When Adagio awoke the next morning, Sugarcoat was already gone.
Wrapped as she was in warm, comfortable sheets, and soothed by the soft, calming patter of raindrops on her window, she allowed herself a rare moment of tranquility.
A fleeting moment, as it turned out, that was promptly ruined by a loud knock at the door. Adagio jammed her eyes shut, hoping that whoever it was would move on so she could get a few more minutes of peace. But it was not to be; Adagio heard a second knock and resigned herself to the suffering that was the waking world.
And suffering it was. Every muscle in her body cried out in a symphony of pain as she forced herself to sit up. She tucked her uniform under her arm, along with the package Cadance had left her, and with great reluctance began the climb from the top bunk to the floor below.
It hurt every bit as much as she feared.
With her feet now firmly planted upon the floor, Adagio rubbed the sleep from her eyes and spared a glance at the mirror affixed to the wall. Staring back at her was a thin, grumpy looking girl wearing a ratty t-shirt that was a few sizes too large, and surrounded on all sized by cascades if poufy orange hair.
As a Siren in Equestria, Adagio had never understood why ponies put up with the hassle of caring for their manes. Fins were so much more manageable. But when she’d been banished to this world – the human world – and had a veritable mountain of bushy hair bestowed upon her, she found that she’d quickly changed her tune. Adagio liked her hair, it was one of her favorite features of her human body, second only to her fingers.
She might have been wrong about her perception of hair, but she was definitely correct about the hassle that came along with it. She sighed.
The sacrifices we make to stay beautiful. Is it really worth it? She gave herself an appraising look and smiled.
Another strike at her door brought Adagio’s vain thoughts to an abrupt end. “I’m coming,” she called, her voice dripping with irritation as she made her slow, agonizing way across the room and to the doorway. She pressed her eye to the peephole positioned at the door’s center and was greeted with the distorted visage of Aria Blaze, looking as impatient as she did disheveled.
Adagio smiled, opening the door and draping herself against it. Yes, it hurt, but Aria didn’t need to know that. “Good morning, Aria, how did you sleep?”
“Took you long enough,” said Aria. The dark bags under her eyes made Adagio’s aching muscles seem just a little more bearable. “I seriously don’t know if I hate Sonata more when she’s awake or when she’s sleeping.”
Behind her, Sonata worked diligently at decorating the pair’s whiteboard. She’d written both her own and Aria’s names, surrounded by small drawings of flowers and musical notes. Sonata was placing the finishing touches on a pair of stick figures, which Adagio quickly identified as Sonata’s own smiling self-image, and an angry depiction of Aria with harshly sloped brows and a set of big, pointy teeth.
Adagio giggled, despite herself.
Sonata placed the final stroke on her masterpiece and turned around. Catching Adagio’s eye, she beamed brightly. “Pretty good, right?”
Aria rolled her eyes. “I don’t look like that.”
“Do, too!” retorted Sonata, before turning her attention back to Adagio. “What do you say, ‘Dagi, want me to do yours, too?”
“I’ll pass,” said Adagio, waving her hand dismissively. “You didn’t wake me up to complain about Sonata’s snoring, did you, Aria?”
“I don’t snore!”
Aria’s palm slapped hard against her forehead. “Yes, you do,” she argued, for what was not the first and certainly would not be the last time, “and no, I didn’t. Look.”
Adagio followed Aria’s gesture down the hall where she noticed for the first time a line of over a dozen girls, each holding a uniform and assorted toiletries, stretching out the door to the bathroom.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Adagio.
“Right?” said Aria, crossing her arms.
Sonata looked at Adagio pleadingly. “We’re not going to have to wait in that line, are we?”
Adagio put her hands on her hips, a sinister smile painting itself across her features.
“Do we ever wait in line?”
The smile spread to Aria and Sonata, who fell in behind Adagio as she made her way toward the bathroom. Some girls gave them looks of suspicion as they strode past the line that formed up against the left wall, but most wore expressions of tired disinterest, doing their best not to fall asleep and lose their place in line.
Remembering Cadance’s warning about the horrors of athlete’s foot, Adagio slipped on the pair of shower slippers and entered the bathroom. A row of sinks lined one wall of the room, each paired with a mirror, clouded by the steam that filled the air, each attended by a girl brushing her teeth, washing her face, or fixing her hair or makeup. There was an assortment of bathroom stalls, and next to those were a trio of shower stalls, differentiated by the flowing shower curtains that covered enough of the stall to retain modesty, but still revealed the feet of whomever was inside, likely so outsiders could tell if the stall was occupied without any embarrassing incidents.
