Second Chances: A Redemption Story

by Cyrano

First published

Recruited by Abacus Cinch as her own magical ringers, The Sirens become Crystal Prep's newest Shadowbolts. But when deadlines loom and tensions mount amongst the three girls, Adagio Dazzle is forced to turn to an unlikely ally for help.

Still reeling from their defeat at the Battle of the Bands, Adagio Dazzle, Sonata Dusk, and Aria Blaze are recruited by Abacus Cinch as her own magical ringers to use against Canterlot High in exchange for a chance to reclaim their lost magic.

But life at Crystal Prep isn't all sunshine and rainbows for the three newest Shadowbolts. Faced with looming deadlines, hostile classmates, and a crumbling partnership with her fellow Sirens, Adagio finds solace with a most unexpected ally.

But when Equestrian magic is on the line, will she follow her heart? Or will her she learn that old habits die hard?

Sirens don't make friends, after all, and they certainly don't fall in love.

Chapter 0 - Prologue

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Abacus Cinch was not happy.

The Friendship Games had been an unmitigated disaster. The Shadowbolts, her own students, had turned against her, forced her to concede to a mutual victory with their rivals, the students of Canterlot High. The reputation of the Crystal Prep – her reputation – teetered precariously on the edge of disaster, and to top it all off Celestia had even managed to steal her prized pupil, Twilight Sparkle, away from her.

So she’d pushed the girl to use the magic she’d stored, the result of which had nearly caused a monumental disaster. She could hardly be blamed for such foolishness. Shadowbolts were disciplined. Shadowbolts were strong. Twilight Sparkle failed to meet the criteria. No, of greater importance than the loss of one (admittedly gifted) student were the implications the games had wrought.

Magic.

She still scarcely believed it. The students of Canterlot High had magic. And Crystal Prep did not.

She wouldn’t allow it; she couldn’t! Crystal Prep was superior to that wretched public school in every way. Their curriculum, their funding, and their college acceptance rate, all the highest in the country. But this magic threatened to ruin everything! But Abacus Cinch was no quitter, she had a reputation to uphold, after all. Reports of the goings on at Canterlot High weren’t difficult to get a hold of, with all the photos and status updates today’s youth posted online, she could have compiled a complete dossier on any student in the world!

Or, in this case, any three students.

She examined the papers laid out on the desk before her. They’d covered their tracks well, but they must have known that people didn’t merely appear out of thin air—not in this world, anyway. There was always a trail, if you knew where to look for it, and Abacus Cinch always knew where to look.

She raised her eyes and adjusted her glasses, taking careful stock of her guests. She wasn’t impressed. Torn sleeves, obnoxious accessories… their outfits were an affront to her senses. On any ordinary day Abacus Cinch wouldn’t have given the trio a second glance before having security escort them unceremoniously to the curb. Her fingers drifted together forming the shape of a pyramid. Today was no ordinary day.

“I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve brought you here.” Cinch probed. The purple haired one sulked, arms crossed and staring impassively at the wall. It ignited a cold fury within the principal, who was not used to such blatant insolence. Meanwhile, the girl with the blue hair gazed blankly into space. Cinch doubted she could do much with her, education could only shine when paired with intelligence and it was clear that this girl had a severe deficiency on both accounts. No, it was only the one that sat between them, the one with torrents of orange hair and a calculating look to her that held any interest to Abacus Cinch. The only one who would look her in the eye.

“It crossed our minds,” said the orange haired girl. Her voice, Cinch noted, seemed to draw the other girls into the conversation, as they nodded in agreement. “But we’re more interested in knowing how exactly you found us.”

Abacus Cinch allowed herself a small smile. “Information is, perhaps, this world’s greatest resource, and I think you will find that I am a very resourceful woman.” The girl’s eyes narrowed, clearly unsatisfied with her answer. Abacus continued unabashed. “I know of your encounter with the so called Rainbooms. I know that after they bested you, the three of you turned tail and ran. I also know that you’re two months past due on your rent, and as we speak your landlord is affixing an eviction notice to your door.” The girl’s teeth barred, her shoulders hunched, and her fists clenched into tight balls. She’d hit a nerve.

“We’re listening,” she growled. The principal’s grin widened.

“I’m sure you’ve found that without the proper influence, this world can be a harsh, unforgiving place. You’re lucky that I’m giving your girls the time of day, let alone inviting you to speak with me in my office.”

“It’s not luck. You need something, something you can only get from us.”

Cinch nodded approvingly. “Precisely. And do you know what that something is?” Abacus leaned in, her glasses sliding down to the tip of her nose as she examined the girls before her.

Magic.

“But we don’t have any magic!” Blurted the blue haired girl. The others turned on her like a pack of starving wolves, and for a moment Abacus thought they might tear her to shreds in her very office. She found the idea rather amusing.

“Do not insult my intelligence,” said Abacus sternly. “As I said, I know of your time at Canterlot High School, and I know that in that final confrontation with the Rainbooms your magic was lost. A pity.”

The orange haired girl eyed her suspiciously. “So if you know all this already, why are we here?” The predatory part of Abacus’s mind came alive, and she eyed the girls hungrily. She had them now.

“You are here because I believe that we can help each other.” When the girl didn’t respond, she continued. “You seek the return of your magic, and revenge against those that have wronged you. I want nothing more than to level the playing field with Canterlot High, so when next we compete they won’t be able to rely on their magic to claim victory.”

“But we don’t have our magic, not anymore,” growled the girl. “And if we did, what makes you think we’d waste it helping you?”

“Straight to the point, then. A student at my school—a former student, rather—designed a piece of technology able to contain this magic. As she used Crystal Prep resources to research and develop the object in particular, and due to the bylaws she signed in order to have access to those resources, Crystal Prep retains the rights to any and all of that research.”

The orange haired girl’s eyes were wide, staring at Abacus in shock and disbelief. Even the purple haired girl was paying attention now, her expression one of barely contained need.

“I don’t get it,” said the blue haired girl.

“You’re so stupid,” quipped the purple hair girl. “She might have a way to give us back our magic!” Both girls looked at Abacus in awe, but their leader remained unconvinced.

“Then why not use it yourself? If you have the magic, what do you need us for?” Abacus liked this one. Unlike the others, she might even be Crystal Prep materiel.

“Control over the magic we captured proved… difficult. You three have proven yourself adept at manipulating magic to meet your needs, and it is that control that I require of you.” Abacus sighed. “Additionally, and most unfortunately, the device was destroyed.

“This is my offer, listen closely for I will not give it twice, nor will I bargain with you. This is not a negotiation. I will give you access to the research on the tracking and containment of magic. In addition, I will provide you with the resources to pursue this research and access to the greatest minds of your generation. You will become students my school, live within the dormitories without cost, and you will assist me in reclaiming the legacy that has been stolen from me.

“In return, you will follow my every instruction without question. You will conform to the standards I set for all my students, and if you are able to reclaim your lost magic, you will stand by my side as, together, we crush Canterlot High School.” With one finger, Abacus Cinch pushed her glasses back up her nose into their proper position. “So, do we have a deal?”

The three girls looked at each other, but Abacus didn’t need to see the look of hunger on their faces to confirm what she already knew. “We accept,” said the orange haired girl, accompanied by nods from her compatriots.

“Excellent. I shall have the paperwork drafted immediately. Aria Blaze, Sonata Dusk, and Adagio Dazzle, congratulations. You are Crystal Prep Academy’s newest Shadowbolts.”

“Thank you, Principle Cinch,” said Adagio, wearing a look of gleeful malice that spread first to Sonata, then Aria, and finally to the principal herself. “We won’t let you down.”

Chapter 1 - A Fresh Start

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Walking through the rotunda of Crystal Prep Academy amid a tour of the campus, Adagio Dazzle couldn’t help but feel a creeping sense of déjà vu.

The meeting with Abacus Cinch had gone better than she could ever have imagined, and for the first time since The Rainbooms had stripped her and her fellow Sirens of their magic, Adagio finally felt like she was regaining some semblance of control over her life.

And yet she still felt uneasy. The lingering panic that had first manifested when she’d had to face the reality of a magicless existence had compounded into an omnipresent knot in her stomach. She’d lost her appetite – if she’d ever had such a thing for human food – and had spent many a restless night wondering what would become of herself and the other Sirens. And, though the knot had loosened somewhat since their sudden turn of fortune, to Adagio’s great annoyance it had yet to go away completely.

Seeking to distract herself from her own dreary thoughts, Adagio took stock of her surroundings. Despite her best efforts to remain aloof, she couldn’t help but be somewhat impressed by the architecture of the school. Between the high ceilings, towering crystal pillars, and plethora of trophies and plaques, one could easily have mistaken the school for a palace. Nothing at all like Canterot High, she mused. But for all its lustre, Adagio couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.

“Where are all the students?”

Adagio turned around at the sound of Sonata’s voice. The other Siren wore a painfully familiar expression of bewilderment, and was glancing about the atrium as if she expected a herd of students to pop out of hiding at any moment. Lagging even further behind them was Aria, who was taking a break from admiring her reflection in one of the crystal pillars to shoot Sonata a look of utter disdain.

“Crystal Prep doesn’t have classes on weekends,” said their guide. She was a well dressed woman with hair of equal parts pink, purple, and yellow, who had introduced herself as Dean Cadance. “Honestly, is that rumor still going around? I remember hearing it when I was a student here!” She must have caught Adagio’s smirk, as she blushed, adding “mind you, it wasn’t all that long ago.”

“Right,” said Sonata, “I knew that!”

Aria rolled her eyes. “You don’t know anything, Sonata.”

Adagio’s eye twitched.

“Do to!”

“Do not!”

“Well, at least I wasn’t ogling my new uniform in front of a dumb pillar!”

“You’re just jealous that it looks better on me.”

“I—”

“Girls–” Adagio growled, clapping a hand on each of their shoulders with enough force to make them wince “–that’s enough!” Aria huffed, shrugging off Adagio’s hand and stomping away from Sonata, who stuck her tongue out at her the moment she wasn’t looking.

Adagio sighed and took a moment to compose herself. Aria and Sonata’s presence had always been grating on her nerves, but lately she’d had even less patience for their shenanigans. Aria had seemingly taken this as an opportunity to question her leadership more than ever, and Sonata…

Well, getting blasted with a beam of celestial light certainly hadn’t made her smarter.

“Sorry about that, it must be their nerves getting to them.” Or their stupidity. “We’re all just so excited to have this opportunity!”

“It’s alright, I’m sure Principle Cinch would call it a ‘healthy spirit of competition!’” Adagio noted that, despite her enthusiasm, Cadance’s smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Ahem. Moving on, that just about does it for the tour, do you girls have any questions?”

“Where are we, you know, staying?”

Adagio bit her tongue. Leave it to Sonata to make any question, even legitimate ones, sound idiotic.

“Good question, er—Sonata, was it?” Sonata nodded cheerfully, and Cadance continued. “Yes, Principle Cinch informed me that you girls would be staying in our dormitories. We don’t usually get new transfers this late in the semester, so we’re scrambling a little to make room, but it should all be sorted out by this evening by the time you’ve finished the placement tests.”

Tests?

“Tests?” asked Sonata. Adagio shuddered, the idea that she’d shared the same thought as the imbecile made her feel just a little bit sick.

“Didn’t Principle Cinch tell you?” Cadance looked at the girls’ downcast expressions and sighed. “Of course not. Normally students who wish to attend Crystal Prep must first complete a pair of entrance exams, to make sure they’re Crystal Prep materiel. But, since you girls have already been accepted, think of them more like placement tests. We just want to see how far along you are in your education.”

Sonata’s shoulders slumped and she let out a long groan. “I hate tests,” she whined.

“You know what I hate?” Adagio shot Aria a scathing look. She’d had enough of the incessant fighting and was going to nip this argument in the bud. She took a step back – out of Cadance’s field of view – and locked eyes with Aria, slashing her finger violently across her throat.

Aria got the message.

“Tests,” she said, stiffly. “I also hate tests.” She glared hatefully at Adagio, who countered with a coy smile. Sonata remained oblivious.

There was nothing quite like putting Aria in her place. It was a warm, tingly feeling, and Adagio imagined that she felt the knot loosen just a bit.

“Cheer up,” said Cadance, “it’s just a few pages of multiple choice, then a short obstacle course to make sure you girls are up to our fitness standards.”

Sonata perked up a little. “Oh, well I guess it doesn’t sound that bad.”

“I was wrong, it’s that bad!”

For the second time that day, Adagio couldn’t help but agree with Sonata. When her own exam booklet was slapped down unceremoniously before her, Adagio could have sworn it shook not only her desk, but the entire examination room.

“This is your definition of a few pages? This is practically a novel!”

Cadance looked sheepishly over Adagio’s shoulder, refusing to meet her gaze, and cleared her throat. “Thank you for your help, Sugarcoat.”

The white-haired girl stared back at her blankly. “I’m not helping. I have to be here on account of my ‘insubordination’ at the Friendship Games.”

“Right,” said Cadance, rubbing her eyes. Adagio cocked an eyebrow. All of the sudden, Cadance looked like she was nursing a migraine. After taking a moment to compose herself, she continued. “I’ll talk Principle Cinch. You girls shouldn’t be punished for—” Cadance caught Adagio’s eye cut herself off. “Er, we can discuss that later. If you’ll excuse me, I have to head over to the dorms to make sure everything is on schedule. Sugarcoat will oversee the written exam, and another student will be waiting for you in the gym to oversee the obstacle course. Good luck, girls, and do your best!”

The classroom door clicked closed behind Cadance, leaving the room once more in an uncomfortable silence. It dragged on for several long moments, before the white-haired girl thankfully spoke up.

“Welcome to the Crystal Prep Academy Entrance Exam, my name is Sugarcoat and I will be your exam coordinator. The following is a comprehensive list of rules and regulations you will be expected to follow before, during, and immediately after the exam.”

“Number one, only the use of No. 2 or HB wooden pencils are permitted in the examination room. Mechanical pencils and pencils of other grades are not permitted. Number two…”

Adagio felt her mind drifting. What was the point of all of this? Clearly Abacus Cinch wasn’t afraid of breaking rules—she’d made that abundantly clear in their meeting—so why not skip the test and let them get right to work getting their magic back? It wasn’t as if she could afford to kick them out if they got a bad grade on a stupid test.

Right?

“…and finally, any and all water bottles must be made of clear plastic, and be no larger than 800 mL, or 27.05 oz. Any questions?”

Sonata raised her hand. “Are you a robot?”

“That’s a stupid question.”

Adagio covered her mouth and turned away to hide her own snickering, only to notice Aria doing the same. Their eyes met, and Aria quickly looked away and resumed her usual bored expression.

Adagio rolled her eyes. Get over yourself.

“You have sixty minutes to complete the examination, at which point you will set your pencils down on the desks in front of you and I will collect your answer booklets.” She held up a stopwatch. “You may begin on my mark.”

Sonata tilted her head. “Who’s Mar-”

“Begin.”

Adagio rested her head in the palm of her right hand, and lazily flipped open the cover of her exam with the other. A sea of small, black font greeted her. The header of the page read Reading Comprehension, and she deduced that she was supposed to read a passage and answer a series of questions.

Child’s play.

She read the first paragraph, and was moving on to the second when she paused. I didn’t retain any of that. She started again, and once more she found that, though she’d read the words, her brain refused to process them.

Whatever, she thought, I’ll come back to it. She began flipping through the booklet. Math? Pass. History? As if anyone cares about what happened a hundred years ago on this magicless rock. What’s next…

With each page she skipped the knot in her stomach grew tighter, and she was becoming distinctly aware of the inexorable ticking of the stopwatch.

The Sirens waited outside the Crystal Prep Academy’s Athletic Building for Cadance to come and retrieve them. Adagio sat on a stone step, her head resting in her hands and her elbows planted on her knees, staring at the ground. Her body ached, but not nearly as much as her pride.

The test had been a disaster, and the physical examination hadn’t gone any better. After they handed in their exam booklets (which, in Adagio’s case, had been woefully incomplete) they had made their way to Crystal Prep’s gymnasium, where they were introduced to the next in their line of tormentors, Indigo Zap.

Zap was loud, abrasive, and had driven them through an obstacle course straight from the depths of Tartarus. Among the tortures that had been inflicted upon them had been push-ups, rope climbing, archery, and to top it all off, they had been forced to run an entire mile, all the while being jeered on by Zap, who took no small pleasure in telling them how their times were among the worst in Crystal Prep history.

All except for Aria’s, anyway. While Adagio and Sonata had fought to keep up, Aria had blazed ahead of them, leaving the other two Sirens in her dust. She had beaten them so badly that when Adagio was finishing her final lap around the gymnasium, Aria was already exiting the changing room.

Adagio glanced up at Aria, who was leaning against the building’s brick wall with her arms crossed. She wasn’t jealous. Any brute could run in a circle or climb a stupid rope. None of that mattered in the real world.

Her eyes narrowed. She wasn’t jealous.

Aria must have felt her gaze, because she turned towards Adagio, her lips curling into an arrogant smirk. It made Adagio’s blood boil. She shot to her feet, intent on giving Aria a piece of her mind, but her legs protested to the sudden movement and she had to take a step forward to keep herself from falling.

Aria laughed. “Need some help, Adagio?”

Adagio’s cheeks flushed and her hands balled into fists. She took another step forward, preparing to tear into Aria, when her foot collided with something squishy.

“Oww…”

Sprawled out on the concrete before her was the prone form of Sonata, her arms askew and her face contorted in pain. Her eyes fluttered open, and she gave Adagio a pleading look.

“’Dagi,” she groaned. “I think I’m dying.”

Adagio sighed. “I should be so lucky.” She jabbed the toe of her shoe into Sonata’s side, eliciting another pained groan. “Now get up, you look pathetic.”

Aria snorted. “You’re one to talk.”

Bringing her attention back to Aria, Adagio discovered that she no longer felt the immediate urge to strangle her. No, that’s what Aria wanted: a reaction. Something to show that she’d really gotten to her, and Adagio had nearly fallen for it.

Nearly.

Instead, she looked expectantly at Aria, putting on her best bored expression. “Are you done?”

“I—what are you doing?”

Adagio immediately located the source of Aria’s distress: no longer content with her position on the ground (or, perhaps, fearing another kick), Sonata was clinging pitifully to Aria’s legs.

“Ugh, let go of me, you idiot!”

“You’re the idiot!” replied Sonata, stubbornly holding tight despite Aria’s protests. The way she was hanging off her, she almost looked like a sloth.

Clingy, slow… definitely a sloth.

“Yeah,” said Adagio, a sardonic grin spreading across her face, “you’re done.” There was that feeling again.

She watched in amusement as blood rushed to Aria’s cheeks, and she grew more and more flustered while trying to dislodge Sonata.

“You’re the worst!”

“No, you are!”

“Am I interrupting something?”

The three girls turned to see Dean Cadance, her expression a mixture of confusion and mild amusement. Aria, seizing the moment, shook Sonata free of her leg, who fell to the ground with an audible thump.

“I’m okay,” said Sonata, standing up and brushing herself off.

Aria’s eye twitched. “Now you can stand up?”

Sonata responded with a toothy smile.

“You’ll have to excuse them,” said Adagio, “they’re still a little on edge after the exams.”

“Am not,” muttered Aria.

Cadance gave them an empathic smile. “Oh, don’t worry, you all seem like bright girls” – her eyes lingered on Sonata – “…for the most part. I’m sure you all did wonderfully.”

Sonata beamed. “I filled out all the bubbles!”

Cadance’s brow furrowed, but she managed to rebound after only a momentary lapse in her enthusiasm. “That’s… great! And in other great news, the dorm situation has been resolved. It took some shifting around but, well, they don’t call me Dean for nothing!”

She was met with three blank stares.

“Tough crowd. Anyway, if you girls will follow me, I’ll lead you to your new rooms! I’m sure you’re all tired after the obstacle course—”

Aria snickered. “Some of us more than others.”

“—so we’ll try to get you settled in nice and quick.”

The remainder of the walk to the Crystal Prep Dormitories was relatively uneventful. Adagio did her best to ignore Aria’s snark and Sonata’s idiocy, while simultaneously smile and nod at Cadance’s forced small talk. It wasn’t easy, but she had plenty of practice.

“Wow,” said Sonata as they approached the entryway. “Another building! How many does this school have? Canterlot High only had one!”

Cadance stopped abruptly. Adagio, who had been following close behind, barely avoided bumping into her.

“One last thing before we go inside,” said Cadance. “You might want to avoid mentioning that you used to be students at CHS. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great school – but the students here tend to see them as our rivals, and a recent sporting event ended, well… let’s just say not to everyone’s satisfaction.”

“So you lost?” asked Aria.

“No,” said Cadance, “it was a tie.”

“Doesn’t that mean everyone wins?” posed Sonata.

“That’s a good way of looking at it,” replied Cadance, earnestly, followed by a long sigh. “But that’s not how the students – or most of the faculty – see it. I’m sure they’ll be over it soon enough, but in the mean time, if anyone asks about your old school… just be vague. Or make something up.”

Adagio scowled. “Believe me, we weren’t going to brag about it.”

“Yeah,” said Sonata, “especially not after the Battle of the Bands where we—” Sonata’s words were cut off by Aria’s hand covering her mouth. Adagio quickly interposed herself between Cadance and her fellow Sirens.

“—where we gave a heartfelt goodbye to all out CHS friends!” she said, her voice dripping with fake cheer. “It’s still a fresh wound, we’re really broken up about it”

“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m sure you girls will make plenty of new friends here at Crystal Prep.”

“Eww, Sonata, stop licking my hand!”

Adagio’s eye twitched. “New friends, can’t wait!”

Cadance lead them inside the dormitory and up several flights of stairs to the third floor. Adagio’s legs burned with every step, and she could feel Aria’s eyes on her, waiting for her to falter, but to her immense relief she managed to make it without any more embarrassing blunders. From there, they were brought into a long corridor with doors evenly spaced on either side, each emblazoned with a room number (odds on the left, evens on the right) and a small whiteboard. The whiteboards were inscribed with what Adagio could only assume were the names of the room’s occupants, written in a variety of colors and surrounded by small doodles.

“The bathrooms can be found at the end of the hall, and I’ll warn you now that the line for the showers can get pretty long, so make sure you get up nice and early.” Cadance continued down the hall, before eventually stopping in front of a door with a blank whiteboard. “Here we are, room 309. Aria and Sonata, you two will be staying in this room, and Adagio you’ll be staying across the hall in 308.”

Wait, what?

Adagio’s brow furrowed, and she shared an uncertain look with Aria and Sonata.

“Sorry, girls,” said Cadance empathically. “The dorms have two beds each. I did what I could to make sure that I could keep at least two of you together, and I even managed to get you rooms across from each other. You know, so you’re not too far from your friends.”

Friends. That was the word the people of this world often used to describe the three girls, but it had never quite clicked with Adagio. They weren’t family, though she’d known the others for her entire life they shared no blood relation, and they couldn’t exactly tell everyone they were Sirens from another dimension, but friends? Friends were people you liked, people you spent time with because you wanted to. Adagio didn’t have any friends, not in the traditional sense. In Equestria, the Sirens had combined their powers in order to better feed on the turmoil they wrought across the land. In this world, the trio had been forced to work together to survive their exile. It was strange, after so long, to imagine being separated from them.

Adagio shook her head. Get a hold of yourself, she thought, they’ll just be across the hall. And besides, how great will it be not to have to put up with Sonata’s snoring?

“You’ll find some dry-erase markers in your rooms so you can decorate your whiteboards. Be creative, but don’t write – or draw – anything obscene on your own or anyone else’s board. We had some… issues, in the past, which is why you’ll find cameras in the hall. But I’m sure I don’t have to worry about that from you girls.”

“Now,” said Cadance, reaching into her purse and producing three keys. “These are the keys to your dorm rooms. They’ve got a sticker with your room number on them, so make sure you take it off once you’ve memorized the number. The doors lock automatically, so if you accidentally lock your key inside your room and your roommate isn’t around, or if you lose it, you can get a new one from the Dormitory Manager’s office on the first floor. You’ll have to have your Student ID on you –” she paused “—which you can pick up in my office tomorrow. I knew I was forgetting something… Do you girls have any more questions?”

The Sirens shook their heads.

“Well, if you think of any, my door is always open. I’ll let you girls get settled in,” she turned to focus on Adagio, “and I’ll let you get acquainted with your new roommate. Your things will be waiting for you inside. Good night, girls!”

With Cadance gone, the three Sirens lingered in the hallway. Sonata looked worried, glancing between Adagio and Aria, waiting for one of them to say something. Aria’s expression was unreadable.

“Well,” said Aria, breaking the silence, “I guess we should go. ‘Night, Adagio.”

“Goodnight, ‘Dagi.”

“Goodnight, girls.”

Adagio placed the key into the lock of her new room, sparing a glance over her shoulder as Aria and Sonata did the same. Was it just her, or did the corridor seem a lot wider than it had a few minutes ago?

Pushing the thought from her mind, and ignoring the stupid knot in her stomach, Adagio took a moment to examine the whiteboard. The top half was blank, presumably saved for her, but on the bottom, written in neatly printed letters, was, to Adagio’s surprise, a familiar name.

Sugarcoat.

Oh great, I’m sharing a room with Sonata’s robot.

She turned the key and pushed open the door, revealing a small but comfortable room. It was furnished with a pair of writing desks, each with a comfortable looking chair, a pair of nearly identical dressers, one with some personal effects on top of it that Adagio assumed belonged to Sugarcoat, a wastepaper basket, a floor length mirror, a window with a thin purple curtain, and a set of bunk beds, the bottom of which was currently occupied.

Sugarcoat was sitting upright in her bed, her back against the headboard and her legs nestled beneath the purple comforter. She wasn’t wearing her Crystal Prep uniform, which, Adagio noticed, was folded neatly at the foot of her bed, and was, instead, wearing a modest pair of white pajamas decorated with a pale blue lattice pattern and trimmed with delicate looking lace. She peered up at Adagio from behind her orange framed glasses and blinked, acknowledging her presence, before returning her attention to a thick textbook.

What a warm welcome.

Adagio nodded to Sugarcoat (who was either too engrossed in her book to notice or, perhaps more likely, simply didn’t care) and without a word climbed the ladder to the top bunk. There she found her backpack containing her old clothes and what remained of her worldly possessions, as well as an unfamiliar package. Attached to the package was a note with equally unfamiliar handwriting.

Adagio,

I know moving to a new school can be tough, especially a school like Crystal Prep. The students here are all working hard to ensure they get the most out of the education we’re providing them, which might make them seem a little distant at first, but I’m sure it won’t be long before you’ve made a ton of new friends.

Sometimes it might feel like you’re being pushed too hard or that everything is too overwhelming. Studying is important, but these are the best years of your life, don’t forget to put down the books and live them every now and then!

Don’t tell Principle Cinch I wrote that. Actually, she would probably think that leaving personal notes to students would ‘sully her reputation’ so do me a favor and tear this up after you’ve read it, okay?

And remember, if you need anything, you can find my office in the main building in room 1002. Don’t be a stranger!

Have a wonderful first day at your new school,

Dean Cadance

P.S. I don’t know if you girls have lived in dorms before, so enclosed is a shower package. It has a towel, shampoo, conditioner, a pair of shower slippers, and some other essentials. Wear the slippers, you REALLY don’t want to walk barefoot in a public shower.

P.P.S. Seriously. Athlete’s foot is not a joke.

Well. That was… surprisingly nice. And generous. But mostly sappy (and a little pathetic). Adagio made a mental note to stay in Cadance’s good graces, having an authority figure on her side who wasn’t trying to manipulate her for her magic certainly seemed appealing. But for now…

Adagio yawned, placing the package at the foot of her bed, and began rooting through her backpack. She retrieved a long t-shirt and, not having noticed anywhere better to change, went about the laborious process of changing clothes atop the bunkbed. It would have been trivial if not for her aching muscles, but after a minute of fumbling about, Adagio’s uniform sat in a similar (but somewhat less organized) pile to Sugarcoat’s below.

Tossing her bag to one side, Adagio lay back on her bed, only to jerk back up as something sharp dug into her back. She patted the bed with her hand until she found the troublesome object, and held it up to the light to examine.

It was a shard of crystal. Dull, red, and jagged, it was a small fragment of one of the pendants that had given the Sirens their power. She turned it over in her fingers. It must have fallen out of my bag while I was changing, she thought, I’ll have to be more careful. It held none of the lustre (or the magic) that it once did, but Adagio never had the heart to get rid of it. The others had left their own pendants broken and discarded on the stage of the Battle of the Bands, but not her. Maybe, somewhere in the back of her mind, she still hoped it could be repaired.

She sighed. Retrieving her backpack now was more effort than she was willing to expend, so instead she deposited the crystal fragment carefully beneath her pillow and lay down.

It was strange. Adagio couldn’t remember the last time she had slept in a room without her fellow Sirens. It almost felt… lonely.

Don’t be stupid, Adagio, she thought, chastising herself. The girls were right across the hall. Besides, she finally had some peace and quiet, away from the constant bickering and complaining. It wasn’t as if she was going to miss Sonata’s obnoxious snoring.

But, staring up at the blank, white ceiling of her new dorm room, some small part of her did.

Chapter 2 - Highs and Lows

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When Adagio awoke the next morning, Sugarcoat was already gone.

Wrapped as she was in warm, comfortable sheets, and soothed by the soft, calming patter of raindrops on her window, she allowed herself a rare moment of tranquility.

A fleeting moment, as it turned out, that was promptly ruined by a loud knock at the door. Adagio jammed her eyes shut, hoping that whoever it was would move on so she could get a few more minutes of peace. But it was not to be; Adagio heard a second knock and resigned herself to the suffering that was the waking world.

And suffering it was. Every muscle in her body cried out in a symphony of pain as she forced herself to sit up. She tucked her uniform under her arm, along with the package Cadance had left her, and with great reluctance began the climb from the top bunk to the floor below.

It hurt every bit as much as she feared.

With her feet now firmly planted upon the floor, Adagio rubbed the sleep from her eyes and spared a glance at the mirror affixed to the wall. Staring back at her was a thin, grumpy looking girl wearing a ratty t-shirt that was a few sizes too large, and surrounded on all sized by cascades if poufy orange hair.

As a Siren in Equestria, Adagio had never understood why ponies put up with the hassle of caring for their manes. Fins were so much more manageable. But when she’d been banished to this world – the human world – and had a veritable mountain of bushy hair bestowed upon her, she found that she’d quickly changed her tune. Adagio liked her hair, it was one of her favorite features of her human body, second only to her fingers.

She might have been wrong about her perception of hair, but she was definitely correct about the hassle that came along with it. She sighed.

The sacrifices we make to stay beautiful. Is it really worth it? She gave herself an appraising look and smiled.

Definitely.

Another strike at her door brought Adagio’s vain thoughts to an abrupt end. “I’m coming,” she called, her voice dripping with irritation as she made her slow, agonizing way across the room and to the doorway. She pressed her eye to the peephole positioned at the door’s center and was greeted with the distorted visage of Aria Blaze, looking as impatient as she did disheveled.

Adagio smiled, opening the door and draping herself against it. Yes, it hurt, but Aria didn’t need to know that. “Good morning, Aria, how did you sleep?”

