“We are beings destined for greatness. Our hearts are bound for abundance, our minds for ineffable aptitude. Nevertheless, along the path of our lives, many of us may stumble, and be lost to the storm. Aligning the forces within ourselves reveals the light we require to act as guide in our journey. It is the sure path toward inner serenity and the ascension of both mind and spirit.”
Two flickering wicks sliced through thick blankets of steam pressing inward in the dark. The scent of heated rose oil and lavender smoke permeated the tile-lined room. On the floor, beside the brimming tub, a pile of hastily discarded clothing lay scattered alongside a plastic bag filled to the edges with a dozen small, silver paper boxes. Printed upon each of them was the visage of an implausibly elated woman. In her eyes was the promise of contentment via a twenty-minute, five dollar dye job. A third of the boxes had been emptied of their contents.
On top of the bag sat a smartphone, its glowing screen opened to a media player from which an unsettlingly serene female voice emerged. Padding its base was a once snowy towel, now stained to ruin with splotches of marigold and orange.
One slender, buttery arm idled down from the tub’s edge to extend a single buttery finger toward the media player’s volume button. The finger dripped a small puddle of rapidly cooling moisture onto the floor.
“Stress and fear are the creeping gloom. When we feel tense or fearful, we disturb our innate sense of inner balance, hence upsetting our inner guide toward greatness,” the phone blared. “Just as any repetitive positive physical exercise might heal the aches and pains of the body, so might consistent positive mental exercise heal the aches and pains of the mind. When we are feeling stressed or afraid, we should recite these helpful mantras as often as possible to initiate the process of returning ourselves to a state of inner balance. Repeat after me…”
The crackling voice paused for a moment as if allowing the listener either time to mentally prepare themselves for meditation or time to blow their brains out with a grimey pistol, depending on the mood lighting. “Breathe in, breathe out.”
“Breathe in. Breathe out,” Adagio repeated, skimming the surface of the tub water with her fingertips. Her ordinarily thick orange waves and spirals were soaked and hung down into the water in billows of fantastically long undulates. She squeezed one lock between her index finger and thumb, dragging the digits down upon its length. Opening her eyes, she stared at the fingertips and grimaced. The flesh upon them was stained with an unpleasant orange tinge. “Breathe in. Breathe out,” she repeated, closing her eyes and leaning back. This time she thought to actually follow the mantra’s advice.
“I do not surrender. I only surrender to the process,” the perturbingly peaceful female voice said.
“I do not surrender. I only surrender to the process,” Adagio repeated. Increasingly, the glimmer of a smile appeared around the corners of her lips.
“Worrying today is borrowing from my tomorrow,” the media player continued.
“Worrying today is borrowing from—”
“NOOOOOO!” burst the most blood-curdling howl Adagio had heard since that one time in Manehattan she and her sisters had invited a wealthy heiress for Easter after they’d turned her prudish daughter—a tenant of theirs—onto booze and jazz just for fun. Just to see what would happen. Unlike the heiress’ scream, however, this outburst was not even the slightest bit enjoyable or funny.
Adagio gasped and shot to her feet, spraying water everywhere. It was just by luck that she happened to topple the bags and towels atop of the phone, thus keeping it sufficiently dry. The lecturer’s voice seemed transformed into muffled protests beneath ripples of stained cloth.
Thinking Starshot returned to finish them off, Adagio wasted no time with grabbing a towel before stepping out of the tub and rushing to the door. “Sonata? Aria?” she panted, the air suddenly gone from her lungs. Fumbling with the lock, she staggered when something person sized—or more specifically, Sonata sized—crashed into the opposite side of the door before it assumedly realized the thing was bolted tight. Some twisting on the other side of the handle substantiated this.
Managing to wrench the door open at last, the eldest Siren came face-to-face with her youngest sister, sniveling pitifully in the threshold. “Where is he? Tell me!” she screamed, practically shoving the youngest girl out of the way to see into the living room.
“What?” Sonata squeaked, looking confused.
“The mage! Is he here?” Adagio heaved, her eyes darting about. After about ten seconds of searching and contemplating whether it was possible to beat a wizard to death with a shower brush, she realized that the only one present within a forty step radius was her sister. Gazing down at the girl in a fluster, shivering from the chilly living room air upon her bare skin, Adagio breathed a sigh. She hadn’t yet decided whether it was a sigh of relief or disgust. That would all depend on Sonata. “Sonata? You better have a damn good reason for interrupting my bath like this,” she growled. Her eyes flitted up toward the girl’s particularly peculiar hair.
Passing her elder the most pathetic of pouts, Sonata clasped her hands together, and took a deep breath as if preparing to unleash some horrible revelation upon the world—perhaps that the tooth fairy wasn’t real or that her favorite grape-flavored juice boxes didn't actually contain any grape juice at all. “I'm… I'm…” she stammered, beginning to hyperventilate.
“Yes?” Adagio sneered, clasping at herself for some illusion of warmth.
“I'm... old!” Sonata squealed, exploding into a spray of fresh tears.
Adagio eyed her up and down, teetering on the brink of exhaustion. Slowly, deliberately even, she shut the door in Sonata’s face. Relocking the thing, she made haste back to the warm refuge of the tub.
Growing more comfortable with the idea of ignoring her sister’s whining and rattling of the door handle from its opposite side, Adagio settled back down into her bath. Just as she was slipping into womb-like comfort—not that an immortal cold-blood would recall such beginnings—a thought occurred to her. Sonata was pretty strong, wasn't she?
The door broke open, the latch bolt splintering from its recess.
“Dagiiii!” Sonata wailed as she blundered into the downstairs bathroom, smacked on the light, and made a beeline for the tub.
“Sonata! Get out!” Adagio squealed, shooting up to her feet, not too keen on witnessing one hundred and forty-some odd pounds of rampaging Siren barreling straight toward her. The eldest girl snatched her pigment-stained towel from the floor, and held it up to shield her body from what were most certainly unworthy eyes.
