The day was here.
This was the day that Aria Blaze would stamp her name on this school in gold dust and raging fireworks, because when she was done giving her presentation, everyone was gonna be talking about it.
Oh, and Sonata would be there too, another pretty face and rack to subconsciously sway the crowd their way, but if she thought for a second that anyone would believe it wasn't all Aria putting things together (which it was, thanks to the usual factors, Sonata not having done much more than find some of the stuff Aria could use), she was even dumber than most people already assumed she was.
By itself, doing a flashy, memorable show on steam inventions, complete with quiet background music, moving .gif images on just enough slides to keep it from getting annoying, and sound effects at all the right times would only be pretty impressive, she knew, but considering it was coming from 'some dumb cheerleader' from CHS? The sudden explosion of brains and beauty were gonna knock the socks off her entire class.
For now, though, she sat pretty in the cafeteria, bookbag by her feet, having opted to just grab a snack and relax during the first break period until the time came. The tables and chairs were cozier than the hard plastic and metal ones in CHS, too, so it was actually easier to bask in her own awesomeness before the time came to-
Wait, is that why this place has nicer furniture? So its students can be all smug and feel like royalty just for being here and actually do better in a feeds-into-itself kind of way? I bet it's a lot harder to really get that feeling going when you're sitting on the same seats as the kids who ride the short bus, so-
"-so disgusting," said a wrinkle-nosed Glitter Spark to Sonata as she stuffed her face with a plate full of sweets, "can't you even eat like you belong here?"
"Sho wuh," challenged Sonata, scowling as best one could when talking with their mouth full, "wihnnrs cn eat howevuh theh wahn!"
Turning her head away as though she had just witnessed... well, Sonata eating, reasonably enough, Glitter tinted green and touched the back of one hand to her forehead as though she might faint. "Ugh, should have known better than to even talk to you."
While Aria again internally nodded her head, she hadn't forgotten that this girl, however small a fry she might have been, was still the enemy, and thus warranted slapping down. "And why is a nobody talking to us at all?"
Looking at her, Glitter quirked a brow as though Aria's nonexistent-in-these-uniforms fly was open. "I just thought I'd say that if you're going to daydream that hard, you really ought to find a room where you can hang a sock on the doorknob or something. People eat here."
Repressing her physical reaction to that line, Aria quickly grasped that Powder Glitz was nowhere to be seen, immediately using it for a counterattack. "Eat alone, apparently."
That was supposed to have an invisible "like a loser!" on the end of it, but Glitter didn't care, because she swung it right back at her with a smirk.
"Some of us aren't attached at the hip, incapable of moving without a living crutch to cling to." That alone made their hackles rise, so of course she kept going. "Glitz and I don't depend on one another to do the other's grunt work or ride the other's coat-tails when we aren't sure what to do," she silently savored the hints of fear as they glanced at each other, "because it's common sense that no matter our respective strengths and weaknesses, we need to be good enough on our own to get by. That's probably why you're doing poorly in all your classes."
Feeling as though she'd just been nailed right between the eyes, the only thing that kept Aria from saying it wasn't all of their classes or asking how Glitter knew that was the two thoughts slamming into each other before either could fly off her tongue. Unfortunately, Sonata.
"How'd you know we're doing bad?!"
At this, Glitter made what might just have been her most punchable face yet, smirking and looking down her nose at them (which, Aria then realized, was probably why she waited until they were both seated) as she cattily raised the back of one hand to one side of her mouth, her reply coming very loudly. "So it's true, you are just barely scraping by? Ahahahahahahaha!!"
Aria felt herself burn as other students glanced their way, eyes full of judgement and disdain. Running away would only make her look like the loser here and she didn't have the kind of ammo she needed to escalate this by shouting back, but it wasn't backing down to keep the same tone she'd been using.
"Whatever, we've got everything we need to do great here, and our presentation in Social Studies is all the proof anybody is gonna need."
"Oh, really," she replied with even more smugness, somehow, just loudly enough that anyone still paying attention would hear her clearly, "put together a top-tier show for the class, did you? Hate to break it to you, but what passes for good in CHS gets a totally different reception here."
"It isn't just-"
"Sure, sure," she chuckled as she started walking away, dismissively waving a hand, "you do your best, and if nothing else, you'll be the toast of the town when you go back with your tail between your legs to CHS, where they celebrate the losers."