“Took you long enough,” said Aria. The dark bags under her eyes made Adagio’s aching muscles seem just a little more bearable. “I seriously don’t know if I hate Sonata more when she’s awake or when she’s sleeping.”

Behind her, Sonata worked diligently at decorating the pair’s whiteboard. She’d written both her own and Aria’s names, surrounded by small drawings of flowers and musical notes. Sonata was placing the finishing touches on a pair of stick figures, which Adagio quickly identified as Sonata’s own smiling self-image, and an angry depiction of Aria with harshly sloped brows and a set of big, pointy teeth.

Adagio giggled, despite herself.

Sonata placed the final stroke on her masterpiece and turned around. Catching Adagio’s eye, she beamed brightly. “Pretty good, right?”

Aria rolled her eyes. “I don’t look like that.”

“Do, too!” retorted Sonata, before turning her attention back to Adagio. “What do you say, ‘Dagi, want me to do yours, too?”

“I’ll pass,” said Adagio, waving her hand dismissively. “You didn’t wake me up to complain about Sonata’s snoring, did you, Aria?”

“I don’t snore!”

Aria’s palm slapped hard against her forehead. “Yes, you do,” she argued, for what was not the first and certainly would not be the last time, “and no, I didn’t. Look.”

Adagio followed Aria’s gesture down the hall where she noticed for the first time a line of over a dozen girls, each holding a uniform and assorted toiletries, stretching out the door to the bathroom.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Adagio.

“Right?” said Aria, crossing her arms.

Sonata looked at Adagio pleadingly. “We’re not going to have to wait in that line, are we?”

Adagio put her hands on her hips, a sinister smile painting itself across her features.

“Do we ever wait in line?”

The smile spread to Aria and Sonata, who fell in behind Adagio as she made her way toward the bathroom. Some girls gave them looks of suspicion as they strode past the line that formed up against the left wall, but most wore expressions of tired disinterest, doing their best not to fall asleep and lose their place in line.

Remembering Cadance’s warning about the horrors of athlete’s foot, Adagio slipped on the pair of shower slippers and entered the bathroom. A row of sinks lined one wall of the room, each paired with a mirror, clouded by the steam that filled the air, each attended by a girl brushing her teeth, washing her face, or fixing her hair or makeup. There was an assortment of bathroom stalls, and next to those were a trio of shower stalls, differentiated by the flowing shower curtains that covered enough of the stall to retain modesty, but still revealed the feet of whomever was inside, likely so outsiders could tell if the stall was occupied without any embarrassing incidents.

As the three Sirens approached the showers, a freckled girl with pink hair sporting a single streak of green moved to intercept them. “Oh my goodness, are you lost?” she said, her almost sickeningly sweet veneer dropping away immediately as she barred her teeth and snarled. “The line starts outside.”

“Oh, really?” replied Adagio, allowing her own faux concern to drop away with equal swiftness. “Because we just started a new one.” Aria and Sonata stepped forward, the three Sirens encircling the girl and cutting her off from the rest of the line. Her eyes darted between them rapidly, not unlike a cornered animal searching for a way out.

“By all means,” she said, the sarcasm in her voice clear even despite her pitiful attempt at sounding considerate. “It’s not like we’ve been waiting all morning!

Behind her, Adagio noticed as a girl wrapped in a towel vacated one of the showers. Seizing her chance, Adagio circled around the freckled girl and walked to the stall before anyone could stop her.

“Hear that, girls? This good Samaritan just offered us her place in line! Thank her for her generosity, won’t you?”

“You’re too kind,” said Aria, flipping her hair in the girl’s face as she passed. Sonata followed, nudging her with her hip.

“You snooze, you lose!”

The pair took up flanking positions on each side of Adagio’s stall as she gave the girl one last conceited smile, paired with a superfluous wink, and pulled the curtain closed. She could still hear the girl fuming from outside.

“What the hell, Sour Sweet?” came an outraged cry. “Why’d you let them cut?”

I didn’t–”

“First, she throws the Friendship Games, now this, what a–”

Adagio turned the nozzle and tuned them out with a torrent of hot water. She gave an ecstatic sigh – this was how things were supposed to be! Even without their powers, these humans couldn’t hold a candle to the sheer force of personality that was Adagio Dazzle, or either of the other Sirens, for that matter. The only thing that had stopped them at Canterlot High was Equestrian magic!

Adagio grit her teeth as she lathered shampoo into her voluminous hair. The hot water might have soothed her aching body, but it did little to loosen the all too familiar knot in her stomach. It couldn’t give her have even this tiny moment of triumph, could it? Not without reminding her of how she’d almost had it all.

And instead lost everything.

But it didn’t matter. Soon she’d have it all back and more, she just knew it. She’s been given a second chance, and she wasn’t going to let anyone stand in her way. Not the freckled girl, not Principle Cinch, not the Rainbooms…

Not even her fellow Sirens.

With the renewed conviction that can only be found beneath the nozzle of a hot, much needed shower, Adagio Dazzle was finally ready to face the waking world.

Her conviction died somewhere between the surprise math quiz and being assigned the six-page history paper.

Adagio leaned against a row of lockers outside the Crystal Prep Cafeteria. The Sirens chose the spot that morning after they’d been issued their schedules and discovered they’d been placed into separate classes. Neither Aria nor Sonata had arrived yet, so Adagio was left once again to question the actions of Abacus Cinch.

She might not have considered them her friends, but—as their encounter with the shower line that morning proved—they were a team, a packaged deal, so why was Cinch splitting them up? Did she not realize that they were stronger together, or did she have some ulterior motive?

Yes, as much as she was loathe to admit it, the Sirens had always been more powerful as a collective. That’s why she tolerated Aria’s complaining and Sonata’s stupidity, though sometimes she wondered if it was really worth it.

As if on cue, she spotted Sonata through the crowd of students shuffling into the cafeteria. She walked with her head down, shoulders slumped, and arms hanging loosely at her sides. She looked pathetic. With an inconvenienced sigh, Adagio left her position at the locker and approached Sonata, placing her index finger beneath the girls chin and tilting it up until they were face to face.

Sonata’s eyes were red, puffy, and glistened in the fluorescent light.

“Ugh, you haven’t been crying, have you?”

“No!” sniffed Sonata, defensively, pulling away from Adagio and wiping her eyes with her sleeve.

“Good. The last thing we need is for you to ruin our image on our first day.”

“But ‘Dagi,” whined Sonata, “this place is awful! The teacher asked me to answer a question about a book, but I hadn’t read the book, so I started talking about another book I’ve read, and then he got mad and was going to make me leave the class! And then I– I–”

Oh no, she’s going to start crying again.

Adagio placed a hand on Sonata’s shoulder, guiding her out of the crowd. The gesture seemed to have calmed Sonata somewhat—though Adagio merely intended to move her somewhere there would be less prying eyes—now she just looked defeated.

She sniffed again. “When you can’t feed on it, school sucks!”

Adagio couldn’t help but agree. Though being trapped in the bodies of teenagers certainly had its downsides, in the past school had not been one of them. The Sirens would move from town to town, school from school, stirring up turmoil and feeding on what they could. Teenage girls had always been Adagio’s favorites, sometimes they wouldn’t even have to cause trouble themselves, the girls were more than happy to create their own drama and start fights all on their own.

Come to think of it, perhaps it made sense that this world had made them into teenagers. Teenage girls were some of the most ruthless people in this world.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, my day hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk, either.”

“Yeah, it kind of does.”

Adagio rolled her eyes. Ruthless.

It was at that moment, through the sea of students, Adagio caught site of Aria’s signature purple hair. But to Adagio’s surprise, she wasn’t alone. Aria was walking with a pair of other girls, talking about something Adagio couldn’t make out over the awful din of the other students. But she wasn’t just talking. She was—Adagio had to rub her eyes to make sure she wasn’t seeing things—smiling!

Who are you, and what have you done with Aria?

Aria spared a few more unintelligible words with the other students, before breaking off and making her way towards her fellow Sirens.

“So,” said Adagio, examining her nails with forced disinterest, “looks like you made some friends.”

Aria’s smile died. “No, we were just talking. I don’t even know their names.”

“Good,” said Adagio, looking up from her nails. “Because we’re not here for that. We’re here to reclaim our magic, that’s all.”

“Ugh, I know. Lay off,” Aria said with a huff. Adagio smiled. Of course she hadn’t made any friends. Talking to Aria was chore at the best of times – if any of them would have made any ‘friends’ yet, it would have been her.

Not that she wanted to.

“Alright, girls, enough chatter, let’s get some food before this pitifully short lunch break is over.” Sonata clapped her hands together and Aria made a face of revulsion, and the three made haste to the cafeteria.

In comparison to that of Canterlot High, the Sirens’ entrance into the Crystal Prep Cafeteria was decidedly lackluster. No singing, no magic, and, worst of all, they weren’t afforded a second glance by the students within. They simply walked in like three ordinary high school students.

Ordinary. Adagio decided she hated the word.

There was no line waiting for them in the cafeteria, and it didn’t take them long to discover why: for all the school’s grandeur, the lunch menu was decidedly unremarkable. After reviewing the meager offerings, Adagio settled on an apple and moved on to secure a place for the three to sit. This proved to be more difficult than she had originally imagined, but after several long minutes of looking she was able to swoop in on a table just as another group left.

The apple was, somehow, even less appetizing than Adagio had expected – it was nothing compared to a true meal – and after a few bites she found that what little appetite she’d had was already used up. The other girls weren’t doing much better: across from her, Adagio watched Aria unenthusiastically pick away at a salad, while beside her Sonata – who had accepted the idea of human food with open arms (and mouth) – stared glumly at her plate.

“I miss ‘Taco Tuesday,’” she said glumly. Aria gave her an exasperated look.

“Sonata, it’s Monday.”

“Duh, it’s not the Tuesday I miss, it’s the tacos!”

Before Aria had a chance to respond, the cafeteria’s PA system crackled to life, bringing relative silence to the room.

Adagio Dazzle,” it said, “please report to room 1056. Adagio Dazzle, please report to room 1056. Thank you.

Adagio put her apple down and stood up suddenly, the scraping of the chair legs against the floor drawing some curious looks from nearby students.

“What’s that about?” asked Aria, cocking an eyebrow.

“I don’t know,” said Adagio, “but if it means I don’t have to listen to you two idiots argue, I don’t care.”

“Hey–”

“We’re not–”

But Adagio had already begun to walk away. She could still feel the eyes of the onlookers on her, hoping to catch a glimpse of some juicy drama, no doubt, and felt a wry smile tug at her lips. She couldn’t help it; any attention was better than no attention – and Equestria for bid she was starved for it – but it was, none the less, a poor substitute for what could have been.

And what’s going to be, she thought. With her power restored, this whole world would hang on her every word, and she’d have all the attention she would ever want. Sure, she still had to figure out how exactly to get to that point, but that was just semantics.

After a few wrong turns – she was still getting used to the school, after all – Adagio finally found herself standing before room 1056. The door itself was unremarkable to look at; however; it had a peculiar frame made from the same crystal that the school’s architect seemed so fond of, but was far more rough and jagged than the pillars in the atrium. It didn’t have a window like the doors to the classrooms, and if Adagio hadn’t been summoned here she might have assumed it was a janitor’s closet.

She paused. She wasn’t being brought to a janitor’s closet, was she?

Pushing the thought from her mind, Adagio grasped the doorknob and entered.

The room bore little resemblance to the school outside; it was poorly lit, dusty, and crammed full of strange machines Adagio had never seen the likes of. One wall was a cork board covered in a sea of paper, connected by a spider web of red string. A pair of desks sat on either side of the room, each a cluttered mess of books, papers, and computers, and bookshelves sat here and there crammed full of even more dusty tomes. A large, metal pipe ran up one side of the room and across the ceiling – lending credence to Adagio’s theory about this being a janitor’s closet – and standing in the middle of the cramped, disorderly chamber was none other than Principle Abacus Cinch.

“Adagio Dazzle,” she said, running a finger across one of the desks, leaving a trail in the dust. “You certainly took your time.”

“I’m sorry, I was just–”

“I’m not looking for excuses, Miss Dazzle, I was merely making an observation.”

Adagio’s eyes narrowed. So that’s how this was going to be. “Right, well, I’m here now… what am I doing here, exactly?”

“Straight to the point. This space used to belong to a former student of mine, the same former student who, in this very room, designed and constructed the device she used to store magic. The device I have tasked you will rebuilding.

“Her research has remained, for the most part, untouched. I suggest you begin here, and if you are in need of any additional resources you may bring them to my attention. The space itself will be yours to do with as you see fit, and you will find the key on the desk just over there. Do be careful, for it is the only copy – save for my own, of course.”

With a wave of her hand, Principle Cinch ushered Adagio over to the desk where she retrieved the small, unassuming iron key and tucked it into a pouch in her backpack.

“Thanks,” muttered Adagio, uncertainly.

“You’ll find that I can be very generous to those who impress me, Miss Dazzle, and I have gone to great lengths to provide you with the proper tools to exact our revenge upon the delinquents at Canterlot High.”

‘Our’ revenge. Keep telling yourself that.

Principle Cinch smeared the dust between her thumb and index finger, tutting in disapproval. When her gaze found its way back to Adagio her countenance had darkened considerably, almost as if she could hear the treasonous thoughts passing through the girl’s mind.

“But I have no intention of wasting my time. Crystal Prep is not a charity, nor do I believe in sticking out my neck for lost causes – I have a reputation to uphold. As such, the moment that this little project of ours begins to be more trouble than it is worth, I will not hesitate to throw you and your little friends back out onto the street. Do I make myself clear?”

Crystal,” said Adagio through gritted teeth.

“Good. You see, this morning I received the results of your examinations. Expedient, I know, but you will soon learn that Crystal Prep runs like a well-oiled machine. But a machine can only be as strong as its weakest piece, and I’m afraid to say that this machine’s weakest piece is you.”

Adagio blanched. “M–me?”

“I must say I am extremely disappointed in your performance, Miss Dazzle, rarely am I so mistaken when assessing a student. Your grades, both on the physical and academic sections, would be barely acceptable in a public school, let alone an institution such as this. When I told you that you would be held to the same standards as all the other students at this school it was not an idle threat; so as of this moment you may consider yourself on academic probation.”

Adagio stared at her in stunned silence, all the while Principle Cinch’s cold eyes bore into her own. After nearly a minute had passed, Principle Cinch decided she’d waited long enough for a response, and continued.

“You will have until the end of midterm examinations – that is to say, three weeks – to bring your grades up to Crystal Prep standards, or our deal will be broken and I shall see to it that you are removed from the premises. Permanently.”

“Three weeks?” Adagio stammered. “But that’s—you can’t do this! You need us!”

Cinch’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Do I? Make no mistake, Miss Dazzle, that while your experience with magic is without a doubt an asset to our little project, it is by no means a prerequisite. Our work will carry on with or without you.

“But I remain hopeful that it won’t come to that. I saw potential in you when we first met: you have the same spirit I see in all my students, it is what separates us from the uncultured masses beyond our walls. You have the potential to be among the greatest students to ever pass through the halls of Crystal Prep, and it would be a great shame to see you squander it.”

Principle Cinch began her exit of the room, passing Adagio and stopping at the door. Adagio didn’t turn around.

“I understand you have a free period. It is my recommendation that you heed my advice and use this time to your advantage. Or don’t, it’s up to you, but perhaps Miss Aria Blaze will prove to be more receptive to my offer.”

And then she was gone.

Adagio stood alone in the dark room. Her heart was pounding in her ears, her shoulders were hunched, her fists were clenched so tightly that her nails dug painfully into the flesh of her palms and her knuckles were beginning to turn white. Her breathing was quick and labored, and her eyes stung. The knot in her stomach threatened to tear her apart from within.

Her mind raced. What was wrong with that woman? Was this some sort of cruel joke? Take them in, offer them everything, and then pull the rug out from beneath them?

Another wave of anger surged over her. She whirled around, slamming her fist onto the nearest flat surface. The desk shook, its contents scattered and something fell to the floor with a crash. Pain shot up her arm and Adagio cried out. She punched the desk again. And again. And, though her bloodied fist soon became numb to the pain, it did little to ease the fury within.

She felt something wet on her cheek and hastily wiped it away. Sweat, probably.

Her assault on the desk had jostled the computer from its long slumber, and from its monitor a stupid, purple-and-green dog stared at her with its dumb, idiot face. Her anger flared, and she prepared to drive her fist through the screen, when she was interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Hello?” It was a familiar voice, wracked with concern. “Are you alright in there? I’m coming in.”

Adagio looked over her shoulder at the door as Cadance entered.

“Adagio?” she asked. “Is that you?”

Adagio looked away. “What are you doing here? Did Principle Cinch send you here to check on me?”

“What?” she sounded confused. “No, a student came to my office and told me they heard someone in here. I thought… well, it doesn’t matter what I thought. How did you get in here? This room is supposed to be locked.”

“Cinch gave me a key,” said Adagio, “right before she put me on ‘Academic probation.’”

“Before she did what? On your first day? Honestly, that woman… what was she thinking?”

Adagio didn’t respond. A few moments passed and Adagio felt Cadance’s hand on her shoulder. She flinched away, reflexively.

“Adagio… are you alright?”

“Am I alright?” Adagio felt something within her snap. She spun to face Cadance, who took a step back. Something was coming over her. “Of course I’m not alright! It’s been one day, Cadance, one! And I’ve already screwed it all up.”

She laughed a grim, joyless laugh. “But that’s hardly a surprise, is it? I screw everything up. Just ask Aria, she’ll tell you. I’m a walking, talking calamity, and every time I think I can’t fall any further the ground breaks away beneath me and I find myself on a whole other level of failure.”

The room was quiet in the wake of Adagio’s outburst. Cadance’s shocked expression softened back into concern, and after several long minutes she spoke.

“It isn’t as bad as all that, is it?”

“It sure seems that way” Adagio replied, bitterly.

“Well, for starters, you’re here, aren’t you? Crystal Prep is the best school in the state – probably the country! – and you were accepted. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

Adagio scoffed. “And I’m about to be kicked out.”

“No, you’re not,” Cadance corrected. “You’re on probation. There’s still time to turn things around. Most kids – er, young adults – who fail our entrance exam don’t get a second chance. You’re special, Adagio, I can see it, and Principle Cinch must see it too, otherwise she wouldn’t be giving you this chance.”

You don’t know the half of it, thought Adagio. “You’re just trying to make me feel better.”

“Is it working?”

“No,” she lied. Even though Cadance didn’t know half the story, Adagio none the less found a small amount of comfort in her words. Cadance must have sensed this, because a smile crept back onto her face. It suited her.

“Okay,” Cadance said, “that’s a start. So, did Principle Cinch say how long you had to get your grades up?”

“Three weeks.”

“That’s… not a lot of time. But it’s more than we need, if you’re willing to put the work in.” Cadance looked her square in the eyes. “Are you?”

“I…” She looked at the floor. This was stupid, no one could learn an entire curriculum in three weeks. And yet… “I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

“That’s not what I asked,” said Cadance. “I can help you, Adagio, but I need to know that you want to help yourself. The fact that you’re still talking to me is a good start, but I need to hear you say it.”

“Okay.”

“’Okay’ what?” prodded Cadance.

“’Okay’ I’ll do it. I’ll put in the work. I’ll get my grades up.” I’ll get my magic back. I’ll crush Abacus Cinch and the Rainbooms.

“That’s the spirit!” said Cadance, clapping her hands together. “I knew you’d come around.”

“Whatever,” said Adagio. “So, where do we start?”

“We start by taking you to the nurse’s office and getting that hand looked at. Getting upset and punching walls isn’t healthy.”

“It was a desk,” Adagio muttered.

“Not the point,” chastised Cadance. “Don’t hit anything – or anyone, for that matter. And as for what comes next, well, I’ve got an idea. I’ll have to make a phone call, but if everything works out like I’m hoping then you’ll be well on your way to acing those midterms!”

Adagio felt a little excitement stir within her. She couldn’t help it; Cadance’s enthusiasm was infectious – she might have hated it if she didn’t need it so desperately.

“A phone call? To who?”

“I’d rather not say until things are one hundred percent sorted,” said Cadance, mysteriously. “I wouldn’t want to make a promise I can’t keep. So, until then, you’re just going to have to trust me.”

Chapter 3 - Adapt and Learn

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Adagio Dazzle hadn’t been expecting much when Cadance dropped her off at the nurse’s office, but she certainly wasn’t prepared for Nurse Tough Love.

He was the opposite of everything she imagined a nurse to be: a towering behemoth of a man with arms the size of tree trunks and the bedside manner of a corpse, one could almost be forgiven for believing him a Minotaur escaped from Equestria. His rippling form was packed comically into the tight white uniform he wore, matched only in absurdity by the tiny nurse’s cap perched precariously upon his head.

Tough Love took one look at Adagio’s bloodied knuckles and pointed a meaty finger towards a cot in the corner. “Go,” he said, “sit.”

Adagio did as she was told, unsure whether to be frightened by the hulking nurse or amused by him. She climbed up onto the bunk and crossed her legs, watching as he tipped a bottle of some unknown fluid onto a cotton swab and approached her. With one hand, he took hold of Adagio’s wrist, and with the other he gently dabbed the swab against her wound.

It stung. Adagio hissed and tried to pull away, but was held fast by the nurse’s firm grip. She bit down hard on her lip and tried to lock eyes with her captor in some small show of defiance against the pain he was inflicting upon her, but Tough Love’s full attention was on her hand.

After several agonizing minutes, he released her and disposed of the swab. Adagio watched him bitterly as he rooted through a cupboard, probably looking for some fresh implement to torture her with.

“You could have warned me,” she said, cradling her wrist in her good hand.

“Could have,” Tough Love replied. He turned back towards her holding a roll of bandages. Adagio knew what was coming, and what’s more, she knew there was very little she could do to get out of it. She sighed and held out her arm. Tough Love began his work.

“Ouch, that’s tight!” she whined.

“Supposed to be,” he said, unmoved.

As before, Tough Love was solemn as he went about his work. His fingers worked with surprising deftness, and before long Adagio was flexing her fingers and examining the pristine white bandage that encased them.

“Is that it? Am I good to go?” she moved to stand, but was stopped abruptly by a colossal hand clapping down on her shoulder. It was like running into a wall.

“You wait for Cadance,” grunted Tough Love.

“Well, I know where her office is, so I’ll just…” Adagio’s words died in her throat when she caught Tough Love’s dour expression. She sighed. There was no helping it. “…stay here, I guess.”

He nodded in approval, removing his hand from her shoulder and pulling a blue privacy curtain closed around her cot. “You wait,” he said. “You heal.”

She heard his lumbering steps cross the small office and the whine of metal as he collapsed into a chair designed for someone half his size. Adagio stared blankly at the curtain for a moment, before lying back on the bunk in resignation.

With no way to tell the time and nothing better to do than to stare at the ceiling and wait for Cadance’s return, Adagio couldn’t help but to reflect on her first day at Crystal Prep. ‘Disaster’ was one way of putting it; already she was behind on her classes and on the verge of being thrown out, and worse she hadn’t made any progress on reclaiming her lost magic.

What had she expected? The thought crept from the back of her mind. Abacus Cinch had made it clear what she’d expected of the Sirens when first they’d met, so what was the problem?

Abacus Cinch. Adagio could feel her blood pressure rise at the thought of her. Expectations or no, drawing Adagio away from her fellow Sirens and ambushing her – threatening her – was unacceptable. One did not simply threaten Adagio Dazzle; they served her, worshipped her, bent to her every whim and fancy. That Abacus Cinch had the audacity to consider her expendable proved once more how far the Sirens had fallen.

But what bothered her even more than the principal’s insolence was that it had gotten her. Abacus Cinch had tested her resolve and she’d failed. But not only had she failed, she’d flown off the handle like an impetuous child. Looking back on it she felt embarrassed with herself, and yet the anger and frustration were still fresh in her mind.

She groaned and closed her eyes. What am I going to do with myself?

Well, for starters, she’d placed herself at the whim of Dean Cadance. Adagio frowned. She had accepted Cadance’s help in a moment of vulnerability, and now she waited idly for her return so she might be further embroiled in her mysterious plan. Adagio didn’t like it. Amongst the Sirens she was the leader, the planner, but since she’d first entered the halls of Crystal Prep Academy everything she’d done had been at the behest of someone else. It felt as if she was losing her agency. But if Cadance was truly trying to help her, was that such a terrible thing? Would it hurt to be a little adaptable?

Adagio pressed her palms against her eyes. All this introspection was giving her a headache.

From beyond the sanctuary of her curtain, Adagio heard a knock at the door. She listened as Tough Love lifted himself from his chair (its creaking sounded almost like a sigh of relief) and made his way over to answer it, and was surprised when she didn’t hear Cadance’s annoyingly cheerful voice.

Or any voice, for that matter.

But someone had come in, Adagio could hear the clicking of heels on the office floor and the rustling of Tough Love going through one of the many cabinets, but no conversation passed between him and the newcomer.

Intrigued, Adagio strained her ears in an attempt to better identify the newcomer. It was futile, of course, she’d barely been at Crystal Prep for a day and there were probably hundreds of students she hadn’t even seen¸ but anything was better than the pity party she’d been throwing for herself, so she continued.

Listening closely, Adagio heard what sounded like someone fumbling with paper, followed by a ripping noise, and then… tape?

“For your glasses,” came the gruff voice of Tough Love, as if in answer to her nonverbal question.

That was all Adagio could take. Her curiosity (and boredom) overwhelming her, she couldn’t help but take a peek. Sliding the curtain aside ever so slightly, Adagio peered out into the office proper and – to her great surprise – discovered that she did, indeed, recognize the mysterious newcomer.

Sugarcoat stood in the center of the nurse’s office, squinting and holding her glasses aloft as Tough Love nimbly wrapped a piece of clear tape around their bridge. On her left brow, Adagio noticed a thin bandage and some slight bruising that had not been there the day before. Had Sugarcoat fallen? Or, perhaps, been pushed?

With Sugarcoat’s glasses mended, Adagio ducked back behind the curtain before her snooping could be discovered. She’d have to remember to ask her about it later, but if Sugarcoat’s interaction with Tough Love were any indication, Adagio doubted she’d get much out of her.

Another minute or so passed in relative silence before the rattling of the doorknob heralded Sugarcoat’s exit, and after another ten or fifteen Cadance finally made her return. Tough Love slid open the curtain and watched with his usual stoic expression as Adagio hopped off the bed and followed Cadance out of the office.

The halls of Crystal Prep were largely devoid of students. That wasn’t much of a surprise – who in their right mind would stick around and wander the halls after school had ended? – and it allowed the pair to speak candidly without worry of being overheard as Cadance lead them to an unknown destination.

“So,” she said, “what did you think of Nurse Tough Love?”

“He… wasn’t what I expected.”

Cadance laughed. “He looks more like a gym teacher than a nurse, doesn’t he? But he knows his stuff, and it seems like he did a good job on your bandage.”

Adagio shrugged and took another close look at her hand. “How long am I supposed to keep this on for, anyway?”

“He didn’t say?”

“He wasn’t much of a talker.”

“Hmm,” Cadance rubbed her chin. “You’ll have to ask him tomorrow at lunch. We’ve got to move if we don’t want to be late!”

Adagio raised an eyebrow. “Late for what?”

“I found you a tutor!”

Adagio groaned. The last thing she wanted to do was to lower herself to asking another student for help, and would have outright refused if it weren’t for the little voice in her head reminding her to be adaptable.

“Oh, don’t be like that,” said Cadance. “There’s nothing wrong with needing a tutor, in fact I’m trying to kickstart a tutoring program right here at Crystal Prep!”

“First, I do not need a tutor. I’m just… exploring my options. And second, if there’s no tutoring program, how’d you find me a tutor?”

“I have my ways,” said Cadance with a wink. The pair reached Crystal Prep’s main entrance and opened the door. The morning’s light rain had evolved into a full-on downpour, and the two paused while Cadance produced a gaudy pink umbrella. “She’s a former Crystal Prep student whom I’m still on good terms with. I told her I had a student who could use a little help getting their grades up, and she was more than happy to oblige. Now squeeze in!”

Cadance beckoned to Adagio who reluctantly joined her beneath the umbrella, and together they stepped out into the storm. Things seemed to be going alright in their trek across the parking lot, until a sudden gust of wind buffeted the duo, turning their umbrella inside out and sending them into a mad dash through the downpour.

“There!” shouted Cadance over the cacophony of wind and rain. “Black car, lights on!” She fumbled in her purse as she ran, quickly locating her car keys and unlocking the vehicle with a push of a button and a telltale chirp. Neither of them wasted any time opening their doors, and were welcomed by a wall of warm air and heated seats.

Cadance let out a sigh of relief. “Remote start really is a miracle of modern technology,” she said. “You’re probably too young to appreciate how good you’ve got it these days.”

“Whatever you say, old-timer,” said Adagio, wringing out her hair.

Cadance laughed. “I walked into that one, didn’t I?” She checked her mirrors and put the key in the ignition. “Buckle up, Adagio.”

Adagio watched her skeptically as Cadance did up her own seatbelt and gave her a pointed look.

“I’m serious, this car isn’t going anywhere until all its occupants are safely buckled in!”

Adagio relented. The polyester belt rubbed against her neck uncomfortably, and when Cadance noticed this she leaned over her and performed some adjustments that made it fit a little better, as well as moving her seat closer to the dashboard. All the fussing made Adagio feel like a child.

“There we go,” said Cadance, checking her mirrors again before starting the car’s engine and pulling out of the parking spot. Adagio found herself staring out the passenger’s side window, lulled into a state of relaxation by the pitter-patter of the raindrops and the warmth of the seat beneath her.

“So, where are we meeting this mysterious former student of yours?”

“The Canterlot Public Library; have you ever been there?”

Adagio shook her head.

“I suppose that’s not a surprise, libraries aren’t as popular for studying as they used to be. I really am showing my age today, aren’t I? Anyway, I figured it would be a good neutral location for you to meet, and it’s got some nice, private study rooms where you can get your work done in peace. Plus, she was already there.”

“She hangs out at a library?”

“Don’t judge! She’s got a healthy interest in learning – that’s part of the reason I thought of asking her for help.”

Adagio shrugged. “I suppose.”

The remainder of the trip was relatively uneventful. Adagio passed the time gazing once more out her window, transfixed by the endless grey sky above. It was peaceful.

Eventually, the car slowed to a stop outside what Adagio could only assume was the Canterlot Public Library. It was quite the spectacle to behold: rows of stone steps, flanked triumphantly by large, equine statues, lead to a building that might have fit better in Equestria than in this world. Ornate pillars surrounded a grand entranceway, and overhead, carved in ornate lettering, was a sentence written in a language Adagio didn’t understand.

“Not bad, huh?” said Cadance. “It says ‘The Gateway to Understanding’ …or something like that. My Latin is a little rusty.”

Looking at the building, Adagio couldn’t help but feel a slight twang of nostalgia. She forced it away, wincing slightly as she felt the knot in her stomach tighten. Now wasn’t the time for homesickness.

“It’s… big,” she said. Ugh, ‘it’s big?’ who are you, Sonata?

“Anyway, you’ll find her on the third floor in study-room six. She’s expecting you, so you can just walk right in.”

Adagio cocked an eyebrow. “You’re not coming?”

