Adagio Dazzle hadn’t been expecting much when Cadance dropped her off at the nurse’s office, but she certainly wasn’t prepared for Nurse Tough Love.
He was the opposite of everything she imagined a nurse to be: a towering behemoth of a man with arms the size of tree trunks and the bedside manner of a corpse, one could almost be forgiven for believing him a Minotaur escaped from Equestria. His rippling form was packed comically into the tight white uniform he wore, matched only in absurdity by the tiny nurse’s cap perched precariously upon his head.
Tough Love took one look at Adagio’s bloodied knuckles and pointed a meaty finger towards a cot in the corner. “Go,” he said, “sit.”
Adagio did as she was told, unsure whether to be frightened by the hulking nurse or amused by him. She climbed up onto the bunk and crossed her legs, watching as he tipped a bottle of some unknown fluid onto a cotton swab and approached her. With one hand, he took hold of Adagio’s wrist, and with the other he gently dabbed the swab against her wound.
It stung. Adagio hissed and tried to pull away, but was held fast by the nurse’s firm grip. She bit down hard on her lip and tried to lock eyes with her captor in some small show of defiance against the pain he was inflicting upon her, but Tough Love’s full attention was on her hand.
After several agonizing minutes, he released her and disposed of the swab. Adagio watched him bitterly as he rooted through a cupboard, probably looking for some fresh implement to torture her with.
“You could have warned me,” she said, cradling her wrist in her good hand.
“Could have,” Tough Love replied. He turned back towards her holding a roll of bandages. Adagio knew what was coming, and what’s more, she knew there was very little she could do to get out of it. She sighed and held out her arm. Tough Love began his work.
“Ouch, that’s tight!” she whined.
“Supposed to be,” he said, unmoved.
As before, Tough Love was solemn as he went about his work. His fingers worked with surprising deftness, and before long Adagio was flexing her fingers and examining the pristine white bandage that encased them.
“Is that it? Am I good to go?” she moved to stand, but was stopped abruptly by a colossal hand clapping down on her shoulder. It was like running into a wall.
“You wait for Cadance,” grunted Tough Love.
“Well, I know where her office is, so I’ll just…” Adagio’s words died in her throat when she caught Tough Love’s dour expression. She sighed. There was no helping it. “…stay here, I guess.”
He nodded in approval, removing his hand from her shoulder and pulling a blue privacy curtain closed around her cot. “You wait,” he said. “You heal.”
She heard his lumbering steps cross the small office and the whine of metal as he collapsed into a chair designed for someone half his size. Adagio stared blankly at the curtain for a moment, before lying back on the bunk in resignation.
With no way to tell the time and nothing better to do than to stare at the ceiling and wait for Cadance’s return, Adagio couldn’t help but to reflect on her first day at Crystal Prep. ‘Disaster’ was one way of putting it; already she was behind on her classes and on the verge of being thrown out, and worse she hadn’t made any progress on reclaiming her lost magic.
What had she expected? The thought crept from the back of her mind. Abacus Cinch had made it clear what she’d expected of the Sirens when first they’d met, so what was the problem?
Abacus Cinch. Adagio could feel her blood pressure rise at the thought of her. Expectations or no, drawing Adagio away from her fellow Sirens and ambushing her – threatening her – was unacceptable. One did not simply threaten Adagio Dazzle; they served her, worshipped her, bent to her every whim and fancy. That Abacus Cinch had the audacity to consider her expendable proved once more how far the Sirens had fallen.
But what bothered her even more than the principal’s insolence was that it had gotten her. Abacus Cinch had tested her resolve and she’d failed. But not only had she failed, she’d flown off the handle like an impetuous child. Looking back on it she felt embarrassed with herself, and yet the anger and frustration were still fresh in her mind.
She groaned and closed her eyes. What am I going to do with myself?
Well, for starters, she’d placed herself at the whim of Dean Cadance. Adagio frowned. She had accepted Cadance’s help in a moment of vulnerability, and now she waited idly for her return so she might be further embroiled in her mysterious plan. Adagio didn’t like it. Amongst the Sirens she was the leader, the planner, but since she’d first entered the halls of Crystal Prep Academy everything she’d done had been at the behest of someone else. It felt as if she was losing her agency. But if Cadance was truly trying to help her, was that such a terrible thing? Would it hurt to be a little adaptable?
Adagio pressed her palms against her eyes. All this introspection was giving her a headache.
