Something sticky ripped from Aria’s lips, startling the girl into consciousness. She awoke upon her stomach to a sharp tugging feeling in the left side of her back. Groaning in pain and trying to make sense of her surroundings, she attempted to move her arm, only to realize that it, as well as every other part of her sore body, felt as weighted as stone. Crawling her fingers over the curve of her shoulder, eventually, her arm reached far enough to brush against the stinging space.
Floating red, and broken glass shards surrounded her. Looking down, she realized she was lying upon a thick, soaked towel. Flicking her fingers against the black strap that sat saddled just below her shoulder blades, she flinched after they nudged a sizeable shard of glass that had found a way to lodge itself into the spot. Hissing and clutching at her shoulder for comfort, the Siren stirred herself in an attempt to sit up. Something that felt like a boot shoved her back down to the floor.
"Keep poking at that thing, and it'll get infected, won’t it?" Starshot snipped in that distinct, raspy tone of his.
Her eyes shot open just in time to feel a roar of fire rip across her back as the mage yanked the shard from her flesh. He then dashed a flaming liquid across her skin. The Siren choked on a silent scream, her fingers clutching at the cloth beneath her until she felt a pair of hands grasp at her shoulders. They pulled her up, and flipped her about. Looking upon those familiar eyes filled with quiet fury, she finally recalled all that had transpired.
"Get… the fuck… away from me!" she rasped, attempting to kick her legs out, only to have them shoved aside.
"Nonsense!" the wizard chided her. “After all the trouble you’ve gone through to bring me here? Leaving now would make me a rude guest, wouldn't it?”
His smile fell away in an instant.
“Now, where is it?”
“Where is what?” Aria gasped, attempting to hold in a wince when his grip upon her shoulders grew even tighter. She yelped when he shook her roughly, setting her head to spinning.
“Don't play games with me,” he growled. “Where does she hide it? Tell me!”
“I don't know what you're talking about!” the Siren spat, on the verge of being ill.
“The journal!" Starshot hissed, forcing her wobbling head still with a hand. “Tell me, Siren, and you can expect for your suffering to be decreased substantially. Your kin will be none the wiser. No one else has to know.”
He forced another very fake smile. “You may even whisper it into my ear, if you’d like.”
Had his voice not been such an affront to all things deemed gentle and soothing, this statement might have even carried within it a disarming quality. The wizard searched her face, awaiting something that might betray any of her truths. Aria, who felt herself regaining more of her energy by the second, tightly pursed her lips, and spat into his face.
“I said I don't know what you're talking about. Now, get your disgusting hands off me!”
Why was it that she kept choosing, in her hasty moments of rage, to spit in the faces of those who held power over her, especially when she knew that she’d almost always end up regretting it? Maybe Adagio had been telling the truth when they’d had their fight over a month ago. Perhaps she was a glutton for punishment after all.
The time mage seemed to take this offense far better than most, at least. Inhaling a deep, calming breath, he wiped his face off into his sleeve, and with a heavy sigh, stood up straight.
Using this opportunity to scramble away from him until her back hit the wall, Aria watched on as the mage reached somewhere into the array of pockets sewn into his jacket lining. As he did, the stunned Siren fought to make sense of all that had just taken place. Glancing to her left, she studied her sisters, frozen where they stood, surrounded by a hazy halo of gold. Their glowing red eyes stared ahead into empty space, the object of their hatred having long since removed himself from his position of attack.
The Siren’s eyes then shifted toward the bathtub, still half-filled with crimson. Such a long time had passed after she had wounded herself. How was it possible that she might have survived such a thing, and why was she not growing weaker? Logically, her gaze fell upon her wrists next. Around them, so tightly bound that the pressure stung, were two strong lengths of cotton.
"Those need to be reinforced, by the way," Starshot coughed, finally managing to pull a length of what looked to be yet more copper wire from his jacket.
"Huh? Why did you—" Aria sputtered, still shaking from shock. Bracing her head in her hand, she tried to blink away the surreal quality of her current situation. It didn't help her dream-like haze that the time mage’s speech had changed since last they met, even though it now sounded more like what it ought to have been in the first place: slightly antiquated and peppered with modern interjections, many of them directed toward himself because, of course, he was utterly bonkers. What a glorious, hermitish mess this being was. If she had had the strength, Aria would’ve punched him square in that smug mouth of his. She could spy an old world, bourgeois, unicorn smirk of disdain from a mile away no matter what body it was attached to, and just like Adagio’s smirk, she hated it.
"The rib wound would've killed you, of course. Quite efficiently, actually," the mage stated matter-of-factly, twisting the wire with his teeth, and then pointing at her wrists with the length. "Those, not so much. At least not as quickly."
He paused to pass her a cheeky grin.
“But, naturally, you already knew that, being the expert in this department.”
"If you were going to stop me, you could've stopped me before I did this to myself, you bastard!" she cried, presenting her wrists to him. “Are you always this much of a complete fuck up? What kind of mage are you?”
The Siren had to admit to herself that she was attempting to get under the wizard's skin which is why it only worked to irritate her more when he chuckled at her, looking quite unbothered.
“Would you really like to find out?”
The way he spoke these words, ominously, calmly, and with a smile, made the Siren falter. Wrapping her arms around her body for a bit of warmth, she recoiled back into her corner. Seeing this only made Starshot's smile grow even brighter.
"It would seem that you misunderstand the nature of my abilities which is fine, actually. Better for both of us if you continue to do so. But to answer your former question, pain on your part might actually do you some good. You have a mouth on you. It irritates me," he sneered. "And if the pain doesn’t benefit you, then most certainly it will do some good for me. I must concede, you were rather entertaining to watch... and rewatch."
He grinned at her wrists like a child eyeing a bowl of sweets, and chuckled to himself when the Siren screeched.
Reaching upward, the delirious girl slapped her shivering hands over her eyes, praying that she was still alive, and that this nightmare wasn't, in all actuality, some accursed eternal punishment that the spirits had eagerly laid in wait for her centuries before.
"Oh, stop being so dramatic and hold still," the wizard commanded, edging toward her through a slush of wood chips and red water.
Expectedly, she flailed about whilst attempting to cover herself, but succeeded only in slipping down onto her back like a clumsy seal.
"I'll kill you!" she barked, scrambling onto her hands and knees. Her eyes caught sight of the discarded kitchen knife she had turned upon herself lying in the shadows beside the sink. Attempting to inch toward it, it was only then that she realized her legs weren't currently in the business of doing as they were told. Starshot, upon seeing the blade, easily shot over, snatched it up, and then shoved the Siren back down to the floor with a boot. Delighted, he dangled the thing before her nose.
"This what you want, is it?" he laughed, tucking the thing away into some dark fold, and again advancing upon her with the copper wire. "Now, I would advise you to calm yourself, little creature. It will make things far easier for everyone involved.”
The Siren took a deep breath to scream again, and that was when, through all the din and fog in her mind, it occurred to her—Her mouth was unsealed.
Internally calling herself every name for fool that she could fathom, Aria allowed her arms to fall by her sides, and filled herself with as much energy as she could muster which, to be quite honest, was barely any at all. A warbling hum began in the depths of her chest, and worked its way up through her throat. The sacred point below her neck itched and burned as the vengeful song crammed every corner of her mind, and its vibration extended out toward her fingertips. She didn't know what kind of game this mad mage was playing at allowing her to speak freely, but it was going to end right then and there.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Starshot warned her, seeing clearly what she was up to.
Ignoring him, as well as the strange grin he was wearing, the Siren unhinged her jaw to let loose a powerful refrain.
