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Space Cowboys & Moonwalkers - Adagio of a Siren Chapter

By MistakeAnon
Created: 9th June 2021 12:47:14 AM
Modified: 21st June 2021 08:18:50 AM
Adagio Dazzle Anonymous EQG

  1. >Ragged breathing.
  2. >Sweat pouring down your face.
  3. >Curses flying from under your breath.
  4. "This cannot be happening..."
  5. >Indeed.
  6. >Your name is Adagio Dazzle.
  7. >And you're in quite the trouble right now.
  8. >That's obvious enough for anyone to see.
  9. >Though "seeing" might be the wrong verb here.
  10. >After all, as you vault over the small fence at the end of the street, you can certainly hear the gigantic *something* smashing its way through the alleway you had just previously been in.
  11. >The keyword being "hear".
  12. >You can't see anything.
  13. >Just flying trashcans and how a street light bends as if something large and furious had just struck the pole.
  14. >Letting out yet another curse, you accelerate back into a run.
  15. >Dashing through people's backyards, vaulting over more fences, fleeing aimlessly while trying to exhaust the beast at your heels...
  16. >You can't believe this is the third time this month.
  17. >However, unlike those previous times, this might be your last.
  18. >You weren't able to head to any of the safe locations you had pinpointed.
  19. >No, the creature's gotten wiser.
  20. >It's purposefully cutting off your attempts at doing so.
  21. >You can hear its legs dig into the asphalt as it jumps over the brick fence you cleared just seconds earlier, and by the sound of it, the monster does so with ease.
  22. >There's a loud thud and a crash as it lands onto the well-maintained lawn.
  23. >But the people inside the house don't even seem to react.
  24. >No, they're all asleep.
  25. >This is truly like a nightmare.
  26. >A black nightmare where rushing wind cuts your face.
  27. >Where sweat pours down as bullets on your brow.
  28. >Where your heart beats so fast it's about to rip right out of your chest.
  29. >And the ironic thing is...
  30. "Ha, ha, ahahahahaha..."
  31. >In a sense, you're being chased by something you sought for so desperately.
  32. >No, scratch that, you will be most likely *killed* by that which you sought for so desperately.
  33.  
  34. >What else could it be?
  35. >An invisible beast that's been stalking you for a good month now...
  36. >It *had* to be Equestrian in origin.
  37. "Just a moment, this is... no! God damn it, no!"
  38. >That frustrated cry echoes from your lips after you crash through a hedge fence surrounding the latest house on whose lawn you just tresspassed.
  39. >And for a reason.
  40. >You just emerged out onto a bit of a steep slope, rushed to the top and there... found black tarmac and  yellow lines.
  41. >Sparsely spread street lights illuminating the road that rounds around Canterlot City.
  42. >Nothing but hilly forests and fields on the other side.
  43. >In other words, in your haste you managed to end up stranded at the edge of the city.
  44. >Running around like a fool after you bolted out of your van was, as it turns out, a rather moronic idea.
  45. >You should have had a plan.
  46. >Instead of going in full Sonata.
  47. >You screwed up. Screwed up big time.
  48. "Girls... Looks like I---"
  49. >That's as far as you get.
  50. >Not even your sarcastic, wry quip is allowed out.
  51. >You hear gravel being grounded to dust as the invisible monster clears the last hardle.
  52. >You whip your head around, ready to face the beast, but instead, find the air suddenly struck out of your lungs.
  53. >Like a station vagon had just hit you in the stomach.
  54. >It hurts.
  55. >Four unseen, gigantic claws wrap around you and squeeze, and you can hear your bones creaking.
  56. >No, these aren't just claws.
  57. >It's talons.
  58. >Humongous talons that easily grabs you by your midsection, pinning your arms against your sides and lifting you slightly off the ground.
  59. >It's hard to breathe.
  60. >Your vision is swimming.
  61. >You were already out of breath thanks to running like a madman, and now this?
  62. >If you're lucky, you're gonna pass out before this monster crushes you.
  63. >Lucky...
  64. >No, you can't call yourself lucky.
  65. >Not after everything that's happened.
  66. >This sick and twisted Twilight Zone tale that began a month ago.
  67. >One that broke the fragile peace you three had managed to find.
  68.  
  69. >Yes.
  70. >Looking back at it, you should have seen the signs of inescapable doom hanging over your head from the start.
  71. >The feeling of something stalking around your tour van in the middle of the night.
  72. >The complaints from Aria regarding something clawing at the paint-job of the vehicle, as if dragging massive claws against it.
  73. >Sonata mentioning that she felt like she was followed whenever she got back from her part-time job.
  74. >And you... all those nightmares.
  75. >Nightmares of unfurled wings in the dark and being constricted, crushed, as if with a coiling rope.
  76. >After the first time that you had suddenly been chased after a gig at a local mall, you should have packed your bags and headed out of Canterlot.
  77. >You knew it.
  78. >Back then, it was only the mere coincidence that those infernal girls from the school had been nearby.
  79. >Somehow, that made the beast give up its chase.
  80. >Maybe it had sensed strong enough magic to defeat it.
  81. >One that you yourself no longer possessed, leaving you wide open as a prey.
  82. >Second time had been close to CHS, with your van parked at a nearby parking lot.
  83. >Just by getting into the school, you had managed to give the monster a slip.
  84. >Hah... no such luck this time.
  85. >No, now you were stuck.
  86. >In this vice-grip that slowly squeezed the life out of you.
  87. >What... what a pedestrian way to go.
  88. >You would have laughed if you still had air left in your lungs.
  89. >But no, this talon crushing you was like binds wrapped all around you, a thick cord squeezing the life out of you.
  90. >You were stuck. You were out of options. Entangled and chained by the beast you couldn't even see.
  91. >Your head was swimming.
  92. >White dots of light broke out like fireworks in your field of vision.
  93. >Damn it...
  94. >... Those girls are gonna be helpless on their own.
  95. >If you could just...
  96. >Es... cape...
  97. >Into tho...se
  98. >T...w...o
  99. >Li...ghts....
  100. >Wa...it...
  101. >T...wo...?
  102. >Head...lights...?
  103.  
  104. >[THREE MINUTES EARLIER]
  105. >Not too far away.
  106. >Headlights illuminate the two-lane blacktop.
  107. >1970 AMC Rebel Machine glides over the asphalt.
  108. >And a song fills the air.
  109. [Embed: Electric Light Orchestra - Evil Woman]
  110. >Fingers tapping the wheel of your car.
  111. >Engine roaring to the tune of the music, filling the night-time air with its own brand of melodies.
  112. >Cigarette between your lips, smoke billowing out through the half-open window.
  113. >Piano solos, grand strings and that infectious-as-all-hell guitar.
  114. >Head bopping to the music as you quietly sing along, absorbed by ELO.
  115. >Oh yes.
  116. >You were Anonymous.
  117. >The One and Only.
  118. >And you were feeling *fine*.
  119. >You can't remember the last time the night-time air felt this fresh on your face or in your goddamn *fabulous* hair.
  120. >Neither can you remember when the freedom to do whatever the hell you wanted had tasted this sweet.
  121. >It was like sweet, sweet Grasshopper flowing down your mouth.
  122. >Ah yes.
  123. >That's the taste of absolute freedom.
  124. >Crème de menthe.
  125. >So good.
  126. "Eeeeevil woman~"
  127. >You bellow out, along with the chorus blaring out from your old and unfashionable cassette-player, into the pitch-black midnight outside your car.
  128. >Meanwhile your headlights finally find a target, and for a moment, you're surprised.
  129. >Huh.
  130. >"Welcome to Canterlot City - Where Friendship is Magic."
  131. >You roll your eyes and chortle at the tagline.
  132. >Jesus, it was so cheesy you had no choice but to like it.
  133. >Still shaking your head and chuckling to yourself, you take a drag off your cigarette and peer ahead, eyebrows appraisingly raised.
  134. >Looks like you're passing through some small Oregon city, nestled between mountains, hills and some rivers.
  135. >Lights of buildings illuminate the darkness further away, and you can even see the towering shapes of some high-rises against the midnight blue backdrop.
  136.  
  137. >A city neatly divided into modern and old, proper urbanization and distant suburbias, all with a flair of days gone by in shape of tinier buildings huddled together to create a charming sight even at this time of day.
  138. >Well, time of night.
  139. "Hmm... should we pull up to a motel here? Whaddya think?"
  140. >You ask this question while throwing a glance towards your rear-view mirror.
  141. >However, the only thing that answers you is the V8 with it's own little fanfare, as if to mimic the strings blaring from the radio.
  142. >Well, at least your Rebel Machine was happy.
  143. >Not that you expected a response from the backseat.
  144. >In the mirror, the only thing you see is a pair of eyes, like those of a corpse, glare at you with accusation in them.
  145. >Yeah, well, she can only blame herself.
  146. >In the end, it was she herself who was the cause for everything that happened.
  147. >The catalyst of the events that transpired.
  148. >The nigh-literal hell that was your Winter Break.
  149. >And, let's not forget, having to hightail it out of New Mexico as fast as you could.
  150. >Yeah... no going back to that place.
  151. >Probably ever.
  152. >Shame, you had finally started to find your place in high school.
  153. >But, then again...
  154. "Ha-ha! Funny, how you broke me up!"
  155. >You reach your arm out of the window, flick away the ashes from the tip of your cigarette and make a little fist-pump in the air.
  156. "You made the wine, now you drink a cup!"
  157. >The last words are sang to the girl in the backseat.
  158. >You're not sure if she understands.
  159. >Or even hears.
  160. >But that's how it just it.
  161. >She's no longer a conversationalist.
  162. >If she ever was.
  163. "Yeah, you know what? Let's make this our pit stop for the day. I'm pretty sure I saw a shopping center in the distance - and I bet there's a minimart there. So, a drink for me, slice of pizza for you, and then we find a motel."
  164.  
  165. >You nod to yourself, settling in to a plan.
  166. >Though you *do* glance in the rear-view mirror again.
  167. "Whaddya think?"
  168. >Silence is the only answer.
  169. >Along with another glare.
  170. >You snort and roll your eyes again, waving your cigarette around in a vague gesture.
  171. "Oh come on. I said I'd buy you a slice. Don't give me that killer look, young lady - it's not like I'm to blame."
  172. >Without even waiting for an answer (that would not come anyway) you turn around and peer over the back of your seat.
  173. >The tiny girl sitting there, hugging her knees, just continues to glare.
  174. "I mean, we need to look at the positives here. Both of us are alive, we've got a sort-of-roof above our heads, we're free to go wherever, and nobody is after us *or* our lives! Things could be *much* worse."
  175. >You take another drag off your cigarette and blow a smoke ring out into the air.
  176. "It's the little things in life, yeah? Tell you what, if you want, we can take tomorrow off from traveling. Let's hit the arcade or the mall in this place or something. I've got enough to splurge a little bit."
  177. >Something in those eyes changes just a little bit.
  178. >A hint of emotion enters them.
  179. >You can't help the grin that rises to your face.
  180. "Now *there* it is. She can smile after all! Jury's out on how happy it was, but hey, I play by Judy's rules. That is, *I* make the rules. No jury needed."
  181. >You laugh, mostly to yourself.
  182. >If the girl won't speak, she's certainly not going to start laughing any time soon.
  183. >So you're just gonna have to chuckle for both of you.
  184. "So, what's it gonna be?"
  185. >You arch an eyebrow at her, smile playing on your lips.
  186. "Moon Patrol? Zaxxon? Out Run?"
  187. >No reaction.
  188. "Nah, it's gotta be Space Harrier, right?"
  189. >Oh, another reaction.
  190. >Your smile widens.
  191. "Yeaaaah, you just adore that game, right?"
  192. >Wow, she's now actually avoiding looking you in the eye.
  193. >She's a pretty bad liar for someone who can't talk.
  194.  
  195. "Okay, Space Harrier it is. Who knows, we might even find a pizza place that's..."
  196. >You frown a little.
  197. >Why is she still staring straight ahead?
  198. >Why are her eyes dilating?
  199. >And why is her mouth slightly agape?
  200. "Geez, stop squeezing that seat like your life depends on it, I'm not driving that fast and the leather's expensive you know?"
  201. >You pat the backseat affectionally.
  202. >Mm, that's it.
  203. >Your Lady doesn't deserve to be handled so roughly.
  204. >If anything, all she deserves is some funky tunes and some sweet, sweet lovi--
  205. "Oh come on, I told you to stop scratching the seats! That's not gonna help! I should..."
  206. >Oh.
  207. >Wait.
  208. >The way she's pressing her back to the seat as if trying to escape.
  209. >Yeaaaah, that's gotta be it.
  210. >Yup yup, you recognize that reaction.
  211. >No doubt about it.
  212. >...
  213. >You're about to goddamn crash into something, aren't you?
  214. "This is why you should learn to talk you maniacal midget!"
  215. >Your scream overpowers the lyrical gift of Jeff Lynne.
  216. >At the same time you spin around and grab the wheel with both hands, eyes focused straight ahead.
  217. >All in a span of half-a-second.
  218. >Yet, even so.
  219. >It's too late, because of course it is.
  220. >Life never plays fair, does it?
  221. "CRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAP----!"
  222. >The moment grinds to a halt.
  223. >Not in reality, but in your mind.
  224. >You've seen this happen in movies.
  225. >But you sure as heck didn't expect it to happen in reality.
  226. >Your hands grip the wheel, knuckles white as bones, and the situation just ahead spreads into your field of vision.
  227. >The road ahead is obstructed.
  228. >The intersection turning towards the town ahead is blocked.
  229. >There.
  230. >In the middle of the road.
  231. >Is someone.
  232. >Wait... a girl?
  233. >She's standing stiff as a corpse, shivering like she was having a seizure.
  234. >Right in the middle of the lane.
  235. >Slowly, like swimming in molasses, you throw your whole weight behind it and start turning the wheel.
  236.  
  237. >The wheels screech against the asphalt and for a moment, you're pretty sure you're seeing sparks light up the night.
  238. >The vehicle lurches to the right, all too slow to your liking.
  239. >Your manly scream of panic revs up in your mind and is suddenly pitch-shifted way up high.
  240. >You're pretty sure you sound like a chipmunk at the moment.
  241. >That or you're screaming like a girl.
  242. >Pretty much one and the same.
  243. >At the same time, your adrenaline-enhanced sense feel the back of the car stumble.
  244. >For one horrible moment you think you're going to end up sideways.
  245. >Just straight up do a 90-degree turn and fly off the round.
  246. >Bounce to your roof and roll down the road, squashing the goddamn maniac of a girl standing there.
  247. >But.
  248. >Your Lady is far better than that.
  249. >She's the queen of your heart after all.
  250. >Sensing your panic, the center of gravity feels like it shifts just a little bit and the vehicle pivots back to the left.
  251. >It's like you're writing the letter S onto the tarmac with your wheels.
  252. >The horrible moment passes as your vehicle drifts into a slalom.
  253. >Hah!
  254. >Oh yes!
  255. >That's why you love this goddamn machine so much!
  256. >Thank the God for AMC!
  257. >And so... the dreadful second, one that had been stretched into a full two minutes in your brain, speeds up once more.
  258. >You can see it.
  259. >You're going to slide around the girl, enter into a spin afterwards, and come to a stylish and controlled stop right behind her, headlights still pointed at the maniac.
  260. >Yes, you're not only going to stick the landing, but you're going to do it in *style*!
  261. >Take that, laws of physics!
  262. >Yes... that's how it should have been.
  263. >If not for one crucial fact.
  264. >As it turns out, there was an invisible wall or something right next to the girl.
  265. >And you plow right into it, still going some 50 miles per hour.
  266. >Like somebody snapped their fingers, your world just shuts off.
  267. >Hello darkness.
  268. >Been a while.
  269.  
  270. >.........
  271. >......
  272. >...
  273. >You don't know how long you've been out.
  274. >But God Almighty does it hurt everywhere.
  275. >Even in places where you didn't expect to hurt.
  276. >Smell of gasoline and steam and all things bad for a car enter your nose first.
  277. >Second thing to come back to you is your hearing.
  278. >Oh boy.
  279. >Yo, windshield wipers...
  280. >You're pretty sure squeaking across what remains of the glass ain't gonna help.
  281. >Thanks for trying, though.
  282. >Next, the taste.
  283. >Ah, yes... copper.
  284. >Should have known.
  285. >Can a person ever really get used to tasting their own blood?
  286. >You hope not.
  287. >It's not a habit you wanna get into.
  288. >And that would only leave, oh, there you go.
  289. >Your vision's coming back!
  290. >Blurry, yes, but hey, at least you didn't get pieces of glass embedded into your eyeballs or something as gorey as that.
  291. >Would have put a bit of a damper to the mood.
  292. "Guh... urgh... gah..."
  293. >You gag and spit you some coagulated blood, trying your best to shift your head (that's currently resting against the steering wheel) so you won't hit the carpets.
  294. >Of course, you just end up hitting the door instead.
  295. >Figures.
  296. "Oooh... that smarts..."
  297. >Muttering curses under your breath, you start the slow process of moving one limb at a time, checking if anything's broken.
  298. >And to your surprise, nothing actually *seems* to be too badly damaged.
  299. >Gonna end up with few scars, maybe some stiches and some pretty nasty bruises but... otherwise you'll probably be okay?
  300. >Huh, fancy that.
  301. >Now then, onto the next things.
  302. >Namely...
  303. "Hurk!"
  304. >You let out a garbled sound as you grab the handle on the door and push the whole thing open.
  305. >To your horror, the whole door just swings off the car and clatters down to the asphalt.
  306. >Oh your poor Lady...
  307. >This is just unfair.
  308. >To you *and* to her!
  309.  
  310. >Next, thanks to both adrenaline still in your veins and just plain old stubborness, you stumble out of the car and onto the road.
  311. >Or rather, you try to take a step, stumble, and roll onto the asphalt while banging your head a couple of times.
  312. >Your brain rattles in your skull like an over-excited maraca.
  313. >Bah, concussions are for losers anyway.
  314. >You got this Anonymous.
  315. >Hide the pain, suck it up and get your limbs to stop disagreeing with you.
  316. >At least in such pathetic way.
  317. "You know..."
  318. >You croak that out as you push yourself up to your knees, and then, rise to your wobbling legs.
  319. >You have to stand in a pretty wide stance but you're pretty sure you can do this.
  320. >And not only that.
  321. >Your vision's starting to focus too.
  322. >Enough to see that your Rebel Machine has had its front completely totalled.
  323. >Crushed like a goddamn accordion.
  324. >Whimper escapes from your mouth before you can stop it.
  325. >Oh no...
  326. >You can cry later.