“Dagi, why won’t you help me? I'm dying!” Sonata choked, ripping the towel away from her sister with ease, and throwing the stained cloth over her head. “I don't wanna duh-duh-diiiie!” She spun on her heels to go blubber at her pitiful reflection in the bathroom mirror.
“Sonata, you little—rrgh! Listen to me!” Adagio barked, using her hands and soaked tresses for makeshift modesty. “It's alright! I went shopping this morning, and—”
“How can I go to work like this? I can't go to work like this!” Sonata stammered, rushing over to throttle her sister by the shoulders, nearly making her slip. “How can I ever show my face in public again?”
It was evident that the younger girl was entering one of her manic meltdowns, one that Adagio was ill-equipped to handle at that particular moment whilst as naked and soaked as the day she was hatched—at least according to what old Equestrian folklore spoke of her birth. Understandably, the eldest Siren decided to do what she inevitably did whenever she didn't feel up to handling a particularly nasty or irritating problem. “Aria!” She beat a fist against the wall forcefully enough to ensure that some part of the racket would find its way upstairs.
Speedy footsteps rushed down the steps beyond the threshold. Soon after, Aria came stumbling in. “What the entire hell is your problem?” she yelled, then choked upon observing the baffling and bare spectacle before her. “Whoa. Okay, whatever this is, I want no parts of it,” she said, her glazed eyes clearly dissenting with this opinion as they lingered somewhere below Adagio’s neck. “So, uh… I'm gonna just turn around now, and uhh...”
“Seas, Aria. What are you, three hundred? Stop ogling me, grab this plastic bag, and watch Sonata for a second until I can dry off,” Adagio groaned, shivering as she motioned toward the adorably pouty, blue heap clinging onto her for dear life.
Aria’s half-delighted expression faded into full displeasure. “Why? And why does Sonata have a piss-stained towel on her head?”
Adagio growled. Whatever emotional repairs those stress mantras had managed to complete were promptly undone. “Because she saw her hair in her reflection, I'm guessing. And it's not piss,” she hissed through clenched and clattering teeth.
Aria’s features contorted. “Her hair? What are you talking about?” she scoffed, crossing her arms and leaning against the door’s frame.
“Ari, it's the most terrible thing in the whole wide world!” Sonata bawled, burying her face into Adagio’s hair. A tug of unearthly proportions was required to deter her from using the orange mass as a handkerchief.
“Aria, I don't have time for your games,” Adagio sighed, prying Sonata off, and stepping out of the tub. Noting the genuinely perplexed look her rosey sister was wearing, she arched an eyebrow. “When did you wake up?”
“Let's see. About two seconds after you two started screaming bloody murder, and one second after I half pissed myself thinking that wizard nut had come back to finish us off—Can you pack those things away already? They're extremely distracting,” Aria griped, pointing her finger toward Adagio’s chest. She waited until her elder tossed a fistful of hair over herself, and began to get dressed before speaking again. “Now, what the hell did you say happened to the Toothpaste’s hair?”
Adagio passed her middle sister a withering glare, bent over, picked up the plastic bag, and chucked it in her direction.
The dour girl caught it with both ease and indignation. Looking inside of the bag, she studied the boxes of hair dye. The labeling displayed all three sisters’ respective hair tones.
“Just look in the damn mirror,” Adagio groused, rubbing at her temples.
Looking rather bored, Aria turned her head and craned her neck to take a gander at her reflection. In it, she saw her beautifully imperfect self, the bruised shadows upon her face, her bandaged neck and arms, her glimmering eyes, her long purple hair striped with striking green and gray streaks, her...
A gray streak?
Only slightly more intrigued, the middle siren took a closer look at herself. There was now a thick, lock of gray hair flowing down to her waist. It framed her cheek, and hung limp at her side. In spite of this startling alteration where for a thousand years there had been none, Aria’s disposition remained hovering around the general area of ‘meh’. She blinked at her visage.
Sonata sat sniffling to herself on the couch. Aria was slouched beside her. The younger girl’s head was still draped in a towel, except now the cloth was splotched in a variety of teals and navy blues. Her dampened hair hung down to her waist in disheveled whips, dripping water onto the oversized yellow shirt she now donned.
Garbed in a ratty, oversized hoodie, her hair left undyed, Aria leaned against the couch’s armrest whilst skipping through tracks on her portable cd player. A pair of enormous headphones sitting atop her head communicated to anyone who might be watching that she definitely did not want to talk to them. Nevertheless, every now and then her gaze flitted upward to study her younger sister. Whatever hint of concern might have revealed itself upon her face was buried forthwith under an avalanche of irritation. Despite her headphones, every one of Sonata’s sniffles cut into her flesh like a freshly sharpened blade—oh, the irony.
When Sonata snorted back something vile for at least the fifth time in two minutes, Aria had finally had enough. Cringing, the gloomy Siren slammed her headphones down, and turned to face her sister. “Will you relax? Stop dwelling so much on this stuff. I thought you were good at doing that! Just because our hair is turning gray doesn't mean we’re gonna die right now or something! It's probably just a…” She scratched her gray streak. “A sign of our stuff… you know, our Source thing or whatever draining out because of all the energy we used last night. Right, Adagio?”
As she spoke, Adagio passed in front of the couch, holding yet another plastic bag, and headed toward the kitchen. “Most likely, yes,” she said without looking at either of them.
“See? If we don't expend so much energy then nothing as drastic will happen,” Aria pressed, disregarding Sonata's sniffles.
Again, Adagio passed by, headed toward the downstairs bathroom whilst wringing out her soaked, slightly blue-tinted hands. “Correction: It will still happen, just not as quickly.”
This only succeeded in provoking another bout of whimpering from the sulking blue girl. “We're gonna turn into grandmas! I'm going to have to learn how to knit!”
The bridge of Aria’s nose crinkled. “Sonata, you've been knitting for the past two thousand years. Half of that time with hooves even.”
Sonata balked. “Oh. Right. Oh, dirt. I've always been a grandma?”
“Aw, cheer up, deary,” Adagio replied, perhaps archly. “Want me to get you a butterscotch?”
