“Hey, Sun, wanna hear a story?”
“Well, you don't sound very sure.”
“Sorry, Sonata. Yes, definitely.”
Sonata Dusk’s fingers worked tirelessly through yellow and red. Though her hands shivered, their precision was unwavering. Her lips were tightened into a grin resembling a blade’s gash, and her back, usually hunched or tilted carelessly, was straight as a pole. “When we lived in Paris, I'd visit the orphanages a lot. Did you know that? I bet you didn’t know that,” she said. When she giggled her teeth clacked together. “Around, er—gosh, that was around the decade reigning anniversary celebrations, sooo—1783? No, four!” She gave an absent-minded tug to the length of hair in her hands.
Sunset Shimmer winced where she sat upon the smelly, metallic floor. “Ow! Watch it. That hurt!”
“Oops! Sorry,” Sonata said, offering a smile as penitence. Her story and fingers continued, both more careful this time. “It was a bad time for the poor. Really bad. You know, it's hard when you're poor in a town or city. To be around plant and animal life and fresh water in the country is one thing, but when all you've got to work with is cold stone, and metal, and garbage...or stealing...” She shook her head. “I couldn’t bear to see those little kiddos like that. Reminded me too much of me, way back when… well… Dagi told you, I bet.”
Sunset nodded. “She did.”
Sonata’s granite-chiseled smile chipped. Her face suddenly felt tired, and she ached at the thought of her eldest sister. “Yea. Well, back then we were doing super well for ourselves. We didn’t have it as good as we used to back in Equestria, but eh. We had big apartments, lots of food, and company, and loads to spare. It was nice. So, when I could, and my sisters weren’t looking, I'd make my rounds to the girl’s orphanages and help out. Write big checks, smuggle the kids sweets, read for them, teach them to sew.” She gave the braid in her hand a playful twirl. “A ton of those girls went on to be really good seamstresses because of me, you know.”
The corner of Sunset’s mouth twitched. “Wow. That's… that’s really amazing of you, Sonata.”
Sonata chuckled. “Bet when I was hounding you in that dark corner back at CHS, you’d have never guessed that about me, huh?”
“You would have won that bet,” Sunset replied.
Sonata arched a brow, feeling vindicated. “There was one little girl at this place near Montmartre. Her name was Alouette.” Her voice creaked around the name as if it were some old, ominous door better left unopened.
Sunset looked up toward the Siren’s face. She found the odd smile still plastered there.
“Big, yellow eyes, beautiful, long black hair, the most adorable thing you'd ever seen,” Sonata sniffed. Her finger hooked, expertly pulling a lock of Sunset’s hair into three. In one, fluid motion, she began to wind another braid. “Whenever I'd visit, I would take her aside, find a quiet place, and plait her hair up with flowers just like this. And she would sing for me. She had the prettiest voice ever… well, for a mortal thingy. It would make the others so jealous. They'd always wonder why I was so sweet with her.”
Sunset’s head tilted. “Why did you favor her?”
“Oh, because Alouette was special. Different, I mean. Completely blind. There’s some science-y, nerd word for what she had now. I forget what it is.” Sonata shrugged. “The others would make fun of her for it, though. Would never play with her. She'd tell me the things that they would say to her. Horrible things. Stuff like no one could ever love her the way she was.”
Sunset folded her arms, tucking her hands within the creases of leather beneath. “Kids can be so horrible.”
“So, I started getting it in my head that Alouette sounded a lot like me when… you know.”
“And like Aria, which kind of made me even more protective of her. And she liked to sing, and I'm totally a good singing teacher… I think.”
“Sooo, I get it in my head that I'm gonna adopt her.”
“What?” Sunset yipped. Her hand knocked against brass bars. She retracted the limb with a hiss.
Cookie and Patti looked up from what they were doing on the other side of the enormous cage—playing solitaire and painting their nails blue, respectively. Both passed the Siren a sharp glare. Patti edged her back against the bars, grating the fibers of her rumpled shirt upon the cold metal.
Sonata avoided the waitress’ gaze, choosing instead to busy herself with more of Sunset’s hair. “They hate me,” she muttered.
“No, they don't,” Sunset replied, shaking the ache out of her knuckles.
“They're scared to death of me. Didn't you hear all of the things that wizard guy told them about—”
“Why don't you finish your story? I really want to know what happens,” Sunset cut in.
Cautiously, Sonata began again. “I thought adopting her was a really good idea, you know? Since Alouette was blind and everything. And since she couldn’t see, she also wouldn't be able to see us never ageing.” The Siren’s head bobbed as she spoke. “But Dagi did make some good points when I brought it up to her. Like how solitary Alouette’s life would have been if she stayed with us. We wouldn't be able to be a part of her life directly or allow any of her friends to get close to us. Whenever we needed to feed, our food would… I mean, the people we hunted, they'd… And holy cow, if they tried to escape we’d have to...”
“To…” Sunset breathed.
The mortal’s disquieted expression urged Sonata toward a gentler tone. “Things just got crazy with us and mortals is what I'm saying. A little girl like Alouette shouldn’t be around stuff like that. And Dagi said even if we locked her in her rooms when we needed to feed, she'd still grow, and start thinking, and asking questions and stuff. Teenagers are too question-y. They don’t listen. Like your Rainboom friends. It’s so annoying.”
Sunset chuckled and rolled her eyes. “Mm hm.”
“Dagi was right, though. I mean, she called me a moron a couple of times, but after she had gotten all that out of her system, I realized she was right. It was too dangerous. If anything ever did happen, and Alouette ever found out the truth about us, we'd have to take care of her; like we did with all the others.”
Sunset’s brow furrowed. “Like… like just sing for them right? So that they forget?”
“Oh, totes! All the time! But our songs are only permanent if the memory is brand new. Otherwise, they wear off eventually, and when they do, the memories return. You should know that by now, silly.” Sonata tapped Sunset lightly on the crown with her pinky. “If she kept secrets from us for too long, we would’ve had to sing to her all the time, and keep her forever like some weird, dozy pet or something. Or sing long and hard enough to drain her dry. But I couldn't do that… let her end up in some madhouse, especially back then.” Her head shook. “Nah. We’d have to kill her. It would have been the nicest thing we could do.”
Sunset fidgeted where she sat between Sonata’s knees. She pulled her jacket tighter about her body.
“Stop squirming,” Sonata ordered, again tapping Sunset upon the head. “But back then, I was a bit of a brat. Just a little stubborn.”
“Shocker,” Sunset deadpanned, twiddling her fingers.
“I know, right!” Sonata snorted. Her fingers hooked around another large section of Sunset’s hair. “Nowadays, I'm way more laid back, but back then, yeesh! After Dagi told me all of that stuff about Alouette, I went to my rooms and came up with a better idea. I decided to keep it a secret from my sisters just so I could prove to them that I knew what I was doing all along.” Sonata bent forward until her lips hovered near to Sunset’s ear. “Spoiler alert: I didn't know what I was doing. That's why I know now that it's always best to just listen to Dagi. With Aria, it's a toss up; sometimes she just tells me stuff to be mean. But Dagi’s always got the right idea.”
Sunset clasped her fingers together. “So, what did you end up doing?”
“I made somebody else adopt her!” Sonata announced, squaring her shoulders. “I wrote a letter to this rich guy who used to invite us to all of his parties. Told him I'd pay him for Alouette’s upbringing if he was game. He was totally game. He gave her a wonderful life, full of friends, and schools, and dresses, and joy. I know that cause I wrote to her twice a week, and she did the same since she could afford a scribe to pen for her and everything. When she got big enough she even began penning them herself. And I sent her gifts, too. All kinds of things, I think mostly because I couldn't ever visit her. Never again. It was just too dangerous. I told her we had moved somewhere far away, but didn't say where. No muss, no fuss. You know how it is. Greater good n’ all. ”
“Yeeeea.” Sunset hummed, tapping a finger against her chin. “That sounds alright, I guess. But you did imply that things ended up differently. I think I'm afraid to ask what happened…”
Sonata tugged at one of the long ropes of braid she had plaited into Sunset’s hair. “Well, I'll tell you anyway if you'd give me a second. Sheesh!” Her shoulders relaxed. “So, like thirty years later—”
“What!” Sunset yelped. Another yank on her braid silenced her.
“Thirty years later, I'm sitting there in the hall one night, sewing dollies—natch—when I hear a knock at the door. Dagi and Ari had just fed, and were resting up in their rooms. I remember because two or three of their humans were still propped up in the corner, all wonky and out of it. They were part of some Romanian traveling circus or something else with a similar flavor like that.”
“Yea, like… you know when you’re on a really long trip in between moving, and for that short time you have nowhere to call home? It was that flavor of uncertainty and melancholy. Tangy and confused. So, I think the girls really wanted to keep them around to finish them off later, and—”
“Okaaay, sorry! Gosh...” The Siren sighed loudly. “I go to see who is at the door, and—get this—it's Alouette.”
“Right? So, I totally freak out, cause it's been thirty years, and now I'm waaay cuter than she is. Then I remember that she can't see me, and so I breath a couple of times, and went to go hide the circus troupe in the closet.”
Sunset passed Sonata a weary look.
“What? We had a really big storage closet!” the Siren huffed. “Anyway, I check on Adagio and Aria and they're both still napping. So, I let Alouette inside, and—”
“And? How was she? What was she like?” Sunset pressed, now on the edge of her metaphorical seat.
