It occurred to Adagio, not too long after she and Sunset had set out for the mall, that she had run far lower on options than what she had been willing to acknowledge. Just moments prior, the eldest Siren was expressing to her sisters a plan that led them to believe she was feeling optimistic about her handling of their bloodthirsty time mage problem. However, as the minutes spent in Sunset's presence dwindled on, she found her thoughts becoming increasingly anxious, and much worse—realistic.
Concerning their search for a dimensional portal, Adagio was forced to admit that the "few ideas" she thought she had, didn't actually exist. There was only one path to finding a portal, and Sunset was it. The doorway to Equestria, whether it happened to exist as something static or something consciously conjured up by way of magic spells, was their salvation, and as far as Adagio knew, there were only two Equestrians who had traversed through such a thing: Starshot, who was currently predisposed with the task of hunting all three of them down like dogs, and Sunset Shimmer. Far be it from Adagio to say that she and Sunset had been on anything resembling "good terms," but out of the two options, the mortal girl was clearly the one that made the most sense.
As Adagio rushed through the mall parking lot, Sunset Shimmer in tow and looking none too pleased about it, the persistent itch of fear began to wash over her as did the gravity of the situation in which she presently found herself. If by some unfortunate luck Sunset refused to aid the Siren sisters in their quest to traverse to Equestria—and to be quite honest, Adagio couldn't fathom why she wouldn't—then they were finished. She didn't have the slightest clue as to what a dimensional portal looked like, much less its capabilities; so, searching the woods or CHS for such a thing on their own would most certainly prove pointless. Like it or not, their entire fates rested in this one, condiment-hued mortal's hands.
In this situation, the Siren acknowledged her one glimmer of light in the darkness, her one saving grace, as being her own show of confidence. If she could somehow beguile or intimidate Sunset into seeing things her way, no matter how much it might play against the mortal's own self interests, then her endeavors would surely prove successful all the same. Who said one needed honey to catch bees? A swatter would also work just fine.
Adagio felt her chest tighten as she looked back upon Sunset. To some extent, this situation had begun to feel similar to what Aria had described of her encounter with Starshot in the woods, namely that her superior abilities of persuasion and manipulation seemed of utmost importance right at that very moment. The secretly frazzled enchantress accepted that if any of her plans were to bear fruit, she would have to be perfect for this mortal girl. But surely, a Siren as experienced and cunning as she should have no problem with such a thing, right?
"Whoa! Watch it!" Sunset screamed, yanking Adagio out of the path of a speeding van. The distracted Siren, barely hearing the girl, blinked in confusion. Her head darted about, looking for the imminent threat's direction of attack. When she spotted nothing, her eyes locked with Sunset's. For a moment—before it dawned upon her that she was appearing far too vulnerable—she considered nodding her head in thanks. At once, the more practical part of her consciousness decided against this, urging her to wrench her head around, inhale the scent of the air, and continue across the street toward the shopping promenade directly ahead.
"This way. Over here seems good," she declared, only half caring if the mortal had heard her.
"Now, wait a minute," Sunset posed. "I know we both agreed we should hurry things up, but there really is no need to be reckless abou—Look out!"
Dropping her bookbag, Sunset dove forward, shoving Adagio onto the sidewalk and out of the way of yet another speeding vehicle, a bright, purple sportscar. The driver inside bore down upon the horn with fervent enthusiasm, and did not release until he had finally cleared the scene.
Sitting sprawled on the sidewalk next to a rather perturbed-looking Sunset, Adagio rolled her eyes, and frantically gathered her scattered books together. Springing to her feet, she managed to brush the dirt from her clothes in large, purposeful swoops that made the dust fall off of her in small plumes. Hopefully, Sunset was not growing suspicious of her nervous behavior. Adagio didn't gather that she was, but even still, the rattled Siren surmised that it would be best to make absolutely sure.
"Listen, you," she warned, directing a very confident finger toward Sunset's nose. "I don't have time for any of your mortal insecurities at the present, so if you could please keep yourself on two feet, and away from me for longer than three seconds, I would be greatly obliged." The Siren huffed before clutching her books even tighter, almost protectively, against her chest, and rushing off deeper into the tree-lined promenade.
Sunset, irritated by Adagio's blatant lack of gratitude, bolted to her feet, bent down to collect her bag, and growled in the Siren's direction.
"Mortal insecurities? Do immortals not get hit by unmarked vans or—I just saved your life you ungrateful..." Opting to hold her tongue, the incensed girl pressed two fingers against the bridge of her nose, and shook her head free of the rage threatening to boil over the very brims of her patience. "Listen, I'm not going another step until you tell me what this is all about!"
Adagio felt the hairs on her neck stand on end. A small voice somewhere in the crusted husk that was the empathetic part of her brain instinctively screamed for her to treat Sunset with a little more kindness and humility. Fighting off the fear that she might somehow ruin her chances with the girl, the Siren clenched her fists, bit her tongue, and powered forward.
These increasingly disturbing inklings of weakness, fear, love, and whatnot had now successfully managed to provoke the immortal. At first, she supposed it was because she hadn't felt such emotions in such a long time; however, gradually, it dawned upon her that these feelings so successfully lodged themselves in her craw because, inevitably, they meant she was getting accustomed to mortal thinking. Having already had experience making the irrational decisions such emotions would drive one to take, Adagio had learned to shun them long ago, instead choosing to pride herself on her ability to think rationally.
Perfect. You have to be perfect.
Again, ignoring the girl's demands, she continued on down the brick lined pathway, never once obliging Sunset with so much as a backward glance.
"I mean it!" Sunset yelled with a jangling stomp of her boot.
Hearing the commanding tone in the mortal's voice, Adagio halted, and finally turned around. Shooting Sunset a look that was nothing less than disdainful, she began a slow, purposeful saunter back in her direction. Once she stood before her, the Siren pulled the sunglasses from her face, hung them upon her collar, and crossed her book-laden arms.