She choked. Her entire body felt like fire, hit with a shocking sensation so painful and unexpected that she could do nothing but force out one, unsteady note. It quickly faded once leaving her lips. She mouthed out a silent scream, and curled into herself, chest racked with pain. Moving up past her ribs, the searing gathered into a circle about her neck, and rattled her throat until it clenched itself shut. Instead of the rest of her Siren song, a tiny squeak escaped her, and she fell onto her back, clutching at her neck, gasping for air.
Once the terrible sensation had begun to fade, Aria took the opportunity to reach upward only to discover that something had been placed about her neck. Edging her hand in a circular motion, she felt a metal ring curving around it, and wondered why she had not previously managed to notice the small clinks and clanks it had made earlier whilst she was busying herself with rolling about aimlessly upon the floor.
"What..." she coughed as her energy drained away. “What is this thing?”
"I warned you, didn't I?" Starshot scoffed, ringing the echo of her one successful note out of his own ears. "Now, hold still. I haven't finished with it as of yet."
An overwhelming sense of helplessness seized her, and she retreated to crouch in the corner once again. Her wide, sallow eyes locked upon the wizard in pure hatred as he approached to kneel before her, looking completely unmoved. He gave her a stare as serious as the grave.
"If you strike me, I will bind your arms. Are we clear?" he inquired.
Aria said nothing, and turned her head away, sickened by the sight of him. When she felt him reach forward to brush the soaked hair away from her shoulders, she recoiled at once, and held him at one, trembling arm’s length.
"Don’t..." she croaked, feigning courage.
"Oh, please, don't flatter yourself," the wizard snorted with a roll of his eyes, his attentions completely transfixed by something below the girl’s chin. Pushing her arm out of the way, he reached out to grab at the ring locked about her neck, brought the wire forward, and attached it somewhere that she could not see. A warm glow came from the space around her collarbone, and after it had receded, the time mage shifted away from her.
"There. Now, let's give it another go," he urged her, slapping his palms enthusiastically upon his knees. Strangely enough, he appeared quite curious about all of this, giddy even. When Aria did nothing, instead choosing to stare at him in confusion, he prompted her once again. "Come on, then!"
"No," she objected, finding no reason that she should do anything that might make him so suspiciously happy. The mage's patient demeanor quickly dissipated. He reached out with a hand, and clenched onto her arm.
"Sing, Siren," he hissed, eyes flashing.
"No!" she screamed this time, attempting to pull away. The wound upon her wrist ached.
Starshot seemed to consider something for a just moment before his hand began to glow, and Aria felt her flesh burn beneath it. Keeling forward, her gaze planted itself upon the spot from where a large, red mark and the smell of singed body hair were now emerging.
“Stop!” she choked, unable to withstand it.
"Make me!" the time mage barked in response, gripping her harder.
Increasingly, the pain became unbearable. Wanting more than anything for the wizard to let her go, the Siren twisted and writhed about, clawing at his arm like an animal caught in a trap. Finding herself far too weak to shake him off, she felt herself instinctively fill with power. Her eyes went red, her jaw unhinged.
C-consume me as you please, oh flame, f-for by my m-might I do the same and—
She choked upon the splurge of vomited words, alternating between sounding something of a song and screeching. The ruined melody was halted only when she again received a deep shock that snatched her up about the neck, clamping her throat shut. At last, Starshot released her, and shook the residue of the fumbled tune from his head once more in a manner that resembled someone wringing pool water from his ears. Aria watched him in a daze from where she was curled upon the floor.
How could this have happened to her again? And what's worse, how could she have so foolishly dragged her sisters into the fray? For all her suffering, the best the Siren could do now was to hope that Starshot's attentions remained planted solely upon her.
As her air passages allowed for precious oxygen to pass through them again, the enchantress clawed at her neck in desperation, trying to tear the horrible contraption off. Swatting her trembling hands away, Starshot loomed over her, frowning in deep meditation. Bidding her to be still, he continued to tinker with the torturous collar. Aria, far too exhausted, chose to oblige him.
"What is it? What did you do?" she gasped, spitting out a few strands of waterlogged hair that had caught themselves between her lips.
“Oh, come now, little creature. Even I can give you more credit than that,” Starshot murmured. “What I've done is clear. Call it a project I've been working on whose very close relative you've seen before, though not since long ago. I believe they use them upon the horns of unicorns.”
The Siren’s eyes shot open wide with realization, and she attempted to sit up to snatch at the wizard’s collar. Starshot quickly dodged out of the way.
“You put a ring on me, you asshole?” she yelled. “I'm not your prisoner! I'm not your fucking dog!”
How utterly degrading—a mighty Siren, finding herself practically prepped for a leash and a good smack in the muzzle with a roll of newspaper.
“I do believe that at this particular point in time, your opinions don't really matter, do they?” Starshot sighed, shoving her neck so that she hit the wall. “You gave me the opportunity I needed to test this thing, and so I took it.”
The sound of something small and metallic twisting and clicking into place caught Aria’s ear. When it did, the mage leaned back, and scratched the blue streak atop his shaking head.
“Well, it isn’t quite there yet," he hummed to himself. "But, I suppose it functions well enough to take this a step further."
Aria passed him a quizzical look until, to her horror, the mage stood, and turned his attentions onto her sisters.
"N-no. Hold on," the Siren stammered, attempting to sit back up.
The time mage peered into his jacket where he kept that strange, glowing circle of light, and studied it for a moment before grimacing.
"I'm afraid waiting isn’t an option," he grumbled. "There is still very much I'd like to discuss with you, after all."
"Leave them out of this!" Aria commanded. "I'm the one who’s wronged you, right?"
As could be expected, the wizard ignored her supplications.
“Maybe I would’ve been more inclined to listen had you told me where Star Swirl’s journal is hidden,” he murmured. Reaching out with an index finger, Starshot then jabbed it right into Adagio's enraged, frozen face, and twirled the digit around not an inch away from her nose.
“I told you. I don't know where that stupid journal is. If you want it so damn bad, why don’t you just ‘poof’ on back to wherever you came from and go get i—” the girl began.
"This one..." Starshot passed an irritated glance in Aria's direction, again ignoring her words. "I'd wager you wished I was foolish enough to release her."
The injured Siren’s lips pursed, allowing no emotion to show. Secretly, she agreed with him. Starshot wouldn't dare waltz about so confidently had both Adagio and she been loose—and able to properly use all of their limbs, of course.
“Adagio would know for sure where that journal was,” Aria stated matter-of-factly. “She’s the one who hid it.”
Starshot studied the glowering, fuchsia Siren for only a moment more before turning away to face the eldest creature once again.
“I've been watching Adagio for some time now. Clever devil, isn't she?"
The mage's expression melted into a deep frown as he stared into that all too familiar, golden visage. For a second, he almost appeared lost in memory, trapped somewhere in between admiration and despise.
"She covers her tracks well, but hides things in vain, I'm afraid. Now that I've found you three, it will prove far easier for me to..." He allowed his words to trail off.
Aria cocked an eyebrow with interest. Adagio had been right again. There was a way to keep information from him. Still, the dour Siren could not fathom at that particular moment how this might hinder a wizard knowledgeable and skilled enough to track both time and space. Nevertheless, if it appeared to trouble him to the extent that he might feel it necessary to mention out loud, then it must have definitely been something worth her noting.
The spiteful mage balled his hand into a fist, and mocked the action of punching the eldest Siren straight in the nose. Sneering, he then turned his sights upon Sonata, stuck mid-stumble, and yet prepared to join in with her sister in harmony. In her rush, the youngest girl appeared apprehensive, a tad bit frightened. It pained Aria to imagine that she might soon come face to face with her worst expectations.
