. He threw a six before hitting the remaining four to finish his game with a spare.

 

Just then, he heard Swifty getting up. It was his turn to bowl. “You’re ok, Swifty?”

 

Swifty waved the mastiff off. “I’m… fine… just let… me… bowl…”

 

Swifty’s speech start to slur and he found it difficult to stand on his two feet. He grabbed his bowling ball to throw it straight, only for him failing to throw at the right time, which caused the weight of the ball to throw him forward and into the lane, landing on the oiled lane with a loud thud!

“Swifty!” Bodi and Johnny stood up.

 

They hurried to Swifty (by walking alone the two gutters) and found him on the lane, not opening his eyes. Hearing loud snores from the arctic fox, Bodi checked Swifty’s pulse. “He’s still breathing, just that he got intoxicated.”

 

Johnny shook his head. “I told you to watch Swifty. That shit always happens, when he gets drunk.”

 

They carried Swifty back to a seat and try to wake him up, only to hear him snoring louder. The alcohol had knocked him out.

 

Rather than freaking out, Bodi and Johnny calmly removed their bowling shoes. While Johnny put his sneakers on, Bodi carried Swifty. He found the arctic fox to be heavy enough, but light enough for him to handle.

 

“I’ll get the car ready. You bring Swifty out,” Johnny instructed Bodi as he ran out to get his car, parked at the pavement (or ‘sidewalk’, in American-speak.)

 

(Song: “Beautiful Mess” by Kristian Kostov)

 

Bodi heads outside, carrying the sleeping arctic fox with him. He waited for Johnny’s car to arrive.

 

When the world shakes us

Trying to take us out of line

Fear of tomorrow

Feelings we borrow for a time

 

Water so deep, how do we breathe?

How do we climb?

So we stay in this mess

This beautiful mess tonight

 

“Get in!” Johnny shouted as he pulled his car to outside the alley. Bodi struggled to push Swifty inside the car, before he climbed in.

 

“I thought this was walking distance from the hotel,” Bodi complained about the need for the gorilla to drive them back.

 

“I’m heading home, so I can bring you to the hotel. You got Jade’s number?”

 

As a matter of fact, Bodi already fished for his mobile phone and texted Jade. She, too, was wide awake inside the suite.

 

“She’ll be at the lobby,” Bodi told Johnny.

 

“Good,” Johnny replied before stepping on the gas pedal. They left the bowling alley, just past midnight.

 

And we don't have a thing to lose

No matter what they say or do

I don't want nothing more

Our love is untouchable

Even in the line of fire

When everything is on the wire

Even up against the wall

Our love is untouchable

Our love is untouchable

 

Johnny drove the car to the hotel lobby where Jade was waiting. “Hey, Jade, your package is here,” Johnny made a cynical remark in reference to Swifty.

 

The red fox opened the back of the car and lifted Swifty out. “Thanks, Johnny! You’re a lifesaver.”

 

“Your welcome, even though you’re technically one,” Johnny made another moment of cynicism before driving off.

 

Jade and Bodi helped to carry Swifty to the lift lobby without causing further attention to the other guests.

 

When the colours turn grey and the lights all fade

To black again

We're in over our heads

But somehow we make it back again

 

Water so deep, how do we breathe?

How do we climb?

So we stay in this mess

This beautiful mess tonight

 

The lift doors opened and both, along with a sleeping Swifty, made it out to the hallway. They need to head west and turn right, walking straight before another left leads to the suites.

 

And we don't have a thing to lose

No matter what they say or do

I don't want nothing more

Our love is untouchable

Even in the line of fire

When everything is on the wire

Even up against the wall

Our love is untouchable

 

Jade carried her new husband forward. Bodi stopped at the door leading to Rock Dog’s suite. “I’ll take over from here, Bodi. Don’t forget, your concert’s in the evening. You need some rest!”

 

“Thanks, Jade. Good night!”

 

Bodi unlocked the door with his key card and returned inside. He immediately heads to his room and brushed his teeth. He had a concert to perform at.

 

Oh…

Oh no, no, no…

Even in the line of fire

When everything is on the wire

Even up against the wall

Our love is untouchable

 

Switching to his nightwear, he tucked himself into bed. He only had to survive two more days before heading home. He could not wait to see the skyscrapers of Mengcheng again.

 

Bodi closed his eyes and soon, he started snoring and slept like a baby for the rest of the night.

 

(To be continued)

Chapter Text

 Entering through the backdoor of the Moon Theatres four hours before the concert, Bodi, Angus, Darma, Grem and Trey arrived at the backstage to get ready for their one-night only concert. That was it, the highlight of their trip to St Jupiter. For the citizens of the small town, this would be the highlight of the evening, without a doubt.