From beyond the sanctuary of her curtain, Adagio heard a knock at the door. She listened as Tough Love lifted himself from his chair (its creaking sounded almost like a sigh of relief) and made his way over to answer it, and was surprised when she didn’t hear Cadance’s annoyingly cheerful voice.
Or any voice, for that matter.
But someone had come in, Adagio could hear the clicking of heels on the office floor and the rustling of Tough Love going through one of the many cabinets, but no conversation passed between him and the newcomer.
Intrigued, Adagio strained her ears in an attempt to better identify the newcomer. It was futile, of course, she’d barely been at Crystal Prep for a day and there were probably hundreds of students she hadn’t even seen¸ but anything was better than the pity party she’d been throwing for herself, so she continued.
Listening closely, Adagio heard what sounded like someone fumbling with paper, followed by a ripping noise, and then… tape?
“For your glasses,” came the gruff voice of Tough Love, as if in answer to her nonverbal question.
That was all Adagio could take. Her curiosity (and boredom) overwhelming her, she couldn’t help but take a peek. Sliding the curtain aside ever so slightly, Adagio peered out into the office proper and – to her great surprise – discovered that she did, indeed, recognize the mysterious newcomer.
Sugarcoat stood in the center of the nurse’s office, squinting and holding her glasses aloft as Tough Love nimbly wrapped a piece of clear tape around their bridge. On her left brow, Adagio noticed a thin bandage and some slight bruising that had not been there the day before. Had Sugarcoat fallen? Or, perhaps, been pushed?
With Sugarcoat’s glasses mended, Adagio ducked back behind the curtain before her snooping could be discovered. She’d have to remember to ask her about it later, but if Sugarcoat’s interaction with Tough Love were any indication, Adagio doubted she’d get much out of her.
Another minute or so passed in relative silence before the rattling of the doorknob heralded Sugarcoat’s exit, and after another ten or fifteen Cadance finally made her return. Tough Love slid open the curtain and watched with his usual stoic expression as Adagio hopped off the bed and followed Cadance out of the office.
The halls of Crystal Prep were largely devoid of students. That wasn’t much of a surprise – who in their right mind would stick around and wander the halls after school had ended? – and it allowed the pair to speak candidly without worry of being overheard as Cadance lead them to an unknown destination.
“So,” she said, “what did you think of Nurse Tough Love?”
“He… wasn’t what I expected.”
Cadance laughed. “He looks more like a gym teacher than a nurse, doesn’t he? But he knows his stuff, and it seems like he did a good job on your bandage.”
Adagio shrugged and took another close look at her hand. “How long am I supposed to keep this on for, anyway?”
“He didn’t say?”
“He wasn’t much of a talker.”
“Hmm,” Cadance rubbed her chin. “You’ll have to ask him tomorrow at lunch. We’ve got to move if we don’t want to be late!”
Adagio raised an eyebrow. “Late for what?”
“I found you a tutor!”
Adagio groaned. The last thing she wanted to do was to lower herself to asking another student for help, and would have outright refused if it weren’t for the little voice in her head reminding her to be adaptable.
“Oh, don’t be like that,” said Cadance. “There’s nothing wrong with needing a tutor, in fact I’m trying to kickstart a tutoring program right here at Crystal Prep!”
“First, I do not need a tutor. I’m just… exploring my options. And second, if there’s no tutoring program, how’d you find me a tutor?”
“I have my ways,” said Cadance with a wink. The pair reached Crystal Prep’s main entrance and opened the door. The morning’s light rain had evolved into a full-on downpour, and the two paused while Cadance produced a gaudy pink umbrella. “She’s a former Crystal Prep student whom I’m still on good terms with. I told her I had a student who could use a little help getting their grades up, and she was more than happy to oblige. Now squeeze in!”
Cadance beckoned to Adagio who reluctantly joined her beneath the umbrella, and together they stepped out into the storm. Things seemed to be going alright in their trek across the parking lot, until a sudden gust of wind buffeted the duo, turning their umbrella inside out and sending them into a mad dash through the downpour.
“There!” shouted Cadance over the cacophony of wind and rain. “Black car, lights on!” She fumbled in her purse as she ran, quickly locating her car keys and unlocking the vehicle with a push of a button and a telltale chirp. Neither of them wasted any time opening their doors, and were welcomed by a wall of warm air and heated seats.