Sonata’s face lit up. “Mm. Butterscotch. Yes, please!” And then it collapsed into a horrified gawk. “Oh, god!”
Shooting her elder sister a nasty scowl, Aria grit her teeth, and forced herself to take a deep breath. “Your hair didn't even turn that much, Sonata. For Seas’ sake, look at mine! And you don't see me whining about it!”
Sonata ceased her whimpering, craning her head to give Aria the most haunted of glowers. “What is a harbinger of death to she who harbors a death wish?” she said plainly, her voice dropping a few octaves toward a pitch that could only be described as “terrifyingly normal”. Her lips pressed together into a secured seal.
The two eldest goggled her, before recoiling.
“Freak,” Adagio mumbled under her breath. She shook her head before again marching off.
“Thaaaat… that isn’t truuue,” Aria said in the dispassionately duplicitous way that only she could manage.
“You took a knife,” Sonata squeaked, raising a pantomiming fist into the air, “and… and you just—”
“When are you going to fix your hair, Aria?” Adagio interjected, knowing that such discussions as the former could only lead to dark places.
“I'm not going to fix anything,” Aria replied, continuing to eye Sonata out of her peripherals. “I like my hair this way. It makes me look more my age, you know? Distinguished-like. Think I'll keep it like this.”
“Death wish,” Sonata hissed, vindicatively.
“Don't be ridiculous, Aria. If you actually looked your age, you'd be a pile of pink dust sitting next to a sour-faced skeleton,” Adagio scoffed. “And what if somebody sees you like that? It’s not even a color that makes sense on your head. People will know it's real, and then they're going to ask questions.”
Aria scoffed. “What people? I don't give a damn about any people. If anyone has a problem with my hair, well then, they can just suck—”
A loud ringing startled the Sirens half way up the walls before Adagio realized the sound was coming from the landline. “Hold that thought,” she said, tossing up a finger, and reaching for the phone. “Hello?” Her eyes went wide, purposefully planting themselves upon Aria as she spoke into the receiver. “Oh, hi, Cookie. How are you? How’s the… eh... hair?”
For a realized Siren, matters of the heart are of the utmost significance. In that cacophonic organ, ever fluctuating between extremes, gray spaces of sentimentality are rare occurrences. The Siren’s heart either adores or it despises, its love is far too sparse. It can lust or rebuke, but rarely does it simply admire or deter. Perhaps these middle grounds of emotion are a biological implausibility for beings equally born of both ecstasy and disharmony. This would conceivably explain Aria’s immediate tumble from the couch and entanglement within her headphone cord as she flailed her arms about in the universal gesticulation for “I am not home, and quite possibly might never be again.”
“What’s that?... Ah, a note... Oh my, yes that definitely does sound strange... You were worried about her?” Adagio spoke into the receiver, grinning wickedly as she wrapped its cable around her little finger. “Actually, Aria just so happens to be resting at the moment, but I can certainly tell her that you called when she's up.”
Aria breathed a sigh of relief where she lay in her bindings.
“Well, that's a difficult question to answer,” Adagio stammered, her disposition descending into one of worry. Looking around for some sort of believable conversational evasion and seeing none, she opted to kick Sonata in the arm instead.
“Ow!” the youngest girl screeched.
“Sonata, what did I tell you about doing that advanced yoga crap?” Adagio bellowed. “Look, Cookie, I've gotta go save my sister from herself, but I will certainly let Aria know that you called. Bye!” The phone fell onto the hook with a loud chime. Adagio breathed a big sigh of relief, then promptly cut her eyes in Aria’s direction. “Aria, when are you going to speak to that woman?”
“When the sun fizzles out and collapses into a gaping black hole,” Aria croaked, trying and failing to free herself from her restraints.
Adagio pressed her temples, “That mortal obviously cares about you. And I know that you remember our rules!”
“Oh! Oh! I remember!” Sonata chirped, flinging the towel from her head and flailing her arm about in the air. “Number one: Do not play with your meal for too long. Its green tastes better the longer it cooks but the food might become too attached. Number two: If you do choose to keep it as a pet, never give it reason for suspicion.”
“Good girl. That's right,” Adagio beamed, patting the blue girl on the head. She then frowned at Aria. “I don’t care what you do with her, but keep her close, Aria. That means at least staying in touch. When mortals suddenly begin to feel shunned, they get suspicious. When they get suspicious—”
“They start to snoop. Yea, yea, I know,” Aria griped, finally managing to untangle herself from her headphone cord.
Adagio placed her hands upon her hips. “We don’t need that kind of attention around us right now! And if you do… you know… feel things for it—I mean her, then we most certainly don't need that attention coming from her.” She turned away and crossed her arms. “A couple centuries ago, I would've just dealt with your mess quickly, as usual, and called it a day.”
Aria’s shoulders hiked up around her ears. “The hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, nothing,” Adagio tittered with a wave of her wrist. “Just know that I can't be held responsible for what might happen if your little hobby starts coming to our door.”
Aria bounded upward to stick a finger in her sister's face. “How about you back off, and mind your own damn businesses, huh? I can handle Cookie.”
“I'm going to be nice, and hold my tongue today, because I know you've had a long night. But don't expect my sweetness to endure forever,” Adagio mumbled, now inspecting her nails.
“No!” Aria protested, grasping at her elder’s shirt, and pulling her in close. “You got something to say to me, then by all means, Dazzle, grow a pair and say it!”
“Fine! Your carelessness is going to get your stupid, pet mortal killed!” Adagio barked, shoving Aria away and smiling when she stumbled backward. “Might as well beat your enemies to the punch, and knock her over the head with a big rock. I’m sure it would be the kinder option.”
Sonata, who had been sitting between them looking quite pensive, raised a finger. “One time on the Exploration Channel, this guy said that sea bass can grow both male and female—”
“Shut up, Sonata!” both Aria and Adagio bellowed, effectively hurtling their youngest sibling back into a state of melancholy.
