Four pristinely manicured nails tapped in tandem upon the kitchen counter, and were halted abruptly by the 'ding' of a timer. Two crisped slices of bread popped from the toaster, and were swiftly snatched up into a pair of yellow hands that then placed them neatly upon a clean, white dish. A freshly rinsed butter knife dug into a glass jar brimming with raspberry jam, and plopped a glob down upon one slice and then the other, smearing the spread evenly upon each.
Closing the lid of the jar, Adagio stole a bite from one of the slices before carrying the jam back to the fridge. On her way there, she grabbed an empty, posie-printed mug from a nearby cupboard. After putting the blade away and pouring herself a much needed cup of caffeine, she then returned to the kitchen counter upon whose far side sat an array of electronics, her laptop included.
Carrying her meager breakfast over toward the pile of machinery, she placed the wares down, sat herself upon a stool, and pushed away a box with a picture of a digital recorder on its side. A phone would have been a much more useful contraption, but in her current pinch, this would work just fine.
She cracked open the laptop with one hand, and used the other to take a sip from her mug. Interestingly enough, the screen was blank, its brightness setting purposely turned all the way off. In addition to this, a thick, black cut of cloth had been strewn across the keyboard.
Rolling up the purple sleeves of her sweater, Adagio leaned forward, flung the cloth over the laptop screen, and turned up the brightness just enough to make out the vague shapes upon the display. A chat window was open, and her nameless, faceless contact had seemingly logged on just a few moments prior.
Making sure that the cursor was inside of the chat window, she turned the brightness off once again draped the black cloth over the keyboard, and shoved her hands beneath it. With no way to read what she was writing, Adagio began to type as she thought out the transcription in her head.
So, we have an agreement, then? Fifty bucks for you to orate everything that I put in the email onto a digital audio recording. Then you'll send that recording back to me. Here is my number. Call me and repeat what I have told you in a very low voice, if you wouldn't mind it.
She typed in her phone number, and then waited a few moments until she heard the 'ping' sound that indicated a reply notification. A few moments later, the kitchen's landline rang. Snatching the receiver off of the hook, Adagio braced it to her ear, eyes all aglow.
"Yes," she replied muffling as much sound escaping from the receiver as possible with her hair and the sleeves of her sweater. "That's correct. Perfect."
And with that, she hung up the phone. Now came the slightly tricky part.
She restarted the laptop, and once it was rebooted, turned up the brightness level once again. Expectedly, the messenger application had closed down during restart. Proceeding to dig through her chat folders, Adagio found the applicable file with the day's date and time, and promptly deleted it. She then popped open a fresh email draft, dug around in her sweater pocket for a flash drive she had been carrying everywhere on her person for days, plugged it into the laptop, and attached a stored document file into the email draft. Positive that she had conveyed everything required to her contact beforehand, she moved the cursor to the receiver's address box, and entered a nickname she had created for the individual a few days prior, amongst twelve other fakes. She then moved the cursor to send, and clicked the button. As soon as it had cleared her outbox, she closed out of the window, deleted all drafts of the message, emptied all waste bins, and deleted the stored contact email address.
Now the only way for Starshot to have read the message or find her contact would be for him to have appeared about five minutes prior to pull the cloth off of her hands, and read it over her shoulder in person whilst it was typed and sent. All immediately available traces of the message were gone, and she was banking on the notion that the time mage wasn't exactly an expert in computer cryptology.
Thinking over the current leg of her plan as she now munched freely upon her toast, Adagio took a deep breath, and nodded to herself with satisfaction. It had taken three days since her first meeting with Sunset for her to be absolutely sure that she had prepared everything that needed saying and had covered the bases necessary. For now, all that was left to do was to wait.
Staring off into space, the eldest Siren's mind was momentarily made free to wander. Naturally, her thoughts drifted to her sisters namely, the growing distress acknowledging their predicament was causing Sonata, and the undoubtedly brash conclusions such acknowledgments were possibly leading Aria toward.
Absent-mindedly reaching into the sizeable pocket sewn into her sweater once again, Adagio fumbled about until her fingers hooked around a small keychain. Her gaze drifted up ominously toward a high kitchen cabinet with, strangely, a brand new keylock drilled firmly into its facade.
Frowning to herself, the eldest Siren never even noticed Aria stumbling like a zombie down the stairs until the girl was standing right beside her, pantless and draped in an oversized tshirt, as usual. By the looks of it, she was suffering from yet another hangover. Adagio grimaced at the sight, her gaze shifting between the oven clock and her sister's dazed face.
"It's almost noon," she muttered, insistent on not allowing Aria to get away with this type of behaviour, especially if she was no longer planning on going to work. To her utmost dismay, Aria forced a gasp, and put on a blatantly fake expression of shock.
"Gosh, and it only took you how many hours to make your breakfast?" the wobbly, headache-plagued Siren jabbed. "Toast and jam. Wow. Setting the bar high for yourself today, huh, Adagio?"
The eldest Siren sighed loudly, hoping the sound would drown out the din of her sister's grating laughter. It didn't.
"Coffee?" Aria inquired, swiftly wiping the incident from her mind.
Adagio lazily pointed a single finger toward the counter.
"Just made some."
"Oh, sweet monster of mercy," the younger girl groaned, padding off across the floor to go fetch a fresh mug. Reaching about in the cupboard, she then pulled down a chipped, black-colored thing with the word 'NO' printed boldly in white caps upon its side.
After pouring herself a cup, she quickly proceeded to down half of it, never noticing the scrutinizing gaze her elder sister was giving her. Refilling her drained mug, she soon felt settled enough to finally face her annoying observer. Eyes no longer so exhausted and pained-looking, they flickered in that bright way that only Aria's could. Motioning with her mug-clenching hand, she shot Adagio a grin.
"Where's your badass piano teacher getup?" she asked, now eyeing the leggings beneath the other girl's sweater.
"Where's your shame?" Adagio quipped, directing a half-eaten slice of toast toward Aria's bare, skinny legs. After watching her sister snicker to herself, the elder girl dusted her hands off, and leaned forward upon her elbows. "I canceled my classes today. Had some important things to take care of."
"Ahh. Playing hookie," Aria hummed looking intrigued. "We'll make a proper delinquent out of you yet, Adagio Dazzle."
Glancing out toward the living room, for the first time that morning, Aria realized that Sonata was nowhere to be found.