  327. >Now, there's something else to take care of!
  328. >Namely...
  329. "Y-you know..."
  330. >You repeat your words awkwardly and crane your neck to the left.
  331. >Aligning your eyes with the sight of the girl still standing in the middle of the road.
  332. >Though instead of looking like she was in the middle of an episode like before, now...
  333. >... Now she just stands there, panting heavily and holding her ribs.
  334. >Staring wild-eyed at the crushed front of your car.
  335. >Not even acknowledging you.
  336. "Is it just me, or... is the reality here pretty glitched?"
  337. >Your joke falls on deaf ears.
  338. >The girl just continues to stare at the empty spot right in front of your car, where the laws of physics really *did* take a rain check.
  339. >Though not in the way you wanted.
  340. "Uh, hello? Lady? Earth to the orange blimb prancing in the middle of the road?"
  341. >You snap your fingers at her to get her attention.
  342. >You only manage to actually do it on the third try.
  343.  
  344. >However, even that's not enough to break her out of her reverie.
  345. >So you're left there in silence, taking in the form of the girl who caused this mess.
  346. >Orange hair that's shines like molten amber underneath the street lights.
  347. >Face that must have been far more used to a haughty sneer than bug-eyed shock she's experiencing now.
  348. >Her facial features are sharp, noble, even to the point of being slightly handsome instead of just beautiful.
  349. >She stands there, dressed in a simple hoodie and jeans.
  350. >In all her five-foot-nothing glory.
  351. >But man... that's some volume of hair pouring out of her head.
  352. >As a fellow member of the fabulous hair club, you have to respect the sight - if only for the effort it must have taken to grow it.
  353. >Not mention maintain it.
  354. >Must be some damn expensive shampoo.
  355. >"I can't believe it.."
  356. >Her sudden words startle you and you actually flinch backwards.
  357. >But she doesn't notice.
  358. >Instead her attention is still focused on that empty spot you crashed into.
  359. >"All it took... was a car...?"
  360. >Her tone indicates she doesn't know whether to laugh hysterically or cry amusedly.
  361. >And you can't blame her.
  362. >You're pretty much wavering between those two choices too.
  363. >It's only your plucky attitude and go-getter spirit that's keeping you together right now.
  364. >That and still being in shock from almost getting killed in your own car.
  365. >Yeah, that's about fade soon you bet.
  366. >And then it's gonna be nothing but screaming and crying from you.
  367. >Better get some answers before your moxey fails you and ruins your rugged good looks.
  368. "Yo. Princess. Eyes up here."
  369. >You snap your fingers again, and finally, it procudes some results.
  370. >The girl whirls around, as if in shock, and stares at you like deer in headlights.
  371. >She takes an unsure step back, mimicking the way you flinched earlier.
  372.  
  373. "So uh, this is sort of an awkward question but..."
  374. >You make a vague gesture towards the totalled car.
  375. "... *What the actual, ever-living Christ?*"
  376. >That about sums up your million questions in a nutshell.
  377. >The unknown girl glances towards the car, back at you, and then back at the empty spot before the car.
  378. >Some sort of shiver runs through her body, and you can see her shoulders sag as a long sigh of relief leaves her body.
  379. >She staggers a bit, trying to find her footing and once she does, she folds her arms across her chest.
  380. >The look she levels at you is quite a powerful one.
  381. >Man, she's the type to recover fast.
  382. >"Best you don't know."
  383. >Well, that's not the answer you were looking for.
  384. >And you let it show on your face.
  385. "Look, I'm all for a good mystery and all, but, ah..."
  386. >You let the frown take over your face completely.
  387. "My car's been totalled by absolute *nothing*, Princess. I'm gonna need something better than: 'Best you don't know'!"
  388. >You're pretty proud of yourself for being able to make a vaguely accurate imitation of her so quickly after meeting her.
  389. >She doesn't seem to share the joy.
  390. >In fact, she's pinching the bridge of her nose like she's feeling a migraine incoming.
  391. >"Look, human. You stumbled onto something you shouldn't have. Granted, you *did* save my life in process, but..."
  392. >The way she narrows those expressive eyes is pure steel.
  393. >"This is something you don't want to get involved in."
  394. "After my Lady got *ruined* by it!?"
  395. >She balks a little at the way you refer to your car, but you're beyond caring right now.
  396. >Ah yes, here comes the indignant fury.
  397. >Not from her, but from you.
  398. >After all, your precious sweetums just got wrecked by pure thin air, all because you had to swerve to avoid her pintsized ass!
  399. >"Y-yes! Best you think of this as an unfortunate accident and move on! Believe me, there's nothing but misery to gain if you dig into this too deeply!"
  400.  
  401. >You roll your eyes and snort.
  402. "Ah, right, right, play up that cryptic card. Saves you from explaining why you were playing *hopscotch* in the middle of the road."
  403. >In your anger, you once again make a sweeping gesture towards the car.
  404. >The metal groans a little bit, as if it's agreeing with you.
  405. "You know, maybe, just *maybe* I'd be willing to just move on and forget this ever happened... but I *can't*! Because of you, my only method of *moving* onwards is a *pretzel*!"
  406. >The bent metal groans again, and there's a loud scraping sound coming from the asphalt.
  407. >What the heck is making that anyways?
  408. >It's not like your Lady is actually alive and capable of complaining about the current situation herself.
  409. >Well whatever the reason, it's made the copperhead before you revert back to her earlier bug-eyed self.
  410. "Hey! I'm talking to you! I'm really getting into the swing of this argument, and I plan on going *all* the way to the topic of compensation for the damages with it!"
  411. >But she's not listening.
  412. >Instead, she's taking careful steps backwards and her head is swiveling around, like she was scanning her surroundings.
  413. >Finally, her eyes focus towards the hedge fence in the distance, to the right, and she seems to come a decision.
  414. >Huh.
  415. >Wonder why there's a hole in that fence?
  416. >"Listen. If you're lucky, it's not a creature that bears grudges."
  417. >The words that come out of her mouth are hasty.
  418. >But the smile on her face is wicked.
  419. >"But if not... well, you might be reunited with your car faster than you know."
  420. "Wait wha---"
  421. >She says no more.
  422. >Instead she bolts down the slope and makes a beeline to the hedge fence.
  423. >Then, like she was a pro at it already, she crashes through the hole you saw before and disappears within the green...
  424. >... Only to appear on the yard at the other side, and dashing across that on her way to wherever.
  425.  
  426. >And you?
  427. >You are left standing there, dumbfounded and confused as to what just happened.
  428. >At least for a moment.
  429. >Then you hear that scraping sound again, along with oddly booming fluttering that's coming from somewhere right above your head.
  430. >Your car groans and you can see with your very eyes how the already totalled front is crushed downwards even further.
  431. "Oh come on!"
  432. >This is just ridiculous.
  433. >First you crash into something invisible.
  434. >Then the girl who made you crash in the first place just fricking bolts.
  435. >And now your car is being punished by nothing at all!
  436. >Great.
  437. >Just great.
  438. >What else could go wrong anymore?
  439. "Wait..."
  440. >Oh you just had to ask, didn't you?
  441. "Why does it smell like... bird droppings?"
  442. >As you wonder the strange smell that's wafting heavily all over you, you come to an odd sort of realization.
  443. >You hit something that you couldn't see.
  444. >The girl who made you swerve in the first place stared not at the wrecked front of your car, but the empty spot before it.
  445. >There was a scraping sound like claws against the tarmac.
  446. >Followed by more destruction that was as if something big had just lifted itself up by using your car as a support.
  447. >And now... there's this smell of a wild animal.
  448. >Along with the feeling of something like a hot breath pouring down your neck.
  449. >Slowly, very slowly, the absurd pieces start to assemble together, creating an unlikely, yet the only sensible, answer.
  450. >Right, right... a creature that might bear a grudge.
  451. >Well of *course* that's the only option left.
  452. >After all...
  453. >If you had to go and crash you car into some sort of invisible monster, it *should* be the type to swear vengeance on the one who hit it.
  454. >That just makes too much sense, eh?
  455. "Aha... hahaha..."
  456. >An awkward, sheepish laugh echoes from your throat.
  457. "--- Oh funk."
  458. >Then something that feels very much like a gigantic fist collides with you.
  459. >And you hit the asphalt.
  460. >Hard.
  461. >Ah, darkness.
  462. >Back again so soon.
  463.  
  464. >...
  465. >Yup, those are stars.
  466. >Looks like you're back in the land of the living once again.
  467. >And here you thought you *wouldn't* be coming back this time.
  468. >Fancy that.
  469. >Against all odds, here you are. Staring straight up into the night sky where the moon and stars laugh at your misfortune.
  470. >Ow.
  471. >Whatever that thing was, it certainly hit hard. Almost as hard as you hit it with your car.
  472. >You wonder for a moment why you're not freaking out more.
  473. >After all, you were just assaulted by a fricking invisible *monster*.
  474. >Maybe you're just desensitized for the night.
  475. >Yeah, that must be it. You're still safely in the arms of shock, blissfully unaware of the true ramifications of what you just experienced.
  476. >That being said...
  477. "You know... are you gonna just stay in that car, or what?"
  478. >You croak out those words with a hoarse voice.
  479. >The reason is simple.
  480. >Other than the stars, you can also see the headlights of a car shining upon you.
  481. >And hear the rumbling of an engine of a pickup truck.
  482. >Soon enough, you hear approaching footfalls and somebody enters your field of vision.
  483. >It's a guy, probably not much older than you.
  484. >Kinda Dixie-ish clothes and blonde hair.
  485. >The damn guy is even chewing on a hay straw.
  486. >Without saying a word, he simply continues to chew, gazing down at you with slight disinterest.
  487. >Seconds pass in complete silence.
  488. "Uh... mind giving me a little help here?"
  489. >Slowly, he nods.
  490. >"Eeyup."
  491. "Thanks. Uh, say... you wouldn't happen to have a towing cable back there? As you can see, my car's a bit... out of commission."
  492. >He glances back at his truck, then at you.
  493. >"... Want me to tow it to the auto shop?"
  494. >You do your best to smile and flash an okay-sign.
  495. "Yeah, that'd be swell."
  496. >Well then.
  497. >At least *something* went right tonight.
  498. >Though that being said...
  499. "Also, I think there's a girl still back in the car."
  500. >Your expression sours a bit.
  501. "... Tell her she's gonna need to wait for that slice a bit longer."
  502.  
  503. >An hour and a half later, you slam a can of Mr. Pibb down on the counter.
  504. >Then another.
  505. >Then a third one.
  506. >You can't believe your luck, but you actually found your favorite drink in here.
  507. >In this minimart that's operating out of a shopping center that's seen better days.
  508. >Fluorescent lights flicker above you, barely illuminating the place.
  509. >At the same time, some 10cc quietly echoes from the radio in the back.
  510. [Embed: 10cc - I'm Mandy Fly Me]
  511. >The mere fact that there's someone out here, in this random town, that understands good music brings a smile to your face.
  512. >Oh god it hurts to smile.
  513. >Your whole body is just one big bruise at the moment.
  514. >Something the cashier seems to notice as well.
  515. >"Rough night, huh?"
  516. >Her arched eyebrow seems a bit mirthful, as does the smirk playing on her lips.
  517. >You roll your eyes.
  518. "That obvious, huh? Or what, did the carcass of a car outside give me away?"
  519. >Yeah, your Lady was waiting outside, still more or less totalled.
  520. >The blonde guy in his pickup truck had given you a ride over here.
  521. >Apparently there was an autoshop at the other end of the shopping center, but fat lot of good that did to you right now.
  522. >Just one glance at the clock on the wall told you it was technically closer to morning than midnight at this point.
  523. >Which, in turn, means that the place wasn't open.
  524. >You'd have to wait till the morning, since there was *no way* you were gonna leave your Lady here, unguarded.
  525. >Someone might have tried to steal your cassette collection.
  526. >"Yeah, that and the fact that your face looks like one big slab of beef. Geez!"
  527. >You snicker.
  528. "Yeah, I had a meeting with a runaway fist."
  529. >"Huh?"
  530. >You shake your head, dismissing the topic she had no hope of understanding.
  531. >"Well, at least that hairdo of yours survived!"
  532. >Oh? Well now, is she trying to cheer you up?
  533. >"Can't be easy to take care of something like that, for realsies."
  534.  
  535. >Your eyebrows shoot towards your magnificent hairline.
  536. >Meanwhile, the blue cashier starts to ring you up.
  537. "O-oh, well, you know how it is... man's word is only as good as his hair. That's why I aim for the best. Y'know, make my looks match my personality."
  538. >You find yourself preening at the attention she's giving you.
  539. >"Huh, you *do* look like a guy who sticks to his word. That's kinda nice!"
  540. >Stroking your chin, you try to hide the goofy grin about to rise to your face.
  541. "Weeeell, I suppose people sometimes say that to me. I mean, I wouldn't say it myself, but eh, can't stop people from having such opinions."
  542. >You lean on the counter with your elbow, and put on your best dashing smile.
  543. >She just happily keeps beeping those items.
  544. >Been at it a while, actually.
  545. "Name's Anonymous, by the way. Man of my word, totally. Or so people say. Nice to meet'cha."
  546. >For some reason that bubbly exterior of hers cracks momentarily, and you can hear her suppress a snort.
  547. >"W-wait, for realsies? Anonymous? W-what sorta name is that?"
  548. >Your face falls and you can almost feel the slight blush settle in.
  549. >Goddammit.
  550. >They're not supposed to question it!
  551. "The one I t-totally born with! What, as if you got a better name than that!"
  552. >The girl puts a finger to her lip, looking contemplative all of a sudden.
  553. >"Well, actually, my name's---"
  554. "Wait, before that."
  555. >You point a finger-gun at the can of Mr.Pibb she just scanned.
  556. "Isn't this the sixth time you did that can?"
  557. >The girl stares at you, completely expressionless.
  558. >Eyes firm and unblinking, and face in a veritable poker face for the ages.
  559. >And then, after missing only two beats, she scans the soda again.
  560. >You spin around on your heels, fish out your phone from your pocket, and bring to your ear.
  561. "Hello~! Police~?"
  562. >"W-wait! I was just joking! It's just a joke, for realsies!"
  563. >With a shit-eating grin, you turn to look at her over your shoulder.
  564.  
  565. "Really~? Cause I could have sworn you were about to overcharge me. Heck, I bet that guy over there can testify for me~"
  566. >You point your thumb towards the nearby magazine rack.
  567. >The blue-haired guy in black jacket, who had been reading a dating help magazine, looks at the two of you, confused.
  568. >"Yes, yes! For realsies! Just don't call the fuzz, I can't lose another part-time job!"
  569. >With a theatrical sigh, you put your phone back in your pocket and walk back to the counter.
  570. >Good thing she never noticed you phone was an ancient Motorola StarTAC.
  571. >Heck, the thing hadn't even turned on, much less made a call!
  572. "Well, I *guess* I can look past that... maybe. If, for example..."
  573. >She swallows nervously.
  574. >"F-for example?"
  575. >Man, you're so tempted to just go ahead and ask for her number.
  576. >Someone with the balls to try to distract you with her feminine wiles was always alright in your books.
  577. >Unfortunately...
  578. "If you'd be kind enough to give me a slice from over there - on the house."
  579. >You point your finger gun towards heated display case on the counter.
  580. >And the big slices of double-cheese pepperoni pizza inside.
  581. >"W-wait, you want me to give you one for *free*!?"
  582. "That seems fair, no? You know, for not causing a fuss over this."
  583. >The girl bites her lip nervously, bullets of sweat running down her face.
  584. >Her eyes dart around, looking for any sort of help...
  585. >... But the only answers she gets are your grin and a non-committed shrug from the guy in the back.
  586. >'You brought this on yourself', his expression seems to say.
  587. >Thus, she can only sigh and relent.
  588. >A laughter escapes from your throat.
  589. "Think of this as a learning experience!"
  590. >You say that while picking up the cans of Mr. Pibb.
  591. >The blue girl looks at you with a mixture of worry and confusion.
  592. >You just wiggle your eyebrows at her.
  593. "Never try to swindle a grifter, bunny."
  594.  
  595. "Peace, love and granola~"
  596. >You exit the minimart with a little bit of pep in your step and a whistled song on your lips.
  597. >A bunch of loud (and probably drunk) teenagers push past you into the store, but you don't mind it.
  598. >Getting a free slice put you in a good mood, after all.
  599. >There, on the sidewalk, you can see the familiar form of a certain grumpy, voiceless girl.
  600. >She sits there, still hugging her knees and glaring at the wrecked form of your car like she was blaming it for something.
  601. >Most likely for the fact that neither of you were in bed yet.
  602. >You waltz over to her, paper plate in one hand and cans in another, and sit down to the curb as well.
  603. >With a bit of a proud grin, you push the piping hot pizza and the paper plate into her hands.
  604. "As promised, here you go."
  605. >With your hand now freed, you take a moment to tousle her hair.
  606. >She doesn't look happy about it, but neither does she complain or shy away.
  607. "Eat up - you're gonna need your energy. Got a long night ahead of us. And probably a day, too."
  608. >You open up the can and it lets out a satisfying sound.
  609. >Immediately aftewards, you bring the can to your lips and take a swig.
  610. >Ah, the taste of cherry and spices.
  611. >Just what the doctor ordered.
  612. >You needed a cold one after a crappy night like this.
  613. "See, I was thinking of tracking down that orange blimp tomorrow. After paying for the repairs, I doubt there's gonna be anything left of our last reward."
  614. >You pat the pocket of your jacket, and the wallet within.
  615. >The nameless girl, on the other hand, looks at you with disinterest.
  616. >And with the slice hanging from her mouth.
  617. >Apparently she decided to bite into it without even using her hands.
  618. "What are you, a mutant turtle? Manners, little lady - remember them."
  619. >Despite her protests, you take a moment to wipe her cheese-crusted cheeks with your sleeve.
  620. >God, it was like taking care of a child.
  621. >No, wait, it *was* taking care of a child.
  622. >Fancy that.
  623.  
  624. "Anyways, that might take a while, so we should set up a base of operations here. I don't exactly wanna sleep in the car, but until we get that money..."
  625. >You let the implication hang in the air.
  626. >Though, maybe you shouldn't have.
  627. >She certainly doesn't care, that much is certain.
  628. >And instead, you only manage to make yourself grumpy at the thought.
  629. >Finding that five-foot-nothing princess wouldn't be easy, she was short enough to hide behind a fire hydrant.
  630. >And that would mean days, even weeks, of eking it out on your meager savings.
  631. >God, now you made yourself sad.
  632. >Goodbye, crème de menthe.
  633. >Looks like it'll be a while till you meet again!
