• Published 27th Sep 2015
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Sirens of CHS - Eyeswirl the Weirded

In a deal with Sunset Shimmer, the Dazzlings regain their lost voices. The catch? They have to be CHS's cheerleaders for the Friendship Games.

  • ...

Chapter 12: Given and Accepted

With a little help from those willing to volunteer, Pinkie had done a fantastic job of setting up a party to help everyone forget about all that death-by-universe-ripping-itself-apart-like-that-time-with-Rarity's-experimental-swimsuit thing. More importantly, the atmosphere was all set for friend-making! Many dim, but colorful lights were arranged with a few ordinary ones to illuminate the gym; dark enough to give the feel of a dance party, but bright enough that nobody was at risk of bumping into each other or tripping over things.


But there was no accounting for Ditzy Doo.

Anyway, the music was playing, the tables were stacked with stuff with which to stuff faces, even the four cakes that were made for the first event! Some of them had pieces eaten, but Pinkie knew that carefully wrapping them up for later would pay off! Granted, two of those cakes were sorta fugly, but they still tasted fine to her! Never judge a cake by its frosting, nothing demonstrated that better than the Mona cake. Even sweeter to her was the sight of the kids from CHS pouring in with the ones from Crystal Prep, not so much as a hostile stare or condescending glance being cast by anyone! She felt herself make a particularly smiley smile when the sirens walked in, sticking around even though they'd done their part in the games and were pretty much free to do whatever now!

Or maybe they just popped in for some cake. Even that much was okay too! Initiating Party Patrol mode, Pinkie set off to make sure everyone was having a good time.

To secure a bit of elbow room, the trio made their way to a corner between the bleachers and a wall on one side of the room, where no one else was standing just yet. Adagio, who had just heard the full story of what Aria and Sonata had been doing over by the Shadowbolts just before Twilight went supernova, raised an eyebrow.

"And, if you'd pulled it off, what was your plan from there?"

"I'unno," shrugged Aria, "but, like, can't go wrong with tons of power, right?" Adagio's deadpan stare and very recent memories spurred her to say more. "In the right hands, I mean!"

"Yea," Sonata chimed in with a big grin, "imagine if we were the ones with laser beams and portal powers!"

There was a silence. Adagio's eye twitched before she let out a long, shuddering breath and began massaging her temples. "The day the smoke clears and documentary crews come for me to demand an explanation, I will tell them, in no uncertain terms, that my decision to let either of you be in charge was made while we were essentially powerless."

Aria rolled her eyes at the big drama queen, but her expression quickly shifted to earnest curiosity. "So, what's the verdict on that? What are we doing after today?"

Adagio chuckled. "I was about to ask you two the same thing." When they looked back at her in surprise, she shrugged. "If I haven't adequately spelled it out before now; I have no idea what I'm doing anymore, and with the conclusion of our deal with Sunset, I barely have a plan to get from one side of the room to another. I could adapt on the fly before, but only when working toward some kind of goal, so if either of you have any concrete ideas, please don't keep me in suspense." Neither answered, staring at her as though she'd just told them she was dying. "Luckily, there's no need to hurry with this," she said while turning away, "so let me know what you two work out."

Watching her go (to wander aimlessly, if what she'd just said was true), Aria turned to Sonata. "So... I think it sorta goes without saying that I'm in cha-mmrp!"

Pinching Aria's lips together between a thumb and forefinger, Sonata was not amused. "You know, the first thing I learned from Dagi was to do what she did when I didn't know what else to do, so why don't we do that? Let's walk around, talk to people, eat some free grub, and see what comes to us."

When allowed to speak again, Aria blinked twice. "...That's gotta be the most sensible thing you've ever said."

Sonata beamed. "When in doubt; imitate Dagi!"

"Well, that was fun while it lasted."

"Shut up," Sonata said with a giggle as she grabbed Aria by the wrist to drag her along, "we got stuff to think about!"

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

"I guess that's one way to finish your time at Crystal Prep," chuckled Dean Cadence, "pretty sure Principal Cinch will be fast-tracking your application after all of that."

Sitting next to her on a low seat of the bleachers, Twilight idly brushed a hand along Spike's back. "I've been thinking about it and, I'm not so sure now's the time for me to apply to Everton. I-"

"Would rather study a new phenomenon relating to events witnessed at this school, which you won't make much progress with on your own on account of it being based on spending time around other people?"

Twilight's mouth hung open for a second. Cadence never seemed to notice her troubles when it came to Cinch, her classmates, or her difficulties with other people in general, but sometimes it was like she was in her head! "Y-yes, actually. This Friendship thing didn't really come up at Crystal Prep," she said with a hesitant grin, "but the students at CHS seem to know more about it. I don't suppose...?"

Cadence smiled in sympathy. "You could transfer to this school instead. You'd certainly be missed at Crystal Prep, but I think it's a great idea." She gave Twilight a little hug before standing up. "I'll be sure to speak to Principal Celestia about it right away."

Twilight stayed put, scratching Spike's belly as she waited for a verdict.

Not far from this, five girls refrained from turning their heads to look directly at her.

"Did you hear that," asked a frowning Sour Sweet, "Twilight's leaving Crystal Prep! ...Does anyone care?"

"Kinda," answered Sunny Flare, guiltily scratching the back of her head, "I mean, we aren't exactly close to her, but, still...?"

They were quiet for a moment. Frowning, Lemon Zest took her headphones off. "We've kinda been bitches. Cuz' like, since she was probably gonna end up doing whatever Cinch told her to anyway, us pourin' on the pressure just to maybe win the last event was kind of a dick move."

Another pause. Indigo Zap shrugged. "So, what do we do now?"

Sugarcoat adjusted her glasses. "Talk to her while we still have the chance, verbally make amends, and leave off on a high note that doesn't leave us feeling like we stopped just short of kicking her dog every time we're reminded of her for the rest of our lives?"

And one more. Indigo smiled and clapped her hands together. "Break!" They approached Twilight together, contrition clear on their faces as she looked up at them with apprehension. "So... We got you to turn into an anime villain so we could win a game. Sorry 'bout that."

Twilight blinked twice, then smiled a little. "Oh, that, um... d-don't worry about that too much. To tell the truth, I was on the fence about releasing the magic anyway, you and Principal Cinch just gave me an excuse."

Jaws were dropped, but Sunny managed to get hers working again with a hint of indignance. "W-wait, you were going to do that anyway?!"

Twilight's smile vanished as she raised her palms defensively. "N-no! I didn't know what releasing the magic was going to do, and I wasn't sure about going through with it, j-just... The whole reason I wanted to come to CHS before the games started was to study what I now know is magic, and with the way things had been going, I was already frustrated about a considerable lack of substantial progress, among other things." Frowning, she compulsively reached a hand toward her neck, remembering that she'd deactivated and dismantled the spectrometer shortly before the party started. "But, even with the added pressure, it was my choice to do it, even while fully aware that the consequences could have been disastrous. If anything, I'm sorry I ruined the Friendship Games, because while I may not have wanted to participate myself, I know they meant a lot to just about everyone else."

Following a short, contemplative silence, Indigo shrugged. "Okay, so, the magic potholes weren't totally on us, but can we still say sorry for pushing you even further in that direction? Whether Cinch started it or not?"

"And," added Sugarcoat, "belittling your athletic ability while barely even recognizing that you'd single-handedly won the first event for us (one wonders why we even bothered with any of those other activities if it all came down to a math problem) just hours before." She offered a tiny, hopeful smile. "Apologies mutually given and accepted?"

Twilight smiled. "Yes, that sounds fair." Her heart almost stopped when they closed in on her, but being pulled to her feet (Spike hopped off her lap), she was immediately embraced in her very first group-of-friends hug! There were no scientific terms for the surplus of emotional stimulation that struck her in that moment, but she did her best to refrain from unnecessary saltwater emissions as she cherished the moment for all it was worth.

Efforts were only 54% successful.