"You know, Shimmer, I don't always reveal every last thing on my mind the instant someone happens to look in my general direction," Adagio began in a threatening tone. "Especially a little turncoat like you."
"Call me that again, Adagio, and I'll—"
"You'll what?" Adagio guffawed, twirling a finger around a single curl that had come loose from her crown. She never let on that this was one of her few nervous habits. "Walk away? Allow me to do whatever it is you know I'm most certainly going to do without your 'oh, so imperative' supervision? Come on, Shimmer; your wall of self righteousness wouldn't ever allow that. However, if you insist on wasting time, then go ahead. Humor me! Leave!"
The Siren extended one arm, and made a shooing motion in Sunset's direction. "Since your silly school museum trip—that we both know you're way too old for—means so much to you, then I'll just find the portal to Equestria myself."
Risk taking—It's what she did.
Sunset's expression grew dark. Teetering somewhere in between shock and rage, it took a moment for the girl to catch herself. When she did, she leaned forward to stick an indignant finger right into the center of Adagio's chest. The Siren staved off a wince, feeling the girl graze against the two, still very raw scars upon her flesh. This small pain seemed forgivable in lieu of the burst of nervous and fearful energy that happened to explode out of Sunset's head and shoulders at that very moment.
"You listen to me, Adagio," the mortal threatened, her teal eyes ablaze. "If you or either of your two friends ever try to come near CHS again, I'm going to—"
"So, it is there!" Adagio breathed, pointing a matching finger in Sunset's direction. "I knew it!"
The stunned girl gawked and bumbled for a moment before appearing to silently concede that there was no way to erase her slip up.
By this time, Adagio had already turned to leave whilst fumbling for one of the many notebooks piled in her arms. Upon finding the one that she was looking for, a navy blue, hardbound log, she flung it open in one hand, and with the other, reached into her tightly coiled hair to retrieve the pen she had been hiding therein. Maneuvering expertly around the items in her grasp, she chicken scratched something onto a fresh page. Realizing that Sunset had not automatically decided to follow along, she groaned loudly, and spun about. This mortal was proving quite the nuisance, not that this was entirely unexpected for the little pissant who had robbed them of their very means of survival.
"Aren't you coming?"
She posed the question as a mother would to a child. The absolute authority that she exuded only encouraged another growl from Sunset who clenched her fist in order to maintain her composure. Taking a deep breath, the girl hitched her bookbag back onto her shoulder, and stomped along in Adagio's direction.
Seeing Sunset perform this act of obedience brought a bit of relief and even confidence to Adagio. At once, she felt proud of the precision of her own instincts. Who exactly did this little mortal think she was, throwing a tantrum and trying to threaten her like that? Didn't she comprehend that after such a long life spent reading and mimicking beings like her, what utter folly it was to attempt a bluff of emotions under the honed gaze of a Siren? If the same seasoned instincts had not also told her to do otherwise, Adagio would have certainly found a moment to laugh in the girl's face.
The weather remained rather pleasant as the two of them worked their way past the sparse spattering of lunch breakers and elderly that were currently walking the promenade. The deeper they ventured into the ornamental greenery that shrouded the place, the more it seemed as if they were entering an old country garden instead of leaving a shopping strip. To Adagio, something about it all struck her as familiar.
Eventually, after turning a corner, the preoccupied immortal froze and raised her nose skyward. Seeing this, Sunset became rather tense. Her eyes darted about anxiously as if expecting some unseen attacker to bound from the thick, gaudy foliage at any minute.
To the mortal's apparent relief, around the bend, hidden within a quaintly-paved cocoon of tall greenery, and far away from the distracting sounds of the strip, sat an enormous fountain. Adagio smiled at the sight of the lonely enclave. Her gaze leveled off as she approached the large stone basin, ran a palm along its flat rim, and peered inside. The grin faltered when she noticed that the beautiful structure was completely dry.
"Mm. Shame," she murmured, clicking her tongue against her teeth. Forgetting that she and Sunset were not exactly on amicable terms, she turned her head around, and passed the girl a saccharine smile. "I absolutely love these things, you know."
Sunset eyed her over suspiciously as if she was expecting for the other energy-sucking, fang-toothed shoe to drop at any second. When it did not, she pulled the bookbag from her shoulder, and quickly headed toward the one, lonely park bench that kept the fount company.
"They turn all of the fountains off as soon as it starts to get chilly, I think," she replied, her eyes remaining trained upon the Siren as she rounded toward the bench. "I suppose no one really wants to sit out here for long after it gets cold."
Adagio, who had again managed to get lost in the image of the empty fountain, seemingly perked up at the girl's words. Her flickering, berry red eyes peered back over her shoulder, just visible above the thick curl of orange that had fallen out of place and onto her neck. Turning around, she set her books down, and leaned back against the carved granite.
"Of course they wouldn't," the Siren sighed as both of her hands raised, and at once, began to tuck every loose strand of hair back into place. "That would make sense."
Adagio's eyes continued to burn into Sunset in a way that seemed to set the mortal on edge. She watched as the pitiful thing slowly lowered herself onto the empty bench, and clutched her bookbag to her chest.
"Why did you bring me here?" she inquired coldly, curling into herself.
Adagio huffed as she watched the expected streams of green seeping and stewing out of the other girl. With her hair now adjusted, she again leaned back against the fountain, and passed Sunset a smug smile.
"You can drop the whole ice queen bit, you know. I didn't bring you here to try to harm you."
Sunset's scowl only deepened. "Forgive me if I appear less than trusting of those words coming from you."
"I suppose I deserve that," she sighed, looking down at her side whilst rubbing invisible circles into the fountain stone with her finger, "but I think there's something else important you might want to keep in mind if you're so set on being unpleasant."
Her fingernail hitched up a small pebble, and she flicked it into the basin. It landed somewhere against one of the many coins that littered its bottom with a sharp 'ping'.
