Today was the day.
Today, Twilight Sparkle wandered the halls of Canterlot High... for the... first time?
It was so strange, being greeted by name by people she'd never met, but nearly every CHS student she saw identified her right away! The boy with the blue hair said they (Canterlot High, presumably) would 'totally win with you(me) here,' was he expecting her to do badly? To sabotage Crystal Prep just by being there? Did they have access to her physical fitness records somehow? (Even the other school knows I shouldn't be competing!) It was a worrying thought, because even if that was supposed to be a compliment, she was sure to let him down when it turned out that she wasn't even going to try to help CHS win the Friendshi-
There was a collision. It was soft, like walking into a pillow, but she quickly stepped backward anyway when she snapped to attention. The huge, orange mass of fluffy fibers she'd walked into turned to reveal an irate, yellow girl in a dark-blue cheerleading outfit, her two similarly-garbed, similarly annoyed friends stepping around her to scowl at Twilight.
Quickly studying her surroundings, Twilight found herself in a relatively dark hallway, but while the practical part of her brain (the frontal lobe) deduced that this was insufficient illumination for healthy reading, the more emotional part of her brain (also the frontal lobe, which is fascinating!) was about to initiate Freakout protocol! She'd studied these kinds of girls; cheerleaders had a tendency to be mean and scary, and these three looked like they were both!
"Well now," intoned the fluffy one she'd bumped into, casually resting a hand on one hip, "if it isn't Princess Twilight. Sunset didn't say you would be here."
"Tch," tch'd the purple one as she crossed her arms, "figures she wouldn't give us any warning about that."
More confused than scared now, Twilight blinked twice. "'Princess'? 'Sunset'?"
They stared blankly at her. (More weirdness!) While she was worried that 'Princess' was being used in the diminutive sense and they were already making fun of her, Twilight was sure her spectrometer had led her here. It was even still indicating the direction in front of her; these three girls! That made it worth asking.
"Um... I mean, hello. Have you three seen any strange energies around here?"
The trio shared a quick look before the blue one tilted her head. "What?"
She tried again. "Y-y'know," she said while forcing a smile, 11% more emphatic than the one she made during her 'speech' on the bus, "like, abnormal occurrences, things you couldn't explain, just, anything really unusual? Otherworldly, even?" Her heart stopped when all three of them shot her fierce glares, but the yellow one tapped her companions on the shoulder and turned for a group huddle.
"This bitch is just screwing with us," whispered Aria, "she knows what happened and she's rubbing it in!"
"Perhaps," Adagio replied through gritted teeth, "but this is probably a test, Sunset's idea of making sure we're behaving ourselves; send our greatest hate-figure to mock us for a while and see if we do anything to compromise the good will we gained the other day."
Sonata frowned. "Does that mean we can't kick her ass?"
"I'm afraid so. That disguise is insulting, but just play along for now."
They again faced the 'stranger,' business smiles plastered on their faces as Adagio temporarily re-took her role as the leader. "So, what brings you here?"
"The, uh... F-Friendship games...?"
"Oh," said Sonata with a smile, "you must be one of those Crystal Meth kids!"
Twilight's jaw nearly dropped hard enough to make dislocation a factor.
"That's Crystal Prep," said Aria while slapping the back of Sonata's head, "they've only said it like eighty times, you dunce."
Rubbing the back of her head, Sonata angrily pouted. "She might be all about meth too! Just look at the crazy clothes she's wearing!"
"That's probably their school uniform," Adagio added, "I gather that they're a little more strict over there."
Uncertain, Sonata looked Twilight over again. "Ooh, then," she swiped the purple thing hanging around her neck, holding it where the others could see, "what's this glowy doo-dad?"
Aria and Adagio leaned in a little for a better look, but before they could glean any details from the thing, Twilight snapped out of her stupor and lunged for it.
She missed, stumbling as Sonata stepped out of her way. When Twilight quickly turned and took a step toward her, Sonata grinned impishly and tossed the spectrometer to Aria. "Keep-away!"
