The venue, a small, dingy bar sitting out front of an enormous, poorly kempt yard, was alive with yelling, laughing, screaming, and the powerful vibrations of an opening band just getting warmed up. For Aria and Wheeler, it was the perfect time to get “tanked up,” as the red man liked to put it. To him, there was no better way to be but half sloshed whilst taking a glorious dive off of the Sunburns’ stage. To Aria, this was a prime opportunity to scrub, scour, and completely erase the happenings of that evening from her mind.
“Who woulda thought a little thing like you could put away this much booze?” Wheeler laughed as he poured them both another round of shots from a fifth of whiskey he had obtained. Hiccuping, he almost swayed right off of his seat before managing to compose himself. Grinning brightly at Aria who sat across from him at the dingy, little, wooden table, he noted that her eyes happened to be even more lidded than usual.
“What’s this feelin’ I’m feelin’? I think it’s pride or somethin’.”
“Or it’s the three other drinks you’ve already had coming back up to say hi to you,” Aria replied, pulling one of the small glasses close to her side of the table.
Ignoring her, and turning about in his seat to face the rest of the rather grim and tattered crowd standing in the bar, Wheeler then spread his arms out wide, and let off a loud whistle.
“Y’all see this pretty, little lady right here? She's workin’ her way to near a fourth of that there bottle-a whiskey! Can I pick ‘em or what?”
By this time of night, most of the crowd was equally as inebriated. They responded to the teetering man, and the grim girl sitting across from him with either a round of enthusiastic hoots or unimpressed jeering. Wheeler stood, and took an almost expected self-congratulatory bow. Aria, hiding the roll of her eyes behind her overgrown fringe, forced a clearly fake smile, raised a fresh shot glass to the patrons, and threw its contents back.
Sighing out the pleasant fire coursing down her throat, she waited for Wheeler to take his seat before passing him an exasperated look.
“All that pride is well earned, Mud. Spirits know that you could drive a girl to drink.”
Leaning her head back against the chair, and closing her eyes again, Aria wondered whether or not she had yet to consume enough alcohol to forget all that had transpired that evening. Licking the liquor from her lips, her brow knit at the realization that the taste of Cookie still lingered there, ever so faintly. She mused on the notion that it might never fade away. A small smile broke out on her face when she acknowledged that she didn’t want it to.
“Aria, you are a woman after my own heart,” Wheeler muttered.
Now she was grimacing. It seemed the stars were aligning that night to completely destroy what was left of her sanity. Plus, that strange aura in the air—now confirmed to be a scent after all—had apparently been made stronger with the help of the booze now coursing through her bloodstream—or was it that it was actually getting stronger... closer? She smelled the air again with intent. Something small, a quick flash of speculation, sparked in the back of her mind. Her eyes shot open when her thoughts were interrupted by Wheeler’s whooping and yelling. Groaning as she rubbed her temples, Aria snatched up the whiskey bottle, and bounded to her feet. She headed toward the yard in the back of the bar where the openers had just finished their set.
“Hey! Where ya goin’?” Wheeler called out to her. She winced.
“Aw, Wheeler. Shut up, and finish your damn shots. I just wanna catch the opening.”
“Well, I hope you’re not gonna do anythin’ stupid with the resta that fifth!” Wheeler laughed, staring down the small glasses left sitting before him. “Damn, I’m gonna need more food.”
Sweeping her hair over her shoulder to catch some of the cool night air upon her back, Aria allowed Wheeler’s excited yelling to fade into the distance as she made her way out into the yard. The Sunburns would be next for sure, and she wanted to be right there in the middle of it all where the wail of Bender Bridges’ guitar could hit her square on in the face. Perhaps then she might be able to forget.
White lights blinded her. The wail of three screaming stringed instruments blasted through the speakers, crowding her head. A rhythmic punch beat against her chest as the drums started up, and an anguished screech resounded over the crowd. All of a sudden, chaos seemed to break out around her. Bodies began running, punching, flying through the air, and slamming against each other.
It was absolutely gorgeous.
Aria looked at the raging crowd around her, writhing about, trying to purify themselves of their own enormous, green fog of energy, and couldn’t help but feel pride in knowing that she and her sisters might have been the ones to bring about the seeds of confusion and anger that resulted in such a beautiful outlet. These people, unbeknownst to them, were her children. This enormous strip of torn up grass and disturbed earth was her temple. In their strife, she could hear them calling her name.
She smiled at the irony that something as beautiful, as deceptively neat and serene as a siren song could stir the spirits of mortals so thoroughly that this kind of wildness would be the inevitable outcome. Yet, one couldn't argue with results. This was the way it had always been, even before her own existence—chaos out of order and order from chaos, an eternal dance between darkness and light. It was here, in places like this, among mortals like these, that she found the remnants of her long lost glory, a requiem to what she once was.
In a way, being out there was an experience similar to when she was singing. The world became a blur whose nuances and intricacies didn’t matter. In the midsts of the hoard, her mind reeling at the heavy scent of fleeting negative energy, she felt herself flying, too. Things went dark, and the next second, countless hands were upon her, snatching her up into the air. For a moment, she floated joyously upon a sea of bedlam. A hard cuff to her back jolted her awake in the middle of the pit, and she smiled at the sensation of the sting. Throwing herself up against some faceless body, she screamed in elation before the wind was knocked out of both their lungs as their bones collided together; they both laughed as the ache seemed to coarse from one to the other. The world went black, again. The music raged on.
