Sunset came home with a sore butt and knees from falling so much during her first ice skating session. After the chess match, Moondancer had insisted on going to the ice rink at the back of the mall. Twilight eagerly agreed, offering to teach Sunset how to skate. While it gave plenty of reason for physical contact between the two, Sunset remained silently annoyed at Moondancer’s jumps and twirls around them.
Fancy footwork aside, Sunset had an enjoyable time with Twilight’s arm around her. Standing on the ice skates alone took the better half of an hour. Sunset thought learning to stand on two legs had been hard; standing on two thin blades of metal proved downright insane. Twilight laughed everytime Sunset fell but helped her up in a heartbeat. Sunset let Twilight have her fun since that would be the only time she was more coordinated than Sunset.
Walking through the front door, Sunset realized she had forgotten to tell Moondancer to see her extended family. Oh well, I’ll tell her on Monday. Spot welcomed her home first, sniffing her boots and rolling over when Sunset put her hand down. She scratched his belly, then carried him upstairs, stopping at the door to the study where she found all three Lulamoons and several floating books.
Selena looked up from the crumpled notes she had in her hand and smiled. “Hello, Sunset. How was the mall?”
“Fun.” A book floated past her. “So, what are you guys up to?”
Artemis tossed a book into the air and snatched a different one. “Putting that spell on Twilight made me realize we don’t have a proper counterspell against the Sirens’ magic. That was merely a precautionary defense. I’m not sure if it’ll work on people who have already been manipulated. Moreover, that spell won’t work on a larger scale. They’re influencing people by the thousands.”
“Once we seal them away, the spell should wear off eventually,” Selena said. “Theoretically at least.”
“And how are you going to seal them away?” Sunset asked.
Artemis swept his hat off his head. “I’m going to create another pocket dimension and keep them nice and safe in here. You know what they say: keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” He pushed his hair back and put the hat back on. “Yes, we have the means, just not the method. We can’t just march up and fight them. Learned that the hard way. And unless we break the spell they already have on half the youth of the country, we can’t just make them ‘disappear’ without raising some sort of alarm.”
“Trixie doesn’t see why not. It’s not like anyone could prove we did anything.”
Artemis glanced at Selena. “She’s not wrong.”
Selena didn’t look up from her notes. “We’ll call that plan B.”
With the Dazzlings’ concert on Friday, they were the only thing most students at Canterlot High talked about. Anyone who hadn’t heard them sing was quickly indoctrinated. Their music played in between classes and during lunch. By Wednesday, if Sunset never heard ‘Under Our Spell’ again it would be too soon.
“They’re not exactly being subtle, are they?” Twilight said during their sixth period. Sunset took comfort in knowing Twilight found them equally irritating. Ms. Vector, however, seemed to think they made great learning music since she made no effort to stop Lemon Hearts from blaring them out her Ipod.
“They’re not even in town yet and everyone’s on the verge of being obsessed with them,” Sunset said, disgusted. “Flocks of sheep.”
“It’s like the Greek myth of the Sirens, actually,” Twilight said. “A Siren's voice was so alluring, it was like hypnotism.” Twilight frowned. “But at the end of their song, sailors would meet their deaths. At least, in some variations.” She returned to their math problems. “I just can’t believe Sirens are real. Gosh, if I could get them to sit down and answer some of my questions! Are they really the Sirens from mythology? If they are, does that mean all the other myths are real too?”
“A threat to everything we love and hold dear, and you want to ask them questions.” Sunset pinched Twilight’s cheek. “You’re so cute when you’re being nerdy.”
Twilight pretended to bite at Sunset’s fingers. “I’m just as concerned as you are. That doesn’t stop me from being curious though.”
Twinkleshine turned around and shushed them. “I can’t hear the Dazzlings!”
Twilight lowered her voice. “I’ll be glad when this is all over though. Do the Lulamoons have a plan to stop them yet?”
“Define ‘plan’. Artemis is going to do reconnaissance tomorrow night when they arrive. Aside from that, they’re kinda stuck. Trying to deal with them publically will just backfire. And with everyone watching their every movement, it’ll be almost impossible to do it privately too.”
