"What do we do now, Adagio?"
That was it. That was the question there was no escaping, whichever way her mind turned. It hardly surprised her that the others were thinking it too. But it was a mark of just how shaken they were that it had been aired aloud by Aria, rather than Sonata. Did she dare give them an honest answer? Or was it confidence and optimism they needed right now, however false she knew them to be?
She could include them in the discussion, perhaps even the decision; list the ideas that had occurred to her and see if they had any of their own, then assess them and decide how to proceed. That would let the other two know that all three of them were in this nightmare together, reminding them that they still had each other, even if they had nothing else. Three minds were also better than one for spotting the flaws in plans for going forwards, and in their precarious position they couldn't afford to miss any.
But that also risked them getting attached to ideas that wouldn't work or took them in the wrong direction, and it might encourage questioning her judgement. And it meant letting Sonata in on the plan, whatever it was to be, which she had a habit of accidentally talking about in front of others.
Leading small groups was difficult; everyone tended to feel that they deserved a say in the decision making in a way that wouldn't happen with a larger army. And an army they were, they had to function in battle as a unit, and while the other two had their strengths, she felt by far the best suited to leading them.
But they were sisters, too. And the only companions each of them had. Maintaining her position as leader wasn't much of a concern if there were nobody to lead. This fall could break them, and this might be her last chance to stop that. She couldn't take that risk, and so opted for honesty. Also, she wanted to.
"I don't know."
She heard her own voice say the words, noticed its shell-shocked tone. It was an accurate portrayal of how she felt. But even with the despair, and the life she knew shattered at her feet, she couldn't turn off the internal psychoanalysing of her choices. That drive to read peoples' reactions, calculate their thought processes and respond in a way that would bring about the best outcome; that was rooted deep within her. She was a siren: manipulation was what she did, and she was very good at it.
Without turning her head, she noticed Sonata slump slightly further in response. The scorn she expected from Aria never came. Things really have got bad then. Her answer might have been the right one, but perhaps it hadn't been enough.
"I've had a few thoughts," she continued after a few seconds. "We're alive, first of all."
Aria gave a snort and directed a disgusted expression towards her, as if being alive somehow weren't enough. Sonata looked up in her direction, but didn't sit forwards at all. Adagio wondered if her sisters had considered their own mortality, and the risk they often faced. It wasn't a topic she usually dwelled on, but events of the last half hour had highlighted it as if for the first time.
"Seriously, that unicorn in the sky could just as easily have cracked and shattered our bodies, rather than just our pendants. We needed them to sustain our voices, but our physical health will be fine without them."
From Sonata's expression, that really hadn't occurred to her, leaving her staring into middle distance at nothing in particular. In fact, even Aria looked a little shaken, although she tried to hide it and managed quite well. Her sneer contained a level of viciousness rare for her, and Adagio knew that she faced another battle just to get Aria into something resembling an open and receptive state of mind. She resented this a little; the world was something she would gladly expend the energy to rage against, but her fellow sirens requiring the same effort to be brought onside was frustrating. Aria showed no signs of backing down, and spoke her mind with something of a growl.
"That sounds a lot like giving up. Just accept it and move on, is that the plan?"
She wanted to snap something back in response, of course. Like maybe Aria's neck. But escalating the conflict probably wouldn't help them find a way out of their problem, even if it would make her feel better for a moment.
"I don't have a plan," she replied, trying to keep her voice calm without sounding like a patronising parent. "As I said, just a few thoughts. And top of the list is that at least we're not dead."
"Great. Confidence-inspiring. Next?"
Sometimes hostility could only be defeated by more hostility. She settled for a firm glare, holding Aria's eyes until the other looked away, and hoped that would suffice for now. Words being exchanged would have dragged Sonata into it as well, whom she was trying to avoid distressing further.
As if thinking her name had awoken her from her dead-eyed stupor, Sonata spoke up, blue ponytail swinging away as she turned to face them.
"Can we just get out of here?"
She looked a state. As soon as they'd got backstage they'd brushed what they could off their clothes from where the crowd had pelted them, but Sonata still had bits of lettuce in her hair. Her voice, her expression and her posture all said that she was tired and feeling more than a little broken.
Adagio's eyes flicked across to Aria, knowing the way she responded to people that others might describe as pitiful. Aria's usual frown, however, fell away, leaving just the bags under her eyes as she added her agreement.
"Actually, yeah, let's do one."
Didn't you just have a go at me for a plan perceived as 'give up and move on'?
This was the situation Adagio never liked being in, where she had to argue against her sisters' united front. Especially now, when they both sounded so defeated, and their agreement with each other was the very thing she'd been working towards.
"I don't think we should leave. Not yet."
Both sets of eyes were fixed on her, one widening and one narrowing.
"I just wanna go home," Sonata whimpered.