Yelling. A punch to her head. Some faceless body was shouting expletives at her, but for the life of her, she couldn’t remember what it was that she had done. Thus, Aria supposed that she hadn’t done anything at all, and swung back hard at a bare jaw, once, then again, then again until there was a spurt of red. A pair of strong arms snatched her up, and carried her away. That delicious smell of green had all but faded, worked out completely in those first glorious moments of furor. However, it seemed that the embarrassed look she remembered being on Cookie’s face still wouldn’t vanish from her mind. That strange scent grew ever stronger, and oddly enough, more enticing. She sniffed the air. The tiny hairs on her back and arms rose like that of a provoked predator.
She could have any willing body filled with turmoil and confusion. In this crowd, that wouldn’t be difficult to find. What she wanted, however, was to find the source of that maddening scent. There was something about it that was different from all the rest, something that made it feel like it was made just for her. Unable to get a stronger handle on it, it was difficult to read, especially amongst all these anxious mortals. Yet, she was still intent on seeking it out.
At this point, she could barely make out any vision more than a couple feet beyond her nose, and the lovely ache that coursed through her body made the world buzz. She was shocked that she had somehow managed to make it through the entire ordeal of the Sunburns’ first set with the whiskey bottle in her hand, still intact. At the time she had picked it up, she didn’t completely understand why she was doing so. Looking down at the thing now, she couldn’t help but smile at the honed precision of her own instincts, fine tuned by centuries of experience.
Crouching in the woods, far from the concert, amongst years’ worth of dead leaves, Aria looked into the eyes of the young woman who sat before her, back bracing up against an old oak. She mused on the fact that the girl’s eyes were hazel like Cookie’s. Not caring what kind of look she was giving her, she watched as the woman bit her lip bashfully, and glanced away.
“Well, you dragged me all the way out here, gave me free whiskey. You gonna say something or are you just gonna stare?” the hazel-eyed whoever asked, laughing nervously. Aria blinked when a small haze of green began to surround the woman. She inhaled.
“You’re an anxious person,” the former siren murmured in a rather eerie monotone. The woman didn't reply.
Aria crawled close through the leaves, until she peered right into her face. Then, something happened in those eyes, a twinge of fear, perhaps? Aria looked up, and saw the green escaping in plumes now. The scent changed, but still remained familiar. She sighed, feeling a bit disappointed. This mortal, the fifth one she had lured out here into the woods, was not the one she had been looking for. Her gaze returned to those hazel eyes, and remained steady, unsmiling.
“Do I scare you?” she asked plainly. The woman gulped.
“I… I don’t know yet.”
There was a long silence. Then the golden-eyed whoever shook her head, and moved to stand. Acting instinctively, Aria hooked her fingers onto her shoulder, and shoved her back down to the ground. Even she didn't understand why at first until she got another whiff of her negative energy. Bringing her head in close, she then rested her cheek in the crook of the woman’s neck, breathing in deep. The scent of her energy was alright. There was nothing particularly special about it, and yet, her own weariness, coupled with her inability to ever utilize any of the coveted stuff again, still frustrated her. She opened her mouth slightly, and took in another breath, wondering if she might be able to at least taste a little that way if she wished to the stars hard enough. After a time, she seemed to forget the woman was even there.
Ironically, all of this only made the warm body relax against her. The negative energy began to dissipate as the woman sighed with delight at Aria’s touch. Feeling rather irritated, the siren's head bolted upward, and she shook her by the collar.
“Aw, quit with that crap, will you?”
“W-with what?” the other woman gasped, utterly confused. The plumes returned. Aria bit her lip as she watched the haze floating upward.
“You stay nervous,” she blurted, suddenly reaching up in her inebriated daze to wave her hands through the fog. Her voice held a twinge of desperation as her fingers began to dig flesh. “Just stay… this way.”
The mortal with those eyes, now confused and frightened, pushed Aria off when she tried to move in close.
“What the hell? Get the hell off of me, you freak!”
In one swift movement, she brought her knee in, and kicked her leg out right into the center of Aria’s chest. The former siren fell backward onto the ground, clutching herself in pain. When her clenched eyes opened again, and the tears of pain that blurred her vision had finally dried up, the hazel-eyed whoever was gone.
She didn’t move for a long time. Instead, she opted to just lie there in the leaves, surrounded by that strange, delectable scent that now seemed to set her mind ablaze, until she heard the sound of crunching footsteps approaching. Even when the steps stopped somewhere beyond the top of her head, she still didn’t move to take a look at who it was. To some extent, she didn’t have to.
“Night not going so well, sweetheart?” a male voice chuckled in a tone so raspy that it could hardly constitute as a voice. It held an accent so strange, that it immediately made Aria’s eyes pop open with interest.
Some random someone, a grey skinned man in black, head completely shaved save for a low cut, sky blue strip of a mohawk, popped his face into her line of sight. Aria blinked, her vision went sharp for just a split second. The hairs on her arms were doing that thing again.
“Not until now,” she replied.
Obviously, this guy wouldn't be as easy for her to unnerve unless she just outright threatened him with physical violence. Considering everything horrid and ancient within her was currently packed into this scrawny, little, rose-ish package, she decided against this. There were still other means. After all, negativity could be drawn out in a myriad of ways.
They walked in silence, deeper into the woods, all by his request. He didn’t seem to find it strange when Aria had obliged him willingly. The gears in her mind were grinding as she stared at him out of the corner of her eyes. The bottle of whiskey sloshed about in her hand as she shuffled one boot in front of the other.
This mortal’s eyes and skin—There was something striking about them, and yet she couldn't place what it was. She took a deep breath, and looked down at her boots. They fumbled over each other, and she fell. Flailing out to grab onto him, she cursed as she missed, and tumbled with her hands grabbing into the tops of his boots. Acting quickly, she snatched at him to pull herself back up, gripping frantically at his pockets.