Feeling dejected, the soggy blue Siren stood, and quietly made her way toward the kitchen. If the two older girls had not been locked in their match of wits, not to mention wounding words, they might have noticed the sound of sizzling eggs in a skillet, or the smell of frying bacon wafting right up under their wrinkled noses. In fact, the headstrong pair ceased their fighting only after Sonata had led them both toward the table, plopping each of them into their seats.
The girls sat frowning around a breakfast table packed to the brim with all of their favorites: pancakes, french toast, regular toast, scrambled eggs, fried ham, and bacon. All of the necessary beverages were also present. It was only a shame that most of the spread remained untouched and rapidly cooling amongst a trio who—whilst steadfast in their tight-lipped, arm crossed poses—had decided they weren't going to acknowledge each other’s existence.
Sonata, seeing a rare opportunity to poke fun at her siblings, had stacked her own platter high with an array of syrupy, peppery delights. She chomped down on a particularly juicy-looking slice of ham as she addressed the two hard heads “We’ve been through a lot, you know,” she gabbled, taking a big bite of toast. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could eat breakfast for once without fighting? You two do need to eat. Especially you, Aria. I bet you're super hungry.”
Aria was too busy death glaring a heap of bacon that Sonata had strategically placed directly in front of Adagio. The pallidness of her skin coupled with a pair of purple shadows about her eyes had become unpleasantly conspicuous. Adagio was eyeing down a hefty pot of coffee and platter of eggs that sat before her grimacing sister in a similar fashion.
“Aria, doesn't the bacon look good?” Sonata poked, batting her lashes. “Adagio, I made those eggs especially for you. Don't you want them? Maybe you two could, idunno, help each other out a little bit.”
The elder girls both shot their sister weary looks.
“Geez, Sonata. A little more subtlety and your point might have flown right over our heads,” Aria deadpanned, rolling her eyes. Sulking in Adagio’s direction, she opted to stand up without saying a word.
Seeing the intention behind this action, Adagio followed suit. Slowly, cautiously even, both Sirens shuffled past one another—making doubly sure to shake threatening fists in the other’s face along the way. When they'd reached the chairs opposite to where each of them had previously been sitting, they both plopped down unceremoniously, reached out for their respective platters of bacon and eggs, and with little fanfare, began shoveling it all into their mouths.
“Aw, come on!” Sonata whined, banging a fist against the table. “What happened to the sweet, huggy stuff from last night? Why can’t we ever be like that unless psycho time killers are after us or something? I know you two love each other. Can’t you just keep that going for once?”
Understandably, the blush was showing more in Adagio’s cheeks than Aria’s.
“I… I thought you were asleep during… during…” Aria stammered, twisting a few of her new gray strands about her finger. “I thought you were asleep!”
“I was, eventually. Somewhere right after the hugs and hair braiding. It takes me a while when I'm not in my own bed, okay?” Now Sonata was blushing. “Anyway, we’re not even talking about me! Is there anything besides almost dying that’ll get you two to stop fighting and just be nice to one another? Granted, we were almost turned into tiny, itty, bitty Siren chunks last night… and Aria almost… almost…”
An uncomfortable hush besieged the trio until Aria, once again digging into her infinitesimal well of patience and empathy, managed a loud growl. “Sonata, I'm fine! Stop crying already. You're screwing up my appetite.”
“How are they, anyway?” Adagio probed, staring down into her half-devoured eggs. “You know. Your… those. Do you hurt? Have you changed the bandages yet?”
Flustered, the dour Siren cleared her throat a few times before placing her hands into her lap, well away from anyone’s direct line of sight. “I uh… no. They're still a bit… uh… yea. But I…”
“I'll help you with them after we eat,” the eldest girl offered, unsmiling, still not managing to look up. She poured herself a fresh cup of coffee. “We need to talk about this, anyway. All of this. What happened last night can't happen again.”
The mood at the table shifted. Aria slumped down into her seat. Sonata closed her eyes, covered her ears, and keeled over into her stack of pancakes, wishing with all of her might that all the trouble would just go away.
“Adagio, I know I'm not exactly the most optimistic creature there ever was, but I still feel like I’m being rational when I ask—how?” Aria inquired, shrugging her shoulders. “How can we prevent Starshit from doing anything he wants with us? He can see everything. Hell, he probably knew this conversation was going to happen. How do you beat something like that?”
Sonata was groaning again. The syrup atop her pancakes bubbled about her mouth.
“You and I both know it isn't so cut and dry. Relax, Aria,” Adagio sighed, biting off some more eggs from the tip of her fork. “Sonata, eat your pancakes.”
Neither of the younger girls followed either of those instructions.
Instead of getting irritated, Adagio decided to adhere to some ostensibly good advice she had received earlier that morning. “Breathe in. Breathe out,” she soughed, squeezing the bridge of her nose. “Worrying today is borrowing from my tomorrow.”
Looking around at her forlorn sistren, and conceiving no other way to pull them out of their despair, Adagio reached below the edge of the table to retrieve something, then plopped another plastic bag onto its surface. “I bought us phones,” she declared.
“Fuck yea!” Aria exclaimed, sitting up to bang her fists against the table. Adagio winced. Sonata was screaming again, syrup all over her face.
Together, they changed Aria’s then Sonata’s bandages in the dim of Adagio’s room. Perhaps for tradition’s sake, the eldest Siren allowed herself a moment of vulnerability, and hummed an old healing incantation. Gingerly, almost fearfully, her sisters joined in. Their voices, broken, weary, and worn, told of their troubles. Their heads ached. Their throats burned. Still they sang, and despite the jarring sound of three creatures trying to traverse the frontiers of their damaged bodies, from what seemed like nothingness, just a bit of serenity began to bloom.
Though the morning was crisp and cool, the Sirens’ attic was still comfortably warm. Adagio rolled out a rug onto its dusty floor and bid her siblings to sit which they did eagerly, each of them fiddling away with their brand new box of distractions.
