The remainder of Adagio’s first session with Twilight Sparkle had been mostly unproductive. The two girls had agreed that, after the whirlwind of drama and coincidence that had been their initial meeting, it was unlikely they would get much actual studying done that day. Instead, they decided to meet at the library again the following day – Cadance permitting – and spent the rest of their time talking.
It had been surreal. The more she’d spoke to this world’s Twilight Sparkle, the more separate she became from her pony-princess counterpart, and by the time they’d parted ways that evening Adagio had formed a firm mental divide between the two.
She supposed that it wasn’t all that surprising. After all, she’d barely spoken to the other Twilight Sparkle – never even addressed her as an individual separate from her hated ‘Rainbooms.’ Since her defeat, she’d built Twilight Sparkle up in her head as less of a person, and more some magic-stealing tyrant (she’d done the same with Sunset Shimmer, of course, but the rest sort of just blended together in her mind). But this Twilight Sparkle was a real, actual person, who loved math, science, history, and literature. She loved them so much that she was more than willing to teach Adagio everything she was willing to learn.
Which she would then use to crush those who stood in her way. The irony was delectable.
But that wasn’t all she’d learned while she and Twilight talked; amongst useless tidbits of her life at CHS, Twilight had let slip that the other Twilight had returned to Equestria – perhaps permanently!
It had taken all Adagio’s force of will to keep from cheering. While some small part of her lamented the chance to crush Twilight along with the rest of the Rainbooms, a much larger part knew that, without their leader, they would be little more than a speedbump on the road to Adagio’s ascension. She was practically giddy. Earlier that day she’d though everything was falling apart when, in fact, it was all falling into place!
When finally it came time for them to part, Adagio had left in high spirits. Cadance must have sensed the shift in her demeanor, because when Adagio stepped into her car she was met with a smug smile.
“So, how did it go?”
Adagio put on her best aloof expression, but none the less felt an upward tug at the edges of her mouth. “It was alright, how was your date?”
“Oh no,” said Cadance, undeterred, “we’re talking about you, not me. How did it go?”
“You know, it’s not very professional for a teacher to nag a student like this.” Adagio countered.
“I’ll have you know that I am a Dean, and as such my number one priority is the safety and wellbeing of all the students who attend and have attended Crystal Prep. No more excuses – spill!”
“Fine, fine. It was… good,” said Adagio with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Kind of awkward at first, but by the end we were getting along quite well. We were planning to get together again tomorrow, if that’s alright with you.”
“Of course it’s alright! I can give you a drive tomorrow, but if this becomes a regular thing we’re going to have to get you a bus pass. Drop by my office tomorrow afternoon and we can get it set up.” The car stopped at a red light, and Cadance turned to look at Adagio. “I’m glad it went well, and I’m glad you girls got along. Before you know it, you’ll be top of your class!”
Adagio blushed. “We’ll see.” She didn’t want to get her hopes up too high, but with how well everything had turned out it was hard not to be optimistic. And it wasn’t as if being top of the class really mattered, not once she got her magic back, anyway, but the idea of being on top of anything felt good. She was tired of losing.
The rest of the car ride went uneventfully, and before long they found themselves pulling up outside the dormitory building. They said their goodbyes, and Adagio was preparing to get out of the vehicle, when Cadance stopped her.
“One last thing,” she said, her tone lacking much of its familiar pep. “I mentioned yesterday about how the students – and faculty – are still out of sorts about what happened at the Friendship Games.”
“You did,” said Adagio, her curiosity piqued.
“Well, Twilight was there, and she’s part of the reason the games ended up in a draw. So, like how I suggested not bringing up your time at CHS, maybe consider not bringing up Twilight’s name, at least for now, and especially not around Principle Cinch.” That got Adagio’s attention – anything that she could use against Abacus Cinch was on top of her list of priorities. She cocked an eyebrow, but it appeared Cadance had said everything she intended to on the subject, as indicated by the sound of the electronic locks releasing.
“Better get inside before the rain picks up again,” said Cadance. “You can drop off the umbrella when I see you tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” posed Adagio, but Cadance waved her off.
“I’m sure. See you tomorrow!” And with that, Cadance’s car peeled out, leaving Adagio alone in the rain and the dark.