"Where's the blue one?" she asked, taking another sip from her mug.
"She wasn't feeling well. All of that crud came up out of her system, but idunno." Adagio swept a lock of hair over her shoulder, and rested her chin upon her hand. "Something else must have happened that she isn't telling me about. She wasn't feeling up to anything today."
"So, we've all got the day off?" Aria snorted, grinning brightly. Staring off into nowhere, that grin suddenly faltered. "Huh... Maybe we should do something, y'know? Or idunno. Take advantage of... well y'know."
The elder Siren grimaced, disturbed by her sister's downright unnaturally cheerful behavior.
"Alright, cut the crap, Aria," she crowed. "What the hell's gotten into you?"
"Idunno what you're on about, Dazzle. Has what gotten into me?" Aria sighed, hoisting herself up onto the counter, and reaching over to steal a big bite of her sister's toast. "Mm! This is good!"
"That's exactly what I'm talking about!" the elder girl cried. "'Mm, this is good?' Who the hell are you, and why are you so damned chipper? You've got a hangover for Chaos' sake! Right about now, you should be somewhere between deciding whether to flip me off or scratch your ass. Instead you're 'tee heeing' all over my toast, and suggesting that we all hang out... with Sonata, too?"
Aria rolled her eyes and quickly hopped off of the counter. Heading over to rummage through the cupboards, she then began pulling down an array of cooking supplies and ingredients.
"I'm gonna make myself some pancakes and bacon, and then I'll be out of your hair for the rest of the day. How does that sound to you?" she asked, clearly blowing off Adagio's concerns. With her back turned, she never noticed the eldest Siren making her way off of the stool, and silently walking up behind her. "By the way, where are the painkillers? I've got a bitch of a headache right n—"
Adagio clamped onto Aria's arm, and spun her about. Gripping her firmly by the shoulders, she glared into the younger girl's eyes.
"You've got something rolling about in that brick hard skull of yours," Adagio murmured, "and I wanna know what it is. What are you planning?"
It was then that something descended upon the eldest Siren like seeping syrup. More specifically, a feeling of profound helplessness. Worries both ancient and crippling struck her right in the gut as she stared into her sister's eyes. The grip upon her shoulders tightened as she pulled her in a little closer.
Aria, catching the sudden change in her sister's demeanor, worked her jaw. Though her expression had gone quite grim, she could no longer look the elder girl in the eye, already having deciphered what silent messages they were relaying.
"Aria?" Adagio breathed. The sudden tremor in her voice was clear. "If you're thinking of doing what I think—"
The younger girl shoved her sister in the shoulder, forcing her back.
"I've told you before, I don't like you trying to get into my head," she grumbled. "You don't get to treat me like one of your fucking meals."
The two went quiet for a long time. Adagio, who was standing off to the side looking a bit stunned, eventually managed to take a few deep breaths to regain her composure. She crossed her arms, and stood tall, putting on an imposing front.
"I moved the painkillers downstairs. They're there in the top cupboard now. The one with the lock," she muttered, gesturing toward the wall of kitchen cabinets. This earned a curious look from Aria, one that didn't seem to bother the eldest girl in the slightest. She pulled the stool into the kitchen, climbed atop of it, unlocked the cabinet in question, and collected a sizeable bottle of painkillers from where they sat next to a host of other supplies and medicines which had been drawn from various places around the house. The younger Siren looked as if she wanted to ask why Adagio would have done such a thing, but after further consideration, it seemed pointless. The reasoning behind it was made quite clear to them both.
When Adagio descended from the stool she turned, and plopped the bottle down upon the counter.
Hesitating for only a moment, the younger Siren reached out, and grabbed hold of the container. Twisting the cap open, she poured two tablets into her palm, threw them back, and downed them both with a swig of coffee. Locking the lid back into place, she then turned to leave, the bottle still clenched in her hand.
"What about your pancakes and bacon?" Adagio inquired, sounding far too smug for Aria's tastes.
"Not hungry anymore. Thanks for that by the way," she chirped, craning her neck to the side.
"You have a belly full of coffee and pills. You need food and some water, or you'll end up like Sonata," Adagio chided, trying her best to remain calm. Her eyes flashed once toward the bottle of pills in Aria's hand. Aria noted this.
"Ok, yea, thanks, Ma. I'll be sure to get on that right whenever the hell I feel like it," she spat, now feeling quite irritated. Taking a step in the direction of the stairs, she was halted abruptly by Adagio grasping at her wrist. Caught by surprise, she turned about to see what was the matter.
"Leave the bottle here," Adagio prodded gently. If it wasn't for the grim look in her eyes, Aria might have even felt somewhat convinced that the command was innocent in its nature.
"Why?" she retorted, if only to irritate her elder even more. "You got a headache now, too?"
"As a matter of fact, I think I do feel one coming on now that you mention it," Adagio clucked, releasing her grip upon her sister. She held her hand out. "Give. Me. The bottle, Aria."
Staring her down for a moment, Aria turned slowly, sauntered up to her, and plopped the container down into her palm. Clicking her tongue against her teeth a few times, she then reached up, and prodded a finger into the center of Adagio's chest. Some part of her hoped she was grazing a painful scar.
"You don't know me as well as you think you do, Dazzle," she hissed, her eyes boring into her. Something in her tone of voice sounded defensive, in denial.
"I know enough," Adagio retorted, twisting the lid of the closed bottle just for emphasis.
Huffing in Adagio's direction, Aria spun about on her heels, and stomped upstairs. It was only then that the elder girl released the breath she had been holding. Her expression was shaken, startled even as she stared down at the bottle in her hand and then again toward the direction in which Aria had departed. Shaking her head, she rubbed her temples, and made her way back toward her laptop.
Aria had managed to make it to the top of the stairs and out of Adagio's sight before her shaking knees collapsed upon themselves. Catching herself against the wall, she crouched down and took a deep, rattling breath.
That was close. That was so close that it almost made her second guess herself. If she had stayed around Adagio for another moment longer, she might have broken. Then her elder sister would've known everything she needed to know, and Aria would have surely found herself caught up into one of those mind bending spiderwebs of hers, thwarted from her plans at every turn. Perhaps the curly-haired nuisance would have even found some way to talk her out of it completely. For now, however, she was still safe, and the plan was still on. If only the other two could know that she was doing it for their own good.