”So what can they do?”
Sunset tapped her pencil against her desk. “Right now, they’re banking on the idea that they’ll steal the Crystal Heart. With tightened security around the museum, Artemis is hoping they’ll get caught in the act.”
“Well, I guess that’s better than nothing.” She bit her lip. “I don’t like this. Knowing something bad is going to happen but not being able to do anything about it.”
“What can we do about it? Just because the girls come preset with special effects when they play music now, doesn't mean we can go toe to toe with ancient evils.” Sunset rubbed her chin. “Although, when I say it like that, it sounds pretty awesome.”
Twilight sighed. “I know. I’m just worried about Moondancer and anyone else who isn’t protected by magic. I don’t want anything bad to happen.”
Sunset wrapped an arm around her. “It’s gonna be fine. If Artemis and Selena beat them before, I’m sure they can do it again.”
“Sunset! Twilight!” Ms. Vector barked. “Stop talking, and do your work! You’re interrupting—” The school bell went off, releasing them for the day. “Oh, well, I guess class is over. Whatever you didn’t finish is homework for tonight.”
“I might just bring earplugs on Friday,” Sunset said as they walked out the classroom. Vinyl Scratch walked by them, dubstep blasting from underneath her headphones. “She’s got the right idea.”
“Twilight, oh Twilight!” a melodic voice called.
“Speaking of ear grating noise,” Sunset whispered to herself. From down the hall glided Moondancer.
“Little star, guess what I obtained through my various social connections.”
Moondancer pulled out two tickets from her purse. “Ta-da! Tickets to the Dazzlings’ concert! An evening of music just for the two of us! Box seats even!”
Is this sabotage? This feels like sabotage.
“Wow, Moony, I don’t know what to say.” Twilight tapped her fingers together. “It sounds like a lot of fun but.. Uh, let me talk to Sunset for a second.”
Taking her cue, Sunset linked arms with Twilight and took her down the hall before Moondancer could protest. “Yeah, so I hate to be that girlfriend. But no.”
“I figured you were going to say that.” Twilight took a deep breath, the kind where Sunset knew she wasn’t going to like what was said next. “Sunset, you’re not… jealous I’m spending time with Moondancer, are you?”
“What? No! Of course not!” Sunset said loudly.
Twilight crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow in a way very reminiscent of Sunset.
Gee, I wonder what tipped her off? Sunset folded her arms and leaned against the lockers. “Okay, just a little. Have you met me? I don’t know what else you expected.”
“I expect you to be mature about this,” Twilight said with a scolding wag of her finger. “Moondancer and I are just friends.”
“I know that. That’s why I let you go out with her.”
Sunset facepalmed. “You know what I mean, Twilight. Besides, this isn’t even about that.” She got off the locker and put her hands on Twilight’s shoulders. “I don’t want you going to that concert because it’s dangerous. One, the riots, and two, I don’t know if that spell will hold up if you’re standing right in front of the Sirens.”
Twilight looked down, considering Sunset’s words. “That’s fair, I guess. I just feel bad.”
“Hey, if you don’t go, Moondancer probably won’t go, so you’re protecting her too.”
“You’re right. This is probably the safest option. But what do I tell her?”
“Study date.” Sunset and Twilight walked back to Moondancer, casually fanning herself with her tickets.
“Sorry, Moony, I already made plans for a study date with Sunset.” Twilight said, her expression tight.
“On a Friday?”
“It’s also a sleepover,” Sunset added.
Moondancer gave her a wary look.
“Adult supervised!” Twilight quickly threw in, sweating and blushing.
Moondancer pursed her lips for a moment, then shrugged. “Disappointed? Yes. But I shall respect your previous engagement.” She waved her tickets. “What am I going to do with this extra concert ticket though?”
A line of guys appeared behind her, starry-eyed and hopeful. Moondancer looked back and shooed them away with a wave of her hand. “Plebeians.”
“Artemis, I don’t like this.” Selena protested but put the headset on and adjusted the microphone. “I should at least go with you for backup.”
Artemis tapped his own headset. “Turtle dove, if we didn’t have two beautiful girls to look after, you know I would say yes.” He took her hand. “Any minute away from you feels like an eternity.”