The walk to the dormitory was a short one and, with a mind occupied by the world of possibilities that had opened up that evening, Adagio found herself outside the door to her room before she knew it. She paused before opening it, looking over her shoulder towards the room that belonged to Sonata and Aria. There was a smudge on their whiteboard where the caricature of Aria had been that morning, and Adagio imagined she could hear the faint sounds of an argument coming from within.
Should I tell them?
Her gaze lingered on the whiteboard a moment longer before she turned away. What would she even tell them? That Abacus Cinch had threatened her place at Crystal Prep? That she’d spent her afternoon with this world’s Twilight Sparkle?
No, she couldn’t tell them. Sonata wouldn’t understand, and Aria would just use it as another opportunity to question her leadership. Adagio had more than enough to deal with without adding an insurrection from her fellow Sirens, and thus made the decision to keep it – the probation, the tutoring, and Twilight Sparkle – a secret.
The idea sat poorly with her. Had she ever kept a secret from them before? If she had, she couldn’t remember doing so. But this was necessary, she told herself, and in three weeks when she passed her midterms and her arrangement with Twilight Sparkle was at its end, maybe then she could tell them the truth. But, for now, this was how things had to be.
The decision made, Adagio unlocked the door to her own room and entered. Inside, Sugarcoat was seated at her desk, reading by the light of an electric lamp. She looked up, fumbled with something on the desk, and held it out towards Adagio.
“I found this on the floor,” she said. Pressed between her thumb and index finger was a familiar shard of red crystal. “What is it?”
Adagio’s heard stopped. Without thinking she snatched the crystal shard from Sugarcoat’s grasp, cradling it covetously in her palm. Once she’d determined that it was unharmed – that is to say, no more broken than it was before – she turned back to Sugarcoat, who was watching her intently.
“It’s… part of a necklace.” It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the whole truth, either. “It meant a lot to me – still does, I guess.”
“If it means a lot to you, then you shouldn’t leave it on the floor,” said Sugarcoat, matter-of-factly. She reached out and grabbed a tissue from a box on her desk, daintily dabbing it against the tip of her thumb, leaving behind tiny splotches of blood.
Adagio frowned. “Did I do that when I grabbed the crystal?” Sugarcoat nodded. “Oh, er, I’m… I didn’t mean to–” Adagio hung her head and looked the other way. “Sorry,” she muttered.
She wasn’t sorry, of course, it just felt like the right thing to say.
Sugarcoat shrugged. “You didn’t do it on purpose,” she said, and held up her thumb for Adagio to see. The bleeding had stopped. “See? It’s fine.”
Adagio looked from her thumb back to her face, her gaze coming to rest on her brow. The bruising had gone down significantly, but little white bandage remained. “What happened there?” she asked.
“Someone tripped me in the hall,” replied Sugarcoat, her expression unreadable. “That was on purpose.”
“Did you see who did it?” Sugarcoat nodded. Adagio tapped her foot impatiently. “And?”
“Her name was Fleur de Lis”
Adagio rubbed her eyes. “Okay, but what did you do next?”
“I went to the nurse’s office.”
“To her,” said Adagio, her exasperation cutting through into her words. “What did you do to her?”
“You’re getting really agitated about this.”
Adagio’s eye twitched. Getting answers out of this girl was like pulling teeth! “So, nothing then, right?” Sugarcoat didn’t respond, but a slight narrowing of her eyes indicated to Adagio that she was on the right track. She continued. “You can’t just let people get away with hurting you, there have to be consequences.” Sugarcoat looked at her skeptically.
“You hurt me, too.”
Adagio waved her hand dismissively. “That’s different. She tripped you: trip her back, dig up some dirt, spread a rumor, you get the idea. If you don’t do anything about it, it’s just going to happen again.”
Sogarcoat folded her arms. “You really don’t know how things work around here.”
“They work the same here as they do everywhere else: either you’re getting stepped on, or you’re doing the stepping, and I know which one I’d rather be doing.”
Sugarcoat stared at her for a long time, her expression indecipherable, before eventually turning back to her book. Adagio sighed. Why had she even bothered? Just because they shared a room didn’t mean Adagio was obligated to care about what happened in the other girl’s life, and yet the idea of her getting pushed around had none the less sat poorly with her.
All the sudden Adagio felt very tired. Yes, that was it: she was exhausted, not thinking straight. Of course she didn’t care about Sugarcoat’s altercation with Fleur de Lis – that was just her weary mind playing tricks on her. All that mattered now was getting some rest in preparation of another tortuous day at Crystal Prep.
