Her preparations, as limited as they were forced to be, were finished with haste. Why wait to put her plans into motion when the few who mattered already knew that she and her two younger sisters were in dire straits? Better to get this meeting with Sunset over with a day earlier than scheduled. Efficiency was one of her most cherished personal traits, after all. Also, she was driving herself insane sitting about the house, trying to ignore the mouldering carnage haunting the upstairs bathroom. She couldn’t face the thoughts of the previous evening so soon, and the sunny day beyond her window was beckoning her outside.
A trip to CHS it would be.
Grabbing an array of electronics from her desk, Adagio threw them all into a large shoulder bag—save for her new phone which she pocketed very carefully. Next, she opened the side drawer where she kept her shattered pendant’s lockbox. Pulling the container out, she wrapped it into a loose length of velvet, and gently placed it into the bag. Slipping on her sneakers, she then headed out into the hallway, noting instantly the sound of paper shredding coming from behind Aria’s closed door.
Making her way over, the eldest Siren knocked once, and received no reply. That was to be expected. She tried again. This time a loud sigh seeped out through the edges of the frame. Getting there. She knocked one more time. On the final instance, something akin to a small earthquake rumbled behind the door. Glass clinked, wood crashed, teeth gnashed.
“What?” Aria shouted from inside.
Adagio passed the door a smug grin. “I'm leaving!”
“‘Bout damn time.”
“Adagio…” the younger girl mocked.
Adagio placed a hand upon her hip. “Listen, I need you to keep your eyes and ears open just in case anything happens.”
“That means no headphones. And keep your phone on!” To this, Adagio received no response. Her eyes narrowed. “I'm going to go meet Sunset, if that matters at all to you.”
“Don't forget the syrup!” Aria cackled from beyond the door.
Rolling her eyes, Adagio turned away and stomped off down the stairs. Armed with her bag, her favorite sweater, and a pair of sunglasses, she stopped behind the front door, and took a deep breath. Reaching up, she undid an elastic band that had encircled her wrist, and collected her long curls back into the “all business, no pleasure” style she had grown fond of lately. “I do not surrender. I only surrender to the process,” she breathed before popping on her shades and snatching the door open. With two confident steps, she moved beyond the threshold.
The early afternoon was sunny, indeed, but then again, that conclusion could have also been influenced by Adagio’s having set foot near Canterlot High School grounds. That place always seemed to exude an aura that reeked of teddy bear farts and rainbows. As far as she was concerned, she had done the school a favor by shaking its goodie-two-shoes student body up a bit, teaching them how good it felt to be a little selfish.
She scratched at her nose, readjusted her shades, and plopped down onto the bus stop bench across the street. Reaching into her sweater pocket, she fished around and removed a small candy sealed in plastic colored to resemble a strawberry. Unwrapping the sweet, she popped it into her mouth. “Spirits. Sonata was right about us being old. Why do I even have these?” She tossed the wrapper over her shoulder, and pushed her attentions back onto CHS’s front lawn. How much longer was this going to take? She had timed her arrival as precisely as possible so as not to give any straggling delinquents too much time to I.D. her. And they wouldn’t if only that blasted final bell would ring.
The toll sounded no sooner than she had willed it to. Though it was supposed to be a welcome sound, the Siren couldn’t help but fidget and slide toward the edge of her seat as it blared on. Her hands clasped and lips drew in tight. It hadn’t yet been a full week since her first meeting with Sunset, and still, as clear as that chiming school bell, Adagio could recall the girl’s warning. It had been quite blatant, actually: “Stay away from CHS. This is your last warning,” Sunset had said. Adagio dared not wonder whether she was subverting her own mission by being here.
“Dweeb, stoner, meathead, future serial killer, future serial killer’s victim...” she prattled off to herself, watching the student body pour out of the front entrance in droves. “Come on, Shimmer. Where are you?”
Her eyes darted about behind her shades, hoping to spy that familiar flash of fiery red and gold. She got her wish a few moments later, but not before the triumph of the girl’s approach was dampened by the most insufferable sight the Siren could have been cursed to endure—a bunny. A cute, fuzzy, little jerk face of a bunny. Its owner, a pink-haired angel-eyed thing—what was her name?—Fluttercry or whatever, skipped along anxiously, babbling something to Sunset. Adagio could only imagine what she was harping on about. “Oh, Sunset. I'm so very grateful that you've agreed to watch my spoiled, little fuzz demon for me tomorrow. I'll be very busy hiding under my bed and crying to myself about what a wimp I am, and somebody needs to follow the brat around, force feeding him carrots,” Adagio mocked, chuckling to herself. She watched Sunset reply and mouthed along with her. “Sure thing, Flutter! I'll do anything, anything to make you trust me again. Just tell me what you need. A nice ass kissing? A good boot licking? Assuage my much deserved burdens of guilt, I beg of you.”
Adagio had to cup a hand over her mouth to hold in her cackle. It seemed like all fun and games until both of the girls turned to face the road.
Her eyes locked with Sunset’s, shaded ruby with turquoise.
Sunset faltered momentarily, her lips fumbling for words as she spun to face her shy companion. Luckily, the bunny-toting dope had yet to see Adagio, and was easily drawn off guard. Sunset’s body language was only slightly frantic as she smiled and ushered her friend away with a wave. But Adagio could see the truth in the green plumes that now snaked off of her hair.
As the shy Rainboom disappeared further on down the road, Sunset’s forced smile faded. The gleam in her eyes darkened. She turned her head to pass the Siren a hateful scowl.
“Ahh, there she is. My favorite type of Sunset—the honest type,” Adagio muttered under her breath, watching the mortal traverse the span of the road without so much as looking for a passing bicycle, “the former hellion of Canterlot High.” She stood and clasped the handles of her bag with both hands as Sunset approached.
“What are you doing here, Adagio?” Sunset spat, jutting out her index finger. “I thought I was being very clear when I warned you to stay away.”
Adagio adjusted her shades, lifted her chin, and forced some calm into her shoulders. “Sunset, I need to speak with you as soon as possible. Today.”
“Listen, you can't be here, alright? We made a deal.”
The Siren gazed off somewhere over Sunset’s head in the aloof way her ancient, noble peers might have whilst a commoner was groveling in their presence. “Our deal or your threat, Sunset?”
“Whatever. It doesn't matter what you call it. It was said, and I expected you to listen.”
“I'll leave right now if you agree to meet with me later on today. Perhaps after sunset, Sunset.” The Siren chuckled. “You couldn't possibly have an evening social life, considering the crew you run about with.”
Sunset folded her arms. “I can’t tonight. We agreed that it would be tomorrow, and that is what I’ve made room for.”
“This isn’t easy for me, you know. To be standing here like this,” Adagio said, biting her lip. Her blanching fists twisted about the handles of her bag. “I'm trying to meet you halfway here.”
Sunset blinked and scoffed. “Adagio, I don't owe you anything.”
The Siren took a deep breath. “I am fully aware of that, Shimmer. I, myself, am one for adhering to plans and schedules. Believe me, I wouldn't be asking this of you if it wasn't absolutely necessary.”
“Adagio?” Sunset said, bringing the tip of her finger close enough to the Siren’s collar for it to tickle her flesh. “Leave. Now. I'll talk to you tomorrow.” The mortal girl adjusted her backpack, and turned to leave.
Adagio stomped her foot upon the pavement, allowing her facade of calm to fall away. “There's a… a bathtub full of my sister’s blood in my house!”
This was enough to stop Sunset in her tracks. She turned about and gave Adagio a look that begged for clarity.
The Siren swallowed with difficulty. “I keep hoping that time, gravity, and eighty year old piping will do the job for me.” She forced a weak laugh. “But it's still there, and I just can’t bring myself to…” Her eyes bored into Sunset’s. “I can't ask either of them to go back in there. Not after what happened.”