Selena blushed and looked away. “Don’t try and charm me when you’re about to dive off into danger.”
“It’s just a little stakeout. Hardly what I’d call dangerous.” Artemis took a few steps back and turned his mic on. “Testing, testing. Can you hear me, love?”
“Yes, I can hear you. And if it’s so safe, why can’t I come with you?”
Artemis put on his trusty grin. “Do you think Sunset and Trixie can be left alone in the house together?”
“They’re getting better. Besides, Spot will watch them.”
He laughed. Selena was right. In the two months Sunset had been in their house, Trixie had warmed up a considerable amount. And having a dog for the to bond over (even though they both tried to hide it) helped their relationship even more.
“Just in case something happens, you need to be here for them.”
Selena took a seat on Artemis’ desk. She looked at the books lining the shelves in the back with thoughtful eyes. “You worry me when you talk like that. You used to never make contingency plans. One plan, and if that didn’t work, we’d just wing it.”
“Back then, I didn’t have a daughter and a foster child to raise.” Artemis tried to soften his words with a smile. He never liked sounding this serious. “Everything will be fine though. I’m not actually going into the hotel. I’ll be on the roof, out of sight the entire time.” He pointed a hand to the crystal ball resting on a golden frame. “And you’ll be able to see everything I see through that.”
Selena tapped the ball. “You’ll be fine. I know. I just can’t help but worry. I don’t enjoy sitting on the sidelines.”
Artemis crossed the room and rested a hand on her cheek. “I know you don’t. But you’ll have your time to shine again. And when this is over, you’ll have another story to share with the world.” He bent down and kissed her tenderly. She moved her arms around his neck, locking him in place and turning tenderness into passion.
The door behind them creaked, and they broke apart. Trixie and Sunset tried to duck their heads away, but the attempt was meaningless. “Yes, girls?” Artemis asked.
They opened the door, shamefaced. “Sorry, Daddy,” Trixie said. “We just wanted to see you before you left.”
Artemis raised his hands. “Honestly, girls, I’m just going to do a little stealth work. The big, epic battle comes later.” He swooped over and wrapped both of them in a hug. “I appreciate the concern though.” He stepped into the center of the room and tipped his hat. “Now, mind your mother. Get to bed on time. I’ll see you all in the morning.” He took in all their faces, each of them trying to smile in spite of their concern. He winked and raised his wand. “Lulamoon!”
Everything vanished in a plume of smoke, and Artemis spiraled through nothing, sinking down, down, down, until he hit something solid again. The cold night air blew away the residual smoke, and he found himself on the rooftop of The Castle, Canterlot’s most famous and expensive hotel.
“Turtle dove, this is grand wizard. Do you read me? Over.” Artemis said into his com.
A faint crackle, then, “Grand wizard. Really?”
“Well, that’s one problem with it. But yes, I can hear you, Artemis. And I can see as well. That’s quite a view.”
Stretching twenty-five stories, The Castle gave a magnificent view of downtown Canterlot. The city lights glowed like fireflies in the dark, illuminating the marble architecture and green parks. Cars crawled below him, mechanical rolly-pollies rolling through night.
A few blocks away, Canterlot Tower loomed over the rest of the city, still twenty-five floors higher than where Artemis stood. The top floors remained dark, masking it with the sky. Artemis made a longing sigh. “Forgive me, Apalla. When this is over, I’ll be a better uncle. I promise.”
“What was that?” Selena asked.
“Nothing, nothing.” Artemis set about navigating the rooftop. The Castle ended in a domed spire that cast an impressive shadow over the rest of the bare roof. Just below him was the penthouse suite, and if he was a betting man (he performed in Las Vegas, of course he was) he guessed that’s where the Sirens stayed.
He placed the tip of his wand against the cement. “Lulamoon.” A pulse of light spread out from his wand and washed over the roof, then snapped back. He felt two surges of power burst into life beneath him with a third a few floors down. “Yep, they’re here.”
“Be careful,” Selena said.