  634. >"Hey! Stay outta this, loser!"
  635. >Suddenly, you get a rude awakening from your pessimistic thoughts.
  636. >Loud, aggressive yelling echoes on the parking lot as the door of the minimart flies open.
  637. >As you look over your shoulder, you can see that guy from before stumble out, having clearly been shoved.
  638. >He nearly falls to the ground, but manages to keep his balance.
  639. >Only a second or two after him, three guys follow him like sharks following a trail of blood.
  640. >A hulking brute, a midget, and guy with a classic Lv. 1 Crook face.
  641. >All wearing, for some reason, chokers with fake diamonds on them.
  642. >What the heck?
  643. >Is this what high school bullies have become?
  644. >"What do you care anyways? They should be gone from Canterlot!"
  645. >So yells the Lv. 1 Crook.
  646. >"Yeah, yeah! They cause nothing but trouble!"
  647. >The midget is quick to add to the pressure.
  648. >"Or are ya defending them Dazzlings?"
  649. >The big brute asks the question with a threatening voice, while grabbing the blue-haired boy by the shoulder.
  650. >Oh boy...
  651. >What are these cheese weasels even arguing about?
  652. >You take another swig from your can and continue watching as the boy shakes off the bully's hand and levels them a fierce stare.
  653. >"Even if they're the bad guys, that doesn't mean you should go looking for them and cause trouble!"
  654.  
  655. >Huh, despite appearances, the guy has some backbone, judging by what he's declaring.
  656. >"Besides, Sunset wouldn't want you guys picking fights with them! Just leave well enough alone, seriously."
  657. >He folds his arms and fixes a glare at the trio, who just cackle in response.
  658. >Oh geez, if *that's* their evil laugh, they really got some learning to do.
  659. >You frown at the group of goons while sipping on your Mr. Pibb, when you feel a pair of eyes staring at the back of your head.
  660. >Well, your voiceless companion of course.
  661. >Why is she even looking at you like that?
  662. >Both emotionless and yet somehow looking like she wants you to do something.
  663. >"But we don't *wanna* do what Sunset tells us! She ain't the boss of us!"
  664. >The big brute's retort is as eloquent as his face.
  665. >"Yeah! Yeah! Rover's our leader!"
  666. >The midget pipes in, pointing at the guy in red jacket.
  667. >"That's right! So why don't you *shove* off, and let us give those Dazzlings what they deserve!"
  668. >The Lv. 1 Crook called Rover punctuates his declaration by shoving the blue-haired guy.
  669. >Again, he stumbles backwards, but this time doesn't manage to regain his balance.
  670. >Instead he ends up on the asphalt on his back, nearly banging his head on the hard surface.
  671. >Eesh, this is just embarrassing to watch.
  672. >This is why modern high school bullies are just---
  673. >"Hey, what's the big idea! Are you guys picking a fight!?"
  674. >The bluehead is climbing back to his feet, but this time it's the brute's turn to shove him.
  675. >"So what if we are!"
  676. >Rover's trying his best to form a menacing grin, ending up somewhere in the ballpark of Steve Buscemi.
  677. >"What'cha gonna do about it?"
  678. >The bluehead just grits his teeth.
  679. >And you don't blame him.
  680. >After all, it's three-versus-one for Christ's sake.
  681. >Manliness aside, self-preservation instincts were in high demand these days.
  682. >Good that someone shows them.
  683.  
  684. >That being said...
  685. >"Hey, Rover asked you a question! What'cha gonna do about, huh-huh-huh!?"
  686. >The midget goes in for a cheap kick, scraping the bluehead's shins.
  687. >He hisses in momentary pain.
  688. >You roll your eyes and can't help but to repeat a previous thought.
  689. >This is just *embarrassing* at this point.
  690. >And behind you...
  691. >"..."
  692. >Yeah, she's still glaring at you.
  693. >Those dead, lifeless eyes are not without intent.
  694. >Even a knucklehead like you can sense it.
  695. >Then again, you've been her "guardian" for a while now, so maybe you're just getting better at reading her micro-expressions?
  696. >Who even knows?
  697. >Or cares.
  698. >The important thing right now is that she's showing signs of annoyance.
  699. >And demanding you to do something about this situation.
  700. >But what?
  701. >Why are you staring like that, little girl? Did Timmy fall down the well again?
  702. >Well tell Timmy to drag his own ass back up unless that name's *really* misleading.
  703. >You weren't in the habit of helping out dudes - no way, no how.
  704. >"Ahu-hu-uh-hu! Yeah, what'cha gonna do about it, Flash!"
  705. >The brute lets out a ridiculous laugh that echoes on the parking lot.
  706. >Aaaah...
  707. >Right.
  708. >Okay, now you're starting to get it.
  709. >She's getting annoyed because this trio just *can't keep it down.*
  710. >The idiotic racket was starting to grate on your nerves already, and she's got *way* shorter fuse than you do.
  711. >No wonder.
  712. "..."
  713. >You give one glance at the downed guy on his knees, still rebelliously staring at the group of bullies.
  714. >As said, you weren't in the habit of helping out dudes.
  715. >Damsels in distress were one thing, but guys like that?
  716. >He even looked like a dork!
  717. >Even if, you had to admit, he was doing the best he could in the situation.
  718. >...
  719. >Geez...
  720. >Alright, alright!
  721. >Let's get this over with already.
  722.  
  723. "Hey! You! Chuckleheads!"
  724. >You toss aside your empty can of Mr. Pibb and rise back up to your feet.
  725. >At the same time, you level a glare towards the trio and start towards them, hands at your sides and putting some power into your menacing approach.
  726. "Let the dork go, and keep it down, will you? In case you morons haven't noticed, it's the middle of the night."
  727. >You step up to the group, having crossed the distance between you.
  728. >They're all eyeing you warily while grouping together, putting up a line of defense against a new threat.
  729. >Meanwhile the downed guy climbs back to his feet.
  730. "Which means people are sleeping. And those that ain't want to enjoy the silence. Get it?"
  731. >Rover narrows his eyes at you.
  732. >Empowered by the support of his goons, he steps forward to confront you.
  733. >"Yeah? And who're you supposed to be?"
  734. >You grimace at the sight of idiocy-fueled power-trip they're on.
  735. >Must be slim pickings in the amount of villains around here if *these guys* think they're at the top of the food chain.
  736. >Or maybe you're just used to better quality.
  737. >One or the other.
  738. "The guy who's telling you lot to take a hike. Simple as that."
  739. >Unsurprisingly, the loudmouthed midget is the next to get up your grill.
  740. >He must be feeling confident thanks to the alcohol in his veins and his buddies at his back.
  741. >"We're not taking orders from someone with such a ridiculous hairdo! Get lost! You're not even locals!"
  742. >For a moment you see red.
  743. >How dare this guy.
  744. >How *dare* he.
  745. >Your hair is *goddamn fabulous!*
  746. >"Yeah! This is CHS business!"
  747. >The big brute tosses that bit in, as if it should mean something.
  748. >"You heard the guys. So get lost!"
  749. >Rover, emboldened by the support, shoves you backwards.
  750. >Unlike the bluehead, you only stagger back one step.
  751. >"We don't need any outsiders poking their noses where they don't belong!"
  752. >You groan internally.
  753.  
  754. "Listen up, Musketeers - I'm only saying this once."
  755. >Instinctively, your right hand clenches into a fist.
  756. >Adreline starts filling up your veins even though you already had quite the rush today.
  757. >Maybe all it takes is just locking eyes with an idiot like this.
  758. "Wrong day, wrong time, wrong guy. You don't want this to escalate. Capeesh?"
  759. >"We're not scared of you!"
  760. >Another shove.
  761. >Another step backwards.
  762. >"Yeah! Rover's gonna take both you *and* Flash out if you don't get outta here!"
  763. >"Show him who's the boss, Rover!"
  764. >"Scram, loser!"
  765. >The guy in the red jacket goes for the third shove.
  766. >That's it.
  767. >Go time.
  768. >Like in slow motion, you can see his clumsy hands reaching with palms forward, aiming for a strike at your chest.
  769. >What a moron.
  770. "---!"
  771. >On an instinct, you step forward.
  772. >Movement as simple as that takes him off balance.
  773. >At the same time your balled-up fist flies forward.
  774. >Your upper body rotates as you launch those knuckles straight at that stupid face of his, connecting with the forehead.
  775. >On contact, bright pain flashes through your arm.
  776. >Jeeeesus!
  777. >You haven't punched someone in the face in a long time!
  778. >God that smarts!
  779. >Gah, don't let it show, Anon!
  780. >Not now!
  781. >You can cry later about your aching bones!
  782. "Seriously..."
  783. >Single punch, and the Lv. 1 Crook drops like a sack of potatoes, never knowing what hit him.
  784. >And then there's you, standing over his body, awkwardly massaging your knuckles and leveling a glare at the remaining two.
  785. "This is why it's so embarrassing to watch you lot."
  786. >You can't help the wicked grin that spreads to your face.
  787. >Man, it's been some time.
  788. "You modern bullies just don't know how to throw a *punch*."
  789. >It's fine to let loose just a little bit, isn't it?
  790.  
  791. >For a moment the parking lot is silent as a grave.
  792. >It's like none of them can believe what you just did.
  793. >Really?
  794. >Is actually physically hitting someone such a weird concept to these chumps?
  795. >"Get him!"
  796. >Well, maybe not.
  797. >Maybe they were just shocked by your brazenness.
  798. >The midget charges forward, trying for a haymaker aimed at your face.
  799. >He'd only reach about your jaw with those stubs he calls arms.
  800. >Still, better not take any chances.
  801. "---!"
  802. >You bend your knees and push forward, slamming your left foot front.
  803. >He flinches, and at that moment, you use your left hand to grab his wrist.
  804. >You push it down and your now-open right hand reaches forward.
  805. >Grabbing him by the wrist, you pull him into a surprise confrontation.
  806. >It's a snap-shot moment that happens in maybe half of a second.
  807. >The midget stumbles forth, losing his balance.
  808. >Meanwhile your left arm is already on the move and you slam your elbow to the side of his face.
  809. >He tumbles down onto the asphalt.
  810. >Not hard enough to break bones, but to put his ears ringing, of course.
  811. >You weren't dealing with actual tough guys here.
  812. >Just a couple of high school bullies.
  813. >Speaking of which...
  814. >"Spoooot!"
  815. >You realize the lumbering shadow of the brute falls upon you.
  816. >Crap!
  817. >Hastily you spin around on your heels and kick the ground to send yourself away from his arms.
  818. >The clothesline misses your face by a mile, but you still feel the wind pressing your face.
  819. >Putting his whole weight on that strike causes the brute to stumble afterwards, his center of balance off.
  820. >Chance~
  821. "HA!"
  822. >With your right foot as center, you twist to the side, gaining some momentum as your left leg shoots forward.
  823. >Like a whip, it snaps straight into the brute's midsection, the explosive power causing him to yelp in pain and stagger backwards.
  824. >Front kick straight into solar plexus.
  825. >No wonder his eyes are swirling around in panic.
  826.  
  827. >But you don't let up.
  828. >Instead you crank up the pressure by stepping forward and delivering a roundhouse kick towards his head.
  829. >The brute has decent instincts as he's already thrown up his arms to shield himself.
  830. >Maybe he realized your aim from the last two knockouts.
  831. >But that's fine.
  832. >You'll just adapt.
  833. >He's still recovering, so instead of giving him the time you flow into a side kick and slam your heel straight into his stomach.
  834. >That causes him to bend in half like an accordion.
  835. >Another chance~
  836. >You take a fast step forward and your left leg launches itself upwards like a raging pendulum.
  837. >The shin hits your collarbone, and for a fleeting fraction of a second, you're like a string of a bow, stretched to the utmost.
  838. >In that slowed down moment, you also hear something.
  839. >A ripping sound.
  840. >From your jeans.
  841. >Crap.
  842. >Well this is embarrassing!
  843. >But no matter!
  844. "Ha-!"
  845. >Your left leg crashes down like an executioner's axe, slamming heel first straight into the brute's back.
  846. >He lets out one last groan as he crashes against the asphalt, wind driven out of his lungs and pain sent bouncing in big red pulses around his body.
  847. >You almost manage to let out a sigh of relief.
  848. >Almost.
  849. >Because at that very moment, along with a furious shriek, the midget charges you from behind.
  850. >He tries to kick you into the back of your knees.
  851. >The thought of approaching pain sends your brain into an overdrive, and in that moment, you're already on the move.
  852. >Centering your weight on your left leg this time, you spin around on the ball of your foot.
  853. >The sudden movement to the side causes his kick to just nip you at the shin, but the combat boot still hurts.
  854. >That's why your adrenaline filled brain really doesn't care.
  855. >Instead, your spinning momentum reaches apex and you push your right foot out into a hook kick that slams against the back of the midget's head.
  856.  
  857. >Then, with that same momentum (and thanks to his short height) you continue that kick by crashing him against the fallen body of his brutish comrade.
  858. >Neither of them get back, they're too busy groaning and whimpering in pain.
  859. >Exhaling now that you can, you wipe the sweat from your forehead and flap your hands to both dry them and to ease the growing sting of pain.
  860. >Then, and only then, you take a look at below your waist.
  861. >The damage is about what you expect.
  862. >There's a big ol' rip right where your crotch would be.
  863. "Oh funk me..."
  864. >You can even see your Mane-iac underwear!
  865. >"W-wow, dude, that was just..."
  866. >The blue-haired guy is practically tearing out his hair, watching the results of your little brawl with both amazement and panic.
  867. >"Man, I know they were being jerks and thanks for standing up to me, but you can't just beat up someone like---"
  868. >The grinding sound of a boot against asphalt catches your attention.
  869. >You hush him by lifting your index finger.
  870. "Hold that thought, will you?"
  871. >That's the only thing you manage before Rover tackles you from behind and throws you to the ground.
  872. >Your back hits the asphalt hard and a pained groan slips from your lips.
  873. >Then, to your utter lack of surprise, he straddles your midsection in an attempt to ground and pound you.
  874. >Rover's face is a mask of panic and fury, and he's flying by the seat of his oversized cargo pants right about now.
  875. >Someone actually putting up physical opposition to him has made him lose all control.
  876. >All the better for you really.
  877. >"Raaaahhh!"
  878. >The punches start raining from the above, basic one-twos with no real technique behind them.
  879. >You match them with inner forearm blocks, guiding the four punches towards the center where they've already lost their kinetic energy.
  880. >Then, without mercy, you just drive your knuckles into his face again.
  881. >No fancy techniques, just good ol' fisticuffs.
  882.  
  883. >Rover's head is thrown backwards, and in that moment, his position's weak point comes apparent.
  884. >He straddled you too far up.
  885. >This allows you to kick up with your right leg and slam the bridge of your foot into the back of his head.
  886. >With the guy disoriented, you push him off of you and roll away into a safer position.
  887. >Immediately you jump back to your feet.
  888. >The rip in your crotch widens.
  889. >You feel the wind in your boxers.
  890. >Shame will probably follow soon.
  891. >Rover, on the other hand, has just about staggered back to his feet and his glare is screaming revenge.
  892. >With furious yell he charges at you, flailing with his hands.
  893. >Well this is just sad to watch.
  894. >Though for some reason, the sight of him making a violent beeline at you is dyed in spinning lights of red and blue.
  895. >The the guy you saved is waving his hand and yelling something.
  896. >Wonder why you can't hear anything else than the blood pumping in your head?
  897. >Well, no matter.
  898. >You're done with these cheese weasels anyways.
  899. >As Rover charges you, let your arms spread to the side for increased momentum.
  900. >Then, you raise your left leg into a spin, letting it become the pendulum which powers your 360-degree turn.
  901. >Like a whirlwind, you spin around and push the asphalt with your right foot, soaring into a jump.
  902. >Time grinds to a halt.
  903. >That same right leg draws back, like a bow.
  904. >The target: Rover's face, once again.
  905. >Third time's the charm.
  906. >Your leg snaps forward, arrow is released, and as the time returns to it's normal fast-paced roar through life, the bridge of your foot connects with his skull.
  907. >Your tornado kick sends the last of the three idiots crashing into the ground, collapsing into the pile where the other two already were.
  908.  
  909. >You, on the other hand, land as gracefully as someone who went all out without warming up only can.
  910. "Ow, ow, ow, Christ, ow!"
  911. >You jump around, cradling your aching body.
  912. >First a car crash, then an invisible monster fist, now this?
  913. >Just how much punishment is your body going to have to take today?
  914. >You just wanted some rest and relaxation, damn it!
  915. >But no, you just had to get involved in something ridiculous again, didn't you?
  916. >Didn't the Winter Break already teach you to leave well enough alone?
  917. >"Officers, no! He didn't start!"
  918. >Oh, your hearing's back.
  919. >Now what is that blue-haired dork yelling about?
  920. >You wipe your forehead again, trying to get the sweat to stop blurring your vision, and a sight most curious enters your field of vision.
  921. >You weren't just imagining those spinning lights of red and blue that illuminate the whole parking lot now.
  922. >There also seems to be some loud siren-like noise.
  923. >The dork is trying to yell something to a group of black-attired, official looking guys that are running from their cars straight towards you.
  924. >Meanwhile, in the corner of your eye, you can see that cashier standing in the doorway of the minimart, holding a cellphone and looking worried.
  925. >Ooooh.
  926. >She called the cops, didn't she?
  927. >And now the dear officers are all charging at you.
  928. >Ah, well, that's a relief. Nothing more serious than that.
  929. >Just the police.
  930. >Wait... what?
  931. "H-hold on a minute, officers!"
  932. >You yell out in a rather high-pitched voice while waving your hands at the group of police sprinting towards you like a line of quarterbacks.
  933. "I can explain---!"
  934. >They aren't listening.
  935. >It's too late.
  936. "Wait, no! No-no-no-no, not the pile, not the pile!"
  937. >Air is drive out of your lungs by the first tackle.
  938. >One cop~!
  939. >Two cops~!
  940. >Three cops~!
  941. >Anonymous~!
  942. >Your vision fades as you're buried under a group of Canterlot's Finest.
  943. >Ah, darkness...
  944. >You're back again, it seems.
  945.  
  946. >The afternoon sun hits your eyes harshly as you stagger out of the Canterlot Police Department.
  947. >The door swings close behind you and you shield your vision with your arm.
  948. >Geez...
  949. >That was one day you'll never get back.
  950. >You smell of sweat and other nasty things thanks to your extended vacation to the local concrete box.
  951. >How nice.
  952. >... God you needed a shower.
  953. >As you stand there in direct sunlight, trying to get your brain jump-started now that you're back on the streets, a familiar sight enters your field of vision.
