Walking through the rotunda of Crystal Prep Academy amid a tour of the campus, Adagio Dazzle couldn’t help but feel a creeping sense of déjà vu.
The meeting with Abacus Cinch had gone better than she could ever have imagined, and for the first time since The Rainbooms had stripped her and her fellow Sirens of their magic, Adagio finally felt like she was regaining some semblance of control over her life.
And yet she still felt uneasy. The lingering panic that had first manifested when she’d had to face the reality of a magicless existence had compounded into an omnipresent knot in her stomach. She’d lost her appetite – if she’d ever had such a thing for human food – and had spent many a restless night wondering what would become of herself and the other Sirens. And, though the knot had loosened somewhat since their sudden turn of fortune, to Adagio’s great annoyance it had yet to go away completely.
Seeking to distract herself from her own dreary thoughts, Adagio took stock of her surroundings. Despite her best efforts to remain aloof, she couldn’t help but be somewhat impressed by the architecture of the school. Between the high ceilings, towering crystal pillars, and plethora of trophies and plaques, one could easily have mistaken the school for a palace. Nothing like Canterlot High. But for all its lustre, Adagio couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.
“Where are all the students?”
Adagio turned around at the sound of Sonata’s voice. The other Siren wore a painfully familiar expression of bewilderment, and was glancing about the atrium as if she expected a herd of students to pop out of hiding at any moment. Lagging even further behind them was Aria, who was taking a break from admiring her reflection in one of the crystal pillars to shoot Sonata a look of utter disdain.
“Crystal Prep doesn’t have classes on weekends,” said their guide. She was a well dressed woman with hair of equal parts pink, purple, and yellow, who had introduced herself as Dean Cadance. “Honestly, is that rumor still going around? I remember hearing it when I was a student here!” She must have caught Adagio’s smirk, as she blushed, adding “mind you, it wasn’t all that long ago.”
“Right,” said Sonata, “I knew that!”
Aria rolled her eyes. “You don’t know anything, Sonata.”
Adagio’s eye twitched.
“Well, at least I wasn’t ogling my new uniform in front of a dumb pillar!”
“You’re just jealous that it looks better on me.”
“Girls–” Adagio growled, clapping a hand on each of their shoulders with enough force to make them wince “–that’s enough!” Aria huffed, shrugging off Adagio’s hand and stomping away from Sonata, who stuck her tongue out at her the moment she wasn’t looking.
Adagio sighed and took a moment to compose herself. Aria and Sonata’s presence had always been grating on her nerves, but lately she’d had even less patience for their shenanigans. Aria had seemingly taken this as an opportunity to question her leadership more than ever, and Sonata…
Well, getting blasted with a beam of celestial light certainly hadn’t made her smarter.
“Sorry about that, it must be their nerves getting to them.” Or their stupidity. “We’re all just so excited to have this opportunity!”
“It’s alright, I’m sure Principle Cinch would call it a ‘healthy spirit of competition!’” Adagio noted that, despite her enthusiasm, the smile Cadance’s smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Ahem. Moving on, that just about does it for the tour, do you girls have any questions?”
“Where are we, you know, staying?”
Adagio bit her tongue. Leave it to Sonata to make any question, even legitimate ones, sound idiotic.
“Good question, er—Sonata, was it?” Sonata nodded cheerfully, and Cadance continued. “Yes, Principle Cinch informed me that you girls would be staying in our dormitories. We don’t usually get new transfers this late in the semester, so we’re scrambling a little to make room, but it should all be sorted out by this evening by the time you’ve finished the placement tests.”
“Tests?” asked Sonata. Adagio shuddered, the idea that she’d shared the same thought as the imbecile made her feel just a little bit sick.
“Didn’t Principle Cinch tell you?” Cadance looked at the girls’ downcast expressions and sighed. “Of course not. Normally students who wish to attend Crystal Prep must first complete a pair of entrance exams, to make sure they’re Crystal Prep materiel. But, since you girls have already been accepted, think of them more like placement tests. We just want to see how far along you are in your education.”
Sonata’s shoulders slumped and she let out a long groan. “I hate tests,” she whined.
“You know what I hate?” Adagio shot Aria a scathing look. She’d had enough of the incessant fighting and was going to nip this argument in the bud. She took a step back – out of Cadance’s field of view – and locked eyes with Aria, slashing her finger violently across her throat.
Aria got the message.
