"Dean Cadence? Why are we staying here tonight as opposed to just having ridden over the next day?"
"I actually looked that up on the way over, Twilight. This event is called the 'Friendship Games' because it's supposed to bring our schools together a little, and part of that is a show of hospitality."
"And what does sleeping at a hotel completely unrelated to CHS have to do with anyone showing anyone hospitality?"
Cadence giggled. "Well, when the tradition started, there were massive sleepovers held in the schools, but regulations have changed things around since then." Looking around the lobby of the highest-rated hotel in this part of Canterlot, where most of the Shadowbolts were still hanging around, she gestured over the room as a whole. "We might not be living up to the intended spirit of the thing, but there's no reason you can't talk to the kids from our school. Go on, see if you can't make some friends."
Twilight nodded hesitantly as she looked around the lobby, back at Cadence, around the lobby again, and set off. Truthfully, she had no idea how to even approach her teammates, but it was a lot harder to scurry off to her hotel room to hide for the rest of the night with Cadence looking right at her.
I have to at least talk to someone. Luckily, there is a practical reason to do so! Everyone here was at CHS today too, so anyone may have seen something that could help me learn more about- she glanced down at her spectrometer, -...whatever happened today.
Ambling around the lobby with no particular destination, the first thing Twilight noticed was that she barely recognized anyone.
Being in my little room at Crystal Prep all the time yields certain disadvantages. Was I about to flee to the area out of habit?
She had been vaguely acquainted with those who were actually due to compete, and to bypass the awkward name-exchanging phase (along with the chance of forgetting those names mid-conversation!), it would be best to talk to someone she already knew. If only in name.
Upper Crust and Suri Polomare were busily chatting about some line of hair-care products, by the sound of things. Both were known to be a little snippy, so maybe it was best not to interrupt them.
She'd seen Trenderhoof and Royal Pin head back to their room a while ago, so she wasn't sure if she'd be seeing them again soon.
Even if I knew where their room was, a girl dropping by a room with two guys by herself is-
Twilight needed to go somewhere private to cool off for a minute.
When she returned, she caught sight of Sour Sweet speaking (very cheerfully!) with Jet Set and Neon Lights.
Almost makes me look silly, how easily she engages two young men in conversation, but girls are just so much easier to talk to. Maybe if I cut in with a relevant comment, I can find out whether or not anyone else came in contact with bizarre energies?
She approached casually (that is: at a slow pace), soon hearing Sour Sweet's (deceptively?) peppy voice.
"-so don't worry about how it looks, because nobody in their right mind would judge food by appearance alone, right?" Her voice shifted to the 'Sour' side. "You could bake the works of Leonardo Da Vinci into a cake, but it doesn't matter if the thing's not edible."
Jet Set and Neon Lights shared an uncertain look, which stalled conversation and presented an opening. Twilight actually had quite a lot to say on the subject of Da Vinci, but it was in that moment that she remembered her fear of Sour Sweet and her ever-changing moods. Starting smaller was fine, right? She kept walking, soon coming across Lemon Zest (who seemed to be listening to her ear-destroying music again), Sunny Flare, and Indigo Zap, the latter-most girl complaining quite audibly, with exasperated arm-gestures and all!
"I'm just saying, not like we don't have room in the budget for some cheerleader outfits. They wouldn't even need dance lessons, Cinch could just stick somebody like Fleur De Lis in one of those outfits and tell 'em to-"
"Oh, not a chance," objected Sunny, "never would a classy school like Crystal Prep devolve into kicklines and hip-shaking!"
"It'd just be leveling the playing field if we had everything CHS has! I mean, did you see those chicks?!"
Sunny's face darkened as she crossed her arms in very, very grumpy fashion. "Don't. Refer to them. As 'chicks.'"
Rolling her eyes, Indigo turned toward Lemon Zest. "You agree with me, right, Lemon?" Lemon's head continued to bob along with the tunes no one else could hear, drawing a satisfied smirk from Indigo. "See? She totally gets it."
There was a very slow, calculated facepalm from Sunny, capped off with a sigh. "She'll nod along to anything when she has her headphones on, watch." She stepped forward, looking Lemon in the eye with a deadpan stare. "Hey Lemon, your hair is a tangled rat's nest and your eyeliner is a hideous, ill-applied mess."