“You worry too much, my love.” He tapped each ear and said, “Lulamoon!” He winced at the sudden jump in the noise level of everything around him. The wind sounded like a hurricane, the cars below like monster trucks, and each conversation was a wild party. “Refocus that… Lulamoon!” The noise fell considerably, but he could still pick up exchanges happening in the hotel. He knelt down and concentrated on the room below him.
“...this one, or this one tomorrow?”
“I don’t care, Sonata.”
“Well, what are you wearing tomorrow?”
Artemis heard the crunch of potato chips. “This probably.”
“Eww, Aria, that’s gross.”
“I’ll have it dry cleaned, geez. Stop sounding like Adagio; it’s annoying.”
Artemis rolled his eyes. “This might turn into a long night.”
“Why, what are they talking about?” Selena asked.
“Absolutely nothing.” He listened to Aria and Sonata bicker back and forth for the next twenty minutes, most of which consisted of childish insults. Remind me again how we almost lost to them? The door slammed open, and a new voice entered the mix.
“We’ve been here an hour and this place is already a mess!”
Ah yes. Her.
“Aria did it!”
“Sonata, you are literally the worst!”
“No, you are!”
“Girls,” the third voice started sweetly, “as much as I would love to hear this conversation for the umpteenth time… please shut up!”
“Thank you. Now according to the ticket manager, we have a sold out show tomorrow.”
Sonata clapped her hands. “Yaaay! It’s going to be so much fun!”
“Quite. I told you this plan would work, Aria.”
Aria scoffed. “Yeah, you keep reminding me every city. I’ll keep being skeptical until the Crystal Heart is sitting in our hands.”
“I can’t believe we circled the whole country just to find out it was where we started,” Aria continued. “Talk about full circle.”
“I don’t know, it’s more of a squiggly square… or a rhombus,” Sonata said.
“Sonata, stop breathing.”
“Ha, I’m not falling for that again!”
Artemis heard two dull thuds and cries of, “Ow!”
“I swear, if you two screw up tomorrow…” She let the threat hang in the air. “We’re on the cusp of victory. One feast with the Crystal Heart will bring us back to full strength, magic or no magic.”
“Then the whole world will be ours to do whatever we want,” Aria said smugly.
“Dibs on Australlia! I’m going to get a pet kangaroo!”
“... Just get ready for bed, both of you. We have a lot to do tomorrow.”
Doors slammed shut and the room lapsed into silence. Artemis drew his lips into a thin line. That had been less helpful than he had hoped.
“Did you learn anything?” Selena’s voice made him jump.
“Nothing definite. They might try to steal the Heart tomorrow.”
“But that’s the concert.”
Artemis stood and rubbed his sore knees. “Exactly. Everyone’s attention will be drawn to the coliseum. They’d have a great alibi, too.”
“Looks like Dagi was right,” a cool voice said from behind. “The hotel has a rat problem.”
Artemis spun around, wand raised. Two pairs of eyes looked back at him from the shadows. They stepped forward, Aria looking annoyed and Sonata confused.
“That’s not a rat. It’s that old guy from a long time ago.”
Artemis bristled. “I wasn’t old then and I’m not old now!”
“Artemis, don’t fight them,” Selena said sternly.
He chose not to respond, keeping his attention trained on two of the Sirens. He chanced a peripheral glance for the third one but found nothing but darkness.
Aria crossed her arms. “Figures we’d find you here of all places. Come to take the Heart from us again?”
“It isn't yours to begin with. I’m here to make sure it stays out of your grubby hands.”
Sonata showed her hands with a triumphant smirk. “Our hands are clean, thank you very much.”
Aria pressed on like Sonata had said nothing. “Last time, you had help and you barely won. You don’t stand a chance.”
“Artemis, get out of there!”
“As I recall, it was a rather decisive battle. Besides, I’ve learned a lot since then,” Artemis said calmly. “I think I can handle you two.” Something cold and hard slammed into the back of his head, sending him to the floor and placing stars in front of his vision.
“How about three of us?”
Artemis pushed himself up to his feet. His head throbbed worse than any hangover. “Adagio,” he spat. Behind him, Adagio gave a nasty smile. He turned around. “Well, you haven’t aged a day.”