Aria hated how emotional such things always seemed to make her. Still, she couldn't say that it wasn't warranted. She had spent a long, long time with these two. The least she could do now was treat them nicely. Yet, somehow the notion never seemed to sit quite right in her stomach, maybe because anyone who constantly managed to be sweet and amicable all the time was also almost always being disingenuous. Her actions today would be no exception to this theory.
Taking one more deep breath, the shaken Siren rose to her feet, and quickly darted off toward Sonata's room. Perhaps it would be easier to get the ball rolling with her. Knocking so gently upon the door that she was sure no one would be able to hear it, she lowered her hand toward the knob and twisted.
The room was dim, covered in an array of store bought stuffed animals or those sewn by Sonata's own hand. Two charming paintings of radiant wildflowers hung on the wall that braced the back of the bed. The nestled, snoring lump under the flowery covers lay amidst all of this frill and fur as if the sight of it would have dissuaded any saner being from a nightmare-packed slumber.
Quietly closing the door behind her, Aria crept deeper into Sonata's overly cheery domain to take a seat upon the side of her bed. She pulled the covers away from the blue girl's face, and nearly smiled at how peaceful she looked, despite the presence of the oversized, creepy-faced teddy bear she was clutching to her chest. Before a pang of regret could phase her, Aria reached out to gently nudge the girl in the back.
"Psst. Hey," she whispered in the dark. Sonata fidgeted for a moment, swatted her hand away, and turned around. Aria smirked. "Hey. Hey, blue face! Wake up!"
She nudged her again. This time a small smile crept across the sleeping girl's face.
"Blue... Bluey," Sonata giggled to herself on the edges of slumber in a far too antiquated accent.
Aria rolled her eyes.
"Hey, mush for brains! Wake up, will ya?" she hissed, cuffing her sister in the back. This finally roused the sleeping Siren, nearly making her tumble out of the bed.
"Huh?" she snorted, sitting up in a rush, and flailing the teddy bear in Aria's direction. One of her hands connected with the older girl's cheek before the giant, furry onslaught nearly took her down for good."He's here! Adagio! He's gonna—"
A fuchsia hand slapped over her mouth, and pressed her back into the mattress. The other hand snatched the offending stuffed animal out of Sonata's grip, and promptly tossed it away into some far corner where it landed with a protesting squeak.
"Shut the hell up, you dolt! It's just me!" Aria hissed, holding the girl there until she had managed to calm herself.
"Oh! Aria! You nearly scared me to... I-I thought you were that—"
"No," the elder girl silenced her. "I just came to... to, uh, ask you something."
"Okay," Sonata stated with a sleepy nod, tucking her disheveled hair behind her ears. Sitting up in bed, she yawned and rubbed her tired eyes. "What is it?"
Aria hesitated for a second before she managed to speak.
"You, uh... you feeling a little better today?"
This instantly put Sonata on guard. Her arms lowered, and she turned to peer at her sister with the greatest of suspicions.
Aria reached up to scratch behind her head.
"Well, uh. So, actually, it turns out that we all seem to have the day off for the most part, and uh... and don't hug me or anything when I tell you this, but uh..."
She glanced tentatively into Sonata's eyes. The girl stared back at her looking both troubled and disgustingly innocent, per usual. Sighing heavily, Aria resigned herself to forcing out what it was she had to say.
"I looked in the paper, and uh...there's this stupidly early fall fair going on outside of town, and I thought that maybe we three could spend some time there... together."
She braced herself for the impending hug that she had already instructed the girl not to give her. Strangely enough, nothing happened. When she opened one of her clenched eyes to see what was the matter, she noted Sonata now sitting there, giving her a saddened, knowing look.
"Why?" the younger girl prodded. "Why would you wanna do something like that, Aria? You never want to do stuff together, especially not with me."
The elder girl couldn't meet her gaze. Why did it seem as if everyone could see right through her? Surely she wasn't so transparent, was she?
"Because I'm in a chipper fucking mood, that's why. I'm just trying to be..." she trailed off, noting how this sounded nothing like something she would ever say. She sighed and rolled her eyes. "Look, do you wanna go or not?"
Sonata gazed down at her blanket, anxiously tugging at her fingers. She sniffed to herself and nodded her head.
"Alright," she sighed, sounding defeated. Aria dared not address this sudden bout of melancholy.
"Cool. So, uh... in that case, I need you to do something for me," she said, getting to her feet, and propping her hands upon her hips.
"W...what is it?" Sonata inquired.
"Well, actually it's two things, the first one being that I need you to convince the cheesepuff to come along with us, and make it sound like it was all your idea."
Sonata nodded obediently.
"I can do that. What's the second thing?"
Aria spun her loose hair around into a thick cord and flung the mass over one shoulder. She waved a dismissive hand at her sister before turning to head toward the door.
"I'll tell you that later."
Three shots, all bullseyes. Adagio smiled smugly and hitched the pellet gun up to her side as alarms, bells, and all other manners of cheesy whizz-bangs sounded across the wooden booth.
"Fifth time a winner, miss," the booth tender laughed whilst reaching up for yet another stuffed animal. "What's your secret?"
Craning her head over to her right, Adagio noted both of her sisters standing there observing, one of them with a small teddy bear tucked under each arm as she greedily finished off the last bits of a funnel cake, and the other, looking far less enthusiastic about the situation, dragging a gigantic stuffed rabbit along on the ground whilst flicking dirt out from beneath the fingernails of her free hand. Turning back around to face the booth tender, Adagio shot the man a winning grin as he tossed another teddy bear Sonata's way.
"The first time was for the win. The last four were for the domination." She cocked the rifle, and picked it up to aim once more. "Shall I go for another, you think?"
The man raised his hands and shook them as if begging for mercy.
"Please, lady. Gimme a break. I only got so many bears."
Adagio met these words with a pout.
"And so what? It's not like any of them will actually win anything," she cried, directing a hand toward the young couple trying their luck—and failing miserably—at the game beside her.
Whilst preoccupied with her braggadocious propositions, the eldest Siren failed to notice a small girl who, just a few moments prior to her argument with the booth attendant, had crept up to her side to get a better look at her. When she did, the child passed her the biggest, syrup and confectioners sugar-coated, half-toothless grin she had ever seen.
"You're preeeettty," the little girl beguiled, lifting an enormous, swirled, and saliva-covered lollipop in her hand for Adagio to sample. "Want some?"