Catching it, Aria chuckled when Twilight turned to her. When she got close, Aria switched the spectrometer from one hand to the other behind her back, tossed it up in the air and over her shoulder, caught it with the other hand, faked Twilight out with the same motion, but instead threw it to Adagio, who wore her usual smirk and raised an eyebrow as she examined it.
"Hm. What is this, exactly? Another kind of phone?" She held it up out of Twilight's reach when she got close, desperation clear in her purple face.
"I-It's important to me, please, give it back!"
Being slightly taller than Twilight, Adagio grinned wider and dangled it just a little too high for Twilight to grab even when she started hopping up and down. The others snickering at this only goaded her on. "I'm just asking what it's for, something otherworldly, mayb-"
Before she could coax any information out of her, Twilight stumbled again while trying to reach the spectrometer, fell against Adagio, and caught herself by pressing a steadying hand against the cheerleader's chest. Her eyes widening, Adagio sucked in a breath and lost her grip on Twilight's mystery object, which was immediately caught and clutched to Twilight's own chest in relief.
"Phew. Thank you, I-..."
And then she noticed the sudden drop in temperature of her immediate vicinity. Looking up at her face, Twilight paled as the (older?) girl stared daggers (or whole javelins!) back at her.
She was cut off when Twilight was yanked backward by two pairs of hands, which quickly reached into the back of her skirt, seized the waistband of her undergarments, and did their best to extend to the ceiling, drawing a long, agonized scream from the wearer. Watching as Aria and Sonata stretched the fabric up over Twilight's head, Adagio slowly exhaled through her nose. She stepped past Twilight without another word, the others dropping their target and following her a second later.
Sonata waited until they'd rounded the corner to break the silence. "So, uh... we didn't kick her ass, but... won't Sunset be kinda ticked at us for doing that to Twilight?"
"If she takes issue with our response to that situation," grumbled Adagio, "she can tell Twilight to get a more convincing disguise."
Another moment passed before Aria spoke up.
"You're, uh, supposed to be letting Sonata lead, Adagio."
Stopping, Adagio gave the others a quick glance as her cheeks tinted pink. "Er, right, right, sorry." She switched places with Sonata, which was when she noticed the worried looks she was getting. "...What?"
Frowning, Sonata tilted her head a little. "You okay, Dagi?"
Adagio chuckled. "I'm fine," she said with a little smirk, "just, for a princess, you'd think she could buy a girl dinner first."
Aria and Sonata giggled.
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
Back in the dim hallway, Twilight lay groaning on the floor in pain for a while longer before she managed to lift her underpants from her forehead, wincing as they snapped back into place. On the floor beside her was the spectrometer, which, as those cheerleaders had gone the way she came, she now noticed had been pointing past them. She groaned much louder.
She got up, replaced the spectrometer around her neck, dusted herself off, took a minute to reassure Spike that she was okay when she heard him whining from within her backpack, and, replaying the events of a moment ago in her mind, looked down at her hand.
I vaguely recall touching a very soft surface when I lost my balance, but the only thing my hand would come in contact with at that elevation is...
Well, one of two things. The thought of her accidental survey elevated dermal temperatures surrounding her nose to uncomfortable heights. Neither that nor the first-hand experience with bullying were information she'd come in search of, but she was still learning things, right? Mentally filing that data into a compartment for private studies to be conducted at a much later date, she checked the spectrometer again and got back to her hunt for bizarre energy readings.
Note to self: To avoid future disgruntlement (and wedgies!), it may be best to refrain from outright asking anyone about the strange energy at this school.
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
The Rainbooms walked down the hall following their encounter with a second Twilight Sparkle in the music room, with Rarity the first to voice a mutual thought.
"So. Our world's Twilight goes to Crystal Prep."
Applejack scratched her head. "Who'da thunk?"
Rainbow raised an incredulous eyebrow. "You're saying that Twilight's gonna play against us? She'd never do that!"
"Our Twilight wouldn't," murmured Fluttershy.