Cadance let out a sigh of relief. “Remote start really is a miracle of modern technology,” she said. “You’re probably too young to appreciate how good you’ve got it these days.”
“Whatever you say, old-timer,” said Adagio, wringing out her hair.
Cadance laughed. “I walked into that one, didn’t I?” She checked her mirrors and put the key in the ignition. “Buckle up, Adagio.”
Adagio watched her skeptically as Cadance did up her own seatbelt and gave her a pointed look.
“I’m serious, this car isn’t going anywhere until all its occupants are safely buckled in!”
Adagio relented. The polyester belt rubbed against her neck uncomfortably, and when Cadance noticed this she leaned over her and performed some adjustments that made it fit a little better, as well as moving her seat closer to the dashboard. All the fussing made Adagio feel like a child.
“There we go,” said Cadance, checking her mirrors again before starting the car’s engine and pulling out of the parking spot. Adagio found herself staring out the passenger’s side window, lulled into a state of relaxation by the pitter-patter of the raindrops and the warmth of the seat beneath her.
“So, where are we meeting this mysterious former student of yours?”
“The Canterlot Public Library; have you ever been there?”
Adagio shook her head.
“I suppose that’s not a surprise, libraries aren’t as popular for studying as they used to be. I really am showing my age today, aren’t I? Anyway, I figured it would be a good neutral location for you to meet, and it’s got some nice, private study rooms where you can get your work done in peace. Plus, she was already there.”
“She hangs out at a library?”
“Don’t judge! She’s got a healthy interest in learning – that’s part of the reason I thought of asking her for help.”
Adagio shrugged. “I suppose.”
The remainder of the trip was relatively uneventful. Adagio passed the time gazing once more out her window, transfixed by the endless grey sky above. It was peaceful.
Eventually, the car slowed to a stop outside what Adagio could only assume was the Canterlot Public Library. It was quite the spectacle to behold: rows of stone steps, flanked triumphantly by large, equine statues, lead to a building that might have fit better in Equestria than in this world. Ornate pillars surrounded a grand entranceway, and overhead, carved in ornate lettering, was a sentence written in a language Adagio didn’t understand.
“Not bad, huh?” said Cadance. “It says ‘The Gateway to Understanding’ …or something like that. My Latin is a little rusty.”
Looking at the building, Adagio couldn’t help but feel a slight twang of nostalgia. She forced it away, wincing slightly as she felt the knot in her stomach tighten. Now wasn’t the time for homesickness.
“It’s… big,” she said. Ugh, ‘it’s big?’ who are you, Sonata?
“Anyway, you’ll find her on the third floor in study-room six. She’s expecting you, so you can just walk right in.”
Adagio cocked an eyebrow. “You’re not coming?”
“I’d just get in your way. Besides, I’ve got a hot date.” She winked. Adagio rolled her eyes. “I do!” insisted Cadance. “Fine, believe what you want, either way I’ll be back in a few hours to pick you up. If you give me your phone number I can text you when I’m outside.”
Adagio stared at her blankly. “I don’t have a phone.”
Cadance’s brow furrowed and she looked at Adagio in confusion. “I’m sorry?”
“I don’t have a phone.”
Adagio crossed her arms in irritation.
“Sorry,” said Cadance, “I just thought that every girl your age had a cellphone. Weird! Well, we’ll figure something out. And I can work on getting you a phone with the school’s plan, if you’d like. One of the many privileges of attending the best school in the country. Think of it as another incentive to getting those grades up!”
Adagio shrugged. “I guess.”
“If you keep shrugging like that your arms are going to fall off. Now, take the umbrella, the wind’s died down a bit and the librarian might kill you if you track water all over the floor. There you go, study hard, and try to have fun!”
Adagio accepted the umbrella that Cadance was practically forcing into her hands, opened it, and stepped out into the rain. As Cadance had predicted, the wind had died down significantly, and after a couple of initial cautious steps, Adagio now made her way swiftly up the stone steps, not wanting to push her luck. When she’d made it half way, she was startled by the honk of a car horn. Turning around, she saw Cadance waving at her from the window below. She shook her head, returned the wave halfheartedly, before continuing back up the stairs, passing a blue haired gentleman similarly armed with an umbrella. He was waving, too.
Idiot, thought Adagio, cattily, he thinks she’s waving at him.