“I’d just get in your way. Besides, I’ve got a hot date.” She winked. Adagio rolled her eyes. “I do!” insisted Cadance. “Fine, believe what you want, either way I’ll be back in a few hours to pick you up. If you give me your phone number I can text you when I’m outside.”

Adagio stared at her blankly. “I don’t have a phone.”

Cadance’s brow furrowed and she looked at Adagio in confusion. “I’m sorry?”

“I don’t have a phone.”

“Really?”

Adagio crossed her arms in irritation.

“Sorry,” said Cadance, “I just thought that every girl your age had a cellphone. Weird! Well, we’ll figure something out. And I can work on getting you a phone with the school’s plan, if you’d like. One of the many privileges of attending the best school in the country. Think of it as another incentive to getting those grades up!”

Adagio shrugged. “I guess.”

“If you keep shrugging like that your arms are going to fall off. Now, take the umbrella, the wind’s died down a bit and the librarian might kill you if you track water all over the floor. There you go, study hard, and try to have fun!”

Adagio accepted the umbrella that Cadance was practically forcing into her hands, opened it, and stepped out into the rain. As Cadance had predicted, the wind had died down significantly, and after a couple of initial cautious steps, Adagio now made her way swiftly up the stone steps, not wanting to push her luck. When she’d made it half way, she was startled by the honk of a car horn. Turning around, she saw Cadance waving at her from the window below. She shook her head, returned the wave halfheartedly, before continuing back up the stairs, passing a blue haired gentleman similarly armed with an umbrella. He was waving, too.

Idiot, thought Adagio, cattily, he thinks she’s waving at him.

She continued up the steps, managing to make it inside without any further trouble from the weather. The interior of the building was much as she expected of a library: dozens of rows of shelves each packed with innumerable books as far as the eye could see, each sorted into their own section and again by the name of the author. The volume was staggering – humans were no less prolific in their writing than ponies, that was for certain. On her left, an older man with thinning white hair and thick glasses manned a station labeled ‘check in/out.’ Not eager to make the acquaintance of yet another strange human, and still having to meet her mysterious tutor, Adagio elected to find her way to the third floor on her own.

There was something strange about the library. All the lights were on, and everything seemed well maintained, and yet it felt empty. Abandoned. In her search for the staircase Adagio didn’t encounter a single soul amongst the many rows of books. Occasionally felt the sensation of someone watching her, but when she’d turn around she’d find only the hollow gaze of an author’s portrait, peering at her from its place on the back of a thick tome.

Eventually, she did find the staircase, alongside the large, obvious sign indicating its location. Adagio chastised herself for not seeing it earlier, before mounting yet another set of stairs. She noted that the pain in her legs, while still present, was much more bearable than it had been that morning – at least compared to the dull throbbing pain of her knuckles, anyway.

The third floor wasn’t at all like the ground floor below. It was a series of hallways and doors marked with plain numbers. The halls could have come straight from any nondescript school or office building in the world, and did little to convey the grandeur and elegance that the building’s exterior projected in spades.

But at least it was easy to navigate.

As she approached door number six, a nagging feeling of apprehension came over her, and as much as she tried to force it away it clung stubbornly at the back of her mind. She reached for the door knob, but hesitated.

Come on, Adagio, get a hold of yourself!

She was right – she was being stupid. Today had already been an unmitigated disaster, what else could possibly go wrong? So, closing her eyes and imagining the worst possible outcome, Adagio walked through door number six and opened her eyes.

But, to her horror, everything remained the same.

“Hello,” said the voice from her nightmares, “you’re Adagio Dazzle, right?”

Adagio’s blood froze and her breath caught in her throat, the knot in her stomach doubled in size. She was dumbstruck, unable to respond. The door clicked closed behind her.

“Cadance told me you transferred to Crystal Prep from Canterlot High.”

This can’t be happening.

“That’s so funny! I recently transferred to CHS from Crystal Prep, we must have just missed each other!”

Cadance’s former student, she’s…

“But where are my manners? I haven’t even introduced myself!”

Adagio had recovered just enough from the initial shock to finally respond. “There’s no need,” she said, the ice in her veins translating directly into her tone. “I know who you are, Twilight Sparkle.”

Color drained from Twilight’s face, and a tense silence fell over the room.

What a farce! Adagio couldn’t help but marvel at the absurdity of it all. Once again, she’d sunk to her lowest point, only to find a whole new world of low hidden underneath. And of course it was Twilight Sparkle! Her old foe back to snatch her magic away once again – she couldn’t have written it better! One big cosmic joke, and it was all at her expense, but Adagio wouldn’t stick around to be laughed at. She turned to leave.

“Wait!” Adagio looked back. Twilight Sparkle had jumped up from her chair, which teetered precariously before falling over backwards with a crash. Twilight flinched at the sound, but continued. “We’ve met, haven’t we?”

“Oh, we’ve met!” the words exploded out of her with more intensity than Adagio had intended, but she didn’t care. “We met, and then you proceeded to ruin my life!

Twilight winced. “Ruined your life?”

“Yes,” spat Adagio, “ruined my life. And I won’t stand here and be taunted about it!” She grabbed the door knob with her good hand.

“Where are you going?”

“Anywhere but here!” She felt a tug on her other hand and a fresh burst of pain from beneath her bandages. Twilight – in a surprising burst of speed – had skirted around the table that took up much of the small room’s limited space, and grabbed her hand. Adagio snatched it away, resisting the urge to slap her for her audacity (and fearing repercussions in the form of another beam of celestial light). “What is your problem?”

“It wasn’t me!” pleaded Twilight. Adagio gawked at her incredulously, then turned the knob. “Please, just listen!” she grabbed Adagio again, this time missing the bandage and wrapping her hands around the bare flesh of Adagio’s forearm. Her hands were warm and soft, her grip firm but not painful. Adagio was so shocked by her continued defiance that, once again, she was at a loss for words. Misinterpreting this as a cue, Twilight continued.

“This is going to be hard to believe – I still don’t really believe it myself – but the Twilight Sparkle you met isn’t me. She’s, uh, well – this is going to sound crazy, but I swear I’m not crazy – uhm, the thing is–”

“Spit it out, Sparkle!”

“She’s my magical-pony-princess-doppelganger from the enchanted land of–”

Equestria,” finished Adagio.

“Equestria,” said Twilight. Her eyes widened. “You’ve heard of it – you’ve heard of it!”

“You could say that.”

“Of course you’ve heard if it, you went to CHS! Every time I talk about it I’m afraid someone’s going to roll up in a black van and drag me away – but you’ve heard of it!” Adagio could see the wave or relief washing over Twilight. “The Twilight you met was the Equestrian version, I’m the one native to this world. We’re almost exactly alike – well, sort of: she’s a princess, but we don’t really have princesses in the same way, I wear glasses but she’s got perfect vision, and she liked to wear her hair down while I prefer to–”

“Twilight Sparkle,” interjected Adagio.

Twilight blinked. “Yes?”

“First, let go of me. Second, be quiet, I need to… I don’t know. Process this.”

“Oops, sorry!” Twilight took her hands off Adagio’s arm and took a step back, but her eyes never left Adagio’s. The pair stared at each other, the small room silent save for the sound of their breathing. Adagio’s mind raced. This was Twilight Sparkle, but not the same Twilight Sparkle, Adagio could see that now. But it wasn’t just the hair and the glasses: there was something different about the way she held herself. This girl didn’t have the stage-filling presence of her Equestrian counterpart, nor the aura of leadership. When Adagio thought back to the winged form of Princess Twilight Sparkle, held aloft by Equestrian Magic and tearing down everything Adagio had worked so hard to build, she felt nothing but revulsion. But when she considered the deep, glistening eyes of the girl who now stood before her, she felt…

…Something different.

Adagio took her hand off the knob. She was crazy to be considering this, right? Her instincts told her to leave, to flee from anything and everything that held the name ‘Twilight Sparkle’ until she was ready to bring about her revenge. And yet a seed of an idea had planted itself in her mind. Cadance had said that this Twilight was smart, and not only that, but she was eager to help. Eager. She could feel the seed sprouting in her mind. It was a cosmic comedy alright, but this time she’d be the one telling the jokes. One Twilight to deliver her from another… it was too perfect!

But it wouldn’t be easy. She was still Twilight Sparkle, after all, which probably meant there was a goody-two-shoes hiding in there, somewhere. She couldn’t let Twilight find out who she was – what she was – or risk ruining everything. The fact that she didn’t already recognize Adagio’s name was a good start, it meant the buzz surrounding the Battle of the Bands must have died down somewhat already. That meant there was a chance. She could already feel the knot loosening in her stomach.

“So?” probed Twilight, tentatively. “What do you think?”

“I think…” began Adagio, “…that I’m willing to give this arrangement a chance.”

“Yes!” cheered Twilight. She opened her mouth to continue, but Adagio cut her off.

“But I have a condition: this stays between you and me – between Adagio Dazzle and Twilight Sparkle. Not Princess Twilight Sparkle, not Twilight Sparkle’s CHS classmates, just us.” She chose her next words carefully. “There was some unpleasantness at Canterlot High, that’s why I transferred out. I was hoping for a fresh start, an opportunity to start over without all the baggage and drama of everyone expecting me to act a certain way… You know what I mean?”

Twilight cast her gaze to the floor. “Yeah, I have an idea.”

“Good, then you understand why I want to keep this under wraps. If people hear you’re tutoring me, they might try to color your opinion of me. They won’t believe someone like me can change, and they definitely won’t want you helping me. They might even try to stop you”

Twilight frowned. “I can’t imagine the students at CHS would do something like that… but okay. My lips are sealed. If you’re willing to take the girl who has a similar-yet-not-identical face to the girl who ‘ruined your life’ as a tutor, then I’m more than willing to have you as a tutee.”

Adagio smiled, doing her best to keep the wickedness from seeping into it. “I’m willing to try.”

“Wonderful!” Twilight clapped her hands together, before extending one towards Adagio. “Let’s give this meeting a second chance, shall we? Call it a mulligan.” She cleared her throat. “My name is Twilight Sparkle, and I’m your new tutor.” It sounded like she’d rehearsed that line before Adagio had arrived. It was almost endearing.

Almost.

“Hello, Twilight Sparkle,” she replied, taking Twilight’s hand in her own. “My name is Adagio Dazzle, and I’m here to learn.”

Chapter 4 - Conflict

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The remainder of Adagio’s first session with Twilight Sparkle had been mostly unproductive. The two girls had agreed that, after the whirlwind of drama and coincidence that had been their initial meeting, it was unlikely they would get much actual studying done that day. Instead, they decided to meet at the library again the following day – Cadance permitting – and spent the rest of their time talking.

It had been surreal. The more she’d spoke to this world’s Twilight Sparkle, the more separate she became from her pony-princess counterpart, and by the time they’d parted ways that evening Adagio had formed a firm mental divide between the two.

She supposed that it wasn’t all that surprising. After all, she’d barely spoken to the other Twilight Sparkle – never even addressed her as an individual separate from her hated ‘Rainbooms.’ Since her defeat, she’d built Twilight Sparkle up in her head as less of a person, and more some magic-stealing tyrant (she’d done the same with Sunset Shimmer, of course, but the rest sort of just blended together in her mind). But this Twilight Sparkle was a real, actual person, who loved math, science, history, and literature. She loved them so much that she was more than willing to teach Adagio everything she was willing to learn.

Which she would then use to crush those who stood in her way. The irony was delectable.

But that wasn’t all she’d learned while she and Twilight talked; amongst useless tidbits of her life at CHS, Twilight had let slip that the other Twilight had returned to Equestria – perhaps permanently!

It had taken all Adagio’s force of will to keep from cheering. While some small part of her lamented the chance to crush Twilight along with the rest of the Rainbooms, a much larger part knew that, without their leader, they would be little more than a speedbump on the road to Adagio’s ascension. She was practically giddy. Earlier that day she’d though everything was falling apart when, in fact, it was all falling into place!

When finally it came time for them to part, Adagio had left in high spirits. Cadance must have sensed the shift in her demeanor, because when Adagio stepped into her car she was met with a smug smile.

“So, how did it go?”

Adagio put on her best aloof expression, but none the less felt an upward tug at the edges of her mouth. “It was alright, how was your date?”

“Oh no,” said Cadance, undeterred, “we’re talking about you, not me. How did it go?”

“You know, it’s not very professional for a teacher to nag a student like this.” Adagio countered.

“I’ll have you know that I am a Dean, and as such my number one priority is the safety and wellbeing of all the students who attend and have attended Crystal Prep. No more excuses – spill!”

“Fine, fine. It was… good,” said Adagio with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Kind of awkward at first, but by the end we were getting along quite well. We were planning to get together again tomorrow, if that’s alright with you.”

“Of course it’s alright! I can give you a drive tomorrow, but if this becomes a regular thing we’re going to have to get you a bus pass. Drop by my office tomorrow afternoon and we can get it set up.” The car stopped at a red light, and Cadance turned to look at Adagio. “I’m glad it went well, and I’m glad you girls got along. Before you know it, you’ll be top of your class!”

Adagio blushed. “We’ll see.” She didn’t want to get her hopes up too high, but with how well everything had turned out it was hard not to be optimistic. And it wasn’t as if being top of the class really mattered, not once she got her magic back, anyway, but the idea of being on top of anything felt good. She was tired of losing.

The rest of the car ride went uneventfully, and before long they found themselves pulling up outside the dormitory building. They said their goodbyes, and Adagio was preparing to get out of the vehicle, when Cadance stopped her.

“One last thing,” she said, her tone lacking much of its familiar pep. “I mentioned yesterday about how the students – and faculty – are still out of sorts about what happened at the Friendship Games.”

“You did,” said Adagio, her curiosity piqued.

“Well, Twilight was there, and she’s part of the reason the games ended up in a draw. So, like how I suggested not bringing up your time at CHS, maybe consider not bringing up Twilight’s name, at least for now, and especially not around Principle Cinch.” That got Adagio’s attention – anything that she could use against Abacus Cinch was on top of her list of priorities. She cocked an eyebrow, but it appeared Cadance had said everything she intended to on the subject, as indicated by the sound of the electronic locks releasing.

“Better get inside before the rain picks up again,” said Cadance. “You can drop off the umbrella when I see you tomorrow.”

“Are you sure?” posed Adagio, but Cadance waved her off.

“I’m sure. See you tomorrow!” And with that, Cadance’s car peeled out, leaving Adagio alone in the rain and the dark.

The walk to the dormitory was a short one and, with a mind occupied by the world of possibilities that had opened up that evening, Adagio found herself outside the door to her room before she knew it. She paused before opening it, looking over her shoulder towards the room that belonged to Sonata and Aria. There was a smudge on their whiteboard where the caricature of Aria had been that morning, and Adagio imagined she could hear the faint sounds of an argument coming from within.

Should I tell them?

Her gaze lingered on the whiteboard a moment longer before she turned away. What would she even tell them? That Abacus Cinch had threatened her place at Crystal Prep? That she’d spent her afternoon with this world’s Twilight Sparkle?

No, she couldn’t tell them. Sonata wouldn’t understand, and Aria would just use it as another opportunity to question her leadership. Adagio had more than enough to deal with without adding an insurrection from her fellow Sirens, and thus made the decision to keep it – the probation, the tutoring, and Twilight Sparkle – a secret.

The idea sat poorly with her. Had she ever kept a secret from them before? If she had, she couldn’t remember doing so. But this was necessary, she told herself, and in three weeks when she passed her midterms and her arrangement with Twilight Sparkle was at its end, maybe then she could tell them the truth. But, for now, this was how things had to be.

The decision made, Adagio unlocked the door to her own room and entered. Inside, Sugarcoat was seated at her desk, reading by the light of an electric lamp. She looked up, fumbled with something on the desk, and held it out towards Adagio.

“I found this on the floor,” she said. Pressed between her thumb and index finger was a familiar shard of red crystal. “What is it?”

Adagio’s heard stopped. Without thinking she snatched the crystal shard from Sugarcoat’s grasp, cradling it covetously in her palm. Once she’d determined that it was unharmed – that is to say, no more broken than it was before – she turned back to Sugarcoat, who was watching her intently.

“It’s… part of a necklace.” It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the whole truth, either. “It meant a lot to me – still does, I guess.”

“If it means a lot to you, then you shouldn’t leave it on the floor,” said Sugarcoat, matter-of-factly. She reached out and grabbed a tissue from a box on her desk, daintily dabbing it against the tip of her thumb, leaving behind tiny splotches of blood.

Adagio frowned. “Did I do that when I grabbed the crystal?” Sugarcoat nodded. “Oh, er, I’m… I didn’t mean to–” Adagio hung her head and looked the other way. “Sorry,” she muttered.

She wasn’t sorry, of course, it just felt like the right thing to say.

Sugarcoat shrugged. “You didn’t do it on purpose,” she said, and held up her thumb for Adagio to see. The bleeding had stopped. “See? It’s fine.”

Adagio looked from her thumb back to her face, her gaze coming to rest on her brow. The bruising had gone down significantly, but little white bandage remained. “What happened there?” she asked.

“Someone tripped me in the hall,” replied Sugarcoat, her expression unreadable. “That was on purpose.”

“Did you see who did it?” Sugarcoat nodded. Adagio tapped her foot impatiently. “And?”

“Her name was Fleur de Lis”

Adagio rubbed her eyes. “Okay, but what did you do next?”

“I went to the nurse’s office.”

To her,” said Adagio, her exasperation cutting through into her words. “What did you do to her?”

“You’re getting really agitated about this.”

Adagio’s eye twitched. Getting answers out of this girl was like pulling teeth! “So, nothing then, right?” Sugarcoat didn’t respond, but a slight narrowing of her eyes indicated to Adagio that she was on the right track. She continued. “You can’t just let people get away with hurting you, there have to be consequences.” Sugarcoat looked at her skeptically.

“You hurt me, too.”

Adagio waved her hand dismissively. “That’s different. She tripped you: trip her back, dig up some dirt, spread a rumor, you get the idea. If you don’t do anything about it, it’s just going to happen again.”

Sogarcoat folded her arms. “You really don’t know how things work around here.”

“They work the same here as they do everywhere else: either you’re getting stepped on, or you’re doing the stepping, and I know which one I’d rather be doing.”

Sugarcoat stared at her for a long time, her expression indecipherable, before eventually turning back to her book. Adagio sighed. Why had she even bothered? Just because they shared a room didn’t mean Adagio was obligated to care about what happened in the other girl’s life, and yet the idea of her getting pushed around had none the less sat poorly with her.

All the sudden Adagio felt very tired. Yes, that was it: she was exhausted, not thinking straight. Of course she didn’t care about Sugarcoat’s altercation with Fleur de Lis – that was just her weary mind playing tricks on her. All that mattered now was getting some rest in preparation of another tortuous day at Crystal Prep.

So, without another word to Sugarcoat, Adagio carefully set the crystal shard down on her desk, climbed the ladder to the top bunk, and got ready for bed. A short while later, she heard the lamp switching off, and the squeaking of a mattress.

“Goodnight,” said a soft voice from the bunk bellow. It was the last thing Adagio heard before sleep took her.

The next morning, Adagio once again found herself waking up in an empty room. She tried to go back to sleep, if only for a few more minutes, but a restlessness stirred from within her and made the task quite impossible. Resigning herself to an early start, Adagio climbed out of bed and collected her things, making it out the door in record time. As she stepped out into the hall, she was greeted by the sight of Aria doing the same.

“Hey,” said Adagio, breaking the silence.

“Hey,” said Aria. Another moment of silence passed between the two. Aria cleared her throat. “So,” she said “where’d you go yesterday? Sonata finished your apple.”

A shocked gasp came from behind Aria. “You swore you wouldn’t tell!”

Aria smirked. “I lied.”

Luckily for Adagio, the brief banter between the two gave her just enough time to come up with an excuse. “Oh, that? Abacus Cinch had a few things she wanted to talk to me about – nothing to concern yourself with.” Invoking the Principle’s name ignited a fresh spark of indignation within Adagio, but it was worth it to see the emotion reflected tenfold across Aria’s face, and Adagio wasn’t even done rubbing it in. She produced the small iron key. “She even gave me – I mean us – somewhere to work on our little project.”

“Project?” asked Sonata “What project?”

“Getting our magic back,” growled Aria through gritted teeth. “You colossal idiot.”

“Am not!” argued Sonata. “Hey, someone erased my picture!”

Aria slapped her forehead and Adagio pinched the bridge of her nose. Sonata continued staring at the whiteboard.

“Who would do such a thing?”

The rest of the morning had gone much the same as the day before. Between the three of them, the Sirens were easily able to bully their way to the front of the shower line without further incident, and make it to their morning classes on time. The classes themselves were an exercise in frustration, filled to the brim with unfamiliar concepts and references to ‘previous lectures,’ and Adagio found herself spending more time writing down what she didn’t understand than following what she did. It had been a suggestion of Twilight’s: writing down what she didn’t understand so they could go over it later, but as the pages started to pile up Adagio felt the all too familiar tightening sensation in her stomach. When the lunch bell finally rang, Adagio didn’t know if she’d ever felt so relieved.

Making her way to their meeting spot outside the cafeteria, Adagio was surprised to find that she’s wasn’t the first Siren there. Sonata waited with a big smile on her face and clutching an opaque plastic container, shifting it to one hand and waving frantically when she spotted Adagio through the mob of students.

“Ohmigod, ‘Dagi, have you had ‘Home Ec.’ yet? It’s amazing!”

Adagio winced. “No, I haven’t, and keep your voice down. I don’t need you shouting in my ear.”

“Am I?” said Sonata, looking puzzled. “Oh! It must have been the music, it was really loud!”

Now Adagio was confused. “Music?”

Sonata beamed. “Yeah! We got split into pairs and everyone hard a partner except for me and this one other girl, whose old partner transferred out or something. Anyway, she didn’t care what we made as long as she got to listen to her music, so I got to cook whatever I wanted!”

“Hang on – cook?”

“Yeah, ‘Home Ec.’ is a cooking class! So, in honor of it being Tuesday, guess what I made?”

Adagio stared at her.

“Brownies!” There was an audible slapping sound as Adagio’s face found her palm. Sonata touched her chin thoughtfully. “Huh, maybe I should have made tacos. Oh well, next time!”

While Adagio stood in stunned silence in the wake of Sonata’s stupidity, Aria broke from a crowd of students and joined her fellow Sirens. “What’s with the box?” she asked.

“I made brownies!” cheered Sonata, popping the seal on the plastic container and revealing its contents. Inside were a pair of Sonata’s brownies, lumpy and misshapen, they were decorated by the letters ‘A’ and ‘G’ written in bright blue icing. “See? I saved one for each of you!”

Adagio and Aria eyed the brownies skeptically. “What do the letters stand for?” asked Aria.

“The ‘A’ stands for ‘Adagio’ and the ‘G’ stands for ‘Grumpy-Gills,’” said Sonata. She gave Aria a smug look. “That one is yours.”

Aria scowled. “I’ll pass.”

“Me, too,” said Adagio.

The smugness drained from Sonata’s face. “What? But I saved them just for you girls!”

“Probably so you could poison us,” said Aria, a slight smile gracing her lips.

“I would never do that!” argued Sonata.

“Intentionally,” added Adagio. She and Aria shared a laugh.

Sonata scrunched up her nose. “I don’t see either of you making brownies!” She slammed the lid closed on the plastic container. “You don’t want them? That’s fine, now you can’t have them! You’ve lost your brownie privileges!”

“Oh no,” lamented Adagio, sarcastically. “Whatever shall we do?”

“This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” deadpanned Aria.

Sonata pouted. “You girls are the worst.”

“Anyway,” said Aria, glancing over at the cafeteria doors, “are we going in, or are we going to stand around all day?”

“Actually, I had something else in mind,” said Adagio, producing the small iron key. “How do you feel about checking out our new workspace?”

“I’m in,” said Aria, “I’m not hungry, anyway.”

“But what about lunch?” asked Sonata.

Adagio gave her a quizzical look. “Didn’t you just have brownies?”

“Oh yeah, I had a ton! I’m so stuffed,” said Sonata, taking a hand off the container and rubbing her stomach. Adagio and Aria stared at her wearing looks of utter contempt.

Sonata blinked.

“Ugh, just come on,” said Adagio, rubbing her temples. She turned on her heel, leading the way towards the small lab area.

“Talking to Sonata is seriously like talking to drywall,” quipped Aria from behind her.

“Who’s Drywall?” asked Sonata, “I don’t think I’ve met her.”

“I take it back, at least drywall doesn’t talk back.”

Aria and Sonata continued to argue back and forth, and though it was a short walk to the lab, Adagio found that, on arrival, she had a pounding headache.

“Alright, enough!” she said, her irritation unhidden. “We’re here.” She fit the key in the lock, opened the door, and flicked on the light.

“What is this place?” said Aria skeptically.

“It looks like a janitor’s closet,” said Sonata.

“It’s not a janitor’s closet,” snapped Adagio, “it’s where we are going to rebuild the device that will allow us to get our magic back.”

“And we’re supposed to do that here?” asked Aria. “This place is a dump.”

“I know, right?” said Sonata, picking some scattered sheets of paper from the floor. “It looks like someone’s already trashed the place!”

Adagio snatched the papers from Sonata’s grasp. “Yes, we’re supposed to do it here, because it’s already been done here. Everything’s been left exactly as it was when the device was created, so don’t touch anything.” She emphasized the last point by slapping Sonata’s hand away from another pile of papers, eliciting a yelp out of the other girl.

“If we’re not allowed to touch anything then how are we going to get anything done?” asked Aria, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

Adagio glared at her. “Obviously I didn’t mean it literally, just be careful. Honestly, Aria, sometimes you’re as thick as Sonata.”

Aria growled, and Sonata gave her a haughty smirk.

“What are you looking so smug about, she just insulted you, too!”

“Wait, what?”

Adagio clapped her hands together, startling the other girls into giving her their full attention. “If you’re quite finished, let’s see if we can’t find any clues in this mess. Just try not to destroy anything important.”

And with that, the three Sirens began picking through the clutter that was the lab. It was frustrating work – whoever had worked here before them had been anything but neat. There may, at one time, have been some sort of organization to the stacks of paper and assorted notebooks scattered across every flat surface in the lab, but Adagio’s little outburst the day before had certainly done away with that. She could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks when she thought about it, and pushed the embarrassing incident to the back of her mind.

“Ugh, this is impossible,” complained Aria, dropping a stack of papers on a desk with a harsh thud. “None of these even mention the word magic, are you sure this is the right place?”

“It is, it has to be, Principle Cinch brought me here personally,” said Adagio. Though she wouldn’t put anything past Cinch at this point, she doubted the woman would lie about something so trivial, yet vital to their arrangement. “Keep looking, there’s got to be something here.”

“Whose dog is this?”

Adagio turned around at the sound of Sonata’s voice, discarding her own pile of papers as she did so. Sonata was staring at the computer monitor, her head cocked at the same angle as the display. That, too, must have happened during the incident.

Aria got there first, adjusting the position of the monitor (and, as a result, Sonata’s head) for proper viewing. “I don’t know,” she said, folding her arms. “But he kind of looks familiar.”

Adagio rolled her eyes. “It’s a dog, they look the same both here and Equestria. It’s just your imagination.”

Aria squinted at the purple-and-green dog. She shrugged. “I guess.”

“It’s asking for a password,” said Sonata, leaning down towards the keyboard. She typed with one finger at a time, and the loud clicking of the mechanical keyboard echoed through the small room.

“What are you doing?” asked Adagio.

“I’m trying to guess the password, duh,” replied Sonata. She froze, and quickly backed away from the computer. “Uh-oh.”

Uh-oh?” said Adagio, grabbing her shoulder before she could slink too far away. “What do you mean ‘Uh-oh.’ What did you do?”

“It says: ‘Incorrect password. Attempts remaining: two,’” said Aria, reading from the monitor. “What happens when we run out of attempts?”

“Nothing good,” said Adagio. She cuffed Sonata on the ear, but quickly withdrew her hand as a fresh jolt of pain leapt from beneath her bandages. She tried to play it off, but it appeared that Sonata had finally noticed the white wrapping.

“What happened to your hand, ‘Dagi?” she asked.

“What’s wrong with her hand?” said Aria, looking up from the computer.

“Nothing,” lied Adagio, “it’s fine. New rule: no one touches the computer, at least not until we find a password for it or something. The last thing we need is one of you idiots breaking it.”

“Maybe you’ll be the one who breaks it,” said Aria. None the less, she obediently moved away from the computer.

“That would never happen,” replied Adagio, remembering how she’d almost driven her fist through it the day before. “Besides, it’s time to go.”

“But there’s still, like, fifteen minutes left of lunch!” argued Sonata.

“True, but there’s somewhere I need to be, and I’m the one with the key,” said Adagio. The pain in her knuckles had reminded her that she was supposed to go see Nurse Tough Love about the bandages. With any luck, she might even be rid of them.

“Where do you have to be?” asked Aria, the suspicion clear in her tone. “Got another secret meeting with Principle Cinch that we’re not invited to?”

Adagio sneered at her. “Why, jealous? Green’s not your color, Aria.”

Aria scowled. “Whatever,” she said, a slight flush rising in her cheeks. “Why don’t you just give one of us the key and we can keep working?”

“So you can break something else? Doubtful. Besides, one of you would probably swallow it.”

“Ooh!” said Sonata, her voice suddenly flush with excitement. “I’ve seen that trick! Then, later, you cough it up and unlock a set of hoofcuffs!” She placed her hands on her hips triumphantly. Adagio sighed.

“Case and point. Now, get out so I can lock up.”

The three girls exited the lab, Aria deliberately bumping Adagio with her shoulder as she passed. For a tense moment the two girls locked eyes, daring the other to make the next move. It was Aria who broke first, huffing and flipping her hair as she stomped down the hall. Sonata looked between them, unsure of what to say or who to follow, before finally scampering after Aria when Adagio turned to relock the door.

It always had to be a struggle with Aria, didn’t it? She wasn’t content unless she was picking fights or complaining. Adagio ground her teeth. It was infuriating! Sonata may have been an idiot, but she was at least tolerably stupid – most of the time, anyway – but when Aria got in one of her moods, and she was always in one of her moods, Adagio couldn’t help but wish that only two Sirens made it to this world.

A haze of anger hung over Adagio as she headed to the nurse’s office. Her visit with Tough Love was short, wordless affair, and once her wounds were cleaned and redressed (Tough Love didn’t mention when the bandages would come off, and Adagio was in no mood to try to force it out of him) she was off to her next class. She did her best to take notes, but caught herself more than once scribbling in frustration in the margins of her notebook.

When last period finally rolled around, Adagio found that her persistent rage was just starting to simmer off. It helped that her last class of the day was gym, which under normal circumstances would be one of her least favorite classes, but today was nothing short of a blessing. Not having to listen to a rambling teacher and the opportunity to blow off some steam – what could be better?

Adagio, dressed in her gym clothes and, having just exited the changing room, was taking a moment to survey the gymnasium, when she began to hear a strange noise. It was not unlike the whistling of a kettle in that it was a high pitched squealing, and seemed to be getting closer with each passing second. Adagio looked around frantically, looking for the source of the noise, but by the time she located it, it was too late.

Sonata was already upon her.