Allowing her to brace upon his arms, the mohawked mortal helped her up. When their eyes met again, her gaze had sharpened. She noted that he didn’t seem to find any of her clumsiness unbecoming or strange despite the fact that she had not tripped or stumbled all night. A small smile escaped her as she gripped her fingers tightly onto the cuffs of her jacket. She then shoved her hands into her pockets.
“Let’s stop. Now,” she panted. “I don’t wanna wait anymore.”
Straddling his lap, leaning against his chest, she listened to his calm heartbeat, and considered what an amazing mood lifter it would have been to be able to shapeshift into her true form right at that very moment. One second, your night is going perfectly, and a girl was practically face planted into your rib cage. The next, your entire head is being chewed off by an enormous, floating, sea demon from another dimension. Aria chuckled to herself at the thought. Her arms wrapped around him, holding him close as they groped around beneath his jacket.
“What’s so funny?” came the raspy voice.
She rolled her eyes, perturbed at having to remember what it was she was doing, and why. Sitting up, she pulled her arms from around him, cuffs clenched tightly. Again, she shoved her hands back into her jacket pockets. Pulling out her pack of cigarettes, she then popped one between her lips, and lit it. Offering the pack to the mohawked mortal, her eyes trained upon him with intent when, at first, he glanced at the box with a look of confusion, and then swiftly refused.
“No, thanks. I don’t… uh… do that.”
Her eyes narrowed at this reply.
“Do what?” she asked out of the free corner of her mouth.
“You know... That.”
A haze of green began to envelope him.
“You mean smoke?” she scoffed. The man blinked at her.
“Of course. What else would I be talking about?” he laughed. She peered at the haze surrounding him. It was clear to her that he was trying to put on a pretense of calmness. Still, she shrugged, put the pack away, and took a long drag on her smoke.
“Do I scare you?” she said upon exhaling. The bald whoever simply laughed. He laughed so hard that he began to cough, making Aria jostle about upon his lap. There was a metallic clinking that came from the shaking of their jackets; she couldn’t tell if from her own or his. Her brow furrowed as this notion made her nervous.
“Are you kidding me? You couldn’t scare a kitten, gorgeous,” the man replied nudging her playfully under her chin.
The oddness of his accent, the way the words sounded when he put them together made her ears twitch. During the course of her lifetime, Aria had heard many languages spoken in many accents, and yet, this one seemed something more than annoying to her. It was irksome. It prodded her into paying it just a bit too much attention. She again inhaled upon the cigarette.
“Do I make you angry?” she asked next, completely unmoved by the man’s prior reply. His smile seemed to falter.
“Why do you ask that? Do you want me to be? Are you into that type of thing?” he scoffed.
“You could say that,” she murmured.
“So, what’s your deal, huh? Mommy issues? Daddy issues? Got your ass beat in middle school issues?” Aria asked as if having caught her second wind. “Or maybe you just have good, old fashioned, nemesis issues, perhaps, hm? Somebody in particular stuck in your craw? Come here to shake ‘em off in the pit?”
The man scowled, and just like that, a solid fizzle of green began to escape from the top of that bald head of his. Aria’s focus went sharp once again. She tried to conceal her smile with her palm.
“Maybe they’re ‘None of that is any of your fucking business’ issues,” he muttered. “You’ve got some gall to ask about other people’s issues after the way you carried on out there in the pit. Are you gonna just talk my fucking head off all night or is something gonna happen here?”
Aria’s smile disappeared. There was a brief pause.
"Now, how'd you manage to single me out in the pit, hm?" she asked, noting a wary flicker in the man's golden eyes.
It was at that particular moment that, out of all the mortal and immortal beings in the world, the thought of Adagio Dazzle decided to pop into Aria’s mind.
The cheesepuff wouldn’t have done it this way, she thought.
Adagio was a piece of work, a real piece of work, and yet, Aria had to cede that over the centuries, the “queen” of the sirens had taught her a useful trick or two about the arts of distraction and persuasion. She had taught her that not only could their own voices be used to manipulate mortals, but also the mortal’s very own senses and surroundings.
“Sight matters, scent matters, touch matters, and sound matters most of all,” the curly-haired woman had told her all those centuries ago, and she would go on to prove this to Aria in a myriad of different ways—some of them highly questionable—that would keep the sullen girl resentful toward her for centuries to come.
Nevertheless, as she slowly forced a sweet and disarming smile upon her face, Aria couldn’t help but recall every last one of those lessons. Her voice was no more; thus, what she had learned would now have to do. She would have to be perfect for him.
The tension was palpable. She licked her fingers, crushed the end of her cigarette, and threw it off into the woods. Leaning in close to the mohawked one’s face, she then curled her fingers onto the neckline of his shirt.
“I’m sorry. I'm being rude. Here, let me answer your question for you.”
She shoved him flat onto his back upon the ground, and loomed over him, her long strands of hair curtaining both their faces. Reaching out with a hand, she plucked up the whiskey bottle which had been sitting nearby in a patch of dead leaves. Unscrewing its top, she presented it to the mortal beneath her, and gave him a wink.
“Have some,” she said, bidding him to drink. She noted a twinge of doubt flit across his face.
“I’m alright,” he muttered. “L-let me get on top...”
Aria grimaced, and shoved him back down when he attempted to push her over.
"Why not?" he asked, sounding slightly more than perturbed.
"I've had bad experiences, if you catch my drift," she stated outright. The man under her still seemed hesitant.