Sunset groaned with irritation. "Our Twilight is a princess in Equestria and an expert in friendship magic! And if she was here, we'd have already figured out why magic is randomly popping up during pep rallies and costume changes!" Everyone had stopped walking. Taking a quick survey of the looks she was getting, she took a breath. "Sorry. I'm just frustrated that I haven't heard back from her. Magic came into this world when I stole Twilight's crown and it's taken a lot for me to earn everyone's trust. If we have to forfeit the games because I can't think of a way to keep it under control..."
Smiling in her everything-will-be-fine kind of way, Fluttershy spoke up. "Oh, Sunset, I'm sure you'll be able to figure things out."
Applejack joined her. "You're the one who helped us understand what was goin' on with the sirens, remember?"
Shrugging, Sunset eyed the floor. "I guess. But Twilight was the one who really figured out what we needed to defeat them."
Putting a comforting hand on her shoulder, Rarity smiled too. "But don't you remember, darling? What we needed to defeat them was you."
This won a grin out of Sunset too, but another voice replied before she could.
"Yea, her and a magic car from nowhere."
Turning their heads, the Rainbooms saw Aria and Sonata casually pacing toward them, Aria doing so with an upraised eyebrow. "I mean, by all means, celebrate that victory if you want, but let's not forget the details."
Rainbow took up a slightly confrontational arms-crossed pose. "Uh, don't know if you forgot, but the details are that we fought, you lost."
As Applejack facepalmed and muttered about no "we totally beat'cha" talk, Sunset felt her insides start to turn cold at what she was seeing. She struggled to remember what she'd rehearsed to herself the night before in case of something like this, but Sonata replied before she could.
"Yea," she said with a flippant scoff, "three against eight, sounds like a fair fight."
There was a pause as Fluttershy silently counted off on her fingers. "Uhm... Th-there were only seven of us, I think...?"
"Eight," said Aria, "if you count the selectively-deaf girl with the all-purpose music car, not that seven against three is much better. Anyone wanna explain how it was that she could hear and obey your dog, by the way? Or was he just lucky enough to find her at the right time just as her headphones slipped off for some reason?"
"Wait a sec," Pinkie said with a thoughtful look, "do we count Spike too? Twilight said anything would've worked if we did it together as friends, and Spike is totally a friend, sooo...?"
Aria looked baffled, but Sonata shrugged. "I'unno, was he singing? Barking in tune? Licking himself in rhythm?"
"Anyway," said Aria as she mentally backed away from that line of thought, "what I was getting at was that with the exception of the massive power boost you got from Sunset, interesting that the so-called princess didn't give you that kinda juice, by the way, you guys hardly did anything, and if not for dumb luck, you'd have been completely steamrolled. Let's not even account for you all being immune to our songs for no reason in the first place, right?"
She met the glares she got with one of her own, vaguely backed up by Sonata's angry frown. Sunset was sure a unity-destroying argument would break out any second, but while she didn't remember her lines, she found new ones as she looked to her friends.
"Do you guys remember the Fall Formal?" That always won silence. And worried stares, but she'd fix those. "When Twilight first came to this world, I was sure I had her beaten at every turn, and she proved me wrong every time. I was arrogant, certain I would succeed in getting Twilight driven out through ridicule, then expulsion, then winning the Fall Formal anyway, then threatening the portal, and only got my way through a scuffle for the crown. If I had kept a more realistic assessment of things before any of those points, I might have gotten it much sooner."
She sighed, rubbing an arm as the painful part forced its way back into her memory, but the sting had dulled a lot since then. "Granted, the Element of Magic probably still would have betrayed me in the end, but I bring this up because until meeting Twilight, I had been better than everyp...p-pony-" she still blushed at the way her friends smiled at her when she used the 'P' word, "-I met, thought that I couldn't be beaten because I never had been before. All I saw was that I always won, nevermind the rest, and it bit me." Her face hardened a little. "I learned a lot from my downfall, did any of you?"
There was another quiet moment as Fluttershy shrank a little into her hair, looking at the floor. "We did almost lose that time, huh?"
Pinkie, as ever, smiled. "Yep!"
"We were quite fortunate," muttered Rarity as she rubbed the back of her neck, "but my point was that we needed Sunset to calm everyone down and get us all on the same side again, even with Vinyl and her... admittedly unusual vehicle." How a highschool girl could afford such a thing, she wasn't sure she wanted to know. Did Flash Sentry's car transform too? If so, into what?