So, without another word to Sugarcoat, Adagio carefully set the crystal shard down on her desk, climbed the ladder to the top bunk, and got ready for bed. A short while later, she heard the lamp switching off, and the squeaking of a mattress.
“Goodnight,” said a soft voice from the bunk bellow. It was the last thing Adagio heard before sleep took her.
The next morning, Adagio once again found herself waking up in an empty room. She tried to go back to sleep, if only for a few more minutes, but a restlessness stirred from within her and made the task quite impossible. Resigning herself to an early start, Adagio climbed out of bed and collected her things, making it out the door in record time. As she stepped out into the hall, she was greeted by the sight of Aria doing the same.
“Hey,” said Adagio, breaking the silence.
“Hey,” said Aria. Another moment of silence passed between the two. Aria cleared her throat. “So,” she said “where’d you go yesterday? Sonata finished your apple.”
A shocked gasp came from behind Aria. “You swore you wouldn’t tell!”
Aria smirked. “I lied.”
Luckily for Adagio, the brief banter between the two gave her just enough time to come up with an excuse. “Oh, that? Abacus Cinch had a few things she wanted to talk to me about – nothing to concern yourself with.” Invoking the Principle’s name ignited a fresh spark of indignation within Adagio, but it was worth it to see the emotion reflected tenfold across Aria’s face, and Adagio wasn’t even done rubbing it in. She produced the small iron key. “She even gave me – I mean us – somewhere to work on our little project.”
“Project?” asked Sonata “What project?”
“Getting our magic back,” growled Aria through gritted teeth. “You colossal idiot.”
“Am not!” argued Sonata. “Hey, someone erased my picture!”
Aria slapped her forehead and Adagio pinched the bridge of her nose. Sonata continued staring at the whiteboard.
“Who would do such a thing?”
The rest of the morning had gone much the same as the day before. Between the three of them, the Sirens were easily able to bully their way to the front of the shower line without further incident, and make it to their morning classes on time. The classes themselves were an exercise in frustration, filled to the brim with unfamiliar concepts and references to ‘previous lectures,’ and Adagio found herself spending more time writing down what she didn’t understand than following what she did. It had been a suggestion of Twilight’s: writing down what she didn’t understand so they could go over it later, but as the pages started to pile up Adagio felt the all too familiar tightening sensation in her stomach. When the lunch bell finally rang, Adagio didn’t know if she’d ever felt so relieved.
Making her way to their meeting spot outside the cafeteria, Adagio was surprised to find that she’s wasn’t the first Siren there. Sonata waited with a big smile on her face and clutching an opaque plastic container, shifting it to one hand and waving frantically when she spotted Adagio through the mob of students.
“Ohmigod, ‘Dagi, have you had ‘Home Ec.’ yet? It’s amazing!”
Adagio winced. “No, I haven’t, and keep your voice down. I don’t need you shouting in my ear.”
“Am I?” said Sonata, looking puzzled. “Oh! It must have been the music, it was really loud!”
Now Adagio was confused. “Music?”
Sonata beamed. “Yeah! We got split into pairs and everyone hard a partner except for me and this one other girl, whose old partner transferred out or something. Anyway, she didn’t care what we made as long as she got to listen to her music, so I got to cook whatever I wanted!”
“Hang on – cook?”
“Yeah, ‘Home Ec.’ is a cooking class! So, in honor of it being Tuesday, guess what I made?”
Adagio stared at her.
“Brownies!” There was an audible slapping sound as Adagio’s face found her palm. Sonata touched her chin thoughtfully. “Huh, maybe I should have made tacos. Oh well, next time!”
While Adagio stood in stunned silence in the wake of Sonata’s stupidity, Aria broke from a crowd of students and joined her fellow Sirens. “What’s with the box?” she asked.
“I made brownies!” cheered Sonata, popping the seal on the plastic container and revealing its contents. Inside were a pair of Sonata’s brownies, lumpy and misshapen, they were decorated by the letters ‘A’ and ‘G’ written in bright blue icing. “See? I saved one for each of you!”
Adagio and Aria eyed the brownies skeptically. “What do the letters stand for?” asked Aria.
“The ‘A’ stands for ‘Adagio’ and the ‘G’ stands for ‘Grumpy-Gills,’” said Sonata. She gave Aria a smug look. “That one is yours.”