"This one? This one is simple," Starshot beamed, "which makes her perfect for my current needs."
"I said get away!" Aria cried even as the mage raised his hand to draw his spell off of the youngest Siren's body. Oddly enough, his magic did not seem to come with as much ease as it had before. He even shook his wrist after removing the spell, almost as if it had gone sore from strain.
As Sonata's body was released from its enchanted stasis, it careened into the light upon Adagio's back. The whispers of a song were still fresh upon her tongue as she tumbled over. Stammering as the glow in her eyes faded away, in her confusion, she attempted to decipher why, exactly, she was now kneeling upon the tiles. It was then that the poor thing looked about herself, and took in the pool of bloody red, her eldest sister frozen mid-step in the doorway, and the other one bare and wounded upon the floor, bandages upon her wrists, and a strange brass ring about her neck. Then, finally, her eyes trailed upward, and landed upon the mage.
"Aria!" the girl cried in terror. “W-what's happening?"
"Sonata! Sing!" the collared Siren implored her.
Sonata, too stunned to move, continued to gawk at the wizard until her sister managed to fall against her shoulder, nudging her into alertness.
"She's right, you know," Starshot added in that eerily calm tone of his. He seemed to delight in the younger girl's apprehension whilst he busied himself with removing his earplugs. "You really should hurry.”
Somehow managing to shake off the shock of everything she had just witnessed, the youngest Siren quickly gulped down her fears, got to her feet, and took a deep breath. Eyes leaking tears, she filled herself with power, and allowed the rage and sorrow that encompassed her to direct itself onto the one who had been causing them such distress.
Oh, cruel of heart, fellow grim beast,
Who’s lived blinded by obsession,
Now, may you hearken unto me...
The song came beautifully though a bit forced in its strange rhythm, and antiquated to fit Starshot’s tastes. It was a haunting refrain full of bite, fire, and desperation. At once the melody wrapped itself around the wizard’s mind, and his eyelids soon drooped in submission. Aria, too weak to speak, sighed in relief as she watched on. It would seem that whatever the mage’s second "trial" was meant to be, it had ultimately failed.
And then the burning, choking sensation picked up again. Clawing at the ring about her neck, the older Siren shook her head in protestation as she was rendered unable to speak. Sonata, never noticing what it was she was doing to her sister, continued on with her melody.
And see reflection of what I've made,
The thing I birthed in you that stayed...
The elder girl's body began to rattle, and again, her eyes rolled back as she hit the floor. The clanking sound of the activated ring about her neck was what finally caught Sonata's attention, and at once, she spun about. When she caught sight of her sister convulsing, she panicked. Immediately her song changed its course as she rushed to Aria's aid.
A dark deed to be repaid in kind.
Why not cease her woes and ease your own mind?
When Starshot, still locked under her spell, barely shifted toward Aria, and then froze to his spot, Sonata, again, panicked. Her song faltered as she watched her sister's back begin to arch and stretch in agony.
W-why not cease her woes and ease your own mind?
“Do something!” the youngest Siren screamed in frustration.
"I cannot touch her like this," Starshot slurred in reply, remaining unmoved.
"Stop it! How do you stop it?" Sonata gasped. Her song finally faded away into nothing as she tugged at the collar herself, only to receive two burned palms as payment. At once, exhaustion hit her. Shoulders slumping and coughing up a bit of what tasted like blood, she rounded upon Starshot, and rushed him to claw at his face. Stumbling to the ground, the mage was knocked free from the girl’s spell at once. Shaking his daze away just in time to catch her by the arms, he staved off her second attack. Ever determined, the girl put all of the energy she could muster into knocking him in the ribs with an elbow. Catching him by surprise with the nature of her strength, and finding himself unable to thwart this sudden show of force, the wizard doubled over, coughing.
"Make it stop!" the youngest Siren continued on, advancing upon him again.
Thinking quickly, the mage raised his hand, releasing a flash of light before the girl’s eyes, stunning her just long enough to snatch her about the neck.
"Alright! Now, that will be quite enough of that! Calm down!" he commanded her. The frantic Siren barely heard him through her choking and struggling. "Be still! Your kin is fine!"
Eventually managing to pull away from Starshot's grasp, Sonata quickly retreated back to Aria's side where the girl had managed to stop writhing, and now lay panting upon her back. Brushing a hand over her soaked hair, Sonata whimpered once, and gathered her sister up into her arms. Trying again to wrench the accursed ring from about the girl’s throat, she found her efforts futile.
"You stupid creep!" she managed to scream through her sobs. "I'll sing and—"
"You might want to reconsider that sentiment," Starshot coughed, rising to his shaky feet as he again knocked his head free of Siren songs, and reinserted the plugs into his ears. "Your tune is what will kill her."
"W-w...wha?" the youngest Siren stammered as the wizard approached her. Fighting to cling onto her sister, she did not let go until forced to by way of magic.
"At least that works well enough,” the wizard muttered to himself as he dug back into the inner bits of the ring about Aria's neck.
"Leave her alone!" Sonata cried. She took in a deep breath, and filled herself with power once again. Her chest burned, and felt as if it might explode. Words rushed through her brain, none of them making sense as they hastened themselves together into an attempt at a song. However, this time, before the rumble of a melody could ever leave her throat, to her horror, she witnessed the ring about Aria's neck start to glow, and her sister's body begin to tremble. Shocked, she allowed her melody to die, realizing that the wizard had been speaking the truth.
Clasping her hands over her mouth, the youngest Siren finally bowed her head in submission. Seeing that she would no longer prove a threat to him, Starshot released her from his now crackling beam of magic. Finishing with the enchanted collar, he took a few paces back, and sat himself upon the edge of the tub. Curiously, he watched on as the youngest girl rushed again to her sister's side to help her sit up. She tore the pink jacket off of her own back, and helped her to slip it on.
"Thanks," Aria rasped, still shaking. “Are you alright? Here, let me see your—”
"Ari, I'm so sorry!" Sonata blubbered, pulling her in close. "I didn't know that would happen!"
"It's okay," the wounded girl replied. "I didn't either. It isn’t your fault."
Something about this exchange disturbed Starshot. To him, it seemed highly unfit and wholly impossible for this horrid pair to be capable of such tenderness. Looking as if he might be sick at any moment, the mage cleared his throat, and leaned forward.
"If you two are quite finished, I do still have questions for you,” he interrupted. The girls' eyes both turned to peer at him, deep hatred seeping from either pair.
"Well, you can just go right on ahead and fuck yourself then, can't you?" Aria replied smugly, gripping Sonata's jacket tighter about her frame.
Working his jaw, Starshot ignored the commentary, and sunk into a more brooding demeanor.
"You know, you deserved to die twice. Of course, I didn't foresee the second one, but still I do very much wish that I had been granted the time to enjoy them both more thoroughly."
The sisters both appeared startled by this statement.
"So, then why didn't you just let me? Isn't that what this was all about? Isn’t that what you wanted?" the elder girl spat, her voice wavering.
The time mage’s features went grim. A long silence ensued as he thought to himself. At last, his gaze rose again to lock with Aria’s.
"Did you know that the morning after you… hurt Cri—,” he cut himself short, “my wife, that I found her eating dirt she had fetched from our garden? Through a mouthful of filth she spoke to me, and said that her only remaining desire in the entire world was for Adagio to love her so that she might more eagerly devour her. Try as I might, I couldn’t save her from what you three had done. Tartarus, I could barely help myself back then.”