Sunset made her way back toward the Siren and stood there holding her breath, trying not to look upset over what she had just heard. “So, they're alright? You all are alright?”
Adagio shook her head. “No. We are alive, but not alright.” She felt the lump growing again in her throat. It was getting too big to swallow. “Sunset, I need to speak with you. Today. P…” she stammered, “Please. I can't tell you everything here, but if you agree…”
Sunset could see the tired state of the Siren’s eyes behind her shades. The corner of her mouth drew upward, pulling her lips thin. She seemed to be fighting some silent war within her own mind. “I've got some things to do right after school, but I can make time after five. How about we meet at that cafe near the middle of town. The one on the end of Brittleburn Drive. You know it? Do you think you can stay safe until then? I want you to tell me the truth.”
Adagio was already nodding, trying to contain a genuine smile of relief that she knew would look too eager, too grateful, too degrading—not that any of that should have mattered at a time like this. “Yea. Yea, I do. Five thirty then?” she sniffed, pulling out her phone, and pushing a few buttons. She made sure to cover the surface with her free hand. “You have a number? Here, put it in.”
Sunset hesitated, lifted her pinky to her mouth, and chewed on its nail. “Yea. I'll take yours, too. And don't be late.”
For the time being, things didn’t seem so bad. Actually, Adagio was feeling rather chipper. The emotion being mostly forced was something she had decided to ignore right along with the fact that, more and more, her fate was beginning to rest solely in the hands, or hooves, or whatever of mortals.
Opting to walk instead of taking the bus, Adagio passed quietly into residential rows. Before long, a feeling had swelled in her chest, not quite her magic but similar. It was akin to the sense that wafted about her whilst she had helped her sisters bandage their wounds earlier that morning, except not as pleasant. It was encased within adrenaline, and anxiousness, and even fear. The Siren forced herself to smile. “Worrying today is borrowing from my tomorrow,” she whispered below her breath. Perhaps one day soon, when she said it, she would actually believe it.
To Tartarus with you, Starshot. This moment is mine and the next, and the next. My life is mine.
She gazed up at the trees. A sense of nostalgia struck her hard; something about the way the spackled light shone through the leaves. It seemed perfect, almost too perfect. Looking ahead, she spotted a bus stop bench further on down the street. Then it hit her. She knew this deceptively perfect-looking block well. It was Striker’s.
That brief overwhelming sense of buzzing awareness grew stronger. She blinked, looked around, and found herself wandering a few steps into the block, away from the main road. She looked down at her feet. They were still moving. Why were they still moving? “Adagio, you aren't a character in some stupid kids movie. He doesn't deserve your guilt, and you certainly don't deserve his forgiveness.” Her feet were still going. “Also, you're a heartless witch. This isn't your style. How do you know you aren't just going to stir up some more trouble?” She was a block away from his home now. “Alright, then, me. I've been warned.”
It took three doorbell rings, and four minutes before Striker answered, and when his face popped out from behind the door, it looked like he had already spent an entire five minutes getting angry. “I'd very much appreciate it if you would refrain from ringing my doorbell, or you know, coming here at all,” he said.
Adagio, ever a noble, kept her head high and her expression detached. “Striker, I’d like to speak with you.”
He looked incredulous, but then again, he had good reason to. “You can’t be serious. Let me guess. You're here to apologize?” The door creaked open wider. “It's too late for that, Adagio. I'm not prepared to forgive you. Ever.”
See? the little voice in her head clucked. Told you so.
“W… well, that's… that's just fine. I wasn’t here to apologize,” she lied. “I'm here to… to explain.”
Striker’s eyes narrowed. “Explain? Explain what? How you completely lost your mind last time? I'm not interested.” He moved to shut the door.
Adagio felt that insufferable ache again tug at the heart she wasn't even supposed to have. She had betrayed this man’s trust, and if she were to be honest with herself, she wasn't altogether sorry about her actions. So, why—she asked herself again and again—was she here? Convincing herself that it was for a selfish reason helped a little bit. Selfish Adagio was the one she knew best.
As she swung her bag between the door and its frame to stop it from closing, it occurred to her that her stinging sense of awakeness and anxiety and aloneness had grown again. She could feel it gushing over. Everything was beginning to feel… That’s it. Feel. And too much. Her memories became too big. Breathing became difficult, and colorful spots began to flash before her eyes. “I… my sisters… you see… we…” Her skin began to prickle. Everything felt hot and cold at the same time. The sounds of the world all faded into a high-pitched ringing. “I… I…” She didn't realize she was falling until the moment her forehead careened straight into carpet.
Thank goodness it wasn't hardwood.
“Adagio, wake up.”
“Why… why should I?” Why should she when nothingness seemed so nice, so quiet, so lacking in pain, blood, and homicidal magicians?
“Because I don't want you to die on my couch,” a familiar voice replied.
“I'm gonna sleep here forever,” she groaned, hoping that the owner of that voice was getting as perturbed as he was making her.
“No, you’re not. You're going to get up, and have some of this.”
“Have some of what?”
“Open your eyes first, and I'll show you.”
“Are you sure about that answer?”
“Are you sure you've got the balls to ask me that question, again?”
The man’s voice sighed. “Alright. Don't say I didn't warn you.”
Adagio felt an arm hook beneath her neck and force her up.
“Up you go,” Striker shouted, jostling her about at the shoulders.
How could any Siren continue to sleep under these horrid conditions? Adagio’s eyes fluttered open, preset on anger. “Fine, dammit. I'm up.” She looked around her. Though the room was still spinning a bit, she realized she was now sitting upon Striker’s couch.
That stupid, perfect couch—
“No!” she screamed shaking her head. “Stop it! Stop it!” She repeated this command to herself seven more times before realizing that Striker had moved several paces away, and was now staring at her as if he would very much like to call the police. In his hand, he held a mug full of something steamy.
Adagio’s chest tickled as it did earlier. At first she thought it was a song, then she thought she might throw up, and then the words poured forth. “M… my sister, Aria tried to… she cut herself in our bathtub, and my other sister Sonata, some jerk nearly killed her, and Seas, we’re so far away from home. So weak and far away, and it really is all my fault, and I’ve got to find a way to fix it.” At this splurge of words, Striker’s jaw dropped. He took a step toward Adagio as she rambled on. “I have to fix it or else they'll pay for my mistakes, and I keep trying to hope and tell myself that I've got it under control, but I don't. I don't have anything under control anymore, and I feel so… All I can do is hope. But I despise hope, and haven't truly felt it in the longest time, and I don't know what to do or how to feel, and I’m so lost and dizzy all the time, and—”
A hand rested on her shoulder. It's warmth seemed to steady her entire body, and suddenly she could see again. Turning her head, she saw Striker kneeling beside her, holding out a hot mug of what looked like tea. “Here. Drink this,” he said, and waited until she took the mug to speak again. “I won't tell you that it will make you feel better, but I will say that I think you are having some sort of nervous breakdown or shock or something. So, drink the tea or don't drink it, I guess.”
There was a beat of silence between them. Striker was biting his lip, his expression just short of a fearful wince. Adagio gawked at him, slack jawed and wide-eyed. Her mind was fizzling, but the mug of warm comfort in her hand gradually calmed it. She took a sip from the mug, and felt her shoulders relax. When she pulled the container away from her face, she exhaled. “Is this what it was like? What it felt like all the time?” she asked, her voice wavering. “I can't even remember anymore.”
“Shh. Calm down, Adagio,” Striker said. “Is this how what’s like?”
“What it’s like to be mort…” She stopped herself. This was a bad idea, and these waves of emotion were only blinding her. “You know, when you're someone like me, it's easy to forget how big and long and deep and wide the world is. You wake up to wonders enough times, and it all begins to look mundane. I forgot it was like this, Striker. I forgot the world could feel like a budding flower.” The faintest taste of apples lingered upon her tongue, spawned from nowhere. “I feel like I'm seeing everything again for the first time.”