Adagio had to pry the phones out of their hands just to get them to look at her, and when she did, she could have sworn that she heard predatorial growling seeping out from their cores. “Listen, these aren’t toys. They are for ease of communication,” she scolded them both whilst taking her seat. “We have to be able to keep in touch all of the time from now on. I've already put our numbers into all three so there's no hassle. Now, if we’re ready, I’d like to talk with you girls about—”
“Question,” Aria cut in, ignoring the way her elder's increasingly clenched fingers had begun pulling up scraps of carpet and wood. “How did you buy these? I mean, I knew you could if you wanted to, but… I guess what I'm asking is… which useless piece of shiny crap did you have to pry from your own cold, dead hands to afford these?”
Adagio was in the middle of taking possibly the longest breath she'd ever breathed. A few seconds of air sucking later, she managed to look at her sister again without instinctively snarling. “It’s not important right now, Aria. There are much bigger things at stake, and I haven't had a chance to catch up with you since our meeting at the park.”
“Oh! The park!” Sonata gasped, clapping her hands. “Can we go back there soon, Dagi? Maybe at night next time so we can see the stars!”
“Quiet,” Adagio replied whilst pulling three black velvet squares of cloth from her sweater pocket, and tossing them at either girls’ laps. “Here. Hold onto these.” Moving quickly, she made for the attic door, and closed it shut. Then heading toward the window, she pulled the curtains closed until nothing was left but darkness.
“Dagi, it's scary now,” Sonata hissed. The sound of her latching onto Aria’s arm—and the tussle that inevitably ensued—seemed deafening in the quiet blackness.
“Sonata, you're a freaking primordial leviathan. How are you scared of the dark?” Aria retorted.
“It reminds me of the pantry I used to sleep in back when I was—Ow!” A resounding ‘slap’ ricocheted off the walls.
“Will you please zip it?” Aria stressed. Her irritation was forgotten when she felt a calmer, firmer hand take her wrist and draw it under one of the velvet sheets next to Sonata’s. “Adagio, what are you doing?”
Someone’s finger tapped the gloomy siren in the center of her palm again and again. The strikes were sporadic, sometimes brief, sometimes lingering like one would jab a button. Aria didn't know what to make of it until, after a few moments, she realized the order of the strikes repeated themselves. These weren't random, but patterned. And if they were patterned, that hinted toward communicative intent. Then, it dawned upon her. “M-o-r-s-e?” she tapped the pattern into her elder’s palm.
“Yes,” Adagio replied in kind. “Pre-war. Do u remember?”
“Yes,” the middle Siren tapped. “U realize this going take 4ever.”
“You don’t have anything better to do,” Adagio scoffed out loud.
“What's happening?” Sonata squealed in the dark.
“Sonata!” Aria growled, grabbing her palm, and tapping into it. “s-h-u-t u-p y-o-u d-i-n-g-b-a-t!”
“Oh,” the youngest girl tapped into Aria’s palm. “Hey!”
Predicting what would come of this, namely her sisters attempting to hole punch insults into each other's flesh, Adagio snatched their hands, and placed them side by side beneath the velvet cloth. “Stop it,” she tapped.
“Adagio, how spell ‘numbskull’?” Sonata tapped.
“Easy,” Aria replied. “S-o-n-a—”
“I asked Adagio!”
“U already spelled it to ask the question, u numbskull!”
“Shut up!” Adagio stressed, giving each of them a pinch for emphasis. When they had finally settled down, she continued on. “This how we discuss important info now. Don't know how time magic works with visual reality, but think if we can’t see or hear, neither can he. Keep it in dark, hidden under something like velvet. Same for phone messages. Undercover then delete evidence after. Ok?”
“Yea,” Aria replied
“U so smart, Dagi,” Sonata added.
“Good. Now, Aria, talk. What happened with u and mage?”
Aria scoffed audibly. “It's obvious.” Even her fingers leaked sarcasm. “For righteous mage, he sure likes carving up girls.”
“Well, we carved into his wife,” Adagio quipped.
“I said ‘we’!” Adagio pressed. “Ok. What did u learn?”
“Remember portal u mentioned? The one thought was in woods? I don't think in woods,” Aria tapped.
“Meaning?” Adagio inquired.
“I think he carries portal on himself. Think in this world, his magic limited, like ours. The SOB has tons of it but—”
“Ari—” the eldest Siren griped.
“Ok!” Aria shot. “He carries thing in jacket. Looks like shiny disc. More magic used, dimmer it got, and harder it was to use magic later. By end, magic really troublesome.”
“I remember that, 2!” Sonata added. “Must have been important cause kept looking at it. He changed subject when Ari asked about it. I was all like ‘Hey, don't try ur tricks with us mister—”
“Did he say y he showed up? Why right then?” Adagio inquired, taking a moment to think. “He appear to u later while alone? He promised u something to encourage u to harm urself?”
“No!” Aria tapped. “Not like that. That choice all mine. I was brash and… “ She stopped the code for a moment. An uneasy aura filled the empty space between them. “Not applicable. He stopped me.”
“What? Y?” Both Adagio and Sonata tapped in tandem into their sister’s palm.
“Don't know. Guess same reason he spared Sonata,” Aria replied.
“He put necklace thing on her, 2,” Sonata added.
“What kind necklace thing?” Adagio asked.
“A ring,” Aria clarified. “Like ones to stop unicorn magic. Bigger. Spell reworked for Siren magic. Couldn't sing near him anymore.”
“Seas,” Adagio said. “That means he wants us alive. Probably as prisoners.”
“Y?” Sonata asked. Her fingers trembled slightly. Neither of her sisters answered, perhaps to spare her the extra worry.
“Can’t talk out loud about old days anymore. Our time on land,” Aria continued. “I think he's searching for Source so he can—”
“Destroy it,” Adagio finished. Her hand twitched. “Sorry girls. My fault.”
“We're too old, I think,” Aria added. “I think he going too fast. Equestria too big. Can't find us back then. Don't think he will.” She thought to herself for a moment. “Also, is Duke… your husband… traceable? Find him in historical records?”
“No,” Adagio said outright. “No. Never.”
The succinctness of her response made Aria hum. “Care to expand?” she inquired.