“’Dagi!” she cried. Before Adagio knew it, she was wrapped in Sonata’s iron grip and stumbling beneath her weight and the force of the collision. Several other students turned to watch the bizarre scene unfold, which only served to make the situation that much more embarrassing.

“Sonata!” hissed Adagio, struggling to pry the other girl’s arms off her. “What did I tell you about touching me!”

“I dunno,” said Sonata, her voice dripping with faux innocence. She was doing this on purpose! After a few more moments of grappling, Adagio managed to wedge a foot between her and Sonata and used it to pry them apart. Adagio glared daggers at Sonata, who had erupted into a fit of giggles.

“Then let me repeat myself,” said Adagio, brushing herself off. “Don’t. Ever.”

“I couldn’t help it, I was just so excited, I can’t believe we have a class together! Do you think Aria is here, too?” Sonata put a hand over her eyes, shading them from a nonexistent sun, and began looking around the gym.

A fresh wave of irritation swept over Adagio. “I hope not, if she is I might have to strangle her with her own pigtails.”

Sonata laughed. “You sound just like her right now. She was so mad earlier.”

“I don’t sound like her,” snapped Adagio, “and I’m not mad.”

“Yes you do, and yes you are!”

Adagio growled. Maybe she would strangle both of them, after all.

A harsh whistling noise interrupted Adagio’s dark train of thought and caused both girls to clap their hands over their ears.

“New girls: Dusk, Dazzle, front and center!” barked a harsh, unfamiliar voice.

It belonged to a woman Adagio could only assume was the gym teacher. She was a tall, lean woman with blonde hair, and she wore a fitted purple-and-yellow tracksuit with matching shoes. Around her neck hung the offending whistle.

“Listen up, I don’t know how things worked in your old school, but here at Crystal Prep we take physical education seriously.”

Adagio rolled her eyes. Was everyone who worked at Crystal Prep – other than Cadance, of course – this severe? The woman must have noticed, as she shot Adagio a stern look and continued.

“While you’re in my gymnasium you have two options. Number one: you can participate in the group activity that will be going on out here in the main area of the gym. Today we’ll be playing basketball.”

“Pass,” said Adagio, examining her nails.

A vein protruded from the woman’s forehead. “Number two:” she said, barely managing to contain the hostility in her voice, “you can go to the cardio room and work out on one of the machines there. But if I catch either of you slacking off there will be hell to pay; when you walk through that door you take on a debt – a debt that can only be paid in blood, sweat, and tears. That means if I check up on you – and I will check up on you – and find that you’re not giving one hundred and ten percent, I won’t hesitate to fail you right then and there. Any questions?”

Sonata raised her hand. “I’m pretty sure I can’t give more than, like, one hundred percent.”

The gym teacher sneered. “Then you’d better try harder. Now get to it!” She gave two more quick blasts on the whistle, causing the two Sirens to grab for ears once more, before moving on to coach the students who had already begun playing basketball.

“So,” said Adagio, glancing back at Sonata, “cardio room?”

Sonata shrugged, and the pair began their trip across the gymnasium.

The cardio room itself was situated off the gym proper, and was filled with an impressive collection of cardiovascular machinery, all facing a wall mounted television permanently set to a sports channel. The room, while not entirely devoid of other students, was sparsely populated, leading Adagio to believe basketball was the more popular choice of activity, though she couldn’t see why. Who wanted to mindlessly chase a dumb ball around a court, while being simultaneously pursued by a dozen sweaty teenagers? At least in here Adagio didn’t have to interact with anyone she didn’t want to.

Other than Sonata, of course.

The two girls selected a pair of adjacent treadmills to begin their workout and, after a brief period of figuring out how to work the machines, they began to run. Almost immediately, Adagio decided she didn’t care for the treadmill. She’d never understood the appeal of running, and the idea of a machine whose sole purpose was to simulate the running experience without actually getting anywhere perplexed her.

Luckily for Adagio – though she could scarcely believe it – Sonata’s incessant chatter proved to be a much-needed distraction from the mind numbing boredom of the treadmill.

“I just don’t get it,” said Sonata, gesturing towards the television. “They keep advertising it as a sports network, so why are they showing poker?”

“I don’t know,” replied Adagio. Her heart was already pounding. How long had they been running? She spared a glance down at the timer, only to be faced for the first time with one of the inescapable laws of the universe: time moves slower when you’re on a treadmill.

“It’s so weird! Do you think that they think that poker is a sport? That’s what I think.”

“I don’t know.” Dammit, she caught herself looking at the timer again! She put her hand over the display. It didn’t make time go by any faster, but it made her feel a little better.

“You’re doing that wrong.”

Adagio looked up at the sound of the familiar voice, locating its source two rows over sitting at a rowing machine. “Sugarcoat? How long have you been here?”

“I watched you come in, you’re really not very perceptive.”

Adagio’s eye twitched. It wasn’t as if she’d been looking for Sugarcoat, and it wasn’t exactly easy to see her amongst the various machines that filled the room. I’m very perceptive, she thought, obstinately.

Psst,” whispered Sonata from her other side. “Who is that?

“That’s Sugarcoat,” replied Adagio, not bothering to whisper. “You’ve met.”

“You thought I was a robot.”

“Oh, yeah, I remember that.” She gave Adagio a pointed look. “I don’t,” she mouthed.

Adagio rolled her eyes. “You’re hopeless,” she said, turning her attention back to Sugarcoat. “And what did you mean by ‘you’re doing that wrong,’ how does one run wrong?”

“Well, for starters, you need to take the little red clip and attach it to your shirt, otherwise, if you trip, you’re going to be thrown into the wall and probably break a bone.”

Adagio blinked at her. “I knew that,” she said, subtly fastening the clip to her shirt. Beside her, Sonata did the same.

“Furthermore, you’re running too fast. Unless your plan is to crawl out of here on your hands and knees, you should really slow down.” Adagio stared at Sugarcoat who shrugged, and went back to her rowing. “Or not, it’s up to you.”

Adagio waited a few (admittedly agonizing) moments, before adjusting her speed down to a more sustainable rate. She glanced back up at Sugarcoat, whose lips were now graced with the ghost of a smile.

That girl was an enigma. Sonata had started talking again, probably complaining about the television again, but Adagio tuned her out in favor of watching Sugarcoat. Under normal circumstances, Adagio liked to believe that she was very good at reading people; she’d pegged Principle Cinch as duplicitous and conniving the moment they’d met, and maintaining a good rapport with Cadance (despite her annoying positivity) had paid off in spades. But she had a blind spot when it came to Sugarcoat. While she’d originally pegged the girl as quiet and delicate, she was quickly learning that wasn’t the case. Sugarcoat had a quick wit and was surprisingly blunt when it came down to it, but was it coming from a legitimate desire to help her, or simply to deride her?

And it didn’t stop there. Despite her lean frame, Sugarcoat displayed none of the fragility Adagio had attributed to her. She rowed carefully and consistently, barely breaking a sweat despite the rigorous task she was performing, moving less like a skinny teenage girl and more like a piece of precise clockwork. It was almost hypnotizing to watch.

The remainder of their time in the cardio room went by slowly, though without incident. Eventually, Adagio was able to break out of her self-induced trance and did her best to hold her end of an exceedingly uninteresting conversation with Sonata, who continued to yammer on about whatever happened to be playing on the television at the time. For her part, Sugarcoat seemed content to listen to their conversation, never breaking the rhythm of rowing, but occasionally jumping in to correct Sonata if she said something especially absurd. Adagio didn’t mind, it saved her the trouble of doing it herself.

Sonata was in the middle of critiquing a detergent commercial (“Seriously, who sniffs their laundry?”) when Sugarcoat abruptly finished her rowing and stood up. “Time to go,” she said, and without waiting, exited the room.

Adagio and Sonata were quick to follow – or, at least, would have been, if they’d been able to walk properly. Instead, the two girls made their way, slowly and stiffly, back to the gym, where the other students were finishing their game of basketball.

“Fleur, pass the ball!”

Fleur. Adagio remembered the name, it belonged to the girl who had tripped Sugarcoat. Adagio scanned the court, her eyes quickly falling on a pale girl with shockingly pink hair. She was still in possession of the ball, and had just broken away from a pair of defenders and was barreling down the left side of the gymnasium towards the other basket, the same side where, a few meters ahead of them, Sugarcoat was walking towards the locker room.

It all seemed to happen in slow motion. Fleur braced herself and slightly altered her trajectory, bringing her into a collision course with Sugarcoat. Their shoulders met, and in an instant the ill prepared Sugarcoat was sent tumbling, her glasses skittering across the wooden gym floor, coming to rest just beneath the foot of a pursuing student. There was a sickening crunch of breaking glass and the splintering of plastic. A little tape wouldn’t fix them this time.

Fleur didn’t stop, though she spared a glance back at her fallen classmate. A cruel, sadistic smile contorted itself across her sharp features as she reveled in the havoc she’d caused. It was a rictus, inhuman grin, revolting and abhorrent as the monster who wore it. Adagio had never spoken to this ‘Fleur,’ but in that moment, she knew everything she needed to.

She hated her.

It was an irrational hate, born of an instant and kindled by other, similar thoughts. Her frustration with Aria, her desire for revenge against Cinch and the Rainbooms, and the strange mix of exultation and confusion left over from her encounter with Twilight Sparkle, all melded together into a volatile brew of emotion.

Fleur drew closer, her cold, uncaring eyes passing over Adagio without a second thought, ignorant to the chain of events she’d unwittingly set in motion. Sugarcoat wasn’t fragile; she was strong. She would endure whatever hardships Fleur threw at her because she was above the pettiness of revenge. Adagio Dazzle was not. And, as the distance closed between them, she felt her own words coming back to her: Either you’re getting stepped on, or you’re doing the stepping.

So, without another thought, Adagio took a step.

It didn’t take much – an onlooker might have even thought it an accident – but there was nothing accidental about what Adagio did next. Fleur’s foot caught on her own and time stopped altogether. Her sardonic glee was gone, replaced with fear and confusion as she threw up her arms in an instinctual attempt to protect her face and head as her momentum brought her crashing unceremoniously to the floor.

Adagio withdrew her foot.

For a moment, the gym was silent save for the bouncing of the wayward basketball. No one dared to breath.

The shrill blast of a whistle ripped through the silence like a knife. The gym teacher – Adagio still hadn’t gotten her name – came sprinting from the opposite end of the gymnasium, coming to rest by the crumpled form of Fleur de Lis.

“Everyone stand back!” she commanded. Fleur rolled over, her cheeks already wet with tears. It wasn’t difficult to see why: her bottom lip was fat and bloody and there was a thin cut on her brow, not unlike the one she’d inflicted upon Sugarcoat, but those were minor compared to what had happened to Fleur’s wrist. It was swollen and purple, but most shocking was the unnatural way it jutted from her forearm. It might even have sickened Adagio had it happened to anyone else. Instead, she merely stared.

’Dagi,” whispered Sonata, her face stricken with horror, “what did you do?

Nothing she didn’t deserve, thought Adagio contemptuously. It hadn’t been her intention to hurt her, of course, but that hardly mattered now.

“My wrist!” sobbed Fleur, pitifully. “I think it’s broken!” She looked up at Adagio and their eyes met. “She tripped me!”

“I did no such thing!” lied Adagio.

“I don’t want to hear it!” The gym teacher looked between the two girls. “Dazzle: detention. You’re lucky I’m not getting your parents involved, or worse, Principle Cinch! Fleur, come with me, we’re taking you to the nurse’s office.”

Adagio didn’t argue. It was an idle threat – it was Fleur’s word against hers, and the gym teacher knew it. Detention was a small price to pay for the vengeance she’d exacted… right?

“The game, what about tonight’s game?” blubbered Fleur as she was escorted out of the gym.

Adagio approached Sugarcoat, who sat on the floor clutching what remained of her glasses. Adagio held out a hand to help her up, and after a moment of hesitation, Sugarcoat took it.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” she said once she was back on her feet.

Adagio rolled her eyes. “You’re welcome,” she said, sarcastically.

“I’m serious. Fleur is – was – one of Crystal Prep’s best basketball players, and there’s a game tonight. If they don’t find a replacement in time they’re going to have to forfeit.”

“So what? As if I care about the results of a dumb game.”

“You might not,” said Sugarcoat, her expression turning dour, “but they do.”

Suddenly, Adagio could feel dozens of pairs of eyes upon her. She looked around at the other students, each of whom glared back with an expression of utter contempt. It didn’t matter to them whether or not there was any proof of Adagio’s misdeed, in their eyes she was already guilty of putting Crystal Prep’s chance of winning – and, thus, its reputation, their reputation – at risk.

“Congratulations, Adagio Dazzle,” said Sugarcoat, “you’re Crystal Prep’s newest pariah.”

Chapter 5 - The Truth of the Matter

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Detention was a new experience for Adagio. She had heard of it, of course, the nature of her magic made sure of that, but to be sent there herself was unprecedented. It wasn’t as if she’d never caused any trouble – quite the opposite, in fact – but back then she’d at least had the good sense not to get caught.

Word of Adagio’s encounter with Fleur had spread like wildfire among the students of Crystal Prep, and, true to Sugarcoat’s prediction, Adagio’s reputation was suffering for it. Already she’d received dark looks as she passed through the halls, as well as one or two obscene gestures from some of the more disgruntled students, though not one of them had had the backbone to say anything to her face. Pathetic, but not entirely unexpected.

Any attention is better than no attention, she reminded herself, though this time she wasn’t sure if she believed it.

“We’re here.”

Adagio looked up, pulled from the mire of her thoughts by Sugarcoat’s voice. After they had left the gym she had offered to walk with Adagio to the detention room, and considering how the gym teacher had whisked Fleur away without providing any more details on her punishment, it wasn’t exactly an offer Adagio could refuse.

“A classroom?” said Adagio, placing her hands on her hips. “I expected something more draconic – a dungeon, perhaps. This seems awfully tame for Principle Cinch.”

Sugarcoat merely stared at her, though a more accurate description of the act might have been ‘squinted’ at her. As it turned out, Sugarcoat’s glasses had been far more than just a fashion statement, and without them the girl was very nearly blind. It had fallen to Adagio to pull her out of the way of more than one oncoming student, and even now, as close as they were, it was clear that Sugarcoat could barely see her.

“Are you ready to go inside?” asked Sugarcoat, grasping for the doorknob. She managed to find it on her second try.

Adagio frowned. “Look, I appreciate you showing me the way here, but I think I can manage the punishment part of this on my own. Don’t you have something better to do?”

Sugarcoat shook her head. “I have plenty of better things to do, but the reason I walked you here is because I have detention, too. It made sense to walk together because we were both going to the same place.”

“Wait,” said Adagio, cocking an eyebrow, “you have detention?”

Sugarcoat nodded.

You?”

She nodded again.

“What did you do?”

For a moment, it looked like Sugarcoat was going to answer her, but after a long pause she turned back towards the door. “Come on,” she said, “we shouldn’t be late.”

As they stepped into the classroom, Adagio was surprised to learn that she was already acquainted with two of the room’s four other occupants. Indigo Zap leaned back precariously in her chair with one foot resting on the desk before her. A few seats away sat a familiar girl sporting a pink ponytail and cheeks dotted with freckles. Adagio couldn’t remember her name, but she was certain that this was the girl she and the other Sirens had skipped in the shower line on her first day.

With her temper, I suppose I don’t have to wonder why she’s in here.

Adagio didn’t recognize either of the other two girls, one had short purple-and-pink hair and wore a brilliant orange hairclip, and the other had a mop of bright green hair that bobbed up and down to the beat of the thunderous music booming from her headphones.

Three of them looked up as Adagio and Sugarcoat entered (the other girl was either too deafened by her music to hear, or simply didn’t care).

“Sugarcoat, what happened to your glasses?” asked Indigo Zap. She took her foot off the desk and allowed the front legs of her chair to strike loudly against the floor as she leaned forward, pointing an accusatory finger at Adagio. “She didn’t trip you, too, did she?” Adagio supposed it was too much to ask for the news not to have followed her to detention, too.

“No,” said Sugarcoat, taking a seat at the front of the class. “They fell off after Fleur knocked me over and someone stepped on them.”

Indigo Zap looked from Sugarcoat to Adagio. “I’d tell you to do something about it, but it looks like someone else beat you to the punch. So, Dazzle, why’d you do it?”

Adagio’s eyes narrowed. She didn’t respond.

“Don’t be like that, Fleur had it coming, but you couldn’t have waited until after the game tonight? We have a reputation to uphold!”

“So I’ve heard,” growled Adagio through gritted teeth.

“Indigo Zap used to be the captain of the basketball team, until she got kicked off.”

“I wasn’t kicked off, Sugarcoat, I was suspended!” snapped Indigo Zap. Sugarcoat shrugged. “Then they went and made Fleur captain – she’s not even that good! – and now that she’s out, too, they’re scrambling to find someone to make up the numbers. I heard there’s some sort of ‘emergency tryout’ going on in the gym. That’s where I should be right now, not stuck in here with you girls!”

She balled her fists, and for a split-second Adagio thought she might flip her desk over, but instead she let out a long, frustrated sigh. “Whatever, they’ll figure out how much they need me eventually. Anyway, Dazzle, you’ve met me and Sugarcoat, over there are Sunny Flare and Sour Sweet–”

We’ve met,” hissed Sour Sweet venomously. Sunny Daze scowled right along with her.

“–and in the back, is Lemon Zest. Don’t bother trying to talk to her, she can’t hear a word we’re saying.”

Lemon Zest’s head bobbed obliviously.

“Congratulations, you’re the newest member of the ‘Crystal Prep Academy Breakfast Club.’”

Adagio raised an eyebrow.

“Except we’re not here at breakfast time, making that reference not only dated but inaccurate,” said Sugarcoat. Her hand moved to adjust her missing glasses, but stopped halfway.

Indigo Zap shrugged. “Whatever, point is she’s stuck here, just like the rest of us.”

Their discussion was cut short as the classroom door opened once more, and a tall, well-dressed man with a thick moustache entered. Adagio recognized him to be her History teacher, Professor Blackboard.

“Alright girls, settle down and take a seat. Miss Zest, turn off that infernal music.” But Lemon Zest neither heard him nor acknowledged his presence. Irritation spread quickly across the professor’s features, and without further warning he walked briskly through the rows of desks and snatched the headphones off her head.

“Dude!” cried Lemon Zest indignantly, the color draining from her face when she realized who it was that had interrupted her. “…Do you want to listen?” she asked sheepishly.

Professor Blackboard scoffed, giving her a condescending look before switching off the headphones and returning to the front of the classroom. “It appears we have a new addition to our ranks,” he said, looking directly at Adagio. “I hope, for your sake, that this is a one-time occurrence, frequency of detention is directly reflected in college acceptance rates. That being said, the rules here are simple: no talking, no electronics, you are to sit and consider the actions that led to your being here. You will be dismissed in one hour, starting now.”

Silence fell over the classroom. Adagio’s eyes fell first on Professor Blackboard, passed over each of the other girls in turn, and finally came to rest staring down at the desk before her.

This was stupid. What was there to think about? Yes, she’d tripped Fleur, but it wasn’t her fault that she’d broken her wrist. Done, contemplation over. She glanced up, her gaze lingering for a moment on the back of Sugarcoat’s head.

So, Sugarcoat was in detention. The initial shock behind her, Adagio vaguely recalled something she’d said the day they first met… something to do with ‘insubordination’ at the Friendship Games.

The Friendship Games, thought Adagio. Cadance had mentioned them, too, albeit in passing. She’d said that Twilight was somehow involved in Crystal Prep’s unsatisfactory performance, and now that she thought about it she’d heard them mentioned somewhere else, too. She looked back at Sour Sweet, who stared back at her icily. Of course! When they’d had their encounter in the shower line, someone had accused Sour Sweet of throwing the Friendship Games! She hadn’t given it much consideration at the time, but now things seemed to be falling into place.

Adagio closed her eyes, wracking her brain. If Sugarcoat was being punished for her role in the Friendship Games – and Adagio was fairly certain she was – it wasn’t out of the question that Sour Sweet was, too. What about the other girls? Were they all here because of something that had happened at the Games? And what about Twilight?

Adagio was so deep in her own thoughts that she didn’t look up at the sound of the door opening.

Indigo Zap had lost her position as captain of the basketball team. Was it possible that–

“Adagio Dazzle.”

Principle Cinch’s stiff voice cut through the silence like a knife. Adagio felt her skin crawl at the sight of her standing ominously in the doorway.

“Come with me, please,” she said, her voice betraying nothing of what was going on behind her cold eyes. “Take your bag, you won’t be returning here.”

Adagio’s mouth was suddenly dry. She gathered up her backpack and wordlessly followed Principle Cinch out of the classroom, feeling the burning gaze of the other girls as she walked. Principle Cinch closed the door behind them, and beckoned for Adagio to follow her.

“There is a rumor, Miss Dazzle, that you tripped one of your fellow students, leaving them quite injured as a result. There wouldn’t happen to be any truth to that, would there?”

“No,” lied Adagio. “She wasn’t watching where she was going, tripped, and fell down. I just happened to be standing there when it happened.”

Abacus Cinch’s eyes bore into Adagio, searching for any hint of falsehood. Adagio kept her breathing steady, met her gaze, and prayed that the principle couldn’t hear the rapid pounding of her heart. After what felt like an eternity, Abacus Cinch nodded, produced a handkerchief, cleaned her glasses, and placed them back on the bridge of her nose.

“Very well. Whatever the case may be, we were successful in finding a suitable replacement in time for the game tonight. The reputation of this school – my reputation – is no longer in jeopardy.

“Your story is consistent with the report I received about the incident. You see, Miss Dazzle, I have no interest in unsubstantiated claims or accusations that cannot be supported with facts. But rest assured, should evidence come to light that you purposely assaulted Fleur de Lis – or any other student, for that matter – I would not hesitate to have you removed. But that won’t be a problem, will it?”

Adagio shook her head.

“Good. Now, you still have plenty of work to catch up on, is there anything else you wish to discuss before I allow you to return to it?”

“Yes, actually,” said Adagio. The words had come out before she could stop herself. “Those other girls – why were they in detention?”

Principle Cinch regarded her with an unreadable expression. “As I have told you before, Miss Dazzle, I reward loyalty and excellence, but I do not tolerate treachery or failure. Those girls have forgotten what it truly means to be a Shadowbolt, and for that they are paying the price. I trust that is enough to satisfy your curiosity?”

“It is,” said Adagio. She had been hoping for something to shed light on the mystery of the Friendship Games, but Cinch’s response lead her to believe she was already pushing her luck. She decided to quit while she was ahead.

“Good, then I shall leave you here. Have a productive day, Miss Dazzle.”

Adagio waited until the clicking of the principle’s heels was not but a distant memory before she risked breathing a sigh of relief. Principle Cinch had believed her – or, more likely, had been willing to accept her story. She was safe for another day.

Taking a moment to get her bearings, Adagio found that her walk with Cinch had led her right to Dean Cadance’s door. Convenient, she thought. She raised a hand to knock on the door, paused, switched to her unbandaged hand, and continued the motion.

“Come in,” came Cadance’s voice from inside, muffled by the thick wooden door. Adagio entered.

Cadance’s office might not have been as large as that of Abacus Cinch, but it was a great deal more inviting. Certificates hung on the walls alongside a plethora of framed pictures, some depicting Cadance in a variety of poses and locales, though never without her glowing smile, and others portraying a collection of other, smiling people. Cadance’s friends and family, Adagio assumed. There was a large wooden shelf on one side of the room, packed with books and colorful trinkets, and even Cadance’s filing cabinets were decorated with a plethora of stickers and magnets. Her desk struck a careful balance between messy and organized, and a pair of comfortable chairs sat before it, identical to the one Cadance herself sat in on the other side. The blinds on the room’s singlular large window were pulled back, bathing the room in warm, welcoming sunlight.

“Adagio,” said Cadance, “take a seat, I’ve just got to finish this email and then we can go.”

Adagio studied Cadance closely. There was something about her voice, its usual enthusiasm, while not entirely absent, felt dampened, and her normally effortless smile felt forced and mechanical. Not knowing how to react, Adagio quietly took her seat.

“There,” said Cadance, standing up and straightening her skirt, “done. Are you ready to go?”

There was that strained smile again. “Yeah,” said Adagio uncertainly. “I forgot your umbrella, sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll get it tomorrow.”

Adagio stepped out of the office and Cadance locked the door, then the two of them began the trek to Cadance’s car. There was no small talk between them, though Adagio occasionally caught Cadance looking at her when she thought she wasn’t paying attention. This continued well into their drive to the library, until finally things came to a head at a red light when their eyes met in the reflection of Cadance’s rear-view mirror.

“Is there something you want to ask me?” asked Adagio. She did her best to hide the irritation in her voice.

Cadance hesitated. “I… I heard you got in trouble at school today.”

So that was it. Cadance wanted to know the truth, and Adagio found herself at a crossroads. Cadance had been kind to her, had helped her, but what would happen if Cadance found out what kind of person she was? The kind of person who would trip some and watch as they writhed on the floor. Would she turn her in? Principle Cinch had cited a lack of evidence, but surely the word of the Dean would mean something, right?

But at the same time, the idea of lying to Cadance sat poorly with Adagio. But was it worth putting her entire future at risk just for the sake of telling Cadance the truth?

Adagio sighed. “A girl, Fleur, tripped up in front of me in gym class. Everyone thought I tripped her and I got detention. But it’s fine, I talked to Principle Cinch and worked everything out.”

Cadance was still staring into the reflection of her eyes. Suddenly uncomfortable, Adagio adjusted her position and looked out the window.

She’d done it, she’d lied to Cadance.

“Okay,” said Cadance.

“Okay?” asked Adagio.

“If that’s what happened,” said Cadance.

“It is,” replied Adagio. She crossed her arms.

The remainder of the car ride passed in relative silence. It wasn’t until they were pulling up in front of the library that Cadance broke the silence one more.

“I almost forgot,” said Cadance, trying her best to sound like her usual, upbeat self, “I got you these.” She reached into her purse and extracted two items: a phone, and a bus card. “School policy says that each student gets exactly one phone on the school’s plan, so try not to lose or break it! And I’m sure I don’t have to say this, but since the phone is in the school’s name, they will have access to any incoming or outgoing messages – that isn’t to say anyone is spying on you or anything, we respect your privacy! – just don’t send anything…”

Adagio raised an eyebrow and Cadance shifted uncomfortably.

“…Never mind. Don’t forget to ask Twilight about bus routes if you two are going to keep doing this. She used to come here from Crystal Prep all the time so I’m sure she has them memorized.”

“Okay,” said Adagio. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” said Cadance. The two shared another long look.

“Well, I’ve got to get going.”

“Alright, see you later.”

“See you.”

Adagio stepped out of the car and began her silent ascent of the library’s steps. An hour ago she’d been proud of what she’d done. Sure, things had gotten a little out of hand, but she’d stood up for Sugarcoat – she’d punished Fleur! It wasn’t her fault that Fleur didn’t know how to fall properly. But now she felt the oh so familiar hollowness and tightening of the knot in her stomach.

It wasn’t my fault, she told herself.

But that wasn’t what was bothering her. It wasn’t Fleur’s face that stared back at her from the shadows cast by the afternoon sun, but a dark facsimile of Dean Cadance, mouthing words that she hadn’t spoken but Adagio had heard loud and clear:

“Adagio Dazzle, I’m so disappointed in you.”

“Is something the matter, Adagio? You seem distracted.”

Adagio looked up from her textbook to find the concerned face of Twilight Sparkle looking back at her. In order to escape the nagging doubts that had plagued her mind since she’d parted ways with Cadance, Adagio had thrown herself into her studies. At first, Twilight had been all for this, but as time went on and Adagio had become more and more withdrawn, she had realized something was wrong.

“Nothing’s the matter,” lied Adagio, “I’m just, you know, studying really hard.”

“Uh-huh,” said Twilight skeptically, and before Adagio knew what was happening, Twilight had snatched the textbook away from her and held it tightly to her chest.

“Hey– Twilight Sparkle, what do you think you’re doing? I was reading that!”

Twilight put on her best look of defiance. “Oh yeah?” she asked, “Then tell me, what’s this page about?”

Adagio paused, drawing a blank, and quickly made up an excuse. “I just got to that one, I haven’t read it yet.” Twilight stared at her and flipped to the previous page. Adagio let out a defeated groan. “Fine, I’m distracted, are you happy now?”

“No, I’m not happy,” said Twilight, loosening her grip on the textbook. “Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong? Maybe I can help.”

You, help me? Don’t make me laugh.”

Twilight wilted, drawing away from Adagio and looking down at the floor, her eyes glistening. Adagio felt a peculiar sensation in her chest, something someone else might have considered a harsh tug at their heartstrings. It was an entirely new experience for Adagio, and she didn’t like it – not one bit.

She sighed. “I’m sorry, Twilight Sparkle, I didn’t mean that,” she said quietly.

“It’s okay,” said Twilight.

“No, it isn’t okay,” said Adagio, “you were trying to help and I snapped at you.” She took a deep breath. “Fine, I’ll tell you, even if it means you’ll think less of me for it.”

“I won’t think less of you,” said Twilight. She leaned in a little closer.

“We’ll see,” said Adagio. Later, she would think back to this conversation and wonder why she’d been so honest and open with Twilight. She would tell herself that it had all been part of the plan, to endear herself to Twilight and ensure her help was secured for the foreseeable future. But the truth, as it usually is, was much simpler: lying to Cadance had been hard, but lying to Twilight… In that moment, it was impossible.

“I saw a girl knock over another girl. It wasn’t an accident, she dropped her shoulder and took her down, hard. And, for some reason, it made me angry. Really angry. I knew the girl wasn’t going to do anything about it, so I stepped in – literally. I tripped her, she fell down, and she got hurt. That wasn’t an accident, either.”

“Was she okay?”

“Which one?”

“Either of them.”

“The first one broker her glasses, but she was okay. The girl I tripped broke her wrist.”

Twilight winced.

“It wasn’t as if I wanted her to break her wrist! I just thought she’d fall on her face, you know, give her a taste of her own medicine.”

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” said Twilight, frowning.

“But isn’t justice blind?” retorted Adagio. Twilight didn’t respond. “What else was I supposed to do? Just let her get away with it?”

“No, but there are other ways – ways that don’t involve hurting people.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

“I know,” said Twilight. She paused, taking a breath. “But just because we don’t mean for something to happen, doesn’t mean we give up all responsibility for it when it does.”

Adagio watched Twilight closely. “You sound like you’re speaking from experience.”

“We’ve all done things we’re not proud of. I used to be terrified of the darkness I felt inside of me – afraid that it would take over. I let that fear control me, and it wasn’t until I realized that the darkness was a part of me – a part of me that I could overcome – that I was truly free of it.”

Darkness. What did Twilight Sparkle know of darkness? If she had any idea of the things Adagio had done… and yet there was something honest her expression as she spoke, and her words – free of hyperbole and tinged with regret – rang true.

“Alright, Twilight Sparkle,” said Adagio, “what would you have me do?”

Twilight put her hand on her chin thoughtfully. “Have you tried talking to Dean Cadance?”

Adagio slumped her shoulders. “I might have told her that I didn’t do it.”

Twilight looked puzzled. “You lied to her?”