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

"Yes," nodded Celestia, "I think the necessary papers can be filled out soon."

Dean Cadence grinned brightly. "Great, I'll pass on the news!"

As she walked off, Celestia smiled too. It warmed her heart to see an eager young mind open to learning, but the feeling was bolstered to giant, cuddly teddy-bear levels when the subject of interest was friendship. Looking over the party, the many smiling students from both schools, she imagined there would be no shortage of supply, and that the Friendship Games would finally live up to their name. Her smile ebbed, however, when she laid eyes on Principal Cinch, who sat alone at a table in a corner of the room.

Friendship. Magic of it, even. That was what I found my students singing and dancing about in the cafeteria one day, but I've never bothered to investigate, let alone make an effort to live up to it myself... Maybe that can change.

Glancing at the snack tables, her smile returned.

Having overheard the conversation while watching from the highest seats of the nearby bleachers, Adagio stroked her chin. "Transfer, hmm...?"

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

Principal Abacus Cinch hated being unproductive. She wouldn't have even been sitting here, but there was the chance someone would wish to speak with her regarding the late statue out front, and more pointedly who would be expected to pay for the damages. That was an argument she wasn't sure she could win, given the specific circumstances. It wasn't like any of the paperwork she could have been doing was waiting for her back at the hotel anyway; she'd finished it all in the first night.

There are, however brief, however fleeting, moments in which I curse my own diligence.

This left her to spend the next few hours in the din of excitable teenagers, without even the sense of smug satisfaction she would ordinarily allow herself for the hour or so following the conclusion of the games. It wasn't that she didn't feel her students had performed well under these strange conditions, but the triumph of the thing just wasn't there. Fortunately, those feelings didn't matter, what mattered was that she had secured the standing of Crystal Prep Academy for another day. Or until... how long was it before the next competition in which Crystal Prep was due to win first prize? She'd just began fishing her phone out of a pocket in her blazer to check the schedule when Principal Celestia's voice seized her attention.

"Could I interest you in cake? There's plenty left from the first event."

She looked up, seeing Celestia with a plate in each hand, a fork tucked under each thumb, and two slices of that, quite frankly, stunning cake that depicted the Mona blasted Lisa.

How did I miss that chef in my surveys?

She didn't have time to think about it before Celestia placed the plates on the table and sat down, giving her a big, bright grin. "That got your attention! I was worried you wouldn't even look at me, or wait until I said something else to pull an ironic 'You're still here?', but you didn't! Was it the cake? Because for the last fifteen years, I've been sure that you'd still share my appreciation for quality baking, and Luna totally owes me twent-"

"My surprise," Cinch answered with an arched eyebrow, cutting short Celestia's surprisingly spirited tirade, "stems from you being the one to offer it to someone else, Principal Celestia." It was a good thing Cinch was so disciplined, because otherwise she might have laughed out loud at the way Celestia's face froze before her smile faded.

"Oh. Does that mean you don't like cake anymore?"

"I 'like' quality in general, Principal Celestia, it was one of few things I thought to be understood between us."

She sighed. "Yes. Do you remember that little shop we used to visit once a week?"

"Canterlot Confectionery, owned by one Poppin Frost, eighth avenue, Breezie street. What of it?"

Celestia blinked twice. "...I, didn't even remember the name of the place. Have you been there recently?"

"Of course not," and not just because it closed down years ago, "but one of us had to know where we were going in more specific terms than, as you so often put it, 'that place with the bitchin' cupcakes.'"

Blushing a little at the memories of her teen vernacular, Celestia giggled. "Right. We practically made a game out of critiquing that week's special together, comparing it to the week before, and trying to work out an algorithm for how much Luna would eat during the visit."

Cinch shook her head a little. She could never account for whether or not Celestia's whimsical sister had smuggled snacks into school on any given day. "You brought this up in relation to the subject of cake, which was your basis for seizing my attention. What was it you wanted, Principal Celestia?" Judging by her frown, it hadn't been that question.

"...We used to be friends, Abacus. I thought, you know," she gestured to the party scene, "...that was the spirit of this thing, wasn't it?"

Briefly surveying the area herself, Cinch didn't look back at Celestia. "Things changed, as they do. When the two of us applied for the same job, it wasn't possible that both of us would get it, and as I recall, it was the lack of a second opening that convinced you to set your sights on Canterlot High instead." Her eyes on the table, Cinch spoke softly. "Kind of you to look out for your sister even to the detriment of your career."

Smiling, Celestia shrugged. "I would say it turned out fine, wouldn't you?" And even if it didn't, she would never abandon Luna. Not again. Speaking of family, she kept her voice gentle. "How's my nephew doing?" To her equal surprise and relief, she didn't get a disdainful dismissal about not being biological sisters like she had at the last Friendship Games, but a straight answer.

"...He is well. I trust you are asking because he did not participate in the games?"

"Well, I was curious. He always seems so energetic when I see him, I thought he'd jump at the chance." Something rose in Celestia's heart as Cinch snorted, her mouth curving into the tiniest grin.

"Truth be told, he asked permission to remain behind. I granted it, adding another student in his place at the last minute." Considering that Crystal Prep was declared the winner anyway, she wasn't sure it made a difference. She couldn't say for certain that he'd have outshined that fiery-haired girl in the Elimination Equation, but just about anyone would have been better than Twilight in the second event. Anyone but her only son, of course, which may have sent unprofessional messages about Cinch herself had he entered and done well.

"Did he say why?"

"I didn't ask."

"...Oh." A lull in conversation followed, leaving her to idly look over the party.

Yep, that's young people having fun alright. Like we used to...

She glanced down at the two slices of cake still sitting on the table and smiled. "I don't suppose," she said while sliding one plate closer to Cinch, "if you have nothing better to do, you'd indulge me a little in our old pastime?"

Celestia practically held her breath as Cinch looked down at the cake, scrutinized it as though hoping to perform her critique with a stare alone, slowly shifted her eyes toward Celestia to give her an unreadable look, then settled on the cake again. There was a tiny burst of glee when she picked up a fork, quickly and efficiently stabbing and tearing off a piece to take a bite.

"As suspected," she said only after swallowing, "I can taste the food-coloring used to make that image embedded in the inner layers."

Picking up her own fork, Celestia grinned. "Yes, but it isn't any less sweet, right?"

Cinch rolled her eyes. "Sampled it yourself already, I see." She eyed the piece currently on her fork. "I'll say I don't blame you, at the least, but you'll note that pouring sugar directly onto one's tongue is also 'sweet,' and doing so hardly makes it a craft."

"I'll admit that presentation was prioritized a little over flavor, but trust me when I say that that's extremely rare for this particular chef. I think she really wanted to impress us, and she was afraid that if we'd just been tasting other well-made cakes, we-"

"Wouldn't notice the full quality without a palette cleanser (I'll arrange for one next time) even if hers had been the most delectable in the world, so she opted for a different strategy to stand out?" The long-forgotten look of Celestia's surprised, I Was Just About To Say That face won a chuckle. "If nothing else," she said while raising another forkful to her mouth, "rest assured that in that much, she most definitely succeeded."

The bulk of the cake suffered from sickly-sweet flavor distortion, but the frosting had no such blemish.

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

The party had been going for a little while, and Sunset spent that time going around to apologize for what became of the Friendship Games. To her sustained surprise, however, most people waved her off, pretty much apathetic about the whole thing. There was a single "Hah, Trixie knew it was all your fault somehow," but other than that, all fervor for the games had dried up as quickly as it came, and some expressed that while it'd have been great to win in a straight competition (she spoke with students of both schools), watching her Magical Girl Shimmer-Chan showdown with Demon Queen Twilight (that half of them used that same wording was suspicious) was pretty fun too. She blushed a little every time someone said this, but at least no one was mad.

Speaking of apologies, she still hadn't talked to Twilight about what she'd said just after the second event. Maybe her behavior following Twilight's transformation got the point across, but she wanted to reinforce it verbally just to be sure there were no hard feelings.