As the three Sirens approached the showers, a freckled girl with pink hair sporting a single streak of green moved to intercept them. “Oh my goodness, are you lost?” she said, her almost sickeningly sweet veneer dropping away immediately as she barred her teeth and snarled. “The line starts outside.”
“Oh, really?” replied Adagio, allowing her own faux concern to drop away with equal swiftness. “Because we just started a new one.” Aria and Sonata stepped forward, the three Sirens encircling the girl and cutting her off from the rest of the line. Her eyes darted between them rapidly, not unlike a cornered animal searching for a way out.
“By all means,” she said, the sarcasm in her voice clear even despite her pitiful attempt at sounding considerate. “It’s not like we’ve been waiting all morning!”
Behind her, Adagio noticed as a girl wrapped in a towel vacated one of the showers. Seizing her chance, Adagio circled around the freckled girl and walked to the stall before anyone could stop her.
“Hear that, girls? This good Samaritan just offered us her place in line! Thank her for her generosity, won’t you?”
“You’re too kind,” said Aria, flipping her hair in the girl’s face as she passed. Sonata followed, nudging her with her hip.
“You snooze, you lose!”
The pair took up flanking positions on each side of Adagio’s stall as she gave the girl one last conceited smile, paired with a superfluous wink, and pulled the curtain closed. She could still hear the girl fuming from outside.
“What the hell, Sour Sweet?” came an outraged cry. “Why’d you let them cut?”
“First, she throws the Friendship Games, now this, what a–”
Adagio turned the nozzle and tuned them out with a torrent of hot water. She gave an ecstatic sigh – this was how things were supposed to be! Even without their powers, these humans couldn’t hold a candle to the sheer force of personality that was Adagio Dazzle, or either of the other Sirens, for that matter. The only thing that had stopped them at Canterlot High was Equestrian magic!
Adagio grit her teeth as she lathered shampoo into her voluminous hair. The hot water might have soothed her aching body, but it did little to loosen the all too familiar knot in her stomach. It couldn’t give her have even this tiny moment of triumph, could it? Not without reminding her of how she’d almost had it all.
And instead lost everything.
But it didn’t matter. Soon she’d have it all back and more, she just knew it. She’s been given a second chance, and she wasn’t going to let anyone stand in her way. Not the freckled girl, not Principle Cinch, not the Rainbooms…
Not even her fellow Sirens.
With the renewed conviction that can only be found beneath the nozzle of a hot, much needed shower, Adagio Dazzle was finally ready to face the waking world.
Her conviction died somewhere between the surprise math quiz and being assigned the six-page history paper.
Adagio leaned against a row of lockers outside the Crystal Prep Cafeteria. The Sirens chose the spot that morning after they’d been issued their schedules and discovered they’d been placed into separate classes. Neither Aria nor Sonata had arrived yet, so Adagio was left once again to question the actions of Abacus Cinch.
She might not have considered them her friends, but—as their encounter with the shower line that morning proved—they were a team, a packaged deal, so why was Cinch splitting them up? Did she not realize that they were stronger together, or did she have some ulterior motive?
Yes, as much as she was loathe to admit it, the Sirens had always been more powerful as a collective. That’s why she tolerated Aria’s complaining and Sonata’s stupidity, though sometimes she wondered if it was really worth it.
As if on cue, she spotted Sonata through the crowd of students shuffling into the cafeteria. She walked with her head down, shoulders slumped, and arms hanging loosely at her sides. She looked pathetic. With an inconvenienced sigh, Adagio left her position at the locker and approached Sonata, placing her index finger beneath the girls chin and tilting it up until they were face to face.
Sonata’s eyes were red, puffy, and glistened in the fluorescent light.
“Ugh, you haven’t been crying, have you?”
“No!” sniffed Sonata, defensively, pulling away from Adagio and wiping her eyes with her sleeve.
“Good. The last thing we need is for you to ruin our image on our first day.”
“But ‘Dagi,” whined Sonata, “this place is awful! The teacher asked me to answer a question about a book, but I hadn’t read the book, so I started talking about another book I’ve read, and then he got mad and was going to make me leave the class! And then I– I–”
Oh no, she’s going to start crying again.
Adagio placed a hand on Sonata’s shoulder, guiding her out of the crowd. The gesture seemed to have calmed Sonata somewhat—though Adagio merely intended to move her somewhere there would be less prying eyes—now she just looked defeated.
She sniffed again. “When you can’t feed on it, school sucks!”