“Tests,” she said, stiffly. “I also hate tests.” She glared hatefully at Adagio, who countered with a coy smile. Sonata remained oblivious.
There was nothing quite like putting Aria in her place. It was a warm, tingly feeling, and Adagio imagined that she felt the knot loosen just a bit.
“Cheer up,” said Cadance, “it’s just a few pages of multiple choice, then a short obstacle course to make sure you girls are up to our fitness standards.”
Sonata perked up a little. “Oh, well I guess it doesn’t sound that bad.”
“I was wrong, it’s that bad!”
For the second time that day, Adagio couldn’t help but agree with Sonata. When her own exam booklet was slapped down unceremoniously before her, Adagio could have sworn it shook not only her desk, but the entire examination room.
“This is your definition of a few pages? This is practically a novel!”
Cadance looked sheepishly over Adagio’s shoulder, refusing to meet her gaze, and cleared her throat. “Thank you for your help, Sugarcoat.”
The white-haired girl stared back at her blankly. “I’m not helping. I have to be here on account of my ‘insubordination’ at the Friendship Games.”
“Right,” said Cadance, rubbing her eyes. Adagio cocked an eyebrow. All of the sudden, Cadance looked like she was nursing a migraine. After taking a moment to compose herself, she continued. “I’ll talk Principle Cinch. You girls shouldn’t be punished for—” Cadance caught Adagio’s eye cut herself off. “Er, we can discuss that later. If you’ll excuse me, I have to head over to the dorms to make sure everything is on schedule. Sugarcoat will oversee the written exam, and another student will be waiting for you in the gym to oversee the obstacle course. Good luck, girls, and do your best!”
The classroom door clicked closed behind Cadance, leaving the room once more in an uncomfortable silence. It dragged on for several long moments, before the white-haired girl thankfully spoke up.
“Welcome to the Crystal Prep Academy Entrance Exam, my name is Sugarcoat and I will be your exam coordinator. The following is a comprehensive list of rules and regulations you will be expected to follow before, during, and immediately after the exam.”
“Number one, only the use of No. 2 or HB wooden pencils are permitted in the examination room. Mechanical pencils and pencils of other grades are not permitted. Number two…”
Adagio felt her mind drifting. What was the point of all of this? Clearly Abacus Cinch wasn’t afraid of breaking rules—she’d made that abundantly clear in their meeting—so why not skip the test and let them get right to work getting their magic back? It wasn’t as if she could afford to kick them out if they got a bad grade on a stupid test.
“…and finally, any and all water bottles must be made of clear plastic, and be no larger than 800 mL, or 27.05 oz. Any questions?”
Sonata raised her hand. “Are you a robot?”
“That’s a stupid question.”
Adagio covered her mouth and turned away to hide her own snickering, only to notice Aria doing the same. Their eyes met, and Aria quickly looked away and resumed her usual bored expression.
Adagio rolled her eyes. Get over yourself.
“You have sixty minutes to complete the examination, at which point you will set your pencils down on the desks in front of you and I will collect your answer booklets.” She held up a stopwatch. “You may begin on my mark.”
Sonata tilted her head. “Who’s Mar-”
Adagio rested her head in the palm of her right hand, and lazily flipped open the cover of her exam with the other. A sea of small, black font greeted her. The header of the page read Reading Comprehension, and she deduced that she was supposed to read a passage and answer a series of questions.
She read the first paragraph, and was moving on to the second when she paused. I didn’t retain any of that. She started again, and once more she found that, though she’d read the words, her brain refused to process them.
Whatever, she thought, I’ll come back to it. She began flipping through the booklet. Math? Pass. History? As if anyone cares about what happened a hundred years ago on this magicless rock. What’s next…
With each page she skipped the knot in her stomach grew tighter, and she was becoming distinctly aware of the inexorable ticking of the stopwatch.
The Sirens waited outside the Crystal Prep Academy’s Athletic Building for Cadance to come and retrieve them. Adagio sat on a stone step, her head resting in her hands and her elbows planted on her knees, staring at the ground. Her body ached, but not nearly as much as her pride.
The test had been a disaster, and the physical examination hadn’t gone any better. After they handed in their exam booklets (which, in Adagio’s case, had been woefully incomplete) they had made their way to Crystal Prep’s gymnasium, where they were introduced to the next in their line of tormentors, Indigo Zap.