She looked at him, and when she did, she saw that one of his eyebrows had arched nearly to the middle of his forehead. “Uhh. You just keep sipping on that, Adagio,” he said. “And just try to breathe. It'll calm you down. And the warmth will be good for you.”
She was tired of listening to him undermine her even though she understood why he was doing so. She had to agree that she did sort of sound ‘unwell’. So, she stopped her talking and continued to sip. The tea was kind of good. It did kind of make her feel better… a little.
When she lowered her mug for the final time, Striker was quick to draw it away, and gesture toward the kitchen. “Want some more?”
“No. No, I'm fine,” she murmured, shaking her head, her eyes closed.
“Okay,” he said. Adagio could hear him taking a seat on the floor. “Now, we can talk.” Ironically, a minute passed in silence before he spoke up again. “I… I had no idea about your sisters. I’m sorry that all of this is happening to you.”
Damn. So, she hadn’t hallucinated saying all of those things out loud. “It's…” She was going to say that it was alright, but decided not to disrespect her sisters by lying. “I haven’t been completely honest. I did come here to talk about what happened the last time I was here. I'm not sorry for what I did, mind you. I wanted to make you hurt and question everything as much as I did. But I suppose you didn’t deserve that. I suppose you deserve me at least saying that you didn't deserve that.”
Striker didn’t smile nor did he act upon any of the other irritating emotions a noble-hearted mortal like him was prone to. He rested his chin upon his knuckles, and cleared his throat. “That is as close to an apology as I'm going to get from you, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Adagio said, smirking.
“Fine. Then I suppose since we’re both being honest, that I can say this.” He cracked his knuckles and swallowed. “You're beautiful, Adagio. You're the type of girl that… that makes a hundred lives miserable every time you make one happy. But you knew that, or else you wouldn't have done what you did.” He tried to force a laugh before realizing it was terribly timed. “What I'm trying to say is that you crossed a line that I can’t accept because you’re you. What happened last time, can’t happen again. Alright? Regardless of if you did it because you were hurting.” He looked at the floor. “I know you don't believe me, but I understand what it's like to hurt. Clearly not as much as you do, but I can see how we could get here.”
Adagio gave a thoughtful hum, sliding a hand back over her bundled hair. “Fair enough. So, does that mean you still want piano lessons?”
“Uh. No,” Striker deadpanned. “Our time together like this is over, Adagio. But, I suppose if it's an emergency, if you really do need help, that you can tell me.”
He smiled. In that moment, something about it struck Adagio as familiar. She felt her heart skip, and heat rise up into her cheeks. Where had she seen that grin before?
“Can I ask you something then? Since we’re being honest and all,” she said, tipping her chin onto her index finger, trying not to delight in the nervous look about him. She could at least do him the favor of denying her natural instinct to be mischievous just this once. “All of those pretty things that you just said about me, is that how you felt last time?”
It took an entire minute for him to answer. When he did, his response was clear. “It was.”
“Hm. And what about right now?” the Siren prodded.
Adagio smirked. Striker was purposely being short with her.
Rolling his eyes, the man leaned back onto his arms. “Look, Adagio, I don't expect you to understand what it's like to choose to make a life with somebody else. Single people usually don’t get it.”
Dragonshit. You don't know me, Striker, Adagio thought. She imagined the words in Moonstone’s voice, and nearly burst out into cackles. Cupping a hand over her lips, she stifled herself.
“Most days I remember why I'm the luckiest person in the world to have Cathy and Tess…” He was hesitating.
“And on other days?” Adagio inquired, drawing her knees up to her chest.
“Well... on other days...” His fingers tapped into the carpet. He looked thoughtful, almost regretful. “Look. Ultimately, it's all a choice, Adagio. Making it work with someone all depends on whether both people want it to work. That's how it keeps working. That's how it stays happy.”
Dragonshit, Adagio thought again. This time the voice in her head was her own, and was nowhere near amused. She wanted to yell at him, to ask him what he knew being a puny, short-lived mortal. She wanted to tell him that sometimes no matter how hard you hope, and wish, and try, the person you love is just obtuse, or cold, or preoccupied. Sometimes one’s desire to ‘make it work’ didn't work. Sometimes it was the better choice to let them go, to try something else.
“What kind of day was it last time?” she asked him. She would have been a liar if she told herself she wasn't being a little vindictive about it. “Was it one of those days or one of those other days?” She could see him growing flustered, and the bit of green seeping out of the top of his head answered her question even though he never did.
She smiled. “Cathy is lucky to have you. There was a time I would have given anything to have the one I loved return my affections. There was also a time that I thought I'd found reciprocation with someone else. But for all the trying in the world, we couldn't make it work. It was like the universe never intended for any of us to be together, just intended for us all to hurt.” A pair of purple eyes flashed across her mind. She felt warm. Perhaps that chamomile was beginning to kick in, because when she next looked at Striker’s eyes, she couldn't tell the difference between them and the beloved pair forever seared into her memory.
She slid her way onto the floor to sit before him. One cautious hand rested upon his shoulder. She watched him frown.
“Adagio…” he began.
“I know,” she said. “I know what this looks like, but just give me five minutes, alright? Can I just pretend for five minutes?”
“Pretend?” he asked, just in time for her to lunge forward, wrapping both of her arms about him. Pressing her face into his chest, she breathed in the smell of him, and imagined what it would be like if she could call a wonderful smell like that her own. She resisted crying. There had already been too much of that over the past couple of days. “Put your arms around me,” she said. It sounded like more of a plea than a command. “That's all. I promise, nothing more. Just five minutes.”
She felt nothing at first, and then suddenly, she was enveloped in warmth and comfort and happiness… and unhappiness… and envy… and a powerful heartache. She frowned and sighed into Striker’s shirt. “Thank you. I don't deserve your kindness. Things are just very difficult for me right now.”
“I'm sorry for that, Adagio. I'm sorry things are so rough.” He rubbed her back tenderly. “And hey, if you ever feel like talking more about it, like I said, I'll be around.” A pause. “Buuut preferably let's not meet here again. For… reasons.”
Adagio blinked, then began to laugh. “Today one of those other days?” she asked, her forehead still leaning against his chest.
Striker sighed. “Every day with you is going to be one of those other days, Adagio,” he confessed. “That's why I'm only extending my help to you in serious situations, alright?”
Adagio felt a painful pang in her heart again, but managed to nod her head. “I understand.”
“Do you feel just a little bit better?” he asked.
“Actually, yea. I do.”
“Okay, good, because your five minutes are up,” he chuckled. “And I'm beginning to enjoy this a bit too much.”
“Alright, alright, fine,” Adagio sighed, raising her head. When they smiled at each other, a bolt of electricity hopped between their eyes. A jolt ran down to the Siren's toes. She could tell that he felt it, too.
“I… I wish…” she began.
“Hey. Don't say it,” he replied, shaking his head.
“You don't even know what I was going to say,” Adagio murmured. Their faces had moved closer together until their foreheads touched. Then their noses.
“Yes, I do,” Striker replied, wrenching himself away from her. “Adagio,” he croaked, stumbling to his feet. “I think… you've got to go, now.”
He was conflicted. Adagio could tell because of the green smog now encircling his head. She sat there a while longer, continuing to lament the loneliness of her own existence. Then, eventually, she rose to her feet. “Alright. I understand.” Turning to collect her bag, she straightened her rumpled sweater, and headed toward the door. “Thanks for your time, Striker.”
In hindsight, coffee was a bad choice. The cold cup of bitter drink sat beside a more recently purchased container of hot chamomile. Behind them both, Adagio’s jittering hands lay clenched upon the table. The sun had mostly set, making it difficult to watch for Sunset Shimmer out of Mocha Joe’s cafe window. Adagio’s eyes darted to and fro as unknown after unknown passed by the glass.