  954. >A certain unnamed girl, that emotionless scowl still on her face, stands still like a statue some 10 meters from the door of the station.
  955. >You cock an eyebrow at her, but that elicits no response - as you expected.
  956. "You know..."
  957. >You awkwardly walk over to her and tousle her hair, a gesture which she neither likes or dislikes.
  958. "You could have just escaped while I was in there. Wouldn't have been able to stop you."
  959. >Those eyes offer no response.
  960. >The nearby officer does raise an eyebrow at the two of you though, and you grimace.
  961. >Hurrying the girl along, you start heading down the sidewalk towards nowhere in particular.
  962. "Guess he wasn't kidding when he said we'd be stuck together."
  963. >You chuckle at the memory... though it quickly turns bitter.
  964. >Stuck together, huh?
  965. >But for how long?
  966. >And how long would you be stuck in this town?
  967. >You had no idea if your car was still at the parking lot of that minimart. It could have been towed away to a salvage yard for all you know.
  968. >And then there was the other mystery to be solved today...
  969. >Namely: Who the hell bailed you out?
  970. >You thought you'd be suffering longer in there, but here you are - outside.
  971. >Only a short while after you'd been told you were free to go.
  972. >You weren't exactly the type to believe in lucky breaks.
  973. >So what was going on here?
  974. >"Oh! Excuse me!"
  975. >Suddenly, a voice calls out to you from behind.
  976. >"Excuse me, young man!"
  977.  
  978. >Internally groaning already at what must be new problems appearing in the horizon, you turn around.
  979. >... And almost immediately do a double-take.
  980. >Instead of what you expected (what *did* you even expect?) you find yourself approached by an older woman.
  981. >A woman that can only be described as, well...
  982. >The term "statuesque stunner" comes to mind.
  983. >Easy-going, stylish clothing.
  984. >Beautiful long hair dazzling in dawn-like hues.
  985. >Eyes brimming with intelligence and, for some reason, mirth.
  986. >And a somewhat dangerous smile playing on her lips.
  987. >Whoa mama.
  988. "E-err, yes? Can I help you, Miss...?"
  989. >She giggles a bit and gets closer, raising her hand in a relaxed greeting.
  990. >"Well, I would certainly hope so. See, I was looking for a certain gentleman who was released from police custody not too long ago... someone who owns a certain lovely 1970 AMC Rebel Machine still parked outside the local FillyMart."
  991. >Wow, sounds like someone has an amazing taste in cars!
  992. >Wait.
  993. >That someone is you!
  994. "Yeah, uh, that'd be me?"
  995. >You raise your hand like a guilty person admitting to their crimes.
  996. >Which you, in a sense, were.
  997. >The woman's smile deepens, however.
  998. >"Perfect. I was hoping I would catch you before you could head out. There was something I wanted to discuss with you."
  999. >Your eyebrows shoot towards your hairline.
  1000. >Well now.
  1001. >A mysterious older woman who wanted a bit of your time?
  1002. >And one hell of a looker to boot?
  1003. >How could you say no to that?
  1004. "Ehhhh..."
  1005. >Easily.
  1006. >This whole stank to high heaven of something suspicious.
  1007. >It wouldn't have been the first time you were roped into something dangerous thanks to a beautiful woman.
  1008. >"Oh, speaking of which - have you had lunch? There's a wonderful little hole-in-the-wall just nearby..."
  1009. >Your stomach immediately voices it's hunger in the loudest way possible, which earns a gentle giggle from the woman.
  1010. >"My treat, of course."
  1011. >Ah well.
  1012. >What's the worst that could happen?
  1013.  
  1014. >So, about fifteen minutes later, you find yourself sitting at some 50's themed diner with a cannibalized rear of a Dodge Custom Royal Lancer jutting from the roof.
  1015. >A bit morbid to your tastes, but guess they were really doubling down on that theme.
  1016. >The interior wasn't any easier to the eyes, but at least the jukebox was playing tunes to soothe your ears.
  1017. [Embed: Blues Image - Ride Captain Ride]
  1018. >And, much to your surprise, the place was more or less swarming with teenagers.
  1019. >High schoolers relaxing the best they could on a late Sunday afternoon.
  1020. >Hmm...
  1021. >Honestly, with the music choices alone, you could see making this place your hangout if you were sticking around longer.
  1022. >At least until it was time to head out again.
  1023. >Of course, what would really make or break the deal was the food.
  1024. >And speaking of which...
  1025. >"Hiya! Ready with your orders yet?"
  1026. >A cheerful voice draws you out of the menu you were reading.
  1027. >At the same time, something unfathomably pink slides over to your table on roller skates.
  1028. >The girl in question, grinning from ear to ear like it was going out of style, was wearing one of those overtly 50's waitress getups
  1029. >The type that must have come prepackaged with themed diners like these.
  1030. >Meanwhile, the woman who you were sharing a table with flashes yet another warm smile at the girl, almost like she knew her.
  1031. >"Well-"
  1032. >"Gotcha! A classic Black And White ice cream soda for my favorite principal, coming right up!"
  1033. >She writes that down on her notepad while your mysterious companion chuckles at her enthusiasm.
  1034. >Huh. Guess they *did* know each other.
  1035. >"Then~"
  1036. >The pink flurry turns on her wheeled heels and adopts a slightly smug smirk, tapping her pencil against her chin as she gazes at you.
  1037. >"As for our tall and mysterious stranger, I'm guessing... A Smoky-Bacon-Burger Combo, animal style!"
  1038. >Wait, what?
  1039.  
  1040. "That's uh... yeah? Yeah, that's what I was thinking, actually."
  1041. >You blink at her owlishly.
  1042. "How'd ya know?"
  1043. >She clicks her tongue and points a finger gun at you.
  1044. >"Call it a gut feeling, Mister~"
  1045. >She's looking awfully proud of herself, and you get a feeling this isn't the first time she's showcasing some food-related ESP.
  1046. >At least your older companion's laughter hints as much.
  1047. >"And last but not least, for the young lady~"
  1048. >The waitress leans over the table, peering into the eyes of your emotionless accomplice.
  1049. >She stares back, unflinching and unblinking.
  1050. >Seconds tick by and for some reason, bullets of sweat are starting to fall down the waitress' face.
  1051. >Meanwhile your charge is cool as cucumber, as per usual.
  1052. >In the awkward silence that your table has been throw into, you exchange looks with your older companion.
  1053. >Even she doesn't seem to know what to do or say.
  1054. >All that can be done is to wait as the tension between the two girls builds higher and higher, until...
  1055. >"Huh! That's weird!"
  1056. >The waitress pulls back and shrugs.
  1057. >"I got nothing!"
  1058. >You can't help but to grin a little and pat the emotionless girl on the head.
  1059. "She'll have three slices of the biggest, greasiest pepperoni pizza you got back there."
  1060. >If there was one thing you knew about her, it was her favorite food.
  1061. >In that sense, she was a very simple creature.
  1062. "The cheesier the better."
  1063. >"Cheesy, greasy and peppereesy, gotcha! Wait just a moment, then!"
  1064. >Throwing you a mock-salute, the waitress roller skates away, happily greeting just about every customer in the diner on her way to the kitchens.
  1065. >She was quite the social butterfly from the looks of it.
  1066. >No wonder - even your grumpy mood had all but evaporated thanks to her boundless energy.
  1067. >Hmm, maybe you should try to get her number later...
  1068. >"Well then, while we wait for food, do you mind if we talk?"
  1069. >You're drawn out of your thoughts by the voice of your older companion.
  1070.  
  1071. >Judging by that mischievous grin, she probably saw you gazing after the waitress.
  1072. >... Damn it.
  1073. "Yeah, uh, sure. Though, first... names. It's a bit awkward to talk to someone when you don't even know who they are."
  1074. >The woman chuckles at that.
  1075. >"Yes, I imagine it would be! Especially when I have you at a disadvantage."
  1076. >Huh?
  1077. >"I am Celestia - though most teens in this town call me simply Principal Celestia. You can probably imagine why."
  1078. >Leaning back on the leather chair, you fold your arms and cock an eyebrow at her.
  1079. "Well, I doubt it's 'cause you're the first and foremost of the many Celestias in this town - vaguely horrifying thought actually - so the only option left is..."
  1080. >A smile of your own spreads to your face.
  1081. "You're the 'favorite principal' of the teens in this fair city. Quite the accomplishment I'd say, considering kids my age usually *hate* authority figures."
  1082. >She laughs at your words and exaggerated expression of distaste.
  1083. >God, you could listen to that sound forever.
  1084. >"Indeed! As it happens, I am the principal of Canterlot High School - a public high school not that far away from here, actually."
  1085. >She leans her elbows on the table and clasps her hands so her fingers cross.
  1086. >... That's awfully familiar pose.
  1087. >Suddenly you feel a bit worried.
  1088. "Huh? And what does the big cheese of a local high school want with me?"
  1089. >"Well, first of all, a 'thank you' would be nice."
  1090. >You blink twice, that ever-familiar confusion growing.
  1091. "Uhh, excuse me?"
  1092. >"Well, you know - for bailing you out. Mind you I doubt they would have kept you long, but I still expedited the process a little bit."
  1093. >You quickly rub your chin so your jaw doesn't fall and slam into the table while it's at it.
  1094. "Wait, what? Really? You're the one who got me outta there? That's... uh, thanks? Pretty swell of you, that."
  1095. >However, this just raises more questions than it answers.
  1096.  
  1097. "Still, why the heck did you do that? I mean, I'm pretty sure those were *your* students I beat up last night..."
  1098. >God, even speaking it aloud makes you grimace.
  1099. >Guess you got a bit excited while falling back to your old habits.
  1100. >Celestia, on the other hand, makes a bit of a difficult face.
  1101. >Like half of her wanted to scold you, half of her wanted to grin like a giddy high school girl.
  1102. >"I know, and while I cannot exactly condone roughhousing like that, I also happen to know you avoided giving those three anything more than bruises."
  1103. >Well, looks like somebody's done their homework.
  1104. >"Not to mention the student you saved, certain Flash Sentry, spent an hour and a half on the phone trying to convince me that you weren't a 'bad guy' as he put it."
  1105. >The memory of that brings out yet another bout of that infectious laughter.
  1106. >However, your thoughts are momentarily elsewhere.
  1107. >That dork, huh?
  1108. >He stood up for you?
  1109. >That's... unexpectedly nice of him.
  1110. >Maybe you should treat him to a meal or something later.
  1111. "Okay, well, even so. That's still not a reason to help out some random outsider who just rode into town in a busted up Rebel Machine."
  1112. >You press onwards, determined to get some actual answers.
  1113. >However, if possible, Celestia's smile turns even more mysterious.
  1114. >"Perhaps not. But I happen to know a bit more about you than that. What kind of problems you have... solved."
  1115. >Huh?
  1116. >Wait what?
  1117. >Was this woman...?
  1118. "... You'll have to be more specific."
  1119. >With a smirk of a hunter about to catch their prey, she fishes something out of her purse and throws them on the table.
  1120. >A set of three polaroid pictures.
  1121. >Even as blurry as they are, you certainly recognize yourself from them.
  1122. >And the situations you are in.
  1123. "... Oh funk."
  1124. >Your smile falls from your face and scuttles away like a terrified hermit crab.
  1125.  
  1126. >"Last Winter Break in a southeastern New Mexico city, and the ripples it caused... need I say more?"
  1127. >Oh God no.
  1128. >You're already tugging your sweaty collar as much as you can.
  1129. "Aha, ahahaha, ahaha, haa..."
  1130. >You slump against the table in defeat, heaving the heaviest sigh.
  1131. "Uuurgh, just shoot me now..."
  1132. >Celestia simply laughs and pats you gently on the shoulder.
  1133. >"Oh, no need to look so glum. If anything, I'm impressed with your track record! It's quite something for someone so young."
  1134. >You pout and lift your eyes upwards, towards her face and that self-assured smile that's apparently ever-present.
  1135. >"And if we didn't have an, ah, let's say a mutual acquaintance, I would have never known it was you last night."
  1136. >'Mutual acquaintance?'
  1137. >She must be talking about That Guy.
  1138. >You know the one.
  1139. >Who else would she be talking about?
  1140. >That Guy must be twirling his ridiculous goatee right about now.
  1141. "Right... suppose that explains *that* little mystery. Yeah, I guess the jig is up."
  1142. >You drag your body off of the table and lean back in the chair.
  1143. >The leather creaks sadly.
  1144. >"So then I *do* have the right person. It's nice to make your acquaintance-"
  1145. "Anonymous."
  1146. >You cut her off before she can say anything else.
  1147. >And to your horror... a moment of awkward silence falls over the table.
  1148. >Celestia turns to her purse once more, picks up some sort of note, studies it for a moment...
  1149. >... And then looks at your face slightly befuddled.
  1150. "The name's Anonymous - the One and Only."
  1151. >You press on.
  1152. >Yet she responds with an amused snort she doesn't even manage to hide!
  1153. >How rude!
  1154. >You feel warm redness rise to your cheeks and turn your gaze away, rebelliously folding your arms.
  1155. >"I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to... that is... The name I have here is a different one."
  1156. >She taps the note with her hand, still barely able to suppress that gleeful grin.
  1157.  
  1158. "Well then your info is old! I changed it when I left! Was one of the first things I did..."
  1159. >Still holding back that laughter, Celestia simply nods and puts away both the pictures and the note.
  1160. >"I see. Anonymous it is, then!"
  1161. >Setting aside the topic of your name for now (thank God), Celestia instead pulls out yet another thing from that interdimensional portal she calls her purse.
  1162. >Huh. What even is that brown folder?
  1163. >"In that case, Anonymous. Would you be willing to listen to what I have to say?"
  1164. >She sets the file on the table and peers at your over her steepled hands once more.
  1165. >"As a principal of Canterlot High School, I have encountered a few... problems among the student body. Some of them are students, some of them are more... vague, as it were."
  1166. >Her eyes narrow as she studied your expression.
  1167. >"And from what I've heard about you, you'd be the perfect choice to solve these problems for me."
  1168. >You're about to respond with an incredulous retort and a question, but she silences you by lifting her hand.
  1169. >So, instead of snarking back, you listen.
  1170. >"I understand that this is quite forward of me, and a bit unfair after luring you here by bailing you out. But make no mistake, if you were willing to help me out, I *would* make it worth your while."
  1171. >Well now.
  1172. >That piques your interest immediately.
  1173. >You raise an eyebrow at the woman, studying the look in her eyes in turn.
  1174. "Oh? Now you got me curious. How *would* you make it worth my time?"
  1175. >With a confident expression, Celestia began to explain, counting the ways with her fingers as she spoke of them.
  1176. >"First of all, you'd earn a regular salary while working on these cases for me. The actual sum can be negotiated further if you agree to work for me."
  1177. >Another finger was raised.
  1178. >"Second, I'd take care of your accommodations here in Canterlot City and make sure you and your charge have a place to call home."
  1179.  
  1180. >This was... starting to sound pretty good, actually.
  1181. >A proper roof over your head was always nice.
  1182. >"Third, I'd be willing to pay for the repairs of that wonderful car of yours. Indeed, I doubt I'd be able to live with myself if I left it in that state."
  1183. >She would go as far as repairing your Lady?
  1184. >What was this woman, a saint!?
  1185. >But Principal Celestia wasn't even finished, no sirree.
  1186. >Fourth finger rose right after the third.
  1187. >"And lastly, thanks to my position I'd be able to help you with finishing your secondary education. As part of your job, you'd enroll into Canterlot High School, after all."
  1188. >You're practically floored at that.
  1189. >You had almost given up hope of ever finishing high school!
  1190. >And yet this woman is saying she'd help you with that, all the while you helped in solving the problems of her school?
  1191. >That's... Geez.
  1192. >Never look a gift horse in the mouth or whatever, but this was starting to sound a bit too good to be true.
  1193. >Especially since a job offer like this would allow you to give your charge a chance at a better life, at least for a while.
  1194. >Still.. you'd been fooled in the past.
  1195. >You weren't about to just jump into this without testing the waters a little bit.
  1196. "So... what's the catch?"
  1197. >You aim a purposefully strong, suspicious look at Celestia.
  1198. >She holds her hands up in an effort to look as disarming and innocent as possible.
  1199. >"No catch. Mind you, the problem students and troubles of the school aren't exactly... normal. The rewards reflect the work you'd be doing."
  1200. >Mulling over the offer in your mind, you rub your chin, deep in thought.
  1201. >After a while of silent consideration, you turn your eyes back at her.
  1202. "Example."
  1203. >"Excuse me?"
  1204. >You tap the table with your finger.
  1205. "Give me an example of what sort of trouble I can expect. That's why you brought that folder, didn't you?"
  1206.  
  1207. >You nod towards the brown file still on the table.
  1208. >A slightly sheepish smile appears on Celestia's face and she slides the thing over to you.
  1209. >"A-ah, right, yes. Look it over and give the offer some proper thought. This is not something you should answer hastily."
  1210. >She had a point there.
  1211. >As you pick up the folder and start to leaf through it, Celestia keeps talking.
  1212. >"For a young man such as you, I think Canterlot City would be a fine place to live - at least while you finish your education."
  1213. >Hmm, seems like a normal high school based on the pictures?
  1214. >You don't know about that horse statue though.
  1215. >"The school has plenty of clubs, there are lots of after-school activities to partake in, and outside of that the city offers myriad recreational activities."
  1216. >A rival school? What's that, Crystal Prep?
  1217. >At least the girls are cute.
  1218. >"There's even an annual music event - The Starswirled Music Festival! Looking at you, I'd imagine that'd be right up your alley."
  1219. "Uh huh, yeah..."
  1220. >You answer absent-mindedly, still going through the file.
  1221. >Then.
  1222. >Your fingers stop.
  1223. >You landed on the first page depicting the so-called "problem students".
  1224. >Apparently some were now more or less permanently skipping school, while others were just... troublesome in other ways.
  1225. >But on the very first page, the very first photo staring back at you was...
  1226. "You know, PC..."
  1227. >Celestia blinks at you and mouths "PC?" under her breath.
  1228. "You get me a ticket to that festival and a promise to hang out with me on at least one of those days, and I think we got a deal."
  1229. >You slam the folder down on the table, patting the page where you ended up.
  1230. "--- This job's starting to look quite interesting."
  1231. >Yes.
  1232. >There, on the page, clear as day...
  1233. >... Was the picture of a certain copperhead of a princess with hair the size of a blimp.
  1234. >Canterlot High School's Problem Student #1.
  1235.  
  1236. >Adagio Dazzle.
  1237. >Although technically a junior now, she hasn't shown up since late fall of her sophomore year.