"But," Rainbow asked with a hopeful little smile, "we still won, right?"
Aria briefly examined her nails. "With a massive lucky break after getting played like fiddles? Yea, great job. And for the record? Sunset has a point; knowing that you guys could do the rainbow thing was what kept us so careful until we didn't have a choice."
Rainbow scowled, but Applejack stuffed an apple into her mouth the second it opened. "Just let it be, Rainbow. That weren't a competition, that was life 'er death!"
The sirens' eyes widened in shock, and not because of the farmer and her power to spontaneously Apple things. Pinkie was the first to ask. "What? Weren't guys gonna, y'know, take us out?"
"Uhh," Sonata mumbled uncomfortably, "even if we were the 'kill 'em all!' types, we kinda needed you guys for your magic. It wasn't until you were arguing under the stage that we really started getting our strength back."
Aria crossed her arms again. "Even when you got free, we couldn't just off you guys, because after that, the plan was pretty much to suck up as much power as we could, force you to show us how to get back to Equestria, then pick up where we left off." Looking at Sunset, she frowned. "Thanks for the uh... heads-up, by the way."
The rest looked to Sunset for elaboration. She was frowning too. "We've been talking. Their old home, um... isn't around anymore."
"With a rap sheet like ours," Aria said with a shrug, "it's not like they'd have let us back anyway, but Coltlantis going down means we don't even have a reason to go back. I mean, not like we ever got homesick or anything, but-EEK!!"
She and Sonata were immediately snared in a group hug. The quiet, sympathetic sentiments they were getting, even from Rainbow, weren't unbearable, but Aria still squirmed in their collective grip, flushing red as she glared at Sunset for the mushy sneak-attack. Sunset only offered a triumphant grin, now having avenged herself on all three sirens!
Sonata, however, looked much more comfortable. "Was this what Dagi warned us about? It's so warm and snug!"
To Aria's silent appreciation, that made everyone take a step back to perform a quick head-count.
"Uh, hey," Applejack pondered aloud, "where is Adagio?"
Aria and Sonata glanced around, shared a look, shouted "CRAP!!" and ran off, continuing to shout at each other as they went.
"How could you lose her, Aria?!"
"I didn't, you're supposed to be the leader, Sonata!!"
"Then I lead that you were supposed to watch her!!"
"You can't give orders retroactively!!"
"I lead that I don't know what that means!!"
When they were gone, there was a silence. Pinkie giggled. "Maybe she's waiting for the big Welcome-to-CHS party we're throwing for Crystal Prep in the gym? I'm gonna go get to work on that, see you guys later!"
And off she went, leaving the rest to kill some time until the party started. Sunset, for her part, continued to worry about Princess Twilight, what she'd do in this situation, and why she wasn't answering the
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
A little later, Adagio found herself wandering the halls alone.
Stupid. Stupid, inattentive, and scatter-brained. That's what they're going to call you.
She blamed habit; the fact that she'd gotten used to the others stopping when she stopped, that she'd been the leader so long and grew accustomed to them following her every step. With Sonata 'in charge,' she realized, she could not simply stop at a window to get a better look at the Crystal Prep kids outside without risk of the others not realizing she'd stopped, walking right along, and leaving her there for the minute or two that she did so. It was only when she noticed the lack of questions, comments, or
lovers' quarrels from them that Adagio had the presence of mind to look around.
Now, she marched briskly through CHS in search of them to make sure their group would be ready when called on to fulfill their end of the deal. The fact that Crystal Prep had entered CHS and started crowding the halls would make that more difficult. Even with some of the lingering stares she was getting, she tried to ignore the other students as she went, but when she walked past the double-doors to the gym, a purple Crystal Prep student with whispy, white hair tied in some kind of split ponytail and top-knot thing spoke to her.
"Your hair is ridiculous."
Adagio didn't even slow down. "Look who's talking."
