There were certain drawbacks to spending so much time living like an obsessive recluse. Adagio had known that going in, but she had deemed the risks well worth the time it would take to fix their gems. Now, she found herself with no knowledge of the city's layout, barely having walked around the block after they relocated. She had no idea where to go, but that didn't mean she had to say it out loud. Luckily, Lemon Zest was already doing a remarkable job of proving her worth as a servant of the sirens by taking them straight to the mall.
"-and most of the fancier shops are on the second floor, but they haven't had any quality merch in months. So, what kinda style you guys goin' for?"
As much as she'd have liked to answer 'anything sleeveless,' Adagio knew that it was still too early. She may have (may have) eventually hypnotized one person, but couldn't say how effective it would be against multiple targets. "Find us somewhere away from prying eyes, we'll look for fashion tips in the book."
Lemon tilted her head a little. "Book?"
Aria lifted her head enough to peek out of her sleeve. "We came with a manual," she deadpanned, "just get us somewhere with nobody around."
Moments later, they found themselves in a bathroom in a far corner of the mall, where nearby stores weren't popular enough to earn it much traffic. Doing her best not to even look at the stalls, Adagio stood in front of a counter by the sinks, where Sonata fished the book from her hoodie pocket and set it down.
"Alright," their host began, "if this tome tells us half of what we should know, some kind of wardrobe should be included." She let Sonata turn the pages, keeping an eye on Lemon as much to make sure she didn't try anything if their spell wore off as to keep herself from getting distracted by the way pages were turned with adorable little snout-flips. Before long, they came upon a page depicting a snake-armed woman in a strange garment, though with more detail given on the constitution of the fabric and specific accessories to wear than the outfit itself. Aria was the first to voice their shared question.
"What... what is that thing? Looks kinda like a tight bathrobe."
"Kimono," answered Lemon, "you don't really see a lot of 'em around here, but they're still a regular item for certain traditional families."
Adagio raised an eyebrow. "Are we in such fortune that your own lineage is so inclined?"
Lemon blinked. "Lineage... that's the word granddad uses when he means-" then she smiled, "-wait, yea!"
Riveting as it might have been to hear Adagio and Lemon hash out details, Aria paid more attention Sonata's muzzle brushing against the base of her neck, the serpentine equivalent of being tapped on the shoulder. That, or Sonata was feeling frisky, but Aria firmly leaned toward the former. With a directive nod from Sonata, they moved to whisper behind Adagio's back.
"Aria? Why does Dagi talk all different sometimes?"
"Like, right now, all fancy-lady-serious-like! She never talks to us that way!"
Aria rolled her eyes. "Between wanting to look and sound like the queen of the world when talking to her subjects, all that time she spent cooped up in her room thinking about making everyone bow to her again, that she usually narrated the bad guys for that game with the books when we could tear her away from the gems for a while, and that she's pretty much always just loved being a supervillain? Take your pick."
"Making up for lost time, huh?"
They rejoined the discussion to find Adagio looking skeptical.
"Might work out easier than you'd think."
"Hm..." She glanced at the image in the book again. "I'm not ecstatic about the design, but it definitely looks better than what we have now." Aria and Sonata were held where she could see both of them at once. "What do you think?"
"I'unno," Aria said with a fin-flick, "looks like it'd cover us up pretty good. It doesn't have to be all flowery like that one, though, right?"
Sonata beamed. "Let's get a pink one! With big, shiny ribbons!"
Aria scowled at her. "Ick. Could you at least try to remember that we're supposed to be bad guys?"
"So? Doesn't mean we can't look pretty!"
"Pretty's for princesses, let's get something with spikes!"
A single icecube formed in the depths of Hell. "Ooh, great idea! Let's get a pink, spiky kimomomm-... Wrappy-dress thing!"
"Black with spikes!"
Adagio shook them both. "Quiet!!" To her equal surprise and gratification, they both settled down immediately, even though there were no socks nearby to threaten them with. She turned to their patient servant. "Lemon Zest, where can we find these... kimono garments?"
Lemon smiled. "Third floor!"
"It's... Well, it fits, at least."
Adagio now stood before a full-length mirror in a changing room of the shop dealing in foreign clothing. Lemon Zest had proven surprisingly knowledgeable about far-eastern attire, her family apparently being of the culture themselves, but Adagio was not thrilled about the kimono she had helped them into. It wasn't the color that bothered her, even if Sonata seemed a little sour that the first one they tried on was a dark-purple thing with black trim. They'd eventually settled on having two kimonos and doing a coin-toss every morning to decide whether they'd wear the one they had on now, or a much brighter, pink one with white trims that day. Her sisters' competitive streak against each other was confusing at the best of times, but it was something Adagio indulged just to get some peace sooner.
Anyway, what bothered her was that the robe was tight in ways that restricted her movement, even after having Lemon double-check that it was donned correctly. She was sure that if she tried to run in the damn thing, the sash would come undone or she'd fall on her face! Ordinarily, she might have insisted on scrapping the book's suggestions altogether, but the sleeves, almost dragging on the ground, did a lot to conceal Aria and Sonata in a way that both found comfortable, Aria even likening it to being wrapped in a soft blanket. She did her best to hide her displeasure with the outfit by focusing on something else... The book!