That was a sentiment Adagio could sympathise with, remembering their banishment. But right now the price was too high, and whatever was left of her pride after their humiliation didn't like the idea either. The decision was a tactical one, though, at least primarily. Could she appeal to siren solidarity, or distract them with it?
"All we have left in the world is each other. What's so special at home that's not already here?"
"Bed," sighed Sonata, at the same time that Aria muttered, "Vodka."
She couldn't begrudge them their coping strategies, and sooner or later probably ought to think up one for herself too. She tried to smile but wasn't sure how much of it came through. That was probably her cue to explain her reasoning.
"If we leave, we'll appear firmly defeated, and will be relegated forever to the bottom of the social food chain. We'll be seen as helpless, free to be victimised by whoever feels like pushing us about. With no magic to back us up now, all we have is our reputation."
Sonata didn't look like she was getting much of it, the words almost making a rushing noise as they soared over her head. Aria's face was darkening, she plainly understood but didn't like what she heard. Adagio continued, trying to make herself sound reasonable.
"But if we stick around, and leave at the time we were expected to head off anyway, then it'll look to everyone else like tonight was only a setback, one from which we could claw our way back, and that will offer us a bit of protection."
She had tried, at least, but it didn't look like her calm voice and reasoned argument had worked. Aria could need managing at the best of times, and the evening's events looked to have made her less stable than ever.
"'The social food chain?'" came the bitten-off reply. "We don't need protection, we just need to get out of here. Leave town, never come back here. Let them think what they want about us - I don't care."
You never did, Adagio thought. Aria's particular brand of self-confidence had always been complete indifference to other people, and it had served her well. She certainly had none of Sonata's insecurities. But such wilful blindness to the behaviour of those they'd been coexisting among, and often preying on, wasn't exactly sound strategic thinking. That was one reason Adagio had never felt threatened by Aria for the role of leader; the other girl didn't have the self-detachment required to separate how she wanted to view the world from how she needed to. Now they were powerless, they would need every edge they could scrape together, and the warning signs in others' behaviour towards them could not be ignored if they wanted to survive.
Thinking of being powerless and of needing every advantage they could get led her to an argument that made her stomach sink with its seriousness, a bottom line that overrode most other concerns. Hopefully it would be enough to bring Aria around.
"I don't want to walk onto that stage again while the crowd is still out there," she began. Sonata looked horrified at the thought, and Aria shuddered. "But I also don't want to walk away from here without the shards of our amulets."
No answer was made to this, and Adagio realised she might have inadvertently returned their thoughts to the core of the miseries they were dealing with that evening. She looked at the floor, folding inwards a little on the decrepit old sofa they all slumped on. Sonata sat on her left, knees together daintily, which made her look all the more fragile. Aria sprawled on her right, having barely moved since collapsing there after they had brushed their clothes down. The sofa was small enough to push the three of them together, giving them the reassuring comfort of physical closeness without needing to actively address the issue with tactics like hugging.
Adagio broke the silence herself, in a much quieter voice, her eyes still downcast.
"I know there's probably no way we can fix them, but I want mine just in case."
Aria started nodding almost imperceptibly, staring unfocused at a distant point on the dusty wooden floor ahead of them as if hypnotised, and Adagio knew she'd reached her. She turned her head to Sonata, met her watery gaze and tried to offer a small smile. Sonata looked at her pleadingly, almost trembling, and when she spoke Adagio heard disbelief and desperation.
"Y-you don't think we can g-glue them back together?"
Aria instantly supplied an answer, bluntly but not forcefully.
Adagio was torn between wanting to dampen the blow and not wanting to get Sonata's hopes up. Given that they were trying to salvage what they could and come up with some kind of plan of action, and that Sonata would be no help at all with that if she were a sobbing wreck, Adagio leaned towards the first option. The only optimistic response she could think of was a long shot, but even if the other two picked it apart, at least they'd be discussing options.
"No chance in this world, at least. If we could get them to Equestria then it might be a different story."
If we could get to Equestria, we wouldn't have this problem in the first place. That was clearly the thought behind the look Aria gave her, but thankfully it was not aired aloud. She moved to refocus their discussion before Sonata figured it out for herself.
"So after tonight, we could go anywhere, do anything. Any ideas?"
Ever-full-of-her-own-ideas Aria apparently had chosen that moment to keep quiet. But that was ok, she could still be useful for spotting problems, as long as it didn't lead to a decision being taken that she would later declare she had no input towards. This meant it was Sonata who haltingly responded.
"I-I was doing some reading about a place called Vienna." Adagio tried to look encouraging, which spurred Sonata on, continuing more confidently. "The internet said it was the most musical city in the world."
For several reasons, the suggestion was honestly more thoughtful than Adagio had expected. She had had trouble convincing Sonata to do her share of the online research work while planning their move on CHS, as reading wasn't exactly her thing, but it sounded like she'd become so engrossed that she'd expanded her search beyond the list of topics Adagio had provided.
