• Published 25th Mar 2015
  • 5,158 Views, 451 Comments

We Are What We Are - Theigi


What does it take to transform three innocent youths into the most fearsome enchantresses two worlds would ever know? Redemption be damned. Sometimes one's past is too painful to leave behind. A dark, novelesque & musical Sirens origin story

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When to Quit

"Hey Ari?"

"Yea?"

"Something weird's going on, isn't it?"

"Always.”

"Why are you being so nice to us?"

"I already explained this to Adagio, so please—"

"Tell me!"

"Sonata, what did I tell you about bothering me while we were up here?"

"Okay, fine. Don't tell me. I already know it's because of what Adagio said. I know it's cause you think this is all your fault, because of that time dude's wife. Dagi thinks it's her fault, too, even though she won't say it out loud anymore. But you two don't have to feel that way, Ari. We can figure it all out better together!"



Together.

_____

Aria gasped for air. Her head reeled. The pen fell from her shaking hand. An unbearable sadness enveloped her as she keeled forward, bracing herself upon the bed. “Sonata!” she croaked, not knowing why she had done so.



And then the feeling was gone.

She rubbed at her chest, and inhaled deeply. Reaching out, she grabbed her phone which was lying a small distance away on top of her rumpled, flattened pillow.

The text screen remained blank for quite a while. That at least made sense—she hadn’t been having luck with writing much of anything today anyway. Still, the hint of pain left buzzing in her chest was jarring enough to warrant her reaching out to her sister, as uncharacteristic an action as that might have seemed. If only she could calm her mind long enough to figure what she should say to her.

In the end, she settled on a simple, ‘Yo.’ Those who knew her well--Sonata being one of the two--also knew that she initiated conversation only when it really mattered. And a girl like Sonata barely needed much incentive to reply to a willing, somewhat amicable text from a sister like her, anyway. Her response would surely come.

So, Aria turned her focus back onto the other pressing matter at hand. “Holy shit, why is this the hardest thing ever?” She tore another leaf of paper from her notepad, balling it up, and tossing it over her shoulder.

About five hours had passed since she had locked herself away in the dank darkness of her cluttered room to write out what she’d hoped would be a suitable outline for an apologetic exchange between Cookie and herself when they finally spoke. To mention that it was not going well was an understatement.

Tentatively, she picked up her pen and began her ninth attempt:

‘1. Apologize. That comes first and foremost because you are the hugest ass, and you know it. So, just say sorry. It doesn't matter what for. It's for everything.

2. Ask her “What's been going on with She's gonna ask about the fucking letter, you idiot. Do not shy away from that letter or else she WILL get angry. Then she might come over here, and you'll have to listen to the yellow-one bitch and moan about it for days. YOU talk to Cookie about that letter, and YOU ask to go over THERE.

3. Bring beer. Like, the fancy stuff. Like the stuff that tastes like gas station tap water but has contemporary art on the label.
NOTE: Borrow some guap from Adagio for beer.

4. Look cute. That’s always natch, because you're just a cute bitch, but like… be really cute this time. Wear perfume or something.

5. Pet her fucking dog and act like you like it. She'll go easier on you when you tell her you sliced your goddamn wrists open because you're tired of living this shit immortality outside of your monstrous true form. Also, tell her that she’s a really, really big exception to that shit immortality you just mentioned. Tell her she’s amazing, and you were just really desperate and confused, and you kind of just fuck yourself up sometimes by force of habit, and all you wanted was to be near her, and Relax. Too much, too fast is not a good thing. You know that.

6. This would be a good point to change the subject. Segue into the topic of that glorious jackass Starshit and his magical shining hole full of Tell her she's in danger and why. She's not gonna believe you because she just won’t. You can’t tell her your entire story, but idunno, maybe a hug or something might fix it? Cookie likes hugs, right? I don't know. Cookie and Sonata or something… Honestly, if she isn’t baking you the hugest blackberry dessert or sucking the skin off of your skull at this point (hey, a girl can dream) then you're probably screwed anyway. Go home.

Summary: Worst case scenario: she goes on with the rest of her normal, peaceful, SAFE life and never speaks to your dangerous ass again because she thinks you are out of your mind (which she wouldn’t necessarily be wrong about). Best case scenario: anything that isn't that reaction that I just said.

NOTE: Please… please don't find a way to fuck this up again.’

Aria bit her lip, and tapped the pen tip against the pad a couple times before nodding her head. “I think we've got a winner… and by winner I mean, the least shitty loser.” Tossing the pad down onto her bed, she padded over toward her closet, wriggled into the lovely pair of jeans she’d excavated from its depths upon her first visit to Cookie’s, and then headed toward her dresser.

She had barely begun pulling a comb through her locks when the doorbell rang. It resounded two more times before she slammed the piece of bent, black plastic down. “Adagio!” she called out of her open door. “I'm not a maid, dammit! You answer it sometimes!” The chime rang out four more times before she remembered that she was home alone. Sighing loudly, she grabbed her phone, and rushed out of the room.

“What?” she screamed, wrenching the door open only to find an anxious-looking Peachy Keen standing there. The delicious-smelling energy pouring out of the waitress’ head made Aria’s jewel scar ache. “Hey! It's… Peach or whatever,” she mused, reveling in the delectable scent. “Sonata’s not here.”

Peach’s eyes went wide. She leaned into the doorway, forcing Aria back. “She's not? Listen, you've got to help me find your sister, Aria. I think something is wrong!”

Aria’s disdainful smirk faded into a worried grimace. “Wrong? What’s wrong? Isn't she still at that greasy burger joint?”

“No, listen. She… she attacked someone… another girl today,” Peachy said, clasping her hands together. “It's too long to explain, but I think they're both in trouble.”

Aria sighed, dragging a palm down the center of her face. “Let me guess. It was that Mint chick.” That little blue dolt. She had warned her about Patti long ago, and of course Sonata had refused to listen to her good advice.