“No,” Adagio shot again. “I don't. U done?”
“Suppose so,” Aria said, self-consciously stretching her fingers. Adagio and Sonata could feel her arms hop as she shrugged her shoulders.
“Alright. He doesn't just want to destroy us in present. He wants stop us in past,” Adagio gleaned. “Before wife. Before everything. Lunatic. Bad idea. Not worthy of his pest uncle.”
“What about journal?” Aria asked, Adagio's comment having jogged her memory. “He was very adamant.”
Adagio scoffed out loud. “I'm sure. But he won't find. Info inside could set him off. Make him volatile.”
“Right. Not volatile already or anything,” Aria said. One could almost hear her eyes rolling. “For curiosity’s sake, what it say?”
Adagio hesitated for a moment before replying. “It explains y we awoke after return to sea. Y we began spreading dark songs.”
“Yep. Might fuck him up a little bit,” Aria replied.
“A lotta bit,” Sonata added.
There was a long pause before Aria took the opportunity to code again. “So, I guess this part where I ask what we're going to do.”
“Shimmer,” Adagio stated. Her candidness was clear, even through Morse. “Shimmer going to help us get home, whether she wants or not.”
“Kay. How?” Aria inquired, unimpressed by the mention of Sunset.
Sonata said nothing, trying to figure how best to keep her fingers from tapping guiltily.
“Working on it. If sympathy route doesn’t pan out then—”
“Sympathy?” Aria shot. “We’re groveling now?”
Thankfully, Adagio’s bruised expression was invisible in the dark. “U didn’t have do anything. Shut it. Just need more time with her.” Adagio could suddenly feel both of her sisters bristling. “What?”
“This gonna be 1 of those weird things?” Sonata inquired.
“What’s that even mean?” Adagio asked.
“She’s asking if this gonna be 1 of your sleazy missions. I'm asking, too. What r u planning? Make ur hair scrambled eggs to her bacon?” Aria chuckled out loud. “Might have problem. Don't think she swings that way.” Both she and Sonata burst out into giggles.
“As if u aren’t devastated, Aria,” Adagio quipped. “We know how much u love bacon.”
This time, only Sonata’s laugh was audible. The sound was stifled by another loud slap. “Oooow,” she groaned.
“Are we done here?” Aria huffed into the darkness. “I've got some embarrassing photos of Sonata to upload to the internet.”
“Jokes on you, Aria. I already did yours like an hour ago,” Sonata hissed.
“Listen, u 2,” Adagio said, breaking into Morse again. “I expect u be responsible with those! They are tools, not toys!”
“Kaaay,” the younger girls replied. Even through the code, Adagio could sense the sort of disingenuousness that reeked of troubles to come.
“Now, are we done?” Aria pressed.
“Actually, Sonata is done. Aria, I wanted to talk with you alone for a moment,” Adagio replied.
“Wait, why can't I hear?” Sonata whined. Her worries were forgotten when Adagio felt around for their phones, inspected them until she found Sonata’s, and dangled the contraption before the younger girl’s nose.
“Go fill this up with Shakesmare quotes and lip gloss trends or something,” Adagio said.
Like a puppy, Sonata snatched the device up, and skipped away. “Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to show Peach!”
Adagio faltered. “Sonata, you're not planning on working today are you?”
Sonata passed her elder the most innocent of looks. “Yea, I was. I go most everyday.”
“But Sonata,” the eldest Siren scoffed. “After last night? You're injured. You’re upset. I think it would be best if you took it easy for a day or two.” This garnered a scrutinizing glare from Aria that both Sonata and Adagio ignored for the time being.
“I… I think I should go, Adagio,” Sonata stammered, passing her sister a half-hearted smile. “We… need the money.”
It shocked Adagio a little to hear Sonata outwardly oppose her opinion. “We'll be fine,” she insisted.
“What?” Aria shot. Her eyes bored into the eldest girl.
“Sonata, you can afford to take a few—”
“I don't want to!” Sonata shouted, startling both her sisters into silence. The light on her phone illuminated the sad and weary shadows plaguing her face. “I… I just gotta go, okay? It helps. It really does help keep my mind off of… everything.”
Adagio chewed on her bottom lip. She wanted to argue, she wanted to insist that Sonata stay. For Seas’ sake, the girl had been temporally reversed out of the jaws of death just a half day ago. Still, when the eldest Siren gazed at her face, she could see that dwelling on such thoughts would not sit very high upon Sonata's priority list. As much as she didn't want to, Adagio knew she had to let her go. “Just… be careful, alright?” she said. “If you start feeling tired or upset, or if your energy begins to feel strange, then come home, Sonata. I mean it!”
Sonata nodded, shooting both of her sisters a bright and clearly forced smile. “Uh huh!” she chirped before making haste out of the room. Before the sound of her footsteps had a chance to fade away, they came rushing back with fervor. The blue girl shot into the attic again, headed straight for her middle sister. Before Aria could protest or dodge out of the way, Sonata had snapped her up into a tight embrace. It all happened so suddenly and ended so abruptly that neither Adagio nor Aria had time to figure how to react.
Before any emotion could process, the youngest girl had lifted her lips to kiss her sister’s cheek. “Remember what I said last night, okay? Love you, Ari,” she wheedled before rising to her feet and jettisoning from the room one more time, leaving her siblings in a stunned silence.
Adagio watched her go whilst Aria attempted to collect her scattered wits into some shoddy display that demanded her eldest sister erase the past twenty seconds from memory. They glared into each other, daring the other to address their youngest sister’s all too simple and frighteningly mortal-like shows of affection.
Adagio was the first to crack a smile, “That goofball. I hope she'll be alright.”
Aria regarded her elder closely. Not being a staunch supporter of public displays of affection or emotional support, it took a while before she cleared her throat, and a little bit longer before the flush faded from her face. “Stop worrying. She'll be fine. She's not as dumb as she looks… and acts… and speaks… and looks.”