  1238. >Well, she and her two cronies.
  1239. >Last time she and her lackeys caused quite a lot of trouble by turning the school's musical showcase into a battle of the bands.
  1240. >Battle of the bands which, in turns, was a ploy for something... quite different.
  1241. >These images are certainly something.
  1242. >What even *are* these things floating above the stage?
  1243. >Seahorses?
  1244. >Oy vey.
  1245. >The personality assessment is quite something to read as well.
  1246. >Intelligent.
  1247. >Driven.
  1248. >Ruthless.
  1249. >Manipulative.
  1250. >The type to look down on others due to her... heritage, let's just say.
  1251. >Though an addendum at the bottom (some student's recent testimony) says that she *has* been changing for the better.
  1252. >Both in taking responsibility for what happened and striving to fit into her surroundings.
  1253. >That makes you raise an eyebrow a little bit.
  1254. >You've seen your fair share of people, some like this, but rarely do they start change for the better.
  1255. >You'd be getting curious even if you hadn't had a literal run-in with the girl in question.
  1256. >Still... wonder how much has changed, and how open she is to new ideas these days.
  1257. >Much less returning to finish her education?
  1258. >According to Principal Celestia, she was:
  1259. >"The type to wrap everyone around her finger, and stomp down those who refused."
  1260. >If you really were going to do this, you'd have to be careful.
  1261. >Extremely careful.
  1262. >You didn't want to get stomped on by a girl half your size, no matter how pretty she was.
  1263. >That being said, reading through this all certainly raises some questions.
  1264. >Namely...
  1265. "... Why do you want her back again, PC?"
  1266. >You lift your eyes from the file in front of you and glance at the older woman.
  1267. >A strange smile flashes across her face.
  1268. >One that both seems to understand your doubts, and finds it amusing.
  1269.  
  1270. >"Let's just say that I've experienced quite a lot during these last three years as the principal of CHS."
  1271. >Leaning her elbows on the table, she draws invisible pictures to its surface with her finger.
  1272. >"And as time goes by, I find myself realizing something more and more."
  1273. "Oh?"
  1274. >"Everybody deserves a second chance, Anonymous. Sometimes even the third or the fourth. We can't all make it on our first try, not even the best of us."
  1275. >Now that's a bit surprising.
  1276. >She had collected the info of all the troublemakers of her school into one big file, yet she says they deserve a second chance?
  1277. >"And something one of my students told me after the last Starswirled Music Festival piqued my... interest."
  1278. >Celestia's eyes snap at you, studying your expression as she continues to talk.
  1279. >"She told me that despite their nature, despite their obvious contempt for Canterlot City and it's inhabitants, they're still striving to do their best."
  1280. >What was that in her voice?
  1281. >Surprise?
  1282. >Pride?
  1283. >... A bit of warmth?
  1284. >"Those girls are doing their best with the cards life has dealt them. I find that admirable, no matter who the person in question."
  1285. >Something clicks in your mind.
  1286. >You were suspecting it slightly before, but now, you're pretty sure about it.
  1287. >Principal Celestia...
  1288. >... She's a really good person, isn't she?
  1289. >In the classical definition of 'good'.
  1290. >"Of course, I'm not saying what they've done should be brushed aside or forgotten. Those who were most hurt by it are free not to forgive. But personally, I feel like I'd be betraying myself if I didn't want to cheer on someone who was making an effort like they were."
  1291. >Forgive but don't forget, huh?
  1292. >Pragmatic, yet kind.
  1293. >"Those three girls have been here for a long time, yet they have no formal education to their name."
  1294. >In modern society, that was pretty much a dead end.
  1295. >A swamp with no way out.
  1296.  
  1297. >A hint of steel appears in the principal's gaze.
  1298. >"I want to give them that. I want to help them on their way, wherever they're going."
  1299. >Her hand, which was previously drawing those invisible pictures, clenches into a fist.
  1300. >"I want to give them at least one decent memory of Canterlot High School."
  1301. >And there it is.
  1302. >The reason why she wants your help to bring these troublemakers back to school.
  1303. >She sees that even after what happened, even after the things they did, they've started turning over a new leaf.
  1304. >And as a responsible teacher --- No. As a responsible *adult*, she wants to encourage them.
  1305. >Give them the tools needed to turn their lives around.
  1306. >To make something of themselves and have them prepared for what comes after.
  1307. >In her eyes, everybody deserves a second chance like that.
  1308. >Or a third, or a fourth.
  1309. >And while you're not completely sold on the idea yourself...
  1310. >"......"
  1311. >You only need to take a look at the nameless girl next to you to realize it.
  1312. >You *want* to believe that.
  1313. >You *want* the world to be a kind enough place to offer second chances for everyone, no matter who they are.
  1314. >And here, through the strangest of circumstances, you've been given a chance to turn the world to such a place.
  1315. >Maybe... just maybe...
  1316. >This is *your* second chance?
  1317. "A'ight. I'm sold."
  1318. >Forcing your usual grin on your face, you close up the file.
  1319. "You want me to drag those goobers back to school, kicking and screaming? Sounds easy enough."
  1320. >A chuckle bubbles up from within you.
  1321. "Especially with everything you promised in return."
  1322. >In response, Celestia wears a troubled smile of her own.
  1323. >"Let's try to avoid that 'kicking and screaming' part, shall we? That would very much defeat the purpose."
  1324. >You chortle and shrug in a mischievous way.
  1325. "Alright, alright - hugs and friendship-speeches it is. I'll be so sappy you'll find dinosaur DNA within me."
  1326.  
  1327. >Now more genuinely amused, you lean back on your seat and fix your gaze at Celestia.
  1328. "So? Where should I start?"
  1329. >She blinks owlishly at you, in confusion.
  1330. "There was a lot of info in that file of yours, but no mention of where this Adagio lives. That's sort of pertinent stuff I need to know, yeah?"
  1331. >A long, awkward silence fell over the table.
  1332. >Celestia even refused to meet your gaze, and instead scratched her cheek awkwardly with her finger.
  1333. >"You know..."
  1334. >She started, stammering over her words for the first time.
  1335. >"... I honestly don't know."
  1336. "----------- What?"
  1337. >It was like getting a verbal sucker-punch thrown below the belt.
  1338. >Wait.
  1339. >Seriously?
  1340. >Please tell it ain't so, PC.
  1341. >After all that grandiose talk about helping others, giving them second chances, and even amassing this ridiculous and highly sketchy student info file...
  1342. >... You don't actually know where any of these cats live!?
  1343. "That ain't plastic at all, PC..."
  1344. >You let out an exasperated groan as you flump down on the table.
  1345. >Oh boy, problems this early?
  1346. >This plan wasn't getting off to a good start.
  1347. >No wonder she wanted to shove this job to someone else!
  1348. >"I-it's not that bad, Anonymous! I'm sure with a little searching we-"
  1349. >"Oh, are you guys looking for where the Dazzlings are parked today?"
  1350. >Then, *she* arrives.
  1351. >Timing her arrival perfectly with the new song blaring out of the jukebox.
  1352. [Embed: Glen Campbell - Another Fine Mess]
  1353. >The pink terror on rollerskates wheels into the scene, grinning from ear to ear.
  1354. >And in her hands, she has two trays.
  1355. >One for you and your charge, another for Principal Celestia.
  1356. >"Here you guys are!"
  1357. >She swiftly sets the trays down, smiling brightly.
  1358. >"Black And White ice cream soda, a Smoky-Bacon-Burger Combo and three slices of pepperoni pizza! Just as ordered!"
  1359.  
  1360. >You have to say...
  1361. >This food is looking absolutely gravy, and the smells rising from the plate whet your appetite quickly.
  1362. >You can practically feel yourself drool.
  1363. >Oh Lord have mercy, this place might be your little slice of heaven in this town.
  1364. >You have *got* to come here again.
  1365. >"Wait, Pinkie Pie..."
  1366. >Principal Celestia, however, has not been turned into a slobbering fool thanks to the arrival of food.
  1367. >Instead, she shoots a sharp look towards the smiling waitress.
  1368. >"Do you, perhaps, know where the Dazzlings are living these days?"
  1369. >The waitress responds by nodding so sharply her tiny hat nearly flies off her head.
  1370. >"Yepperino! They're living in their tour van-err-bus! I see it driving around the city all the time!"
  1371. >Wait, so the trio is living in their car?
  1372. >Seriously?
  1373. >Geez, so much for mystique and mystery.
  1374. >Though, guess you've got one new angle of attack when you'd go confront their leader.
  1375. >As someone who had been living in his car for a while now, you knew how uncomfortable that could get.
  1376. >... Suddenly, you feel a pang of sadness thanks to your totalled partner.
  1377. >"And do you know where that bus is usually parked for the night?"
  1378. >The waitress rubbed her chin, humming in quick contemplation.
  1379. >"Mm, I've seen them all over town, but lately they've been hanging around CHS actually! Dunno why, thought."
  1380. >She shrugged her shoulders.
  1381. >"I mean if the other girls noticed, I'm sure it'd turn into a big fight - and we haven't had one in a while, so I'm kiiiinda not sure what to do about it."
  1382. >Both you and Celestia blink at this strange, befuddling statement.
  1383. >"On one hand it's always fun to have an adventure, on the other Sunset always stresses out about stuff like that, and she's been kinda on the edge recently, soooo-"
  1384. >"W-we understand, Pinkie. Thank you. That information helps us immensely."
  1385. >The principal is quick to cut her off, as if by experience.
  1386. >Something tells you this pink waitress is the type to ramble.
  1387. >A *lot*.
  1388.  
  1389. >Having said that, the older woman turns to you.
  1390. >"I suppose that is the first place you can start. And if nothing else, at least you can check out the school in person, too."
  1391. >She giggles a little bit of that infectious laugh.
  1392. >To hide your goofy grin, you bite into the burger and-
  1393. >Oh no.
  1394. >Your goofy grin remains, but for wholly different reasons.
  1395. "Oh cheese and crackers, this is way too wicked of a burgers~!"
  1396. >The sensation of smoked meat and brioche bun, along with caramellized onion rings, assaults your mouth.
  1397. >And you, with grease and BBQ sauce dripping from your mouth, tear into the burger in return.
  1398. >Both the waitress and Celestia are hiding their smiles and chuckles, but you couldn't care less.
  1399. >This thing was AMAZING.
  1400. >You haven't had a burger this good in God knows how long.
  1401. >The taste, the texture, the combination of flavours, salt and grease...
  1402. >It was like you had died and gone to a meat heaven.
  1403. >With mustard fried onto each smoked patty, plenty of barbeque-sauce splattered on top of them, cheese practically oozing from every inch of the thing and pickles adding that extra bite...
  1404. >That's it.
  1405. >You should live here.
  1406. >You could mop the floors and sleep on the benches.
  1407. >You could be self-sufficient...
  1408. >*In burgers*.
  1409. >"W-wowzers! Looks like I really got it right this time!"
  1410. >You smile your greasy smile at the pink girl, and nod.
  1411. "You have no idea. I'm digging this baby like you wouldn't believe..."
  1412. >With a victorious grin, the waitress fishes out her smart phone... for some reason.
  1413. >And points at it like you should know what she means.
  1414. >"Weeell... wanna Screech about it?"
  1415. >You give her your flattest stare, face smeared with the remains of the burger.
  1416. "... What's a Screech?"
  1417. >Was this one of those app things everyone was raving about these days?
  1418. >Your phone didn't have those.
  1419. >It barely even worked!
  1420.  
  1421. >"Aww, phooey... nevermind..."
  1422. >With a sound like a deflating balloon, the waitress puts away her phone.
  1423. >You feel like you might have done something rude there, but eh.
  1424. >You weren't exactly "in the know" when it came to modern stuff like this.
  1425. >Just like your taste in music, you had always been a few decades behind.
  1426. >"W-well, anyways! If you guys need anything else, just gimme a call!"
  1427. >The waitress quickly bounces back from her defeat.
  1428. >Celestia nods with a smile.
  1429. >"Thank you, Pinkie Pie. We will."
  1430. >The pink waitress snaps her fingers and slowly wheels away.
  1431. >"Have fun with your date, Principal Celestia~!"
  1432. >She hollers that while moonwalking (moonwheeling) away and shooting you two the fingerguns.
  1433. >"W-wait, Pinkie, that's not what this is-"
  1434. >Well, would you look at that?
  1435. >Even the unflappable Celestia can blush, if ever so slightly.
  1436. >You grin at the waitress and shoot a fingergun back.
  1437. "You know it, sister~! I'll make sure to treat her like a princess~"
  1438. >As you return to your food, you find yourself accosted by a stern stare and a raised eyebrow.
  1439. >The way Celestia has folded her arms across her chest tells you she ain't impressed.
  1440. >"That wasn't exactly proper now was it, Mr. Anonymous?"
  1441. >O-oh funk, did her voice get a degree colder there?
  1442. >You smile at her nervously and wipe your mouth with a napkin.
  1443. "Aw come on, she was just joking around - just like me. Besides..."
  1444. >You make vague apologetic gestures with your free hand.
  1445. "If a high school girl goes as far as to cheer on her teacher on a date, that just means they're looking out for you."
  1446. >You nod to yourself, sagely.
  1447. "In other words, you're just that well-liked!"
  1448. >Celestia grumbles under her breath, unable to completely drive away the blush from her cheeks.
  1449. >"I... I suppose..."
  1450. "Anyways, more importantly... where's the CHS, then?"
  1451. >You glance at your partner.
  1452. >Unsurprisingly, she's already finished with her slices.
  1453. "Might as well head to work once I'm done eating."
  1454.  
  1455. >A couple of hours later, you're face to face with your new place of education.
  1456. >Nestled among the quiet suburbs and the residential area stands a large building - undoubtedly a high school.
  1457. >It's painted with quaint, mellow colours and the statue of a rearing horse stands proudly at the center of the campus grounds.
  1458. >As you stare at the place from across the street, you get this odd feeling in your stomach.
  1459. >A bit like back home, though... not as overt or suffocating.
  1460. >There's something strange here, and that's not just the students.
  1461. >This place itself is weird.
  1462. "... Heh."
  1463. >But that's good.
  1464. >You like weird.
  1465. >Especially after submerging yourself in it after last Winter Break.
  1466. >That being said, you're not here for the school itself, no.
  1467. >You're looking for a tour bus of a certain troublemaker and the cause of almost all your problems right now.
  1468. >So far you've rounded the school and its parking lots once without any success.
  1469. >Meaning the vehicle must be somewhere else, yet nearby.
  1470. >And since it hasn't been parked by the roadside, that would mean...
  1471. "--- Found you."
  1472. >There.
  1473. >The park nearby doesn't have that big of a parking lot, and the trees growing around it offer both cover and shade.
  1474. >But you would recognize a touring bus from anywhere.
  1475. >... No, that's not a bus at all.
  1476. >That's a van.
  1477. >You heave a quiet sigh.
  1478. >The living situation of these three delinquents is starting to feel sadder and sadder by every new revelation.
  1479. >Honestly, taking advantage of it to do your job will probably leave a bad taste in your mouth.
  1480. >... Maybe.
  1481. >While the girl you met last night wasn't exactly a tower of intimidation and sadism, the info in that file certainly painted an... unflattering picture of her.
  1482. >File that you, actually, have with you right now.
  1483. >Celestia gave it to you after you had eaten.
  1484. >No doubt it's going to come handy in the future.
  1485.  
  1486. >But for now...
  1487. >Time to make your move.
  1488. >You march over to the van, painted in the light of the setting sun.
  1489. >With orange and golden hues setting the autumn landscape ablaze in colour, the tiny van looks even smaller.
  1490. >It's like a cottage painted in rebellious ways, standing there quietly for reasons only it knows.
  1491. >A testament for the way of life its owners have.
  1492. >Behind you, you hear the familiar footfalls of your charge.
  1493. >As always, she's following close behind you - like a shadow.
  1494. >Both of you stop at the door of the van, sizing up the vehicle before you.
  1495. >It's not a large one, and you had trouble imagining how three people could live in such cramped quarters, but then again...
  1496. >You've seen strangers.
  1497. "Yo, anyone in there?"
  1498. >You give a hearty greeting as you knock on the door, listening for any sort of reaction.
  1499. >However, none comes.
  1500. >So you knock again.
  1501. >And the third time.
  1502. "Geez, open up already! I've got important busi-"
  1503. >On the fourth time, the sliding door flies open, and for a moment, you've met with a rather bizarre sight.
  1504. >Her.
  1505. >That copperhead princess.
  1506. >She's standing there, her hair frazzled and unkempt, her eyes half-open and with heavy bags under them.
  1507. >Looks like someone was sleeping, but not doing a very good job at it.
  1508. >"What is it!"
  1509. >She nearly spits out those words full of venom and annoyance.
  1510. >"If you're here about the van, I swear we are just parked here until... Uh..."
  1511. >Her words die on her lips.
  1512. >And for a good reason.
  1513. >She recognizes you.
  1514. >"But... you... that's..."
  1515. >You can't help the cocky grin that rises to your face.
  1516. "Well hello there, princess. Fancy meeting you here."
  1517. >Adagio Dazzle makes a split-second decision then and there, and slams the door closed.
  1518. >Unfortunately for her, you're faster.
  1519. >Unfortunately for you, only your foot and hands are faster.
  1520.  
  1521. "Owww! What the hey, that hurts you lunatic!"
  1522. >You barely managed to stop the door from closing by ramming your limbs in to act as obstacles, and now you're paying the price.
  1523. >"It's supposed to hurt! Now stop pulling on the door or I'll call the cops!"
  1524. >Things quickly turn into a tug of war between you and the copperhead, with the sliding door acting as your rope.
  1525. "Ooh~? Call the cops? Sure, go ahead, be my guest!"
  1526. >You push your head into the van and offer her a wicked grin.
  1527. "I'm sure they'd *love* to hear all about last night, and how, thanks to you, my Lady is totalled!"
  1528. >A look of confusion passes by the struggling girl's face.
  1529. >"Lady?"
  1530. "My car, you blimp! Because of you, my car is ruined!"
  1531. >"That was your own fault! It had nothing to do with me! Now *let go!*"
  1532. >With a groan, you push even harder and manage to wedge your upper body inside.
  1533. "Oooh no, that's not how this works, you cheese puff! Reparations! I'm here for reparations!"
  1534. >Her sneer is as wicked as it is desperate.
  1535. >The door whimpers under the stress of you two both pulling and pushing it.
  1536. >"Oh? Funny, I'd imagine that would require you to have some sort of proof, which I find hard to believe."
  1537. >Sensing a path to victory, her smugness levels skyrocket.