“She was awesome sauce! All grown up, with a husband and a family, and I brought her cake, and poured her some brandy, and she told me that she was a writer, which kind of sucked cause I’d hoped she'd take to singing, but it was also awesome because she got to travel the world, and be happy, and…” Sonata sighed. “She had come to thank me. To tell me how much she’d missed me. How much she loved me, and that I'd saved her from a horrible fate, which I totally did do, by the way.”
Sunset’s brow bobbed. “Of course.”
Sonata’s smile faltered. “It was still kind of sad, though; even after all of that, I couldn't let her touch me like when she was little. I couldn't let her read my face with her fingers, or even allow her to hear me speak too loudly. She would have figured us out. And if she figured us out, then she'd be in danger.”
“Yea, I know,” Sunset said.
“But it was good at first; everything sweet and warm. I was so happy,” Sonata said hesitating to speak again. Then, something changed in her aura.
Sunset was keen. She noticed Sonata’s grip upon her hair go limp. When she looked up, the Siren’s smile had wilted, her usually beaming eyes had grown dim like tinted windows.
“I'm so clumsy. I should’ve remembered to lock the door. I was just so excited!” Blue fingers twiddled around a few stray strands of red. Sonata’s body hardened like stone as she stared off into some long gone place and time. Her haunted expression bore into Cookie and Patti from the other side of their shared cell. Both mortals squirmed and lowered their heads.
“Hey,” Sunset said, poking a finger into the aquamarine flesh that brushed against her forearm.
Sonata jolted to attention, again forcing her razor sharp smile. “Lou walked in.”
“Lou?” Sunset asked.
“Oh, yea. Short for Loupe. ‘Petit Privé,’ they called him. A boy—well, once boy—we had known a long time before that night. Son of some private investigator. They had those back then, you know.”
“Mm hm. Nosey little thing. Followed his dad around on all sorts of investigations. Followed his dad around when someone hired him to snoop on us—you know, because weird things keep happening around us. He was even there to see how his dad died, apparently. It was really bad. Monsieur Privé had been getting on Dagi and Ari’s nerves for a long time. They let out a lot of steam on that guy when they finally got the chance.” Sonata shrugged. “Lou was young then. Nobody believed anything he told them about us. Definitely didn't believe his stories about three singing witches drowning his dad in a bog. It was a new age. People were starting to ignore that kind of superstitious stuff. Lou would've ended up in an institution if we didn’t pay to send him away for his ‘own health’. Really really far away. Dagi thought that scheme up herself. Said it made us look charitable and forgiving or something in light of his trying to blame us for murder. She's so smart!”
Sunset was rendered speechless. “Then w… why was he in your apartment all of those years later?”
Sonata snorted. “Gosh, Sunset. I told you already. Alouette had gotten married, and had a family! You really need to keep up.”
Sunset blinked. “Wait. But then that would mean—”
“But, then Lou would’ve had to have planned that for years and—”
“Yep. Turns out you mortal thingies can be pretty nasty, too.”
“Whoa...” Sunset breathed.
“That's what I said!” Sonata shouted. “Except it was more like: ‘My sweet Lord!’ or ‘By the King’s ghost!’ or something goofy like that.”
“Well, what happened next?” Sunset asked, bracing forward, fingers tapping against brass.
“Uh, he tried to kill me. Duh,” Sonata scoffed. “Managed to hit me real good. Knocked my lights out. Stopped up my mouth so I couldn't sing. When I woke up, Alouette was calling him crazy, trying to pull him off of me, but he just kept telling her to touch my face. ‘Come here! Come and touch her! By God, the woman is younger than you were twenty years ago! They’re the witches! The ones who killed my father!’” She shook her head. “I was hoping and hoping Alouette wouldn't listen. That she'd just walk right out, and never come back again. Go live happily with her kiddies.”
“Let me guess,” Sunset began, her eyebrows hopped once before settling low. “She didn’t.”
“Nope. She touched my face,” Sonata said matter-of-factly, dragging a finger down her cheek. “I tried to frown, wrinkle my nose to make it seem older, but Alouette knew. She knew he was telling the truth as soon as she touched my face, my neck, my hands especially. She was so shocked, wanted explanations and the whole nine. It was way too dramatic. Blech. Probably why Aria and Adagio woke up, because of all that stinky, sappy drama wafting through the air.” There were no more stray smiles. Silence dragged out until, at last, Sonata managed to take a deep breath. “I wanted him to leave, to take me with them if he needed to. I just didn't want Alouette to be there anymore. She just couldn’t be there with my sisters. But Lou didn’t care, of course. Every time I tried to sing, he'd stop my mouth up again. It was such a mess.”
“So strange that he couldn't see that he had turned into a cold manipulator just like you three—what with how he tricked Alouette… No offense,” Sunset said.
“None taken,” Sonata replied, steadying the girl so that she might put the finishing touches on her hair. “But I definitely wasn’t the coldest. Not by a long shot. That's why I wanted them to leave, before my sisters woke up.”
“But they didn't,” Sunset added.
Sonata shook her head. “‘Course not. And it was silly to think that even if they did, she would’ve been safe. Their scent, you see… and my sisters…” She gave a little sniff, tugging at her pale blue nose. “It was over as soon as Lou walked in with all of his stinky revenge. I just didn't want to admit it. My sisters had them both wrapped in a song before they’d even come out of their rooms. They were so mad at me; didn't even care that the memory of our youth was still fresh in Alouette. Didn’t even let me say goodbye properly. But at least the end came quick, y’know? It could’ve been way worse.” The Siren made an ominous swooping gesture with her arm, reminiscent of a knight swinging his sword.
“The… the end?” Sunset squeaked trailing a finger down her neck. When the succeeding silence became too ominous, she reached up blindly to give the Siren’s arm a squeeze. She didn’t know what else to do.
Sonata pulled the tie from her own ponytail. Blue tresses came tumbling down about her shoulders as she gathered Sunset’s hair up at the nape. “You know, everyone’s always thought that I was kind of dumb.”
Sunset bit her lip. “Oh? I didn’t realize...”
“I can tell when you're lying, remember?” the Siren shot.
“Oh, come on. It's centuries too late for that insult to get to me, anyway. I've been hearing it my whole life.” Sonata smiled, rolling the ends of Sunset’s hair about in her palms. “I know by now why people might think that. I know that the things I do, and gosh, the things that I say… Sometimes even I’m like, ‘Sonata. Did you for real just say that?’”
Sunset giggled. “We’ve all had moments like that.”
“Me more than anybody else I think,” the Siren replied. “But you know, along the way there were so many times that I began to believe that it might actually be true. I would think back, and could never remember a single moment that I didn't need help, or somebody explaining something to me, or dragging me along. After a couple hundred years, I started to suppose that maybe those negative Nancys were right about me not being able to do or think of anything good on my own.” She pulled a bobby pin from a hidden place upon her sleeve, and clipped it into Sunset’s hair. “But now I know better; because of Alouette. For all of the clutter always rumbling about in my noggin’, I was still smart enough to do for her what nobody else ever did for me… Well, ‘cept my sisters, of course.”
Sunset listened to the Siren’s voice crack. Something wet landed upon her shoulder and splashed against her cheek. As it slid down the leather of her jacket, she felt a lump growing in her own throat.
“I made something good out of that little girl, and everyone just wanted to toss her away like trash… like what they did to me. I proved to the whole wide world and to myself, that I was smart, and had good ideas. That I could do something helpful. Alouette made me like myself again. Really like myself. Now, every time I feel low or ashamed I just remember that she happened. Sounds a little selfish, but eh. I am a Siren, right?” She hummed quietly to herself, imperfectly so as to elude the restrictive collar now biting into the flesh of her neck. “Just a shame that she couldn’t stay a little while longer. Shame that she was so… short.”
When Sunset did not hear her speak again, she turned around to find Sonata staring off into the depths of nowhere, wide-eyed, lost, and trying with all of her might to hide long buried despair. Confused about the nature of all that she had just learned, she bit her lip. “Sonata, why did you want to tell me all of this?”
The question drew Sonata out of her tentative trance. Eyelids fluttered as her pupils focused upon the mortal sitting calmly before her. “I… I don't know,” she said with with a shrug. “I think that maybe… maybe I needed to tell somebody because I was starting to feel really stupid again. I was starting to feel like all of this stuff that's happening right now with Patti and Cookie and that wizard guy is my fault.”
Sunset’s brow creased as she looked at the melancholy lump of blue, twirling an aquamarine strand of hair about her pinky. “Come on. You know that isn't true.”
Sonata shrugged, not wanting to discuss the matter further. Exhaling heavily, she again straightened her back. “Aria and Adagio didn’t speak to me for months after that night, not that I minded it. After what they did, I wasn’t too keen on talking to them either. At least not until we were forced back to England. Wanna guess what the first thing Aria said to me was after our ship docked? After all that time?”
Sunset shook her head.
“‘This place reeks of so much misery, it drowns even yours out, Sonata,’ is what she said.”
Sunset’s features pulled taut. “Huh.”
Sonata smiled. “Sweet, right? Aria does have a heart buried away somewhere, believe it or not. But you already knew that.” The Siren motioned her chin in Cookie’s direction. “Heck, a piece of it is sitting right over there.”