The picture they first saw a kimono in depicted a fair-looking woman, though her serpents paled in comparison to the two now grafted to Adagio's shoulders. There were trinkets and charms and what might have been jewelry on her outfit, but they needed help with getting dressed at it was, and nothing they could find would be a match for the genuine article of arcane cryst-
"Uh... D-Dagi? You feeling okay?"
She snapped to attention to find both arms staring at her. "What?"
Aria tilted her head a little. "You looked sorta..." She glanced at the book, as if to glean clues from it, "bummed out, I guess. Something you wanna share?"
You idiot, she chided herself, you're worrying them over nothing. This is a good day, start acting like it!
Refreshing the thought that they had some measure of real magical power again, Adagio managed a sincere smile. "Nothing important. What matters now is what we do with our newfound power." It pleased her greatly that there were no stupid exclamations right away. "What I had in mind was building that power further, starting with amassing a workforce. In other words-"
"More slaves," Aria cut her off, grinning wickedly, "what are we waitin' for?"
"Patience," tittered Adagio, "we can't just go rewriting peoples' wills left and rig-"
"Do you girls need any help back here?"
Four heads whipped in the direction of a fifth; a pink girl with dark, curly, purple hair. Judging by her clothing, she worked here. Judging by the way her yellow eyes widened as she beheld the snake-woman, they had maybe five seconds before she screamed. Adagio wasted no time.
"Be still," she commanded with a tinge of seductive purr in her voice, "you now stand in the company of your new masters. Until you are released, you will fulfill our every whim without hesitation or complaint. Do you understand?"
The effect this time was much clearer as the girl's irises momentarily glowed red, her jaw slackening and her posture slipping to a sleepy slouch. Then she smiled. "Y-yes," she said almost dreamily, "I would love to serve you."
Grinning with fiendish delight, Adagio let out a haughty chuckle. "Excellent." She glanced over her shoulder at the other kimono Lemon had retrieved. "You are now a pack mule, Miss...?"
"Whatever," barked Sonata, "just get our bags!" Suri obeyed, which gave her a tingle of delight, like the first lick of a candy cane! Then she noticed Aria and Adagio giving her perplexed stares, which gave her a tingle of something she didn't like, like the first lick of a pickle. She frowned. "I don't wanna memorize tons of names." Adagio was giving her that I'mma-nuzzle-you smile again, which sent her back to Candy Cane status.
"Very well," she said with a giggle, "just leave the important details to me."
And then she noticed a silence. An odd silence. The feeling of the thing was there, but not the words. She turned to look at Aria, who seemed startled when she did.
"Uhh... Well, I was gonna say, like, 'thought you said we shouldn't just brainwash people left and right,' but she-" there was a nod in Suri's direction, "-kinda snuck up on us there. So, what now?"
"Well, as I was saying before, we can't just go hypnotizing everyone we meet, bu-"
"Miss Polomare, are you back here? You'd better not be chatting up customers agai-..."
"Cities have a lotta people in 'em, huh?"
"Astute observation, Sonata."
Their powers of hypnosis did indeed prove effective against multiple targets at once, because the sirens now stood in the front room of the store before eight hypnotized people, not counting Lemon. Well, probably not counting Lemon, because Adagio couldn't help but notice the difference in her behavior as compared to the rest of the smiling, dopey-faced minions. Maybe it was just that Lemon was conditioned already by her strict family? Or, did the way Adagio gave her orders prior to pulling off any actual mind-altering magic have something to do with it? Could it be that, with the way Suri, her manager, and the other six that spotted them when they moved out of the changing room for some breathing space were quickly dominated, they were just more affected? She thought of reinforcing the spell on Lemon, but didn't want to risk reducing her to a slobbering puppy.
"Aria? Sonata? You know I hate to sheathe your beauty from the world, but I'm going to have to ask you to stay in your sleeves for a while."
"G-got it," muttered Aria as she retreated into the folds of the eastern robe, as much for the order as to hide a blush. Those words just weren't right coming from her sister!
Sonata was a little more hesitant to go back to Adagio's side like a regular, if elongated arm, but at least the next person that wandered by wouldn't be added to the servant ranks before the sirens were prepared.
"Alright," Adagio thought aloud, "now what to do with all of you?" There wasn't really room for so many people in their apartment, so this was already getting out of control. "Lemon Zest, where can a party of ten congregate without arousing suspicion?"
Lemon tilting her head had less to do with her incomplete indoctrination, more to do with her incomplete vocabulary. "Huh?"
Aria answered without showing herself. "She means, where can we go without it looking weird? It'd be kinda cramped at our place."
"Oh. Food court's got some tables with plenty'a chairs, and the spa on the second floor is pretty spacious. Other that, it ain't too weird to see people just standing around talking out in the walkways."
"Ooh," chirped Sonata, "can we go to the spa? Hanging down like this is kinda making my neck stiff!"
Smiling again, Adagio looked to her right sleeve. "Aria?"