Still fuming, Aria decided that she'd only look like an idiot if she shouted something back when all she could think of were insults without enough bite. Sonata either had the same idea, or instinctively comforted herself with baked goods as she huffily took a bite of a big ol' sugar cookie.
It didn't matter. Glitter was just trying to get into her head, and it wasn't going to work. She'd still deliver that presentation like a star, blow everybody else away, and keep that fire burning until she was on top of this school. Maybe one of her followers would use their wealthy connections to get Glitz and Glitter expelled, maybe the teachers would give them bad grades for getting in the way of the top student, or maybe she'd just see that she was out of her league, eat shit, and disappear, like a nobody should.
That girl really was an idiot, because the break period was ending, and now Aria was more fired up than before!
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
Aria and Sonata weren't the first ones to present, but sitting through two other groups gave her an idea of where the bar was. Same as in the Friendship Games, nobody visibly reacted much to anyone else's performance, which, knowing what she knew thanks to Sugarcoat and Twilight's win with the big math problem, she took to mean the first two presentations were good. Or at least, good enough.
Big, easily-readable titles for almost every monochrome slide, snippets of information in Regulation Boring font, technical pictures that were probably supposed to be intimidating if you didn't know how what those things were or how they worked, and dry, simple deliveries that'd have fit perfectly for some corporate board meeting. They got the job done to the letter, but didn't really go anywhere, leaving Aria (and probably everyone else, whether they were allowed to admit it or not) with a dull, heavy sense of "Yea, so what?"
This was going to be cake.
When their turn came, Aria cleared her throat, warming up the crowd while Sonata got the powerpoint ready. Knowing that her audience was all homework-doing Crystal Prep students, she didn't waste time pretending she had to introduce them to the material, that there was any actual point to these presentations other than showing off.
"We all know steam power is garbage today, but it had a good run that led us to what we've got now, so today, Sonata and I'll be taking you through the highlights."
Just as hoped, the light of the presentation hitting the screen behind her reflected over the class at that exact moment. She hadn't expected that alone to get much reaction, but the looks on her classmates' faces changed from the dull, passive, couldn't-care-less ones they'd been wearing to wide-eyed amazement and... incredulity? Looking around a little more, she saw some that looked like they'd just seen someone throw up on a wedding cake, a few even glancing at each other as if seeking confirmation that their eyes hadn't betrayed them.
A sickly sense of foreboding washing over her and dripping down her back like that time in the giant snail's cave, Aria looked back at the screen, horror setting in immediately.
What she saw was not what she and Sonata had come up with for their title page. At the top of the purple page was a badly distorted, bulbous text Aria could just barely make out to be 'Steam engines' in a hideous, graffiti-style font. Below it was a bunch of random clip art of trains and boats and a few old-timey cars, all surrounded by grey, pixellated, MS-Paint-Spraycan-looking blobs that Aria interpreted to be steam. She glared at Sonata, keeping her voice down as much as possible.
"I told you not to add anything without telling me!!"
"I didn't," Sonata whispered back, genuine confusion on her face, "I thought you did this!"
Hark Back, the fat, balding, tan-ish guy with greying hair teaching this class, clearing his throat was a pretty clear sign that they were expected to continue. They probably couldn't just say "Hey, we need some time to fix this, rain-check?", either. Didn't matter, the rest of the slides were fine, so Aria motioned for Sonata to bring up the next one.
She was immediately cut off by loud, awful dubstep, a sudden assault that made most of the room jump in fright, cringe, cover their ears, or some combination of the three. Whirling around again, Aria gaped for the second time at what was not one of their slides while Sonata frantically clicked on things to make the music stop. This time it was a page with the background set as a close-up of burning coals, the red and yellow making the bright, gold text listing steam-powered inventions of the time VERY hard to read. Even when Sonata managed to stop the noise, the teacher did not look impressed.
"This isn't our thing," Aria half-pleaded to him and Sonata alike, getting an equally distraught reply from the latter.
"It's the only one on the flash thingy!"
"The due date for your group is today," Mr. Back sighed as though he'd just been told a dog ate their homework, "if you don't present, you will get a zero."
Figures; stupid, stuck-up, high-expectations school like this doesn't let anyone get do-overs. Glancing at the many disapproving faces, Aria felt herself sweat. Still, it's either no points or some points, right...?