"Unpleasantness only makes me hungrier."
The Siren passed an unsmiling glare in Sunset's direction, and kept it there until things between them felt sufficiently eerie. "So, if you don't mind, as a personal favor to me, would you please at least try to relax? I don't get to have dinner for another six hours, and you're going to drive me nuts."
Sunset studied her for a moment. Taking one last glance around the leafy enclave, she moved to set her bag down at her side.
"I know how much your shiny, little reputation means to you, despite what lies you may try to tell me," Adagio beamed, almost too brightly. "Don't worry. If there was anyone else snooping about, I would've smelled them by now."
Sunset rolled her eyes, and finally relaxed into her seat. Crossing her arms and legs, she glowered at the Siren before finally losing patience with the all-encompassing silence hovering between them.
"So, what're you a hound dog now or something?" the girl posed, cocking an insolent eyebrow. She smiled when this drew a sneer from the Siren.
"Please, Shimmer. A hound dog wishes it had a sniffer like mine, not to mention, this figure," she quipped, running a hand along the seam of her skirt. It hitched itself in the crook of her waist as she watched Sunset blinking at her in the dimmest of ways. "Oh, by the blessed seas, I can see and smell energies, you dull, little nit—"
This was no good, no good at all. Increasingly, the proverbial noose was tightening about Adagio's neck, and if she had any plans on making this scheme work, she would have to find an opening in the conversation before either she or Sunset lost their patience. There had to be something she could latch onto that would allow her to prod at the girl's heart, better yet, her sense of self righteousness. Seeing that the mortal was beginning to look increasingly perturbed, Adagio flicked a piece of dirt from the underside of her fingernail, and inhaled some calm.
"Let's not do this, Shimmer. I don't have time to play these games of wit with you. What we are isn't even close to what we used to be, and you should know all about that, being from Equestria."
Come on; give me something to work with, Shimmer.
Sunset's gaze slid to the side as she pondered upon something.
"Actually, no. I don't. Those legends are ancient history over there, and really only cover the basics: scaly monsters, beautiful but fearsome, singing and destruction. I'm afraid any greater details about you three have mostly been lost to time."
The bridge of Adagio's nose visibly wrinkled at this revelation.
"Hm. Pity," the Siren muttered before taking another deep breath, and shaking the thought from her mind. "Well, I suppose that's to be expected. We have been lost to our home for upward of a thousand years."
Something that appeared to be empathy flashed across Sunset's face. This was not lost on Adagio.
Come on, you.
"That is a pretty long time." A pause. "But, you can't really say that you three didn't get what you deserved. Actions do all have their consequences."
Adagio paused for a moment. The whispers of a notion prodded at the ancient and well-honed part of her mind. Slowly, a smile etched its way across her face.
"Some would say we deserved much worse," the Siren murmured, passing a humored glance in Sunset's direction.
This unsavory joke appeared to make something in the mortal girl's stomach lurch. She now looked rather nauseous.
"And you? What do you think, Sunset?" Adagio pressed, seeing her pathway to victory now opening up before her.
As she formed her mouth around her next words, something unexpected, again, tugged at her heart. Her mind flitted back to a time and place most had forgotten, a time before they had become the creatures they were destined to become. Of course no one alive would recall this time. No one could know what gross amount of suffering was necessary to birth in someone such a voracity for carnage. All that a selfish mortal would want to remember was how they had personally been wronged; not whether or not they had wronged another.
At least she and her sisters, for the entire length of their existence as Sirens, had learned to be far more honest with themselves. Never once did they deny that what they did was cruel. On the contrary, they acknowledged that it was, and continued to lay their destruction in order to fill their bellies and as punishment for all the foulness that had been bestowed upon them. Neither side was clean or guiltless as far as the Sirens were concerned, and in the end, neither side would lack for suffering or sadness. This was the way of the world as their wounded hearts had understood it.
"Do you think we deserve worse?" Adagio breathed, self pity threatening to cloud her thoughts. Something glistened in the corner of her eye, and she quickly swatted it dry with one hand.
"I... I... Why are you asking me this, Adagio? Where exactly is this going?"
Adagio glowered. Sunset's suspicions were only working to prove the Siren's point. Mortals would much rather direct a damning finger toward others rather than themselves. Even now, Adagio knew that Sunset could never fathom that her hatred for the Sirens might have ever been the slightest bit misguided. After all, she had never even known them, and legends had a fine way of skewing the truth of a matter.
"I'm asking you because I want to know what you would do with us if you had the choice," Adagio stated, standing up straighter than before. "You know who we are and what we've done better than anyone else in this world. You're the one who ultimately defeated us, aren't you?"
The Siren toed the ground in front of her before taking a small step in Sunset's direction.
"So, Sunset, if it were up to you, if we were at your mercy, would you deem us deserving of worse punishment?"
Sunset's lips drew tight. A haunted expression seemed to encompass her as if she was trying to force down her own hidden memories. Even still, she eventually managed to open her mouth.
"We don't live in a world like that, Adagio. There are no supposeds or "do-overs" as far as the past is concerned. There is only what happened. I can't change anything to my will even if I wanted it badly. No one can do that, at least not in this world."
Adagio's eyes went dark.
"Can't they?" she chuckled, catching sight of a large gray and blue plane arching its way across the sky, and following its path with her eyes. "And here I was, thinking that you were smart. Silly me."
"What are you talking about?" Sunset inquired, tilting her head in confusion.
The Siren sighed. Eternity was a long time, and she had seen it all up to this point. Despite her impatience for mortals, who seemed more like children to her than anything else, she knew that their ignorance and lack of complexity was hardly their fault. They had a skewed and myopic vision, one that needed coddling if it was to remain steady and sane. Learning how to mimic this instinctual need for emotional comfort was far from difficult, but the agitated immortal had to admit that it did prove quite monotonous after doing it for hours on end.