Aria scowled. “I’ll pass.”
“Me, too,” said Adagio.
The smugness drained from Sonata’s face. “What? But I saved them just for you girls!”
“Probably so you could poison us,” said Aria, a slight smile gracing her lips.
“I would never do that!” argued Sonata.
“Intentionally,” added Adagio. She and Aria shared a laugh.
Sonata scrunched up her nose. “I don’t see either of you making brownies!” She slammed the lid closed on the plastic container. “You don’t want them? That’s fine, now you can’t have them! You’ve lost your brownie privileges!”
“Oh no,” lamented Adagio, sarcastically. “Whatever shall we do?”
“This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” deadpanned Aria.
Sonata pouted. “You girls are the worst.”
“Anyway,” said Aria, glancing over at the cafeteria doors, “are we going in, or are we going to stand around all day?”
“Actually, I had something else in mind,” said Adagio, producing the small iron key. “How do you feel about checking out our new workspace?”
“I’m in,” said Aria, “I’m not hungry, anyway.”
“But what about lunch?” asked Sonata.
Adagio gave her a quizzical look. “Didn’t you just have brownies?”
“Oh yeah, I had a ton! I’m so stuffed,” said Sonata, taking a hand off the container and rubbing her stomach. Adagio and Aria stared at her wearing looks of utter contempt.
“Ugh, just come on,” said Adagio, rubbing her temples. She turned on her heel, leading the way towards the small lab area.
“Talking to Sonata is seriously like talking to drywall,” quipped Aria from behind her.
“Who’s Drywall?” asked Sonata, “I don’t think I’ve met her.”
“I take it back, at least drywall doesn’t talk back.”
Aria and Sonata continued to argue back and forth, and though it was a short walk to the lab, Adagio found that, on arrival, she had a pounding headache.
“Alright, enough!” she said, her irritation unhidden. “We’re here.” She fit the key in the lock, opened the door, and flicked on the light.
“What is this place?” said Aria skeptically.
“It looks like a janitor’s closet,” said Sonata.
“It’s not a janitor’s closet,” snapped Adagio, “it’s where we are going to rebuild the device that will allow us to get our magic back.”
“And we’re supposed to do that here?” asked Aria. “This place is a dump.”
“I know, right?” said Sonata, picking some scattered sheets of paper from the floor. “It looks like someone’s already trashed the place!”
Adagio snatched the papers from Sonata’s grasp. “Yes, we’re supposed to do it here, because it’s already been done here. Everything’s been left exactly as it was when the device was created, so don’t touch anything.” She emphasized the last point by slapping Sonata’s hand away from another pile of papers, eliciting a yelp out of the other girl.
“If we’re not allowed to touch anything then how are we going to get anything done?” asked Aria, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Adagio glared at her. “Obviously I didn’t mean it literally, just be careful. Honestly, Aria, sometimes you’re as thick as Sonata.”
Aria growled, and Sonata gave her a haughty smirk.
“What are you looking so smug about, she just insulted you, too!”
Adagio clapped her hands together, startling the other girls into giving her their full attention. “If you’re quite finished, let’s see if we can’t find any clues in this mess. Just try not to destroy anything important.”
And with that, the three Sirens began picking through the clutter that was the lab. It was frustrating work – whoever had worked here before them had been anything but neat. There may, at one time, have been some sort of organization to the stacks of paper and assorted notebooks scattered across every flat surface in the lab, but Adagio’s little outburst the day before had certainly done away with that. She could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks when she thought about it, and pushed the embarrassing incident to the back of her mind.
“Ugh, this is impossible,” complained Aria, dropping a stack of papers on a desk with a harsh thud. “None of these even mention the word magic, are you sure this is the right place?”
“It is, it has to be, Principle Cinch brought me here personally,” said Adagio. Though she wouldn’t put anything past Cinch at this point, she doubted the woman would lie about something so trivial, yet vital to their arrangement. “Keep looking, there’s got to be something here.”
“Whose dog is this?”
Adagio turned around at the sound of Sonata’s voice, discarding her own pile of papers as she did so. Sonata was staring at the computer monitor, her head cocked at the same angle as the display. That, too, must have happened during the incident.
Aria got there first, adjusting the position of the monitor (and, as a result, Sonata’s head) for proper viewing. “I don’t know,” she said, folding her arms. “But he kind of looks familiar.”