Sugarcoat flinched as if she'd been slapped, her jaw dropping for two full seconds. She turned to make a retort, but the other girl had just kept walking, so she was a little grateful when Indigo Zap stepped in front of her, hands on her hips and an unamused expression on her face.
"And just who the heck are you supposed to be? Canterlot Hair Police or something?"
Adagio didn't need to look around to know that the other nearby CP students were starting to gather around her. Still, she was calm, answering with a relaxed little grin. "Nothing of the sort, but one observation begets another, don't you think?" She clenched her jaw to keep from laughing at the unmistakable 'I have no idea what I just heard' face she was getting. Smirking, she haughtily brushed a hand through her 'ridiculous,' poofy hair. "Your friend there couldn't take her eyes off me, it only felt right to repay the compliment."
"It was not a compliment," shot Sugarcoat, angrily crossing her arms.
"Tch, yea," nodded Sunny Flare with a wrinkled nose, "that much hair is just insane!"
Adagio allowed herself a chuckle as she glanced over her shoulder. "And yet, I saw those looks." A few of them blushed. She grinned. "I know this-" she bobbed her curls for emphasis, "-is unconventional, but in my line of work? The bigger, wilder, and more eye-catching, the better. You call it insane, I call it stylish!" Touching a thoughtful fingertip to her lips as her smile shifted toward coy, she turned to face her original heckler. "What about you?"
All eyes on her, Sugarcoat felt just a tinge of discomfort. "What about me?"
Her bait taken, Adagio raised an eyebrow as she pretended to appraise the girl further. "That style isn't particularly pretty or practical, yet you wear it while representing a prestigious, perfectionist school like Crystal Prep. Why?" She again had to stop herself from laughing when the girl started to sweat, her eyes darting around as her teammates(?) gave her curious looks.
"I, it doesn't matter, it's just hair!"
"Then why did you comment on mine?"
Dead silence reigned as Sugarcoat squirmed under the continued stares, not helped by Indigo Zap, who had stepped around Adagio to stand next to her.
"She's got a point, Sugar."
Sugarcoat's eyes narrowed. "Don't call me that, Indigo." She was startled by Sour Sweet tenderly draping an arm across her shoulders, speaking in a peppy tone.
"Don't worry about your hair, Sugarcoat, it's just lovely!"
And then she switched to her low, growly voice.
"If you like looking like a four-eyed banshee."
Annoyed and embarrassed though she was as her fellow Shadowbolts snickered at her, Sugarcoat's rage spiked only when she noticed the fluffy cheerleader raising a hand to her mouth to cover her laughter. Before she could find an aspect of the yellow girl with which to tear her down, a slightly rough voice not unlike Sour Sweet's called out over the gathering.
"Hey, what's going on here?!"
In a blink, Lemon Zest (who'd been in her own little world again with her headphones on) was all but shoved aside by a purple hand, Aria and Sonata stepping forward to stand by Adagio as they glared at the other girls. Lifting one headphone, Lemon glanced around.
"Woah, what'd I miss?"
The increasingly hostile glances going around, most of all from Aria and Indigo, told Adagio where this was going. Memory of her deal with Sunset was the only reason she inverted their standard protocol for situations like this. "Just talking fashion," she said with a calm grin, though Aria didn't look convinced.
"That why they're all ganging up on you? Because it kinda looks like they had more than fashion in mind."
"Pfft, please," scoffed Indigo with a growing smirk, "we won't be beating you senseless until the games start."
Adagio replied the second Sonata opened her mouth. "We aren't competing." All five Shadowbolts blinked twice. She shrugged. "Sorry to disappoint you, but we're only humble cheerleaders, and to be honest? We couldn't care less who wins or loses."
Indigo's mouth opened and closed a few times. "...Oh."
"B-buh, but," sputtered Sunny Flare, "you're, y'know, cheerleaders? Aren't you supposed to root for the Wondercolts?"
Sonata shrugged. "Yea, sure, but we're only here 'cuz we made a deal. Even if they lose, it's no skin off our bones."
There was a silence as the competitive drive of the moment leaked out of the air. Lemon Zest smiled. "Cool, catch you guys later!" And then she headed into the gym to await welcome-party funtimes, followed by her team mates as they whispered to each other, with Indigo huffing and crossing her arms.