"Oh, for Chaos' sake," Adagio huffed, pounding an impatient fist against stone, and then making an imposing beeline toward the other girl. "I swear, you mortals waste your short lives, stammering, stuttering, and tip toeing around each others' insignificant little feelings."
"H-hey! Back off!" Sunset yelped, pressing her back into the bench as Adagio loomed over her.
"The question I asked you was quite simple, its implications very straight forward, but allow me to clarify, if I really must," Adagio posed, her voice clear, head held high. "Do you, Sunset Shimmer, believe we, the three Sirens, deserve to die?"
At first, Sunset stared at Adagio in perturbed disbelief. Cocking an eyebrow, she moved to sit up. Her fingernails tapped against the wood of the bench, letting off a series of soft clicks.
"I don't know what I would do, okay?" she spat. Before she could say another word Adagio had already reached up toward her bun. Eyeing her cautiously, Sunset continued on. "I've never been in a position to be able to kill you, and I doubt I ever will—"
"You and your damned false displays of civility and mercy," Adagio grumbled, now wrenching at her hair. "Who, exactly, are you attempting to lie to? Me or yourself?"
Pulling hard at her knot of tresses one last time, the Siren finally managed to draw out her pen. Clicking its tip up with her thumb, she then gripped the thing in one, hardened fist.
"We're gonna get a real answer out of you yet, Sunset Shimmer. "
Sunset's eyes went wide. She tensed, and began to edge her way back up to her feet.
"Adagio? You need to calm down," the girl breathed, carefully extending an open hand in the Siren's direction.
Her eyes on fire, Adagio lunged forward, and grabbed hold of Sunset's wrist. The girl yelped, and tried to pull away, thinking the Siren was attempting to do her harm. Instead, she felt the infuriated immortal draw her hand up, press the pen into her palm, and close her fist around it.
"Stop struggling!" the Siren hissed, almost getting thrown to the ground in the process. She should have guessed that Sunset would have been stronger than she looked. Then again, Adagio had never really considered herself one for close contact combat. If only Aria were here...
"Get off of me!" Sunset screeched in an enraged panic.
Yanking her closer by the collar, Adagio forced the girl's pen-equipped fist upward. The Siren raised her neck so that its tip came to rest directly against her own jugular.
"Move again, and you might push it in!" the Siren screamed, forcing Sunset into stunned stillness.
The two glared at each other, quite disheveled and out of breath. Seeing the pen forcefully held against Adagio's throat by her own hand made Sunset's knees begin to shake. Yet, the Siren never wavered.
The scene was engulfed in a haze of murky green. Its scent made Adagio's nose twitch, and the hairs upon her arms stand on end. She wanted to smile, but couldn't for fear of ruining such a beautiful moment.
"Here it is, Sunset. Here's your chance." The calm in her voice seemed to settle the nerves of the girl before her. Gradually, she loosened her grip on her fist. "Do you know what so many mortals— pony and human alike—would give for the opportunity you've just been handed? Countless kings, armies, mercenaries, and wizards have tried, and not one has ever been able to get this close to us. Not one. Those who did, we destroyed. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, beloved leaders full of their little, mortal hopes and dreams, all dashed, all devoured."
A glimmer of understanding crept over Sunset's face. Adagio felt the girl tighten her grip upon the pen.
So simple, this one.
"You've been given the chance to avenge them. You could be a hero, Sunset. All you would have to do is push. I won't fight you."
The girl was really thinking now. Adagio found she didn't even have to hold her hand in place anymore.
It was yet another risk. Despite what she might have wanted to happen, Adagio knew that a gamble like this, putting herself in a vulnerable position, carried with it the potential for very real harm. Still, it was a chance she was willing to take. Death was inevitable anyway if all was left unchanged. In the best case scenario, Sunset would do what the Siren predicted she would, and in the slightly less good but still pretty acceptable scenario, her unending troubles would cease right then and there.
"I've destroyed many lives before you took our powers away, Sunset," Adagio murmured, her voice wavering. "Many lives. Do you judge me worthy of death for doing this?"
Sunset's brow was beaded with sweat. Slowly, her arm pulled back. Adagio gulped, and closed her eyes. For this one, miniscule moment, her life rested in Sunset's hands. Whatever might happen next, it would be of her choosing.
It didn't take too long before the Siren heard her pen clatter to the ground. Her eyes shot open to see Sunset standing before her, shaken but proud, and shivering so badly she looked as if she might collapse.
"What good would it do?" the mortal girl croaked. "And why give you the pleasure of seeing that I could be as weak and selfish as you three were... are."
This statement was unexpected. It made Adagio bristle to hear it, an action which she quickly tried to conceal by turning around and adjusting her hair.
"You may deserve all that you bring upon yourself, but not by my hand. I beat you already remember?" Sunset scoffed, a grin spreading across her lips. When Adagio didn't react, she turned to snatch up her bookbag instead. "This was a mistake. I'm outta here."
Taking a step toward the pathway, Sunset paused briefly, to smirk at the Siren. "I wouldn't kill you, Adagio, as much as some might say that you deserve it."
With her back turned, Adagio knew the girl was unable to see her own sinister grin.
"You already have," the Siren shot, stopping the mortal in her tracks.
"What are you talking about?" Sunset breathed, spinning about to face her once more.
"You've already killed us three, Sunset. You killed us the moment you shattered our pendants," Adagio continued, her voice sounding more sure of itself by the second. "That was our way of life. With our pendants gone, we can't feed or sustain ourselves, and we will die. We can't protect ourselves, and we will die."
Adagio watched on as Sunset seemed to gawk at her. At once, her world began to brighten, the birds flitting around the small garden seemed to be calling out a victory song. Never could the Siren have predicted that the next thing out of the mortal's mouth would be a ridiculing chuckle. The sound of it snapped her out of her self indulgent reverie.