Ah, there she is!

She spotted Twilight standing by the Shadowbolts that had competed in the second event and Dean Cadence, who thumbed over her shoulder, said something about calling if she needed anything else, and walked away. From the smiles going around, the atmosphere was light and friendly, making it the perfect time to approach with a smile of her own!

"Hey, Twilight, can I talk to you for a sec?" The nearby Shadowbolts gave her curious looks, but to her relief, Twilight showed no sign that she even remembered being yelled at, her grin no weaker as she turned to Sunset.

"Uh, sure, what is it?"

"I wanted to say I was sorry for losing my temper with you earlier."

At this, Twilight frowned. "Well, I did almost get you, your friends, and everyone in the vicinity killed."

Indigo Zap shot a hand up as though answering a question in class. "I vote we don't count what big, freaky plant-things from nowhere do as being directly Twilight's fault!"


"Seconded," nodded Sour Sweet.

"Thirded," cheered Lemon Zest.

"Fffourthed, I think," Sunny Flare said somewhat uncertainly.

All eyes were on Sugarcoat as she mulled it over. "...Twilight couldn't control the plant, but it wouldn't have been there at all if not for her, so technically-"

Snapping her fingers while pointing at Sugarcoat, Indigo wore a determined face. "Objection! The wibbly-wobbly rift thingies could just as well have made chocolate bunnies pop out, Twilight just got a bad roll!"

Things were quiet as Sugarcoat considered this, then smiled. "Fair enough."

"I win, the motion carries!" She stepped over to put an arm across Twilight's shoulders, grinning with triumph. "See? You're off the hook."

Twilight and those around her giggled, but she reluctantly stepped out of Indigo's companionship cling. "I appreciate the thought, but if I hadn't tampered with things I don't understand, none of that would have happened."

Indigo deflated. "Aww."

It wasn't nearly as cathartic to her this time, but Sunset was glad that the message from earlier hadn't slipped her mind.

Sunny Flare pointed to Sunset. "So, is that mutual apology thing still good here?"

Sunset looked confused, but Twilight wore a hesitant grin. "I, hope so... Apologies mutually given and accepted, Sunset?"

Blinking once, Sunset smiled too. "Uh, sure!"

And then Indigo was jubilant again, cheering for some kind of victory while roping Lemon Zest by the arm to pull her into some kind of quick, energetic, square-dance of happiness. Sunset found herself giggling as the other three Shadowbolts humored them by clapping in rhythm with bemused smiles on their faces. She looked at Twilight, who watched the spectacle with mild confusion. "I don't know what things were like for you before, but I'm sure Crystal Prep will be a nicer place with your new friends."

Twilight blinked twice. "Um... I'm actually transferring here."


"It's true," Indigo said while grappling Twilight to pull her in for light noogies, earning squirmy protests, "I dunno how soon, but-" she raised her voice so the whole room could hear, "-THIS LITTLE EGGHEAD IS GOING TO CHS, SO YOU GUYS BETTER TAKE CARE OF HER, OKAY?!"

Many turned to look at them, making Twilight very, very, very self-conscious as temperatures were elevated in the skin across her face.

And with that, Indigo chuckled, let go, pat Twilight on the back, said "Seeya around, Twilight," and walked away.

Moving to follow her, Lemon smiled at Twilight. "Don't hurt yourself, Twi!"

"It's not like we were friends," grumbled Sour Sweet, who smiled over her shoulder, "...but I think we're gonna miss you."

Going with them, Sunny Flare wore a slightly haughty smile. "Try to keep your urges under control over here, would you? Wouldn't want Crystal Prep to get a bad name from your behavior."

Smiling a little as Twilight's jaw dropped and her face burned, Sugarcoat stepped closer. "We tease because we know you'll be fine here, and because we probably won't get another opportunity to pick on you in a light-hearted atmosphere. Besides that, causing you annoyance will make it easier for you to move on, as you hopefully weren't very attached to any of us in the first place." Not caring who saw this time, she gave Twilight a hug. "Take care of yourself, Twilight." She didn't wait for more than the tearful whimper and nod of acknowledgement before letting go, turning away, and following the others.

Despite Sugarcoat's explanation, Twilight didn't look happy to say goodbye to her new friends so soon, but Sunset putting a hand on her shoulder and smiling helped her remember that she still wasn't going to be alone.

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

Dabbing a pinkie-finger into her cup, Sonata touched it to the edge of her tongue. "Hmm... Tangy, maybe strawberries, but not tangy enough to be oranges. Or, orange enough."

Drinking her punch like a normal person, Aria rolled her eyes. "You thought of anything yet? Other than becoming boxcar hobos?"

Sonata angrily pouted at her. "Oh, like your pirate plan is any better? It'd be the same thing, just with boats and scurvy!"

"Pfft." She idly looked around the room for inspiration. Luna and Pink-Hair-Barbie Lady were chatting about something. Could they be high-society socialites, getting by with charm and charisma to win over some rich stiff, living the rest of their lives in luxury? Sounded sorta boring to be limited to 'classy' behavior 24-7. That silver-haired girl Adagio used during the Battle of the Bands was dancing with Pinkie's geology-fetish sister, telling her how lucky she was to have a 'great and powerful' instructor like her. Could they make a career on dancing? Or, since they could sing again, musical stuff in general? It wasn't like they'd just be showing up and doing whatever, putting together performances could be a lot of work, and if she was the one in charge, she probably couldn't get Adagio to do it all for her. Something to consider, though.

Rarely did Sonata frown when holding a glass of punch. "What are we gonna do?"

Aria shrugged. "I don't think I wanna hang around here forever like Sunset. I mean, she's cool and all, but-"

"Living in Team Friendship's shadow for the rest of our lives sounds sorta lame?"

"Well, yea, sorta. "

"There's at least one opening at Crystal Prep," came the voice of Adagio, startling both of them, "and if we're lucky, perhaps they'd accept more. That Indigo girl did make you one such offer, did she not?"

Turning to face her, Aria tilted her head. "Who?"

"In terms you may remember: Blue-hair Goggles Weeaboo."

"Oh, her." Aria scowled. "Why would we wanna go to her stupid school?"

"Because in addition to it being considerably wealthier and home to much nicer facilities, from the way I've been hearing its students talk, the two of you would be free not just from the influence of Sunset's group, but from me as well." The shocked stares were anticipated, so she was ready with the follow-up. "You just said it yourselves, didn't you? Not wanting to be under someone's shadow? I didn't mean to, but even today, I still assumed command a few times. Stop me if you disagree, but after a hundred years of following my orders, it may be a lot easier for you two to come into your own if I'm not hanging around. I'm thinking that if you two were to transfer to Crystal Prep while I remained here, you could have that whole school as your own stomping grounds, no Rainbooms, me, or other magic users of any kind -this world's Twilight is transferring here, and I suspect Sunset will keep her on a tight leash anyway- to worry about, just the two of you free to do as you see fit."

Idly crossing her arms, she couldn't help noticing that neither of them were so much as opening their mouths to stop her. "Futhermore, I..." She shrugged somewhat uncertainly. "I want to try to unlearn what they taught me in The Hadal Zone, or at least adapt out the worst of it. That way, when you two know exactly what you're doing, I'll at least be better at taking orders rather than subtly undermining your schemes with my own to seize control for myself. Again. So, what do you think?"

At this, Aria and Sonata shared a glance, looked at her, then each other again, then back at her, Aria raising an eyebrow. "Y'know, I think I kinda see what you mean, which is why I've gotta ask if this is a plan of yours too."

Adagio facepalmed, feeling as though she'd just outsmarted herself. "I- yes, I suppose it is, but it's a plan that should work to our collective benefit. Do you see any holes in the reasoning? Anything that you don't want to try? I'm certainly not forcing this on you, so if there are any objections, just say so."