"CHS has cheerleaders? Why don't we get cheerleaders?"
Sour Sweet grinned. "Because peppy girls shouting and waving pom-poms definitely wouldn't get annoying!" And then she didn't. "Oh wait, yes it would."
"It doesn't matter," snapped Sugarcoat, "no amount of support will make any difference in the competition."
Sunny Flare grinned haughtily. "Definitely."
"Well," muttered Indigo, "Sparkle could probably use the help. Anyone seen her lately?"
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
"So," summarized Aria, "you just zoned out?"
"B-basically," Adagio replied with a little blush, "sorry about that."
Sonata smiled sheepishly. "And we're sorry we ditched you. But hey, only took us like ten minutes to notice, right?"
There was a pause as the three slightly pink sirens traded looks, then giggled at their mutual spacey-ness. They blamed the cheerleader outfits.
"At any rate," Adagio picked up, "we should probably head in too. There might not be anything t-"
"Waitwaitwait," interrupted Sonata with frantic arm-movements, "I thought I was supposed to be the boss for now!"
Adagio blinked once, then smiled, made a lip-zipping motion, and gestured to Sonata.
"Thanks! ...Uhm..." Aria's expectant look made her a little nervous. Leadership had so much pressure! "We, we should, uh, go into the gym, because... like, we, don't wanna look all shady if someone sees us just wandering around? Or something?"
Crossing her arms, Aria nodded thoughtfully. "That actually kinda makes sense. Was that what you were gonna say, Adagio?"
"More or less. Good job, Sonata."
The sweet smell of approval as they went in made Sonata feel all tingly!
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
In the interest of not risking involvement with any further incident with Crystal Prep, the sirens opted to stay out of everyone's way by sitting up on the bleachers as they watched things unfold. Watching the shadowbolt with a pink, green-striped ponytail crush a paper cup and stomp on it in Flash Sentry's general direction won chortles out of all of them, but they did their best to keep quiet.
"Man," Aria quietly remarked, "maybe we should'a waited a little longer, huh? Wouldn't have even had to do anything."
"Maybe," responded Adagio, "but then we'd have still been dependent on the gems." Her usual relaxed grin weakened. "I mean, it's great to have our own power again, I suppose, but...?"
The three were silent for a long moment. Aria shrugged.
"Ahh, who needs those damn things anyway? All we ever did was go around trying to keep 'em filled with negative energy, hardly even got to enjoy the high praise we were supposed to be after, let alone sing just for fun."
"Maybe, but..." Her head lowering, Adagio muttered to herself. "I liked being a villain." She got a gentle hand patting her back. Turning to her left, she was met with an apologetic smile from Sonata.
"I hate to break it to you, Dagi, but we hardly got to do that either."
"She's kinda right," offered Aria, "'cuz like, other than the arguments we caused nearly every damn night, we only did, what, maybe a few more than a dozen of your big schemes- and don't get me wrong, those were usually pretty fun, in over a hundred years together. Most of the time, it was just harvest, harvest, harvest, no real need for smarter thinkin' than slapping together a few stanzas on the spot."
Adagio Hmph'd, half-heartedly turning her nose up and crossing her arms. "I'll have you two know that I was always scheming something." She could practically feel the raised eyebrows as she sighed, her shoulders slumping. "Though, yes, it was usually unnecessary by the end of the day... Was all of that time a complete waste?"
Hoping to take their slightly sulky leader's mind off her favorite, seldom-indulged hobby, Aria glanced around the gym for something more interesting. She immediately locked on to Twilight, still wearing that uniform and bumbling around like a klutz. "Check it out, she's still at it."
They watched as she aggravated Indigo, one of the girls they'd talked to before coming in, backing away sheepishly after making her spill her drink.
Sonata squinted a little. "Is she still holding that thingie?"
Adagio tilted her head. "We never did find out what that was. She keeps staring at i-"
"Ooh, incoming Sunset! She looks mad!"