Unfortunately, while the subject had evidently appealed to Sonata when she had been reading about it, their situation had changed mercilessly since then, and living in the most musical city in the world while unable to sing sounded, to Adagio at least, like torture. How could she point that out without going straight back to their broken jewels? Vienna, that was in Austria, she remembered from her own online studying, and Austria was in central Europe. That might be the angle she needed!
"How's your Austrian?" she asked, knowing none of them had looked at foreign languages. Sonata looked down and away for a moment or two, furrowing her brows, then she lifted her chin haughtily and closed her eyes, blind confidence personified. She spoke in a much lower pitched voice, imitating that of a large man, with a thick accent.
"Hasta la vista, baby."
Before Adagio could react, Aria snorted with laughter, and continued to do so despite straining to hold it in. Sonata, far from being upset at being laughed at, brightened and looked across at them enthusiastically. Aria, slightly redder in the face, turned to face them as well before speaking, and her mirth took any sting out of her criticism.
"I hate to break it to you, but we're not leaving the country without passports, and we're not getting those without background checks."
Adagio, grateful that Sonata didn't turn and look behind her at the thought of 'background checks,' filled in the gaps before one siren grew frustrated with the other's habit of not getting things.
"...And since none of us have backgrounds in this world of more than eight months..."
Sonata nodded her understanding, rolling her eyes as her smile evened out, as if to say that she might have known.
"So we're stuck in this country."
It hadn't been a question, but Adagio thought it needed responding to anyway to avoid the conversation stalling and giving time to dwell on darker thoughts.
"Looks like. And in this country, girls our age have to go to school by law."
Sonata greeted this with the look of a frightened animal, while Aria made a frustrated noise and looked like the annoyed teenager she often was. Adagio could almost hear the 'it's so unfair' cliché being thought.
"Is there anywhere in this country you'd particularly like to go to school?" she asked, unable to help sounding uninspired.
"Anywhere but here," Aria shot back.
As expected, Aria's suggestion was reactionary rather than visionary. At least Vienna had been a positive, active suggestion, Adagio thought. Having said that, planning was useless without being adaptable to changing situations; there was definitely a place for reactionary responses.
"Ok," she replied, trying to sound constructive, "so we need to weigh up the arguments for going somewhere else against those for staying here."
That was the right approach to any decision, which Aria knew as well as she, and so should find difficult to object to. And if Aria turned out to be right, and finding a different school elsewhere were the best way forward, then weighing the arguments should bring them all to that conclusion, and ideally raise any potential pitfalls they'd then be able to address. Aria responded immediately.
"I can think of seven reasons to leave, each a different colour of the rainbow."
Where is the line between strategic withdrawal and retreat, between retreat and simply running away? And how much of my own reluctance to leave is based on pride and stubbornness? It had to be said that she'd thought Aria many things during their time together, but never cowardly, so perhaps Aria's motivations at that moment were more trustworthy than her own.
Adagio puzzled it over briefly, but Sonata had no such troubles and promptly took the conversation in an entirely different direction.
"Oh yeah, they are, aren't they? But with, like, white instead of green!"
Her Aria train of thought derailed, Adagio turned to the issue at hand, of how difficult the Rainbooms were likely to make life for them going forwards.
"I can't see them being too much of a problem. Looking at how they were with Sunset Shimmer, I think they'll want to be friends with us."
It hadn't been hard to find out about Sunset's history, there'd obviously been something a bit 'off' about her from the start, and the other CHS students had been all too willing to talk about it.
"That is kinda their thing," Sonata chimed in, nodding.
But as Adagio thought further about parallels with Sunset's situation, still talked about despite having come to a head six months prior, a flipside was thrown up that she had not previously considered, something she thought best to mention.
"The rest of the school, I'm not so sure about..."
Sonata looked worried, adding, "The principle and the VP..."
Adagio grimaced. Presumably Sunset had not brainwashed and enthralled the head teachers. In fairness, though, she had terrorised their students for two years and blasted a hole in the school, and they hadn't kicked her out.
"...Yeah. But I'd be amazed if we sit here until the Rainbooms go home tonight and not one of them tries to approach us."
Sonata looked a little happier at this. Aria did not.
"Them liking us?" Aria hissed, staring at the two of them. "Not the problem!"
Sonata was taken aback, even moreso as Aria leaned closer, but Adagio held her ground and forced herself not to arch an eyebrow. The last thing they needed now was for Aria to think they weren't taking her seriously. Which was a challenge, given her next sentence.
"I wanna burn down their houses."
"Ooh, ooh," came Sonata's excited reply; Adagio's head span round to face her, and this time an eyebrow did rise, "with them inside!"
"Well yeah," Aria answered as if explaining something obvious to a child, "there's not much point otherwise."