Sunset huffed. “That's actually not what I was thinking, but—”
“There! All done,” Sonata interjected, pushing a rogue strand of hair out of Sunset’s eyes. She swept a doting hand over the girl’s romantic coiffure and smiled. “You know, that isn't too shabby paired with your jacket. You could be in a retro magazine or something. Like on the cover!”
“Really?” Sunset laughed, quite relieved to be rid of the prior conversation. “You'll have to show me how to do it myself when we get out of here.”
Sonata’s smile collapsed. She looked away.
Feeling guilty, Sunset placed a hand upon her knee. “You are going to get out of here.”
“Everyone can’t be the hero of the story, Sunset,” Sonata said, forcing a weak smile. “Everyone doesn’t get a happily ever after, even if they are being good.” She thought to herself for a moment. “Don't tell Adagio I said that. She struggles with existential stuff like that.”
“I… I won't,” Sunset replied, drawing her unsteady hand away. She bit her lip. “D… do you think that Patti or Cookie wants their hair done maybe?”
Sonata huffed. “Doubt it. I told you already. They hate me.”
“And I told you that isn't true,” Sunset pressed.
Sonata’s cheeks puffed. Hands balled into fists, she rose to her feet, and turned to face Patti. The former waitress was painting her pinky nail sapphire blue. “Hey, Patti!”
Patti bolted forward onto her knees, and straightened her back. The look in her eye was all fire and brimstone. “If you even get any closer, I swear I'll scratch your eyes out, you monster!”
“See?” Sonata said, flipping a lock of blue hair over her shoulder.
Sunset passed an imploring look the Siren’s way. “Sonata, you've got to give them some time, alright? They've been hit with a lot of information today.” She turned toward the two irate women. “Isn’t that right, you two?”
The other two mortals’ body language managed to let off the vague sense that they wished for another row of bars to magically appear between them all. Cookie was currently busying herself with shuffling her deck of playing cards whilst nursing a fresh, black, right eye—a stark contrast to the inherited white patch that encircled her left. She was in business mode at the moment, her shock of hair pulled back away from her weary face.
Patti simply shrugged. “I've decided that this is all a horrible fever dream brought on by her.” She pointed a freshly painted fingernail in Sonata’s direction. “You and this crappy place are all just figments of my tortured subconscious.”
Sunset sighed. Shaking her head, she turned to face Sonata. “My point is, Sonata, that they'll come around eventually. I learned that you three aren’t all you were cracked up to be. They can learn that, too. But negative thinking isn’t going to help, and you certainly can't be stressed about it all of the time like this, or else you will… will...” She blinked. “Well, I don't really know, but I think it would be best if you remained calm.”
“Why should I?” Sonata sniffed. “It’s not like any of you care whether I live or die.”
“That isn’t true!” Sunset replied. “There are people who are willing to care about you girls, but you've got to learn how to trust us first. To really trust us. Not just pretend that you do. And that means being honest!”
“If you or that little, pink paradox you call a sister would’ve gotten that through your thick skulls a bit earlier, maybe we all would’ve had more time to digest this news. Be a little less pissed at’cha, perhaps,” Cookie added, slamming a row of five cards face down onto the cage floor.
“Try less terrified,” Patti muttered.
Sonata, feeling bruised, raised her hands in Patti’s direction, gnarling her fingers like claws. Baring her teeth, she hissed, and frowned when the two mortals scrambled away. “Yea, you just think I'm going to eat your soul or something. Nothing that might come between friends if you just had some time to think about it, right?”
No mortal within the cage seemed to have a good reply for this.
A glowing hole opened up in the darkness beyond. One gray arm poked its way through, then a head. Starshot had returned.
“Ah, good. Here comes freak number two,” Patti said, blowing upon her fingertips. “I'm gonna ask him if he'll give me another cage. I do not feel safe with that thing in here.” She pointed toward Sonata.
Cookie, perhaps out of guilt, remained silent, but it was clear by her furrowed brow that she felt similarly.
Starshot emerged from the void, paying the quartet no mind. As he headed toward his desk, Sonata leaned in toward her two, more dour cell mates. “Wait a minute. You two are scared of me, but not him?” she hissed, stomping her foot. The bars of their enormous cage rattled. “That guy is from Equestria. He's dangerous, too! He’d mush you into little, tiny, glowy pieces!”
“I'll take my chances, seeing as how he isn't the one who tried to eat my soul or whatever the hell it is you three do,” Patti scoffed.
Sonata’s cheeks burned red. “We don't. Eat. Souls. Patti. That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!” As she berated the mortal, a fresh streak of silver slowly stretched its way from her scalp to the end of her hair.
The others watched on in wonder as it happened, but only Sunset managed to lift her finger to point. “Uh, Sonata? Um. Your hair. It's…”
When the Siren’s gaze had finished following the invisible line drawn between Sunset’s finger and her own shoulder, her jaw dropped. She gripped onto the lock that rested there, and tugged hard enough to wrench her neck. “Oh no no no! Not again!”
“Sonata, you're going to make it worse!” Sunset shouted rushing over to comfort the girl. “I told you that you’ve got to calm—”
“What in Celestia’s name are you four doing over there?” Starshot hissed, rattling the cage’s bars with a bright blast of his magic. The four girls went silent, retreating to the rear of their prison as the mage approached. “Well? Suddenly, no one wishes to speak?”
Cookie, the only one eyeing the wizard with disgust, took a bold step forward. “I was just wondering about you, sugar. How’s that arm doing by the way?”
Her attention was quickly drawn away to the blackness at Starshot’s back where the sound of shuffling feet could now be heard. A muffled voice mumbled to itself in the beyond. Something about its tone seemed familiar to Cookie. She nudged her chin in the void’s direction. “You brought another friend? Good. Now all five of us can set around and figure how we’re gonna whoop your sorry—”
“How in the hell am I supposed to get out of here?” the faraway voice screeched. This time both Cookie and Sonata stood at attention.
Starshot smiled coyly at them both. “You were saying?”
“That voice…” Cookie breathed.
It continued on. “Hey, Starshit! Can you get your life together for one damn second here, and—”
“Walk forward, you foul-mouthed reptile!” Starshot shouted over his shoulder. After a few more moments of shuffling and cursing, a fuchsia hand burst through the dim, ringed with light.
“Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” Sonata cried, barreling forward to push Cookie out of her way. “Ari? Ari, is that you?”
A skinny, mostly black-clad body broke through the void, along with an angry head topped in disheveled purple, green, and gray. “What the hell!” Aria screamed as she tumbled forward into the room, predictably irate. “If you want me so bad, then don't leave me alone in the same room with your stupid mirror, dumbass. I had the right mind to turn around and walk right back through!”
“You could have,” Starshot shrugged, watching the girl struggle to her feet. “But then you'd be lost to the portal forever, I'd wager.”
Aria’s lips curled inward. Her hands clenched into fists. “You know you've sure got a lot to say for a mage who can't even—”
“Aria!” Sonata screamed from the opposite side of the room.
The sound of her sister’s voice silenced Aria at once. “S… Sonata?” she breathed, forgetting that Starshot was there. When she spotted her kin’s pitifully weepy face caged behind brass, she bounded forward. With each footstep her body breathed in life. The closer she got to her, the more complete she felt, and the hole that had once been gouged out of her spirit was at last filled. In that moment, Sonata was all she could see. Aria was drawn to her as one might be to a big, blue, incoherently babbling glass of fresh water after days in a scorching desert.
As her hands reached out, prepared to embrace her sister as best as she could through cold metal, a glowing wall of gold rose up between them, and forced them apart. Aria dug her heels into the blackness beneath her, then stood straight after she had steadied herself. “No! You said that I could touch her!” she cried, banging a fist against the spell magic. “Sonata, you okay? You're not hurt, right?”
“I'm okay,” Sonata squeaked, giving her sister a weak nod.
Patti managed a loud snort. “Well, I guess I'm just chopped liver then,” she muttered beneath her breath.
“You shut up, Mint!” Aria shot.
“Or else what, you freaking reptile? You gonna suck my blood over it?”
“I damn well might!” Aria shook her head free of distractions, namely the sour-faced waitress with the fresh manicure. Spinning about, she jutted a finger in Starshot’s direction. “You promised!”
“Not quite yet, little creature,” Starshot said, his glowing hand still raised. “Not with the others around you. I still don't know what might happen if you and your sister are so close together in the vicinity of food, and in a place like this. Precautions must be taken.” He leaned forward. “I think I'll just observe for a moment, if that's alright with you.”
Aria pushed her hip out to one side. “Do you plan on going back on every deal we make?” she growled.
“Not at all,” Starshot said. “But on this matter, I'm afraid you will just have to indulge me, so to speak. Don’t worry. I'm sure you'll discover some other distraction very soon.”
“Yea?” Aria said, cocking an eyebrow. “And what might that be? Sitting around with my thumb up my—”
“Aria?...” came a weak voice from the rear of the cage.
If the sound of Sonata’s voice had stopped her train of thought, the sound of Cookie’s stopped her heart. An electric charge raced up the older siren’s spine. Her eyes went wide enough for everyone present to see the purple glint within them, even in the dark. Her arms fell uselessly at her sides as she caught an eyeful of the most beautiful thing she could recall seeing in months. “You…”
Sonata nudged Sunset in the shoulder from where they both stood on the other side of the glowing wall. “Oh my gosh, it's happening!” she hissed. It would seem that she had forgotten all about her own woes whilst watching her sister approach the one cage corner Starshot had permitted to evade his magic.