“I stuck to my story. I’m already on probation–”

Academic probation.”

“–doesn’t matter. It means I’m on thin ice, and a screw up like this could have had me thrown out on the street, everything I’ve worked for down the drain.” Adagio’s hands balled into fists. “So yes, I lied to her.”

“Do you really think Cadance would have you thrown out?”

“I had to protect myself,” said Adagio, reflexively. Twilight crossed her arms. “Besides, I don’t think she believed me, anyway. She kept giving me this disappointed look, kind of like the one you’re giving me right now. I can’t get it out of my head.”

Twilight stood up from her chair. “I’m not disappointed in you, Adagio, I’m worried about you.” She circled around the table until she was face to face with Adagio, propping herself up against the table. “You asked me what I think you should do, I think you should start by telling Cadance the truth.”

Adagio scoffed. “But then she’ll know I lied to her.”

“You said it yourself that you didn’t think she believed you. Cadance wants to help you, Adagio, but she can’t do that if you don’t tell her the truth.”

“And what if she thinks I’m a monster for what I did?”

Twilight leaned in again. They were close now, so close that Adagio could and touch Twilight’s face if she wanted. “You’re not a monster,” said Twilight softly.

Oh, if only you knew, Twilight Sparkle, thought Adagio, but deep in her heart she knew Twilight was right. Cadance had been a valuable asset to her, and she had to act quickly to repair the damage she’d caused before that asset was lost to her forever.

But that was just another lie, wasn’t it? She was being honest with Twilight, so why was it so hard to be honest with herself?

“Alright, Twilight Sparkle, we’ll do it your way. I’ll tell her the truth.”

Twilight smiled, and Adagio felt the knot in her stomach loosen ever so slightly. “I’m glad to hear it.” She rested her hands on the table, only to immediately recoil away. “Oh, sorry, I almost leaned on your phone!”

“Careful,” said Adagio, “I already have to tell Cadance I lied to her, I don’t want to have to tell her I broke the phone she got me, too. Especially since I haven’t even turned it on yet.”

“Really?” Twilight examined the phone from its position on the table, then turned back to Adagio. “I could help you set it up, if you want. You know, get the settings right, download some apps…” She bit her lip and averted her gaze. “I have one condition though.”

Adagio cocked an eyebrow. “And that is?”

“I get to peel the plastic off the screen.”

Adagio blinked, then laughed. “Seriously?” she asked in disbelief.

Twilight flushed and refused to meet Adagio’s eyes. “It’s the best part,” she mumbled, tapping the tips or her index fingers together.

“Twilight Sparkle, what am I going to do with you?” Adagio asked, playfully. “If it’s that important to you… go ahead.”

Twilight didn’t need to be told twice. She snatched the phone off the table and held it before her eyes. Carefully, she took hold of the little plastic tab between her index finger and thumb. Then, slowly and purposefully, she began to peel the thin sheet of plastic away from the glass screen of the phone. Adagio had to admit, it was oddly satisfying to watch, but Twilight took satisfaction to another level. The girl was positively trembling with exultation, and Adagio found herself paying more attention to her than the device she was holding.

After an inordinate amount of time had passed, Twilight had finally finished her task. She moved to discard the now useless plastic, only to have it cling stubbornly to her hand. It took several seconds of flailing to finally dislodge the piece of debris, which drifted harmlessly onto the table. Adagio did her best to hide her amusement behind her hand.

“What?” said Twilight, turning an even deeper shade of red and tucking a few strands of loose hair behind her ear.

“Nothing,” said Adagio with a sly grin. “Now, a deal is a deal, show me how to set this thing up.”

Twilight patted the spot on the table next to her and beckoned Adagio over. For both of them to have a good view of the small screen, they had to sit quite close together. Adagio found that it wasn’t uncomfortably close, but she was acutely aware of the occasional brush of skin when their elbows would touch, and a faint floral scent that Adagio could only attribute to Twilight’s conditioner. Lavender, she thought, though she couldn’t be sure.

The initial setup itself was fairly uninteresting, though Twilight’s endearing enthusiasm made it at least somewhat tolerable. From there they moved on to installing apps, and despite Twilight’s instance that several of them were ‘absolutely mandatory,’ Adagio talked her into settling on just one, a program that displayed the local bus routes and overlaid them onto a map of the area.

“Alright,” said Twilight, “now all we have to do is fill out your contact list and we’re done. Do you have any numbers you want to put in?”

Adagio shrugged. “Not really.”

Twilight frowned. “Well, that’s rather anticlimactic.” She paused, and a slight blush crept back into her cheeks. “Well, I mean, if you wanted, we could, you know, put my number in. You could ask me questions about the curriculum and we could coordinate without having to go through Cadance – not that I don’t like going through Cadance, it would just simplify things. But if you don’t want to–”

Adagio held up a hand to silence her babbling. “Twilight Sparkle, just put your number in my phone before you talk me into changing my mind.”

Twilight smiled, and with practiced speed began entering her contact information into Adagio’s phone. “I remember adding my first contact to my phone,” she said as she typed, her voice filled with nostalgia. “It was my brother, and I don’t think he appreciated all the confirmation texts I sent him, which is kind of funny because these days he gets worried when I don’t text him.

“Now, one last thing.” She pressed the phone into Adagio’s hands. “Take my picture.”

“What?”

“For the contact list! Come on, it will only take a second.”

Adagio rolled her eyes, but none the less did as she was told. She stood up and put a little distance between them in order to get Twilight in frame (and, in doing so, nearly backed into the doorknob). She held up the phone, realized the camera wasn’t open, and began swiping through menus hunting for it.

“It’s the icon that looks like a camera,” said Twilight.

“I know what it looks like – there we go, got it.” She lifted the phone up and watched as it automatically focused on the form of Twilight Sparkle seated on the study room table.

“Just a sec,” said Twilight, adjusting her skirt. She proceeded to remove her glasses and began to clean them with the hem of her shirt, the tip of her tongue poking out the side of her mouth as she worked. It was too much, and before Twilight realized what she was doing, Adagio snapped the photo. And she would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for the audible click of a simulated shutter.

“Hey!” cried Twilight. “I wasn’t ready!”

“Relax,” said Adagio, examining her handiwork, “you have nothing to worry about, it’s perfect.”

“It is? Well, umm, I guess it’s okay then.” A brief moment of silence fell over them. Twilight cleared her throat. “Okay, now all you have to do is send me a text, so I can put your number in my phone, and we’ll be done.”

Adagio took a second to think, typed ‘Hi’ into the text field, and hit send. A few more seconds passed before Twilight’s phone heralded the arrival of the text by vibrating twice in quick succession. Twilight picked it up.

“’Hi’?”

Adagio fidgeted in place. “You’re standing four feet away from me, what was I supposed to say?” Twilight just smiled and typed something into the display. Adagio’s own phone began to vibrate (she nearly dropped it in surprise), and a notification told her she had one unread message from Twilight Sparkle.

It said ‘Hi.’

Another buzz, this time from Twilight’s phone. “Did you–” she began, before cutting herself off. “Oh, it’s from Cadance. She’s outside.”

The apprehension that had been steadily fading out of Adagio’s consciousness while they’d set up her phone was back with a vengeance, and Adagio began to quietly gather her things.

“It’s going to be alright,” said Twilight. She must have sensed her shift in demeanor. Adagio nodded.

“I hope so.”

The sun hung low in the sky as Adagio exited the Canterlot Public Library, painting the city skyline red as it began to set. Another day, Adagio might have found it beautiful, but with her task at hand weighing heavily on her mind she barely took notice.

She heard the distinctive click of electric locks as she approached Cadance’s car. She took hold of the handle on the passenger’s side, hesitated, then pulled. Inside sat Cadance, no longer dressed in her work clothes but still wearing the same not-smile as she had that afternoon.

“How’d it go?” she asked. It might even have sounded cheerful if Adagio didn’t know better. She had to do it now, as she knew that if she waited any longer she would surely lose her nerve.

“Cadance,” she said, steeling herself for what she had to say. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

Cadance must have been taken aback by her directness, as she finally allowed her ‘smile’ to fade. “What is it?” she asked.

Adagio worked her jaw, but nothing came out. It was as if her mouth was filled with cotton. Panic began to creep in at the edges of her mind. What was she doing? Cadance might have been nice to her, but she was still the Dean. She would have to report what Adagio did, which would give Principle Cinch the justification she needed to kick her back out onto the streets. Had she crawled her way back from the brink, only to be cast back in? Cadance’s brow furrowed as she awaited Adagio’s response. But what would she say? Cadance had seen through her lie before, what would stop her now? This was it, it was over, everything was collapsing in on itself and–

It’s going to be alright. Twilight’s words reverberated in her head, silencing the whirlwind panicked voices. Adagio took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and released it. She looked Cadance straight in the eyes.

“The truth.”

And so she told the truth. She told her about Sugarcoat, about how she’d seen her in the nurse’s office and about how she’d confronted her in their shared room. She told her about how she’d watched the altercation between Sugarcoat and Fleur, and about how angry it made her to watch Sugarcoat get hurt.

And she told her about how, with a decision made in a split second, she’d hurt Fleur de Lis.

For her part, Cadance sat quietly and listened to what Adagio had to say. It felt as if she’d been talking for hours, and by the end her voice was hoarse and cracking. But she didn’t stop. If she stopped she wouldn’t be able start again, so she kept talking until, finally, she’d said everything she needed to say.

“So, that’s it. I’m sorry for lying to you, Cadance, I just didn’t know what else to do.”

Cadance studied her for a long time, her expression impenetrable, until eventually she spoke. “Why didn’t you think you could talk to me about this?” she asked.

“I didn’t want to get in trouble,” said Adagio. She hung her head. “At least, that’s what I thought, anyway. But more than that, I think I was afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Afraid of disappointing you. But then I went and did it anyway.”

She felt Cadance’s hand on her shoulder. “Adagio,” said Cadance, “what you did was wrong. You acted out, and as a result someone got hurt. You understand that, right?”

“I do,” said Adagio. She tried to turn away, but found that Cadance’s grip tightened ever so slightly, not enough to hurt, but enough to keep her in place. Adagio was certain she could have shrugged it off if she wanted, but she didn’t.

“Good. We can discuss the situation with Fleur de Lis and Sugarcoat later, but first there’s something that I need to tell you.” Her voice softened. “Whatever happens, no matter how bad you think it is, I don’t want you to ever, ever, think you can’t talk to me about it. Okay?”

“Okay,” said Adagio.

“And next time you see someone getting pushed around in the halls, in the gym, or anywhere else, you don’t take matters into your own hands. You come straight to my office, got it?”

“Got it.”

“I’m here to help you, Adagio, that goes for all the students at Crystal Prep. But I can’t do that if you don’t tell me when something bad happens, and especially when you lie to me about it.” She squeezed Adagio’s shoulder. “So, no more lies.”

“No more lies,” repeated Adagio. She didn’t know if it was a promise she had any hope of keeping, but when she looked up and saw Cadance’s smiling face – real, actual smiling! – she knew she had to try.

The rest of the ride back to Crystal Prep was quiet. Not the cold, uncomfortable silence of the afternoon, but a warm, pleasant stillness. The sun had nearly set by the time they’d pulled up to the dormitory, and Adagio was about to step out of the car when Cadance stopped her.

“Adagio,” she said, and pulled her into a tight, one armed hug. Adagio stiffened, but allowed it to happen. Cadance needed this… and maybe so did she. After a few seconds, Cadance released her.

“Thank you,” said Cadance, “for being honest with me.”

Chapter 6 - Casting Shadows

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Everything had gone according to plan.

Adagio could feel the Equestrian Magic pouring into her through the pendant on her neck, filling the void she’d felt since she’d first stepped into this accursed world. It lifted her into the air, wrapping her in an aura of pure, unfiltered power that would be the cocoon for her metamorphosis. A pair of equine ears sprouted from her head – a byproduct from the transformative nature of the magic she stole – and a pair of translucent wings grew from her shoulder blades.

This was it. The magic radiated off of her, illuminating the stage with its ominous red glow. The crowd was silent, entranced by the lyrical spell that grew stronger with each passing second. They would be her army, their only desire to serve her and spread her song across the land, and when she’d finished with this world she would move on to her true prize.

Equestria.

Adagio was startled from her thoughts by a distant sound that interrupted her moment of triumph. She scanned the horizon for its source, quickly locating a hilltop that overlooked the stage.

“So, the Rainbooms want to turn this into a real battle of the bands? Then let’s–”

Wait. Something was wrong. A lone figure loomed on the precipice, shrouded in darkness but casting an unmistakable silhouette against the night sky. It wasn’t the Rainbooms that had intervened in her moment of triumph… it was Aria!

Adagio glanced backwards just in time to catch a glimpse of Sonata’s hair disappearing behind a curtain. Her fellow Sirens had betrayed her. Anger welled up within her, and she could feel the magic crackling at the tips of her fingers.

Aria wished to usurp her victory? Well, she was too late! Adagio had never felt power like this before, it coursed through her, begging to be released, and she was only too happy to oblige. She would show them all what happens to those who dared oppose Adagio Dazzle!

Magic pulsed from her amulet, quickly enveloping the stage in its red glow. Adagio held her hands above her head, channeling the power into what would be a single, devastating strike, when the unthinkable happened.

She hesitated.

Aria didn’t. For the first time, Adagio noticed that Aria’s pendant was lit with a sickly green light and, from a spider web of cracks that riddled the once perfect gem, dripped a sinister purple smoke. The smoke, unhindered by the wind, entwined itself around Aria and raised upwards until her shadowy form eclipsed the moon.

Aria opened her mouth and emitted a single, dissonant note. It struck Adagio like a shockwave, striking her from the air and sending her skipping across the stage like a discarded toy, landing in a heap on the floor. Her own music had stopped, replaced by the discordant melody of Aria’s song. Adagio could feel her strength – her magic – being sapped from within her.

No, this couldn’t be happening! Adagio staggered to her feet, opened her mouth to counter Aria’s strange music with a song of her own, but found that she couldn’t make a sound. Panic welled up within her and she he tried again, this time managing a pathetic squeak.

The crowd watcher her struggle impassively, and the smoke began to pool around their ankles as one by one their eyes took on the same green glow as Aria’s pendant. For the first time, Adagio noticed that each and every one of them wore a Crystal Prep uniform.

When the strange magic had spread across the entire crowd, the tone of Aria’s song changed. It grew faster, angrier, and with it the crowd’s demeanor shifted. Their faces contorted in unnatural fury, and in an instant they were rushing the stage, their arms outstretched and their fingers sharpening into long claws.

Adagio took a step backward only to find the curtains were gone, replaced by a sheer drop into a black abyss. Above her, Aria had raised her arms to the heavens, and from the smoke that now completely engulphed her emerged the form of a colossal Alicorn with the eyes of Abacus Cinch.

As the Alicorn raised its horn, repugnant green light bubbling from its tip, the crowed fell upon Adagio, ripping and tearing first at her clothes and then at her flesh. Overhead, the light had congealed into a blinding beam that shot mercilessly towards her.

Adagio screamed.

She shot up in bed, ripping off her covers and gasping for air.

It was a dream, she thought. Her heart beat painfully in her chest and she barely suppressed a wave of nausea. She shook uncontrollably, drenched in a cold sweat that had soaked through her t-shirt and sheets.

It was just a dream, she thought again, it was just a dream, it was just a dream, it was

“Adagio?”

Adagio’s clammy hand clutched the rail of the bunk bed as she looked over the edge. “Sugarcoat?” she said, her voice trembling pathetically. “What happened?”

“You screamed in your sleep and woke yourself up. It was really sad.”

Adagio groaned and rubbed her forehead. Sugarcoat was right, it was sad. Even now, the details of the dream – the nightmare – were draining from her mind, all except for the image of Aria lording over her, enshrouded in dark magic.

She shook her head. Why did it bother her so much? Sirens didn’t have that kind of magic, and even if they did, the notion that Aria would be better than her at it was laughable… and yet she couldn’t seem to shake it. Was this her mind’s way of dealing with their fight yesterday, or had Aria become so frustrating that Adagio wasn’t safe even in the sanctuary of her own dreams? She did her best to push the notion to the back of her mind and climbed down from the bunk.

Sugarcoat awaited her at the bottom. “You look terrible,” she said bluntly.

“Thanks,” muttered Adagio. She glanced at the mirror, finding to her great annoyance that, once again, Sugarcoat was correct. Dark bags hung under her eyes and her hair was matted with sweat. She sighed, and seeking to look anywhere other than at her own, disheveled reflection, her eyes eventually made their way to the window.

“Ugh, it’s still dark out. What time is it?” she asked.

“About five-thirty.”

Five-thirty? Sugarcoat, why on earth are you awake at this hour?”

Sugarcoat shrugged. “The showers don’t start getting busy until six, and waiting in lines is a waste of my time.” She gathered her things into a bundle and tucked them under her arm. “Are you coming?”

Adagio hesitated. A little voice in her head told her she should wait for the other Sirens to wake up – they’d waited for her on their first day, after all. But on the other hand, if Aria saw her looking like this…

“Yeah,” she said, slinging her backpack over her shoulder, “let’s go.”

The hallway was entirely devoid of students, and silent save for the muffled snoring coming from the door across the hall. Adagio began heading toward the showers when she stopped. Sugarcoat wasn’t with her. She turned around, spotting Sugarcoat standing at the door to their room, fumbling with something in her bag.

“What are you doing?” asked Adagio, in a hushed voice.

Sugarcoat didn’t respond, instead she produced a small, water filled spray bottle and a dingy rag. Adagio was about to repeat her question, when she noticed what was written on the whiteboard.

“’Traitor’,” she read, punctuating the word with a roll of her eyes. “Seriously? Do the students at this school care that much about the results of a stupid game?”

“Yes,” said Sugarcoat, spraying the offending word with the contents of the bottle. One wipe from the rag smeared it across the board, and another removed it completely. Sugarcoat admired her work for a moment, before turning towards Adagio. “But not a basketball game.”

Adagio understood. “The Friendship Games,” she said. Sugarcoat simply nodded, placing the rag and the bottle back into her bag and replacing them with a blue marker. Her handwriting was meticulous, and by the time she was done all evidence of the vandalism was gone. She offered the marker to Adagio.

“No thanks,” said Adagio, after a moment of consideration. She wondered how many times Sugarcoat had had to clean graffiti from the door to her own room, and the feeling it evoked reminded her of how she’d felt just before she tripped Fleur.

Sugarcoat tucked the marker away, and together they made their way towards the showers. They didn’t speak, and although Adagio had a million questions about the Friendship Games, something was telling her that now wasn’t the right time. Instead, she spared Sugarcoat one last glance, their eyes meeting briefly, before stepping into the shower stall and pulling closed the curtain.

She peeled off her sullied nightclothes and stepped into the warm embrace of the shower. Steam filling her lungs and hot water running over her skin, Adagio finally felt as though she was breaking free from the clutches of her nightmare. She allowed herself to forget, for a moment, the long day ahead of her, and concentrate on the few things that had come out of her time at Crystal Prep, and the people that had come into her life.

Although she didn’t realize it, she thought about one of those people even more fondly than the others.

By the time Adagio had finished her shower, Sugarcoat had already left. Students had begun to trickle out of their rooms and into the hall but, fortunately for Adagio, Aria and Sonata weren’t among them. She ducked into her room, dropping off her laundry and picking up her books for the day – as well as Cadance’s umbrella – before quietly slipping out.

A consequence of waking up early was that Adagio had an unusual amount of spare time before her first class. Not wanting to accidentally run into either of the other Sirens after she’d gone through such lengths to avoid them, Adagio decided to spend this time in the one place they wouldn’t be able to reach her: the lab.

She unlocked the door and was greeted by the now familiar musty smell of the small, poorly ventilated room. She took a seat at the desk, inadvertently disturbing the screensaver and revealing the image of the purple-and-green dog. Adagio glared at him, his carefree expression a stark contrast to how he jealously hoarded the secrets locked within the computer. The password attempts had not reset, confirming Adagio’s fear that they now only had two guesses before being permanently locked out.

She felt a flash of renewed annoyance towards Sonata. She couldn’t just leave well enough alone, could she? Adagio took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and let it out. There was no helping it now. Adagio switched off the monitor and pushed the keyboard out of the way to make room for her school books. She might be too tired to make any progress on getting her magic back, but she could at least work on not failing her midterms.

The studying went slowly, but Adagio forced herself to continue. It seemed that each time she ran into a concept she didn’t understand, or whenever the sheer volume of information threatened to overwhelm her, she would encounter a note from Twilight in the margins that would clear things up. It was incredible how, in so few words, Twilight could make even the most complex topics more easily digestible.

But more than just clarifications, Twilight had somehow managed to distill a little piece of herself into the pages of Adagio’s books. She commented on places she disagreed, underlined spelling errors, and occasionally interjected with some of the dorkiest jokes Adagio had ever read. It might have been silly, but Adagio couldn’t deny that there was something charming about Twilight’s delivery, and found herself smiling whenever she came across her (admittedly atrocious) handwriting.

Twilight had, of course, asked for permission before annotating Adagio’s books. Adagio had agreed – she hadn’t paid for the books, after all – but was none the less surprised at the progress Twilight had made. They’d only had two sessions together, and of those sessions a considerable amount of their time had been spent talking. When had Twilight had the time to do all this? Adagio flipped further through the book, finding that Twilight’s notes stretched far beyond the materiel she was currently covering.

That girl is incredible, Adagio thought, closing the book. She checked the time on her phone – by far the most convenient feature of the device – and found that it was almost time for classes to begin. She looked at her array of books spread out over the desk, grabbed what she needed for her first class and left the rest behind. Why not? It wasn’t as if anyone else would come in here, and some of those textbooks were really heavy! Proud of her own cleverness, Adagio proceeded to switch off the light and relock the door, leaving in a better mood than when she’d arrived.

This mood was dampened somewhat by the classes themselves. In contrast to Twilight Sparkle’s very personal style of teaching, the teachers of Crystal Prep came across as extremely cold and distant. It felt as if they lectured at the students instead of to them, and though everyone around her seemed to be diligently taking notes, Adagio found it difficult to follow along. By the time her three morning classes had finished, Adagio was armed with pages of questions to ask Twilight when next they met.

But when were they meeting next? The implication had been that their afternoon meetings were to be a regular occurrence, but they’d never officially confirmed anything. What if Adagio went all the way to the Canterlot Public Library, only to find that Twilight Sparkle wasn’t there?

Fortunately, the solution to this problem was sitting Adagio’s backpack. She returned to the lab, switched on the light, and dumped the contents of the bag out onto the desk. The phone Cadance had given her – her phone, she corrected – slid out onto one of the books and Adagio scooped it up. She sat down in the office chair, opened her contacts, and selected the only name on the list.

Their ‘conversation’ from the day before opened on the screen before her, and Adagio quickly set about her business. ‘Twilight Sparkle,’ she typed, ‘are we still meeting at the library today?’

She stared at the text for a moment, then deleted it.

‘Are we still meeting up later?’

Too open ended. She deleted it again.

‘Hey, Twilight Sparkle, it’s Adagio–’

Obviously. She started over.

‘I was just wondering–’

She erased that, too. Why was texting so hard? The pattern of writing and erasing text messages continued for some time, until eventually Adagio had stopped typing all together and was simply spinning in the revolving chair, staring at her phone. This self-imposed stalemate would have likely gone on for even longer, if not for the appearance of an ellipsis in a small bubble at the bottom of her screen. Adagio had only a moment to ponder the meaning of this strange new icon, before it was replaced with a text from Twilight Sparkle.

‘Hey,’ read the text, ‘how did things go with Cadance last night?’

Adagio began to type, her texting paralysis suddenly gone.

‘Good, I told her what happened and she seemed happy that I was honest with her.’

‘That’s great! I’m glad everything worked out between you two. I was going to ask you about it last night, but I wasn’t sure what time you got home, or if you’d want me bothering you about it.’

‘You don’t bother me, Twilight Sparkle,’ Adagio typed. ‘Anyway, I have a question to ask you.’

There was a pause. ‘What is it?’ Twilight responded.

“Alright, Dazzle, get it together,” Adagio said to herself. ‘We didn’t talk about it yesterday, but I just wanted to confirm we were still on for the library today.’

Adagio was prepared to wait for Twilight’s response, when she was startled by a loud series of knocks at the door.

“Open up, Adagio!” came Aria’s voice from the other side. “We can see the light on under the door!”

Adagio’s mood darkened significantly as she set her phone down on the desk and stood up to answer the door. Outside stood Aria, arms crossed and wearing an expression of unhidden irritation. Behind her, Sonata leaned against a set of lockers, but quickly stood up straight when she noticed Adagio.

“Told you she’d be here,” said Aria. Looking at her, Adagio couldn’t help but be reminded of the ghastly facsimile she’d seen in her nightmare. She reminded herself that that version of Aria was a figment of her imagination, but remained on edge none the less.

“’Dagi!” cried Sonata, pushing past Aria. “Where were you this morning? We knocked on your door, like, a hundred times!”

Adagio could feel Aria’s gaze upon her, but kept her eyes on Sonata. “I woke up early,” she said dismissively.

Sonata visibly deflated. “And you didn’t wake us up? Or wait for us?”

“I woke up really early,” replied Adagio. “Besides, I wasn’t going to wait around for hours.”

“Maybe you didn’t have to wait, but I did!” said Sonata, puffing out her cheeks, sulkily. “Aria knew someone at the front of the line who let her cut, but I had to go to the back!” She leapt forwards and grabbed Adagio’s shoulders. “In the back, ‘Dagi! I thought we didn’t wait in lines!”

Adagio shrugged her off, fixing her eyes on Aria. “Someone let you cut the line?”

“Yeah,” said Aria, meeting her eyes defiantly. She didn’t elaborate, so Sonata did it for her.

“It was one of the girls on the basketball team—” she cut herself off abruptly. “Wait, you don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

“Sonata–” started Aria, but it was too late.

“Aria’s on the basketball team!”

Adagio blinked at Sonata, before turning back to Aria, her lips forming a wry smile. “You’re on the basketball team?”

A blush rose in Aria’s cheeks. “You idiot, Sonata, I told you not to say anything!” she snapped.

“She’s really good, ‘Dagi!” continued Sonata, undeterred. “I was at the game yesterday, she scored a bunch of times and they won!”

“I’m sure she was excellent,” cooed Adagio, her voice dripping with sarcasm. The very idea of Aria running up and down the court chasing a ball with a group of humans was endlessly entertaining to her – nothing at all like the Aria of her nightmare (who, Adagio reminded herself, still did not exist). But the news that Crystal Prep had won the game was welcome, and even explained why the other students had been less outright hostile towards her that morning, instead opting for cold indifference.

“You’re lucky we won,” said Aria, suddenly getting some of her nerve back. “I heard what happened between you and Fleur de Lis yesterday. You should be thanking me for cleaning up your mess for you.”

“You’re so right!” said Adagio. “Thank you so much for saving me from the wrath of a bunch of teenagers! In fact, you did so well in your little game, I can already feel our magic coming back to us!”

Sonata gasped. “Really?”

Adagio dropped her faux enthusiasm. “No.”

“Right, I knew that,” said Sonata, doing a poor job of hiding her disappointment.

Aria worked her jaw. “Whatever,” she said, “are you going to let us in, or make us stand out here all day?”

Adagio realized she’d been unconsciously blocking the door. She turned around and headed back to her seat. “Do what you want.”

Sonata followed her in and, after a moment of hesitation, so did Aria, allowing the door to close behind them. A short silence fell over them, which was broken by two blasts of vibration from Adagio’s phone, causing all three of them to jump.

“What was that?” asked Sonata.

Adagio snatched the phone up off the desk. “Nothing,” she said.

“It’s not nothing,” said Aria, “it’s a phone. When did you get a phone? And who would want to talk to you?”

Adagio caught Sonata trying to sneak a peek at the screen of the phone, and placed it in her lap facing downward. “I got it yesterday, and who I talk to is none of your business. Maybe you should get one, you can use it to talk to the basketball team, because clearly they’re really important to you.”

Aria snarled, and for a split second she looked like her nightmarish doppelgänger. “Maybe I will,” she spat.

“Me, too!” said Sonata. “…Where do I get one?”

But Adagio and Aria weren’t paying attention. “Why do you even care if I’m on the basketball team?” asked Aria venomously. “Are you just jealous that I’m good at something and you’re not?”

Adagio scoffed. “Why would I be jealous that you can throw a ball in a hoop? You can do whatever you want, meanwhile I’ll be working on getting our magic back!”

Aria rolled her eyes. “Right, because that seems to be going so well. Maybe if you actually talked to us instead of disappearing all the time we’d actually be getting somewhere!”

“Girls–” Sonata interjected, but she was cut off again by the increasingly heated argument.

“Talking to you two is an exercise in futility,” said Adagio. “I don’t hear you coming up with any brilliant plans!”

“You don’t hear them because you don’t listen!” shouted Aria. “If you didn’t think of it then you immediately write it off. You think you’re so smart, but you don’t let anyone else think! If I was in charge–”

Adagio crossed her legs. “Oh, this will be good.”

Aria threw up her arms in frustration. “Why do I even bother? You know, Sonata wanted to look for you because she thought you might be sick or something, but I knew you’d be here. Because you do whatever is best for Adagio Dazzle, and the rest of us can go straight to Tartarus! If it weren’t for you–”

Adagio stood up, her fists clenched so tightly that, if she wasn’t so caught up in the argument, she might be worried about crushing her phone. “If it weren’t for me you wouldn’t even be here!” she declared.

“You’re right,” yelled Aria “we’d be in Equestria!”

Silence fell in the wake of Aria’s declaration. The two Sirens glared at each other fearsomely, their eyes locked together in a silent battle of wills. It was Aria that broke first, turning on her heel and, without another word, stomping to the door and slamming it closed behind her, the sound echoing through the small room.

“’Dagi…”

“Go with her, Sonata,” spat Adagio, her eyes still fixed on the spot where Aria had been. “I have some things I need to finish. Alone.”

Sonata gave her a long, worried look, opened her mouth to speak, but thought better of it. She walked to the door, paused again, then opened it and walked out. The last thing Adagio saw of her was a glimpse of her hair disappearing into the hallway.

It was a long time before Adagio was able to tear her gaze from the door and turn back to her books, but when she did, she found that not even the words of Twilight Sparkle were enough to calm her.

Riding the bus was stressful.

No longer at the mercy of Cadance’s schedule, Twilight had suggested that the pair meet a little later than usual – five o’clock instead of four – and offered to stay out longer as compensation. Adagio, having nothing better to do that evening, had accepted. She’d passed the time in the lab, studying and trying not to think of Aria’s stupid face, before eventually making her way to the bus stop.

The halls were, for the most part, empty when Adagio was leaving, and similarly she was the only one at the stop when the bus arrived.

Two minutes late, she thought bitterly as the doors opened. She stepped on board, scanning her bus card at the small terminal which beeped and flashed a green light. The driver didn’t even look at her, nor did he wait for her to sit down before he started to drive. The sudden lurch of motion caught Adagio off guard, and forced her to grab one of the metal poles that ran up and down the length of the bus for support. She shuddered, wondering how many people with their filthy, unwashed hands had touched the pole before her, and quickly wiped her hand on her skirt.