“Yes! Do you know anything about it? Has Sonata told you anything strange, like why she's been so preoccupied with her?” Peachy inquired, taking another step past the threshold in Aria’s direction. “I know it's so late to be coming to you with this mess, and I'm sorry, but I just didn't think that it would ever get this—”

“Whoa. Please relax. Personal space,” Aria said, holding a finger out to measure an acceptable distance between their bodies. Satisfied that the waitress would advance no further, she trailed a finger across the top of her upper lip, and set herself to thinking. Of course Sonata had said plenty of strange things about Patti since she’d begun feeding her obsession for the girl. How strong her energy smelled for example. This weird penchant she had for remembering what the brunette’s face looked like whenever she cried. Their inevitable futures together as the “best of friends”. That little weirdo was off of her leash again, and Aria couldn’t find it in herself to be surprised that the inevitable had finally happened.

Still, their ways were their ways...

“No. She hasn't ever said anything strange about Patti. Just that the broad was a jerk is all.”

“Okay, well, I don't know where either of them are, and they're not picking up their phones!” Peachy cried, wringing her hands out.

Aria paused. Her jaw gaped just slightly. “Y… you can't… What do you mean you don't know where they are right now?” she asked for clarity sake. She wanted to be absolutely sure about the information she was receiving before decidedly panicking.

“I mean exactly what I said,” Peach pressed. Her hands now clenched into fists. “She and Sonata both took cabs home, and now it seems as if the two of them have just disappeared off the face of the earth!”

“That Mint girl’s place. Y...you check there already?” Aria asked. Perhaps this Peachy chick was just a worry wart. Perhaps she was just over-exaggerating, jumping to conclusions. For all she knew Sonata was down at Sugarcube Corner right now, replacing the hole in her spirit with about five pounds of sweets.

“She was staying with Pumpkin,” Peach replied, pressing a palm to her forehead as if she were about to faint. “Just came from there. There was an open window. Called the cab company, and they said that the driver dropped Sonny off there. So, I climbed inside of the house just to, you know, see.”

“And?” Aria pressed. “What did you see?”

“No one home,” Peach said. “But I found something weird. I… I found a bunch of this, like, sparkly gold stuff in the—”

Aria’s boots and jacket were on in an instant. “Out of my way!” she screamed, shoving past the stunned waitress without so much as a word of gratitude for stopping by. Running toward the edge of the walkway, she cut a quick left toward the main road.

For a bruised up, two thousand year old, habitual smoker, Aria still made pretty good time. Reaching into her pocket while running, she pulled out her phone, dialed into it, and pressed the device to her ear. It rang once.

Then again.

One more time.

“Come on, dammit!” she screamed just before someone picked up on the other line.

“Cookie’s instrument repair an—”

“Mud!”

“Blaze? That you?” Muddy Wheeler breathed. “Well, hell, doll. How you been? You all done tightening them loose screws? Miss me?”

“Listen, Mud, I don't have time for that right now. Is Cookie around?”

“Geez, Blaze. Someone disappears off of the planet for two months, a man kinda wants an explanation. What in the world—”

“Is Cookie there?” Her scream was enough to stop the repair man in his tracks.

“Well, naw. She ain't here. Called in sick this morning.”

“Wait, so she's been home today? All day? Alone?” Aria croaked, her heaving breaths nearly catching in her throat.

“Well, y… yea,” Wheeler replied.

“And… and she hasn’t called to check on you or…”

“Naw. Why would she?”

“Because why would she trust you with her shop?”

Now the panic had set in. Aria found that even she could not answer that question. Cookie would never leave Wheeler alone at her business all day without so much as a phone call. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” she screamed, shoving a few passing pedestrians out of her way.

“What's the matter, Blaze? The way you’re sounding, it's… Tell me what happened,” Muddy said.

Aria mustered up some composure. Things were hectic enough. The last thing she needed was for Wheeler to run off ‘to the rescue’ and get himself killed by attempting to give a crazed mage a noogie. Even he deserved a more honorable demise than that. “I got it, Mud. Just… just stay at the shop, okay? Make sure it's alright. Cookie wouldn't want you to leave, as useless as you are. I just have to talk to her about something really, really important is all. Alone.

Silence stretched on for a few moments. Then Wheeler gasped. “Wait, wait, wait a minute. Is Cookie called out sick cause she's with somebody? How do you know all of that, Blaze? She don't tell me nothing!”

Aria balked. “What? I… No, I—”

“You going over there to make some big, homewrecking confession, aintcha? Well, screw that, sister; I want to see this. I'm gonna throw a fourth wheel on this situation if you catch my drift!”

Aria balked. “Wha—Four wheels defeats the entire point of the—No, Wheeler, this… this isn't like that! Shut up! Why did I even call you anyway? Just stay the hell where you are before she fires you!” Without waiting for a reply she hung up the phone.

Needing a moment to catch her breath, Aria came to a sudden halt. Bracing upon her knees, she let off a loud scream. If she were to be honest with herself, the sensation was rather rejuvenating. Stretching out her back, and looking around in a far more clear-headed state, she noticed that a few feet away from her was a bus stop. “Oh, blessed Seas,” she said, stumbling over to collapse onto its bench.



Sundown had nearly turned to dusk by the time she arrived at Cookie’s. By then, she had settled into a grim calm.

From its exterior, nothing about the cream-colored house seemed amiss. Figuring it was best to be cautious, she rounded the property from front to back, even going so far as to search through the backyard bushes before ending up again on the doorstep. Staring intently at the painted wood, she fumbled around in her jacket pocket for the old cigarettes and lighter she knew were still there. The lighter sparked once, twice before it lit up. Firing up her cig, Aria inhaled deeply, and along with the numbing fumes, willed herself to take in some calm.

So, why were her hands still shaking?

“The car’s still here. No lights on inside,” she said, blowing smoke. “She could be asleep.” Wheeler said she’d been sick, right? Perhaps she had just never bothered to get out of bed at all that day.