“You know you’re being real fuckin’ picky for some sober dude hitting on a willing, drunk chick in the middle of the woods at night,” she said, then bringing her face in very close to his. “I swear, if you don’t drink this damn whiskey, or if you try to get on top of me, I’ll scream bloody murder. You don’t want that do you? I thought we were having fun.”
The man seemed to study her.
“No one can hear you over that noise out there,” he scoffed.
This statement made her smile, almost too brightly.
“Why do I get the feeling that you don’t wanna take that chance with me?” she inquired.
She was reveling in the unsure expression he was now wearing. His lips tightened as he reached out for the whiskey bottle, put it to his mouth, and threw a huge gobful of its contents back. Smiling victoriously, she watched him cough out the fire in his chest. Taking the bottle from him, and placing it off to the side, she then pushed him back down flat.
“Raise your arms,” she bid him. This time he broke out in ridiculing laughter.
“What are you, insane? So you can sock me in the gut, steal my wallet, and run off? Give me a b—...a fucking break!”
“If I wanted your wallet, what makes you think that I’d wait this long to take it? Think I’m stupid or something?” she asked, her temper momentarily peeking through her seductive facade.
She watched as the mohawked mortal’s face went quite grim.
“No,” he murmured. "In fact, I do not."
She stared daggers into him. A slight tinge of green escaped again as she watched his fingers discreetly edging toward the sleeves of his jacket. Her muscles tensed. She inhaled. The smell was slightly sharper than before.
She was being careless again, as usual, and the last thing she wanted to do was to raise suspicions. There was always another way.
Remember your lessons.
“You know, I've been having a real shitty night,” she began, twirling her finger lazily around the neckline of his shirt. “I mean, I know you don’t care about that, but I came here to have some fun, to forget about everything. You probably do think I’m stupid coming all the way out here with you. Maybe I am. Lately, I’m not so good with predicting how others feel about me.”
Glancing at his face, she hoped that he would catch the deeper meaning in her last sentence. He did. Still, even after willingly offering him this information, there was hesitation and doubt leaking from him in a green haze. He seemed to be thinking to himself.
That stronger underlying scent still lingered, so pungent and full of indecipherable messages. It made her want to scream. Huffing loudly with resolve, she leaned forward, and gently kissed his lips.
“You’re acting like I’m some kind of big, scary monster or something,” she whispered, pouting. “What happened to “I couldn’t scare a kitten”?”
There was a twinge of something in his gaze that nearly made her laugh when she understood what it was. The whiskey had finally taken hold of him. Her inward glee was quickly stifled when she saw his fingers, again, prodding at his sleeves—those damned sleeves. They were sure to prove bothersome for her. She eyed them intently as she began to trace her fingers along his arms. Feigning a sudden interest in his hands, she moved to push them over his head. The glare he gave her was full of spite; there was no hiding it any longer. She supposed if she had not had so many lifetimes' worth of practice faking her own emotions that her face might have looked exactly the same way. Kissing his neck, she then looked into his eyes.
“Don’t you like me?” she asked, her tone seeping with longing. The mortal scowled from where he lay beneath her.
“I’m planning on making this quick,” he spat, reaching up toward her jacket. “Take this off. I want to see you.”
She pulled away from his grasp, breathing a sigh of relief when her jacket hadn't made any noises.
“You really know how to charm the ladies, huh?” she asked him. Seeing that his expression remained unmoved, she shrugged, and sighed with finality.
Reaching toward her left jacket pocket, she then zipped it closed.
“You know, I’ve had this weird feeling following me all evening,” she said matter-of-factly as she carefully slipped her left jacket sleeve off. He seemed to only partially be paying attention to her words as one of his hands moved upward to entwine itself into the long, purple locks that flowed over her shoulder. He gripped them tightly.
“Mhm,” she replied, now zipping up her right pocket, and slipping that sleeve off as well. “It was the strangest thing. It felt like somebody was watching me the whole time. You ever feel like that? Like if someone was onto you?”
There was a pause as she smiled at him, reaching up to caress and kiss the hand, and the sleeve, that was now tangled in her tresses.
“No, I've never feel that way,” the man muttered. His free hand began to move upward to curve around her other shoulder. Everything in her began to buzz. The air seemed to become electric as she watched him.
“There was this weird smell around me, too,” she continued on as she carefully began to ball up her jacket, still making absolutely sure that it didn’t make any noise. “Like really sharp musk or something… or sweat. I thought I was going crazy. Was trying to figure it out all night. Then you know what happened?”
She smiled when she saw his eyelids droop ever so slightly under the spell of far too much drink.
“I-is this how you warm yourself up? Giving speeches?” the foolish mortal beneath her stammered, chuckling to himself.
Aria’s eyes narrowed.
“I finally figured it out, is what happened,” she whispered ominously, ignoring his spiteful words. She felt his other hand now cautiously wrapping itself around the back of her neck. “Turns out it wasn’t musk I was smelling. It was… Well, this might sound crazy to you, but it was a grudge. Bitterness. A powerful one. An old one… ancient even.”
She laughed as she reached out with an arm, her balled up jacket gripped tightly between her fingers.
“You’d think that someone who’d held these feelings for me for so long would know by now that I could smell that sort of thing; that I could smell bad intentions, and that I know when they're following me.”
The look on the gray man’s face was absolutely incredulous. It seemed that, finally, he had realized his error in having taken in so much alcohol. Even from the start, it was clear to Aria that he had never drank the stuff before.
“So, I told myself: 'Those feelings couldn’t possibly be for me. Someone who really knew me would have definitely known that I could do that.' But then something happened that made me change my mind; made me ask myself one very important question, a question that I've been asking myself since I tripped back there, all over your boots... and your pockets... and your jacket. Wanna know what it was?” she murmured, leaning over to peer into his eyes. By this point, the man was no longer smiling or talking. The veil had lifted from around them, and his breath now came intensely.