The corner of the cafe where she was sitting was relatively quiet considering the trendy early evening crowd had gathered in full force to pretend they had important reasons to be there. Just a bit of solitude was the best the Siren could hope for at a time like this, but she wondered just how much longer it was bound to last. Tapping her fingers, she took another sip of tea, then pulled out her phone to check the time.
5:38. Where was Sunset?
Trying to hold together just a bit of resolve, Adagio forced down the nagging thought that perhaps she was being stood up, or worse yet, something had happened to Sunset. What if Starshot had deemed it necessary to stop their meeting from happening? What if he had done something terrible to the girl? What if—
Stop it, Adagio. Seas, if Aria and Sonata knew how much you’d begun to doubt yourself lately, they'd never let you live it down.
“Breathe in, breathe out,” she murmured. Covering her face with her hands, she tried to drown out the sounds of people talking, orders being called, horrible “atmospheric” music, and footsteps scurrying over cheap tile. That strange, anxious, empty feeling was growing stronger by the moment. “Please let her be alright,” she mumbled into her palms. “I don't know what else to do if she's not.”
“If who isn’t alright?” a familiar voice asked.
Adagio’s eyes shot open, and nearly teared up at the sight of retina-burning shades of red and yellow. Spirits be praised, I never thought I'd be so happy to see such a tacky color combo. “Shimmer! You made it!”
“Yea, I did,” the fiery-haired girl said, dropping her bag onto the ground, and sliding into her seat. “Sorry I'm late. Had to run some errands for Fluttershy and got behind.”
Adagio grimaced at the mention of the Rainboom member’s name. “Oh? Shame. Good thing you didn't have more important matters to attend to, right?” She inspected her nails. “Like matters of life or death or something.”
Sunset rolled her eyes. “Adagio, I've said before that I don't owe you anything. I'm here because you begged me to be.”
Adagio’s eyes went wide, her nostrils flared. “I did no such thing,” she gasped, pressing a hand to her chest. If she had been wearing pearls they would have most certainly been clutched into oblivion. “I simply requested that—”
“Are we really going to do this, Adagio?” Sunset asked, reaching down into her bag and pulling out a notebook. “I thought you said you were in trouble.”
“I… We are, but—”
“Alright, then. We better not waste anymore time.”
Adagio huffed. “Fine,” she growled, plopping her bag onto the tabletop and upending its contents. Out from the satchel poured a notebook, her portable audio player, an audio splitter jack, and two pairs of earbuds. Plugging the audio splitter into the player, she sat the small box upright, plugged both pairs of earbuds into the splitter, then handed one set to Sunset. The other, she put in her own ears. “Ok, listen up, Shimmer. This is gonna be a long, wild ride. Three and a half hours long to be precise. You're so lucky that I know how to be economic with my words when I feel like it. You listen, say nothing, and utilize the information you hear, to ask me questions afterward by writing them down. Under no circumstance are you to ask me a question about or refer to any of what you hear out loud. Got it?”
“Umm. Okay?” Sunset croaked. Adagio was frightening whilst her mind was preoccupied with one of her schemes.
“Good,” the Siren said.
“B… but can I get a coffee fir—”
“No.” Adagio pushed play, and sat back in her seat, her eyes plastered upon Sunset. Poor little mortal. To someone who had lived as long as Adagio, three hours was but a blip in time. She couldn't imagine what stray thoughts were now beating against Sunset’s skull, trying to remind her that life was limited. This session would probably prove torturous for her.
Adagio cracked a smile.
We’ve lived many lifetimes, and have been given many opportunities for greatness within those lifetimes. I think that if we are to die, it would be alright. Sonata, would probably object to that sentiment at first, but given time, I believe she'd come around to the same conclusion. Dying wouldn’t feel so wrong, I'm sure, if we were to go the way a Siren should. Admittedly, I don't know what that is or how it would look, but it most certainly wouldn't be because we were killed. Not by time mages and not because of our broken jewels. If you look at my sisters and me, I know that you would be able to see that what is happening to us is not natural. It isn't right. We hurt. We starve. We cannot defend ourselves, and it pains to even try. If I don't discover a way to heal our magic, our end will surely be horrible. And I cannot accept such an ending for my sisters. They don't deserve that. Not after all they've endured.
Which brings me to you, Sunset. I remember what I've heard about you, and I know what I've seen. You are from Equestria. You know how to wield a magic that is rivaled only by the Princess. The magic you used on us at the concert reminded me of the type of magic that defeated King Discord so long ago, which leads me to believe that it is similar if not the same. To put it plainly, I believe you know the Princess, Sunset. I believe you have her ear. I know that what I ask of you is not small or simple, but try to understand our urgency.
Ask Celestia to allow us back home to Equestria. We have to heal ourselves at the place where we began. If not, we perish.
Sunset, our pasts may have had nothing to do with each other, but I can say without exaggeration that our future, our lives now depend on you.
The recording ended with the orator giving a shaky, startled sigh. Adagio, completely unmoved, was still staring. By this time, Sunset was hunched forward upon her forearms, head bowed in meditation. When she looked up, her eyes glistened with fresh understanding.
“What kind of coffee would you like?” the Siren asked. “I imagine you've got a few questions.”
Adagio shifted the velvet piece covering her notebook just enough to fit her phone underneath. Reading the question scribbled upon it by phone light, she gave a great huff and rolled her eyes. “Shimmer, are you really going to continue asking me these useless questions?”
“Oh, so we can talk about this one out loud, then?” Sunset asked, looking alert despite the creases beneath her eyes. "So, what did my energy smell like when we were on the bus?”
Flustered by the mortal girl’s enthusiasm, Adagio stuttered, “Uh… w-well, it umm… You smelled like, um… Seas, Shimmer, I don't know. You smelled like apprehension. There's no comparison for it, okay?”
“But it smells like food?” Sunset asked.
“Well, uh. To us. It isn't like your food.”
“But it wouldn't smell like food to me?”
“Actually, sometimes it does. It just depends on the mortal. Sonata has a friend who smells like—”
“Ooh! What do I smell like right now?”
“Shimmer!” Adagio shouted, pounding her fist against the table. Every cafe patron within a five foot radius turned to stare. Tiredly, Adagio allowed her forehead to hit the tabletop and let out an irritated groan. “Can we please talk about something important?”
“I'm sorry, Adagio,” Sunset began, sounding the tiniest bit amused. “It's just that, all of this is so fascinating. I wish there were creatures like you to study back in Equestria. I would’ve loved to research your biology.”
Adagio raised her head to shoot the girl a withering glare. “Wanna cut me open like a frog, Shimmer? Poke around in my guts? See what makes me tick?”
Sunset waved her hands. “Oh, no. I didn’t mean it like—”
“A real question. Now,” Adagio commanded. A moment later, she was reading more of Sunset’s notebook scribbles beneath velvet. She smiled this time, shoved her pencil-holding hand beneath the cloth, and began to write.
‘Starshot is blinded by his own need to despise us. He cannot fathom that we can feel or that we might have once been just like him. Thus, he does not suppose we could have ever been anything except for large, frightening creatures that feed off of mortal energy.’
Finishing her reply, Adagio covered the note, and slid it in Sunset’s direction. The girl devoured her words hungrily, her eyes wide, attentive. A moment later, she was writing her reply.
‘That's good. That gives you time. At least you know he can't alter your present existence.
I want to help you, Adagio. Especially after listening to what you three have been through. But, I can't pretend as if I would feel alright doing it. You three have done some horrible things. And if what you told me about Princess Luna is true, then… I don't know. I still don't know if Celestia has forgiven me. It might be impossible for me to even ask if she has forgiven you.’
Drawing the notebook over, Adagio read the reply then frowned. “Oh,” she croaked. “I see.”