Aria pulled again upon the smoke. Her throat burned, and she did not feel any more relaxed for her efforts. Her brow creased when she realized she would have to break into the house, even before she had ever pressed the doorbell. A gut feeling told her that no one would answer if she were to do so, anyway.

Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she noted that all was calm and quiet next door. Perhaps Marsh was asleep, or better yet, not home at all. Good. That meant the retired cop wouldn't mind it when she smashed in Cookie’s kitchen window.



Broken glass collected into the sink followed by the cinders from her dropped cigarette. Ignoring the scrapes glass shards left upon her already bruised arm, Aria reached through the pane to unhook the lock, then easily slid the window open with the edge of the crowbar she had found inside of Cookie’s car trunk. Hopefully, upon realizing her righteous intentions, Cookie would forgive her for being an acceptable lock pick at best, a master vandal at worst.

Climbing up to slide her slim frame through the window, Aria barely missed the sink before she went tumbling down onto the kitchen floor. “Son of a b—” Her curse was cut short as she listened to a light skittering sound hurrying across the tile and into the next room. Her head darted around just in time to see a white, fluffy tail disappear through the doorway. “Geez. Pudding?” she called, rolling onto her hands and knees. The lighting was dim. It took a moment of rapid blinking and swearing for her lack of pegasus vision before the state of her surroundings became clear.

The scene occurred to her gradually, like pieces of a puzzle coming together. In the kitchen, things were in utter disarray. Plates were dropped from their gaping cupboards and lay cracked upon the floor. Napkin holsters and various food items from the fridge had been smashed against the opposite wall. There had been a scuffle here; that much was clear. “Pudding!” Aria called again, rising to her feet. Her voice came weaker this time.

She heard a small whimper waft out of the living room.

Picking up her crowbar for comfort’s sake, she tip-toed across the floor to brace her back beside the door. Spinning into the corridor, she swung the length of steel out to the front of her body only to find darkness stretching out before her on either side. Her breath was coming faster now. The trace of a strong, familiar scent agitated her nose. Huffing frazzled strands of fringe out of her eyes, she turned to continue her trek toward the living room.

Chaos. The couch, once such an inviting fixture in Cookie’s house—a poofy, cream-colored emblem of warmth and comfort like the shop owner herself—now lay completely overturned, half torn to shreds. Upon further inspection, Aria concluded that the tears had been made by blade.

She gasped. The crowbar hung listlessly at her side as it dawned on her that her worst fears had come to pass. Her face went red hot. The room began to spin. “Please,” she breathed into empty air, forcing her legs forward so that she might explore some more. Picture frames lay cracked upon the floor. Cookie’s guitars as well as her wall of awards were scuffed and in disarray. As she went around the room, Aria could not shake all of the haunting possibilities of what Starshot might have done to Cookie Dough, and all because the mage knew how much the mortal meant to someone like herself. Her free hand instinctively reached beneath her arm to prod at her ancient purple bruise. “Please, please…” she continued on.

The smell of Starshot’s hatred was strong in here. She swiped at her nose a few times. Pudding was whimpering somewhere close by. When she turned to walk toward the rear of the couch, she found a puffy white tail whipping about beneath a fallen curtain. She drew the fabric back. Her crowbar went clattering to the floor.

“No.”

There, about two feet from Pudding’s nose, was a small puddle of half dried blood. Lying near its center was a worn, Equestrian dagger.

“No.”

Her body began to tremble. Reaching down with an unsteady hand, she grabbed up the dagger to study it closely, not caring that stale blood now coated her fingertips. The blade was the proper style and the proper weight. Indeed, it was Starshot’s.

Something wet slid down her cheek. An indescribable numbness washed over her. Even more than usual, the world felt colder, crueler. A growl grew in the depths of her core as she stared at the her reddened hand, the bloodied blade. If anything, this was the stuff that havoc-thirsty Sirens were born of.

Her throat began to burn. Her eyes flashed red. Good. That meant that time bastard was close, and just in time. A deadly song gestated in her brain. Ethereal echoes bounced off of the trembling walls. Today that mage would die. Some way, somehow, it would come to pass.

A terrified whimpering reminded her that someone else was in the room with her. The sound of Pudding’s jangling collar following him around to the opposite side of the couch broke Aria from her trance. The red faded from her otherwise purple eyes as she looked around for the dog. She couldn't help but feel horrible for startling the poor creature after everything he’d probably gone through.

“Pudding, c’mere,” she said, shoving the dagger into her jacket pocket. Eventually, she found the dog cowering with his head beneath the rumpled rug. Gently placing her clean hand upon his back, she gave him a few comforting rubs before he decided it was safe enough to take a peek at her. “Sorry, dog,” she said, scratching the tip of her nose. “Didn't mean to scare you. This is the second time, too, huh? Maybe we could do this whole thing over again, yea?”

Tentatively, Pudding turned and made his way up to her. He sniffed at her hands and hair a few times before giving it all one big, redeeming lick. “Oh, goood. Cause I asked for a shower,” Aria said, rolling her eyes. Wiping her hand off upon the rug, she then stood. “You must be starving, huh? Well, you and me both, buddy.” The dog let out a sad whimper as if to inquire as to why Aria insisted on being so callous. Feeling only slightly guilty, Aria scratched at the top of her head. “I mean, at least we can do something about your empty belly,” she said, spinning about to rush toward the kitchen. “So, get a move on, dog! I ain’t gonna ask you twice.”



Another cigarette flickered to life as she kicked the back door open. “Go in the bushes, okay? Not the middle of the yard. Show a little decorum, will ya?” she said while watching Pudding rush through the opened frame. The pooch took a lap around the gate perimeter just to burn his extra frustrations off before settling down somewhere near a corner shrub. “G’boy,” she muttered to herself.