She shook the jacket balled up in her hand. A strange sound came from its pockets. The gray man's eyes went wide when he realized just what that sound was—the clanking of metal.
“I asked myself: 'What in Chaos’ name could someone possibly need with that many Equestrian daggers, and a pair of earplugs?'”
She then threw the jacket a good distance away where it landed into a pile of leaves with a heavy ‘CLUNK’.
"No matter, you monster," he hissed as he made a quick reach into his sleeves, looking for what was no longer there. He glared back up in terror toward Aria's wildly grinning maw. She held out her fingers. In between them, she gripped a small pair of earplugs, and the last dagger she had pulled from his sleeve when she had caressed his arm. There was a brief beat between them before he gripped her by the hair, trying to wrench her neck; however, before he could do this, she had reached upward, curled her index knuckles inward, and swung down with all her might. The bones jammed into both of his eyes. He managed to throw her off of him whilst screaming in agony.
“You filthy witch!” he wailed.
The plume of green that exploded from him was magnificent, so fantastic that she laughed with glee, even as she scrambled back over toward him to dig her nails into the flesh of his face. Backing off a fair distance, she tossed the ear plugs far into the night, and gripped the handle of the stolen dagger.
“Looks like somepony didn’t do his research before deciding to pay a visit,” she laughed as she approached his blindly stumbling form, blade raised. “And could you have tried a little bit harder to get rid of that Canterlotian accent? Geez.”
The gray man suddenly became quite still where he stood, and to Aria’s confusion, then reached into his sleeve.
“There’s nothing there, you idiot,” she snickered, moving toward his front, and quickly grabbing hold of his collar. Just as she was about to strike, a sandy-hued glow escaped from the inside of his sleeve, and began to grow.
“What the—” she gasped just as his hand swung out from where it had previously been hidden, wielding a fresh dagger. Instinctively moving to raise her own weapon in defense, Aria’s heart leapt into her throat when she glanced at her blocking hand only to find that there was no longer any dagger there. Having no choice but to arch her body out of the way of his blade, she fell to the ground, and began to scramble away from him.
“Magic! You can use magic here? H-how…” she stammered.
As the mohawked man’s vision finally cleared up, and he caught sight of the siren crawling amongst the forest leaves, Aria attempted to bolt upward, and make a quick escape. Her feet had only taken three steps before something seemed to seize hold of her entire body, freezing it in place. She watched in horror as her arms and legs began to glow in that same tannish halo, and started taking her exact running steps—backwards. Forcing her head around to stare at the gray, mohawked man, she saw him grinning maliciously as she reversed toward him. His hand, still glowing, reached out for her. She screamed as he finally snatched her by the strap of her top, and the glowing ceased. Spinning her about, he raised the dagger, and prepared to strike. Instinctively, she opened her mouth, attempting to sing. A strange waver escaped in place of her usually raspy voice.
“Stop struggling, you creature," he hissed, trying to get a good aim. "It’s of no use.”
“Wait!” Aria protested barely managing to wrench her neck out of the way. She pulled herself from his grip as the dagger came down in the space between her collarbone and shoulder, slicing the strap of her shirt. For a second, she was too stunned to feel the sting of the gash, but as the shock of the moment began to fade away, the familiarity in its placement began to dawn on her. Looking away from the approaching stranger, she caught a glimpse of crimson dripping from a wound that was almost exactly in the space where Swift’s dagger had cut her those many lifetimes ago. She whimpered, suddenly overcome by raw emotion. Tears welled up in her eyes as she was whisked back to that horrible night before… before…
Glancing back up toward the mohawked man’s face, she suddenly couldn’t tell the difference between his features and that of Midnight Swift’s. Her mouth gawked open and then closed, but words were no longer there. A strange stammer escaped as if her throat were trying to remember what its purpose was. The vision of Swift stoked a flame in her that quickly exploded into a raging inferno. She felt a familiar tingling in that searing spot between her chest and neck. A warmness extended out toward her fingertips. There was a rush of something inside of her, like a shot of electricity. She screamed. This time, there was sound. Piercing the night air like a shrill whistle, it forced her attacker to keel over, dropping his blade, and covering his ears. She felt her energy suddenly dip, and gasped for air. Getting to her feet, lost in her furious daze, she breathed deeply, and felt the wave of warmness hit her once again. The air around her hummed as the spark of a dark melody began to echo through it. Knowing now what it was she had felt, she faced her assailant, and with confidence, opened her mouth.
You of frail and finite mind,
See yourself bigger than you should.
You dare to challenge siren kind,
In only the way cowards would.
In an instant, before he could reach again into his jacket full of tricks, Aria watched as her mysterious assailant’s face fell vacant, his mind a blank slate for the siren to write upon. That delicious haze of green began to pour out of him in mounds, and to the siren's utter joy, floated in her direction. Stuck in a space between disbelief and exhilaration, for a moment she couldn’t figure what to do until she saw her jacket still lying a ways behind her. Fighting off the bouts of exhaustion that wracked her in lieu of willing that wave of warmth through her veins again and again, she powered on, and traversed the distance to fetch the thing.
She was wandering far from him, now. Curiously, the further she seemed to move, the more difficult it became to hold onto her spell. Thinking little of this, she continued on, keeping a wary eye upon her attacker as she did so.
By the time she had reached the jacket, her body quaked, and her own heartbeat began to resound in her ears. Looking once more upon her assailant, she was terrified to find that somehow he had managed to regain enough of his will to take a few steps in her direction. She watched as he reached into his own jacket. Fear aggravated her senses. Sheer pain made her weak. Holding the incantation in the air now felt like an impossible task, and as she zipped open her jacket pocket while heaving for air, to her own horror, she felt herself let the melody die.
