The Dazzlings were led to the CHS, faintly pleased that Sunset had chosen not to bring them there during school hours. Considering that three of them had gotten enough scornful looks in their lifetimes juxtaposed with the welcomed vacancy of the area, they paid Sunset the courtesy of not asking how or why she had a key. Through the door and down the halls, the trio found themselves in the music room, but with distinct modifications made since the last time they were here. Large machines of uncertain purpose were positioned at different corners, large, ridiculous, mad-science-lab cables running from the machines to... somewhere that one could presumably fit such large plugs. Did the school even have anywhere to-
It was best not to think about it.
"Okay," said Sunset as she replaced her new jacket with a labcoat, "the current theory is that music is what triggers the transformations because of the soulful expression it provides, and as magic is typically channeled from within, the-"
Adagio snapped the fingers of her right hand.
Aria finished Sunset's sentence. "The link between the feelings of freedom and levity borne of that expression touch the frame of the spirit to draw energy in a way not typically conductive to formation of proper spells."
Sunset stared back at the Dazzlings in a short, silent stupor. "Eh... R-right... And, my guess is that while you typically need something like an anatomical matrix built in to cast spells in Equestria, thi-"
Adagio snapped the fingers of her left hand, Sonata speaking up this time.
"In this world, the rules and systems by which that energy is concentrated, focused, and projected are different, on account of the energies never having been meant to enter this plane of existence to begin with, so the methods of use are at best ambiguous, even arbitrary, and perhaps dangerous." Adagio cleared her throat, making Sonata tense up. "Eh, m-more dangerous than is standard for magic!" An approving nod made her smile with a hint of relief.
Sunset's jaw dropped. "H-how? Why, wh-what-"
Rolling her eyes and crossing her arms, Aria let out a mildly irritable sigh. "Coltlantis was pretty advanced y'know, and we weren't even what you'd call 'A students.'"
Adagio giggled, hugging Aria and Sonata under an arm each. "'B-Plus,' myself, but my girls have always made me proud in the end." They quickly squirmed out of her hug, to her slight amusement.
Sunset raised a slightly agitated eyebrow. "Hold the phone, if you guys are this smart, why do you need my help restoring your voices?" She wanted to ask why they'd have used their brains for evil as well, but couldn't really throw stones in that department.
Aria looked annoyed herself. "Do you know everything about everything, miss Smartest Girl In School?"
Blink. "Oh, well, no, but-"
Sonata frowned. "We might remember the basics from Interdimensional Survival Class (helped a lot when we were banished, actually), but that doesn't mean we know all about magic here."
"So anyway," Adagio picked up, "I understand you'll be wanting us to sing now?"
Having anticipated this, Sunset made as reassuring a smile as she could manage. "Nobody else is around, there are no forms of recording device in the room, and you have my solemn oath that I will not make fun of you no matter what it sounds like at first."
Grateful though she was for all of that, Adagio shook her head. "No, I mean, your plan is to draw magic from within us, right? Everything we had was in the gems, they-" she stopped, examining a hand while experimentally flexing her fingers. "...Though, it is odd that we didn't turn to dust on stage that night..."
Sunset smiled. "And that's why I think there's still hope! Twilight wrote me about what happened when ponies, even alicorn princesses and the Spirit of Chaos, were drained of their magic. Long story, but the result was that everypony drained was weak and exhausted until they got their magic back. That you guys aren't just still alive, but apparently healthy even now, tells me you can't have lost everything with the gems. Have you always had them?"
Aria scratched her head. "Wait a tic, this sounds a little like... Uhh... Drawin' a blank, but-"
"Life-force," muttered Adagio, visibly searching her memory, "trigger has to be... Or, no, it was that no magical device works without a living entity, an intelligence of some kind, to trigger it? I think that was the gist of that lecture..." She looked directly at Sunset. "No, we weren't born with them, but they were grafted into our flesh. Long story, but the result was that all of our power was focused and expelled through them, so we thought we'd die if they were ever damaged. You mean to suggest that, since they were destroyed and we're still here...?"
Wincing a little at the image of a stone being fused with living tissue, Sunset tried to focus on the matter at hand. "Ehm, y-yea, you might have been living life-support systems to the gems, not the other way around. If that's the case, you should still have whatever you had before them," she smiled, "and if that's the case, we might still be able to reach it!"
Not completely sold, but lacking better theories, the trio nodded as one and set to work. Sunset had them start with some of the songs the others had ponied up with, getting only screechy, unpleasant results. The Dazzlings were not happy to degrade themselves in front of anyone, let alone Sunset Shimmer, but they didn't give up, trying each and every song Sunset had any measure of success with.
"Okay," Sunset said when all the Rainbooms' songs had failed to draw magical reaction, "I have an idea. Maybe if I start a song and pony up, you guys can start singing with me and-"
Aria smiled a little. "and harmonizing our voices might make your magic jumpstart ours?" Sunset nodded. Adagio looked proud again.