Unlike the school, the bus was densely packed with people of all sizes, colors, and ages. She pushed her way to the back and, in a much-needed turn of fortune, found an available seat by the window. She sat down, placed her bag on her lap, and pulled out her phone.

‘I’m on my way,’ she texted to Twilight, before opening the app that Twilight had downloaded for her and watching the little, pulsing dot slowly work its way across the city and towards the Canterlot Public Library. It wasn’t a short trip, and the other passengers slowly trickled out until only a sparse few remained. This pleased Adagio, who placed her bag on the seat next to her and claimed the suddenly available legroom.

Things seemed to be going reasonably well, until Adagio heard a commotion coming from the font of the bus. A pair of boys, high school age but younger than Adagio, were in the process of paying their fare with a large quantity of small coins. They talked loudly, their voices like nails on a chalkboard, and once they’d finally scrounged enough money they began the process of choosing seats, pushing and shoving as they went. Adagio had already dismissed them and turned back to her phone when something they said caught her attention.

“Hey,” said the portly orange haired boy, doing a poor job of keeping his voice low. “Isn’t that one of the Dazzlings?”

Adagio froze. She chanced another glance at the boys, the lanky green haired one was now propped up on his knees, surveilling the bus.

Wait, she thought, I recognize them. She hadn’t realized it at first from the lack of backwards hats and stupid glasses, but the aura of stupidity radiating off them was unmistakable. This pair of idiots had performed at the Battle of the Bands, and what was worse, they recognized her.

“Uh, where?”

Or one of them did, anyway.

“Right there, you idiot! In the back!”

The taller one shoved the portly one. “Don’t call me an idiot, Snips!”

Snips groaned. “Fine, Snails, but keep your voice down, she’ll hear us!”

Too late for that.

Snails scanned the bus once more, and Adagio buried her face in her phone. “Is she behind the pretty girl in the Crystal Prep uniform?”

Adagio gagged.

Snips blinked at him. “How would someone be behind her, if she’s at the back of the bus?”

“I dunno,” said Snails.

“Because she is her!” exclaimed Snips.

“Oh,” said Snails. “But the Dazzlings go to Canterlot High, not Crystal Prep.”

“Yeah, but when was the last time you actually saw any of them?”

Snails scratched his head. “The Battle of the Bands, I guess. Huh.”

“The Battle of the Bands was weeks ago,” said Snips. “Maybe they go to Crystal Prep now?”

Snails squinted at her. “Are you sure she’s a Dazzling?”

“Pretty sure, who else has hair like that?” He paused. “Wait, I have an idea! Give me your phone.”

“Use your own phone,” said Snails, clutching his phone to his chest.

“I can’t, my mom took it away because I used too much data!”

“That’s rough, buddy.”

“Listen! We can take her picture and send it to Sunset Shimmer, she’ll know whether or not she’s a Dazzling! You still have her number, right?”

Adagio abruptly stood up and pulled on the yellow cable next to her seat. There was a chiming sound and the ‘Stop Requested’ sign at the front of the bus lit up in red light. The bus was about to pass the next stop, forcing the driver to throw on the breaks, sending all the passengers lurching forward. Adagio grabbed her bag and quickly walked down the aisle.

“Crap, she’s leaving, quick, Snails, take the picture!”

But it was too late, Adagio was already off the bus.

She walked hurriedly down the sidewalk, consulting her phone. She was a little over a block away from the library, but a little walking was well worth her escape from Snips and Snails, and more importantly, Sunset Shimmer.

If Sunset found out she was attending Crystal Prep, it would only be a matter of time before she found out about Adagio’s arrangement with Twilight Sparkle. That couldn’t be allowed to happen, she still needed Twilight… to help her get her grades up, of course.

Adagio took a deep breath. There was nothing to be done about it now. With any luck, Snips and Snails would forget they ever saw her long before they had the chance to mention it to Sunset, and in the meantime, she intended to get the most out of her time with Twilight.

“Adagio, hey!”

Adagio had just mounted the library steps when she heard the call. Turning around, she saw Twilight Sparkle, having just rounded the corner on the opposite side of the library. Adagio looked around, confirming that there wasn’t anyone else around, and waved.

“Hello, Twilight Sparkle,” she said, a genuine smile flickering across her face. “It seems that I got here before you, for once.”

Twilight grinned. “Not yet, you haven’t. Race you to the top of the stairs!” Twilight hooked her thumbs into the straps of her backpack and began leaping up the stairs two at a time. Adagio rolled her eyes, laughed, and followed her at a leisurely pace to the top of the stone steps. When she arrived, Twilight was standing triumphantly at the top… or might have been, if she wasn’t gasping for air with her hands planted firmly upon her knobby knees.

“I… win,” she panted.

“Congratulations,” said Adagio, sarcastically. “Do you need a minute?”

“No,” said Twilight. She stood up straight, wobbling in place. Adagio placed her hand on her shoulder to steady her. “There’s a lot I’m hoping to cover today, so I hope you’re ready to work!”

“I’ve been looking forward to it all day,” said Adagio.

She set down her pencil and leaned back in her chair. “Done.”

Twilight looked up from the book she’d been reading, a blue pen tucked behind her ear. “Done?” Adagio nodded. “Can I see?”

Adagio slid the small stack of paper over to Twilight for inspection. Twilight picked it up, adjusted her glasses, and began to read. Adagio massaged her aching hand and watched Twilight’s eyes dart rapidly across the pages. One might think that, reading so quickly, she might miss something, but Adagio could now say for absolute certain that wasn’t the case.

Twilight finished reading and set the paper down on the table.

“Well?” asked Adagio. “What do you think?”

Twilight smiled. “It’s really good, Adagio!”

Adagio sighed in relief. “It better be, you made me write it three times.”

“But…” Adagio shot Twilight a dangerous look. “Kidding, kidding!” Twilight laughed and Adagio shook her head, not quite able to hide the grin that tugged on the edges of her lips.

“You’d better be,” she warned, standing up from the chair and stretching. “I’m still not sure what was wrong with the first two.”

“They were alright,” admitted Twilight, reaching into her bag and extracting a stapler, “but I knew you could do better.”

“You knew?” asked Adagio. “How?”

Twilight shrugged. “I just knew.” Twilight stapled the pages together at the corner, having to use both hands and throw her weight into the equation to get the staple through all six pages of the essay plus the cover page. She held them out to Adagio, who reached out to grab them, when their eyes met and the world froze.

It felt as if Twilight Sparkle wasn’t just looking at her, but into her. She felt exposed, but not judged, vulnerable, yet safe. She might have been able to process the moment they were sharing, perhaps even begin to understand the feelings that were welling up within her, if her mind had not gone blank save for one, single thought.

Twilight Sparkle had very pretty eyes.

A loud knock at the door lurched Adagio back into reality. She took the papers from Twilight, making a show out of tucking them into her backpack as an excuse to hide the blush that had lit up her face like a Hearth’s Warming lights.

What just happened? And why did her stomach suddenly feel like it was filled with butterflies?

Twilight had moved over to the door and opened it, revealing the old librarian standing at the other side. She cleared her throat. “Oh, Mr. Bookend, is there something I can help you with?”

Mr. Bookend squinted at her through his thick, round spectacles. “Ah, yes, Twilight Sparkle. I just came up to tell you that it’s about time for me to lock up.”

“I don’t understand. The library usually closes at midnight, and it’s only–” Twilight checked her phone and her eyes widened, her pupils narrowing into pinpricks. “Oh no, we must have lost track of time! I’m so sorry, Mr. Bookend, we’ll pack up right away!”

The old man waved his hand dismissively. “Take your time,” he said, wearing a smile that seemed to make his wrinkles even more pronounced. “It’s good to see young people so enthusiastic about learning. I’ll be waiting at the checkout counter when you’re ready.”

“Thank you, Mr. Bookend,” said Twilight.

The librarian nodded and closed the door.

“I guess I’ll check what time my bus will be here,” said Adagio, still unable to look at Twilight.

“The busses stop running at twelve,” said Twilight. “And I have three missed calls from Shiny. I knew I shouldn’t have put my phone on silent!”

“So why did you?” asked Adagio. “And who’s Shiny?”

“Shining Armor,” said Twilight, “he’s my brother. And I didn’t want it going off while you were writing your paper. Hold on, I need to call him and let him know I’m okay.” Twilight stepped out of the room, leaving Adagio alone with her thoughts.

No, not with her thoughts. She continued packing things into her bag, being careful not to crush her history paper or to think about Twilight Sparkle. Not that there was anything to think about. She pushed aside Cadance’s umbrella to make room for more books, cursing herself for forgetting once again to return it. And just like that, she wasn’t thinking about Twilight anymore.

Dammit.

But what was there to think about, anyway? She just felt… weird. But of course she did, she’d been up for seventeen hours! She got in a fight with Aria! She’d just finished writing the same paper three times! She didn’t need to justify anything to anyone, and whatever feelings she thought she might have felt for a split second were just a product of her overactive imagination.

Yes, that had to be it.

Adagio had just finished collecting her things when Twilight returned looking flustered.

“How’d it go?” asked Adagio, who was relieved to find she could once again look at Twilight Sparkle. Not that she had any particular desire to look at her, of course.

Twilight sighed and began sweeping her books unceremoniously into her backpack. “He was more relieved than mad, which made me feel even worse about making him worry. He said he’s going to come get us now, but it’ll probably take him about a half hour to get here.”

Adagio raised an eyebrow. “Us?”

“You didn’t think we’d make you walk home alone in the dark, did you?”

“No, but–”

“No buts!” said Twilight, silencing Adagio’s oppisition. “Now, I don’t want to make Mr. Bookend wait any longer than he already has.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Adagio.

The two girls left the study room and went down the stairs to the main floor. Most of the lights had been turned off for the night, shrouding the library in an eerie blanket of darkness. The librarian waited for them by the door, standing in a beam of light that gave him an almost supernatural quality. Twilight thanked him again for his patience, and the two girls stepped outside.

And into the rain.

“Oh no!” cried Twilight, holding her bag above her head, before immediately reversing her position and clutching the bag to her chest. “My books!” she exclaimed.

“I’ve got it,” said Adagio, ripping open her bag and pulling out Cadance’s umbrella. She wasted no time opening it, and without thinking grabbed Twilight by the arm and pulled her under the umbrella.

Their noses almost touched, and for a moment Adagio could feel Twilight’s breath on her face. For the second time that night, her brain went blank.

“Are you girls going to be alright out here?”

The voice startled Adagio. “Oh,” she said, taking a step back, “um–”

“We’ll be okay, Mr. Bookend,” said Twilight, “My brother’s on his way to pick us up.”

“Right,” said Adagio, “what she said.”

Smooth.

“Well alright then. Have a good night, girls.”

“Good night.”

“’Night.”

The librarian disappeared into the night, leaving the two girls alone with the rain.

Twilight slipped her arms into the shoulder straps of her backpack, and placed a hand on the shaft of the umbrella as rain pitter-pattered against the canopy overhead.

“So,” said Twilight, breaking the silence. “I didn’t really picture you as a ‘pink umbrella’ kind of girl.”

“What?” asked Adagio. “Oh – right. It belongs to Cadance, she loaned it to me and I was supposed to give it back. I’m sort of glad I forgot, to be honest.”

“Me too.”

There was a long pause.

“I think we should make this thing official,” said Twilight.

Adagio blinked. “What?”

“Well, we can’t be going to midnight every night, and we shouldn’t have to text back and forth every day to confirm that we’re going to have a session, so I thought setting an official, definitive time slot would be the best option.”

“Oh,” said Adagio.

“But if you don’t want to–”

“No – I mean, I do, it’s just…” she sighed. “It’s been a long day.”

“Sorry about that,” said Twilight, sheepishly.

“Don’t be,” said Adagio, “coming here with you has been the best part of my day.” She scuffed the ground with the toe of her shoe. “My past few days, really. Even if you can be a little bit of a taskmaster.”

Twilight laughed. “I stand by my methods! But thanks for telling me. If we’re being honest, I wasn’t sure how I felt when Cadance asked me to tutor you. I feel like I still have so much to learn, but now I’m supposed to be teaching someone else? I almost turned her down, but something inside me told me to give it a try… and I’m glad I did. I knew I made the right decision the second I saw you.”

Adagio was reminded of when she’d first seen Twilight, and decided not to mention the part where she thought she’d walked into a nightmare.

“But I almost forgot,” continued Twilight, “we were figuring out a time for these sessions.”

“Right, that’s what we were doing.”

“I was thinking of going back to four to six. We can go a little later if we want, but I don’t want to get you in trouble for breaking curfew.”

Curfew?

“If we’re going get you ready for your midterms we’re going to have to keep meeting as frequently as possible. We’ll stick to weekdays for now – I won’t take your weekends from you! – but after midterms are done we can move to a more relaxed schedule.”

“Okay,” said Adagio.

“Good!” said Twilight. “I’m glad we got that settled. And look, here comes Shiny now!”

A car pulled up at the bottom of the stone steps and beeped its horn twice. The two girls, each with a hand on the umbrella, slowly made their way down the slick steps, pausing when they reached the car.

“It’s okay,” said Twilight, reassuringly. “He knows you’re coming.”

They climbed in, Twilight in the front and Adagio in the back. Shining Armor sat in the driver’s seat, but bent over as if to move something from the seat beside him. He had short, two toned blue hair, a strong jaw, and pale white skin.

“Hey, Shiny, and Spike! What are you doing here?”

Adagio cocked an eyebrow. Spike?

“He was worried about you, and so was I,” said Shining Armor. “Your friend isn’t allergic to dogs, is she?”

Twilight looked at Adagio, who shook her head. “Nope, we’re all good.”

“Good, in that case Spike can sit in the back with her.”

“Twilight!” come another voice from the front of the car. “I missed you so much! It felt like you were gone forever.”

Twilight laughed, and Adagio tried to figure out who the other voice was coming from. “You always say that!”

“Twilight,” said Shining Armor, “remember what time it is?”

“Right, okay, Spike, up we go!”

Twilight lifted Spike into the air, placing him next to Adagio in the back seat. As it turned out, Spike was a dog. But not just any dog.

A purple-and-green dog.

“Hi,” he said, wagging his tail, “I’m Spike!”

“Guh,” said Adagio, her brain struggling to process what had just happened.

“Twilight,” said Spike, his voice laced with concern. “I think your friend is broken.”

“You forgot to mention your dog could talk, didn’t you, Twily?”

Twilight whirled around in her seat. “I’m so sorry!” she said. “You went to CHS, and – I just thought–” she bit her lip. “He can talk,” she finished, lamely.

She looked between Spike and Twilight. Spike was the purple-and-green dog. The purple-and-green dog was the background image for the computer in Adagio’s lab. That computer had belonged to the former Crystal Prep student who had not only used that lab, but had created a device there that trapped and stored magical energy. Spike belonged to Twilight Sparkle.

Twilight Sparkle created the device.

Of course she had, who else could it have been? No one at Crystal Prep – perhaps no one Adagio had ever met – was as passionate or intelligent as Twilight Sparkle. Dots were starting to connect themselves in her head. Twilight had been at Crystal Prep until the Friendship Games, where something had happened that had turned the school against her and the ‘Crystal Prep Breakfast Club’. That was where the device had been broken – Adagio was sure of it! – but that wasn’t enough, she still needed more information, she needed–

“Adagio?”

She blinked. Twilight, Spike, and Shining Armor were all staring at her.

“Talking dog,” she said, feigning astonishment. “Wow.”

There was a collective sigh of relief from the group. “You really need to warn people about that, Twilight,” scolded Shining Armor. “We don’t need a repeat of what happened with Mom and Dad every time you introduce him to someone.”

Twilight laughed sheepishly.

Spike sidled up right next to Adagio. “I may be more intelligent – not to mention handsome – than other dogs, but I’m still a dog. And we dogs like getting scratched behind the ears.” He tapped a paw against his head. “Right here, if you please.”

“Spike–” started Twilight.

“It’s fine,” said Adagio, indulging him.

“Oh yeah,” said Spike, “that’s the stuff.”

Twilight shook her head, and turned back towards the front of the car. Shining Armor took this as a cue and pulled out onto the road. The car was silent save for the pounding of the rain on the windows, the rhythmic beating of the windshield wipers, and the occasional sigh of contentment from Spike.

The trip back to Crystal Prep seemed to go by in a flash, and by the time they’d arrived Adagio knew exactly what she had to do. She bid a quick goodbye to Twilight and her brother (and Spike), before running all the way up the stairs and to her room. She fumbled with the key, dropping it twice before finally managing to get the door open.

“Adagio?” said Sugarcoat. She was sitting in bed, her blanket pulled up to her midriff and a book laying open on her lap. “Where were you? Curfew was hours ago, and your blue-haired friend was looking for you earlier–”

“That doesn’t matter,” said Adagio, cutting her off. She must have looked crazy, barging into their room in the middle of the night. She hadn’t even bothered to use the umbrella in her hurry to get inside, so not only was she late, she was soaking wet. But she didn’t care. “Sugarcoat,” she said, grabbing one of the desk chairs and pulling it up next to the other girl. “I’m going to ask you something, and it’s extremely important that you tell me everything you know about it, got it?”

Sugarcoat’s brow furrowed.

“I need you to tell me exactly what happened at the Friendship Games.”

Chapter 7 - Interlopers

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It had taken nearly an hour all told, but in that time Adagio learned everything she needed. Sugarcoat had talked her through the mundanity of the initial games, the narrowing down of the competitors, and the ‘tricross relay’ where magic had begun to run amok. She spoke of how the students of Canterlot High – the Rainbooms, no doubt – had manifested magic of their own that had indirectly lead to a CHS victory, and how, in desperation to win, Principle Cinch had turned to Twilight Sparkle and her magic-stealing amulet in order to even the playing field. But Adagio never would have guessed what had happened next.

Twilight Sparkle had turned into a demon.

The idea was preposterous, and yet there was no hint of embellishment in Sugarcoat’s words. Swallowed up by a singularity of pure, untethered magic, Twilight Sparkle had been transformed into a malevolent creature with the all-consuming desire for knowledge and magic. From the way Sugarcoat told it, the creature – Midnight Sparkle she’d called it – might have torn apart the very fabric of the world, if it weren’t for Sunset Shimmer and the Rainbooms.

Sugarcoat hadn’t referred to them as ‘the Rainbooms’, of course, but her description of them was enough. Adagio had firsthand experience with their particular brand of magic, but hearing about how Sunset Shimmer had harnessed the very same magic that had transformed Twilight into Midnight Sparkle, and used it to do battle with her (and, eventually, win) in the skies over Canterlot High intrigued her. So, the magic gathered by this device could, if used correctly, be controlled. This was good. She was certain that, if she was able to recreate the device, she could draw on its magic, much as she had with her old pendant. She would be as – if not more – powerful than she’d ever been.

But something still nagged at her. Perhaps it was how Sugarcoat’s description of Midnight Sparkle reminded her of the shadowy simulacrum of Aria from her nightmare, or the idea of someone as intelligent and composed (not to mention sweet, good natured, dorky…) as Twilight Sparkle could have been so easily corrupted. Whatever it was, Adagio did her best to push it to the back of her mind. This device was everything she could have asked for and more, and Adagio had a backdoor into the mind of its creator.

And she’d already figured out how to use it.

The idea had come to her before she’d stepped out of Shining Armor’s car. She would read Twilight’s notes on the device, sneak the concepts she didn’t understand into her own study materiel, and have Twilight Sparkle teach her everything she needed to recreate the device without being any the wiser. She would have to be cautious, Twilight Sparkle was the smartest person she’d ever met, but Adagio was certain that, if she was careful, Twilight would never suspect a thing.

And why would she? Twilight had no reason to believe that Adagio wanted anything more from her than to help her improve her grades – until that night it had even been true! She’d thought that employing Twilight Sparkle’s help to take her revenge against the Rainbooms had been deliciously ironic, but never had she suspected it would be this direct! Adagio had all the necessary cards now, she needed only to wait for the right time to play them.

But there was still more to Sugarcoat’s story. She told Adagio about what had happened after the games, when the Rainbooms and the Shadowbolts had confronted Principle Cinch and forced a draw – and about what had come after. They’d thought, perhaps foolishly, that it had ended there, Twilight was gone and with her so, too, was the magic, and had hoped that their united front against their tyrannical principle would help to bring the students of Crystal Prep closer together.

They were wrong.

She might have been cowed on the grounds of Canterlot High, but in the halls of Crystal Prep Academy, Abacus Cinch was all powerful. Word had spread that Twilight Sparkle had sabotaged the games and defected to Canterlot High and, that instead of standing with their school, Sugarcoat and the other competitors had accepted the terms of the enemy. The other students hadn’t been close enough to know the reality of the situation, and though they (with the help of Dean Cadance) had tried to spread the truth, it was too late.

The students of Crystal Prep despised them – even those who had witnessed the rampage of Midnight Sparkle believed that it was they, without the influence of Abacus Cinch, who had convinced Twilight to use magic she didn’t understand to influence the games. Soon, the girls were being thrown out of clubs and kicked off teams, and before long each of them had been saddled with enough detention time to last them into the next school year.

While this information wasn’t as groundbreaking as what had come before it, in the very least it helped to clear up many of Adagio’s lingering questions. It also served to reaffirmed something she already knew: Abacus Cinch was dangerous. If she was willing to turn on her best students, there was little doubt in Adagio’s mind that she would keep her word of removing Adagio if she was unable to pull her weight.

But that wouldn’t happen, not with Twilight Sparkle on her side.

It had taken nearly an hour for Sugarcoat to tell the story, and by the time she was finished both girls were too exhausted to discuss the matter any further. But, before Adagio turned in for the night, there was one final thing she had to do. It took some fumbling – she wasn’t quite used to her phone’s interface – but after a few minutes she successfully set her alarm for five-thirty.

It had been a long, rollercoaster of a day, and it was of little surprise that Adagio was asleep before her head even touched her pillow.

The next two days seemed to go by in a flash.

Adagio had awoken Thursday morning with a sense of eagerness that had overpowered her fatigue and carried her through the rest of the day. She had, once again, joined Sugarcoat for an early shower – a routine that she would repeat on Friday, as well – before making her way to the lab to begin the next phase of her plan.

Twilight’s notes were exactly as arcane as Adagio had remembered them, but she remained undeterred. She spent the hours before her first class deciphering what she could, and painstakingly translating it into her own writing. It was slow work, but she didn’t mind, it was the first real progress she’d made since her initial meeting with Abacus Cinch, and Adagio intended to make the most of it.

The classes themselves were as boring as ever. Adagio forced herself to concentrate, constantly having to reign in her wandering mind. As appealing as it was to fantasize about the return of her magic, not failing her midterms remained the most pressing issue. At the rate she was unraveling the enigma of Twilight’s device – and that was assuming she was able to learn everything she’d hoped to from Twilight – Adagio knew with absolute certainty that she would not finish the device in the next three weeks, meaning she would have to play Principle Cinch’s game a little longer.

When it came time for lunch, Adagio once again sequestered herself in Twilight’s lab. Sonata stopped by briefly, doing little more than spouting some nonsense about Aria (who, other than occasionally spotting her in a crowded hallway, Adagio had managed to avoid completely) and spinning in her chair, before getting bored and leaving Adagio to her work. Adagio had to suffer her presence a little longer during their shared gym period, though it was made somewhat more bearable by the company of Sugarcoat, until at long last the final bell heralded the end of the school day.

There were no CHS students on the bus to the Canterlot Public Library, though the possibility of their appearance kept Adagio on edge throughout the entire commute. Her time with Twilight was, as was becoming the norm, the best part of her day. The pair spent two short hours in their comfortable workspace, tackling each and every problem that Adagio brought forward. There was a heart stopping moment where Twilight had questioned one of the equations Adagio had taken from her notes, but it quickly passed as Twilight praised her for reading ahead. By the end of their session, Adagio’s confidence was through the roof, and for the first time she felt as if her destiny was firmly within her own grasp.

Friday began much like Thursday, and Adagio was just starting to believe that the bulk of her troubles were behind her, when her little routine was shattered by a knock at the door.

Adagio looked up, noticing Twilight doing the same. They shared a look of bafflement, before simultaneously checking their phones. It was ten-after-five, so it wasn’t the librarian coming to kick them out again, so who could it be?

Adagio saw Twilight about to rise from her chair and held up a hand to stop her. “I’ve got it,” she said, standing up and making her way to the door.

Adagio had been closer, it was true, but that wasn’t why she’d stopped Twilight. Whoever was on the other side of the door had either made a mistake and come to the wrong room, or sought them out specifically, meaning it was entirely possible that she was about to come face to face with Sunset Shimmer or one of the other Rainbooms. There were other possibilities, of course, but whatever the case, Adagio wanted to be in complete control of the situation. So, taking a deep breath, she turned the handle, opened the door, and came face to face with…

…Someone she’d never seen before in her life.

Adagio blinked and peered up at the newcomer, who looked about as confused as Adagio felt. He was tall and lean, with wild green hair kept in check by a black beanie. He wasn’t wearing a uniform, implying he wasn’t a student that had followed her from Crystal Prep, and she didn’t recognize him as one of the students from Canterlot High.

So who was he?

The boy, equally perplexed, rubbed his neck and laughed awkwardly. “Sorry,” he said, “I think I have the wrong room.”

Adagio was preparing to close the door (and was about halfway through doing so) when Twilight leapt up from her chair behind her. “Wait,” she said, “Timber?”

The back of Twilight’s chair clattered against the floor, causing all three of them to flinch. Adagio stepped aside, allowing them to get a good look at one another.

“Twilight?” said the boy, his features relaxing. “For a second there I thought I got the time wrong, but then I remembered that would never happen, because I’m awesome.” He smiled and winked at Twilight, who indulged him with a giggle. Adagio folded her arms, unamused, and waited for an introduction.

After a few long seconds, Adagio cleared her throat loudly.

The pair jumped, remembering that they weren’t alone. Twilight looked sheepishly at Adagio, her cheeks quickly taking on a soft pink glow, before turning back to the boy. “Timber,” she said, “I want you to meet Adagio Dazzle, she’s the girl from Crystal Prep I’ve been tutoring.”

Adagio looked wide-eyed at Twilight. What had happened to keeping their arrangement a secret between the two of them?

“Oh,” said Timber, a look of understanding spreading across his face. “Nice to meet you, Adagio, from Twilight told me about you, I expected you to be younger!”

Adagio felt like she’d been slapped in the face. What was Twilight telling this boy behind her back, and what would lead him to believe she was some sort of child? Timber extended his hand in greeting, and Adagio took it in her own, doing her best to crush it between her fingers.

“Quite the grip you’ve got there!” he said with a laugh. Adagio withdrew her hand, feeling her blood freezing in her veins.

“Adagio,” continued Twilight, “this is Timber Spruce. He’s… well, um, he’s my–”

Timber cut her off. “I’m her boyfriend.”

The word cut through the room like a knife. Adagio watched, unseeing as Timber wrapped an arm around Twilight’s shoulders. If she’d been blushing before, the expression she now wore was something else entirely. Her face burned so brightly that Adagio might even have felt heat radiating off of it – that is, if in that moment she could feel anything at all.

“Yeah,” squeaked Twilight, “that.”

The two shared another smile, the warmth of which was entirely lost on Adagio.

“What is he doing here?”

She hadn’t meant to be quite so curt, but right now she found it hard to care. Twilight didn’t seem to notice, but Timber gave her a searching look.

“We’ve got a date,” he said, proudly, before turning his gaze back to Twilight. “You did remember our date, right?”

The color drained from Twilight’s face. “Oh no!” she said, her voice beset with panic. “We were supposed to go see a movie – I totally forgot! I’m so sorry, Timber!”

“Twilight,” said Timber, calmly, “the movie doesn’t start until six-thirty. We still have plenty of time.”

“Oh,” said Twilight, the blush working its way back into her cheeks, “right.”

Adagio stared at them coldly. “What about me?” she asked.

Twilight looked at Adagio, then back to Timber. She tapped the tips of her two index fingers together. “I sort of promised Adagio that we’d study until six,” she said, sheepishly.

Timber rolled his eyes and shook his head with a smile. “How can someone so smart be so scatterbrained?” he chided, earning himself a light elbow to the ribs. “oww– kidding! It’s cool, that should still give us enough time to get seats, though we might have to skip the popcorn. I’ll wait downstairs while you girls finish up.”

Twilight put a hand on his chest. “Thanks,” she said, earnestly. She leaned in, and realizing what was about to happen, Adagio turned away, but it wasn’t enough. There was nothing she could do to escape the sound of Timber Spruce and Twilight Sparkle kissing.

She flinched.

“I’ll see you soon,” said Twilight, pulling away.

“I’ll be in the ‘Outdoors’ section,” said Timber. “It was nice meeting you, Adagio!”

Adagio put on her best fake smile. She was out of practice.

Twilight closed the door behind Timber, before leaning on it and clutching her arms to her chest. She sighed, and Adagio dropped herself loudly back down in her chair. Twilight, remembering where she was, cleared her throat. “Sorry about that.”

“Whatever,” said Adagio.

Twilight returned to her seat, picked it up off the floor, and the two got back to studying.

Or tried to, anyway. It was immediately apparent that Twilight’s mind was elsewhere, and after about fifteen minutes of repeating questions and reminding Twilight what page they were on, Adagio finally had enough.

She slammed her palms against the table in frustration, shocking Twilight out of yet another daydream.

“Adagio?” asked Twilight. “What’s wrong?”

Adagio grit her teeth. “Twilight Sparkle, I just asked you the same question three times, and you still haven’t given me an answer.”

“Oh,” said Twilight, adjusting her glasses and flipping through her book. “What was the question again?”

“Forget it,” said Adagio, slamming her textbook closed.

Twilight jerked at the noise. “I’m sorry,” she said, “it’s just that he lives out of town, so we don’t see each other very often, so I–”

“It’s fine,” lied Adagio, cutting her off. “You’ve obviously distracted, so why don’t you stop wasting both of our time and go be with him? You’re useless to me like this.”

Adagio regretted the words immediately after they left her mouth. Twilight look like she’d been struck, and all the bubbliness and glee that had enveloped her since Timber’s arrival evaporated in an instant.

Adagio rubbed her forehead. “I didn’t mean it like that,” she said. “I’m sorry. Just… go have fun on your date. I’ll see you on Monday.”

Twilight watched her for almost a minute. Adagio couldn’t bear to look into her big, hurt eyes any longer, and made a show of reopening her textbook and burying her face in it. Twilight collected her things and made for the door, but stopped with her hand on the knob.

“Are you sure?” she asked. “I could–”

“Go, Twilight Sparkle. Timber is waiting.”

Adagio heard the door close behind her, and once again she was left all alone.

Twilight Sparkle has a boyfriend, she thought.

And why wouldn’t she? Twilight was pretty and smart, kind and quick-witted. Of course she had a boyfriend, it only made sense. The better question was why did Adagio care?

I don’t, she thought immediately. Twilight Sparkle’s love life was of so little concern to her that she was shocked to find herself thinking about it it whatsoever. It was a trivial, unimportant detail, a footnote in her grand plan. Twilight Sparkle could love whoever she wanted.

Suddenly, the room felt like it had dropped a few degrees. Twilight Sparkle surely didn’t love him, right? Not that she cared, but if Twilight was in love with him, certainly she wouldn’t have forgotten their date, and she wouldn’t have neglected to mention his very existence for an entire week, would she?