Adagio couldn’t help but agree. Though being trapped in the bodies of teenagers certainly had its downsides, in the past school had not been one of them. The Sirens would move from town to town, school from school, stirring up turmoil and feeding on what they could. Teenage girls had always been Adagio’s favorites, sometimes they wouldn’t even have to cause trouble themselves, the girls were more than happy to create their own drama and start fights all on their own.
Come to think of it, perhaps it made sense that this world had made them into teenagers. Teenage girls were some of the most ruthless people in this world.
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, my day hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk, either.”
“Yeah, it kind of does.”
Adagio rolled her eyes. Ruthless.
It was at that moment, through the sea of students, Adagio caught site of Aria’s signature purple hair. But to Adagio’s surprise, she wasn’t alone. Aria was walking with a pair of other girls, talking about something Adagio couldn’t make out over the awful din of the other students. But she wasn’t just talking. She was—Adagio had to rub her eyes to make sure she wasn’t seeing things—smiling!
Who are you, and what have you done with Aria?
Aria spared a few more unintelligible words with the other students, before breaking off and making her way towards her fellow Sirens.
“So,” said Adagio, examining her nails with forced disinterest, “looks like you made some friends.”
Aria’s smile died. “No, we were just talking. I don’t even know their names.”
“Good,” said Adagio, looking up from her nails. “Because we’re not here for that. We’re here to reclaim our magic, that’s all.”
“Ugh, I know. Lay off,” Aria said with a huff. Adagio smiled. Of course she hadn’t made any friends. Talking to Aria was chore at the best of times – if any of them would have made any ‘friends’ yet, it would have been her.
Not that she wanted to.
“Alright, girls, enough chatter, let’s get some food before this pitifully short lunch break is over.” Sonata clapped her hands together and Aria made a face of revulsion, and the three made haste to the cafeteria.
In comparison to that of Canterlot High, the Sirens’ entrance into the Crystal Prep Cafeteria was decidedly lackluster. No singing, no magic, and, worst of all, they weren’t afforded a second glance by the students within. They simply walked in like three ordinary high school students.
Ordinary. Adagio decided she hated the word.
There was no line waiting for them in the cafeteria, and it didn’t take them long to discover why: for all the school’s grandeur, the lunch menu was decidedly unremarkable. After reviewing the meager offerings, Adagio settled on an apple and moved on to secure a place for the three to sit. This proved to be more difficult than she had originally imagined, but after several long minutes of looking she was able to swoop in on a table just as another group left.
The apple was, somehow, even less appetizing than Adagio had expected – it was nothing compared to a true meal – and after a few bites she found that what little appetite she’d had was already used up. The other girls weren’t doing much better: across from her, Adagio watched Aria unenthusiastically pick away at a salad, while beside her Sonata – who had accepted the idea of human food with open arms (and mouth) – stared glumly at her plate.
“I miss ‘Taco Tuesday,’” she said glumly. Aria gave her an exasperated look.
“Sonata, it’s Monday.”
“Duh, it’s not the Tuesday I miss, it’s the tacos!”
Before Aria had a chance to respond, the cafeteria’s PA system crackled to life, bringing relative silence to the room.
“Adagio Dazzle,” it said, “please report to room 1056. Adagio Dazzle, please report to room 1056. Thank you.”
Adagio put her apple down and stood up suddenly, the scraping of the chair legs against the floor drawing some curious looks from nearby students.
“What’s that about?” asked Aria, cocking an eyebrow.
“I don’t know,” said Adagio, “but if it means I don’t have to listen to you two idiots argue, I don’t care.”
But Adagio had already begun to walk away. She could still feel the eyes of the onlookers on her, hoping to catch a glimpse of some juicy drama, no doubt, and felt a wry smile tug at her lips. She couldn’t help it; any attention was better than no attention – and Equestria for bid she was starved for it – but it was, none the less, a poor substitute for what could have been.
And what’s going to be, she thought. With her power restored, this whole world would hang on her every word, and she’d have all the attention she would ever want. Sure, she still had to figure out how exactly to get to that point, but that was just semantics.
After a few wrong turns – she was still getting used to the school, after all – Adagio finally found herself standing before room 1056. The door itself was unremarkable to look at; however; it had a peculiar frame made from the same crystal that the school’s architect seemed so fond of, but was far more rough and jagged than the pillars in the atrium. It didn’t have a window like the doors to the classrooms, and if Adagio hadn’t been summoned here she might have assumed it was a janitor’s closet.
She paused. She wasn’t being brought to a janitor’s closet, was she?
Pushing the thought from her mind, Adagio grasped the doorknob and entered.