This news was truly upsetting. But then again, Adagio had suspected that Sunset must have thoroughly pissed off the one pony in Equestria that nopony wanted to piss off. Why else would she continue skulking around a world like this if she didn't have to?
Either way, perhaps it was time to push a little harder. Adagio hated that she had to resort to manipulative tactics with Sunset again, but her sisters would always have to be her first priority. Their lives were unquestionably worth one little scheme. “Well, alright then,” she sighed, beginning to pack her things. “If you really can’t do anything, then I suppose that’s that.”
Sunset’s eyes fluttered. She bolted upright in her seat. “W… wait. You're just gonna leave?”
“I suppose so, Shimmer. We get anxious nowadays when one of us doesn't show up for dinner. You understand.”
“But… but what about everything you've just told me? What about that… you know who?”
Adagio forced a perturbed smirk. “What about him? What about any of it? It’s over Shimmer.” She slipped her bag strap over her shoulder. “At this age, I've learned to recognize when I'm beat. I've learned how to bow out with a little grace. Why not pull the thorn instead of just hoping it will grow out in who knows how long?”
“Adagio, you can't be serious,” Sunset breathed. “After all you've been through, you're willing to just let it end like this?”
“It’s called using limited time wisely. I’d prefer to not spend whatever I've got left worrying over something that cannot happen. You were my chance, Sunset, and you said you can’t help, and now we’re done. Simple.”
Stunned, Sunset pondered upon the Siren’s words while watching her walk away and out of the door. Before she could get far, the fiery-haired girl raised her fists, and pounded them upon the table. Standing up, she grabbed her things, and raced outside to block Adagio’s path. “No! How could you say that, Adagio?”
“Because I tried, Sunset. I tried, and now I'm tired. There's nothing more I can ask of myself. I'm not ashamed to admit that I failed. I hate admitting it, but I'm not ashamed of it. I have no regrets for calling it quits. I did all that I could.”
“Well, I'm not quitting, Adagio. And if I can continue to hold out hope as a mortal, then so can you as a Siren! I'll figure this out,” Sunset insisted.
“Is that right?” Adagio asked, placing a hand upon her hip, and giving Sunset a patronizing smile. “And what, exactly, is left as an option?”
“Well, I…” Sunset wrestled with her own thoughts.
Adagio forced down a grin. Come on, Shimmer. Give me a lead.
“I will…” Sunset said, tapping her palm against her forehead.
“Yes?” Adagio pressed.
The girl gasped and froze to the spot. Adagio studied her, waving a hand in front of the girl's eyes just to be sure no one had casted a time spell upon her. “Shimmer?”
Sunset collapsed down to her knees at once, digging through her backpack for her notebook and pen. When she found it, she flipped to a fresh page, removed her jacket, then used it to cover the book as she wrote.
The Siren licked her lips with anticipation as the girl practically shoved the bundle toward her. What would Sunset do? Take her straight to the portal right now, perhaps? Sneak her through to Equestria? Speak to another mage who knew dimensional magic? Eyes wide, Adagio lifted the edge of the cloth and peeked beneath.
‘I'll write a letter!’ it said.
Adagio read the sentence again. Her eyes narrowed. “What?”
“Just… keep reading,” Sunset urged.
‘The Equestrian princess who helped us defeat you, who even helped to defeat me, we're goods friends now. And she is great friends with Princess Celestia. We keep correspondence through letters. I could tell her your story, and see what she thinks about asking Celestia about you!’
Adagio grimaced. Letter writing to ask permission from the somepony who was a friend of the somepony they needed to ask permission from? All this was too sloppy and too drawn out. It didn't sound feasible in whatever short time she had left. “Shimmer, what is this?” she asked, drawing out her pen to write her reply. ‘If you know another willing princess, then she could just get us to Equestria herself.’
“N… no, Adagio. It can’t work that way,” Sunset said after reading her message. She picked up her pen. ‘I can't step on any toes. Hooves. You know what I mean. We've got to work on getting you back into everypony’s good graces. It will take time.’
“Funny you should say that, Shimmer,” Adagio scoffed, “considering that time is the one thing that we no longer have.” Again, she began to write. ‘It has to be quick. Or else something bad will happen. Is that what you want?’
“No!” Sunset protested, flailing her hands out in front of her. “Of course I don't want that!”
‘SO GET HER TO DO IT,’ Adagio wrote, tapping her knuckle against the jacket covered book for emphasis.
Reading this reply, Sunset’s usually bright eyes grew grim. “Adagio, I said I can’t.”
“Why not?” Adagio shouted, motioning wildly with one arm. “Aren't you the one full of dreams, and hopes, and ideas? I thought there was nothing you couldn't do.”
“I’ve… I've learned my limitations. I've learned to respect others’ boundaries. I've worked so hard to regain the trust of those I've betrayed, and I refuse to ruin all of that effort by panicking with you.”
Adagio blinked, then scoffed. “Oh. I get it now. This isn't so much about us as it is about little, reformed Sunset Shimmer not wanting to offend anyone. I should have guessed.”
“You keep putting words in my mouth, Adagio,” Sunset growled.
“How? Why, when I don't even have to?” Adagio shouted. “You just made it clear as day what your first priorities are.”
“Yes!” Sunset shouted. “To my friends and acquaintances. You and your sisters are neither, Adagio, but I'm still willing to help you!”
“But only at a pace that suits you,” the Siren quipped.
“Adagio, take it or leave it,” Sunset barked with a stomp of her foot. “Do you want me to do this for you or not?”
Seeing the girl so angry startled Adagio back into reality—the reality where it was best to stay on Sunset’s amicable side lest she call the whole thing off. Begrudgingly, the Siren nodded her head. “Fine, Shimmer.” She shrugged. “What other choice do I have, right?”
A letter. A spirits-damned letter. We'll be dead by the time any of this pans out. Time for Plan B, I guess.
“There's something else I wanted to show you, though,” Adagio said. “I came here thinking that I'd get my way as usual,” she said, forcing a laugh as she dug into her bag. “I thought that perhaps giving this to you would help you or one of your lofty friends figure something out for us.” Drawing her hand out of the bag, she revealed to Sunset the beautifully carved wooden case in which she kept her pendant shards. Unlocking the box with her key, she revealed the remnants of her Sirenhood to the girl.
Sunset gasped upon seeing the shards, instinctively taking a step back. “Is… is that…”
“It is,” Adagio said, quickly locking the box again, and holding it out for Sunset to take. “I want you to give it to whoever you think is best qualified to have it. Maybe it will help them figure things out. I want you to promise me that you'll at least do that as soon as possible. Alright?”
“Adagio…” Sunset breathed. “I can’t take this away from you.”
“Why not? You've already done it once before. At least this time I'm telling you it’s alright.”
The two stood there in silence, Sunset glancing down at the box, Adagio studying Sunset. The Siren fought down a smile. Once again, she had caught Sunset by the heartstrings.
“Please, Shimmer. Just do this one thing for me. It may be the last thing I ever ask of you.”
Hesitantly, Sunset reached out and took the box into both hands. She held it stiffly, looking as if she were holding a newborn baby.
“Relax, will you?” Adagio sighed, shaking her head. “You can’t break it twice… At least I don't think you can. Who knows with you, Shimmer. You just might find a way.”
“S’not funny, Adagio,” the mortal girl grunted, carefully moving to place the box in her bag.
Adagio smiled. “Alright, I'll stop. But you will do this for me as soon as possible, won’t you?”
Sunset thought to herself whilst she zipped up her bag. She appeared to have come to a decision by the time she stood up straight. “I think I’ll be able to do that, sure,” she said. “I'll ask first, and see what happens. But the rest of it, you leave up to me to try to hash out. Deal?”
Now the Siren was grinning. The little mortal hadn’t even noticed what hit her. Holding out her hand for a shake, Adagio waited until Sunset clasped onto her before drawing the girl in and wrapping her arms about her shoulders.