"Uhh... Yea, I'll second that. I mean, staying upright is kinda tiring too after a little while."
Adagio nodded. After these last few months, the three of them really could do with some pampering...
When they arrived at the spa, a slip-up from Sonata ended with five additional mind-slaves, which didn't quite set Adagio's mind at ease. She tried to stay calm as the new servants (with Lemon's guidance) helped her out of the kimono and into a bathrobe, but with a total of fourteen people to now look after, half a clue where they'd go after this, and the increasing threat of the Rainbooms catching wind of their growing entourage, the stress kept her pacing the floor for several minutes. Her thoughts were arrested by Aria talking from within her sleeve.
"Uh, l-look, Adagio? Can you like, just chill for while? Going back and forth while staring at the floor is giving me all kinds of vertigo!"
"We were only supposed to get one servant," she muttered without slowing down, "find what we needed to get by, then regroup at the apartment to work out our next move. Can't tell them to just go away for now, might reveal us, is it possible to make sleeper agents? Wouldn't know how to contact them when the time came, can hypnotic commands be sent via text message? We need a barracks or something, a base of operations, somewhere to-" She was startled by a delicate hand on her shoulder, turning to see Lemon's frown.
"Girl, we're at a spa, and you really need to kick back a little."
"I'll 'kick back'," Adagio all but snarled, "when I'm not at risk of having my legs swept out from under me agai-EEK?!"
Before she knew it, her servants had picked her up, five of them working together to support her weight with a chair of hands on her legs, underarms, and back. The touching wasn't rough or invasive, so she observed in silence as she was deposited in a soft chair that had a small bathtub for a footrest.
"Please, Master," said Suri with a peaceful smile, "let us tend to you. We couldn't bear the thought of you being unhappy."
The rest of their mind-slaves nodded in agreement, with Lemon giving her a friendly smile. Aria and Sonata raised their heads to offer their thoughts.
"We might be in kind of a mess," said Sonata, "but it'll work out!"
"At the very least," Aria added, "you're probably not gonna make tons of great decisions while you're all stress-tumor-waiting-to-happen, y'know? Right now, nobody outside this shop even knows about us, so we've got some time."
The smiling faces of the crowd that now lived to serve her gave Adagio a strange, but not unfamiliar sensation in her chest. Aria and Sonata dialing up their pleading stares eroded what remained of her resistance, drawing a mock-beleagured sigh and an amused grin as she addressed the waiting crowd.
"Alright, but close the shop, let no one else in while we're here, and the men are not to lay a finger on me."
None of the male portion of those she'd hypnotize objected, but Sonata raised an eyebrow. "Wait, what? Why wouldn't you want the guys to do anything?"
Adagio scowled. "Men are disgusting. I'll employ any amount of the filthy, sweaty, foul-smelling ape-creatures for menial labor-" she glanced up at them, "no offense."
They smiled and responded in unison. "None taken, Master!"
"Good," and back to her arms, "-but none of them are to touch me."
Aria rolled her eyes, but didn't comment on their leader's borderline androphobia. This time it was 'I AM NOT scared of them, I just don't want their stench on me!' this and 'There might be some who aren't drooling savages, but-' that, but no matter what Adagio said, Aria kind of liked that smell.
And then her mind drifted to the uncomfortable territory of what might happen when Adagio eventually decided she wanted company on a cold night. She was rescued from these wayward thoughts by Sonata's surprised voice.
Adagio chuckled. "Yes, really. I'll see what I can work out regarding a palace, or at least somewhere we can be safe from prying eyes, but for now? You two can give the orders for a while."
Beaming, Sonata turned to the nearest labor monkey. "Bring me pancakes, a milkshake, and a big plate of ta-"
Aria nearly bit her ear off as she leaned over to whisper-snarl. "No. Mexican. Food."
The blue serpent couldn't decide if it was fear or the warm breath on her ear that made her comply. "Uh... m-maybe just a plate of cookies."
A while later, Adagio let out a sigh of contentment as she reclined on the spa chair, every limb being tended to by a small cloud of people. Her feet and legs were (chastely) massaged as Aria and Sonata were delicately cleaned following their own muscle-rubs. Adagio hadn't asked why the masseuses, who directed the rest, had taken to working on snake-arms so easily, but perhaps her spell guided them somehow?
Maybe it was Lemon, who had already demonstrated command of skills Adagio wouldn't have attributed to her, such as a knowledge of kimonos and a surprising affinity for overseeing a workforce. Currently displayed was hair-styling, Lemon and a small group combining efforts to tie up Adagio's hair while the rest of her was tended to. It was so kind of everyone to offer their services free of charge even without being ordered, asked, or even given the suggestion!
Proactive servants. Adagio would set ground rules for what could and couldn't be done without their permission, but for now, she was just feeling all cozy and warm, silently relishing the sight of Aria and Sonata both enjoying meals of their choosing brought from the food court. She'd been worried they would give conflicting orders and get into a quarrel that ended with the mall burning to the ground, but they'd taken to it just as well as in the old days.
Nostalgia coloring her thoughts as her mind wandered, Adagio let herself settle where she lay and drifted off to sleep.