He rubbed his temples, despising these dreadful memories.
“She died eventually, poor thing, belly full of worms and the name “Amabile” upon her lips. By that time, she could no longer even remember who I was.” He paused. “Have you ever witnessed someone so very dear to you perish in such a way? Forgetting you whilst longing for their own destruction?”
The two sisters looked at him dully, completely unmoved. Perhaps it was all their lived years' experiences culminating together to create the illusion of emptiness when what they truly lacked was simply the ability to be surprised; however, in Starshot’s all but humble opinion, there was no difference to be made between this reaction and the nonchalant mannerisms of predators unable to see their prey as anything worthy of consideration. This notion, obviously, only worked to irritate him even more.
“What are you saying, Starshot?” he grumbled to himself, shaking his head. “Of course, you could never fathom such a thing, could you? You three were completely untouchable, mighty. Who should you have ever had to worry after when the only beings you cared for were yourselves? I'm sure you’ve devoured tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands by now, if not more. And you being what you are, of course the faces would all begin to blur, the sting of the terrors you wrought would begin to dull. We little mortals could never matter, could we?”
He smiled ominously.
“I intend to change that. I’ve turned into a bit of a stickler for being forgotten, you see.”
"Oh, for Pete’s sake, then just go ahead if you're so damn sick of us!" Aria raged just long enough to pound her fist into the floor before again falling backward in exhaustion. "Why wait? Here we are. Do it now!"
Bluffing—Usually it was best if Aria stayed away from it altogether. With her temper the way it was, she usually ended up goading on the occurrence of whatever she hadn’t previously desired, all for the sake of the dare itself. One could imagine how troublesome this often became.
The wizard did not reply. Working his jaw, he took a deep breath, and leaned to one side on the edge of the tub. This, Aria found quite strange. A myriad of thoughts raced through her befuddled brain, and her lips sealed tight, reluctant to speak the words that were on her mind, the loudest of them being: He won't do it now. He refuses.
“It is my intention, make no mistake about that,” the mage murmured. His eyes shifted toward Sonata. Aria instinctively nudged herself in front of the girl as a makeshift shield.
"But since we last...met in those woods, I've been thinking, and have decided that perhaps I was fortunate for things to have turned out the way they did that evening, in that particular thread of fate. I've been awaiting the crossing of our paths for a very long time, you see. Surely, you could understand my desire to now prolong things, to mold it all until your end plays out in the manner that best suits your sins. And it will, believe me. I have foreseen it. It cannot be avoided. All I'm doing now is following the victorious path that has already been laid out for me."
His lips curled up into a wicked grin when the youngest girl began to cry a pitiful, brokenhearted whimper.
"You took everything I truly cared for away from me in the most vicious of ways. Did you really expect for your end to be so sweet? So calm? Of your own volition, sitting in a warm bath? Never. Not while I still live."
Sonata's sobbing and Aria's belabored breath were now the only sounds that filled the air. The elder girl studied him, this maniacal mage, trying her best not to allow herself to sink into a state of despair. Her jaw squared, and she defiantly raised her chin toward him.
"I don't believe you,” she hissed, shaking the weeping girl into attention. “Don't believe him, Sonata. He's lying. Look at him closely." Directing her with only a glance, Aria instructed Sonata to take a look at the nature of the green smog now escaping out of the wizard's head and shoulders.
Starshot's eyes narrowed, and when he stroked his chin, Aria realized that she had nearly made a grave mistake. Such replies must have been a goldmine to someone like him. Her words were rich with personal implication. She bit down upon her own tongue as punishment for saying them.
"Very well. I lie," the wizard shrugged, and yet the seeping green energy remained unaltered. This only worked to confuse the once immortal pair. Naturally, both statements could not have been untruths. The frantic second guessing of themselves showed clearly upon their faces, and the wizard smiled, taking the free moment to again glance at the now barely glowing disc of light within the lining of his jacket.
"Why do you keep staring at that thing?" Aria inquired, wisely attempting to change the subject. It was time that this arrogant jerk begin to feel as scrutinized and bare as he had forced them to feel.
At once, Starshot closed his jacket, and clasped his hands together.
"Tell your eldest that even if that mortal girl were to aid you three in getting through the portal at this school of hers, you will still never make it back to Equestria alive."
Sonata gasped. Aria said nothing. Afraid for the younger girl to reveal too much with her colorful emotions, she stroked her pretty blue hair, and passed her a sincere look.
"Put your head on my shoulder, okay, Sonata?" she instructed her, murmuring into her ear. "And turn your head away. Can you do that?"
The girl nodded, and did as she was told, wrapping her arms around her sister for comfort as she continued to whimper.
"Look, just do whatever it is you came to do, or I don't care what happens; we'll sing as long as we can until you cut something important out of yourself!" Aria exclaimed, quite tired of the wizard’s antics.
"I've found where you three come from, you know. Your source, so to speak,” Starshot interjected, ignoring her threats. “I've torn it up with my magic, splayed it with the sharp rocks that line your ancient coast. It's all gone. There is nothing for you to return to."
Aria faltered. Gulping down her instinct to panic, she took a deep breath.
He's lying. He's lying. He's lying. If he did destroy our home, wouldn’t our powers be...
"When I get out of this collar—" she threatened.
"And those scars," the mage interrupted again. "Did Midnight Swift give those to you, too?"
This time, she nearly swallowed her own tongue. At last, the Siren’s hidden apprehensiveness broke free to shake her, and laid itself bare for Starshot to witness. What small tint was restored of her color seemed to drain out of her skin in an instant. Suddenly, she seemed far too small to resemble anything of a threat. Her eyes filled with tears.
"H...how..." she squeaked.
"It was he and these scars that helped reawaken you so that you might regain your Sirenhood. Repeat to me the vile things one does to awaken a Siren, won't you?"
Her frame trembled. Sonata held her even closer, and Aria could tell it wasn't for her own comfort this time, but to steady her older sister’s quickly failing resolve. Even still, the older girl could feel a wave of fresh tears freely slipping down the back of her shoulder.
“Or perhaps your kin could remind me how it was these Fylleions, as she calls them, managed to awaken her,” he added, turning to look toward Sonata.
The youngest girl’s head nearly shot up as she gasped in shock. Aria placed a palm upon her sister’s cheek, and pulled her back in close.
“Don't fucking talk to her,” she cried.
She'd never felt so personally invaded, at least not since she had been subject to Mist and Swift all those many lifetimes ago. This mage, this Starshot, who held nothing but contempt for her, had discovered everything. Those horrible things that had befallen them all when they had lived upon land, he'd seen every last bit of it. He really did know where they had came from, and what sorrows had finally driven them back to their sea.
"And don't you... don't... you dare speak about those ponies..." she stammered, her eyes red with rage and grief. Despair encompassed her. If he had known about her history with Swift, then he also really did know where their beach was. Had he really destroyed their home after all? Her head now began to ache. Nothing about this situation was making sense anymore.
Meanwhile, delighting in the pair’s misery, Starshot's confidence seemed to shoot through the roof.
"Midnight Swift," he chuckled. "I suppose it was just your luck that such a horrible pony might have taken interest in you and your sea, might have seen something of worth in those disgusting scales."
Aria paused. She felt her sister do the same. Even Sonata's head spun about to stare at the time mage in confusion.
Interest in their sea? Worth in their scales? But neither Swift nor the Fylleions had ever known them whilst they were in their true forms.
“What are you…”Aria began, but then quickly stifled herself when it dawned upon her: The time mage was bluffing.