“I know,” Adagio sighed. Just as she was prone to do, she hesitated to mention the reason for her constant prodding, and worrying, and favoring of the sprightly blue girl. She opted to turn an interested eye upon Aria, instead.
Aria, noticing this look, crossed her arms. “Is this about the scrambled eggs comment? Cause I'm not sorry,” she stated plainly. “Side question: What did you mean when you told Sonata that we'll be fine if she didn't work for two days?”
“I don't know how many times I have to tell you that it isn't important. Why don't you just let it go?” Adagio sighed.
“No,” Aria protested. “I'm gonna wear you down, Dazzle, if only for my own iniquitous desires to deflect my personal anger onto someone else as a result of my borderline sociopathic tendencies.”
Adagio grimaced at her sister. “What have I told you about reading those psychology books, Aria?”
“Can't help it,” the younger girl shrugged. “There are so many head cases under our roof. The blue one alone is a shrink’s goldmine.”
“Look, we're wasting time here. I just needed to ask you some things about last night that I didn’t get to before. Away from Sonata. She gets upset easily,” Adagio said, twisting one of her curls about her finger. “Give me your hand.”
Slightly put off by the fact that whatever was bothering Adagio was enough to tempt her into using Morse, Aria only tentatively surrendered her palm. “Okaaay.”
Turning off the light upon her phone, and covering both their hands with one of the velvet cloths, Adagio then took a deep breath. “So.” A pause in the code. “I missed what happened to u 2 yesterday. Guessing mage altered time around me?”
“Yea. He froze u and Sonata. Bastard wanted let off steam on my hide. Talked lot of shit. My back still on fire. Wish could perform healing incantations,” Aria said. “Anyway, only reason he released Sonata was to test ring on me. Ass.”
“It hurt?” the elder girl inquired.
“U see mark it left?” Aria quipped. “Hell yea, it hurt. Felt like flash frying my soul.”
“How long was I frozen for?” Adagio continued.
“Maybe—Wait, why u asking all this?” Aria inquired.
“Aria, I'm just hoping…” Adagio halted her coding. Even Aria could sense the gears in her head turning. “The way u looked when I woke...” She could feel Aria’s hand beginning to clench into a fist in her palm. “I… think I'm asking if… If Starshot’s mind still… U know our Song sometimes doesn’t fade from a mortal. Not when we sing full power like did for him.”
“Adagio, just say what have to say. Stop sparing my feelings,” Aria responded, sighing out loud.
Adagio took a deep, frustrated breath. “If songs still seeded in him, they might have adverse effect. But same seed could also help us if moment is right.”
“Ok, Ma. Only been Siren forever. Keep telling me what I already know.”
“Aria, I know u r hurt, but—”
“‘Course I'm hurt,” Aria said. “U see what did to my back? Banged up my face while I was out.”
“U were out,” Adagio coded almost frantically.
“Yea. Not sure how long. Think he cracked tooth. Not a cute one. Premolar or something. Spirits help him if he fucked 1 my canines. Good thing I'm used to jerkoffs like that.”
“Aria, u r used to a lot of things no 1 should be,” Adagio said. With a trembling hand, she gripped onto her sister’s wrist. “I just need know if Song still in him. Did he… Did you sense it?”
There was a long pause in the code. When Aria began tapping again, it was slow, hesitant. “I did. It’s still there. I could smell it in him.” A forced laugh rang out in the dark. “That’s all you ask? If Song still there? I don't believe that. What r u planning?”
“Stockpiling ideas,” Adagio replied.
“Uh huh. Cause it sounds like ur planning get close to him,” Aria shot. “I’m not stupid. I know what ur real question is. Adagio, that route only lead to dead end. Mage is broken. Something missing in him now. Wouldn't let me get close even with Song in his soul. Like he carved those emotions out of himself.”
“Ridiculous. His overcompensating with violence shows his feelings still there. We can break him if have to. I know it,” Adagio said, pulling her hands away before Aria could reply. She didn't want to talk about it anymore, but instead inhaled sharply and shrugged her shoulders.
Aria huffed in the dark. “Fine, Dazzle. Be that way.”
“Aria, you can go now if you—”
“Ah! Not so fast,” Aria clucked. “You have yet to answer my two questions.” She snatched up her sister's hand one more time. “What part does Shimmer play?” she coded into her palm.
Adagio grumbled below her breath. “Told you can't say just yet. Tell you when I can.” When she heard her sister growling in the dark, she clicked her tongue against her teeth. “She’s smart. Remember stories about Fall Formal? Also, those books she always carries. Atypical. Knows magic. Girl like that has friends in high and magical places back in Equestria. Has to be. That is all I'm telling you.”
“You're an ass,” Aria said out loud, clicking on the light of her phone. “You're at least going to tell me how you managed to afford these phones and our temporary vacations. And I'm not taking ‘no’ for an answer.”
The two studied each other in the glow of Aria's phone. The gloomy Siren recognized that look on her sister’s face. It was the look of a woman who knew she was fighting an uphill battle.
Adagio rolled her eyes and heaved. “I sold… I sold my diadem. I got out while you two were sleeping, allowed some old miser to downright rob me blind on the estimate, then went out this morning, and got us the phones. The rest will keep us comfortable for maybe a few weeks. There. Are you satisfied?”
Aria looked shocked. Her lips fumbled for words that had not yet come to mind. “I… What? But… Wait a minute. But that thing is bound to you.”
Adagio smiled weakly toward some distant, unseen place. “I know. It will eventually find its way back to me one day. Hopefully sometime before we kick the bucket.” She passed the smile on to her sister. “But we needed the money. I can do without it for now.”
Aria cleared her raspy throat, and scratched her gray streak of hair. Furrowing her brow, she attempted to come to terms with what she wished to say but could barely manage. “That was… that was a good move, Dazzle.” A tiny sound, like a distant but swiftly approaching train whistle, grew in the back of her throat. When, at last, it had crescendoed into a loud groan, Aria parted her lips. “That stupid thing looked like a ballerina’s worst nightmare. I'm glad you got rid of it. It was fucking dumb.” She crossed her arms and looked away, hating every bit of the knowing smile Adagio was now giving her. After a few seconds had passed she grunted over her shoulder. “Thanks.”