Adagio rolled her eyes. “It’s a dog, they look the same both here and Equestria. It’s just your imagination.”
Aria squinted at the purple-and-green dog. She shrugged. “I guess.”
“It’s asking for a password,” said Sonata, leaning down towards the keyboard. She typed with one finger at a time, and the loud clicking of the mechanical keyboard echoed through the small room.
“What are you doing?” asked Adagio.
“I’m trying to guess the password, duh,” replied Sonata. She froze, and quickly backed away from the computer. “Uh-oh.”
“Uh-oh?” said Adagio, grabbing her shoulder before she could slink too far away. “What do you mean ‘Uh-oh.’ What did you do?”
“It says: ‘Incorrect password. Attempts remaining: two,’” said Aria, reading from the monitor. “What happens when we run out of attempts?”
“Nothing good,” said Adagio. She cuffed Sonata on the ear, but quickly withdrew her hand as a fresh jolt of pain leapt from beneath her bandages. She tried to play it off, but it appeared that Sonata had finally noticed the white wrapping.
“What happened to your hand, ‘Dagi?” she asked.
“What’s wrong with her hand?” said Aria, looking up from the computer.
“Nothing,” lied Adagio, “it’s fine. New rule: no one touches the computer, at least not until we find a password for it or something. The last thing we need is one of you idiots breaking it.”
“Maybe you’ll be the one who breaks it,” said Aria. None the less, she obediently moved away from the computer.
“That would never happen,” replied Adagio, remembering how she’d almost driven her fist through it the day before. “Besides, it’s time to go.”
“But there’s still, like, fifteen minutes left of lunch!” argued Sonata.
“True, but there’s somewhere I need to be, and I’m the one with the key,” said Adagio. The pain in her knuckles had reminded her that she was supposed to go see Nurse Tough Love about the bandages. With any luck, she might even be rid of them.
“Where do you have to be?” asked Aria, the suspicion clear in her tone. “Got another secret meeting with Principle Cinch that we’re not invited to?”
Adagio sneered at her. “Why, jealous? Green’s not your color, Aria.”
Aria scowled. “Whatever,” she said, a slight flush rising in her cheeks. “Why don’t you just give one of us the key and we can keep working?”
“So you can break something else? Doubtful. Besides, one of you would probably swallow it.”
“Ooh!” said Sonata, her voice suddenly flush with excitement. “I’ve seen that trick! Then, later, you cough it up and unlock a set of hoofcuffs!” She placed her hands on her hips triumphantly. Adagio sighed.
“Case and point. Now, get out so I can lock up.”
The three girls exited the lab, Aria deliberately bumping Adagio with her shoulder as she passed. For a tense moment the two girls locked eyes, daring the other to make the next move. It was Aria who broke first, huffing and flipping her hair as she stomped down the hall. Sonata looked between them, unsure of what to say or who to follow, before finally scampering after Aria when Adagio turned to relock the door.
It always had to be a struggle with Aria, didn’t it? She wasn’t content unless she was picking fights or complaining. Adagio ground her teeth. It was infuriating! Sonata may have been an idiot, but she was at least tolerably stupid – most of the time, anyway – but when Aria got in one of her moods, and she was always in one of her moods, Adagio couldn’t help but wish that only two Sirens made it to this world.
A haze of anger hung over Adagio as she headed to the nurse’s office. Her visit with Tough Love was short, wordless affair, and once her wounds were cleaned and redressed (Tough Love didn’t mention when the bandages would come off, and Adagio was in no mood to try to force it out of him) she was off to her next class. She did her best to take notes, but caught herself more than once scribbling in frustration in the margins of her notebook.
When last period finally rolled around, Adagio found that her persistent rage was just starting to simmer off. It helped that her last class of the day was gym, which under normal circumstances would be one of her least favorite classes, but today was nothing short of a blessing. Not having to listen to a rambling teacher and the opportunity to blow off some steam – what could be better?
Adagio, dressed in her gym clothes and, having just exited the changing room, was taking a moment to survey the gymnasium, when she began to hear a strange noise. It was not unlike the whistling of a kettle in that it was a high pitched squealing, and seemed to be getting closer with each passing second. Adagio looked around frantically, looking for the source of the noise, but by the time she located it, it was too late.
Sonata was already upon her.