Neither Aria nor Cookie spoke until all that was left between them was a thin row of bars.
Aria’s lips parted first. “Your eye.”
Cookie chuckled. The sound was hollow, and there was no smile to pair with it. “Oh, it's no big deal. That jerk got me good, but not before I got him.”
Aria could feel no joy while taking in the image of Cookie injured and trapped this way. “There was a whole puddle of blood at your place. Everything was broken and torn up. I thought that he had…” Her lips drew in tight.
“Now you know better than to worry about me that way, Aria Blaze,” Cookie said. The words were void of their usual warmth. “That wasn't my blood. It was his. That bastard broke in, and tried to get at me just before I was going to leave for work. Shot him twice in the arm. He ain't the only one with a piece. And I thought that old thing really was broken, too.”
Aria snorted. At last, a smile broke out on her face. “He never checked to see if you were right, huh?” she muttered to herself. “Shocker. Yet another thing old Starshit has failed to predict.”
Cookie’s eyes grew dim. She covered her mouth with a hand so that Aria could not see her lips tremble. “H… how come you didn't call, Aria?” she breathed. “I was so worried about you… and you never even…”
“I-I was thinking about your safety. I didn't know how much he knew. I didn't want to let him know more about how we...” Aria choked. “I just couldn't.”
“Well, you should've, Aria. Because this was no way for me to find out.” She looked away. “But I guess it doesn't matter anymore.”
Aria bowed her head and forced a small chuckle, not knowing what else to do. “A-at least you're okay. I should have known that you could take care of yourself.” She reached through the bars to grasp at the woman’s arm. “That jerk couldn’t—”
Cookie flinched, wrenching her arm away. She took a step back from the bars, avoiding the Siren’s gaze.
Only then did Aria note that the shopkeep was frowning. More than that; she was grimacing. What was that scent threatening to burst from her pores? Fear? Anger? “Cookie? What's wrong with you?” she asked, pressing herself against the bars. The woman stepped even further beyond her reach.
Aria said nothing, only stared in confusion. Her gaze slid toward Sonata who stood to the side looking quite ashamed of herself. By the time her purple eyes landed on Sunset they were demanding an explanation. “Shimmer, what the hell is going on?”
Sunset took a deep breath and a small step forward. “Aria, that mage told us a lot of things about your pasts. A lot of bad things. Things that even I didn't know.”
“And? What is that supposed to mean? What did he say?” Aria asked, already weary of the girl tip-toeing around the truth of the matter.
Sunset struggled for the correct words.
Starshot beat her to them. “It means they're terrified of you,” he said. “I told them about you three. About what you are, what you're capable of. Needless to say, they are reacting in the way that any sane creature might to such a revelation.”
Aria balked. “You don't understand us, Starshot. You never did.” Turning around, she passed a desperate look Cookie’s way. “Cookie, just listen to me, okay? Whatever he told you… it’s all a…” Her eyes met Sunset’s. The girl bit her lip, and looked away. “It’s all a dirty…” Her gaze landed upon her sister who had managed to curl herself up in a corner, knees to her chest.
The youngest Siren shook her head at Aria, imploring her not to tell a lie.
Aria studied Cookie and Patti. Their eyes were filled with fatigue and worry that should have never been there to begin with. Indeed, the least she could afford them now was a little truth.
“Aria?” Cookie said before the elder Siren had a chance to speak. “Who was Cricket?”
Aria’s jaw fell slack. Whatever strength was left in her limbs melted away. “I…”
“What did I tell you about lyin’ to me, Aria Blaze?” Cookie asked, voice low and impatient. Her arms were crossed against her chest. It made her look more like a frightened child than the domineering boss Aria remembered. “Who was Cricket? What did you do to her?”
Stillness of dead air. The only sound audible was the squeak of Sonata’s sneakers as she rocked back and forth in her corner.
Aria blinked. For once, she could see that it was Cookie who was looking straight into her heart instead of the other way around. Her hand instinctively clutched at her chest. Perhaps she was afraid that the shop owner might see nothing there if she were to look hard enough. “She was a mare… from where I come from,” Aria began, her throat dry. “I… relieved her of her mind, her memories, her emotions, her free will, everything. I did it because I was bored and hungry, and she happened to be there, and she happened to taste good, so I…” She swallowed nothing but air. The pain in her throat was sharp. “I didn’t care. But that was before I was sent to your world. It was before I lost my abilities, and before I began to remember what it was like...”
“What what was like?” Cookie asked, not bothering to mask the disapproval in her tone.
“What it was like to be mo—” Aria bit her tongue, remembering that Starshot was present. Even now she could feel the mage burning holes into the back of her head with his golden eyes. “I… I can't say.”
Cookie frowned. “Why? Why can't you say?”
Starshot took a step closer, very much intrigued by Aria’s hesitancy to speak. The Siren took a wary glance over her shoulder. “I just can't.”
Cookie studied her, then shrugged, unmoved by the girl’s discomfort. “What about this Celestia and Luna? What did you do to them?”
The Siren’s lips drew in. Her hands clasped about the bars of the cage. “That was a long time ago, Cookie.”
“Well, then what about Europe? Those soldiers at… what did he call it? The Red… something,” Cookie stammered.
“Redfield,” Starshot corrected her.
“Yea that,” Cookie said. “The Redfield Massacre, Aria? And all of those folks you ‘disappeared.’ And all the women you forced to confess to witchcraft in your stead. Do you know what happened to ‘em? Any of ‘em? Do you even care?”
“People died, Aria! It was your fault!”
“Gladiola, Astrid, Flemming, Dustin? You spin them all the same yarn you did for me? Huh?”
“Oh god…” Aria groaned, hiding her face in her hands.
“So, that time at my place, and all that stuff you wrote in your letter, that was all just to what? To trick me? To get me to trust you? So you could use me for something? Or eat my energy or whatever?”
Aria’s head shot up, eyes sparking. “What? No! How would I even be able to—ugh!” Her fists slammed against the cage bars. “Is that what that bastard told you? That I would hurt you?” She paced the cage’s perimeter, willing every bit of affection she had ever felt for Cookie through thin air. “Cookie what do you want me to say? You want the truth? The truth is that I'm an ancient, chaos-stoking, hate-devouring, sea monster, alright? The truth is that I surrounded myself with adoring mortals because I didn't have the balls to admit that I hated myself more than I hated any of them. I wanted an excuse to call myself great, okay? But Cookie, if you can believe those things then you also have to believe me when I say that those things aren’t all that I… we are. Don't listen to that jerk. I can feel other things, too! I’ve felt them for mortals, and I feel them for... I just...” She rounded to the corner of the cage, again reaching her arm through. “You believe me, right? I would never hurt you, Cookie. Don't you believe me?”
Cookie retreated to the opposite corner of the cube, her eyes going wide. “Alright, Aria,” she said. “That’s fine, just… just stay back. Okay?”
“Cookie, just take my hand,” Aria begged her, desperation plastered all over her face. “Just let me prove to you that I won’t try anything.”
“Aria…” Cookie sighed.
“Starshot, open this damn cage, and let me in!” the Siren commanded.
Patti began to scream. Sunset rushed to her aid, bewildered by the spectacle playing out before her.
“A… Ari? Maybe you shouldn't,” Sonata said, squeezing her arms tighter about her knees.
“Shut up, Sonata!” Aria cried, marching toward the cage’s door.
Starshot cocked an eyebrow as he looked toward Cookie. “What do you think, human? Should I let her in, or would you rather stay imprisoned than be near to her?”
Cookie bit her tongue, still aware enough to be ashamed of herself. Her eyes pled with Starshot as the lock upon the cage door began to glow.
“Well? Is that a yes or a no?” the mage pressed.
“N… n… ” Cookie stammered.
“Open it, Starshot!” Aria cried.
“Aria!” Sunset shouted through the din. “You're only making things worse!”
The hinges of the cage door groaned open as Aria rushed inside. She froze just in front of the gaping threshold, staring at Cookie as the woman struggled to press herself farther into the corner. Nothing but air stood between them now. Aria took a tentative step forward, her arms fidgeting at her sides.
“Aria, you s-stop right there,” the shopkeep stuttered.
“I'm not going to hurt you,” Aria said. She took a bigger step, crossing the midway point between them.
“Stay back,” Cookie huffed. The warm tone of her skin began to blanch. The contrast of the white patch around her eye grew indistinct.
“Dammit, Cookie, don't say that to me. You know you don't mean it,” Aria sighed. “Nothing’s changed. I just… All I want to do is... be near you is all. Like before!” She closed the rest of the distance between them. Cookie was so close now that the Siren could hear her frail, finite heart pounding. The acrid stench of cold terror filled the air around them as she reached out to touch her. The mortal’s skin had gone cold. Aria could feel it shivering beneath her fingertips. The scent of Cookie’s fear grew more dense. Aria’s nose twitched at the smell. Her enchanted eyes flashed.
A smack echoed through empty air. Everyone, even Patti, flinched at its sharp reverb. When the echo had dissipated, Aria was left clutching her cheek, face shrouded by a curtain of purple and green.
“Don’t… touch… me,” Cookie hissed. Her shuddering fingers clanked a swift rhythm against the cage’s bars.