“And you’ve aged several.” She gave the metal pipe in her hand a twirl. “Did you really think you were being sneaky? I could smell the magic on you a mile away.”
“A mere oversight on my part.” Artemis kept his wand high, raising his other hand to his hat. His eyes bounced between each Siren as they closed in, flanking him from three sides. Before they got too close, he swept his hat off and shouted, “Lulamoon!” White doves soared forth, swooping and pecking at the Sirens. Artemis jumped through an opening in their circle to gain some distance.
He conjured an image of home in his head, but the headache still lingered, making the picture fuzzy. It would be a miracle if he made it back in one piece, but it was better than the alternative.
A dissonant wail broke his concentration and forced him to cover his ears. His doves scattered into the night, leaving the Sirens free to draw in close, circling him like hungry sharks. He took satisfaction in seeing the cuts on their faces and feathers in their hair. He raised his wand, but Aria struck first, grabbing and twisting his wrist until his wand dropped from his hand and rolled away. She followed up with a knee to his stomach, then threw him onto the ground.
Adagio leaned over him, hands on her hips. “Consider this retribution, Artemis. You left us stranded for twenty years on that island. We nearly starved to death.”
Artemis propped himself on one arm, eyes subtly looking for his wand. “I’m curious,” he said after getting his wind back, “how did you manage to escape?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Adagio said with a sultry grin.
“But I thought we didn’t know either.”
Adagio’s grin quickly flipped over at Sonata’s words.
“You kept saying you felt some magic and Aria said you were crazy, then we found a glowy portal and then we were here.”
Aria sighed and facepalmed. “You’ve reached your word quota, Sonata. Stop talking now.”
Artemis’ lips curled up. It was a start.
Adagio finished giving Sonata a death glare and turned her attention back to Artemis. “I hope you’re not as stupid as her and came here alone. Where’s the rest of your little team?”
“Wouldn't you like to know?”
“Showing false bravado? Admirable. But you won’t be singing the same tune when we’re done with you.” Adagio took a breath, and her sisters followed suit. Artemis snapped his hand out, calling his wand back from under the ventilation shaft and threw a barrier around himself just as the Sirens emitted another vocal attack. Even from within, he could hear their harmonized otherworldly wails, see the vibrations disrupting the air in front of their yawning maws.
Artemis kept his hands up, holding his force field aloft while the Sirens screamed. It was now a contest of who would break first. They needed to breathe eventually, but Artemis couldn’t hold a shield against a direct three way attack.
“Artemis, you get out of there right now!” Selena yelled.
“Love to, sweetie, I’d really love to,” Artemis said, the strain taking its toll already. To his left, Sonata stopped to take a breath. Aria and Adagio followed her lead, giving Artemis a window of opportunity. He lowered his shield and prepared to teleport, but a sonic vibration caught him in the side. He flew toward Aria, who punched him in the jaw, making him stagger back to the middle of the circle where Adagio struck him in the chest with the pipe.
“Ha, made you look!” Sonata sang.
Artemis fell to one knee, wheezing and feeling warm blood trickle down his lip. Come on, Lulamoon, you’ve still got a few tricks up your sleeve.
Adagio crossed her arms. “What do you have to say now, Artemis?”
He looked up at her with his boyish grin. “Would you like to play a game?”
“I would!” Sonata yelled, waving a hand.
Adagio rolled her eyes again. “Sure, we’ll humor you.”
“I do love a good sense of humor.” Quick as lighting, Artemis reached into his sleeve and threw an entire deck of cards at Adagio. It hit her square in the face, then broke into fifty-two separate cards that flew around with a wave of Artemis’ wand. “Fifty-two pickup!”
The cards cut into the Sirens’ clothes and skin, shallow but numerous. Artemis twisted his wand in a sideways figure eight, causing the cards to double back on themselves. While the girls shrieked and tried to fight them off, Artemis stepped back to a clear spot.
He clutched his chest, hoping he had enough strength to teleport back home. He said softly, “Lula—”
Adagio hurled her metal pipe with perfect accuracy. It hit Artemis’s right hand, knocking his wand high into the air. The cards lost their vigor and scattered on the wind. Bleeding cuts on her face and hate in her eyes, Aria charged at Artemis.