Adagio stood up from her chair and began to pace around the small room. She didn’t care about Twilight’s stupid feelings, and yet she couldn’t deny that something was wrong. There was a tightness in her chest and a familiar knot in her stomach. Why was she feeling this way? Was she frustrated that Twilight had left early? They’d only accomplished half of what Adagio had hoped to before the end of the evening, but that wasn’t it, either. She could have tried harder to make Twilight focus, instead of making her leave, but she didn’t. Every time she’d looked at Twilight, every time she thought about her now, all she could picture was the lovesick way she’d looked at Timber, how their puckered lips had drawn closer and closer until…

Adagio swept the contents of the table into her bookbag. A pen missed the opening completely and landed on the floor by her feet. She stomped on it, shattering the plastic beneath her heel, before storming out of the study room. She walked briskly down the stairs and out the main doors, the cold night air stinging her damp cheeks. But why were they damp? She didn’t want to think about it. She wiped her eyes and began walking down the road, not stopping at the bus stop. What was she doing? She was confused, angry, and restless. She needed to walk. But how long would it take to walk from here to Crystal Prep?

She didn’t care.

The sun had set by the time she had reached the school. Her legs burned and her feet ached, her shoes weren’t meant for walking such long distances. It appeared that she wasn’t the only Crystal Prep student returning to the dormitories after spending their Friday evening out and about, and Adagio did her best to ignore the other students as she made her way back to her room. Inside, Sugarcoat was waiting for her.

“You look terrible,” she said, in her usual blunt manner. Adagio was in no mood to deal with her – in fact, her long walk had only given her time to dwell further on her anger – and dealt her a sharp look before heading towards her bunk.

“Wait,” said Sugarcoat. Adagio reluctantly stopped with her arms on the rungs, her neck craning towards the other girl. “Your gem thing was on the floor again.”

Adagio groaned. “Just put it on my desk, I’ll deal with it in the morning.”

“Actually, I tied a string to it. You said it used to be a necklace, right? Now you can hang it somewhere or wear it around your neck so you don’t lose it.”

Adagio stared at Sugarcoat. As usual, the girl’s expression was unreadable. “Thanks,” she muttered. She didn’t know what else to say, and after another minute of awkward eye contact, finished the climb up to her bunk.

“Are you okay?” asked Sugarcoat from below. Adagio turned on her side and faced the wall.

“No,” she replied.

There was already light pouring through the window when Adagio awoke the next morning.

She sat up in bed, wiping the sleep from her bleary eyes. Below her, sitting at her desk, Sugarcoat toiled away at some schoolwork.

Adagio yawned and stretched. “What time is it?” she asked.

“Around noon,” said Sugarcoat, not looking up from her work, “you slept in. Oh, and your phone has been going off all morning.”

“What?” Adagio fumbled around her bed, eventually finding her phone stashed beneath her pillow. Sure enough, she was surprised to find that she had unread text messages from Twilight Sparkle.

Twelve of them.

Adagio groaned and turned off the screen. “I’m not awake enough for this,” she muttered, climbing down from her bunk.

“Awake enough for what?”

Sugarcoat had turned to face her, and was now observing her with her trademarked blank expression. Adagio took a self-conscious glance in the mirror and found that, other than a bit of bedhead and her big t-shirt hanging precariously from one shoulder, she didn’t look nearly as bad as she felt.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Adagio, fixing the neckline of her shirt. The anger and confusion of the night before had finally burned themselves out, and had settled in the pit of her stomach as a dull melancholy. She set her phone on the desk, intending to leave it behind while she took a shower, when she noticed Sugarcoat’s handiwork lying next to it.

Sugarcoat had done more than ‘tie a string to’ her shattered pendant. The red gem shard was attached to a thin metal chain with a clasp on the back. It was a proper necklace, not like the thick, black strap she’d worn before, but thin and chic. For a moment, it almost seemed as if the shard had had gained back just a tiny bit of its former luster.

“You did this?” asked Adagio. Sugarcoat nodded. Adagio held the necklace up to her neck and looked once more into the mirror. Her shirt had, once again, slipped off her shoulder, but this time she left it. It wasn’t a bad look. She turned her attention back to Sugarcoat. “Why?”

“I was tired of stepping on it.”

Adagio looked into Sugarcoat’s eyes, but as usual the girl’s thoughts were indecipherable. “Well, thanks,” said Adagio lamely. She wasn’t used to receiving gifts – not from people under their own free will, anyway – and wasn’t entirely sure what to say.

“You already thanked me,” said Sugarcoat, turning back to her work, “but you’re welcome.”

Adagio considered the necklace for a moment longer, before laying it carefully next to her phone. She grabbed her bag and a change of clothes, and made her way to the showers. She took a long, hot shower, undisturbed by any other students who had likely performed their morning rituals while it was still morning, before eventually deciding enough was enough (she couldn’t hide from her problems beneath a torrent of hot water all day) and returned to her room.

For the first time in what felt like an eternity, Adagio was not required to wear her Crystal Prep uniform, and she intended to take full advantage of this fact, electing to wear the most comfortable outfit she owned. While a purple hoodie, jeans, and sneakers weren’t exactly the most fashion forward thing in her figurative wardrobe, they were the perfect choice for a day where she didn’t have to go anywhere or impress anyone.

Sugarcoat was still seated at her desk when Adagio returned, but had exchanged the problems she’d been working on (which now sat on the corner of her desk, neatly stapled with a cover page) for a thick novel. Adagio scooped her phone up off the desk and tucked it into the pocket of her hoodie, and after a moment of thought, took the necklace as well. She pulled the chain around her neck and did up the clasp, shivering as the cool metal touched her shower-warmed skin. Sugarcoat looked up from her novel and gave her an approving nod.

“It looks good on you,” she said.

“Thanks,” said Adagio. Was that the first complement she’d received from Sugarcoat? It felt… nice, and Adagio felt her foul mood improve ever so slightly. She picked up her backpack and slung it over her shoulder.

“Going out?”

Sugarcoat had turned to face her once again.

Adagio nodded. “Yeah,” she said, “I’ve got some things I want to get done.” In truth, Adagio wasn’t really sure why she was leaving. She knew she was going to the lab, her body had almost lead her there unconsciously, but even now she knew that she wasn’t going to get much done. Her disastrous session with Twilight had assured her of that. But she wasn’t going to sit around in her room all day feeling sorry for herself, so the lab was her only other option.

Sugarcoat hesitated for a moment, then spoke. “Some of the other girls and I were thinking about going to get something to eat later. You can come, too, if you’re interested.”

Adagio blinked. Well, that was a surprise. She wasn’t exactly in the mood to go out with anyone right now, and was about to turn Sugarcoat down, when she caught a glimpse of her new necklace in the mirror. She sighed. “I’ll think about it,” she said. “Let me know when you have the details.”

“Okay,” said Sugarcoat. “Give me your number.”

Adagio raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“Your phone number,” said Sugarcoat. “If you’re going out, and you want me to let you know when I have the details, you have to give me your phone number.”

Adagio stared at her for a moment, before pulling her phone out of her pocket. She opened the contacts window, carefully avoiding reading any of the texts from Twilight, and began the process of adding a new contact. She didn’t hand the phone to Sugarcoat, partly because she didn’t want her to see that she only had one prior contact, and partly because she really didn’t want her to see that that one contact was Twilight Sparkle.

After they’d finished sharing information, Adagio sent Sugarcoat a quick text to ensure they’d entered the right numbers.

‘Hi,’ she sent.

‘Hello,’ responded Sugarcoat.

With that behind them, Adagio bid farewell to Sugarcoat and began her trek to the lab. It was a cold day, and the wind howled and cut through Adagio’s hoodie like she was wearing nothing at all, but fortunately the trip to the school was a short one, and before long Adagio found herself hold up in the musty old lab.

Twilight’s musty old lab, she thought, and sighed.

Adagio dropped herself into the waiting chair, pulled her phone once more from her pocket and stared at it. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t avoid Twilight forever, not as long as she held on to any hope of getting her magic back, anyway. Besides, part of her was curious about what was so important that Twilight had texted her about it twelve times, and another part simply wanted to find out if things were okay between them. So, before she could convince herself not to, Adagio opened her text messages and began to read.

‘Hi.’

‘Sorry about last night, I completely forgot that I made plans with Timber.’

‘He lives out of town, so we have make our plans pretty far in advance so he can be sure he can get the time off, and the transportation into Canterlot.’

‘I spend a lot of time at the library, so I thought it would be a good place to meet. I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t decide to study somewhere else, right?’

‘Are you mad at me?’

‘You seemed mad last night. I’m sorry, I should have paid more attention. That wasn’t very tutorly of me.’

‘Is tutorly a word?’

‘Okay, now I’m not sure if you’re not responding because you haven’t seen these, or because you’re actually mad at me.’

‘So if you see this and you’re not mad at me, please let me know. Or if you see this and you are mad at me, also let me know, so I know.’

‘“Tutorly” isn’t a word, by the way.’

‘I just realized that I sent you ten texts in a row. I promise I’m not crazy, sometimes I send a text and then I realize I should have added something to it, or I think of something else I was going to say, and suddenly it’s a wall of text. This is the last text, just call me when you get these, or when you feel like it.’

‘Sorry about all the texts.’

Adagio rolled her eyes. Even in the context of her text messages, Twilight Sparkle still managed to come off as a massive dork. A smile tugged at her lips, and her eye lingered on the tiny icon of Twilight Sparkle cleaning her glasses. Her thumb hovered over the call button.

Just get it over with, she thought, before you talk yourself out of it.

She bit her lip, and pressed the button.

It had barely started to ring when the call connected and Twilight’s voice came through from the other end.

“Hello? Adagio?”

Adagio felt a weight pressing down on her chest, and fought back the impulse to terminate the call.

“Hello, Twilight Sparkle. I got your texts.”

Twilight laughed uncomfortably. “Yeah, sorry about that, sometimes I get a little…”

“Carried away?”

“Yeah, that.”

The call lapsed into silence.

“Are you still there?” asked Twilight.

“I’m here,” said Adagio.

“I was just wondering–”

“I wanted to tell you–”

They both stopped.

“You go first,” said Twilight.

Adagio took a deep breath. “I wanted to… apologize for my childish behavior last night. You’ve done a lot for me these last few days, and it was a very poor way to repay your generosity. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too,” said Twilight. “I made a responsibility when I agreed to tutor you, and I shouldn’t have let my personal life interfere with that. I promise that it won’t happen again. I’m usually much better organized with my time, I have my dental appointments booked for the next two years!”

Of course she did. Adagio laughed and rolled her eyes.

“Are you rolling your eyes at me?” asked Twilight, playfully.

“No.” She rolled them again, and the two of them burst into a fit of giggles.

“I’m glad you called,” said Twilight.

“Me too,” replied Adagio. There was a short, pleasant silence, before Twilight spoke again.

“So, doing anything special for your first weekend at Crystal Prep?”

Technically her first day at the school had been a Sunday, but Adagio didn’t push the issue. She glanced around the lab, eyeing the small mountain of notes piled on the desks. “Not really,” she replied.

“Well, if you’re not doing anything, there are a couple of things I need to pick up from the mall, and it would be more fun if I had someone to go with.”

Apologizing was one thing, but going out in public with Twilight Sparkle was a disaster waiting to happen. What if someone from Canterlot High saw them together? What if someone from Crystal Prep saw them together? What if she did something stupid and drove Twilight away?

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

The line went quiet for a moment. “O-oh, okay. If you don’t want to¬–”

“It’s not that I don’t want to! It’s just–”

“No, you were right, I wasn’t thinking… Sorry.”

There was that feeling again: guilt. She’d already made Twilight apologize for having a life outside of the two-hours a day she’d already committed to helping Adagio, and now she was making her apologizing for having the audacity to want to spend more time with her?

Twilight’s voice was hollow, defeated, and sounded nothing like the clever, dorky girl Adagio knew her to be. How many times did Adagio have to hurt her, just to keep a secret? How many tears would be shed before Twilight grew to resent her? But if they were found out, everything could come crashing down. She couldn’t put her own future on the line just to make Twilight Sparkle happy, could she?

The answer surprised her.

“You didn’t let me finish,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, but if I have to spend my entire day waiting around Crystal Prep I might actually lose my mind. So, when do you want to meet?”

It took Twilight a few seconds to process her response. “Wait, really? You’ll come? Are you sure?”

No, she wasn’t sure. To be honest, she wasn’t convinced she wasn’t making a huge mistake.

“I am.”

“That’s great!” Twilight cleared her throat. “I mean, I’m glad to hear it. I was thinking of going around two o’clock, how does that sound?”

There was still time to get out of this.

“I’ll catch the next bus.”

Or not.

“Okay, I’ll get ready and meet you at the mall. See you soon!”

“See you soon, Twilight Sparkle.”

The call ended and Adagio allowed her arm to drop to her side. What was she thinking? She had to call Twilight back, tell her she’d changed her mind! She picked her bus card up off the desk and shoved it into the pocket of her jeans. No, even with every fiber of her being crying out against it – even if she wasn’t entirely sure why – Adagio had made her decision and she was sticking to it.

She couldn’t let Twilight down again.

Adagio had just stepped out of the lab and was about to lock the door, when she noticed a familiar figure in the hallway.

“Dean Cadance?”

Cadance stopped mid stride. “Adagio? What are you–”

“Hang on just one second!” said Adagio, ducking back into the lab and leaving a confused Cadance alone in the hallway. She emerged a moment later with an atrociously pink item tucked under her arm.

“Your umbrella,” she said, perhaps a little too proudly than what was merited given the situation. “I remembered.”

Cadance laughed, accepting the umbrella as Adagio handed it to her. “I was wondering when I’d get this back.”

“Sorry about that,” said Adagio, rubbing her neck and looking at the floor.

“Don’t be, I’m just surprised you kept it as long as you did. It’s a bit much, isn’t it?”

“You know?”

Cadance poked her playfully with the tip of the umbrella. “Hey, just because I’m old, doesn’t mean I’m blind!”

Adagio smirked. “So, you admit that you’re old?”

Cadance brandished the umbrella like a club. “Don’t make me use this. Remember, I know where you live!”

The two stared defiantly at one another for a moment, before their composure broke and they fell into a fit of laughter.

“So,” said Cadance, wiping a tear from her eye, “what are you doing here, anyway?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

Cadance rolled her eyes. “You could, or you could try giving me a straight answer.”

“Where would the fun in that be?”

“Funny girl,” said Cadance, sarcastically, though her smile didn’t fade. “If you must know, I was stopping in to get a few things from my office. I’ve done that, so now I’m leaving. Your turn.”

“I was thinking about getting some work done, but…” She hesitated.

“But?” said Cadance, cocking an eyebrow.

“…I decided to go to the mall, instead. With Twilight Sparkle. I’m about to catch the bus.”

No more lies, she reminded herself. Now she had to do it.

Cadance clapped her hands together with glee. “I’m so glad everything is working out between you two. Am I a great dean, or what?” she asked, punctuating the question with a wink. Adagio rolled her eyes, but didn’t argue. “It’s okay, you don’t have to say it, we both know. Actually, I’m heading that way myself. I can give you a lift, if you’d like.”

“Yes,” said Adagio, immediately. Driving with Cadance was immeasurably better than public transportation.

“It’s settled then, let’s get going.”

It was a short walk to Cadance’s car, and Adagio was about to get into the passenger’s seat when Cadance stopped her. “Actually, would you mind sitting in the back? I have to pick someone up on the way.”

Adagio shrugged and climbed in the back. It wasn’t as comfortable as the front, but considering she was getting a free ride she didn’t feel she had the right to complain. She caught Cadance’s eye while the latter was adjusting her rearview mirror.

“It sort of feels like I’m your chauffeur,” joked Cadance.

“I didn’t think chauffeurs talked so much.”

“There’s still time for you to catch that bus.”

Adagio smiled sweetly. “Thank you for offering me a ride, Dean Cadance,” she said, with only a hint of sarcasm.

Cadance laughed, started the car, and they were off. It was a nice day, and Adagio spent the majority of the trip staring out the window and trying not to think about everything that could go wrong once they arrived at the mall. Eventually, Cadance pulled up alongside a large house with a well-kept garden and honked the car’s horn. The door to the house opened, and though he was much better dressed than when she’d seen him on Wednesday, Adagio was surprised when Shining Armor stepped out. She cast a confused glance at Cadance, who smiled mysteriously.

Shining Armor approached the vehicle, opened the passenger’s side door, and climbed in. “Hello, honey,” he said, leaning in and giving Cadance a quick peck on the lips.

“Hello, darling,” replied Cadance, biting her lip to hold back a smile. They gazed at one another for a few seconds before Shining Armor finally noticed Adagio in the back seat. He blinked.

“Hey,” he said, confusion spreading across his strong features.

“Hello,” said Adagio. An awkward silence fell over the car, only breaking when Cadance could no longer contain her laughter.

“You should have seen the look on your faces!” said Cadance. Shining Armor smiled and shook his head, before looking back towards Adagio.

“We didn’t really have a chance to be properly introduced the other day,” he said. “I’m Shining Armor, nice to meet you.” He extended a hand, and Adagio shook it.

“Adagio Dazzle,” she said, “nice to meet you, too.”

“I’ve heard a lot about you from my two favorite girls – all good things, I promise.”

“She called me old today,” said Cadance, feigning offence.

Shining Armor chuckled. “Mostly good things,” he corrected.

“It’s funny, Twilight was actually just telling me that she was meeting you at the mall, and I had to tell her I couldn’t give her a ride because–” he cut himself off, turning to face Cadance. “We’re driving them to the mall, aren’t we?” She gave him a knowing look. He sighed. “I’ll go get her.”

Shining Armor stepped out of the car and jogged back up the lawn.

“So,” said Adagio, “dating a student’s older brother, huh?”

“Our families have been friends for years. Shining Armor and I went to school together, and I used to babysit Twilight when she was little. So, if you ever want to see embarrassing baby pictures all you have to do is ask.”

Adagio laughed. “Deal.”

Shining Armor returned, this time with Twilight in tow. Adagio slid over to make room for her as she climbed in.

“Hi,” said Adagio.

Twilight must not have noticed her, as in her surprise she jumped straight up and hit her head on the ceiling of the car. Adagio snickered and did her best to cover her mouth with her hand.

“Adagio!” said Twilight, trying to play off her clumsiness by straightening her skirt and fixing her glasses. “W-what are you doing here? I thought you were taking the bus.”

“This isn’t the bus?” asked Adagio, bluffing bewilderment. “Miss driver, I’m going to have to ask for my money back!”

“Sorry,” said Cadance, “no refunds!” They laughed, but Twilight still looked confused so Adagio decided to fill her in.

“I ran into Cadance at school and she offered me a ride. I didn’t know we’d be picking you up until I saw Shining Armor.”

“It’s on the way,” said Cadance.

“No it isn’t,” said Shining Armor.

“Quiet, you!”

“Yes, dear.”

“Bye, Cadance, bye, Shiny, thanks for the ride!”

Twilight Sparkle and Adagio Dazzle waved as Cadance’s car pulled out of the parking lot of the West Canterlot Mall. The drive had been a pleasant one, especially once Cadance and Shining Armor had decided to tell stories about Twilight’s childhood.

“All of that stays between us,” said Twilight, still looking delightfully flustered.

“My lips are sealed,” said Adagio. “Besides, who would I tell that Twilight Sparkle had her brother check her closet for monsters until the age of–”

Twilight’s elbow caught her in the ribs. “Adagio!”

“Careful with those boney elbows, Twilight Sparkle, you’ll take my eye out!”

That earned her another elbow, but it was worth it. Twilight waited for her snickering to die down before the pair headed for the entrance.

“Your brother seems like a nice guy.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “You’re just saying that because he made fun of me.”

“Maybe,” said Adagio with a coy smile.

“Well, it’s true. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, but Shiny was always there when I needed him – he and Cadance both. I’m glad you got along with them.” Twilight thought for a moment. “Do you have any siblings?”

“No,” said Adagio, eager to drop the subject of her past. “What do you need to pick up, anyway?”

“Well,” said Twilight, pushing open the mall’s double doors, “it’s just a couple of things. I was thinking we’d start with–”

Twilight stopped mid-sentence, her eyes widening and her pupils shrinking into pinpricks. “Oh no.”

“What’s wrong?” Adagio asked. She followed Twilight’s gaze, and felt her heart leap into her throat when she discovered the source of Twilight’s distress.

Walking towards them, about twenty feet away, was not one, but all six of the Rainbooms who yet remained in this world, and what was worse, one of them was looking right at Twilight Sparkle.

“Twilight, hey!” called Sunset Shimmer, raising a hand in greeting. The other girls looked up, and Adagio tried to slip away into the crowd.

But she was too late.

Twilight didn’t have a chance to respond before Sunset’s demeanor shifted. The warmth in her face died, replaced with confusion and urgency. Realization swept over the other Rainbooms like a wave, and in an instant, they were upon her.

“Isn’t that–” started one of them, but Sunset Shimmer didn’t let her finish.

“Twilight!” cried Sunset. “I’ll explain everything later, but you need to get away from her right now!”

Adagio’s hands balled into fists. This is it. You knew this was going to happen, but you came here anyway. Now it’s all over. Was she worth it?

“Wait,” said Twilight, interposing herself between Adagio and Sunset, “you don’t understand!”

“No, you don’t understand!” Sunset tried to pull Twilight behind her, but she stood her ground. “Whoever you think she is, whatever she told you, it’s all a lie. Her name is Adagio Dazzle, and she’s a dangerous creature from Equestria called a–”

“Siren,” said Twilight, cutting her off. “I know.”

Chapter 8 - Monsters

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Sunset Shimmer gawked at Twilight Sparkle.

“You know?” said Sunset and Adagio, simultaneously. Their narrowed eyes met and Sunset felt a spark of electricity pass between them. Their impromptu staring contest ended when Twilight spoke again.

“Yeah,” she said, looking at the floor.

“How long have you known?” The lack of scorn in Adagio’s voice caught Sunset off guard. In fact, a lot about this situation was catching her off guard. For starters, how did Twilight Sparkle, the human, know Adagio Dazzle, the Siren? Furthermore, why were they hanging out at the mall together?

“After we first met I asked a couple of people at school if they’d heard of you.” A dangerous look flashed across Adagio’s features, and Twilight raised her hands to calm her. “I didn’t tell them what was going on! I just asked them if they recognized your name… and they did.”

Adagio frowned, and looked as if she was about to respond when Rainbow Dash interjected impatiently. “And what is going on?”

Twilight looked to Adagio – almost as if she was asking for permission – who scowled at Rainbow, before shrugging her shoulders and stuffing her hands into the pockets of her hoodie. “There’s no hiding it now,” she muttered.

Twilight nodded. She looked back to her assembled friends, nervously wringing her hands together. “I’m tutoring her.”

Sunset blinked. She wasn’t sure what she had been expecting, but that wasn’t it.

“Tutoring her in what?” asked Pinkie Pie.

“The usual things,” responded Twilight, “math, history, chemistry–”

“Hold on, timeout!” interrupted Rainbow, making a ‘T’ shape with her hands. “Why does she need tutoring? She hasn’t even been to school since we whooped her butt at the Battle of the Bands!” She punctuated the statement by fixing Adagio with a smug look.

“She goes to school,” said Twilight, rubbing her arm. “Just, you know, not our school.”

Adagio’s eyes bore into Twilight’s back. Looks like she’s said too much, thought Sunset.

“But if she’s not attending Canterlot High,” said Rarity, thoughtfully, “then that would leave–” she clapped her hands to her mouth. “–you couldn’t possibly mean–”

Crystal Prep,” finished Applejack. The group let out a collective gasp.

“Brilliant deduction,” said Adagio, sarcastically, “would you like a prize?”

Pinkie Pie’s face lit up, only for her hopes to be dashed as Applejack placed a hand on her shoulder and shook her head.

“Since when does Crystal Prep let two-bit bad guys in, anyway?” asked Rainbow. “Or were they that desperate after we won the Friendship Games?”

“The Friendship Games ended in a tie,” Fluttershy reminded her, her voice little more than a whisper coming from the back of the group.

“Whatever,” said Rainbow, with a shrug.

That’s enough!” said Sunset, much more forcefully than she’d intended. She couldn’t help it; she needed time to process everything, but more importantly she needed to get Twilight away from the Siren and figure out exactly what was going on. “If you know what she is, then you know she’s manipulative and–”

Sunset!” Twilight cut her off. Sunset realized that her little outburst had drawn the attention of other mall-goers. “Can we talk about this in private?”

“Yeah,” said Sunset. Private was exactly what she needed. “We can talk in the stairwell, there’s a door just over there. Girls, keep an eye on Adagio.”

“Aye-aye!” said Pinkie Pie, with a salute. Adagio did not share her enthusiasm.

“If you think I’m going to wait here with them then you’re delusional.” She turned on her heel. “I’m leaving.”

“Wait!” said Twilight, reaching out and grabbing her arm. Adagio stiffened, and Sunset instinctively took a step forward to protect her friend. “Don’t go,” said Twilight, “I’ll talk to Sunset, we’ll get all of this cleared up, and everything will go back to normal, okay?”

Normal, right. Sunset expected Adagio to shake free of Twilight’s grasp and storm off, but she didn’t. Instead, the Siren looked Twilight in the eyes, grit her teeth, and sighed. “Fine,” she said, not disguising her irritation, “I’ll wait. But I’m not talking to them.”

“It’s not like we’re dying to talk to you, either,” said Rainbow.

“Thanks,” said Twilight, quietly to Adagio. The familiarity between the two only deepened Sunset’s suspicions, and she clapped her hands together.

“It’s settled, then,” she said. “We’ll meet you girls at the food court. Come on, Twilight.”

The pair separated from the rest of the group and made their way to the stairwell and, as expected, the dingy side stairs were devoid of other mall-goers. The door had barely closed behind them when Sunset began to lay into Twilight.

“How did you meet her?” she asked. “What does she really want? Did she try to sing to you?”

Twilight held up her hands, as if trying to block Sunset’s barrage of questions. “Slow down!”

Sunset took a deep breath. “Sorry. Okay, just start from the beginning, and don’t leave anything out. We’ll need as much information as we can get if we’re going to figure out what Adagio’s up to.”

Twilight folded her arms. “And what makes you think she’s up to something?”

“Well, why else would she seek you out?” Twilight frowned, and Sunset immediately regretted her choice of words. “You know what I mean,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “Don’t you think that’s even a little suspicious?”

“But she didn’t seek me out,” said Twilight. “Dean Cadance called me and asked if I’d be willing to tutor someone. Neither of us knew who the other would be until we met at the library – I practically had to beg her to stay!”

“What? Why?”

“She thought I was the other Twilight – the one from Equestria. I don’t have to explain why that might be weird for her.”

Sunset rubbed her chin. “If it’s all so innocent and coincidental, then why hide it? Why didn’t you tell us once you found out what she was?”

Twilight looked away. “I considered it, but…”

“But what?”

“She asked me not to tell anyone, and–”

“Innocent people don’t make you keep secrets from your friends.”

“Let me finish! She asked me not to tell anyone, and that she was trying to make a fresh start at Crystal Prep. After I found out what she was – what she did – I just…” Twilight looked her square in the eyes, her face flushed with determination. “I want to help her, Sunset, like you helped me, and how the girls helped you. I want to give her a chance.”

Sunset shook her head. “It’s not the same, Twilight.”

“Why not?”

“She’s a Siren – a monster!”

“Midnight Sparkle was a monster.”

The room was silent for a few seconds, before Sunset spoke again, her voice subdued. “So that’s what this is about. Twilight, you’re not Midnight Sparkle.”

“I know,” said Twilight, “but that’s why I know I have to help her. If I can come back, so can she.”

Sunset opened her mouth to argue, but stopped. Adagio wasn’t like them, she hadn’t been turned into a monster, she’d been born one. But did that really mean she couldn’t change? Sunset wanted to say yes – it would be so much simpler that way – but if there was one thing she’d learned in this world was that anything could change. Friends could become enemies, enemies could become friends, but could a Siren really learn the first thing about friendship?

Sunset remembered a broken girl climbing out of a smoldering crater, and sighed.

“Tell me about her,” said Sunset.

“What?”

“You’ve spent some time with her, right? Tell me about Adagio Dazzle when she’s not trying to take over the world.”

“She’s…” Twilight trailed off. “Sorry, it’s hard to sum up a whole person, you know? She’s a good student, maybe not in the traditional way, but she’s getting there. She works hard, she listens, and she’s dedicated to not just regurgitating the materiel, but learning and understanding it.”

“So, she has good work ethic,” said Sunset, “but what’s she like personally?”

“She can be stubborn, and more than a little perplexing, but she can also be smart, funny, kind… I thought tutoring would be a lot of work – especially after I found out about who she was – but watching her become comfortable with the materiel, and with me, has been so fun and rewarding. If you could see that side of her, Sunset, I just know you’d feel the same way.”

Twilight’s description didn’t sound at all like the Adagio Dazzle Sunset had met, but at the same time she couldn’t help but wonder what Twilight would think of the Sunset Shimmer who, just a few short months ago, had held the students of Canterlot High in her tyrannical clutches.

“It sounds like you like her a lot.”

“I do,” said Twilight. Twilight’s smile had returned, but there was something different about it. Sunset had seen this side of her before, but she couldn’t quite remember when.

“Alright,” said Sunset, “I think I’ve heard enough. For the record, I still don’t trust that Adagio isn’t up to something, but I trust you, Twilight. If you really think she’s changed, or that she has the capacity to change, then let’s help her.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide. “You mean it?” she asked.

“Yeah, I mean it. Besides, worst case scenario, at least we can keep an eye on her.” Twilight cocked an eyebrow at her. “I’m kidding! …mostly, anyway. Just promise me that you’ll keep your eyes open for anything even remotely suspicious.”

“I will.”

“And you’re certain she didn’t try to sing for you?”

“I am.”

“Not even a note?”

Sunset.”

“Okay, okay, I get it. I think we’ve kept everyone waiting long enough, we should probably get back out there.”

Sunset opened the door to the stairwell and held it for Twilight, who thanked her and stepped through. Twilight walked with a spring in her step, though Sunset found it hard to share her enthusiasm. She wanted to believe Twilight was right, and that Adagio Dazzle really could be redeemed, but a little voice in the back of her mind told her she was making a huge mistake.

When Twilight and Sunset found them, Adagio and the rest of the Rainbooms had moved to the food court.

They sat at separate tables, far enough to keep their hushed conversation from Adagio’s ears, but close enough to ensure she remained within their line of sight. She met their suspicious looks with an air of apathy, but beneath the table her hands fidgeted restlessly.

Adagio was in the middle of a mental rehearsal of the inevitable confrontation (a maddeningly difficult exercise, due in no small part to not knowing what poison Sunset Shimmer was pouring into Twilight’s ear) when she spotted Twilight (and Sunset) through the crowd. The two girls shared a look before splitting up, with Sunset approaching the Rainbooms and Twilight making her way towards Adagio, who suddenly felt her heart lodged firmly in her throat. Twilight took the seat across from her.

Neither of them spoke.