When light again shone on Aria’s face, her eyes had gone dead and dark on the inside, their ageless sparkle all but drained away. In an instant, she had become something far older and more threatening than what the mortal woman had ever seen before. “Oh, y-yea?” the Siren breathed, poorly hidden heartbreak in every word. “Well, if it’s that bad, Cookie, then… then fine.” She attempted to bite her tongue, but the same old, petty part of her brain bid her to speak as it always did when she was hurting. It bid her to lash out, to offend. “I… I should’ve…” Her fingers clamped over her mouth, but her lips would not be stopped. “I should’ve sucked the wits outta you when I had the chance!” She watched herself raise her hands like claws, and listened to her own throat let forth a terrible growl. “You're lucky that you never even smelled good enough for me to bother! Why don't you just go ahead then, and run, you coward? Before I change my mind. I can't stand to look at your worthless, insignificant face anymore!” She shuffled backward, allowing Cookie the room to reach to her side, and pull herself to safety toward the opened cage doors.
When the mortal had escaped, Aria rested her reeling head in one shaking palm, not bothering to turn around to watch the cage door slam shut. Her legs gave way as did her lungs, and she went crashing to her knees in a tired, deflated heap. “Oh no,” she moaned to herself, doubling over as if in grave pain. “Oh no.”
“You! You let Patti and this other girl out of there right now!” Cookie cried, urging Starshot over with a frantic wave of her hand.
Starshot frowned at her. “Why should I?”
“Just let me out, Mister!” Patti shrieked, trying her best to hide herself from the two Siren sisters behind Sunset’s leather jacket.
“Let them out,” Aria monotoned at last, her voice gone hoarse. She did not turn around to look at any of them. “Don't torture them like this. Just let them out.”
Passing the entire lot a dull glare, Starshot shifted the golden barrier within the cage one last time, letting it dissipate, and allowing Patti safe passage through. The waitress wasted no time, and soon was standing beside Cookie beyond the cage door, begging Starshot to lock it tight.
Sonata, in the meantime, rushed to her sister’s side. Throwing her arms about her shoulders she pulled her in close. Aria didn't resist, bowing her head into the crook of her kin’s neck.
“Ari, I'm so sorry,” the younger Siren whispered.
Starshot stroked his chin, taking a few steps toward the cage. “What about you? Don't you wish to get away as well?” he called, looking toward Sunset.
Sunset lifted her chin, and placed a hand on Sonata’s shoulder. “No. I'm fine right where I am.”
The mage shrugged. “Suit yourself.” As the lock upon the cage door twisted shut, its golden glow shifted and grew, cloaking Patti and Cookie from head to toe.
“Hey, what is this?” Patti screamed as her feet sank into the gloom that served as flooring. Cookie bowled over beside her, disappearing into darkness up to the knees.
Aria, hearing their shrieks, shot up and raced to the edge of the cage. “Hey, what the hell are you doing? You have us now! Just let them go!”
Starshot shook his head. “Afraid I can't do that, little creature. At least not as yet.” The two women had now disappeared into the darkness up to their chests. “But no worries. I'll be sure to keep them both safe, away from you.”
“Not down there,” Aria said. “Keep them where I can see them!”
They'd both disappeared up to their shoulders now. Seeing that Starshot was determined, Aria turned her attentions upon Cookie instead. “You're going to be okay, alright? He doesn't hurt innocent people.” She shocked herself. If before she had only known her tongue to act on its own accord to ruin all of the good things in her life, in that moment she had learned something else—it could also show mercy.
A pregnant silence passed between Cookie and herself in that last moment; a look of affection filled with all the regret that neither of them could express out loud. By the time Cookie’s lips parted to speak, only her head was visible. “Aria?” she called out before the rest of her was gone.
When they were left again in quiet, Aria passed the mage a poisonous glare. “I hope you're rested up, jackass. Because you've had the last good sleep you'll ever get in this place.”
Starshot only smiled. He turned to face his desk, and conjured a viewing spell into his palms.
The three prisoners leaned in close, intrigued by what they saw within the spell—visions of themselves and the people they knew, zipping back and forth in an indecipherable order.
Sonata licked her lips, prepared to inquire what sort of magic this was, only to be hushed by a yellow finger pushed against her lips.
Sunset’s turquoise eyes studied the bubble, flashing in tandem with its every spark. The image of a cabin in the woods was visible within the spell magic, then the interior of an enormous modern apartment decorated in art deco, a pair of fair yellow hands sifting through a stack of papers at a desk, flashes of blue hair, the remnants of songs long since ended, and overly willing mortal meals long since devoured. A smorgasbord of banished Siren existence was splayed out for them all to see—and yet, something seemed to be missing. Sunset’s brow creased as it dawned upon her. “Sonata,” she whispered, tugging at the youngest Siren’s sleeve. “Have you ever seen him cast this spell before?”
Sonata shook her head.
Sunset hummed to herself, and turned to take a seat upon the cage floor. Her gaze landed upon Aria who was still sulking and hunched in the corner, head betwixt her knees. Her thoughts shifted. “Hey, Sonata. Watch that spell for a bit, okay? I've got a hunch about something, but I'll need you to do that for me first.”
“Okay,” Sonata replied, nodding her head. She passed a worried look her sister’s way. The look grew even more distressed when she saw Sunset get to her feet, and begin to approach the sulky girl. Her arm shot out, snatching Sunset back by the hem of her jacket. “Not a good idea right now. Not a good idea ever, really. But right now, definitely not.”
Sunset regarded her for a moment, and then nodded. “I get that, Sonata. But I think we both know it would be even worse if we left her like this… with her own thoughts.”
Sonata’s cheeks puffed in their usual, perturbed fashion before her grip upon Sunset’s jacket loosened. Warily, she let her go, opting to return to the task of studying Starshot’s viewing spell. “Just be careful,” she whispered over her shoulder. “And don't get too close to her mouth. She bites when she's that angry.”
Sunset didn't reply since she wasn't quite sure what to make of such advice. Rubbing her palms together, she made her way over to where Aria was sitting, and plopped herself down a short distance away; close enough to make her presence felt, but certainly not close enough for it to seem intentional, or worse yet, well-intentioned.
The seconds passed. Aria didn’t move nor did she acknowledge Sunset’s presence. Her face remained shrouded by her long, draping locs.
Not knowing what else to do, Sunset let forth a very deliberate cough.
Aria remained still.
Aria sighed loudly. “Shimmer, you cough one more time and I'm gonna lose it.”
“What? N… I just... There was just something stuck in my…” Remembering Sonata’s comment about being able to detect lies, Sunset decided it might not be the worst idea to drop her poor act. She crossed her arms. “Okay, fine. Aria… are… are you—”
Aria’s head spun about. Fresh anger had returned to her eyes. “You ask me if I'm okay, and I'll lose it again.”
Ironically, this show of rage calmed the mortal girl’s nerves. There was still some hope for Aria if she could at least still express her favorite mood—disgust. Sunset’s lips parted to speak.
“Matter of fact, if you say anything else to me at all, I'm going to make you regret it,” Aria stymied her.
Sunset bit her lip and raised an eyebrow. Never would it be said that she had backed down from a threat. She'd seen her heyday for threats, just like Aria had. “I don't think you will.”
Aria blinked, surprised by the girl’s audacity. “I win my bets, Shimmer.”
“So do I, Blaze,” Sunset retorted.
“Look, what do you want?” Aria shouted, one hand flailing through the air, the other rubbing at her temples. “It's bad enough that I’m locked in here with arguably the two most annoying beings in the universe. So, just tell me what I gotta do to get you out of my face.”
Sunset stroked her chin. She shrugged, offering Aria a tiny smile. “Just a talk. That's all.”
Aria’s features flattened. “A talk. Super. And this talk would be about…?”
As if she didn't already know.
“Well, I kind of just wanted to see how you were feeling and,” Sunset took a deep breath, “talk about what you said before. You know… to, uh… to Cookie.”
The flames in the Siren’s eyes reignited. Her glistening white teeth bit down upon her bottom lip. “Swear to Seas, Shimmer. You've got all of five seconds to get the fuck away from me or—”
“Did you know Twilight Sparkle stole my boyfriend?” Sunset blurted. She couldn't figure any better way to utilize those five pain-free seconds than with self-deprecating gossip. Aria looked like the type of woman who appreciated that sort of thing. “I mean, I wasn't into him that much, and she didn't really steal him, and it wasn't really on purpose, but… yea.”
The Siren only looked confused. “The hell are you on about? Who the hell is Twilight Sparkle? What is this supposed to be, Shimmer?”
Across the way, Starshot’s spell had dissipated into a burst of sparks. As he turned to straighten his jacket and walk toward the mirror room, Sonata leaned back from the bars. “Psst! Hey, Sunset!” she hissed, raising an arm, and throttling it about in the mortal’s direction. “Hey, he's leaving!”
Sunset nodded and waved, bidding the younger Siren to stay put. “Be there in a sec,” she said, returning her attentions to Aria. She ran a hand across her hair before remembering it was all done up in soft waves and pins. Her palms pressed into her lap instead. “I guess I’m just trying to say that I… I get what it feels like when someone you care about begins to look at you differently. To look at you as if you're something else, you know?”
Aria’s lips pressed together. Her expression went grim. She turned away. “You don't know anything. God, mortals like you are clueless. Always swear you've got us all figured out. You can't even help yourself, can you?”
“I'm not claiming to know everything about you, Aria,” Sunset said, ignoring the sound of the Siren scoffing at her. “But what is pretty obvious to everyone is that you do have feelings for Cookie. Strong ones.” Again, she inhaled some courage. “Have you ever considered that maybe the emotion that you're feeling for her is… is...”