"I see what you're trying to do, Adagio, and it isn't going to work," Sunset sneered, shaking her head. "Whatever has happened, you've brought it upon yourself. So don't you dare try to pin this on me. If you hadn't attempted to take over this world, starting with CHS, then none of this would have happened to you. But you took that gamble, Adagio, and you lost. Now it's time for you to deal with the consequences."
Well, that was unexpected too.
Adagio stammered as she watched Sunset walk away. This time, the stunned expression on her face was genuine.
"W-wait a minute," the Siren stuttered. "Stop!"
"No, you stop, Adagio!" Sunset barked, spinning around and jabbing a finger in her direction. "How dare you drag me here, claim that you're not up to something, try to manipulate me, and then expect for me to feel sorry for you? Even now, there's nothing but selfishness in your heart. You don't feel remorse for anything you've done, do you?"
The Siren found herself at a loss for words.
Wait. No. This is all wrong.
"Tell me the truth," Sunset pressed. "Up until this moment, you weren't really feeling afraid or unsure about what was going to happen here today, were you?"
Her teal eyes thinned into small, spiteful slits.
"Well, how about now, Adagio? Are any of those feelings genuine now?"
"Sunset, what are you t—?" Adagio blubbered. The unsure sound of her own voice only worked to provoke her. "Aren't you supposed to be righteous, and... What happened to—"
"Wanting to help people? Wanting to keep an eye on you?" Sunset scoffed. "Oh, Adagio, I see you for what you are so clearly now. The exterior is the tricky part to try to get past, I will admit, but still, the truth is clear. I know that behind that flesh and those bones, the illusion of warmth and a heartbeat, your pretty face, and that thing that passes for a personality, there is nothing. Nothing at all except for selfishness. You're not a person, Adagio; you're a monster, and now I can see that there's nothing in you that might possibly be worthy of my time."
A beat of silence passed between the two. Adagio's chest heaved with an indescribable feeling. She felt dizzy. Her body trembled. Her lips curled inward, tightly sealing themselves shut. All of her energy was now concentrated on keeping herself upright.
"Stay away from CHS. This is your last warning," Sunset murmured almost pityingly before heading further down the path.
The Siren's eyelids fluttered, blinking too rapidly to focus on anything in their line of sight.
What had just happened here? A moment ago, she was merely ticking off box one on the list of things needed in order to save her life and the lives of her sisters. Now, in an instant, it would seem as if...
Wait a minute. Had she just been condemned?
It took only a second for realization to hit Adagio like a chucked brick. She had become too confident in her assumptions about Sunset. Alas, the true nature of her reality—helplessness—had now caught up to her in a startling way.
As the Siren stood there, racking her brain for something, anything that might allow her to deny this notion of futility, her knees seemed to give way until she found herself again sitting upon the edge of the fountain.
What now? What was one supposed to do when their fate rested in the hands of a being who already held far too much contempt for them? Adagio had made a promise to her sisters. She had allowed herself to sound so certain, so sure. Why? Had it always been this way? Had she always been putting on this air of confidence in front of her cohorts in situations where she shouldn't have felt certain of herself at all?
How could she face them now? How could she tell Sonata and Aria that she had tried, but that their only real option had fallen through?
That fearful look in Aria's eye the evening Starshot had come after her replayed itself over and over in Adagio's mind. Everything about that look, the look of someone close to her being fearful for their life, wrecked her. What would Aria look like if she told her she was out of options? The eldest Siren dreaded what kind of solutions her sister might come up with on her own.
"No, no," she stammered to herself, clutching her head in her hands. It had to be Sunset. Sunset or nothing.
By now, the mortal girl had traversed too far a distance to hear her. Looking around to find no one there, Adagio quickly snatched up her belongings, and raced out into the promenade. The strolling crowd had thickened from the sparse scattering of people who they had seen on their way in, but eventually she managed to spot that flash of fiery orange and yellow hair making its way down its center. Rushing forward before Sunset could turn the corner toward the parking lot, Adagio zipped in front of her to block her way.
"Sunset... I..." Her mouth fumbled for words.
Sunset, peering at her impatiently, moved to walk around her. The Siren dodged to the right to block her again.
"What, Adagio?" Sunset raged, making a few heads turn in their direction. "I've said everything that I've needed to say to you. Go find what you're looking for somewhere else!"
Being scolded in such a manner bruised an ancient and proud part of Adagio, a part of her that she thought invincible. In this vulnerable state, however, that confidence that she had once collected about her straight posture and uplifted chin slowly began to collapse.
Her lips drew tight. She forced her head up high as if trying to give off the air of pride she could no longer command; in the end, this only worked to make her appear more desperate than confident. Her eyes, usually filled with reserved cunning, were now wide and dull. They stared at Sunset with failing courage as the Siren's chest began to heave. It looked as if she might retch.
Sunset watched on, growing quite uncomfortable as Adagio's facade of invincibility began to crumble before her very eyes.
"One week," the Siren breathed, fists clenched, knuckles gone white, eyes directed toward the pavement. "That's all I ask of you, Shimmer. One week for me to prepare for, present to, and convince you of why we are worth your help."
The deflated immortal felt herself trembling. Sunset seemed at a loss for words. For a moment, it looked as if she might cede to Adagio's persistence, but gradually the girl's expression hardened. Her head began to shake.
"Please!" the enchantress blurted as if the words had been forced from her throat. Her body was quaking now. Her ruby gaze slid upward to meet Sunset's.
The word came far easier the second time. An ache began to encompass the Siren's skull. Her head bobbed about dizzily as she felt beads of sweat beginning to form on her forehead, even in the cool, early autumn air.
Sunset searched every inch of the Siren's face for any feature that might betray her true, nefarious intentions. It would seem that she found none, and rightfully so. In this moment, Adagio radiated only sincere and desperate determination.
"One week, Adagio."
Oh, merciful seas. Did she just say...