She continued up the steps, managing to make it inside without any further trouble from the weather. The interior of the building was much as she expected of a library: dozens of rows of shelves each packed with innumerable books as far as the eye could see, each sorted into their own section and again by the name of the author. The volume was staggering – humans were no less prolific in their writing than ponies, that was for certain. On her left, an older man with thinning white hair and thick glasses manned a station labeled ‘check in/out.’ Not eager to make the acquaintance of yet another strange human, and still having to meet her mysterious tutor, Adagio elected to find her way to the third floor on her own.
There was something strange about the library. All the lights were on, and everything seemed well maintained, and yet it felt empty. Abandoned. In her search for the staircase Adagio didn’t encounter a single soul amongst the many rows of books. Occasionally felt the sensation of someone watching her, but when she’d turn around she’d find only the hollow gaze of an author’s portrait, peering at her from its place on the back of a thick tome.
Eventually, she did find the staircase, alongside the large, obvious sign indicating its location. Adagio chastised herself for not seeing it earlier, before mounting yet another set of stairs. She noted that the pain in her legs, while still present, was much more bearable than it had been that morning – at least compared to the dull throbbing pain of her knuckles, anyway.
The third floor wasn’t at all like the ground floor below. It was a series of hallways and doors marked with plain numbers. The halls could have come straight from any nondescript school or office building in the world, and did little to convey the grandeur and elegance that the building’s exterior projected in spades.
But at least it was easy to navigate.
As she approached door number six, a nagging feeling of apprehension came over her, and as much as she tried to force it away it clung stubbornly at the back of her mind. She reached for the door knob, but hesitated.
Come on, Adagio, get a hold of yourself!
She was right – she was being stupid. Today had already been an unmitigated disaster, what else could possibly go wrong? So, closing her eyes and imagining the worst possible outcome, Adagio walked through door number six and opened her eyes.
But, to her horror, everything remained the same.
“Hello,” said the voice from her nightmares, “you’re Adagio Dazzle, right?”
Adagio’s blood froze and her breath caught in her throat, the knot in her stomach doubled in size. She was dumbstruck, unable to respond. The door clicked closed behind her.
“Cadance told me you transferred to Crystal Prep from Canterlot High.”
This can’t be happening.
“That’s so funny! I recently transferred to CHS from Crystal Prep, we must have just missed each other!”
Cadance’s former student, she’s…
“But where are my manners? I haven’t even introduced myself!”
Adagio had recovered just enough from the initial shock to finally respond. “There’s no need,” she said, the ice in her veins translating directly into her tone. “I know who you are, Twilight Sparkle.”
Color drained from Twilight’s face, and a tense silence fell over the room.
What a farce! Adagio couldn’t help but marvel at the absurdity of it all. Once again, she’d sunk to her lowest point, only to find a whole new world of low hidden underneath. And of course it was Twilight Sparkle! Her old foe back to snatch her magic away once again – she couldn’t have written it better! One big cosmic joke, and it was all at her expense, but Adagio wouldn’t stick around to be laughed at. She turned to leave.
“Wait!” Adagio looked back. Twilight Sparkle had jumped up from her chair, which teetered precariously before falling over backwards with a crash. Twilight flinched at the sound, but continued. “We’ve met, haven’t we?”
“Oh, we’ve met!” the words exploded out of her with more intensity than Adagio had intended, but she didn’t care. “We met, and then you proceeded to ruin my life!”
Twilight winced. “Ruined your life?”
“Yes,” spat Adagio, “ruined my life. And I won’t stand here and be taunted about it!” She grabbed the door knob with her good hand.
“Where are you going?”
“Anywhere but here!” She felt a tug on her other hand and a fresh burst of pain from beneath her bandages. Twilight – in a surprising burst of speed – had skirted around the table that took up much of the small room’s limited space, and grabbed her hand. Adagio snatched it away, resisting the urge to slap her for her audacity (and fearing repercussions in the form of another beam of celestial light). “What is your problem?”
“It wasn’t me!” pleaded Twilight. Adagio gawked at her incredulously, then turned the knob. “Please, just listen!” she grabbed Adagio again, this time missing the bandage and wrapping her hands around the bare flesh of Adagio’s forearm. Her hands were warm and soft, her grip firm but not painful. Adagio was so shocked by her continued defiance that, once again, she was at a loss for words. Misinterpreting this as a cue, Twilight continued.
“This is going to be hard to believe – I still don’t really believe it myself – but the Twilight Sparkle you met isn’t me. She’s, uh, well – this is going to sound crazy, but I swear I’m not crazy – uhm, the thing is–”
“Spit it out, Sparkle!”