Sonata touched a fingertip to her lower lip in thought. "Umm... Well, like, how do we know you're not doing your persuasion-mind-trick thingy on us so we don't notice if there are parts we don't want or don't like?"

Equally proud of Sonata's moment of brilliance and ashamed that what she'd just described fit her to a T, Adagio wasn't sure how to feel about immediately having an answer for that one. "Because if I wanted you to accept it without question, I'd have made you think it was your idea. Probably by bringing up Indigo's suggestion, what I'd heard about Twilight's transfer, and some descriptive thinking out loud about Crystal Prep being comparatively wealthy."

The two of them blinked twice, Aria scratching her head. "Well... Damn. Yea, that sounds about right. So, we'd go to the richer, fancier school, which would be all ours, while you stick around here to cool your megalomania a bit?"

"In essence. While I can't promise that you'll enjoy the daily bus-rides (though I'm sure you'll keep occupied), we'd only be apart during the school day, so I'll still be around if you need me when you get home."

"That... sounds like a plan, I guess." Aria glanced at Sonata before crossing her arms. "But, you're not gonna go all 'Magic of Friendship' or anything if we leave you with those girls, right?"

Folding one arm over the other as she clasped her hands together, Adagio gave them a big, bright, friendly smile. "Oh, whyever would you think a thing like that, Aria dear?" The shivers this drew out of them made her break character with her usual fiendish chuckles, at least until Sonata tilted her head.

"But, like, how will we get into CeePee? It's super snazzy, right? Are they really gonna let us in?"

Feeling a little like her old self, pre-Battle-of-the-Bands, Adagio grinned. "Leave that to me..." Their worried, possibly frightened stares made her stop, clear her throat, and fold her arms behind her back, smiling sheepishly. "Er, I mean... I'll give it my best?"

The three of them giggled together. Truth be told, Adagio didn't know what good the two of them going to Crystal Prep would really do, but at the very least, it might buy her some time.

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

"-and that's when she said 'Apologies mutually given and accepted?'"

"Ah," Sunset nodded, "guess that clears that up. Back when I ripped up the school, all the apologizing was on my end, which, while deserved, doesn't come with the sense of mutual friendliness." The speed at which Twilight's mirth slipped away told her that either that kind of talk was way too soon, even for a fellow former She-Demon, or she just made a startling realization as her eyes widened.

"Ripped up the...? Oh, no, the statue!" She raised her hands to her cheeks in her building panic. "I blew it to bits! They'll never let me transfer here, or the very least they'll bill my parents into homelessness to pay for it! WhatamIgonnadoIdon't-" She was startled silent by Sunset clapping both hands on her shoulders.

"Deep breaths. I promise it'll be okay." As Twilight took her breathing advice, she offered what she was pretty sure was the same reassuring smile her friends gave her. "Like I said, I busted up the front of the school, but they let me work it off rather than throwing me in jail for the destruction of property, not to mention theft and attempted murder, just listing my crimes for this dimension."

Twilight blinked twice.

"...I've got some history," Sunset said with a sheepish smile, "but trust me, totally past that now! Anyway, yea, all we have to do is-"

"'We'?" Twilight took a step back, shaking her head. "No, nononono, I can't let you be punished for my mistake." She forced a smile. "I'll just, replace the statue myself! I did some research on the masonry process once, I-I'm sure I can-" She was again startled by a hand on her shoulder, this time from behind.

"-can let us lend a hand," Rainbow said with a confident smile, "don't mention it!"

"Wha-?! B-"

"We're helping you and we won't hear a word to the contrary, Darling." Rarity briefly brushed a hand along the back of her own head. "Though I think I'll bring more helmets this time..."

Sunset's friends stepped around where Twilight could see them, all wearing welcoming smiles that she didn't return. "You guys didn't destroy the statue, why should you have to-" She was silenced with a pink fingertip to her lips this time as Pinkie giggled.

"Aww, c'mon, do ya really think we let Sunset do the whole entrance by herself? 'Cuz we didn't, no matter how much she pouted at us for taking bits of what was 'her burden' and not letting her 'prove she can do it alone' and stuff!"

Rubbing the back of her neck, Sunset blushed. "Haha, yea."

Applejack straightened her hat. "Makin' a new statue's gonna be dif'rent, but it'll be nice to use some'a that stuff we learned from last time again."

"But," Fluttershy interjected with an upraised finger, "we can't spell out our initials in the concrete, Principal Celestia was very clear about that."

Huffing, Rainbow rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. "I know, I know."

Looking around at the giggling girls that, while complete strangers, already valued her just as much as her new friends in the Shadowbolts, Twilight again tried to restrain her tears as she cherished the sense of being wanted, made all the more intense by the fact that it was from the very girls that made her realize such a thing existed!

Magic of Friendship, huh? I don't know if I could write a paper on it, but I'm sure there's plenty to learn.

Her smile stayed until she caught sight of the cheerleaders, standing not far away, but well out of earshot. She wanted to think it was just the rush of magic altering her mind, the power trip impairing her thoughts, but what she pictured for those three if she'd gotten her way... Where had she even witnessed that kind of-

"Twilight? You okay?"

Her focus snapped to Sunset, whose concerned frown she met with a slightly nervous grin. "F-fine, just... Could you excuse me for a moment? There's, uh, s-someone else I feel like I should say 'sorry' to."

Sunset glanced around the party to glean clues, but didn't see any immediate hints. "Uh, sure, I guess. Talk to you later?" Once she nodded and set off, Sunset followed her movements to see that she was headed for... "The sirens? What could-" Her eyes widened. "Ohh, no way."

"What," asked Applejack as she leaned in to get an idea of what Sunset was looking at, "no way what?"

Rarity leaned in to do the same thing, narrowing her eyes as she tried to follow Twilight's movements. "It looks like... Oh, dear. You don't think... it was true?"

Arms folded, Rainbow tilted her head a little. "Her goin' all grab-ass at 'em? Nah, it was probably just some crazy misunderstanding."

"That's how it goes in those cartoons," muttered Fluttershy as she touched the tips of her index fingers together. She looked up to find everyone staring at her. "Wh-what?"

Pinkie grinned. "Didn't have you pegged for an anime fan, Flutter-Butter!"

She offered a tiny 'caught me' smile. "W-well, it depends, but-"

Their attention was seized by a loud impact and cries of alarm from Twilight's direction. When they looked, there was no sign of her, but the way people were crowding around made it hard to see anything. Sunset was the first to push past the crowd, her jaw dropping when she saw the source of the commotion.

As Twilight lay atop the dazed Dazzlings, all four could be heard making pained, confused, disoriented sounds as they tried to get their bearings. Aria was trying to wriggle her backside free of Twilight's hand and her upper body out from under Adagio's hair, which had mostly absorbed its bearer from the waist up as well, Sonata writhing on her back and breathing funny in response to Twilight's other hand on one breast, and Adagio's legs shifted uncomfortably in response to the head between her thighs, Twilight's face pressed under her skirt.

Sunset winced at the familiar flash of Photo Finish's camera, but at least it wasn't directed at her this time. Moving quickly, she pulled Twilight up by an arm. "Twilight? What are you doing?"

Twilight, her glasses crooked and her hair-bun slightly disheveled, teetered on her feet. "...Huh?"

When they managed to untangle themselves, the sirens stood up too, with Aria looking especially annoyed as she dusted herself off. "Okay, I know we gave you a hard time yesterday, but I kinda thought we'd buried the hatchet earlier. Is this just a hobby of yours, or what?"

Twilight flushed crimson. "N-n-"

"Yea," added a bashful Sonata as she folded her arms protectively over her chest, "what are you, the boob police?"

"Wh-what?! I-"

"No, no," said Adagio in worryingly calm tones as she tugged the edge of her skirt firmly downward, her glare freezing Twilight (and Sunset, and those behind her) in place, "I think I know what this is about, and perhaps it's my fault. Sunset? Could I talk with Twilight alone for just a minute?"