"One. Week," the mortal girl repeated very slowly so that the Siren might not misunderstand her. "I'll see you then, same time, same place."
Adagio didn't nod, she didn't speak, she didn't move. Determined to keep whatever image of dignity and power she had remaining, she stood tall as Sunset moved past her and on toward the lot.
No answer. Adagio wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of a book-laden hand.
Take a deep breath, and...
Some ferocious banging, and this time the door opened.
"Adagio! You're late today. I didn't think you were gonna make it."
Adagio blinked at the ebony-haired, green-eyed symbol of mortal perfection standing before her, taunting her with his happy disposition. She felt her left eye twitch of its own accord. It took all of her strength not to lunge forward to slap all of that accursed positivity right out of the man's stupid, perfect, little head.
"If I wasn't going to show up, Striker, I would have called," the Siren muttered, dropping her jacket into his hands as she sauntered past him. "I take offense to your suggesting that I wouldn't let my students know when I'm not gonna show."
Striker chuckled, and ruffled his hair.
"Sorry for being assumptive, but it isn't like it's unfounded. You have seemed really preoccupied lately."
She felt her eyes nearly roll right out of their sockets. Today was most certainly not the most ideal time to have Striker on her schedule. Still plagued by the feeling of powerlessness that followed her back from the mall, the Siren now found herself with a sudden hankering for mortal suffering and subordination. Creatures like Sunset and Striker, they were supposed to be her meals, not her masters. The fact that she was now forced to subject herself to their whims seemed unfair, unjust, and completely unnatural. Every perfectly posed photograph upon his mantelpiece, every quaintly patterned piece of precisely placed furniture, upon sight, would usually jab her like a thorn in the side, but today of all days, it felt more like a dagger.
Why did Striker care so much about how she was doing? Why was he always asking and prodding with that same, sweet, insufferable smile? Was it because he didn't have enough problems of his own to worry about?
She felt his eyes follow her to the coffee table where she plopped down all the books that she didn't plan on using for her lessons. Upon turning to catch him staring, her impatience only increased.
"What?" she inquired with a shrug. "Why are you looking at me that way?"
Striker ran a hand across the back of his neck.
"What... what's been going on with you, Adagio? You look especially worn thin today. I mean, you've been looking like that for a while, like I said, but today, especially..."
Adagio huffed, throwing her head back so that she might silently supplicate the ceiling fan for more patience. Turning around, she continued sifting through her lesson plans. Nope. Absolutely no time whatsoever for Striker and his unfathomable capacity for empathy today. His life was good—a problem she was still hoping to rectify—and his worries, if he had any, were most certainly infinitesimal in comparison to hers.
"Do you... Maybe you should sit down for a second, huh?" the man continued.
Be quiet, god dammit, you insufferable, bleeding hearted—
"You want a glass of water or—"
"Striker!" Adagio bellowed, spinning about to face him. One fist was clenched within the other, pairing quite well with her eerily disingenuous smile. "I'm fine! So, just stop it, alright?"
He stared at her quizzically.
"Stop what? All I'm saying is that if you need to take time to rest or think, that you're free to take it."
Adagio's palm slapped against her forehead. What was wrong with people like this anyway? Didn't perfectly kind beings like Striker understand that the rest of the world's miserable hoard only desired for people like him to be as unhappy as they were?
Raising her booklet-filled hands in defeat, Adagio, bowed her head, and walked past the distressed man toward the studio.
"Alright, Striker," she sniffed, shaking her head. "You go ahead and keep worrying about every little thing, and join me when you're done. I just hope you worry this much about your dynamics, because I'm expecting these concertos to be damn near perfect."
With that, she entered the studio, and paused for a moment behind the threshold.
"And I swear if you bring a glass of water in here, I'm gonna throw it on your keyboard."
The door slammed shut so hard, it shook an adjacent picture frame from its place upon the wall.
Obviously, I'll have to work on making us seem more personable in the little morsel's eyes. Perhaps if she could find a point of relation, she would begin to put herself in our position.
"Piano, Striker. It's piano here."
But it's not as if I'm at liberty to go about saying whatever I want about our pasts out loud. That time scouring bastard would definitely find a way to use it against us.
"Pianissimo here, Striker. For the last time, you can't just cut corners by playing them the same way."
By the seas, I hope Aria and Sonata are keeping their big mouths shut.
"Okay, you can turn the page now, Adagio."
But then again, they're both just as experienced with hiding things. Why am I so worried about that? Out of all the things that I could—
"What?" the Siren barked, snapping out of her own thoughts to pass the man beside her an agitated glare. As usual, he met it with passive defiance. Cocking an eyebrow at her, he leaned forward onto the keyboard and sighed.
"You were supposed to turn the page, but I suppose it doesn't matter now."
The Siren grimaced in confusion.
"What are you talking about? Just turn it yourself," she muttered. Motioning with her hand, she gave Striker the usual signal to slide over so that she might play.
Starting from the beginning, her seasoned fingers zipped through the concerto, lingering on an expanse of keys before she expertly reached up at blinding speed while one hand was still playing, and, with the other, flipped the page.
"It's not rocket science, for Pete's sake!"
Even after reprimanding the mortal, her fingers continued to play on. The solemn frown upon her face gave credence to the fact that her mind had wandered a million miles away.
Striker presented to her a pitying look, and when she did not stop her playing, even past the end of the notations, he sighed and shook his head again.
"Adagio, you don't have to put yourself through this lesson if—"
"Striker, one more nicety, and I swear to God..." the Siren grumbled below her breath, perhaps by instinct alone. Her eyes, which stared ahead into nothingness, had gone all glassy.
There was a portion of the piece currently rushing from her fingers that waxed repetitive. Three times the player was expected to roll through an arpeggio upward in a crescendo toward a blaring D sharp. Three times, as the song echoed throughout the studio, a C sharp was struck instead.