  1538. >"Tell me, how again are you going to prove I did anything to your car last night?"
  1539. >Oh rats, she's got a point there.
  1540. >Police aren't known for believing supernatural incidents at face value.
  1541. >You know, you've tried!
  1542. "W-well, that is..."
  1543. >"Mm~? That is~?"
  1544. >Time for a new angle of attack!
  1545. "T-that's not the only reason why I'm here! Or rather, not even the main reason!"
  1546. >Argh, she's putting her shoulders into it now!
  1547. >This door is gonna crush you!
  1548. >Not even your fabulous muscles will save you now!
  1549. >"Well well, so last night's debacle is just an afterthought?"
  1550. >The girl grins like a sadist as she digs her heels into the floor
  1551. >Welp.
  1552.  
  1553. >You're starting to have hard time breathing here!
  1554. >Where's a white flag when you need one!?
  1555. >"Tell me then, pest - why *are* you here exactly?"
  1556. >You wheeze and sputter, trying to gather some strength into your lungs.
  1557. >Gotta me as convincing as possible with this.
  1558. "T-that is, I'm -gah- I'm here... because I think I can help you! Y-you know, in general, but specifically with last night's thing!"
  1559. >Yes.
  1560. >The other reason why you had been so eager to jump into Principal Celestia's offer.
  1561. >Because you were pretty sure that last night, that was-
  1562. "Owowowowowowow!"
  1563. >Oh Christ she's putting all her strength into it now!
  1564. >"Huh!? And what makes you think you could in *any* way help me!? What could you possibly know about my problems!?"
  1565. >Did you touch a nerve?
  1566. >You definitely touched a nerve.
  1567. >She's going for the jugular now!
  1568. >Choose your words carefully, Anon!
  1569. "Ggghh! W-well, I... I, guh, I know... you..."
  1570. >Oh funk.
  1571. >Your vision is fading.
  1572. >Are you outta oxygen?
  1573. "You---"
  1574. >Just spit it out, Anon - you're fighting for your life here!
  1575. "--- You're from another world, aren't you?"
  1576. >Suddenly.
  1577. >The pressure eases up.
  1578. >The sliding door quickly slams away from you, opening up completely.
  1579. >But not because she did it.
  1580. >No.
  1581. >Adagio Dazzle's efforts to crush you with the door came to an end when she, out of pure shock, lost her grip and her strength.
  1582. >Instead, she's now staring at you with a dumbfounded expression, like she can't believe her ears.
  1583. >"You... how did you...?"
  1584. >Well, her question makes sense.
  1585. >You hack and cough, tasting that sweet air that returns to your lungs.
  1586. >After gathering your bearings, you shoot a grin towards her that you hope is confident.
  1587. >You're not exactly in the best shape to show off your coolness right now.
  1588. "Well..."
  1589. >You chuckle and stand back to your full height, towering over the 5 foot nothing princess.
  1590. "... You wouldn't be the first outworlder I've met."
  1591. >And hit her with your best surprise line.
  1592.  
  1593. >So here you were.
  1594. >At last.
  1595. >Face to face with the fuming little princess who had destroyed your car (in a way).
  1596. >You were sitting on the only couch in the whole tour van, while she had seated herself onto the tiny tabletop.
  1597. >Legs crossed, arms folded, she continues to glare down at you from her perch.
  1598. >Like a hawk or an eagle of some sort.
  1599. >Philippine eagle, maybe.
  1600. >That hairdo was just as ridiculous.
  1601. >"So? Start talking."
  1602. >Adagio Dazzle narrows her eyes at you threateningly.
  1603. >It feels like her poof is fluffing itself up, making itself bigger to appear more threatening.
  1604. >Truly an amazing defense mechanism.
  1605. "What? Ain't you gonna offer any refreshments? A drink or two? Maybe a snack?"
  1606. >You return her glare with a juvenile grin.
  1607. >The girl rolls her eyes and scoffs, jumping off the table.
  1608. >With practiced movements, she walks over to the toaster and presses down on the switch.
  1609. >Afterwards, she fishes out a glass from the shelf and fills it up with tap water.
  1610. >About a minute later, you find yourself staring at a glass of water and a piece of unbuttered toast on a plate.
  1611. >They sit there on the tiny table before you, as if mocking you.
  1612. "... Who eats toast without butter?"
  1613. >Adagio, back on her throne, clicks her tongue.
  1614. >"Do you even know how expensive butter is these days? We cut corners where we can."
  1615. >... Oh.
  1616. >Oh you poor thing.
  1617. >That is, oh you poor piece of toast.
  1618. >No wonder you look so sad.
  1619. >You feel the need to gently caress the piece of bread that is trying its hardest for the sake of these three delinquents.
  1620. >"... Why are you petting the toast?"
  1621. "Because I can feel sympathy, princess. I know what it's like, to go unappreciated."
  1622. >With that, you pick up the toast and bite into it.
  1623. >...
  1624. >... It's burnt.
  1625. >You take it *all* back.
  1626. >At least you can wash it down with some water that tastes like absolutely nothing.
  1627.  
  1628. "So..."
  1629. >Coughing awkwardly into your balled up fist after finishing that "snack", you finally turn your attention to the girl.
  1630. "To start off, what I said back there-"
  1631. >"Wait."
  1632. >Adagio lifts her hand, palm facing you.
  1633. >"First of all..."
  1634. >She then turns to point at the tiny girl sitting next to you, silently glaring at nothing whatsoever.
  1635. >Like she was ignoring the two of you.
  1636. >"... Who is that?"
  1637. >Well, figures she would ask about her.
  1638. >Not that there were many answers you could give her.
  1639. >So, after thinking for a moment, you simply shrug.
  1640. "Ah, well, that is... You don't need to worry about her. She's nobody."
  1641. >"A little girl following you around like a ghost is 'a nobody'? Please."
  1642. >Judging by Adagio's face, that isn't a good enough answer.
  1643. >"No, seriously. What *is* she? Even I can tell she's not... normal."
  1644. >A dry chuckle escapes your lips.
  1645. >She's not wrong there.
  1646. "Like I said, she's nobody. Nothing whatsoever. Not important in any way and incapable of being any harm. If you want to get technical..."
  1647. >You smile a bitter smile full of memories she has no way of knowing about.
  1648. >Ones that you'd like to forget, too.
  1649. >Of a nigh-literal hell that was your Winter Break.
  1650. "--- She's a non-existence, a mere shadow of a noumenon at this point."
  1651. >That's all you can really say to her.
  1652. >The extent of what your answer can be.
  1653. >Thus, Adagio lets out a sigh and leaves it be.
  1654. >All she can get is such a non-answer, anyway.
  1655. >"--- I see. So she's not important. Guess I'll leave it at that, for now."
  1656. >Much appreciated, princess.
  1657. >Talking shop about your charge was a good way to waste time.
  1658. >And really...
  1659. >At the end of the day, someone paying their dues, their penance, should be left alone.
  1660. >She was just a mere child of the 80's now, piece of a generation that no longer existed.
  1661. >A remnant of a world that had been forgotten.
  1662.  
  1663. "S-so, moving on, princess..."
  1664. >Again, Adagio frowns.
  1665. >What is it this time!?
  1666. >"Why do you keep calling me that?"
  1667. >Her glare just oozes of suspicion.
  1668. >Yours, confusion.
  1669. "Calling you what?"
  1670. >"A princess."
  1671. "Well, aren't you?"
  1672. >"A princess? Hardly. I just know my worth, and how worthless the humans around me are. I don't need a title to have that much common sense."
  1673. >Yeaaaah, that's exactly the point, Cheese Puff.
  1674. >Nobody but a princess would be able to spout a line like that with a straight face.
  1675. >But, best not to pick a fight from the get-go.
  1676. "Call it a verbal tick. I have this horrible urge to come up with a nickname for every person I meet and affix it to them whether they want it or not."
  1677. >She snorts mockingly.
  1678. >"Quite the Tom Sawyer, then."
  1679. >You can't help but to shrug and grin devilishly.
  1680. "Well, I try my best."
  1681. >Still, time's a wasting, and you still hadn't gotten to the main point you came here for.
  1682. >At least you had managed to break some of the ice between you and Adagio.
  1683. >Though there was still a glacier to go from the looks of it.
  1684. >But finally, it was time to get down to business.
  1685. "Aaaa-nyways..."
  1686. >You roll your shoulders and lean back on the sofa, getting comfortable.
  1687. "All that aside, I did come here for a reason, y'know. Like I said, I think I might be able to help you. Not to brag or anything, but yours wouldn't be the first outworlder conundrum I've solved."
  1688. >This perks Adagio's interest back up, and she straightens on the countertop.
  1689. >Those fierce eyes are now completely focused on you.
  1690. >"There's that word again. So you're really claiming you've met other... beings... that aren't from this world?"
  1691. "Ayup. I mean, I can count those encounters with one hand, but it's still more than most. And over those encounters, I've gotten pretty good at dealing with their troubles."
  1692. >You flash your pearly whites at her again.
  1693.  
  1694. "Plus, while it might be hard to believe, as a little kid I *did* want to get ordained eventually. Led me to reading up on lots of interesting literature. The type that might be of help to you."
  1695. >Ah yes, the childhood dreams of a foolish youngster.
  1696. >You wouldn't have looked good in a tab collar anyways.
  1697. >Oh... oh boy.
  1698. >She's looking at you like a particularly filthy door-to-door salesman trying to wiggle their foot into the house.
  1699. >"And *why* should I believe you, of all people?"
  1700. >Adagio cocks an eyebrow that's rising on pure mistrust alone.
  1701. >"Are you really suggesting that of all the people who could have crashed into that monster last night, it just *happened* to be a person with the skills and knowledge to help me?"
  1702. >Hey, sister, it's not like crashing the car was part of your plan.
  1703. >But you can see why she'd be suspicious.
  1704. >You'd be suspicious, too!
  1705. >But...
  1706. "See, princess, there's this old saying that apparently goes around our circles."
  1707. >You make little air-quotes on that last word.
  1708. >Heck if you knew if there were actual "circles."
  1709. >You just knew some people, who knew some other people.
  1710. "Supernatural begets supernatural."
  1711. >Easy enough saying, though.
  1712. "In other words, if you get yourself wrapped up into something odd, you'll eventually begin attracting more of that odd around you. These things congregate, see."
  1713. >Judging by the face she's now making, Adagio knows *exactly* what you're talking about.
  1714. >Looks like the girl's got some experience.
  1715. "So, in that way, it would have been *stranger* if your night-time gallivanting wouldn't have eventually made you bump into someone like me."
  1716. >You realize your words just now, and grimace.
  1717. "... I just hope it hadn't been such a literal bump."
  1718. >Adagio, upon hearing this, lets out a tired sigh and rubs her temples.
  1719. >Talk about the supernatural can get stressful after all.
  1720. >You were in her situation once, and oh boy was it a lot to take in.
  1721.  
  1722. >"Fine. *Fine.* For the sake of the argument, let's say I believe you."
  1723. >The fierce eyes have regained their focus, and are now trained at you once more.
  1724. >Like a pair of knives aimed in your direction.
  1725. >"... Why would you want to help me? Your car *was* totalled because of me. Not only that, but I have no money to pay you. But you must have already figured *that* out."
  1726. >And now it's a new sort of suspicion.
  1727. >One with much more mundane origins.
  1728. >"So. What are you *actually* after? I know humans well enough to know that altruism is reserved for the naive idiots. Often with a sun-streaked hair."
  1729. >That's... oddly specific.
  1730. >Sounds like a landmine you should do your best to avoid.
  1731. "Well, got me there. I'm here because if I help you, I want you to do something for me in return."
  1732. >This time it's you who's putting the pressure on her, refusing to budge your stare from her.
  1733. >Apparently misunderstanding your intense gaze a bit, Adagio's face flashes in disgust and she pulls back.
  1734. >"... And that something is?"
  1735. >You hastily throw up your hands and wave them.
  1736. "N-no, nothing like that! Just..."
  1737. >Well, better not beat around the bush, right?
  1738. "... If I manage to save you, I want you to return to school. And convince your sisters to do the same."
  1739. >A silence so thick you could have cut it with a lukewarm butter knife descended into the room.
  1740. >It was like a heavy, thick cloak laid upon your shoulders, wrapping its tendrils around your neck to squeeze.
  1741. >Meanwhile Adagio showed you an interesting cavalcade of expressions.
  1742. >Confusion.
  1743. >Realization.
  1744. >Horror.
  1745. >Indignation.
  1746. >Fury.
  1747. >All in the span of few seconds.
  1748. >"*Out of the question!*"
  1749. >She spat out those words like a menacing hiss, full of venom.
  1750. >"If you think we'll return to that accursed place filled with arrogant little fools, then-"
  1751.  
  1752. "Alright, time-out. Just ease on the gas pedal a little, princess."
  1753. >You're quick to cut her off before she can go off on one magnificent tirade.
  1754. "I get that you ain't too keen on CHS and its students, but at least hear me out, alright?"
  1755. >Best choose your words carefully here, Anon.
  1756. >You were walking on *very* thin ice.
  1757. >Just worm your way to the shore, best you can.
  1758. "You three have been here for quite a long time, right? And it hasn't been easy, right?"
  1759. >Adagio goes silent, but from her furrowed brow you can see you hit a bullseye.
  1760. >Thank you, PC's Info File.
  1761. "That's cause things don't work quite the same here as over in your neck of the woods. If you want get anywhere close to comfortable life in here, you gotta finish high school at least."
  1762. >Well, not *strictly* true, but best not confuse the issue any further.
  1763. "And that's what my benefactor wants. They gave me this job so I'd come to help you and convince you guys to return to CHS to finish up your education."
  1764. >What you left unmentioned was *who specifically* that benefactor was.
  1765. >You got the feeling Celestia's name shouldn't be brought up just yet.
  1766. >Or ever.
  1767. "Think of it this way, princess. It might be annoying, it might be frustrating, it might make you want to tear off that amazing hairdo of yours..."
  1768. >Just give it one more push.
  1769. "... But it would make your life *much* easier."
  1770. >Switch the perspective a little bit.
  1771. "And not just for you, but for your sisters as well."
  1772. >Then, cast the hook and hope for a nibble.
  1773. >The silence was back again, but this time it felt different.
  1774. >You only had to glance around the van to know why.
  1775. >As you had come to realize, this wasn't just a tour van of a budding band.
  1776. >These girls *lived* here.
  1777. >It was practically littered with the signs of being used daily.
  1778. >From the folding bed that now acted as the couch you sat on, to the well-used stove and the hundred or so mundane, everyday things scattered about.
  1779.  
  1780. >And, in a no surprise to you, Adagio was glancing around as well.
  1781. >Taking in the life they had now...
  1782. >And thinking of the life they *could* have.
  1783. >All you had to do was let her marinate for a while.
  1784. >And once she was done...
  1785. >"... And this 'benefactor' of yours can get us back in?"
  1786. >You nod.
  1787. "Sure can. Heck, she's doing the same for me. I still got my high school left unfinished, so I'll be enrolling into CHS, too."
  1788. >That made her head jerk up, and direct a confused stare at you.
  1789. >"Oh. So... you'll be attending, too?"
  1790. "Ayup. Yours truly and his amazing hair will become a true blue CHS student come next week."
  1791. >Adagio snorted once more, though this time, there was a hint of amusement in her tone.
  1792. >The eyes glaring down at you had softened, if just for a little bit.
  1793. >And while her expression was still of a woman who was calculating the right choice here...
  1794. >"--- What is your name?"
  1795. >She asks a sudden, surprising question.
  1796. >You take a moment to process it, blinking owlishly.
  1797. "Who, me?"
  1798. >"Yes, you, you doofus. God, it's like talking to a second Sonata..."
  1799. >You have no idea if that's good or bad, but you can't help but to chuckle a bit.
  1800. >Striking a thumb to your chest, you flash her a confident grin.
  1801. "The name's Anonymous - the One and Only."
  1802. >... What.
  1803. >Why is she staring at you with such a dubious expression?
  1804. >"Really? Anonymous?"
  1805. >What is that stare!?
  1806. >"You couldn't come up with anything better?"
  1807. "H-hey! It's my legal name! I can even show you the paperwork!"
  1808. >Oh God don't ask to see the paperwork.
  1809. >It still shows your old name...!
  1810. >"Fine, fine. Anonymous it is, then."
  1811. >Having said that, Adagio puts a hand in her pocket and pulls out something.
  1812. >Something crimson that glitters in the light of a setting sun.
  1813. >... A ruby? Or a crystal?
  1814. >Gem?
  1815. >Wait, is that...?
  1816.  
  1817. >"Alright, Anonymous."
  1818. >Apparently, looking into that broken thing has helped her come to a decision.
  1819. >"If you really can help me with my... problem, I'm willing to give CHS another go."
  1820. >Guess someone like her would never use a words like "save me."
  1821. >And here you were hoping to get called her only hope...
  1822. >Still, right after saying that, her tone grows harsher.
  1823. >"But *only* if you can do something about that monster."
  1824. >You laugh.
  1825. "Oh, I think I can do something about it, alright."
  1826. >You point to the gem in her hands.
  1827. "This is just a wild guess, but... you're a siren, aren't you?"
  1828. >For the second time today, Adagio Dazzle loses her concentration and focus, and nearly drops the gem in her hands.
  1829. >Before it can clatter to the floor, however, you dive off the couch and grab it for her.
  1830. >Then, kneeling there on the floor, you lift it up to her like some sort of knight.
  1831. >The girl accepts with trepidation, eyes full of anxiety that's washing away now that her precious jewel remains safe.
  1832. >Gingerly, her fingers pick it up.
  1833. >You, however, stay there.
  1834. >It's the same rule as approaching animals - try to seem less threatening, instead of towering above them.
  1835. >"H-how... how did you know..."
  1836. >In that instant, Adagio glances at the broken gem she's holding, then back at you.
  1837. >The gears in her head click and she puts two and two together.
  1838. >"... This thing? You recognized it from just a glance?"
  1839. "Nope. I'm not *that* good. But, in the context what I have seen so far... well, when you add a broken gem like that into the mix, it's pretty much the only answer I could come up with."
  1840. >Finally, you push upwards with your legs and stand up.
  1841. >You and Adagio are now standing about one foot apart.
  1842. "So?"
  1843. >"So what?"
  1844. "Are you a one? Siren, that is."
  1845. >A pregnant pause breaks into the conversation, with Adagio searching your face for... something.
  1846. >Clues about your intentions?
  1847.  
  1848. >Guess she doesn't fully trust you yet.
  1849. >And you were such a charming guy, too...
  1850. >"... Yes."
  1851. >Eventually, she relents with a sigh.