Sunset’s entire body stiffened in Adagio’s grasp. It was like hugging a block of ice. Determined to keep up her show of sweetness, Adagio rested her chin on her shoulder. “I've gotta go. The girls are probably waiting up for me. But thanks, Shimmer. Thanks so much for helping me. For helping us.”
Sunset briefly returned her embrace without saying a word. Coughing with embarrassment, she pulled away and stared up toward the stars. Her cheeks had gone all red.
“You're welcome, Adagio.”
Adagio Dazzle was a noble. Well, maybe not a noble, but definitely genteel. Alright, maybe not genteel, but unequivocally she was a lady. Regardless, she most certainly was above hiding in bushes like some highwayman.
Aw, come on, Shimmer. Finish writing in that stupid book, and do something already! I think I'm standing on an anthill.
The exterior of Canterlot High was a tough place to find a hiding spot. Some countryside contractor with big suburban dreams had displayed his inferiority complex all over the place by shaving down every piece of vegetation—save for just two trees—within an entire block’s radius. The only things surrounding the building were its large track and field on its western side, and a recreational lawn spattered with a few outdoor lunch tables on the east. That was where Adagio had decided to hide after tailing Sunset back through town and toward the school. The evening darkness helped to conceal her behind the shadow of the single oak on CHS’ property. From where Sunset was sitting alone on the school’s wide, stone steps, Adagio was certain she would never be able to spot her.
The mortal was currently preoccupied anyway, far too busy with scribbling something inside of the strangest-looking tome Adagio had ever seen a high school student possess. It was large and brown, and depicted something on the front cover that she couldn't quite decipher in the dark. What was so damned important that Sunset needed to be doing this here and now?
A thought occurred to the Siren, an obvious one: Perhaps this was what she had been hoping to witness. Perhaps that tome was an avenue of communication for Sunset’s contact back in Equestria. But how could she know for sure?
As if her thoughts were heard by some unseen power, a purple glow emanated from the book where it sat on Sunset’s lap covered by a piece of cloth, just as Adagio had taught her. The Siren’s eyes glistened with wonder. “Equestrian magic,” she breathed. “How is she using it?” It seemed a silly question after she reminded herself that there was a high probability that a portal to Equestria was located on CHS grounds. She bit her lip, and hunkered back down to wait some more. If her assumptions were correct, and her plan was successful, she would discover its location soon enough.
Ten minutes later, Sunset’s book let off another powerful glow. She read from it intently, as if she’d never before seen whatever was written upon the page.
“Ah, because she hasn’t,” Adagio whispered to herself. Still, that book was no portal, and the Siren began to question whether Sunset would fall for her trick at all.
Adagio inhaled sharply when Sunset tucked the book back into her bag, and retrieved the box containing her pendant. Standing quickly, the girl headed off down the school steps.
Yes, yes, yes!
This was it. The moment she had been waiting for. Of course, relaying messages by magical means could utilize a variety of methods, and Sunset obviously had found hers in that strange book. What was a bit more difficult to do, however, was delivering a very specific item to Equestria, something that couldn't be reproduced like words could. Her shattered pendant was one of a kind, and teleportative telekinesis was an energy zapper, even in Equestria. Wherever Sunset was delivering that box, she would have to do it the old fashioned way, directly, by hand, and hopefully right in front of the portal.
Adagio watched on as Sunset walked the front path of the school, directly up to the monument that stood in the center of the pathway. Her eyes widened and lips sealed together when Sunset dropped her bag before the large sculpture, and proceeded to wait.
“No. It couldn't possibly be that obvious,” Adagio breathed, shaking her head.
It was. A moment later, the back panel of the statue began to glow in white, a swirled pattern churning at its center. The Siren clasped a hand over her mouth to keep from gasping as she watched one purple leg, two purple arms, and an extraordinarily outdated fashion ensemble make its way out of the statue stone. “Oh, you've got to be freaking kidding me,” she groaned into her palm. “That’s the little bitch from the concert!”
“Twilight!” Sunset chirped, attempting to keep her volume at an acceptable level for the time of evening. She lunged forward at once, collecting the Equestrian girl up into a warm embrace. “It's so good to see you, again! How is everyone?”
Twilight chuckled. “I’m happy to see you, too, Sunset! Everyone is just fine.” She reached into a satchel she’d been carrying at her side, and pulled out a book twice as large as the one Sunset had been writing in a moment prior. “Here, I brought this for you. It's a compendium of studies on Equestrian sea life. No Sirens, I'm afraid, but you sounded enthusiastic about it in your letter, and since my library had quadruplicate copies, I figured, eh, why not?”
Adagio could see Sunset’s eyes light up in the most nauseating way.
“Oh, wow, Twilight. Thank you. You definitely did not”—she nearly keeled over when Twilight dropped the heavy compendium into her hands—“have to do this.”
“What do you mean? Of course I did! Do you realize how rare of an opportunity you've given me? A chance to conduct a comprehensive study on a genuine Siren’s biological jewel!”
Adagio's eyes narrowed as she watched Twilight begin to giggle wildly and hyperventilate all at the same time.
“Why, it's totally unheard of! Can you imagine the magical advances Equestria would make because of this? Oh, I can't wait to present my findings at the lecture hall in—”
“Whoa, Twilight! Slow down there a little bit,” Sunset cautioned, placing a steadying hand upon the girl’s shoulder. “You're going to pass out like last time. Besides, remember I said this has to be of the utmost secrecy until we can figure out what's going on. Perhaps come to a decision.”
Perhaps? Adagio thought.
“Oh. Right. Of course. I remembered that!” Twilight very clearly lied, unable to mask the disappointment in her voice. “I meant after all of this is over with, naturally.”
“So, you'll do it, then?” Sunset beamed, skipping in place a few times. “You'll speak to Princess Celestia for me?”
“Definitely! But if I'm to be completely honest with you, Sunset, I think it would be a message better delivered by you… for all of the obvious reasons.”
Sunset visibly shrank. “Oh, really?” she mumbled, looking away. “And what would those be?”
Noting her friend’s apprehension, Twilight stepped forward to place a hand on her shoulder. “Sunset, I really do believe that Celestia is ready to see you again. Hay, she forgave you a long time ago. I just wish you'd learn how to completely forgive yourself. Look at all of the progress you've made since we met!”
Sunset shirked away from her friend's touch. “I know, Twilight. But I… I just need more time. I'm just not ready yet.”
You're not ready? You need more time? Adagio shrieked internally. My life is on the line here!
“I understand,” Twilight said, nodding her head, and collecting the Siren’s pendant box. “But just know that when you are ready, we can speak to the Princess together.”
“You… you'd do that for me?” Sunset asked.
“Of course. That's what friends do, isn't it?” Twilight replied, collecting the girl back into one more embrace.
Far too busy gagging behind a tree trunk, Adagio nearly missed her name come up in discussion.
“So, about Adagio and the other Sirens,” Sunset sighed, feeling redeemed. “Do you think the Princess is prepared to forgive them, too?”
Twilight appeared pensive. “I really haven't the slightest idea. The only ones who would have a gauge on that would be the Princesses and the Sirens themselves. But basing my assumptions on what the Royal library’s single copy of ‘Lost and Elusive Creatures from Equestrian Lore’ says, I'm leaning more towards ‘no, she's not ready.’”
“Drat,” Sunset spat, tapping her cheek with a finger.
“What those three did to the Princesses, to Equestria… Well, let’s just say it's asking a lot to trust them entering our realm again.”
“I know, I know,” Sunset sighed. “But, I promised. I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think there was potential in them to be good. I can see it. I know it's there. It's just their, I don't know, their biology that’s in the way.”
“Hmm. Well, I trust your judgment, Sunset. If you can see potential in them, then I know that will weigh heavily in the Sirens’ favor if… when the Princesses make a decision.” Her brow was knit as she said this. Something else was clearly weighing on her mind.