She gasped as he ran full on at her, the effects of the spell faded from his eyes. Confused as to what was happening, she dug into the pockets, trying to retrieve the dagger. Coughing out rasps, she found that her attempts to sing suddenly proved futile.
"No, no," she stammered to herself as she frantically drew a blade, and spun around to face him. "It was just working! Why isn't it working anymore?"
"What will..." she choked, as she backed away from the approaching figure. Too weak to evade him, she felt panic beginning to take over once more. "What will..."
Her voice wavered in that strange tone as she desperately searched within herself for the wellspring that had, in an instant, run dry. The mohawked man was a few steps away now.
Anger and frustration grabbed her again.
The warm sensation gathered her up into its clutches. A wave of energy hit her as she inhaled.
"What will you do..."
The inside of his jacket glowed. She raised her dagger in defense. Again, there was no blade in her hand.
She felt the wellspring open up around her as he grabbed her collar. The incantation flooded her brain.
What will you do my foolish friend,
Now that things haven’t gone as planned?
I’ll tell you what you’re gonna do.
Take up the dagger in your hand.
Oh, this life’s just full of trouble.
So, why trouble with it?
Life’s just full of trouble.
So, why trouble with it?
Life’s just trouble.
Be done with it.
Trapped again, his blade mere inches away from her head, Aria watched as the man now took his unwilling steps away from her. He slowly withdrew his dagger from her face, and turned the blade toward his own neck. The siren laughed in stunned relief as the ghastly refrain powered on.
The green smog that surrounded them both brought tears to her eyes as she inhaled the scent of it. As she sang, heedless to the distress of the enchanted mortal before her, she watched as the energy was drawn toward her, and gasped in delight as it spun itself into small rivulets, aiming themselves for that burned and scarred flesh upon her chest.
Her happiness immediately fell away when the green dashed itself against flesh, and instead of satiated relief, fiery pain exploded within her. She choked, and keeled over, nearly losing her song in the midsts of her agony. Blocking off the patch on her skin with her hand, she gasped for air. A myriad of questions flooded into her mind, threatening to overpower the open wellspring of her abilities.
What in darkness' name was happening to her? Why had her singing powers returned all of a sudden, and in such a tenuous fashion that it now felt like she might die of exhaustion to try to use them? Why had they disappeared when she had made a run for the daggers in her jacket? And if she still was not able to devour energy, then from where was she drawing the power to wield her magic?
Backing away from her assailant, she felt her energy dip, once again, and the wellspring in her mind began to recede. Suddenly, it dawned upon her. Aria's eyes fell upon the gray mortal in shock. Taking one large step toward him, she felt the wellspring open up again ever so slightly. Another step, and her energy rebounded.
"You. It's you," she whispered to the mindless man, wide eyed.
Knowing now what she had to do, she again filled herself with the flow of energy, and approached the mysterious man, reaching out to grab his face.
Feel my verse, just like a vice.
Feel my rhythm hold you tight.
Wrap you in loving embrace,
And whisk you to a sweeter place.
Bidding him to kneel down before her, she gave him a wicked smile as he obediently raised the dagger, and aimed the blade toward his own throat. A part of her felt anguish at the notion that her long lost song would soon have to come to an end, but she knew that her survival was obviously more important.
Suddenly, remembering her interest in the man’s oddly captivating appearance, she reached out with a palm at the very last moment before he plunged the blade deep into his own flesh. She held the thing just a few inches away from his neck with her own, firm grip. The wellspring swelled along with her sudden thirst for information.
Not just yet! Hold on, go-getter.
Anticipation just makes this better.
Before you take your final bow,
State your intent, measure for measure.
As the refrains of her malicious chorus echoed throughout the air, she turned the man's face toward her. Her eyes bore holes into his as she spoke over the melody.
"Who are you?" she asked. The man's gaping mouth fumbled about for a moment before words escaped from between his lips.
"Starshot," he croaked. Obviously, Aria didn't recognize the name.
"Where did you come from?"
"E... Eques... Equestr—"
"Equestria. Right. Got it," she finished for him. "Now, tell me, Starshot. Why are you here, and why are you after sirens?"
"Time magic has brought me here," he croaked. "A dimensional... sh... shift. He was foolish and weak..."
"Wait a minute," Aria muttered to herself, trying to think through the strenuous task of maintaining her ever fading energy whilst holding the chorus of her melody afloat at the same time.
“Time magic? Dimensions?”
There was only one pony she had ever known to possess the ability to successfully wield those types of spells.
"Wait... a... minute," she gasped, her eyes going wide as she realized why the gray skinned, golden-eyed, magic wielding man looked so familiar. "It couldn't be."
She never even heard the sound of footsteps racing up behind her through the leaves. Peering down into her prey’s face, she shook her head in disbelief as the notes of her melody carried to a crescendo, and her fingers loosened from around the man’s clenched hand.
“... Star Swirl?”
A red fist came across the stranger’s face before he could slash himself with his own blade. In an instant, he was knocked out cold. Startled, Aria let loose of her refrain, and the air became void of everything save for the evening sounds of the forest. Spinning about, she glared at the panting, startled mess that was Muddy Wheeler as he stared down at the unconscious figure in shock. He looked up at her.
“The hell, Aria! You okay, girl? That sumbitch coulda turned a brontosaurus into church boots with that thing!”