Lemon giggled, pumping a fist in the air. "Haha, yea!"
Stepping back, Sunny crossed her arms before looking at Indigo again. "See? I know she's not listening because her make-up jobs are always fabulous."
"Pfft, whatever." Looking away, Indigo immediately laid eyes on Twilight, then smiled. "Oh, hey. You've kinda just been standing there like a dolt for the last minute, right? What do you think about CP getting its own belly-shirt squad?"
"Uh-" Attention already on her faux-pas, gears turned in her head to answer the question as quickly as possible. "-s-soft is nice!" This won three confused blinks from the girls in front of her. Even Lemon must have known she said something weird. "Er, I mean... You're talking about CHS's cheerleaders, right? Because, I met those girls, and they seemed kind of... scary."
"Hah, wrong 'S-y' word, Sparkle!" Smirking, she shot Twilight a wink. "C'mon, think about it, you don't think you'd do better with three bombshells shakin' their tails for you?"
Sunny huffed, stamping one foot. "Oh, that is pure exploitation!"
Incredulous, Indigo looked back at her with a tilted head. "'Exploitation'?"
"If CHS girls want to dance half-naked in front of strangers, let them, but don't ask a refined, respectable girl from Crystal Prep to shed her dignity for male gratification."
"MALE?!" Indigo immediately flipped the front of her skirt upwards. In the middle of the lobby. "Do I look male to you?!"
"EEK!!" Sunny covered her eyes with both hands. "DOWN, PUT THAT BACK DOWN!!"
"Pfft, prude." Indigo acquiesced anyway, if only because she'd catch Hell from Cinch if she kept it up. "So yea," she said while turning back toward Twilight, "what's your take on-... Where'd she go?"
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
Careful not to slam the door to her room, Twilight immediately flattened herself up against it, burning brighter than she had all day.
Wow. Indigo Zap is quite the free spirit, isn't she?
As much as Twilight might have wished she could be so unfettered, she definitely wasn't in a hurry to go presenting her crotch (or any other part of my anatomy!!) in public like that. Still, that interaction counted as socializing, right? Nobody laughed at or made fun of her, so Cadence would probably be satisfied.
Catching her breath, Twilight ambled across the room and caught sight of her roommate for the duration of this event, Sugarcoat, standing in front of the bathroom mirror with her hair down, wearing only a bathrobe. Twilight watched as she tried out styles by holding her hair in place, giving herself pigtails in various positions, twisting it as though forming a braid, making asymmetrical bangs, obscuring one eye while the rest hung loose, even holding up as much as she could to form a droopy mohawk. After about a minute of this, she seemed to sense she was being stared at (a really neat phenomenon!), because her head snapped to the side and her face flushed red.
Before Twilight could open her mouth, Sugarcoat stomped over, narrowed her eyes, and pointed one finger under Twilight's chin as she loosed a harsh whisper. "You. Saw. Nothing." As anticipated from Twilight Kind Of A Doormat Sparkle, the immediate reply was emphatic nodding and a sheepish smile, which made Sugarcoat feel just a little guilty. Stepping back, she sighed. "...Someone made commentary on my hair and I am experiencing self-doubt. It is not enjoyable and now I am on edge." Mild gratification accompanied Twilight's sympathetic smile.
"I think I get that." She indicated her own hair-bun. "I usually just go with something simple, myself, I can be finished with my hair in just a few seconds."
Analyzing this, Sugarcoat massaged her chin in thought. "If you prefer that your hair is easily manageable, why do you keep it long enough that you still need to style it?" This won a surprised look out of Twilight, whose cheeks faintly colored as she frowned and looked away.
"I... I-I don't really know..."
Whether that was true or not, Sugarcoat had a guess of her own. She stepped forward to wrap Twilight in a very private hug, even going so far as to gently pat her back. "You'll be okay, kid."
Twilight, for her part, was frozen in place, her eyes wide and confused. "O...kay...?"
"That is what I said." Sugarcoat broke the hug without ceremony, moving over to her bed. "Now sleep, the games are in the morning."
Baffled, Twilight stood for another moment before the order actually registered. She adhered with the hope that maybe tomorrow would be little less hectic, and a little less confusing.
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
Across town, only half of the Wondercolts chosen to compete had gathered at Pinkie's place for a more traditional slumber party.