Glancing nervously between Adagio and the newest, terrified Wondercolt, Sunset briefly wished the other Twilight were here to mediate the most peaceful outcome. "Um-"

"Just for a minute," she insisted as took hold of Twilight's other arm, "worst case scenario; I won't even leave permanent marks."


"No, wait," Twilight said while looking at Sunset with guilty eyes, "I'll... I'll go with her. Just for a minute?" Sunset's expression said that she did not favor this decision, but as Twilight meant to apologize for... and, that she... again... The head cheerleader (You don't even remember any of their names!) probably wouldn't hurt her, even after another overly invasive contact, but if she did... Well, Twilight had spare underwear in her bookbag anyway. She let the fluffy one-(Adagio, this one's name was Adagio! Which one was Aria and which one was Sonata?!) lead her away from the party area and out into the hall without a word.

Sunset, while trying to respect wishes and all that, followed only to make sure no one did anything they'd regret. This grew marginally easier as the crowd started to clear out, leaving Aria, Sonata, Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie, Rarity, and Rainbow to talk amongst themselves.

"Huh," remarked Aria as she folded her arms, "surprised she didn't ask about yesterday."

Pinkie raised her hand in standard classroom fashion. "What happened yesterday?"

Aria froze.

Crap! Just Sonata'd myself!

"Umm... A completely innocent game of keep-away gone wrong?" Judging by the skeptical stares, she needed to work on her lying. "We thought she was the other Twilight and just trying to screw with us, so we picked on her a bit."

"But then," grinned Sonata, "we heard who she wasn't, tried to say sorry, she fell on Dagi (kinda our fault), and then we made up! Total bygones!"

"Yea, that. If she's still doing it, though, we'll let Adagio sort her out."

Rainbow kept herself from saying anything about having a hard time believing anyone would apologize of their own free will. She learned that lesson pretty hard from the first few weeks with Sunset. Instead, she glanced in the direction Twilight, Adagio, and Sunset had gone. "Cool. She'll be okay though, right?"

Aria inspected her nails. "Eh, probably. She's the one that obsessed over not ticking off Sunset by doing something crazy, so I doubt she'll take it far."

"Doubly so with Sunset nearby, I would think." Rarity touched a thoughtful fingertip to her chin. "So, what will the three of you do now? You're more than welcome to stay here, but we certainly can't hold you."

Aria and Sonata shared a glance, and lacking acceptance letters (or whatever the convention was) from Crystal Prep at that particular second, silently agreed not to go burning any bridges just yet. Aria shrugged. "We're working on it." Subject change needed. "So, remember our little talk earlier?"

Rainbow loosed a long-suffering sigh. "Yea, yea, we're terrible friends because we pushed Sunset into-"

"No, no, I- well, yea, it's about that, but..." She glanced at Sonata, who gave an encouraging little smile. "Just before the little poindexter went apeshit, we snuck around to listen in." And snatch the gizmo before it went off, but that didn't need to be said. "We got to watch Cinch and the Shadowbolts gang up on her, really strong-arm her into doing what they wanted. They even had a song for it." Not meeting anyone's eyes, she folded her arms. "We weren't there when you guys got Sunset to play along, but I can't honestly tell myself that you'd be that bad, so... I guess we were sorta harsh on you guys." Following a short silence, she looked up to see the Rainbooms collectively giving her one of those Everything's Okay smiles.

"Aww, shoot," Applejack twanged, "don't worry about it. If it's about winnin', Ah think 'nicer than Crystal Prep' ain't a high branch to reach anyway."

"At least it wasn't before," noted Fluttershy as she watched some Crystal Prep students clapping for one of Trixie's tricks not far away.

"Forgive me if this sounds the least bit accusatory," said Rarity, "but I'm a little surprised you would come out with such a sentiment even when you specifically said that you just enjoy 'telling people when they're wrong,' as I recall."

Aria blinked twice. "Uh..." The little smiles they were giving her made her Unwanted Closeness senses itch. "I, do, but you weren't as wrong as we made it sound, which kinda feels self-defeating if-" She took a step back, immediately startled to feel hands seizing her by the shoulders. Whipping her head around revealed a beaming Sonata, who looked at the Rainbooms as they closed in for the kill. "T-traitor!!" Aria and Sonata were grabbed in another group hug, despite the former's squirmy, pouty protests.

Well, at least Sunset can't see this.

Photo Finish's camera flashed.

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

"Alright," said Adagio as she let Twilight go, just the two of them in that hallway, "I only asked for a minute, so I'll make this quick; was it the way I looked at you after your transformation? Because while I'm pleased that the message got across, it was only valid while you were still wielding that power."

Already luminous, Twilight couldn't make eye-contact. "I-it, actually, the, um... touching... was an accident, but I did want to talk about that." Adagio didn't say anything, so she had to look up to see a mildly perplexed (at least she's not totally furious) expression. "I wanted to tou-t-talk, I wanted to talk to you girls about that moment, but I tripped, and, well... Sorry."

Amused though she was, the edge didn't entirely leave Adagio's voice as she raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms. "You tripped, fell, and just so happened to land like that?"

Twilight's knees shook as she practically folded in on herself in shame. "I-I don't know how either, but... I'm really, really sorry." The rest of the promised minute passed in silence as Adagio scrutinized her, making her feel even smaller under that steely gaze. Sweet relief quickly followed when Adagio took a deep breath through her nose, then gave her a tiny smile. (She's even prettier when she smiles!)

"If it really wasn't on purpose, I suppose I can't begrudge you. Just, please, be more careful? Not everyone you could have collided with would be so forgiving."

Grinning sheepishly, Twilight nodded quickly. "Y-yes ma'am." She'd have loved to end this conversation on that high note, but her smile slipped away as she remembered the thing she wanted to apologize for in the first place. "...So, um, about... when I was looking at you three..." Adagio rested a hand on her hip while giving her a face that conveyed "There's more?" Twilight took a deep breath. "I was thinking of... very bad things then, and, since you probably get too much of that kind of look as it is, I-"

"My, my," Adagio chuckled, "you are innocent. Give or take the occasional accident, I mean." She grinned fiendishly as Twilight squeaked and took up a nervous, knock-kneed stance. So cute! "Do you really think you're the first to have lewd thoughts about me? About any of us? We're big girls, Twilight Sparkle, and even if we'd rather not be fondled and felt up at the drop of a hat, appreciative stares are..." She shrugged, giggling. "Well, generally appreciated."

"But," Twilight protested, "Sunny Flare always says that those kinds of thoughts promote disdainful, exploitative attitudes, whether they're from men or women." She'd have thoroughly researched the subject herself, but if Dean Cadence ever learned she'd looked up such a subject, she'd be writing a dissertation on the lethality of humiliation.

Red-violet eyes were rolled. "I won't give you the full Talk, dear, but more important than those naturally-occurring thoughts is how you respond to them." She idly stroked her chin while looking Twilight dead in the eye. "You looked at the three of us with fantasies of... hm, chaining us up, making us your slaves, and spending each and every evening just-" The way Twilight burned red, seized up, and fell over said she'd made a good guess, drawing almost maniacal laughter until the poor girl could pull herself together. "You thought of all that, and even if you couldn't fully control yourself-" she smirked as Twilight made a spastic little noise, "what did you actually do when you realized it?"

"I..." Getting to her feet, she needed a minute to piece the flow of events together. "I, wanted to say I was sorry. And I did. Just a minute ago...?" Adagio was smiling at her.

"Right. I don't know this Sunny Flare, but in your recent experience, would you say that having wayward thoughts, while high out of your mind on a power trip, at that, twisted you into a depraved, hedonistic monster?"

"Well... no, but... I mean, can't that happen?"

"Only if you decide to let it, Twilight Sparkle, and it seems to me that you didn't." The way Twilight smiled at this tickled something in her chest, giving her another dose of that Change The Subject feeling she got from Sunset earlier. "So, while we're sharing thoughts, I'm wondering where exactly you got that medallion of yours."