“’Dagi!” she cried. Before Adagio knew it, she was wrapped in Sonata’s iron grip and stumbling beneath her weight and the force of the collision. Several other students turned to watch the bizarre scene unfold, which only served to make the situation that much more embarrassing.
“Sonata!” hissed Adagio, struggling to pry the other girl’s arms off her. “What did I tell you about touching me!”
“I dunno,” said Sonata, her voice dripping with faux innocence. She was doing this on purpose! After a few more moments of grappling, Adagio managed to wedge a foot between her and Sonata and used it to pry them apart. Adagio glared daggers at Sonata, who had erupted into a fit of giggles.
“Then let me repeat myself,” said Adagio, brushing herself off. “Don’t. Ever.”
“I couldn’t help it, I was just so excited, I can’t believe we have a class together! Do you think Aria is here, too?” Sonata put a hand over her eyes, shading them from a nonexistent sun, and began looking around the gym.
A fresh wave of irritation swept over Adagio. “I hope not, if she is I might have to strangle her with her own pigtails.”
Sonata laughed. “You sound just like her right now. She was so mad earlier.”
“I don’t sound like her,” snapped Adagio, “and I’m not mad.”
“Yes you do, and yes you are!”
Adagio growled. Maybe she would strangle both of them, after all.
A harsh whistling noise interrupted Adagio’s dark train of thought and caused both girls to clap their hands over their ears.
“New girls: Dusk, Dazzle, front and center!” barked a harsh, unfamiliar voice.
It belonged to a woman Adagio could only assume was the gym teacher. She was a tall, lean woman with blonde hair, and she wore a fitted purple-and-yellow tracksuit with matching shoes. Around her neck hung the offending whistle.
“Listen up, I don’t know how things worked in your old school, but here at Crystal Prep we take physical education seriously.”
Adagio rolled her eyes. Was everyone who worked at Crystal Prep – other than Cadance, of course – this severe? The woman must have noticed, as she shot Adagio a stern look and continued.
“While you’re in my gymnasium you have two options. Number one: you can participate in the group activity that will be going on out here in the main area of the gym. Today we’ll be playing basketball.”
“Pass,” said Adagio, examining her nails.
A vein protruded from the woman’s forehead. “Number two:” she said, barely managing to contain the hostility in her voice, “you can go to the cardio room and work out on one of the machines there. But if I catch either of you slacking off there will be hell to pay; when you walk through that door you take on a debt – a debt that can only be paid in blood, sweat, and tears. That means if I check up on you – and I will check up on you – and find that you’re not giving one hundred and ten percent, I won’t hesitate to fail you right then and there. Any questions?”
Sonata raised her hand. “I’m pretty sure I can’t give more than, like, one hundred percent.”
The gym teacher sneered. “Then you’d better try harder. Now get to it!” She gave two more quick blasts on the whistle, causing the two Sirens to grab for ears once more, before moving on to coach the students who had already begun playing basketball.
“So,” said Adagio, glancing back at Sonata, “cardio room?”
Sonata shrugged, and the pair began their trip across the gymnasium.
The cardio room itself was situated off the gym proper, and was filled with an impressive collection of cardiovascular machinery, all facing a wall mounted television permanently set to a sports channel. The room, while not entirely devoid of other students, was sparsely populated, leading Adagio to believe basketball was the more popular choice of activity, though she couldn’t see why. Who wanted to mindlessly chase a dumb ball around a court, while being simultaneously pursued by a dozen sweaty teenagers? At least in here Adagio didn’t have to interact with anyone she didn’t want to.
Other than Sonata, of course.
The two girls selected a pair of adjacent treadmills to begin their workout and, after a brief period of figuring out how to work the machines, they began to run. Almost immediately, Adagio decided she didn’t care for the treadmill. She’d never understood the appeal of running, and the idea of a machine whose sole purpose was to simulate the running experience without actually getting anywhere perplexed her.
Luckily for Adagio – though she could scarcely believe it – Sonata’s incessant chatter proved to be a much-needed distraction from the mind numbing boredom of the treadmill.
“I just don’t get it,” said Sonata, gesturing towards the television. “They keep advertising it as a sports network, so why are they showing poker?”
“I don’t know,” replied Adagio. Her heart was already pounding. How long had they been running? She spared a glance down at the timer, only to be faced for the first time with one of the inescapable laws of the universe: time moves slower when you’re on a treadmill.