Zap was loud, abrasive, and had driven them through an obstacle course straight from the depths of Tartarus. Among the tortures that had been inflicted upon them had been push-ups, rope climbing, archery, and to top it all off, they had been forced to run an entire mile, all the while being jeered on by Zap, who took no small pleasure in telling them how their times were among the worst in Crystal Prep history.
All except for Aria’s, anyway. While Adagio and Sonata had fought to keep up, Aria had blazed ahead of them, leaving the other two Sirens in her dust. She had beaten them so badly that when Adagio was finishing her final lap around the gymnasium, Aria was already exiting the changing room.
Adagio glanced up at Aria, who was leaning against the building’s brick wall with her arms crossed. She wasn’t jealous. Any brute could run in a circle or climb a stupid rope. None of that mattered in the real world.
Her eyes narrowed. She wasn’t jealous.
Aria must have felt her gaze, because she turned towards Adagio, her lips curling into an arrogant smirk. It made Adagio’s blood boil. She shot to her feet, intent on giving Aria a piece of her mind, but her legs protested to the sudden movement and she had to take a step forward to keep herself from falling.
Aria laughed. “Need some help, Adagio?”
Adagio’s cheeks flushed and her hands balled into fists. She took another step forward, preparing to tear into Aria, when her foot collided with something squishy.
Sprawled out on the concrete before her was the prone form of Sonata, her arms askew and her face contorted in pain. Her eyes fluttered open, and she gave Adagio a pleading look.
“’Dagi,” she groaned. “I think I’m dying.”
Adagio sighed. “I should be so lucky.” She jabbed the toe of her shoe into Sonata’s side, eliciting another pained groan. “Now get up, you look pathetic.”
Aria snorted. “You’re one to talk.”
Bringing her attention back to Aria, Adagio discovered that she no longer felt the immediate urge to strangle her. No, that’s what Aria wanted: a reaction. Something to show that she’d really gotten to her, and Adagio had nearly fallen for it.
Instead, she looked expectantly at Aria, putting on her best bored expression. “Are you done?”
“I—what are you doing?”
Adagio immediately located the source of Aria’s distress: no longer content with her position on the ground (or, perhaps, fearing another kick), Sonata was clinging pitifully to Aria’s legs.
“Ugh, let go of me, you idiot!”
“You’re the idiot!” replied Sonata, stubbornly holding tight despite Aria’s protests. The way she was hanging off her, she almost looked like a sloth.
Clingy, slow… definitely a sloth.
“Yeah,” said Adagio, a sardonic grin spreading across her face, “you’re done.” There was that feeling again.
She watched in amusement as blood rushed to Aria’s cheeks, and she grew more and more flustered while trying to dislodge Sonata.
“You’re the worst!”
“No, you are!”
“Am I interrupting something?”
The three girls turned to see Dean Cadance, her expression a mixture of confusion and mild amusement. Aria, seizing the moment, shook Sonata free of her leg, who fell to the ground with an audible thump.
“I’m okay,” said Sonata, standing up and brushing herself off.
Aria’s eye twitched. “Now you can stand up?”
Sonata responded with a toothy smile.
“You’ll have to excuse them,” said Adagio, “they’re still a little on edge after the exams.”
“Am not,” muttered Aria.
Cadance gave them an empathic smile. “Oh, don’t worry, you all seem like bright girls” – her eyes lingered on Sonata – “…for the most part. I’m sure you all did wonderfully.”
Sonata beamed. “I filled out all the bubbles!”
Cadance’s brow furrowed, but she managed to rebound after only a momentary lapse in her enthusiasm. “That’s… great! And in other great news, the dorm situation has been resolved. It took some shifting around but, well, they don’t call me Dean for nothing!”
She was met with three blank stares.
“Tough crowd. Anyway, if you girls will follow me, I’ll lead you to your new rooms! I’m sure you’re all tired after the obstacle course—”
Aria snickered. “Some of us more than others.”
“—so we’ll try to get you settled in nice and quick.”
The remainder of the walk to the Crystal Prep Dormitories was relatively uneventful. Adagio did her best to ignore Aria’s snark and Sonata’s idiocy, while simultaneously smile and nod at Cadance’s forced small talk. It wasn’t easy, but she had plenty of practice.
“Wow,” said Sonata as they approached the entryway. “Another building! How many does this school have? Canterlot High only had one!”
Cadance stopped abruptly. Adagio, who had been following close behind, barely avoided bumping into her.
“One last thing before we go inside,” said Cadance. “You might want to avoid mentioning that you used to be students at CHS. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great school – but the students here tend to see them as our rivals, and a recent sporting event ended, well… let’s just say not to everyone’s satisfaction.”