"D sharp," Adagio corrected when the first one was struck. She continued to stare ahead at the wall.
I suppose if there was a way to speak to Sunset without making a sound. Oh, dear Discord, Adagio. Now you've really lost it.
Again the discordant note was struck.
"D sharp, I said, Striker!" she groaned, the sound of it making an unpleasant shiver roll up her spine.
"Adagio..." she heard the man grumble. He was promptly ignored.
Hm. Or maybe not. Perhaps there is a way that I could speak to her without—
On the last tap upon the incorrect key, Adagio found that her well of tolerance for the mortal's downright disrespectful playing had finally run dry.
"Striker!" she cried, pounding a fist upon the keys. "Would you do me the kindness of explaining what exactly it is that you're paying me for?"
"Adagio!" Striker yelled.
"What?" the Siren shot back.
"I'm not playing anything!"
The air went still. Adagio suddenly found herself snapped back into reality. Dropping her gaze down to her own fingers, clenched against the keys, her brow furrowed as she tried to compute the notion that she not only might have forgotten that she was even playing, but that she might have also played a mistake three times in a row.
For shame. What blasphemy.
"Wha?" she breathed, her eyes sliding upward to meet Striker's. He was giving her a patronizing smirk, one that almost made her feel sick to her stomach. At once, she retracted her closed fists to her side, and stood up straight. This was far too much degradation for a single Siren to handle in only one day.
"Excuse me," she croaked before performing a rather mechanical half pirouette, and briskly marching off toward the bathroom.
Bent over the sink, Adagio very nearly found a sense of calm whilst staring into the infinite void of the drain hole. At some point, after repeatedly splashing her entire head with cold water, her hand had managed to shut the faucet off, allowing her the silence and privacy necessary to gather herself back into some sort of mental coherency.
Standing up straight, she happened to spy her frazzled visage in the mirror and instantly frowned when she saw that dark circles were beginning to form around her eyes. She thought she had avoided this, unlike her sisters, seeing as how it was assumed to be a symptom of energy withdrawal. Now, glaring at her tired face in the glass, Adagio could feel quite clearly that what was tearing her apart was good, old fashioned worry and fatigue.
Wincing to herself, the Siren turned around, and headed toward the door, feeling quite averse to finishing her lessons, especially in such a depressingly happy setting that could never be her own to claim. Still, money was money, and she and her sisters very much needed it.
Upon her exit, she was met with the off putting sight of Striker staring at her from where he stood in the living room. In his hand, much to the Siren's dismay, was a tall glass of crystalline water.
"I know what you're gonna say," the annoyingly overzealous mortal chuckled, "but I still think you should sit for a second and drink some of this. Just a little bit."
There went her left eyelid, twitching uncontrollably, again. The sight of the container in Striker's hand seemed to set her off, and suddenly, it became the only thing she could see.
This mortal, and his stupid, little glass of water. The now sufficiently pissed Siren imagined that his troubles and sense of self honesty ran equally as deep. Her foot took an involuntary step toward him, then another, and another.
"I promise it will make you feel better," the man murmured nervously as she stood before him, staring down at that infernal glass. As he said these words, her burning red gaze shifted up to meet his.
At long last, she had found it, that oh, so elusive 'last nerve' that everyone was always harping on about. Why didn't mortals simply obey her commands and shut up anymore? Clearly, this was intentional disrespect, and Striker needed to be taught a lesson. A dose of reality should do the trick, administered by way of the ol' tried and true Siren method: fucking with his head.
"Let me get this straight," the Siren cackled softly whilst crossing her arms. "You think that this glass of water is somehow going to make me feel better?"
They stared at each other for only a moment before she swung her arm forward, slapping the glass out of his hand. It smashed against the far wall above the fireplace, sending a few of the household's perfectly perfect pictures crashing to the floor.
Striker gawked in disbelief.
"Alright," he coughed, forcing a patient nod of his head. It became clear that he was now trying, unsuccessfully, to keep an even temper.
Scratching his dark hair, he turned about to go fetch a broom and dustpan just as Adagio reached out and clenched onto his sleeve. Turning him back 'round to face her, she proceeded to poke a finger into his chest.
"You know what just burns me up about people like you, Striker? Hm?" she murmured, her eyes digging into his. "The fact that you have a skewed vision of what real problems are."
Save for the small forehead crease that had managed to break through his stoic expression, there was no trace of anger or annoyance on Striker's face, but still Adagio smiled as she watched that lovely green beginning to pour out of him in waves.
"When you woke up this morning, what was that one terrible thing that you had to fight out of your head? You know, that one nagging part of your life that you try to bury, but can't. It just ends up haunting you for years and years. What is it for you, Striker? Tax refunds? Remembering what flavor cake to buy for your kid's birthday, perhaps? Do you even know what it means to be tormented?"
She prodded at the man harder, forcing him to retreat. Behind him sat a large recliner. Its floral pattern, quite similar to the suicide-inducing display that Adagio remembered from Ms. Crescendo's sitting room, ignited her rage.
"Why is everything in here so goddamned happy?" Adagio growled. "Nobody is this content!"
These stupid mortals and their unending quests to convince themselves that everything in their little world would be alright would surely be what drove her mad. The way they always feigned some false semblance of control over their lives when they had none at all would always confound her.
"Okay, Adagio? Now you're starting to piss me off." Striker growled, scratching at his rolled sleeves. He took her shoulders in his hands, and began to push her away. "If you didn't want the water, you could have just said no, but you're not going to march around this place breaking anymore of my shit, alright?"
"Aw, perfect, little Striker is perfectly pissed," Adagio laughed, reveling in the scent of the energy now surrounding them both."I guess he does know what torment is, after all!"
She made the kind of patronizing face that one would give to a child who had just dropped their ice cream cone.