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
"Disaster" would have been way too generous a word for what Aria just endured.
The sneering disdain and open disgust, the looks that said they weren't even surprised, and the teacher silently judging them even when he knew (or should have known, because she had just fucking told him) that this wasn't their fault all would have been fine, or at least bearable, but things got worse. The jacked powerpoint had all kinds of bogus info, and Crystal Prep students being more than happy to react when someone doesn't do well, they jumped at every little misstatement and spelling error.
Aria kind of thought students weren't supposed to speak out without so much as raising their hands, but the teacher didn't do a thing as the rest of the class had a field day kicking her around, and Sonata, of course, let her take pretty much all the heat, sitting there doing nothing even when they were both supposed to deliver part of the presentation.
Now she sat in the shade under the plant-covered archway-thing leading into the front door of the building, not even caring that the next class was starting soon. Sonata was there with her, but probably less because she was grappling with the weight of what just happened and more because she just wanted to skip too. Aria couldn't even yell at her for that, because she was so close to rage and tears at the same time that it was like both were trying to fit through a door at once and she just couldn't let anything out at all.
She could barely get her thoughts together regarding just how badly they were screwed now, like she had been beaten senseless without being physically touched. Public humiliation, bleak prospects for their grade in that class, bleaker prospects for winning anyone over at this stupid school, which they weren't exactly going to find a replacement for without having to move, total failure in either of them proving themselves as the future leader, the chance that they'd really have to go back to CHS, tails between their legs, and either find a way to subdue the Rainbooms without magic or suck eggs and do things the "friendly" way for the rest of their lives, and she didn't even know how it happened.
"So," Sonata asked as she gently kicked at nonexistent pebbles on the immaculate floor, "what're we gonna tell Dagi?"
That did it. That was the push that sent Aria over the edge, but contrary to her occasional, grisly fantasies, it wasn't into the rage that would see countless bones broken and buildings burned to the ground in a warpath of devastation to be spoken of in whispers for centuries to come. Instead, she wept; covered her face with both hands and sobbed like she hadn't since the night of the Battle of the Bands.
Sonata, for her part, began to panic. She had known Aria for a long, long time, and knew she didn't cry for just anything. Mostly because of that whole hide-my-emotions-because-I-wanna-have-a-poker-face-like-Dagi's-and-also-I-think-it-makes-me-cool thing, but still, this was a big deal!
"Uh, h-hey," she tried with an uncertain smile, "it's not that bad, we didn't flunk a big-time grade thingy in all our classes, right? Heck, if anybody asks, we can just say it's because we're not from this world!"
Aria must not have bought that excuse, because she kept crying.
I guess all that researching was sorta supposed to make up for that. Okay, whatever, next one.
"It's not like we can't come back from this one, y'know? There was nothing we could do about getting deported to another dimension or losing the gems, but what did we lose here?" There was a response, but Sonata couldn't make sense of it through all the blubbering. "Huh?"
"Our chance," Aria choked out as she looked up, doing her damnedest to wipe away the tears that kept falling, "we lost our chance to make an impression, to prove everyone wrong, we're not gonna get that again! They all thought we were losers to start, nobody's gonna look twice at us now!"
Sonata stared blankly back at her. "Nuh-uh."
Rage and Tears must have found some kind of compromise, because Aria was already leaning toward anger again even as she continued crying. "How many first impressions do you get, dumbass?!"
"I dunno, but like, if they thought we were stupid before, and they think we're double stupid now, then can't we just get twice that thing you were monologuing about the other night where-"
"I don't monologue!"
"Do too, -where they get proven extra wrong when we show them we're not?"
Sometimes, Aria needed a moment to process the stupid things Sonata said. Sometimes she needed longer, because sometimes they actually made some kind of sense if she looked at them from the right angle. They weren't going to get another chance to make their first big thing a surprise, out-of-nowhere success, that was still true, and they were definitely at a huge popularity deficit right about now, but what if they pulled off something amazing after that? What if they did it after explaining that they were robbed, getting the story out that they'd been sabotaged somehow and that presentation wasn't even their fault?
Then they could make a comeback. Then they might have a chance. Aria stood up.
"I'm gonna go wash my face," she said without looking at Sonata, "we haven't lost anything yet."
Watching her walk away, Sonata smiled with relief. There was no way she could conquer this place on her own!