The dour siren said nothing. Her eyes seemed to gaze right through the frantic man before her. The world around her went silent, only to be replaced with a ceaseless ringing, and the unbearable fire that sat in the spot between her chest and neck. The bursts of power she had just been feeling a few moments prior shattered into nothingness. Her entire body went weak and numb.
"Yea, I'm fine. I—” she began, reaching over to snatch up her jacket. Her voice was now nothing but painful croaks. Thinking little of this, she let off a cough, and was startled when blood spurt from her mouth, splattering onto the front of her shirt. Looking up at Wheeler in shock, she felt her knees beginning to give way.
"Mud? I don't feel so good," she grunted as she began to fall. Wheeler stepped forward to scoop her up into his arms.
"Shit... Okay. You're okay, Darlin'. I gotcha," he said trying to feign calmness. Turning about, he quickly rushed off in the direction of his car.
"Fuck. I am definitely too drunk for this."
Time seemed to slow down momentarily. Her vision dipped in and out a few times before she finally awoke to find herself laying back in the passenger seat of Wheeler’s car. Looking off to her side, she saw him sitting in the driver’s seat, frantically zipping through his phone whilst simultaneously attempting to pour water from a bottle onto a piece of paper towel.
“What are you doing?” she rasped, startling him. Taking a moment to catch his breath, and steady the water bottle in his hand, he turned to face her, wide eyed.
“Oh, shit. You’re awake! Good, I’m callin’ somebody to get you outta here.”
She looked confused for a moment.
“W-what do you mean? Just take me home.”
Wheeler gave her an exasperated look.
“Do I look like I’m fit to drive down a mountain to you?” he yelled, accidentally spraying water from the bottle all over her face. She sputtered, and sighed, too exhausted to be irritated. Her eyes then went wide as she realized something.
“Wait a minute. We’re still up here? No! No, we have to get outta here, now!” she croaked, remembering that when they had left the stranger lying in the woods, they had left him alive. “C’mon, Wheeler. If you don’t wanna drive, I’ll do it.”
Wheeler’s jaw dropped in complete confusion as he stared at the drunk and disheveled girl before him, spattered in blood.
“You… are out to lunch, Aria Blaze. Hold on a bit. I’m callin’ Cookie to come getcha," he said, trying to finish up on his phone.
Aria’s stomach sank. It seemed ludicrous at this point to still be taking what happened earlier at Cookie’s house so personally in light of the night's most recent events. However, something in her knew that she absolutely could not let the other woman see her in such a state.
“No, no. Call my house. My sisters will come, and get me,” she said, nearly begging.
“Y’all don’t have no damn car, Blaze. It’ll take forever for them to get up here. What’re they gonna do, fly?” Wheeler asked, now putting his ear to the phone receiver.
Taking a moment to note the irony of the man’s words, Aria then looked straight ahead, past the dark woods cascading down the side of the giant hill before her. The lights of the town could be seen shining in the distance. Taking a deep breath, she seemed to settle upon something in her mind. Quickly grabbing her jacket from the back seat, she opened the car door, and bolted off into the forests.
“Blaze? Blaze!” Wheeler yelled after her. He jumped out of the car just as soon as he heard someone pick up on the other line of his call.
“Cookie! Listen, I need you to get yer ass in gear, and head toward The Hole. Shit is crazier than a shithouse rat out here! Some jackass tore Aria up in the woods or somethin’. She’s lost it. Out here runnin’ around the trees like a fuckin’ coked up raccoon. You gotta come get 'er.”
Running to the edge of the clearing, he called for the siren one last time, finally acknowledging to himself that she was gone. Putting his ear back onto the receiver, he finished up with his call.
“She’s headed down toward that park to the east of the mountain, I think. You should head there, but listen, bring her sisters or whatever. She was freakin’ out about wanting them to be here a second ago. Do it fast.”
With that, Wheeler hung up on the call. Getting back into his car, he resolved himself to do what he knew he shouldn’t. Turning the car on, he placed his hand upon the wheel, and then closed his eyes. With much conviction, he began to mutter to himself under his breath.
“Listen, just in case I die, just know that I did not squeeze that chick’s t—... accoutrements on purpose. I swear, she got in the way of the peanuts, and I wasn’t payin’ attention… Amen.”
Backing out of the lot, Wheeler spun the car around to face the downhill road, and drove off into the night.
Aria knew she could make it if only she could hold on for just a few more minutes. The edge of the forests were in sight, and she could see a large, open park sitting just below, awash in lamplight. She hadn’t the slightest idea of how long she had been running. It was only by sheer will that her legs continued to keep moving, even though it seemed as if every body part above them had almost completely shut down.
Taking a moment to catch her breath whilst coughing up more crud that tasted of blood, she then continued on her way. Stumbling about in the near dark, Aria bided her time by thinking about all that had transpired that evening.
That scent of maliciousness had been following her the entire night. Did that mean that her attacker, this Starshot guy, had been doing the same? Spirits forbid that he had figured out where she lived. Her heart sank when she remembered that the smell had also followed her to Cookie’s house. Rage took hold as she began to imagine all of the horrible things she might do to him if he ever even thought about… She didn’t even want to consider it.
Shaking her head free of those thoughts, she figured it might be more productive to just consider the stranger, himself. He had come from Equestria, and had a Canterlotian accent, alright, but the strange thing about it was the sound of the accent. Aria recalled that it sounded odd, and it didn’t occur to her until much later that it was because his accent sounded old. I wasn't like the kind that Sunset Baconator or Twilight NARCle had which seemed to blend so seamlessly into modern human society. It was of a style that she could only assume no one in Canterlot would be speaking anymore. This, of course, would make sense if the bastard could use time magic. Regardless, it was clear that this was not the first time that the stranger had traversed into modernity, considering how much of the current style of language he actually did know. Aria found herself wondering how long he had been making these types of trips.