The room bore little resemblance to the school outside; it was poorly lit, dusty, and crammed full of strange machines Adagio had never seen the likes of. One wall was a cork board covered in a sea of paper, connected by a spider web of red string. A pair of desks sat on either side of the room, each a cluttered mess of books, papers, and computers, and bookshelves sat here and there crammed full of even more dusty tomes. A large, metal pipe ran up one side of the room and across the ceiling – lending credence to Adagio’s theory about this being a janitor’s closet – and standing in the middle of the cramped, disorderly chamber was none other than Principle Abacus Cinch.
“Adagio Dazzle,” she said, running a finger across one of the desks, leaving a trail in the dust. “You certainly took your time.”
“I’m sorry, I was just–”
“I’m not looking for excuses, Miss Dazzle, I was merely making an observation.”
Adagio’s eyes narrowed. So that’s how this was going to be. “Right, well, I’m here now… what am I doing here, exactly?”
“Straight to the point. This space used to belong to a former student of mine, the same former student who, in this very room, designed and constructed the device she used to store magic. The device I have tasked you will rebuilding.
“Her research has remained, for the most part, untouched. I suggest you begin here, and if you are in need of any additional resources you may bring them to my attention. The space itself will be yours to do with as you see fit, and you will find the key on the desk just over there. Do be careful, for it is the only copy – save for my own, of course.”
With a wave of her hand, Principle Cinch ushered Adagio over to the desk where she retrieved the small, unassuming iron key and tucked it into a pouch in her backpack.
“Thanks,” muttered Adagio, uncertainly.
“You’ll find that I can be very generous to those who impress me, Miss Dazzle, and I have gone to great lengths to provide you with the proper tools to exact our revenge upon the delinquents at Canterlot High.”
‘Our’ revenge. Keep telling yourself that.
Principle Cinch smeared the dust between her thumb and index finger, tutting in disapproval. When her gaze found its way back to Adagio her countenance had darkened considerably, almost as if she could hear the treasonous thoughts passing through the girl’s mind.
“But I have no intention of wasting my time. Crystal Prep is not a charity, nor do I believe in sticking out my neck for lost causes – I have a reputation to uphold. As such, the moment that this little project of ours begins to be more trouble than it is worth, I will not hesitate to throw you and your little friends back out onto the street. Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal,” said Adagio through gritted teeth.
“Good. You see, this morning I received the results of your examinations. Expedient, I know, but you will soon learn that Crystal Prep runs like a well-oiled machine. But a machine can only be as strong as its weakest piece, and I’m afraid to say that this machine’s weakest piece is you.”
Adagio blanched. “M–me?”
“I must say I am extremely disappointed in your performance, Miss Dazzle, rarely am I so mistaken when assessing a student. Your grades, both on the physical and academic sections, would be barely acceptable in a public school, let alone an institution such as this. When I told you that you would be held to the same standards as all the other students at this school it was not an idle threat; so as of this moment you may consider yourself on academic probation.”
Adagio stared at her in stunned silence, all the while Principle Cinch’s cold eyes bore into her own. After nearly a minute had passed, Principle Cinch decided she’d waited long enough for a response, and continued.
“You will have until the end of midterm examinations – that is to say, three weeks – to bring your grades up to Crystal Prep standards, or our deal will be broken and I shall see to it that you are removed from the premises. Permanently.”
“Three weeks?” Adagio stammered. “But that’s—you can’t do this! You need us!”
Cinch’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Do I? Make no mistake, Miss Dazzle, that while your experience with magic is without a doubt an asset to our little project, it is by no means a prerequisite. Our work will carry on with or without you.
“But I remain hopeful that it won’t come to that. I saw potential in you when we first met: you have the same spirit I see in all my students, it is what separates us from the uncultured masses beyond our walls. You have the potential to be among the greatest students to ever pass through the halls of Crystal Prep, and it would be a great shame to see you squander it.”
Principle Cinch began her exit of the room, passing Adagio and stopping at the door. Adagio didn’t turn around.
“I understand you have a free period. It is my recommendation that you heed my advice and use this time to your advantage. Or don’t, it’s up to you, but perhaps Miss Aria Blaze will prove to be more receptive to my offer.”
And then she was gone.
Adagio stood alone in the dark room. Her heart was pounding in her ears, her shoulders were hunched, her fists were clenched so tightly that her nails dug painfully into the flesh of her palms and her knuckles were beginning to turn white. Her breathing was quick and labored, and her eyes stung. The knot in her stomach threatened to tear her apart from within.
Her mind raced. What was wrong with that woman? Was this some sort of cruel joke? Take them in, offer them everything, and then pull the rug out from beneath them?