Starshot hadn’t the slightest clue who Swift was, nor had he ever tracked down their true origins. To do so, he would have had to find their coast first, and the endless shorelines of Equestria, coupled together with their ancient histories, had more than likely proved too formidable a task for him to take on in his current rush toward victory. That and the fact that these Swifts and Fyllieons were ponies probably far too ancient, too unworthy of note, and long dead to ever become traceable without deeper historical context implied that Aria’s assumption was right. The clever son of a bitch was lying. He had simply been using what he had heard them speak out loud in their rooms or across dinner tables in order to fish for more information.
Pushing Sonata's head back around lest she give this new, gloriously useful revelation away with her far too expressive face, Aria gulped down the greatest sense of relief she had felt in years, and forced a belabored frown onto her maw. If it was the embodiment of evil that this wizard sought, then, by Chaos, was he about to get it.
"Midnight Swift was my savior," the elder Siren hissed, forcing a slithering quality into her tone. She made doubly sure to let loose the most powerful Siren growl she could manage in her current state. "He came to me where I slumbered, and did what one does to wake something so magnificent. For each of us, it was the same. Sonata honored the Fylleions as her mother and father..."
The youngest girl's head shot up in shock.
Aria immediately elbowed her in the gut, decisively shutting her up, and then shoved her head back 'round.
"And Adagio, well, that isn't a story for me to tell,” she stated coyly. In all actuality, Aria had remembered that Adagio’s husband had been an ancient Duke. Lest he prove traceable, she chose not to remind the mage of this until she had a chance to ask her about it. “Only special ponies, ponies of true quality, unlike yourself, could have ever hoped to win the trust, the heart of a Siren, and it is only mortals of true quality who could ever hope to stop us.”
Her eyes bore into Starshot's, proud and unafraid. They grew even more so when the wizard recoiled, sneering at the noxious thoughts that he alone seemed far too eager to believe. He spat to the side, displaying his disgust.
"The vilest of ponykind. May their spirits rot as yours shall when I'm through with you."
"Oh, I beg to differ, Starshot. I'll have you begging for my song yet. I can smell it in you. You've never stopped wanting after our songs, have you?" Aria laughed, making sure her old Canterlotian accent seeped into her words for effect. Though the small, wiser part of her mind continued to warn her against it, she still desired so greatly to wound the mage, to make him suffer, even if it was only a little bit. "Before this story is through, mortal, I'll fill my belly with you just like I did with your pitiful, sniveling, sweet, delicious, tragedy of a wife!"
He was on his feet then, rushing toward them both. Aria held onto Sonata protectively, but in vain. Raising a glowing fist that sputtered with failing power, Starshot froze the youngest girl in a magical stasis once more. Suddenly, Aria found that she could no longer touch her; her arms shot away from her sister's body, and fell away onto the floor.
Bracing herself, she clawed at the wizard's hands as they wrapped about her throat, and brought her face so close that their noses touched. She laughed spitefully whilst watching him tremble with rage, struggling with himself to not strangle her right then and there.
“Aww, what's the matter, wizard?” she cackled. “Did I say something else that you couldn't predict?”
He studied her for a moment, a thought clearly stewing in those searing eyes of his. Gradually, hesitantly, his fingers loosened their grip about her neck. Raising his hand in Sonata's direction, he again removed the spell from about her body. Delighting in the air of faltering courage that the collared immortal was now emanating, he passed her a wicked grin of his own.
“I want you to pay very close attention to this,” he hissed before a beam of gold escaped his raised fist, emitting a powerful strike directly into the center of Sonata’s chest. The girl screeched as pain shook her. Aria, horrified, tried with little success to shove herself forward to her sister’s aid. Starshot, winding his free hand about her long, purple hair, wrenched her back, very nearly snapping her neck.
“Stop it! This has nothing to do with her!” the Siren screamed, clutching weakly at her own chest as the pain her sister was feeling stabbed into her own core.
“Well, that tamed you like a kitten, didn’t it?”
The younger Siren was curling into herself now, her body shook in agony.
“Go on, then. What were you saying about my wife?”
“You're gonna kill her!” Aria cried, panic entering her voice. “Please! I'm sorry I said it. Just stop, please!”
“Oh, you're sorry now, are you?” he chuckled. “Well, that was a rather timely change of heart. Seems somewhat suspicious, wouldn't you agree?”
The burning in her own chest made Aria collapse backward against the wall.
“Please! W-whatever you want. Just tell me… what to… Please, you're killing her!”
The wizard purposely took his time thinking about it, reveling in the older girl’s desperation as she watched her sister wither.
“Well,” he sighed, wearing a perturbed smirk, “for starters, an honest apology would be nice.”
“I'm sorry! I-I am!” the elder girl shrieked, beginning to cry as she watched Sonata go unresponsive under the mage’s assault. She sobbed as she felt the girl’s presence drawing away from her, far beyond the point where she could hope to feel it.
“I don't know. That doesn't really sound genuine to me at all,” the wizard groaned, trying his best not to burst out into a cruel fit of laughter. “You didn't pay attention to what it was you were saying in the slightest.”
Wrenching at her hair in disbelief and shock, still unable to pull herself from his grip, Aria forced her eyes away from her sister, and locked them with the wizard’s. Tempering her breath, she clasped her hands together, and thoughtlessly threw away every last shred of pride she had ever hoped to claim for herself. At long last, this damned smart mouth of hers had brought about her most feared of consequences. She would just as soon be rid of her dignity now if it meant saving her sister from paying a cost that had always been her own burden to bear.
“I'm begging you,” she gasped. “Please. I'm sorry for saying it; I'm sorry that I did it! Take this out on me. You can do whatever you want. Just please don't… Not Sonata... Please!”
“The journal?” Starshot posed, cocking an eyebrow.
“I don't know! I swear I don't know!”
Her voice had all but shriveled into a pitiful, weak, whimper by the time she was through. Something new had left a void in her, and the hole was far too fresh to yet make sense of it. A wide grin cut its way across Starshot’s face as he witnessed all of this. Gradually, he allowed the magic to fade away from his fist. Sonata’s still frame fell limp onto the ground where her sister quickly snatched her up into her grasp, and shook her frantically.
“S-Sonata?” she stuttered, drawing the girl in close. She received no response. Pressing her ear to her chest, she listened for any pulsing sign of life. There was none.
Lost in a state of complete disbelief, Aria was barely aware of the tears that rolled down her cheeks in her scramble to sing a healing incantation over her sister. The collar choked and shocked her, made her gag in agony. Even though she could not release a single note, she dared not give up trying. There was a sudden ringing in her ears as the world around her began to fade away into nothingness. Trembling uncontrollably, she lifted up the front of Sonata’s shirt, and nearly retched when she spied the smoking wound that had been burned so deeply into the girl’s abdomen, that it was all pink and red instead of its natural, pretty blue. In that moment, she finally understood what that fresh void she felt within herself was. Her head slowly shook as she refused to believe what she was witnessing. This was all just a nightmare, a horrible nightmare.
“Oh, no. Oh, no,” she breathed, lifting a hand to gently stroke her sister’s cheek, afraid that she might fall apart if handled anymore than that. “I can't feel her. Oh God, I can't feel her anymore!”
“Now, that is truly a shock,” Starshot murmured, wiping the sweat from his brow as he boredly watched on. “So, you can experience grief from loss after all. I’ll have to remember to jot that down somewhere.”
“Y-you have to… to take this thing off, and let me sing for her,” Aria blurted frantically, not knowing what else to say. “I-I swear I won't… I just need to…” She sighed and trailed off as she spoke, realizing how ludicrous her request must have sounded to the mage.