Sunset tried to ignore the self-consciousness that came with being a lone singer in front of other people as she began the next song. Closing her eyes as the trio stared at her, she focused on her real purpose here; helping the Dazzlings understand friendship the way she did, making them see the benefits of helping people out of the goodness of their hearts. If she could figure out how the magic of this world really worked while she was at it, so much the better, but what she really wanted was to offer them what Twilight offered her. After the first chorus, she started to glow, feeling the energy well up and envelop her as her hair grew longer and her old ears appeared atop her head. Not slowing in the song, she opened her eyes and nodded to the sirens, who sang along.
To no desirable effect.
All four of them kept at it until the song was over, but Sunset could see in their faces that the Dazzlings were losing hope, same as Sunset herself as the magic faded. The looks she got said all that needed to be said about how the situation looked; that not only were they never getting their voices back, but that Sunset was rubbing her own magic in their faces. The thought of it made Sunset's chest ache. "There has to be something we can do, w-was there something you did back in Equestria? Back in Coltlantis? Something that, I mean, for ponies, the acquisition of a cutie mark is a magical manifestation, d-do your people have anything like that? A spell, a ritual, an occurrence that leads to being able to sing the way you did before?"
"In the same sense that a unicorn being able to cast spells at all is a 'spell, ritual, or occurrence,'" answered Adagio in dull, quiet tones.
Sunset scratched her head, aware that the physical gesture did nothing to help wrack one's brain, but willing to try anyway. "Maybe, maybe it's that-no, come to think of it, the songs the others ponied up with were ones they or a close friend wrote, maybe that has something to do with it? What if you tried some old Coltlantian songs? Something the three of you sang back home?"
At first, Adagio had suspected that Sunset, and by extension the Rainbooms, just wanted her and her followers as prizes, living trophies to celebrate their victory, not unlike Sunset herself may have been, but she was less and less certain of this as they went.
Nobody needs cheerleaders this badly, and if they just wanted to show off, keeping us crippled would only display their power all the more prominently. That look in her eyes, that's not a thief counting their coins, that's desperation. She really wants this.
She glanced to Aria and Sonata, her voice gentle. "Do you two remember Soft Stones?"
"'Course," Aria replied with a little grin, "couldn't go a week without hearing it in the Shell district."
Sonata giggled. "It was really a classic!"
Thinking back to easier days, the trio closed their eyes. They began the song as horribly as all the rest, but focused on their memories, of the gentle hospitality depicted in the song and the sense of peaceful safety it so often encouraged. They couldn't have been butchering it worse, but they focused on what they remembered it sounding like, how they used to be able to sing it. By the second chorus, they didn't even hear themselves anymore, reliving the memories of when they'd sung Soft Stones, Coral Catch, Surface Shine, and others in almost perfect clarity.
The three of them felt warm, light, and happy, things they hadn't felt in conjunction for decades, at least, since long before they were banished. The music flowed through them like a current, sweeping things up and blowing them around, knocking things loose and scattering them to drift down again. Eventually, the song came to an end, all three of them smiling at memories they hadn't touched in many years. When they opened their eyes, they saw Sunset smiling widely at them, hands clasped and tears welling in her eyes.
Aria was the first to ask. "What?"
"Did you hear yourselves?"
"In a manner of speaking," answered Adagio, "why, did we sound...?"
Beaming, Sunset nodded a little. "You guys didn't quite pony up, but there was definitely magic! Sing, sing anything!"
They started the intro of Soft Stones again, immediately startled to find that they no longer gave trapped cats a run for their money. They stopped, shakily and hesitantly began to smile, and tried one of the Rainbooms' songs, finding they could hit the notes just about as well as they could have before. They tried the first few lines of another, and another, and another in unison, earning consistent results. How they determined which songs to try without saying a word to each other, Sunset couldn't guess, but she was exceedingly happy anyway.
"It worked! I kne-" The Dazzlings rushed her, eliciting a terrified shriek before she was tackled to the floor and crushed in three of the most bruising hugs she'd ever received.
After about four straight minutes of pained wheezes amid a loud, tearful stream of thank-you's, the sirens regained control of themselves and let her go. Which is to say, they stood up and stared at her prone, battered body, feeling that they may have been overenthusiastic in showing gratitude.
Lying on the floor in a disheveled heap, Sunset twitched a few times, but she was still smiling. Ohh, friendship moments. She caught sight of Adagio awkwardly rubbing the back of her neck, smiling down at her.
"Haha, sorry. Do you, er, should we do something, or-?"
Sunset kept her own grin. "Infirmary, please. You remember where it is?"
"It came up in the tour, yes." With another snap of her fingers, Aria and Sonata took their cues, moving to lift their fallen benefactor by the legs and under the arms. They transported her in tandem through the door and down the hall as Adagio walked alongside them.
"So," Sunset said aloud during her surprisingly smooth transportation, "about our deal...?" The sirens all stopped where they stood. For a worrying second, Sunset feared that they were about to drop her and run, but instead, they all shared a slightly regretful look and spoke in unison.