He had mentioned something about someone or somepony being weak before he tried to kill her. Aria couldn’t help but grimace and shake her head when she realized that there were a thousand years’ worth of Canterlotian bad blood to sift through, at least if she desired to figure out exactly which one of the sirens’ actions had caused him so much distress as to force him to traverse space and time to come to destroy them—if that was what he was trying to do. Still, if she had to guess, she knew exactly which historical event she would bet her chips on.
Trying her best not to, yet again, allow her anger at Adagio and all of her ill-fated schemes bubble up within her, Aria finally stepped off of the mountain side, and into the edge of the park clearing. Seeing pavement and benches in the distance, she quickly stumbled off in their direction.
Aria had barely even touched the bench before she collapsed down upon it, completely prostrate. Her eyelids felt as heavy as lead, and slammed shut as her head hit the cold, wooden surface. She had only been meaning to take a breather for a moment before heading in the direction of a bus stop, but her body just could not withstand anymore strain after all of the evening’s heart-rending events.
It seemed as if she had laid there for just a moment before the sound of car wheels screeching to a halt could be heard in the back of her mind. Then came the sound of clattering footsteps. Before she knew it, she was being snatched up by the shoulders. In her daze, Aria assumed she was being attacked again, and lashed out, trying to sing. She only succeeded in sputtering up more blood before she finally heard her name being called, and a giant poof of orange waving to and fro before her eyes.
“Aria! Aria, snap out of it! Gimme that water!” she heard Adagio's voice yell off to her side.
There was a splash of coldness upon her face, and slowly, everything became clear once more. Looking up, she spied Sonata and Adagio standing before her, sweeping her hair down, swiping at the blood on her mouth with wet paper, and trying to shove water down her throat. All of a sudden, the implications of all the emotions she had been feeling seemed to gel within her head. Her exhaustion and heartbreak took over completely, and her eyes trained upon Adagio in anger. She stood up, advancing upon the wary woman.
“You…” she breathed.
“What the hell is going on, Aria? What are you doing out here?” Adagio asked frantically, looking equally frustrated.
“You! This is all your fault!” the bruised siren exclaimed. “We’re gonna die because of you! Are you happy now?”
She trailed off, noting the terrified look on Sonata’s face, and the confused look on Adagio’s.
“Aria, what in the seas are you—” the elder girl began.
Adagio halted her words when the enraged siren raised a fist against her. The fist froze in midair when she spotted, somewhere deep in Adagio’s magenta eyes, a frightened look, a look of concern, an expression of care. Was it for her?
Aria’s eyes welled up with tears, and her heart burst forth with yet more countless, nameless emotions. She suddenly realized she was afraid, afraid for herself, afraid for Cookie, and afraid for her sisters, even Adagio. In that moment, despite all that she might have blamed the elder siren for concerning their current fate, she could not deny that she also loved her fiercely. She loved them both, and the thought of an aggressive death now bearing down upon them all was nothing less than horrifying.
Falling against the curly-haired siren, she wrapped her arms around her neck, and sobbed loudly.
“Why, Adagio? Why did we go to that damn castle? Why did we have to interfere with the sisters? I hate this place so much!”
She fell to her knees, dragging her older sister down with her. Wide-eyed, the elder could do nothing but hold onto the weeping girl, her words burning into her skull. Adagio didn’t know why Aria was bringing all this up in this way, but something seemed to fracture within her as she heard it whilst taking in the horrifying visage of her sister, now helpless and drenched in her own blood. Perhaps it was something that had been waiting to break free for over a thousand years. She gathered the girl up tighter in her arms as tears began to flow from her stunned eyes. Suddenly, she could see their entire histories laid out before them in one line of crescendoing and plummeting happiness. Every crash, every defeat, every disappointment would bring them lower and lower toward this wretched state they now found themselves in, and as Adagio gazed out upon it all, she was obliged to acknowledge to herself that it had, indeed, been her fault. She had taken up the reins of responsibility all those lifetimes ago. She was the one who had used her superior powers of persuasion to manipulate her sisters into following along obediently. All this was something she had created for them all.
The elder girl's lips parted, bumbling for words that she knew wouldn't be sufficient.
“I’m sorry, Aria. I'm so, so sorry. This is my fault,” was all she could muster at first, sniffing back her tears. Turning to gaze at Sonata, she saw the youngest girl clasping her hands together, nodding encouragingly. "But I swear to you, I'm going to try to make it right. Just try to breathe, and calm down. I won't let anything else happen to you.”
There was a bit of silence, save for Aria's gasping in between her tears as the three sisters sat on the park pavement. After a while, Adagio felt the girl in her arms give a great heave, and shift to look up into her eyes. Surprisingly, she was wearing the faintest of smiles.
"I sang... like before our pendants were shattered. I actually sang," she rasped, on the brink of another bout of coughing.
"Shh," Adagio hushed her, rubbing her back, and pulling her up to her feet. "I believe you. We'll talk about that soon enough. Now, let's go quick, and get to the bus stop before those two weirdos from your job find out we left. I figured you wouldn't want to ride with them; so, I said we'd be right back. I practically had to tie the ice cream cone down with her seatbelt to get her to stay in the car. "
Adagio paused for a moment as she took a step, realizing she had made a decision that should really be Aria's to make. Turning toward her, she tilted her head to look at the injured girl's face.
"Unless you do want to ride with her," Adagio posed gently, waiting for a reply.
Aria scoffed as she wrapped her arm around Sonata who had moved in close to give her sister something to brace upon.