“So you lost?” asked Aria.
“No,” said Cadance, “it was a tie.”
“Doesn’t that mean everyone wins?” posed Sonata.
“That’s a good way of looking at it,” replied Cadance, earnestly, followed by a long sigh. “But that’s not how the students – or most of the faculty – see it. I’m sure they’ll be over it soon enough, but in the mean time, if anyone asks about your old school… just be vague. Or make something up.”
Adagio scowled. “Believe me, we weren’t going to brag about it.”
“Yeah,” said Sonata, “especially not after the Battle of the Bands where we—” Sonata’s words were cut off by Aria’s hand covering her mouth. Adagio quickly interposed herself between Cadance and her fellow Sirens.
“—where we gave a heartfelt goodbye to all out CHS friends!” she said, her voice dripping with fake cheer. “It’s still a fresh wound, we’re really broken up about it”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m sure you girls will make plenty of new friends here at Crystal Prep.”
“Eww, Sonata, stop licking my hand!”
Adagio’s eye twitched. “New friends, can’t wait!”
Cadance lead them inside the dormitory and up several flights of stairs to the third floor. Adagio’s legs burned with every step, and she could feel Aria’s eyes on her, waiting for her to falter, but to her immense relief she managed to make it without any more embarrassing blunders. From there, they were brought into a long corridor with doors evenly spaced on either side, each emblazoned with a room number (odds on the left, evens on the right) and a small whiteboard. The whiteboards were inscribed with what Adagio could only assume were the names of the room’s occupants, written in a variety of colors and surrounded by small doodles.
“The bathrooms can be found at the end of the hall, and I’ll warn you now that the line for the showers can get pretty long, so make sure you get up nice and early.” Cadance continued down the hall, before eventually stopping in front of a door with a blank whiteboard. “Here we are, room 309. Aria and Sonata, you two will be staying in this room, and Adagio you’ll be staying across the hall in 308.”
Adagio’s brow furrowed, and she shared an uncertain look with Aria and Sonata.
“Sorry, girls,” said Cadance empathically. “The dorms have two beds each. I did what I could to make sure that I could keep at least two of you together, and I even managed to get you rooms across from each other. You know, so you’re not too far from your friends.”
Friends. That was the word the people of this world often used to describe the three girls, but it had never quite clicked with Adagio. They weren’t family, though she’d known the others for her entire life they shared no blood relation, and they couldn’t exactly tell everyone they were Sirens from another dimension, but friends? Friends were people you liked, people you spent time with because you wanted to. Adagio didn’t have any friends, not in the traditional sense. In Equestria, the Sirens had combined their powers in order to better feed on the turmoil they wrought across the land. In this world, the trio had been forced to work together to survive their exile. It was strange, after so long, to imagine being separated from them.
Adagio shook her head. Get a hold of yourself, she thought, they’ll just be across the hall. And besides, how great will it be not to have to put up with Sonata’s snoring?
“You’ll find some dry-erase markers in your rooms so you can decorate your whiteboards. Be creative, but don’t write – or draw – anything obscene on your own or anyone else’s board. We had some… issues, in the past, which is why you’ll find cameras in the hall. But I’m sure I don’t have to worry about that from you girls.”
“Now,” said Cadance, reaching into her purse and producing three keys. “These are the keys to your dorm rooms. They’ve got a sticker with your room number on them, so make sure you take it off once you’ve memorized the number. The doors lock automatically, so if you accidentally lock your key inside your room and your roommate isn’t around, or if you lose it, you can get a new one from the Dormitory Manager’s office on the first floor. You’ll have to have your Student ID on you –” she paused “—which you can pick up in my office tomorrow. I knew I was forgetting something… Do you girls have any more questions?”
The Sirens shook their heads.
“Well, if you think of any, my door is always open. I’ll let you girls get settled in,” she turned to focus on Adagio, “and I’ll let you get acquainted with your new roommate. Your things will be waiting for you inside. Good night, girls!”
With Cadance gone, the three Sirens lingered in the hallway. Sonata looked worried, glancing between Adagio and Aria, waiting for one of them to say something. Aria’s expression was unreadable.
“Well,” said Aria, breaking the silence, “I guess we should go. ‘Night, Adagio.”
Adagio placed the key into the lock of her new room, sparing a glance over her shoulder as Aria and Sonata did the same. Was it just her, or did the corridor seem a lot wider than it had a few minutes ago?