 

After a small briefing by Buster, they let the backstage crew set up their earpieces for the concert while they, along with Johnny and Ash who just arrived, went through the schedule. Less than four hours later, they need to be on stage with their equipment ready. They chose the order of the songs prior to their arrival at the small town.

 

“Johnny, about your three songs?” Bodi asked the gorilla while he put on his earpiece.

 

“So, we got the opening act ‘Break Away’, then me and Ash’s duet of ‘I Will Believe’ and that song all of us had a paw in, ‘Storm’? Buster’s getting those backing tracks ready.”

 

The mastiff nodded, knowing everything was in place for the concert to be successful. “Alright, everyone. We know what to do.”

 

Everyone huddled up to execute their signature.

 

Bodi: “One, two, three…”

 

Everyone: “Rock Dog!”

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Two Hours Before Start of Concert

Swifty had a splitting headache the moment he woke up from his hangover. He found himself back inside the suite, on his bed. Jade was waiting beside him.

 

“Jade?” The arctic fox got up from his bed.

 

The red fox sighed and explained that he slept for sixteen hours.

 

“And the concert is going to start soon,” Jade continued. “Bodi got us VIP tickets.”

 

The arctic fox suddenly got excited as he almost forgot about the concert. “I’ll get ready!” the arctic fox rushed to the bathroom for a shower.

 

Jade felt relieved over Swifty getting excited over the concert. In fact, the whole SwiftyTV were looking forward.

 

Knowing there was nothing else she could do, she left the room to join the others in the living area.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

One Hour Before Start of Concert

Outside of the theatre, Buster watched on as streams of Rock Dog fans start to enter the theatre. They had to go through a security check (bag check and metal detector screening) before they were allowed to enter the theatre, arranged in a rock concert formation.

 

“How’s your side, Eddie?” Buster communicated with Eddie on a walkie-talkie.

 

“So far, so good!” Eddie gave the good news. “At this rate, everyone should be able to get in before the start. We sold out all the tickets, anyway.”

 

“Splendid! Just keeping watching from the back, ok?”

 

“Got it, Buster! Eddie, out.”

 

Buster replaced his walkie-talkie inside the pocket. All they had to do was to shepherd everyone in.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

Thirty Minutes Before

Bodi and the rest head onto the stage, leaving Trey and Ian to watch on from backstage. The backstage crew hurried to bring in the backdrop for the opening performance. The curtains were not drawn up yet.

 

Bodi took some time to inhale and exhale. He needed to keep his cool before the start of the concert. The concert would be streamed live on YouTube Music, so everything has to go according to plan.

 

No turning back now, Bodi thought inside his head.

 

Ten Minutes Before Start of Concert

Swifty and the SwiftyTV crew took their seats at the VIP session, along with the remaining members of the original Sing family. Even Mike decided to bring Nancy along as they sat on top of Meena’s left shoulder to get the best view, which she did not mind at all. Rosita, Gunther, Rosita’s husband Norman and all of their children also made their presence known.

 

Swifty took a look at the Sing crew. “Is it me or is that they look familiar?” Swifty looked to the rest of his crew.

 

Somehow, the rest did not know how to respond to Swifty’s strange question. The arctic fox decided not to pursue that matter, only focusing on the stage.

 

Five Minutes Before Start of Concert

“Alright, everyone,” Ian communicated to the members on stage through their earpieces. “Before we start the concert, I just want to tell you that no matter what happens tonight, we are winners. Just don’t cock this up, ok?”

 

Buster was next to tell everyone “We got the whole theatre filled up, so let’s make this happen!”

 

Trey: “Sorry about that incident. I promise that I’ll carry everyone in the next few concerts. Ok? I promise.”

 

Bodi placed his fingers on the starting chords while Angus, Darma and Ash followed suit. Grem waited with drumsticks on his paws and Johnny adjusted his keyboard one more time.

 

It was about time. The lights dimmed as the LED screen illuminate to start playing the starting backdrop for the opening performance.

 

Bodi closed his eyes. It was time for the magic to begin. The curtains start to draw up for the opening act.

 

(Song: “Break Away” by Ella Hunt, Sarah Swire and Malcom Cumming (From the “Anna and the Apocalypse” soundtrack))

 

(Bodi)

As I wake half dead

In this same old bed

At the dawn of another day

I feel chained and bound

To this hopeless town

And I know I must break away

 

(Ash)

There's a world out there

Why does no one care?

Are they lost in the games they play?

So much they don't see

But there's more to me

And I know I must break away

 

(Johnny)

Oh, I've been lying, I've been cheating

I've been fooling myself

Instead of fighting, I've been hiding away

I've been running, going nowhere

Put my heart on a shelf

And I don’t want to live that way

 

(All)

Trapped in a moment, ready to fly

I've got to find my own way

Sooner or later it ends in goodbye

We all have to break away

 

Everyone screamed for Rock Dog as there was a period of no lyrics. “Good evening, St Jupiter! How you’re doing!”