Sliding a box over to hold the door ajar, she then headed over to the lower kitchen cupboards. Rooting around within them, she came upon an enormous, aquamarine sack of dog food. “Ah. The good stuff. The good stuff always comes in blue… ‘cept Sonata.” She froze after remembering that her sister was probably in terrible trouble. Whatever guilt she felt for having said such a terrible thing was taken out upon her bottom lip which she chewed upon furiously until able to bury her horrid feelings in her subconcious where she usually decided to put them.

She nearly strained her back attempting to lift the enormous sack of food out onto the floor. “Geez. Do you really need a three year supply all at once, Cookie?” Opting to drag the bag out instead, she then grabbed a clean mug, filled it to the brim with food, and emptied its contents into a large bowl. She placed it down onto the ground just as Pudding was walking through the door. He sniffed at the meal, then whimpered.

“What?” she shrugged. It took a moment of reasoning for Aria to theorize what was going on. She passed the dog a weary smirk. “Cookie usually throws some fancy chef crap on top of this for you, doesn’t she?” Pudding wagged his tail as if agreeing with her. “Figures,” she scoffed, shaking her head. Turning to dig around in some more cupboards, eventually she extracted from their depths a brown jar. “Listen, I don't have filet mignon in my pocket, okay? But if you’ll stop being a spoiled brat and eat, I will dump a whole heap of this here peanut butter on the thing. Deal?”

Pudding barked gleefully.

She couldn’t help but crack a smile as she watched him munch down his meal. “Don’t hold back on my account or anything,” she muttered, blowing a puff of smoke out of the corner of her mouth. Searching around, she found a giant, metal dish, the kind typically used at buffets. She filled it to the brim with water before plopping it on the ground beside the dog’s food dish. Then, moving about to the giant food bag, she extended her boot, and nudged it over. Mountains of brown bits spilled out onto the floor.

Understandably, Pudding eyed her as if she had gone mad, but quite possibly in a good way.

“Don't look at me like that. You're gonna make this work for a few days, okay? I'm sure Mud will show up by then whining about his having to work the shop by himself. He likes dogs. He'll take care of you.” Pudding huffed almost skeptically. Aria chuckled. “I know. Ditto.” Then she remembered that she was currently holding a conversation with a dog.

Shoving her pack and lighter back into her pocket, she snatched up the dagger she had discarded near the sink, and headed out toward the foyer.

The acrid scent of ancient hatred still lingered in her nose as she burst out of the front door, on a beeline for Marsh’s. She no longer cared how she looked, or what might happen if he were to expect ill of her. For humanity’s sake, she was forcing a state of calm upon herself, but Chaos help anyone who willingly made themselves a target for her ire today. She had questions that demanded answers, like why would an ex-cop not be able to see or hear the wild scuffle that had clearly taken place right next door? Why, when he had noticed Cookie’s car was not gone, would his instinctive paranoia not force him to check up on her?

“Useless sack of crap,” Aria growled as her fist pounded upon the former officer’s front door. She received no reply. Perhaps he really had not been home after all.

Making a quick trek across Marsh’s porch, Aria attempted to peek through a sheer curtain into what appeared to be the living room. She was astonished to see the television switched on. Squinting to focus, she tried to make out if anyone was watching, and gasped when she recognized the shape of two slippered feet extending outward from a nearby recliner. Marsh was home.

Rushing to the door, she pounded upon the wood, harder this time, yelling at the top of her lungs. “Marsh! I need to talk to you!” Still no response. Finding this perplexing, she moved to the second front window and peered through the very corner where, thankfully, the curtain could not reach. Directly in front of her was the rear of Marsh’s recliner. His head very clearly rose above its height. She extended her finger, preparing to tap upon the glass until, to her horror, she realized that all about him, in a faint haze, glowed an aura in gold. Her fist pounded against the sill. “Fuck.”

As if by clockwork, a loud, agitated bark echoed out from Cookie’s house. Aria gasped, stunned into attention. “Pudding?” The dog barked again before the sound was abruptly stifled into an injured whimper.

Aria was off like a bullet. Flipping the bloody dagger about to grip it firmly by its hilt, she rounded the corner into Cookie’s backyard, and in through the kitchen door. Pudding was not in sight, but his whimpering was audible in the living room.

Aria raised her dagger in preparation, almost certain of what she would find there. When she spotted Pudding leashed and muzzled in a corner, she ran headlong through the doorway, not caring to check for anything that might have been to either side of it. In hindsight, she might have avoided the suffocating yank about her neck by taking a bit of precaution, even with something as simple as a raised fist.

Her neck was always going to be a point of contention with this guy, wasn’t it?

The dagger went flying from her hand. She careened onto the floor as something cold and metallic clamped shut over the loosened bandages about her throat. The sensation was familiar. She felt around until her fingers touched brass. “Son of a…” she grumbled, attempting to pull free. When she saw that she could not move away from the doorway another inch, she turned to find a long strip of worn leather attaching the brass ring to a small anchor that had been freshly drilled into the wall.

“Efficient for controlling unruly beasts,” a familiar voice asked from the area about the overturned couch.

Turning around, Aria watched as Starshot casually lifted the sofa back onto its legs and took a begrudging seat. The growl that had been growing in her chest escaped as an irate roar. “Fucking monster! I'll tear your head off!”

“I, the monster?” the mage said, scratching his head. “An interesting notion.”

Refusing to be settled, Aria grabbed hold of the leather length that bound her to the wall, planted her feet against its surface and pulled with all of her might. When that didnt work, she instead planted her boots into the floor, scraping and wrenching herself as hard as she could toward Starshot. Her eyes were red with rage. She seemed not to care that she was choking herself upon the ring.

“Be still, creature,” the mage said, disgusted by the sight of her wild effort to break free.

“Shut… up!” Aria rasped, while leaving nail marks in the wood. She gave the leash another strong tug. The brass ring pulled the skin upon her neck red. Another hard yank and the hook in the wall gave way just slightly. Loose paint flecks sprinkled onto the floor beneath it.