Pushing the thought from her mind, and ignoring the stupid knot in her stomach, Adagio took a moment to examine the whiteboard. The top half was blank, presumably saved for her, but on the bottom, written in neatly printed letters, was, to Adagio’s surprise, a familiar name.
Oh great, I’m sharing a room with Sonata’s robot.
She turned the key and pushed open the door, revealing a small but comfortable room. It was furnished with a pair of writing desks, each with a comfortable looking chair, a pair of nearly identical dressers, one with some personal effects on top of it that Adagio assumed belonged to Sugarcoat, a wastepaper basket, a floor length mirror, a window with a thin purple curtain, and a set of bunk beds, the bottom of which was currently occupied.
Sugarcoat was sitting upright in her bed, her back against the headboard and her legs nestled beneath the purple comforter. She wasn’t wearing her Crystal Prep uniform, which, Adagio noticed, was folded neatly at the foot of her bed, and was, instead, wearing a modest pair of white pajamas decorated with a pale blue lattice pattern and trimmed with delicate looking lace. She peered up at Adagio from behind her orange framed glasses and blinked, acknowledging her presence, before returning her attention to a thick textbook.
What a warm welcome.
Adagio nodded to Sugarcoat (who was either too engrossed in her book to notice or, perhaps more likely, simply didn’t care) and without a word climbed the ladder to the top bunk. There she found her backpack containing her old clothes and what remained of her worldly possessions, as well as an unfamiliar package. Attached to the package was a note with equally unfamiliar handwriting.
I know moving to a new school can be tough, especially a school like Crystal Prep. The students here are all working hard to ensure they get the most out of the education we’re providing them, which might make them seem a little distant at first, but I’m sure it won’t be long before you’ve made a ton of new friends.
Sometimes it might feel like you’re being pushed too hard or that everything is too overwhelming. Studying is important, but these are the best years of your life, don’t forget to put down the books and live them every now and then!
Don’t tell Principle Cinch I wrote that. Actually, she would probably think that leaving personal notes to students would ‘sully her reputation’ so do me a favor and tear this up after you’ve read it, okay?
And remember, if you need anything, you can find my office in the main building in room 1002. Don’t be a stranger!
Have a wonderful first day at your new school,
P.S. I don’t know if you girls have lived in dorms before, so enclosed is a shower package. It has a towel, shampoo, conditioner, a pair of shower slippers, and some other essentials. Wear the slippers, you REALLY don’t want to walk barefoot in a public shower.
P.P.S. Seriously. Athlete’s foot is not a joke.
Well. That was… surprisingly nice. And generous. But mostly sappy (and a little pathetic). Adagio made a mental note to stay in Cadance’s good graces, having an authority figure on her side who wasn’t trying to manipulate her for her magic certainly seemed appealing. But for now…
Adagio yawned, placing the package at the foot of her bed, and began rooting through her backpack. She retrieved a long t-shirt and, not having noticed anywhere better to change, went about the laborious process of changing clothes atop the bunkbed. It would have been trivial if not for her aching muscles, but after a minute of fumbling about, Adagio’s uniform sat in a similar (but somewhat less organized) pile to Sugarcoat’s below.
Tossing her bag to one side, Adagio lay back on her bed, only to jerk back up as something sharp dug into her back. She patted the bed with her hand until she found the troublesome object, and held it up to the light to examine.
It was a shard of crystal. Dull, red, and jagged, it was a small fragment of one of the pendants that had given the Sirens their power. She turned it over in her fingers. It must have fallen out of my bag while I was changing, she thought, I’ll have to be more careful. It held none of the lustre (or the magic) that it once did, but Adagio never had the heart to get rid of it. The others had left their own pendants broken and discarded on the stage of the Battle of the Bands, but not her. Maybe, somewhere in the back of her mind, she still hoped it could be repaired.
She sighed. Retrieving her backpack now was more effort than she was willing to expend, so instead she deposited the crystal fragment carefully beneath her pillow and lay down.
It was strange. Adagio couldn’t remember the last time she had slept in a room without her fellow Sirens. It almost felt… lonely.
Don’t be stupid, Adagio, she thought, chastising herself. The girls were right across the hall. Besides, she finally had some peace and quiet, away from the constant bickering and complaining. It wasn’t as if she was going to miss Sonata’s obnoxious snoring.
But, staring up at the blank, white ceiling of her new dorm room, some small part of her did.