The trio watched as the Rainbooms closed in, but whatever they wanted to talk about didn't get far before Indigo stepped in, followed by Rainbow doing the same, then Applejack, and so on, until two little groups had gathered to make stern faces at each other. Before anything the sirens might have been blamed for happened, Principal Celestia got everyone's attention by welcoming Crystal Prep. Her next statement particularly stood out.
"And lastly, I would like to recognize the twelve students that CHS has elected to compete. I don't think we could have chosen a better group to represent the excellence, sportsmanship, and friendship the games stand for."
"Wait," Aria asked somewhat incredulously, "elected? Not like, figured out who was good at what and-"
The lights dimmed, immediately compensated for by a discoball, music, and confetti from somewhere. As though under a spell all over again, students of CHS and Crystal Prep alike immediately livened up a little, smiling and dancing together as though they'd never held the slightest animosity toward one another. The sirens all but gaped.
"W-what," mumbled Sonata, "did we even need to sing to...? Could, do you think we could still get everyone fighting and- I mean, we couldn't use the energy if we wanted to now, but if they're THIS easy, what if-"
"Just let it go, Sonata," Adagio grumbled into the palm of one hand, "for the sake of our sanity, just let it go."
As quickly as it had come, the party scene was killed on its feet when Principal Cinch violated the microphone and the ordinary lighting returned. Her voice was almost intolerably smug and dismissive even as she thanked Celestia for the welcome, but again, a particular sentiment stuck out.
"Canterlot High continues to pick its competitors in a popularity contest and Crystal Prep continues to field its top twelve students. It is a comfort to know that even after so many years of losses, your school remains committed to its ideals, however misguided they may be. I wish you all the best of luck, regardless of the inevitable outcome."
"Popularity contest," uttered Aria, "they 'elect' their competitors in a popularity contest. They wonder why they always lose when they decide who's gonna be playing by popularity. The thing the Rainbooms said they didn't care about in the song they used on us."
There were further aspersions they'd have cast on the Wondercolts and perhaps the residents of this world as a whole, but their attention was seized by the worried-looking Rainbooms gathering around a slightly disheveled Pinkie Pie. Adagio kept her guesses to herself as they got up to investigate. Sunset was on the tail-end of a question when they got close.
"-ained right out of you?"
"Hey," asked Applejack, "where is that other Twilight?"
Pinkie glanced around, but was interrupted by Sonata.
"Wait, what did'ja say? 'Other Twilight'?"
Turning to them, Sunset nodded. "Yea, the Twilight Sparkle from this world. Turns out she goes to Crystal Prep and she'll be playing against us, but more importantly, she-" It struck Sunset just then that the sirens, who were considerably distraught over losing their magic not so long ago, maaaaybe didn't need the mental burden of knowing something weird was going on relating to magic draining out of things. "she, uh, she-"
Luckily, Sunset didn't have to come up with a lie, because Adagio was more focused on the first thing she'd said, confusion clear in her face. "'From this world'? What are you talking about?"
As ever, Pinkie summed up. "This world is some kinda kooky reflection of the one you guys are from, or yours is a kooky reflection of ours, and there's even twosies of everybody! We haven't run into the other Sunset, but we totally ran into the other Twilight and she wears glasses and has a doo-dad that measures things and isn't a princess at all! Gasp! Hey, have you guys ever run into three girls that looked just like you? 'Cuz then we could totally start doppleganger bingo sheets!"
Rarity raised an eyebrow. "We'd need nineteen more people from Equestria before we could start a regulation five-by-five bingo sheet, Pinkie Pie, and that's with a free space."
"What," snorted Rainbow, an amused smirk widening on her face, "you're some kind of bingo aficionado now?"
Blue eyes narrowed. "So what if I am?"
"That game is for old people!"
"I beg your pardon?!"
As funny as Sunset usually found this kind of inane banter, they kind of had something important to focus on. "Uh, guys, we-"
"Cool it, you two," said Applejack, "Ah think yer fergettin' the important thing here anyway; how would an Equestrian double bingo game even work? If there's two of everybody, do you need to hear the same name twice before you can put down a marker, or what?"