“It’s so weird! Do you think that they think that poker is a sport? That’s what I think.”
“I don’t know.” Dammit, she caught herself looking at the timer again! She put her hand over the display. It didn’t make time go by any faster, but it made her feel a little better.
“You’re doing that wrong.”
Adagio looked up at the sound of the familiar voice, locating its source two rows over sitting at a rowing machine. “Sugarcoat? How long have you been here?”
“I watched you come in, you’re really not very perceptive.”
Adagio’s eye twitched. It wasn’t as if she’d been looking for Sugarcoat, and it wasn’t exactly easy to see her amongst the various machines that filled the room. I’m very perceptive, she thought, obstinately.
“Psst,” whispered Sonata from her other side. “Who is that?”
“That’s Sugarcoat,” replied Adagio, not bothering to whisper. “You’ve met.”
“You thought I was a robot.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember that.” She gave Adagio a pointed look. “I don’t,” she mouthed.
Adagio rolled her eyes. “You’re hopeless,” she said, turning her attention back to Sugarcoat. “And what did you mean by ‘you’re doing that wrong,’ how does one run wrong?”
“Well, for starters, you need to take the little red clip and attach it to your shirt, otherwise, if you trip, you’re going to be thrown into the wall and probably break a bone.”
Adagio blinked at her. “I knew that,” she said, subtly fastening the clip to her shirt. Beside her, Sonata did the same.
“Furthermore, you’re running too fast. Unless your plan is to crawl out of here on your hands and knees, you should really slow down.” Adagio stared at Sugarcoat who shrugged, and went back to her rowing. “Or not, it’s up to you.”
Adagio waited a few (admittedly agonizing) moments, before adjusting her speed down to a more sustainable rate. She glanced back up at Sugarcoat, whose lips were now graced with the ghost of a smile.
That girl was an enigma. Sonata had started talking again, probably complaining about the television again, but Adagio tuned her out in favor of watching Sugarcoat. Under normal circumstances, Adagio liked to believe that she was very good at reading people; she’d pegged Principle Cinch as duplicitous and conniving the moment they’d met, and maintaining a good rapport with Cadance (despite her annoying positivity) had paid off in spades. But she had a blind spot when it came to Sugarcoat. While she’d originally pegged the girl as quiet and delicate, she was quickly learning that wasn’t the case. Sugarcoat had a quick wit and was surprisingly blunt when it came down to it, but was it coming from a legitimate desire to help her, or simply to deride her?
And it didn’t stop there. Despite her lean frame, Sugarcoat displayed none of the fragility Adagio had attributed to her. She rowed carefully and consistently, barely breaking a sweat despite the rigorous task she was performing, moving less like a skinny teenage girl and more like a piece of precise clockwork. It was almost hypnotizing to watch.
The remainder of their time in the cardio room went by slowly, though without incident. Eventually, Adagio was able to break out of her self-induced trance and did her best to hold her end of an exceedingly uninteresting conversation with Sonata, who continued to yammer on about whatever happened to be playing on the television at the time. For her part, Sugarcoat seemed content to listen to their conversation, never breaking the rhythm of rowing, but occasionally jumping in to correct Sonata if she said something especially absurd. Adagio didn’t mind, it saved her the trouble of doing it herself.
Sonata was in the middle of critiquing a detergent commercial (“Seriously, who sniffs their laundry?”) when Sugarcoat abruptly finished her rowing and stood up. “Time to go,” she said, and without waiting, exited the room.
Adagio and Sonata were quick to follow – or, at least, would have been, if they’d been able to walk properly. Instead, the two girls made their way, slowly and stiffly, back to the gym, where the other students were finishing their game of basketball.
“Fleur, pass the ball!”
Fleur. Adagio remembered the name, it belonged to the girl who had tripped Sugarcoat. Adagio scanned the court, her eyes quickly falling on a pale girl with shockingly pink hair. She was still in possession of the ball, and had just broken away from a pair of defenders and was barreling down the left side of the gymnasium towards the other basket, the same side where, a few meters ahead of them, Sugarcoat was walking towards the locker room.
It all seemed to happen in slow motion. Fleur braced herself and slightly altered her trajectory, bringing her into a collision course with Sugarcoat. Their shoulders met, and in an instant the ill prepared Sugarcoat was sent tumbling, her glasses skittering across the wooden gym floor, coming to rest just beneath the foot of a pursuing student. There was a sickening crunch of breaking glass and the splintering of plastic. A little tape wouldn’t fix them this time.