This obviously drew a disgusted sneer out of the eldest Siren, the likes of which the child had probably never seen. Such an expression was only offset by the adoring drone that escaped from somewhere in the depths of Sonata's throat.
"Awww, how cuuuuute!" she squealed as Aria held her back from lunging forward to pinch the child's cheeks.
"Ugh," the eldest Siren groaned as she plopped the pellet gun down, and began to walk away. "On second thought, I'm over this one. Let's go find something else."
Sonata's face fell at the look of utter rejection the little girl was now wearing. Thinking quickly, the cheeriest Siren turned about, grabbed the slightly ripped giganti-bear out of Aria's grasp, and shoved the hideous thing into the girl's arms, much to the child's delight.
"Thank you, other pretty lady!" she squealed, giving the giant, fuzzy monster a big hug. Sonata waved goodbye to her, now in hot pursuit of her big sister. Aria boredly followed close behind. "And you too, scary-voice, sad face lady!"
She paused mid-step, dangerously close to snatching one of Sonata's other teddies, and chucking it at the child's head. Fortunately for the little girl, the grim Siren was halted by Sonata dragging her away by the arm before she could create a scene worthy of the eight o'clock evening news.
The air remained crisp and cool as the day dragged on deeper into the afternoon. The fair—which interestingly enough was held on the lands of the family of that drawling, blonde, befreckled yokel from CHS—was growing increasingly more lively. Aria shook her head as she watched the patrons all tossing away their hard earned cash just to prove to the world how much they had strayed from being able to utilize even the most trivial of basic evolutionary abilities. The fair organizers and the Apple family must have made a fortune off of these idiots when all was said and done.
Still, at least the weather was nice, and her sisters...well, they seemed as happy as they could be considering the current circumstances. She had mostly brought them both here to keep them separated from each other, and to get some things off of her chest in a setting that would prove "kind" to them when they recalled it again however many weeks or years from now.
"Hey, Aria! Wanna challenge me to the "test-your-strength" thingie?" Sonata asked, shaking her out of her thoughts. "I'll bet you two chili dogs that I can beat you!"
Aria rolled her eyes. She was no fool. The might that the younger girl had picked up and maintained some time during her life as an earth pony was not exactly a well-kept secret. Sure, Aria was fast and agile in mind and body, qualities that proved extremely useful in the context of a fight—plus, she packed a mean left hook—but when it came right down to that special type of brute strength that could only be cultivated by a life spent in the fields doing unspeakable things to rocks, she wasn't too hard-pressed to admit that the adorable, blue, spacecase had her beat.
"Nah, I think I'll pass," she scoffed, holding a fresh cigarette between her lips as she leaned over to dig into her pocket. When her hand reappeared, it was filled with a wad of singles. She promptly slapped them down into Sonata's palm. "But you go knock yourself out. I'm sure there are more than a few people down there hankering for a slice of humble pie."
Squealing with glee, Sonata rushed forward to give Aria a hug before the elder girl jumped into a crude karate stance to ward her off. Taking the hint, she turned on her heel, and rushed off toward the game by herself.
Aria broke out into that all-too-familiar cackle as she watched her little sister shove some hopeless lightweight out of the way, grab the hammer, and make her way through a crowd of doting admirers offering to win the grand prize on her behalf. Oh boy, if only they knew what they were in for.
"A wad of ones?" Adagio scoffed, popping up as if by magic on Aria’s right side. "What kind of seedy underworld do you live in, Aria?"
"Our house," she quipped, unbothered by her sister's sudden appearance and blowing a plume of smoke into the crisp, autumn air. "It was in the basement, in that failed swear jar experiment you tried on me last year. At least it came in handy for something."
"Touché," Adagio replied, staving off a smile as they both watched Sonata raising the enormous mallet right over her head, and bringing it down hard upon the meter's platform. The puck shot up like a bullet, hitting the bell so hard, its ring continued to echo throughout the clearing for a good seven seconds. Needless to say, just about every jaw in line hit the straw-strewn earth.
Both Aria and Adagio shook their head in unison with pitying delight.
"Poor saps," Aria croaked.
"Mm. Indeed," the elder girl replied. Switching gears almost immediately, she turned to face her sister. "So, why'd you want us to come here, anyway?"
Aria nearly choked on her cigarette smoke. Damn, Adagio. Couldn't she ever give her nosiness a rest?
"What? This wasn't my idea. Why don't you go ask Sonata?" the younger Siren groaned, forcing out the most perturbed-sounding tone she could manage.
"Right. About that," Adagio sighed, crossing her arms and prodding her cheek with a fingertip. "When I asked Sonata how she came to know about this fair, she told me that a vision came to her in her sleep... and it punched her in the back."
Aria tried with little success to hide her frown.
"Yea, well... Sonata... rough sleeper... or somethin'..." the dour girl mumbled under her breath.
"And then when I asked her if she was feeling up for the trip, she smiled, said yes, and threw up all over my cashmere sweater," she finished, now inspecting her nails.
Aria's grimace grew even deeper. She inhaled a belabored breath.
"Yea, well, s'a ugly sweater..."
This was bad. If she didn't think of something quickly, Adagio would surely figure her out. She needed a decoy, something to throw the elder girl off of her trail. Making a mental note to slap the back of Sonata's head raw whenever the opportunity presented itself, Aria coughed once, and stood up straight.
"Dammit, what do you want from me, Adagio? You want me to drip hearts like the blue one? You want me to admit that what you said three days ago got to me, and that I care, and that I've been thinking about how we might not have a lot of time, and that I just want to make some enjoyable memories with whatever we have left? Will that quench your damned thirst for knowing my innermost secrets?"
Adagio blinked, studying the girl as she sucked anxiously upon her cigarette. After what felt like an eternity to Aria, she heard the elder Siren hum with satisfaction. This was exactly the reaction she had been looking for.
"I suppose," Adagio sighed. "Though while I understand making the best of your time, I still don't quite get being so damned happy about such horrible news... not that I won't figure a plan to fix this or anything."
Aria discarded her cigarette, and thought deeply to herself. Whilst studying her sister out of the corner of her eye, she considered the odds of outsmarting her.
She and her older sister had always butted heads. As a matter of fact, the sullen Siren imagined that even before their lives upon the land in Equestria, even before what she could recall of their age-old Sirenhood, they had probably bickered and quarreled all the same. That was just their "way".