Where should she even start? Should she apologize for keeping the secret from Twilight? Should she be upset that Twilight had talked about her behind her back after she’d explicitly told her not to? Should she demand answers, or should she stay on the defensive and deny whatever accusations Sunset had assuredly levied against her?

You’ve got to be kidding me!” The outburst from the Rainbooms’ table stirred Adagio from her thoughts. The rainbow-haired one (Rainbow… something) had slammed her hands on the table and was in the middle of a heated argument with Sunset Shimmer, while the others appeared to be trying to defuse the situation. Twilight, who had craned her neck to survey the drama unfolding at the other table, turned back to Adagio with a sheepish look on her face.

“So,” she said, the word hanging in the air.

“So,” replied Adagio.

Twilight cleared her throat and straightened her skirt beneath the table. “This is kind of awkward, huh?”

“Just a bit.”

Once again, they lapsed into silence, the awful din of the mall buzzed in Adagio’s head, making it hard to think.

“Look,” said Adagio, finally, “Twilight Sparkle, I should have told you–”

“No, it’s okay. How do you even bring something like that up?”

I wasn’t intending to, thought Adagio, resisting the urge to glare at Sunset Shimmer. “But you already knew.”

Twilight nodded. “I did.”

Adagio stared at Twilight, who looked as uncertain as she felt. It was time to voice the question that was on both of their minds.

“Where do we go from here?”

Twilight looked down at the table as she struggled to find the right words. “I talked to Sunset – I mean, obviously, you were there – not for the talk – for the, um–”

“Twilight Sparkle,” said Adagio, reaching her hand across the table and placing it over one of Twilight’s own in a gesture of comfort. It seemed to have the opposite effect, as both girls flinched and Adagio quickly withdrew her hand. Like Twilight, Adagio fixed her eyes on the table, trying to suppress the heat she felt rising in her cheeks.

After a moment, Twilight continued. “She thinks you’re a monster.”

Adagio flinched. Of course she did; Sunset Shimmer was a pony, and ponies were all the same. But Twilight Sparkle – this Twilight Sparkle – was a human.

“And what do you think?” asked Adagio.

“I think… I think you’re my friend.”

That hadn’t been the response she’d been expecting. Adagio looked up at Twilight, puzzled. “You think we’re… friends?”

“I do,” said Twilight.

The notion was absurd. Twilight Sparkle was her tutor, an ally of her most hated enemies, and a pawn in Adagio’s game of magical conquest. Sure, she couldn’t deny that she enjoyed the time she spent with Twilight, and the thought of losing her had been… distressing, but that was only because of Twilight’s key role in her plan. No, she was more than a pawn, perhaps it would be more apt to call her a bishop, a rook, or, perhaps…

…a friend.

Adagio frowned. Sirens didn’t make friends. Ponies (and humans, she supposed) were pitiful creatures; weak individually, they made ‘friends’ so that, together, they might stand a chance against stronger, more powerful beings.

Monsters.

But Adagio was a human now, and if she returned to Equestria without her magic, who knows what she would become? Had she not allowed herself to be helped by Twilight? If pathetic creatures sought friendship to make up for their weakness, and Adagio had sought out Twilight Sparkle…

“I’ve never had a friend before,” said Adagio.

Adagio felt Twilight’s hand close around her own, and this time neither of them pulled away.

Sunset Shimmer cleared her throat.

Twilight must have felt Adagio tense up, as she squeezed her hand reassuringly. Sunset had come alone, but Adagio could feel five pairs of eyes on her from a table across the way. Sunset’s arms were crossed, and her eyes lingered momentarily on the pair’s linked hands.

“How’d it go?” asked Twilight.

Sunset rubbed her neck. “Results were… mixed. They’re not entirely convinced that she’s not up to something.” She paused. “And neither am I.”

She’s right here,” hissed Adagio, earning herself a pointed look from Sunset, who continued.

“But if you’re sure you trust her–”

“I trust her,” asserted Twilight. Adagio suppressed a twinge of guilt.

“–then that’s all we can do. We can’t tell you who to be friends with,” said Sunset, glancing back to the other table, “though, not everyone agrees with that sentiment.”

An uncomfortable silence fell over the group.

“So, that’s it then?” asked Twilight.

“I guess,” said Sunset, “I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure where we go from here. This wasn’t exactly how I thought I’d be spending my Saturday afternoon.”

“Tell me about it,” said Adagio.

“Well,” said Twilight, “since we’re all here…”

Adagio didn’t like where this was going.

“Why don’t we take this opportunity to clear the air? If the girls get to know the real you, then they won’t have any reason to worry.”

There stood the problem. The Rainbooms had already met the real her, and it had been disastrous. The thought of spending any time whatsoever with them made her feel physically ill, and yet there were gears turning in her head. As uncomfortable as it would be, if she was able to convince the Rainbooms that she wasn’t a threat, then there would be nothing standing between Adagio Dazzle and the return of her magic. But on the other hand, it meant associating with the very people who stole it from her in the first place.

Not that any of that mattered, because there was no chance the Rainbooms would want anything to do with her.

“I think that’s a good idea,” said Sunset.

Adagio balked at Sunset’s willingness to go along with Twilight’s suggestion. Perhaps she wasn’t the only one with an ulterior motive after all.

“That’s great!” said Twilight. She looked at Adagio. “What do you think?”

“I think that they hate me,” said Adagio.

“That’s not entirely true,” said Sunset, sheepishly. “They’re understandably cautious about you showing up out of the blue and hanging out with Twilight. But, if you have nothing to hide, then there shouldn’t be a problem, right?” She cocked an eyebrow.

Other than the fact that I hate all of you? thought Adagio. “No, no problem,” she said through gritted teeth.

With narrowed eyes, Adagio and Sunset glared at one another, before finally Sunset turned away. “Great,” she said, though from the tone of her voice it was clear there was very little about it that she found ‘great’, “I’ll let the others know.”

As Sunset walked away, Twilight shot Adagio a worried look. “Are you sure you’re okay with this?” she asked.

“It was your idea, Twilight Sparkle,” responded Adagio.

“I know, but–”

“No buts. I might not like them, but I can tolerate sharing a building with them for a little while if you think it will help. But if they try to blast me with friendship magic I’m using you as a human shield.”

“Noted,” said Twilight. “But I do think it will help. If they see you the way I see you, there’s no doubt in my mind that all this unpleasantness will be behind us before you know it.”

“I don’t think anyone sees me the way you do,” muttered Adagio, casting her eyes downward.

Twilight gave her hand another reassuring squeeze. It was a simple gesture, the touching of hands, but none the less, Adagio couldn’t help but feel comforted by the small embrace. Twilight’s hand was warm and soft, and the way it cupped her own felt almost as if the two were meant to fit together, two separate pieces coming together to form a singular whole.

She supposed human hands were just designed to hold one another.

For a while neither of them spoke. Eventually, Sunset and the rest of the Rainbooms left their table and began their approach. Twilight stood up to greet them, her hand drifting away from Adagio’s but leaving much of its warmth behind. Reluctantly, Adagio followed suit, and was met with looks of suspicion and skepticism.

She couldn’t blame them, but none the less she found herself irritated by it.

“Okay,” said Twilight, “now that all of that’s behind us, I was thinking introductions are in order.”

“But we’ve already met!” said the girl with the puffy, pink hair.

“I know, Pinkie, but this is different. An introduction not between humans and Sirens, but between people. A fresh start.” No one stopped her, so Twilight continued. “Adagio, allow me to introduce you to my friends, Sunset Shimmer, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Fluttershy. Girls, this is Adagio Dazzle.”

Rainbow Dash stepped forward. “Now that we all know each other, why don’t we top it off with a friendly handshake. Sunset, you go first.”

Suddenly the Rainboom’s ire was no longer focused on Adagio, but upon Rainbow Dash herself. Sunset Shimmer crossed her arms. “Dash,” she said in a dangerous tone.

“What?” said Rainbow Dash, indignantly. “I’m just saying, this would be a lot easier if you’d just–” She was cut off by a sharp elbow to the rib from Applejack. “Oww, fine, whatever. Don’t blame me when she’s all red-eyed and we have to hit her with another rainbow.”

Adagio eyed Rainbow Dash closely. Why did she want Sunset to shake Adagio’s hand? From the reaction of the other girls, Adagio was certain there was something that she was missing, and she didn’t like it.

“Alright, Twilight,” said Applejack, “since you’re the one putting together this little shindig, what’re we doing?”

“Well, my mom wanted me to pick up a couple of outfits to wear to school – I can’t exactly keep wearing my Crystal Prep uniform – so I guess we could start by doing a little clothes shopping.”

“Why didn’t you say so, darling!” said Rarity. “I know the perfect place. Come Monday you’ll be turning heads up and down Canterlot High!” Rarity took Twilight’s hand and began to lead her out of the food court and back into the mall proper.

“I-I don’t think that’s necessary,” stuttered Twilight.

“Perhaps just the one head, then,” said Rarity coyly, causing Twilight to blush and Adagio to bristle, unconsciously.

The group fell in behind Twilight and Rarity, with Adagio bringing up the rear. She stuffed her hands in her pockets, and hung back just far enough that she didn’t have to join in with any of their conversations. It might even have worked, if one of the girls hadn’t slowed down to talk to her.

“Hi!” said Pinkie Pie, wearing an almost frighteningly cheerful expression.

“Hi,” said Adagio, keeping her gaze fixed directly in front of her. With any luck, the girl would get the hint and leave her alone.

She should have known better, this hadn’t exactly been her lucky day.

At first it seemed as though Adagio had gotten her wish, but then she started to notice things – flash of pink in the corner of her eye, the slightest hint of cotton candy in the air – and when she turned back to see what Pinkie Pie was doing, the girl staring intently at her, barely an inch a way.

Adagio recoiled in surprise and disgust. “What are you doing?!” she demanded.

“Sunset said that Twilight said that you said that you changed, so I wanted to see for myself!” She rubbed her chin. “You look the same to me, though.”

“Well, do it from over there,” said Adagio, putting some distance between them.

“Okey-dokey-lokey!” said Pinkie Pie, and for a few, glorious, seconds, Adagio knew some semblance of peace. Then Pinkie Pie started asking questions. “So, are you and Twilight friends?”

Adagio hunched her shoulders in irritation. Part of her wanted to ignore the question, but in her heart she knew that would only encourage the girl to probe further. Besides, she’d already basically admitted to herself that she might possible consider Twilight Sparkle something akin to what these girls could consider a ‘friend’. If saying it now would make earning the Rainboom’s trust that much easier, then that was that.

“Yes,” she said, “we’re friends.” A slight smile tugged at Adagio’s lips, but she fought it back. Where had that come from?

“Twilight’s my friend, too! And since you’re the friend of my friend, that makes us friends!”

Adagio shuddered in repulsion. The way Pinkie Pie described it, friendship sounded like some sort of communicable disease, and Adagio had just been infected.

She thought about it for a moment. Maybe she’s onto something.

But whether or not friendship was a disease, that didn’t change the fact that Pinkie Pie and Adagio were not friends, and Adagio had to make sure that was abundantly clear.

“That’s not how it works,” she said.

“Yes, it is,” said Pinkie Pie, matter-of-factly.

Adagio scowled. “You don’t just get to decide to be friends with somebody.”

“No, silly, that’s exactly what you do!”

“I think I get some choice in the matter,” insisted Adagio.

“Nope!” said Pinkie Pie.

Adagio felt her nails digging into her palms within the pockets of her hoodie, and was about to retort with a less than friendly response, when another of the Rainbooms broke formation and fell into position between Adagio and her tormentor.

“Pinkie,” said Applejack, “why don’t you go talk to Fluttershy about the bake sale for the animal shelter. You had some ideas about the cupcakes, right?”

“So many!” said Pinkie Pie, before rejoining the rest of the pack. Adagio noted that even her walk had an annoying bubbliness to it.

“Sorry about that,” said Applejack, “she can get a little excited. You get used to it.”

Adagio was absolutely certain she would not get used to it. “I’ll take your word for it.” She glanced at Applejack. “You’re not going to insist on being my friend, are you?”

“Nope. To be frank, I’m a bit skeptical about the whole situation. But Twilight seems to trust you, and I trust Twilight, so I’m giving you a chance – we all are.” She gave a pointed look at Rainbow Dash, who was giving Adagio the stink eye from over her shoulder. “Some of us are happier about it than others.”

So, Pinkie Pie (inexplicably) wanted to be her friend, Rainbow Dash wanted nothing to do with her, and Applejack was on the fence. That was… something. Just as long as they kept their noses out of Adagio’s business, she could tolerate whatever these girls could throw at her.

Probably.

The group arrived at the clothing store, and promptly split off into smaller clusters to do some browsing of their own. Adagio took the opportunity to rejoin Twilight, who clung desperately to an ever-growing stack of clothes, courtesy of Rarity.

“R-Rarity, I can’t afford all of this!” protested Twilight, helplessly.

“Of course not, darling,” said Rarity with a scoff. “But you simply must try them on if we are to find the perfect outfit!”

“It doesn’t have to be perfect–”

Rarity responded with a scandalized gasp. “Nonsense – I won’t hear another word of it! Now, I think this blouse is just your color...”

Rarity tossed another item atop the already towering pile, causing it to sway precariously. Adagio took a step back, not wanting to be in the blast zone when Twilight’s scrawny arms inevitably gave out under the weight, only to collide with someone standing behind her.

“Hey, watch it!”

Rainbow Dash glared at her in irritation, a look that Adagio was happy to return. “You were the one standing behind me, you watch it!” she spat.

“Whatever,” said Rainbow Dash with a shrug.

Adagio growled, biting her tongue to stop herself from saying anything Rainbow Dash might regret. It’s for the plan, she thought, for the plan, for the plan… She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them again, only to see Rainbow Dash’s stupid, smug face looking back at her. Her blood began to boil, and Rainbow Dash must have picked up on her frustration, as she shot her a self assured smirk.

That was it. If Adagio was going to get through this without jeopardizing her plan, that meant doing so without murdering any of the Rainbooms, and unfortunately that included Rainbow Dash. She needed space.

“If you’ll excuse me,” said Adagio, before ducking into an aisle and putting as much distance between them as possible. Or so she thought. Behind the very next display, leaning against the wall and wearing an insufferably arrogant smile, was Rainbow Dash.

Adagio’s eye twitched. How had Rainbow Dash beaten her here? It didn’t matter, she was done pretending to be nice. If Rainbow Dash wanted to pick a fight, then a fight she would get. Adagio grabbed a shirt that she had neither the money nor the intention of purchasing and held it up to her chest, pretending to be trying it on.

“If it wasn’t clear, I’m trying to avoid you,” she said, not taking her eyes off the shirt.

“I know,” said Rainbow Dash, “but someone has to keep an eye on you – make sure you don’t try anything.”

Adagio laughed callously. “Like what?”

“I don’t know. Steal.”

“Steal? Please, stealing is beneath me.”

It wasn’t.

“Well, whatever you’re up to, I’m not going to let you get away with it.”

Adagio looked up, giving Rainbow Dash a devilish look. “And who’s to say I haven’t already?”

“Aha!” said Rainbow, pointing a finger accusingly. “So you admit it!”

Adagio rolled her eyes. “No, I was mocking you. Are you always this dense?”

It was Rainbow Dash’s turn to growl.

“Besides, if I was up to something, do you really think you’d be the one to figure it out?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Do I really have to spell it out for you? You just about gift wrapped your magic for us at the Battle of the Bands – what with all the arguing and showing off. You’re practically an honorary Dazzling!”

It was Rainbow Dash’s turn to laugh. “Sorry, not interested. You’ll have to recruit somewhere else.”

“Excuse me?”

“All I’m saying is my friends are here, and you’re all alone.”

“I’m not alone. I have Twilight Sparkle.”

Rainbow Dash’s hands balled into fists and she took a step forward, menacingly. Adagio reflexively backed away. She might not think much of Rainbow Dash, but she had no delusions that she would win if it came to exchanging blows. Besides, getting into a fistfight wasn’t exactly conducive to getting the Rainbooms to trust her… though this argument hadn’t been, either, but that was Rainbow Dash’s fault, not hers.

Adagio would never find out if Rainbow Dash had intended to hit her, for at that moment Applejack stepped out from an aisle and stood between the two girls. Her look of amusement dissolved into suspicion as she looked between them.

“Everything alright here?” she asked.

“Just fine,” said Adagio.

“Yup,” agreed Rainbow Dash. They glared at one another.

“...Right. Well, c’mon, you two, I got something I want to show you.”

“What is it?” asked Rainbow Dash. Adagio’s curiosity was similarly piqued.

“Trust me, you’re going to want to see this for yourselves.”

“No, this won’t do at all. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking!”

Applejack had lead them to the dressing rooms where, standing before them in what was, perhaps, the single most hideous dress Adagio had ever seen, was Twilight Sparkle.

“Put that in the ‘no’ pile, dear, and put on the next one,” said Rarity, ushering Twilight back into a stall. The door hadn’t been closed for more than a second when Rainbow Dash erupted into laughter.

“Rarity, what the heck was that? She looked like an eggplant!”

“I can hear you, you know!” came Twilight’s muffled voice from behind the door, which only made Rainbow laugh harder. Adagio couldn’t help but chuckle.

“It looked better on the shelf,” said Rarity, before shooting Applejack a pointed look. “You didn’t bring them over here just to poke fun, did you?”

“Maybe,” replied Applejack, trying unsuccessfully to hide her snickering.

Rarity huffed. “Well, I’m sure the next one will be better.”

It was worse.

Rainbow Dash fell to the floor, clutching her stomach as she cackled like a hyena. Even Applejack could no longer contain herself, and laughed openly while wiping a tear from her eye.

“Sugarcube, you look like the losing end of a fight between a sunflower and an orangutan!”

“I think I might have grabbed that one by mistake,” said Rarity, daintily covering her mouth with her hand.

“Adagio?” Twilight looked at her with her big, puppy dog eyes, and for a moment, Adagio was severely tempted to reassure her.

A second look at the dress fixed that.

“It’s terrible,” admitted Adagio.

Twilight slumped and returned to the stall. “I hate clothes shopping,” she muttered, electing a shocked gasp from Rarity.

“You don’t mean that!” she said, approaching the stall. “Why don’t I come in there and help you put an outfit together?” Twilight didn’t respond, but the door opened just enough to allow Rarity to slip inside.

By that time, Applejack and Rainbow Dash (and, though she hated to admit it, Adagio) had each managed to compose themselves.

“Rarity’s got a real eye for fashion, but I tell ya, sometimes she puts together some real doozies.”

“Like your outfits at the Battle of the Bands?” asked Adagio.

“You’re one to talk,” said Rainbow Dash.

“And what does that mean, exactly?”

“That’s rich coming from the girl who wore that purple getup to school,” said Applejack. “You know, the one with the spiked heels?”

“And what was wrong with that?” asked Adagio. Applejack and Rainbow Dash shared a look, before resuming their laughter, and to her surprise, Adagio didn’t feel the urge to return the insult. Instead, she found herself laughing with them.

Maybe the heels had been a bit much, but she was trying to take over the world, after all.

“Well,” said Applejack, “you’re dressing more sensible now. Maybe that says something.”

Maybe it did.

The stall door opened once again and Rarity emerged. She cleared her throat. “Ladies, your attention, please. I believe we have a winner.” With a flourish, Rarity opened the door and stepped aside, revealing Twilight standing behind her.

Adagio’s jaw dropped.

Perhaps it was the contrast with the horrific dresses that had come before it, but Twilight looked absolutely radiant. She wore a purple skirt with a starburst pattern and frills on the bottom, a rose vest over a pale blue blouse with short, puffed sleeves, a pair of matching socks that reached just below her knee, and, to top it all off, a cute little bowtie. It was dorky and adorable (there really should be a word for that!) and, as far as Adagio was concerned, Twilight really pulled it off.

“What’s with the bowtie?” asked Rainbow Dash. Applejack elbowed her in the ribs. “Ouch, same spot!”

“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” said Applejack, giving a thumbs up. Twilight turned her gaze upon Adagio, who quickly snapped her mouth shut.

“What do you think?” Twilight asked.

Suddenly, Adagio became distinctly aware that she was staring at Twilight. But where was she supposed to look? She looked over Twilight once more, felt a flash of heat in her cheeks, before fixing her eyes to the floor.

“It’s, umm, really… nice.”

Nice? Come on, you can do better than that!

“Do you not like it?” There was something about the vulnerability in Twilight’s voice that grabbed hold of Adagio’s heartstrings and pulled.

“No,” said Adagio, “I mean, I do like it! It looks really good. I really like the...” everything “...socks.”

She did really like the socks.

“Are you sure?”

Adagio pulled herself together and looked Twilight in the eyes. “I am.”

A hint of pink returned to Twilight’s cheeks, mirroring Adagio’s own, and she smiled. Rarity gave them an inquisitive look, but said nothing.

“Alright, I’ll change back into my regular clothes and we can get out of here.”

Rarity frowned. “But what about the rest of the–” Twilight gave her a pleading look. Rarity sighed. “Very well, but mark my words, one of these days, Twilight, you’ll look into your closet and realize you have an entirely new, entirely fabulous, wardrobe.”

“And I’ll have you to thank for it,” said Twilight, with a smile.

“We done here?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“Unfortunately,” lamented Rarity. She watched Twilight return one final time to the stall, before turning towards Rainbow Dash and Applejack. “Why don’t you two go find Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Sunset. We’ll meet you outside.”

“But what about–” started Rainbow Dash, only to be cut off by Rarity.

“I assure you I have everything here completely under control.”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes darted between Rarity and Adagio, and after a moment of deliberation, she relented. “Alright, just don’t take too long.”

“C’mon, Dash, I bet we’ll find Fluttershy at the pet store ‘cross the way.”

Applejack and Rainbow Dash walked off, leaving Adagio alone with Rarity. Adagio would have been content to wait for Twilight in silence but, once again, fate had other plans.

“So, you and Twilight?”

Adagio had to do a double take. “I’m sorry?”

“Twilight, dear, she’s tutoring you?”

“Oh,” said Adagio. For a second there she’d thought that Rarity was implying… well, it didn’t matter. “Yeah, she is.”

“Well, you certainly made the right choice. I couldn’t imagine a better tutor than Twilight.”

“It wasn’t exactly a choice,” said Adagio, “it just sort of… happened.”

Rarity touched a finger to her lips, thoughtfully. “Well, nevertheless, private tutoring sessions with Twilight Sparkle – I know a certain young gentleman who would love such an opportunity.”

Adagio stiffened, and Rarity watched her intently. She was talking about Timber, a subject that brought with it a whole flurry of emotions that Adagio both did not understand, and did not want to deal with. She shoved her hands into the pockets of her hoodie and cast her gaze upon the tiled floor.

“Yes,” continued Rarity after it became clear that Adagio wasn’t going to respond, “yes, it was a shame to hear about what happened on their date last night.”

“Wait, what?” Rarity now had Adagio’s full attention. Had something happened after Twilight and Timber had left last night?

Rarity must have picked up on Adagio’s sudden shift in demeanor, as a knowing smile spread across her lips and she leaned in conspiratorially. “Well,” she said, lowering her voice dramatically, “you didn’t hear this from me, but–”

Rarity stopped abruptly as Twilight stepped out of the changing room, holding her new outfit in a neatly folded pile before her.

“But?” prompted Adagio, but Rarity only winked at her and waved Twilight over.

“Twilight, darling, we were just talking about you!”

Twilight blinked, and glanced at Adagio. “You were? Nothing bad, I hope.”

“Perish the thought! Adagio was positively singing your praises!”

Adagio opened her mouth to argue, but closed it again. What was Rarity playing at? On the one hand, her story was certainly better than admitting they’d been gossiping about Twilight’s love life (not that Adagio cared, of course), but Adagio would be more comfortable if she understood Rarity’s motivation.

At least Rainbow Dash had been straightforward.

“Oh,” said Twilight, a slight blush finding its way once more to her cheeks.

“Well, I’m sure the others are waiting on us, so let’s not dally!”

Rarity led them to the to the counter so Twilight could pay for her clothes, only to hold the entire process up by searching her purse for a discount card, leaving Adagio and Twilight to stand quietly behind her, exchanging little smiles and brief moments of eye contact that brought back memories of the long night they’d spent at the library.

Timber couldn’t take that from her.

“Ah, here it is!” proclaimed Rarity, proudly producing the card and laying it on the counter before them. A bored looking employee swiped the card and ushered Twilight (who looked apologetically at the small line forming behind them) forward to pay. The employee quickly bagged Twilight’s purchase and sent the girls on their way.

“Thanks for helping me, girls,” said Twilight as they exited the store. “I really hate shopping by myself.”

Rarity waved a hand dismissively. “Think nothing of it, dear.”

Adagio shrugged. “I didn’t really do anything.”

“Nonsense, darling, you had some lovely things to say about her… socks.”

Adagio rolled her eyes, and Twilight stifled a giggle.

“The important thing was that you were there,” said Rarity. “Sometimes that’s all that matters. Oh, look, there they are. Girls!” Rarity raised a hand and waved down the rest of the Rainbooms, who were waiting by a bench. Adagio and Twilight fell in behind her as they approached.

“Holding up okay?”

Adagio shrugged in response to Twilight’s question. “I’m fine.”

“You sure? Because if you want to leave–”

Adagio stopped in place. “Twilight Sparkle, if I wanted to leave, I’d have left already.”

That wasn’t entirely true. Adagio did want to leave, it was simply lower on her priority list than convincing the Rainbooms she wasn’t a threat, and not disappointing Twilight Sparkle.

“Alright,” said Twilight, though she didn’t sound entirely convinced. “I just don’t want you to feel obligated to stick around just for me.”

“That is literally the only reason I’m here.”

Again, not entirely true, but it was enough for Twilight.

“Well, thanks, I’m glad you’re here.”

“I’m glad you’re here, too.”

‘Hanging out’ was somewhat of a foreign concept to Adagio.

It wasn’t as if she didn’t understand it – because really, what was there to understand? – it was merely something she had precious little experience with. In Equestria, despite being at the peak of her magical might, Adagio had always sought more. More power, more magic, more of everything. After her defeat and banishment to this world, she spent her time struggling to get by on what little magic she and the other Sirens had been able to wring out of the (mostly) magicless humans. Even after being defeated once again, this time by the Rainbooms, Adagio still did not have the luxury of a break – Crystal Prep was anything but a free ride, and Adagio spent every moment either scheming or clawing her way back from the brink of oblivion. Even her time with Twilight was primarily spent studying. As such, the idea of ‘just doing whatever’ sat poorly with her.

The Rainbooms did not share her reservations.

After they’d finished their clothes shopping (although, by the end of the day, Adagio was convinced that Rarity was never truly finished clothes shopping), and now lacking a specific goal, proceeded to do absolutely nothing.

Okay, so it may not have been literally nothing, but it certainly felt that way to Adagio. They meandered aimlessly through the West Canterlot Mall, prattling on about this and that, occasionally stopping into whatever happened to catch their interest, and even then, rarely making a purchase.

For the most part, Adagio found herself lingering at the back of the group, an outsider looking in on a world she didn’t fully comprehend. Every now and then one of the girls (usually Twilight) would slow down and try to make conversation. It was a pointless exercise, but Adagio would do her best to indulge them. After all, this was all part of the plan, right?

The hours passed slowly, but eventually the ‘hanging out’ came to a close. It began with the girls lamenting the various responsibilities they had to return to (unsurprisingly, the act of doing nothing ended when one was forced to do something), and from there moved on to discussing their assorted means of egress.

It was during this conversation that Adagio received a text message from Sugarcoat.

‘We are going to get food at the WCM, if you still want to come.’

So, Adagio was trading time at the mall with one group of girls she didn’t particularly like (with one exception) for another (again, with one exception). A little voice inside of her cried out, wanting nothing than to go back to her room and not talk to another human until Monday, but she ignored it. Spending time with Sugarcoat might not have been part of her plan but, unfortunately, Adagio was a human now, and humans had to eat.

Besides, she was already here.

‘I’ll meet you there.’

She looked up from her phone at Twilight, who had, moments ago, offered Adagio a ride home with Cadance and Shining Armor.

“Thanks, but I think I’m going to stick around here for a while longer.”

“Oh,” said Twilight, “okay.” It was clear that she was curious, but was polite enough not to pry.

Rainbow Dash was not.

“Why?” she asked. “Meeting up with the rest of your Siren buddies?”

“My roommate, actually,” replied Adagio, curtly. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

Rainbow Dash huffed. “A likely story.”

“Dash,” said Sunset in a warning tone, “keep it up and Fluttershy will make you walk home.”

“Goodness, I would never–” Fluttershy caught Sunset’s look and cut herself off. “Right, walk.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, but dropped the matter nonetheless.

The Rainbooms shared heartfelt (and, in Adagio’s opinion, somewhat excessive) goodbyes, and began to trickle out of the mall, until only Adagio, Twilight, and Sunset Shimmer remained.

“You sure we can’t give you a ride home?” Twilight asked Sunset, who waved her off.

“Thanks, but it’s a nice night, and I’m in the mood to stretch my legs.”

Twilight put her hands on her hips and pouted. “Both of you turned down a ride home – do I smell or something?”

Like lavender, Adagio remembered. Sunset laughed.

“It’s okay, Twilight, really.”

Twilight looked like she was about to respond, only to be interrupted by the buzzing of her phone. “That’s my ride,” she said. “I’ll see both of you on Monday!”

And with that, Adagio Dazzle was alone with Sunset Shimmer.

Adagio shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Sunset Shimmer rubbed her neck. Neither of them looked at the other. There was a long, pregnant pause before Sunset broke the silence.

“Okay, I’m going to say this once and get it out of the way: I know what it’s like. I’ve been the former villain, the girl on the outside wondering what’s so special about the whole ‘friendship’ thing, or if there was any way I could learn to actually like these girls. So, if you’re really serious about turning things around, and you need to talk to someone who’s been there… I’ll be around.” She looked Adagio in the eye, her expression hardening. “Twilight’s putting a lot of faith in you, and it’s going to crush her if it turns out to be misplaced. So, if this is just some game you’re playing to get back at us, keep her out of it.”

There was a stretch of about twenty minutes between Sunset’s departure and Sugarcoat’s arrival that Adagio was left to consider Sunset’s words. On the one hand, returning to her full strength was all Adagio had dreamed about since her first night in this world. It was the goal that kept her going through the darkest of times, and was the focus of all of her machinations. But on the other hand…

Twilight Sparkle.

It was foolish to think she could have them both. The Rainbooms would never allow her to have her magic back unopposed, but defeating them would mean losing Twilight. Of course, when the world was hers and the hearts and minds of all of its people were under her control, she could simply tell Twilight to forgive her, couldn’t she?

Adagio didn’t realize she’d been pacing until she abruptly stopped. Suddenly she felt sick to her stomach and cold, so very cold. She imagined Twilight standing before her, an adoring smile plastered across her face but a dullness in her eyes that – despite it being a figment of her imagination – shook Adagio to her core. Twilight would do whatever she asked her to – they all would – but, for the first time, thinking of her conquest felt… wrong. She could simply not put Twilight under her spell, dooming Adagio to lose her first and only friend, but the alternative – the mental violation of Twilight Sparkle – was so much worse.

Adagio looked down at her trembling hands. Maybe she was a monster after all.