Aria lunged forward, slapping a fist against the cold floor in front of Sunset’s knees. The mortal girl teetered and tumbled onto her side. “Have you ever considered that maybe I can still rip your throat out, even without my fangs?” The Siren’s lips peeled away from her teeth. “Not. Another. Word.”
“S-so, all of that was an act, then? Another lie. You just faked all of that emotion?” Sunset pushed, fighting off the urge to get away.
“M’kay. You had your chance. Now, I'm gonna ruin that perfect schnoz of yours, you annoying, little twat!” Aria growled, crawling forward. The intent in her tone was clear. This time, she wasn't lying.
“All of those people Starshot told us about, Astrid and whoever else, you never really cared about any of them,” Sunset said.
The air was becoming stuffy. The cage bars appeared to push inward. Aria lunged forward, Snatching Sunset up by the collar, she throttled her about. Her knuckles cracked as her right fist cocked back. “Shut your stupid mouth. You don't get to say their names.”
“Aria, stop!” Sonata exclaimed. No longer able to resist interfering, the youngest Siren rose to her feet and rushed forward to snatch her sister back just as the girl’s knuckles were about to meet with Sunset’s jaw. They missed their target by only an inch, barely managing to scrape skin.
“Let me go! ‘M gonna kill her!” Aria cried as she and Sonata both fell backward onto the cage floor with a loud ‘THUD’.
“That concert should have ended you. You've caused so much misery already, long before even I was around,” Sunset spat, eyes wide. Emboldened by Sonata’s show of force, she scrambled to her feet and jutted a finger in Aria’s direction. All this seemed in rather poor judgement of course, but Sunset had learned long ago to trust her hunches, and right now her hunches were telling her to push forward.
“Shut up!” Aria screeched, clawing at the ground, her eyes flashing red. Sonata tightened her grip across her sister’s chest, and balled her hand into a fist against her sternum.
“You could never feel the emotions that we do. You just deceive yourself into thinking you can,” Sunset continued, knowing she did not mean what she was saying. The bitterness in her words surprised even her. “Those poor people. Poor Cookie. I feel sorry for them for ever getting mixed up with something like you.”
Aria let out a grunt. Her face changed hues, from fuchsia to a deep, troubling purple. Unable to compete with her sister’s strength, the elder Siren collapsed backward into an exhausted lump of tears and frustration. Her body curled in upon itself until she was nothing but a little sobbing ball upon the floor.
Shocked, Sonata released her at last and stood up to give her room. She passed Sunset a confused gawk as if to inquire how this torment could have possibly been necessary or fair.
“Come here, Sonata,” Sunset bid the younger Siren quietly. “Let's give her a minute.”
Sunset and Sonata sat hip to hip and in silence, eyes trained forward upon Starshot’s work desk. They both pretended not to notice the elder Siren finally sitting up behind them, and crawling into a corner, tear-dampened hair stuck to her ruddy cheeks.
Sonata pulled her knees up to her chest, and rested her chin in the nook between them. “How could you say those things after what I told you? After everything you know now? You were lying to her.”
Sunset didn't look at her, only ran a thumb repeatedly across her bottom lip. “I'll stop lying about you three when you stop lying to yourselves.” She flicked a speck of dust off of her fingertip.
Sonata’s brow creased, but she remained silent.
“Just give her a minute. You'll see,” Sunset added, feeling the Siren’s look of confusion burning into her. “In the meantime, why don't you tell me what you saw in Starshot’s spell?”
Sonata’s eyelids fluttered as her mind was ripped from worry and hurtled headlong into recollection. “Oh yea. It, err… it was just… stuff, you know? Houses and trees and mortal thingies and…” She knocked the flat of her palm against her forehead. “Gosh, I'm sorry I can't remember much of it. None of the pictures really had anything to do with the others. It was all just super random stuff from our past.”
“Oh, that's alright,” Sunset said, giving her a reassuring smile. Her eyes darted between Sonata and Aria. Aria, by that time, had managed to rise to her feet and was now steadily pacing about the cage’s opposite side like an agitated tiger. Every now and then, the elder Siren’s glassy-eyed glare would flash in the pair’s direction. “Just tell me if you remember seeing any images of this place… the Nowhere or whatever he calls it,” Sunset finished, chewing at her bottom lip.
Sonata tapped a finger against her chin, her raspberry eyes gazing off dully to one of the cage’s upper corners. She shook her head. “Actually, now that you mention it, nope. There were a few night scenes, but none that looked like this place,” she said.
Sunset’s eyebrows rose. “You're sure? You have to be sure. You didn't see one image of the Nowhere? Not even one?”
Flustered, Sonata moaned and ran a hand over her fringe. “Aw, man. Pressure, much?” She squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her fists for five seconds before again shaking her head. “Nope. Not one. You'd think he would have a lot, too. This place is super weird. It would be something you'd notice, right? Sunset?”
Sunset was too busy peering ahead into nothingness. Her eyes were wide. Her fingers twiddled against her chin. The hint of a smile lingered around the bottom half of her face.
“Sunset? You there?” Sonata repeated, waving a palm before the mortal girl’s eyes. Still no response.
The Siren’s persistence could not draw the mortal back to her wits. So, a speeding purple fist decided to take its chances.
Aria’s knuckles careened themselves into the back of Sunset’s carefully erected hairdo. The mortal went flying forward, her forehead knocking against the bars.
Startled to find her older sister looming over them, Sonata rolled onto her side to evade a similar punishment. “Aria! Wait, I—”
“Shut up, Sonata, and fall back for a second will ya?” the elder girl cut in, shaking her sore fist. Her eyes were trained gleefully upon Sunset’s pained form now wriggling about the floor. “I gotta talk to ketchup and mustard here for a second. Like… alone.”
Nodding obediently, Sonata scuttled as far away as she could manage, glad enough to be able to leave without any bruises.
When she was satisfied with the distance between them, Aria plopped herself down next to Sunset’s sprawled body and smiled. “You done?”
Sunset groaned. “You sucker punched me!” she cried, running a hand over the back of her head.
Aria rolled her eyes. “Aw, quit being a baby. I didn't even hit you that hard.”
“I think I might be bleeding,” Sunset sputtered, finally sitting up. Her collapsed hair fell all about her in waves.
“Nah, that's just the ketchup,” Aria chuckled. Too impatient to wait until Sunset had gathered her wits about her, the Siren reached forward to flip the girl’s hair out of her eyes, and pointed a crooked finger at her reddened nose. “How old are you, Shimmer?” she asked, drawing in closer.
If Sunset had not been in such pain, she might have been less shocked to feel three fingers trailing about her jawline. Flustered, she blinked and pushed Aria’s eager hands away. “W… what?”
Aria snorted, waving the girl’s worry off. “It doesn't even matter. Whatever you might say, you're still just a kid. Even if you were a hundred years old, you'd still be just a kid.” She tilted her head to the side. “So… you a virgin, whippersnapper?”
Sunset’s jaw fell slack. “Huh?” she choked. Suddenly, the cage around them seemed even more cramped.
A sly grin etched itself across Aria’s face as she peered at the haze of green bursting from the top of Sunset’s head. “Hol-ee shit, you're totally not. I’d know that smell anywhere. That’s the scent of a pretentious, little, do-good liar. Aw, man. How many of those kinds of mortals have I made miserable for my dinner?” Her eyebrows danced mischievously. “And extremely happy for dessert?”
Sunset grimaced, frantically brushing her long hair down to curtain her increasingly sweaty brow. “Oh... my god.”
Aria broke out into a raucous laughter. The sound managed to travel, even through dead air. “I knew you were just bullshitting my sisters and me with all that goodie-two-shoes grandstanding.”
Sunset, who by this time had managed to turn three different shades of red, clenched her fists and hitched her shoulders up. “I don't know what you're talking about, Aria,” she hissed, avoiding the Siren’s gaze. “Just… what, exactly, is the point of this?”
“Yea, okay. Whatever you gotta tell yourself to sleep at night, Shimmer,” Aria said, tucking her overgrown fringe behind her ears. “Regardless, if you can remember wanting something as badly as...well…” She winked. “Then you can almost imagine what it’s like to feed.” She scratched the bridge of her nose. “Well, that is if the feeling was good but also completely different in its nature. Don't get it into your head that my meals are all some kind of twisted kink thing, because they're not, okay?”
“Is that your point?” Sunset inquired, quite irritated with the Siren’s rambling. “Because I’m not getting it.”
Aria grimaced, rubbing at her temples. “Okay, look. Negative energy is sustenance. It's life. It’s like when a land dweller holds their breath underwater for a really long time and then finally breaks through to the surface. Or like, coming in from a blizzard to a blazing fireplace. You know? It's everything you thought you wanted all rolled up into this warm ball in the pit of your stomach.”
Sunset rolled her eyes.
The Siren grit her teeth. “Stop being difficult. I know you understand me!”
“Fine,” Sunset sighed. “I do, but I'm still not understanding your point.”
“Well, what is better than that feeling, Shimmer?” Aria asked her. “Is there one for mortals?”
Sunset worked her jaw, not too keen on revealing anything with her facial expressions. “I wouldn't know anything about that. Sorry.”