“But?” Sunset inquired.
“Buuut, if you ask me—and ya kind of did,” Twilight gibed, nudging Sunset with her elbow, “I think attempting to circumvent their nature might not necessarily be the proper way to go. Especially if with their biology out of wack, they look as sickly as you say they do.”
Sickly? The word echoed against the walls of Adagio’s skull. We most certainly do not look ‘sickly,’ you little oaf! Just… tired. Let's see how good you look when a homicidal mage suddenly appears in your bathroom in the middle of the night!
“But then how else, Twilight? We can't allow them back home knowing that they have to wreak havoc to survive,” Sunset asked.
Twilight hummed thoughtfully. “You know, I think they were doing more than surviving back then. I think they were thriving… excessively.” She gently placed Adagio’s pendant box into her satchel, preparing to leave. “Perhaps their ‘survival’ would look a little different than what we would expect. I'm not really sure without getting to conduct a little more research, myself. But I trust you can figure it out.” She passed her friend one more warm smile. “Anyway, I've really got to get going. When I left, Spike was saying something about Pinkie promising to bake some molten gem cupcakes for him in the castle kitchen.”
“Yea, that doesn't sound very safe, does it?” Sunset chuckled.
“It definitely does not. But it was nice seeing you again, Sunset. Maybe, next time you'll be paying me a visit?”
“Hm. I guess we’ll see,” Sunset replied, waving her friend off as she stepped through stone. “Keep in touch, Twilight!”
“I will!” Twilight shouted before forcing half her body back out of the portal, and frantically waving her arm about. “Oh! I almost forgot I marked some chapters in that compendium that I thought you'd get a kick out of don’t worry it's magical ink and will fade once you read the page I'd never damage a book that way but check it out okay because there’s this one chapter on sea vegetation and their magical and nutritional properties that I thought would really come in handy if—” Unable to withstand the force of the portal, Twilight was still talking by the time her head was swallowed up by transdimensional light.
Sunset, shaking her head, continued to wave until the light had again faded to nothing. “Nobody quite like Twilight,” she chuckled to herself staring down at the enormous tome still clutched in her hands. Turning around, she hoisted it back toward the steps, somehow managed to fit it into her bag, and lifted the weighted thing onto one shoulder. “Man, I'm going to have one heck of a backache tomorrow.”
From her spot behind the old oak tree, Adagio watched Sunset dig her phone out of her jacket, turn it on, and begin to type something into it with her thumb whilst covering the contents of the screen with her free hand. What was she doing? Was she texting someone?
Then it hit her. Racing to draw her phone out of her sweater pocket, Adagio switched the device to silent mode just in time to receive Sunset’s text message. Breathing a sigh of relief, she covered the screen, opened her inbox, and read the message from beneath the side of her palm.
‘Pendant and request for passage to Equestria delivered. Here's hoping it works. :) ’
Adagio rolled her eyes, but continued reading.
By the way, you should stay in touch! I just so happened to acquire a book on Equestrian sea life that I was hoping, perhaps, you'd be interested in going over with me for the sake of—”
The Siren deleted the message without finishing. “Dweeb,” she muttered, putting her phone away and looking out into the distance. Sunset had left, and everything had again gone dark. Now was her chance!
Darting out from behind the oak tree, she made her way toward the statue. Crouching in its shadow, she took one more precautionary look around the square before rounding to kneel before the panel where the portal was located.
Tentatively, she reached out with a finger, and placed it against the stone. When she saw that nothing was happening, she laid one palm flat, then the other. The stone felt warm. She could hear a low frequency whooping sound escaping from between its borders. Yet, still nothing was happening. “How does this thing work anyway?” she grumbled. Frustrated, she balled her hands up into a fist, and pounded the panel until her knuckles hurt. “Come on! What’s the problem? Does it need an incantation or something?”
Pebbles skittered underfoot at her back. She felt someone’s breath over her shoulder.
“I’ve found that access to intradimensional pathways are only a constant in planes where magic already exists,” murmured a raspy voice at her back.
Slipping onto her side in shock, Adagio shuffled away until her back hit stone. “Who… who are you?” she barked, staring up into a pair of burning gold eyes surrounded by blueish-gray.
Starshot smiled, and bent forward so that his face caught the moonlight. “Give it a moment. You'll remember in a second.”
Adagio’s brow furrowed. Blue hair, gold eyes, blue-gray skin. Obviously had knowledge on time and dimensional magics. He did look a little different without hooves and a muzzle, but in hindsight, it should have been obvious. “Starshot,” she breathed.
“Good to see you again, Adagio,” the wizard said, jokingly offering a hand to help her up.
Slapping the appendage away, Adagio shot up to her feet, and advanced upon the wizard without fear. “So, you think all this is funny, do you? You think you’re so damn clever.” She stood before him, nearly nose to nose. “Well, you're not the only one with a trick or two up their sleeve. Mark my words, mage, there will soon come a day when it will be my turn to laugh at you.”
“So you say,” Starshot smiled, unbothered. “But I can tell you one thing. That day is surely not going to be today.”
Adagio cocked an eyebrow. “W… what are you talking about?”
This time, the wizard chuckled. “Oh, you'll see when you get home. Unless you really do prefer to hear it now.”
A growl emanated from the Siren’s core. She lunged forward to snatch Starshot by the collar. “What… did… you… do?”
“Easy there, creature,” the mage snarled, his smile now gone. “Wouldn’t want to annoy me. Then I might not tell you where your kin have gone.”
Adagio’s eyes went wide. Her grip upon Starshot loosened. “G… g… gone?” she gasped. “What… where?”
“Wuh… wuh… well,” Starshot mocked her, “to put it simply, I have them. Got your little ketchup and mustard-colored friend whilst you were busy looking at that communication device, too.”
Adagio’s stomach dropped. All the strength drained out of her limbs. “Sh… Shimmer? What are you talking about? What did you do with my sisters?” she cried.
“Don't worry, they are all in a better place now,” the mage tittered, curling his fingers in the air dramatically, “a place where you shall never find them on your own.”
“If you've hurt them, I swear—”
Starshot raised a hand to stop her. “They live. But I'm afraid that you are in no position to make demands… or threats.”
The Siren took a deep, shuddering breath, and gulped down some resolve. “Alright. What do you want, then?”
“Well isn’t it obvious, witch?” Starshot scoffed. “I want you. Your surrender, to be more precise. Come quietly, and your sisters will remain unharmed—for the time being, anyway. I'll even do you one better, and release that flame-haired girl as well!”
Adagio was flabbergasted. How had the mage managed to catch all three of them? Sunset was just there a moment ago. And she had just seen her sisters this morning, smiled at them, hugged them. She would have never thought that the mage would strike just hours after the previous night's debacle.
Discreetly glancing toward his jacket, Adagio could spy the hints of a glow escaping from its innards. Her eyes narrowed. She lifted her chin, and straightened out her shoulders. Taking a step toward him, she placed a gentle hand upon his chest. “Oh, Starshot, all this for me?” Her hands slid beneath his lapels, against the flesh of his neck as he passed her his typical, smug grin. “Surely, had you been more direct and less aggressive about it, we could have worked something out. Surely, all of this pain and misery is unnecessary.” There was a tingle in her chest. Her powers were coming alive, but oddly, far too slow and belabored. Maybe it was just because she was tired. Her mind struggled to fill itself with words as she edged close to him, laying her head upon his shoulder. “You know there’s still time if you'd like to change your mind. I most certainly wouldn’t mind it if you
Decide upon obedience,
And do as I say…
“Do… as you say,” Starshot drawled, his entire body going limp.
Moron, Adagio thought, laughing to herself. The fool had unwittingly allowed her to turn him into the answer to all of her problems. Now, all she had to do to find her sisters, Sunset, and a way back to Equestria was to command him to do it for her.