  1852. >"Guess there's no point in hiding it. Yes, I *am* a siren. But know this. If you go around spreading it around-"
  1853. >You blow a raspberry and shrug in an exaggerated way.
  1854. "Like anyone would believe me, princess. Not only that, I've learned it the hard way that getting ordinary people involved never leads anywhere good."
  1855. >With that, you turn around in a theatrical manner and march back to the sofa.
  1856. >Plopping down on it, you restart your staring contest with the girl.
  1857. >Though this time, Adagio seems more... unsure.
  1858. >She's out of her element, and you've shaken her confidence.
  1859. >Though clearly, she'd loathe to admit it.
  1860. >So instead, she cranks up the daggers in her glare, as if trying to control you with just that.
  1861. "So, which type of siren are you?"
  1862. >"Huh?"
  1863. >Adagio's eyebrows shoot towards her lustrous hairline.
  1864. "'On the Theology of Plato' by Proclus. There, we have three distinct categories of siren."
  1865. >You lift up three fingers.
  1866. "The Celestial."
  1867. >Ring finger goes down.
  1868. "The Generative."
  1869. >Middle finger goes down.
  1870. "And the Cathartic."
  1871. >Index finger goes down, and you lean back on the couch.
  1872. "First category is under the government of Jupiter, second under that of Neptune, and the third of Pluto. Or Zeus, Poseidon and Hades - the three principle brothers and gods sky, oceanic and chthonic."
  1873. >A knowing smile hangs on your face.
  1874. "Knowing what I know now, if I had to make a guess, you three correspond one to each. Would make the most sense, after all. Symbolism moves everything, and since the three of you would make a perfect whole like that, I can't imagine it being any other way."
  1875. >Finally, you're starting to be in your element.
  1876. >This is the stuff you know about.
  1877. "So, which one are you?"
  1878.  
  1879. >Adagio, after letting the silence reign for a moment, puts away her gem.
  1880. >She folds her arms and gazes out of the window, into the twilight sky governing the city around you.
  1881. >"... I suppose that would make me celestial, then."
  1882. >You nod.
  1883. "Ah. Right. You *are* the leader, after all. Taking after Allfather Zeus and having a Jovian authority over your two siblings - the one subservient to you, and the one distant from you. Makes sense."
  1884. >You could make an educated guess which sibling then had the Generative and the Cathartic traits, but for now, that wasn't important.
  1885. >They weren't your focus - Adagio was.
  1886. "According to Plato, or rather, according to Proclus who puts the words in Plato's mouth, you Celestial Sirens reside in the heavens and seek, by harmonic motion, to unite souls to the divine life of the celestial host."
  1887. >The mere idea seems to amuse Adagio, as a dark smile appears on her lips.
  1888. "But we both know that's not quite true, is it? It just means your voice affects the souls of those who hear it... your sound and your motion guide the essence of mortals to your whims. Usually it's more akin to what happened to Chiron and Odysseus."
  1889. >Tales as old as time, and famous too.
  1890. >Though you're not sure if beeswax in your ears could help with these girls.
  1891. "The mysteries of mantic melodies makes men mad, doesn't it? That's why you're like forerunners of death, psychopomps with your own ego and agenda. No wonder we humans have so many tales about you..."
  1892. >The more you spoke, the more Adagio apparently gained her confidence back.
  1893. >Her back was straight, her nose was held high, and she had an almost regal bearing at this point.
  1894. >Guess this girl was surprisingly weak to praises of this sort, huh?
  1895. >... Makes surprising amount of sense.
  1896. >In her very nature, the symbolism and legend from where she is from, she is a being of the skies.
  1897. >A praised existence that people look up to, in the literal sense.
  1898.  
  1899. "But."
  1900. >Your voice turns harsher.
  1901. >At the same time, the room grows colder.
  1902. >Clouds pass over the setting sun, bringing with them heavy shadows.
  1903. "You lost, didn't you? That's why your gem, your blessing from one who made you, is now cracked - plucked. Muses defeated you in a contest of song and sailors passed you by without being enticed. And that's why, just like legend, you're to fall from the skies - to your death."
  1904. >She doesn't want to admit it.
  1905. >But she knows that *you* know the truth now.
  1906. >You saw that gem after all...
  1907. >Demeter's gift to them was also her curse.
  1908. >In her rage, when they would fail, she would tear them back to the ground.
  1909. >... A facet perhaps more fitting her origin as Cybele, perhaps.
  1910. >As was the physical form of the gem.
  1911. >Nevertheless...
  1912. >"... What? Are you saying that is the reason why I'm hounded by that beast?"
  1913. >She sounds indignant, angry, furious.
  1914. >Unable to believe that it could be because of something.
  1915. >Sorry princess... laws of the ancient world were not kind.
  1916. >Gods could be real assholes, and in your case, perfection and success were mandatory.
  1917. >"Because... Because we *lost*!?"
  1918. "Afraid so. It wouldn't matter if it was anything else, but in a contest of song, when you're using your voices... that's a different thing."
  1919. >Symbolism is everything. If the conditions are met, the result is inevitable.
  1920. >"But why a monster!? Why some invisible beast!?"
  1921. >... Oh.
  1922. >She hasn't realized it yet, has she?
  1923. >The true form of that beast.
  1924. "Really..."
  1925. >Better rip this band-aid off immediately.
  1926. >She won't be able make decisions with clear head otherwise.
  1927. "That's not a monster. That's *you*, lambent Aglaope."
  1928. >Yes. The simple truth.
  1929. "Seirḗn - from the words seirá and eírō. To fasten a rope. Entangler."
  1930. >And just like symbols, words were everything.
  1931. >They showed the true nature of things.
  1932. "You're just bound and crushed by the cords of your own failure."
  1933. >And it all ties back to her.
  1934. "That's all."
  1935.  
  1936. >Sirens.
  1937. >In ancient Greece, they were known as massive birds with the heads that resembled those of beautiful women.
  1938. >Seventh-century Anglo-Latin catalogue Liber Monstrorum, however, claimed they were women who had the tail of a fish instead of legs.
  1939. >Thus, they have always been associated with the imagery of both birds and fish - especially that of sparrows.
  1940. >In ancient Egypt, sparrows were something akin to psychopomps, carrying the souls of the dead to the afterlife - a belief that spread to the sailors of the ancient world.
  1941. >In Greece, however, they were a bird associated with love, and messengers of Aphrodite, representing a true connection between people.
  1942. >However... at some point, the depiction of these creatures changed to that of monsters.
  1943. >Beautiful maidens who lured men to their dooms with their mantic melodies.
  1944. >Chiron, Orpheus, Odysseus...
  1945. >More often than not, they would be encountered during sea voyages despite there being a case for them to be earth-bound creatures as well.
  1946. >Still, they had become an "obstacle" for heroes to overcome.
  1947. >A corrupting force and a danger to defeat.
  1948. >As Walter Copland Perry put it:
  1949. >"Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption."
  1950. >A song that harkens back to their desperate cries for the freedom of Persephone.
  1951. >Still, whichever facet you looked at...
  1952. >Either the grand witch Circe's description of them as cannibals...
  1953. >Or Dinon's description of them as beasts who lived in India...
  1954. >One aspect of them was retained across all the myths.
  1955. >Were the sirens to ever lose in a contest of songs, or were the sailors to pass them by without falling prey to their melodies...
  1956. >... The sirens would have their feathers plucked, to make them plummet from the skies to their deaths.
  1957.  
  1958. >For a siren to be defeated by the song of another is a fate worse than any other.
  1959. >To the point that their very nature as a siren will react to it - violently.
  1960. >Even if the siren herself does not even realize it, they have betrayed their ousia - their prime substance, essence - with such an act.
  1961. >And thus, their primal nature as a siren will take action.
  1962. >The more the siren denies what happened, the more they try to distance themselves from the loss and not accept it, the harsher the backlash.
  1963. >Even to the point... of creating an invisible monster to hunt yourself.
  1964. >Binder, entangler.
  1965. >A coiling rope around your throat.
  1966. >A rope that burns and burrows into your skin to make you accept your loss.
  1967. >Your loss, and your resulting death.
  1968. >It's an unbelievable tale of a death resulting from mere symbolism, but yet... symbols carry terrifying power in this world of ours.
  1969. >In truth, our very view of the world is colored by all the symbols that surround us.
  1970. >Such is our lot in life.
  1971. >And such was the case for Adagio Dazzle as well.
  1972. >A defeated siren unable to act as a siren should have.
  1973. >No, not only that.
  1974. >She took the responsibility for all of the three siblings.
  1975. >In that, it's quite likely the monster after her grew even more powerful.
  1976. >It is literally the death-curse of three defeated sirens out for the blood of just one of them.
  1977. >... It's quite a surprise she isn't dead yet.
  1978. >What should have originally been just a shadow of herself, a reflection of her true form perhaps, has grown so large and monstrous it dwarfs even cars.
  1979. >A massive creature of wings and bones, feathers and scales.
  1980. >It's no longer on the level of something that can be dealt with by human force.
  1981. >Had the three aspects of failure been separated, then maybe...
  1982. >... But that is a moot point by now.
  1983. >All of the blame has fallen unto Adagio Dazzle.
  1984. >You are bound to your own failures.
  1985. >So stop running and accept it.
  1986. >As usual, the rules of the ancient world sure can be cruel.
  1987.  
  1988. >"... Where did you *learn* all of this?"
  1989. >Adagio Dazzle's question comes at the end of your long lecture.
  1990. >So far, you've spent a good hour and a half going over the history of sirens in this world, the legends associated with them, and how it ties to her predicament.
  1991. >Understandably, she's been... more than a bit weirded out.
  1992. >With a lopsided grin plastered on your face, you adjust your hair a bit, taking your time with the answer.
  1993. >Playing up that mystery card was basics of the basics when it came to dealing with the fairer sex.
  1994. "Here and there. Had something happen to me some time ago that... opened my eyes to this stuff."
  1995. >For a moment, you grimace at the memories.
  1996. >The silent, tiny girl next to you frowns ever so slightly.
  1997. >Or maybe that was just your imagination.
  1998. >She looks the same as ever, after all.
  1999. "Anyways, I ran into a guy who knew a guy, and he gave me a whole lotta homework to do."
  2000. >You tap your forehead twice with your finger.
  2001. "Crammed all sorts of information up here. Some of it useful, some of it not."
  2002. >A chuckle escapes your lips.
  2003. "Just be glad I happened to remember the tidbits about sirens."
  2004. >Adagio, on the other hand, frowns quite heavily.
  2005. >Admittedly it's a cute frown, but you feel like she's overdone it a little bit.
  2006. >In fact... has she stopped frowning even once during your visit?
  2007. >Maybe it's just her default expression.
  2008. >"If I'm honest, those 'tidbits' just sound like a bunch of meaningless rambles. In fact, they have next to nothing to do with the sirens of my world."
  2009. >She paused, biting her lip like she didn't want to admit something.
  2010. >"Well... most of it hasn't. Some of it fits surprisingly well."
  2011. >You chuckle again and spread your hands into a vague shrug.
  2012. "Truths are dependent on the world, princess. If you're here, you're playing by the rules of this place. Think of it, like..."
  2013.  
  2014. >You think for a moment, letting your eyes scan the interior of the van until they land on a pack of playing cards nearby.
  2015. "Like a game of Cheat, maybe? Sure enough, each game is played with a deck that has the same cards, but good luck finding two regional variants that are exactly the same."
  2016. >You snort.
  2017. "Heck, they can't even agree on the name of the game!"
  2018. >Adagio turns to look at that same pack of cards, thoughtful glimmer appearing in her eyes.
  2019. >Looks like she's finally getting it.
  2020. >"So while the pieces are always the same, the rules and the names of things change, is that it?"
  2021. >Ah, there it is.
  2022. >The return of the beautiful smugness.
  2023. >Looks like she's starting to get on top of the situation once more.
  2024. >"Or, one could even say that though the tiles are the same, each 'player' builds a different hand out of them."
  2025. >You nod, though only slightly.
  2026. "Well sure, if you wanna be all Mahjong about it."
  2027. >"Why not? A girl has to have hobbies. Sometimes you have to go where the east wind blows."
  2028. >You snicker at her verbal shuffling of the tiles.
  2029. "Really now? I'd imagine a princess like you playing with old Mahjong curmudgeons would feel a Ton of pressure."
  2030. >It's like your words were the comfortable clacking around the table as the two of you built your hands.
  2031. >"Oh, you'd be surprised. While they might look like dragons, they're really as nanthreatening as can be."
  2032. >Really now? She seems to be getting into this.
  2033. "Man, clearly I've been playing at the wrong tables. Though maybe best to stick a Pin in it, I feel like we're getting off-track."
  2034. >"Mm, maybe. I guess some of us are still the type to think Pong is the height of entertainment."
  2035. >Okay, that's where you draw the line.
  2036. >When even *you* feel like groaning, things have gone too far.
  2037.  
  2038. "Seriously, that's just riichi-ng for a pun. Shame on you."
  2039. >Adagio responds with a deadpan glare, one that makes you wonder if you stepped on her toes after all.
  2040. >The silence stretches.
  2041. >Until...
  2042. >"*Snort*..."
  2043. >Even she can't hold it in, and instead let's out the most unladylike sound as she desperately tries to hide her cackling.
  2044. >You're quick to follow suit, and soon enough both of you are giggling like a couple of idiots.
  2045. >A laughter that lasts for quite a while.
  2046. >During which you make an interesting observation.
  2047. >... She actually has a pretty nice smile.
  2048. >A bit too naturally malicious to win any competitions, but at least it's an honest one.
  2049. >And it's good that she's managed to calm down to the point she can laugh at stupid things like these.
  2050. >Then again, people often laugh the most when they're the most nervous.
  2051. >It's like an instinct to shield one's mind.
  2052. >A rather defective one.
  2053. "Alright princess, as much as it raises my self-esteem to know I got you to laugh, maybe we should really get back to business."
  2054. >Adagio snorts again, this time purposefully and with a hint of derision.
  2055. >"Please. I've spent my whole life with an idiot like you. Let's just say my sense of humour's been corrupted over the years."
  2056. "Yeah, yeah, I getcha. Despite giggling like just another idiot yourself, you're actually just as vicious and mean as you portray yourself."
  2057. >You say that as stand up and start towards the door.
  2058. >Adagio follows you with a smug smile.
  2059. >"That's just how the prey often view the predator, Anonymous - nothing else."
  2060. >You were about to open the door, but instead you just look over your shoulder and grimace.
  2061. "Anyone ever tell you that you have some serious superiority complex going on?"
  2062. >The orange blimp following you scrunches up her nose in indignation.
  2063. >"Really now, you should know that there are some things better left unsaid... even if they happen to be true!"
  2064. >So she realizes it, too!
  2065.  
  2066. >As you finally step outside, you see the blazing colours of the sunset slowly change to calmer hues of the night.
  2067. >Darkness would soon be here, and with it, the monsters.
  2068. >You frown a little at the first few stars you see and light up a cigarette.
  2069. >The smoke billows out in a wispy cloud of smoke, rising towards the dark blue yonder.
  2070. "Well, first things first... do you have anywhere safe where you could spend tonight?"
  2071. >You look at the girl who now stands by your side, arms folded across her chest.
  2072. "Y'know, some sort of place you've noticed the Siren won't enter?"
  2073. >Adagio thinks for a moment, rubbing her chin, and eventually nods.
  2074. >"Yes. I believe it doesn't want to approach CHS due to... some troublesome characters that attend the school."
  2075. >The way she's grinding her teeth... sounds like there's lot of history there.
  2076. >"It has kept its distance so far when we've been parking near it. In fact, it's why we're here now."
  2077. >You nod as you take another drag off your cigarette.
  2078. >It makes sense.
  2079. >Supernatural may beget supernatural, but supernatural isn't stupid.
  2080. >If it senses a danger, it'll keep away.
  2081. >But if those "troublesome characters" aren't there at night, the school won't be safe forever.
  2082. >Sooner or later the siren will learn that.
  2083. >Thus it's best to act fast... or as fast as you can, anyways.
  2084. "Then, I want you to spend tonight there. Not in the van, but at the school. Just in case."
  2085. >Her face has grown more serious as she nods.
  2086. >Even the princess seems to realize that the time for levity and jokes is now over.
  2087. >"I can do that for a couple of nights, but not forever."
  2088. >She gazes at the school in the distance with a weary look.
  2089. >"Not only will those two get suspicious eventually, but... I'm sure I'd eventually get caught as well. If not by the monster, then by the faculty."
  2090.  
  2091. >Then those raspberry eyes turn back towards you.
  2092. >Almost like challenging you.
  2093. >"So, now's the time I hope you'll tell me you have some sort of plan, and not just factoids and random trivia."
  2094. >You return her gaze with a confident grin.
  2095. >Sure enough, the last two days have mostly been slapstick and goofy situations.
  2096. >You *were* such a lovable rogue and a cad, after all.
  2097. >But even you knew how to get serious.
  2098. >And this was the time to get serious.
  2099. "Oh, you bet your sweet behind I do."
  2100. >Adagio stares at you like you just sucker-punched her.
  2101. >She even goes as far as to aim said sweet behind so you have no line of sight to it.
  2102. >... Yeah, you might have gone a bit too far there.
  2103. "W-what I mean is that I've definitely got a plan. Well, a start of a plan. What I can do depends on what sort of materials I can scrounge up."
  2104. >Still looking rather suspicious, Adagio lifts an eyebrow.
  2105. >"Materials?"
  2106. "Mhm. I mentioned that sirens are both feathered and scaled creatures, right?"
  2107. >You lift up two fingers to represent those terms.
  2108. "In Chinese Five Phases, that would mean Fire and Wood. Or rather, wood that feeds the fire. A self-perpetuating source of power, one could say. To an extent, at least."
  2109. >If you wanted to get more technical, this would mean you'd most likely have to worry about wind and lightning the most.
  2110. >Unlike wood, fire as an element is counteracted by the symbolism of sirens themselves as creatures of land and ocean.
  2111. >Sometimes mixing and matching belief-systems could produce useful results like these.
  2112. >... Sometimes, though, it made things a right pain in the butt.
  2113. "Thus, we're going to need Water to douse the Fire, and Metal to split the Wood. And unfortunately, I'm all out of useful elemental symbols for such."
  2114. >Metal, being also the Heaven and Lake, was especially troublesome.
  2115. "Much less ones that we could use as weapons."
  2116.  
  2117. >That seemed to take Adagio by surprise.
  2118. >"W-weapons? You're going to fight it?"
  2119. >Well, what choice do you have?
  2120. >From the moment you had seen Adagio Dazzle and how she acted, you knew that things would most likely come to good ol' fisticuffs.