Aria passed her a dull glare. “We’re going to deal with your pretentious lying habit later, buddy. For now, I'll just tell you that there isn't one for mortals, but there is for Sirens.” She leaned in. The purple of her eyes glowed hot. “It's all of the good things, Shimmer. The things we three never developed the stomach or the core for. Energies like love, and empathy, and…”
Sunset hummed to herself.
Unsure about the mortal’s reaction, Aria felt her own defenses rising. Vulnerability was never an easy act for her to handle after all. “Look, if you're going to be a hard ass about it, Shimmer, then I'll just quit while I'm ahead and see how much progress I can make by decking you in the skull again.” She shook her knuckles at the girl.
Unphased by this threat, and far too preoccupied with the whizzing and whirring in her own brain, Sunset casually pushed the fuchsia fist out of her face. “So, you want to eat positive energies, but can't?”
Aria scratched at her hair. “No. I want to consume negative energies. I don't know what I want to do with the positive stuff. I can't even smell it, but still I want it. It just radiates off of people, you know? I can feel it. It fills me up in a different kind of way. I… I don't know how to explain what I felt for all of those mortals the wizard told you about, but—”
“So, you can love. Big whoop, Aria. I already knew that,” Sunset said, passing the Siren a look far too sappy for words.
“Wait. Just a second ago you said that…” Aria began, suddenly realizing that Sunset had managed to dupe her into having a heartfelt conversation. She smirked at the mortal. “Well played, Shimmer. Well played. Looks like a bit of us is beginning to rub off on you after all, huh?” Sunset’s smile only grew more affectionate. Hence, Aria decided that it was time for a change of tone, lest she end up spewing old peanut butter all over the cage floor. “Besides, positive energy just looks like it tastes amazing when you watch a mortal experiencing it, yea? Like… sometimes light and fruity like souffle’, or sometimes really heavy and smoky, like good barbeque. Sucks that we can't have it.”
Sonata’s stomach complained somewhere behind them. “Yea,” the youngest Siren sighed.
“Sucks that we probably can't have any energy ever again, come to think of it,” Aria finished.
“What do you mean? Just learn to!” Sunset beamed. “Aria, this is amazing! Why didn't you tell me all of this before? When we figure a way to get you three out of here, then we can just work on healing you, and training you to survive off of good energy instead! That would be perfect!”
“Shimmer, you're not listening,” Aria sighed, one finger now tapping against her lap. “We aren't going to get out of here.”
“Then you can explain everything to Cookie ,and… Don’t you see? Things can still work out.”
“Eat rhubarb leaves, Shimmer. A whole lot of ‘em.”
Sunset blinked. “Eat… huh?”
“Rhubarb leaves. Incredibly poisonous in the right amounts, but the roots are perfectly fine for human consumption,” Aria said, flicking a piece of dirt from under her fingernail. “It's the same idea for us. Our bodies just don't work with positivity that way. We’ve developed ourselves to move and function on negative energy. Negative energy is what we feed upon. I don't even think our bodies could learn to draw on anything else at this point… if we were still whole, that is.”
“Oh,” Sunset sighed, swiping a hand through her hair. “I just figured that if we could get you three new crystals that you might be able to have a new start with it all.”
“Even if the crystals were new, our biology would still consist of the same, ancient sack of chaos-addicted flesh and bone,” Aria stated. “Ever see a heavy addict purge off of their stuff? It ain't pretty. And they don't always make it. Now imagine a lifetime of addiction multiplied by two hundred.”
Sunset frowned. “But the possibility—”
“Multiply it by two hundred, I said,” Aria pressed.
Sunset went quiet, and gazed toward the floor. “I see…”
“You sound disappointed. Good,” Aria said. “At the end of the day, if you or anyone else lets us out of here, we’re probably going to be up to the same old shit until we inevitably croak. Just face it, Shimmer. There’s no reforming us. So, stop daydreaming about it.”
Sunset remained silent for a few moments longer. “But… but you said that you can love. By what you described, I...”
“Oh, I can do more than that, Shimmer,” Aria hummed, passing Sunset a look devious enough to urge the mortal girl a few inches farther away. “I can categorize love, just like anything else. But what's more, I can love tons of things equally and at the same time. And I can still feel it even years after…” Her voice wavered, gaze lingering in her lap. “Years after its object is gone. Centuries after, even.” She turned to face Sunset. “That's why I try to avoid the stuff in the first place—love. I mean, besides the whole ‘being a Siren’ bit, love is trippy; really heady on the highs, and painful on the come down. But I guess sometimes that kind of energy is damn strong. Sometimes it can't be denied.”
“You mean like with Cookie?” Sunset inquired, leaning away just in case Aria decided to lash out at her again.
“Yea, ketchup. Yea. This one’s really gonna sting for a while,” Aria chuckled to herself. Gazing off toward Starshot’s work desk, she let out a big huff of air. “So, what was so damn important about that spell he always uses anyway? That stupid time bubble thing.”
“The, uh... Oh! Right!” Sunset chirped, nodding her head. “I didn't think you were paying attention to us.”
“You always assume things, Shimmer,” Aria replied. “That's your first problem.”
Sunset smirked, huffing some loose hair out of her eyes. “Well, in this case, I believe my assumptions are correct.”
“Presumptions,” Aria corrected her. “I assume that you have evidence, and so that would make whatever shitty thing you're about to say your presumption.”
Another roll of Sunset’s eyes as she glared at Aria’s prideful smirk. “Alright, Shakesmare. How's this for a world shaker: Old Starshot can't view time or anything else if it happens in the Nowhere.”
Aria blinked, then grimaced, rubbing at her forehead. “I'm sorry. For a second there, I thought you were going to say something that actually made sense. My bad.”
“Aria, listen. I'm being serious. Adagio told me that this guy has been after you for a thousand years. But if he’s mortal and the only thing he's got going for him is time magic, then it stands to reason that—”
“He stopped time on himself,” Aria gasped, her eyes as wide as dinner plates. “That son of a bitch froze himself and waited it out or something?”
“Not quite. At least I don't think so,” Sunset said. “Now, I didn't have very long to study the intricacies of Star Swirl’s time magics before I left Equestria for good. It was forbidden magic and all. But I do recall the basics! Mostly about how Star Swirl’s mirror directed and reflected itself onto different times and planes. When turned, it would trigger a reaction in the grains of its glass which would then alter its refractory wavelengths to angle the—”
“You're losing me, Shimmer,” Aria groaned, head falling back, jaw lolling open.
“Okay, how do I explain this in a way that you can understand?” Sunset muttered to herself, pulling her jacket off. “Ah! You can play the guitar, right?”
Aria scoffed. “Yea. Your point?”
“Great. I play, too,” Sunset said moving her arms up against her body, mimicking holding an electric guitar.
Aria’s lips pursed. She felt the back of her neck go hot and sweaty. Sonata may or may not have snickered somewhere in the distance. “Tch. Who cares, Shimmer? Y-you think that makes you hot shit or something?” the elder Siren clucked, crossing her arms. “It doesn’t.”
“Harmonics,” Sunset said, opting not to wonder too deeply about what Aria’s insults might have implied. “They're only easy to perform where the string can be split into halves, thirds...”
“And on those points where the nodes—”
“Equal zero on the wavelength,” Aria finished, cocking an eyebrow. “Didn't know you were into music theory, Shimmer. Thought that was our shtick.”
“I'm into scientific analysis,” Sunset retorted, letting her hands fall into her lap. “So, close enough.”
Aria’s eyes rolled. “Right. Nerd. So what does all of this have to do with this place?”
“Well, pretend that this place is the node. The sweet spot in the halfway point of the string. Either side is on a different curve of time, but right in the middle everything stops. It's zero. There’s nothing.” Sunset paused. “Are you getting it now?”
“The Nowhere,” Aria breathed. “Nothing exists. Not even time. That idiot has been hiding in here like a dirty rat for all this time?”
“No time, technically,” Sunset corrected her.
“If you're going to be a smartass, Shimmer, you should really learn how to block a punch,” Aria quipped. “So, that's why Starshit hasn't aged!”
“And why he can't view this place in any of his time spells,” Sunset added. “Because there is no time here. Everything is stagnant. I imagine our movements and those clocks and stuff are all illusions he made. You know, for practicality’s sake. So, he can know when to get up or go to sleep, or eat, and stuff like that.”
“Oh, ho, ho, Shimmer, I could kiss your stupid mug!” Aria shouted, lunging forward to clamp onto Sunset’s cheeks. “Do you know how useful this info is, you little braniac?”
“Urfm… Mm hm,” Sunset muttered, her cheeks again going red hot. “Mind lerrting go erf mrr face, perhrps?”
“Sonata and I could probably handle this bozo from here. Adagio just needs to stay away, stay out,” Aria said, shoving the mortal girl away and pounding a fist into her palm. “When you get out of here, you've got to find her and tell her that.”
“Uh… Aria?” Sonata piped up behind her. When Aria turned around, she saw that the girl was pointing toward the darkness in the distance.
“What is it, Sonata?”
“Look,” the youngest Siren replied, directing her sister’s attention toward the roiling blackness in the beyond.
Starshot’s black clad body stepped in surrounded by a halo of magic. With not so much as a word, he raised his arms. In a moment, his prisoners’ enormous cage was cloaked in a blinding aura.
“Hey! What the—” Aria shouted as the entire box jerked backward, sending all three girls tumbling onto their knees. With little fanfare, another wall of blackness was erected before them, cutting off their view of anything but more darkness. They were left in silence.