“She’s my magical-pony-princess-doppelganger from the enchanted land of–”
“Equestria,” finished Adagio.
“Equestria,” said Twilight. Her eyes widened. “You’ve heard of it – you’ve heard of it!”
“You could say that.”
“Of course you’ve heard if it, you went to CHS! Every time I talk about it I’m afraid someone’s going to roll up in a black van and drag me away – but you’ve heard of it!” Adagio could see the wave or relief washing over Twilight. “The Twilight you met was the Equestrian version, I’m the one native to this world. We’re almost exactly alike – well, sort of: she’s a princess, but we don’t really have princesses in the same way, I wear glasses but she’s got perfect vision, and she liked to wear her hair down while I prefer to–”
“Twilight Sparkle,” interjected Adagio.
Twilight blinked. “Yes?”
“First, let go of me. Second, be quiet, I need to… I don’t know. Process this.”
“Oops, sorry!” Twilight took her hands off Adagio’s arm and took a step back, but her eyes never left Adagio’s. The pair stared at each other, the small room silent save for the sound of their breathing. Adagio’s mind raced. This was Twilight Sparkle, but not the same Twilight Sparkle, Adagio could see that now. But it wasn’t just the hair and the glasses: there was something different about the way she held herself. This girl didn’t have the stage-filling presence of her Equestrian counterpart, nor the aura of leadership. When Adagio thought back to the winged form of Princess Twilight Sparkle, held aloft by Equestrian Magic and tearing down everything Adagio had worked so hard to build, she felt nothing but revulsion. But when she considered the deep, glistening eyes of the girl who now stood before her, she felt…
Adagio took her hand off the knob. She was crazy to be considering this, right? Her instincts told her to leave, to flee from anything and everything that held the name ‘Twilight Sparkle’ until she was ready to bring about her revenge. And yet a seed of an idea had planted itself in her mind. Cadance had said that this Twilight was smart, and not only that, but she was eager to help. Eager. She could feel the seed sprouting in her mind. It was a cosmic comedy alright, but this time she’d be the one telling the jokes. One Twilight to deliver her from another… it was too perfect!
But it wouldn’t be easy. She was still Twilight Sparkle, after all, which probably meant there was a goody-two-shoes hiding in there, somewhere. She couldn’t let Twilight find out who she was – what she was – or risk ruining everything. The fact that she didn’t already recognize Adagio’s name was a good start, it meant the buzz surrounding the Battle of the Bands must have died down somewhat already. That meant there was a chance. She could already feel the knot loosening in her stomach.
“So?” probed Twilight, tentatively. “What do you think?”
“I think…” began Adagio, “…that I’m willing to give this arrangement a chance.”
“Yes!” cheered Twilight. She opened her mouth to continue, but Adagio cut her off.
“But I have a condition: this stays between you and me – between Adagio Dazzle and Twilight Sparkle. Not Princess Twilight Sparkle, not Twilight Sparkle’s CHS classmates, just us.” She chose her next words carefully. “There was some unpleasantness at Canterlot High, that’s why I transferred out. I was hoping for a fresh start, an opportunity to start over without all the baggage and drama of everyone expecting me to act a certain way… You know what I mean?”
Twilight cast her gaze to the floor. “Yeah, I have an idea.”
“Good, then you understand why I want to keep this under wraps. If people hear you’re tutoring me, they might try to color your opinion of me. They won’t believe someone like me can change, and they definitely won’t want you helping me. They might even try to stop you”
Twilight frowned. “I can’t imagine the students at CHS would do something like that… but okay. My lips are sealed. If you’re willing to take the girl who has a similar-yet-not-identical face to the girl who ‘ruined your life’ as a tutor, then I’m more than willing to have you as a tutee.”
Adagio smiled, doing her best to keep the wickedness from seeping into it. “I’m willing to try.”
“Wonderful!” Twilight clapped her hands together, before extending one towards Adagio. “Let’s give this meeting a second chance, shall we? Call it a mulligan.” She cleared her throat. “My name is Twilight Sparkle, and I’m your new tutor.” It sounded like she’d rehearsed that line before Adagio had arrived. It was almost endearing.
“Hello, Twilight Sparkle,” she replied, taking Twilight’s hand in her own. “My name is Adagio Dazzle, and I’m here to learn.”