Starshot flexed and popped the knuckles of his fingers as he shook his head.
“Well, that would be a very foolish thing for me to do, now wouldn't it?” he clucked. “Besides, just look at her. She’s already dead.”
“No! Don't say that!” Aria screeched, unable to accept such a notion, even while in her heart she knew that it was the truth. At last, she keeled over, going completely still save for her heaving gasps for air.
“This is a dream. This is all just a bad dream,” she chanted to herself through her sobs, her eyes stretched open wide. The wizard peered at her with interest, wondering if the girl had finally decided to go mad.
“‘Fraid not,” he sighed, taking a quick glance into his jacket, and then at his watch. "But perhaps today I've taught you enough of a lesson. I must say, you are a rather crude and brash, little thing. Best to mind your manners when you aren’t sure who it is you're dealing with, ey? I recall you telling a girl something quite similar only yesterday," he stated matter-of-factly as a few flecks of golden light began to surround the youngest Siren’s lifeless body. As it did, the force of its power seemed to shove Aria away until she could no longer hold onto her.
“Don't you touch her! Leave her alone!” she screamed hysterically as she scrambled against the power of the light to get to her sister. The Siren froze suddenly, her breath catching in her throat as she watched the girl’s frame sit up in the oddest fashion. Sonata's raspberry eyes shot open, and her arms and legs begin to twitch. Heaves seemed sucked backward toward her chest, screams were shoved down into her throat as if they had never been made at all.
“You haven’t begun to suffer, trust me. That pit of filth that you call your mouth, it will be your undoing. You, Aria Blaze, and your sisters are a cosmic mistake. Have no doubt that I shall soon correct it." Another sinister grin cracked the mage’s face as his arms rolled backward, one over the other in a steady rhythm. “But not today. Today, you may consider yourselves fortunate, as temporary a sentiment as that might be.”
At once, the glow faded away, and just like a toy, the mage tossed Sonata, now very much alive and coughing as she clutched her burned chest, down into Aria’s lap. The elder Siren collected the girl up into her bandaged arms in a fit of joyful sobs. She buried her face into her younger sister’s hair, breathing in the scent, invigorated by the buzz of life she sensed flowing through her once again.
Reaching forward to hook his hand onto the ring about Aria's neck, Starshot cut this tender moment short by yanking the Siren in close.
“Tell your eldest that I want… that… journal,” he hissed. "Oh, and a few words of warning in case you, for whatever reason, might still require them to grasp this point: Don't ever try to force my hand again. Have some patience. I will return soon enough."
With a twist, the metal collar about Aria’s neck came loose. Then, shoving a hand into his jacket one last time, the inner lining let off a powerful glow that blinded them all.
Adagio lunged forward, never missing a beat. Power still flowing through her, she knew that it would not be possible had Starshot not been present. Blinded by light, she prepared to let off a powerful note before the wizard could escape, but alas, in that bright flash of gold, he was gone, leaving only the three of them sitting dazed and weakened in a pool of broken glass, wood, and sloshing crimson.
For the first time since entering the room, Adagio was given the opportunity to look around at the blood, the smashed mirror, Sonata laying in her sister’s lap, tearfully gasping for air, Aria's bandaged wrists, and the dark burn mark about her neck. When the eldest Siren began to grasp what had transpired, she descended into a smouldering fury. Tired, frustrated tears fell from her eyes, and she clenched her fists around the chunks of wood that floated about her fingers. Staring at Aria, she did not know whether to feel confounded, relieved, or merciful. The middle Siren met her gaze without fear despite her clear injuries, and her even clearer mistakes.
"Damn you. Damn you, Aria. Why?" Adagio crowed, unable to hold back her overwhelming rush of emotions any longer. Attempting to pull herself together, she sniffed back her tears, got to her feet, slogged off the filthy water now soaked into her clothing, and moved to fetch the youngest girl.
"Just… just hold on. Let me get Sonata downstairs first."
The night dragged on for so long that eventually Adagio gave up taking hopeful glances toward the clock altogether. Somehow, she had managed to get both Sonata and Aria to the downstairs bathroom to clean up, discovering in the meantime that the entire house now lay in shambles, particularly her bedroom. It would seem that Starshot had taken the opportunity at some point during his home invasion scheme to attempt a search for Star Swirl’s journal himself. Luckily, Adagio remained confident that he would not find it, at least not until she was ready for him to do so.
Dressing Sonata’s wound had proven a little difficult, it having been awhile since any of them had found it necessary to do such a thing. After allowing both of her sisters to dress for bed, she insisted that they both stay with her for the evening before finally allowing herself a moment alone. Ironically, the eldest Siren wasn’t in the mood for a bath that night, for obvious reasons, and ultimately ended up standing under a hot shower trying to wash off the shock of the day with little success.
Meanwhile, in the dark of Adagio's hastily reassembled room, Aria laid back, wordless and weary, amongst a queen-sized spray of frilly purple and gold satin. Too weak and shaken to even attempt to get comfortable, she turned her head in Sonata's direction, looking for some form of distraction.
The younger girl lay next to her, utterly still and silent, her wide eyes staring up toward the ceiling. Every now and then, a sniffle escaped her, and she would shuffle about, massaging the aching wound now hidden beneath the front of her pajamas.
Wanting to relieve herself of her immense sense of guilt, Aria scratched nervously at her own bandages and cleared her throat.
"Hey, Sonata. I'm thinking about rolling myself downstairs to sneak some beer and snacks. Want me to bring you something?”
She received no response. Sighing to herself, she reached out to nudge the younger girl with a persistent toe. It caught her by surprise when Sonata jolted from the touch, choosing to turn away onto her side instead.
"Yo, Toothpaste," Aria pressed, rolling one of Adagio’s many pillows over so that it might land atop the girl’s head. "You alright over there?”
"No, I'm not alright. Don't talk to me, Aria," Sonata murmured, her small voice hoarse and flat. It was a tone uncommon for her, enough so that it startled Aria into attention.
"Well, how else am I gonna get Adagio's shit pillows to resemble something that normal people sleep on without some—"
"You're a liar," Sonata stated plainly, ignoring her sister's useless rambling.
Caught off guard, Aria scoffed at her.
"You lied to me. You lied to both of us at the fair today. You made it seem like... like if you weren't..." Sonata paused to swipe at her face. "After everything we talked about… getting through this together, that whole time, you were still planning to..."
Aria sighed again, and allowed her head to fall backward against her pillow. Far too exhausted to keep up a charade of coolness any longer, she picked nervously at the bandages about her wrists.
"I thought it was for the best, Sonata. If… if my not being here could have quelled his anger to slow him down, or if I could draw him somewhere alone where I could take care of him myself, then no one else would have had to suffer. Or at least he would have been easier to deal with had I not succeeded."
This received no reply from the younger girl.
“I… I didn't plan on you two being home. I goofed. I waited for too long.”
"This is mostly my burden to bear, Sonata, and having to watch what he did to you… it only reinforced that notion to me. Please, try to understand, I was only doing it for the—"
"You're lying again," Sonata hissed, her voice gone so cold that Aria couldn’t help but picture the grimace she was probably wearing. "You didn't do any of this for us. You did it all for you. Just like all the other times."
“Hey, you didn't see the extent of what he was capable of! He killed you, Sonata, and brought you back just to toy with me! Just to spite me! Like if it was some kind of game to him or something!” Aria retorted, now feeling defensive. “The guy's dangerous… and he's nuts!”
The youngest Siren shook her head wearily, and turned around to face her sister.