Twilight blinked. "M-medallion...? Oh, the spectrometer? I built it from scratch. It took a few months, but the energy coming from this school was very distinctive, so when I narrowed down how to distinguish it from other readings, it was just a matter of being able to gauge it as well." She frowned a little. "Absorbing it, though, I had no idea that would happen."

"Spectrometer," nodded Adagio. "Thank you for not calling it 'The Eye of Whatever,' like a lot of people might have." To her slight surprise, Twilight grimaced.

"Ohh, don't get me started on that little cliche! Being vaguely spherical does not grant sufficient reason to refer to something as an 'eye,' doubly so when there's nothing ocular about it!"

"Right?" She's at least vaguely familiar with magical convention, Adagio thought idly as she grinned wider, but is it from prior studies, or something she picked up from this world's fiction? And, either way, did that help her craft her device? "You wouldn't believe how often supposedly self-respecting mages will just slap the 'Eye' moniker onto anything, even if it functions more like an anchor, or a battery, or even a weapon."

Twilight shook her head. "I hate misnomers! What if someone actually tried looking through one of these things? It'd be raising the barrel of a gun to your eye!"

"Indeed. Strangely, actual scrying tools were typically given more literal names, like Contact Pearls (think of something like a picture-phone) or Scouting Rods (basically telescopes that made it much easier to see through oceanic murk, even in pitch darkness) in my experience."

Eyes widening, Twilight made a realization she'd almost technically made the day before. "...You three are from -whatwasit- Equestria, aren't you? You've actually lived in a magical world yourselves." She was wearing an ear-to-ear smile and holding a notepad and pen before she even realized her arms had moved. "C-can I ask you a few questions?!"

Adagio chuckled. "Ever the scholar. I'm sure I could entertain you for a while, but I think it can wait until after the party. Besides, Sunset Shimmer would probably be more interested in sharing with you on the matter." She called out slightly louder. "Isn't that right?"

Sheepishly, Sunset stepped out from behind the closed segment of the double-door and into the hall, guilt written all over her face. "How long?"

"From the second we started, when I saw your shadow under the door. Helps that you didn't come looking for us after the minute was up."

"Right. So, just to be sure, everything's cool between you guys?" They shared a brief glance, then nodded, drawing a smile from Sunset. "Great! Come back inside, there's still plenty of party left." And friends to make, but I can't force that part.

Adagio moved to follow about a second after Sunset turned and went back into the gym, but jumped when she felt a sharp, stinging slap on her behind as she walked past Twilight. Stopping, she glared over her shoulder to find the little bookworm wearing an increasingly extreme look of regret.

"I, uh," she squeaked, "I-I learned from one of m-my Shadowb-my teammates, um, she said, well, she d-didn't really say, but, it sounded like st-striking posteriors with your open p-palm was a, uh, friendly, sp-sportsmanship... thing... And, y-you said if I don't let it be something perverted, then it isn't, s-so, but, I guess, uh... sorry?"

Turning to face her, Adagio again rested a hand on her hip. "You mean to say that it's a gesture of camaraderie, and, wishing to embrace the spirit of that sort of thing, you wanted to congratulate me for a job well done in the games?" Twilight nodded almost imperceptibly, to which Adagio smiled brightly. "I see. In that case, well-done to you too!"

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

Giggling at Luna's account of the time she, her sister, and Cinch first rode bumper cars together, Cadence caught sight of Twilight coming into the gym after that cheerleader who probably had her own line of especially fluffy body pillows. And if not, totally should! However, a particular detail made her call out to Twilight.

"Uh... Twilight, why do you have a hand-print on your face?"

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

There were few better places for ice-breaking than at a snack table, but to Sunset's slight disappointment, only Adagio had followed her.

"Hey. Where's Twilight?"

Lifting a glass of punch to her lips, Adagio shrugged. "Am I her keeper now? Because if you want to make that deal, you're going to have to restore my full power in exchange." She took a long sip as Sunset pouted at her.

"Please tell me you're not still evil."

"Ohh, not at all," she chuckled, batting her eyes for effect. "I would need more magic to be an effective villain again, and I'm not the one who went all Sexy Sun Goddess for-..." What had been a growing, predatory smirk fell away as she sighed. Recollection of what she just did to Twilight deepened it into a frown. "Sorry, but I really am this much of a bitch. I don't mean to act like this, but that's where it always goes, I just-" She was cut off with a hug. When Sunset stepped back, she was smiling.

"It's okay, Adagio, I don't expect you to completely rework yourself in a matter of days. Or, at all, actually, whether you plan to live a peaceful life or not."

While not quite satisfied, Adagio wasn't sure she wanted to say more. Being bound to Sunset's first deal had been surprisingly stressful, and she didn't want to wind up tied to something else on account of her conscience. She'd been sincere in what she told the others about adapting out her worst traits, and perhaps her strict sense of quid-pro-quo could be the first thing to go. At least then she could do this on her own terms at all times. "As it happens, I actually do have some interest in 'reworking' myself. While you've been my primary target, I can hardly talk to someone for five minutes without riling them up." She directed a slightly remorseful nod toward the double-door. "You heard me with Twilight, and the most likely reason she didn't follow was because I slapped her. She slapped me first, granted, but it was clear that she already understood her mistake." She'd anticipated the kind of wrath she'd been doing her best to avoid all day, but Sunset Shimmer surprised her again by giving her a wry grin.

"Yea, because that face totally doesn't scream 'pick on me,' right? Seriously, maybe it's the glasses, but if Princess Twilight showed up looking that cute back when I was still a total bitch, I don't know what I'd have done to her."

Adagio blinked twice, but Sunset moved right along by performing the friendly shoulder-touch on her.

"I don't know about slapping, but friends poke good-natured fun at each other all the time, and I don't think a little teasing is gonna kill anybody. Trust me, you haven't done anything out of line so far, and as long as you can keep from going too far with it, I don't think you've got anything to worry about. Okay?"

Even if she had witnessed the effects first-hand, Adagio was still caught off-guard by the sheer intensity of the shoulder-touch gesture. She couldn't think of another reason her insides would shuffle around at the contact, Sunset's smiling face a silent assurance that everything was going to be alright as the colored lights of the party danced in her eyes. And then, just like earlier today, she spoke before she could stop herself, a hint of a smirk crossing her face.

"Does that include you?"

To her sustained surprise, Sunset just giggled. "Actually, yes! I'm not gonna curl into a ball and die of embarrassment from a few comments, so if there's something you wanted to say about my transformation earlier, have at it."

She felt like a hungry shark being baited with a slab of incredibly fresh, rare meat. "I've b-been a little too cruel with you already, Sunset Shimmer."

"I told you, friends tease each other all the time. In fact," the smile grew wide and genuine, "I was kinda thinking you had a pretty good handle on that."

Adagio stared back at her in silence for a moment, her mouth twitching into a hesitant smile. "I won't hold back, you know."

"That's okay," she said with a confident smirk, "don't want this fiery alicorn thing going to my head."

"You're absolutely certain? Last chance to back out."

"I'm sure. Hit me."

"Very well..." Adagio cleared her throat, her eyes lit up with fiendish glee, and Sunset saw the return of her most vicious slasher smile. "I might have just said that the surge of power clearly lit your fire, but those wings gave new meaning to getting hot."

Sunset rolled her eyes, chuckling. "Is that all?"

The smile didn't fade. "Ohh, I wish! Being naked might have helped convince poor Twilight a little faster, I know it would have won me over like-" she snapped her fingers, "that!"

"Wha-?!" Oh, like, 'all' of the transformation, I see what she did th-

"Really," Adaigo said while giving her a coy look, "it would have given "Take my hand" a whole new meaning..."

Now Sunset started to blush. "I really don't think she'd have responded very well to-"

"Not that I didn't enjoy the show anyway; watching you two struggle and sweat against each other was just delightful!"