 

The crowd screamed for Bodi’s name. Some had every Rock Dog song on their personal playlists.

 

“I just want to say one thing: Let me hear you scream!”

 

The crowd cheered as Bodi returned to singing the next verse.

 

(Bodi)

Oh, it's hard to hide

When the truth inside

Rises up like a tidal wave

There's been something wrong now

For far too long

And I know I must break away

 

(Ash)

Am I’m lying, am I’m cheating?

Am I’m fooling myself?

Why should they listen to what I had to say?

Am I just another nobody just everyone else?

Cause I don’t want to live that way!

 

(All)

Trapped in a moment, ready to fly

I've got to find my own way

Sooner or later it ends in goodbye

We all have to break away

 

I dream at night of my escape

How much longer must I wait?

 

(Johnny)

Oh, I feel it in my skin

The walls are closing in

I'm tired of living in

These burned-out buildings

Gotta shake the rust

Before I turn to dust

If I still had some faith, I'd pray

 

Bodi unleashed his burst of his ‘Fire’ that electrified everyone in the Moon Theatre as everyone sang the final few parts together.

 

(All)

Break away

Break away

 

Trapped in a moment, ready to fly

I've got to find my own way

Sooner or later it ends in goodbye

We don’t have to break away

 

Break away

Break away

 

The song ends, the crowd cheers and Bodi got to his microphone. “Good evening, St Jupiter, we are Rock Dog!”

 

Bodi punched his fist to the air as everyone could not stop screaming for Rock Dog, performing alongside Johnny and Ash.

Chapter Text

While Bodi and the band introduced themselves and provided a mini solo performance on their instruments, Buster and Eddie watched on, switching between the concert and the viewing figures from YouTube Music. The concert was all going well.

 

“About 200,000 viewers watching the concert, and the number is still growing,” Buster gave the good news to Ian, who crossed his arms and nodded back.

 

“Excellent, Buster. I wondered if Mengcheng was watching the concert live…”

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

The time difference between Mengcheng and St Jupiter is about 8 hours, meaning the time in Mengcheng is about 12 noon.

 

All the Mengcheng fans of Rock Dog were conversing about the concert through the various social media platforms and even some schools decided to allow the students to access their mobile phones or stream the concert.

 

For instance, in the secondary school where Cody was studying in, the entire canteen streamed the concert while the students were having their lunch break.

 

At the same time, at Bodi’s village, the entire village were watching the whole concert inside the home Bodi used to reside in. His parents had a perfect angle of seeing their son performed live.

 

So far, the figures in Mengcheng were looking good.

 

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

 

After their solo performances, it was time for the band to perform another song.

 

Bodi heard the figures from Ian and told them to move on to their next song, which they did. Once the backstage crew gave them the signal, they started performing again.

 

(Song: “Help You Fly” by Ivan)

 

This time, Johnny leads the vocals and sang with Bodi, while the rest supported their vocals.

 

(Johnny)

I will help you learn how to fly, how to fly

 

Do you remember, when you were younger

You didn’t worry

For a day

 

Now all the questions and no direction

They make our reasons

Insane

 

(Bodi)

It’s time you released yourself

Before you can let go

 

(Both Johnny and Bodi)

I will help you learn how to fly, how to fly

Free, leave all the madness behind, far behind

 

(Bodi)

You feel like you are the poison

It’s time to heal you

From the pain

 

I know that you’ve been the hunted

I want to free you

Again

 

(Johnny)

It’s time you released yourself

Before you can let go

 

(Both Johnny and Bodi)

I will help you learn how to fly, how to fly

Free, leave all the madness behind, far behind

 

(The Rest)

If I can fly, then you can

If I can fly, then you can fly

If I can fly

 

(Johnny)

Then you can fly………

Fly………

 

(Both Johnny and Bodi)

I will help you learn how to fly, how to fly

Free, leave all the madness behind, far behind

Far behind…

 

Once again, the crowd cheered over another performance coming from Mengcheng’s hottest band.

 

“Thank you, thank you!” Bodi thanked the audience for a moment.

 

“Right, this next song is for Johnny and Ash, so if you excuse us, the rest of us will be back! See you in a bit!”

 

Bodi, Angus and Darma left the stage, leaving Johnny and Ash on stage. The backstage crew wheeled in a grand piano as Johnny and Ash made their introductions.

 

“How’s everything so far?”

 

The crowd cheered once more.

 

“Alright, while they set up the grand piano, I want to thank all of you for supporting the two of us. And the other finalists of Buster’s singing competition. We walked the same path throughout the competition, one way or another. Give yourself a round of applause!”

 

As the crowd gave themselves a round of applause, Johnny heard from the earpiece that they were ready to perform.

 

“So, ready for our single, Ash?”