"You’re right. I didn’t catch all of it. The only thing I caught was all the stuff lying around that showed me what you did to yourself. There's a bathtub full of your blood in there, Aria!” Her voice began to tremble. It was clear that she was trying to keep herself from crying. “Gosh, do you know what it was like, to be in the happiest mood I've been in since I don't even remember when, walking home today, and to suddenly feel my arms... and to know…”
This drew the elder girl into a stunned silence. Sonata took the opportunity to continue.
“You never even think about where we'd be without you, Aria, do you? How we'd feel about it. All you ever do is lock yourself away in your own head and grump about you, and frown about your things, and you, you, you. It's like you can’t even escape those old days at all. Don't you remember what Adagio said? We're all part of the same thing. We’re supposed to be trying to do all of this together now. And we’re trying to change. Why can’t you try, too?"
"Adagio loves being dramatic," Aria grumbled, biting one of her nails. "And newsflash: We all think about ourselves. That’s kind of what we do: act self-centered. Don't pretend as if that's my problem. I am trying to change as much as I can. Like I told you, I did this for you, and had I succeeded, you two would have found a way to fix all of this, somehow."
In all actuality, the elder Siren simply didn't want to admit that she was incapable of the sort of change her sister spoke of. She didn't want to admit that Sonata was probably right about her. She wasn’t really one to ask for help, or advice, or tenderness, even when she needed it the most, and that was already a large part of the problem. She refused to consider that she might not be as alone as she deemed herself. Her head was still locked away in those dark and lonely chambers of the Mist estate. Perhaps, in a way, she’d never really left the place at all.
The youngest Siren cut her words short as she found the pain in her chest kicking up the more she strained herself. Instead, she let loose a sigh, one of defeat. Laying down on her side, she rested her head upon the pillow, and closed her eyes.
"Do what you want, Aria, kay? Just know that if there is a next time, I'm gonna follow you. Whatever thing you choose, I'll choose it, too. We'll stay together whether you like it or not. ‘Cause that's how it's supposed to be."
These words startled the elder girl into a silence, and she found herself fearfully staring up toward the ceiling long after Sonata had fallen asleep, and Adagio had finally returned, freshly showered and dressed in her pajamas.
When the eldest Siren moved to stand at the side of her bed, Aria's eyes shifted in her direction. She passed her a mischievous frown, her heart secretly gladdened to be given some form of distraction.
"I'm not moving, Dazzle. Not after all the fuss you made about getting me into this nightmare lair in the first place."
Adagio chuckled, and passed Aria a disarming grin.
"That's alright. I didn't plan on kicking you out or anything. At least not tonight."
To Aria's surprise, her sister then saddled in next to her, pulled her close, and curved her arm about her so that the younger girl's head came to rest on her chest. Then, astonishingly, she began to stroke her hair.
"How are you feeling?" she asked, her voice calm, sure of itself, unwavering. Aria, still lost in a slight state of shock, momentarily fumbled for words.
"I... I... well, I'm as good as one could expect to be, considering..."
"I'll help you redo those bandages tomorrow," she replied, humming with annoyance. "I don't want anything that bastard touched on you. We don't know what he's done to them."
Aria coughed, attempting to think of something else to say.
"I uh... I learned a lot from him, actually. I'm sure it'll help you, but I'm just not clear on how to go about telling you without him—"
"I know," Adagio interrupted, “but don't worry about that now. We'll deal with it all soon enough. For now, just try to rest. You lost a lot of blood."
This strange mix of tenderness and quiet worked to confuse Aria. Her brow furrowed, and she arched her neck up so that she might look at her sister's face to make sure that what she was hearing fit with her expression.
"Aren't you pissed at me? Shouldn't you be telling me how stupid and thoughtless I am right about now? I mean, if I were you, that would totally be what I’d do… I guess."
Adagio chuckled softly.
"Oh, I am super pissed," she acknowledged with a smile. "But, considering the circumstances, I find that relief outweighs anger. I'm even more glad that you're alright."
Contemplating this reply, Aria allowed her head to rest again upon Adagio chest. Breathing in that warm, familiar scent of roses, she felt all of those pent up things she had been packing away in her heart slowly begin to release themselves. The sensation started as a small trickle, a mere crack in her usually stoic facade.
"I told Cookie, you know," she breathed. "I told her everything. Well, everything that I could with that jerk lurking around. I... I didn't think I'd be around to have to deal with the aftermath."
A nervous chuckle escaped her, one the eldest Siren could tell wasn't genuine.
"I was wondering when you'd get around to doing that. Those kinds of feelings don't happen very often for you, Aria. Not like Sonata... and even me to some extent, I suppose. What's it been, almost a hundred years now? Four hundred before that? There's something to be said about you and that little mortal of yours. It's just a shame that it took this..." the eldest Siren's voice trailed off in an attempt to preserve the peace of the moment. Still, Aria felt her inhale sharply, and let off a deep, rattling breath.
A wave of emotion struck the younger girl, along with the realization of all that she had done, everything that she had put at risk. Gripping her hands onto the cloth of Adagio's pajamas, she braced herself as sobs suddenly racked her.
"I'm so sorry that I keep doing this bullshit. I don't know what's wrong with me! It's like I can't help perpetually adding links onto this long, unending chain of eternal fuckups. I-I don't know why I can't just—"
"Stop," Adagio stated flatly.
"Yes! I don't know why I can't just stop and—"
"No, Aria, I want you to stop talking, and listen to me," the eldest Siren pressed, waiting until all had gone silent to continue. "We're past these apologies, now. I've been thinking about it, and I've decided that just the fact that we are sorry, in whatever respect we each interpret that, means that we’ve already grown to be better than those who made us this way. And we’re gonna keep growing. That's what I think. So, our reckoning didn’t quite come for us whilst we looked like perfect angels. So what? Fate has never allowed us to stray far from its path before. If this is how things culminate to end for us, well, then with it, we would be exactly what it was we were always meant to be, even if that is stranded, powerless, filled with burgers, and perpetually in a crappy mood.”
Adagio chuckled and nudged Aria playfully in the shoulder. Absentmindedly glancing over toward her nightstand, she happened to catch sight of a rather ornate and wide-toothed comb, one she especially loved for its ability to work smoothly through her curly locks. Picking it up, she gathered Aria's still slightly damp hair into her hands, and began combing it through.
"Fate gave us meaning as Sirens, each in our own way, and we should embrace that, whatever it may be. Perhaps it is better that we are disliked. If others never understand, then so be it. This is our nature; so, let's just leave it at that.”
Placing the comb down, she then proceeded to braid Aria's hair into one, long cord over her shoulder.
“Now… about what happened here tonight...” Adagio began pointedly. Her tone of voice made Aria cringe with dread.
"Your actions, Aria, as horrifying as they may seem, could very well end up saving us. You're good at that: pushing things along when no one else wants to."
"It’s weird that I keep having to remind you about this lately, but aren't you supposed to be the leader with the ideas or whatever?"
"Only when my path seems clear and without any dangerous threats," the elder girl replied.
"Pfft," Aria guffawed. "Then boy, does your radar need some adjusting because our ‘path’ has most certainly never been ‘clear’."
"Perhaps," Adagio coughed, taking this opportunity to pinch her sister on the shoulder. "But I could say the same for you... except I won't, because I like your radar "unadjusted". It's more useful that way."
Leaving her be for a moment, Adagio ran her fingers through her own mane, and gathered the entire mass together into three bunches lined in one long queue. Picking up the mirror that sat beside the comb upon her bedside table, she admired her reflection within it, and then turned the mirror upon Aria so that the girl could see herself. The younger Siren chuckled.