Artemis reached into his other sleeve and pulled out one end of a multicolored handkerchief. He brandished it like a whip and threw it around Aria’s arm as she drew near. It knotted itself on its own accord and reeled her in, throwing off her balance.
“Mother said never to hit girls,” Artemis said as Aria flew forward. He slammed a fist into her jaw. “But for you, I’ll make an exception.” The handkerchief released Aria as she spiraled backwards. Sonata caught her and held her upright.
“Are you okay?”
Aria shoved Sonata off and ran forward again while Artemis dove for his wand. Adagio’s pointed heel smashed down, snapping it in half, then stepped on his fingers. Artemis’ yell was cut off by Aria’s headlock. She focused her strength into her forearm pressing into Artemis’ windpipe. The handkerchief rose up to whip Aria, but Adagio grabbed it and began to tug. It stretched out for yards, but eventually the other end came out and it fell limp.
“Game over,” Adagio growled.
Adagio laid eyes on the com set around Artemis’ ear. “Oh, so there’s your backup. Sonata, if you would.”
Sonata skipped over and plucked the microphone off him. “Helloooo?”
“You let go of my husband right now!” Selena screamed.
“Sorry, wrong number.” Sonata tossed it over the side of the roof with a delightfully evil grin. She took the long handkerchief and bound Artemis’ hands in an impressive knot.
Adagio gingerly fingered one of the cuts on her face. “A minor annoyance, nothing more. Old age isn’t becoming of you, Lulamoon.”
Artemis had a number of comebacks, but with Aria crushing his windpipe, none of them could be said. He settled for glaring defiantly.
Adagio breathed deep. “Ah, I can taste your anger already.” She pat his cheek. “But there’s no need to be upset. We’re going to take good care of you.” She smiled at his quizzical expression. “What, you thought we were going to kill you?” She laughed, a throaty cackle that grew louder each second. “Oh no, that would be too easy.” She dug her nails into his cheeks. Artemis saw volcanic fury waiting to explode just beneath a thin veil of calm. “I spent twenty years on an remote island with nothing but those two idiots to keep me company.”
“We’re right here, Adagio,” Aria said.
“Besides, it wasn’t that bad. We found fifty different ways to cook crab! And remember the seashell fort?”
“Word quota, Sonata,” Aria snapped.
The volcanic fury began to melt through Adagio’s facade. “I rest my case,” she said in clipped tones. “So no, I’m not going to kill you. Instead, you’ll get a front row seat to our greatest show yet!” She let go of his face and turned to the Canterlot skyline. “Thanks to all your fancy gadgets and technology, humanity has become a hivemind. An idea becomes a fad, and then a trend, and then everyone wants to be part of it. We sing one song over the radio, then every recording label wants to make us stars. The more the world hears us over the radio and internet, the more they want to come to our concerts.”
She spun around, her feral grin illuminated by the moon. “Thousands of teenagers packed into a crowded, sold-out stadium. Every night is a three-course meal!” She curled her fingers, crushing the air in front of her. “Now just imagine what would happen if we doubled that output of negative energy.”
“It’ll be the biggest feast we’ve ever had,” Aria said with a sadistic grin equal to her sister’s.
“We’re gonna be invincible, we’re gonna be invincible!” Sonata sang.
Artemis choked out, “You’re going to create a bloodbath.”
Adagio’s grin widened. “Oh, I hope so. After tomorrow night, the Crystal Heart will be ours, then all we’ll need is one concert to get enough power, we can get people to do anything we want, even through radio.” She snapped her fingers, and Aria finally let him go. Artemis fell forward onto the dirty rooftop, coughing and wheezing.
“In the meantime,” Adagio said, strolling forward, “you’ll make a nice magical snack to nibble on.”
“Like most trends… you’ll fade away,” Artemis panted. “And no one… will remember you.”
“History is written by the victors, Artemis.” Adagio lifted her boot. “So as far as I’m concerned, we’re already immortal, literally and figuratively.” She brought it down on Artemis’ face. An explosion of pain, then the world faded to black.
Heh… maybe I am too old for this…