Starshot’s eyes went wide when he saw the headway Aria was making. He was on his feet at once, his fist glowing bright. Raising his hand, he encapsulated her leash within a golden aura. She winced, feeling her restraint fight against her until it and its anchor shoved themselves firmly back into place in the wall.

When the halo faded away, the gold collected into a fizzling ball of raw energy directed at her chest. Swinging his arm forward, Starshot sent the strike hurtling right into her middle. She fell down to the floor gasping and sputtering for air.

“I said settle down,” he hissed. Straightening his jacket, he then approached her.

“Where are they? What did you do?” Aria coughed, rising back up to her knees. Tears of pain leaked from the corners of her eyes. She was aware of how pitiful this must have looked. It agitated her even more. “Did you… did you kill them?”

Starshot smiled, tapping a finger against his chin. “Considering your current predicament, would it make a difference if I did?”

“Did you? Tell me!” Aria screamed, lashing out for his boots.

The mage stepped out of the way easily, intent on withholding his reply just long enough for a feeling of helplessness to wash over the girl. Only after she had let out a long, defeated moan, her back slumping up against the wall, did he part his lips. “They live.”

Aria scoffed. Her breath fluttered her frazzled hair. “You're a liar,” she croaked. Another pair of crocodile tears fell from her eyes. This time they were real.

“Would you like to see them? Perhaps earn the chance to save them?” Starshot replied. “Well, the mortals at least. Your kin will remain with me.”

Aria’s lips parted, though no words escaped at first. Inhaling sharply, she sat up and ran her fingers through her hair. “Fuck you and fuck your stupid spells. I don't want to see some shiny hallucination you conjure up. Some magic lie. So, you can just—”

“I will take you to them. You could even touch them if that is what you desire for proof.”

Again, Aria went quiet. She looked the mage over. His expression had gone all serious. Dusting her grimey hands off, she rose to her feet. Her leash pulled taut, urging her back. She tried to ignore how familiar the feeling was. “So, maybe you aren’t lying, then,” she murmured. “But you are withholding something. I don’t understand why. You do remember what it is that I said last night.”

“Really, creature, last night might as well have happened ages ago,” Starshot chuckled, finding himself funny. When Aria didn't seem as responsive to his wit, his brow furrowed. “Do you truly expect me to believe that the care that you have demonstrated for your kin could somehow be extended to a being destined to be your food?”

Aria’s eyes were piercing. She did not blink. Her arms lay calmly at her sides. “Try me, asshole,” she said.

Intrigued, Starshot glanced down to find where Aria had dropped his dagger. It lay a few inches away from his foot. “Try to cut that leash, and I will blast you unconscious, disappear, and you shall never see that mortal again. You have only one chance to convince me,” he said, kicking the dagger in her direction and cocking his head to the side. “Now, pick that up.”

Eyeing the dagger, Aria bent down and picked it up, obediently.

“Simple enough,” Starshot scoffed. “Now cut yourself… in the place where you did… before.” It took a few pauses before he was able to get the ghastly request out.

Aria smirked at him. “What's the matter, Starshot? Not squeamish are you?” Without any hesitation, she raised her arm, then the dagger in her opposite hand. Placing the blade upon the flesh of her wrist, she pressed down hard and wrenched back. Starshot gawked. The girl didn’t even flinch. Even as blood poured from her flesh, she just stood there, unmoving, as still as a statue.

A wary smile etched its way across the mage’s face as he raised his glowing hand. Soon, Aria’s arm was glowing as well. A moment later, her wound was gone.

Starshot took a step toward her. “You knew I would save you again,” he said, crossing his arms. “So, this means very little to me.”

Aria sighed and rolled her eyes. “Does it matter? I did what you asked.”

Starshot worked his jaw. His eyes narrowed. “Hand me the dagger.”

Again, without hesitation, Aria turned the blade hilt forward and placed it gently into Starshot’s palm. He pocketed the thing. “There. Now do I have your stupid trust? Now, will you take me to them?”

Shaking his head, the mage took another step forward, then another until the two stood boot to boot. “You are tolerant of pain. I don't know why, but I know you are. So it's easy for you isn’t it?”

“Believe what you want to about my soul, but even Sirens have nerve endings, genius,” Aria sniffed, looking away.

Starshot paid this little mind. At this point he had become accustomed to her mannerisms, and if anything, he had learned that the more Aria Blaze fought back, the more vulnerable she was feeling. “Tell me, creature, what is the thing that you find most intolerable?”

Aria let no emotion onto her face as she watched the wizard rub at his chin. He hummed thoughtfully whilst studying her. When his gaze landed upon her right arm, he froze, passing her a wicked grin. “Ah ha. Take that coat off.”

Aria’s brow twitched. For just a split second, she hesitated—a foolhardy mistake. Starshot noticed it. She saw him notice it. Her fingers twitched.

“Did you hear me?” the mage asked.

Making up for lost time, Aria reached up to her shoulders and tore the jacket from her back. She dropped it to the floor in a rumpled heap. “Th… there, you happy?” Dammit. A stutter. She cursed herself for having said anything at all.

Her heart began to pound when the mage smiled brightly. His eyes remained locked upon the ancient purple bruise beneath her arm.

“Up,” he said.

Aria’s first instinct was to shake her head. It was an involuntary thing, a response she didn't even realize she had made.

Now,” Starshot pressed.

Inhaling deeply, she squared her shoulders and raised her arm up. It hung there in the air, making her resemble a half collapsed scarecrow. Her knees shook. She felt ashamed of herself for being so weak, so transparent.

“‘You’re touching that thing. You always do that when you’re thinking about the old times,’” Starshot murmured to himself, inspecting the bruise. “That's what your sister said. The ‘old times’.” He rounded about to her side. “Of course, I could hardly expect you to tell me the truth about what she meant by that.” He grabbed her, deliberately pressing his thumb into the tender bruise. “Or more about this Midnight Swift?”