“W… why’d he do that?” Sonata squeaked, not yet emboldened enough to move.
Her sister shot up to her feet, running to kick the bars as hard as she could manage. “Hey! What gives, Starshit! Answer me! What about Cookie and Patti?” Still no reply. Worried, she turned to look at Sunset. “Hey, Shimmer, you don't think he might have heard us or something? Like, while we were alone?”
Sunset shook her head. “I don't know. I don't think so. Not unless he was nearby to begin with. And I don't think he respects any of us enough to suppose we might figure him out, but I think after this time it would be best to be careful, and not speak about this stuff out loud.”
Aria worked her jaw. “Huh. You know morse by any chance?”
“Morse code? No. Why?”
“Nevermind,” the elder grumbled, promptly returning to her kicking and screaming. “I'm gonna kill you, you gray fossil! You lanky, old sack of lies! Just you wait and see!”
“Aria, that isn't helping,” Sunset sighed, running a hand over her hair. The sore spot Aria’s fist had left on the back of her head had hardened and risen into a painful welt.
“I don't care!” Aria shouted, turning to face the darkness. “You hear that, Starshit? I hope you do! You're gonna get an earful every night for as long as you let me breathe! We had a deal! You let the mortals go!” Her fist pounded against the bars one more time before she fell to her knees, set on catching her breath before another round of threats.
“You done?” Sunset inquired, crossing her arms.
“No, I'm not done, Shimmer,” Aria spat, wiping some sweat from her forehead. “You should be frigging thanking me. I'm trying to get your sorry ass out of here, too, you know.”
“How? By throwing a temper tantrum? Starshot doesn't care, in case you haven't noticed that by now.”
“Well, alright. You go ahead and tell me your amazing plan then,” Aria snapped, rising to her feet and dusting off her hands. “What spectacular feats of the mind shall Sunset Shimmer perform in order to finagle us out of this eternal shithole?”
“Well, it’s certainly going to be a bit more complex than us having one big showdown, Aria,” Sunset sighed. “I promised Adagio I’d help you, and I intend to keep that promise, but—”
“But at your own pace,” Aria laughed, facing the other way. “Everything and everyone has to wait on Sunset, right? As if Adagio isn't pulling her cheese puffs out as we speak, trying to plan something to get us out of here.”
The blackness rolled and twisted at her back.
“Aria...” Sunset wavered. This time, her voice sounded shocked.
“But nooo, we’ve all got to wait for her royal fakeness, Sunset Shimmer, to get her feels and hunches just so, first.”
“A… Ari?” Sonata added to the discomforted refrain.
“What?” Aria cried, spinning about. Her arms dropped to her sides. Her mouth went slack and silent when in from the darkness stepped one perfectly dainty yellow leg, then another. The leg ran up into swaying hips, and those eventually led to a frazzled mass of orange, striped with hints of silver.
Aria stared beyond the bars into a pair of tired, ruby eyes. “A… Adagio?”
“Aria…” Adagio sighed, rushing forward just as Starshot was entering the chamber behind her.
The mage looked sickened, even pained to witness her press her two younger sisters’ faces between her palms, running affectionate fingers through their hair. With a flick of his wrist, he opened the cage door, and hastily turned away.
Adagio rushed into the cell, her arms opened wide. Wrapping Sonata in a warm embrace, she stroked her faded blue locks.
“Dagi, we were so scared!” Sonata whimpered, burying her face into the crook of her sister’s neck.
“It's alright, Sonata,” Adagio interjected, pushing the girl to arm’s length so that she might inspect her properly. “Are you two okay? What did he do?” She passed Aria a worried look. If anyone were to feel the brunt of Starshot’s rage first, Adagio was willing to bet that it would be her.
The middle Siren shrugged, her arms crossed tightly as if she were trying her damnedest not to hug her sister as well. “He hasn't done anything yet. Just put these stupid things on us,” she said, flicking a fingers against her own metal collar. The sound her fingernail made against it was sharp, tinny. “W… what about you? You okay?”
“I'm fine now,” Adagio chuckled. Though she seemed flustered, she still managed a smile. “I couldn't feel you two after he took you. I thought that he had...”
The sound of a throat clearing came from a few feet away. Starshot stepped forward. “If we’re all quite finished here, the mortal girl will take her leave.” He motioned Sunset forward with a finger. “Now.”
Sunset hesitated, passing a wary look Aria’s way.
The middle Siren nudged her chin in the direction of the gaping cage door. “Get outta here, Shimmer. The sooner you leave the sooner he’ll let the others go, too.”
Sunset didn't budge.
Her inaction piqued Adagio’s interest. The eldest Siren looked from kin to former enemy and back again, trying to decipher what secrets had been shared between them.
“Don't worry, Shimmer,” Aria pressed, gritting her teeth. “That’s what you said, right? Follow your own good advice then, and get the hell out.”
Sunset took one sluggish step toward the door, ever cognizant of Starshot’s scrutinizing gaze. Each succeeding step was slower than the last until, finally, standing in the doorway, she froze. Her eyes closed, fists clenched, and remained that way just long enough to unnerve all who watched her.
Spinning about, her eyes shot open, boring like daggers into their blue, weepy object. Sunset hastened back into the cage, much to Starshot’s surprise. She reached out, stretched her arms about Sonata's middle, and pulled the girl in close.
Four gasps, three stammers, and yet no words.
“S-Sun…” Sonata began, trailing off into a squeak. Not knowing what else to do, she returned the mortal’s embrace half-heartedly. The sensation of something wet upon her shoulder enticed her deeper into the hug.
Sniffling, Sunset swiped a hand across her face, and pulled away. She raised her fist, and passed Sonata a reassuring grin. The smile was returned twofold.
By the time the other two Sirens could fathom what had just happened, Sunset had already turned, and was now barging her way toward Adagio.
The eldest Siren raised her hands in defense, hoping that a mild shooing might prove sufficient in stopping the mortal in her tracks. “N… no no no, you don’t need to—” Her breath was stifled by a strong grip about her middle. Her eyes, tortured, slid slowly in her grimmer sister’s direction, begging for help.
Aria, praying to whatever deity that Sirens pray to, had just barely managed to leap out of the mortal girl’s path on her beeline toward Adagio. Both sisters hissed in some primal form of Siren protestation, their eyes wide and gleaming.
“Right. Alright, you little… thing,” Adagio stammered forcing a laugh that was very clearly not genuine. Her stiffened fingers, making her hand appear more like a plank of wood, tapped lightly in the space between Sunset’s shoulder blades. “You can let go of me now.”
So, Sunset did. Politely, the mortal girl took a step backward, clasped her hands in front of her body, and at last turned to face Aria.
The middle Siren resembled a cornered animal, open to the idea of chewing through its own limb in whichever way that might aid it in escaping some terrible fate. Sunset had barely taken a step in her direction before Aria decided that perhaps, in this particular case, an offense might be the best defense. Her arm shot out, fingers clasping about Sunset’s collar. Dragging her in close, she peered into the mortal’s stunned eyes. “I don't do hugs, red. So, unless you’re gonna snog me real good in front of all of these losers, then I would suggest you turn around and beat it.”
“Er… I, uh...” Sunset stuttered, her eyes darting about, looking for some source of help she knew was not there.
Aria’s brow twitched. Her clenched fingers slipped with sweat.
“Look, Aria, I just…” the mortal girl continued.
“Ketchup, I do weird things when I'm put in stressful situations, okay? So, quit stressing me out, huh?”
“Um, right!” Sunset squawked, snatching her collar out of Aria’s grasp, and flinging her head back to force a laugh at the brass ceiling. When she looked at her again, the Siren had crossed her arms tightly before her chest, creating her usual impenetrable barrier made of rosy flesh. “I just… I just meant that… well…” Her eyes flit toward Starshot and back. Her lips drew in tight, her voice grew quiet. “Well, you know what I mean.”
“I do,” Aria said.
“And you know that I'm still—”
“We know,” Aria sighed.
There was nothing more to be said. Looking around the cage one last time, Sunset nodded her head at the trio, and turned to leave.
Her boots had barely scraped against metal before she felt a tug on the back of her jacket. Her head snapped around to find Aria’s fingers clenching onto its hems.
“Hey, Ketchup, do me a favor when you three get back, huh?” Aria said, her voice gone hoarse.
“Aria,” Sunset breathed, her gaze darting between the Siren and Starshot. “Do you really think you should say—”
“Tell Cookie for me,” Aria cut in. “Can you do that?”
Sunset blinked. Her brow furrowed. “Tell her what?”
Aria shot the mortal a winning grin. “And after you tell her that, tell her the come down’s gonna be a bitch. She'll enjoy that some way, somehow, I guess… I hope.” Her smile cracked, and again she was left looking wilted.
Finally understanding the Siren’s intent, Sunset nodded, “I'll tell her.” Shifting her body so that her back was toward Starshot, she raised her hands to her front. To the three sisters’ surprise, her fingers began to curl and flex, each digit wrapping about each other. In a sequence of intricate motions, she formed the signed words for ‘but soon’.
‘But soon,’ she signed again, ‘you’ll be able to tell her that yourself.’
“Alright, you four!” Starshot screamed, collecting Sunset up into a halo of gold, and flinging her from the cell before locking the cage door up tight. “You’ve wasted enough of my time!”
“You will!” Sunset called to the three as she was dragged backward through darkness. Her image quickly faded into nothing through the shadow, but her voice persisted.