Adagio was good at underestimating her, this was no secret. But it was made clear to Aria, oh, say, around the time of their banishment, that the eldest girl often underestimated her for all of the wrong reasons. Whatever shortcomings the middle sister might have projected, they never had anything to do with being less smart or cunning as Adagio. Unmotivated? Perhaps. Brash? Definitely. Pessimistic about...well...most things? Probably. But less honed, skilled, or seasoned? Not a chance.
And so, it was at that moment that Aria decided, for once, to use her sister's own shortcomings—her assumption that she was always right about her assumptions—against her.
"This might come as a shocker to you, so brace yourself: I don't see dying as an all around bad thing." A pause. "Seriously, why are you making me say that when you already know it?"
Adagio was already frowning as she pretended to pay attention to Sonata. The cheery girl had now taken over the hammer strike line in order to win prizes for a gathering of eagerly waiting children all queued up to the side of the large, metal pillar.
"Well, why do you keep saying things like that when you know they're going to upset me?" she retorted. "I thought we spoke about this."
"And that is the greatest difference between you and me," Aria chuckled, shoving her hands into her pockets. "You're afraid of death. The thought of it makes you uncomfortable, so you've always fought against getting too close to it. I... well, you already know. It doesn't scare me, at least not when I get to decide or know beforehand when... Hell, the thought of it comes with its comforts. Perhaps I am a little happy about the notion."
"Aria..." Adagio groaned, sounding completely exhausted.
"Some beings aren't cut out for immortality, Adagio. Maybe I'm just one of them. Simple as that."
"But you used to be," Adagio bleated. "Stop acting as if the way you were after being on land was the way you'd always been. We had an eternity before that. You seemed fine with your immortality then."
"Weren't you the one who said our time on land shaped us? Made us into what we are?" Aria jabbed.
"So, this is what I am now, Adagio. You're going to just have to learn how to deal with that."
Things went silent for a bit. Adagio looked like a child who'd just been scolded. Her arms were folded, shoulders hunched. Aria waited for the inevitable snide remark, and smiled at the uncharacteristically adorable pout on her face.
"I am dealing with it," the elder girl sniffed.
"Is that why you stole my screwdriver collection, and locked up all the meds in the kitchen?" she chuckled.
"It isn't funny," Adagio protested. "...And yes."
By this time, a hoard of fair goers had descended upon Sonata, some trying to pull the hammer out of her hands to no avail, the others attempting to drag her away from the game by the waist. Her gaze was directed toward her sisters as she pleaded for help.
Aria scoffed and shook her head.
"I swear, Dazzle, you've always been so dramatic about everything."
"Is this not something to be dramatic about?" Adagio exclaimed, motioning wildly with her arms. "It isn't as if you've been known to bluff about this sort of thing, Aria!"
"Why should I feel the need to rush things now?" Aria blurted, her patience waning. "Has it ever occurred to you that I might be interested in seeing how this all plays out, too?"
Her gaze shot toward Adagio's face. She smiled in relief when she saw the elder girl's shoulders relax, her poofy head begin to nod in agreement. Feeling rather proud of herself for putting her sister's worries to rest, Aria adjusted her shoulders, straightened her posture, and took a step out in Sonata's direction.
"Come on," she bid the older Siren. "Let's go save Sonata from herself before we get kicked outta here."
It occurred to Aria about two hours after having arrived at the fair that she hadn't actually been up for this amount of general human interaction. That and how often she seemed to forget how relaxing hiding up in the branches of a tree could feel, even if this body wasn't particularly conducive to easily climbing them. She could recall those ancient days spent lightly flitting from branch to branch, balancing her rosy hooves careful upon the grooves of the wood. Despite their ability to shapeshift into pegasi, functioning on tree branches was something her sisters had never quite gotten the hang of. This made for plenty of pleasant memories spent in blessed solitude amongst creaking branches and rustling leaves.
Aria had just finished placing her second cigarette of the day between her lips whilst cracking open her favourite classic mystery novel when, from somewhere below her, she heard the one sound she had been hoping to avoid for at least the next twenty minutes.
"Ariiii! Let me up!"
"Sonata," she growled, not even taking a moment to look down at the girl on the ground. "Please, just a few moments of peace. Where is Adagio?"
"She found this pageant thing, and wanted to sit in the audience so she could throw popcorn at the stage. Lemme up!" Sonata continued to whine.
Aria simply took another puff from her smoke, and flipped a page, hoping the girl would eventually wander away.
"I brought you an ice cream cone!" the grounded Siren tittered.
Aria paused her reading.
"It's rum raisin with walnuts!"
The book slammed shut.
"Alright, but if you start getting on my nerves, I swear I'm gonna kick you right outta this tree. Got it?" Aria threatened, finally staring down at her sister's adorable pout. When the younger girl nodded, she placed her book down upon a nearby branch, hooked her feet in between two forked limbs, and swung down to face her sister head on, albeit, upside down.
"Hi!" Sonata giggled, finding the image before her rather amusing.
"Hello," Aria deadpanned. "How did you know I liked rum raisin?"
"I didn't," Sonata shrugged. "I just asked the guy to give me whatever all the old people liked, and he handed me this."
The older Siren grimaced, grabbed both of the ice cream cones out of her sister's hands, and curled herself up, disappearing back into the tree's branches.
Aria had already tucked into her ice cream cone before the youngest Siren's incessant whining began again. Rolling her eyes, she shoved both cones in between the forked branches for the time being, and placed her feet one more time.
"Alright, alright ya big baby! Hold on," she sighed, swinging down again, and grabbing Sonata by the arms. She attempted to hoist her up high enough so that she might cling onto a low branch, a feat which, in hindsight, she should have known would prove to be more difficult than it appeared.
"Ho-ho boy, Sonata! You're gonna lay off of Sammy's for the next two months if we end up making it that long, you hear me?"
"But, Adagio said eating that stuff doesn't do anything!" the younger girl cried sounding slightly offended.
"She said it won't prolong your life or replenish your essence, not that it won't settle right in your big—"
"Ah! I think I got it!" Sonata exclaimed, finally latching onto a lower branch and hoisting herself up.