"If so," Fluttershy pondered aloud, "you might actually be able to make due with only twelve Equestrians, plus the free space. Just have each name on the card twice, but designate whether it's this world's version or Sunset's."
"The important thing," Sunset said slightly louder than necessary, "is that this world's Twilight has something to do with magic randomly disappearing!!"
She immediately slapped both hands over her mouth, shooting a panicked look at the sirens... only to not see hide nor big, crazy hair of any of them. Not that she was ungrateful, but it begged the question: "Hey, where'd the Dazzlings go?"
Glancing around, Pinkie beamed. "Ooh, maybe we could start a vanishing person bingo card!"
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
Standing outside the gym, Aria, Sonata, and Adagio wore expressions of restrained anxiety, nervous contrition, and a thousand-yard stare, respectively. Crossing her arms, Aria broke the silence.
"So... Yea. Wrong girl. Easy mistake, huh?"
Adagio's tone was soft, but severe. "She was innocent."
Aria did her best to shrug dismissively. "So? Not like we've never done... bad... I mean, yea, back then it was to drain energy, which we can't anymore, so I guess that makes what we did kind of harsh and maybe a little pointless, but...!" Making a sour face, she sighed. "Can we just call this one an accident and move on? I really don't wanna say sorry to someone that looks like Twilight Sparkle."
"We're supposed to be on our best behavior and she did nothing to us."
"Well," offered Sonata, "she did kinda squeeze your boob." Not that that made her feel less weirdly dirty about this, but still!
Adagio tinted pink. "Yes, but that wouldn't have happened had we not decided to mess with her, and we owe her an apology. Besides, the Rainbooms clearly know of the girl that looks like their friend. What will we say if Sunset confronts us about antagonizing people for no reason?"
There were no further objections. If nothing else, they could agree on wanting to please the one who helped restore their voices, if only for the duration of this event.
"So," Aria said while shuffling her arms as if to cross them again, "how do we find her, anyway?"
"Ooh," Sonata said with a grin, "I got this one! She's here to compete in the games, so she'll have to be around while this thing is going, and we're sure to get a chance to talk to her at least once!"
Smiling a little, Adagio nodded. "Very good, Sonata. The games don't actually begin until tomorrow, but we'll have to keep an eye out for her to be able to fix this as soon as possible."
With the school day more or less concluded anyway, the three of them moved to head home. As they walked, Trixie called out to them while striking a haughty pose.
"You may have won everyone else over, but Trixie is still-" They walked right past her, not so much as turning their heads. She called out again. "Uh, hello? Hey!!"
The sirens stopped and turned, Adagio speaking first out of habit. "Yes?"
Trixie raised a perplexed eyebrow. "Were you just going to walk by without even saying anything?"
Adagio turned away again. "Yes."
And they walked away, leaving Trixie to deflate, then immediately re-inflate with Great and Powerful annoyance! What was she going to do with the rest of the day now?!
Being startled halfway out of her skin wasn't Trixie's first choice, but she only leapt a few feet into the air at the sound of the monotone voice from behind her. Whirling around while trying to suppress a heart-attack, she found herself face to face with one of Pinkie's weird sisters, the one with the perma-poker face. "Uhm... What?"
"Garnet," Maud repeated, holding up a jagged, but shiny little red rock, "those stones of theirs. They look like rubies at first glance, but are more of a deep garnet." There was the faintest tilt of her head as she eyed the fragment. "The structure is extremely bizarre for a gemstone, in ways I lack words to describe, but without these stones, those girls are not a threat. You do not need to worry about them."
There was a long pause as the two stared at each other, but Trixie eventually clued in that Maud was done speaking. "...You have the bits of their necklaces?"
"...They did not want them anymore."
Maud nodded almost imperceptibly. "Would you like to analyze them with me? I have not yet determined how these stones were formed."
Staring at rocks all afternoon? Even if it were pretty, shiny (if kinda broken) rocks, Trixie's first instinct was to refuse, but, well... Beggars can't be choosers, right? She smiled.
"Trixie will deign to lend you her aid in this taxing time for geology!"
One would have to look very closely to see the corners of Maud's mouth rise by a few millimeters.