Aria let out an audible yelp. Losing her nerve, she reached around to claw his hand away. “Stop,” she breathed, trying not to sound as terrified as she was clearly reacting.

“Why?” Starshot inquired, gripping her even harder.

“Get off, get off, get off…”

“Was he the reason you act like this? That Midnight Swift? Who exactly was he?”

Aria’s stomach dropped. Before she had even replied she felt her damned tongue—that treacherous thing—beginning to tingle and slip. It was already attempting to say the stupidest thing to Starshot in order to earn her freedom. It was already attempting to tell him the truth. “He was… he was a pony. I told you before,” she grunted, her fingers digging into the mage’s hand. “Let go.”

“Obviously, he was a pony, little creature. And you say he awoke you. How?”

“Told you… I already told you!”

“You told me a bunch of nothing!” Starshot said, losing his patience. He hemmed Aria up against the wall to still her struggling. “But to save your precious mortal’s life, I think that now you should begin telling me a bit of truth.”

Nausea began to set in. Every bad thing she had buried about her life’s beginnings was now threatening to rush up into her gullet.

Noting her fading fortitude, the mage tapped her upon the cheek to keep her buzzing. “Midnight Swift, girl. Who was he? Remember, any difficulty and I’ll make sure that your friend and your sister remain lost to you.”

“W… wha?” Aria stammered. Realization struck her like lightning. So that was the cause of her sudden outburst earlier on in her room. Her spirit felt it the very moment Sonata had been lost, a sensation so much like what she had experienced the previous evening whilst her younger sister lay limp in her arms. “You bas… you bastard,” she growled. “We had a deal. We had a fucking deal!” She flailed out with her free hand in order to tear at his face. Again, he easily dodged out of the way.

“Did we? And what deal was that?”

“You said… that—"

“I did no such thing,” the mage interjected. “Didn’t I tell you that I haven’t the time for anymore of your lies?” He mused on his own statement for a moment before cracking the tiniest smile. “Well, actually I do have the time. I simply don’t wish to give any more of it to you. Therefore…” He bore down harder upon her arm, his fist now glowing gold.

Aria choked. She tried to focus on her natural inclination to rebel, to do exactly the opposite of what she was being told. “Pegasus,” her traitorous tongue spat instead.

“Mm. Occupation?” Starshot inquired.

She banged her head backward against the wall, perhaps in hopes of knocking herself out cold so that she wouldn't have to reply. “C… Commander,” she said.

Her eyelids fluttered. At least she could still manage to give the mage half-truths. Of course, in this situation, they weren’t exactly as good as lies, but she would gladly take however many managed to slip out.

“And you never honored him at all, did you little creature?” the mage asked. He leaned in close until they were about nose-to-nose. “Do you think that I'm some fool? That I couldn’t tell that you hated the stallion? Just like you hate everything else, you wicked thing?”

The bastard’s intuition had bested her again. Aria said nothing. Her eyes shut tight.

“And what did he do to make you so angry, so furious with him that you decided to wreak havoc upon the entirety of Equestria?”

Beads of sweat slipped down her forehead as she struggled for clarity, struggled to decipher what she could still feasibly hide from the mage without dooming Cookie and her sisters. “He… hurt me.” The bile threatened to rise into her throat. Old feelings of self-hatred and disgust cloaked her from head to toe. How very weak she was. If the mage and her sisters had just allowed her to die like she had wanted, surely none of this treachery would have had to happen.

“Why?” Starshot asked.

“Beca—… Dammit… Dammit!” she screamed at herself, again knocking the side of her head against the wall. The mage wrenched her forward by the ring, holding her steady. “Because he was obsessed! Because I wouldn't give in to him!”

A layer of rage stretched itself out over her self-loathing. When she again opened her eyes, her purple irises had begun to glow in the way that only a predator’s could. “Because I could never do anything but hate the bastard. The same way I hate you.”

She willed herself to square her shoulders and push against the very force that Starshot used against her. “I could never willingly give him anything. So, he trapped me, and he tricked me with promises—all lies—and…” A tear rolled down her cheek, not of her own volition. “And I believed him! Like an idiot! I was tired and hopeless, and I believed that if I was good, well-behaved, that he would allow me the little bit of the freedom that I begged of him. He took everything from me, and then he laughed in my face!”

She gave a loud sigh. Her head dropped in exhaustion. The tears flowed freely now. Starshot squared his jaw, as if defending himself from any sympathetic emotion the Siren was trying to draw out of him. “Two horrible souls, and one hath outwitted the other. He should have just killed you.”

“He did,” Aria croaked, peering into the mage’s eyes. She wanted to scream, to challenge him to tell her what he figured might exist of a mare after she had grown up the way she had. Swift had killed her, and from the shreds of her that were left, she had hashed together something new, something else that again resembled a life, but never really was.

After that day there were no longer innocent thoughts of marriages, or trips to market, or exploring the skies only because one had the freedom to. Everything, even the seemingly pleasurable moments, were forever tainted. After Swift, her life was consumed by rage and vengeance, stretching out long and reaching toward eternity. At least that’s what she had assumed. “I learned from him better than from anypony else what claims of love really are. They’re nothing but lies, and all who confess them will eventually end up hurting you. They'll leave you. They'll kill you dead.” She watched Starshot’s eyes flicker. Even while in pain, she could see that her words were boring into his soul. “The only lasting camaraderie is forged in vengeance and seeking vindication. In letting it eat you up until there's nothing else left. Free beings move and separate at will. Become a force, become a purpose like vengeance, and there are no beings left. Only the shared purpose. That keeps spirits, hearts, minds together.”

Starshot’s lips parted as he listened to these words, as if he again might have found it in himself to sympathize with a kindred spirit. Coming to his senses, he again pressed his lips shut.

“Isn't it true, Starshot? I'm not lying, am I?” Aria asked.