Panting in exhaustion, her face gone a deep purple, Aria scraped herself back onto her high limb, and collapsed. She had barely caught her breath when Sonata saddled in beside her, shoving her spindly frame somewhere off to the side. When Aria finally managed to sit up straight, she grimaced at the younger girl who had already made it halfway into her ice cream cone. She held out Aria's for her to take, wearing the most pleasant of smiles. Snatching the thing from her hand, the elder Siren took one sizeable bite out of it, and hunkered back against the branch where her book awaited her.
The two ate in silence, Aria reading, and Sonata daydreaming, her legs dangling about in the air below them. For a while, it was peaceful, and the elder girl felt her spirits lifting into a more amicable place. Of course, one could never hope for such serenity to last for very long around the likes of Sonata.
"Yea?" she replied, taking another bite of ice cream.
Sonata hesitated for a moment.
"Something weird's going on, isn't it?"
"Always," the older girl sighed, flipping a page in her book.
"Why are you being so nice to us?" the younger girl asked, leaning forward.
"I already explained this to Adagio, so please—"
"Tell me!" Sonata blurted.
Aria felt the beginnings of fatigue settling in.
"Sonata, what did I tell you about bothering me while we were up here?"
"Okay, fine. Don't tell me. I already know it's because of what Adagio said. I know it's cause you think this is all your fault, because of that time dude's wife. Dagi thinks it's her fault, too, even though she won't say it out loud anymore," Sonata stated. "But you two don't have to feel that way, Ari. We can figure it all out better together!"
Sonata could be sweet; really, she could. Too bad such dispositions rarely proved effective on Aria, and while in some cases, the youngest Siren might have been able to successfully blunder her way into sounding convincing, now was most certainly not proving to be one of those times. Sighing heavily and popping the last bits of cone into her mouth, Aria again set herself to reading, and ignoring the irritating, blue source of noise.
Sonata seemed to take the hint at first, as she turned back around to face the fair, pouting to herself whilst her legs kicked to and fro. Reading her book, Aria missed the point at which that frown slowly turned into a smile, and then surprisingly, a soft chuckle.
Perking up at the misplaced sound, Aria cocked an eyebrow and stared.
The younger girl turned upon her, biting her lip to keep from giggling.
"Remember back when we were living in New York, and that guy you always used to spend so much time with... What was his name? Dustin?"
Aria immediately frowned, disliking where this was headed.
"Remember when the Depression hit, and he ended up taking off with your stars and your bootlegger friend?"
"Sonata, what is your point?" Aria groaned, rubbing her temples as she tried to stave off the sting of horrible memories.
"Well, remember how you got real sick and weak after? You couldn't stand up or get out of bed, and we had to sing the healing incantations for you every night, and Dagi told me I wasn't allowed to leave you alone. But we ended up having a really good time anyway, right? I brought in the chess, and the record player, and the slingshot, and we—"
"Put up the photos of all the mortals we knew all over the room, and shot at them," Aria chuckled, unable to contain herself.
"Yea! And all the rotten ones were a hundred points!" Sonata guffawed.
"Damn near hit Dustin and that mole-faced, Millie, ten times each," the elder girl snickered.
"Broke a couple windows, too. Dagi didn't like that too much." Sonata tapped at her lip, thoughtfully. "But remember how by the end of that month you were up and about again? And your stars ended up coming back to you, anyway!"
"Only cause I had the cheesepuff enchant them for me like forever ago," Aria mentioned absent-mindedly. "I hope those two fell into the Hudson trying to run off with them."
Sonata giggled at this, lost in her own nostalgic reverie. For once, the sound had a pleasant effect on Aria. At that moment, things seemed a little brighter.
"Still, I don't think any of that would've worked out so good if we weren't getting through it together," the younger girl chirped, her legs kicking back and forth again. "Do you?"
Aria said nothing.
Sonata was right in this instance. Of course, this wasn't something that the older Siren would ever willingly admit to the girl's face, but even still, the tale made her think. Maybe she should forget about it all, throw away her personal guilt and conviction, and extend her hand for the help she somehow had forgotten was available to her this entire time.
Her eyes dimmed.
Then again, she didn't want anyone else to get hurt or to suffer anymore because of her actions. It would only be doing her sisters and Cookie a disservice if she were to drag any of them into problems that they didn't create with a foe as dangerous as Starshot. No, as much as she wanted the truth to not be what it was, she had to admit that her ideas were sound, and dare she say, necessary.
"Yea, you're right," Aria lied.
Passing a stern gaze Sonata's way, without a word, she reached into her pocket, and fished around for a few seconds. When her hand reappeared, it was holding a small, sealed envelope. Upon this envelope was written the name "Cookie". Holding the item out for Sonata to take, the younger girl grasped it, and stared at it in confusion.
"Remember that second thing I needed you to do for me?" Aria began quietly. Sonata nodded. "I need you to take that to Cookie's shop later before you head home. You don't have to say much to her. Just give her the envelope, tell her it's from me, and leave."
"Okay. I can do that," Sonata replied with a nod. She passed a curious gaze Aria's way. "W...what's in it?"
The elder girl smirked. Sonata of all beings should have known better than to ask her such a question.
Looking up at the dimming light in the sky, Aria wondered just how long they had been there. Deciding that now would be a good time to leave, she clasped her book firmly between her teeth, grabbed hold of the branch she was sitting upon, and nimbly swung down onto the ground. Once her feet were safely planted upon earth, she removed the book from her mouth, and called up to Sonata who was looking rather apprehensive.
"Let's find Adagio and get outta here."
"Uhhh, Ari?" Sonata stammered just as the older Siren had turned to leave. Aria halted.
"What?" she sighed, already knowing what was coming.
"I uhh... I can't get down."
A few bruises later, she, Adagio, and Sonata had exited the fairgrounds, and turned to head toward home. Adagio, too preoccupied with keeping ten paces ahead of the two, as usual, never noticed them both chatting quietly behind her back.
"You should probably go now, Sonata," Aria urged, nudging her in the shoulder. "You remember what I told you?"
The youngest girl nodded obediently, still wearing a worried expression.
A profound feeling of affection cuffed Aria in the chest, and looking at her sister's face suddenly became the hardest thing in the world to do. As endless memories flashed across her mind, she felt herself being drawn into a dangerous place, a place where she, again, was urged to second guess herself. Shaking her head free of these emotions, she forced a smile, and nudged the girl once more.
"Stop worrying so much. Geez," she snickered. "What were you gonna make for dinner?"