"It wasn't l-like we-"

"And that's before accounting for the... angle." She happily clasped her hands together. "Lucky me, I was standing in juuust the right spot!" Her eyes darted downward for a fraction of a second. "Good choice, by the way."

Sunset instinctively pulled the rim of her shirt-ruffles downward. "I-in what?!"

Her eyes still gleaming with amusement, the familiar smirk gave way to a less threatening smile. "Don't worry, though, no matter my thoughts on watching you, I'll be keeping my hands to myself. Should be much easier as you are."

"Th-thanks...?" 'As I am'? I would ask, but it feels like a trap.

"No, no," she uttered as an odd sense of relief flooded through her chest, "thank you."

It was while Sunset was trying to decide whether or not retaliating with how cute Adagio and the others looked while doing those cheers in their little skirts and belly-shirts would leave her open to an easy counterattack about 'doing a lot for her' that Sonata popped up, latching onto Adagio with a big, Pinkie-worthy smile.


Giggling, Adagio looked over her shoulder at her. "Yes?"

"Aria feels like singing!!"

All humor vanished from Adagio's face. "What?"

Still holding onto Adagio, Sonata was practically hopping in place. "We were hugging things out with the others, got to talking about stuff, Aria started feeling things, and now she wants to sing! Hurry!!"

Quickly joining Sonata in heading for the stage, Adagio briefly jogged backwards to smile at Sunset. "Good news; you didn't need to win after all!"

Sunset didn't have time to ask before the two excitedly sped off. She scratched her head. "Where'd Twilight get to, anyway...?"

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

Sitting beside Twilight on the lowest seat of the bleachers, Dean Cadence smiled. "So, even if she happened to like that kind of thing and took it as a sign of confidence, you really should wait longer than a day of knowing someone before trying something like that. Okay?"

Mortified, Twilight hadn't moved her hands from her overheating face in the last several minutes. "Okay..." Maybe it was valuable information, but she still wished it didn't have to be delivered on account of multiple misunderstandings.

Cadence gently pat Twilight's back. She knew it'd be embarrassing for her, but sexual harassment was no laughing matter, and she couldn't have Twilight getting in trouble at CHS so soon. "You've got plenty of time, so there's no need to rush things. And if it works out, invite her over for dinner some time!" She was going to miss Twilight's spastic noises at Crystal Prep. Looking up, she noticed most of the room gathering in front of the stage. "Huh, I don't remember anything being scheduled... Wanna come watch the show, Twilight?"

Anything that would take the focus off of her was all too welcome. "S-sure!"

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

Moments before...

"So what brought this on? I don't remember a time that you've felt like singing since we got here."

Smiling brightly as she and the others readied the stage, Aria shrugged. "I'unno, s'like... We were talking to the Rainbooms about nobody being put out over the games that they cared so much about before, how nobody's even grumbling about not getting to beat Crystal Prep. They told me that that would'a been great and all, but they've talked a little to the other Wondercolts and random CHS students about what Sonata and I said to 'em a little earlier."

Plugging the sound equipment in, Adagio raised an eyebrow. "Which was?"

"Heh, heh, tell ya later. In short, now that the chance is gone, pretty much everyone agrees that it doesn't matter if they 'won' or not, they just wanna go back to hanging with people they don't hate, do stuff just for the heck of it. That reminded me of the song I won a musical showcase with back home, and since we sorta trashed the one they were supposed to have here as bad as Twilight trashed the games, I was thinking...?"

"Showcase?" When the long-buried memory resurfaced, she found herself wearing a nostalgic grin. "Would that be the one that...?"

"Uh-huh," confirmed Sonata, who had managed to stop bouncing with excitement, "from the day we met! Totally that one!"

Adagio's smile weakened a little, but she'd have plenty of time to dwell on how she'd dragged the two of them along with her when she was telling her story to Sunset. Instead, she nodded and gestured to the mic. While Sonata skipped over and happily announced that the three of them would like to play a song for everyone, Aria noted that Adagio was unconsciously giving orders even now.

Most of the room gathered in front of the stage, faces she'd been seeing all day; the Rainbooms, the Shadowbolts, the old people, Twilight, and a bunch of dorks whose names she would figure out after she and Sonata got to Crystal Prep. Plenty hung back for more elbow room, but she was sure the whole room would hear it just the same. Looking out over the room, Aria grabbed the mic.

Emergency Author's Note: Ordinarily, there'd be a parody (or whatever the general term for Weird Al-ing is) here, but one of those for a fast song in another language, whether I can sync up the syllables or not, would probably be really difficult to follow along. Still, the triumphant joy of the song set to drums and guitars (which I'm pretty sure constitutes a rock band) was the best fit for what I had in mind for the general feel of Aria's style. Helps that Aria has the cutest singing voice of the three, but I forget where I left that comparison video.
That in mind, it seemed wiser to just do this, so I hope you enjoy!
That it saves me an hour or two certainly helps. Not really sure I'd do the thing justice anyway.

The brightness and energy of the song's opening washed over the room like an electric tidal wave, sweeping up its listeners and carrying them out to a sea of mirth and excitement. The lyrics, centered on enjoying what one does regardless of the outcome, resonated with the students of Canterlot High, most of all the Rainbooms, and while almost completely foreign to them, most of those from Crystal Prep bobbed along and tapped their feet anyway. The strangest part about singing this song for Aria was that for the first time, she actually meant it. Helped that she wouldn't be seeing most of these people again any time soon if all went as planned, but such thoughts were put on the back-burner while she threw herself into the chorus, feeling the momentum of the wave pick up as Sonata and Adagio injected the back-up vocals.

She hadn't sung this song in decades at least, but not a single beat was missed, not a single word forgotten as it flowed past her lips, as though she'd done it for the hundredth time just that morning. The rest of the room took to it just as naturally, many smiling faces and energetic dancers feeding back into Aria like all the dark energy she'd ever harvested at once, the rush driving her to move faster, sing louder, and repay every second of their attention with her heart and soul. By the time the bridge came up, she started getting dizzy, but didn't dare stop the tune, delivering the lyrics alone before diving back into the full swing of the song with the others. She hadn't heard the sounds and felt the sensations of transformation since that night at the Battle, but the effects were unmistakable as she lifted off the ground, light as a feather and bursting with energy for the final stanza.

With the last note of the song, Aria felt herself slowing down, the magic ebbing away as she fell backward, caught by Sonata and Adagio before she could hit the floor. Struggling for breath over the sounds of applause, she looked at them with a dazed smile. "I, th-think I need a cigarette."

They giggled, Sonata ruffling her hair. "We don't smoke, dummy."

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

Following the song, the party carried on, with Sonata and Adagio keeping a winded Aria company until she could stand up again. They were more than happy to soak up praise for the song in the meantime. People spread around, silly conversations were had, Trixie's attempt to wow the gathered crowd with some stage magic was met with frustratingly lukewarm reception (most of the clapping was from when she accidentally made her hat rocket into the air, brush against the ceiling, and coincidentally land straight back on her head), cakes were eaten, and after a while, the party started winding down.

A few minutes before it would be time to head back to the hotel for the night, Sugarcoat tapped Adagio's shoulder. "May I speak to you for a moment? Preferably in private?"

Though she had an inkling as to where this was going, Adagio nodded and followed her to a reasonably secluded corner of the room. "So what's this about, Sugar?" The annoyed nose-wrinkle made her giggle. "Well, neither of us ever gave our names, so all I have to go on is what your friend called you. Is it any worse than whatever you've been calling me?" Sugar's expression changed to one of shame as she shrank down, but Adagio just grinned. "I'm Adagio Dazzle. You are...?"