"You don't know what problems are," the Siren ridiculed him, her eyes going wide and bright. Pressing both of her palms against his chest, she shoved him back hard. He flailed for about a second before landing in the chair that sat behind him. Without wasting a moment, she slipped off her shoes, and joined him, straddling the dumbstruck man with her legs. Planting her hands to the seat back on either side of his shoulders, she leaned forward and pressed her forehead against his.
"But I'm gonna give you some, right now," she hissed.
Striker ogled her, clearly at a loss for words, but looking quite insistent upon finding them.
"A... Adagio," he croaked, his green eyes going wider the longer they peered into hers.
The Siren hushed him with a finger to the lips, and a coy smile.
"I've got a question for you, Striker," she began matter-of-factly, rubbing the pads of her fingers together. "Have you ever felt torn between wanting something and also wanting its complete antithesis?"
All the shaken mortal beneath her could manage was a silent "No," and a slow shake of the head.
"Really?" she replied, sounding quite fed up with what she deemed to be his human inclination to be passive in the face of another's distress. At once, she reached down, hiked up the hems of her skirt, took both his hands in hers, and planted them flat against the buttery flesh of her legs. "How about now?"
That was it; there, now in his eyes was the look Adagio had been longing for, that long lost look of mortal fear, regret, and betrayal of the naked truth: that she was in total control. The Siren couldn't remember the last time she had smiled as genuinely as she was doing right at that very moment. It only made her chuckle more when she watched the flustered mortal's eyelids sink shut, and heard him take a deep, rattling breath.
"Adagio, get out," he croaked, sounding in every way as if he didn't mean it. "And don't think about ever—"
"Okay, Striker, here's the thing," the enchantress huffed boredly, cupping a hand over his mouth. "You seem to be missing one of the key themes of this lesson: honesty. If there was ever a time to be sincere and upfront with yourself, I would say that now would be it."
She stared him down, trying her best not to laugh. After receiving no reply, she shook her head.
"No? Well, I suppose I should just tell you what's going to happen, then. First of all, Striker, I'm not going anywhere, and I'll tell you why: You find me attractive. I know this, because everyone finds me attractive. It's alright; nothing to be ashamed about. But I will warn you that if I were to leave right now, this thought, this very moment would haunt you. Sure, it'll happen while you're alone and in that quiet space in your head, but even more so when you look at Cathy's face, and when you're sitting at dinner with your family, and when you go to sleep at night. In fact, it's going to haunt you so badly that upon my return next week—which you will await with baited breath—you'll probably end up snatching my clothes off right there at the door."
She nudged her chin in the front door's direction. Her shoulders bobbed jovially.
"And we wouldn't want that, would we? You've got to allow time for situations like these to de-escalate. Hence, my staying."
The Siren leaned against one elbow, and stared thoughtfully toward the ceiling, almost as if she was in the middle of some mundane classroom lecture. In the meantime, she continued to press her legs against him, forcing his hands further up her skirt, and preventing him from getting up unless he had a plan to drag her along to wherever he might escape.
"Now, this presents you with a rather precarious choice to make, Striker, and believe me it's gonna be a difficult one," she hummed. "Would you rather, oh I don't know, get off of my case and allow me the freedom to stew in my bad mood whilst we power through the next hour of your inevitable defilement of classical music, or would you like to stop being so damned disingenuous in my presence and spend that hour doing something that would actually make me feel better? Hm?"
Her eyes went dark, as she pushed herself harder against him.
"The choice is yours, Mr. Perfect."
Striker gulped, and took a deep breath, too afraid to move, lest some part of either of them traveled somewhere it wasn't supposed to. He cautiously slid his eyes toward the open doorway of his studio.
"The lessons. Just... let's do the piano lessons," he croaked. His head began to nod, looking more like a nervous tremor than anything else.
Adagio smiled pityingly at him, allowing her cheek to rest in the palm of her hand.
"Do you know what's so refreshing about that?" she purred. "The fact that now we both know that you're being phony."
Her eyes trailed downward to somewhere below his waistline. She chuckled and cocked a slim eyebrow. "Very blatantly, I might add."
Quickly and purposefully, she stood up, and straightened her skirt back into place. The sweat that had accumulated on Striker's palms still clung to her skin.
"No, you're not gonna tell me to leave, Striker; not anymore," she mused, watching his eyes involuntarily follow the fading flesh below her skirt. She directed a finger upward, and twirled it around, motioning toward the warmly painted and furnished room that surrounded them. "This happy little charade that you've got going on here is over. From now on, you're gonna torture yourself with being alone in my presence every week, wondering if it will finally be the week that you gather the gumption to show me what it looks like when you're actually being honest. And it will hurt you even more because you'll know that I'm willing to oblige you if... when you do."
She leaned against the armrest of the recliner. The expression on her face was calm, unfazed, the visage of a true villain. "Now you know what torment is, Striker, and now you've got one big, fat problem. Congratulations!"
Briefly leaning forward to plant a quick kiss upon his lips, Adagio then turned about, and headed toward the kitchen, looking much more refreshed and quite pleased with herself. When she returned to him, she was holding a glass of water. Smirking at the sight of Striker still sitting in his seat, looking stunned, breathless, and quite "feverish", she then plopped the glass down upon a side table sitting next to him. The sound snapped him out of his shocked daze, and his head turned about to face her.
"You look like you need a minute," she whispered shooting him a devious wink. "Here. Why don't you have some water before we begin again? It'll make you feel better."
Her vindictive gaze cut into him like a knife. Standing up straight, she turned, and began sauntering off toward the studio.
"I'll be waiting," she grumbled under her breath, snatching up her notation booklets as she walked. "And this time, those concertos better be damned perfect!"
The studio door slammed shut behind her, and this time, the walls shook. Adagio delighted in the wicked notion that she could still be the one to destroy its very foundations. It wasn't quite as empowering and fulfilling as wielding her Siren magic, but it would do.
By Chaos, I needed that.
Destroying the very fabric of a mortal's peace of mind—It's what she did.