"You... are such... an immense dork," she snorted. Adagio smiled, and turned to look at Sonata who, by now, was snoring quite loudly.
"Let's wake her up," she propositioned, only to be stopped by Aria's bandaged hand pressing against her arm.
"Don't," the wounded girl objected, wearing a rather guilty frown. "L-let her sleep. She deserves the rest.”
Noting the confidence draining right out of Aria’s voice, Adagio allowed the matter to drop, and turned to her bedside table once again. Rummaging within it for only a moment, when her hand emerged from the drawers it held a red, velvet-lined box. Upon opening the thing, something curved, and shiny could be seen glimmering in the few shreds of light that leaked in through the window. Peering at the object through the near darkness, Aria blinked when she realized it was her sister’s spiked tiara. She started back when the older girl unclipped the circular piece open, and moved to place the imposing thing atop of her violet, not-curly-in-the-slightest head.
“You're crazy,” Aria chuckled self-consciously, moving just beyond her reach. “I can’t wear that thing.”
“And why not? I wanna see how it looks on you!”
“It's like a bazillion years old, Adagio, and it's official. I don't wanna break it, and then have you bitch and moan about it.”
“Oh, please,” Adagio scoffed with a roll of her eyes. “What’s the real reason, Aria?”
“Because, idunno,” Aria groaned, sitting up straight, and rubbing at her arm. “It’s your frikkin’ crowny thing or whatever. I'm not some noble. I've never been a noble. Not even gentry.”
A thought flashed across the glum Siren’s mind, an image of a lovely lady pegasus, rose-colored like herself, and a rich widow who had loved her from far away. Aria’s heart sank a little more at ancient thoughts of what could have been, but was fated never to.
“It’ll just look stupid, okay? So, just give it a rest.”
“First of all, it's not a ‘crowny thing’,” Adagio clucked, twirling the shining, purple and gold piece about her finger. “It’s a diadem...thing. And secondly, it's mostly fallen apart anyway. The spikes are all that’s left out of all the jewels, and stupid strips of silk they added to make it look less abrasive. Thankfully, I like it better this way.”
Aria’s neck craned around to stare at her.
“Adagio!” she hissed, making a motion that inferred the message: too specific, too loud.
The elder girl shrugged, and swung the large ring about her finger some more.
“That time mage is a dirty knave. Forget him for tonight.” She leaned in toward her sister. “And don't try to change the subject. Come on, Aria. Try it on.”
“No!” the girl hissed again, scooting further on down the bed. “That thing is enchanted. It's bound to you. What if it makes me break out in hives or something?”
“How do you know?”
“Because your stars didn't make me break out in hives when I tried them on,” Adagio snickered, that old, devilish grin spreading across her face.
“It… Wait, what?” Aria gasped blundering back toward her sister, and prodding at her chest with an indignant finger. “What’ve I told you about touching my stuff? Especially those stars?”
Adagio sighed heavily, and rolled her eyes.
“It's too late for all of that now, Aria. Besides, they didn’t even look very good on me, anyway.”
“Dazzle, I'm gonna slug you so hard if—”
“Well, why don't you begin your campaign of vengeance by putting your dirty mitts all over my things?” the elder girl interjected, holding the diadem out once again. “Whaddya say?”
Frowning, halfway through a generous bout of fist throttling and threats, Aria eyed the fine item over, and then studied her sister. Reaching out to snatch the thing up, she clumsily raised it above her head, and forced it down upon her crown where it sat very close to tilting back off to the side. At once, the dour girl crossed her arms and grimaced.
“There. Ya happy now?” she inquired just in time for the diadem to slip down over her eyes. “Geez, this thing is heavier than it looks.”
“Yea, that would be because it isn’t made of plastic,” Adagio snorted, leaning forward to adjust the thing back atop her sister’s head. She didn’t tug it over with a careless, single-handed grip, nor did she remove it and place it again. Instead, she gently reached forward with both hands, and with great care and dignity, slid the thing up and over, clipping it shut. Her fingers remained there on top of Aria’s head, prodding the diadem gingerly with as much reverence as one who had experienced the piece in all its pomp and ceremonial glory might give it. When she was satisfied, Adagio removed her fingers, slowly edged back, and smiled at what she saw.
“It suits you,” she breathed, tapping her chin with an enthusiastic digit.
“Y-yea?” Aria stuttered, twisting her braid nervously. Her sister nodded.
“Very much so. You look like a noble,” she chuckled, promptly leaning over to fetch the mirror. “Here, have a look.”
“N-no, that's okay,” Aria stammered, wrenching the spiked bit from her head, and dropping it into Adagio’s lap. “I don't think I could stand the idea of myself as something like… like that.”
The older girl eyed her over in surprise.
“I don't think I've ever heard anyone put it that way before. It isn’t as if this is all real.”
“Exactly. It isn’t real,” Aria grumbled. “Back in the old times, I wasn’t something to be treated like a lady. At least not until I could force others to treat me well with my power, and even then I still knew that it wasn’t and would never be ‘real’.”
She nervously rubbed at the permanent purple bruise beneath her arm, and motioned toward her nicked skin.
“Look at me, Adagio. Look at Sonata. We weren’t cared for like you were. All of these are thoughts that have stuck with me my entire life. So, why should I lie to myself now, and pretend as if I'm not… idunno… damaged goods? You can’t bruise or break something like what you used to be.”
Adagio cocked an eyebrow.
“Can't you?” the eldest girl chirped. “Ironically, it seems as if those who were closest to me were always the ones who hurt me, who betrayed me the most.”
There was sadness in her voice. She gulped down some resolve as she stared, heartbroken, at the bandages upon her sister’s arms.
“Not all wounds are visible, Aria.”
“Yea, well mine are, and everyone can see them, and know, even if I don't want them to. I can't hide it all behind a smile and wavy arms and hips like you do.”
A look of understanding swept over the eldest Siren. Thinking to herself for a moment, she then gently picked the diadem off of her lap, and sat it atop her own crown with all of the dignity and royal air that one might expect from Adagio. With confidence, she then picked up the mirror and peered at her own reflection.
“Just because you aren't perfect, just because you’re scarred or hurt, just because you're vulnerable, or sad, or abused, or sick, or weak, or poor, or hunted, doesn’t mean that you can’t still think yourself great. I haven’t been a noble or treated like one for a long time,” she began, flipping a perfect, orange curl over one shoulder, as usual. She then spun the mirror about, pointing it directly upon Aria’s face. The girl caught sight of her own reflection, and the unsure hunch in her back, the nervous rise in her shoulders made her recoil into herself with embarrassment. “At some point, Aria, you should allow yourself the opportunity to gaze upon your own glory, and without shame or fear, love it.”
The bridge of Aria’s nose crinkled as she took in her sister’s words. Twisting at her wrists and bowing her head, she allowed her overgrown fringe to hang down like a curtain in front of her face. Feeling her cheeks go red, she hesitated to relinquish that it was, indeed, out of shame.
“I'm going to sleep, Adagio. I just want this night to be over,” she blurted, her voice hoarse and weak. Without looking up toward her sister again, she plopped down upon her side, and turned away.
She never saw the flood of tears that suddenly burst from Adagio’s eyes, and streamed down her cheeks in silence as she fought to keep her gaze away from the fresh bruises and bandages upon her sisters’ bodies. Muffling herself with a palm, she took a few deep breaths to calm her nerves before sitting up straight, and removing her diadem. Staring at the thing for only a moment, she clipped it shut and returned it to its case lest other thoughts, memories far too old and far too painful, rose up from the shadows to wound her as well.