The mage bit his tongue. His shoulders fidgeted and rolled. For perhaps the first time ever, in the Siren’s eyes he was able to see a pain that he never imagined could exist there. One to make his own heart ache. “You know nothing about love. You were never capable of feeling it, never held the capacity for it. You know nothing about mortals and their hearts.”

His words hit her like a bullet. A tiny explosion took place within her chest. Her simmering eyes burst into scolding red. “And what did Swift know of love and mortal hearts, you delusion piece of shit? You trying to justify monsters like him?” By and by, every shred of buried pain bubbled up again. As Starshot held fast to her, his fingers began to feel like a large, unforgiving hoof. His skin took on a darker tone in her eyes, a shade of drabbish, dark blue. “He thought he had won. Exactly like you think, Starshot.

She sneered. A laugh escaped her. “I was so stupid then. So young and stupid! But you know what's funny about it? I don't even think it's possible for me to feel that cold anymore! That foul! That angry at everything. After all of these years, no emotion seems as potent or as fresh as my rage on that day.”

She gripped onto the cloth about the mage’s shoulders and drew him in close. “Know this, Starshot: When your end finally comes, when my chance to finish you finally comes, it won't be careless and sloppy and full of passion and too quick like with Swift. When you look down at all the pieces that I’ll make you cut off of yourself with those stupid daggers of yours, they'll be pristine. They'll haunt you for hours, perhaps days until everything fades to black or I finally decide to sing you daft myself.”

She shoved him away, and tripped down onto the floor laughing. Her bruised arm hung from his hand. “How’s that for some truth?” she shrieked. “Want some more? Ask me what I made that bastard do with his own wings!” Her guffawing was wild, maddened until at last she gave one great tremble and collapsed into a limp heap, her forehead hitting hardwood.

A sickened look befell the wizard as he took a few shocked steps away from her, wiping his hand off upon his side as if the girl’s delirium were contagious. He listened in silence as her rosey fingernails now clicked against the floor.

“God, you're such an asshole,” she sighed, turning her head to stare off into nowhere. Her long fringe splayed across her face, shrouding it in shadow. Her sore arm shivered. “I thought we’d already established my understanding of what a one-up was. I thought we’d made an agreement. I already told you that you could bruise me up all you wanted to, and I wouldn’t try anything funny. I would have come with you gladly if you'd just left the others alone. But, of course, you just don't know when to quit while you're ahead, do you?” She shrugged, pushing herself up onto her knees in order to pass the wizard probably the most foreboding grin he had ever seen. “Eh, I can't blame you, though. I don't know when to quit either.”

Feeling the urge to match his own might to hers, Starshot allowed his fists to glow in gold. If anything, he wanted to see her back down, to disown all of the threats she had just made. “Try as you might, creature. You shall never—”

“What, are we dating or something? Must you win the argument?” she scoffed, rising to shaky feet. Dusting her hands off, she leaned back against the wall. “I don't know what this stupid ‘get the last word in’ crap is all about, but I'm over it quite frankly. So, let's just quit it with the verbal foreplay, huh, and get the hell out of here before someone crashes your lame little party. I want Cookie back home in time for her stupid, frou-frou, French dinner or whatever.” Swiping her dirty fingers through her long, disheveled hair, she then pointed at Pudding, still muzzled and quiet in the corner. “And let the dog out of all that bullshit while you're at it, will you? He’s pissing all over the goddamn floor.”

______


“So, you hate me, right?”

“I think I could. Do you want me to? Because now would be a good time to put that out there.”

“Hmph. Well, that isn’t exactly the desired reaction here, but I’m beginning to remember that you—well, people never do get everything that they want, do they?”

“Wait a minute. You didn’t expect for me to still like you after this, Adagio, did you? I mean, as a person?”

“I thought I didn't care about anything else other than ruining all of this for you, but now that I'm… now that we're here, it's just different.”

“How so?”

“Ugh. You're not supposed to draw the conversation out. What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I keep hoping one of us will change our mind.”

“‘One of us?’ By all means, be my guest. You're very good at placing blame on me for all of this, you know. But I'll remind you that the tango’s a two-person diddy, pal.”

Striker burst out into a chuckling fit. Irritated, Adagio swung her leg over his head, turning about to straighten her rumpled blouse and skirt. He was still laughing when she crossed her arms, and sat beside him upon the edge of the bed. “Stop it. Stop laughing,” she fumed. More and more, the hollow feeling spreading within her chest had exactly the opposite effect of what she thought it might. With her innate power drained away, the world became little more than background noise, feathery distortions on the edges of her vision. It left space and time feeling emptier. Most importantly, it gave her leeway to think too much.

Her need to destroy everything seemingly perfect and happy—what had it ever gotten her—besides a full belly, and life-saving favors of course? In the end, with her food source and all the spoils of her powers over greed and negativity gone, what of it had she been able to cherish? It all now seemed a big, fat waste when compared to her two lost sisters.

Suddenly, Adagio found herself wondering why she had felt it so necessary to attach herself to the notion of attaining power over the entire world at all. When all was said and done, and the magic faded away, there would be nothing left that was real. Her trinkets would deplete. Her minions would leave, maybe even curse her. There would be nothing she could really keep close except for her siblings.

Gazing down at Striker, she watched him continue to laugh, his hand pressed to his forehead, and the corners of his eyes glistening. It didn't take long to decipher it as a laugh of pain; pain because, at long last, she had forced him to realize something terrible about himself. She had taught him that even he was capable of cultivating a cold and selfish heart. She was good at teaching mortals that, apparently.

“Stop laughing.” Her chest ached the longer she looked at him. The cavern grew wider. She had done that to him. Why? The more she wrestled with herself for the answer, the more it evaded her. At last, she leaned to the side, and reached out for his face with both hands. One hand squeezed his cheeks, the other cupped over his mouth, silencing him. “What’s so damn funny about what you nearly did? I had nothing to lose in this, but you, Striker?...”

He looked at her without attempting to say anything. When Adagio removed her hands, the corners of his mouth were turned down into a deep frown.