"Ah'm tellin' ya, Pinkie, Vanishing Person bingo just wouldn't work. How wouldja know which spaces were which? They'd all be vanished!"
"It could be feasible," offered Rarity, "provided that it was played in the opposite way to a normal bingo game; with all spaces marked, but the peoples' names or faces on the markers, which get removed when their name is called. I don't know whether this means the free space has to stay occupied or if it's never there at all, however."
Fluttershy scratched her chin. "You could just pick a twenty-fifth vanishing person, I guess, then you wouldn't have to worry about the free space at all."
"Maaaybe," Pinkie pondered, concentrating at the ceiling, "but right now, we've still got more Equestrians who may or may not have twosies than we have people who go poof, and not like me or Adagio." She held up her own fluffy locks for emphasis, eliciting giggles from the others.
Rainbow, sitting next to Sunset, leaned over to deliver a pained whisper. "They're still talking about bingo."
Snickering, Sunset whispered back. "Yes, yes they are."
She was more than fine with it this time, because it helped take her mind off the growing list of concerns she had for tomorrow. Until she made that realization, anyway.
On top of actually taking part in what was due to be a fierce competition, she alone had to worry about making sure magical weirdness didn't interfere, figuring out what was going on with the other Twilight, who coincidentally seemed to be getting involved with magical weirdness, and keeping the sirens sweet if she didn't want them to complete the 'deal,' skip town, and never be heard from again. Not that it was guaranteed they'd fall back into bad habits if left to their own devices, but she really didn't want to risk it.
It hurt her that she was having trouble deciding which was the most important; the risk to her reputation and good standing in CHS, the risk to the human Twilight (and possibly others) if she triggered something dangerous, or the risk to the sirens finding happiness like she did if they left before they formed any sort of attachment to anyone, either out of boredom or if they got into trouble somehow and thought it better to just walk away.
No, wait, the second one. Definitely the second one.
Someone screwing with magic had to take priority over her reputation and ensuring happier lives for three former (for now) magical megalomaniacs (provided that they didn't start screwing with magic again), but she wanted the best for all three! Maybe if she could find a chance to talk to the human Twilight, she could defuse or delay that problem until later, formally dealing with it when things were less hectic, which would just leave her unofficial duty as magic patrol and keeping things amicable between the sirens and the rest of CHS, along with helping win the Friendship Games if there was time in the-
She had taken a pillow to the head. A quick scan of her friends revealed that a pillow-fight had broken out, and all of them were now looking at her in nervous silence. Taking hold of the offending cushion, Sunset felt a wicked grin spread across her face.
"There will be no survivors!"
And she flew into battle, emerging victorious in a matter of mad, frantic, giggly minutes.
*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*
Over at the sirens' house, Adagio splayed out on the bed, brushing both arms through her curls to let them fall in as wide a range as possible. Aria and Sonata took their places next to her, curling up in the fluff that had ensured warm nights since they first came to this world. They had long since discovered the merit of blankets, but a hundred years of huddling together for security, even before being trapped in a scary, new world, had left them set in their ways. Distantly, Adagio guessed that warmth was another reason she could have given 'Sugar' today.
"So," Aria muttered sleepily, "what's the plan for tomorrow?"
"Milkshakes," Sonata answered, "I'm feelin' milkshakes."
"Not you." She bit back the 'stupid!' at the last second, having long ago learned how much harder it was to sleep when arguments started. "Adagio?"
"We go to the games, apologize to Twilight, cheer for the Wondercolts, and then our part in the deal will be done."
"What do we do after that?"
A long silence followed as she pondered their options, but lacking any concrete objective to pursue, she sighed. "I have absolutely no idea. Sonata may really end up the leader by the end of this."
Ignoring Sonata's gasp of delight, Aria immediately flipped over to look Adagio in the eye. "Don't even joke about that!! If you're out of ideas, I'll take over!"
"Now, now, Aria," Sonata said smugly, "you had your chance, but it's my time now!"
"WHEN DID I HAVE-"
"Get some sleep," chuckled Adagio, "we'll figure something out when the games are over."
Even if she had no plan and no real power anymore, Adagio was gratified to learn that the others still followed her orders as they rolled over without another word. How long that would last, she couldn't say. Uncertain of her standing and the future in general, she let her mind wander as she drifted off to sleep.