Fleur didn’t stop, though she spared a glance back at her fallen classmate. A cruel, sadistic smile contorted itself across her sharp features as she reveled in the havoc she’d caused. It was a rictus, inhuman grin, revolting and abhorrent as the monster who wore it. Adagio had never spoken to this ‘Fleur,’ but in that moment, she knew everything she needed to.
She hated her.
It was an irrational hate, born of an instant and kindled by other, similar thoughts. Her frustration with Aria, her desire for revenge against Cinch and the Rainbooms, and the strange mix of exultation and confusion left over from her encounter with Twilight Sparkle, all melded together into a volatile brew of emotion.
Fleur drew closer, her cold, uncaring eyes passing over Adagio without a second thought, ignorant to the chain of events she’d unwittingly set in motion. Sugarcoat wasn’t fragile; she was strong. She would endure whatever hardships Fleur threw at her because she was above the pettiness of revenge. Adagio Dazzle was not. And, as the distance closed between them, she felt her own words coming back to her: Either you’re getting stepped on, or you’re doing the stepping.
So, without another thought, Adagio took a step.
It didn’t take much – an onlooker might have even thought it an accident – but there was nothing accidental about what Adagio did next. Fleur’s foot caught on her own and time stopped altogether. Her sardonic glee was gone, replaced with fear and confusion as she threw up her arms in an instinctual attempt to protect her face and head as her momentum brought her crashing unceremoniously to the floor.
Adagio withdrew her foot.
For a moment, the gym was silent save for the bouncing of the wayward basketball. No one dared to breath.
The shrill blast of a whistle ripped through the silence like a knife. The gym teacher – Adagio still hadn’t gotten her name – came sprinting from the opposite end of the gymnasium, coming to rest by the crumpled form of Fleur de Lis.
“Everyone stand back!” she commanded. Fleur rolled over, her cheeks already wet with tears. It wasn’t difficult to see why: her bottom lip was fat and bloody and there was a thin cut on her brow, not unlike the one she’d inflicted upon Sugarcoat, but those were minor compared to what had happened to Fleur’s wrist. It was swollen and purple, but most shocking was the unnatural way it jutted from her forearm. It might even have sickened Adagio had it happened to anyone else. Instead, she merely stared.
“’Dagi,” whispered Sonata, her face stricken with horror, “what did you do?”
Nothing she didn’t deserve, thought Adagio contemptuously. It hadn’t been her intention to hurt her, of course, but that hardly mattered now.
“My wrist!” sobbed Fleur, pitifully. “I think it’s broken!” She looked up at Adagio and their eyes met. “She tripped me!”
“I did no such thing!” lied Adagio.
“I don’t want to hear it!” The gym teacher looked between the two girls. “Dazzle: detention. You’re lucky I’m not getting your parents involved, or worse, Principle Cinch! Fleur, come with me, we’re taking you to the nurse’s office.”
Adagio didn’t argue. It was an idle threat – it was Fleur’s word against hers, and the gym teacher knew it. Detention was a small price to pay for the vengeance she’d exacted… right?
“The game, what about tonight’s game?” blubbered Fleur as she was escorted out of the gym.
Adagio approached Sugarcoat, who sat on the floor clutching what remained of her glasses. Adagio held out a hand to help her up, and after a moment of hesitation, Sugarcoat took it.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” she said once she was back on her feet.
Adagio rolled her eyes. “You’re welcome,” she said, sarcastically.
“I’m serious. Fleur is – was – one of Crystal Prep’s best basketball players, and there’s a game tonight. If they don’t find a replacement in time they’re going to have to forfeit.”
“So what? As if I care about the results of a dumb game.”
“You might not,” said Sugarcoat, her expression turning dour, “but they do.”
Suddenly, Adagio could feel dozens of pairs of eyes upon her. She looked around at the other students, each of whom glared back with an expression of utter contempt. It didn’t matter to them whether or not there was any proof of Adagio’s misdeed, in their eyes she was already guilty of putting Crystal Prep’s chance of winning – and, thus, its reputation, their reputation – at risk.
“Congratulations, Adagio Dazzle,” said Sugarcoat, “you’re Crystal Prep’s newest pariah.”