“Good,” she said, passing him a small, vindicated grin. She stood, straightened her hair, and slipped her shoes back on.

“But we didn’t do anything,” Striker said, continuing to stare up toward the ridge patterns in the ceiling paint.

When Adagio turned to look at him again, her smile had grown brilliant, beaming with ridicule and beauty as only she could manage. She raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. There was no need to. Even Striker knew he was telling an untruth. All misdeeds first took place in the heart.

She heard sheets ruffle as he sat up behind her. Her hand rested calmly upon the doorknob as she was about to leave. The pungent odor of despise filled the air, as it rightfully should have.

“Don't come back,” Striker said. His tone of voice had gone all dead. It sounded unlike anything she'd heard him say before. “I never want to see or hear from you again.”

The numb, empty feeling of her broken Siren spirit spared her from what surely would have been an explosion of insults and complaints. She had finally made him hate her; probably the only mortal left with nothing else but kindness to give, and not a thing to gain in return. In a more pensive, emotional state of mind, Adagio might have reveled in ideas about how much she deserved his and everyone else’s fiery hatred, but in her current state, she felt nothing more than a hollow understanding. Her smile grew wider. “You won’t. This time I promise you won’t.”

The door opened to allow her passage through, and gently closed behind.

_______________

The hours flew by then. She swore the number of footsteps it took to get her back to CHS couldn't have been more than two or three. Standing in the shadow of the tremendous, stone stallion, she felt the last of her will drain away.

By the time he appeared in a halo of sparkling gold, the only thought she cared to muster up was the mental image of her sister’s faces.

“Wise decision,” the mage said, waving her forward.

For a moment, something sparked within her, the tiniest flare of defiance. The bridge of her nose wrinkled, she closed her eyes, and exhaled until the last traces of it had all drained away. “Why’d you make me come here? You could have just collected me from Striker’s house, or the cafe bathroom, or anywhere else.”

“Why should I have?” Starshot asked, passing her a smile. “I have the upperhand. You were bound to turn up on the other side of the earth if I'd commanded it.” He looked about their dark, quiet surroundings. “Besides, I'm rather fond of irony. You wanted a portal, and now you've gotten what you desired. Should be a welcome change of pace for you I dare say. It's been a long time since you've gotten to have your way, hasn’t it?”

Adagio did not attempt a retort. She didn't have the energy, and she desperately wanted to see her sisters. Her spirit was calling out for them. She needed them near her. “Just take me to them,” she said, stepping forward to drop her wrist into his hand. “There's nothing left for me in this stupid world, anyway.”

The mage studied her, surprised at the weakness of the limb that now rested in his palm. Adagio’s pretty curls hung like a mourning shroud about her tired face. The ambitious spark that would have raged within her at any other time in her life was now all but gone. “Right away,” he said, drawing her in to his side with ease. “And like I told your kin, if you attempt to—”

“I'm not going to fight you, dammit. Just get me to them, now!” she cried, not caring for the taunting grin that the mage was now wearing. Surprisingly, when his fist sparked and they were both surrounded by a halo of gold, she breathed a long sigh of relief. At least she would finally be leaving this unbearable realm behind, and with it a thousand years of struggling and strife, lying and trickery, all of it leading up to this single moment.

“About time,” she muttered under her breath.

_____

Silence persisted. When her eyes again opened, darkness surrounded her, splotched by what appeared to be mountains of oddities and riches. Starshot was gone.

Turning in a slow circle, she took in the sight of the wizard’s mirror room momentarily losing herself in fantasies of what the old her might have done with such bounty. Her sisters soon came to mind again, ripping all else from her thoughts. “Where are they?” She called out into the darkness. Her voice sounded deadened and flat, as if she were attempting to speak whilst trapped inside of a small, wooden box. “Starshot?”

“Oh, for Celestia’s sake. Walk forward!” she heard Starshot’s disembodied voice call from the darkness ahead. “At least try something before calling for help, won't you?”

Biting her lip, Adagio raised her arms out in front of her, then took a step forward, then another. The blackness ahead had no end.

When her hand disappeared into the blackness up to its wrist, she gasped and wrenched the appendage away. The hand reappeared just as quickly as it had gone. Wiggling her fingers, she dipped them in and out of the hungry darkness. Tempted to ponder on this brand of magic, instead she willed her mind blank, again raised her arms, and pushed forward. Slowly, the darkness swallowed her. She shut her eyes tight, hoping that when they again opened, she would not have become part of the void.

When her eyelids fluttered apart, the first thing she spotted was Starshot bustling about an enormous, messy desk set off to her far right. A small lamp illuminated its surface and nothing else. To her left were scattered stray pieces of mismatched furniture. If her predicament had not been so grim, she might have laughed at how absurd it all looked. “Where… what is this?” she asked.

As if on cue, Starshot spun about to approach her. In his right hand was gripped a familiar, brass ring. When he stood before her, he lifted the thing and promptly separate it into two hinged halves. He held it out at the level of her neck. “You are Nowhere, and it is in the Nowhere that you shall remain,” he said, bidding her forward with a curling finger. “Now, if you don't mind, there are some things we must go over. And your sister, the wretched one, refuses to allow me any peace at all as long as her mortal remains here. Perhaps you might have better luck with shutting her up, but first you must—”

The ring was snatched from him, and clamped tight about Adagio’s throat by her own hand. Astonished, the mage watched her stumble forward, turning about, searching. “Aria? Sonata!” she called, not caring that she had so willingly thrown away the final moments of her freedom. “Please, answer me! Tell me where you are!” Hearing no reply, she spun about to look at the mage. “You said you'd take me to them. Now, take me to them!”

The look on her face was desperate, frantic, as if the very last scrap of her sanity depended on seeing her kin. Starshot lifted his chin. He'd have to remember to work on that last scrap.

“Follow me,” he said, leading her forward, deeper into the pervading gloom.