It seemed an odd question at first, but perhaps it would work to get Sonata's mind off of the things that didn't concern her. Plus, maybe this information could be used to her benefit later on.
"Eh. Spaghetti and meatsauce," she hummed forlornly. "You think you can get some noodles, and start on it for me? Also, can you cut up some carrots? I put a few of 'em in the sauce. Makes it a little sweeter."
"Ahhh," Aria chuckled, raising an eyebrow. "Yea, I can do that. Now get the hell outta here before Adagio notices, will ya?"
The youngest Siren's aura seemed to brighten just slightly. Giving her sister a nod, she quietly turned to head down a perpendicular side street.
Aria's hand shot out, grabbing her arm, and jolting the younger Siren backward. Turning around to see what was the matter, Sonata's eyes locked with her sister's, and for a second, there they stood, studying one another.
"Sonata..." Aria began, chewing upon her lip, not quite knowing how to say what it was she wanted to.
"Yea?" the younger girl whispered, her face full of unsuspecting innocence.
"I..." the softness that had collected around the older girl's eyes quickly disappeared. She shook her head free of the things that deterred her, and gave Sonata's hand one more squeeze. "See you at home. And don't take too long. I'm not gonna cook the whole damn thing for you, got it?"
Sonata snickered, covering her mouth so that Adagio couldn't hear. Nodding her head once again, she turned and scampered away. Aria watched her go until she disappeared around the corner. Taking a deep breath, staving off the funny feelings in her chest, she now turned her sights upon her eldest sister.
"Hey, Adagio," she snickered, running forward, edging up too close to the other girl for comfort. Her grin only widened when Adagio grimaced and shoved her away.
"What is it?" Looking around, for the first time, Adagio noticed that Sonata was nowhere to be found. "Where the hell is Sonata?"
"Oh, you know. Groceries, stray puppy, someone jingling their keys, the usual," Aria sighed, waving the matter off with a hand. "Anyway, she's making spaghetti when she gets back, and she needs you to go get the noodles, and cut up some of those carrots in the fridge."
Adagio looked as if she'd just been slapped in the face.
"Me? I most certainly will not!" she protested, flipping a curl over her shoulder. "Why can't you just do it? You do that kind of thing all the time!"
"Because," Aria thought about it for a second. "Well, because I don't feel like it, and Sonata said if she eats anything else not homemade today, she's gonna barf again."
The dour girl shrugged.
"You know Sonata. The girl's gotta cook when she's gotta cook!" She slapped Adagio briskly on the back, making her cough. "Besides, they're just noodles and carrots. It'll be good practice for you!"
Not waiting around for the older girl to finish her response, Aria bolted forward, and headed beyond hearing distance in the direction of home.
Night had descended upon them, and with it a heavy feeling of expectation. Both Aria and Adagio could feel it when they parted ways earlier on, but only Aria had known why.
The tub's running water began to heat the air. As she gazed upon herself in the bathroom mirror, Aria tried to work up enough energy to do what it was she needed to do. Time passed her by as she stood there, staring, waiting, taking a sip every now and then from a glass of unidentifiable liquid that made her wish she hadn't ended up at Bubbles the evening prior.
"Seas. Dazzle was right. What am I doing? Do I even eat solids anymore?" she drawled, pouring the rest of the liquid down the sink drain. "D'ah welp. Too late to worry about it now."
Having sufficiently annoyed herself, the feeling was only heightened when she heard the front door open and slam shut.
Shit. She had waited too long. Adagio had returned from the store already though, to be fair, anyone who knew Adagio would have also assumed that a trip to the supermarket for her would have easily transformed into a dramatic, two and a half hour long affair.
Thinking quickly, Aria grit her teeth, and prepared to venture downstairs where her sister was now doing sacrilegious things to a pack of carrots, no doubt. She rang the shivers out of her hands took a deep breath, turned to collect her jacket from where it sat upon the toilet lid, and bolted out of the door.
There were four knives, all of them looking like an array of gaudy, medieval weaponry as far as Adagio was concerned. Her hand hovered over them all where they lay upon a clean kitchen dishrag, and almost immediately recoiled. How would she know whether she made the right choice? What if she did this all wrong, and Sonata and Aria didn't let her hear the end of it for the next month? For a moment, her ruby eyes glistened with apprehension... but only for a moment.
"Oh, for pete's sake, Adagio, just pick up a knife, and cut," she scolded herself. Odds were they wouldn't even live long enough for her sisters to think of any really good cracks anyway. So, jokes on them.
Grabbing up a rather long knife with a strange double point on its tip, Adagio spun around, and tossed the bag of carrots she had been holding onto the counter. After tearing it open and spilling half of its contents onto the floor, she placed one, measly looking carrot stalk upon the chopping board, raised the knife, and froze.
What the hell had gotten into her? It was a carrot for crying out loud. Surely, in the span of her life, she had wielded far more dangerous objects against far more livelier prey than this half week-old, knobby root.
Taking a deep breath, she slowly brought the blade down toward the chopping board.
"Did you rinse those?" Aria yelled, jumping down from the bottom step, nearly making her sister slice off her own finger.
"Are you insane?" Adagio screeched. "I am handling a very delicate instrument, here! I nearly turned my hand into... into shredded cabbage!"
Aria rolled her eyes, and waved these clearly exaggerated words off. She moved past her sister, grabbing the carrots in her wake. Carelessly plopping her jacket onto the oddly arrayed row of three knives, she moved toward the sink to give the bunch of veggies a good rinse.
"Always wash your ingredients. Some of this stuff's still got dirt on it... amongst other things."
When she turned around, Adagio was scowling at her.
"Do you want to do this yourself or not? If not, then leave me alone!"
Aria chuckled, and walked back over to plop the carrots back down upon the workstation.
"I'm here for moral support," she muttered, hoisting herself up onto the counter and urging her sister on. "Go ahead!"
"Hmph. Moral support from Aria Blaze," Adagio grumbled, aiming her knife again. "Right up there in competition for world's worst ideas, next to sliceable peanut butter."
Again bringing the knife down upon the carrot, she was halted by a very deliberate cough coming from the younger girl's throat.
"What. Is it. Now?" she growled.
"You should just use the paring knife. That tomato knife you've got there is gonna suck. Plus, you're gonna fuck up the tomato knife."
"Paring knife, of course!" Adagio exclaimed, throwing her hands into the air, and accidentally shaving off a few bits of Aria's fringe.