"Sugarcoat." She needed a moment to be able to look Adagio square in the eye. "The reason for my hair is that I know I'm not particularly attractive, not really athletic (hence volunteering to ride a motorcycle, letting a machine do most of the work for me), and even if I boast a higher GPA than most of Crystal Prep, there are those who are better than me in every subject, and I've always paled in comparison to Twilight. Even so, I wanted to be noticed, and unique hair was the best I could do." Adagio just nodded, spurring her to deliver the rest. "And... an easy way to stand taller, is to... tear others down. That is why I drew attention to your hair. Sorry." Her contrition briefly shifted back to annoyance. "Which, while I understand that it suits you, is still ridiculous."

Adagio giggled merrily. "I see. For what it's worth, I could have just kept walking when you made your comments rather than escalating matters like I did, but I happen to know a thing or two about getting under peoples' skin myself." She wasn't sure what it said that this won a look of surprise. "I didn't have to ruffle your feathers like I did, nor take such delight in the faces you made, so, I'm sorry too."

Starting to feel as though she'd really struck gold with these words, Sugarcoat smiled. "Apologies mutually given and accepted?" That Adagio chuckled and gave her another wicked smirk made her anticipate the worst, but what she actually heard was cause for relief.

"Apologies mutually given and accepted, Sugarcoat."

"Thank you. I guess even antagonizing cheerleaders with scary smiles aren't all bad." The look Sugarcoat got for this chilled her blood, Adagio's mirth vanishing as she leaned in, an eyebrow raised, and her voice a deadly whisper.

"What's wrong with my smile...?"

Knees shaking, tongue wriggling uselessly in her mouth as her brain tried and failed to produce a gentle, yet honest way of elaborating, Sugarcoat had at least one observation on the situation.

I have now fucked up.

With that, she initiated Panic Mode.

"I-I don't know," she said while pointing behind Adagio, "but maybe those naked girls can tell you?" Adagio didn't look over her shoulder, but she did look more annoyed. Just as Adagio reached for her, Principal Cinch was heard giving the announcement that it was time to head back to the buses. "Welpgottagoyouhavealovelyschoolbye!!"

Not moving as Sugarcoat sprinted away, stumbling and nearly falling on her face, Adagio felt herself smirk. Given that she could confirm the absence of anyone in a state of undress in the vicinity, Adagio knew it meant that Little Miss Blunt Honesty just lied. She wasn't sure if, in the context that she was supposed to be toning down the worst of her behavior, it was a bad sign that this amused her so greatly, but for now, she set off to ask anyone she could find about her smile.

The gym cleared out remarkably fast afterwards.

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

That night, Twilight got her final sendoff from Crystal Prep. It wasn't too emotional or drawn-out, but she did get picked up and tossed up into the air a few times, which thankfully included catching her every time. Give or take some jokes about her wild groping impulses, the whole thing left her feeling so warm and happy that she barely minded her last, stinging, delivered-when-she-least-expected-it slap from Indigo. At least watching Sunny Flare chase her around the hotel lobby until they were asked to stop made her laugh.

Given what had happened today, she would have liked to say something to Principal Cinch as well, but she only saw a fleeting glimpse of her in the hotel, and had no idea where to begin anyway. She didn't like leaving things as they were between her and her former principal while having mended fences with everyone else, but severely lacking in experience regarding this Friendship stuff, she didn't know what else to do. Maybe some day?

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

Lying still as Aria and Sonata cuddled into her curls, Adagio raised an eyebrow. "So you're sure it was just her? That there's nothing wrong with-"

"It's fine," lied Aria, "she wasn't exactly emotive herself, so it's not like she'd be an authority on smiling."

"But, that first Halloween makes so much more sense when-"

"Don't worry about it, Dagi," giggled Sonata, "I always thought your smile was kinda sexy!"

It was too dark to really notice, but as the three of them were presently lying in bed together, Aria and Adagio blushed. The latter loosed a quiet sigh.

"Good night, girls..."

*\0/* *\0/* *\0/*

Scattered across town, the Rainbooms lay in their own beds, lacking the energy for a sleepover after the hectic events of the day. All were sound asleep, bar Sunset Shimmer; wide awake, staring at her ceiling, and blushing vibrantly. Part of it was the memory of miniskirts shaking in the breeze, but mainly?

"S-Sunset, d-don't- Ahh-hahn!"

She groaned and hid her face under a pillow as she muttered to herself.

"Stupid sexy sirens..."

Author's Note:

In writing her, I find that Cinch's brain is like a neatly-organized filing cabinet. That is how we know that she didn't miss Pinkie in her surveys, she specifically chose to ignore her due to the rest of her history. Just as well, going to Crystal Prep would probably kill her. :fluttershysad:

On that note, Indigo Zap: Closet Geek is a pretty fun interpretation.

I really like the idea that Adagio is totally oblivious to her own slasher smile, that it never even occurred to her that normal people don't smile that way and the only two people she talks to just haven't gotten around to telling her.

For the sake of actually getting this bloody thing done, I cut out several short scenes and interactions, that, while fun, didn't really need to happen and will fit just fine somewhere in the hypothetical sequel if I ever get around to it. Shoehorning them all into this last chapter was just getting exhausting.

Unfortunately, this meant snipping the part with Sonata breaking Sunny Flare's brain with a more in-depth talk of appreciative stares being appreciated and a bunch of other fun stuff for the time being. :raritydespair:
There actually some more scenes I'd have cut (Adagio teasing Sunset about her magical girl moment didn't strictly need to happen, but I'd already written half of it anyway), but I don't think they'd have worked in any other timing than right after the Friendship Games ended.

And I still have (at least) two bonus chapters to write! One should be a relatively short scene with Cinch, the other Adagio's big, fat history lesson. No idea when those are coming, but the main story is otherwise over now. Hope you enjoyed! :pinkiehappy:

I've known for a while now that there was more I could do when this story was over, because the way things developed left us open to Aria and Sonata's shenanigans alongside the Shadowbolts in Crystal Prep, Indigo Zap's increasingly blatant (hate?)crush on Aria, the human Prince Blueblood's attempts at courting Sunny Flare in flowery fashion (the exposition was cut from this chapter), Cinch popping in here and there to observe/reflect/comment on things, particularly how Aria, Sonata, and Sci-Twi are doing, Sci-Twi adapting to life at CHS (where at least two girls know a lot about magic and her scientific curiosity remains unquenched...), her continued Accidental Pervert moments, Sunset trying to manage sharing everything she knows about friendship with Sci-Twi and Adagio without hitting the same potholes her friends did with her ("No offense."), and the possibility of some kind of love triangle.

This isn't even accounting for the Rainbooms getting involved in things, whatever happened between the human Luna and Celestia years ago, or the idea (which occurred to me while I was writing this) of a vaguely villainous trio/duo of girls in CHS hoping to take Aria and Sonata's places as Adagio's henchmen (maybe by claiming they want to be part of CHS's cheerleading squad, and as Adagio is the senior member (by like a week), that makes her captain? Hilariously, this might get in the way of her wish to be more subordinate), learn all they can from her, and conquer the school themselves. They'd be the laughable, ineffective types, whoever they were, but hopefully still entertaining as everyone (even Adagio, who'd probably be thinking about Sunset and Twilight a lot) remained oblivious to their real goals. And then there's lighthearted moments of Maud and Trixie doing stuff together.

All this because I didn't like how Friendship Games went! Gah! :fluttershbad:

But as it stands, there's other stuff that's been dying for updates, and most importantly of all, I don't know where this hypothetical sequel would actually go, what the plot of the thing would actually be. I have some vague ideas for an overall story to the thing, but nothing I can neatly frame all these events around, so I don't think it'll be solidified into anything readable any time soon.

One more thing: (Legend of Everfree spoilers!) Despite the fun that might come of Adagio chasing Gloriosa around during that afterparty in the cave while commenting on her Gaia Everfree form ("I saw the way you brushed that girl's chin, you know. Don't worry, it's perfectly... natural...") and Gloriosa's reactions to it ("I-I don't got this, I don't got this, help!!"), in addition to the general antics that could come of playing with the camp setting, I don't think I'll be doing anything with Camp Everfree, as a continuation of this story or otherwise.