  2121. >Not only because of what was after her, but...
  2122. >... Also because of how proud she was.
  2123. >Proud of who she was.
  2124. >Proud of what she had achieved.
  2125. >Proud of the things she had learned.
  2126. >If you were completely honest, looking at her straight was somewhat hard.
  2127. >... She was dazzling, and you didn't even mean that as a pun (even if it was a good one).
  2128. >A girl who made no excuses about her existence.
  2129. >Even the loss she had suffered was just another part of her life, a painful lesson to be learned.
  2130. >Even if it went against her nature as a siren.
  2131. >And thus, you found yourself rather in awe of her.
  2132. >But at the same time, this also meant...
  2133. "Of course. Or are you saying you're fine with admitting your defeat to the siren, and letting it kill you?"
  2134. >Her answer came like a bullet.
  2135. >No hesitation whatsoever.
  2136. >"No. Never."
  2137. >That steel-like gaze might even make the monster in question second-guess itself.
  2138. >Even the threat of death didn't break that pride of hers.
  2139. >In other words...
  2140. >That's all the confirmation that you need.
  2141. >From here on out, if you wanted to save this girl and reap the rewards promised to you...
  2142. >It would come down to a fight.
  2143. "In that case, defeating the siren is the only other option we have. Which means..."
  2144. >You gaze into scenery around you, the city of Canterlot that stretches towards the lakes and the forests in one direction, mountains in the other.
  2145. >A mixture of human desires, with suburbs to the west and commercial district to the north.
  2146. >And an older town, full of old secrets, at the center of it.
  2147. >It has to be here somewhere.
  2148. >There's always one in every city, in every town.
  2149. "Say, princess..."
  2150. >You face Adagio with a grin on your face.
  2151. "You wouldn't know where the most suspicious church in this town is?"
  2152.  
  2153. >Night had fallen by the time you two (technically three) finally arrived to one of the oldest parts of the town, in the eastern outskirts of Canterlot City.
  2154. >A veritable hue of blacks, purples and blues stretched like a silk canvas above you, and stars shone through a spotty blanket of dark clouds.
  2155. >The only lights around here were the streetlights that threw their cones of respite unto the concrete and asphalt, making for a spotty runway.
  2156. >It was far away from the cozy atmosphere of the suburbs, or the high-rises that never slept
  2157. >Hustle and bustle of the city had been left behind at some point and in its stead... was silence.
  2158. >Heavy, oppressive silence, broken only by the sound of your footfalls.
  2159. >Yeah... this was more like it.
  2160. >Dangers and mysteries lurked in every corner of this world, hidden in those nooks and crannies humanity never dared to look.
  2161. >But some places, by their very nature, attracted such things far more effectively.
  2162. >Mansions, castles, ruins... graveyards and caves, forgotten streets and abandoned back alleys.
  2163. >The older the better.
  2164. >These were the places that were just *steeped* in the mysteries this world had to offer.
  2165. >And if you looked hard enough, it was usually in those very same places that you also found those who stood against the tide of darkness.
  2166. >Snort.
  2167. >Tide of darkness?
  2168. >That was a bit overly dramatic, even for you.
  2169. >But perhaps this atmosphere was getting to you...
  2170. >After all, you were constantly on the lookout for an invisible monster to come running from the shadows.
  2171. >"Anonymous, do you really think that we'll be able to avoid it?"
  2172. >Adagio's question was less a matter of her being scared, and more of her being on the edge.
  2173. >The difference was a thin as a hair's breadth, but it was there.
  2174. >In the first place, someone as proud as the diminutive copperhead walking besides you would have never admitted to being scared.
  2175. >Thus, scared she wasn't!
  2176. >... You had a feeling she would bite you if you insinuated otherwise.
  2177. "We should be fine as long as we keep on the move."
  2178. >You reply with as much confidence as you can muster.
  2179. >You always *were* pretty good at bluffing.
  2180. "That siren will be wary of me 'cause of last night. It'll try to figure out if I can pose a problem to it without my car."
  2181. >You run your fingers through your luxurious hair and flash a grin at the girl.
  2182. "That should buy us some breathing room until tomorrow. I've been told I'm pretty bothersome when I put my mind to it, supernatural monster or not."
  2183. >Adagio simply rolls her eyes at your bravado.
  2184. >"Well, it's not the *only* siren who thinks you can be bothersome..."
  2185. "Ouch, princess, ouch. Keep that up and you'll have hurt my fragile ego sooner rather than later!"
  2186. >Her smirk under the streetlight looks like that of a Cheshire Cat.
  2187. >"And here I was thinking your ego was the size of a mountain? I figured I'd need to keep hacking away at it with a verbal pickaxe for far longer."
  2188.  
  2189. >You can't help it - you snicker.
  2190. >It's been a while since you've been able to banter with anyone.
  2191. >Especially someone who doesn't pull their punches.
  2192. "I suggest a dynamite. Drop a proper bombshell when I least expect it and you'll have me cracking to the bedrock."
  2193. >Even Miss Cheese Puff cackles at that.
  2194. >"I'll keep that in mind - sounds like it might come in handy one day."
  2195. >With the two of you chuckling like a couple of two-bit crooks, the tense atmosphere has eased up just a little bit.
  2196. >Sure enough, the scenery of old buildings and even older streets might still feel like it's preparing for a nasty surprise, but...
  2197. >At least you'll be facing it with a smile.
  2198. >And well. If these cobblestone streets and historic houses decide to get uppity...
  2199. >You always had your ace in the hole.
  2200. "But yeah, we'll be fine. And if not, we can always sic her at the beast for a quick getaway."
  2201. >You pat the nameless little girl walking besides you.
  2202. >She doesn't even bother to look up, but you get a feeling that there's a flash of annoyance in her dead, emotionless eyes.
  2203. >Figures.
  2204. >Adagio, on the other hand, gives one more suspicious look at your companion.
  2205. >"... You're really not going to explain what she is at all?"
  2206. >You contemplate the option for a moment.
  2207. >But then decide against it and shake your head.
  2208. "Best you don't know. Let's just say she's the dregs of something nasty and leave it at that."
  2209. >"How did you get stuck with something like that?"
  2210. >For once, there's honest curiosity in Adagio's eyes.
  2211. >Perhaps that was why you decided to, for once, be truthful as well.
  2212. "I like to think that what keeps us together is our undying hatred for each other."
  2213. >You smile at the little girl and she stares back at you without any noticeable expression.
  2214. >But yes, you can see it.
  2215. >She still has venom in those eyes.
  2216. >"That... well, I can't say it sounds unhealthy. Otherwise I'd be mocking myself."
  2217. >Adagio gives you a dark smile that isn't humorous in the least.
  2218. >"I'd like to think that's the reason keeping me in this town as well."
  2219. >You can guess what she's referring to.
  2220. >The Battle of the Bands that was mentioned in PC's info-file...
  2221. >Sheez, girls sure can hold some terrifying grudges.
  2222. >Not that you thought less of her because of it, no.
  2223. >In fact, you kinda liked a girl that could nurture her hatred like that.
  2224. "Color me impressed! Guess this town *does* have some proper bad guys, after all!"
  2225. >You laugh, feeling refreshed by this sudden revelation.
  2226. "I mean, I met this trio of cheese weasels back at the FillyMart last night... Man oh man."
  2227. >You grimace.
  2228. >"Talk about pathetic. In my neck of the woods, those losers would've been the ones being bullied instead."
  2229. >You expect to hear Adagio's mocking cackle again, mirthfully enjoying the misfortune of others.
  2230. >However, no such sound comes.
  2231. >Instead, as you look to your left, you see her mouth twisted into a thin line, and a cold expression on her face.
  2232.  
  2233. >"... I think I know who you're referring to. I've... heard about them."
  2234. >Huh.
  2235. >Now what could be behind this bit of chilling cold?
  2236. >Did that bunch of morons somehow step on her toes, maybe indirectly?
  2237. "Not a fan, I take it?"
  2238. >"Not one bit."
  2239. >Hearing that, you smirk somewhat smugly.
  2240. "Well I guess you'll be happy to hear they got their asses handed to them by yours truly on that same night. Got into a bit of a scuffle since I wasn't in the best of moods for... reasons."
  2241. >The gamut of expressions on Adagio's face is quite amusing.
  2242. >First surprise.
  2243. >Then confusion.
  2244. >Realization.
  2245. >Sheepishness.
  2246. >And finally, smug satisfaction - a face to mirror your own.
  2247. >"Guess the good news just keep coming, thanks to you. Keep this up and I might actually start tolerating you, Anonymous."
  2248. >That smirk on her lips does funny things to your heart.
  2249. >"Though I can't remember the last time I heard high schoolers physically beating each other up in this town. The idea's pretty... old school, I'd say?"
  2250. >You make a mocking little bow while walking, managing not to trip on your own legs.
  2251. "I do the best I can, princess. Sometimes you just gotta strike when the iron's hot... or when a couple of mall-maggots are looking to get reamed."
  2252. >The orange blimp besides you snorts.
  2253. >"Forget old school, I should have said 'outdated'. Just what decade are you from?"
  2254. >You laugh at that.
  2255. "You ain't exactly the one to talk, princess - not with that hair."
  2256. >Yeah, keep laughing, Anon.
  2257. >Numbs the pain.
  2258. "Hah. If we're talking hairstyles, I think you're the last person in this town --- Oh. Looks like we're here."
  2259. >You're somewhat glad of the interruption.
  2260. >The topic was headed into a direction you're not sure you would have liked.
  2261. >Adagio's tongue was barb and venom if she wanted to, and whatever she would have said about your (amazing) hair would have most likely left you devastated.
  2262. >You needed to keep your head in the game, not accumulate more traumas.
  2263. >And as you turn your head towards the direction Adagio's looking...
  2264. "... Oh funk me."
  2265. >You feel your heart sink.
  2266. >The reason is obvious... at least to you.
  2267. >It's the church that stands before you, veiled in the thick, black night.
  2268. >The flat field that spreads around it must be owned by the church, as you feel its hallowed nature.
  2269. >A low stone wall runs around the perimeter of the field, neatly separating it from the other buildings in the area.
  2270. >It is bisected cleanly in the middle by a humble-yet-sturdy iron gate, worn and weathered yet still in strong condition.
  2271. >But that's not the problem.
  2272. >No, the wall nor the gates are not the problem.
  2273. >The problem is... the church-building itself.
  2274. >It's not big, but rather, it's compelling - towering over the visitors.
  2275. >The facade of the building is practically austere and there is a severe lack of anything that could be described as "unnecessary luxuries."
  2276. >Spartan is a word that comes to mind.
  2277. >Function before fanciness.
  2278.  
  2279. >In other words, it's a model church that relies on its heavy, oppressive charisma rather than any gaudy display of authority and that...
  2280. >... That makes you grimace.
  2281. >After all, there's only one thing it could mean.
  2282. "... Why did it have to be Protestants?"
  2283. >Adagio blinks at you owlishly, surprised by your whiny comment.
  2284. >"Protestants? Does it really matter what branch of Christianity they are?"
  2285. >You try your best not to grind your teeth in frustration.
  2286. >Of course she wouldn't know.
  2287. >She's a magical creature from another world.
  2288. >Churches of this world were hardly of interest to her.
  2289. >With a sigh, you light up another cigarette.
  2290. >Your mind is going to need that calming sensation before entering this particular House of God.
  2291. "If you were to ask the everyman on the street, then probably not. Or it *would*, but not for the same reasons as it does for me."
  2292. >You take a pouty drag off your cigarette.
  2293. "I'm honestly not interested in the schoolyard conflict the various branches have with each other in the more mundane world. But in this field? The ones that are 'in the know' like me?"
  2294. >You fold your arms and glance at the girl.
  2295. "Catholics are good. With Catholics, you know exactly what you're getting yourself into."
  2296. >As if to make a point, you draw a finger across your throat.
  2297. "No matter where you go, at the end of the day they're a bunch of bloodthirsty soldiers. Given a chance, they would destroy every single magical thing out there. But hey, at least they're honest about it!"
  2298. >You shrug your shoulders as Adagio's eyebrows rise towards her hairline.
  2299. "Miracles only happen through the God and the Saints - nothing else is allowed. That's the basic crux of their beeswax, and they don't hide it. It's the sort of animosity that's pretty refreshing, actually!"
  2300. >Then, you glare at the church ahead of you.
  2301. >Because that, as expected of Oregon, is *not* a Catholic church.
  2302. "But *Protestants* on the other hand... you can never, ever be sure what they're up to. 'Priesthood of all believers', and what not. Every man can choose their own path, and there are as many opinions as there are churches and pastors out there."
  2303. >You suck in the nicotine-laced smoke, trying to drive out the frustration from within you.
  2304. "You're as likely to get a knife stuck between your ribs as you are to get help. Stepping into their den is like downing a cup of pure paranoia. So watch yourself."
  2305. >And with that, your little explanation comes to a close.
  2306. >You throw the half-finished cigarette onto the asphalt and stomp it with your heel.
  2307. >Then you take a deep breath, steel yourself and face the gates and church that await you in the night.
  2308. "... Let's get going then. Oh and you, young miss?"
  2309. >You take a look at the nameless girl besides you.
  2310. "You stay here."
  2311. >It's not an order you're willing to negotiate about, and even she senses it.
  2312. >The last thing you need is to create additional problems by dragging her into a church.
  2313.  
  2314. >"... Somehow, I'm starting to get second thoughts about this."
  2315. >Adagio's grumbling mirrors your own thoughts.
  2316. >But the fool that you are, you simply put on a fake grin and flash it in her general direction.
  2317. >Maybe at least one of you can feel at ease during this visit.
  2318. "Psh, come on. We're like Daniel into the lion's den! Which is extra ironic, since, y'know - House of God."
  2319. >You gesture towards the menacing building.
  2320. >... Looks like she ain't buying it.
  2321. >Ah well.
  2322. >You tried to soften the blow.
  2323. >Thus the two of you open the iron gates that creak like a murder of crows and enter the so-called hallowed grounds.
  2324. >The stone-paved path is straight and narrow, cutting through an immaculately cared field of grass.
  2325. >It sways softly in the night-time wind as the two of you make our way to the waiting wooden doors of the church.
  2326. >Up close, it feels even more oppressing.
  2327. >The pastor here must be quite the intimidating man.
  2328. >Shepherd the flock via fear, and all that.
  2329. >Without a word from either you or Adagio, you push open the heavy wooden doors, their groaning sound echoing inside the building.
  2330. >The interior is about what you expect.
  2331. >Wooden stairs to the right leading to the second floor.
  2332. >A massive chamber beyond the entrance that takes up most of the church.
  2333. >Rows of old, wooden pews flanking the red carpet that cuts through the middle of the space, leading all the way to the altar.
  2334. >Four large windows let slivers of moonlight in, casting deep shadows and strands of silver to play amidst the pews.
  2335. >At the center of the back wall, you could see the only bit of luxury this place afforded to itself.
  2336. >A tastefully beautiful rose window of abstract shapes.
  2337. >The moonlight streaming through it was given a multi-colored hue before it vanished, not making it all the way to dispel the shadows on the floor.
  2338. >Candelight flickers at the far-end of the church as wind arrives with you and whisks through the nave.
  2339. >And illuminated by that dim, warm, yet eerie light that fills the chancel, you see a hulking figure standing by the altar.
  2340. >Black, blacker, blackest cassock makes him melt into the shadows, making him appear even larger than he already is.
  2341. >The Geneva Gown he wears open over his cassock was of a lighter, bluish shade of black, sketching his outlines against the background.
  2342. >Even at this distance, you could see how unusually thick the fabric was on both articles of clothing.
  2343. >So, lined with kevlar, huh...?
  2344. >You had definitely come to the right place.
  2345. >Next to you, you can feel Adagio shiver ever so slightly.
  2346. >Not because of fear, or because she feels wrong to be in a place such as this.
  2347. >No, in the first place, churches aren't exactly welcoming to creatures from other worlds.
  2348. >In various ways.
  2349. >Just stepping into one can make you feel like you don't belong.
  2350. >Hence your decision not to bring your small charge into this house of troubles.
  2351.  
  2352. >Wordlessly, you motion her to bring her chin up.
  2353. >At times like these, it was best to just act flagrantly confident.
  2354. >Now that the two of you had regained your bearings, you start forward once more...
  2355. >And on that very moment, a deep, booming voice reverberates through the nave.
  2356. >"Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land."
  2357. >It was the pastor, reciting from the book before him, his voice heavy with gravitas.
  2358. >Psalm 37, no?
  2359. >Hah, somebody's being thematically appropriate.
  2360. >"A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity."
  2361. >Did he already know who you two were?
  2362. >There was no way he was reciting that just for a couple of random intruders.
  2363. >"The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming."
  2364. >That deep, deep voice of his...
  2365. >It seeps into your ears and clots in your mind, like black chunks of something soothing and unpleasant.
  2366. >The experience makes you grimace and quietly shake your head, trying to dispel the sensation.
  2367. >Whoever this guy is, you can already sense it...
  2368. >He's trouble, the long-term kind.
  2369. >"The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken."
  2370. >And with that, he slams shut the book he's holding.
  2371. >Like a gong, announcing the end.
  2372. >"Amen."
  2373. >At what point had your feet led you through the nave?
  2374. >By the time he finished his recital, you were already standing mere few feet away from him.
  2375. >Even Adagio seems surprised.
  2376. >And as the pastor turns around and towers over you both, you find the full brunt of his presence striking against your face like a sledgehammer.
  2377. >... Almost instinctively, you step back.
  2378. >Not because of dread.
  2379. >But because the aura he carries with him is as heavy as a cloak of iron set upon your shoulders.
  2380. >Skin the colour of cornflower blue.
  2381. >A massive mane of hair that's almost white with a hint of cobalt - aside from two spiraling streaks of dark azure, like coiling horns.
  2382. >He strokes his beard, a quiet smile of danger on his face.
  2383. >"I was already wondering if the beast rampaging through this town hadn't piqued the interest of some hunter or another."
  2384. >That warm chuckle is not gentle in the least.
  2385. >"But never did I imagine I would see a pair such as you upon my doorstep. A human and a magical being, working together. I'm quite interested in how such an alliance came to be."
  2386. >Adagio, sizing the pastor up like a wolf who's territory had been invaded, takes a step forward.
  2387. >"And who, exactly, is asking?"
  2388. >He narrows his vermilion eyes at you.
  2389. >"Reverend Manebolt."
  2390. >And his smile is as dark as his heart.
  2391. >"At your service."

Space Cowboys & Moonwalkers - Adagio of a Siren Chapter

by MistakeAnon