 

“You know I’m ready for everything, Johnny!”

 

“Right, enjoy the song, alright?”

 

The crowd cheered as Johnny head to his grand piano and Ash strapped on her acoustic guitar. The lights dimmed and the LED screen was turned off. Apart from two spotlights, one for each performer, the stage looked empty.

 

However, once Johnny played the first few notes and Ash started singing, they transformed the stage to their stage.

 

(Song: “I Will Believe” by Ella Hunt and Mark Benton (From the “Anna and the Apocalypse” soundtrack))

 

When I look back over my yesterdays

I was so sure, certain I'd find my way

But now the world, oh, is such a different place

All of my dreams are gone without a trace

 

Where is the light that used to shine?

Oh, where is the life that once was mine?

But while there's hope, while I still breathe

I will believe

 

Ash started strumming the guitars as Johnny sang the next verse, playing the piano at the same time.

 

There was a time nothing could hold us back

Our days were bright before this earth turned black

But now my faith feels like a distant ghost

I lost the things I used to need the most

 

Where is the light that used to shine?

Where is the life that once was mine?

But while there's hope, while I still breathe

I will believe

 

Grem provided the drums as both Johnny and Ash sang together in harmony.

 

All of a sudden, the blood in my veins runs cold

Thinking about all the days that I just let go

If I had reckoned the seconds would slip from me

I'd have paid twice for the price of the memory

For the memory

 

(Ash)

Where is the light

 

(Johnny)

that used to shine?

 

(Both)

Oh, where is the life that once was mine?

But while there's hope, while I still breathe

I will believe

 

But while there's hope, while we still breathe

We will believe

 

As the crowd cheered once more and gave a standing ovation, Buster was getting ready to come onto the stage. One of the backstage crew provided him with a microphone and his earpiece.

 

Ash made her way out onto the stage. “How was that performance?”

 

The koala did not know how to respond, but came up with this, “You looked better performing with Johnny tonight.”

 

“Then you better deliver, Buster!” Ash made that remark before joining the rest of the band for a break.

 

Just then, Johnny started playing another song, accompanied by Grem’s drums. Johnny wrote and performed the song all by himself.

 

(Song: “Bigger than Us” by Michael Rice)

 

Hear these words that I sing to you

I will make it clear, it’s me and you

We can have this love that we’ll never lose

It’s bigger than us

 

Take my hand and I’ll lead you home

Can you understand? You will never be alone.

 

It’s bigger than us

It’s bigger than you and me

It’s bigger than us

It’s bigger than everything we see

 

‘Cause I can feel the universe

When I’m feeling you breathe

It’s bigger than us

And it’s bigger than you and me

It’s bigger

 

That was Buster’s cue to come on to the stage and sang the next verse, surprising the gorilla with Buster’s surprisingly decent vocals.

 

I won’t give up and I won’t let go

‘Cause this kind of love is gonna be our only hope

 

Johnny knew Buster would come on stage and they sang the song together.

 

It’s bigger than us

It’s bigger than you and me

It’s bigger than us

It’s bigger than everything we see

‘Cause I can feel the universe

When I’m feeling you breathe

It’s bigger than us

And it’s bigger than you and me

It’s bigger

 

Bigger, bigger, bigger…

It’s bigger than

Bigger, bigger, bigger…

It’s bigger than

 

It’s bigger than us

It’s bigger than you and me

This kind of love

Is bigger than everything we see

 

Johnny belted out his high notes to the awe of the audience. He and Buster bring the song home.

 

So much bigger

 

It’s bigger than us

It’s bigger than you and me

It’s bigger than us

It’s bigger than everything we see

‘Cause I can feel the universe

When I’m feeling you breathe

It’s bigger than us

And it’s bigger than you and me

It’s bigger

 

Bigger, bigger, bigger…

It’s bigger than

Bigger, bigger, bigger…

It’s bigger than

It’s bigger

 

“Give a round of applause to Buster!” Johnny let Buster take a bow to the audience as the crowd cheered for the current owner of the new Moon Theatre.

 

“I just want to say this before we continue the performance. This concert would be real had it not been the help of the following mammals, so would you please show yourselves… Eddie Noodleman, my partner in crime!”

 

Eddie showed himself and waved to the audience. He finally lived up to the Noodleman name.

 

“Also, Rock Dog’s agent, Ian Rashford!”

 

Ian peered out from backstage and waved to the audience as well.

 

“And of course, all of you, not just inside the Moon Theatre, but from around the world streaming the concert on YouTube music, or some other illegal platform. You all played a vital role in making this concert possible! Thank you all and enjoy the rest of your evening!”

 

Once again, the crowd cheered as Buster hugged Johnny. “Bring it home, Johnny.”

 

“I will!” Johnny thanked Buster as he left the stage and the rest of the band got on once again.