Another wave of anger surged over her. She whirled around, slamming her fist onto the nearest flat surface. The desk shook, its contents scattered and something fell to the floor with a crash. Pain shot up her arm and Adagio cried out. She punched the desk again. And again. And, though her bloodied fist soon became numb to the pain, it did little to ease the fury within.
She felt something wet on her cheek and hastily wiped it away. Sweat, probably.
Her assault on the desk had jostled the computer from its long slumber, and from its monitor a stupid, purple-and-green dog stared at her with its dumb, idiot face. Her anger flared, and she prepared to drive her fist through the screen, when she was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Hello?” It was a familiar voice, wracked with concern. “Are you alright in there? I’m coming in.”
Adagio looked over her shoulder at the door as Cadance entered.
“Adagio?” she asked. “Is that you?”
Adagio looked away. “What are you doing here? Did Principle Cinch send you here to check on me?”
“What?” she sounded confused. “No, a student came to my office and told me they heard someone in here. I thought… well, it doesn’t matter what I thought. How did you get in here? This room is supposed to be locked.”
“Cinch gave me a key,” said Adagio, “right before she put me on ‘Academic probation.’”
“Before she did what? On your first day? Honestly, that woman… what was she thinking?”
Adagio didn’t respond. A few moments passed and Adagio felt Cadance’s hand on her shoulder. She flinched away, reflexively.
“Adagio… are you alright?”
“Am I alright?” Adagio felt something within her snap. She spun to face Cadance, who took a step back. Something was coming over her. “Of course I’m not alright! It’s been one day, Cadance, one! And I’ve already screwed it all up.”
She laughed a grim, joyless laugh. “But that’s hardly a surprise, is it? I screw everything up. Just ask Aria, she’ll tell you. I’m a walking, talking calamity, and every time I think I can’t fall any further the ground breaks away beneath me and I find myself on a whole other level of failure.”
The room was quiet in the wake of Adagio’s outburst. Cadance’s shocked expression softened back into concern, and after several long minutes she spoke.
“It isn’t as bad as all that, is it?”
“It sure seems that way” Adagio replied, bitterly.
“Well, for starters, you’re here, aren’t you? Crystal Prep is the best school in the state – probably the country! – and you were accepted. Doesn’t that count for anything?”
Adagio scoffed. “And I’m about to be kicked out.”
“No, you’re not,” Cadance corrected. “You’re on probation. There’s still time to turn things around. Most kids – er, young adults – who fail our entrance exam don’t get a second chance. You’re special, Adagio, I can see it, and Principle Cinch must see it too, otherwise she wouldn’t be giving you this chance.”
You don’t know the half of it, thought Adagio. “You’re just trying to make me feel better.”
“Is it working?”
“No,” she lied. Even though Cadance didn’t know half the story, Adagio none the less found a small amount of comfort in her words. Cadance must have sensed this, because a smile crept back onto her face. It suited her.
“Okay,” Cadance said, “that’s a start. So, did Principle Cinch say how long you had to get your grades up?”
“That’s… not a lot of time. But it’s more than we need, if you’re willing to put the work in.” Cadance looked her square in the eyes. “Are you?”
“I…” She looked at the floor. This was stupid, no one could learn an entire curriculum in three weeks. And yet… “I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”
“That’s not what I asked,” said Cadance. “I can help you, Adagio, but I need to know that you want to help yourself. The fact that you’re still talking to me is a good start, but I need to hear you say it.”
“’Okay’ what?” prodded Cadance.
“’Okay’ I’ll do it. I’ll put in the work. I’ll get my grades up.” I’ll get my magic back. I’ll crush Abacus Cinch and the Rainbooms.
“That’s the spirit!” said Cadance, clapping her hands together. “I knew you’d come around.”
“Whatever,” said Adagio. “So, where do we start?”
“We start by taking you to the nurse’s office and getting that hand looked at. Getting upset and punching walls isn’t healthy.”
“It was a desk,” Adagio muttered.
“Not the point,” chastised Cadance. “Don’t hit anything – or anyone, for that matter. And as for what comes next, well, I’ve got an idea. I’ll have to make a phone call, but if everything works out like I’m hoping then you’ll be well on your way to acing those midterms!”
Adagio felt a little excitement stir within her. She couldn’t help it; Cadance’s enthusiasm was infectious – she might have hated it if she didn’t need it so desperately.
“A phone call? To who?”
“I’d rather not say until things are one hundred percent sorted,” said Cadance, mysteriously. “I wouldn’t want to make a promise I can’t keep. So, until then, you’re just going to have to trust me.”