"Watch it!" Aria protested as her sister turned about, slammed the tomato knife down upon the dishrag, and grabbed the next closest blade to her hand.
"Listen, what is it that you really want, Aria? I'm busy." The eldest Siren sniffed the air next to her sister. "And I don't have time for any of your post-evening whiskey antics, alright?"
"Oh, nothing," Aria shrugged. "Just wanted to tell you to stay outta the bathroom for a bit."
Adagio placed her knife down, and passed the girl a suspicious glare.
"Cause I'm gonna try one of those weird things that you're always doing with the smoke, and the candles, and the horror movie chanting."
"You mean a bath?" Adagio deadpanned.
"Yea, that," the younger girl chuckled, amused by the sight of her sister getting more and more irritated. "It seems like it might be nice, so I figured, eh. Oughta try it before I can't, you know?"
"I don't see why that means I have to stay out. It's not like you've got anything on you that I haven't already seen," Adagio muttered, aiming her knife again.
"Spirits, Adagio, can you stop acting like a freaking Ma for even one second? I'm feeling pretty good today, and it just seems like you've been going out of your way to make me miserable, all because that's what you're used to. Why can't I be happy sometimes, too?" She slid closer to her sister and pointed a finger at her nose. "I'm gonna take a bath, and I'm gonna scrub my feet with that stupid sea sponge thing you love so much, and I'm gonna use like half of your oil, and it's gonna be fucking glorious, you hear me?"
Adagio sighed, and rolled her eyes, quite exasperated with the girl's rambling.
"Yes, yes, and I'm very happy for you and all of the newly found craps you give now that we're almost certainly doomed. I'm sure knowing that just sets the mood, doesn't it? Impending doom, scented candles, they're pretty much the same thing for you, aren't they?" She shooed her away with a hand. "Now, run along, go take your amazing bath, make cherubs sing and doves cry, or whatnot. Just leave me alone so that I can get through at least one carrot, alright?"
"Do not scrub your ogrish feet with my sponge."
Aria snickered, raising her hands in defeat.
"Alright, alright. You win, Dazzle. I'm leaving!"
Hopping down from the counter, she moved to the place by the sink, and silently picked up her jacket. Pausing for a moment, she smiled down at the black lump in her hand, and carefully tucked it under one arm. Hesitantly, she turned to take a single step out of the kitchen and froze, her very breath catching in her throat. Her eyes slid to the side, and landed squarely upon Adagio's back. That horrible feeling in the pit of her chest had returned, and for a moment, she thought she might lose her nerve. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself calm once more, and then threw caution to the wind, doing something neither of them could have ever predicted.
A pair of rosy arms slid around Adagio's frame from behind, wrapped themselves on the perfect curve of her waist, and held on tight. Adagio gasped, every muscle in her body freezing when the heady scent of Aria's hair, something akin to sandalwood and vanilla, floated across her shoulder where the younger Siren's head now rested. The knife in her hand went clattering down upon the counter.
Not a word was said between them as what seemed like an eternity passed. Adagio's hand, though shaking, somehow found the strength to raise itself to her belly where Aria's arms were clenched. At first, she thought that perhaps she might push them away and scold the girl about her exhaustingly odd behavior, but when her hand arrived at the younger Siren's fingertips, it instead grazed them gently. Reaching backward with her other palm, the elder Siren tentatively stroked the girl's rosy cheek. She hadn't the mettle to look, but beneath her fingers, she could still feel her smile at the touch. The air had become even heavier by the time the younger girl decided to let her go. Unable to meet each other's eyes, they both stood there, stark still for a few seconds...
And then things went on. Adagio's knife was lifted, and slowly she began to cut. Aria turned, and headed toward the stairs.
"That's not the paring knife, either," she murmured, pausing in the middle of the stairwell. When Adagio looked up into the younger girl's eyes, she found something unreadable there: the inkling of a smile, and... something else. Shrugging it off when the girl finally disappeared up the stairs and could be heard closing the bathroom door, Adagio continued to chop in silence. A small smile had decided to grace her face at some point between Aria's embrace and that moment.
And then it fell away. Her chopping halted, and her eyes went dark. Dropping the knife, she turned to face the locked medicine cabinet on the other side of the kitchen. Racing across the room, not wanting to waste time with pulling a stool over, she leapt up, grabbed the handle, and tugged.
A sigh of relief escaped her when she discovered the thing was still locked tight. Patting her sides down, she heard the comforting jingle of keys in her sweater pocket. Laughing at herself for having worried, she returned to her station, and continued to chop.
They were only carrots, but cutting them up still felt like daunting work. About ten minutes had passed since Aria had left the room, and she was still cutting. Not only this, but her hands had begun to ache.
"Damn this thing," Adagio grumbled, dropping the blade and ringing her hands out. She hissed when a stinging jolt ran up the wrist of her chopping hand. "Dammit!"
Frowning to herself, she turned to go fetch the paring knife that Aria had suggested. Perhaps that would work better. Placing the used knife down beside the other two, her hand hovered over the only fresh one left, a smaller blade that looked as if it might be a little easier to handle.
"This one has to be it," she said to herself, turning again to bare down upon the counter. The sting in her wrist had become quite distracting, and for some reason, the sensation only grew as she gripped the blade's handle once more.
Hovering the knife over her second—yes, second—carrot, she was startled when yet another shock traveled up her other wrist.
"Ow!" she cried in confusion, shaking the ache out. "I swear, I'm going to throttle those girls the instant that I—"
Then she eyed both of her hands...
Placing the knife down, she cocked her head curiously to the side, and raised her palms up. Concentrating on the sensations in her wrists, her arms began to shake as, by and by, the stinging began to turn into a deep burning. Her eyes went wide as a thought struck her.
Spinning around to face the cutting knives upon the dishrag, she counted them out loud, almost as if she wanted to make sure that the blasphemous thing she was thinking was not true.
That was the correct number, yes? She had started out with three, hadn't she? Or had it been three upon the dishrag, one in hand?
Her entire body began to tremble as dreadful realization descended upon her. She recalled Aria moving toward the sink, dropping her jacket upon those knives, and tucking it strangely beneath her arm when she had left the room. The pain in her wrists grew.
"A—ri—a?" she croaked looking upward in the direction of the second floor. She had wanted the name to come out as a call. The sound merely died upon her tongue, a weak, deflated whimper.