Crack open the door,
And we’ll hasten away…
“And not to some shitty place where everybody is a plastic bag or something. Take me to my sisters, and then to Equestria, got it?” she commanded.
“Sisters…” Starshot slurred, his hand beginning to glow bright.
“Yes, that’s it!” Adagio chirped. Biting her lip in happy anticipation, she held fast to Starshot’s shoulders, and squeezed her eyes shut as he lifted his glowing hand into the sky. Golden light crackled within his fist.
When five seconds passed with nothing happening, Adagio opened one eye, then the other, looking around to see what was the matter. “Is it done? I… Is this the place?” She glanced up to see the mage’s fist still glowing. His eyes were still dim. “What’s the matter with you? Take me to my sisters!” Inspecting the pungent haze of green that always seemed to follow the wizard about, Adagio began to read it, searching for the problem. She breathed its scent in, then froze.
His energy didn’t smell like the guilt and self-loathing that any self-deprecating servant’s should carry with them. It smelled like his usual, ripe, ancient hatred. “Wait a moment. Something’s wrong,” she muttered to herself, watching the light surrounding Starshot’s fist fizzle down into nothing.
A strong hand caught her about the throat, nearly choking her. Stunned, she stared into the mage’s eyes. They were no longer dim, but again scalding gold. “On second thought, I think I’ve changed my mind,” Starshot hissed, shoving her back as he began to roar with laughter.
Stumbling backward, Adagio fell hard onto stone.
“Oh, sweetheart, you should have seen your face!” The wizard chortled, bracing himself upon his knees. “No, truly, it was a tempting offer. It was,” he monotoned suddenly, standing up straight. Not a second later, he snorted, guffawed, and keeled over again. “I'm just kidding! It wasn’t. Your powers are practically worthless with your sisters gone. You can’t draw from them anymore!” He wagged a finger at her where she sat gripping her scraped knee with her scuffed hand. “Oh, my. You lot are very tricky, aren’t you? You're fortunate that I've yet to finish my improvements to the third ring, or else you would be wearing it now. But no worries, it should be ready by the time you arrive.”
“Son of a bitch,” Adagio hissed. “I'm never going anywhere with you!”
The mage’s smile fell away. “You creatures are so very stubborn. Do you realize how much time you waste defying me?” The mage checked his outfitted watch, either for emphasis or out of habit. “And for what? For a show of courage? An illusion of choice? You have no choice, Siren. But I can understand how flustered you must be feeling right now. So, to make things easier, I suppose I could give you your little illusion of an option.”
His jacket began to glow. The light emanated outward until he was surrounded in a golden aura. “Return to me here tomorrow evening… or don’t! That's your choice.” The wizard lifted his arm into the air. Light crackled in his fist. “Just remember all that is at stake.” The light flashed once, and when the glow had faded, Starshot was gone.
Adagio sat there, gawking, colorful circles floating before her eyes. Aria, Sonata, Shimmer, were they really all gone?
She was up in an instant, running as fast as her feet could carry her, cutting through backyards, and down side streets on a beeline towards home. The mage was lying. He hadn’t taken Aria and Sonata. He had only been trying to scare her into going away with him, leaving the two of them lost and injured without her. Her powers had not been working because he’d been wearing enchanted earplugs or something. That had to be it!
“Well, your tricks aren’t gonna work, Starshot!” she panted, racing through the backyard of her house whilst looking up into its darkened windows. Running around to the front and up the porch, she fumbled for her keys. Looking through front windows, she saw only darkness downstairs. No movement. Usually, both of her sisters would be home right now, picking seconds or thirds from the dinner pot. “That’s alright. That's okay. They must be in their rooms,” she told herself, finding the key she was looking for, and trying to steady her hand enough to slip it into the door slot. Looking up again, she noticed that both Sonata’s and Aria’s bedroom windows were dark as well. There wasn’t a single light on in the entire place. Adagio felt heat beginning to flood her face. “It’s okay. They're okay,” she gasped, finally getting the key into the hole.
As she did, she froze.
A feeling had been following her all day. At times it had felt more powerful than at others, but regardless, the sensation was constant. It had been a feeling of nakedness, anxiousness, vulnerability, one she’d thought she had forgotten long ago. At first she had assumed it to be another aspect of her new fleeting life peeking through the stonelike visage of her once endless existence. She had assumed that she was just remembering what it felt like to be mortal.
Standing there upon her porch, shivering with fright, it all became so clear. She hadn’t been feeling the vulnerability of mortality. What she had been feeling was the nakedness of a Siren spirit that had been dismantled and separated. She realized then that this was the sensation of her no longer sharing the essence of her sisters. It was the saddest, loneliest feeling she had ever experienced in all her long life.
Colors around her faded. The smell of autumn dwindled into nothing. Her remaining energy quickly drained away. Her sisters were her power, and she was theirs. They were the key to her inspiration for song, the doorway through which she could see and process the world about her into any powerful melody. Without them, without those crucial parts of herself, how could she possibly see this place as anything more than useless—a big void of insufferable, uninspired gray?
What she had experienced at Striker’s earlier that day was the surge that happened just before a blackout. That meant that even as she had been sitting upon his couch sipping tea, at least one of her sisters had already been taken from her. The other was probably gone by the time she’d met Sunset at the cafe.
Her hand reached up toward the front door’s brass doorknob. It was old, worn down to a patina. Why had she never noticed that until now? Her fingers lingered just beyond it, unwilling to do anything more.
She pressed her finger against the doorbell, and waited, thinking that the moment the door opened she might feel something. She was wrong.
“Adagio? What's wrong? What the hell happened to your knee?” Striker asked, giving her a once over in the doorway.
The Siren remained unmoved. She couldn't bring herself to smile even if she wanted to. Her cold, dull eyes scanned the rest of the house at Striker’s back. It was all quiet.
“Ah, I get it now. Cathy and Tes. Cathode… Tesla. She works at a lab, doesn’t she? Afternoons to late night, I assume,” she said.
Striker’s brow furrowed. He scoffed. “Y...yea, but how could you have possibly known all of that?”
“Mm. It's unoriginal, so it's obvious. And I’ve had a long time to develop my intuition about these things,” she replied with a shrug. Reaching up to her tightly bound hair, she undid the band and allowed her curls to fall free. After all, there was no more work to be done. “Can I be honest with you?”
“Sure, but Adagio, it's the middle of the night,” Striker sighed.
“I think I give up.”
Striker blinked. “You what?”
“I said… I… give… up,” Adagio repeated. “I'm tired of fighting every person around me, and every predisposition within me. It seems that's all I ever do now. And I don't want to do it anymore. I'm done fighting.” She moved forward to wrap her arms about Striker’s shoulders, and kicked the door shut behind her.
“Not this again,” the man groaned, patronizingly patting her back. “Adagio, I've already told you that you can’t be here like this.”
“My sisters are gone.”
“I didn't go inside to look, but I didn't have to. I can feel it. He took them… or killed them. I don't know which. It's the most horrible, empty feeling.”
“Adagio, I think we need to call someone. You're unwell, and if what you're saying is true, then—”
She looked up at him and smiled. Instantly, he froze. “You don't get it,” she hummed, shaking her head. “There’s nothing to be done anymore.” His face was close, so she kissed his cheek, perhaps to make sure he would just shut up for good. He didn't object.
When she pulled away, her eyes had gone sad. The tired shadows about her face were hidden in darkness. “Hey, Striker?” she asked.
Understandably, he was too stunned to reply.
“Just know that this wasn’t my first inclination. I would have probably gone straight to Sunset’s to read that stupid book, but,” she forced a small chuckle, “he took her, too. Right in front of me. And now there’s no one else. And I don't think I'll ever see you again after tonight, and earlier today you looked so much like…” The smile fell away. “ What I'm saying is… this time I really am sorry, alright? Just know that.”
Rising up to her toes, she lifted her chin, and drew him closer.