“Mm hm,” Adagio hummed, getting up and dusting her clothing off. Reaching down, she helped Aria to her feet.
“Hey since we're rich as King Bullion now, wanna take me out for a pint at Bubbles?” Aria posed.
“No, I don't,” Adagio muttered, her jaw clenching tight. “That's not what the money's for. Besides, I've got to go prepare some things.”
“Prepare what?” Aria inquired, placing her hands upon her hips.
“Things Aria. Why must you make yourself such a nuisance?” Adagio groaned as she stomped past her sister toward the attic door. “You should go find a quiet spot to think about what it is you’re going to tell that mortal of yours when you finally call her. Preferably tonight.” She chuckled to herself, taking one step down the stairs. “If you weren’t staunchly against anything and everything affectionate, I'd tell you to buy another pack of that crap you're always drinking, go over there, and hash things out with her.”
Aria snorted as she followed her downstairs. “You sure you didn't pawn off a piece of your brain as well, Dazzle? That's the dumbest thing you've said all day.”
A glow of tungsten flickered to life, casting its warm gleam upon unraveling violet silks and chipping gold paint. Adagio took a seat at her desk, closed her eyes, and heaved a long sigh. When her mind had settled into as close to a calm as she could hope for, she reached into her bulging sweater pocket, and pulled out the cheap audio player she had purchased earlier that week. Digging around in her desk drawer through organized and bound stacks of leaves in white and off-yellow, she soon retrieved a pair of earbuds. Plugging them into the device, she then stuck them into each ear. Tapping the play button upon the player, she leaned back into her seat, and clasped her hands over her middle. A rather plain female voice began to speak through the buds in a slightly uncertain but still willing monotone. She didn’t sound as calming as the voice featured in Adagio’s mantras, but on further contemplation, the Siren figured that perhaps that was best.
The Equestria that forged me was not the Equestria that you, your parents, or even their parents were born into. For that you have the two Sisters to thank. The Equestria that ripped my sisters and me apart was a harsh and cruel place, a spread of half-realized lands built upon the phantasmic dreams of the simple-minded, populated by clashing clans who had yet to fully understand themselves or each other. I reason—as much as it is possible for a thing like me to do so—that good fortune was on your side for you to have hailed from a world where the alicorn princess has continued to reign triumphant over every turbulent force that has sought control over our homeland. This includes Siren-kind. Celestia has sacrificed and endured much to maintain a wonderful existence for you. It is beyond my comprehension why a mortal with as good a life as yours would willingly choose to stay in such a forsaken place as this.
Sunset, I want you to know that those born of my time, who still happen to be alive, carry scars. As much as Celestia may try to hide these sad things behind, what I imagine, is still her impishly wise smile, it is true. As I recall it, her sister Luna seemed the type to tell you the cold hard truth. Perhaps you could have asked her had she not been exiled. Is she still up there, I wonder?
But I digress. I've purposely kept my words freeform here so that you might feel the scarred soul and the broken heart in me, just as any of you little temporary creatures might feel it, except that we Sirens are both blessed or cursed to feel them over and over, forever. I suppose you are wondering what this ploy is all for. What new scheme I have hatched to trick you. Well, to answer your question, and to be quite frank, the scheme is to hopefully create between us some small form of understanding. Empathy if that is at all possible. Perhaps then you could understand the moral dilemma of creatures like us who were created both ridiculously powerful and ridiculously naive. Creatures like us who, in our astounding innocence and might, blindly chose to carry ourselves down the path of strife and woe, and in doing so happened to find our purpose.
It’s we chaos eaters and strife makers who forge strong leaders like the two princesses. I venture to say that it is strife that still continues to reveal those noble hearts even now. After all, isn't that what we did for you, Sunset? My point being that both of those energies cannot survive or thrive without the other. As you realized your righteousness because of our power, you unwittingly also dealt us a death blow. I'm not here to place blame or instill guilt like I did before. Those few days ago, I was simply doing what was instinctive for me to do. But if you would not have it, which you didn't, I must be settled with trying another way. That way is to tell you that just as we have helped you to thrive, now there is also an opportunity for you to help us to live, if by the end of this story you are so inclined.
Our journey has been long and hard, but I will try to keep it as succinct as possible. I know we may not look or sound it, Sunset, but believe me when I say that we three are old. And being as old as we are teaches one to quickly adapt to languages and actions of times that may not reflect the burden of our reality. It is for safety’s sake, I suppose, so that we may not reveal our true selves by accidentally revealing the peculiarities within our undying minds. You'd be hard-pressed to wrench these protective masks and costumes away from my sisters so that you might see them for what they truly are. But for you, Sunset, I will personally allow those pretenses to fall away. I will allow you to see what a thing like me truly sees. Something to note: I will mention our beginnings only because I feel it necessary. Don't worry, it is impossible for me to lay out the entirety of our life stories in anythimg resembling a timely fashion. I won’t attempt it.
In truth, we are not immortal. Just like you, we had a beginning, only it was very long ago. And we were not created as Sirens. That is a name the mortals gave us after we became what we became, and after we defined you lot as our food. If a Siren has a natural end, I suppose we may never know. But before this world, before our banishment, before our awakening, even before we wriggled ourselves onto dry land for the very first time, long before the fracturing of the three tribes, perhaps long before ponies formed Ancient Equestria at all, there was in my world nothing but enveloping darkness. I only remember bits and pieces of that time now; that I could sense a bigness and two more souls there with me, alive and waiting. I realized myself first. Then, very soon after, one more shining soul joined me in that dark place, her core burning hot. She told me her name was Aria Blaze though I already knew her and she knew me. It took a while, but eventually Sonata Dusk joined us, too. The entire time, all around us three rolled a Song, and I remember distinctly feeling that besides we three and those gentle lullations, there was nothing more to know of existence. Now, we’re too far removed from that time to question whether we might have been better off left to ourselves...